Transcendent Nephites

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Symmachus
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Transcendent Nephites

Post by Symmachus »

One of the gems in the crown of Cassius, the noble Reverend Kishkumen, has raised some difficult points about historicity and scripture. As these are present on different threads, I decide to post a response on a new thread and thereby invite your devastating critiques so that, in having my disagreement thoroughly refuted, I can be thrown out of just one window rather than several. My attempt at disagreement should be interpreted as it is intended: a sign of respect.

The basic question at issue: what is the effect on a religious tradition of decoupling scripture from historicity, specifically for Mormonism? From what I gather from our Reverend's sundry comments, the effect is negligible because historicity is a kind of rhetorical buttress to some deeper religious claim:
Kishkumen wrote:
Thu Aug 27, 2020 7:15 am
I think it is very likely that scriptural fundamentalists believe that there is a real moral hazard in the average person abandoning a literal belief in the historical reliability of the scriptures. This is the underlying motivation for them to make the argument that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are ancient. Some guy named Joseph Smith is not impressive enough if he says, "I saw God and here is what He taught me." Take that same Joseph Smith and credit him with seeing the lives of ancient Israelites in their interactions with God, and then you have something. It is a branding thing. People like what is familiar and are generally fearful of the new. So the new must be packaged to look like the old before people will even try it. Everyone in marketing knows this, and ancient authors knew it too. Moses did not write the Torah. To think so is really silly. Moses did not write the Pearl of Great Price's Book of Moses either. Same issue. But people know who Moses is, and they want to hear more from him, so they will pay someone else to hear Moses-style ventriloquism. Think Spiritualism and you have a clearer example of the same impulse.
This seems to me largely at odds with the one of most penetrating comments I have heard about the Book of Mormon and the origin of Mormonism, which was offered here by the esteemed Reverend. The more I think of our Reverend's insight about the Book of Mormon's origin as a tourist gimmick, the more I am awed at what a brilliant insight it is. It is not merely a clever observation, although it is clever, but it is an instructive one because it actually gets at the nature of Mormonism: religious belief is really a subsidiary to other empirical claims made Joseph Smith. Historicity matters in Mormonism because it is primary; historical claims like the existence of Nephites and so on are not simply chronologically prior to the religious claims of Mormonism (the Book of Mormon production was going on years before Smith was organized a church and started claim it as the God's sole representative organization); they are ontologically prior as well: if Nephites are a fiction, so is everything else. The religion was the branding packaged on the history, not the other way around. That basic structure still obtains.

I hope you can forgive my indulgent elucidations of what I mean; you can certainly ignore them...
Kishkumen wrote:
Wed Aug 26, 2020 12:41 pm
Joseph Smith's revelations belong to the same tradition albeit at a much later date. The world of Moses as described in the Hebrew Bible is one that was imagined by the author of the book centuries after Moses purportedly lived. Moses is important for reasons other than the historical. He is important as a figure who was believed to have had a special relationship with God. The conception of what that relationship was and its significance is what keeps people coming back to the texts, not the historical accuracy of the Hebrew Bible.

One of the pillars of Mormonism is that Joseph Smith was a prophet because of his interactions with Deity. Without a testimony of those interactions, there is no reason to read anything Joseph Smith uttered or penned. I have a hard time seeing the fundamental difference between the two in religious terms.
With respect—and that is always what motivates my reply to our dear and aptly titled Reverend—I think that is because you are not a believer, so why would you see a difference? And you are voicing a view of the Hebrew Bible that makes sense to someone in their capacity or identity as an academic and/or professor but not to someone in their capacity as a believer who puts their money and time on the line, as well as much else. Such a person is not going to settle for something conceived of primarily as a work of imaginative fiction. Nor does the distinction made between the relationship of God and Moses on the one hand the historical accuracy of the Bible on the other seem so clear cut to me. If the Bible is not historically accurate to the extent that a historical Moses is possible, then that relationship could not have been possible by definition, and therefore everything that follows from it collapses into little more than a giant misunderstanding. Of course you can find Conservative and Reform Jews who will be open to the academic view you express here because for them being Judaism is about a shared identity rooted in historical experience and common practices (which are increasingly divergent). But I don't see much vitality in them; Orthodox Jews are the ones keeping the identity going by preserving the very things that made the historical experience possible in the first place, and I don't know that there are all that many that would see the academic view as harmless to their tradition as you make it seem. If the Documentary Hypothesis is valid, then why not drive your car on a Saturday afternoon to have a BLT or a cheeseburger? All those mitzvos are just the result of some editorializers and redactors in the Persian and Second Temple periods! It's easy to indulge a circular definition that, "well, whatever Jews do is Judaism, and Judaism is what Jews do," but the problem, as the Conservative and Reform people are experiencing apparently without grasping the reason, is that there have to be Jews to keep that going, and if Jewish children decide, say, to marry non-Jews when they grow up and decide there is no reason to keep Kosher etc., then you don't end up producing more Jews to keep a Judaism going that is recognizable as distinct form the wider culture around it. The existence in the first place and centuries-long persistence in Orthodox Jewish life of a text like the Pirke Avot ("Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua, Joshua to the elder, they to the prophets...") tells me that this history mattered all right and already in antiquity and was a concern. And in any case, in Judaism as well as in Christianity and Islam, the whole foundation of these religions as belief systems that structure practice and ethics is the idea that God is active in human history. It's one thing to disagree with that (as I do), but it's quite another to tell these people that it's no big deal.

I agree that the conception of a relationship (Moses and God, Jesus and God, Muhammad and God) is at the heart of these traditions, but the question is what that conception is, and for almost the entire history of these traditions, the conception has been that these were actual and not fictively imagined relationships. Altering the conception in towards the latter changes things quite a lot and a serious implications about the tradition's ability to survive.
Kishkumen wrote:
Wed Aug 26, 2020 12:41 pm
Provenance confers bogus authority inasmuch as the best evidence shows that we have no clue who wrote the vast majority of the books contained in the Biblical canon. So what does the identity of the author mean? The date of composition? Evidently people were blissfully unaware of their errors for centuries, and yet the Jewish and Christian traditions survived. One can either reject the evidence and insist that earlier assumptions about these books have to be true, or one can embrace the evidence and reframe questions of authorship and spiritual authority.
I bold those two words because I would say "and thus" rather than "and yet." Christians like Eusebius and Jerome knew there were problems with some of the attributions, and we can infer that the Tannaim also were aware of some, but there was no method within their intellectual culture to settle these questions in the way that modern scholars have.

But the dichotomy you pose is not as relevant to Judaism and Christianity as it is to Mormonism because, despite the importance of historicity, it functions differently in Mormonism, and Mormons haven't yet figured out a way to restructure their traditions relationship with its historical claims. You mentioned the Book of Daniel, which instructive here because there actually isn't any empirical evidence that the text is from the 2nd century; the arguments are all deductive, and those deductions are based on certain assumptions (namely, that prophecy isn't a real thing, and if it were real it should be consistent). It doesn't fit our conception of what a sixth-century text should look like, therefore it is not sixth-century. It also doesn't fit our conceptions of prophecy: if a prophecy is detailed about certain events (e.g. the campaigns in Egypt of Antiochus Epiphanes), then it should be detailed about other events (e.g. Antiochus's death, which apparently was missed in this prophetic vision—a pretty big detail!). I share those assumptions, but I also admit that they are assumptions, and so I am not troubled when someone makes an argument starting from totally opposite assumptions (e.g. prophecy is mysterious and doesn't have to be consistent or as detailed in one layer as another). I like to study those views if they are interesting and I can learn something or be challenged; otherwise I ignore them. But I do think it is purely conceit to mistake prevailing academic opinion, largely derived from deduction, for empirically established fact. This is one reason the historical problems aren't devastating to Christianity and to Judaism, because you can't really argue about Daniel's dating (or whatever the case) if assumptions and deductions are the real issue. And sometimes you can't even really argue the assumptions. If an Orthodox Jew doesn't agree that Daniel is from the 2nd century BCE, the basis of that disagreement is that s/he doesn't accept your deductive reasoning or the assumptions from which it is derived.

