Tuesday, December 12, 2006

what do we really really believe?

i know i haven't posted anything in a long while. hopefully there will be more posts to follow.

this is a paper that i wrote up this morning for my mormon theology class. the final is due tomorrow, so any thoughts or criticisms should prove helpful.



What Do We Really Really Believe?

Facing Harder Issues

In the 2004 inaugural annual conference of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, Robert Millet began his essay, “What Do We Really Believe? Identifying Doctrinal Parameters within Mormonism,” by reciting an anecdotal experience he had with a Christian minister friend. According to Millet, the minister asked him, “[M]any of my fellow Christians have noted how hard it is to figure out what Mormons believe. . . . What do you believe? How do you decide what is our doctrine and what is not?”[1] In response, Millet offers four criteria for determining what are true doctrines and beliefs for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this paper, I will show that Millet’s criteria for determining what Mormons “really believe” are problematic for several reasons: there is an inherent criteriological problem, his criteria can at most only offer an abstract and vague set of beliefs, they logically result in a sort of relativism that most Mormons would reject, and they fail to accurately describe what many Mormons actually believe. Furthermore, I will show that while Millet is attempting to face and assuage the “hard issues,”[2] his doing so reveals even harder issues and questions that are often avoided by Mormon theologians.

Throughout his essay, Millet appeals to a limited criteria to answer the question ‘What do Mormons believe?’ In a matter-of-fact way, he appeals to the following four basic standards to determine “what is. . . doctrine and what is not”: its being found or taught (1) in LDS scripture, temple rituals, and/or official declarations and proclamations; (2) by current general Church leaders in general conference or official gatherings; (3) in the current general handbooks, approved curriculum, and official publications of the Church;[3] and finally, (4) it has what Millet calls “sticking power” - meaning that it is “taught and discussed and perpetuated over time, and with the passing of years seems to take on greater significance.”[4]

Millet’s attempt to offer criteria for determining doctrine is a criteriological problem in itself. If understanding true beliefs apart from false ones is as critical for believers as Millet makes it out to be (even to the effect that some beliefs are “central, saving doctrine[s]”[5]), then establishing those criteria seem to be even more important. Yet those criteria which Millet offers do not hold up to the very scrutiny which he demands. Millet offers no scriptural, ecclesiastical, official, or “sticking power” justifications for his criteria.

Furthermore, even if Millet is able to provide such justifications (and perhaps he can), they would still be problematic because the relevance of those sources as justification for the criteria would be based on the criteria they are attempting to justify. In other words, appealing to one of Millet’s criteria for justification of the criteria is circular. For example, Millet cannot appeal to LDS scripture or a general ecclesiastical leader for justification of his criteria, because it his criteria which claims that such are justifications for asserting a certain belief. Appealing to one of his criteria to justify the criteria begs the question of whether they are suitable for justifying a certain belief in the first place. Millet may counter that his criteria is justified because it possesses the aforementioned “sticking power” and is established as a valid criteria by the LDS faith community. However, this also fails because it also begs the question of whether or not “sticking power” is suitable for justification. Furthermore, as will be discussed later, his appeal to beliefs established by the larger faith community is problematic because Millet himself rejects many beliefs as doctrinal that are held by most Mormons.

The second problem with Millet’s proposed criteria for determining what Mormons really believe is that of interpretation. While his claim that the “teachings of the Church today have a rather narrow focus, range, and direction”[6] may be true in terms of the number of beliefs, it can hardly be claimed that particular teachings of the Church today have a “narrow focus, range, and direction.” Millet is not alone in making this claim however. In Louis Midgley’s entry on theology in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, he asserts that:

Since scriptures and specific revelations supply Latter-day Saints with authoritative answers to many of the traditional concerns of faith, members of the Church tend to devote little energy to theoretical, speculative, or systematic theology. . . . Though rationally structured, coherent, and ordered, the content of Latter-day Saint faith is not the fruit of speculation. . .[7]

