Sunday, December 05, 2004

Faith and Knowledge

December 5, 2004

In a previous Gospel Doctrine discussion we examined the substantial and differential role that faith plays for Reform Mormons. Faith for us is not just a belief in God or a noun designating a type of belief. Faith is a personal requirement necessary for progression. Acts of faith lead us to the second principle of our religion: Knowledge. For many people, knowledge and faith are opposites, but for Reform Mormons the two compliment each other and are absolutely required in order to progress.

Recently I had a discussion with a friend of mine about this very subject. He's a Baptist, and currently struggling through Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. He said that he had a hard time with the difference between faith and knowledge, and saw the two as opposites. He asked me how I handled it; I was more than willing to jump in and offer the Reform Mormon perspective.

Because our use of the word "faith" means so much more than just a belief in God, I had to start by explaining most of what we discussed on our last Gospel Doctrine discussion. Faith that our actions can result in an eventual outcome are usually based on knowledge, and patterns that we observe. For example, faith that the sun will rise tomorrow (as I mentioned before an "easy faith") can be rationally held based upon the pattern we have observed as well as the knowledge we have about how the solar system works. Faith that the sun will rise might be shaken by an eclipse, but our knowledge of the solar system together with our observance of the pattern combine to create a stronger faith base in understanding the sun and its habits.

Exercising faith causes us to learn new things. The scientist has faith in the scientific method, that by formulating a theory and testing it he or she may strengthen their faith in the theory. In the area of knowledge, nothing has served mankind better than the scientific method. Tremendous progress has occurred as a result. Yet some see this new knowledge as threatening to their faith. Knowledge is only threatening to faith if faith is based upon a static set of assumptions to which new information might be challenging. If "faith" is about progression, as it is for Reform Mormons, then faith is never threatened by new knowledge; faith is always enhanced by knowledge. I explained to my Baptist friend that as a result of this functional view of faith, important discoveries such as the theory of evolution have become fuel for progress for me rather than something I have to "fit" into my belief system. He seemed dubious.

Knowledge reintegrates into faith for a Reform Mormon by cycling through all four of our principles: Faith, Knowledge, Revelation, Restoration. Revelation adds the esoteric to our knowledge, giving it balance, and Restoration adds meaning to that compound to finalize it. The result is a new faith, further along the path of life, ready for exercise in a new way. This is dynamic and exciting.

My Baptist friend, and so many others I know, take what I consider to be a passive approach to faith. Faith is merely belief in God, and having joined a prefabricated belief system (church) they turn their faith progression decisions over to this body, subjugating some or many of their own interests for the sake of conformity with the system they have agreed to support. For many people this approach does not develop the kind of faith we have been discussing here. For many people it becomes a license to "turn off" progression, and return to a static faith. This develops into things like literal belief in scripture, unquestioning devotion to ecclesiastical leaders, and other problems that are at the root of religious failure today. Many churches actually actively teach their adherents to avoid knowledge, as though there is virtue in never progressing, and damnation in discovering new ways to believe. What a disservice this is to the children of God.

To a Reform Mormon, Albert Einstein and countless others were as - in fact, more - prophetic than Heber J. Grant. They brought new knowledge of the ways of God (God's creation) into our sphere of awareness such that we could integrate them into our faith. Such action is progression at its finest.

We believe that this is what Joseph Smith meant when he suggested that we have got to learn things, and learn to become Gods. God didn't become God by sitting on her butt all day, going to church on Sunday, and making sure she took care of a few rituals. There is no huge "data dump" coming from God that magically turns you into one. You're going to have to learn it.

The desire to progress and exercise our faith is fundamental, but it also has an element that is transcendental - that is, there's an element that seems to defy the cold rationality of logic and reason. This is revelation, our next principle, which we will discuss more in the weeks to come. Every time we obtain new knowledge we need revelation to balance it - and when we do this, we approach the veil and begin to tap into knowledge that is not cold and rational, but warm and loving. I believe it is this desire that my Baptist friend recognizes and sees as antithetical to knowledge. In effect, he goes directly from faith to revelation, eschewing knowledge in the process. One is never sure if another human being has understood your meaning and intent clearly, but that day I did my best to explain why knowledge isn't at all the opposite of faith. For me, knowledge and faith are completely connected and essential, and they don't clash at all. You get from faith to revelation by way of knowledge, not by avoiding it.

Still to come: Before adding new knowledge to your faith base, make sure you round it out and give it meaning. These important steps are achieved in the acts of revelation and restoration, principles three and four.

In the meantime, what have you done recently to increase your faith?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Reform Mormonism’s First Principle: Faith (not the generic kind you’re probably thinking of.)

November 14, 2004

The word faith is flung around loosely. Typically it’s assumed to mean either the New Testament approach of hope in things not seen, or for many more people, a simple belief in God or a higher being.

Faith is also used to designate a sect or denomination: “they’re of the Islamic faith.”

But faith – to Reform Mormons – carries a much more powerful connotation. Sure, it refers to our belief in God and to our categorization as Reform Mormons. But there’s a significant reason why it’s the first principle of our belief. It’s the first step in the important cycle of creation, and the motivating force that brought us into existence. Nothing exists without it. We have to participate in that. That’s a whole different perspective on the word.

Our fourth article of faith reads: “The first principles of our belief are: first, faith; second, knowledge; third, revelation; fourth, restoration.” For those who understand that the fourth principle, restoration, is the completion of an eternal round, bringing us back to the beginning of the process (which I’ve always found to be a lot like coming home,) faith is always seen as the first great step in learning to progress (or, the first great step away from home.) Once we complete the cycle, we’re always back at the beginning, facing the need to start again – and to begin the process, faith is required. Sometimes this is a daunting and challenging idea. Sometime we do it without even realizing we have done it.

Faith in this context is the motivating force of action. We do not make a cognitive choice, or proceed with the intent to create, if we do not believe that the results of our actions will create something.

  • Questions for consideration: Is faith just instinct? Do those who lack a sense of the need to progress lack faith?

It doesn’t take a great deal of faith to make some plans for tomorrow. It’s an easy faith that the sun will rise tomorrow morning and we will be able to perform tasks and execute plans. But the things we decide to do – particularly if they require us to “leave home” and try new, untested waters – do require faith. Faith – our belief - that there will be a desired outcome. Faith – our personal belief - that we possess the ability to do the tasks we have assigned ourselves. Faith - our personal confidence - that when things become challenging we will see them through. Faith that we will be sustained. Faith that we will have produced something of value, that our efforts will not have been wasted. The larger the task ahead, the greater the faith required.

As Reform Mormons, this type of faith is directly related to our perspective of ourselves as gods in training. As Joseph Smith taught, “this is something you have got to learn to do.” The Lectures on Faith teach that faith was the motivating force by which God created the Earth.

That’s a nice model for you to contemplate the next time you’re considering extending yourself and your abilities. That’s a great reason to try, even if you’re afraid you might fail. What you learn after you try (and succeed or fail in the process) is knowledge – the second principle of our belief. But that’s another Gospel Doctrine lesson on another day, a day I strongly believe will arrive!

Please share you thoughts and comments on faith and this lesson on the Reform Mormon Discussion Group.

Additionally, you can explore the Lectures on Faith. (These were removed from LDS canon in 1921.)

Faith, Knowledge, Revelation and Restoration are the central pillars of Reform Mormonism, at the heart of belief and action, and are integrated into Reform Mormon theology (read more) and observance, such as the Sabbath and the Endowment (read more).

