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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Scholars and Faith: The Conversion of Heinz Cassirer

One of the tragedies of modern biblical scholarship is the unnecessary loss of faith it has brought to many believers who have mistaken the frequently shifting declarations of scholars for the bedrock of truth. There's much to say on this topic later, but for now I'd like to give a counterexample of a secular scholar whose exploration of the Bible brought him to a profound respect of scripture and of Christ. This story comes from Robert W. Yarbrough, "God's Word in Human Words: Form-Critical Reflections" in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, ed. James K. Hoffmeir and Dennis R. Magary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), Kindle edition, Chapter 14, in the section "Shift Stories: Not a One-Way Street."
Heinz Cassirer (1903–1979) is one those people about whom one wonders, How did he ever come to make a profession of personal faith in Jesus? His family was of European Jewish descent, from the part of Germany that is now in Poland. By the late nineteenth century, the family grew so secular that they abolished circumcision of their newborn boys. Heinz grew up in Germany, the son of perhaps the world’s foremost Kant scholar of the age, Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945).

Ronald Weitzman wrote of Heinz, “His Kantian upbringing made him scorn the idea that any kind of ‘supernatural’ help could be called on to assist a human being in solving a moral predicament.” Heinz Cassirer lived a thoroughly naturalistic existence, with no interest whatsoever in religion. He found it expedient to flee Germany after Hitler came to power in 1933. He later learned of many relatives dead in the Reich’s death camps.

Heinz ended up lecturing in Oxford and then Glasgow. He had attained recognition as an authority on Aristotle while still a young man in Germany. At the University of Glasgow he taught philosophy for over a quarter century. He published commentaries on two of Kant’s critiques. He translated various Greek sources in addition to his studies on Aristotle. This is hardly a man to suspect of mean intellectual endowment.

Quite remarkably, as we survey his life as a whole, we note among his last published works a translation (into English) of the Greek New Testament, a feat he accomplished in just thirteen months (July 1972–August 1973). In addition, there is the intriguingly titled Grace and Law: St. Paul, Kant, and the Hebrew Prophets. These works confirm his personal acceptance of the gospel call to faith in Jesus as Messiah and personal Savior.

What explains his move from secular Jew to baptized Christian? At about age fifty Cassirer conceived an interest in religion for the first time in his life. He was convinced that Kant was the greatest ethical analyst of all time. Kant brilliantly limned the scale and pathos of the human ethical dilemma, but he offered no compelling or even sufficient solution to the problem. The accomplished Greek scholar Cassirer, having read (he said) pretty much the whole of the Western philosophical corpus, picked up the Greek writings of another brilliant Jewish thinker. We know this thinker as the author of letters with titles like Romans, Galatians, and 1 Timothy. What happened when Cassirer encountered Paul and his epochal claims? Cassirer “experienced a collapse, a total inward paralysis,” says Weitzman.

For the second time in his life Cassirer felt he had encountered a thinker who truly saw into the depths of our inner dilemma: we know the ought, but we do not and we cannot do all that we ought (cf. Romans 7). But unlike Kant, Paul offered a remedy. Paul pointed to another Jewish man, a first-century Galilean no less, yet someone more than just a man. For the first time in his life, Cassirer began to feel the promise and hope of Christian salvation. In 1955, Cassirer was baptized into the Anglican Church. After twenty-five more years of study, he produced his remarkable New Testament translation. In Wood’s words, “Cassirer was summoned to the reality of faith by listening to the testimony of Paul.”
Some believers have “experienced a collapse, a total inward paralysis” when they encounter the pronouncements of scholars, often disguised as consensus when they rarely are, who delight in undermining the historicity of scripture and thereby the reality of God and of Jesus Christ as Savior. It's important to see that intellectuals confronting the details of scriptural texts can be moved the other way as well. Indeed, there are important reasons to respect the power of the scriptures and to be skeptical about the claims of secular scholars whose critical theories of the moment are used to dismiss the message of the Gospel.

One of many related resources that might be helpful to some of you is James K. Hoffmeir's Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). This book is also relevant to the Book of Mormon for several reasons, such as showing the limitations of archaeology and, most importantly, demonstrating that there is strong evidence for the historicity of a Hebrew exodus from Egypt, which is relied on heavily and subtly by Book of Mormon authors, especially Nephi in his account of his family's exodus from Jerusalem.