Though Millet, Midgley, and others wish to assert that an appeal to scripture, leaders, and manuals can deduce a definitive set of LDS beliefs, they seemingly fail to recognize that such an admonition goes contrary to the insights that propelled Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, to set aside appeals to scripture, authorities, and creeds in the beginnings of the restoration. In his 1838 recollection, Joseph Smith recalls the great difficulty he faced in trying to figure out whose interpretation of scripture was correct. He says,

for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.[8]

Millet fails to acknowledge what Joseph Smith plainly saw: that scriptures and statements from leaders are rather abstract and open to interpretation. Even those beliefs that Millet calls the “central, saving doctrine[s]” – “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of humankind; that he lived, taught, healed, suffered and died for our sins; and that he rose from the dead the third day with an immortal, resurrected body”[9] – are not defined in a “narrow focus, range, and direction” in Latter-day Saint scripture, ecclesiastical instruction, and official publications. The plethora of doctrinal expositions written by Millet and other LDS theologians and instructors that seek to explain these saving doctrines show that there is much to be said and interpreted outside the confines of Millet’s criteria. How is Jesus the Son of God? What is his resurrected body like? What is the relation of human works and his saving grace? Though Latter-day Saints have been appealing to those sources listed in Millet’s criteria for nearly two centuries, many have come away with very different and often contradictory beliefs about those saving doctrines – in a way reminiscent of the confusion described in Joseph Smith’s history.

Millet’s criteria for determining whether something is “part of the doctrine of the Church”[10] is also problematic because of underlying relativism implicit in them. Relativism (especially moral relativism) is something that has been harshly criticized by several general LDS leaders. For example, LDS Apostle (and later President) Ezra Taft Benson taught “Our religion is one of absolutes and cannot be rationalized into a relativistic philosophy of the ‘liberal Mormons.’”[11] Similarly, LDS Apostle Neal A. Maxwell condemned “the bitter harvest of ethical relativism, the philosophy of choice of many, reflecting no fixed, divine truths but merely the mores of the moment,”[12] and taught that “If men are not steering by absolute truth, they will drift in the rolling sea of relativism.”[13] These are just a few examples of LDS ecclesiastical discourses condemning relativism as contradictory to the absolute truths of Mormonism.

The relativism implicit in Millet’s criteria arises out of his constant appeal to “what we teach today.”[14] His standards of general ecclesiastical instruction and official publications are both confined by the modifier ‘today,’ and his criteria of “sticking power” claims that “true doctrine” is that which is still taught and discussed in the Church. Millet shows concern and frustration over critics of Mormonism who constantly refer to and focus on teachings of “Church leaders of the past that deal with peripheral or non-central issues.”[15] In light of this frustration, he appraisingly quotes one of his pastor friends who exclaims, “It’s time for us to stop criticizing Latter-day Saints on matters they don’t even teach today.”[16]

The appeal to ‘today’ becomes obviously problematic in light of Millet’s acknowledgement that “Every member of the Church, including those called to guide its destiny, has the right to be wrong at one time or another or to say something that simply isn’t true. They also have the right. . . to change their minds and correct mistakes.”[17] He further acknowledges that problems occur when a Church leader in the past “has spoken on these matters, has put forward ideas that are out of harmony with what we know and teach today.”[18]

Millet’s criteria are relativistic simply because they denote truth as being relative to the present. Truth is what is taught today. What makes something true, according to Millet, is not by correspondence to an actual truth, or even that it was contained in scriptures, taught by authoritative ecclesiastical leaders, or discussed in official church publications. What makes it true is that it is taught or discussed in the present. By this standard, certain beliefs that were once taught, but now abandoned as false doctrines (for example, Brigham Young’s Adam-God doctrine), were true at a time in the past when they were current teachings. Similarly, what is a true doctrine or belief today by Millet’s criteria, may at a later time be deemed as a false belief if interpretations or discussions change in a future time. What is an absolute truth today may become a false doctrine if the teaching is abandoned or discredited by later leaders.

