Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Doctrine of a Plurality of Gods Is Not Polytheism

By request, rather than diverging in the comments section of a recent post, I'm dedicating a new post as a place of discussion concerning some matters of confusion. It involves belief in a plurality of gods, which some credal Christians mistake for polytheism. (One disclaimer for those who mistakenly insist that LDS are polytheists: even evangelical scholar Gerald McDermott has conceded that Mormons are not polytheists, and clarifies that "polytheism portrays a world in which competing gods either vie for ultimate authority or have delimited provinces over which they rule".)

While the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate beings, they function as one God, or Godhead, to oversee, bless, and save the human family. There is no competition between Them. They are "one", and share a perfect love and unity. Moreover, They desire that we too share a relationship of love. See "That They May Be One As We Are One".

To avoid confusion, I should clarify and separate two different concepts here. There are two different kinds of plurality: the plurality within the Godhead (only three) and the plurality that arises from the fact that exalted children of God can be called gods. Whether we're talking about a plurality of Gods within the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), or a plurality of gods (ie: all the "sons of God"), it doesn't change the fact that there is only one true source of worship, love, power, light, and glory in the universe--God the Eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.

Elder M. Russell Ballard touched on both kinds of "plurality" and their accompanying confusion years ago in a talk entitled, "Building Bridges of Understanding":
[An] area of misunderstanding among some of our friends in Christianity is that they refer to us as “polytheists,” meaning that we believe in a plurality of Gods. Much misunderstanding would be avoided if they understood that we worship only one Godhead, consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. We believe that the biblical record teaches that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons. When the Savior was baptized, the Father spoke His approval from heaven, and the Holy Ghost was witnessed to be present by the sign of a dove (see Matt. 3:16–17). Likewise the Bible records the prayers of Jesus Christ to our Father in Heaven, a separate being (see John 17:3). We believe this doctrine is taught in the Bible despite what the creeds of other Christian denominations may teach. Such creeds were created hundreds of years after Christ’s mortal ministry through the processes of debate and compromise, often at the expense of biblical truths. The falling away from the teachings of Jesus Christ resulted in the Apostasy, which made the restoration of the gospel essential. This is a subject to be studied by all; the various Christian creeds were born through church councils and other efforts to define the true nature of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Through revelations to modern prophets, we now know God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost and our true relationship to each one of them.

There is another related dimension of the scriptures that causes discomfort for many traditional Christians regarding this whole matter. We believe our Father in Heaven has promised His faithful sons and daughters “all things”—even that those worthy of exaltation in the celestial kingdom will be as “gods, even the sons of God” and that “these shall dwell in the presence of God and His Christ forever and ever” (see D&C 76:55, 58, 62). Although we do not know the full detail of these promises or what is fully meant by being “gods, even the sons of God,” we do accept these promises as revealed doctrine. Yet notwithstanding these promises, we say that for us there is indeed no other object of worship than God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.


Now, in fairness to credal Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity also recognizes that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate persons (that is, that the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father), but it holds that these divine persons mysteriously share the same ousia, substance, or being. Latter-day Saints recognize that there is more than one way to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as "one God" than simply numerically as one ousia. These three divine persons are one in purpose, love, unity, and just about every other way except physically. Thus, Mormons also believe in "one God", even though we know each has their own being/ousia. (ie: D&C 20:28: "Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end."). Therefore, notwithstanding this separateness of being, or plurality of Gods within the Godhead, because they are "one", there is no polytheism.