Mormonism's problem is that it is empirically falsifiable on the assumptions that particularly its most partisan adherents (i.e. apologists) start from. Traditional Mormonism is so embedded in its empirical claims, that the unstated response by believers in their rejection of scholarship is so much more extreme: they are not just disagreeing with deductions and intellectual models; they are instead saying that all empirical knowledge about Egyptology, linguistics, and archaeology is wrong.

The most you can say about Moses, empirically, is that the Biblical account is not consistent with the current state of evidence for New Kingdom Egypt and that many of the most accurate details actually fit a later period. But that doesn't mean there wasn't a Moses and that that Moses didn't receive the Torah and Oral Law at Sinai. Maybe some authorial imaginations did play a part in filling out the story. The basic claims are not disprovable. If, however, it turned out that there never was an Israel nor an Egypt nor Hebrews of any kind and that no one ever heard any of this stuff until some guy published a book in modern times, then Moses might as well be a complete fiction. But the Torah at least came from somewhere that exists and from a culture (or cultures) that are recoverable to a certain degree. Similarly in the case of Christianity, Ephesians might not be by Paul; the Synoptics might be constructed from earlier material (although, again, that is pure deduction, not empirical); and we have no material evidence that Jesus existed, and certainly little textual—even all this doesn't make it impossible for there to have been someone named Jesus at that time who was, in fact, the Son of God who was crucified for this, that, or the other reason. It would be different, however, if it turned out that there never were Romans at all, there was no such place as Galilee, and no one ever heard of these things until some guy published a book. The gospels at least came from an environment that is known. The disagreement over the historicity of the Exodus is pretty minor compared to the disagreement over the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Whether they are true or not, Mormonism's claims are formally indistinguishable from fiction because they cannot be derived except through a single intermediary, Joseph Smith. They have so far failed every empirical test applied, and indeed, some like the Book of Abraham can actually be disproved empirically. The response of believers who explore the claims of the Church and the apologists has so far been, implicitly, to call into question whole fields of knowledge and to deny the validity of empirically supported observations. Knowledge of Egyptian is not just a scholarly construct that has been derived from some assumptions; we're never going to discover that, actually, we never knew the language all along and that the Mormons were right. It is empirically derived.

But the problem of history is deeper in Mormonism because it is even more central than in traditional Christian or Orthodox Judaism. In those traditions, the link to history is ultimately a metaphysical one and while the claims of each tradition transcend the empirically observable world, nonetheless there is a link to history. It is the history, in fact, which makes it possible to access the transcendental claims—that is the function of history in these traditions. Moses's receiving the Torah and Oral Law at Sinai isn't an empirical claim that, once proven true, thus proves Judaism "true." The reason the early Rabbis sought the connection to Moses was to infuse his authority on their own practice of Judaism, and for a modern Orthodox Jew, the same basically applies: the halakha is authoritative because it goes back to Moses. And Moses got it from God at Sinai, so it is actually through adherence to the halakha that you gain access to that same divine and transcendent origin, God. In Christianity, it is Jesus's act of self-sacrifice in history, the culmination of history, that is accessible to believers through the mass (or whatever each denomination does). Biblical history is the ramp leading up to it; it is not central to Christianity in the way that Jesus Christ is. There is, in other words, an ontological category that supersedes history but which is accessed through history. You can see an analog to this in relics: nobody wanted a piece of wood so that they could prove there really was a Jesus who was nailed to it; they wanted the piece of wood so that they could use that object in the material world to access the divinity. But finding chiasmus or an inscription like NHM isn't about accessing the divine so as to enter into that relationship with deity: it really is just about proving empirically claims made my Joseph Smith and his successors.

That is because Mormonism doesn't make transcendental claims primarily, or at least those that it does make are sequestered in the temple space (from what I can tell), and it is hard to tell what the ultimate ontological category is in Mormonism because god is not merely in the universe but in fact he is of the universe. He came out of it, like some pre-Christian god out of the watery chaos. I can remember times when people made fun of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo in Church, but the joke is on them, because that is the only logical position for a monotheist to hold. No one perceives the problem in Mormonism because Mormons, again like what we see in pre-Christian religions, simply don't concern themselves with questions that transcend what is empirically accessible and concrete. It is even doctrinal in Mormonism that "all spirit is matter."

Whatever transcendental claims there are in Mormonism are actually subordinated to its historical claims, which is the reverse of what happens in Orthodox Judaism and traditional Christianity. Instead it makes empirical claims: Hebrews were living in America, for example, or Abraham wrote this book. A traditional Christian or an Orthodox Jew can tolerate a certain degree of skepticism about Abraham, but a Mormon can't, because if the traditional story is not correct, then the Book of Abraham is other than what it says. A traditional Christian or an Orthodox Jew can tolerate a lot of pressure from archaeology, but a Mormon can't because the whole thing unravels. Very little Hebrew grammar or Greek linguistics are going to interfere with the beliefs of an Orthodox Jew or a traditional Christian; they do cause problems for the Book of Mormon, and a knowledge of Egyptian is death to any but the airiest and fairiest metaphorical reading of the Book of Abraham ( even John Gee acknowledges this: only the spiritually superior, like him, can do the homework necessary to balance faith and Egyptology). In Christianity and Judaism, whether God made the world in six days or six billion years is immaterial for most people, and you can use literary approaches to escape this because the ultimate point is that God made the world. But you can't metaphorize the Book of Mormon or really even the Book of Abraham at this point in Mormon intellectual understanding: doing that would make it more dangerous to know English than to know Egyptian, because you can't say that Joseph meant X when he clearly and unambiguously meant Y.

These are all particularly examples but they support a general truth about the current state of Mormonism as belief system (which has implications for practice and ethics): in Orthodox Judaism and traditional Christianity, history is a manifestation of God's interest in the world and his action in it, but in Mormonism God's action in the world is evidence of a historical claim—history is paramount and God subordinate. Now, that does seem contrary to practice, I know, because the apologetic argument (and it is all really only one argument) is that if Joseph Smith didn't know historical detail X, then the presence of historical detail X proves the Church true, and from that, it follows that any claims made by the Church are also true. But something curious follows from this approach. Within the current understanding of Mormonism, it is impossible for there to have been Nephites without the existence of God. There existence thus proves the existence of god, but that means everything hinges on those Nephites—including God. It's the historical claims that are really central to Mormonism because God derives from them and because they are the evidence of that the relationship that Joseph Smith had with deity. This is how the early Book of Mormon functioned among believers: as a sign of Joseph's powers. Similarly with the Book of Abraham.

In general, though, I think we should not too readily dismiss the importance of history in the Judeo-Christian traditions (in which I include Islam) and for people who actually participate in these traditions in a substantial way. History does matter, but not because it is a piece of evidence to support a claim. History also matters in Mormonism, but exactly because it is a piece of evidence to support a claim. The thing that differentiates it in terms of the function of historicity is its problem. The mitzvot of the halakha in Orthodox Judaism and or the Divinity of Christ in traditional Christianity are manifested is history but are not proved by it because they occupy a conceptual space that transcends the materiality of history. Moses is the receiver and transmitter of the Torah, not it's author, and the divine Christ existed before the world was. In short, there are transcendent phenomenon above and beyond historicity in these traditions. What about Mormonism? But what transcendent phenomenon hovers beyond the Book of Mormon? Nephites either existed or they did not exist. They are not the vehicle for accessing what God "taught" Joseph Smith—their existence is what God taught him. If Moses's world is imaginatively filled in, you still have the mitzvot, but remove all historical claims implicit in the Book of Mormon and you don't have much. Nephites are not transcendent phenomena.