Millet’s discussion of “sticking power” is similarly problematic because it likewise relegates truth relative to the present time period. According to Millet, “True Doctrine. . . is taught and discussed and perpetuated over time.” A belief is ‘unstuck’ as “[f]alsehood and error [are] eventually. . . detected and dismissed”[19] by Church leaders. By this standard, all teachings and beliefs are ‘true doctrines’ until they have been unstuck. The Adam-God Doctrine, plural marriage as being essential for exaltation, the denial of all death before the fall, young earth creationism, the pre-mortal failings of those with black skin, the fate of the sons of perdition, teachings of God’s past, the morality of birth-control, the virtue of rape victims, and dozens of other former teachings all qualified as “True doctrine” up until the point they were ‘unstuck’ by abandonment and/or replacement with more contemporary beliefs.[20] Even moral stances of abortion, birth-control, abuse, divorce, homosexuality, marital sexual relations, modesty, war, wealth, and equal rights have ‘unstuck’ as they have steered away from their stances as absolute moral truths and have been modified along with the “mores of the moment.” Furthermore, any contemporary belief is relative to its current “sticking power,” and is only an absolute truth because it has yet to be ‘unstuck.’ Because the teachings of the Church can and have changed, any current true doctrine seemingly has the potential to become a false one in the future.

Finally, Millet’s criteria fails to answer the question posed in his essay, “What Do We Really Believe?” It fails because it does not address the descriptive nature implied in his question. His criteria do not describe what Mormons do believe. Rather, the criteria prescribe what they should believe (or really believe unbeknownst to the believer). In some ways, it seems that Millet is doing that which he and others have accused traditional Christians of doing – attempting to tell Mormons what they really believe. An experience that Millet relates concerning a meeting with Latter-day Saints and Protestants illustrates this well:

After the meeting an LDS woman came up to me and said: “You didn’t tell the truth about what we believe!” Startled, I asked: “What do you mean?” She responded: “You said we believe in the virgin birth of Christ, and you know very well that we don’t believe that.” “Yes we do,” I retorted . . . “I’m aware of [the teaching that God the Father had sexual relations with Mary], but that is not the doctrine of the Church; that is not what we teach in the Church today. Have you ever heard the Brethren teach it in conference? Is it in the standard works, the curricular materials, or the handbooks of the Church? Is it a part of an official declaration or proclamation?”

Not only does Millet’s example illustrate the problem of relativism in his criteria, but it also illustrates that his criteria does not answer the question he is posing. Millet’s story ends with the woman thanking him for pointing out that she doesn’t really believe what she thought she believed. Had the question been posed to this woman (before Millet’s correcting her on her beliefs), she might have very well answered that Mormons believe that Jesus was conceived by sexual relations. After all, she is a Mormon and she believed it. Millet’s criteria ignores that many Mormons believe a plethora of varying ideas that do not fit within the confines of his criteria. To say that his criteria define what Mormons really believe is problematic because it fails to take into account that which many Mormons really really believe.

Before concluding his essay, Millet argues that his criteria offer a way for Latter-day Saints to adequately face what he calls the “hard issues.”[21] These are the many teachings and beliefs of past LDS leaders that are no longer the doctrine of the Church. The hard issues for Millet deal with the questions of how Latter-day Saints should handle the whole of teachings of past leaders in light of the occasional false teachings and doctrines by the same leaders. For Millet, the issues lead to the following questions:

Well then, what else did this Church leader teach that is not considered doctrine today? How can we confidently accept anything else he taught? What other directions taken or procedures pursued by the Church in an earlier time do we not follow today?[22]

Millet’s response is simply that that those hard issues and questions should be non-issues because the Church today has divinely anointed leaders to correct mistakes and replace false teachings with true ones.

