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What *is* the appeal of Mormonism’s Weeping God?

December 16, 2012

In the midst of tragedy like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I hear a lot of people trying to reconcile where God was or how he could allow this. Is he even there?

As we try to work through all of our emotions, some of the same explanations and arguments and hypotheses are brought up that are brought up any time tragedy happens. For some people, their faith is broken. For others, they gain a new-found faith or their existing faith is bolstered and matured through challenge.

The one thing that I’ve seen this time around that is new (at least to me) from an LDS context is wholesale application of the Givens’ The God Who Weeps to the entire debacle.

(I first alluded to this work in my post on Terryl Givens’ Letter to a Doubter, which had not impressed me. I have to admit I haven’t gotten around to buying The God Who Weeps, yet.)

There have been a few blog posts responding with some sort of allusion to it, and I’ll link to the posts I have seen, but for now, I’m only going to quote Jacob’s By Comment Consent post: All Eternity Shakes: Mormonism’s Weeping God.

  1. Bonnie alluded to the book in her post The Gift of Weeping
  2. Dan Peterson refers not to the book, but straight to scripture, but I never saw references to these scriptures posted as direct responses to specific tragedies like the Connecticut shooting *before* the Givens’ book. (To Dan’s credit, he wrote on the motif of the Weeping God earlier.

I had seen a few others, but those are the ones I can find again now.

As I mentioned, though, in this post, I’ll be referring only to Jacob’s post at By Common Consent. His is a lengthy post, but I’ll quote a couple of paragraphs that capture the sentiment that I want to respond to:

“What, then, of our God? We read that he weeps over the suffering of his children, that Enoch, who witnesses it, is astonished. After everything he had just seen, and been granted power to do by God, he saw God as the all-powerful sovereign, able to do anything he willed, the God of traditional Judaism and Christianity. But this is troubling for Enoch. Doesn’t God already live in that painless realm of beauty and joy, that very place where we yearn to go and have been promised if we are righteous and law-abiding? When God explains that the heavens weep over suffering due to the sins of humankind he then shows Enoch all of it, all of the wickedness and suffering that God witnesses with ghastly regularity, and now Enoch weeps, and his heart swells wide as eternity, and his bowels yearn and eternity shakes. Enoch experiences, as perhaps no one really had or no one really would in scripture, not Nephi with his vision of the end of his people, not John with his Revelation of the Apocalypse, what it was like to live God’s life, to live and move as he lived and moved, as one who is intensely connected to all the happenings and events and lives of the universe. And oh what joy he did not feel from this experience. He weeps bitterly and refuses to be comforted. This could not be it. This could not be all there was for all eternity, worlds without end. Enoch realizes that the essence of what it would mean become a divine being, to become like God, the heart and core of the the gift of the Good News for humanity, was not to escape to another realm where pain and suffering cannot touch you. It was to develop into a being who would and could endure the present of all moments, in wave after infinite wave of pain, suffering, and wickedness, because this would be, despite the good that humanity would also do and be capable of, the terrible gift of humanity to God.

“…This doesn’t seem comforting in the least. What kind of vision of God is this? Can such a God really save us? And do we really want him to? What kind of salvation is this, to never escape being a being who suffers, whose suffering, in some ways, only intensifies, as he or she is exalted?”

When I read this and all the other posts about it, I get to the questions asked in the second paragraph that I quoted…but to me, there never appears to be a resolution or an answer.

In other words, Mormonism’s weeping God raises the question of whether he can save us, but it doesn’t seem like he can answer that. Mormonism’s weeping God raises the question of what salvation really is, and whether we even want it. What exaltation really is, and whether we even want it. But it seems, from these posts and these events, that there is never anything that suggests we would actually want these things.

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33 Comments
  1. You would probably need to purchase the Givenses book to really get the entire context. Jacob’s post focuses on the visceral nature of suffering, which is one part of this God who weeps, according to their interpretation. The issue they address isn’t *whether* God can save us, but that we are made of the same material, therefore he *gets* us while we work our way through this temporal educational experience. Mormonism’s God is first and foremost a Father, but the experiment is so carefully controlled here not because he alters conditions to make us comfortable, but because he allows conditions that stretch our souls.

    If we are here only in the most temporary way, and the only danger we truly experience to our immortal soul is choice, then in an eternal perspective, a soul who denies God after knowing him has suffered much greater violence than a child who is mercilessly murdered. In our limited perspective, that kind of view is unthinkable, and because he understands our limited view, he weeps with us. If in the larger perspective we understand that our ultimate freedom to choose is never perfectly unhindered (a profound concept they also discuss), then the plan includes many more opportunities even than just here to grow and accept.

    I found the book one of the most humane treatments of God’s character that I’ve ever read. It doesn’t just talk about God’s handling of our tragedies. It talks about a familial relationship. I wouldn’t evaluate it solely based on Jacob’s post. I didn’t want to give my ticket back after reading it.

  2. Bonnie,

    If we are here only in the most temporary way, and the only danger we truly experience to our immortal soul is choice, then in an eternal perspective, a soul who denies God after knowing him has suffered much greater violence than a child who is mercilessly murdered.

    It would take a whole lotta eternity to make this premise seem any less warped than it does.

    Merciless murder? That’s not as bad as an eternally binding* choice that you can make that is for all intents and purposes misinformed or underinformed** and made basically at the prime of one’s “eternal” childhood or immaturity.

    Right, limited perspectives cannot understand…

    Anyway, I’ll have to read the book for sure, but it seems to me, from all that has been posted, is that the reason that it can be one of the most humane treatments of God’s character is because it emphasizes the Mormon collapsing of God’s character away from humanity’s character — being the same species or made of the same material, as you point out.

    *Depending on if one’s theology allows for progression through kingdoms…
    **For varying definitions of “after knowing [God]”

  3. I’m so sorry to be insensitive. It wasn’t at all what I meant. We are all grieving in the most personal of collective ways so we don’t always meet each other where we are, especially online.

