"And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
—Raymond Carver, “Late Fragment”
"And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
—Raymond Carver, “Late Fragment”
Just a peek into our wild adventures on the heavenly Garden-isle of Kaua’i. Truly something worth shouting out about.
The Mormon Transhumanist Association stands for the proposition that we should learn to become Gods, and not just any kind of God, not the God that would raise itself above others, but rather the God that would raise each other together. We should learn to become Christs, saviors for each other, consolers and healers, as exemplified and invited by Jesus.
Mormonism itself is an immersive discipleship of Jesus Christ. It’s not so much a religion about Jesus as it is the religion of Jesus. With Jesus, we would trust in, change toward, and fully immerse our bodies and minds in the role of Christ. We would also endure in that role, working to reconcile ourselves, our relations and world, through suffering and even death if needed, anticipating the day of transfiguration and resurrection to immortality in eternal life (a fullness that our afternoon keynote, Richard Bushman, will say more about). So while we may not be Christian by creed, we’re plainly Christian by Gospel (and I hope our special guest, Carl Teichrib, will comment on this while sharing his Christian criticism of religious Transhumanism).
Mormonism is also a school for prophets. The name of the religion itself reminds us of a book that would extend the Bible, in part by claiming yet other books would also extend the Bible. In turn, that book reminds us of a man that would speak and act for God, in part by saying everyone should speak and act for God. The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are not fortune-tellers, but rather forth-tellers that would express a sublime esthetic, a Holy Spirit, provoking us to speak and act so as to fulfill their prophecies, in part by learning to become prophets ourselves.
For some, prophecy is not a living proposition, let alone religion or God. They wonder if we’ve not heard that God is dead, and they’re right to wonder. Following their Gods, traditional religions are dying, particularly in technologically advanced and prosperous places. Observing this, many have embraced the secularization hypothesis that religion itself is dying. However, that hypothesis is showing its age, and it’s now embraced more by anti-religious voices in popular culture than by experts, among whom another hypothesis is coming of age.
If God is merely a supernatural superlative, he very well may be dead, but positing such as God misses the function of God. God always has been and is at least a posthuman projection, an extension and negation of human desire, imagined and expressed within the constraints of human thought, language and action. That’s not to say God is only so much. To the contrary, as demonstrated by the New God Argument, we’ve moral and practical reasons to trust that others have already realized posthuman projections (and I hope our special guest, Peter Wicks, will comment on this while sharing his atheist criticism of religious Transhumanism). However, no matter your attitude toward faith, God is at least this much: a posthuman projection. Understood in terms of that function, God clearly is not dead and never was, except perhaps to the extent recurring death is part of evolution.
Likewise, if religion is merely genuflection to the supernatural, it very well may be dying, but again that overlooks function. Most of us have regarded religion too narrowly, and much that’s supposed to be secular actually functions as religion. For example, some claim inspiration from science or ethics. Awe fills us as we contemplate the vastness of space or the voice of the people. Yet the inspiration is not merely in the reductionist implications of science or the procedural adjudications of ethics. Rather esthetics are woven through them, tying them together in meaning, and that’s why we care about science or ethics. Esthetics shape and move us, and at their strongest, they provoke us as a community to a strenuous mood. When they do that, they function as religion, not necessarily in any narrow sense, but esthetics that provoke a communal strenuous mood are always religion from a post-secular vantage point.
Of course, none of this means science or ethics should or even could be displaced by religion. To the contrary, science should continue to reconcile our contending accounts of experience, as ethics should our contending accounts of desire. Each should expand its reach to the uttermost, always better informing our esthetics, affecting each other in a feedback loop. Yet even as science and ethics increasingly empower us, let’s not fool ourselves into supposing they’ll ever be finished or sufficient in themselves. We care for and use them only in accordance with esthetics, which presents itself as foremost among them in the most vital moments of life, when we we must act, according to whatever wisdom and inspiration we might have. Life cannot wait.
How will we act? Will we see beauty in science? Will we feel unity in ethics? Will we care, and how much will we care? Could our degree of concern make a practical difference? These are questions that will matter to all except perhaps the most apathetic, escapist or nihilistic among us. It’s not enough that we can describe our world through science or imagine a better world through ethics. We also want to make a better world. We can do that through engineering and governance, but it’s also not enough that we can make a better world. We want to feel it, sometimes powerfully, and more: we want to share our powerful feelings with others in ways that move us together. As engineering and governance are action on science and ethics, religion is action on esthetics. As engineering and governance are the power of science and ethics, religion is the power of esthetics.