On the most misunderstood point of a plurality of gods in reference to LDS belief in deification, people need to understand that "becoming a god" is not the equivalent of setting up independently from God, replacing or displacing God, or competing with God. Deification involves becoming the sons of God, and this is done only in and through a loving relationship with God, and becoming one with the Father and the Son as Christ prayed we would in John 17. Stephen Robinson explains in his book "Are Mormons Christians?":

Some believe that certain LDS doctrines are so bizarre, so totally foreign to biblical or historical Christianity, that they simply cannot be tolerated. In terms of the LDS doctrines most often criticized on these grounds, however –the doctrine of deification and its corollary, the plurality of gods–this claim does not hold up to historical scrutiny. Early Christian saints and theologians, later Greek Orthodoxy, modern Protestant evangelists, and even C. S. Lewis have all professed their belief in a doctrine of deification. The scriptures themselves talk of many "gods" and use the term god in a limited sense for beings other than the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost. If this language is to be tolerated in scripture and in ancient and modern orthodox Christians without cries of "polytheism!" then it must be similarly tolerated in the Latter-day Saints.

If scripture can use the term gods for nonultimate beings, if the early Church could, if Christ himself could, then Latter-day Saints cannot conceivably be accused of being outside the Christian tradition for using the same term in the same way.

I don't need to argue whether the doctrine is true, although I certainly believe it is. I am only arguing that other Christians of unimpeachable orthodoxy have believed in deification long before the Latter-day Saints came along, and that it has been accepted and tolerated in them as part of their genuine Christianity. Fair play demands the same treatment for the Latter-day Saints
.

39 comments:

Clean Cut said...

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll simply concede that some Mormons (from time to time) do speculate about things on which we don't have much detail, and depending on the speculation, I may even think certain opinions are "bizzare". But these would be side issues of speculation or interpretation that not all Latter-day Saints are in agreement on, and which the Church has not made any one "official" statement, simply because it is tangential to the essence of our faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

One example of this tangential disagreement between Latter-day Saints is whether God the Father, like Jesus Christ, experienced mortality as God (similar to how Christ became a "man" but was still "God") or whether He experienced mortality like you and me and who needed a Savior--this latter idea being one I personally think is a bogus interpretation.

Another example is speculation about gods above God the Father. The Book of Abraham says nothing of a plurality of gods above God the Father. It does, however, mention a God who is more intelligent than all the other intelligences. Joseph Smith also elaborated on the concept of the Most High God, or Head God, presiding over a divine council of gods in a couple of sermons right before his martyrdom.

While reasonable Latter-day Saints may disagree on whether there are possibly Gods above God the Father, this is not what Latter-day Saints (or Joseph Smith for that matter) mean when speaking of a "plurality of Gods". When Latter-day Saints speak of a plurality of gods they generally mean either the plurality of Gods within the Godhead (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) or all the "sons of God".

The former is a comparatively seldom discussed speculation about an infinite regression of Grandfather-Gods above God the Father, but the scriptures are silent on this, and it remains a matter of speculation only. I personally feel that certain quotes quotes of Joseph Smith are taken out of context in order to arrive at that idea, and I feel it is speculation which contradicts Joseph Smiths overwhelming teachings about a Head God or the Most HIgh God who presides over the divine council of gods.

On this latter point concerning a plurality of gods, the Bible doesn't contradict. See Psalm 82:1, for example: "God (elohim) stands in the divine council; in the midst of the gods (elohim) he passes judgment." There are multiple references to a plurality of gods functioning together in unison, as one--not in conflicting competition vying for power (ie: polytheism). Genesis 1:26 seems to concur with the Book of Abraham's use of "Let us go down" and a plurality of Gods: "Let US make man in OUR own image".

Thomas Parkin said...

I follow Paul when he says that there are Gods many and Lords many, but _for us_ only one God the Father and one Lord Jesus. I certainly only worship Father and His Son, by and through the Holy Spirit.

I personally don't find, _in this context_, the idea of polytheism to be in any way inferior to monotheism, or blasphemous, or off putting. The idea that there must be only one God, that this is an a priori, that we must at all costs chant One God, seems to me a kind of religious anesthetic.

The problem with polytheism, in my view, is that it posits more than one way to be a God. Zeus is different in character from Apollo, for instance. There isn't many ways, there is one way, and that is to become like the Father through the Son. Gods, being perfect or near perfect (Jesus was a God before incarnation, and without a body was incomplete), are alike in the eternal qualities that they have attained.

