Sunday, September 19, 2004
GOD THE CONFUSING
THE GOD OF JOSEPH SMITH'S FIRST VISION
By envisioning God as a person (and as person who is distinct and separate from Christ), Joseph broke completely with not only Christianity, but with the Western Monotheist tradition of the past two thousand years.
“In the heavens are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason, Truth eternal
Tell me I’ve a mother there.
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I join you
In your royal courts on high?”
OBJECTIFYING GOD AS A TOOL FOR CULTIVATING VIRTUE
As long as God was presented as living within the human heart (traditionally thought of as the seat of human emotions), subjective emotions could be made the basis not only for understanding the Divine but also for constructing a code of morality. Thus, despite the Biblical fundamentalism of many sects, traditional notions of God could serve as the basis for moral subjectivity and relativism.
By objectifying the Divine as a fully integrated human being (a glorified resurrected human whose body and mind/spirit were inseparably, eternally connected), Mormonism laid the groundwork for objective existence and a non-contradictory understanding of human nature as the foundation of religion and morality.
Human nature was no longer a depraved, sinful condition to be overcome, but that which we have in common with the Divine. Human nature was not something to be denied but something that had to be acknowledged, embraced and perfected--for despite the assertions of traditional creeds and doctrines, human beings in their natural state possessed the power to cultivate within them godliness. As Mormon scholar, Terryl L. Givens, has noted, the Mormon objectification of God “collapsed the distance” between the human and the Divine that had been imposed by two thousand years of traditional monotheism.
Whereas traditional religions undermined confidence in human understanding by insisting that God was a mystery, never to be comprehended, Joseph Smith taught:
“…the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:49)
To begin to comprehend God, is to begin to comprehend the virtues and qualities of Godliness. Comprehending Godliness is the first step in developing within one’s self the virtues and qualities revered as Divine.
REFORM MORMONISM & THE OBJECTIFICATION OF GOD
The idea that God was once human and that humans can progress and attain Godhood is one of Mormonism’s greatest--and most controversial--contributions to religious thought.
Reform Mormonism loves this concept, despite the fact that the rest of the world considers it heretical. Other Mormon denominations don’t embrace this concept with much enthusiasm, but the idea of eternal progression, applied equally to God and man, is one of the things that makes Reform Mormonism its own tradition.
Reform Mormons realize that objectifying the Divine in human form can help individuals understand themselves and thus progress.
Reform Mormons may visualize, worship or address God in prayer as either “Heavenly Father” or “Heavenly Mother.” For instance, the Reform Mormon Sacrament prayer may be addressed to “God the Eternal Father ,” “God the Eternal Mother,” or “God, the Eternal Parents.” Some Reform Mormons may find other less traditional objectifications useful. Still others may decide to avoid objectifications altogether. What is important within Reform Mormonism is that individuals realize that they have the seeds of Godhood within themselves, that the power of Godliness is available to every human being.
Therefore despite the fact that objectifying God can help one cultivate virtue and godliness, Reform Mormons acknowledge that God is greater than any objectification that one may use. Regardless of how far humanity might progress, regardless of how much knowledge, understanding and wisdom we might gain, regardless of how much virtue and godliness we might cultivate--God will always be ahead of us, assuring us that there is still much more we have yet to understand, and still more virtue that we have yet to attain.
As now I am, God once was; as God now is, I may become. I have within myself the power to comprehend and cultivate Godliness. Objectifying God is a tool to aid in my progression. I am free to address God as my Heavenly Father or my Heavenly Mother. I’m free to use whatever objectification of God inspires me to cultivate within myself those qualities that I revere and hold as sacred.
To respond to some of the questions raised in this Gospel Doctrine session, or to make a comment or ask a question, email:Reformmormons@aol.com.
ALL OPINIONS AND VIEWS ARE WELCOMED!