A hearty thanks to the late Heinz Cassirer for his open-mindedness and willingness to confront the power of scripture. I'll close with a verse froom the New Testament, as translated by Cassirer (provided in Wikipedia's article about him):
What, then, is the nature of the person, whoever he may be, who hears these words of mine and acts on them? He is like a man of prudence who built his house on a rock. The rain descended, the floodwaters rose, the winds blew and hurled themselves against that house. But it did not fall because it was on rock that its foundations were laid. (Matthew 7:24-25)

34 comments:

James Anglin said...

An interesting case; thanks for the post, Jeff.

It may be worth noting that Cassirer became an Anglican. Anglicanism is a denomination whose origin was purely political, and not doctrinal at all. Henry VIII rejected only the Pope. Everything else in the Church of England stayed Catholic until a few generations later, when the Book of Common Prayer laid down some fairly radical Protestantism in the back pages of doctrinal Articles, but kept worship as a pretty direct translation of the Catholic Mass into classic formal English. As a state church, the Church of England had to remain a big tent. And it became an even bigger tent as it spread around the world with the British Empire.

Anglicanism is famously orderly but non-doctrinaire; it's the official religion of the nation that invented parliamentary democracy but never adopted a written constitution. Some Anglicans probably believe in the literal inerrancy of Scripture, but you can be a perfectly mainstream Anglican and consider much of the Bible to be theologically redacted ancient myth. Many Anglicans have been merely formal pew-sitters for whom religion was of no great importance, but there have also been many Anglican missionaries and revivalists. C.S. Lewis was a firm Anglican.

My point is that it would be a lot easier for a philosophy professor to convert to Anglicanism than to some other denominations, because Anglicanism does not bother much about the things that tend to bother professors.

James Anglin said...

It's also interesting that Cassirer was a life-long Kantian. When I ran into Kant at college, I was really impressed. I certainly can't say that I either know all of Kant's thought or really understand any of it, but I believe I'd be right to call Kant a post-skeptic. His thinking took for granted the Enlightenment rejection of religious dogmatism, and took seriously the challenge of reason to itself.

Kant was actually quite a good physicist. Long before he became a major philosopher, he won an academic prize for showing from theoretical physics that tidal friction in the oceans had to be slowing the rotation of the Earth. This phenomenon is now a well-accepted part of planetary astrophysics, and Kant really was the first person to point it out. Bigger still, Kant originated the so-called 'nebular hypothesis', that the solar system formed out of a primordial gas cloud. This is the currently accepted theory today.

Kant's major philosophy started with Hume's terrifying point, that empirical science is logically dubious because past results are no guarantee of future performance. Newton's laws may have held true in all experiments so far, but how does that prove that they must always be true from now on? To find a rational basis for natural science, pure reason as Kant found it was not enough; Kant tried to extend reason into something that could justify natural science as rational.

It's not clear, to me at least, that Kant really succeeded. To me, science still needs faith. But for what my non-philospher's opinion is worth, I think Kant was thinking deeply about the frontiers between faith and reason. And so maybe it's not so surprising that a good Kantian could come to religious faith.

James Anglin said...

I suppose my two comments together make the following point: for a Kantian to become an Anglican may not be a general precedent for scholars coming to religious faith. It may be more of an extreme special case, and as such its implications for the general scenario may be more negative than optimistic. If what it takes to move from scholarship to faith is that the scholarship be Kantian and the faith be Anglican, then the prospects for other kinds of scholars to adopt other kinds of religion may not be so good.

bearyb said...

Actually, for me, the most impressive part of this story was where it said

"For the first time in his life, Cassirer began to feel the promise and hope of Christian salvation."

That is an astounding leap for someone raised in a secular background, and even more so for those with high academic training. It is so uncommon for this to be the outcome in such circumstances that it receives specific treatment in the scriptures (most clearly in 2 Nephi 9:28-29).

But I wouldn't presume to judge Cassirer's piety, devotion, or level of conversion based on what church he decided to join as if to say, "Oh, well, that explains it."