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Scripture as Art: Reframing The Book Of Mormon

November 7, 2004

Since the "Galelio Event" of no Middle-Eastern genetic evidence in Native Americans, all those professing a belief in the Book of Mormon - and its claim that modern-day Native Amercans are descended from Lamantes - have had to come to terms with this evidence and find some way to explain the Book of Mormon's histocracy.

A recent issue of Sunstone was devoted to the exploration of the idea of "reframing" the Book of Mormon. Those with long-held beliefs in the literalness of the book are looking for ways to square the evidence with their belief.

To lay the issue out for examination, here are a couple of excerpts from that issue. First, from Brent Metcalfe, one of the co-editors of American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, in which the article by Thomas Murphy recently laid out the DNA case. (Mr. Murphy, a member of the LDS Church, was called in for LDS Church discipline as a result of the article but the church quickly backed off when publicity around the article and disciplinary actions began to look as punishment for being a scientist.)

"We are witnessing the reinvention of the Book of Mormon - not by skeptical critics, but by believing apologists. Most Mormons likely believe what the Book of Mormon introduction teaches - that "the Lamanites ... are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." They hold this belief oblivious to the fact that over the last few decades LDS scholars at Brigham Young University and elsewhere have substantially altered this traditional view.

Findings from multidisciplinary studies of the Book of Mormon have increasingly led LDS scholars to shrink and di­lute the book's American Israelite (or Amerisraelite) popula­tion. Apologetic scholars now recognizez that Book of Mormon events could not have spanned North, Central, and South America, and (2) that modern Amerindians are predom­inately of East Asian ancestry. Confirmation of both acknowl­edgments is found in analyses that establish an Asian, not Middle Eastern, genetic signature for the overwhelming ma­jority of Amerindians.BYU geneticist Michael Whiting stip­ulates, a hemispheric colonization model for the Book of Mormon "is indeed incorrect" and "appears falsified by current genetic evidence."

Many LDS apologists envision the Book of Mormon's founding Israelite colonists as a small group who interacted in varying degrees with the vast indigenous populations of Mesoamerica. In time, sustained widespread exogamy with these "others" effectively extinguished the Israelites' unique Middle Eastern genetic signature. Accordingly, Lamanites and Nephites are defined by something other than Israelite an­cestry. Such theories turn traditional understandings of Book of Mormon lands and peoples, including Joseph Smith's reve­lations, on their head. While perhaps affording revisionist Book of Mormon studies a veneer of scientific respectability, these apologetic ef­forts to reinvent Lamanite identity face some formidable chal­lenges..."

Trent Stephens, professor of anatomy and embryology at Idaho State University and co-author of Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding set up the situation this way:

"The Book of Mormon purports to present a history of three major groups of people who migrated to the Americas from the Middle East. The first group, the Jaredites, apparently annihilated itself. The second group split into the Nephites and Lamanites. The third group, the Mulekites, merged with the Nephites. Shortly after his mission in the Middle East, the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to descendants of those people. As a result of Christ's teachings, the people became united into one group. Eventually a division again occurred, and a group referred to as Lamanites (unbelievers) split from those referred to as Nephites (believers). Ultimately, the Lamanites destroyed the Nephites and remained as the only representatives of Middle Eastern colonization in the New World.

In contrast to this account, data from numerous molecular population genetic studies suggest that the ancestors of extant Native Americans came from Siberia. No genetic evidence specifically supports the hypothesis that Native Americans descended from Middle Eastern populations. Furthermore, there is little reason to assume that additional data will reverse the current conclusions. In light of these data and conclusions, which challenge the keystone of our faith, many Latter Saints and other interested people may ask, 'Now what? How do we deal with this new information?' Some have referred this quandary as a 'Galileo Event.'

The nature of a sound scientific hypothesis is that it can be easily tested by observation or experimentation and that tests can invalidate the hypothesis. A good scientific hypothesis relevant to the topic at hand might state that all living Native Americans descended from Middle Eastern populations. Such a hypothesis could be tested by comparing genetic markers in Native American populations to markers from Middle Eastern populations. Such a test has never actually been rigorously conducted because such a scientific hypothesis has never been advanced. Rather, an alternative hypothesis has been advanced. That hypothesis is that all living Native Americans descended from Asian populations. The test of that hypothesis, comparing genetic markers from extant Native American populations to those of extant Asian populations, has been repeated many times and supports the stated hypothesis. The most parsimonious conclusion resulting from the test of that hypothesis is that alternative, competing hypotheses, such as one proposing a Middle Eastern origin of Native Americans, are rejected by the data.

Now what? What is one to do with these results, which cast doubt on the authenticity of The Book of Mormon? The implications may be numerous. Most of them, not being based on the formulation of testable hypotheses, fall outside the realm of scientific investigation. In light of the Book of Mormon story, people might react to the data concerning Native American origins in four different ways:

• One - The data refute the historic authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Therefore, belief in the book is unfounded and should be abandoned.

• Two - The data may be ignored. In spite of the data, people may continue to believe that the Book of Mormon is true and that all pre-Columbian Native Americans were descended from people of Middle Eastern descent.

• Three - People may take a wait-and-see attitude. Future data may exonerate their belief that the Book of Mormon is true and that all pre-Columbian Native Americans were descended from Middle Eastern populations.

• Four - The Book of Mormon story is still true. However; the data refute the notion that all pre-Columbian Native Americans were descended from people of Middle Eastern descent. Middle Eastern colonization in the Americas may have been very small compared to the remainder of the population, and, as a result of two major bottleneck events, no genetic evidence of a Middle Eastern origin is present in the extant population, nor is such evidence likely to be forthcoming.

None of those four postures constitute a scientific hypothesis: none of them can be tested by experimentation or observation. Rather, because the implications are beyond the scope of physical science, they fall into the realm of metaphysics. Metaphysical debates are of the nature to continue, without satisfactory conclusion, for centuries or even millennia. The debate resulting from the apparent conflict between the Book of Mormon story and the genetic data is likely to be one such contest."

May I suggest a fifth option? One that Reform Mormons will find in line with their approach to scripture?

Five - The evidence is likely correct. The events in the Book of Mormon never occurred. Many of the claims the book makes about itself are incorrect. It is full of errors, fiction, and fantasy. It is a myth. It's a story designed to play a role in one's belief structure, not to be a history as those in the past have categorized it and some in the present continue to position it. If that role is one of literal truth, the Book of Mormon will likely fail you. If that role is the role of the power of myth, one can find - indeed, many have found - inspiration in the Book of Mormon.

Reform Mormons recognize that all scripture was written by human beings. It is therefore a man-made or woman-made object - a created thing. Does that object contain inspiration? Does any created object contain inspiration? You be the judge. We view writing that is inspired to be "scripture" - which means many other writings may "speak" more loudly to a Reform Mormon than the Book of Mormon, and play the role of "scripture" in their lives than does the Book of Mormon.

Whether or not the book is a literal history is a ridiculous discussion. Reform Mormons don't need to engage in it since we don't connect the idea of its "truthfullness" to the idea that we belong to "the one true church." These concepts mean little or nothing to us, because they're quite useless.

What does mean something? Learning to recognize inspiration in writing, and allowing it to mean something to you that is emotional, satisfying, and more than just the sum of the words. Learning to evaluate and incorporate new facts, not just find ways around them or dismiss them. Learning to create our own writing, explanation, and definitions of what currently has impact in our lives, rather than adopting someone elses's outside system of what should matter. Learning to be free agents.

