Saturday, November 01, 2008

WHAT ALL OF US KNOW: Exploring the Mormon Paradigm--Lesson 2


“Knowledge is what saves a man.”—Joseph Smith, the First Mormon

Knowledge is what saves us, while ignorance or a denial of the facts, of truth, usually puts us at risk and peril.

The person who hasn’t learned how to swim is in danger of drowning; the person who knows how to swim is less at risk should she suddenly be caught in a flood or undertow.

The person who knows how to plant, cultivate and harvest—who knows how to hunt or fish is better equipped to avoid starvation. Without this knowledge, human survival is threatened.

Someone who discovers a tumor on his body but then continues on in denial of this knowledge, never seeking the advice of a physician puts his life at risk.

Ignorance of the facts—be it willful or unintentional—threatens human life, human progress and happiness.


“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

All religions claim to possess “the truth.” Most religions claim that if one will come to “know” the “truth” that they teach, one will be saved—from the woes of this life, or from damnation, suffering or loss in an afterlife.

The problem is that many of the “truths” proclaimed by most religions are principles that are supported by little if any objective evidence. Many of these so-called truths are faith-based principles that fly in the face of objective reality. Because of this, the type of “knowledge” that these religions champion requires a huge amount of blind-faith, denial of rational thought, compartmentalized thinking and self-deception.

Traditionally religions have issued broad declarations of a supposed truth regarding the nature of reality, and then have encouraged believers to deny or explain away any evidence that contradicts that declaration. For instances, a Biblical fundamentalist will declare that the heavens and the earth were created, a mere six or seven thousand years ago, in six days; that at that time God created human beings in their present form. A fundamentalist may claim to “know” that this is true. But when pressed such “knowledge” ends up be described as “spiritual” or mystical in nature; and this “knowledge” is maintained by denying and ignoring all of the physical evidence (and the scientific theories based upon that physical evidence) that the earth is, in fact, tens of billions of years old, and that all species of biological life (including humans) evolved from less complex life forms.

In short, traditional religions—while claiming to champion knowledge and truth—actually end up devaluing both.

The Mormon Paradigm is different.

Knowledge and truth are deeply revered by Reform Mormons—in fact, Mormon scripture equates the two concepts: “Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and of as they were and of as they are to come.” (The Doctrine & Covenants 93:24)

In the Mormon Paradigm truth IS a knowledge of the facts regarding existence. The Mormon definition of “truth” is the same definition used by secular thinkers and rationalists. For Reform Mormons blind faith, mysticism and a belief in the supernatural are not required to understand truth. In fact from the Reform Mormon perspective, blind faith, mysticism and devotion to supernaturalism can actually undermine one’s knowledge of the truth.


Rather than beginning with broad declarations concerning the nature of God or the supernatural, the Mormon Paradigm begins by examining those things that ALL human beings can know objectively by virtue of their physical senses. The physical senses are the means by which human beings obtain information concerning one another and of the world in which we live, and rational thought is the means by which humans understand that information. As Thomas Jefferson declared, “Every man’s own reason must be his oracle.”

For a religion to be valuable to human beings—for that religion to inspire, encourage and cultivate human progress and joy—it cannot preach faith-based ideas that contradict what we all know to be objectively true by virtue of our physical senses.

So let’s begin our examination of the Mormon Paradigm by considering first those things that we can all agree are true—those facts upon which all of us (followers of a particular religion and atheists alike) can agree.


Consider the following ideas, taken from a classic work of Mormon theology: B. H. Roberts’ monumental study, “The Truth, The Way, The Life.”

Man knows himself as existing. He is a self-conscious entity. He knows himself as existing by many manifestations. He knows himself as seeing, hearing, tasting; as feeling…But most of all in all these manifestations through which man attains self-consciousness, he knows himself as thinking: “I think, therefore I am.”…One thinks, and one acts; therefore one is.

“And not only is one conscious of one’s self, but he is also conscious of other selves, of other men, such as he himself is, in the main; with the same kind of qualities which he himself possesses…”

“One’s knowledge is not limited to this consciousness of self and other selves—to the likeness and the difference between himself and other selves. He is conscious of the existence of a large external world. He knows the existence of earth; land, water, and air. He knows the earth is divided into islands and continents, seas and oceans, rivers and bays. He knows the existence of the town or hamlet or countryside where he was born…he knows, at least by report, of the great centers of world population….”

