Sunday, October 22, 2006


Recently the front page of “USA Today” featured the following story on the results of a new Gallup survey:

“Forget denominational brands or doctrines or even once-salient terms
like ‘Religious Right.’ Even the oft-used ‘Evangelical’ appears to
be losing ground….Believers just don't see themselves the way the media and
politicians — or even their pastors — do, according to the national
survey of 1,721 Americans, by far the most comprehensive national
religion survey to date.

‘Written and analyzed by sociologists from Baylor University's
Institute for Studies of Religion, in Waco, Texas, and conducted by
Gallup, the survey asked 77 questions with nearly 400 answer choices
that burrowed deeply into beliefs, practices and religious ties and
turned up some surprising findings:

“Though 91.8% say they believe in God, a higher power or a cosmic
force, they had four distinct views of God's personality and
engagement in human affairs. These Four Gods — dubbed by researchers
Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical or Distant — tell more about
people's social, moral and political views and personal piety than
the familiar categories of Protestant/Catholic/Jew or even red
state/blue state…Sociologist Paul Froese says the survey finds the stereotype that
conservatives are religious and liberals are secular is ‘simply not
true. Political liberals and conservative are both religious. They
just have different religious views.’

“’…The Four Gods breakdown is helpful if you are trying to understand
religion's impact on society by how people see themselves from the
inside, not by observations from outsiders,’ says John Green, a
senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“…says Baylor's Christopher Bader, "you learn more about
people's moral and political behavior if you know their image of God
than almost any other measure. It turns out to be more powerful a
predictor of social and political views than the usual markers of
church attendance or belief in the Bible."

It should come as no surprise that a person’s image of God could serve as a key to understanding their character. For most people, their conception of God not only symbolizes their highest ideals, virtues and aspirations, but also plays a foundational role in their undesrtanding of existence itself—including their own nature.

In his King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith—the first Mormon—laid out a radically new (and by the standards of traditional monotheism, completely blasphemous) vision of Deity. Though he admitted that this vision of Deity might cause controversy, he insisted that his purpose in presenting it, was to bring understanding to people---not merely an understanding of God, but more importantly of themselves:

“If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” (Joseph Smith, April 1844)

This is a very interesting statement given certain popular religious traditions. Common among these is the idea that God lives in one’s heart and that if one looks within one’s self one will find God. In other words, understand yourself and you will come to understand God—at least to the degree possible for human beings.

But Joseph taught just the opposite. Toward the end of his life, he rejected the above idea completely. In “The Doctrine & Covenants,” he wrote that the idea of a God who lived in one’s heart was an old sectarian notion and was false.

It seems as if Joseph, perhaps on an intuitive level, realized that if one referred to God as the basis for one’s understanding of existence, nature, the world and one’s own self—then one had to first understand exactly what one meant when using the word “God.” One’s definition of God could affect one’s view of everything else. It would also have a great influence on one’s understanding of one’s own nature, on what is ethical and unethical, and on the expectations that one has of one’s self.

For instance, if one believed that God was a powerful, supernatural being or force that created existence out of nothing, then one would view existence and the natural world quite differently from someone who envisioned God in a different ways.

If one was a Pantheist, believing that God existed in nature, then one might have a very different view of human technology (which often alters the natural environment of a particular place) from one who believes that humans are created in the image of God, with a Divine charge to “subdue the earth.”

If one was a monotheist, believing in one all-powerful Deity, one might have a very different view of a single centralized governmental power than a polytheist might have, who views existence as being divided into different spheres ruled by different gods. History itself seems to prove that this is true. Over the past two thousand years, monotheism has given the world church/states in which a single king or political entity ruled by divine right. On the other hand, ancient Greek polytheism—with it’s pantheon of gods ruling the various aspects of nature—gave the world democracy. Indeed, modern democracies and representative republics came into being when the polytheistic “pagan” philosophy and aesthetics of ancient Greece were rediscovered by theologians, philosophers and artists of the late Middle Ages.

It seems perfectly rational then to conclude with Joseph Smith, that “if men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” For this purpose, Joseph Smith delivered his famous King Follett Discourse.

The problem with “understanding God,” is that according to most religions, this was a human impossibility. God was nearly universally conceived as “the Creator of all things,” as “the First Cause.” God was viewed solely in terms of power, might, grandeur and mystery. With regard to humanity and nature, God was completely “other.” The human mind, being the creation of God, was, by its very nature, no more capable of comprehending the character and nature of God than a piece of pottery would be capable of comprehending the nature of the potter who made it. The very notion that a mere mortal could “comprehend” the Divine was itself decried as blasphemous.

And yet, Mormonism itself (even in its earliest years, when it was still an evangelical movement that mingled Christian doctrine with folk-magic and spiritualism) was born from the desire of individuals to somehow comprehend the nature of God, and to reconcile many of the values of the Christian past and the Enlightenment with the more rational, secular world of early 19th century America.

The desire to “know” rather than merely “believe” was the impetus for the growth and progress of early Mormonism. In the 1830’s that desire to “know” took on a decidedly fundamentalist bent: revelations opening with the words “Thus saith the Lord” were plentiful and were given on the most mundane subjects, from keeping church records to selling property.

But over its first decade, Mormonism changed radically. The desire to “know” became linked with ancient and archaic schools of belief, such as Jewish mysticism. Finally during the Nauvoo period, Joseph Smith, Parley and Orson Pratt and other Mormon leader began drifting toward philosophy, modern Biblical scholarship, rational thought and science for their “knowledge.”

Since Joseph Smith was murdered within weeks of delivering the King Follett Discourse, that sermon could be viewed as the crowning achievement of his quest to “know” and to “comprehend the character of God.”

The sermon became controversial (and remains controversial to this day) for many reasons; chief among them the very notion that human beings could actually “comprehend the character of God.” For Christians, Jews and Muslims, this is utter blasphemy. For many modern Mormons (perhaps for the majority) it is—if not blasphemous—at least unsettling to their religious sensibilities, which tend to be like those of their Evangelical and fundamentalist neighbors.

Yet one has only to turn to Mormon scriptures—for instance, to “The Doctrine & Covenants” 93:28, which promises that people could eventually “know all things.” Even more explicit in other sections of this same book was the promise that the day would come when people would comprehend even God.

As the recent gallop survey shows, regardless of whether people think that they actually comprehend God completely, most do have very definite ideas and beliefs concerning the nature of God, and these ideas and beliefs influence they way they see the world and the way in which they see themselves.

It is this last item that is of most importance. If human beings do not understand themselves, if they are ignorant of or clueless regarding their nature and their relationship to the world in which they live, then their lives may very well become jeopardized. How accessible is human happiness, if humans either remain ignorant of their nature or base their understanding of themselves on ideas derived from irrelevant traditions or superstitions?

Even in “The Book of Mormon,” Joseph Smith railed against those who lived in blind obedience to “the foolish traditions of their fathers.” In the King Follett Discourse, Joseph examined that central concepts of traditional monotheism—the doctrines on the nature of God—and lumped them in with these same “foolish traditions.” As he went on to demonstrate, the “foolish traditions” regarding the nature of God, were blinding the human race to the reality of human nature and undermining human progress.


How have your ideas on the nature of God changed in your life time?

What events and experiences contributed to these changes?

How did these changes in your ideas concerning the nature of God effect your later decisions and actions?

Share your thoughts, opinions and insights with our readers, by emailing them
All views of welcomed.

Since the concepts found in the King Follett Discourse serve as the foundation for much of Reform Mormonism, the next series of lesson will explore this sermon from beginning to end.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Violence and Force in the Name of God

A decade ago, few people in the West world would have thought that the defining issue of the age would be freedom of religion. Since the Enlightenment, the nations of the West have moved in the direction of religious freedom, with less government involvement in matter of faith. Even in those European nations which still have official state churches and religions, the links between church and state have weakened. In fact, those nations with church states tend to have the least religious citizenry.

From its inception, the United States Constitution has guaranteed freedom of religion. The most famous betrayal of that principle can be found in the history of the Mormons.

On the one hand, 19th century America politicians and lawmakers saw Mormonism as Un-American because they considered it to be Un-Christian. Despite the US Constitution and statements to the contrary by American founding fathers such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, the American public still held firmly to the mistaken belief that the United States was “a Christian government.” The radically new theology of Joseph Smith--and many of those Mormon leaders who followed him--was seen as a blasphemous by orthodox Christian standards, and therefore a threat to the belief system that many Americans mistakenly assumed was the foundation of the Republic. Believing that Mormonism posed a grave threat to the nation, both the Federal government and the government of various states and territories passed laws against the civil rights of Mormons. In Missouri, Governor Boggs issued an extermination notice which legalized the murder of Mormons in that state. Decades later the state of Idaho and the Federal Government passed laws which denied Mormons the right to vote, serve on a jury or hold political office. Mormonism is unique among all religions, in that it is the only faith to be named as a threat to the nation in the inauguration speech of a United States president.