If we can raise our eyes from the altar of religious and anti-religous dogma, we’ll see that the hand raised to finish the dying God is the sign of the oath to the resurrecting God. If we can keep our eyes raised, resisting the carnage below, we’ll also see the hand is our own and it holds a blade that’s aged and stained. That’s when we have a choice, either to repeat the old sacrifices of our ancestors, or finally to make the new sacrifice that they always implied: we can put ourselves on the altar and learn to become Gods. Put differently, the negation of one posthuman projection always implies another until humanity chooses to become posthumanity.
Transhumanism is the ethical use of technology to expand our abilities from the human to the posthuman. For some, this conjures up images of comic book cyborgs with gun arms and laser eyes. Of course Transhumanism is partly about body enhancement, but you’d probably agree that a gun arm doesn’t qualify as an enhancement, either practically or esthetically. For better examples, look at the technology that enhances you right now. Some of you are using computing devices that extend your ability to communicate. You might be watching through glasses, contacts or surgically-modified eyes, or listening through hearing aids or cochlear implants. You’re probably wearing clothing that enhances your ability to adapt to environmental change. Under those clothes, you might have implants or prosthetics. Through your blood, drugs may be relieving pain, heightening attention, or facilitating growth. That’s just now. Think through the rest of the day leading up to this moment. Think through your life. Consider human history. If technologically-enhanced humans are cyborgs then we’ve always been cyborgs. At least in context of the past and present, that’s not particularly controversial. The controversy arises when we look forward. How will technology change us in a few years or decades? What about a thousand years from now? How many drugs, surgeries, prosthetics and other enhancements are there between humans and posthumans, as different from us as we now are from our prehuman ancestors? Is it possible to change that much? If so, should we?
Sometimes we talk about humans becoming more robotic or robots becoming more human. When we do, our language uses a dichotomy that is increasingly insufficient for describing not only the possibility space, but even the actuality space. Does a human receiving a prosthetic limb or an artificial heart become less human? Can a body originating from artificial DNA, conceived through an artificial process, or gestated in an artificial environment ever be human, even if it’s eventually indistinguishable from a natural human? For that matter, how natural are the humans we actually know? Are agriculture and medicine natural? The blurring between natural and artificial is as ancient as the stick our distant ancestor wielded to extend her reach, and the leaves donned to enhance his skin. In an important sense, a synthesis of anatomy and tools made us human, empowering us above and differentiating us from our prehuman ancestors. In that sense, perhaps we’ve always been robots, for at least as long as we’ve been humans. Of course, when we think of robots, most of us usually think of cold metal or hollow plastic. If that’s what robots are then we aren’t and never should (or could) be robots.
Why do we want to enhance ourselves? The answer’s not new. We want to enhance ourselves for all the reasons we’ve made tools since the beginning of history. Tools empower us. So we’ll continue to build more and better tools, and their synthesis with our anatomies will become increasingly seamless and intimate, because we want to and because we can, for the power it provides. Like all power, tools and their intimate evolution into body and mind enhancements are not inherently good or evil. Rather, they’re both risks to mitigate and opportunities to pursue according to whatever wisdom and inspiration we might have. On the one hand, tools can empower us against each other. Some hoard, and others deplete. Elites form, totalitarians control, and revolutionaries revolt. Artificial catastrophic risks well beyond those of nuclear weapons present themselves. Perhaps we could realize the worst interpretations of the Apocalypse. On the other hand, tools can also empower us for each other. Already we’ve used them to build, relate, console and heal in ways our distant ancestors imagined only Gods to have the capacity. Perhaps someday (and I can’t wait to hear more about this from our morning keynote, Aubrey de Grey) we might transfigure ourselves into ageless bodies. We might even resurrect each other as sublime minds that relate with unfathomable compassion and conceive thoughts that in themselves constitute nothing less than the creation of new worlds. In any case, Transhumanists affirm that we can and should change through continued ethical use of technology to expand our abilities from the human to the posthuman.