    What I meant was based on personal experience. I was there when my father died, standing over him. I had just written about his approaching death as I sat in the hospice room waiting for the death we all knew was coming. I later wrote after his death some of the understanding of a profoundly spiritual experience. Then this summer I was wrenched through the suicide death of a young man who practically lived in my home. I wrote about that here and here. I get suffering around death.

    I also get what happens at death, at least a little bit, because of experiences I had with those two deaths. When my father died, for brief moments I had the chance to experience shades of what he was. The air was electric and I felt the sudden change in his soul. He was thrilled, and there were so many voices of people waiting to greet him. Everything was forgotten, like an experience past and blissfully complete, and he was eager to move forward. I will never forget that. This life is so far from everything, and once we are no longer in pain, we are returned to the kinship and presence of those who’ve awaited our return. As I grieved and prayed at Mike’s too-young death, I had an experience that helped me understand that we are never, ever alone, though we are sometimes insensate to the help and encouragement we are offered at every turn. I know too that he ceased to be in pain and moved forward.

    What is amazing to me is that even knowing the limitation of our perspective while here – we are all made to be like children by a veil of forgetfulness that allows us to truly experiment – he does not ignore our suffering through what he knows will end. He weeps too because that’s what parents do. The great tragedy is not that we die, it’s that we fail to live with faith, because in the end we all return to something we knew before, triumphant with our mortal experience. I know this sounds like the desperate reaching of a frenzied mind, as prophets have long acknowledged people accuse, but I was there. I have experienced that there is more.

    And certainly, there are those who believe we progress through kingdoms, but I think numerous prophets have spoken clearly about this as not occurring after the final judgment. Still, Joseph said that there was a great long path after we left this life before the judgment, and I hold onto that. I believe that there is time to rectify the many, many seeming inequalities of this life, to allow those who were “blinded by the craftiness of men” and given limited opportunity to embrace truth to have a fully fair experience. Since I have a great confidence in the sociality of our time after death, though I don’t know what it entails, I place my trust in God that he has planned for that just as he planned that our world would have the perfect temperature, perfect distance from the sun, perfect constants that keep nuclear forces in balance, and perfect resources to grow food and continue to exist. If this world and its creation was so well-planned, I believe the further education after it will be well-thought-out also.

    But that is not a thing we can reach out and touch or poke with a long stick or prove. Hence, the experiment of faith remains blind.

  4. Bonnie,

    No need to apologize. it’s not you. it’s endemic to the worldview.

    I don’t think I’m worrying or fretting that much about death itself. After all, death is the end of pain and suffering…as you mention throughout your comment. I mean, I think I view this for a different reason than you do, but in the end, it’s the same proximate result.

    And to be honest, I don’t know how much anyone *suffered*. I mean, the parents will bear that for a longer time…I just don’t think that religious sentiments help.

    I mean, I don’t think it helps when people pin all of the evil on the shooter or on his act of will. I don’t think the discourse on mental illness helps much more, because I don’t think we’ve gotten to a point of recognizing anything less black and white than “either one chooses freely to do something like this purely out of evil or one is consigned to it mechanically and definitively by mental illness.”

    But even that wasn’t really what this post was about. I mean, at this point, what I’ve said in this comment is all on the human plane of discussion.

    But what I think is so unhelpful is when people move away from the human plane of discussion to introduce any sort of deity into the mix. It seems so…wasteful. Superfluous.

    I understand that you probably disagree, since as you put it, you “w[ere] there”.

    You said earlier:

    The great tragedy is not that we die, it’s that we fail to live with faith

    And I’m like: this could’ve been a great line without those last two words, but with these last two words, we now have to expend energy *not* living and instead trying to introduce this new element: “faith” — which we won’t even agree upon and which will actually divide us.

    I place my trust in God that he has planned for that just as he planned that our world would have the perfect temperature, perfect distance from the sun, perfect constants that keep nuclear forces in balance, and perfect resources to grow food and continue to exist. If this world and its creation was so well-planned, I believe the further education after it will be well-thought-out also.

    I see this as a precarious being to place one’s trust in. Because when you say “perfect temperature,” that’s where “perfect temperature” means that if you don’t clothe yourself properly or have appropriate shelter, the various elements of nature will kill you, and even if you do, the various elements of nature will still periodically rip or consume or disrupt or blow away or whittle down the shelter or clothing you have. Oh yeah, and try to kill you.

    Or, “perfect distance from the sun” means that there are still solar rays pulsing an invisible cancerous bomb at us with each moment of each day.

    I mean, really, we live in a world where even if we exclude the other human beings who try to kill us, most of the world — including and especially organisms that we cannot even see without technology — is trying to kill us. This world is barely hospitable to us, but for the tools we make to corral it, and outside of this world is even less hospitable (and that ouside is unfortunately, dizzyingly, exponentially and humblingly more than within this world)

    Of course, isn’t that part of Givens’ argument? Things cannot be obvious…things have to be muddled and murky.

    So, that gets me back to my basic point: why did we make this Rube Goldberg machine to explain this crapsack universe when it 1) doesn’t really help anything and 2) takes our attention and focus away from how we can actually deal with said crapsack universe?

  5. We must be approaching the tax season. Do corporate/public service accountants and auditors have a season?

    A universe that’s trying to kill us? Compared to any planet or planet-like object in our immediate view (and by that I mean anything we could reach in our lifetime at the speed of light), our planet with its interesting seasons and climes is remarkably hospitable. I just started reading Martin Rees’ Just Six Numbers because I’m a cosmos geek and it’s fascinating. We are at the confluence of a dizzying number of unbelievable coincidences, with the print of an underlying intelligence upon everything from the shape of galaxies to the shape of seashells. God has left a trail of bread crumbs everywhere from the atom to the cosmos and in between. How do we explain this outside of God? Especially when he periodically sends angels to connect our two worlds and remind us that we are not alone?

