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Guidance and Revelation to the Blind Only?

December 28, 2010

Today, I stumbled across a Patheos post that asked, “Is Mormonism a Postmodern Religion?” I’ve heard people make the claim before, and I feel there is a strange thing that happens to many Mormons as they try to maintain their faiths, but I was interested to see what someone at Patheos would have to say about it.

And then I stumbled on this set of lines:

The role of a prophet is not to be a substitute for God. Rather, the prophet speaks to those who do not (or cannot) speak to God themselves. For the rest of us, it is far better for us to individually receive revelation than to rely on some intermediary who can only interpret the oracle he delivers, and whose interpretation is no more valid than any other interpretation by those who receive it.

Later on, the author says:

Not all Mormons will agree with this assessment.

I ultimately have to second Chino’s nomination of this as the understatement of the year in the comments (maybe it’s not too late for this to be a Brodie category?)

The first line I don’t really have problem with…Sure, the role of a prophet isn’t to serve as substitute for God. But I’m not sure if the rest follows from that. I’m not sure that the ability of those to receive personal revelation negates the role of a prophet for believing Mormons, and I’m not sure that personal revelation is meant to be just as valid as the Prophet’s revelation (or, as stated, I don’t think the Prophet’s revelation is “no more valid than any other interpretation by those who receive it.”)

But supposing that this is an acceptable interpretation of Mormonism, this creates an interesting viewpoint of the role of prophets as guides and the members as the guided.

Namely, those who can receive personal revelation should follow that whenever they can, and those who can’t or don’t — those for whom God is silent — ought to defer to the Prophet.

Even if the Prophet’s direction seems wrong?

Suppose if one hasn’t had personal revelation confirming the Prophet’s role as an intermediary of God. Suppose that is the issue about which an individually cannot personally speak to God. How does that fit in here?

Well, if I’m reading it right, if someone cannot speak to God themselves on this issue, they ought to…defer to the Prophet.

…Ultimately, this doesn’t even matter. This is just a thought experiment within a thought experiment. The first thought experiment is trying to step back into a world of Mormon orthodoxy (whatever that is). The second thought experiment is trying to step into Ben McGuire’s Mormonism, and compare and contrast that with the first thought experiment.

I don’t feel Ben reconciles with the Mormonisms I know (…but then again, even Ben predicted that might happen) — and I wonder why that is. I wonder why flexible, “postmodern,” new order, or liberal brands of Mormonism appeal to some but not others. Is it that some people are at a different “stage” of faith? What does that really mean? Is that just a way for someone to smugly feel superior to someone else? — but more importantly, I don’t feel like the Mormon orthodoxy has much power for our world anyway. Some days, I feel like I’m quibbling about plot holes in Harry Potter…it’s fun, but at the end of the day, there is little intersection with our real world other than that new theme park…

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13 Comments
  1. Ooo, that’s not going to play well at church. The role of a prophet is to fleece the flock, but also to protect the brand and ensure the money keeps coming only to them.

    But the only post-modernism I see in the LDS Church is from the people who have found that reason and evidence don’t serve their beliefs well, and who have thus decided that reason and evidence must be wrong, and not their beliefs.

  2. Seth R. permalink

    All religion has two competing paradigms that its followers turn to religion to obtain.

    First is security – people want to be reassured and provided answers to their questions, a sense of certainty in the face of their dilemmas and such.

    The second is that of enlightenment and expansion. You might call it growth, or my preferred term – exploration. The idea that religion is forcing us out of our comfort zones, destroying our preconceptions and guiding us to some higher reality and enlightenment.

    One naturally tends to attract people who want to be reassured of where they are at right now – the other wants to yank them out of their comfortable beds and launch them on to greater things.

    From my rhetoric so far, it ought to be obvious which one I favor. But all religions have both strains of thought running through them. The conflict here among Mormons can be largely viewed as a clash of these two competing paradigms.

    As it so happens, you can find people who overwhelmingly favor the “security model” both in and out of the LDS Church. Jerry Falwell (at least in rhetoric) would be an example of someone favoring and preaching the security model – where the religious have all the answers, and all the reasons why those of his faith are superior to all the rest of the heathen are readily apparent.

    Christopher Hitchens would also be an example of someone wedded to the security model – since he is of the opinion that the primary purpose of religion is to provide the things that Falwell thinks it should provide, and that religion has failed in doing so. He has, as a consequence moved on to other sources that provide him that sense of security and sense of being right or superior to other human beings.

    But both men share the same paradigm and outlook on the world.

    That’s why I have always said that a lot of the most strident ex-Mormons were fundamentalists in the LDS Church – and now that they have left, have changed their mailing address, but remain just as unalterably fundamentalist as they were before.

    You can take a fundamentalist out of church – but it often doesn’t seem to make much practical difference, other than to replace one set of unreasonable and unhinged rhetoric with another set of unreasonable and unhinged rhetoric.

  3. Seth,

    Does the security/exploration dichotomy lend itself to the same criticism that you (or maybe I’m confusing you with some others. I think Bruce Nielson has made this argument a couple of times as well) have of conservative/liberal religion? (Namely, liberal religion cannot exist without aping off of conservative religion.)

    • Seth R. permalink

      No, I made that comment a while back to the effect that liberal religion lives a parasitic existence off of conservative religion.

      But the exploration paradigm is not a synonym for “religious liberalism.”

      The paradigm does admittedly thrive off more open models – which liberalism claims to offer – but that’s not the only way to do it.

      I believe in that same blog comment you are thinking of I made the point that religious conservatives should not be opposed because they need to “lighten up” and take religion “less seriously.” But rather they should be opposed because they are dangerous heretics who are rebelling against God by trying to stuff him into the small box of their own fears and personal insecurities.

      • conveniently making a jab at the “security” paradigm at the same time, I see.

        • Seth R. permalink

          Yup.

          I’ve never liked fear-driven theology.

          I’ll acknowledge my biases up front here.

  4. Or, more importantly, how is one supposed to move from one paradigm to another, without viewing one of the paradigms as less legitimate than the other (esp when the one they view as suspect is the one they are trying to move to)?

    • Seth R. permalink

      Beats me. It does seem like an inevitable result. I try not to bag on the security paradigm too much, but from my rhetoric here, it’s obvious that I’m not really succeeding at that.

      • LOL, it’s ok.

  5. Seth R. permalink

    Oh, the comment you are thinking of happened here:

    https://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/what-kind-of-person-stays-mormon/#comment-1828

    I found it by accident when I inadvertently clicked on the “Rate This” button on one of the comments and the link popped up.

  6. I think that means you have the most-liked comment of all time on Irresistible (Dis)Grace.

    Which with like, what…a readership of 10 people…that’s a big deal, lol

    • Seth R. permalink

      I should celebrate…

  7. runtu permalink

    I’ve known Ben a long time, and he’s consistent, if anything. I don’t see how you can get postmodernism to work with Mormonism, and every time I’ve tried to discuss this with “postmodern” Mormons, the conversation devolves into how we can’t really know anything. This from a religion where people routinely say “I know.” It just doesn’t work.

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