If you’re a Mormon, you should be a Transhumanist. To identify as a “Mormon Transhumanist” is not at all redundant, but to identify as a “Transhumanist Mormon” is redundant, because Mormonism mandates Transhumanism. In other words, you can be a Transhumanist without being a Mormon, but you can’t be a Mormon without being a Transhumanist, at least implicitly. Of course this is a controversial claim, but we can make an argument from Mormon scripture. Let’s begin with the premises.
First, God wants us to use ordained means to participate in God’s work. This premise is based on scriptures like First Nephi 3, which says God prepares ways for us to accomplish his commands; Alma 60, which says God won’t save us unless we use the means he’s provided; and D&C 58, which says we shouldn’t wait for God to command us to engage in a good cause.
The second premise is that science and technology are among the means ordained of God. This premise is based on scriptures like First Nephi 17, where God commands Nephi to construct a ship to save his family; Alma 37, which says God gave Nephi a compass to guide his family to the promised land; D&C 88, where God commands us to study and teach everything from astronomy and geology to history and politics; and D&C 121, which says we will learn all the laws of the natural world before attaining heaven.
The third premise is that God’s work is to help each other attain Godhood. This premise is based on scriptures like Third Nephi 12, where Jesus commands us to be perfect like God; D&C 76, which says God would make us Gods of equal power with him; and Moses 1, which says God’s work is to make us immortal in eternal life.
The fourth and final premise is that an essential attribute of Godhood is a glorified immortal body. This premise is based on scriptures like Ether 3, where the Brother of Jared sees that God is embodied; D&C 76, which says God has a body glorified like the sun; D&C 93, which says full joy requires a body, elements are the body of God, and intelligence is the glory of God; and D&C 130, which says God’s body is as tangible as that of a human.
From these four premises, we can reason. Since God wants us to use ordained means to participate in God’s work, and since science and technology are among those means, God must want us to use science and technology to participate in God’s work. Next, since God wants us to use science and technology to participate in God’s work, and since God’s work is to help each other attain Godhood, God must want us to use science and technology to help each other attain Godhood. Finally, since God wants us to use science and technology to help each other attain Godhood, and since an essential attribute of Godhood is a glorified immortal body, we can conclude that God wants us to use science and technology to help each other attain a glorified immortal body.
This conclusion is both a religious mandate, in that it purports to express the will of God, and a description of the Transhumanist project, advocating the ethical use of technology to expand human abilities. If we arrived at this conclusion by valid reasoning, which we did, and if we began with premises that accurately reflect Mormonism, as I believe we have, then Mormonism mandates Transhumanism.
Again, the Mormon Transhumanist Association stands for the proposition that we should learn to become Gods, and that science and technology complement religion and spirituality as means for doing so. Here’s how it’s expressed in the Affirmation that all association members support:
1) We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.
2) We believe that scientific knowledge and technological power are among the means ordained of God to enable such exaltation, including realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end.
3) We feel a duty to use science and technology according to wisdom and inspiration, to identify and prepare for risks and responsibilities associated with future advances, and to persuade others to do likewise.
Zipping with the wife on the Jurassic Island.
"He thought to himself that Mormonism is a House of the Lord…
A house has many rooms. Perhaps even in a beautiful house there must be rooms of darkness. Rooms of revelation and rooms of joy. Rooms of terror and rooms of doubt…
And a city of faith must be made up of many houses. There were some with countless children inside, some with a man and woman, just married. Some with a father, some without. And there were some with two men inside, living together, a family…
Maybe the perfect earthly city—the true utopia, the city of Zion—was not a city without locks. Maybe it was simply a city where people never stop looking for the keys.”
(Excerpt from “Latter-day Saint" by Daniel A. Gross)
Post-Fourth 5k Tradition
On Monday, June 23, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) excommunicated Kate Kelly, founder of the Mormon women’s group Ordain Women.
Very impressed with this article.
Yes, yes a thousand times yes.
I attended the Ordain Women vigil for Kate Kelly last night in Salt Lake City more out of curiosity. To come and see, to seek understanding, to feel the life pulse of something historic.
We began by singing “The Spirit of God.” A prayer was then offered, first addressed to Heavenly Father, then Heavenly Mother. The crowd was calm and collected, but you could tell the atmosphere was charged. Lots of watery faces. Men too. The pain was palpable.