To my way of thinking, all of these have practical consequences. The Church and the apologists have focused their energies for nearly a century on shoring up the empirical claims through empirical methods. This is the whole game of apologetics: to make Mormonism seem empirically verified. They have relied on historicity so much in their thinking that they have not taken seriously the practice of being Mormon, something I can't stop pointing out. The result is that the slightest crack in the historicity claims brings down the whole structure in the mind of a believer. John Gee wants to dig in fight for historicity, and to be frank that is wiser than going the inspired fiction route because inspired fiction has exactly the same effect. I don't think it will be enough to repackage the empirical claims in such a way that they are not detected as new if this means inspired fiction. The only intellectual honest position for a traditional believer, at present, is the one that the Church advises: we just believe this stuff historically happened as an article of faith. That doesn't work, though, when there isn't much improvement to the quality of Mormon life. An viable intellectual system isn't the only thing that matters, but it does matter a great deal. People need good reasons to keep being Mormon and to bring up their kids as Mormons when the cultural pressure is all in the opposite direction.

But this will lead to an intellectually narrow conception of Mormonism, which has its own dangers. In my view, what Mormonism is lacking and where its intellectuals have been dismal failures, is something transcendent within its own tradition to supersede historicity. I think the temple might be the best place to find it, but as yet Mormonism has an underdeveloped temple theology, a bland temple liturgy, and a weird anxiety around the temple: it's supposedly the supreme experience of Mormonism, but it's a big secret because it makes Mormons look culty which goes against the push towards normalization. One gets the sense that the Church itself and a lot of its members are more uncomfortable with the temple than with the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
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Dr Moore
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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Dr Moore »

Following his FairMormon 2020 conference presentation last week, Elder Kim B. Clark took questions. The very first audience question was this (at the 22:40 minute mark):
Question wrote: How important is a literal belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, as opposed to reverencing it as an allegorical text?
Kim Clark wrote: So my feeling is that the Book of Mormon is what is claims to be. And faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in His restored gospel, means that we believe exactly what Joseph said it was. If you reverence it as a sacred text, but don't believe in its historicity, you essentially deny its origin, as Joseph said. And so I think it's absolutely essential to the kind of robust faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His restored gospel.
(emphasis mine, matching his verbal emphasis)

I think his words to FAIR attendees represent a clear direction about the big picture and how it comes together in the minds of the brethren. Elder Clark is no dodo, even if he does take himself too seriously. I think his words reflect a deep feeling of inviolable trust between church leaders and believing members, contrary evidence to historicity notwithstanding. One might even hear his words as a subtle warning for historicity-dismissive progressive apologists.

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by moksha »

Symmachus wrote:... they are instead saying that all empirical knowledge about Egyptology, linguistics, and archaeology is wrong.
Yes, but... only when the arts, sciences, and philosophies of Man do not contradict the writings and teaching of the Church. Otherwise, they can be potentially right but suspect unless confirmed by Church Authorities or the Interpreter.
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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Holy Ghost »

God is, in the Mormon postulation, eternal at least in respect to this point in time. God has been God going back from now far enough in time, it does not matter to us when eons ago he was not God. And he will be God henceforth and forever. That is his Mormon eternity. God has been since before the 'creation' of this world, so there needs to be history of God having dealt with our ancestors. Ergo, history matters to the Mormon concept of God. Apparently too, God doesn't want to repeat himself. You must study what God purportedly told our predecessors. Also, the more closely that the current LDS leaders follow what God supposedly told our predecessors, we can see verification that the current leaders are 'in tune' with God as were the ancients that we read about. (Of course, they need the trap door of modern revelation and God changing or adding things for when those leaders find old teachings too inconvenient to pertuate further.) This, in my consideration, is why history is such an important component to religions.

As Symmachus points out, as the Mormon religion is so young, most of the documents about its founding having preserved to this day, and Mormonism's foundation is falsifiable. So, Mormon leans even moreso than on older religions with less of a documentary record of their origins, on an ancient tradition (like Nephites and Lamanites) for Mormonism's veracity against the vissistudes of what might be pointed out from the preserved record of Mormon origins in the early 1800s. If the LDS leaders let go of the historicity claims of the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, then all that is left is the fragile, early 1800s foundation narrative. If Joseph Smith loses credibility due to his false claims about the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, why would one believe him about the First Vision (particularly given its obvious evolution of additional details the further in time from when the event supposedly occurred)? As Kim Clark astutely observed, belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon "is absolutely essential to...robust faith" in the 'restored gospel' (though not necessary for faith in Jesus, as Clark also claims it is).

From some perspectives, it appears that religious belief is extremely dependent on hanging on to the belief that there actually were Nephites and Lamanites. Lose that historicity, and all the weight of continued Mormon religious belief then rests squarely on the shoulders of Joseph Smith, who was not just an imperfect man, but one of the most notorious charlatans of the first half of the 19th Century. Lose that historicity, and all the focus for the validity of Mormonism fixes upon Joseph Smith, and he does not stand up well under scrutiny. It is because the historical Joseph Smith does not is the reason that the LDS mythmakers have crafted, have nursed and now adamantly protect the whitewashed narrative about Joseph Smith. Mormonism needs the cover provided by a "historical" Book of Mormon to divert attention away from Joseph Smith.
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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by huckelberry »

I thought that Physics Guys comment on the other related thread could fit here.
he said;

"This is most of what I was trying to say in the other thread, that the ancientness of scriptures is a crucial part of the brand identity. Wine from a dusty bottle with a fancy label actually tastes better because you make sure to appreciate however it tastes. The source is part of the message.

One can well say that's silly and wish that people would read everything with the authors' names withheld by the journal editor, but the paperbacks in the airport bookstore all have the author's name in bigger font than the title. Branding sells.

With a really old text like the Bible I think it's fuzzy enough who really did write the text that one can admit that it wasn't Moses while retaining a vague idea that it was composed by awesome ancient inspired guys of some kind. With the Book of Mormon it's either an actual Mormon or Smith, that dodgy guy from the 1830s. Smith himself doesn't help the brand much. He needs all the help he can get from association with the ancient Book of Mormon.

So no doubt it makes sense intellectually to read all scriptures Mormon and otherwise just as texts that were put together by some guy with whatever wisdom and piety he could command. It's not an easy sell to just tell people to think that way, though. Not many texts stand up well to double-blind peer review. Life is dull without brands.

Mormon religious tradition isn't less real than others just because it's younger than most. But I think of religious traditions as collections of memes, and it seems to me that the biggest meme in Mormon tradition is that Joseph Smith translated real ancient records. That's the core of the brand. If you take it away will there be enough left?"

,,,,,,,,,
I am still scratching my head on a response.

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Gadianton »

That was quite a read. I don't have much time right now, but I'm curious if Symmachus thinks that Mormon spiritualism -- yeah, Julie Rowe etc., except I think it's wider phenomena than just a few popular names we hear -- could fit the bill for "transcendence".
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Symmachus
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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Symmachus »

Dr Moore wrote:
Thu Aug 27, 2020 10:25 am
Following his FairMormon 2020 conference presentation last week, Elder Kim B. Clark took questions. The very first audience question was this (at the 22:40 minute mark):
Question wrote: How important is a literal belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, as opposed to reverencing it as an allegorical text?
Kim Clark wrote: So my feeling is that the Book of Mormon is what is claims to be. And faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in His restored gospel, means that we believe exactly what Joseph said it was. If you reverence it as a sacred text, but don't believe in its historicity, you essentially deny its origin, as Joseph said. And so I think it's absolutely essential to the kind of robust faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His restored gospel.
(emphasis mine, matching his verbal emphasis)

