First off. I hope this article doesn’t come across as patronizing. I don’t want to talk down to anyone as if my truth should be your truth, or like my perspective is more valid than yours. And I’m not here to verbally strong-arm anyone into staying in, or leaving Mormonism. But I do want to share with you my unique pluralistic perspective in hopes that it might be helpful to you or someone you know who might be struggling with certain aspects of the LDS Church.
Like many out there, adulthood and the internet has brought me unimagined insight into Mormonism’s faith inspiring story and its troublesome issues. But perhaps more uniquely than many practicing Mormons, it’s also helped me to study much of the the world’s prominent religious works; inspiring me to realize the amazing ways that a universalist view is supported by Mormon scripture. I’m attempting to show with this site how Jewish, Christian and LDS scripture & ritual may have been intelligently designed to purposefully begin believers on a path of egocentric belief, binary thinking & fundamentalism, before bringing them onto more nuanced beliefs respecting religious pluralism. (see details in my articles Is the LDS church True, and My Testimony of the LDS Church.)
My interesting spiritual experiences may also make my perspective unique to you. From the baptism of fire or burning heart, to visions of ministering beings or seeing spirits. I’ve not only had profound metaphysical experiences, but I’ve written about them honestly and analysed them from the perspective of the religious as well as the perspective of agnostic science and all the shades between. (I’ve tried to explain these experiences as frankly as possible one of my articles.) I’ve scoured countless religious canons, near-death experiences and channeled works to find a worldview that best harmonizes my subjective supernatural experiences with both Mormonism’s and those of countless others coming from various cultures. In addition to Joseph Smith’s visions of Deity, I’ve studied the incredibly similar subjective theophany experiences and revealed scripture of contemporary modern ‘prophets’ like Siyyid Shírází (Founder of Bahá’í Faith; 8 million adherents), Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad (Aḥmadiyya Muslims; 20 million adherents), Hong Xiuquan (prophetic icon of Chinese millennialism), Jachanan Ben Kathryn (Messianic Judaism), and others. I hope that the perspective and worldview that I attempt to share in this and my following articles might help you as they’ve helped me to find a space in the Mormon tradition that is objectively aware of both its divine destiny and beauty, as well as its contradictions while still remaining a believing active participant of the faith and its culture—even if like me you come to see its exclusive truth claims as a common example of mistaking intelligently designed symbols, shadows, types and archetypes for the unexplainable realities they are meant to symbolize (see Col 2:16-19, Heb 10:1).
The Power of Perspective & Empathy
As I get older, I’m continually amazed at the difference perspective makes. The angle you approach a topic from, or the biases you bring to an experience can be the difference between seeing an old ugly hag or a beautiful young maiden in all the things of life (to borrow from William Hill’s famous illusion shown above). As a youth and young adult in the LDS church all I could see was beauty in our culture, doctrines and history. Like a beautiful new bride, the church and its doctrines were the model of truth and perfection to me. But as I’ve dedicated my life to really knowing the truths of the afterworld — and began comparing the Church’s teachings to its own history & scriptures, or to that of other religions and their holy literature, I’ve come to see an existing dark side I never anticipated. Instead of just seeing the LDS church’s teachings as the pinnacle of truth and right-living, I have come to see a more troubling side of the church (see here for examples).
Perhaps coming to see the gaping imperfections of my religion shouldn’t have come as a surprise in my life. As opposed to my literal marriage, which I fully expected would be a challenge as the infatuation glasses slowly came off—I never suspected that a good deal of what my religion made itself out to be might also be a combination of truth mixed with well meaning pretense. As the shiny clothes and artistically placed make-up have come off, I’ve had to make a decision of loyalty and focus. Do I choose to focus on this newly discovered ugliness to the point that I forget the divine beauty I once was in love with? Do I divorce this bride because she made herself out to be far more divine than human? Or do I recognize her mixture of falsity and divinity as a reflection of the same conditions in my own nature, and use it as a tool for social, spiritual and personal improvement?
Through my journey I’ve strived for the goal to see all people, faiths and concepts from an eye of unconditional love and universal understanding. I’ve been lucky enough to have dreams and visions to show me unique new ways to see how my cultural beliefs fit into the larger picture of faith and human spirituality. Maybe my experiences were my imagination—but either way, I’d like to share with you some of the concepts I’ve learned. I hope I can show how the pluralistic beliefs of powerful thinkers like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell or even contemporary authors like Reza Aslan (interviewed by Oprah in the hour long special posted at the end of this article) can fit within the Mormon scriptural narrative. And how the Mormon scriptural narrative might be intelligently designed to fit into the global human drama. Like them, I’m trying to speak from a perspective of one who is fully aware of both the positive and the negative fruit in religion but has consciously chosen to find beauty and meaning in the whole of it.
