Wednesday, November 16, 2011

REFORM MORMON TEMPLE EVENT: February 19, 2012 in Virginia

A REFORM MORMON TEMPLE EVENT is scheduled for Sunday February 19, 2012, in Smithfield Virginia (just 30 minutes from historic Jamestowns and Colonial Williamsburg).

If you would like to participate, and receive the REFORM MORMON ENDOWMENT and/or SEALINGS (including same-sex sealings), please contact for more information, including an overview on our Temple Events and a study guide.

All Reform Mormons are welcomed!

For more information on the Reform Mormon Endowment (including a study guide) write:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Worlds Without End

The world’s major religions all came into existence when human understanding of the natural world was sorely limited. In the pre-scientific ancient world mythology, superstition, emotionalism and baseless speculation were the rule, not the exception, in formulating theories regarding the nature of the universe.

The earth was seen as a flat table top. The sky was seen as a great domed ceiling, supported by high mountain ranges (called “The Pillars of Heaven”) that stood at the edges of the earth. In the sky—thought to be, quite literally a dome or vaulted ceiling--there were gates through which rain fell from a great sea above know as “the firmament above the earth.” Beneath the flat earth was another great body of water (“the firmament beneath”) which feed the earths rivers, streams, seas and oceans. It was assumed that the sun, moon and stars quite literally “rose” in the east, traveled across the sky above the earth, and then “set” in the West.

From the subjective view of mankind at that time, the earth itself was assumed to be the center of existence.

This was the view of most ancient cultures, including the Israelite culture that gave the Bible to the world. Indeed, the above view of natural world—now called “The Flat Earth Theory”—is found throughout the Bible, and was accepted universally by the world’s great monotheistic religions until just five hundred years ago.

Scientists such as Galileo were considered heretics for suggesting that the earth moved around the sun, and was not the center of the universe. Christopher Columbus was one of the first European explorers to operate on the then-startling and “unproved theory” that the earth was round. When the first English ships sail to Virginia in 1607, navigating by the stars was still just as immersed in superstition and mysticism as it was in any sort of objective science or technology.

Ignorant of basic facts regarding the shape of the earth and its relationship to the sun, moon and stars, it is understandable that religions with ancient origins would have come up with complete erroneous ideas regarding the universe. Even many enlightened Christians, Jews and Muslims who embrace what modern science has revealed regarding the galaxies, may still, on an emotional level, cling to the ancient idea that the earth and life on it are, in some sense, the very center of the cosmos as far as Deity is concerned.

Mormonism came into existence at the beginning of the modern scientific age. While dictating “The Book of Mormon” Joseph Smith included the following: “…surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun.” (Helaman 12:15) While this was common knowledge in 1829, the Bible’s ancient authors (and Christian theologians until just a few centuries previously) believed just the opposite.

“The Book of Mormon” also contains references to planets. (One example is found in Alma 30:44.) While the world “planet” was coined anciently by the Greeks, it was used to refer to any heavenly body; the Greeks considered the sun and stars to be planets.

In June 1830 when Joseph began dictating new versions of Genesis’s first two chapters, he began incorporating into his new scriptures the evolving 19th century scientific understanding of planets and planetary systems. “The Book of Moses” refers to there being “worlds without number” beyond earth and our solar systems. (See Moses 1:33, in “The Pearl of Great Price.”)

Joseph also declared that the first chapters of Genesis contained “only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof,” explaining that previously “many worlds that have passed away…. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man.” (Moses 1:33)

So it was that in the first months of its inception, Mormonism put forth a view of endless planets and planetary systems being organized and passing away. The organization of new galaxies was a continuing, eternal process. The earth was not the center of the universe, nor did it come into existence at some imagined “beginning” of all existence. Galaxies had formed and passed away eons before our solar system formed.

(Above: The room in which Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon dictated a vision of eternity that involved the existence of other worlds with inhabitants.)

