Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wide Latitude of Possible Beliefs In Mormonism

Last night I finished reading an excellent article by Blake Ostler entitled: "The Idea of Pre-existence in the Development of Mormon Thought". It's a fascinating glance at how varied the ideas have been within Mormonism concerning the nature of spirits. (Another excellent and enlightening article on this topic is "The Development of the Doctrine of Preexistence, 1830–1844" by Charles R. Harrell). Whether people realize it or not, there is a richness and diversity within Mormon thought. I've been a Mormon all my life and I feel like I'm only now beginning to scratch the surface. I like how Blake Ostler put it at the end of his article:
Many Mormons, and probably most non-Mormons, have failed to grasp the wide latitude of possible beliefs which can be tolerated within the tradition of Mormon thought. Although many view Mormon thought as restrictive, it is in fact more inclusive than exclusive, more thought-provoking than thought-binding.

For instance, an individual member's beliefs may range from an absolutist view to a traditionally heretical, finitist view of God and man and still remain well within the bounds of traditional Mormon expressions of faith—a latitude far beyond the tolerance of Protestantism or Catholicism. The Church's reluctance to clarify its theology on an official level has left it up to individual members to think through and work out their own understanding of and relationship to God. In short, the burden of a consistent theology and vibrant relationship with God in Mormonism is not a corporate responsibility; indeed it cannot be. Rather, it is an individual burden that reflects the unique relationship of God with each member. And each member must be willing to face the implications of his or her beliefs.

25 comments:

R. Gary said...

I think you are correct this time. You can discuss anything you want on your blog and so can I on mine. But the thought that's most welcome in official Church meetings is found in the Church's official manuals, magazines, and on it's web site.

NM said...

Ah, nothing like the emanating scent of post-modernism. You make it sound as if Mormonism is a bit of a free-for-all...?

Papa D said...

I agree with Ostler. There really is relatively little in the way of unanimity when one looks over the entirety of pronouncements among Mormon apostles and prophets - and there is lots and lots of room for individual members to vary widely in their personal perspectives on lots of things.

I've seen that at the local level in every unit where I've lived - and I've seen it in the perspectives of cuncurently serving apostles. I love that about Mormonism, personally.

Papa D said...

"concurrently" - forgot to edit *sigh*

velska said...

I agree with you that Mormonism is inclusive rather than exclusive.

We tend to tolerate different views — especially about things that are sort of on the sidelines, and thus not essential to our salvation. Now, if someone were to claim that the Atonement isn't that important for our salvation, I am pretty sure you'd get some corrective action/comments. Because that's in the core doctrines of Salvation and Exaltation.

SmallAxe said...

But the thought that's most welcome in official Church meetings is found in the Church's official manuals, magazines, and on it's web site.

I think you're missing the point. In some issues (although certainly not all issues) there is no consensus in the manuals, magazines, or website. This means that multiple viewpoints should be welcome in Church meetings as far as these issues are concerned. Problems occur when people suppose that there must be consensus on every issue. It's not simply the case that some matters are grey outside Church meetings, but black and white in them. Rather some issues are grey regardless of context.

Clean Cut said...

R. Gary, when have I ever been incorrect? Didn’t you get the memo that I graduated from the School of Infallibility? :)

As to the "official manuals", magazines, or website being resevoirs for the “most welcome” thoughts—I have to agree with smallaxe. Perhaps those are the ideas that currently enjoy the most popularity and acceptance, but I’m not sure if that is necessarily a good thing. If the Gospel Principles manual, for example, adopts the “spirit birth” model, it clearly disregards a lot of other viewpoints that I feel should be just as welcome and accepted within Mormon thought. (Including the teachings of Joseph Smith himself).

NM--Just to be clear, I wasn't trying to suggest that all of Mormonism is a free-for-all or that anything goes in Mormonism. (Obviously there are certain requirements in order to qualify as being “Mormon” or to be eligible for a temple recommend, etc). What I am saying is that if you look at the history of beliefs in the Mormon tradition you will find that Mormons have held a wide variety of viewpoints.

For example, some Mormons believe that spirits are born by heavenly parents so they have a beginning, other Mormons believe that spirits are uncreated and eternal and don't have a beginning or an ending.

Papa D, velska, and smallaxe—thanks for your comments. I agree with each of you.

Jessica said...

"Many Mormons, and probably most non-Mormons, have failed to grasp the wide latitude of possible beliefs which can be tolerated within the tradition of Mormon thought. Although many view Mormon thought as restrictive..."

My question is what causes so many Mormons to be so confused on this point if, as Ostler claims, wide latitude in thought is indeed possible?

Clean Cut said...

I'm not sure I understand the question, Jessica. What point is it that you think Mormons are confused on?

Jessica said...

Well, Ostler says that many Mormons have failed to grasp that they actually have more freedom in thought than they think they can have. What is causing Mormons to fail to grasp that they have this freedom?

R. Gary said...

.
Papa D,  SmallAxe,  and Clean Cut:  I'll grant that there are probably a few minor issues on which official Church media may appear disparate. But are we not still better off in Church meetings staying with one of the points of view found in Church media, or does the perceived lack of consensus open the door to any opinion imaginable? And what about the vast majority of issues on which there is consensus: Would you not agree with me that contrary points of view are not well tolerated in Church meetings?

SmallAxe said...

But are we not still better off in Church meetings staying with one of the points of view found in Church media, or does the perceived lack of consensus open the door to any opinion imaginable? And what about the vast majority of issues on which there is consensus: Would you not agree with me that contrary points of view are not well tolerated in Church meetings?