James Anglin said...

I'm sorry if my comments came across that way. I don't mean that Anglicanism is some kind of watered-down starter version of Christianity. There are Anglican monks — not many, but they exist. I've been Anglican most of my life, though in recent years I've kind of re-badged to Lutheran, for geographical reasons.

bearyb said...

No harm, no foul.

I will say that I am grateful that, having been LDS all my life, and having lived in many places growing up (Air Force brat) both in and out of the US, I have never had to relinquish or change any practices or beliefs, or even general associations for geographical reasons.

One thing I have said many times, and heard many others say many times, is that the (LDS) Church is "the same everywhere." That, coupled with the fact that it is found pretty much everywhere, has been a source of strength and comfort throughout my life.

James Anglin said...

That used to be one of the selling points for Roman Catholicism, that the same Latin mass was everywhere.

Even now, though, I've found Anglican, Lutheran, and Catholic services in English in a lot of different countries, and they're all similar enough that the service feels essentially the same. By now all these churches have several alternative versions of the liturgy, between which most congregations alternate for variety. The differences between services in different liturgical denominations mostly seem smaller to me than the differences between the alternative liturgies of any one denomination.

Differences of style in how the liturgy is performed are similarly larger within each denomination than between. If the priest is a woman, then you know the service isn't catholic, but from a transcript of her sermon, you might not be able to guess.

How similar is Mormon worship in different places? I've heard that things have become more uniform in recent years than they once were — people complain online about 'correlation', in ways that remind me of how older Anglicans used to complain about a new prayer book.

bearyb said...

I guess I'll answer that by describing a typical Sunday at one of our chapels. I'd be interested to know if anyone has experienced any variations, or also if, say, Jeff could tell us whether the same format is found in China, where he is now...

I guess it would depend on what you mean by "liturgy." If you are talking specifically about what we call the Sacrament (other faiths may call it "the Lord's Supper"), it is exactly the same everywhere. The blessings said over the bread and water are taken directly from the Doctrine and Covenants so, excepting differences in translation to different languages, you would always hear the very same thing.

This is done as the most important part of what we call "Sacrament Meeting," the format of which is uniform (with some variations as to when announcements might be made - before or after the meeting). After the administration of the sacrament, the balance of the meeting (which we try to keep to around 1:15 in duration), consists of either voluntary bearing of testimonies if it's the first Sunday of the month (and then we call it Fast and Testimony Meeting), or talks given by members of the congregation who have been asked to prepare remarks on particular doctrinal subjects. The subjects are not "correlated" at all from congregation to congregation. The talks very widely in terms of content and delivery (it is likely the only chance many ever have at public speaking), but usually conclude with the speaker saying something about their convictions as to the veracity of their remarks - though not by any directive to do so. I expect the practice of asking this of members is likely unique among major organized religions.

The entire "block" of time congregants meet each Sunday is three hours, divided between Sacrament Meeting (which everyone of all ages attend together), Sunday School (divided by age, not gender) and, for the adults, either Priesthood (men) or Relief Society (women) meetings. The youth have similar meetings, and the young children have what we call Primary, which are classes and activities divided by age (3 until 12).

bearyb said...

One thing I guess I forgot to mention about correlation is that there is a lesson schedule given by the Church for the Sunday School hour on the particular book of scripture for the year (this year is the Book of Mormon, but it's on a four-year cycle including the Old Testament, New Testament, Church History - including the Doctrine and Covenants -, and the Book of Mormon). In the third hour (Priesthood/Relief Society) the first Sunday is for topics decided locally, while the second and third Sundays follow the Church supplied Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual, which this year is reviewing Howard W. Hunter. The fourth Sunday is for a review of General Conference addresses, from a selection made by the local stake presidency.

So, actually, there is correlation of some topics, but on a limited basis. This represents a move away from a much more highly correlated (church-wide) lesson schedule that was in use only a few years ago.

bearyb said...

One thing I am not familiar with is what you called a "prayer book."

In the Church, we do not have prescribed prayers or sayings except in the area of ordinances, such as for the sacrament, baptism, and in the temple. In some things there is a particular format to begin and end (like baby blessings or "Christenings," and blessings of health and comfort) but no "rote" declarations otherwise.