However, there are much harder issues left unresolved that Millet and most contemporary LDS theologians have failed to acknowledge. While Millet’s criteria may give some resolve to the question of how Latter-day Saints should deal with past leaders in light of their false teachings, there are the larger ignored questions of how Latter-day Saints should deal with current leaders and their teachings today. If the teachings of Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Bruce R. McConkie can be ignored or rejected as false, how are Mormons today supposed to understand the teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, Boyd K. Packer, and other current leaders? Could these teachings also be false? How would one know? How and why should Latter-day Saints trust the teachings of current Church leaders when history has shown they can be false? Furthermore, there are other harder issues embedded in Millet’s essay that need more inquiry from LDS theologians. These include the criteria for determining the boundaries of peripheral beliefs, as opposed to central, saving doctrines; the meaning of truth (and especially ‘absolute truth’) in relation to authority and apparent relativism; the role of interpretation and scripture; the relationship of the community of believers and ecclesiastical leaders in determining doctrine; and the role of personal revelation in the discovery and understanding of doctrine.

In conclusion, Robert Millet’s attempt to provide criteria to answer “What do Mormons really believe?” fails to adequately handle the hard issues associated with the question. The criteria are problematic because they fail to meet their own criteriological standards; they can only provide an abstract realm of beliefs which are widely open for interpretation; they imply a level of relativism that contradicts the LDS standard of absolute truths; and they fail to adequately describe what actual Mormons really believe. Furthermore, while they may resolve some immediate “hard issues” resulting from Mormonism’s past, they lead to and illustrate even harder issues that LDS theologians (and leaders) have yet to fully recognize.

[1] Robert Millet, “What Do We Really Believe? Identifying Doctrinal Parameters within Mormonism,” presented during the 2004 meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. Essay in author’s possession. Forthcoming in a published proceedings of the conference (Kofford Books, 2007), 1. Emphasis in original.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid., 1, 3, 6

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid., 1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1st ed., s.v. “Theology.”

[8] Joseph Smith – History 1:12

[9] Millet, “What Do We Really Believe?,” 1.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ezra Taft Benson, “Satan’s Thrust—Youth,” Ensign, Dec 1971, 53.

[12] Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Take Especial Care of Your Family’,” Ensign, May 1994, 88.

[13] Neal A. Maxwell, “Why a University in the Kingdom?,” Ensign, Oct 1975, 6.

[14] This line (or a variation of it) occurs on nearly every page of Millet’s essay.

[15] Millet, “What Do We Really Believe?,” 2. Emphasis added.

[16] Ibid., 4.

[17] Ibid., 2. Emphasis added.

[18] Ibid., 4. Emphasis in original.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Millet acknowledges that some of these beliefs have even “been perpetuated as doctrine for most of our Church’s history.” (Ibid., 4). Emphasis added.

[21] Ibid., 3.

[22] Ibid., 4. Emphasis in original.


  1. I really liked this paper. Thanks for posting it.

  2. I'm going to read your paper on the plane this morning. Hit me up with an e-mail if you know of any interesting classes to take in the spring.

  3. I enjoyed reading your paper!

    BTW, I didn't know that we had abandoned the teaching that Jesus was conceived through relations between Mary and God the Father! I haven't heard the change announced at Conference, nor have I read it in any of the church-approved manuals. What kind of backup does Millet have on this from official sources?

    ...I actualy think I may have a difficult time giving up that one. I "really really believe" it.

  4. BiV~

    The church never has abandoned it. Just like it has never abandoned the idea that pologamy is practiced in the Celestial Kingdom. There are a lot of doctrines that were never abandoned. We just don't emphasise them b/c the church leaders feel it's not important. Is it really essential to out salvation how Christ was conceived, not really. It's a fun little Jeopardy trivia, but not important. The Church is trying to lead millions of members, all at a different spirtual plane than anyone else, towards the one end goal. The Church's job is to teach correct principals and let us govern ourselves. I've had NO problem going to the local church book store and buying many books that talk about, and give scriptual refernce to "back-up" some of these other beliefs that we hold.

    The Narrator did a good job in pointing out the utter stupidity of something being doctrine cause it's been around a long time. For a really long time I was taught that Pluto was a planet, but the set of Scientific laws that produced that error have grown and evolved beyond their infancy and we now know that Pluto isn't a planet, just like we knew it was a mere 15 years ago.