On the other hand, Brigham Young and the first generation of leaders who established the Mormon community in Utah, while giving much lip service to freedom of religion, established a theocratic shadow government to rule the territory. In addition to this, Brigham Young, Heber Kimball and other Utah Mormon leaders preached the infamous doctrine of Blood Atonement in the mid-1850s--which made certain religious heresies capital offenses punishable by death. (The current practice in Utah of execution by firing squad, is a relic of this era and doctrine.)

All of this led to an event which historians, until the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, considered the worst terrorist attack in American history: The Utah Mountain Meadows Massacre, which took place (ironically enough) on September 11, 1857.

At that time, the Federal Government was sending the majority of the US Army to Utah Territory to put down an imagined “Mormon Rebellion.” For their part, the Utah Mormons were caught up in the fanaticism of the Blood Atonement Doctrine and hysteria over the Government’s actions. When a large wagon train of non-Mormons traveling from Arkansas to California passed through southern Utah, a legion of Mormon men--acting under the direction of the Cedar City LDS High Council--attacked the wagon train, brutally shooting and butchering over one hundred innocent men, women and children. Only a few children under the age of eight were spared.

On the Reform Mormon liturgical calendar, September 11th is a day of remembrance on which Reform Mormons look back on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and ponder the attitudes and beliefs that led to this tragedy. Fully committed to the principle that every human being has a natural right to Free Agency, Reform Mormons decry any violence or use of force (including the force of law) in the name of religion.

Ironically enough it was on the 2001 anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre that America again experienced religiously inspired terrorism and violence. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, became the defining events of the current era.

While a “War on Terrorism” is the topic of current debate, the real issue really boils down to religious freedom. Does any government have the right to establish a religion to which all its citizens must submit? Does any government have the right to punish heresy?

These questions do not relate only to the current situation in Middle Eastern countries, or the threat these may have to Western nations: over the past two decades Americans themselves have become bitterly divided on questions of religion. Americans across the political spectrum support government actions to establish a number of various laws and programs which, when examined, are based solely on subjective principles of faith.

In the midst of this “war of words and tumult of opinion,” we might benefit from the following teachings of Joseph Smith.

Joseph himself was one of the most divisive figures in American history, and during his brief life was jailed numerous times for going against the religious mainstream. At the beginning of his famous King Follett Discourse (which serves as the basis for much of Reform Mormon thought), Joseph stood up for the individual’s right to freedom of religion and conscience, and decried all violence in the name of God.

Knowing that most Americans (as well as a growing number of Mormon leaders) considered him a false or fallen prophet, Joseph taught:

“If any man is authorized to take away my life because he thinks and says I am a false teacher, then, upon the same principle, we should be justified in taking away the life of every false teacher, and where would be the end of blood? And who would not suffer?

But meddle not with any man for his religion: and all governments ought to permit every man to enjoy his religion unmolested.

No man is authorized to take away life in consequence of difference of religion, which all laws and governments ought to tolerate and protect, right or wrong.

Every man had a natural right, and, in our country, a constitutional right to be a false prophet, as well as a true prophet. If I show, verily, that I have the truth of God, and show that ninety-nine out of every hundred professing religious ministers are false teachers, having no authority, while they pretend to hold the keys of God’s kingdom on earth, and was to kill then because they are false teachers, it would deluge the whole world with blood.” (Joseph Smith, “The King Follett Discourse, April 1844)


1. Joseph Smith taught: “No man is authorized to take away life in consequence of difference of religion, which all laws and governments ought to tolerate and protect, right or wrong.”

Is this principle accepted by most nations on earth today? Can you think of examples?

Is this principle consistent with the fact that many nations and governments have “state churches” or “official religions?” Why is it--or why isn’t it--consistent?

Can this principle be reconciled with the common assumption that America is “a Christian nation?” Why, or why not?

2. Joseph Smith taught: “Every man had a natural right, and, in our country, a constitutional right to be a false prophet, as well as a true prophet.”

What are your feelings and thoughts regarding this principle?

3. All law is the use of physical force (or the threat of physical force) to a particular end. If individuals have a natural right to freedom of conscience and belief, are laws establishing religions ethical? Why, or why not?

Share your answers, ideas and opinions, by sending them to”

Monday, June 12, 2006


Progression! According to Reform Mormon, this is the purpose of human life.

Around the world, people are living longer, healthier, happier and more productive lives because of progress in ethics, science, technology, art, philosophy and other fields of human endeavor.

But if one studies history, one soon learns that nearly all of these advances were at first criticized by traditional religions. Those brave men and women who were on the forefront of progress were often labeled “heretics,” and criticized or persecuted for daring to “play God.” And yet with the passage of time it has become evident that their “playing God” has benefited the human race.

Reform Mormonism asks you consider a radical question--one that many might call blasphemous: What if “playing God” is actually a virtue?

Joseph Smith, the first Mormon, put it this way:

“….you have got to learn to be Gods yourselves…the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one.”

At first the very idea of learning to be a God probably sounds ridiculous. This is because traditional religions think of God in completely supernatural terms, attributing qualities to Him that defy reason: they claim that God created everything that exists from nothing; that God is present everywhere at all times; that He is now, has always been and always will be all-knowing and all-powerful, controlling all events. In fact, when all is said and done, the traditional concept of God boils down to one thing: power. God has all of it; human have none, and so they at God’s mercy.

Reform Mormonism rejects the supernatural. Nature is supreme. Against this background, Joseph Smith revealed a new vision of God:

“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…That is the great secret….if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man [or woman] in form….for Adam [and Eve] were created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God.”

The good news of Reform Mormonism is that in a deeper and more profound sense than you’ve ever imagined, you are a child of God. Whoever you are, wherever you, whatever you have done in the past, whatever your situation may now be--you exist in the image and likeness of God.

Your conversion to Reform Mormonism begins when you consider this radically new idea:

“As we now are, God once was.”

Reform Mormonism rejects the idea that human nature is inherently fallen and sinful.

Human nature is not something that one can repent of; to do that would be to apologize for having been born.

Human nature is not something that one should try to overcome; to do that would be suicidal.

The First Step in converting to Reform Mormonism is to accept human nature as your most profound link to God.

The experiences of life here on earth--whatever those experience may be--do not separate you from God. On the contrary, God was once like you, and understands everything you could possibly experience.

“As God now is, we may become.”

All children exist in their parents’ image. They have the potential to grow and become like their parents. In doing this, they take nothing away from their parents. No ethical father or mother is offended when their children follow their example and make an effort to become happy, productive adults. Far from it! Good parents take great pride in their children’s achievements! They are flattered when their children express a desire to follow in their foot steps. This is merely nature taking its course. Reform Mormonism proclaims that this same principle pertains to you and your relationship with God.

The Second Step in conversion is to realize that because you and God share a common nature, you also share a common destiny.

Growing up means learning to be independent from your parents. It means thinking for yourself, deciding what you do and do not value, making decisions and taking action and--most importantly--taking responsibility for your actions. No one can go through life blaming their parents for how his or her life has turned out.

And yet this is exactly what so many people do when they think of their relationship with God. It’s as if they think of themselves as puppets, with God pulling their strings and controlling every event in their lives. When something bad happens, they wonder why God allowed it to happen. When something good happens, they believe they’d better thank God for it or else He might punish them.

This way of thinking about God overlooks one very important thing: Every human being is free by nature. Each of us has Free Agency (Free Will). While other religions teach that you need to surrender your will to God’s will, Reform Mormonism proclaims something entirely different: God expects you to think for yourself. God expects you to be curious and to ask questions--not live by blind faith. God expects you to act for yourself and take responsibility for yourself. The good news of Reform Mormonism is this: God, like any good parents, wants you to become strong, self-reliant, independent and--above all else--happy.

Joseph Smith, the first Mormon, taught that it was God’s will that people be “free forever….to act for themselves and not to be acted upon.”

The Third Step in converting to Reform Mormonism is to embrace your Free Agency--your divine right to think for yourself, to act for your self and to accept the consequences of your actions.

You are not a puppet. You are not a pawn in some divine chess game. You are in complete control of your choices and your actions. It is God’s will that you have complete authority over your life. Being free, you create your own character; you determine what you will become.

The Fourth Step and final step in converting to Reform Mormonism is to make a personal commitment (a covenant) to emulate God.
This final step is completely private and personal. It is between you and God alone. It does not consist of joining any organization or church; it does not consist of going through a formal ritual, ceremony or ordinance.

To emulate God is to accept God as your example, to think of God as your Heavenly Father or Mother, and to commit yourself to progressing and becoming more like God.