The Church’s Pattern of Progression in its Historical Context
As we come to understand how biased, partial and flawed our human religions are, I think that more than anything else it’s important to come to see them as the dynamically changing and evolving social structures that they are. Like living stones in a rising temple of humanity that has, is and will go through the same Fowler’s Stages of Faith and progression as the rest of us. Although impossible to prove or disprove, the Christian and LDS scriptures (as well as many other holy texts in other cultures) seem to present the idea that deceased ancestors, higher dimensional beings or even our future selves are somehow involved in starting religions and then intermittently working on them through the different times & seasons like a gardener. In the cold and darkness of early spring the imaginations and subconscious of charismatic (but often egotistical) dreamers and visionaries are used to plant revolutionary religious seeds according to the pre-existing soil type or culture. As the creators step back to watch and see which new religious branches or sects do best they often allow rigid garden cages or strict rules and mores to be emplaced in order to hold the ‘plant’ while its young. They seem to often allow (or possibly encourage?) fanatical egotism or violent struggle in the early stages to build a cohesive culture and sustainable base of cohesive believers. Eventually, they come again in early summer to remove unsuccessful starts as well as the stakes and cages on the plants that have evolved past them and can stand on their own. Then when fully grown they use those diverse organizations to unify cultures and influence politics according to their aims. And lastly, they come to harvest the fruit & new seeds before the winter comes to bring death and dissolution to the spent plant or culture. (see Scattering and Gathering of Israel)
Regardless of your particular views on divinity or religious evolution, the reason why I believe it’s incredibly important to see religion in its evolving historical context is that if we only see our religions as they are now (instead of what they will hopefully become), it is more tempting to leave them when we realize how imperfect, fallacious and culturally biased they might currently be. Like wanting to divorce our young lover when we realize how egocentric, narrow minded, controlling or deceptive they might often be. But if we realize that the very act of faithful metaphorical marriage and childbearing with our religion may eventually help them to grow up into a humble, broad-minded, passive yet powerful influence for good on society–we may be able to find the patience needed to help them become their best selves. And what’s more we might find that this path of unconditional love and acceptance is the best way to assure the same for our own character.
I think this is a powerful message in the iconic story of Jesus. In the New Testament narrative, he sees through the myth, darkness, misunderstanding and corruption of the Jewish political and religious system. But even though he had the power and following necessary to lead an armed rebellion to destroy those systems—instead he worked within the system, speaking his truth in a spirit of pacifism all the way to the point of religious excommunication and political martyrdom. And in so doing an entire religion and culture was reborn.
Choosing a Positive Focus
It seems to be true that like early Judaism, and aspects of Catholicism, Islam and many churches before us, Mormonism currently sees itself as God’s highest and most-true, final revelation. It has a unique view of history which often puts itself squarely in the center of almost everything. Many in the church see being a faithful adherent as dependent upon a “testimony” that they are members of the only true church with the only true priesthood in the earth’s final dispensation with the only means of receiving ordinances absolutely necessary for salvation in the highest heavens. Some perceive that our church is fully in charge of single-handedly saving the entire world through our vicarious ordinances. Some view salvation as dependent upon faith in the nearly demigod status and teachings of current or founding prophets. A few see every human advancement (like democracy, airplanes and the internet) as specifically given by God to mankind JUST to help Mormonism be spread throughout the world. The almost narcissistic exclusivism inherent in these beliefs, when combined with overwhelming historical proof of our fallibility on topics like early polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, myth in scripture, or ‘prophetic’ errency combined with the numerous historical and doctrinal contradictions like those addressed in the popular CES letter, may upset many members to the point where they want to abandon belief in divinity or the church.
Before I had really studied out the opposing arguments, I was once absolutely convinced of all the above truth claims, and I can empathize with those who still feel that way. On the other hand, if my words on LDS narcissism explains part of the negativity you perceive, let me just say I get you too, and can truly empathize with you–even though I hope to show you a way to stay a positive, loving participant in the faith; as well as showing how Mormonism might fill a more humble role within a larger divine universalist perspective. My existing paradigms and faith were seriously challenged and entirely reshaped, when my own spiritual experiences and research on history and other religions helped me see how complex, contradictory and difficult some of our exclusivist beliefs and traditions were to defend (given we simply use different words to say essentially the same things as so many others religions which we call false—and our testimonies are based on the same logic and emotional/spiritual confirmations). My experiences growing up in the church were so positive and full of overwhelming spiritual confirmation that I never quite understood friends and family members who left. But when my desire to empathize with those I loved caused me to study enough to really see the ‘ugly old woman’ of contradiction in the same doctrines which had once given my life beauty and purpose I fully understood why many people I know would leave or feel forced out. But my advice for those just beginning this process, echoes the advice given to me in my own dark night of the soul. Regardless of what you chose, resist the temptation to focus on the ugly old woman or negative aspects of the church or anything in life.