    I get atheism. I get agnosticism. I get that we probably won’t agree. But I wonder how one explains that you are altruistic? All the laws of economics make altruism an impossible anomaly. You are a particularly altruistic soul. Why?

  6. Bonnie,

    tax season never ends. it’s just a matter of what clients have what seasons, or what projects are in what parts of their life cycles. I’m fortunately in a pretty good part, these past couple of weeks.

    Corporate/industry accountants do have the luxury of only having to keep up with one company’s set of corporate dates — their own.

    Compared to any planet or planet-like object in our immediate view (and by that I mean anything we could reach in our lifetime at the speed of light), our planet with its interesting seasons and climes is remarkably hospitable

    That’s exactly my point.

    Earth looks and feels nice because the other 99.999999% of the universe looks and feels pretty abysmally. But when you look at what we have here, the precariousness of our situation is sobering indeed. “Interesting” seasons and climes understates and trivializes it.

    [I think adherents of the fine tuning argument fail to adequately account for a couple of things — the perspectival bias of the anthropic principle (namely: if some place in the universe weren’t at least minimally conducive to some form of life, there would be no one around to speak about it) and the limiting scope of the availability heuristic (namely: assuming that the constraints required for life, matter, etc., are universal or even omniversal constraints because, well, everything that we know and study operate under them.) But I mean, that’s shifting the discussion in a different direction.]

    The reason I bring about the hostility of the world and universe is precisely to counter your “bread crumbs” of beauty. I think my agnostic atheism is more about respect — out of respect for the concept of God, I do not attribute this universe to him.

    I think both must go together. if you want to attribute beauty, then you have to take up cruelty.

    I think similarly of altruism vs. sociopathy. We are all humans. The same thing engendering some of us with some extent of altruism engenders others of us with some extent of sociopathy. More commonly than being on one end of the spectrum or another, we (definitely me, at least) have pieces of both lurking inside, coming out in fits and turns, often beyond “our” control.

    This makes sense if we understand ourselves as beings who have evolved with sociality. And then a lot of things make sense — not only our empathy, but that our empathy is so often limited to people we perceive as being part of our “group”, and withheld from those that are perceived as being outside of our group. And it makes sense when we see lapses in empathy too.

    All of these things make sense until we start trying to attribute things to deity. All of a sudden, we have to explain why things aren’t *better* than they are. You say I’m an altruistic soul? I say I have similar thoughts to that as I do to the “interesting seasons and climes”. I have tornadoes and hurricanes too.

    …If “all the laws of economics make altruism an impossible anomaly”, I get the impression that it is only because the economist has 1) overestimated altruism or 2) ossified his understanding of economic laws by not remembering that his is an incomplete science (as all sciences are), that must continually take in new data and observations, test new hypotheses, be ever aware of biases, etc., And to be honest, I think this is a bias that people do in all things, not just science. But I think that good science is that that recognizes that we are prone to doing this.

  7. But Andrew, how much hospitable universe does our creation demand? Don’t we have “enough and to spare?” Isn’t the contrast an interesting development? Doesn’t it throw our garden experience into an interesting light?

    I did laugh out loud that you attribute your atheistic agnosticism to a respect for God, not impugning his honor by calling this his universe. Did you just pretzel yourself with your own rhetoric? :D

    Yes, with soberness I admit that the fingerprint theory (or bread crumbs) requires us to accept a God who will tolerate extraordinary cruelty. But … few of us are exposed to the worst of that cruelty. Just as you note, the variations in seasons trivialize the potentials for annihilation, and God instead holds the balances consistent, maintaining close tolerances on constants to which we are so vulnerable. And spiritually he sent a savior, who is also our physical savior. The message clearly is that our incredible risk – and make no mistake, we all have to admit that our position is unbelievably tenuous – is part of a carefully monitored experiment. Considering that the sun has not exploded or the seas boiled, why have trouble trusting this being? The raging of a madman undermines the constants of the universe?

    Economically, altruism has nothing to do with sociopathy. Altruism is one of the unexplainables in economic theory. In terms of applying physics to social theory, it’s like trying to explain away entropy to even address altruism. Our current heuristics give us nothing for altruism. Only God and higher laws explain altruism, because altruism is essentially an expansion of the definition of the self. All of economics is turned on its head by the voluntary choice of the individual to redefine himself as his community.

    And introducing deity doesn’t complicate things if our deity has given us free agency. We have the freedom to destroy ourselves (social entropy), but if we obey laws that place us on a higher plane, we similarly escape social entropy. Different economic laws are at our disposal. We enter into a plane of even more closely monitored tolerances, and more of the outliers in our vulnerability disappear.

    This does not occur spontaneously, any more than life does.

    Still, we could banter this back and forth and neither convince the other. I have experienced a path of faith that validates my views, and you have experienced something that validates yours. I guess the only thing to say is, “I embrace the idea of a weeping, omnipowerful Father God because it makes absolute sense.”

    I leave you, with some sadness, to a universe that is trying to kill you.

  8. I have experienced a path of faith that validates my views, and you have experienced something that validates yours. I guess the only thing to say is, “I embrace the idea of a weeping, omnipowerful Father God because it makes absolute sense.”

    The only two things I want to point out is that what “makes absolute sense” to one person is not the same as what “makes absolute sense” to another, and people don’t choose what makes sense to them. We keep launching salvos at each other on the off-chance that something we will say will trigger an unconscious bomb that rewires the way the other thinks, but we don’t know which bombs are active and which ones are duds partly because they all respond differently to different targets.

    Because of this, I would offer that the reason that you recognize that “we could banter this back and forth and neither convince the other” is because convincing never was an act of volition or agency.

    …I think that this is probably ultimately my biggest incompatibility with the Mormon viewpoint. Everything within it is laced with belief voluntarism that does not seem to be the case to me.