This personal covenant with God can be made silently, or it can be expressed in a simple pray or vow. Here one’s example of such a prayer:

“Dear God, I accept that I exist in your image and
that you are my Heavenly Father (or Heavenly Mother,
or Heavenly Parent). As your child, I will look to you as an
example. From this time on, I commit myself to progressing
and becoming more like you. Amen.”

The exact words are unimportant. All that matters is that you accept the fact that because you are a child of God, and commit yourself becoming like God.

“I have said that you are gods;
all of you are children of the Most High.”
(Psalm 82:7)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

IS HUMAN NATURE GOOD OR EVIL: The Reform Mormon Doctrine of Human Nature

Is human nature inherently good or bad? It’s a question that theologians and philosophers have debated for thousands of years.

When we look at a newborn infant it’s very easy to believe that we‘re inherently good. After all, an infant is so helpless, so dependent--and little children are so trusting.

“No,” say most theologians. Human nature is fallen, sinful; man is selfish, proud, arrogant. War, intolerance, sexual depravity, man’s inhumanity to man--these things prove that human nature is basically evil.

If that’s true, then how do you explain the good things people do: acts of kindness, compassion and valor? Theologians say that any good people do is the result of God working through them; they insist that if left to our own devices, we’d gravitate towards evil.

Others philosophers take the opposite view--made famous in Anne Frank’s declaration, “I believe that people are basically good at heart.” Cruelty, hate, murder, sadism--these are the result of disease, mental illness or negative social influences.

But is that true? Watch those wide-eyed trusting little children at play. Even though society hasn’t had a chance to influence all that much, little children can be awful to cruel to one another at times. But surely they’re not all suffering from disease or mental illnesses.

Others say that it isn’t a question of being good or evil. Human nature, they say, is conflicted. We’re all caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between two opposing forces---between our spirit and our flesh, our minds and our bodies, our hearts and ours heads. The body, the flesh and the cold rational mind entice us to be selfish, sensual and cruel--while the spirit and the heart entice use to acts of selflessness, love and kindness. For thousands of years philosophers and spiritual leaders have said that we should strive to overcome our selfish physical desires, our materialism and the temporary concerns of life on earth--and instead focus on spiritual matters and on what awaits us once this life is over.

Most people seem to accept this last view. When they get caught up in the demands of every day life, they often feel guilty thinking that they’re not paying enough attention to God or spiritual matters. Many of us also feel awkward, insecure and ashamed of our sexuality because we’ve been conditioned to think of our bodies and our physical desires as being in conflict with what is spiritual and good.

So, is human nature good, evil or conflicted?

The good news of Reform Mormonism is that none of these ideas are true.

Reform Mormonism teaches, “The spirit and the body are the soul of man.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88: 15)
Any conflict between the body and mind, the spirit and the flesh, the heart and head is imaginary. Take away any one of these attributes and not only would you no longer be human, you’d no longer be alive. One philosopher put it this way: “The spirit without the body is a ghost; the body without the spirit is a corpse.”

Emotions and reason, spirituality and sexuality--none of these things can be separated from one another. All are a part of our nature; all are essential aspects of our soul--and none should be ignored, suppressed or sacrificed. We have to fully embrace them all if we’re to experience true and lasting joy.

Because the body and the spirit are the soul of man, Reform Mormonism teaches that “spirit and element inseparably connected receive a fullness of joy; and when separated man cannot receive a fullness of joy.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93: 33-34)

What about that newborn infant? Is she inherently good or evil? The answer is neither one. She’s still an infant, too immature mentally or emotionally to think for herself; still too helpless and dependent on others to make choices or act on her own.

And that is the key to understanding the true nature of good and evil: both are the result of an individual’s choices and actions. If something isn’t a matter of choice, then it can’t be a sin.

And so the good news of Reform Mormonism is that human beings are “in their infant state, innocent before God.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:38)

And those little children at play--sometimes hitting, shoving and calling one another names--are they good or bad? Certainly hitting and fighting are wrong, but these are still little kids, emotionally and psychologically too immature to be held responsible for their actions. In a few years, they’ll begin to more fully understand how their actions effect others and then they can be held accountable, but for now--being kids--they, too, are “innocent before God.”

The good news of Reform Mormonism is that human beings are not by nature good, evil or even conflicted; they are by nature free.

Understanding that freedom, is the first step in understanding ourselves and the purpose of life.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

REFORM MORMONISM: An historical persepctive

Reform Mormonism traces its history to what may very well be the most unique, revolutionary and unorthodox sermon in American history.

The sermon was delivered in April 1844 at Nauvoo, Illinois. Built on what had been fever-infested Mississippi swamp land, Nauvoo had become, in less than five years, the largest and most politically powerful city in the state of Illinois.

The sermon was delivered by Joseph Smith, the founder and Mayor of Nauvoo. But long before he founded the city, Joseph had gained national attention as the founder of a new and distinctly American religious movement known as Mormonism.

Fifteen years earlier, Joseph had described the purpose and goal of Mormonism in this way:

“…if the people of this generation harden not their hearts, I will work a reformation among them…” (“Book of Commandments” 4:5)

The mainstream churches of the day hardly thought a reformation was needed. Even though Joseph’s earliest teachings more or less reflected the Christianity of the American frontier, Joseph Smith and Mormonism were denounced by the mainstream churches. Due to the mob-mentality found in rural frontier communities of the day, the Mormons were often the victims of mob violence. Despite this, Joseph Smith continued to attract thousands of followers from across the United States, Canada and England.

Joseph Smith was unlike other religious leaders of his day. Though Mormons thought of him as a prophet, he was no preacher of doom and gloom--and he certainly looked nothing at all like the stereotypical Moses or Elijah. He was over six feet tall, possessed a powerful, athletic build and was described as “a fine looking man.” Good natured and out-going, he loved to wrestle. (One couple converted to Mormonism and moved to Nauvoo, then left the city and the faith the day they arrived when they found Joseph in a wrestling match with some other men in town.)

Growing up in the boom towns along the Erie canal in upstate New York, young Joseph Smith indulged in frontier folk-magic and spiritualism, and was fascinated with the folk-lore surrounding the origins of the Native Americans. In his late teens, his interests turned to religion: he joined a local Methodist debating club and became adept at debating theology. His religious ideas were also influenced by his father and grandfather--both of whom rejected many orthodox Christian doctrines in favor of Deism, Universalism and Unitarianism concepts.

In his early twenties, Joseph began publishing his ideas, presenting them to the world as modern scripture, equal in authority to the Bible and other ancient writings. But Joseph was far from a scriptural literalist or fundamentalist. When, after further study and prayer, his ideas regarding a particular doctrine changed, he would simply rewrite his previous scripture to reflect that change and then republish it.

And indeed, Joseph Smith’s beliefs and ideas did change as he matured.

After establishing a church in 1830, Joseph’s came under the influence of a Christian commune in Kirtland, Ohio, whose members were attempting to “restore” the primitive Christianity of the first century.

Christianity was not the sole influence on Joseph’s changing beliefs and philosophy. In Ohio, he founded what he called “The School of the Prophets,” and hired a rabbi to teach him and other Mormon leaders Hebrew and the tenants of Judaism--including elements of the Kabalah. In his early thirties, he became fascinated with Egyptology and developed a keen interest in the religions and gods of ancient Egypt. Through his involvement in Freemasonry, Joseph was exposed to the philosophy of the Enlightenment.

With all of these contrasting influences, Joseph Smith’s beliefs began to change dramatically. By the time he was in his mid-thirties, Joseph Smith was privately teaching a new theology to some of the highest ranking leaders of the Mormon community. Mormonism was on the brink of changing from a fringe Christian movement into a completely new religion.

In April of 1844, at an annual church conference in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith unveiled a new theology to the world.

He had been asked to deliver a funeral sermon in memory of a Mormon named King Follett who had died recently. This sermon became known as “The King Follett Discourse,” and in it Joseph taught ideas that not only contradicted the beliefs of most people, but also undermined many of his own earlier notions.

Joseph began his sermon championing religious freedom and the natural rights of man--going so far as to say than every individual “has a natural, and in our country, a constitutional right to be a false prophet, as well as a true prophet.” He denounced all violence and bloodshed in the name of religion.

Joseph then denounced the central ideas of traditional monotheism, saying they were based in ignorance and superstition, and insisting that they “lessen man in my estimation.”

Joseph Smith rejected the doctrine of Creationism--considered by many to be the foundation of all religious thought. He taught that nature was uncreated and eternal, without beginning or end; that it was impossible for anyone--even God--to create something out of nothing.

Joseph declared that the individual exists literally in the image of God; that each of person shares a common nature with God and is “co-equal with God.”

While traditional religion preached dependence on God and submission to His will, Joseph taught, “You have got to learn how to become Gods yourselves…the same as all Gods have done, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a greater one.” It wasn’t mere belief or faith, or a reliance on some supernatural force that would bring such growth. “Knowledge is what saves a man,” said Joseph. “The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge.” All minds “are susceptible of enlargement.”