    I think everyone should stop being so nit-picky / letter of the law / my way is the right way type of people and just go with it. Take the general principals that the Church teaches, read your scriptures and other Church material, pray your heart out and follow the Spirit. If you do that, your doing what Mormon's believe, and you'll be able to stand before God with a consceous void of offense.


  5. Ryan: that sounds an awful lot like an avoidance argument to me. "Let's forget about all the stuff lying on the periphery of our religion and that mormons are known for by most people outside the church. Just go to church, pray, read your scriptures, follow the spirit, and you'll be fine." Doesn't work. For example: I live in St. Louis, where 'the church' is the Catholic Church. Do you know how many times I'm asked why Mormons practice polygamy? Why can't we drink wine when Jesus turned water to wine and drank it himself (from Catholics, mostly)? Where did James Smith come up with all that stuff? All due respect sir, but I am confronted by the so-called periphery of our religion everytime it comes up in conversation now that I'm outside UT, and I have to answer those questions myself, as a 'mormon,' before I can answer those questions to others. Are you an advocate of critical thinking or do you take more of a lemmingesque approach to life, because simply praying, reading my scriptures, and going to church doesn't answer those questions for me - those questions, as Loyd well knows, make 'mormons' uncomfortable. We don't have answers to these questions, and they require critical thinking, not blind following. Loyd, I enjoyed your paper. Thank you for stimulating me, my friend (pun intended).


  6. The church never has abandoned [the doctrine that Jesus was conceived through sexual relations between Mary and God]...

    I've had NO problem going to the local church book store and buying many books that talk about, and give scriptual refernce to "back-up" some of these other beliefs that we hold.

    Hmmm...I thought the scriptures said something about Mary being a virgin. Maybe I should have checked the footnotes.

  7. Jake-

    please re-read what I said and you'll find, right after my "read the scriptures" comment my full suggestion: "read your scriptures and other Church material". In it's entirety I hope that you will see that I DO NOT advocate a simplistic cover your eyes and keep your head down approach. I advocate the milk before meat approach. For Suzy and Joe who just joined the church please stay simple. Read the scriptures, listen to your Sunday School Teacher and ask your Bishop/Stake President/Home teachers A LOT of questions. I don't image it is that hard to get ahold of a "church approved" book that talks a lot about the word of wisdom in more detail then we find in the D&C. Lets say the same question was put to Joe and Suzy about the WoW. Why isn't it okay for them to say "I don't know yet. I know we aren't supposed to b/c of Gods command but I don't know the ins and outs just yet. But I'm learning them, let me get back to you on that one." Being born and raised in the church, having served a mission and having spent MANY long hours in discussion with my father about church doctrine I say something different entirely. My typical response runs along the lines of "*shrug* it's not so much that wine is bad. Is a glass of wine good for the body every once in awhile? Yeah, it's been shown to be over and over again. The WoW isn't so much about what to and not to do, it's more about self-mastery. Being in control of your being, and not letting out-side infulences have control over you. Instead of nit-picking when you can how much, how often what type ... God has decided to just say no. It's to easy these days to get addicted, to have it consume your life, and at what cost? How many families are destroyed b/c of alcohol or any other habit that controls you? To many, how many could be saved if instead of trying to nit-pick the who/what/when/where/and whys we just say no. Is drinkking a glass here and there bad, probably not, but that isn't the point of the WoW at all." ... something along those lines, and depending on who I was talking to would go in one direction or another. That's why I said your scripture and OTHER church material.

    Steve - your being an idiot that's really all there is to it.

    if you want to have a discussion please try and at least treat others with some respect. It reflects poorly on you other wise. In response to you, the scriptures say alot of things. By Chapter 2 of Genesis the Bible has already contridicted itself on the order of the creation. Continuing in the Bible please rehash for us how it is that Judas died and then follow that up with Saul/Paul's conversion. I can find contridictory versions of both. Please, act a little more grown up.