"overwhelming"

Clean Cut - please. If it was so overwhelming, one would think that the whole history of Mormon thought, including all the contemporaries of Joseph himself, would be in agreement with you.

yadda yadda *wink*

I also follow D&C 121 which says that the day will come where it will be revealed whether there be one God or many Gods - they will all be revealed. For Joseph ... he didn't have to wait, and he claimed that, individually, we don't have to wait, either. ~

Clean Cut said...

Thanks, Thomas. I don't believe I disagree with a single thing you've said here. My use of "overwhelming" was in reference only to Joseph's many references to the "Head of the Gods" in the Sermon in the Grove.

Yes, just as the apostle Paul said, for us there is only one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ--and that's what is applicable here. Whether there be only one God or many Gods is a separate issue that people may be surprised about once they pass on to the other sided. Obviously knowing all the details about this isn't quite imperative or we would have been given that knowledge through revelation long ago. It IS imperative, though, that those who are not LDS don't get the wrong impression about the fundamentals of our faith or mistake that fact that when we speak of a plurality of gods we are not speaking of multiple Godheads, infinite regression, or heaven forbid, a host of competing gods vying for power.

If you and I went out together as home teachers or on a visit with the missionaries and people asked us about what we mean by a "plurality of gods", I think you and I would focus in on either 1. the plurality of Gods within the Godhead (ie: that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate beings who function as one) or 2. that other gods, or the sons of God, can exist without taking anything away from our Godhead. We can speak of "gods" in reference to those who make up the "divine council" and also to those exalted beings who become "gods" through the process of theosis/deification.

As Elder Ballard said, "although we do not know the full detail of these promises or what is fully meant by being “gods, even the sons of God,” we do accept these promises as revealed doctrine". So it would be smart to not give the impression that any further speculation or areas of disagreement are somehow important Church teachings.

Because I was asked by someone who is not LDS about "misunderstood concepts" concerning this "plurality of gods", I tried to answer comprehensively but briefly what we mean (or at least what LDS should mean) when talking about a plurality of gods.

Clean Cut said...

I guess, to put it more simply, regardless of whether or not there are Gods above God the Father, or other universes with other Head Gods and other divine councils, yada, yada :), the important thing is that "we worship only one Godhead, consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost". (The former is speculation. The latter is fundamental and established doctrine.)

Mark D. said...

The usage "Gods", with a capital G, contradicts D&C 20:28 which says "Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen".

Compare D&C 121:28:

"A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest"

Or D&C 132:20:

"Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them."

And by all this I don't mean that exaltation does not involve glory and honor, and power comparable to that which any member of the Godhead has.

I mean that there is only one true God, that has more than one member "god", each of whom properly speaking is "God" only by divine investiture of authority. That is a form of monotheism.

On the other hand, "Gods" with a capital G is definitely polytheism. Given what "God" means - all power in heaven and in earth, for example, it borders on a grammatical error. "Gods" with a capital G is a self contradiction.

Mark D. said...

I should add, that capitalizing the term in the title of an article or post is certainly legitimate usage. Not anywhere else.

Thomas Parkin said...

Yeah - if I could talk to Elder Ballard, I would chide him on the use of "we don't know" same as I do you and for the same reasons! I'd prefer, "we have no official doctrine", or, maybe even better something like "no official teaching."

Did you read Stephen (M)'s bits on General Authorities on Mormon Matters? He had some interesting to things to say. He briefly contrasted the idea of a ministering-centered leader with a doctrine-centered leader. We haven't really had a doctrine-centered Apostle since Elder McConkie - that's been 25 years.

((Obviously, I don't mean that they never discuss doctrine, or that the categories are exclusive.) At times Elder Holland (his book Christ and the Book of Mormon is a wonderful source for doctrine - one you'd really enjoy if you haven't had a chance to read it.) Elder Maxwell, at times.) ~

Thomas Parkin said...