I think his words to FAIR attendees represent a clear direction about the big picture and how it comes together in the minds of the brethren. Elder Clark is no dodo, even if he does take himself too seriously. I think his words reflect a deep feeling of inviolable trust between church leaders and believing members, contrary evidence to historicity notwithstanding. One might even hear his words as a subtle warning for historicity-dismissive progressive apologists.
I don't know if it's warning—it might be—but he grasps the issue. I think it shows what I mean, especially the underlined part: the empirical existence of Nephites is the primary claim, and that is the on which the transcendent (for lack of a better word: see below) claim depends.
Gadianton wrote:
Thu Aug 27, 2020 11:41 pm
That was quite a read. I don't have much time right now, but I'm curious if Symmachus thinks that Mormon spiritualism -- yeah, Julie Rowe etc., except I think it's wider phenomena than just a few popular names we hear -- could fit the bill for "transcendence".
Let me say first that I hate using the word "transcendence" for reasons that aren't hard to see. I'm just not sure of a better term at the moment, but what I'm doing with it is a describing a function, not positing or implying the existence of something in the world beyond the five senses and reason. I mean that part of religion that is a-rational and a-empirical. Its being without objective (i.e. not personal) evidence and its not being fully rational does not at all de-legitimize these kinds of propositions. They're just primarily in a different category, although obviously there is incidental or intentional overlap (e.g. apologetics). They are something more than an axiom or a personal preference, and they are less than a philosophical position, but in any case they are unavoidably significant because they have ramifications for everything from ethics to aesthetics to politics and daily life and what to watch on Netflix. For a lot of people, they are part of an identity and they set the assumptions for their interaction with the wider world. That is why the Church needs to care about its transcendent propositions.

For example, there is no evidence at all that Jesus is the Son of God and simultaneously God, and most people do not reason their way to that position (though some few apply reason post hoc), and almost all religious propositions are like that. In that sense, a claim like "Christ died for our sins" is a transcendent claim because it is transcends the ordinary discourse of evidence and reason; it's a different arena of thinking and talking. In the case of Mormonism, though, the problem with its transcendent propositions is that they try to have their coke and snort it too, because the distinctive propositions in Mormonism—the things that make it Mormonism—are claims about things that exist in ordinary discourse of evidence and reason. They are falsifiable. This used to be a point of pride and was used as a selling point for a long, long time. This is what apologetics came out of. Understandably, there is a sense that the Church is trying to get away from that, and certainly liberal Mormons do as well.

But there are two problems at least. The first is the one I talk about in the opening post, namely, that there is a cognitive issue. If we think of these transcendent propositions as fitting into a slot within the grammar, so to speak, of a religion, then there is a cognitive fact that metaphors don't fit into this slot. Metaphors are a way of talking about something but they are not the thing itself. This works even less well with a mass metaphor like allegory, and the same problem applies if we think of this slot as merely a manner of talking about something, because the whole point is that an actual thing has to fill this slot: the metaphor or allegory has to be about some thing.

So if we are going to say that the translation, revelation, Nephites, gold plates, and all of that are just metaphors or Midrashic narratives that help us access whatever it is that goes into that transcendent slot in the pattern, then we have to say just what the hell that thing is that the metaphors lead you to. So what is it in Mormonism that is characteristically Mormon that goes into that slot?

The other problem is the following, and I'm sorry it takes me to time to address your question, Gadianton, but I'm of limited understanding and slow of speech. I think of religious institutions like the Ecto-Containment system in Ghostbusters: it is a definable and a confined and a controllable area in which the ghosts of crazy can go. The crazy ghosts—the a-rational and non-empirical—can be controlled through the discourse and narrative and ritual and myth and so on, but they are going to be there no matter what we do, and their presence is what makes religion a force of nature. When some dickless bureaucrat with a Religious Studies Ph.D. comes along and forces the thing open in the name of enlightening us all, or when the system itself decays and fissures—well, at that point the ghosts come out and before you know it, you have got cats and dogs living together, as well as a bunch of upper middle class white people with more credentials than sense whipping themselves on Youtube and offering to wash people's feet on a live feed, all as cathartic punishment for slavery that ended nearly 165 years ago. It's ____ premodern bizarre—why don't you just sacrifice an unblemished goat already?—but that's what you get when the containment structures are opened up or crumble. The LDS Church is just such a containment structure, so I see all this spiritualism among the Rowe crowd, the Snufferites, as well as the phenomenon of the DezNatzis and such—and even the more obsessive Mormon Stories fans (if they're still around)—as basically exhibiting the wildness that the Church is supposed to contain and channel towards some great communal end. People are looking for that thing to fill the slot because they can't help themselves, but the Church isn't really giving it to them as it used to. I think part of the reason for that is related to the first problem: they really can't offer the empirical goods anymore—"don't study the scriptures too deeply, follow our curriculum, don't really try to take sayings of the old prophets too literally as we used to in the past or the scriptures for that matter, but they're still real not a metaphor; it's just that you can't do it only we can because that is where we get our authority from"—and those empirical goods, now spoiled, turn out to be the only ones they have.
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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Gadianton »

Thank you for the explanation, Symmachus.

Symm: "...as basically exhibiting the wildness that the Church is supposed to contain and channel towards some great communal end..."

As a first approximation, if an inadequate one, your grappling with the second problem strikes me as similar to Nietzsche's search for symbiosis and balance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Also in your statement: "I think of religious institutions like the Ecto-Containment system in Ghostbusters: it is a definable and a confined and a controllable area in which the ghosts of crazy can go"

For your initial problem, I don't have a great mental compartmentalization to take as a starting point. MAYBE you're saying something like, the sign must signify something, and not just point to other signs that ultimately go in a circle to nowhere.

I *think* what you are trying say with your sign theory, is that Book of Mormon historicity is essential, because there probably isn't anything else adequate that the Book of Mormon can be about as a mere symbol. You offer two versions of liberals: the secular and the primitive. The secular wants the "thing" in the slot to be racial and gender equality, but then the symbol (Book of Mormon) must either be thrown out completely, or beaten into a grotesque shape with a nine-pound hammer before it will point to that. The primitive wants to force the genie back into the bottle. Religion isn't just about positing demons as the forces of nature we don't understand, but man's orientation within the cosmos, and so we're going to be like early man, starting now, and not care about historicity, but how scripture orients us.

The fundamentalists have their problems. The apologists have the Book of Mormon as history, but that's about all. They just want to be right in their battles with critics and EVs, and whatever the Church is from there is somewhat arbitrary. The other conservative wackos are all sexual energy with no direction; the main problem being they are not sustainable for a large church with millions of members. The Brethren suspect something like what you are saying, I think. But it's not that they strictly don't think that a non-historical Book of Mormon can be about something else, but that they don't see how the Saints could make it about something else, and so lectures staking out the borders of orthodoxy are really just a way to berate the goose into staying at the nest, and keeping the golden eggs coming no matter how worn out and frustrated it gets.

okay more later...
Lou Midgley 08/20/2020: "...meat wad," and "cockroach" are pithy descriptions of human beings used by gemli? They were not fashioned by Professor Peterson.

LM 11/23/2018: one can explain away the soul of human beings...as...a Meat Unit, to use Professor Peterson's clever derogatory description of gemli's ideology.

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Physics Guy »

I feel bad that Kishkumen is getting piled on, here, so I'm going to play Elohim's Advocate, so to speak, and see whether I can think of Mormon big ideas besides "the Book of Mormon is true". I'm unlikely to be good at it, since such knowledge of Mormonism as I have is mostly from here or from apologist blogs talking about Book of Mormon historicity. But maybe I have some advantage from knowing more than some Mormons and ex-Mormons about how mainstream Christianity works. I might be able to see some differences that Mormons don't realize they have.

[advocate mode]
The first thing that comes to mind is that Mormonism seems to frown at the New Testament and say, "Hmm, what about that Old Testament, though? Can't we just have more of that?" I think that Mormonism is maybe a retro movement, trying to reboot Christianity by putting it back into an Old Testament groove. Or at least, the groove of what 19th-century Americans thought the Old Testament was. But anyway.

It's getting back to covenants and temple rituals, if not to animal sacrifice. Concrete priesthood powers that let you heal people and curse people, or something. Yankee voodoo, in a way.