How and when are prayer books used?

Arthur Hill said...

Jeff I am a member of the Church, and I am not happy with so many within the Church, trying to be accepted by a group who has no authority to call us a Christian. I say they can keep the name and I will be more than happy, if they just call me a Saint, just as I am called by my Father in Heaven. Our doctrine has a lot of its roots within the earliest father's of Christianity, but it does not become a convincing argument to convince those who are bent to see us become non existent as a society. Our doctrine is in the bible and that is the only thing that is valid. The only other valid point that is, is that we are unlike any other society for now, but as history teaches us, especially the Book of Mormon, we become complacent, and desire to be accepted by the mases, because we do not want to look out of place. Have you ever been asked, are you a Christian, and what is your answer? When I am asked that question, I tell them that I am a Saint, who accept Jesus Christ as my Savior. After that I explain in more detail what I mean but, I emphasize that I am a Saint and not a Christian.

James Anglin said...

At least as I use the term, a prayer book is a book of printed prayers. Much of the service consists of reading (or perhaps chanting) these printed prayers aloud. Some parts are read in unison by everyone, others by the officiating priest or lay service leader; some parts are a back-and-forth between leader and congregation. A few hymns are scattered through the service; these are also read from books (or perhaps have the lyrics projected on a screen). The hymns are drawn from a hymnbook of hundreds, and somebody selects a different handful each week.

Somewhere in there is the sermon, which usually takes about 20 minutes. The preacher normally speaks from a prepared text, but it's almost always one that they prepared themselves in the preceding week. So in the whole service, which normally lasts a bit over an hour, the sermon is probably the only part which doesn't follow some set form of words. Nowadays prayer books all have multiple alternative forms of each major service element, so that the you're not just saying the same words every week. And there's usually a few brief prayers that change weekly, in a yearly cycle. The number of different possible permutations to make up a service may in fact be large. But each major chunk of the liturgy will be one of only half a dozen options.

There are a couple of key phrases in the consecration of holy communion that have to be said right, because they're the words that Jesus commanded in the gospels. But otherwise nobody freaks out if somebody muffs a line from the prayer book. It's not a sacred text, just a tool for running services. The custom of having standardized prayers seems to be old. Some of the oldest extant Christian documents are liturgies, and the modern prayer books still follow them pretty closely, as variations on an old theme.

Whether or not there's a prayer book is probably the biggest difference between different kinds of Christian church services. My own impression from attending non-liturgical churches is that in reality things are still pretty standardized. There's a set order of events, and people tend to say similar things at similar times. In fact what I mainly notice is not spontaneity, but spectation. Without a prayer book, most of the service seems to consist of the congregation sitting and listening to the pastor pray and preach.

James Anglin said...

The Mormon sacrament meeting would seem to be a mixture of both. The sacramental prayer is liturgical, but the rest of the service is not. The sacrament prayer is like one of the parts in a liturgy where only the priest speaks; the choreographed participation of the congregation seems to be absent. In that sense it's like the non-liturgical services in which a few people perform while the rest sit and listen.

The big difference in Mormon services seems to be, though, that for Mormons the few people performing are a different few people each week. There's something to be said for that. For one thing, I expect you get to know the other people in your church in a way that you otherwise wouldn't. On the other hand, though, everything has the defects of its merits. I've heard a few deadly sermons from professional preachers, but on the whole my experience has been that people don't stick it out in the preaching profession unless they're good at it. It's also a big part of their job, so they work hard at it. I'd be surprised if the average member of a congregation could really do as well at preaching. It's not a trivial task.

The way I see it, my family and I spend a couple of hours at church each Sunday, between the time we arrive and the time we finish chatting to people afterwards over coffee (or running around shrieking with the other kids). Even if this were just entertainment, it ought to be worth about the money we'd spend to all go to a movie. Multiply by fifty-two weeks and N families, and you can afford to pay a pastor a living wage, even before you start reckoning whether your faith is worth more than a movie, or whether you can call it a charity to keep the church doors open for anyone in need.

bearyb said...