I’m not saying pretend they don’t exist—I’m just saying that focusing on positive truths instead of negative truths often leads to greater unity and personal happiness. I am saying that I believe LDS core scriptures is divinely influenced to allow us to progress from selfish doctrinal absolutism, exclusivism, and religious authoritarianism, to a more selfless system of pluralism, openness, democracy and love. I’m saying all religion’s radically change over their lifespans, and Christian scripture is designed not only to show you that cyclical progression—but to help you determine where your denomination is in that cycle. So if you’re ahead of the group in your love and awareness of contradiction; the most effective solution may be to follow Jesus’ lead of being patient and thoughtful with those who might be behind the curve. And that just as there is wisdom in the idea of being a saving light in the darkness, or the salt of the earth—there is also wisdom in the idea of being a Mormon who sees through the fundamentalism and cultural mythos and yet still humbly participates in the underlying divine community in order to save or help others by your example of selflessness. Realize that like the Chinese yin and yang seeks to symbolize — that bad, falsity, egocentrism and negativity are an inseparable part of humanity’s good, truth, selflessness and positivity. Because of the binary nature of human perspective, they cannot meaningfully exist apart from each-other. Every individual, human religion, political entity or scientific organization has a healthy mixture of both across its lifespan. Realize that there might be intelligent reasons why most of the world’s largest and most influential organizations have been led by strict, narrow-minded, egocentric and sometimes even blindly fanatical individuals and power structures in the early stages of their development. As much as I hate to be machiavellian, It seems all too clear to me that without power (which tends to be dogmatic and inherently egocentric), the good one has to offer in the world is often largely irrelevant.
The Inevitable Idolatry of Organized Religion
As I’ve moved from the fundamentalist orthodoxy of my youth to perhaps more nuanced rational beliefs, one of the most impressive testimony builders in my view of Mormonism & Christianity has been how (like most global religions) the revealed aspects of the religion seemed to be intelligently designed to allow for opposing perspectives of interpretation. Like brilliant poetry, musical lyrics or literature which purposely use ambiguity to allow their works to mean different things to different people. It seems each generation is purposely given the opportunity to reinterpret the same scripture, and use them for good or bad, pride or humility, power, love or wisdom. And what’s more, LDS revelations seem to have hidden clues to the religion’s own inevitable falsities or lower aspects within its own doctrinal narrative (especially within its temple rituals)! As one Judaic example of this— the beginning of the Biblical narrative essentially starts with Moses coming down from the Mount with a law from God, commanding above all other things not to put human-imagined gods before the ONE incomprehensible universal god of creation who just freed these ignorant slaves. This God tells them not to kill or be unfair and especially not to make or worship human-conceived gods, religious systems or idols (and especially not to do it in the name of God!).
And what happens when Moses comes down from the heavenly Mount? His brother Aaron is already making the people an Egyptian golden calf-god to worship! So in a strange display of irony, we are told that this divine deity representing the One True Universal Reality or I AM makes that same idol-creating, Aaron and his posterity, Israel’s religious priesthood who are put in charge of executing opponents, and building and officiating in a temple and religious system that history has shown was in many respects uncannily similar to the one they just left. One which (like almost every major religion since) then goes on a rampage of supposed benevolent genocide conquering desired territory in the name of the national God (see Ex 32:19-29!).