  8. ryan,

    i love you as a friend, but i always ask myself later why i get in religious discussions with you. perhaps it's my writing or my way of saying things, but i don't ever seem to be able to convey to you what i am trying to say. you seemed to agree with me, but then appealed to the very criteria that i was arguing was problematic "Take the general principals that the Church teaches, read your scriptures and other Church material, pray your heart out and follow the Spirit. If you do that, your doing what Mormon's believe..."

    i agree with steve m. i think his point is that the church does in fact reject the teaching that god had sexual intercourse with mary. perhaps it's merely a public relations act or perhaps there has been a change in actual belief. either way, if you asked one of the twelve what if mary was a virgin, i can almost guarantee that they would respond in the affirmative. if you asked president hinckley, he would most likely respond as teh public relations man he is and either affirm mary's virginity or respond with a big 'i don't know.' he did that very thing in responding to questions concerning the king follet teaching about god once being a man.

  9. Jake,

    Point taken. I sometimes have a hard time curbing the sarcasm.

    But despite what was taught in the past, I think that very few Mormons believe that Jesus was conceived through physical relations between God and Mary. I had no idea that we ever taught that until I was like 18. I mean, the Book of Mormon speaks of Mary as a virgin, which is a pretty good authority in the Church.

    The point of my earlier sarcastic remark was that, as far as I can tell, it would be very difficult to make a case for a sexual relationship between God and Mary by means of the scriptures. The scriptures do say a lot of things, many of them contradicting, as you point out, but to my knowledge there's not a lot of scriptural support for this idea. Although, if you know of some, please share.

  10. Wait, sorry, my last comment was directed to Ryan, not Jake. My bad.

  11. Ryan, I can understand and agree with you to a point. However, once one is conversant with basic doctrine one feels compelled to venture further up the gospel path. One shall not learn of the mysteries without a desire and yearning toward them. An examined life requires that we discover what we truly believe beyond the first principles.

    Also, in the Lectures on Faith, Joseph taught that in order to have faith we needed to have a correct idea of the nature and attributes of God. To me, knowing how Jesus was conceived seems rather important in this process, and is not a mere bit of trivia.

    Next, I disagree that doctrines have not been "abandoned." (Discussion left for another day)

    Lastly, I sympathize with Steve M and lament that sarcasm really doesn't come across the internet unless everyone knows you really well. My comments never seem to be understood the way I intend. I always think I'm rather amusing, but perhaps not. Sigh.

  12. Loyd~

    How do you know that you haven't conveyed your ideas perfectly clear and that I still disagree with them? As for the finer points of the gospel I don't see a disconnect with what is being said. You have to start simple. There are a multitude of analogy's so to go with the two most famous - milk before meat, and you gotta lay a good foundation to build a 3 story house.

    That being said, what is wrong with the newer members, or the members that have no 'desire' to dig deeper staying VERY surface level and going with "read your scriptures, listen to General Conference, pray, etc." the typical sunday school answers? I say nothing, if people are content living a terestial style life, that is their agency to so choose.

    Now you have people like those that seem to frequent this site that are more desires to further their understanding of the gospel. Wonderful, it's there too. But you have to recall one of the basic teaching of the bible. "Don't cast your pearls before swine". The finer points of the gospel are just that. pearls. Why should President Hinckley lay the pearls of the gospel at the feet of the general public. They would pounce all over it and treat it as though it was naught. President Hinckley has greater respect for the gospel than that. Thousands of people watch GC every 6 months and I would wager that hardly any want to hear about how Christ was conceived. I know I don't. I would rather hear about the trials that face me today. About how to keep peace and harmony in a home. How to make sure that I'm always worthy of the Spirit. As of last saturday I'm now a father for the first time. I know what the world was like for me growing up and I can tell you that holding your own son in your arms scares the living day lights out of you. I want these men who have been where I am now, and can see what's coming, to warn me and to guide me. Not give a discourse on the conception of Christ or what God eats, and if he really does have a physical body of flesh and bone how did he have spirit children ... I'll read that stuff on my own.