On February 16, 1832, when dictating a vision of eternity, Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon referred to other “worlds” not as empty, lifeless places but as planets filled with intelligent life—“inhabitants” who “are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (See Doctrine & Covenants 76: 24)

Less than two years after Mormonism’s emergence as a religious movement, it was teaching a then-radical theological concept—one at odds with traditional monotheism: intelligent life as found earth was not a unique phenomenon

On December 27 and 28, 1832, and on January 3,1833, Joseph Smith dictated another revelation (Doctrine & Covenants 88) in which he laid out his evolving view of the universe—a revelation he felt was so important that he described it as a “olive leaf’ … plucked from the Tree of Paradise.”

The revelation begins by celebrating the powers and forces that govern the earth, the moon, sun, stars, and celestial bodies beyond.

A complex but orderly universe is envisioned in which each thing that exists is governed by a system of laws tied to its nature. Everything which exists does so with boundaries and limits—within the “certain bounds and conditions” determined by these laws. (See Doctrine & Covenants 88:38

Joseph declared: “Verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same,” Joseph taught. (Doctrine & Covenants 88:34)

Joseph did not use the Biblically-inspired concepts of being “preserved, perfected and sanctified” in the way Christian ministers of his time did. Other ministers used these concepts to refer to the process by which an individual was forgiven for his sins, saved from damnation in hell, grew spiritually and finally entered heaven. Rather than “going to heaven,” Joseph was more concerned with things “fulfilling the measure of their creation”—meaning the process by which something can “be all that its capable of being,” or progressing to the maximum extent of its nature.

Joseph applied the concepts “preserved, perfected and sanctified” to all things that existed within nature—including planets and planetary systems. He taught that the earth itself was governed by a law, and because it “transgresseth not the law…it shall be sanctified; yea, not withstanding it shall die…” (Doctrine & Covenants 88: 25-26)
Joseph symbolically called each system of law governing something “a kingdom”—co-opting another popular Biblically-inspired Christian phraseology of his day.

Joseph’s revelation (Doctrine & Covenants 88) not only envisioned existence as orderly but as dense—with no sustainable complete vacuums at any level. Joseph declared “And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.” (Doctrine and Covenant 88:37)

The endless planetary systems existed within the boundaries of laws “by which they move in their times and seasons; and their courses are fixed…and they give light unto each other in their times and seasons, in their minutes, in their hours, in their days, in their weeks, in their months, in their years…” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:42-44)

In 1835, in “The Book of Abraham,” Joseph expounded further on his vision of the endless planetary systems found throughout the universe. Inspired by contemporary theories based on those first advanced by Isaac Newton, Joseph taught that time could be measured differently from one planetary system to another, based on that planetary system’s location and other things such as the gravitational pull of neighboring planets, stars and other celestial bodies and phenomenon.

By the late-1830’s a distinct Mormon cosmology had emerged that was at odds not only with the views of ancient religions but also with the view of the Enlightened Christianity (Christianity that rejected Biblical fundamentalism, and embraced science and reason.) Mormon Cosmology was radically pluralistic—going so far as to embrace an endless number of planetary systems (many of them filled with intelligent life) but also an endless number of Gods—each existing within the boundaries set by the laws governing time and space.

A new phrase entered into Mormon religious dialogue: “Worlds without end.”

The phrase “world without end” had been used for centuries in Christian liturgy—both Catholic and Protestant—to convey the idea that the earth would endure throughout eternity. The phrase “without end” had reference to time.

Joseph Smith was familiar with phrase since it was used by all the Protestant churches he had dealings when he was in his late teens and early twenty. At age 17, Joseph Smith had been very involved in the Methodist congregation in Palymra, and had applied for membership in the Harmony, Pennsylvania Methodist congregation in 1825. In their worship services, Methodists ended their singing of the Doxology with the phrase, “World without end, Amen, Amen.”

Joseph took this traditional Christian phrase, added one letter to it and changed its context altogether. The singular “world” became the plural “worlds.” The new Mormon phrase “worlds without end” did not refer to time but to the number of planets found throughout the reaches of space.

