Thursday, 3 August 2017

Mormon metaphysics of Love between actual persons as a description of ultimate reality

For mainstream Christianity the ultimate reality is described in abstract, physics-like terms (especially in the assumed/ attributed nature of God - the omni qualities, God's absolute unity (monotheism); creation from nothing, existing outside of time and space etc).

Consequently, the core Christian value of Love is also understood abstractly - and it is not at the heart of reality, it is not the first thing. For many mainstream Christians; these abstract attributes of God are far more important than anything else: e.g. that there is one God, and that he is of total power, that God is qualitatively infinitely different-from and greater-than Men... these is in practice are more important than God being a loving God.

This has often been a problem for mainstream Christianity - where it has proved very difficult to hold Love at the centre of Christian belief and life; and where officially-recognised heresies have often been at the level of abstract and 'physics-like' metaphysics - e.g. the bitter and vicious Christology disputes of the second century AD onwards (i.e. how Christ is both God and Man), the disputes of the nature and relations of the Trinity (i.e. how Christ is God yet there is only one God), disputes over the possibility of free will/ agency (i.e. how that can be genuine agency in a reality with a totally known past, present and future) etc.

In general; the abstract metaphysical principles are accepted, and other things have to give-way to them (including common sense and normal logic - as with the standard definitions of the nature of Christ and the Trinity).

Mormonism assumes a biological, indeed human, ultimate reality. The primary reality is heavenly parents (who love and marry eternally), and primordial intelligences (divided between male and female), in a chaotic universe.

Creation involves God/ our heavenly parents organising the chaos, and procreating the primordial intelligences into sons and daughters of God.

At bottom, therefore, there is sexual differentiation (men and women) and human relationships.

Consequently (for Mormon metaphysics) Love is the 'first thing' in creation and in sustaining reality; i.e. the primary event in organising creation was the love of Heavenly parents; and their love for their children.

And this divine love is continuous-with/ qualitatively the same kind of human love as we know among men and women, parents and children, at the best moments of mortal life on earth.

Mormon metaphysics is that Love is the basis and reason for creation: meaning love between actual persons - not a physics-like abstraction.


Drawing this out as *explicit* metaphysics was something done considerably after Joseph Smith's death, by various intellectuals (Sterling McMurrin especially, but earlier BH Roberts) - but the substance was revealeed by JS and embodied in the doctrines of the church.

7 comments:

TheNewPossibility said...

It may have been the case that traditional way of doing theology and its heresies are the product of a certain late antiquity manner of abstract thought. This I consider a type of mental paradigm, a sort of mental language with its vocabulary, structure and limitations. In meeting the primordial fact of Divine epiphany it both was affected by it and also affected its articulation.

Yet the reality of 'God is Love' is the whole thrust of Christianity. God is Triune because He is Love. He creates ex nihilio because He delights to share of Himself with the other. He becomes man because He is Love. He pursues His creation because He is Love. He suffers the creature's death because He is Love.He exalts the creature in Him because He is Love.

Concepts like God's Fatherhood and Sonship are meant to draw on human experience to be better understood. But they cannot be reduced to them. Because these human personal relations are derived from the personal reality of God and not the other way around.

The unity and diversity of God are equally so: the ideal we aspire to and are meant to assimilate but it cannot be reduced to anything we associate with oneness or diversity. It is easy to do that but then we lose the point of origin and final end.

Likewise with the unity of Christ this union between manhood and divinity. It's easy to be reductive about it but we'll end up losing our participation in the Divine nature that Peter speaks of in 2 Peter 1:4.

They seem to be illogical within a certain mental structure in which human reason tries to work out an expression. The struggles of late antiquity was precisely that: How the Church could expand the Hellenic mind to make room for personhood and Love, and ultimately to a complete true vision of everything in Christ.

We can't dissociate the success of the West in real science from this mental restructuring of late antiquity through the Christ experience.

And if you wish the structuring is equally biological since it involved the creation of different people and nations and their pattern of selection. So nothing's accidental.