  9. I have to agree that something beyond reason alone structures our perceptions. I’ve often wondered about this. I reject determinism, because I’ve changed my mind about a great many things, often 180 degrees. There are times when a subtle shifting of an idea, a greater view offered by someone else’s perspective, makes possible an entirely different viewpoint for me. Often, because I think on my feet and sometimes don’t know precisely what I believe until I’ve been forced to structure ideas in words, I try on a new concept and find that although I don’t adopt it as presented, I can alter my thinking in ways that accommodate a portion of someone else’s view. It’s very invigorating.

    So sometimes I validate, and sometimes I reevaluate, and I don’t know why I choose one or the other. My view is that to the degree that something validates previously known knowledge, I feel peace and atonement, because that peace and atonement have grown throughout my life. Wound through that, however, is the necessity of agency, because I don’t have to challenge myself to a widening view, but find greater peace and enlightenment as I do.

    Do you not feel a degree of determinism in your views? Have you changed your mind, or do you find that your views have remained relatively constant?

  10. I reject determinism, because I’ve changed my mind about a great many things, often 180 degrees.

    I don’t think that determinism means that one’s mind can’t change. But me personally, if I were to say “I’ve changed my mind about” something, I would have to caveat that it wasn’t “me” doing the changing. My mind changed, and I was along for the ride.

    So, with that being said:

    Do you not feel a degree of determinism in your views? Have you changed your mind, or do you find that your views have remained relatively constant?

    I definitely feel a degree of determinism in my views. But to me, that’s not a bad thing. It just seems to be the way things are. Your second question seems to be a false dichotomy: it can be both true that *I* have not changed my mind and that I do not find that my views have remained relatively constant.

    That being said, theologically, I probably have stayed about the same forever. The peace I’ve found has been in coming to terms with this, rather than trying in vain to fight it.

    One thing I’ve been reading into recently that I think has helped me appreciate the agency/free will paradigm (although I don’t think I’m there yet) is the gurdjieff-ian idea that we are asleep, dreaming a non-lucid dream. With practice (as with dreams), we can recognize the signs of our nonlucidity…the patterns we automatically conduct…and through months and months and months of practice at just *recognizing* the patterns start to learn to disidentify with these patterns.

  11. If *you* do not change your views, what or who does? Are you stating that you change your views to accept greater truths that you only over time become aware of, or are you stating that there is another force that created and is altering you? Perhaps genetics? Am I understanding the determinist outlook correctly?

    In the gurdjieff system (with which I’m entirely unfamilar), what or who creates the pattern that we follow? Is this a rehashing of the Hellenistic ideals of physicality being a lesser manifestation and perfection being a state of perfect nonphysicality?

  12. Bonnie,

    Hmm, how can I explain this? (This is often the toughest part because examples that I think are universal end up not being so universal…This will be a long comment.)

    I guess I would begin by asking a few questions: what do you consider to be the locus of free will/agency? What do you consider to be the locus of “you” for purposes of determining who is making a decision? Are “you” your genes, or when you’re referring to “you” (as a agent), then are you referring to something else?

    OK, here are a few scenarios.

    Suppose you have an itch. Before you know it, you’re scratching that itch. Would you say you chose that? Would you only say you chose to scratch if you had a moment of awareness between the itch and the scratching (e.g., if there weren’t a “before you know it” part? Do you think there’s ever an instance of “before you know it” or does this example not even make sense?)

    What is the itch itself? Do you choose to have an itch? Can you choose not to have an itch? Suppose that you believe you choose whether or not to scratch or not scratch…what does the persisting itch represent to you?

    The thing I’m trying to get is that if you perceive a difference, it’s probably between the scratch and the itch. If my example is as generalizable as I hope it to be, then the thing I’m trying to get at is that even if in some instances you perceive the scratching to be consciously chosen, you probably don’t perceive the itching as consciously chosen.

    So…to continue with this scenario: do you sometimes have an itch…and then it just goes away? without your having scratched it? And you know it has gone away because you don’t even have any inclination to scratch it.

    Would you say in this situation that you caused the itch to go away? In other words, given that your brain chemistry and neurotransmitters and body and senses and all of these things are behind you feeling the itch in the first place, if these things make itches pop up and then go away, would you say that *you* (as an agent or locus of control) are responsible for the itch?

    Another scenario.

    Picture something extremely unpleasant. I don’t know what that will be, so I won’t venture to guess. Can you now visualize it as being pleasant? Can you will away your negative sentiment toward that thing? If you can, does this visualization trigger any other thoughts?

    Are these sentiments — negative or positive — chosen? Are the emotional responses chosen?

    Extension of scenario:

    Can you visualize something you once viewed as unpleasant that you now view as pleasant. When was the moment of the switch? Did you consciously choose to switch? If so, then why not apply this to the unpleasant thing of your choosing? What’s stopping you?

    A song pops into your head. Did you choose that? You try to stifle it, and it comes back. Did you choose that?

    I’ll now try to answer your questions from my POV:

    If *you* do not change your views, what or who does? Are you stating that you change your views to accept greater truths that you only over time become aware of, or are you stating that there is another force that created and is altering you? Perhaps genetics? Am I understanding the determinist outlook correctly?

    I think of my brain — and particularly parts that process emotions, the feel of considering something to be right, etc., — as being something like a system of gates operated by some sort of gambling game. The gates let things in (e.g., things I accept as true) or do not let things in (things I am skeptical of.) I don’t perceive that I open the gates (e.g., choose to accept things as true). Rather, I gamble. Suppose that the gates are locked with numeric codes, and the way to unlock them is to pick numbers based on the results of games of chance. So if the code is 654, then I have to roll a dice with a 6 (1/6 chance), then a 5 (1/6 chance), then a 4 (1/6 chance).

    (man, this analogy is pretty convoluted…I haven’t totally ever written it out in total before. only parts and pieces.)