This is how we learn to progress and grow. Scripture plays a role in this. It is not, to us, a "foundation." We are the foundation. Scripture merely allows us to see ourselves differently, to understand ourselves better, to observe areas of potential growth, and - at its best - to learn to connect to a deeper part of ourselves and confront the veil. This view of ourselves is clouded at best and completely inaccurate at worst if we adopt other people's insistence upon - or perspectives of - literalness.

Please share your thoughts on the Book of Mormon, and its role as a myth, on the Reform Mormon Discussion Group.

American Apocrapha and Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding can be purchased from Signature Books.

Sunstone offers, amongst other things, symposia and a magazine.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Remembering Haun's Mill

Sunday October 31, 2004

October 30 marks a solemn anniversary in Mormon history: "Haun's Mill." Mormonism was born and lived out its first 80 years in violence, more so than any other American religion. These few quick paragraphs from No Man Knows My History by Fawn M. Brodie retell the incident well:

That night a wounded man stumbled into Far West with news that froze the blood of every Saint. The settlement at Haun's Mill had been attacked by two hundred militiamen. The Mormons had fled into the blacksmith shop, which they thought would make an admirable fort, but it had proved in­stead to be a slaughterhouse. Great cracks yawned between the logs of the shop, and the Missourians, hiding behind trees, picked off the Mormons at their leisure as if they had been kill­ing cattle in a pen. When the women fled toward the brush, the men shot at them in derision. Old Thomas McBride fell wounded and surrendered his gun, whereupon one of the mob coolly hacked him to pieces with a corn-cutter.

After shooting down every Mormon they could see, the mob entered the blacksmith shop to finish off the wounded. They found nine-year-old Sardius Smith hiding under the bellows. His younger brother, shot through the hip, and pretending to be dead, heard the men drag Sardius out from his hiding-place. "Don't shoot," said one militiaman, "it's just a boy." "It's best to hive them when we can. Nits will make lice," a man replied, and placing his rifle near the boy's head, blew out his brains.

When darkness came, the women crept back to the scene of carnage. Of the thirty-eight men and boys in the camp, seven­teen had been slain and fifteen wounded. Fearful that the mob would return, the women lowered the dead into an unfinished well, hid the wounded in the woods, and then, stunned and desolate, made their way toward Far West.

As Reform Mormons entering the final few months of the year, when Daylight Savings Time makes the night seem longer, things get colder, and life seems to wither with winter, Haun's Mill reminds us of the trials and persecution that occurred in our heritage - and the courage of those who persevered.

Did you make resolutions at the beginning of the year? Where do they stand now? Have you completed them? Nothing you are trying to accomplish in your life is likely as challenging as the trails of our Mormon forbearers. We are a people formed and tested in some of the most violent and unjust situations in American history, and we survived and prospered. You have the blood of success in your veins.

When we remember Haun's Mill, we remember that we have been tested, and we have survived. When you light the Sabbath candles this weekend, remember that part of Restoration is completion. To get to completion, you may need to double your efforts, and "gird up your loins, fresh courage take." Remember that after Haun's Mill, the survivors went on to Deseret with the refrain "all is well." It is quintessentially Mormon to demonstrate that courage.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

THE DEVIL & JOE SMITH: A Mormon Concept of Evil

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Devil was very real for many people living on the western frontier in the early nineteenth century. The people of Palmyra, New York--among whom the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith came of age--were no exception.
For the money diggers, village seers and magicians--with whom the teenage Joseph and his father kept company--it was the Devil and his minions of evil spirits and spirit guardians who kept them from digging up the fabled buried treasures that would bring them financial salvation. For the revivalist ministers--with whom the teenage Joseph and his mother kept company--the devil was “the God of this world,” who led the proud and the worldly from the paths of Christian salvation.

Joseph’s earliest theological writings regarding the Devil (found in “The Book of Mormon”) reflect a mixture of both of the concepts, blending Protestant evangelicalism with early American folk-magic. In the earliest Mormon theology, the Devil tempted people to sin so that he might have power over them and make them eternally miserable. (For examples of this concept, see II Nephi 2:18; Alma 8:9, 12:17 and 15:17) When the wicked who were under the Devil’s control attempted to hide their treasures by burying them in the earth, a curse was placed upon the ground, causing the treasures to become “slippery” and it became impossible to dig them back up. (For examples see Helaman 12:18, 13:18-23; Mormon 1:18)

Belief in folk-magic, evil spirits and demonic possession were common among the first converts to Mormonism in upstate New York. In fact, the first claim that Joseph Smith could work miracles came as a result of a successful exorcism that Joseph--at the insistence of followers--performed on Newel Knight, who claimed to have been possessed by the Devil.

There is little evidence historically that Joseph Smith encouraged such activities. If any thing, the evidence indicates that he was uncomfortable with demands that he prove his prophetic calling by casting out devils and demons, or by performing supernatural feats.

As the years passed and Joseph’s theology evolved, so did his concept of the Devil. For Joseph Smith the Devil became something of a comic figure--a mixture of a traveling snake-oil salesman, a hypocritical protestant minister, a crooked lawyer and populist politician. This was reflected not only in the dramatic portions of the Temple Endowment, but in the political writings that Mormons produced as part of Joseph’s presidential campaign.

As comical a literary figure as the Devil became for Joseph, the Mormon Devil, nevertheless, became the embodiment of an evil far more threatening to modern civilization than lost faith or evil supernatural forces.


Traditional and popular concepts of the devil are the product of orthodox Christianity. Before Christianity became the state religion of Rome, thus establishing monotheism throughout the western world, many gods were worshipped--with each god or goddess ruling over some aspect of existence.

For example, the Greek god Dionysus (Bacchus--according to the Romans) was the god of wine and song. He was often depicted as a satyr--the horned half goat, half human creatures who were associated with music and sex.

Christianity, by incorporating into its emerging theology much of Plato’s philosophy, looked up the natural world and physical pleasure as sinful and fallen, as under the control of the devil. With time images of Dionysus and satyrs were used in depictions of the devil. Thus was born the goat-footed and horned Satan of tradition. Like Dionysus before him, the Satan of Christianity became the embodiment of all that was carnal and sensual.

With the emergence of monotheism as the dominant world view, a new problem was born. As long as people believed that there were many gods warring and quarreling among themselves in the heavens, there was a theological reason for the calamities and evils that fell upon humanity. But when Christianity declared that there was only one God who created all things, people began to question why evil existed. After all, Christianity taught that God was all good. But evil and suffering were realities. Did God create them? And if he did create evil, how could one maintain that God was perfect and good.

In attempting to deal with such questions, Christianity turned to the devil who became something of a demigod--an eternal adversary of the one true God. Humanity’s woes and all evil could be traced back to Satan.

But if God is the creator of all things, why did he create the devil? Christians speculated that originally Satan was created as an angel--the brightest and most beautiful of all heavenly beings. But then Satan became filled with pride, tried to elevate himself above God and was thus cast from heaven into hell, where he ruled as the devil.

Even this did not solve monotheism’s dilemma. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, wouldn’t He have known from the beginning that Satan would rebel and fall? If He knew this, why did He create Satan in the first place? And why does He allow Satan to have such power over the world now?

