Finding divinity within mythology
I’ve spent a lot of time studying things that don’t interest me. I’m not sadistic (or maybe I am ;3), but I reason that even though the things themselves don’t interest me, I’m interested by the fact that these things interest others. So, I want to figure out what it is about these things that interests others (but somehow escapes me).
I’m not quite sure if I’ve gotten the true believing Mormon mindset down or not… But at this point, I’m beginning to see that I’m not even so much interested in knowing the difference between the true blue believer and my nonbelief.
But that’s not the only kind of belief.
Now, I feel like I have to look more carefully at those who believe with an allegorical or mythological framework. These people note that their sacred texts may not be historical or literal at all, that their institutions may be objectively false, but still hold them sacred and divine.
This interests me. Not because I’m interested in actually believing in God or in following a religion with such a framework (nope, that still doesn’t interest me. I just don’t have that in me), but because I’m interested in understanding how this framework works for others. I haven’t read books like Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” which I’ve heard are good works on this kind of stuff, but I guess I’ll still have it somewhere on my book list (that list is getting a bit backed up :3 [feel free to add to the list].)
Today’s post is partially contemplation from my series about John Dehlin’s “How to stay LDS…” (what drives him to persist..?), but more directly, it’s a response to Seth Payne’s (I’ve written about another article of his earlier…) “Why I’m a non-Believer, But Still a Mormon.” This essay seemed to be the one of the first to begin making sense out of allegorical or mythological approaches to religion.
But I’m still not personally persuaded…
I think I can begin to understand people like Seth. (Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong.)
- Individual has strong impression of God, divinity within some part the church (through spiritual experience.)
- Crisis occurs (whether historical, theological, or whatever).
- Individual feels faith is irreparably lost because of literal, historical, and theological “breaking points,” but…
- individual also remembers strong impression of God and divinity within the church.
So it seems to me that those who are able to “stay LDS,” so to speak, anchor things by the strong impression of God, no matter what else. So, all other things may fall away (the literal, historical, theological “breaking points” that led to crisis) because the individual simply sidesteps them with allegorical, metaphorical, and subjective interpretations.
For a quote from Seth:
I suppose the bottom line is: I believe in Jesus. Jesus has been part of many of my spiritual experiences and whether or not Jesus was actually divine, born of a virgin, and was resurrected, He is part of my spiritual connection to God and I have on many occasions felt my burdens lifted through his sacrifice. In other words, whether or not Jesus *actually* was any of those things I mentioned above – He is still real to me and provides comfort when I struggle and lifts me up when I am down. In my new found faith, meaning does not necessarily require an association with the actual occurrence of a particular event. To put it more dramatically – even if Jesus were a completely fictional character who never existed in reality (a position which I certainly *do not* hold) – He still has significant meaning in my spiritual life.
Armed then, with the realization that God can speak and move through ideas and myth – and not simply through actual occurrence, I began to take a second look at Mormonism. With such an understanding, all of the doctrinal and historical “problems” of Mormonism disappear – as all these problems deal with issues of actual occurrence and history…does it really matter if Joseph Smith had the first vision or merely reported having a vision? No! The real value of the first vision is in how God can speak to me through this narrative of the first vision and what I can learn from it. The same holds true for the Book of Mormon.
So…the Book of Mormon, Bible, etc., instead of being accounts that stand or fall based on how well they actually align with the facts, become tools and models which stand or fall based on how well they train or attune one to commune with the spirit. (This pragmatic “instrumentalism,” coincidentally, is addressed in other posts from Seth.)
And this last part makes me sweat a bit…I like pragmatism; I have no problem with the differences of subjective experience and reaction. But I feel ill-at-ease to give this chain of logic my stamp of approval (even though I approve its composing parts). It seems to me too that there are a few problems:
1) One size doesn’t fit all. The “trainer” or “instrument” that helps one find “divinity” won’t work for all.
2) It seems to be mixing terms. Divinity, in my opinion, demands objective existence (retreating to it as wholly subjective seems like a copout in the debate). Payn denies that Smith’s possible “borrowing” from his immediate surroundings for the BoM would invalidate the divinity of the book, because Joseph has expanded upon these things to create a beautiful work, and this reasoning troubles me. Smith may have created something that Payne perceives as beautiful or divine, but this doesn’t mean the Book of Mormon is divine or that divinity exists objectively. (Does beauty objectively exist as its own entity somewhere, in some form, just because we perceive things as beautiful?)
This is tricky, because I’m guessing that Payne, Dehlin and others aren’t saying that they subjectively perceive something they just happen to label as God. Rather, I’m guessing that these individuals believe or hope that God is a being that — somewhere, in some form — objectively and *truly* exists, even if it’s just a radio station that they are tuning into with (admittedly) imperfect radio instruments. If this is so, then critics’ claims that the church or the Book of Mormon or whatever else simply is not what it says it is is irrelevant…because with the instrumentalist view of these things, realism doesn’t matter as long as the instruments properly do their jobs.