Decades later, Joseph Smith’s brother-in-law would sum up his new theology in this way:

“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”

By embracing such a positive view of human nature, Joseph Smith’s new religion was at odds with orthodox Christianity. Many in the Mormon community were appalled by his doctrines.

William Law (next to Joseph, the second highest ranking official in the church) along with other disaffected Mormon officials established a new newspaper in Nauvoo. “The Nauvoo Expositor” denounced Joseph as an “atheist,” Deist” and “false prophet,” and demanded that he step down as leader of the Church and that he be stripped of the office of mayor.

In response, Joseph as the mayor of Nauvoo declared the newspaper a public nuisance and ordered it shut down. Such measures though common in frontier communities, clearly violated the First Amendment. When word reached the Governor of Illinois, he placed Joseph and several other Mormon leaders under arrest. While Joseph await his hearing, an angry mob stormed the jail in Carthage where he was being housed. Determined to rid the world of a man they viewed as a false prophet and an enemy to true Christianity, they brutally shot and killed Joseph Smith.

With the murder of Joseph Smith, the Mormon community fell apart. Many were so put off by Joseph’s new doctrines, that they left Mormonism altogether. There were bitter disputes over who should succeed Joseph as leader of the Mormon community and which of Joseph doctrines should be accepted as legitimate. Joseph’s immediate family (his wife Emma, his children, mother and siblings) renounced his new doctrines and established a “reorganized” church in Missouri, teaching the orthodox Christian doctrines that Joseph had rejected. Other groups of Mormons migrated to places such as Michigan and Pennsylvania where they founded their own churches. The largest group of Mormons migrated west under the leadership of Brigham Young, where they changed the course of US history by colonizing the states of Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona. Although the largest Mormon denomination, the Utah church would see many of its members break away to establish a variety of churches, sects and cults.

There are now dozens upon dozens of different denominations within Mormonism. However, one thing unites them: in varying degrees, all reject important aspects of the King Follet Discourse’s new theology in favor of orthodox Christian beliefs.

Reform Mormons stand alone in declaring that Mormonism is, in fact, a new religion--completely separate and distinct from Christianity. Reform Mormons do not attempt to distance themselves from the King Follett Discourse or water-down its unique ideas . They know that these ideas cannot be reconciled the traditional monotheism. Taking these ideas are their foundation, Reform Mormons embrace progression, individualism, rational thought, science, technology and the arts--as well as the expansion of knowledge and human liberty. Reform Mormons fully embrace all aspects of Mormon history, and they look to the future, celebrating human achievement and the divine potential of each individual.

“The Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, ranks with Moses, Jesus and Mohammed as a creator of original religious ideas. His spiritual formulations concerning the supremacy of nature, the limitations of God, and the uncreatabillity of the human spirit masterfully addressed the religious issues of his day, These doctrines provided the foundation of a new religion that declared that men could become gods and that God himself was once but a mortal man. Smith’s new religion threw out the preeminence of God, replacing it with the ascendancy of man, just as colonial America had thrown out the preeminence of the king on favor of the ascendancy of the people.” (William Call in his book, “The Cultural Revolution.”)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

WRESTLING WITH GOD: The Restoration of Israel

Recently in an interdenominational study group, while discussing the topic of suffering and faith, the question was asked: “Have you ever demanded that God explain why suffering and evil exist?”

One gentleman immediately said, “We have no right to make any demands on God.” Others were quick to say that given human nature, it’s understandable that we would demand that God “tell us why.” Most maintained that a loving God understands human nature and forgives us for daring to make demands of Him, but everyone was in total agreement that when all is said and done, humans have no right to demand anything from God. As another gentleman explained: “We’re God’s creatures. He is the Creator. He has all power and knows everything--past, present and future. He owes us nothing. We’re the one’s indebted to Him--for everything. We have no right to make any demands on Him.”

The people in this group were all Christians, and so from the perspective the Christian Paradigm, what they said was correct: God, the creator and sustainer of all things, is so mighty that it’s ridiculous for mere humans to assume they can make demand anything from Him.

However, from the perspective of the Mormon Paradigm, the same thing could not be said.

The Mormon Paradigm rejects the doctrine of creationism altogether. As Joseph Smith taught, God may organize chaos into order, but He cannot create something out of nothing. God did not create humanity. Like God, the human mind is self-existing and eternal; human nature is co-equal with God. Humanity and God exist on the exact same principles; they are essentially the same type of being in different stages of progress.

Such doctrines are blasphemous according to the theologians of all monotheistic faiths. And yet, Joseph Smith‘s vision of God--as heretical as it may seem at first--is actually more in harmony with much of the Bible than is the traditional concept of God. As Harold Bloom has observed in several of his books, the God of the theologians is not the God of the Bible--in particular, the Lord God (YWHW) as presented in the oldest sections of the Old Testament. Bloom has praised Joseph Smith for somehow rediscovering the original God of ancient Israel and “archaic Judaism.”

This God is not as indifferent to human demands as traditional religions assume. Consider the story of the patriarch Jacob found in the book of Genesis.

The character of Jacob is troublesome to traditional concepts of what makes a proper Biblical hero--particularly from a Christian perspective. Some of the virtues that have been traditionally embraced by Christianity include humility, submissiveness before God, valuing the spiritual over the material, and a capacity for self-sacrifice.

Jacob personifies none of these supposed virtues.

As depicted in Genesis, Jacob is ambitious, bold, competitive, cunning and manipulative. He constantly out-smarts those who try to take advantage of him or try to stop him from getting what he wants. Eight years ago I visited a Sunday School class at a mainline Protestant Church where the lesson was centered on the story of Jacob. Not knowing what to make of Jacob from a Christian perspective, the class ended up making him into a vain, worldly, manipulative egotist in need of repentance.

And yet, nowhere in the Bible is Jacob presented as anything but a hero.

He succeeds in nearly all of his endeavors. Those who try to take advantage of him or harm him either fail or else they are won over by him. Whether Jacob in no way fits the modern Christian or Jewish ideal of what makes a godly person, it is obvious that the authors of the Bible did indeed admire of Jacob as heroic and godly. Nowhere in the text does God chastise and censor him. In fact, the case could be made that next to God Himself, Jacob is the central character in the Bible: His name is referred to more than frequently than that of any other character. In fact, as one progresses through the books of the Bible one discovers that God Himself is defined by His relationship to Jacob.

Which brings us back to the issue of humans making demands on God--which most people consider presumptuous, arrogant, even sinful.

Consider the following story--one of the most famous stories about this patriarch.
It is night time in the wilderness. Jacob, with his wives and children, is on his way back home after being away for years. Behind him is his crafty father-in-law who he outsmarted, eventually securing the man’s flocks, daughters and other riches. Waiting for Jacob in his homeland is his older brother Esau, whose gullibility he took advantage of in order to win their father’s blessing. Jacob assumes that Esau--who threatened to kill him years earlier--will try to make good on that threat when they meet the next morning.

“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.

Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”

But he [Jacob] said, “I will not let You go unless you bless me!”

So He said to him, “What is your name?”

He said, “Jacob.”

And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but is Israel; for your have contended with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.”

And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:24-30, New King James Version)

This story has traditionally been referred to as the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. But notice that it is not an angel that Jacob wrestles, but God Himself.

Just as in earlier chapters of Genesis, God appears to Abraham as a Man (coming to Abraham’s camp and having lunch with him) so in this story God appears as a Man. (Notice that in English, upper case letters are used in all references to the Man character.) That God appears as a human with body, parts and passions contradicts the traditional concept of God in Christianity. It is completely in harmony with Joseph Smith’s declaration that “if you were to see God, you would see a man in form like yourself.”

Another point: Notice how Jacob (Israel) is completely unlike his grandfather Abraham. When the Man visited him, Abraham “bowed himself on the ground” before Him. Later when God told Abraham to make a human sacrifice of his son Isaac, Abraham went about the grim task willingly, with seemingly little personal turmoil. (Over the centuries theologians and believers have assumed that Abraham experienced great turmoil over God’s demand that he kill his own son, but if one reads the account in Genesis, there is no reference to any such turmoil.) Unlike Jacob, Abraham seems to represent the ideal Christian, Jew or Muslim who humbles himself before God and is obedient to whatever is required--even if it means killing his own child.

Jacob manifests none of this supposed virtues. One could hardly imagine Jacob being willing to sacrifice his own beloved son, Joseph, if God commanded it. When God comes to him, Jacob physically wrestles Him to the ground---and wins! Jacob actually overpowers God Himself, pinning Him to the ground. In an attempt to win the wrestling match, God uses divine powers to dislocate Jacob’s hip bone. Still Jacob keeps Him pinned to the ground. When God begs Jacob to let Him go, Jacob refuses, demanding that God give him a blessing.

God gives in to Jacob’s demand!