I'm not sure how familiar you are with the way the LDS Church is organized, but at the local level a typical congregation is called a "ward" and is led by a bishop and two men that assist him as counselors. Other organizations exist within the ward, of course, and follow this same pattern - a leader with two counselors. None of these are paid positions. Our current bishop, for example, is a thoracic surgeon by day.

Many of the temporal needs of the members are met by other members through organized programs of fellowship and service known as Home Teaching (men) and Visiting Teaching (women), greatly alleviating what could otherwise be a major workload on the bishop - though he still typically spends what amounts to a full-time job doing things only he can do.

Bishops are "called" from among the congregation, and are not required to have any formal seminary training or certification, other than being a member in good standing in the Church. A person will typically spend 3-5 years (a duration which varies greatly) in the position, so there is a periodical shifting of leadership within the unit. Other positions in the ward are similarly filled, and a person could conceivably serve in all of them (sometimes several times) throughout their life (many are gender specific though.) Things are set up so that, ideally, everyone in the ward has at least one assignment or area of responsibility.

You mentioned that in your experience people don't stay in the "preaching" profession unless they are good at it. In my experience, none of the bishops I've ever known have ever sought the position (it's not the way things are done), and they are eventually "released" no matter how "good" they are at it. I hope never to be called to serve in that position myself!

Everything Before Us said...

The Mormon pulpit is unique. 12 times each year anyone can stand up there and say just about anything they want, within reason. It provides many people who are trying to work out their "issues" a vehicle by which they can do this in a very public way. People stroke their egos up there. People get much-needed attention. People use the experience as a catharsis, breaking down into tears, sometimes even before they get any words out. Young children begin to build identity at the microphone. Adolescents use it to pass along inside jokes and basically reaffirm the cohesiveness of their peer group.

James Anglin said...

A surgeon and a bishop — wow. That's one dedicated guy. I hope he doesn't burn out.

I'm still not sold on making everything amateur, but I've often thought that churches could do better at involving lay people in running programs, in a more organized way.

bearyb said...

So, ETBU, what happens at your church?

bearyb said...

I also meant to say, James, that as far as actual "preaching" goes, the bishop rarely does any of it. His role in meetings is usually limited to presiding and conducting, not often involving the delivery of any real message, though it happens occasionally. In fact, even the conducting responsibility is usually rotated among him and his counselors, so there are many meetings when he doesn't get up at all.

When one considers the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and their backgrounds, it makes a lot of sense that they have each had extensive experience in all these aspects of Church organization and function, because the best way to learn is by doing.

Everything Before Us said...

Bearyb,

I attend an Episcopal Church, so it is quite similar to everything James has been describing. At all churches of all stripes, and I would go so far as to say that in all places were people are gathered, whether at places of employment or community organizations, you will find the full gamut of humanity playing itself out in the same way.

The difference, however, is that in the LDS church, there is an open microphone one Sunday each week. It is a long-running inside joke among members of the LDS faith that Fast and Testimony meeting is the scariest time to bring investigators to church because you just have no idea what anyone might say. Someone might get up there and quite correctly start talking about Kolob or garments or Heavenly Mother - things that most Mormons would rather their friends whom they are trying to convert NOT have sprung on them in such an unpredictable manner.

I find it somewhat telling that there is so much "advanced" Mormon doctrine that is so uncomfortable for beginners. This doesn't exist in the rest of Christianity. It doesn't. The gospel message is quite simple, except in Mormonism, despite how many times Mormons tell each other "Isn't the Gospel so simple?"

It's not simple at all. If my eternal life requires me to go to a special building several hours away, rent special clothing at this special building when I get there, and then engage in rituals that will require me to change attire several times throughout, and then purchase and wear the church-sponsored underwear everyday throughout the rest of my life, then I am not dealing with a "simple" Gospel.

James Anglin said...

The Episcopal Church is the US branch of the Anglican communion. It ditched the 'Anglican' name for historical reasons. Today there are more Anglicans in Africa than any other continent, and the African churches are more conservative than the American one.