“Man knows objects by form, texture, and quality…. [But] man’s knowledge [is not] confined to material things. He is conscious of qualities, even of intellectual and moral qualities….He has a mind capable through the imagination of creating worlds and peopling them with creatures of his mind…”

“Man knows himself as competent to form normal judgments and realizes self-responsibility for his actions…He is capable of forming comparisons between moral states and conditions…

“…passing things in review and pronouncing judgment upon them as good or evil, better or worse, man becomes conscious of a very wonderful power that he recognizes as existing within himself: the consciousness of will; the power of self-determination; the power to choose which of two or more courses he will take. He can do as he wills to do. While there may be persuasive influences drawing him to one side or the other, yet he is conscious of the power to determine what his action shall be. He recognizes the truth avowed by the English poet [Shakespeare], “It is in our Wills that we are thus or thus.” This is not to assert man’s powers to do impossible things, especially impossible physical things…I have had in mind rather the fact of free moral agency, man’s power to recognize good and evil by their effects in human life, and his power to choose between them—to choose which he will follow.”

(B. H. Roberts’ “The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology.” 2nd edition, pp. 29-32)

(Above: B. H. Roberts--Mormon Theologian)

In coming lessons we will explore the Mormon Paradigm building upon the following facts:

--I think, therefore I am.

--I know that I share a common nature with all other human beings; in nature, we are all alike.

--I know that I exist in a physical realm. I gain my knowledge of world around me by virtue of my physical senses.

--As a human being, I have a level of natural intelligence that allows me to remember, to imagine, to think in terms of good and bad, to think abstractly, to make value judgments.

--Because as a human being I can make value judgments, by nature I am free to make choices; I am free to act on my own judgments.

--Because I am free to act based on my value judgments and choices, I must take responsibility for my actions and accept their consequences.


“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”—Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:32)

"Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.”—Joseph Smith (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24)

“Knowledge is what saves a man.”—Joseph Smith (The King Follett Discourse)

“Every man’s own reason must be his oracle…[God has bestowed] reason... as the umpire of truth.”—Thomas Jefferson

“I think, therefore I am.”—Descartes (from “Discourse on Method”)

“It is in our Wills that we are thus or thus.” –Shakespeare (paraphrase of “Othello 1.3.319-20)

(Left: A recently discovered 1843 photograph, reported to be the only photograph ever taken of Joseph Smith--the founder of Mormonism.)


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Sunday, October 26, 2008

PARADIGM SHIFT: Mormonism's New Paradigm

When it comes to religion, the world is in midst of a monumental paradigm shift.

There is an overall concept regarding the nature of God, the universe and man that most people have accepted without question for nearly 2,000 years. If someone is religious, it’s assumed that he or she accepts that overall concept—that paradigm.

It seems virtually impossible to have any discussion on religion without having everyone involved in the discussion accepting the following ideas:

1. There is only one all-powerful, all-knowing God who created and controls all things. Some may define God in personal terms: as a Father or Mother, as an Almighty Lord or Heavenly King, as Jesus Christ or some other human figure from history or myth. Others may envision God as an impersonal Force, Power or Spirit. Regardless of how God is defined, most people tend to believe that there is but one God who is above all things that exist, who is the “First Cause” of all that exits.

2. The cosmos, the universe—everything that exists—has a definite beginning. Some may believe that the universe was created by God in seven literal days. Others may believe the earth was created in seven thousand years, or over the course of billions of years. Some think that existence began with a Big Bang. Despite differences regarding how existence began, all seem to agree that existence did have a beginning; that at some point nothing existed, and then existence itself began.

3. Human nature is inherently conflicted. Many believe that the physical body with its appetites and desires is in conflict with an immaterial spirit or soul; they may talk about “Original Sin,” and humanity’s inherent “sinful nature.” Others think of the conflict in terms of emotion versus reason, the heart versus the head. Still others consider the concept of the individual, as well a person’s self-interest or selfishness to be in conflict with the “greater good” of the masses and of selflessness and sacrifice. Still others pit the human tendency to question things and to demand evidence or proof against the human ability to accept ideas on the basis of faith alone. Regardless of exactly how the conflict is described, all religions tend to view human nature as inherently conflicted and therefore in need of change, redemption or salvation; human nature is defected and one particular religion has the remedy.