What happens next is a major turning point in the book of Genesis and the entire story line of the Bible (if one takes all of its books as whole.) God gives Jacob a new name--a name that will appear throughout the Bible more than any other. The name is Israel. The word literally means “to contend or wrestle with God.” From that point on, God would be known as the God of Israel (Jacob).

Then Jacob does what would be considered blasphemous in his day: he asks that God reveal His Name to him. In the culture that produced the book of Genesis, the names of Deities were kept secret from mortals. It was believed that to know the Name of a God was to have power over that God; if one knew a God’s Name, then one could call on that God whenever one wished and the God would be bound to answer. The Gods in ancient mythologies guarded their Names zealously, lest mortals learn Their Names and thus gain power over Them.

What does God do when Jacob asks for His Name? This was a blatant demand for more power. According to the mindset of that day and age, any self-respecting God would have cursed or destroyed Jacob for his request.

Instead, God blesses Jacob! While not revealing His Name, He nevertheless blesses Jacob for his presumptuousness! Two generations earlier, God covenanted to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham’s seed. And yet it isn’t the House of Abraham or the Children of Abraham who become central in the Biblical narratives. It is the House of Israel/Jacob and the Children of Israel/Jacob who dominate the Bible.

The covenant with Abraham is finalized through Jacob/Israel--who wrestled with men and with God, and who prevailed; who pinned God down and demanded a blessing; who had the nerve to ask God to reveal His Name.

What is a Christian to make of this story? I have no idea since it not only undermines all traditional concepts of Christian humility but also its concepts on the nature of God Himself.

However, as a Reform Mormon I find that this story resonates with the radical new doctrines of Mormonism. In fact, in light of this story, the “new” doctrines of Mormonism actually seem ancient.

Something in Joseph Smith’s later teachings resonates with character of Jacob and with the idea that blessings come because one is active instead of passive; because one make demands of God rather than blindly and meekly obeying commands from on high; because one seeks knowledge--even knowledge (symbolized in the concept of God having a secret name) that would give to humans powers previously reserved for Gods only.

“You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves….the same as all Gods have done before you…” (Joseph Smith)


Jump in and join the discussion! If this lesson has triggered some thoughts or insights, if it has provoked questions--share your these by emailing them to us at:

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Saturday, May 13, 2006


"It's the mother's fault." This cliche has become a joke in our culture. Parenting has traditionally be viewed as the responsibility first of the mother. When the child "goes astray" somehow someone somewhere blames the mother.

The trend is ancient; within Western society it can be traced back to the story of Adam and Eve's Fall. Like the Greek story of Pandora opening the forbidden box and releasing upon the world every sorrow and sin known to humankind, orthodox Christianity took the Israelite story of the Gardem of Eden and forced on to it--and the character of Eve--"the mother of all living"--the same meaning. In short, we are all miserable because ourt first mother couldn't do as she had been told.

"The Book of Mormon" turned this interpratation of the Eden story on its head. The so-called "fall" became a good thing, a "fall upwards," a major step in the progresison of the human race.

It was Eve, being the first to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, who convinced Adam that he, too, had to eat the fruit if they were ever to be happy.

So it was that in Mormon theology, the first truly heroic act in human history was attribute to Eve. Moms everywhere were vindicated!

What follows is a chapter from the 1877 book "Women of Mormondon" written by Edward Tuliddge and containing writing from Eliza R. Snow and a host of other leading Mormon women of the time.

The prose is quaintly poetic (very,very much so), the flowery kind of writing popular in Victorian times. The theology is that of Utah Mormonism in the 1870's, which means it is centered around the Adam/God Doctrine that was taught by Brigham Young and was part of the LDS Mormon Temple Endowment until 1905. However, the chapter does present a very positive view of Eve, who in 19th century Utah Mormonism, was believed to have been Heavenly Mother herself.

What is interesting is that Eve's role is written of in the same terms as that of Christ's. As in the traditional doctrine of Jesus dying on the cross to bring eternal life to humanity, Eve is praised for being a Celestial Goddess (Heavenly Mother)who came down to earth and subjected herself to death by becoming mortal, in order that the human race might come into being. Mormonism transformed Eve from the sultury sinner of Catholic and Protestant theology into the strong mother who sacrifices herself out of love for her kids.

While there is certainly more to motherhood than self-sacrifice, and while individual women (and men) have value in and of themselves--whether or not they are "fruitful and multiply"--I think the Mormon interpretation of the Eve story is a vast improvement over that of orthodox Christianity.

As Mormon writer, Rodello Hunter (in her 1962 book "A Daughter of Zion) observed regarding Eve: "It took a lot of courage to bite into that apple."

The same can be said of every woman who has accepted the role of mother--either for her own biological offspring or for others.

Happy Mother's Day!

A Trinty of Mothers
(From "Women of Mormondom")

“A trinity of Mothers!

“The celestial Masonry of Womanhood!

“The other half of the grand patriarchal economy of the heavens and the earths!

“The book of patriarchal theology is full of new conceptions. Like the star-bespangled heavens--like the eternities which it mantles--is that wondrous theology! New to the world, but old as the universe. 'Tis the everlasting book of immortals, unsealed to mortal view, by these Mormon prophets.

“A trinity of Mothers--Eve, the Mother of a world; Sarah, the Mother of the covenant; Zion, the Mother of celestial sons and daughters--the Mother of the new creation of Messiah's reign, which shall give to earth the crown of her glory and the cup of joy all her ages of travail. Still tracing down the divine themes of Joseph; still faithfully following the methods of that vast patriarchal economy which shall be the base of a new order of society and of the temple of a new civilization.

“When Brigham Young proclaimed to the nations that Adam was our Father and God, and Eve, his partner, the Mother of a world--both in a mortal and a celestial sense--he made the most important revelation ever oracled to the race since the days of Adam himself. This grand patriarchal revelation is the very keystone of the "new creation" of the heavens and the earth. It gives new meaning to the whole system of theology--as much new meaning to the economy of salvation as to the economy of creation. By the understanding of the works of the Father, the works of the Son are illumined.

“The revelation was the "Let there be light" again pronounced. "And there was light!"

"‘And God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them; and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.’

“Here is the very object of man and woman's creation exposed in the primitive command. The first words of their genesis are, "Be fruitful and multiply."

“So far, it is of but trifling moment how our "first parents" were created; whether like a brick, with the spittle of the Creator and the dust of the earth, or by the more intelligible method of generation. The prime object of man and woman's creation was for the purposes of creation.

"Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it,’ by countless millions of your offspring.

“Thus opened creation, and the womb of everlasting motherhood throbbed with divine ecstasy.

“It is the divine command still. All other maybe dark as a fable, of the genesis of the race, but this is not dark. Motherhood to this hour leaps for joy at this word of God, "Be fruitful;" and motherhood is sanctified as by the holiest sacrament of nature. We shall prefer Brigham's expounding of the dark passages of Genesis. Our first parents were not made up like mortal bricks. They came to be the Mother and the Father of a new creation of souls. We say Mother now, first, for we are tracing this everlasting theme of motherhood, in the Mormon economy, without which nothing of the woman part of the divine scheme can be known--next to nothing of patriarchal marriage, to which we are traveling, be expounded.

“Eve--immortal Eve--came down to earth to become the Mother of a race.

“How become the Mother of a world of mortals except by herself again becoming mortal? How become mortal only by transgressing the laws of immortality? How only by "eating of the forbidden fruit"--by partaking of the elements of a mortal earth, in which the seed of death was everywhere scattered?

“All orthodox theologians believe Adam and Eve to have been at first immortal, and all acknowledge the great command, "Be fruitful and multiply." That they were not about to become the parents of a world of immortals is evident, for they were on a mortal earth. That the earth was mortal all nature here today shows. The earth was to be subdued by teeming millions of mankind--the dying earth actually eaten, in a sense, a score of times, by the children of these grand parents.

“The fall is simple. Our immortal parents came down to fall; came down to transgress the laws of immortality; came down to give birth to mortal tabernacles for a world of spirits. The "forbidden tree," says Brigham, contained in its fruit the elements of death, or the elements of mortality, By eating of it, blood was again infused into the tabernacles of beings who had become immortal. The basis of mortal generation is blood. Without blood no mortal can be born. Even could immortals have been conceived on earth, the trees of life had made but the paradise of a few; but a mortal world was the object of creation then. Eve, then, came down to be the Mother of a world. Glorious Mother, capable of dying at the very beginning to give life to her offspring, that through mortality the eternal life of the Gods might be given to her sons and daughters. Motherhood the same from the beginning even to the end! The love of motherhood passing all understanding! Thus read our Mormon sisters the fall of their Mother. And the serpent tempted the woman with the forbidden fruit. Did woman hesitate a moment then? Did motherhood refuse the cup for her own sake, or did she, with infinite love, take it and drink for her children's sake? The Mother had plunged down, from the pinnacle of her celestial throne, to earth, to taste of death that her children might have everlasting, life. What! should Eve ask Adam to partake of the elements of death first, in such a sacrament! 'Twould have outraged motherhood! Eve partook of that supper of the Lord's death first. She ate of that body and drank of that blood.