An Anglican bishop is more like Mormon Stake President, I think, being in charge of all the congregations in a "diocese" (usually a city or a large rural district, with maybe a couple of dozen congregations). Bishops are elected by a body of lay delegates and clergy, but then normally serve until death or retirement. An Anglican bishop is pretty much an elected dictator, who can in principle control just about everything in all of the congregations in their diocese. In practice, people don't get elected bishop without being well known in the diocese already, and those who want everyone else to do things in exactly their way don't often get the nod.

There's probably some procedure for kicking out a bishop who commits a felony or converts to another religion, but I've never heard of it happening. Unlike in the Roman church, where the hierarchy runs right up to the Pope, the Anglican offices above bishop are just ceremonial. So there are something over 85 million Anglicans in the world, but there's nothing like the Mormon General Authorities. Administratively, Anglicanism is basically a global association of independent bishops.

I think the main reason for this casual structure is that, except perhaps for a few wacky factions in the 17th century, nobody has ever thought of the Anglican church as The Church. It exists as a distinct denomination for historical reasons, and its doctrinal differences from other churches are minor details. Anglicans are mostly in favor of spreading Christianity, but attach no great importance to spreading Anglicanism in particular. So there's no good reason for strong global organization.

James Anglin said...

Anglican bishops will still preach sermons most Sundays, somewhere in their dioceses. I'm pretty sure that goes for Catholic or Orthodox or Lutheran bishops, too. And for local priests or pastors, preaching the local sermon is item one on the job description, in all the Christian denominations I know. That's why there's a requirement for seminary training, which at least in some churches normally means a Master's degree in "Divinity". If you're putting on a new 20- to 40-minute presentation every week, it can help to have some specific academic training.

bunker said...

EBU you made a comment about fast and testimony meeting that was not quite right. "Someone might get up there and quite correctly start talking about Kolob or garments or Heavenly Mother". Quite correctly as you put it, is incorrect. It would not be correct to discuss garments or our Heavenly Mother up there as part of a testimony. Not usually at least. These topics are quite sacred. I have never heard anyone ever discuss any of those topics in any fast and testimony meeting. This is not to say that someone couldn't bring up some weird off the wall topic that isn't appropriate for this meeting but it wouldn't really be correct to.
As far as the gospel being simple argument goes I would argue that it is. The Gospel is simple. It just isn't easy.

bunker said...

EBU you made a comment about fast and testimony meeting that was not quite right. "Someone might get up there and quite correctly start talking about Kolob or garments or Heavenly Mother". Quite correctly as you put it, is incorrect. It would not be correct to discuss garments or our Heavenly Mother up there as part of a testimony. Not usually at least. These topics are quite sacred. I have never heard anyone ever discuss any of those topics in any fast and testimony meeting. This is not to say that someone couldn't bring up some weird off the wall topic that isn't appropriate for this meeting but it wouldn't really be correct to.
As far as the gospel being simple argument goes I would argue that it is. The Gospel is simple. It just isn't easy.

Everything Before Us said...

Bunker, when I said someone may correctly talk about these things, I meant that what they may say about these things could be doctrinally correct. Why would it be incorrect to talk about garments? The church produced a video for all the world to see about garments and temple clothing. The church published an essay for all the world about Heavenly Mother. And yes...there are old nutters in every ward who might stand up and go on about Kolob, or becoming a God, or any number of deep esoteric doctrine. It happens.

I once watched a rather quirky man stand up and basically bear testimony of Princess Diana. I watched another man stand up and deliver his testimony in the style of an MTV rapper. I watched a man stand up, spread his arms as if he were crucified as he bore testimony of Jesus.

Crazy things happen. It happens with enough frequency that missionaries are always a little worried about bringing investigators to F&T meeting.

Would it really be incorrect to bear testimony of Heavenly Mother when the closing hymn might actually refer to her?

And why would you consider Kolob or garments so sacred that we shouldn't talk about them? Isn't the atonement of Christ far more sacred than Kolob? Yet, you would never hesitate to talk about that.

"Sacred" is a word that has been redefined for you by your leaders. "Sacred" now only refers to things that the Church would rather the rest of the world not know about. "Sacred" as you are using it really means "secret." Think of all the things that you would not share with the world as a Mormon: garments, garment symbols, temple rituals, temple clothing, temple tokens and signs, the new name, doctrines about becoming a God, doctrines about plural marriage, etc....