Christianity has never been able to answer these questions to the satisfaction of most. The dilemma over the Devil continues. During the twentieth century, as the largest denominations within Mormonism reverted back to traditional Christian concepts and theology, the devil once again became the subject of many a Mormon sermon. In current LDS Testimony, Sunday School, Priesthood and Relief Society meetings, one often hears references to the world being under the control of theDevil; of the Devil conspiring to keep faithful Latter-Day Saints from attending the Temple and such.

A question arises: Is the Christian and modern Mormon concept of Satan supported by the writings of the Bible? Using only this book of scripture, a convincing case can be made that the Devil--as popularly depicted and traditionally conceived--is not be found in the Bible at all.


If an adult raised in the Christian or LDS tradition begins to read the Bible from the beginning for the first time, he may be shocked to find that he has to read for several hundred pages before coming across any mention of “devils.”
Note that the word is “devils”--plural, not singular. The word “devils” appears in Leviticus 17:7 and Deuteronomy 32:17 in reference to the ancient Israelites offering up sacrifices to false gods. THE devil--as traditionally conceived--is mentioned no where in the Old Testament.

The only place in the Old Testament where the character of Satan makes an actual appearance is in the opening passages of the Book of Job. (See Job 2:1-7) The scene is the court of Lord on a day when the sons of God (divine beings) “came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. “

There is no mention of Satan being a devil or the Devil; there’s no indication that Satan is evil, wicked or fallen. In fact, Satan is depicted as one of “the sons of God”--a divine being who is perfectly welcomed in the courts of heaven.

The Lord brags to Satan of Job’s virtue and integrity. Satan replies that if the Lord were to bring misfortune on Job, the man would curse Him. The Lord then delivers Job into Satan’s hand in order to test him.

The word “Satan” comes from the Hebrew for “slanderer” or “accuser.” In the ancient Israelite religion Satan was not evil, was not a devil, but a divine being who played the role of “prosecuting attorney” before the Lord. When one was brought before the Lord to be judged, it was Satan’s role to point out one’s sins and shortcomings, to bear record of the human condition before the throne of God.

In it is this context that Satan is mentioned in Psalms 109:6 and I Chronicles 21: 1---the only other two places in the entire Old Testament that make any reference to him.
One must read over two thirds of the Christian Bible before one finds any passages that reflect any concept of the Devil as traditionally conceived. These verses are found exclusively in the writings of the New Testament.
These writings were the product of a different age and civilization than were the writings of the Old Testament. The New Testament was the product of both Jewish and Gentile writers living in the first and second centuries of the common era. Being the products of the Roman world, these writers were influenced by the philosophies of ancient Greece--thus they tended to believe that there was a struggle going on between the forces of a fallen material/physical world and the immaterial/spiritual world of pure ideals. Though the Devil is mentioned only in New Testament writings and even though the influence of Greek thought can be detected, its interesting to note that the Devil is still associated primarily with the worship of false gods (like the devils mentioned in Leviticus and Deuteronomy) and with the role of “prosecuting attorney”-- or “the accuser of our brethren.” (See Revelation 12:7-10)

Though the Book of Revelation refers to Satan being cast out of heaven, it should be noted that this was seen as a future event. There is not a single passage within the entire Bible stating that Satan has already fallen or has already been cast from heaven.

One could reasonably conclude, therefore, that the entire Christian myth of the fall of Satan (a myth which many Mormons have, to a great extent, incorporated into their personal beliefs) can not be supported by an appeal to the Bible alone.


Some readers of the Bible might point out that an important passage concerning the Devil has been overlooked. The passage is found in Isaiah:

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Isaiah 14: 12-15)

Many Christians and Mormons mistakenly think that this verse is referring to the fall of the Devil; that as a result of the Devil’s desire to become more powerful than God, God cast him out of heaven into hell. This passage is the source of the Christian idea that the Devil feel as a result of pride and ambition.

Early in his career, Joseph accepted this traditional misinterpretation of this passage. Therefore in Doctrine & Covenant 76:26 writings he referred to the Devil as Lucifer, and in section 29:36-38 incorporated elements of Isaiah‘s language when discussing the Devil‘s fall.

But if one reads these verses within their proper context (meaning within the context of the chapter in which it appears) it becomes obvious that it is not the Devil who is being addressed, but the King of Babylon. The passage in which the verses appear begins with these words:

“That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon and say…” (Isaiah: 14:4)

The verses concerning the fall of Lucifer are part of this “proverb against the King of Babylon.” No where in the entire book of Isaiah is there any mention whatsoever of the Devil or Satan. In fact, the name "Lucifer" refers to the planet Venus--which appears in the sky as a bright star.
Instead of referring to the fall of an angel, this passage in Chapter 14 is an outcry against the King of Babylon, who through his pride attempted to conquer the world and exalt himself above the God of Israel and the stars of heaven. In the end, he would prove mortal, die and descend into the grave (the Hebrew word “shaol,” which is translated here as the word “hell”).

Thus the tradition that the Devil fell because of pride and arrogance is not supported by the Bible.
(Note: For more information of this passage of Isaiah and on the origin of the idea that Lucifer is the devil, see the reference and reading material links at the end of this lesson.)


As Mormon theology evolved, a new paradigm--or scheme of things--was laid out by Joseph Smith. In this new theology, the universe was uncreated. Existence had always existed. Opposition in all things had also existed.

There existed, too, an endless number of Gods stretching through the eternities. The God of this world--like all of the Gods--had once been human, had lived and died on an earth like our own. By experiencing opposition in all things and then choosing to grow and progress in knowledge and virtue, God became God. Humans (like God before them) could also travel this same path.
By also experiencing opposition in all things and choosing to grow in knowledge and virtue, every human being had the potential for Godhood.

If opposition in all things was an eternal state, then within the Mormon scheme of things there was no need for an answer to the questions, “Why Does Evil Exist? Why is there suffering?” There was no need for a God or a Devil upon whom one could affix blame or responsibility for these things. Opposition was simply a fact of existence and what mattered most were the choices an individual made in the face of opposition.

Thus Joseph Smith told a new myth regarding the “creation” and the fall of the Devil:

“…God found himself in the midst of spirits and glory, and because he was greater, he saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have the privilege of advancing like himself--that they might have one glory upon another and all the knowledge, power, and glory necessary to save the world of spirits…Thus the head God brought forth the Gods in the grand council…[In the Grand Council a contention arose.] The contention in heaven was this: Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved, and the devil said he could save them all. The grand council gave in for Jesus Christ. So the devil rebelled against God and fell, with all who put up their heads for him." (Joseph Smith, The King Follett Discourse)

Joseph went into greater detail in “The Pearl of Great Price”:

“ [Satan] came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever. Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down.” (Moses 1: 1-3)

Mormon theology presents a radical new reason for Satan’s fall: he wanted to guarantee that no human being would choose a path other than one of righteousness. Satan wanted to make sure that not a single individual would be lost.

But in order to do this, the very nature of the individual would have to be altered. In short, humans would be denied their full humanity--with all their virtues and their vices. In turn this would have undermined the great scheme of things. According to Mormonism’s new paradigm:

"As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become.”

Immersion in humanity is the path to Divinity. Divinity is the outgrowth of human choice. To change the nature of humanity would be to undermine their potential for Divinity.


The Mormon Satan became the embodiment of what could be considered--in light of the Mormon scheme of thing--the ultimate evil: the destruction of human Free Agency or Free Will.

In the Temple drama, Satan lays out his mode of operation:

“I will take the treasure of the earth, and with gold and silver I will buy up armies and navies, false priests who and tyrant who destroy and tyrants who destroy, and reign with blood and horror on the earth!”