Mormonism’s expansive, pluralistic view of the cosmos was captured by the mid-19th century Mormon writer, W.W. Phelps, in his classic Mormon hymn, “If You Could Hie to Kolob.” Below are Phelps' lyrics, inspired by the teachings of Joseph Smith:

“If you could hie to Kolob in the twinkling of an eye,
And then continue onward with that same speed to fly,
Do you think that you could ever through all eternity,
Find out the generation where Gods began to be?

Or see the grand beginning where space did not extend?
Or view the last creation where Gods and matter end?
Methinks the Spirit whispers, “No man has found ‘pure space,’
Nor seen the outside curtains where nothing has a place.”

The works of God continue, and worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression have one eternal round.
There is no end to matter; there is no end to space;
There is no end to spirit; There is no end to race.
There is no end to virtue; There is no end to might;
There is no end to wisdom; There is no end to light.

There is no end to union; There is no end to youth;
There is no end to priesthood; There is no end to truth.
There is no end to glory; There is no end to love;
There is no end to being; There is no death above.”

(Note: In a vision of the universe laid out in “The Book of Abraham,” the star closest to the throne of Abraham’s God is called Kolob.)

Below is a performance of the hymn by the (LDS)Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

And here is a music video of a contemporary pop version of the hymn...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It is difficult for many people to conceive of a religion that does not embrace Creationism—that is: the doctrine that our universe was created.

The central premise of all monotheistic faiths is that, first and foremost,God is the Creator of all that exists; that God spoke and by the power of His word, everything, from nothingness, was called into being.

The Mormon Theological Paradigm, as constructed by Joseph Smith, rejects Creationism outright.

The physical elements themselves are eternal. Existence itself is primary—not God. This is the basis of Classical Mormon Theology and Philosophy. This is what sets Mormonism apart from all other religions. This is also what makes Mormon thought more compatible with the ever unfolding understanding of the universe given to us by modern science.

(Above: Frederick Hart's sculpture, "Ex Nihlio")

Mormon theology rejects the Orthodox Christian doctrine of “creatio ex nihilo”—the Latin phrase meaning “creation out of nothing.”

In the funeral sermon for Elder King Folliet, Joseph Smith—The First Mormon—asked:

“Now I ask all who hear me, why the learned men who are preaching salvation, say that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing? ….they account it blasphemy in any one to contradict their idea. If you tell them that God made the world out of something, they will call you a fool…
“You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, ‘Doesn't the Bible say He created the world?’ And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the [Hebrew word] ‘baurau” which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship.5 Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end.”

Mormon theology begins with the idea of “creatio ex materia”—meaning (in Latin) creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter.
The Biblical creation story as found in Genesis, is something to which Joseph returned time and time again throughout the course of his career. He rewrote the opening chapters of Genesis several times.

In 1830, within months of publishing “The Book of Mormon,” he began dictating a new version of the opening chapters of Genesis—narrated in the voice of the character of Moses, and later published “The Book of Moses.”

Five years later, in 1835, Joseph dictated yet another version of the opening chapters of Genesis—this time narrated in the voice of the Biblical patriarch, Abraham, whom Joseph envisioned as an ancient priest and astronomer influenced by the culture, polytheistic religion and knowledge of the ancient Egyptians. This creation account was later published under the title “The Book of Abraham,” and it established Mormonism break not only with orthodox Christianity, but with monotheistic religion itself.

(Above: a depiction of an ancient Egyptian astronomer.)

By the time he began working on “The Book of Abraham,” Joseph Smith had furthered his education somewhat, having studied at the School of the Prophets—a seminary and school for adults established by the Mormon community at Kirtland, Ohio.

Knowledge of Newton’s theories on gravity and physics were becoming more accessible to Americans during those years; also religious doctrines which had gone unchallenged for thousands of years were being called into question by the emergence of modern scientific theories regarding the origin and makeup of the natural world. It is evident that these things also greatly influenced Joseph’s personal religious views as laid out in “The Book of Abraham.”