Notice a pattern? These things are not "sacred." They are "secret." Why? Because these things reveal something about your religion that in reality Mormons are quite embarrassed about. These things are not Christian. You can't find them in the Bible. You can't find them in the Book of Mormon. Most of these things you cannot even find in the D&C. Except for plural marriage and becoming a God, there is not scripture that you can even refer that really discusses this stuff. This all came out of the brain of Joseph Smith. Most of these things you aren't even allowed to really talk about in depth even with other members outside of the temple. And really, these things have no obvious connection with the truly sacred truth of salvation through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Hi EBU,

So how are these secrets holding up for the Church? Do you really think that the Church is trying to keep these things secret? It doesn't seem to be working to well for them so I will argue that it is face value when the Church says sacred. After all, one way to show reverence for holy things is not not make them profane (nice Latin based word coming from "outside the temple") so Mormons try to keep temple related doctrine inside the temple.

As for other esoteric doctrine, there really isn't much discussion. After all, what does it benefit anyone to talk at length about Kolob? What do we really know about Kolob except for the couple of sentences in the scriptures? Have you ever heard of a sermon about that talking donkey in the Old Testament? No? Me neither. Probably because there isn't much to talk about since there is so little information about it. Or how about when Elijah summoned a bear to maul these kids that were teasing him?

So, I'll keep using the term sacred and not secret. I'll talk about sacred topics if the setting is right. If not, I'll refer to them in more vague terms.

Steve

James Anglin said...

I agree that if these more esoteric Mormon doctrines were ever secret, they no longer are. I'm not surprised that they're considered inappropriate for public attention, however. But why are they inappropriate?

I don't see that sacredness can really be the reason. As EBU points out, these esoteric teachings can hardly be more sacred than the Atonement of Christ, and the Atonement is shouted from the rooftops. I'm afraid think that the comparison with Balaam's ass and Elisha's bears may be uncomfortably closer to the mark.

Balaam's ass isn't sacred or secret. What it is, is embarrassing. It's an obviously ridiculous story, a primitive folktale that happens to have a bit of a theological moral. Elisha's bears are worse: a bunch of children get eaten just for teasing an old man about his baldness. If all Elisha had done was yell angrily at the kids, you'd still squirm a bit, at the great prophet's pettiness. Killing children for rudeness is more than just squirm-worthy.

If I believed that every word in the Bible were God's earnest message to humanity, I'd be very reluctant to mention either of those passages, because they'd make me look foolish and feel bad. Since I don't believe that, though, I don't care. They're silly old texts in an ancient book. The book is a compilation from many sources, and many of its other texts aren't silly at all.

If there are some traditional elements in Mormon teaching that are similarly embarrassing, don't Mormons have the same option, of just rejecting them? You don't have to throw out the baby with the bath water, but can't you sometimes clean the tub?

Everything Before Us said...

Good points, James. You have a way of saying things. I think the secret/sacred things of Mormonism are not usually openly discussed because like the story of the bear, they are embarrassing to talk about.

Mormonism has sort of worked itself into a corner. It can't reject a lot of things without creating an existential crisis for itself. This has everything to do with the way it has chosen to evolve. It has nothing to do with critical voices and those who attack it.

Mormonism's unforgiving rigidity in certain things will continue to increase the pressure it is already under. For instance, its refusal to seriously deal with the polygamy issue will continue to cause many problems for it. The church will continue to blame God for the fact that Joseph Smith married other men's wives rather than simply say, "Joseph messed up." Yes...it will continue to throw God under the bus to justify behavior that has been engaged in by so many cult leaders all throughout history.

This isn't really a solution to their problem. It is a temporary band-aid. Someday, the band-aid will need to be torn off if they want to undergo serious treatment for the wound. They will probably bleed out before the real treatment can take effect. The longer they wait, the more grave the results will be.

Mormography said...

I wonder what "pronouncements of scholars, often disguised as consensus when they rarely are" is an allusion to specifically.

bearyb said...