“Be it to Adam's eternal credit that he stood by and let our Mother--our ever blessed Mother Eve--partake of the sacrifice before himself Adam followed the Mother's example, for he was great and grand--a Father worthy indeed of a world. He was wise, too: for the blood of life is the stream of mortality.

“What a psalm of everlasting praise to woman, that Eve fell first! A Goddess came down from her mansions of glory to bring the spirits of her children down after her, in their myriads of branches and their hundreds of generations! She was again a mortal Mother now. The first person in the trinity of Mothers.

“The Mormon sisterhood take up their themes of religion with their Mother Eve, and consent with her, at the very threshold of the temple, to bear the cross. Eve is ever with her daughters in the temple of the Lord their God.

“The Mormon daughters of Eve have also in this eleventh hour come down to earth, like her, to magnify the divine office of motherhood. She came down from her resurrected, they from their spirit, estate. Here, with her, in the divine providence of maternity, they begin to ascend the ladder to heaven, and to their exaltation in the courts of their Father and Mother God.

“Who shall number the blasphemies of the sectarian churches against our first grand parents? Ten thousand priests of the serpent have thundered anathemas upon the head of "accursed Adam." Appalling, often times, their pious rage. And Eve--the holiest, grandest of Mothers--has been made a very by-word to offset the frailties of the most wicked and abandoned.

“Very different is Mormon theology! The Mormons exalt the grand parents of our race. Not even is the name of Christ more sacred to them than the names of Adam and Eve. It was to them the poetess and high priestess addressed her hymn of invocation; and Brigham's proclamation that Adam is our Father and God is like a hallelujah chorus to their everlasting names. The very earth shall yet take it up; all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve shall yet shout it for joy, to the ends of the earth, in every tongue!” (From "Women of Mormondom," published in 1877)

Sunday, May 07, 2006


“…faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth. Thus says the author of the epistle to the Hebrews 11:3,
‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.’
“By this we understand that the principle of power, which existed in the bosom of God, by which the worlds were framed, was faith; and that it is by reason of this principle of power existing in the Deity, that all created things exist - so that all things in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, exist by reason of faith, as it existed in Him. Had it not been for the principle of faith, the worlds would never have been framed, neither would man have been formed of the dust. “ (“Lectures On Faith” 1:13-16)

Mormon scriptures teach that God began the act of creation by looking upon chaotic matter dispersed throughout space and deciding to organize it into new worlds. Within Mormonism, “creation” does not mean to “make out of nothing,” but to take the chaos of nature and organize it in such a way that it is of benefit to intelligent beings.

But to do this, all intelligent beings--Divine or human--must first envision what it is they wish to bring forth.

Proverbs 29: 18 states: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Without vision--without the capacity to envision what does not yet exist but which can be brought to pass, humanity would indeed perish. Without this one attribute, we would be something less than human; we could not claim to exist in the image of God in any profound or deeply meaningful way.

The capacity for vision allows us to transcend the restraints of time and space, to imagine the consequences of our actions and the possible end results of future endeavors. Faith is the principle behind all human action. Without such vision, faith would have no basis. We could only react to events as they happen. Human striving and creativity would cease.

The need to create is found in every individual and it has always been central to Mormonism. Whereas other religious movements of 19th century America often focused on returning to nature or on withdrawing from the world at large, early Mormons were builders of cities and states. Joseph Smith looked out upon a disease infested Mississippi swamp and envisioned, in its place, the city of Nauvoo. Brigham Young looked out on the deserts of the Great Basin and envisioned a state filled with cities, towns, industries, orchards and farms. The Mormon people were able to see these visions as well, to make these vision their own; these visions served as the basis for a faith inspired the people to action. The course of our nation’s history was changed as a result. A Mississippi swamp became largest city in Illinois, and the deserts of the American west blossomed as the rose.

Vision and faith play important roles in the lives of everyone regardless of age, profession, natural endowment or social standing. A daydreaming child envisions the life she wishes to lead as an adult. The young athlete contemplates his reflection in the mirror and envisions the body and skill he wishes to develop. The artist, composer and writer must envision the works they wish to create before their labor can begin. A business or industry must first be visualized before it can become a reality. A couple must envision the type of life they wish to enjoy together before a commitment to such a life can be made; without a common vision, any future happiness together is in jeopardy.

“Without vision, the people perish,” our humanity is lessened, our potential for growth and progress is undermined. Just as faith precedes all creative action, so vision precedes all faith.


Central to Reform Mormonism is the doctrine that humanity’s purpose is to emulate God. As Joseph Smith taught, “You have got to learn how to become Gods yourselves, the same as all Gods before you have done.” God is envisioned as a “Creator” in that He is the one who, through the knowledge He has acquired through experiencing progression, brings order to chaos. This is the nature of “God’s creation.”

Central to Reform Mormon practice and observance, is the ordinance of the Sacrament. When the bread is broken, the following blessing is given:

“O God the Eternal Father, we ask thee to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of thee, and of the covenant to emulate thy creation. Amen.

Emulating God’s creativity, is central to the human experience. Not only it is the foundation of Eternal Progression, it is essential to human joy and fulfillment during our time on earth. To accomplish this, the capacity for vision (which has historically been central to the Mormon experience) is needed. Faith in needed as well--not faith as in a blind belief or testimony, but faith as a principle of action and power. So it is that Faith is the first principle of Reform Mormonism.


To make a personal covenant to emulate God’s creation, to begin to be creatively engaged in the business of living, to begin meeting the chaos in the world with God-like vision and faith---to make this covenant is in itself to convert to Reform Mormonism.

No one can make this covenant for another. Such a covenant is neither authorized or made official by any authority other than that of an individual’s free will and agency--for nature has not endowed anyone else with the either duty or capability of living life for another. It is not necessary or required that one join any organization, church or sect to make this covenant with God.

Each of us has sole authority over our lives; as regarding our relationship with God, this authority is the Priesthood. We are by nature sons and daughters of God, Priests and Priestesses.

Our conversion is complete when each of us, in whatever way that makes the event relevant, accepts that fact that we exist in the image of God and make a covenant to emulate God’s creation.


How can emulating God’s creative acts, bring a deeper sense of purpose and a sense of personal power to the experience of day to day life?


Jump in and join the discussion! If this lesson has triggered some thoughts or insights, if it has provoked questions--share your these by emailing them to us at:

Your emails will be printed here. All views and opinions are welcomed


If you would like to be included in the upcoming Reform Mormon Directory, email the following information to:

Your Full Name
Your place of residence (city, state, country)
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Reform Mormons and those who merely have an interest in Reform Mormonism are invited to submit their names. Copies of this directory will only be emailed to those who include their names within it.

Monday, April 24, 2006

READERS RESPOND: The Triumph of Values Over Morality

Mark Gollaher writes:

"Great lesson Rob. I'm not sure however that I completely agree with the premise that if a being is not created by God but is independent and self existent, that it necessarily follows that God cannot have power over that being or that right and wrong for that being can only be determined subjectively by the being itself independent of the rest of existence.

"I may be co-equal with another man but if he is bigger and stronger or has more social power in the form of others who agree to follow him, he has power over me in many ways and can have a profound effect on my life that I have almost no control over. There is no logic that makes it impossible for God to have power over other beings just because their essential essences were not created by Him.

"The doctrine as I understand it, suggests that although all intelligence was not created by God but is co-equal with Him, God created the path and means for progression, perfection and exaltation and even though the intelligences all took part in the creation process it was through the power of God (Priesthood) and through entering a partnership and agreement with God to abide by the rules that founded the creation of the universe that make participation in that progression possible. Put simply, God created the system, if we want the advantages the system offers, we have to agree to principals or laws that make the system work. Right and wrong are based on those principals, and are more concerned with how we interrelate within the system more than purely how we relate to ourselves independent of the rest of creation. therefore, there can be an objective right and wrong outside of the individual's narrow single-self perspective. Submission to those laws that creation was founded on is necessary to remain part of that creation and especially to partake of all the advantages the system of creation has to offer. This is the way God can have power over us and there can be an objective right and wrong."

Rob writes:

You bring up some great points. Here are some of my thoughts:

The power you seem to be talking about is the power to persuade others and the power of brute force (God can force you to do something by virtue of his being stronger than you.) But I see no evidence in existence that there is a God that operates in this way--unless, like primitive cultures, I think that natural forces (earthquakes, disease, floods, etc.) are the works of God Himself. Of course, I don't think this at all because those type of things seems completely explainable by studying the nature of weather, geology, etc.