Mark,

I've seen you write similarly for a while. I don't disagree with you, but I think your way of putting it tends to under emphasize the fact that it is individual beings that we worship, not a collective. I prefer the idea of God's team to the idea of Team God, which may amount to the same thing but centers the emphasis differently. I also disagree that when referring to Christ or the Father, at minimum, it would be wrong to use a capital G.

Anyway, we would know more by looking into heaven for five minutes, which is what I intend to do. At which time I will end my part in these discussions. :) ~

Clean Cut said...

Thomas, I've read "Christ and the New Covenant" and love Elder Holland's way of putting things. However, it sounds like you long for another Elder McConkie. While he certainly knew a lot of doctrine, I feel about the same as Mark D. here, who put it this way on a different blog:

"There are a lot of places where the content of Mormon Doctrine may not be all that objectionable, but where it much more accurately represents McConkie Doctrine than that of the that of the Church.

In fact that is practically the whole problem with the book. The author misrepresented his own personal opinions as Church doctrine. The effective acquiescence of the then Apostles made it so that in a few years it was hard to tell the difference. Orson Pratt wasn’t so lucky."

I'm very pleased with "getting back to the basics" and not trying to speak out all authoritatively on every item as if we've got all the answers. I'm very comfortable with ambiguity.

Thomas Parkin said...

I'm comfortable with ambiguity, as well. Although we are beginning to see doctrinal drift of some kinds that I'm not altogether comfortable with.

I used to be annoyed with BRM's dogmatic tone. I still see it as a real weakness, almost a tragic flaw. It certainly did some damage. But where I used to feel annoyance, I now feel some affection for the way he wore his weakness on his sleeve. And the validity of his views, generally, are not negated by either the fact that he was sometimes wrong, or that he didn't always express them in a way I'd have preferred. ~

Matt W. said...

Ah... Now I know why you e-mailed. Glad to see you are on the ambiguity bandwagon!

Thomas Parkin said...

I should say I'm comfortable with ambiguity as a temporary situation.

Time to find a pillow. ~

Mark D. said...

Thomas P., I think the idea that we worship an individual, in and of himself, is at best a crutch for the benefit of our understanding, and at worst nothing less than a form of idolatry.

Would we *worship* our heavenly father if he was a bad person? I don't think so. We *worship* our heavenly father because of what he unfailingly represents. If (perish the thought) he were to cease to be divine, we might still honor, love, maybe even adore him, but we wouldn't *worship* him as a person any more than we worship our fathers here on earth. If we *worshiped* any person unconditionally - even an exalted personally - it would be the highway to apostasy.

We worship God *because* he is God, and not because he is a person. The latter is nothing other than a potentially serious case of the Stockholm syndrome. If God ceased to be God, our obligation to *worship* him would disappear. Might does not make right.

The same goes for *them*, the Godhead, the divine concert, or whatever. We don't worship a collective because they are a collective. We don't worship them because they have all power in heaven and in earth. We worship them *because* of what they represent, because of what they do, because of what their purpose is.

Mark D. said...

To give another example, suppose (hypothetically) that the Godhead, or the divine concert had a fundamental disagreement about something or another - so fundamental that they split into competing factions.

Which side would have the rightful claim to be the one true God of heaven and of earth? Or are there now two "Gods"? Seventeen? Twenty-three?

Which one of them would we be morally obligated to follow? The one we liked better? agreed with? the one who had a better sense of humor? or perhaps the one who is unfailingly committed to do what is right, the one whose sense of principle is stronger than personal loyalty. No mere "yes man", but an advocate worthy of the name.

Thomas Parkin said...

Mark,

It seems to me that you are positing an underlying or original goodness (using the word because nothing better comes to me immediately) which transcends, precedes and one might possibly say infuses God. Without it, God would not be God. (I wonder if you also think that this thing has substance, or is ideas, forms, how would you describe it.?) I agree, but it doesn't follow that this original, impeccable goodness is what we worship. (See section 93). We worship the Father through "following" Christ (come unto Me). Both individuals.