    Anyway, for something that is similar to something already in the gate, the gates are easier to open. (Maybe the code is 3, and I only have to roll a four-sided dice.) Or, think of it in analog way: for a given lock to a door, a counterfeit key that is *close* but not *exact* to the right key can still open the lock, just with a lower level of success.

    But for something that is not similar, then the gates are more difficult to open (e.g., the code is 3182910, and I have to unlock it by flipping a coin and getting the equivalent number in binary…that would be 1100001001000100111110, by the way, where heads are 1 and tails are 0.

    So, to change my views is about gambling with information, hoping that with each die roll or coin toss or whatever, the probabilistically unlikely thing opens the gates. Most of the time, it doesn’t. But occasionally it does.

    The point of this analogy is to say that I don’t perceive I choose to change my values any more than I “choose” for the die to land on 6 or for the coin to land heads. Does that…make any sense? Even if I have loaded die, I don’t “choose” for them to land on whatever thing they land on.

    I guess the question would be: what is the gate system? What is it that has probabilities and odds? Even though I think this is part of my body (genetics, brain functioning, neurology, chemistry etc., etc.,), I don’t consider it as part of the locus of agency.

    It need not be anything outside of myself.

    In the gurdjieff system (with which I’m entirely unfamilar), what or who creates the pattern that we follow? Is this a rehashing of the Hellenistic ideals of physicality being a lesser manifestation and perfection being a state of perfect nonphysicality?

    I’m actually unsure what or who creates the pattern that we follow in the Gurdjieff system. I think the idea is meant to be intentionally open to interpretation under many religious frameworks. But whether one takes it as the veil, or fallen nature, or the natural man, or dharma, or whatever, the point is that you’re supposed to observe to see if these things apply to yourself.

    I do not think it is a rehashing of the Hellenistic ideals, though. Especially since Gurdjieff’s view was that to try to awaken simply by “overcoming” or mastering the physical is an unbalanced approach (as are alternative approaches to awaken by “overcoming”/mastering passions or to awaken by “overcoming”/mastering mental habits.) The idea is that you have to work on all three in tandem. Partially because all of these are combined. (That may just be something I’m bringing to the table, though.)

    So, I mean, this isn’t saying that perfection is a state of perfect nonphysicality anymore than saying, “put off the natural man” is saying that perfection is a state of perfect nonphysicality. It’s non sequitur to the discussion at hand.

  13. That was thoughtful of you to write that out. Or perhaps, if I’m understanding the system correctly, it was just how you’re wired. Let me see if I’m getting this:

    Just as there is no intelligence that guides the universe, there really is no intelligence that guides the individual. We are essentially very complex organic computers walking around, without souls or will or even, truly, thought. Our motivations, creations, and success or failure in any field is merely a confluence of electrons and quarks. Is this right?

    If I am understanding you correctly, I now get every conversation we’ve had. You are coming from a worldview that is not just 180 degrees opposite of mine, it’s an entirely different universe. The essence of intelligence as matter of a finer sort is fundamental to my worldview, and with it will and agency. We don’t have any fundamental language that we can share, because in a worldview without intelligence or soul there is no morality, no triumph, no failure, no sociality, no good, no evil, no life of anything other than physicality. It’s anti-Hellenism at its core. It reminds me of my friends who love to play with the idea of the singularity.

  14. That was thoughtful of you to write that out. Or perhaps, if I’m understanding the system correctly, it was just how you’re wired. Let me see if I’m getting this:

    If I had to explain it, it would be like this.

    The inclination to write stuff out, getting the last work, responding to every point, is like the itch. A lot of the time, I’m already writing something before I know it. But even if I resist, the itch is still there, painful and at the forefront of consciousness.

    I have watched some programs on tourette’s and also listened to people talk about certain aspects of ADHD, hearing how people describe the *feeling* or *experience* of what it is like to have that, and I think there are similarities.

    Just as there is no intelligence that guides the universe, there really is no intelligence that guides the individual. We are essentially very complex organic computers walking around, without souls or will or even, truly, thought. Our motivations, creations, and success or failure in any field is merely a confluence of electrons and quarks. Is this right?

    This is too certain a position. And too clean. But I think I would agree with the last line for the most part. The part I would disagree with is the implication within some of the words — for example, I would not say “merely” a confluence, as if this is some minor or degrading thing. No, because we experience our motivations, creations, success, and failure, our *perception* and *experience* give them heightened value (because value too is something we perceive and experience.)

    But for the second-to-last line, I would say something like this: we have a will (or, more precisely, wills*), but our will is programmatic, bound, limited, fleeting, and “thrown”, rather than being free, conscious, directed. As Calvinists say (and this rings with me), “We are free to act according to our will, but we are not free to choose our will” (and its corollary: we are not free to act contrary to our nature.) Additionally, to the extent that we are “very complex organic computers” (which I agree with), we can’t underestimate the complexity of computations that are performed — this complexity produces as a byproduct the perception of soul, will, and thought. Of course, because we are being computed, we don’t see the glitches in the system — we feel soul, will, and thought, but there are characteristic biases, limitations, blindspots, that muddy up the picture.

    The thing is that we think these things are unitary — e.g., “I am a soul or I have a soul,” “I have will,” “I have thoughts” — when I think that when we look deeper, we realize that there are multitudes and multitudes. At best, if there is something within me that can be called “soul,” then I have many souls (in the same way that I don’t have “a mood”, but I have many moods), same thing with will. Gurdjieff would call this the phenomenon of “many Is”. We have all of these thoughts and emotions and feelings and intuitions and whatnot, and we tend to identify with all of them (“I am hungry.” “I am angry.” “I am bored.”) yet these things pop in and out pretty much on their own, are fleeting, and often contradictory. But, we feel, because there is only one “I” we attach to all of them, we are unified, unitary beings.

    As for the first line, i would say something this is where there is too much certainty. It’s not that there is or is not an intelligence that guides the individual — there isn’t enough data to tell whether there is or is not, or what “intelligence” would look like, and it’s problematic to assume that there is. Whether talking about the universe or about ourselves, adding intelligence to the mix introduces a bunch of issues that otherwise simply don’t arise.