Can it count as a transcendent idea to say that we don't want no transcendent ideas? Admit it, humans: we haven't come all that far. Deep down we still want that old-time religion where you can dicker with God and make deals, and if you hold up your end of the bargain God will give you the actual goods, material things in this life.
[/advocate mode]

How was that? Probably not Mormon style, but does it capture any Mormon ideas?

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Symmachus »

Gadianton wrote:
Fri Aug 28, 2020 11:03 pm
As a first approximation, if an inadequate one, your grappling with the second problem strikes me as similar to Nietzsche's search for symbiosis and balance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Also in your statement: "I think of religious institutions like the Ecto-Containment system in Ghostbusters: it is a definable and a confined and a controllable area in which the ghosts of crazy can go"
That may be what I'm feeling my way towards. I am not a philosopher and don't have the vocabulary and have a cursory understanding of Nietsche. The idea that the "death of god" partly represented a civilizational sink-hole out of which chaos emerges (someone somewhere will appreciate that phrasing) is what is happening in the tiny village of Mormonism.
Gadianton wrote:
Fri Aug 28, 2020 11:03 pm
For your initial problem, I don't have a great mental compartmentalization to take as a starting point. MAYBE you're saying something like, the sign must signify something, and not just point to other signs that ultimately go in a circle to nowhere.
You say in one sentence clearly what it took me rambling paragraphs to say murkily.
Gadianton wrote:
Fri Aug 28, 2020 11:03 pm
I *think* what you are trying say with your sign theory, is that Book of Mormon historicity is essential, because there probably isn't anything else adequate that the Book of Mormon can be about as a mere symbol. You offer two versions of liberals: the secular and the primitive. The secular wants the "thing" in the slot to be racial and gender equality, but then the symbol (Book of Mormon) must either be thrown out completely, or beaten into a grotesque shape with a nine-pound hammer before it will point to that. The primitive wants to force the genie back into the bottle. Religion isn't just about positing demons as the forces of nature we don't understand, but man's orientation within the cosmos, and so we're going to be like early man, starting now, and not care about historicity, but how scripture orients us.
I don't know that it is essential; one thing I take from Kishkumen's comments is that it is not essential, and I am sure he is right. However, one things is not just as good as another. If we look at the various ideas of what could replace historicity as the thing to be signified, I think they are far inadequate by comparison. It's not just that they are contrary to tradition and thus have to be packaged in the right way—although again I agree with Kish's view that this is something necessary that will have to happen with whatever it is that replaces historicity—it's that they are even more illogical and confusing than historicity and thus more unstable. They really don't mean anything at all and can't form the basis on which a worldview can rest nor form the materials out of which it can be constructed. Historicity does that. Unfortunately, it is now disprovable, so the problem is that there is no viable alternative. A historical Book of Mormon is the keystone of the religion at present. The would be theologians in Mormonism should start tackling this problem, but they haven't.

I like your characterization of the liberals, because both categories show what I think what the core problem is with them. There is a lot of intellectual work that has to go into this stuff—that's what theology is in practice—but they are as unfit for the task as any traditional apologist is for theirs and they are just as insular and provincial, focused mainly on their pet interests. The Givens side of things (maybe your second category), retreat into airy abstractions that seem to be heading towards self-help literature (Adam Miller could be a Mormon Joel Osteen if there were a showman instead of novelist lurking behind his theologizing). In the other category instead of facing the issue, we get sophistic arguments like those of Taylor Petrey. His obvious goal is to provide a Mormon permission structure for political activists within the Church to use Mormon theology in their cause. Sorry, but you're not going get wide acceptance of what you're doing because it is obvious (thus not meeting what Kish was talking about in repackaging) and it doesn't really address the crisis in the Mormon worldview. A revelation permitting gay marriage or even a gradual move in that direction is going heighten the contradictions inherent in the historicity problem. For one thing, the Church just doesn't work that way: members are only obedient cogs in theory, but in actual fact they do what they want and listen what they want, and it is a constant push and pull. Most members would be viscerally opposed to this and it is not analogous to polygamy and the priesthood ban, because those were a burden for most people, whereas a traditional and heterosexual understanding of family relations goes far too deep to be overcome by fiat because it is part of their identity as human beings. And so what happens is that the liberals of this sort, irritated that they can't actually adjust the world by using language and narrative, then resort to pulling out their Ph.D. cards ("I am a scholar who studies gender and sexuality..." big ____ deal; John Gee is an Egyptologist) and try to play the authority game, which they will always lose, nursing their wounds in the teenage comfort that everyone is just too stupid and mean.

Speaking of stupid and mean...
Gadianton wrote:
Fri Aug 28, 2020 11:03 pm
The fundamentalists have their problems. The apologists have the Book of Mormon as history, but that's about all. They just want to be right in their battles with critics and EVs, and whatever the Church is from there is somewhat arbitrary. The other conservative wackos are all sexual energy with no direction; the main problem being they are not sustainable for a large church with millions of members. The Brethren suspect something like what you are saying, I think. But it's not that they strictly don't think that a non-historical Book of Mormon can be about something else, but that they don't see how the Saints could make it about something else, and so lectures staking out the borders of orthodoxy are really just a way to berate the goose into staying at the nest, and keeping the golden eggs coming no matter how worn out and frustrated it gets.
And then in all of this there are a few million people who live their lives doing other things and do want a religion to belong to, have been allotted Mormonism by accident in some cases though choice in a few, and are just supposed to figure all of this out for themselves. The result is that people are leaving or their kids grow up to.
Physics Guy wrote:
Sat Aug 29, 2020 7:01 am
I feel bad that Kishkumen is getting piled on
I'm throwing pebbles at an obelisk. I don't think I'm beating up on Kish at all. What will happen if/when he cares to weigh in, is that I will discover that he has said merely the top three inches of what he meant, distilled it for a larger audience, and then, while I'm hung up on a few sentences, he shows that there is a fifty foot stack of knowledge beneath the those three inches, and that he's already far ahead of what I'm stuck on. I don't think I have in this instance (or most) a counter-argument that I'm using to prevail with in a contest. I like the discussions here because it helps me organize my thinking to myself by writing it out, and then to have, for example, someone like Gad distill and clarify it even better means I get more out of it all than I put in. I don't think I'm piling on anyone.
Physics Guy wrote:
Sat Aug 29, 2020 7:01 am
The first thing that comes to mind is that Mormonism seems to frown at the New Testament and say, "Hmm, what about that Old Testament, though? Can't we just have more of that?" I think that Mormonism is maybe a retro movement, trying to reboot Christianity by putting it back into an Old Testament groove. Or at least, the groove of what 19th-century Americans thought the Old Testament was. But anyway.

It's getting back to covenants and temple rituals, if not to animal sacrifice. Concrete priesthood powers that let you heal people and curse people, or something. Yankee voodoo, in a way.

Can it count as a transcendent idea to say that we don't want no transcendent ideas? Admit it, humans: we haven't come all that far. Deep down we still want that old-time religion where you can dicker with God and make deals, and if you hold up your end of the bargain God will give you the actual goods, material things in this life.
[/advocate mode]

How was that? Probably not Mormon style, but does it capture any Mormon ideas?
I think actually you do capture a lot about the theological impulse of Joseph Smith. There was a Mormon Stories interview with Denver Snuffer (2011, if I remember rightly) wherein Snuffer explain that Joseph Smith was really trying to get back to Adam, not just Moses and certainly not just Jesus. In other words, Mormonism reaches back behind the highly intellectualized theology of Christianity (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox). Hugh Nibley followed that line as well. Now, whether it really do so is one question, but certainly this reach towards the primeval is a feature of Mormonism.