Especially in light of twentieth century world history as well as many of the forces at work in the world today, the ideas above can seem particularly frightening. Notice also that part of the Mormon Devil’s plan is the mixing of religious authority and power with governmental authority and power. The idea that government by the force of law (which is the use or threat of physical force) should attempt legislate ideals and values based on religious faith could be labeled “Satanic”--if one seriously considers what the Mormon Satan actually symbolizes. According to the Mormon Satan, individual freedom is seen as the enemy of universal salvation.

In older versions of the Temple drama, the Mormon Devil tries to undermine the Divine scheme by hiring a minister to teach false doctrines to the characters of Adam and Eve--who personify the average man and woman. Consider the following exchange between the character of Satan’s minister and Adam:

MINISTER: Do you believe in a God without body, parts, or passions; who sits on the top of a topless throne; whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere; who fills the universe, and yet is so small that he can dwell in your heart; who is surrounded by myriads of beings who have been saved by grace, not for any act of theirs, but by His good pleasure. Do you believe in such a great Being?

ADAM: I do not. I cannot comprehend such a being.

MINISTER: That is the beauty of it. Perhaps you do not believe in a devil, and in that great hell, the bottomless pit, where there is a lake of fire and brimstone into which the wicked are cast, and where they are continually burning, but never consumed?

ADAM: I do not believe in any such place.

MINISTER: My dear friend, I am sorry for you.

What is enlightening here is not the specifics of the doctrines being taught but the internal contradictions that make them unfathomable. When Adam comments that his can’t comprehend what is being taught, the Devil’s minister replies, “That is the beauty of it.”

By attacking human reason, the Mormon Devil attempts to overthrow human freedom. When Adam fails to see the beauty of incomprehensible doctrines, the Devil’s minister moves on to another strategy: fear of a burning Hell and eternal damnation in the afterlife, if one doesn’t do as one is told in this life.

(What is also enlightening in about the above dialogue is that, in the context of the Temple drama, the traditional doctrine of eternal damnation and a burning Hell were presented as false doctrines. It is interesting to note that today there a millions of LDS Mormons who originally participated in the above Temple ceremony and yet who, nevertheless, believe in the doctrines of Hell and eternal damnation.)


Reform Mormonism embraces the Mormon paradigm of eternity. Opposition in all things is simply a part of existence. Just as God is not needed to explain the existence of that which is good, neither is a Devil needed to explain the existence of that which is bad.

What is most important within Reform Mormonism is the Eternal Progression of the individual towards Godhood. It is Eternal Porgress--not salvation from hell or eternal damnation--that is the object of Reform Mormons. For one to progress, one must have complete freedom to explore and discover, to ask questions, to debate, to create, to try and fail, and to try again.

For this to occur, freedom is essential. The Mormon concept of Free Agency is fully embraced by Reform Mormons.

Consider these words--the lyrics of the very first hymn published in the very first Mormon hymnal in 1835:

Know this that every soul is free,
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is given,
That God will force no man to heaven.

He’ll call, persuade, direct him right;
Bless him with wisdom, love and light;
In nameless ways be good and kind;
But never force the human mind.

Freedom and reason make us men;
Take these away, what are we then?
Mere animals and just as well
The beasts should think of heaven and hell.

Discussion Questions

Has belief in the Devil played a role in my moral development? If so, what has been the end effect?

What are the potential problems of blaming the ills of life on a devil?

What are the pitfalls of using fear of Hell, eternal damnation and the Devil as motivators for moral behavior? How is the concept of Eternal Progression a better incentive for moral behavior?

How comfortable am I with the Mormon idea that “there must needs be opposition in all things?”

How do I view opposition? Do I tend to see opposition as an evil to be overcome or as a “fact of life” that allows me to progress and grow?

What role has the concept of Free Agency played in my moral development?


Freedom and reason make us human. Take these away, what are we?

To respond to some of the questions raised in this Gospel Doctrine session,
or to make a comment or ask a question, email:

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

References and Suggested Readings
Relating to this Gospel Doctrine Lesson

“The Book of Moses” Chapter 4:1-3 (The Pearl of Great Price)

“The King Follett Discourse.” Joseph Smith last and greatest sermon, explaining the Mormon creation myth--including the reason for Satan’s fall.

Sites explaining how the Isaiah passage concerning Lucifer has been misinterpreted as referring to the Devil:

“Lucifer Is Not An Old Testament Name for the Devil”

“Satan, Devil & Demons”

“Is Satan Lucifer?”

“Lucifer: Where did the Word Come From & What Is Its True Meaning”


“Mormonism’s New Paradigm”

“In The Beginning, or Let the Insanity Begin.” This essay explores in detail how Joseph Smith’s rejection of creationism positively affects philosophy and concepts of morality.

Reform Mormonism homepage

Sunday, October 17, 2004

THE ETERNAL MIND/ THE UNCREATED SELF: Reform Mormonism & the Individual

Sunday, October 17, 2004
In a eulogy delivered on April 7, 1845 (just weeks before his murder), the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith declared:

“I have another subject to dwell upon…that is, the soul, the mind of man, the immortal spirit. All men say God created it in the beginning. The very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it all ye ends of the world, for God has told me so. Before I get through, I will make a man appear a fool if he doesn't believe it. I am going to tell of things more noble.”

Few of Joseph’s critics (then or now) as well as a sizeable portion of those who revered him as a prophet (then and now) were entirely comfortable with the “things more noble” that he taught that day. His critics have labeled his ideas blasphemy, while the majority of Mormons worldwide have either rejected his concepts outright or have attempted to water them down.

Joseph’s teachings regarding a plurality of Gods who were once human beings was indeed heretical and blasphemous by Christian standards. Attempts by some modern Mormons to reconcile this notion with the writings of such orthodox Christians as C.S. Lewis or early church fathers ring hollow, demonstrating ignorance or disregard of Christianity’s central doctrine: the existence of one God and one God only.

But history is filled with heresies regarding the existence and nature of the Divine. What set Joseph Smith apart from all others before him were his teachings on the nature of man.


Traditional western religion has taught that all existence is the production of a divine creation; that existence had a beginning, with God as the First Cause.

Towards the end of his prophetic career, Joseph Smith rejected this doctrine outright, declaring that existence was eternal and uncreated; that the world in which we lived was “organized” by the Gods from existing matter. (See “The Book of Abraham.”) In other words, existence itself is omnipotent. God, who is also eternal, exists and can only be understood within the greater context of existence as a whole.

This laid the groundwork for Joseph’s most radical and far-reaching teaching on the nature of man:

“We say that God himself is a self-existing God. Who told you so? It is correct enough, but how did it get into your heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles?….

The mind of man is as immortal as God himself…. Is it logic to say that a spirit is immortal and yet has a beginning? Because if a spirit has a beginning, it will have an end. That is good logic. I want to reason further on the spirit of man, for I am dwelling on the spirit and body of man--on the subject of the dead. I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man, the immortal spirit, because it has no beginning. Suppose I cut it in two; as the Lord lives, because it has a beginning, it would have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation who say that man had a beginning prove that he must have an end. If that were so, the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house tops that God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself. Intelligence exists upon a self-existent principle; it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. Moreover, all the spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible to enlargement.

The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God found himself in the midst of spirits and glory, and because he was greater, he saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have the privilege of advancing like himself--that they might have one glory upon another and all the knowledge, power, and glory necessary to save the world of spirits. I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life that are given to me, you taste them, and I know you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life; I know it is good. And when I tell you of these things that were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and I rejoice more and more.”