What is meant by “the right decision”? That Kate’s leaders not take action against her church membership? That the church caves to OW’s direct political pressure? To bend to match Kate’s perspective? For women to be granted priesthood offices, priesthood keys? For Zion to widen her stakes?
All of the myopic comments, tweets, and blogs I’ve read recently that cast nothing but shame, suspicion, and sarcasm upon either side—OW or church leaders—kind of sicken me. This is not an easy decision for anyone. Certainly not for Kate who began the movement, and neither for the church leaders who now have to handle it.
When the head says to the foot, “I have no need of you,” the only appropriate response is to mourn. We are all members of the body of Christ, it sucks to lose any of them, though we are also told it is sometimes better to cut off those more offensive parts. Boundry maintenance, in other words, is something we are told will not be mocked.
The fact that Kate’s leaders are still deciding what to do makes me imagine how painfully difficult it would be to sit as a judge. What do you consider first—the individual or the institution? Think about it. When you place marginal needs first, above the collective majority, then any rule or social practice that limits personal freedom can be considered immoral and in need of change. The truth is, not all individual perspectives are of veritable worth.
This is not an inditement against anyone who lobbies for gay or feminist rights, only that its contrapositive is equally no less cumbersome: To minimize individual voices in order to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number means you save a ton but still hurt a few. It sickens me that anyone ever has to get hurt.
OW has prompted us to think about necessary and important questions, ones that neither deontological nor utilitarian paradigms are entirely equipped to answer. Why? Because as one woman who bore her testimony after Kate said, “If you silence me, another generation after me will stand up and take my place.” Women’s issues, like gay issues, will not disappear just because a few voices are excommunicated, or cut off. They will persist, and perhaps even grow stronger.
I had the privilege to talk with John Dehlin for a bit after the initial testimonies. I really like what he said about his possible excommunication trial, that is, that our church leaders need to be respected for the tremendous amounts of pressure they face in these kinds of situations, and that they can choose who they decide to keep in or out of the church. It’s a difficult paradox to reconcile because in one breath the church is not at all against people having ideas, though in another breath they seem to be saying—“So long as you don’t actively spread them.”
“We ha[ve] not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities constitute [s] apostasy, for we can conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate, BUT [emphasis added] we [can]not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct [i]s apostasy as we understand the term.”
Under this definition it would not surprise me if Kate, or John for that matter, could be excommunicated. They have most certainly published their disagreements with the church and, while I do not like the implications of the term “sophistry”—and hence will not apply it to them—they have made “special pleadings to enforce [their perspectives] upon the people,” not intentionally, I think, “to produce division and strife,” but rather to bring about what they believe to be positive change.
I personally did not participate in the ritualistic walk over to the Church Office Building, where all were invited to post a picture of themselves on the front doors and quietly deliver one line that began, “I will not be silenced because…” I felt a little uncomfortable with it, not because I don’t respect those who did (I had several friends who participated), but because I’m really too neutral on it all to involve myself with an invisible ordinance I really have no strong testimony towards. But maybe that’s just because I’m an “insensitive man,” perhaps, like my simple critics would probably target me as.
Overall, I’m pleased this event occurred, much like I was pleased with theMormon/Atheist panel discussion that occurred several months ago. These are challenging times. Wonderfully exciting times. I marvel at events like these that try and bring cosmos to chaos, if only because I know deep down for myself that the unexamined life is not worth living. These are personal matters of the heart. Matters between us and God. And that’s really the only thing that matters, right?
At one end, you have Mormon women calling for female admission into the all-male priesthood. At the other, you have LDS women reticent of any changes to their place in the faith. But what about the masses — perhaps millions — in the middle? These moderates may not desire priesthood status (polls show most LDS women don’t), but they’re hardly satisfied with the status quo. They don’t want to sit …
Pretty moderate article. Frames both sides of the debate in a constructive, fruitful way.
Rosalynde Welch on if Ordain Women (OW) has disrupted and stunted the conversation about women in Mormonism.