I don't think I would agree with how you characterize rituals and animal sacrifice though. To clarify again, I'm not talking about transcendence as a feature of an idea but just as a kind of function: I'm describing the non-rational (but necessarily irrational) and the non-empirical (but not necessarily other worldly) assumptions in a given religion that form the basis for its worldview. What you are talking about is practices, and I don't think cultures that have such practices are necessarily primitive or "old time" religion. There is a vast, vast literature on the theology of the Old Testament, for example, that explores what lies behind all of those rituals, and it is a lot more than merely to voodoo and cursing and shamanism.

I do think the temple is something that could be centered in Mormon theology. Historicity probably always has to stay but it can be relegated to the distant margins if something else can claim the center and hold it together. For example, the Givens people are already at the point of saying, "well, these things happened, but we say so purely as an article of faith; we know there is no evidence in most cases and contradictory evidence in many." That is much better than saying it's all a grand allegory or an inspired fiction (how do you know it is inspired and what will that mean? I will love that testimony meeting: [sniff, sniff, cry, cry, creaking voice] "And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the true church, and that Joseph Smith is the true novelist"). But it imposes extreme limits on what you can do with it all. This is a milder form of how they treat the temple at the moment, so give a few decades to this approach and you won't be able even to talk about the scriptures—they're just too sacred! Come to think of it, that is kind of where the Church, which explicitly takes this axiomatic view of the historicity claims, is now with its scriptures: stick to the manual.
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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Gadianton »

I lean to ideas of both the Rev and Symm. I have a tough time seeing the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction from a liberal perspective, but I have my own thoughts about a "faithful" fictional Book of Mormon. I am actually unsure if we really understand the Reverends theories of fiction. The proposition has been advanced but?

Symmachus sees the history as non-negotiable for some reasons I hadn't thought of. I had previously considered the non-negotiable aspect of the Book of Mormon to be its miraculous forthcoming. "How could he have known!". If you can say "How could he have known!" about something non historical, such as EmodE, then history is decoupled. But then what is it about, such that the end result is still distinctly Mormon? Faithful fiction could answer that to a point, possibly, but then there might be a deeper problem I hadn't thought of -- the container problem, where certain impulses of Mormonism must be cut off. In other words, the Faithful Fiction theory might fail to be a fully Mormon account.

Well, today I will be exceptionally busy. Yes, just because those in the comments section of Sic et Non think that only they have important things to do in life because they talk about them all the time, whereas the critics don't, that doesn't mean we don't also have important things to do. And so no, just because they believe I'm going to spend all day scouring the comments over there in order to find fault, it isn't true. And so my friends, until later.

(written prior to seeing Symm's latest post)
Lou Midgley 08/20/2020: "...meat wad," and "cockroach" are pithy descriptions of human beings used by gemli? They were not fashioned by Professor Peterson.

LM 11/23/2018: one can explain away the soul of human beings...as...a Meat Unit, to use Professor Peterson's clever derogatory description of gemli's ideology.

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Physics Guy »

[advocate]
Calling Mormonism Yankee Voodoo wasn't meant to be a shot. I read a bit about Voodoo once. I understand it as a real religion, or at least a large expansion set to Catholicism that changes the game quite a bit. As I recall the main theoretical aspect of Voodoo is to have no theoretical aspect. It's not a religion about believing ideas. It's about getting ____ done. And I'd be willing to call religions like that primitive, because I expect that primitive religions were like that, but my point here is that maybe that kind of primitive never went out of style.

It's true that a lot of theology has gotten bolted onto the Old Testament chassis. God as the necessary ground of being has been read into Exodus 3:14. But my impression of the Mormon impulse is that it yawns through that and wants to get back to the parts with the smiting. The Old Testament may not have stayed primitive but I think the original cut where Han shot first and shot fast is the one Mormonism prefers, not all that retconned CGI nonsense that takes away all the edge.

Pardon me for blaspheming Star Wars like that. I should have been blaspheming Raiders because that's what I'm talking about. The Ark of the Covenant wasn't a symbol. It wasn't a goddamn Maguffin. It was the genuine deus ex machina—boo yah!
[/advocate]

Okay, my rickety advocacy has now gone right off the rails, because what I'm arguing is that Mormonism could afford to ignore big ideas and rely on practical miracles. Aye, it could, if they worked, but they don't. The wish that they would, that the world would work as we want and bad things would not hurt us if only we thought and said and did the right things—that's a perennial wish. You can build a religion upon it. You just can't build a religion that works without believing in myths.

And I'm afraid that what I really think has just shone through my attempt to advocate: that what Mormonism has instead of transcendence is the bogus promise that you don't need to transcend because this way of bending God to our will really works. That's why there is actually no viable way to be a non-fundamentalism Mormon, because Mormonism has gone all-in on not having to do that. No matter how much you enjoyed the film, eventually you have to stumble out of the theater into the sunlight and blink, and as soon as you do, it was only a movie.

Maybe the rail on which I started, before I careened off it, could have led to some more tenable position that someone with more sympathy for Mormonism can see. Pouring the Christian new wine back into an Old Testament bottle seems like something that has always been there to attempt, and maybe the significance of Mormonism on the millennial scale is that it's the only time the attempt has been properly made. Maybe that thought can go somewhere.

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by huckelberry »

Physics Guy wrote:
Sat Aug 29, 2020 11:10 am
[advocate]
... It's not a religion about believing ideas. It's about getting ____ done. And I'd be willing to call religions like that primitive, because I expect that primitive religions were like that, but my point here is that maybe that kind of primitive never went out of style.

It's true that a lot of theology has gotten bolted onto the Old Testament chassis. God as the necessary ground of being has been read into Exodus 3:14. But my impression of the Mormon impulse is that it yawns through that and wants to get back to the parts with the smiting. ,,,,,,

And I'm afraid that what I really think has just shone through my attempt to advocate: that what Mormonism has instead of transcendence is the bogus promise that you don't need to transcend because this way of bending God to our will really works.......... Pouring the Christian new wine back into an Old Testament bottle seems like something that has always been there to attempt, and maybe the significance of Mormonism on the millennial scale is that it's the only time the attempt has been properly made. Maybe that thought can go somewhere.
Physics Guy, From looking at Mormon apologetics and criticism I can see how you would see the idea of smiting in the old Testament as a central Mormon aspiration. It does appear here and there but I cannot see or imagine it as a central matter. Mormons have a community which is supposed to be a critical stage in the development of the kingdom of God in eternity. There are old testament ideas which fit with that so are seen as having been revitalized in the temple but that is hardly wishing to fit back into the old testament.It is seeing the old testament as a live foundation for what is to develop from the New.

In comparison the rest of christianity seems to see the Old Testament as passe except for some rules and a few prophesies of Jesus if you squint your eyes right. It often appears that for traditional Christians the whole concept of community is transformed into God electing or accepting individuals into grace so they can go to heaven. (some of the current evangelicals seem to add name it and claim it variations on get Jesus get rich plans that fit your voodoo Christianity image)

The understanding of Mormonism I remember sees the lack of transcendence as a central strength. The structure of family and community on earth is the structure of the divine in eternity. There is seen no meaning to the kind of escaping or overcomming the physical realities of life which sometimes lurk in traditional Christianity. The very substance of what we do here is the substance of what can be meaningful in a life in eternity.

It is upon the foundation of the importance of community that Mormonism mounts a frontal attack on some problematic traditional Protestant doctrines. These targets are first that the vast mass of humanity is hell bent due to being outside of Christian belief and or Baptism.Mormons have wished to celebrate the joy of like and are suspicious of overly rigid Protestant puritanism. Church dances are important as well as enjoyable.Music and theater are part of Mormon community.

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Doctor Scratch »

Symmachus:

I think your OP rings true on a number of levels. I think you're correct that the bulk of apologetics/Mopologetics has been given over to shoring up the historical argument, and I also think you're correct in terms of pointing out how this creates an enormous theological--or "transcendent"--problem for everyone. I think that most of the Mopologists either don't recognize this as a problem, or they don't care--somebody like Midgley certainly doesn't care. To him, mortal life is just a "probation" to suffer through. But some of the Mopologists *do* seem to recognize that this is a problem: I mean, there are clear reasons why you get attacks in "Interpreter" aimed at not just Meldrum and the Heartlanders (a competing "empirical" approach, perhaps?), but also at the Julie Rowes and Denver Snuffers. They also pose a threat, but perhaps coming from a different angle.