God cannot cease to be God because He is perfect. The possibility of ceasing to be God implies a flaw that can be realized, an imperfection which He cannot, by definition, posses. Scripture that reference God ceasing to be God are actually a refutation of the idea, because they tie God to an aspect of what I'm calling the original goodness (Justice, in the more famous scripture in the BoM). "God ceaseth not to be God." But what it could add is that God cannot cease to be God, because he is Eternal.

And perhaps Eternal is the best word to describe the original, underlying, immutable goodness. God, by which I mean our Heavenly Father is perfectly worthy or worship because He is a perfect possessor of all Eternal ideas, traits, characteristics, etc. and cannot cease to be. Therefore, Eternal is His name, and Endless, etc. Should we find that other beings possess the Eternal in the same perfection - and we do, Jesus - they might also be found worthy of worship - but we do not worship them because it is in the individual Christ that we have all our hope in this life.

By the by, see Abraham chaps 4 and 5 for instances of "Gods" being capitalized referencing individuals - individuals we later come to know more fully in the Endowment.

Thanks for the workout! ~

Thomas Parkin said...

To clarify that last bit, we worship both the Father and the Son - the Father through the Son. We worship them by entering into covenants with the Father that are made possible in Christ. Though we worship two individuals, it is only because they are One in their common possession of the Eternal. Whether or not this can best be described as monotheism or polytheism is an entirely moot question, for me. ~

Thomas Parkin said...

one more thing - please excuse the grammar errors. I'm doing this as fast as I can. :)

Mark D. said...

Thomas P, You seem to be defending the position of classical theism, which is that God and goodness cannot be distinguished, or that God cannot fail to be good, even if he wanted to be.

The classic problem with that position is the corollary that anything that God does is good by definition. So if God decides to send fire down from heaven to consume a city, there is no question about whether he had any better alternatives. Anything he does is right simply because he does it.

As a consequence he doesn't have to think, or ponder, or evaluate his options. Anything he does is kind, simply because he does it. Anything he does is patient simply because he does it. Anything he does is merciful, simply because he does it. No matter what he does, there is no higher standard he can hold himself to, no possibility that anything he might do is worse or better than anything else he might do.

Suppose one day he was tempted to wipe out the Israelites and start from scratch. Would he have any basis for remorse should he have chosen to do so? Not if remorse is a figment of his imagination. He could be happy to wipe them out, remorseful to wipe them out, it doesn't matter because no matter what his feelings or thoughts are He himself has no basis for feeling or thinking any other way.

Suppose one day he decides that it would be nice if 2 + 2 = 5. Is he wrong? Or is 2 + 2 now equal to five because the thought crossed his mind? Will the universe cease to exist if he laughs too hard?

Classical theism has an answer to all these questions - namely that God has always been God, the He is timeless, that He created the universe out of nothing, that nothing that happens down here affects Him in any way. He is the mighty fortress, the iron pillar around which all else revolves. No body, parts, or passions. And no one, absolutely no one, shall ever be like Him - it is a metaphysical impossibility. Seemingly a less person than an ideal, the First Cause, the ground of all being.

How can we conceive of such a being? No exalted man can He be.

Mark D. said...

By the way, I don't think that goodness is a substance. I think that goodness is an ideal, and in its fundamentals a non-subjective ideal at that.

By non-subjective, I mean that God gives us commandments because they are good, not that they are good because he commands us. (Euthyphro dilemma, q.v.)

inhimdependent_lds said...

Mark D,

If God were really as you have described him then he is a most horrifying and terrifying being- and all of us are trapped in what would have to be almost the worst case scenario possible for the universe.

What an awful situation- and all at his design.

I say No Thanks to "classical theism" if thats its "answer".

Mark D. said...

ihd_lds, keep in mind I am using relatively extreme examples to make a point - namely that God and goodness cannot be strictly identical without forcing one into adopting the premises of classical theism.