I recently read a post about the current state of the Mormon Church that sounded really frustrated. It was the kind of post that was arguably not written by some angry-about-to-leave-the-church-member, but most likely someone who cared deeply about her religion and wanted to make us think about it in uncomfortable ways. It wasn’t the bad kind of discomfort either. It reminded me more of the impassioned letter that Captain Moroni wrote to Pahoran. It brought to mind Harold B. Lee:
While I do not always agree one hundred percent with the tone, the form, the spirit, or even some of the points the author raises, there is so much more here to carefully and thoughtfully reflect upon that it would be a mistake to simply ignore it, or worse, chalk it up as anti-Mormon rhetoric. If anything, it spiritually challenged me in ways that I appreciated. It left me relishing a remarkable feeling, translated in my mind as these words:
The anonymous author, otherwise known as “Cate,” had a pretty adverse reaction to Elder Holland’s recent conference talk, “The Cost and Blessings of Discipleship.” To be fair, the talk was probably not an easy one for him to deliver. His fervent tone and language, as we have come to expect from Elder Holland, probably didn’t help popularize his message either. He spoke about the inconvenient truths of Christ, a divine messenger from God who told us not to entertain sin, not to believe in soothing platitudes, and to pluck out our eyes if they offend us. In contrast to Christ’s messages of kindness, acceptance, and tolerance, this same affectionate exemplar remarkably declared, “I came not to [bring] peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34).
How these messages reconcile with other compassionate teachings of Christ remains to be our biggest challenge of knowing how to love each other in the right way, despite our differences. I personally did not have the same experience that Cate had towards Holland’s talk, though I could certainly sympathize with where she was coming from. I could see how Holland’s statements about how some of us desire “comfortable gods…gods who do not demand much,” and who would tell us not to “forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others” could be interpreted as Holland casting unrighteous judgment upon “families who lobby for civil rights for their gay children, [or] women who struggle with the hierarchal inequality in Church structure.”
The church has already declared it is very much in favor of gay rights, and has even “advocated for legal protection for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.” What the church has not done, which its critics have cited as cruel and hostile, is sanction homosexual behavior as divinely permissible. This stance, they say, “neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards gays and lesbians.”
This is a terribly complex issue that warrants no easy solution. What I do fear is how Elder Holland’s “words [might] catalyze the most judgmental voices in the church, promoting a spirit of division and justifying intolerance.” I personally have to agree with Cate here. I have read some rather insensitive blog posts and even sat through some pretty brash Sunday school lessons concerning this issue. The attitudes and explanations I’ve experienced have been far too comfortably caricatured, superficially glossed, and oversimplified to the point that it has made me realize how many cultural predilections need to change in the church if we truly are to be “at-one” with each other.
The liberal passion to love all people, without restraint, without borders, boundaries, or lines—in a word, to love “unconditionally”—is very admirable. Few people can effectively do it. There is a difference between choosing to love people unconditionally, and conditions people place upon themselves to feel our love.
I believe it is in God’s disposition to love each of us unconditionally, though this should not suggest that we are always in a position to feel or even accept his love. The scriptures are replete with conditional expressions: “If (certain conditions exist) then (certain consequences follow)”; “Inasmuch as…(certain conditions exist), … (certain consequences follow)”; “Except … cannot…etc.”
To insinuate that there are no real moral conditions to consider to feel or even accept God’s love suffers from what I would call presenting a “selective Jesus,” meaning, isolating his important characteristics at the neglect of others.
I am in no way here trying to morally police, judge or criticize people who carry unfathomable burdens yet who seek to serve God, and who live according to the best of their ability. Those kinds of strivings are nothing short of beautiful, something to be applauded. I am merely pointing out how difficult it is reconcile the loving, compassionate Jesus with the apocalyptic Jesus of Matthew 24, or the angry Jesus who kicks ass at the temple, or the divisive Jesus who brings not peace but a sword.
Such a paradoxical Jesus leads us to ask, “How are we to draw moral boundaries while still welcome profound differences? How do we transcend the “us vs. them” paradigms that typically only fuel our fears and antipathies?”
Cate raises another good point. It is true that we should “define faithfulness to God…in terms of what we stand for,” rather than what “we stand against.” Too much focus on the latter has made us a church bent on “sin management” rather than creating environments that welcome and embrace “people who sin differently.” We as members of the church, myself included, can improve a lot in this area. The challenge, of course, is how to be equally just and merciful, at the same time.
My brother Trevor raises a great question concerning this balance:
“If you’re faced with a situation in which you could reasonably exercise justice over mercy, err on the side of mercy. Given the nature of institutions, however, I don’t know if they can afford that luxury.”