    This isn’t exactly a complete accounting, either. For Gurdjieffian work to “work,” or for Buddhism to “work,” then there has to be some “will” to escape the cycle. So I dunno.

    If I am understanding you correctly, I now get every conversation we’ve had. You are coming from a worldview that is not just 180 degrees opposite of mine, it’s an entirely different universe. The essence of intelligence as matter of a finer sort is fundamental to my worldview, and with it will and agency. We don’t have any fundamental language that we can share, because in a worldview without intelligence or soul there is no morality, no triumph, no failure, no sociality, no good, no evil, no life of anything other than physicality. It’s anti-Hellenism at its core. It reminds me of my friends who love to play with the idea of the singularity.

    A couple of thoughts.

    1) The view of intelligence as matter (even if of a more finer sort) *is* physicalism. That’s one of many reasons why a lot of non-LDS Christians really dislike LDS theology. There doesn’t have to be anything supernatural about it, when “spirit” is really “merely” (to use your term) a level of matter smaller than quarks and electrons.

    2) The reason we don’t have any fundamental language we can share is not because the words aren’t there, or even because the concepts aren’t there, but because the narratives are conceptually exclusive. For you, in a worldview without intelligence or soul “there is no morality, no triumph no failure, no sociality, no good, no evil, no life of anything other than physicality.” It is inconceivable. Could you choose to conceive otherwise? Not consciously, I would bet. All these words I have here are just throwing a lot of dice (and your words are doing the same too.)

    …But if you have noticed, I have never once conceded any of these points (even if at various times, I challenge people’s assumptions about what morality, triumph, failure, sociality, good, evil, etc., look like.)

  15. Fascinating. I’ve read about this view (certainly it appears in the Book of Mormon), but I’ve never actually met anyone who holds it. It requires some significant mental calisthenics that I’ve never met anyone willing to perform to the end degree required. Certainly, the discussion of “truth” is a pointless task since 1) its existence is denied and 2) it is unknowable for certain. In this universe there is no meaning.

    To me, this is the pinnacle of evil.

  16. Bonnie,

    Truth exists regardless of human ability to perceive or understand it. So your point 1 is non sequitur.

    As for point #2, this doesn’t really stop us, because we really go about the perception of certainty or the perception of knowledge, regardless of if we are wrong.

    That is also why statement about meaning is wrong — meaning was always something perceived and projected — to the extent that we are wired to perceive meaning, there it is.

    That’s why you can, of course, say, “To me, this is the pinnacle of evil.” Because your perceptions are still there, regardless of how they arose, whether you chose them or not, whether you can choose to change them or not. Which you still haven’t answered those thought experiment questions.

  17. No, Andrew, it’s not non sequitur if it’s the definition of my worldview. We are operating under a different definition of truth. Mine is as revealed to Joseph Smith by revelation: “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were and as they are to come.” This definition implies a relationship. Truth unperceived is as light unreceived; it is meaningless. Perception, as we have discovered, is dependent on unity of communication. In your worldview there can never be a perception of truth, so it is not your pursuit. In mine, it is the source of meaning, connection, and life. I think we could agree that even if you, in the dialing of chance, happened on a perception of truth, it would have no meaning. And because there is no mutual edification in a relationship of truth perceivers, I would have to agree.

  18. Bonnie,

    It indeed does not follow that “the definition of Bonnie’s worldview is the only definition of any worldview.” It does not follow that “the definition of truth in Bonnie’s worldview is the only definition of truth in any worldview that has value or meaning or existence.” I mean, I’m responding to this:

    “Certainly, the discussion of “truth” is a pointless task since 1) its existence is denied and 2) it is unknowable for certain. In this universe there is no meaning.”

    Nothing in this sentence explicitly or implicitly suggests “in Bonnie’s worldview.” In fact, I am highly doubtful that the antecedent of “this” is “Bonnie’s worldview.”

    We are operating under a different definition of truth.

    When you say “[truth’s] existence is denied,” that comes across to me as something distinct from “Truth’s existence is affirmed under a different definition.” The latter, IMO, would be compatible with your statement that we are operating under a different definition of truth. The former, which you actually did say, does not seem to be.

    Mine is as revealed to Joseph Smith by revelation: “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were and as they are to come.” This definition implies a relationship. Truth unperceived is as light unreceived; it is meaningless.

    Fair enough. I do not disagree with the last line — precisely because I think that meaning is perceived and projected — in other words, a light unreceived doesn’t lack meaning because it doesn’t exist (existence does not require perception — so the lack of perception and meaning does not say anything about its existence), but because meaning requires perception. But to me, to say that truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come, suggests that truth can change (insomuch as our knowledge can change). If you’re down for such a subjective notion of truth, then so am I…but I suspect this is not your intention.

    Perception, as we have discovered, is dependent on unity of communication.

    I think on the contrary that perception is remarkable in that it definitely does *not* rely upon unity of communication. That’s why this conversation is happening: one person says one thing…the other person perceives something radically different than what was intended in communication, but continues the conversation was the distorted message. This is possible because perception doesn’t require unity of community at all.

    In your worldview there can never be a perception of truth, so it is not your pursuit.

    To the contrary, in my worldview there certainly can be a perception of the truth. But the perception is not the same as truth. (I guess this goes back to my earlier criticism of changing knowledge.)

    I think we could agree that even if you, in the dialing of chance, happened on a perception of truth, it would have no meaning.

    No, we could not agree on this point. (FB status becoming truer ever moment…) Because the perception of truth is the perception of meaning. Even the perception of falsity is the perception of meaning. For me to have the perception, “This rings true” is a source of meaning to me. For me to have the perception “This doesn’t mesh” is another source of meaning to me.

    The perception drives the meaning. For something to have no meaning, there would have to be no perception.