    This is not to say they don't know anything about that. Quite the opposite. Elder Hartman Rector Jr. emeritus member of the Seventy visited my mission. I had the opportunity to sit with him for about 10 - 15 minutes, one on one, and I just asked questions. He answered in VERY specific detail all of my questions. Same with Elder Dieter Uchtdorf. He was still in the seventy while I was a missionary, but he visited my mission twice. And once I again got some one on one time with him and he was very open and direct and candid about my questions. Elder Scott as an apostle visited our mission once, while I only got to hear him in the large group / whole mission setting. He was very open and direct with the way in which the spirit works with us.

    BiV - I think you are treading on ground that is EXTREMLY holy and sacred. What you are saying is that for your own son to understand you, he needs intimate knowledge about you and your wifes sex life. I think the case could be made that all your son needs to know you, is for the two of you to spend some time together. Look at when and where Joseph Smith was talking during the 'Lectures on Faith' sermon(s). The creeds will still VERY much in effect. At that time it was taught every where that God had no body parts or passion. He was nothing like us in any way shape or form. Joseph Smith was trying to overcome YEARS of false teaching. I understand this principle a little better since having served my mission with the hmong people. They are animist and historically worship the spirit of their dead ancestors. The whole idea of Christ and an atonement is foreign. Where 99% of people raised in America, a historically christian country, evne if they are agnostic, they at least understand the ideas of God and Christ and what not. I would spend HOURS, literally HOURS on the first principle of the first discussion. It wasn't uncommon for me to spend the first 3 or 4 teaching apointments on nothing more than God and Christ. The first two principles of the first discussion. Joseph Smith was in a similar spot, he was trying to take this group of people and teach them a new idea of God the Father. He was like us, he loved, and hurt, and felt joy, and cried, and understood, and all that we know God to be. That's what Jospeh Smith was talking about.


  13. Ryan - congrats on becomming a father. I recently asked my sweetheart to marry me. Amazing how life's real perspective changes in this stage of life, huh.

    I like your 'layers' model of the church. It makes sense to me. It holds true to me empirically. How does one answer questions though to people outside the church who have aquired snippets of the church's reputation, such as polygamy and no alcohol? (In terms of layers, they know something about 1 very deep concept many mormons choose to ignore, but themselves lie in the shallowest of general knowledge layers of the church). I have found success in telling people our church stopped practicing polygamy in 1890, splinter groups continued it, it is wrong today, and God knows why we practiced it to start with (deeper layer: restoration of all things, dispensation of fullness of times, yada yada). Alcohol is harder to discuss for me. Your explanation sounds good in a sweet way, but doesn't ring true with me. Just telling people (and really, myself) that it is to discipline and master myself (whatever that really means) would get me some strange looks at least. I don't know. Separate point: yes, alcohol abuse, in some cases, is responsible for all things you listed. Working in an ICU, I see cirrhosis/hepatitis/death/withdrawels from alcohol weekly. However, wine is an integral part of many familiy gatherings, and is a real treat to some people. Many, if not most people who drink WINE, are not alcoholics who abuse their children and won't die of liver failure. Wine can be a unifying, conversation starter and entertainment booster for sure! In moderation, I see nothing wrong with drinking wine.... frankly, neither does much of the rest of the world. Your thoughts.... (all invited)

  14. Sorry, final point... a question really: "You really believe that if you don't drink wine, you'll go to heaven; and that if you do, you'll go to hell?"

  15. Also, in the Lectures on Faith, Joseph taught that in order to have faith we needed to have a correct idea of the nature and attributes of God. To me, knowing how Jesus was conceived seems rather important in this process, and is not a mere bit of trivia.

    I agree with BiV. While I wouldn't classify this as a doctrine upon which salvation hinges, the virgin birth has been a tenet of Christianity for centuries. We see scriptures such as Isaiah 7:14 as prophesying Christ's birth by the virgin Mary.