4. There is an external authority—separate from, and at times at odds with human reason, knowledge and understanding—which determines was it right and wrong, true and false, good and evil. Some believe that authority is God Himself, speaking or issuing commandments through a certain book of scripture, a particular church or religious organization, a certain group of human beings or a particular religious leader such as a pope, a guru, a priest or prophet. To cling to one’s own ideas (as rational at they may seem) instead of accepting whatever revelations or commandments may come through these sources is to reject not only God himself, but the very foundation of morality. Others may reject such visible symbols of external authority as scripture, churches and religious leaders—instead teaching that man must put aside his rational mind, his demands for evidence and proofs, and the conclusion he has reached regarding the nature of things; man must forsake his ego—his sense of self—and open himself up to God, to the Light, the Source of all things, the Spirit of the Universe, etc. Only through submitting to a mystical inner communion with the Divine, can man “be freed” from the pain, suffering and evils of life on earth. Regardless of how submission to an external authority is envisioned, the over-all idea is the same: ethics, morality, piety, virtue, holiness and righteousness consist of putting aside one’s rational mind, one’s own ideas of things, and submitting to an external authority.

5. After this life a person’s spirit receives some sort of eternal reward or punishment. Some believe this reward or punishment is the result of one’s deeds. Others believe it is determined by the religion one embraced in life, the God in which one had faith, or the church to which one belonged. Still others believe that one’s eternal reward or punishment is determined by the type of person one became as a result of how one lived his or her life. Regardless of how the reward or punishment is determined, the overall belief of most people is that after this life, one’s spirit passes on to am eternally fixed and static state. One is either saved or damned; one goes to either heaven or hell; one achieves nirvana or one does not.

For nearly two thousands years, the world has tended to accept (or to at least give lip-service and deference) to these ideas—to this religious paradigm.

However, over the past six hundred years (beginning with the Renaissance in Europe), individuals have arisen who have questioned aspects of this paradigm. Science and medicine have brought forth new knowledge regarding the universe, nature, the human mind and body.

The scripture and sacred writing of most religions came forth hundreds or thousands of years ago when people in their ignorance believed the earth was the center of the universe around which the sun, moon and starts revolved.

It was assumed that disease and natural disasters were sent by Gods, angels or devils to punish, chastise or humble disobedient and impure human beings. There was no concept of germs, bacteria or viruses; no understanding weather patterns or geological forces at work beneath the surface of the earth. People had no concept of impersonal natural forces causing events or spreading disease. If a disaster struck an area, if a plague or disease ravaged a particular community, then a God or supernatural being must have caused these things to happen.

In short, most scripture and religion came hundreds or thousands of years ago before the human race had developed an understanding of nature itself.

Over the past six hundred years that has changed.

We know now that the world is round, not flat.

We know that the earth is not the center of the universe. In fact, we now know that the universe actually has no center at all, but seemly extends onward and outward in all directions eternally.

We know that disasters and disease are the result of impersonal forces in nature. When wondering if a storm or earthquake might strike a particular area, people no longer turn to shamans, holy men and seers; they consult the scientists who study these natural phenomonans. Where ancient might have turned to oracles or priests for prophecies concerning coming storms or calamities, we now turn to TV meteorologists and weather reporters.

When a loved one is taken ill, witch-doctors and faith-healers are not consulted; most people don’t sacrifice animals on an altar in an attempt to convince gods to heal them. Again scientists (in this case, medical doctors) are called for advice.

When someone suffers from depression or emotional disorders, most people no longer hire an exorcist, or recite magical incantations in an attempt to drive away demons and evil spirits. Instead they turn to medical experts such as psychologists or psychiatrists.

In the modern Western world most people, regardless of how much they might believe in one all-powerful God, still maintain that individual human beings have certain natural rights upon which not even religion may infringe. Most modern nations have made an attempt to separate the powers of organized religion from the power of government. Whereas the ancient people who brought forth the world’s scriptures and religion had no concept of the individual have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of personal happiness, most modern people consider these ideas to be sacred.

Whereas ancient people believed that gods had every right to demand that an individual lay down his or her life, modern people consider human sacrifice to be an abomination. (For Jews and Christians, one of the most troubling stories in their Bible is the account of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.) Ancients believed it was honorable and right to execute heretics, adulterers, prostitutes, and children who dishonored their parents and families. While many modern people may consider heresy, adultery and prostitution sinful—even criminal in some cases—most would never assume that these things warranted public execution.

Despite all the progress achieved in our understanding of the universe and in our respect for human nature, most people still cling to an ancient religious paradigm—a religious “scheme of things”—that is at odds with nearly every aspect of modern life.

In short, we are in the middle of a monumental paradigm shift when it comes to religion.

That paradigm shift is the defining aspect of our age. One needn’t look any further than the morning paper, the evening news or current political and military events:

—The so-called “War on Terrorism” being waged by the United States and her allies is not so much a war on terrorism in general but a war against theocratic forces from Islamic nations who condone violence in order to defeat “infidels” and establish submission to what they believe is God’s will.