  19. My point about truth was not to assert that mine was the only worldview, but that in your worldview, mine is of equal value or possible validity as yours, since you freely assert that the facts are unknowable and your experience of meaning is an independent experience based solely on your perceptions. Hence both your definitions of truth and meaning are quite different from mine.

    As I ponder on this conversation, I find it one of the most philosophically enlightening and spiritually useful conversations I’ve ever had. Would it be fair to say that since you are a self-proclaimed atheist and yet align yourself with Mormonism and have a considerable grasp on its history and theology, that at some level your intent is to undermine the faith of those who profess a belief in Jesus Christ? Would you then call yourself an anti-Christ? You have spoken of a desire to have a sign, a road to Damascus experience, as proof of God’s existence, which places you perfectly on parallel with Korihor.

    I find myself surprised and thoughtful regarding this relationship, one I had not noticed or considered before. I don’t offer the observation as a pronouncement, but as a question. I am curious about your thoughts.

  20. Bonnie,

    My point about truth was not to assert that mine was the only worldview, but that in your worldview, mine is of equal value or possible validity as yours, since you freely assert that the facts are unknowable and your experience of meaning is an independent experience based solely on your perceptions. Hence both your definitions of truth and meaning are quite different from mine.

    I will grant the last line (although I sometimes think it is similar definitions, just with different frameworks that make them look different…I feel more or less comfortable with that as conversations go on, though.) But, moving backwards, I find more disagreement.

    For example, granting different definitions for truth and meaning, then your calculus “facts are unknowable” (which depends on particular definitions of “facts” and “unknowable” that I don’t think I ascribe to, much less “freely assert”) + “your experience of meaning is an independent experience based solely on your perceptions” = “in your worldview, my worldview is of equal value or possible validity as yours” does not follow.

    Namely, if my experience of meaning is an independent experience based on perceptions, then it is not true that in my worldview, your worldview is of equal value or possible validity as mine — because your worldview and mine may produce different experiences to me than to you (and vice versa). Precisely because we don’t perceive and experience things with equality (or even possible equality), different worldviews also have different value and possible validity. Again: value and validity are things we perceive.

    Would it be fair to say that since you are a self-proclaimed atheist and yet align yourself with Mormonism and have a considerable grasp on its history and theology, that at some level your intent is to undermine the faith of those who profess a belief in Jesus Christ?

    No, I would not say that, and not simply because I suspect your definition of what it would mean to “undermine” faith is different than mine. On a bad day, what I want to do is get people to realize — especially religious folks — that different people can have different opinions, beliefs, worldviews, etc., and that these differences are not because of conscious choice.

    But on a good day, I simply want to be some sort of anthropologist or sociologist. I want to figure out what makes the believer tick. What makes their worldview seem so appealing to them? I’ll get back to this later.

    On most days, though, I just want to figure out: how do I make sense of my life and upbringing? How do I make sense of the past, of heritage, and how do I make sense of the future, of going forward?

    Would you then call yourself an anti-Christ?

    Given the disagreement on your first point, I would not call myself an anti-Christ. I personally don’t even know what such a term really means or implies.

    You have spoken of a desire to have a sign, a road to Damascus experience, as proof of God’s existence, which places you perfectly on parallel with Korihor.

    Getting back to the thing I said I’d get back to later, sometimes I think that the only want to understand what makes a believer tick is to become one. But I suspect that it wouldn’t happen without a sign, road to Damascus experience, etc.,

    …that being said, I think there are a lot of problems with Korihor’s presentation. In short, he’s not characterized as a real person — I mean, at my most cynical, then I would say it’s because I doubt he is a real person. But at my least cynical, I would point out that it’s because *he* never tells his own story…rather, his story is told by someone who doesn’t understand his perspective — and never did — and has a vested interest in demonizing the perspective.

    But without going into ALL of that, I would say that from his characterization, korihor does not read as an atheist or even an agnostic. He is a religious liar. (To make this crystal clear in case it needed to be — self-proclaimed agnostics and atheists don’t take instructions from angels and demons.)

    I find myself surprised and thoughtful regarding this relationship, one I had not noticed or considered before. I don’t offer the observation as a pronouncement, but as a question. I am curious about your thoughts.

    I find myself a little frustrated with the pervasiveness of how we appear truly unable to transcend our own narratives. It just keeps happening.

  21. I would have characterized you as a seeking anthropologist with a goal of being one through understanding, which is why this worldview of unknowability would seem to undercut all your efforts. I would imagine it produces a great deal of dissonance.

    And I would gently ask if you are trying as hard to transcend your own narrative as you wish I would transcend mine. It would seem as if, in order to find truth (or some objective facts, if that is a better way to describe the phenomena we experience), we would both need a 3rd person observer.

  22. Bonnie,

    I would have characterized you as a seeking anthropologist with a goal of being one through understanding, which is why this worldview of unknowability would seem to undercut all your efforts. I would imagine it produces a great deal of dissonance.

    Have you considered that you don’t really have the right grasp on my positions on knowledge vs. truth vs. perception, and that’s why you can’t understand it?

    And I would gently ask if you are trying as hard to transcend your own narrative as you wish I would transcend mine. It would seem as if, in order to find truth (or some objective facts, if that is a better way to describe the phenomena we experience), we would both need a 3rd person observer.

    Responding to sentences in reverse order: IMO, the third party observer brings in a third perception and narrative of truth, not truth itself. The objective facts are what exist when you take all the observers away.

    As soon as you talk about “finding” truth, then you’re talking about introducing subjectivity and perspective.

    For that reason, I don’t know so much about transcending narratives. it would be like trying to transcend subjectivity. If you transcend the “I think” or “I believe” or “I feel,” however, then what do you have? I dunno, but would you or I identify with it?

