Sunday, August 10, 2008

Gods in Embryo

If I had to pick my one favorite presentation at the Sunstone Symposium this year, this presentation by Hugo Olaiz would be it: "Are We Still Gods in Embryo? The Mormon Doctrine of Human Deification."

Hugo impressed me from the start with his presence when he realized that both the moderator and the respondent for his session, the illustrious Michael Quinn were not present. He began his own session and launched right in to his talk, which was brilliant. At the risk of vastly simplifying what he had to say, I'd like to just give you a few of my impressions and then urge you to order the full talk if you are interested in this topic.

Hugo explained that human deification (as expressed by the couplet "As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may become) contains two distinct concepts, one that God has progressed and perhaps may still be progressing from some human form to a divine state; and the other that man may reach this state also. We often call this "eternal progression," but in this talk Hugo preferred to use the more specific term "deification." His paper discussed the observation that, although early Mormon thinkers had vigorously debated and elaborated upon this doctrine, there is a distinct change in how we approach it today. The first half of the couplet, the one dealing with the progression of God, has become nearly invisible, and while we retain the possibility of deification for man, it is reimaged as "eternal progression," with its bolder implications being tamed.

For those who have been in the Church as long as I have, this shift is remarkably clear. I remember the days when deification was actively taught in our church meetings. To me the shift to a doctrine more compatible with evangelical Christianity is quite clear.

After concluding his talk, Hugo opened the session to questions, then with just fifteen minutes left, Michael Quinn came sailing up the aisle, panting heavily. Although Hugo's talk was cogent and engaging, and would have stood quite well on its own, Michael's addition added emotion and drama to the proceedings. Michael referred to the history of Christianity and showed how early Christianity defended its doctrine of monotheism against outside threats with violence and bloodshed. He said that if we did not understand this history, we would not have a clear view of where the modern Christian world stood regarding polytheism. Now we have our LDS leaders and theologians seeking to ally themselves with the Christian movement and to deemphasize our early teachings. If we do this, Michael dramatically warned, we are trading our birthright for a mess of pottage.

Michael's speech was so stirring, it made me want to leap to my feet and applaud. Later, during the Q&A, he added to the defense of Joseph Smith's early teachings on deification by giving a beautiful word picture of Joseph opening window after window in a large room, bringing light flooding in, and leaving a legacy for later generations to formulate into unified doctrines.

So, what do you stand, readers? Are you comfortable with a milder form of our doctrine which aligns more closely with Christian thought? Or do you identify with Joseph and his bold but perhaps discomfiting proclamations on the nature of God and man?

BiV with Michael Quinn


Anonymous said...

Mormonism in my view is Christianity Plus. As we continue growing I think it makes sense to highlight our similarities rather than our differences.

The deeper truths remain readily available to those who seek them.


Zillah said...

Go bold!

I think that the simplification of doctrine is a result of a myriad of factors, in large part the pressures of a becoming a very large church which must coordinate doctrine across the world, and also a church that wants to present itself as mainstream and acceptable. Well and good, I suppose, but I know many who want more to their religion than feeling good. While the deeper truths remain readily available to those who seek them, why deemphasize them? We have nothing to hide, and such riches to offer.

Confutus said...

I'm not at all convinced there is an attempt to "water down" the bolder doctrines of the gospel for the sake of appealing to non-Mormons.
Rather, there seems to be a tendency to discourage speculation on what has not been fully revealed (aka "dreaming of our mansions above").
Instead, there is something of an attempt to focus more on the process of becoming like Christ, which would be a prerequisite for exaltation in any case.

Thomas Parkin said...

I agree roughly with what has already been said. Our emphasis on more basic, Christian-ish, doctrines dates to just before Pres Benson's emphasis on the Book of Mormon. It seems to me that if we don't get these basic principles - the one's that will get us nearer God - starting with Faith in Jesus - the whole exaltation business is vain, anyway.

I don't see us doing things for the express purpose of getting into cahoots with evangelicals. Although I don't see that less mutual mistrust is a bad thing. I'm sure that Brother Quinn is a good guy, with lots of great ideas about Joseph. I'd note than when I had rather lost my feeling for the basics of the gospel I retained a feeling for Joseph and that helped see me through.