I think on those issues which there is a lack of "official" consensus we are better off acknowledging that multiple points of view are permissible, and we should even explore each point of view (at least sometimes). Allowing for more than one possible interpretation of an issue does not mean allowing every interpretation. There are still better or worse interpretations.

Contrary points of view are not tolerated in Church meetings; and I believe that the point of the post was to say that in those issues where there is little to no consensus there should be more toleration.

SmallAxe said...

Jessica,

My question is what causes so many Mormons to be so confused on this point if, as Ostler claims, wide latitude in thought is indeed possible?

This, IMO, is an important question. The implication of Ostler's statement is that most LDSs aren't reflective about the contours of Mormon beliefs. At the very least this should raise a bit of a red flag as to whether Ostler is right in this point. Is it really the case, for instance, that we failed to recognize this? Or is Ostler wrong?

On the other hand, I think the explanation would be something along the lines of the context of Mormonism. We tend to think that our beliefs define us; but as it turns out our practices may be equally if not more important. Why do we tend to think that our beliefs define us? Well, because they do in part, but more so because the context in which our religion came about tends to emphasize belief over practice.

Clean Cut said...

Jessica, I'd say that the reason some Mormons fail to grasp that "wide latitude" is the same reason that many of those not of our faith fail to grasp it--lack of familiarity. Like I said in the OP, I've been a Mormon all my life and only in the last year or two have I come to learn of the great variety of thought/models revolving around the nature of our spirits. Without familiarity with the various thoughts, one might easily take for granted that their assumption is THE way it is.

If all someone did is read McConkie (who often spoke quite dogmatically), one could easily assume "that's just the way it is", without even being aware of other models. See, for example: Tripartite existentialism.

Clean Cut said...

R. Gary--this is my take:

"In essentials let there be unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity."

R. Gary said...

Clean Cut:  That works for me. But now we have to differentiate between essential and non-essential, and if we both use the same criteria for that decision, we'll be in total agreement. So here's how I do it, everything for me is non-essential unless I perceive consensus in official Church media.

SmallAxe said...

This thread spurred me to finish a post a started some time ago, but never got around to completing. You can find it here: http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/02/imposed-openness/

Larry said...

I'm sorry, but I couldn't disagree with the "wide latitude" premise more. I think there is a clear orthodoxy in the Church and clear sources from wence it came:

1)Preexistence: Saturday's Warrior
2)Church History: The Work and the Glory series
3)Doctrine (pre-1980) James E. Talmage, Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie
4)Doctrine (post-1980) We don't speak of doctrine anymore, just principles

R. Gary said...

I think the cable guy's got a point.

Clean Cut said...

"Everything for me is non-essential unless I perceive consensus..."

Well, that still leaves room for debating "perception"--but I'd say that's good progress!

Larry--good one. :)

Mitch said...

Would the period of fasting fit in with this discussion? Most American Mormons do not fast a full 24 hours, but Mormons in other countries take it right to 24 hours before breaking their fast.

In my personal experience I might disagree with one or two comments in the monthly Ensign, but won't discuss my reasons in church. I'd rather build on the positive when at church, but might challenge one's thought when they come to my house.

Papa D said...

CC, fwiw, I think orthopraxy gives someone lots of social capital to be heterodox.

Clean Cut said...

I think you're right, Ray.

Peace of mind... Heart and Soul... said...

Although my words may be imperfect, I feel that I speak for a wide range of people on certain church topics, including this "Wide Latitude" concept... There are those who tend to pay particular attention to every word of every scripture. There are those who tend to delve into the spirit and "feeling" of the scripture. when it boils down to it, whether it be through personal revelation or personal thought, this "Wide Latitude" seems to be solely based off of the constructive thinking and yearning for further understanding on topics that seem to be "the unspoken" or "un clarified" concerns and issues in the church world wide today, meaning, with :Wide Latitude: we come up with our own version of what Heavenly Father would do or say on any particular subject of "un-clarified" church doctrine. which in turn causes a lot of controversy in church cause we all feel so strongly about our own spiritual revelation and the importance it has to our individual lives. Of course we could sit and discuss every topic and every view of each individual participating in the class, but what would we gain from that? A whole bunch of individual revelation that we want everyone to know about and learn from when the truth of it is, it may be just for you and individual for you. If this issue was such a big deal, I believe (Since we are governed by a prophet of the Lord) that these particular issues would be brought up in greater scales rather then on a blogging site. the point I am trying to make is that some latter day saints do not hold such knowledge or "strength of testimony" to stand alone on certain issues. Just like we fall back on our parents at a younger age, we fall back on the church with particular issues we may struggle with. (One huge reason we have bishops in the first place) We don't give a baby steak and expect them to be able to live, we nourish and succor until the baby is strong enough to gain experience for themselves. :) Just reading through all of these posts kind of gives me a headache because it seems we're all over the place. No matter how you make salt, salt will be salt and salt will always taste like salt. My concept is not defining or withholding freedom of choice, but when all is said and done, we are held to our choices in this life based off of us living the commandments of God. The Spirit is the only thing we have that can tell us if we are accomplishing those requirements or not. I can also read through this and assume that I am being ignorant in my way of thinking, but the thing is, knowledge is good, but obedience is most important. As long as we are obedient to the requirements the Lord has set for us (The choices he has given us), there should be no other worry to our further living. It is merely between God, our family and independent agency and accountability.... Meaning, "Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you". :)

Clean Cut said...

"Imposed Openness"