Your comments may be posted here throughout the coming week or shared at the Reform Mormonism Discussion Group--which you are welcome to join. If you are a member there, you may post your comment directly to the discussion group at http://firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIS WEEK'S DISCUSSION
From Nancy Halverson:
"I just read this week's lesson. At first, I was worried because you mentioned God as a spirit, a former human, a tree, a presence in the heart....where was the Goddess? And then I scrolled down to the section on our Heavenly Mother. Alright, now we're talking! The Universe is not just a Father/Son operation (although they've gotton all the good press for the last two thousand years). The Divine as feminine is real, at least to me. For I feel her presence surely as strong as I feel Heavenly Father's. I never thought I could openly admit to such "kookiness", but I cannot pretend to be someone I am not.The holiday season (Christmas) will be here before we know it, and this time of year triggers such deep emotions in me. I love Christmas and everything it stands for. But I have learned to listen to an older voice also.....a voice that whispered long before that precious baby was born in a stable...
"...they are forever bound, the male and the female. Life needs BOTH. Many religions reject this, and it seems so illogical to me. You know the old saying that "behind every great man, there is a woman"? Well, there you have it. The Great Mother can be content to remain quietly in the background, she's had her day in the past.
"Perhaps it is because I AM a woman, who has brought five little girls into this world, that I am more comfortable with the Divine as feminine, than perhaps a man would be. I can certainly understand that...I have no expectations of any of the men I know accepting the existance of the Goddess. At least Mormons are on the right track. And your lessons each week are doing more than you can imagine. You are opening minds. I wish more LDS could read the lessons...It would bring them CLOSER to the original church, NOT away from it."
"I read this lesson in conjuction with the Book of Michael (BoM) on which I think it draws.
"As I understand the BoM, the suggestion is made that God exists in an eternal realm beyond the veil. The eternal realm is not constrained by time and space which are seen as creations of God. God can penetrate the veil at any time or any place. That suggests of course that the future is already mapped out and that we are all playing out an already written script.We cannot understand God in his eternal realm, but if he enters time and space it must be as an objectification.
"The gospel doctine lesson suggests to me that we can objectify God any way we please. Joseph's objectification of God in the First Vision evolved over time. In his last recounting of the First Vision, God was present as the Father and the Son. In the King Follett discourse, God is "an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!" If you prefer God as a heavenly mother, that is OK too. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
"...I cannot figure out why God created this realm of time and space. If we existed with God in eternity, what do we have to gain by coming here? Apparantly in eternity, we are with God and share all that he has. What has this "vale of tears" got going for it? As slick os the BoM speculation is, I believe it opts for the god of the philosophers and not the God of Mormonism. And in the process, it loses much of the strength of the Mormon position.
"The Mormon God is finite and is caught up in time and space with the rest of us. Though he has mastered our physical realm, he continues to progress "worlds without end." His omnicompetance is relative to us as the BoM suggests. A theodicy (the justification of God in the face of evil) is a straightforward exercise with a finite God.
"What do I believe? I believe my heavenly Father is an exalted man. I believe I have a heavenly Mother who is an exalted woman. I believe I have the potential to be like my heavenly Father. I believe the future is not yet written and that the choices I make are not imaginary but real and have real consequences for my future happiness."
Related to this week’s lesson
“The Pearl of Great Price” Joseph Smith--History 1
Doctrine & Covenants 88: 40-50
Doctrine & Covenants 130
“The King Follett Discourse.” Joseph Smith last and greatest sermon, explaining the Mormon conceptions of God and humanity’s divine potential
“Rational Theology” by John Widstoe
“The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion” by Sterling M. Mc Murrin
Websites dealing with “O’ My Father” by Eliza R. Snow
“God the Mother in Mormonism” by Amber Satterwhite
The Sacred Grove (reported site of Joseph Smith’s First Vision)
Reform Mormon writings on the nature of God and the objectification of the Divine:
“God as Objectification”
“Mormonism’s New Paradigm”
The Reform Mormon Sacrament Prayer
Currently Reform Mormon practice is a home-based. This link presents a way in which Reform Mormons can celebrate the Sabbath, and also administer and partake of the Sacrament within their own households--either alone or with family and friends.
“INTELLIGENCE & AFFECTION/ REASON & SEXUALITY”