—In the United States, many Christian fundamentalists decry “secular humanism,” and insist that there should be no “wall of separation between church and state.” They insist that the United States was founded on “Biblical principles” and that such “sins” as homosexuality, pornography, no-fault divorce and abortion should either be declared illegal or in some way stigmatized by the law.

—Religious fundamentalists campaign to have ‘Creationism” and “Intelligent Design” (the doctrine that God created and designed the universe) taught in public school science classes along side the Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection.

—While a greater portion of the United States population than ever before defines itself as Evangelical Christian (a high as 32% according to some polls), and while this segment of the population influences politics and government more profoundly than at any time in American history, these same Evangelicals nevertheless continue to see themselves as a persecuted minority whose rights are being attacked.

—Some of the best-selling books of the past few years have been in-depth defenses of atheism and attacks on traditional ideas of faith and believe. Such books as “God Is Not Great,” “The End of Faith” and “The God Delusion” are the works of some of the most respected thinkers of our day—and they have all become best-sellers. On the other hand, the best-seller lists also have included works such as “The Purpose Drive Life” (by a conservative Christian minister) and the current best-seller “The Shack” (written by a liberal, non-traditional Christian theologian.)

—For decades now people who have an intense interest in religion and in ethics but who are not fundamentalists describe themselves as being “spiritual” as opposed to “religious.” Why? Because the majority of the population tends to view organized religion negatively; they equate it with fundamentalism, legalism, self-righteousness and bigotry. Despite this negative view of organized religion, these self-described “spiritual” people embrace many of the core ethics of traditional religion: love of neighbor, caring for those who need, defending the oppressed and outcast. And sadly enough, many of those who are most vocal in attacking the “bleed-heart liberalism” of these “spiritual” people are those who define themselves as “religious.”

Why is there some much contention over religion? Why the discord?

Certainly the history of religion generally is in large part a record of contention, discord and violence. But in our day something has changed.
The human race has simply reached a point in its progression where the religious paradigm of the past four two to four thousand years can no longer be taken literally; the paradigm—what we have been told we should believe about the nature of reality—is simply out of harmony with what we actually know about the nature of reality.

Reform Mormons embrace a new religious paradigm—what we call “the Mormon Paradigm.”

The Mormon Paradigm completely rejects the following ideas found in the traditional religious paradigm:

1. The Mormon Paradigm rejects the belief that there is but one all-powerful, all-knowing God. Its understanding of God’s nature is completely different from that of all other religions.

2. The Mormon Paradigm rejects the belief that the universe and the existence ever had a beginning. It completely rejects the belief that there was ever an “in the beginning.” It rejects the doctrine of Creationism.

3. The Mormon Paradigm rejects the belief that human nature is inherently fallen, sinful or conflicted. An idea such as Original Sin has no place whatsoever in the Mormon Paradigm.

4. The Mormon Paradigm rejects the belief that morality consists of obeying or submitting to any external authority such as a book of scripture, a set of laws, the commands of a religious leader, the decrees of a religious organization or tradition, or an external spirit, power or force.

5. While believing that everything and everyone has an eternal aspect, the Reform Mormon Paradigm completely rejects the belief in a static life after death—either in heaven, hell or limbo.

From now on, this blog will explore that Mormon Paradigm in depth. We will explore how the Mormon Paradigm views things from the tiniest microscopic element to nature of God—and everything in between.


Because if one’s religious beliefs concerning any aspect of reality are out of harmony with what is known about reality (known by virtue of one’s senses, by virtue of objective physical proof, by virtue of sound reasoning), eventually trouble will be the result. If one’s ideals are out of harmony with objective reality and with human nature as it now is then eventually—in the name of those so-called ideals—human nature (and human beings) will come under attack.

Recently agnostic, religious skeptic and comedian Bill Maher said, “My theory is, if there is a God, He needs a break….we don’t know if He exits. But if there is a God, He is very put upon. He wants someone to debunk. Leave Him alone already. Keep the pressure off of Him.” ( Quoted in “USA Today,” October 6, 2008)

No one can argue that the religious paradigms of the past have inspired injustice, tyranny and violence in the name of God. God has gotten a “bad rap”—the most offensive being from those who have claimed to be his most devout followers and defenders.

To use the words of Maher, the New Religious Paradigm of Reform Mormonism “debunks” the false ideas, the irrational theologies and the silly superstitions that traditional religions have put forth regarding the nature of God, man and the universe.

And beyond this, Reform Mormonism’s New Religious Paradigm puts forth a theology a mythology, a philosophy and a set of ethics and values—the purpose of which is to exalt human beings and human life here on earth.