EBU,

Actually in these last few years I have appreciated much more than before the unique opportunity afforded us to both bear and hear testimonies. It has become my favorite meeting. I have witnessed some of the "scary" utterances which you describe (one in particular comes to mind - where even a couple of members got up and left) that we hope will not offend an investigator, but we have also seen many investigators stand and speak (even sing!) their testimonies. Living in the Bible belt is sometimes very interesting...

As to your predictions about the future of the Church, I'm pretty confident that it will go on with its core doctrines intact for quite some time yet.

I am not aware of any "pressure" the Church may be experiencing concerning polygamy (though the Community of Christ may be feeling some). I'm also unsure of what is meant by the "wound" you speak of.

You speak of the Church having worked itself into a corner, as if it has ended up in some place where it would rather not be. I completely agree that if it were to denounce a lot of current teachings and claims it would cease to exist as it does. These very things are why it exists at all, so if it is now in a corner, it has always been in a corner. But, for me, it is a very nice corner.

One thing that I am sure will happen is that the voices raised against the Church will soon become louder and even more frequent. I believe we are in for some rough treatment ahead, precisely because of the "unforgiving rigidity in certain things" you mention. I would not, however, characterize that as "pressure on the Church" to change any core doctrines any more than Christ felt "pressure" to change any of His teachings. Oh, He was leaned on pretty hard, but how close do you think He was to giving in?

Jeff Lindsay said...

Thanks, BearyB. I share your enthusiasm for testimony meetings. Here in Shanghai, they've been really remarkable. Of course, we also have outstanding regular sacrament meetings, too. I've been pleasantly surprised with the the Saints over here in what is one of the most diverse gatherings of Saints I've experienced, with numerous nations, languages, and races represented. There is so much we can learn from each other, especially in testimony meetings.

Jeff Lindsay said...

I should say here in China, not just Shanghai. The branches with high concentrations of single adults, like Nanjing and Suzhou, add a lot to the diversity. Young college students struggling as English teachers on almost no pay mingling with corporate executives and all sorts of other people make such an interesting mix. I love how the Gospel helps us look past social status, caste, race, whatever, and see each other as sons and daughters of God worthy of our time and attention.

bearyb said...

I couldn't agree more. In the various wards I attended in my youth there were usually high concentrations of members in the military. It was great to see the reversal of roles that would play out at times. Members who might have a high military rank would readily serve under those of lower rank. It just didn't matter what you did for a living.

One of the best examples of that was in my current ward. A member (Rod Smith) was dean of the local law school and was also serving in the mission presidency. When he was released from that, he was called to serve in the nursery. I remember being very impressed with his interaction with the children. He wouldn't hesitate to get down on the floor in his suit and roll around with the kids and let them climb all over him. His personal operational guideline was "You just have to love them!"

This same man recently returned to act as keynote speaker at an interfaith activity in our stake (he is a recognized authority on constitutional law). Afterward I happened upon him in the hallway where I told him of my impressions of him while he served in the nursery years before. I asked him about it and he said he approached that calling like he did all of his callings - he asked the Lord what he should do, and then did it.

Everything Before Us said...

Bearyb,

So the military roles were reversed, and higher ranked men would serve under lower ranked men in the church, implying that even in the church there is still a ranking system, it just doesn't match the system used in the world.

bearyb said...

EBU, I'm not sure what you are getting at, unless you are simply trying to cast some kind of negative image on the Church, as usual.

I shouldn't have to tell you this, but the military and Church are only similar in that there is an organization (except it is common to refer to religious efforts as akin to being enlisted in a war), and as such there are leaders and followers. My only point was that worldly ranks did not apply within the Church.

There is a "ranking system," if you will, in priesthood offices. But in terms of callings or positions one might fill in the Church, they come and go and are under fairly constant re-shuffling. There is no individual "higher ranked" than any other in the Church, but a person might occupy a position of leadership for a while.

Our bishop while I was in Germany happened to be a major in the Air Force and likely did have the highest military rank of any other in the congregation. But our bishop in Denver was a self-employed carpenter, in a ward where there were military personnel as well.

Of course, it is common that people of some worldly accomplishment occupy leadership positions in the Church, but that more likely has to do with inward character traits than outward accolades.