Classical theism is consistent, and does not have all the problems I described - the problems come when you try to have it both ways.

If God has free will and is not timeless, the idea of static perfection doesn't work very well. Theological absolutism only really works if God is timeless.

Thomas Parkin said...

"
The classic problem with that position is the corollary that anything that God does is good by definition."

Not so, quite the opposite. As I said, I agreed with a definition of good that _precedes_ and underlies and infuses God. God cannot violate them, because, as it says, He would cease to be God. But "God ceaseth not to be God." A perfect being cannot, by definition, contain the flaw can lead to Him ceasing to be. Hence He is Eternal, if if He was not always so.

Being other than good is not possible for God, but it doesn't follow that everything one can _imagine_ God doing is also good. You're putting the cart before the horse in my argument. ~

Mark D. said...

I should add that I don't mean to imply (and shouldn't have said) that Thomas P. accepts or is trying to defend classical theism in its totality.

The claim that I am making is that the idea of absolute perfection in God unavoidably leads either to classical theism or to absurdities that no one is willing to defend.

The alternative, of course, is the controversial position (famously defended by Brigham Young) that the perfection of God is not static, but rather ever increasing.

Mark D. said...

Thomas P: Okay, now we are getting somewhere. You agree that goodness is an ideal that logically precedes divine will. Or in other words, that it is a metaphysical impossibility (not just a practical one) for God to fundamentally alter the nature of what is good. That he does what he does because it is good, not that it is good because it is what he does, right?

Thomas Parkin said...

"Theological absolutism only really works if God is timeless."

Mark,

This is only an assertion and doesn't even attempt to engage my argument. Not that I meant it to go this way - the thrust of the argument is to show that an individual being can be worthy of worship and save you from holding to the position that we worship ideals instead of God or Christ.

The problem with free will would have to be addressed - but, of course, a being need not have every imaginable possibility available in order to have free will. God can be constrained by law, as we, naturally, are, and still be fundamentally free. The problem is that we see freedom as mostly as matter of having choices, whereas freedom might better be defined as being free from outside influences. God is not influenced by Eternal laws, those laws are _His_ to enact according to His infinite (attained) wisdom. It is increasingly clear to me that freedom needs to be seen in degrees rather than an absolute proposition.

I'm on my way to SLC for a couple days, so won't be responding further any time soon.

Groovy. ~

Thomas Parkin said...

Mark,

Yeah. Definitely. God cannot alter what is good. No way, Jose.

Wish we were doing this in person. :)

Oh, and, goodness, I don't want to do the free will thing. The idea of it exhausts me. ~

Mark D. said...

Unfortunately, the question of static perfection revolves around the question of free will. If the definition of what is good exclusively dictates all the actions of God, one might well wonder whether He is just a functionary of an abstraction higher than He is.

One might also well conclude that all exalted beings are identical and interchangeable, and furthermore that they have absolutely no need to consult one another.

The problem here is that goodness cannot either be completely arbitrary, nor can it be completely static. A group of people get together to form a government. Unicameral or bicameral? Which is best? Is there an impersonal abstraction that can accurately decide all questions independent of the will or creativity of any person or persons?

If so, goodness (and perfection) is a completely static abstraction, and God is his prophet.

inhimdependent_lds said...

Mark D,

It seems to me that regardless of how one arrives at it "classic theism" and the world view that emanates from it is not really very "good news" is it?

Regardless of what philosophical constructs are used to arrive at its correctness or not if one pans back far enough the view of God and the universe that it presents is rather horrific and horrible- and not something reasonable people to really claim was good news.

Would you at least agree with that much?- even if you feel it is the correct view.

Mark D. said...

ihd_lds, You are misreading me. I am not advocating classical theism, which is a term of art for a form of theological absolutism that goes back to at least 400 BC and which has expression in classical Greek, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic forms, and which in particular has long dominated the theology of the latter two religious traditions.