(Above: Interior of the School of the Prophets in Kirtland,Ohio)

While the tendency among the majority orthodox Christian clergy was to resist emerging scientific theories, Mormon leaders attempted to incorporate contemporary scientific theories with Biblical narratives. The Mormons believed that “all truth [defined as ‘the knowledge of things as they are’] can be circumscribed into one great whole.” Their approach was to accept all truth regardless of where it was found—be it in religion, science or secular philosophy. As a result of this, Mormon theology evolved very quickly and changed greatly during the 1830’s. The Mormon theology that emerged by the end of the decade was not a new school of Christian theology, but a new and distinct religion—a completely new religious paradigm.

In “The Book of Abraham” the word “created” is thrown out altogether—replaced by the word “organized.” Thus the heavens and the earth are not “created” as they are in Genesis, chapter one, verse one. Instead the heavens and the earth are “organized” from the pre-existing, uncreated, eternal elements.

Stars, moons, planets and all things on them—living and non-living—are organized out of pre-existing matter/elements. In time, these things may die or decay, but the elements/matter from which they are organized remains, merely changing forms.

As a result of this were a Reform Mormon and a Christian to have a discussion on the origin of the universe, the conversation might go something like this:

CHRISTIAN: Do you believe that God created the universe?


CHRISTIAN: Who do you think created it then?

REFORM MORMON: No one created it. The elements from which all things are organized are eternal; they have no beginning or end.

CHRISTIAN: But everything has a beginning.

REFORM MORMON: Where do you believe God came from?

CHRISTIAN: God has always existed.

REFORM MORMON: So you believe that God has no beginning?

CHRISTIAN: That’s right. God has no beginning.

REFORM MORMON: But that contradicts your other belief—that ‘everything has a beginning.’

CHRISTIAN: That doesn’t apply to God.

REFORM MORMON: If it doesn’t apply to God, why shouldn’t it apply to the universe in general?

CHRISTIAN: I don’t know. It just doesn’t. It’s a mystery.

REFORM MORMON: But you’re accepting as true two ideas that are mutually exclusive. On the one hand you’re saying that everything which exists has a beginning, but on the other hand you’re saying that God, who also exists, has no beginning.

The Mormon doctrine on the uncreated, eternal nature of the elements, and its doctrine of “Organization” rather than “Creationism” are in harmony with First Law of Thermodynamics as found in physics:

“In its simplest form, the First Law of Thermodynamics states that neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed. The amount of energy in the universe is constant – energy can be changed, moved, controlled, stored, or dissipated. However, this energy cannot be created from nothing or reduced to nothing. Every natural process transforms energy and moves energy, but cannot create or eliminate it….The First Law of Thermodynamics is one of the absolute physical laws of the universe. Everything in the entire universe is affected by this law, as much as time or gravity… A burning log in the fireplace seems to violate the principles of conservation of matter/energy. Burning the log appears to create energy and destroy matter. In reality, the energy and matter are only changing place and forms; they are not being created or destroyed. The wood in the log has chemical potential energy, which is released when it is burned. This released energy appears in the form of heat and light. The matter of the log is changed into smoke particles, ash, and soot. The log’s total energy and mass before burning are the same as the mass and energy of the soot, ash, smoke, heat and light afterwards.”


In conclusion, the first principles of the Mormon Paradigm can be summed up in this way:

The concept of “eternity” is most accurately symbolized by a circle or a ring. A circle and ring have no beginning and no end. Something which is eternal has no beginning and no end.

The elements are eternal. They are uncreated—without beginning or end.

All things that exist are composed of these uncreated, eternal elements; therefore existence is also eternal. It has no beginning or end. Existence itself is primary.

The universe—galaxies, stars, moons, planets and all things in them—were organized from the eternal uncreated elements.

Things in the universe may die, decay or become disorganized, but the elements from which they are organized, remain. They are eternal, without beginning or end.

Our next lesson: “Worlds Without End.”