Joseph Smith taught that not only was our spirit/mind eternal and uncreated, it was also by nature free. In May 1833, Joseph declared:

“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence or the light of truth was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:29-30)

Being free by nature, each spirit may pursue what he or she values. The result is that each spirit is by nature truly an individual, with each progressing at his or her own rate, developing his or her abilities and talents to different, in different ways. While all share the same nature, that very nature ensures that each is a unique individual. Not having been created by God and being by nature free, each individual creates his or her own character.

These eternal differences in abilities, knowledge and character are referenced in the creation myth as laid out by Joseph Smith in his “Book of Abraham”:

“…if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal. And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all…

“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligence that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good.” (Abraham 3: 18-19, 22-23)

James E. Talmage wrote:

“So far as we can peer into the past by the aid of revealed light we can see that there was always a gradation of intelligence, and consequently of ability, among spirits…Individualism is an attribute of the soul, and as truly eternal as the soul itself.”


One idea that traditional western religion has spawned is the concept of that God, being the creator of all, bears ultimate responsibility for “the way someone is.” In short, many have shouldered God with responsibility for character traits that they have found less than admirable. This has the interesting result of not only relieving individuals of responsibility for certain aspects of their characters, but also giving these aspects the stamp of divine approval.
It is difficult to reconcile such traditional notions with the Mormon scheme of things as laid out by Joseph Smith.

Mormon theologian, B.H. Roberts wrote:

“The conception of the existence of uncreated, self-existent intelligences, who by the inherent nature of them are of various intelligences, who by the inherent nature of them are of various degrees on intelligence, and moral quality, differing from each other in many ways, yet alike in their eternity and their freedom…relieves God of the responsibility of the nature and moral status of intelligences in all stages of their development.”

True individuality and freedom means personal responsibility.

Discussion Questions:

How could the doctrine that God created each of us as we are be comforting at times? What is the price of such comfort?

How could the idea that we are eternal, uncreated, free agents be uncomfortable and disturbing at times? Considering your own character, situation and progress, what strength, solace and comfort can be found by accepting this idea?


Interestingly enough, Joseph Smith’s teaching that the spirit of man is uncreated comes into conflict with what is probably the most widely believed doctrine among LDS Mormons: that our spirits were literally begotten by a heavenly father and a heavenly mother.

Yet, as Mormon scholar Dan Hale has pointed out, the origin of this particular doctrine
“…has remained somewhat obscure…there are no clear statements of the doctrine in any of the [LDS] church’s four standard work.”

The idea that spirits were sexually begotten was introduced not by Joseph Smith but by early Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt. In a letter dated February 14, 1842, Pratt--while serving as a missionary in England--wrote to an Elder Walker:

“When I write to you I feel to let my imagination rove…let us indulge our follies at this time and wander into the field of imagination. Some thirteen thousand years ago in Heaven or in Paradise (say) we came into existences or in other words received a spiritual organization according to the laws that govern spiritual births in eternity. We were there and then (say) born in the express images and likeness of him by whom we received our spiritual birth.”

Orson Pratt made it quite clear in this letter that the above idea was mere speculation on his part. Indeed, his notion that thirteen thousand years ago our spirits “came into existence or in other words received a spiritual organization” seems to contradict Joseph Smith’s teaching that “Intelligence exists upon a self-existent principle; it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it.”

It wasn’t until after the murder of Joseph Smith that Pratt made public his concept of our spirits having been begotten by heavenly parents, publishing it under the heading “The Mormon Creed” in his work “Prophetic Almanac for 1845.” At the 1845 General Conference, Brigham Young endorsed the concept as doctrine.

Why did the Mormon Apostles so eagerly embrace Pratt’s doctrine?

It should be remembered that it was the secret practice of polygamy that ultimately set in to motion the events that led to Joseph Smith’s arrest and murder by a mob. Joseph’s sudden death sent the church into chaos. The Apostles saw it as their calling to maintain order in the church by denying accusations of polygamy while at the same time secretly maintaining the practice. Eager to move the church our of the United States to Mexican territory where, free from U.S. law, they could practice polygamy openly, the Apostle began to lay a theological grounding for the doctrine. Pratt’s doctrine that the spirit was sexually generated by heavenly parents elevated human reproduction to a divine level. Since plural marriage allowed a man to have more biological children than he might have in a traditional monogamous marriage, Pratt’s doctrine served as the perfect justification for the practice.

Later Mormon theologians--realizing that this doctrine not only seemed to contradict Joseph Smith’s teaching on the uncreated nature of the spirit, but also that the doctrine was not explicitly laid out anywhere in Mormon scripture--tried to effect a reconciliation of sorts. B.H. Roberts proposed that the “eternal intelligence” of the individual was the matter from which heavenly parents, through sexual union, organized the spirit/mind of the individual. But this proposal overlooks the fact that Joseph Smith made not differentiation between the concepts of “spirit,” “intelligence” and “mind.”

In his study, “The Origin of the Human Spirit in Early Mormon Thought,” Van Hale concludes:

“In tracing the doctrine of spirit birth backward we find hundreds of references to it throughout Mormon literature, and the teaching that spirits originated through premortal procreation seems to have been the prevailing explanation ever since the Nauvoo period. What is surprising, however, is that none of Joseph Smith‘s recorded sermons--including those delivered in Nauvoo--teach the doctrine. In fact, several seem to teach a doctrine logically at odds with the belief that spirits are the literal offspring of God through premortal birth…Smith’s own doctrinal teaching was that the human spirit as a conscious entity is eternal--as eternal as God. It has no beginning and no end. It was not created; it is self-existing. God, being more advanced than the other spirits, organized them and instituted laws to give them the privilege to advance like himself…Smith used the terms ’spirit,’ ’soul,’ intelligence,’ and ’mind’ synonymously to describe the inchoate, indestructible essence of life. This summary is drawn from eight documentary sources--dating from 6 may 1833 to 7 April 1844. None of them suggest that God presides over the spirits because they are his begotten off spring, but because he was more intelligent, more advanced, than they and because he organized them into a premortal council…In conclusion, one of the most cherished doctrines of [LDS] Mormonism, that spirits are the literal offspring of God, has been taught by virtually all [LDS] Mormon leaders. The notable exception is probably Joseph Smith, whose direct statements teach a doctrine contrary to that of his closest associates, men and women who maintain that they were simply perpetuating what he had begun.”

Discussion Questions:

What affect has the doctrine that our spirits are the sexually generated offspring of our Heavenly Parents have upon the way men and women are viewed? What effect might this doctrine have upon a marriage, a family or a romantic relationship?

How has this doctrine been used to foster sexism? How has it been used as a justification for forcing particulars roles upon men and women--regardless of their individual abilities, preferences or circumstances?

How does sexism undermine the concept of individuality?

How might marriages, as well as familial and romantic relationships be strengthened by rejecting the doctrine the spirits are sexually begotten and by embracing Joseph Smith’s teaching that the human mind is by nature eternal, uncreated and free?