Rather, I have been making the argument to the effect that all forms of theological absolutism share certain undesirable features with all others, and furthermore that the idea of static perfection is such a form.

inhimdependent_lds said...

Mark D,

That is all fine and good, and i dont pretend to know where you personally stand on any of this at all.

But i am still curious to know your take on the question posed.

I suppose i am not as up on the history and academic nuance surrounding the term "classical theism" as you are, and maybe that is part of the problem here. It is the more pejorative meaning to that term that i relate to.

If we use the term classical theism to refer the predominate view of God represented by much of sectarian Christianity today does my question make more sense now?

Considering that understanding would you agree that if one pans back far enough the view of God and the universe that it presents is rather horrific and horrible- and not something reasonable people would really claim was good news?

I am really just posing the question for any readers here as much as i am just to you.

inhimdependent_lds said...

Opps!... in my last comment i meant to say PREDOMINATE... not pejorative!!

sorry for the confusion.

NM said...

Thank you for this post Clean Cut; I appreciate your work.

In addition to this, can I ask what your position is in relation to the third person in the God-head? Who is the Holy Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit also have a body? What is the Holy Spirit's role? What are the Holy Spirit's origins, etc.?

Thanks again.

NM

S.Faux said...

Clean Cut:

Thanks for this clearly expressed essay. I found myself agreeing.

I tend to take the scriptures at face value when they describe God as being everlasting to everlasting. Because of such, I have a hard time envisioning a time when God was not God. I know there are LDS who would argue with me about this point, but I think the scriptures override rare side-comments by various LDS authorities that suggest a non-literal interpretation of the term "everlasting."

That which can be called "doctrine" needs to be clearly established by the First Presidency & Apostles; taught over and over again; and be something that is consistent with scriptures or official pronouncements. Any notion of God having His own Father does NOT meet those requirements. Thus, I feel free to believe God, our Father, is everlasting to everlasting.

I think you might be interested in my essay, "Comparing the Trinity with the Godhead."

NM said...

Is it true that, according to LDS doctrine, that Jesus is man's spiritual brother? If so, how does this doctrine sit when juxtaposed with Him being the triune God?

Thanks again,
NM

Clean Cut said...

NM--the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit but does not yet posses a physical body. Nevertheless, He is the third member of the Godhead. The gift of the Holy Ghost is one of the greatest gifts we can receive in mortality.

Parenthetically, there is a report of a journal entry someone (George Laub) made after hearing Joseph Smith speak which reports that the Holy Spirit will one day take upon himself flesh as the Savior did and as God the Father did. (We do believe that both God the Father and God the Son are embodied. Therefore, LDS don't believe in the traditional triune, or Trinitarian view of God.)

The view that Jesus Christ is our spiritual "brother" comes from our understanding that the Father of Jesus Christ is also our Heavenly Father. However, Christ's pre-eminent identity and role as our Savior and Redeemer, and frankly, as God in his own right, should be a much more significant point of emphasis among all Latter-day Saints (emphasized also in the Book of Mormon) than the side fact that Christ is our brother in the sense that we share the same Eternal Father. Furthermore, only Christ was the literal and only begotten Son of God in the flesh.

S. Faux, I appreciate the comment. Just today I finished reading a chapter on "God the Father" in Blake Ostler's volume 2 of Exploring Mormon thought. He makes the case that when Joseph talked of a Father for God the Father, he was referring to the Father's mortal probation, similar to how Christ had a Father when he was born on earth. Oslter also argues that any other interpretation of God having a Father spiritually beget him previously is anachronistic, since it "makes assumptions about spirit birth and intelligences being begotten into spirit bodies that were absent from Joseph Smith's views."

I also interpret the statement of how God "came to be God" as saying that God has a history, like you and me, similarly to how one could talk of how S. Faux came to be S. Faux, even though you've always been S. Faux. Similarly, I don't interpret Joseph to be contradicting scriptures that speak of God being from everlasting to everlasting, etc. I think that those who think Joseph taught that God was once not God either simply misinterpret Joseph Smith or fail to look at the complete account from the other scribes which would help clarify Joseph's true intent/meaning.