It seems that institutions cannot afford the luxury to be universally merciful, that is, to validate all beliefs, practices, and lifestyles as “divinely acceptable,” or even equal for that matter. If everything is sacred then nothing is sacred. Religious institutions, to survive, must be predominantly conservative and correlated, lest they become fractured schisms devoid of a centralized ethos. The central message of the Mormon church can still be one of love and radical compassion, though greater work and articulation still needs to be given to how we ought to circumscribe boundaries between truth and error, sacred and profane paradigms. Such matters need to be handled sensitively, probably not with harsh brush strokes.
“Contrary to cultural mythos, it’s not because we are guilty and hate hard truths. It’s because, as was the case with Job, we’ve lived lives of hard truth and we’ve experienced the complexities of mortality firsthand. We’ve seen beneath the superficial skin of simple dichotomies and have felt the blood of our belief pour from us like water from a sword pierced side.”
Correlation is hard on intellectuals.
“I see good people frustrated with being called to repentance by an institution which acts in ways that are sometimes baffling when compared to the word and life of Christ. I see a corporation that has built up a culture through correlated texts and copyright media which prioritizes unthinking conformity over true discipleship.”
In the correlation program, it is difficult for eager, hungry, painfully thoughtful members of the church to thrive because, for us, individual integrity is viewed as something tremendously sacred. It is not something we easily sacrifice to big groups that demand strict obedience, groupthink and conformity. Just as our parents know that our testimonies can never be theirs, so too do anxiously engaged members grow tired of borrowed light and begin to create their own.
“Most of our people, having been fed a steady diet of pre-digested milk, are pathetically nonchalant. Starved for a gospel rich in transformative unity with God, they are uninspired by the lackluster offering of platitudes and proscriptions. They are wandering toward agnosticism, atheism, and other churches, not because they are unable to believe, but because the anemic offerings of their church experience have convinced them that God is not present at our self-congratulatory “historic” meetings or in our proclamations drafted by legal teams, however well they poll.”
This is a bit heavy-handed, I admit. I personally do not agree with the tone here, but I certainly agree that there are plenty of “platitudes and proscriptions” that fall upon deaf ears at church. I look around me and people look bored, tired, and starved for meaning, distracted by phones, games, children and robotic speakers. I agree that people are leaving to create light elsewhere, if only because their church experience did not inspire them to be the change they wished to see in their wards.
Making our own light has its challenges. No one is truly an island; we all borrow from each other and insulate ourselves from perspectives we find uncomfortable. The problem with thinking we’re islands, that we should merely follow our own conscience, independent of organized groups, is that we rarely then experience the needed social pressures that organized groups provide, which in turn allows for people to question our motives, whether we are trying to change God’s will to match our own perspectives, or whether we are trying to align ourselves to the will of God.
“My God calls me out into the streets. He leaves me restless with the ache to heal and be healed. It is a throbbing, relentless discomfort that compels me to do His bidding. And when I heed His call, lives are changed. They are transformed without the need for formalized discussions or new member checklists. They are changed because the good news is just that good.”
It sums up everything I have tried to get from my mind buried deep down into my heart. It exposes how useless, how perfunctory our rituals and ordinances are unless they truly take us somewhere, take us to Christ, wherein He then takes us beyond the rote, mechanical aspect of performing these rituals, and transforms our hearts into eternal compassions ready to mourn, serve, create and grow with others. Our services should not be limited either to strictly those in our own congregations, but should “see the faces of those who most need our service,” whomever they may be.
I know a non-member who is taking the missionary discussions right now. In fact, I sit with this genuine man and participate in these discussions with him. He and I have chatted about what baptism might mean to him, what kind of member he’d want to be, but the missionaries sort of turn him off because of their agenda to push the baptismal card without really considering that what they are asking of him takes time. Sometimes a lifetime. Sometimes never. And we should be ok with that. We should be ok with the fact that our agendas do not convert people—only the Spirit of God converts people, and that Spirit can manifest itself through us by really getting to know people, loving and serving them, laughing and challenging them; not by “formalized discussions or new member checklists.”
Step up, rise up, throw off the fear and boredom that surrounds you; voice your opinion; show forth your good works; magnify your appetite for otherness—even if you’re mocked or rejected. In the words of Elder Holland, you will then “step into a circle of very distinguished women and men who have, as the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob said, “view[ed Christ’s] death, and suffer[ed] his cross and [borne] the shame of the world.”