As in Late antiquity, the Western mind has its own structures that limit its vision and will require restrustructing so that human reason can go to work to build a new world.

It's easy to reduce the ultimate to familiar categories but this is precisely what religion does. Christ pushes the limit always because the ultimate can never be comprehended by the relative so it is constantly pushed to grow to see more and understand more.

Mormonism can't be dissociated from the malaise of modernity and the religious life at the American frontier. It's designed to answer the points of contentions among various Christian groups at the frontiers. Their emphasis on family is commendable and I see nothing unOrthodox about understanding the Trinity in familial terms, as long as we keep in mind that God is not like us but we are partially like Him and are meant to be more like Him. So we haven't exhausted what Love is and what unity and diversity together truly are.

As for the preexistence of souls or spirits, the idea has been suggested by Origen as a way of philosophical musing. The more Christian answer, which again is not mainstream and is perfectly consistent with traditional Christianity, is the preexistence of the Logoi of God in creation. In the sense that we preexisted in the Father in His Logos by His Spirit without personhood or being and the creation involved this 'fleshing out' of God-self or God's Eternal Words or Reasons with self-movement and consciousness and hence choice towards the Origin or away from Him. Cheers.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TNP - The classical metaphysics you describe solves perceived problems by abstraction and infinities, and by allowing contradictory statements as mysteries. Perhaps its main problme is that such a concept of God is 'over-powered' - since God is Omni-potent/ -scient/ -present etc. and creates from nothing - This means that there is nothing God cannot do *instantly*. And, therefore everything that-is is God's doing.... there is no space for men, no reason why things are suboptimal, no reason why things change, no reason why Christ was necessary... surely, God could and should have made everything right first time!

But since (according to classical metaphysics) God is wholly God, such criticisms are our fault - ultimate reality is monolithic, static... the only thing for Men to do is acknowledge and obey.

But the fact that Men are inclined to rebel and criticise is itself, on this scheme, an act of God-a fault of God, so *that* doesn't make sense.

Into this scheme is introduced the idea of Man's agency/ free will - but an omni God who made everything from nothing cannot 'create' free agents - because everything is made by him, including all dispositions of Men...

*Somehow*, the monolithic unity of God must be broken to enable Christianity to make any kind of sense.

(Presumably this problem in Classical Christian Metaphysics of whether God is one or many or what? is exactly what was noticed by those who made Islam; and which was substantially, but not wholly, sorted-out. The problem of why, in any unified universe, Men are made such as to disagree with God remains.)

Any coherent solution must include an ultimate reality that is 'pluralistic' to use WIlliam James's term.

A lot of the problems of the Classical Metaphysics of Christianity stem from the imperative that God *must be* (at any price) utterly (infinitely) different from, greater than Man - of a different nature and kind. This, I see as alien to Christianity, and a thing which has savagely-distorted the truth of Christianity.

My understanding of the incarnation of Jesus and of Gospels is that Men are supposed-to become of the same kind as God, ie. full sons and daughters of God. Christ was a living example.

So God is not 'omni', and cannot make things Good from the beginning and in a single step; reality is therefore pluralistic and evolutionary.

One-ness is not one-being but one-purpose - the glue that holds this together is Love. The one-ness of God is a voluntary and permanent unity of loving purpose - not one-ness of person (which prevents any realistic conception of love - love is a consequence of division and a healing of division at the highest level; thus division is part of the destiny of reality).

(Evil is not merely opting=out of Love as a principle - that is an allowable option, as with 'Eastern religions'; but evil is the active attempted destruction of Love - the regarding of Love as 'a bad thing', and of the Heavenly community of Loving beings as something that should be broken.)

Bruce Charlton said...

Metaphysics is a matter of what we regard as primary and what we fit around this. Classical Christian metaphysics made the wrong choice/s of what is primary - and the resulting distortions has led Christianity into recurrently failing what ought to have been its prime directive.

(Vigorous and devout Christianity recurrently relapses into an unloving, unfree monolithic tyranny in which mere submissive-obedience becomes the primary virtue - this applies to Protestant as much as to Catholic.)