And so that's why I think that things like Dr. Peterson's admiration for an utter crap-fest like Added Upon are simultaneously so hilarious and so strange--and, to be honest, sort of sad. The basic argument that the Mopologists so often offer is precisely the appeal to authority that you mentioned earlier (perhaps the purest example of this is "Mormon Scholars Testify"), and after that would be their history argument. But once that falls apart, even they seem to realize that you need something in the vein of what you have been calling "transcendent."

I realized, reading your posts, that this basic dilemma is why I am so fascinated by the "Witnesses" movie project. Because here they seem to be trying to juggle all the balls at once: shoring up historical claims, offering up appeals to authorities (hence all their "talking heads" footage), and also "transcendence," except here they seem to be trying to access it primarily via the medium of cinema itself. Dean Robbers and others have joked all along that there is no way that the "Witnesses" movie will show supernatural events: there will be no deer Jesus, or floating angels, or anything of that nature, for all the reasons you outlined. They've shown us the scene of the translation, and yet (interestingly) they departed from the historical facts: the actor playing Joseph Smith doesn't not put his face into the hat--he holds it away, at arms length. (An interesting metaphor, perhaps?) Why don't the filmmakers provide us with his point of view? Why not let us see that "transcendent" moment, of letters appearing on the seer stone? The fact that they shy away from that simultaneously exposes their anxieties and reveals their priorities. You mentioned above that religious ideology affects aesthetics, and, well, QED.
"[I]f, while hoping that everybody else will be honest and so forth, I can personally prosper through unethical and immoral acts without being detected and without risk, why should I not?." --Daniel Peterson, 6/4/14

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

Post by Gadianton »

Shades's example of nailing jello to the wall is a nice way to describe Mormonism's flexibility to get out of tight situations, and to keep going. The suggestion of both Symm (and Kish?) is that it's not infinitely flexible, however, and that:

"However, one things is not just as good as another. If we look at the various ideas of what could replace historicity"

I think I get this point better now. And I agree that you can have liberal Mormons, but probably not a liberal Mormonism. But I have to wonder about the conservatives as well. Snuffer is one thing, but I brought up Julie Rowe, because do these spiritualist types really care that much about Book of Mormon history? Suppose I am right and they don't. I think what your position might be telling us is that: well then, neither do they have an ark to carry all the faithful -- even if barely -- either. That's something I have not really considered for the faithful fiction theory -- will it swallow up 94.6 % of the active membership? Will it bring 5% out of inactivity? I think it will work for the Mopologists, who may even advance something like this one day, and for a certain type of committed, conservative member. But I hadn't thought of anything beyond that.

The hypothetical, Faithful Fiction theory might be a continuation of the failure that you've observed. My belief, is that historicity doesn't matter to the apologists anymore, and you seem to be saying the same thing - maybe? My belief, is that the extreme focus on historicity, has turned historicity into nothing more than a side-show stage trick: How could Joseph have known?! The setup required to make the trick work has compromised the connection between your transcendentalism and historicity. I asked a long time ago in another venue, if the flood was local, then when "the earth shall burn as an oven" in the Last Days, will that also be local? Maybe the east side of a barn out in Nephi somewhere? It seems to me, that with every square foot the LGT reduces the land of Bountiful by, so are the dimensions of the "Eternities" likewise reduced, proportionally. Dr. Scratch notes Peterson's love for the book Added Upon. It would be tough to say that book doesn't count as a Mormon, transcendental work. But that love was noted long ago, and I've seen no defense of the book since it was unearthed by Dr. Scratch last year.

EmodE makes the parlor trick about something that nullifies the requirement of the book to be historical altogether. It could be a fantasy by one of the Reformers in the spirit world as much as it could be a translated record, and either way, Joseph "couldn't have known" about that style of English. Moroni could have brought a bunch of props to Joseph Smith, and told him it was ancient, because he needed to believe it -- that's what was needed for the time. But times change. The Mopologists already believe that Joseph misunderstood all kinds of things about the Book of Mormon anyway, so why not?

At the same time I read Nibley as a pre-mission teen, I was reading other church-related books as well. I became fascinated by Return from Tommorow, a volume also loved by Peterson that gets mentioned on Sic et Non. The most powerful scene in Return from Tomorrow, was when Ritchie was taken to a huge library, and was told by the spirit-being that this library is where all the important books of the universe were collected. Parchments, clay tablets, and everything. Nibley's "crying forth from the dust" reaches into infinity. (Imagine Lou Midgley in that library, yelling at a librarian because he just found a book from another galaxy written by someone he'd researched who he believes was a closet doubter).

The Gold Plates could have been from that library, it didn't happen on earth, but it did somewhere. That kind of "shifts" the history problem. But, Shakespeare himself could have spent a thousand years in that library, and then wrote the Book of Mormon as a great epic, inspired by the best the eternities have to offer. It's not historical, but it's still miraculous.

Which would win in a battle between the least powerful historical Book of Mormon, and the most powerful fiction Book of Mormon?

if the Limited Geography Theory is true, and the numbers in the epic final battle were exaggerated, not in Palmyra, and it was between people who weren't any more the ancestors of the American Indian than Genghis Khan, then is it about something that connects with Mormon transcendence more or less then the Shakespearean Book of Mormon from the spirit world?
Lou Midgley 08/20/2020: "...meat wad," and "cockroach" are pithy descriptions of human beings used by gemli? They were not fashioned by Professor Peterson.

LM 11/23/2018: one can explain away the soul of human beings...as...a Meat Unit, to use Professor Peterson's clever derogatory description of gemli's ideology.

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Kishkumen
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Re: Transcendent Nephites

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Greetings, esteemed colleagues!

I feel like I have missed out on my own conference! Here I say something in passing and it somehow inspires, no doubt partly due to its suggestiveness but inadequacy, our brilliant Symmachus to engage in a long, thought-provoking essay probing at its very foundations. I am deeply honored!

I can't say that I disagree with the substance of our dear consul's message. The question of whether there can be transcendent Nephites is an open one, in my opinion. Certainly, the grimly serious Mopologetic enterprise would seem to respond with a resounding, "NO!" I tend to think, however, that things are a little more complicated than that. Allow me to add my two cents very briefly. Doubtless what I will say will require more attention from me than I can give it at present. My kids just started school today, and I am distracted by other obligations.

I will venture to say that the popular view of the past is fairly uncomplicated. Stuff happened, and people remembered it or didn't, transmitted its memory or didn't. Sometimes people lied about what happened for their own reasons. The emergence of history as a formal discipline has challenged and continues to challenge people's understanding of what the past is and its many uses. History and archaeology have mightily clashed with identity politics: "My story of the past of my people has a special meaning to me/us, and your attempt as a historian to tell me about my people is an ethically dubious if not imperialistic enterprise." We're all still wrestling with these problems and we will be for a very long time yet.

Right now I am toying around with a couple of concepts of the past that inform my thinking in this instance: the analytical past and the performative past. These are not the only two concepts of the past. I am not creating a simple dichotomy. Rather, I am thinking about this problem in particular through these two (admittedly inchoate) concepts.

My definition of the analytical past is that vision of the past that is arrived at through the analysis of temporally prior evidence according to strict rules and methodologies to arrive at something one would rhetorically claims is, in some sense, more wie eigentlich gewesen ist. Sure, it may provide a particular view, but it is expected to accord as well as possible with our best evidence of real-world events.