    It also calls into question the manner in which God interacts with mankind. Do we believe in a God that literally has sexual relations with His mortal children, or at least has on one occasion? Also, if He's an omnipotent God, why would He have to have literal physical relations with Mary in order for her to conceive?

    It may seem like a triviality, but it deals with the nature of God, which is an important issue. In any case, past leaders of the Church apparently felt that it was important enough to bring up. It would be nice to have an authoritative statement on what the current Church stance is.

  16. This whole paper is problematic.
    I guess I'm glad for your sake that I'm not your teacher. :)

  17. I wouldn't say the paper is problematic, rather, some of the Church spokespeople have a problematic position on what constitutes true doctrine.

  18. A guy at my work had this posted on his door and it made me laugh, then think of you, then laugh some more:

    My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher. ~ Socrates


  19. Jake C~

    I've spent the last couple days thinking about your position and how to 'respond' to it. The only thing that keeps coming to mind over and over again is that passage in the Doctrine and Covenants. The one about Treasuring up knowledge in your mind, and it'll be given you in the moment what to say by the spirit. Maybe some people are only asking cause they like to poke fun at "the mormons", maybe some are quazi curious and "heard a rumor" that made them raise an eyebrow, and still maybe some are sincerely trying to find out all the who/what/when/where and whys so they can piece together a meaninful religious beliefe system they can call their own. Who knows but the spirit. Maybe that's why I've been pulled back to that scripture repeatedly as of late. If we study, and know as much as we possibly can, then we can answer in the best way needed by the individual asking at the time.

    Site's like this are good, they build knowledge. Even though I don't always agree with what is said, or the manner in which it is said, it makes me think. It causes me to go back over my ideology and double check myself to make sure that I "really" believe that, and if I do, why. It's a good paradigm check.


  20. Mormon Rule #1 - "Thou shalt drink Mormon Kool-Aid daily.

    Mormon Rule #2 - "Thou shalt send 10% of each dollar to "The Big House" in SLC."

    Mormon Rule #3 - "Thou shalt not perform oral sex on thy marriage partner."

  21. Mormon Rule #4 - "Don't listen to jack-asses, especially anonymous ones."

    Mormon Rule #5 - "Don't say jakc-ass."

  22. Hey jake c. - Your Mormon Kool-Aid is getting warm. Be a good little Mormon and drink it all up. Down the hatch it goes. Now you will be fine until tomorrow when there will be another tall glass of Mormon Kool Aid for you to drink. Then the day after tomorrow another. You have now learned the drill. Did you send your 10% to The Big House in SLC yet? Good Boy!

  23. Well, Jake my boy, it all starts with a thing called "Primary." Then before you know it you are wearing funny two piece Mormon underwear even when its a flipping 105 degrees on the streets of SLC. That, my boy, is Mormon Kool Aid.

  24. La,la,la,lloyd. I come to your blog once or twice a year and love to read your posts. I came to it again following your brother's links. Great stuff, I'll have to come back and read more often. I hope all is well.

  25. Very good post - thank you. Relativism vs. Absolute truth is a topic I am currently struggling to understand.

  26. Lloyd--was this the precursor to your paper published in "Element" on the Problems with Defining Mormon Doctrine? A friend loaned that to me last week and we both agreed it was excellent. It in you nicely articulated the very questions I've been asking myself lately, and I was glad to see someone take it on. I'd love to hear about the response to the paper and if there have been any worthy conversations dealing with the topic since then. Also, has it been published online or only in the printed "Element"? By any means, well done. I'm a fan.

  27. CC- yeah, this was a precursor to my much longer essay. you can read it here: http://www.scribd.com/Element-3-12-4-Ericson/d/28422607

    there should be a forthcoming issue with responses from both millet and oman, and a rejoinder from me.


Please provide a name or consistent pseudonym with your comments and avoid insults or personal attacks against anyone or any group. All anonymous comments will be immediately deleted. Other comments are subject to deletion at my discretion.