The Book of Mormon Musical comes to Southpark
The recent John Dehlin/Kate Kelly buzz has made me ponder an important, challenging question:
How is this nebulous thing we call “atonement,” that far reaching, boundless gift we spend countless hours preaching about on Sunday, and which Jesus somehow makes universally possible for the entire human race—how is this concept to become an effectual reality for us when we have strong, perhaps vehement disagreements with those in whom we are commanded to love?
In one breath, he led by example and distanced himself from the mainstream orthodox, was criticized for it, ate dinner with sinners and publicans, spent his time with the socially undesirable, the uncool, unpopular, culturally and tangibly leprous, and even encouraged us to defend the worst of the worst, as seen in the woman taken in adultery. He taught us to leave the institutionalized 99 and go after the marginalized 1, something that would later be mirrored in our baptismal covenant to mourn with those who mourn.
In another breath, Jesus got extremely angry with people who trampled the bounds of acceptable behavior, who dissolved barriers between the sacred and the profane, as seen with the moneychangers in the temple. He taught in strange parables about cutting parts of our body off if they offend us, lest those parts spoil the whole. He condemned sin and commanded repentance. He didn’t seem fond of lukewarm, vacillating disciples either. He often spoke in bold, polarizing language: That we are either for him or against him. None of this wishy-washy devotion.
I think these two aspects of Jesus’ personality—his mercy, his justice—present the biggest challenge for anyone who tries to follow him or who desires to see, do, and be like him. It is also these two aspects that lie at the heart of the John/Kate controversy. How are we to treat those who arrive at interpretations that conflict with mainstream orthodoxy? What if our integrity or perspective on doctrine places us in jeopardy with our own church standing? Do we remain loyal to our own private conscience, or do we conform and remain loyal to the communities we belong to? Is it possible to have it both ways? What do we do when our own personal, inner light urges us to fight for what we believe in, even when the majority says otherwise?
There are answers, I believe, to all of these questions. It is difficult, however, to sometimes see what the answers are because our integrity is not something we typically sacrifice easily to constraining outside forces, especially when those forces try to imprison our highest, most sensitive desires.
In the case of John and Kate, I will not pretend to know the intentions of either. I do know that big public icons in the church who walk the theological tightrope tread precarious territory, especially those who recruit others to campaigns that try to change church doctrine and/or policy. I do believe there is such a thing as trickle-up revelation, spawned from grassroots movements that inform top-tier members of the church hierarchy. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise though that the church, being inherently conservative, will do whatever it takes to protect its organizational integrity, its doctrines, its members, even at the cost of cutting some of its marginal crowds off.
For my conservative friends, I know that whenever we place infallible trust in a person, a prophet, or organization, we relieve ourselves of the burden to continually exercise our own agency and discernment, which only absolves us of the responsibility to make real moral choices. Dostoevsky said it best: “We want some person to be a keeper of our conscience,” though I’m fairly confident that God would not want slaves for children. I’m pretty sure he’d want co-equal, co-autonomous, compassionate collaborators that work together creatively to console, uplift, and alchemize the suffering of those around us.
For my liberal friends, I know that organizations and communities are the only means wherein individuals with competing desires can thrive, and that the bigger the group, the bigger the family, the more conservative, and yes, even the more harsh at times, the collective group will be to protect its members from those marginal perspectives that make porous the boundaries between the sacred and the profane. There must be boundaries, there must be social pressures, if only to curb our own vain ambitions, to socialize and reshape us into something Zion-like.
This war in each of us, this conflict of soul, is based on what’s going on inside us versus external pressures we feel that tell us to conform to something else. It complicates our relationship with knowing the will of the divine. It frustrates our knowing how to reconcile the one with the many, the parts with the body, the individual with the institution. Jesus embodies all of these profound paradoxes, and then challenges us to rise above them.
The John and Kate controversy represents a microcosmic type of the paradoxes that will follow us into eternity. That sounds really ethereal and philosophically vague, I know, and probably won’t really sink in either until we confront someone we truly love and who believes, practices and promotes things we don’t really agree with. What is to be done in these moments? How do we show our love for them? How do we address their concerns? Their pain? How do we hang around and befriend them without shutting the doors? Is it even possible?