My definition of the performative past is as follows: the performative past is how any group imagines and performs its identity and place in the world with reference to past time, be it mythological, legendary, or historical. A group's particular performative past will relate to history in a way that suits the needs of the group. Usually, group identity will be at least partly anchored in known historical events, but it may also be partly rooted in constructed past events unique to the group. The performative past of Mormons is partly based in the Bible and the ritual-narrative logic of Freemasonic initiations, among other things, but it is also rooted in Joseph Smith's "translations" of ancient texts, which provide their own, highly idiosyncratic readings of the Bible, Josephus, etc.

Right now apologists argue for the veracity of Mormon claims within the framework of the analytical past. They and others take the performative past of their group and treat it as though it has a place at the table of the analytical past, i.e., as though their performative past were just another methodological framework, such as Marxist, revisionist, post-modern, or whatever. Unfortunately, as our Symmachus has shown, this simply does not work. The performative past is not just another version of the analytical past. It is not just another methodology.

Let me illustrate. Whereas the analytical past relies on analytical tools and methodologies for processing existing evidence of the past (texts, artifacts, etc.), the performative past generates data that only fit within its own framework when dealing with the past time to which it refers. The objects of the performative past can, however, provide data for the analytical past in other ways. In other words, within the framework of the analytical past I cannot use the Book of Mormon as data for examining Ancient America, but I can use it as an object of analysis within the tradition to which its 19th-century composition belongs. The Book of Mormon is an artifact of the performative past, meaning that it provides the Mormon people a unique connection to the larger tradition that is shared only by others who accept the book as scripture. It is also paradigmatic of other aspects of individual and group practice and conduct for "Mormons."

Having rashly sketched out these concepts, I should also say that I do not view them as mutually exclusive categories. They are characteristics of data regarding the past that may co-exist in the same objects and texts to differing degrees. I can read Tacitus to learn about what Augustus was doing, or I can read Tacitus to figure out what it meant to be Tacitus examining what Augustus was doing. Tacitus may appear to embellish or even falsify elements of his analytical past (consciously or not) in order to perform his own Roman identity in the early second century in the era of Trajan and Hadrian. To provide another example of the performative past, Greek cities of the Roman Empire consciously composed mythological foundation stories for the purposes of obtaining privileges within the imperial system. The Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are objects of the performative past in that they use the Bible and other texts as jumping off points for a more thorough re-imagining of the past that becomes the framework for Mormon identity in the way, I would argue, mythology does in other cultures.

Sorry to burden you all with this. I hesitated to share this, but the ideas do need some thrashing out. Perhaps you gentlemen can disabuse me of the utility of this entire line of thought by tearing it to shreds. I do get the basic point that my perspective appears to come out of a sort of liberal academic point of view that has little appeal or use to the average Mormon. And yet, knowing that Mormonism will change in one way or another in response to challenges regarding its vision of the past, it seems worthwhile to give that topic some further thought, if only for the sake of my own curiosity.

At the same time, I am not sure I am comfortable with the idea of transcendent Nephites, as though all we need to do is put Nephites on the astral plane to make everything work out. Maybe that is the answer, but I agree with Symmachus when he doubts that will pan out. I am of the opinion that the real "give" in all of this is to be found in our concepts of the past and our views of how the past can be legitimately used. If the past is just "what actually happened," in a naturalistic, secular sense, then maybe the other narratives of the past will just die or be driven increasingly underground. If we are aware that the past can be appropriated and worked with in other ways, maybe dignity can be spared for "performative pasts," or something like them, in the future.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

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To me the big difference between history as it really happened, and any other kind of history, is that what happened once could happen again, but what is only imagined to have happened may well be impossible. So one can sometimes draw useful lessons from actual history, lessons that one could not have learned otherwise, whereas the lessons implied by an imagined history are no more reliable than the imagination of its creator.

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

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Physics Guy wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 4:16 pm
To me the big difference between history as it really happened, and any other kind of history, is that what happened once could happen again, but what is only imagined to have happened may well be impossible. So one can sometimes draw useful lessons from actual history, lessons that one could not have learned otherwise, whereas the lessons implied by an imagined history are no more reliable than the imagination of its creator.
So, first of all I would say that the word history itself conveys the notion of some kind of investigative or research methodology, no matter how crude. It is consciously different from inspired narratives about the past. Our dichotomy of history versus fiction is itself crude. An imagined, performative past is arguably different from any old fiction.

The Book of Mormon claims to be an inspired narrative about the past that speaks to the concerns and needs, especially moral needs, of its target readership. Its lessons are drawn from Biblical narratives about the past (which are also not history) and Joseph Smith’s contemporary environment, and as such may be said to have a comparable didactic and moral value.

History may perform other functions better, but scripture’s special status and purpose make it more appealing for some uses than history will be. Maybe not for everyone, but for quite a few people. I don’t think scripture is without value because it is not history. Scripture has its place, and history occupies another place in the larger world of stories.
Last edited by Kishkumen on Tue Sep 01, 2020 12:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Transcendent Nephites

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Physics Guy wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 4:16 pm
To me the big difference between history as it really happened, and any other kind of history, is that what happened once could happen again, but what is only imagined to have happened may well be impossible. So one can sometimes draw useful lessons from actual history, lessons that one could not have learned otherwise, whereas the lessons implied by an imagined history are no more reliable than the imagination of its creator.
Using Kishkumen's terminology as I understand it, you are saying that only analytical history could happen again and that performance history could not repeat. However, I see common threads in differing peoples' origin/foundational myths, i.e., in their differing performance pasts that they spin for themselves. Threads like we're a special, chosen people, or we've been a victimized people. Mormons espouse both; they are at once both victimized and special, chosen people--like the Jewish tradition. A people's identity is fixed to its narrative myth. From studying these performance histories, we can learn about human inclinations, particularly in group dynamics, and either learn to predict what will happen, what is about to happen with a group of people currently--and if it suits are interests, perhaps try to redirect a group from otherwise going down a 'bad' path.
"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." Isaac Asimov

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

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Holy Ghost wrote:
Tue Sep 01, 2020 12:20 pm
Using Kishkumen's terminology as I understand it, you are saying that only analytical history could happen again and that performance history could not repeat. However, I see common threads in differing peoples' origin/foundational myths, i.e., in their differing performance pasts that they spin for themselves. Threads like we're a special, chosen people, or we've been a victimized people. Mormons espouse both; they are at once both victimized and special, chosen people--like the Jewish tradition. A people's identity is fixed to its narrative myth. From studying these performance histories, we can learn about human inclinations, particularly in group dynamics, and either learn to predict what will happen, what is about to happen with a group of people currently--and if it suits are interests, perhaps try to redirect a group from otherwise going down a 'bad' path.
Thank you for those thoughts, Holy Ghost. I very much appreciate you engaging with what I wrote. My little sketch was probably not what most people were expecting or wanting to read. Of course, I am a big proponent of what I have called here "the analytical past." I feel the need, however, to come up with new terms because of the way the word history is sloppily thrown around. It is difficult to have a productive conversation about "history" when people speak past each other on account of their incommensurable views regarding the past.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist

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Re: Transcendent Nephites

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I agree that even if the content of myths is not a reliable guide to what might really happen in future, the construction and use of myths are historical events from which we can discern patterns that might well recur. Myths may not be history themselves, but their existence is history.

That's still cold porridge for believers. They're used to thinking that their own tribe can enjoy divine protection today, because hey, it worked for the Nephites. Now all they can do is think gee, our tribe's reassuring myths are like those of other tribes, most of whom didn't actually thrive the way we all hoped to thrive.

Sure, that's still finding some value in the myths, I guess, but it's a pennies-on-the-dollar return from selling your heirlooms at the bankruptcy auction. Telling people that they should just accept that the myths aren't real history, look on the bright side, they're still good as myths? That's like reassuring someone whose family has always been rich that they'll still be able to salvage a little nest-egg from the sale of the old estate. From a working stiff's point of view that is not bad at all, but this person was rich. Of course they're not going to be happy to accept that that's gone.

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