As serious study of Mormon history and doctrine progresses, Mormons of all stripes are beginning to see the virtue of Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding the eternal, uncreated nature of the human mind. Self-described “Cultural Mormon,” William Call has noted:

“…Momonism’s original ideas concerning the eternal, uncreated nature of the human soul are as pertinent today as they were when first given…At the heart of Joseph Smith’s teachings is the principle that that which is most sacred is the eternal, uncreated intelligence or soul of man and that no God or entity whatsoever has the power to either create, destroy or assume jurisdiction over the individual. This doctrine stands apart from Christian theology. It is the underlying and most essential doctrine of democracy. It is not only thoroughly in accord with the sentiments and attitudes of democratic societies, it provides the fundamental spiritual foundation upon which democracy is built. So long as Mormonism advocates and stands by this doctrine it will prosper…Mormonism, in its new, enlightened state, may lift itself up as the one viable religion remaining in today’s modern democratic world…A world religion…is one that provides the underlying spiritual foundation for the world’s people…A religion that provides the spiritual foundation for the forces of democracy that are spreading themselves over the whole world, which religion Mormonism alone can claim to be, could well become, in the centuries if not the decades to come, the religion of the whole world!”

Discussion Questions:

Looking back over human history, how has the doctrine of creation effected civilization? Have these effects been positive, negative or both? What has been the effect of creationism on science, philosophy, human rights and progress?

What effect have the concepts of individualism and human freedom had upon civilization, science, philosophy, human rights and progress?

How might Joseph Smith’s rejection of creationism and his theology of the eternal, uncreated nature of the human spirit effect civilization, science, philosophy, human rights and progress?


Reform Mormonism is unique from other denominations within Mormonism in that it focuses--without any reservations---on the individual. Reform Mormonism does view God as an authority figure who issues commands which humans are duty-bound to obey; therefore it is a non-paternalistic form of Mormonism, that focuses on progression instead of rules. While accepting of all people regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, Reform Mormonism places ultimate responsibility for one’s personal progress on the individual who is by nature free.
For Reform Mormons these ideas resonate with Joseph Smith’s theology regarding the eternal, uncreated nature of the human spirit. In fact, what sets Reform Mormons apart from other Mormons is their willingness to take even the most radical concepts of Joseph Smith and other early Mormons and explore them openly and rationally, accepting and building upon those concepts that enhance human life, happiness and progress, while rejecting those which are irrational and could serve as foundations for ignorance, superstition and bigotry.

Discussion Questions:

How is my understanding of Mormonism affecting my view of the world, my relationships with others, as well as my progression and personal happiness?

Is my understanding of Mormonism the result of my own study, meditation and prayer, or is it something that I have merely accepted without question?

How has my understanding of Mormonism affected the way in which I view myself? Is my understanding of Mormonism at odds with what I know about myself?

How can I enhance my understanding of Mormonism so that it becomes a greater force for happiness and progress in my life and in the lives of my loved ones?


The human mind, the spirit, the immortal part is eternal, without beginning or end.; there was no creation about it. Man was in the beginning with God. Intelligence was not created, nor indeed can it be. Every intelligence is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself.



To respond to some of the questions raised in this Gospel Doctrine session,
or to make a comment or ask a question, email:

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

related to this week's lesson

“The Book of Abraham” Chapter 3 (The Pearl of Great Price)

The Doctrine & Covenants, Section 93

“The King Follett Discourse.” Joseph Smith last and greatest sermon, explaining the Mormon conception of the human mind/spirit as uncreated, eternal and coequal with God.

"Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine"(edited by Gary James Bergera).
This excellent volume contains two excellent studies on the eternal uncreated nature of the human spirit: “The Origin of the Human Spirit in Early Mormon Thought” by Van Hale, and “The Idea of Preexistence in Mormon Thought” by Blake T.Ostler.

"The Cultural Revolution: From the Decay of a Dying World Comes the Birth of a New Age" by William Call. A thought-provoking book of essays by a self-described Cultural Mormon.

Mormonism’s New Paradigm”

“In The Beginning, or Let the Insanity Begin.” This essay explores in detail how Joseph Smith’s rejection of creationism positively affects philosophy and concepts of morality.

Reform Mormonism homepage

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Sunday, October 10, 2004

We will return next Sunday (October 17th) with a new series lessons exploring doctines and concepts unique to Mormonism such as the eternal nature of the human mind, Free Agency, and the Fortunate Fall of Adam & Eve .

Monday, October 04, 2004

INTELLIGENCE & AFFECTION or KNOWLEDGE & LOVE: A Mormon Concept of Human Sexuality

Sunday, October 3, 2004

“For the joy of human love….”
(From the hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth”)

Most contemporary Mormons are renowned for their overly conservative approach to human sexuality. In recent decades, the leaders of Mormonism’s larger denominations have tended to align themselves with Evangelicals and Christian Fundamentalists in their views on this subject.

This is surprising considering that during the 19th and early 20th centuries what most set Mormons apart from others was their radical view of human sexuality. As the character of an LDS missionary in the recent film “Latter Days,” states: “Our ancestors were the original non-traditional families.”

Early Mormons believed that not only was sexuality a human attribute, it was also an attribute of the Gods. In fact, it was only through sexual union with another that an individual could progress towards Godhood. Within Mormonism marriage was not a rite administered by the Priesthood--as in Catholicism. Within Mormonism, marriage in fact became an Order of the Priesthood (See Doctrine & Covenants 132)--the highest Order. Thus, sexual union within marriage became the highest expression of religion.

Last week we explored the Mormon doctrine of the human soul--which is the union of the spirit/mind and body. Early Mormons also taught that there was no such thing as “immaterial matter”--meaning, that everything--including the spirit--has a material existence. Such a doctrine completely undermines the traditional notion that the human body and the human spirit are in conflict with one another; that the spirit is good and the body is somehow bad.
These unique Mormon doctrines set the foundation for early Mormonism’s positive view of human sexuality.

Nowhere is the early Mormon view of human sexuality presented more thoughtfully than in the writings of early Mormon Apostle Parley P. Pratt; therefore, in this week’s lesson, we have printed below extracts from his writings.

“Intelligence and Affection” was published in Nauvoo in 1840, and was distributed by the Mormon press and the Mormon missionaries as being representative of the liberal and enlightened Mormon views on human love and sexuality. “Intelligence” refers to the rational processes of the human mind, while “affection” was a euphemism not only for familial love and the love between friends, but also sexual love.

Excerpts from this classic early Mormon missionary tract are presented below. One wonders how contemporary Mormon attitudes towards sex might differ if more people were familiar with the writings of Parley P. Pratt and other founding fathers and mothers of Mormonism.


“The human mind in infancy, like the body, is small and weak indeed. It neither possesses intelligence [knowledge] or affection [love] to any great degree; for the latter is the production of the former….

“The infant mind commences to expand, and continues to enlarge itself just in proportion to the truths that are presented for its food, and the time and opportunity it has to digest and comprehend them. If unassisted by other intelligences, it expands but very little, --all its powers remain in a great measure inactive and dormant.

“For instance, let an infant be cut off from all communication with other intelligences, let it grow to manhood entirely alone, and it still knows little more than in infancy…

“It is true, that, in this life the progress of the mind in intelligence, is not only gradual, but obstructed in various ways. It has to contend, not only with its own prejudices and the errors of an opposing world, but with innumerable weakness, temptations, cares, and troubles with which it is continually beset…

“In infancy, our love is as narrow as our intelligent capacity. But as our intelligence increases, so our affection grows, till from knowing and loving our mother, we begin to know and love the circle of our immediate kindred and family…As we advance in the knowledge of all our social connections, duties, dependences, relationships, and obligations, our affections still increase…Thus love, or affection is dependent upon knowledge, or intelligence, and can only be increased by an increase of knowledge.

“These two principles [knowledge and love] are the foundations, the fountains of all real happiness.