You mentioned that God created the path by which we can reach exaltation. While that is certainly the current LDS belief, I can actually find nothing in Joseph Smith's teachings that say that the path to exaltation was original with God. In fact, it seems to me that the opposite is true--because God was once a human and tread the same path we now tread--as did all Gods before Him. The path to reaching exaltation seems to be eternal, uncreated, without beginning and without end.

You mentioned the Priesthood. This is something that I have been contemplating for decades--ever since I converted to the LDS Church as a teen. Since converting to Reform Mormonism several years ago, I've been giving the entire concept of Priesthood further thought--since the Reform Mormon doctrine of Priesthood is so different from the LDS doctrine.

Many aspects of the LDS doctrine of Priesthood don't hold up because of historical facts:there were noArronic and Melchezdek Priesthoods or offices in the first years of the church's existence--and the stories of John the Baptist, Peter, James and John bestowing these Priesthoods upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey prior to the church's organization were invented in the mid-1830's to support the authority of church officers against the charges of apostates. All of the references to these Priesthood in the first third of the revelations now found in "The Doctrine and Covenants" were added after the mid-1830's, in the second printing of the revelations. (If one looks at the original manuscripts of these revelations, or at their first appearance in print--in "The Book of Commandments"--one sees that all verses and references to Priesthood are missing.) The majority of the witnesses of the Golden Plates left the church over the issue of the Priesthood: they knew that earlier revelations were being rewritten to support the doctrine--which they thought Joseph Smith had accepted because of Sydney Rigdon's influence.

That much said, I've given a lot of thought to the concept of Priesthood--since the concepts of authority and of God's power have played such a major part in the development of Mormon theology.

I've come to view the natural order as the Order of the Priesthood. It is by being born into the natural order that our progress is initiated. "The Book of Mormon" talks about Priesthood (in Alma--the only place in the book where a Priesthood Order is discussed) as being without beginning of days or end of years, without a father. Later writings of Joseph talk about nature (the planetary systems, stars, worlds, intelligent life forms) as being eternal and uncreated. In "The Book of Mormon" this eternal, uncreated Priesthood that existed "before the foundation of the world" is called "The Order of the Son of God." LDS and Community of Christ Mormons interpret this name as referring to Jesus Christ.

Reform Mormonism, however, teaches that Priesthood (the power and authority to act in the Name of God, to approach God, to become a God) is inherent in the individual by virtue of their human nature. All humans by nature are "Gods--even Sons of Gods" (to quote a phrase used by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and others).

So I think the title "The Order of the Son of God" refers to the natural order into which we are all born, become living souls (beings of spirit and body) in the literal image of God; by birth we become Sons and Daughters of God. "The Son of God" in the title refers to me, to you, to any human being. (Granted the language is patriarchal, harkening as it does to Biblical imagery. To be inclusive in my imagery, I would called the Priesthood "The Order of the Child of God"--the Child be any man or woman born.)

As a Reform Mormon, I reject outright the entire concept of "creation" and "creationism." This is the most radical doctrine that Joseph Smith taught--and one that divided the Mormon leadership of his time into two warring camps, just as assuredly as did his teachings on polygamy. The doctrine of God as the creator is the basis of all monotheistic religions; it established the Primacy of Consciousness (God's Consciousness) over the Primacy of Existence.

In the last months of his life, Joseph established the Primacy of Existence as the foundation of his theology. Since the Primacy of Existence is also the foundation of scientific methodology, of rationalism, of humanism and of secularism, Joseph Smith's later theology was brought into line with these things. Because of this, Brigham Young, a decade later, could boast that ALL truth--be it religious, philosophic, artistic or scientific--were part of Mormonism.

Earlier in his career, Joseph Smith had also defined truth as "a knowledge of things as they were, as they are and as they will be." In other words, a knowledge concerning the nature of what actually exists is how Truth would defined.

It is the reality of existence that serves as the basis of morality. The one thing that all intelligent living things share is a tendency to value their own existence. The value of life is the basis for human ethics.

This seems to be in keeping with the Mormon interpretation of the Garden of Eden story: when humanity's eyes were opened and they realized that they were subject to death, life took on meaning and they began to think conceptually in terms of good and evil; they realized that they had to take actions in order to sustain their own lives ("by the sweat of your brow" you will work to raise food); they became morally responsible; they became Free Agents.

Throughout Mormon scriptures (particularly in the Bible), when the concept of ethics is reduced to its most basic premise, it is by contrasting the concepts of life and death. "Choose life"...."I put before you the choice of life and death"..."therefore chose life."....these phrases are found in the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, Christ says he has come to bring "Life" and to bring it more "abundantly." Human life is both the foundation and reward for ethical behavior.

Since life is universal to all living things, many of the most important concepts of right and wrong are universal and objective; they can be understood by an appeal to reason and with reference to nature--without having to resort to faith or doctrinal speculations about the Divine. In this way, both the believer and the atheist can embrace and abide by the same general code of ethics.

Traditions. mores and "commandments" (such as keeping the Sabbath, having no other Gods before the God of Israel, etc.) lack an ethical component for anyone other than those who believe in a particular religion. Even those believers would probably concede that while they would certainly think one should be jailed or punished for theft or murder, they would not jail or punish someone for breaking the Sabbath or embracing a religion which worships a God other than theirs. They may think these things are unethical or immoral, but they recognize a difference in this type of "immorality" as opposed to that of actions which physical harm people or endanger human life. In recognizing this difference, even someone of a Fundamentalist bent is acknowledging that the value of human life is the foundation for their morality.

So responsibility for discovering what is ethical seems to be completely in the hands of the individual.

There's also Joseph's summation of the purpose of human life: "And you have got to learn to be Gods yourselves, the same as all Gods before you, by going from a small degree to a greater..." etc., etc. To my mind this seems to indicate that one's ethical sense is developed in degrees through the choosing of values, through acting on those values, through suffering the consequences of those actions, etc. This seems to put the work of "achieving exaltation" squarely in the hands of the individual. Joseph also taught "Knowledge is what saves a man"--which, of course, is very different than saying "God saves a man."

Mark Gollaher responds:

You bring up some great points too. I tend to agree with the idea that God would not result to brute force to control but I think many (maybe most) people believe God would do just that: use brute force in righteous anger if there were anyone who could threaten "the plan." In fact, that is many people's idea of the last stand off of Armageddon--God finally using brute force to conquer Satan and the wicked to bring about the millennium.

In another view, Whether the being we worship as our "Father in Heaven" is the author of it or not, in agreeing to participate in the system of the path of exaltation, we submit to the laws that govern and create that system part of which would include consequences for righteous and unrighteous actions. Since we attribute the laws of the system as "God's will" because as an exalted being Himself, His will is in perfect harmony with those laws, we are in effect under his power with respect to our mortal bodies at least. This suggests that mortal life or the holding together of our spirit and temporal selves is dependant on God. So even if our spirits are co-equal with God, life as we experience here (according to the doctrine) would be completely due to His mercy. All of this creates a right and wrong beyond individual desires because anytime you are participating in an organized system, there are actions witch are in harmony with the rest of the system and actions which are not. As a kind of short-hand I suppose, the laws of the system are called God's will because it is through revelation fro Him that we come to an understanding of those laws.

All of this I recognize is dependant on whether you believe completely that God reveals his will or these laws of right and wrong through someone other than yourself--like a prophet which is something I personally have a difficult time with. In the end, even if all this doctrinal analysis is correct, I trust my own personal feelings and "revelations" from God more than I do those of any other regardless of their status or calling. So I end up being in agreement with the idea that the individual is the only person who ultimately can determine what is right and wrong for them. I guess we have churches and religious leaders because so often it seems people are making decisions based not on what they feel is truly right or wrong for the long term and the whole, but for personal gratification and power in the short term.

Friday, April 21, 2006


One of the tenants of Reform Mormon is that God does not demand obedience. I resisted this concept when I first heard it; it seemed to undermine the concept that some ethics are universal. But after more than a year of reflecting on this concept in light of the Mormon Paradigm, I began to see that this wasn’t the case at all. Because humans share a common nature, there will always be some concepts of right and wrong that are universal.

A lot is said these days (especially in politics) about values, and much is said in traditional religion regarding morality.

Morality comes from the same root word as “mores,” which means “customs” or “traditions.” Usually concepts of good and evil, right and wrong are passed on through traditions and customs; to break with traditions is often regarded as wrong and immoral--even though reason and reality may seem to indicate otherwise.

For instance, in the South, racial segregation was once seen as moral, as good. Though the racism that served as the philosophic foundation for such practices could in no way be reconciled with the philosophic basis of Americanism (the conviction that all human beings are by nature equal), millions of Americans believed that “the mingling of the races” was immoral. The mores of a particular region of the country--the traditions of that region--were mistaken for ethics.