Deeper truths have almost always been an individual matter. "It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him."

The start of knowing mysteries is Faith, Repentance, Baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost. Without these, attempts at coming to understand God is vain - we can only be left with individual preferences, whatever feelings reinforce those preferences.


Just me said...

I also disagree with the assertion that the church has shifted its teaching regarding exaltation. In my ward primary, there is a large banner at the front of the room that reads "All of you are Children of the Most High". I believe very child knows he or she is a child of Heavenly Parents and can become like God. There may be more emphasis, I'm not sure, on the first principles and ordinances of the gospel than there was 40 years ago when I was in primary.

Bored in Vernal said...

Just me, the shift lies in the emphasis on the doctrine that we can progess and become like God while deemphasizing and even losing the doctrine that God was once a man and can himself progress.

Kiskilili said...

I love the picture! I missed this session, but I'm with you (and Quinn). I can understand the impulse to focus on the basics, like faith in Christ, repentance, and the Holy Ghost, but to the degree that we suppress or deemphasize our own unique doctrines, we're equally deemphasizing the need for the Restoration. Christianity already understood the importance of faith in Christ before Joseph Smith was ever born. If that's the essence of the gospel, how important was his contribution?

Maraiya said...

You look beautiful! Love the hair!

backandthen said...

First of all I should introduce myself properly: Hi, I am "I am soooooooooooooo not going to give you my name" from Mormon Matters and I am going to give you my name actually: Gwennaƫlle.
I first chose this nickname because I did not feel comfortable with giving my name in LDS or Mormons blogs but I am now :o)

One thing we have to keep in mind is that we are also a proselyting church. We do that because we believe in the need for every being to make the same covenants as we have made.
In deemphasizing this point of our beliefe we don't give it up but we give room enough for people to build mentale bridges with the gospel and eventually project a picture of themself in the church clear enough that they can open their soul to gain a testimony to in the end know what is taught is true.
A spoon feeding idea if you want.

Another thing strikes me about the church and what is being taught or not. There is like a tendency to always put itself in a situation where it will never be a "popular" religion. I spend quiet a lot of time on forums concerning various subjects and I find out that where I live, people have a sense of our divine nature and potential. They feel it, they know there is something more than to barely worship a "deaf and dumb" God. The question could be: what would happen of their progression and their understanding of the whole plan if they got hold of this doctrine first before understanding the atonement?

Ayla said...

BiV can I snag some of the pics you took at Sunstone especially any I'm in? My camera quit on me and all I had was my phone camera so I have no good pics :( It was so awesome to meet you! I look forward to making it an annual event!


Maraiya said...

I suppose I should comment on more than just the photo. I have always taken great comfort from the first part of the couplet as it gave me hope for my husband; someday he will be perfected and loving as my Father in Heaven. There's hope. :)

I know I'm not saying anything new but I do think part of the reason we deemphasize the first (and I agree, we talk about it very little) is because there's not much to know other than the idea that it happened; is there? I think we can speculate quite a bit about how God lived as a man, how He was able to change but we don't really know anything more than that He once was an imperfect human. Because of this, all sorts of questions come up that we can't really answer: how did He get perfected? Was there another Savior before Jesus? I know there are more, I just can't think of them.

I like the comment early that we need to live the light we've been given. All of this other knowledge will come and when it does, I fully expect our GD classes to begin discussing this principle again but until then, I think this one not necessarily falls by the way side but sits on our collective back burner percolating.

Mormon Heretic said...

Is it just me, or did some of your posts on this same topic disappear?

Bored in Vernal said...

Did you look on my old site?

ROB. LAUER said...

I have admired D. Micahel Quinn since I was a student at BYU (1979-1983). He hits the nail on the head.

I left the LDS Church six years ago (after 25 years) because I think it has indeed sold its theological birth right for a mess of pottage. I am now a Reform Mormon and much happier.

Your's is a great blog! Thanks for sharing!