  23. I reflected back that I understood what you had said in a previous comment about your intents and focus, so I think the point about whether I *understand* is more a frustration that I don’t *agree.* Understanding and agreeing are two different things. I have spent significant time listening to and considering your worldview. It’s entirely possible that you have hit on the mother lode of all truths and that my failure to adopt it is because I’ve failed to transcend my own narrative. You express frustration that we can’t transcend our narratives and thereby find one-ment and agreement, and that it’s not something you feel a degree of hope is possible.

    But I do. The spirit of Christ, in my worldview, is an opportunity to transcend our personal narrative, an access to a 3rd party observer. Because of that worldview, one-ment is possible through shared access to that same 3rd party observer, a consciousness that universally transcends personal narratives.

    I understand that we will disagree on this point. I’m willing to agree to disagree. And now, I must get back to work!

  24. Bonnie,

    I reflected back that I understood what you had said in a previous comment about your intents and focus, so I think the point about whether I *understand* is more a frustration that I don’t *agree.*

    Throughout this entire conversation I’ve been trying to interject caveats and counters and corrections into your summaries of various things I’ve said. Your not agreeing is one thing. But I don’t think we are even at understanding on many points.

    let me be crystal clear: when I say:

    I find myself a little frustrated with the pervasiveness of how we appear truly unable to transcend our own narratives. It just keeps happening.

    It is not because we disagree. it is because you misunderstand. To raise a comparison — even in curiosity — with Korihor shows that there is not simply a fundamental disagreement, but a fundamental misunderstanding. I worry that the misunderstanding (not simple disagreement) is because you can’t see anything outside of Korihor (or similar scriptural or doctrinal or cultural etc., archetypes). that is what I mean by inability to transcend the narrative.

    So,

    You express frustration that we can’t transcend our narratives and thereby find one-ment and agreement, and that it’s not something you feel a degree of hope is possible.

    …is jumping the gun. One-ment and agreement is too far away. I simply want to get to a point in the conversation where with each response, I don’t feel like my position is summarized as a straw person or husk of what I’m actually trying to convey.

    My fear and terror is that you and I are both wrong that our intuition that understanding is something different than agreement and that there can be understanding without agreement. My fear is that substantial understanding might actually require agreement because substantial understanding would entail understanding *the feeling of it ringing true.*

    Or let me put it another way: understanding is really just agreement about interpretation. In this case, if we disagree about the interpretation of my worldview or yours, we don’t understand.

    …but I mean, work is good. Work is something I should do more of ;)

  25. Actually, we agree. I also do not wish to construct a straw man, which inevitably happens when with the best of intentions we attempt to practice reflective listening without understanding. I also am an anthropologist of sorts, curious about how people tick and why. And I also believe, though I don’t think I fear it, that there can be no true understanding without agreement, however sad that is. Out of this misunderstanding, for which I don’t know there is any worldly redress, an agreement to disagree is sometimes the most we can hope for. :)

  26. Cylon permalink

    Wow. What an exchange. I’m kind of stunned, and Andrew, I now understand exactly where you were coming from with your fb post. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so many misrepresentations of a position from someone who otherwise appears to be acting in good faith.

    But what really has me puzzled is why Bonnie seems so willing to insult you. At least, I wouldn’t know how else to take my position being called “the pinnacle of evil,” or being asked if you self identify as a “Korihor” or an “antichrist” from someone who subscribes to a Mormon worldview. How can you even have a dialogue when you’re held in such apparently low regard from the other party? I applaud your patience, though, and your comments have been quite enlightening to me, at least.

  27. I wouldn’t describe Bonnie’s comments that way, Cylon. You might think she consistently misunderstood Andrew, but I don’t think there’s any need to suppose she was intentionally misrepresenting him. I thought they were asking each other pretty penetrating questions, and on topics this close to the heart, there’s bound to be some impasses.

  28. Cylon,

    I have to say that I’m in more agreement with Nathan here. There’s a lot of misunderstandings here (doubtlessly on both sides), but I don’t see them as intentional misrepresentations, and I also don’t see them as willing insults.

    I think that we are all basically locked into our positions, and so it’s not going to really be easy to frame incompatible positions within another set of ideas, concepts, vocab terms, etc.,

    • Cylon permalink

      I didn’t say the misrepresentations were intentional. In fact, I tried to imply they were not by saying she appeared to be acting in good faith.

      I stand by my statements about the specific things I thought were insults, though. I don’t know if she meant them that way, but I can’t figure out how else someone is supposed to take them, assuming you come from a Mormon background. I mean, I know what the terms Korihor and antichrist mean in Mormondom. They’re pretty much the worst people out there short of the sons of perdition. If you’re not intending to raise those connotations, why use those terms in the first place? I guess I’m open to other interpretations, but I don’t really know what those would be.

      • I think Mormonism is somewhat incapable of referring to disbelief without such charged terms.

  29. I withdrew from the conversation specifically to cause no further harm, but I do believe Mormonism can respond to disbelief without charged terms. It’s true that “Korihor” and “Anti-Christ” are charged terms. And when they are accurate, they are important terms. Andrew clarified nicely that Korihor was a dishonest disbeliever, which is entirely different from an honest disbeliever. I think there is room in Mormonism for that distinction. Ironically, our ability to discuss those terms clarified them, which is what made the conversation honest and useful.

    If you decide that my mother is a nonexistent role model, and that much of what she has done has been destructive, you can have that opinion without causing me harm. If, however, you go on a crusade to undermine her in my estimation, to cause me to reject her and to accuse her and to question the good she has done in my life, you do cause me harm. In the same way, Christians view Anti-Christs, though I suppose the intensity is ratcheted up several notches. As the Book of Mormon specifies, the law can not (and should not) have jurisdiction over a person’s belief. However, when one actively pursues the destruction of the faith of another, that is another issue altogether. Andrew clarified nicely the difference, and as always, I appreciate it.

    I am sorry if you felt that I insulted Andrew. It was not my intention.

    • Cylon permalink

      Thanks for the clarification, Bonnie. That does help me understand where you were coming from better. And I will take you at your word that no insult was intended.

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