Likewise within LDS Mormonism, the doctrinal prohibition against “anyone with one drop of Negro blood” being ordained to the Priesthood continued until 1978 and was defended as a “righteous” and “true” doctrine, even though it was the product of a pro-slavery, pre-Civil War theology that had been embraced by many American in the 1850’s--and even though most LDS Mormons were unable to reconcile this doctrine with other Mormon doctrines regarding the individual, free agency and a just, loving God. Even today--nearly 30 years after the change in LDS Church doctrine and practice--many LDS Mormons, because they insist on upholding the infallibility of the Church and its leaders, have to engage in compartmentalized thinking and context-dropping rational gymnastics in order to justify the past racism of their church. This type of thing is not peculiar to Latter-day Saint, but can be found wherever concepts of right and wrong are wed to social and cultural mores--particularly religious societies and cultures.

The tendency is to become comfortable with the traditions and mores of the culture into which one is born and in which one is reared. When these traditions are challenged, the discomfort and, to some degree, the fear that one might feels can be seen as righteous indignation; we often assume that righteousness itself is being challenged, and that those challenging the status quo are unethical.

With the Enlightenment, the natural rights and liberty of the individual became the basis for not only what was legal, but also what was ethical. Enlightenment philosophers (among whom were many of the US Founding Fathers) also considered themselves moral philosophers; they were trying to establish a rational approach to ethics--o concepts of right and wrong--that was based firmly upon the facts regarding the natural world.

With the concept of the natural rights of the individual as the basis for ethics, the concept of an ethical code based on commandments, on Divine will, on traditions, or one the consensus of the majority began to unravel. Whereas for thousands of years a thing was wrong simply because “God said so,” now it might be permissible if “no one was being hurt,” if “no one’s rights were being violated.” If an individual’s actions were not hurting and endangering anyone else, then that individual should be left alone to pursue their values--even if those values flew in the face of tradition or the faith-based convictions of others. This idea became the basis of not only religious freedom, but individual liberty itself; it became the basis for determining what was ethical and what was unethical.

In short, values triumphed over morality.

My commitment to Mormonism was cemented when I realized that Joseph Smith’s most radical and “Un-Christian” doctrines and speculations were actually attempts to rethink traditional notions of God and Divinity in light of modern secular philosophy. In short, it seemed to me that Joseph was doing with theology what Enlightenment philosophers had done with ethics--that is, bring it in harmony with the facts regarding human nature and the world in which humanity exists; to bring religious notions in harmony with rational thought, so that knowledge could triumph over blind faith and superstition. (In many of his discourses during the last year of his life, Joseph Smith spoke out against “superstitions”--which reveals a lot about his own personal progression since he had begun his career as a village Seer and peep-stone magician. Where as in his youth, he indulged in superstition, by middle-age, he had come to see his mission as “putting down superstition.”)

What follows is an extract from the 1986 book “The Trial of Faith: Discussions Concerning Mormonism & Neo-Mormonism” by William Call. The subject is that of values and free agency. Call’s views reflect many of my own as a Reform Mormon. In his brief introduction on his book’s title page, the author writes that “given the pluralistic doctrines of its prophet-founder, Joseph Smith, the only was to perpetuate the true, revolutionary significance of Mormonism is through the ideological triumph of man over God.”


“What do we mean by the word value?…Who determines what is to be valued?….

“What we like and dislike, and what we think is important and don’t think important, is value. Our values are those things, or ideas and concepts, that we think are important or significant to us. Some people value one thing, and some value other things….

“Now let’s think about whose prerogative it is to decide what we should value. We, the Mormons, say that in the beginning man was not created but that he has always existed. [See“ The Doctrine & Covenants” Section 93]…

“Since God did not create and cannot create man, because natural things exist without having been created by God, I now ask you a very important question. Is God omnipotent? Or to reword the question, does God have all power? Well, if natural things exist independently of God, and if the spirit, mind or intelligence of man exists independently of God, then can God be all-powerful? Is there any power that exists that God does not control? The answer to that question is yes; we see that natural things have power that God does not control; we also see that man exists without God causing him to exist and that, therefore, there are sources of power that exist in the universe that are independent of God’s power.

“Now let’s ask another question: is God the supreme intelligence? Joseph Smith had something to say about that. In the Book of Abraham he said, “If two things exist and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them.” (Abraham 3:16) And in another place he said:
‘…Intelligences exist one above another so that there is no end to them.’ (Discourse concerning the plurality of Gods.)

….So is God the supreme intelligence? Is he the wisest of all? According to the Prophet Joseph, he is not necessarily the wisest or the supreme intelligence….Could there be a higher God than our God? “God himself who sits enthroned in yonder heavens is a Man like until one of our ourselves--that is the great secret!” (The King Follett Discourse.) So the Prophet says.

“….Hence, finally, the answer to our previous question concerning who determines what men should value. Because God is not all-powerful, and because he is not necessarily the supreme intelligence, he cannot determine what we should value. Instead, because man exists independently of God, man must determine for himself would he should value….

“…finally we get to the subject of free agency. Because we have discovered that, according to Mormon doctrine, men must determine value for themselves, it is possible for us to think of the concept of free agency in a way we have not thought of it before. Free agency, as we normally think of it, is the choice between right and wrong. Now I am going to explain why that is not the true definition of free agency. First, let me say that the simultaneous existence of an omnipotent God and free agency is impossible…I’m going to tell you why. Free agency is not simply the choice between right and wrong, because the principle itself assumes that what is right and what is wrong has not already been determined. Further, as we have seen, because God is not omnipotent he cannot determine what men should value. Therefore, no individual intelligence, not even God, can tell us what is right and what is wrong. If God were to dictate to us what is right and wrong, there could be no choice but to accept what he says or to suffer the consequences. And, indeed, if he were omnipotent, he, of necessity, would have to determine what should be valued; otherwise, he would not be omnipotent….

“…my Brothers and Sisters, I am here today to tell you that the mere choice between right and wrong, when right and wrong has already been determined, is not what free agency is. Free agency is, instead, the ability of the individual to determine for himself what his values are….Free agency is inherent in the individual. It is inherent in the fact that man was not created but that, instead, has always existed. God is not all-powerful. He did not create nature, and he did not create man, and therefore, he cannot control them. Free agency is not given, but is inherent, and consequently, it cannot be taken away. Neither God nor anyone else has that power.

“The [LDS] Church is a very unique church. It alone of all the churches proclaims the true principles upon which the concept of free agency is founded. There is not another church that does this. And why is this so? Because of all the churches only the [LDS] Church declares that the individual is a divine, self-existing being. Only to the Mormon is the individual co-equal with God, and consequently, only to the Mormon are man’s values respected just as much as God’s values.

“Now the difficulty is that the General Authorities of the [LDS] Church do not make this basic doctrine clear. They leave the question of God’s omnipotence ambiguously unanswered. They do that because if Mormonism is to retain the basis for its doctrine of free agency, it must declare that God in not omnipotent. However, if [the LDS Church] is to retain its doctrines concerning the commandments of God, of priesthood authority and of centralized ecclesiastical power, it must teach that God is omnipotent. Not wanting to give up either of these basic characteristics of [LDS] Mormonism, the leaders of the [LDS] Church, including the Prophet himself, keep quiet on the subject. However, because the finite nature of God is an essential teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and because the [LDS] Church regards his teachings as providential, then it must follow that no individual on earth, or for that matter in heaven, has the power or the right to determine for another what is best for him. So it doesn’t matter whether it is a member of the First Presidency of the [LDS] Church, the Quorum of the Twelve, the First Quorum of the Seventy, or the stake president, the bishop, the quorum leader of even a father in the home--none of these has the right to determine for another what course he should take. But when [Church or Priesthood authorities] regard their word as anything other than just advice, that is, when they regard their word as coming from an omnipotent God and, therefore, as binding in any way on another individual, they are clearly overstepping their bounds.

“Exaltation is nothing more than the individual achieving what is best for him. Consequently, the individual is not first accountable to God or to the Church but is first accountable to himself. No one other than himself can determine what is best for him, and for this reason, he alone is responsible for his actions and his decisions. With free agency comes accountability, and with accountability comes responsibility.

“Thus, we see that despite some basic contradictions there is a basis for the greatness of Mormon doctrine. Joseph Smith, the Prophet, happened to be a very great man. He understood the principle of free agency very well, and he happened to have the courage to proclaim the doctrines associated with that principle, even under the most adverse of circumstances. He was willing to put his life in the line to say what he realized was of ultimate value for mankind. Unfortunately we as members of the [LDS] Church do not often think about these things, and very few of us really understand them. We go to church year after year and say the same things over and over, and we really do not understand the basis of what the Church is all about….My hope is that we might understand it sufficiently that it will affect our lives in a positive way.”

( William Call, “The Trial of Faith: Discussion Concerning Mormonism & Neo-Mormonism.” 1986, pp.204--208)


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