NM said...

Jesus was the literal and only begotten Son of God? What does that mean for all mankind (according to LDS doctrine)? I thought we are all supposed to be children of God?

I don't get it Clean Cut.

If we are all literal children of God, would that imply that there is some sort of Mother-figure too? Is she some sort of god? And if so, where does she fit into this truine God?

Thanks again.

NM

Clean Cut said...

He was literally God's Son in that when Christ was born on earth He received 23 chromosomes from an immortal Father in Heaven and 23 chromosomes a mortal mother on earth (Mary). He is literally the Son of God. That's all I meant by that.

Now as to a "Mother in Heaven"--there's nothing concrete in LDS doctrine. But there is a popular assumption that there could be a "Heavenly Mother", but again, there's nothing concrete there.

Our Heavenly Father is our Father in many important senses, and we're also told in the scriptures that we can "become" the children of God. But I don't believe in a literal "spirit birth" for all mankind. Some LDS do, but such an idea seems to be foreign to Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith taught that our spirits are co-eternal with God, and that there was no creation about it. Thus, other LDS believe that God is our Father in an adoptive sense (ie: He offered us a chance to advance and enter into a relationship with Him, etc). Either way, there was a pre-mortal time in which our Father in Heaven became our Father. Now we desire to return home to Him.

NM said...

"Joseph Smith taught that our spirits are co-eternal with God, and that there was no creation about it.

?

So, this would mean that we humans have co-existed with God in eternity past? Should Jesus be (according to LDS) our spiritual brother, wouldn't that infer that WE are also part of the truine God?

Clean Cut, this is getting too complicated. Am I reading too much into this?

Clean Cut said...

NM, I wish I could read your mind! :) It's really not complicated. I may have said more than I needed to. Did I clear up what I meant about Jesus being the Only Begotten Son of God?

As to the eternality of our spirits--that is one of the coolest (IMHO) and revolutionary ideas that Joseph Smith taught near the end of his life. But the fact that we believe that we have always existed (in some shape or form--the details are debatable) doesn't make us a part of the Godhead any more than God inviting us to be "one" with Him (see John 17) makes us a part of the Godhead. It just means that there isn't the great Creator/creature divide that those who profess creatio ex nihilo of necessity must believe in. Mankind is of the same kind or "species" as God. He is a loving, personal God. We don't believe in an ontological divide forever separating God and mankind.

My former professor, Stephen E. Robinson, put it this way in the book "How Wide the Divide?":

"The strict wall of separation between the human and the divine ("we aren't really his children; we can't really be like him") in my view is not really biblical but, once again, philosophical. It rests on the same objection to the clear sense of Scripture that led to the equally unbiblical doctrine of the two natures in Christ, which was added to historic Christianity by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. Scripture says that God in Christ became man, that "the Word was made flesh" (Jn 1:14), that "in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his bretheren" (Heb. 2:17). Nevertheless, Greek philosophy, the intellectual fashion of the day, demanded that the divine could not become truly human, and vice versa, since Plato had decreed that the human and the divine were mutually exclusive. So the Council of Chalcedon invented a second nature for Christ, something never stated in the Bible, to satisfy the philosophers by keeping the human and the divine separate in Christ as Plato insisted they must be. According to Chalcedon, Christ's divine nature never became human, never suffered, never died--the claims of Scripture notwithstanding.

"Latter-day Saints reject all that. The Word was made flesh. In Christ, God became man. And if the divine can become fully human and then as human be raised up again to be fully God (Phil 2:6-11), then it is established that what is fully human may also be divine--Q.E.D. And by the grace of God we humans can also be raised up to be joint heirs of God with Christ (Rom 8:16-17). Christ is the example of what God finally desires of us and for us. It is God's intention, through the atonement and the gospel, to make us what Christ is and share with us what Christ has."