Volumes could (and have) been written on the paradoxical irony of the amazing biblical account. An account of a universal God who is in so many ways the exact opposite of every religious system and deity of the time, within the framework of a people and priesthood who in more ways than not, behave exactly the same as every selfish and egocentric religious and political system in history. So I ask myself what might wise humans or divine beings be trying to teach us with the story of how Jewish priesthood originated? Somewhat secular books like free-masonry’s Morals and Dogma by Robert Pike lay out the conclusion of many of the most wise and influential minds of the post-medieval period. While angelically revealed books like Oahspe share a surprisingly similar message from a divine perspective. A message that I believe is clearly and cleverly hidden within eastern religions like Taoism, the LDS endowment, the writings of Paul and all Christian scripture. In the spirit of Mystery — which these books and other esoteric rites such as the LDS endowment are partly based on — I’ll leave it to the reader to work out their own conclusions. But hint that it has to do with understanding that all earthly religion has an unfathomably large, man-made component. (see my article on LDS priesthood for more information on this)
Every religion is a temple that (even if founded on divine foundations) is largely built by human hands which creates an idol or image of God that by the very fallibility of man must inevitably be carved from a limited and biased human perspective. Whether you believe a prophet or scripture is divine or not should not change the inescapable truth that all men intentionally or accidentally create idols of God by projecting their cultural biases and paradigms onto God (even in their visions of the metaphysical realms)! But what makes religious participation so divine is the way that simply participating in these traditions helps to unify huge groups of people, creating culture and paving the way for nation-building, democracy and global unity. Religion is a key component in driving philosophical and political thought as adherents learn to find and ‘prize the good’ by learning differentiate the human from the divine through the trial and error of darkness. It is the practice hall or schoolmaster for political thought. The thinkers who have effectively worked their way through the gambit of these religious paradoxes rule the world, and the befuddled religious faith of today becomes the more perfect cultures, gods and political realities of tomorrow.
Keeping the Faith & Staying Mormon.
I want to offer the reader an unpressured bias to reconsider the importance of faith despite the contradictions or paradoxes you may have found. In my experience of spending years on Mormonthink, Reddit and other assorted webpages and facebook groups I found that although the thoughtful negativity found in those places may have helped to deconstruct the idols of cultural understanding that my mainstream Mormon upbringing may have carved in my mind— it didn’t give me many constructive ideas on how to improve myself, my culture or my spiritual understanding. It definitely didn’t bring me any profound visions of my own. I found that reading core scripture in completely new ways; and thoughtful esoteric literature such as featured on this site, did a much better job of giving spiritual insight and heavenly visions which presented paths of cultural unity and religious reconciliation. What did bring me happiness was learning to see past the rigid symbols, metaphors, memes, myths, rules and carved trunks of our man-made aspects of religion— into the hidden universal truths, purposes, wisdom and communion of divine spirituality. Finding ways to steer the culture into more constructive paths instead of merely abandoning it or trying to tear it down. (see needed reformation in the church)
I believe Mormonism is built upon some pretty amazing religious metaphors. I’ve found it has within its scriptural theology the language and symbols to begin to reconcile some of the world’s most difficult opposing religious ideas. Issues such as polytheism versus monotheism; visionary experience versus hallucination; resurrection versus reincarnation; legalism versus antinomianism, priesthood versus protestantism, heavenly revelation versus human thought; and religious infallibility versus pastoral errancy. And reconciling each of these paradoxes has essential political applications. Just because church leaders may currently dictate fairly one-sided views of these complex ideas, adherents shouldn’t feel forced out of communion for their opposing views. In fact your debate, even if it means excommunication, is essential to the progression and power of the group. I believe constructive change usually comes from activists (even if they’re excommunicated), more than separatists. I made a decision sometime ago that I would not throw away any of my relationships & religion simply because I saw the yin when everybody else only seemed to be blindly aware of the yang. (Even if sharing my personal perspectives and truths occasionally causes conflict.) I offer you the unpressured bias that it’s possible and worth it—and I hope my articles give you some scripturally-based language to share perspectives differing from the often fundamentalist mainstream. I hope I can illicit your help and friendship as a new generation of Mormons begins to take the reigns of the church and steer it ever closer into line with what the subtle whispers of Spirit constantly direct for every religion and the whole of mankind. As we correct our own idolatry pointed out by the coming wave of Israeli & Islamic reformers. And as America’s power and unity over the next century continue to wane, we’ll need everyone’s help to promote a unified LDS culture of openness, humility, pluralism and democracy that will take the lead in shaping the political destinies of the regions where LDS culture forms a major influential force.
I hope these articles I’ve written can help you look at LDS and Christian scripture from a new perspective that reconciles some of the issues you may have discovered.
Article 1. Re-examining what LDS scriptures say about the ‘Only True Church’ doctrine.
Article 2. A Doctrinal Look at The Universal Priesthood of God & Its Relationship to LDS exclusive truth claims.
Article 3. Re-examining the LDS adoption of the protestant fundamentalist view of the “Great Apostasy”.
Article 4. Clearing up Misunderstandings in the LDS View of the Afterlife (The 3 Degrees of Glory and their support for religious pluralism)
See Also. Needed Reformation in the LDS Church.