Clearly you do not acknowledge the truth of Mormonism; but to thse who have had a revelation of its truth, then Mormonism was divinely inspired as a correction and additional revelation (for example, especially concerning the core divine importance of family) to compensate for intractable deficiences - of the kind described above - in the way that Christianity had been intellectually conceptualised since (presumably) shortly after the time of the Apostles, when Christianity fell-into the hands of Greco-Roman philosophers who forced-it into that pre-existing (pagan) mould.

William Wildblood said...

Bruce, I'm very much with you on the idea that evil is not just a negative or deprivation but a positive negative. Not in the sense that it has its own reality separate from God since nothing, of course, does or can, but in that it is a deliberate antagonism towards the Good and not mere ignorance of it as it is often portrayed as being in Eastern religion.

I can't see how anyone observing what is going on in the world currently and over at least the last century could dispute that.

TheNewPossibility said...

@brucecharlton
Thank you for sharing your ideas at length with us here.

I will attempt to converse with them at length at a later time after I give them enough thought. But few ideas first in quick points form:
1. The ideal has to precisely be a mystery to a developing or evolving mind or consciousness. So the mystery of God is can invitation for expansion and transformation to ultimately say with Paul "I will know as I'm fully known". Hence the importance of the Omnis
2. The reality of God as Love necessitates a self-moving creation. Movement can go either way towards Him or away.
3. Both Islam and Mormonism have many similarities. Both are frontier religion evolved in reaction to Christian contentions. The idea is God is three individuals (mormonism) or God is one individual (Islam) is the kind of simplification that can create community like any other community but it does not take us anywhere. Both involve likening God to ourselves as we exist in our fallen state or imperfection, but it doesn't reveal anything more. If man is created in God's image and called to be after His likeness then the doctrine of God is of utmost importance. It also cannot be to abstractions but must be a living reality. So even God is three or God is one are mere abstractions. Yet God is accessible and progressively rationally understood not to be understood but for us to be better developed human beings seeing the world prigressively better. The change happens in us. Mormon doctrine of God reflects pluralistic modernity as much as Islam reflects late antiquity political economy with God as the Emperor. While we know one has failed and the other is failing.
4. It's not that I don't believe it's just that I understand why it was developed and see your concerns and the questions that Mormonism attempted to answer can best be answered with traditional intuitions that need further development to accommodate the times. This is a growth process that will ultimately birth a new type of Christian society in the Grace and Love of God in Christ by the Spirit.
5. I admire your probing and questioning and adventure.

Bruce Charlton said...

Well, you don't really understand Mormonism! And probably you could not do so since you see no need. Mormonism is neither traditional, looking back; not modern, adapted to the past 200 years and present - but something new, different, of the future (or not, if rejected). Until you can understand that Mormonism really is something new, you are not understanding it - only then could you decide whether divine revelation validates it for you. The process took me five years of considerable effort.

TheNewPossibility said...

@brucecharlton
I don't claim expertise in Mormonism. I simply said that Mormonism attempts to offer answers to problems or tensions. I didn't say the answers are traditional neither did I say Mormonism isn't a novelty. I simply said that there are better answers and more profound solutions to even yet to arise problems in traditional intuitions. Now when I say traditional Christian intuitions I meant acts of Revelation of the Holy Spirit beginning in the New Testament and extending into the Patristic writings. Making a distinction between the externalitities like philosophical vocabulary and the actual Truth communicated. These expressions are bound to develop while all along preserving the core Christian witness.

Finally I believe that the encounter with Jesus is immediate regardless how the human mind tries to conceptualize it with rational structure and stories. And human ability to reconceptualize the Lord is a matter of our own growth and expansion in wisdom and understanding. Which has an impact on how we see and understand the world.

I sympathize with Mormonism because I know exactly what it is reacting against and is attempting to resolve. So I admire the identification of problems, but I believe the issues have better answers yet undeveloped into new structures rooted in Patristic Christian intuitions.