Discussion Questions:

Parley P. Pratt went to great lengths to link love and sexuality with the mind and with knowledge. What does this link say about the nature of love and emotions?

Pratt makes the case that an individual’s emotions and sexuality are linked to his/her environment, experiences, etc. while growing up and maturing. In other words, the foundation of one’s emotional makeup and sexuality is individualized and subjective.

If this is true, what would this imply about the various “commandments” regarding human sexuality that traditional religions often seek to enforce upon all of their adherents?
What would this imply regarding the concept of “sexual morality” in general?


“Some persons have supposed that our natural affections [sexual feelings] were the results of a fallen and corrupt nature, and that they are ‘carnal, sensual and devilish,’ and therefore ought to be resisted, subdued, or overcome as so many evils which prevent our perfection, or progress in the spiritual life. In short, they should be greatly subdued in this world, and in the world to come entirely done away. And even our intelligence [knowledge] also. Such persons frequently inquire whither they shall recognize their kindred or friends in the life to come. They also caution themselves and others, lest they should love their child, their companion, their brother, sister or mother too well; for, say they, if you love them to well it will offend your God and he will take them from you.

“Such persons have mistaken the source and fountain of happiness altogether. They have not one correct idea of the nature of the enjoyments, or happiness of heaven, or earth; this life or any other. If intelligence [knowledge] and affection [human love] are to decrease to such a low ebb that we shall neither recognize or love our kindred and friends, then a stone, a block of wood, or a picture on the wall is as capable of the enjoyment of heaven as we are.

“So far from this being the case, our natural affections [sexual feelings/human loves] are planted in us by the Spirit of God, for a wise purpose; and they are the very mainsprings of life and happiness--they are the cement of all virtuous and heavenly society--they are the essence of charity, or love; and therefore, never fail but endure forever.

“There is not a more pure and holy principle in existence than the affection which glows in the bosom of a virtuous man for his companion; for his parents, brothers, sisters, and children….

“These pure affections are inspired in our bosoms, and interwoven with out nature by an all wise and benevolent being, who rejoices in the happiness and welfare of his creatures. All his revelations to man, touching this subject [human love, human sexuality] are calculated to approve, encourage and perfect them; that man, enlightened and taught of God, may be more free, more social, more cheerful, happy, kind, familiar, and lovely than he was before; that he may fill all the relationships of life, and act in every sphere of usefulness with a greater energy, and with a readier mind, and a more willing heart.


“All the monkish austerity all the sadness and reserve, all the unsocial feelings and doings of priests, and monks, and nuns; all the longfacedness, unsocial sadness, groanings, sighings, and mortifications of secretaries, whether ancient convents, where men and women retire from all busy scenes and pleasures of life, to live a life of celibacy, self-denial and devotion; and whether in the more modern and fashionable circles of the camp meetings, or the ‘mourners bench.’

“All these, I say, are expressly and entirely opposed to the spirit and object of true religion; they are so many relics of superstition, ignorance, and hypocrisy, and are expressly forbidden and condemned by our Lord and Savior.

Discussion Questions:

Can you think of any ways in which celibacy and a negative view of human sexuality are linked to superstition, ignorance and hypocrisy?

Consider this: in Catholicism, one takes a vow of celibacy when entering the highest order of the Priesthood. Yet within Mormonism, the highest order of the Priesthood is the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. What does this say about the Mormon view of human sexuality?


“In all these things, man has mistaken the source of happiness; has been dissatisfied with the elements and attributes of his nature, and has tried, and sought, and prayed, in vain to make himself into a different being from what the Lord has wisely designed he should be…”

“…The man who, through a mistaken zeal, or through the influence of ignorant teachings or incorrect traditions, so far mistakes the object and purpose of his being, as to withdraw from all these; to shut himself from the world, and seek to overcome and subdue the natural affections [sexual feelings] with which God has endowed him, is not a religious man at all. On the contrary, he is opposing the will and commandments of God and neglecting the duties of religion…

Discussion Questions:

How do the ideas expressed above resonate with the religious concepts you were taught while growing up?

What is your reaction to these ideas now?


“Man, know thy self,--study thine own nature,--learn the powers of thy body,--the capacity of thy mind. Learn thine origin, thy purpose and thy destiny. Study the true source of thine own happiness, and the happiness of all beings with which thou art associated. Learn to act in unison with thy true character, nature and attributes; and thus improve and cultivate the resources within and around thee. This will render you truly happy, and be an acceptable service to your God. And being faithful over a few things, you may hope to be made a ruler of many thing….


“Know then, O’ Man, that aided and directed by the light of heaven the sources of thy happiness are within and around thee. Instead of seeking unto God for a mysterious change to wrought, or for your affections and attributes to be taken away and subdued, seek unto him for aid, and wisdom to govern, direct and cultivate them in a manner which will tend to your happiness and exaltation, both in this world and in that which is to come. Yea, pray to him that every affection, attribute, power and energy of your body and mind may be cultivated, increased, enlarged, perfected and exercised for his glory and for the glory and happiness of yourself, and of all those whose good fortune it may be to be associated with you…

Discussion Questions:

If one prays that one one’s sexual affection be strengthened and increased, what might this indicate about one’s conception of God? One’s conception of human nature? One’s conception of human relationships and human love? One’s conception of the body and spirit?

In your own past, would this approach have helped or hindered you in your perosnal progression and in your relationship with God?


“Having discovered and set forth in plainness the origin, purpose and destiny of man’s physical organization and the powers, attributes, energies, affections and capabilities of his intellect, we find him standing erect in God-like majesty, with organs of strength beyond the reach of death: and powers of thought, capable of spanning the heavens, and comprehending all things…”

Discussion Questions:

When envisioning humankind’s eternal destiny, most religious traditions focus on spirituality--meaning, immateriality. The above description is radically different--with its celebration of both the physical body and the mind. What is your reaction to the ideals expressed above?


While other denominations within world-wide Mormonism have, over the past century and a half, retreated from the liberal, optimistic view of human nature and human sexuality embraced by many first generation Mormons, Reform Mormonism embraces this view.
When contemplating human nature and human sexuality, Reform Mormons tend to take a more rational, positive approach.

Reform Mormonism rejects the idea that God has legalistically issued a set of commands regarding human sexuality to which the individual must render mindless obedience. Such a notion seems out of harmony with the broader implications of Mormon theology--that there is no inherent contradiction between the mind/spirit and the body; that the individual is an eternally free and autonomous entity who, being in the image and likeness of God, has the ability to grow in knowledge and eventually progress towards Godhood.

“The Book of Mormon” teaches that men and women are that they might have joy. Joseph Smith taught that “happiness is the object of our existence.” (Interestingly enough, Joseph wrote this in a letter dealing with marriage and sexuality.) Sexuality plays an essential role in human happiness and fulfillment. One’s sexuality is not something to be sacrificed, repressed or overcome.

May every affection, attribute, power and energy of my body and mind be cultivated, increased, perfected and exercised for the glory of God, and for the glory and happiness of myself and those in my life.

To respond to some of the questions raised in thisGospel Doctrine session, or to make a comment or ask a question,



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


Related to this week’s lesson

Photo & Biographical information on Parley P. Pratt

On the writings of Parley P. Pratt

“The Essential Parley P. Pratt”

“The Essential Joseph Smith”

“Rational Theology” by John Widstoe

“The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion” by Sterling M. Mc Murrin

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.



The Mormon Concept of the Resurrection"