My Private Obscene Secret

I’ve recently been haunted by Kathleen Flake’s statement from last month: “Mormonism is a pre-modern religion full of miracles and grand providential acts of God.” My concern with the status of Mormonism in the modern and postmodern world is one of the main topics of my blogging. The assessment of Mormonism as a premodern religion strikes fear into my heart, not because it isn’t (partly) true, but because I really don’t want it to be in the future.

What is the place of a religion which is premodern and precritical in the postmodern world? In the introduction of Slavoj Zizek’s The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, he describes the dialogue between intellectuals about religion that goes something like this: “Okay, let’s cut the crap. Do you really believe in some kind of divine or not?” The response is something stuttered, a bit caught off guard, like, “Well, that’s not the right question. It has something to do with a radical experience, an openness to radical Otherness, not about belief,” etc, etc.

Zizek responds, “What we are getting today is a kind of ‘suspended’ belief, a belief that can thrive as not fully (publicly) admitted, as a private obscene secret.” (6). He speaks about the distancing from belief involved in those who follow the “customs” or “culture” of religion without really believing. Culture, he argues, is all of those things that we don’t directly believe. In this regard, “we ultimately perceive as a threat to culture those who live their culture immediately, those who lack a distance toward it.” (7) This assessment seems to perfectly capture the culture-wars internal to Mormonism, where each side perceives the other as a threat to the culture of Mormonism itself; one because it establishes a critical distance between the believer and the belief, and the other because it refuses to do so.

The struggle between the immediacy of religious experience and the distance (or even disenchantment) defines the modern religious community. For Zizek, he sees three acceptable religious options in the postsecular world: 1) the return to polytheistic premodern religions where there is no cultural “distance” between religion and the practitioner; 2) a sort of mysticism or vague spirituality rooted in Judaism or Gnostic Christianity that sees the divine as totally Other; and 3) what he sees as a Pauline organization of a community that is distanced from the historical Christ, seeing Christ as a set of fundamental principles. This last one he represents as the result of the Hegelian synthesis of the first two. Mormonism, one may say, is variously rooted in all three options, providing a reenchantment, a mysterium, and a community rooted in largely secular ethics. Yet, at the same time, Mormonism seems to reject all three as well.

So, let’s cut the crap. Is Mormonism necessarily premodern, offering unmediated access to an enchanted world that one either believes or doesn’t (as Flake’s formulation suggests)? Or, is Mormonism a source of a vague “spirituality”? For me, the answer is neither. But that third option is harder to articulate. In fact, this post has sat for a few months precisely because I can’t yet articulate it. The answer is one that is situated in a postsecular openness to religion, but what hangs on the answer is more than just defining Mormonism, but rather religious subjectivity itself. Zizek seems to foreclose the option of “suspended belief” at the outset, but I’m not so sure I am ready to give up that “private obscene secret” yet.I’ve been rather fond of it. For me at least, there is a lot more crap to cut still.

  • http://mormonphilosophyandtheology.com Jacob B.

    Important question here. I read Zizek (this book included) for a recent class. Zizek and ( and Badiou) represent an anti-postmodernism not satisfied with traditional modernism or postmodernism. (See the recent BYU Studies for Joe Spencer’s use of Badiou in order to theorize Mormonism). It seems to me that Mormonism can theoretically fit into this space as well. But there’s an obvious difference between the lived religion and its theoretical or conceptual undercurrents or possibilities. Does the lived religion of the average Mormon fit the pre-modern assessment? Probably to a certain extent. But as you say the situation is considerably more complex than this. What I find interesting in (“conceptual”?) Mormonism (and that does sometimes bleed through in thought and practice) is the universalism of Joseph Smith in particular; not his theological universalism but his philosophical universalism, most prominent in his “welding” metaphors. Zizek’s and Badiou’s universalism makes connections with early Mormon thought in really interesting ways, ways I think tend to really complicate the picture of Mormonism as merely a pre-modern religion.

  • Cynthia L.

    Thanks for this, TT. These are things I’ve been thinking about very often lately, but didn’t have any of this framework.

    My thoughts have been along the lines of feeling as an outsider both at church and at school. At church my academic, (over-?) intellectualizing approach to everything can get in the way sometimes–I have grown too easily irritated by certain patterns of behavior and am too impatient with schmaltz. But at school I also feel like an outsider. I become aware of how much I have not completely turned myself over to analysis and distance. It isn’t just in the context of my Mormonism, or even spirituality generally, where I feel the shoe not quite fitting. Academia quite frankly is driving me batty lately with how it makes me feel strange for authentically experiencing anything–hamming it up at a sporting event, really being there for my kids and family and being present in the moment when I am with them, having an unapologetic good time with a TV show, etc. Or, like, I’m a born and raised California girl. I talk like one, sometimes I kinda act like one. And I used to hate that and try to squash it, but I’m so done with that. It’s who I am. Haters can shove it.

    Loooong story, but between various faith struggles, and maybe just hitting 30, I’ve been on a journey the last couple years of getting to know myself better in an observational, accepting way. Rather than what I think I’ve been doing my whole life up to this point, which is mercilessly trying to mold and shape and shoehorn myself. And one major thing I’ve discovered or decided about my core personal philosophy is that I cheerfully reject any force that tries to tell me I can’t toss analytical distance out the window now and then and just be and do.

    So, I guess title this chapter of my memoir, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the shallow.”

  • http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com Dave

    How many miracles and providential acts of God does it take to make a religion premodern? Minimizing the tally makes the distancers feel a little more comfortable, but the bottom line, I think, is that one is enough.

  • Clark

    I think the problem is that most of the categories that are brought to bear are just problematic. I think your example of Zizek is a good one.

    Mormons have been called pre-modern and it’s undeniable that we have some characteristics of it. We also have a lot of characteristics of the modern. And we have a lot of characteristics of the postmodern. But honestly we’re our own thing and most of these categories mislead as much as they inform.

  • Mike S

    Very interesting post. I don’t claim to have the philosophical background to perhaps do my reply justice, but here goes.

    I think the LDS Church is trying to transition as best as it can, but is somewhat hampered by its foundational stories. The beginning of the Church was characterized with Man literally talking with God / angels. Prophets saw God. Temples were “on fire”. The Three Nehpites helped people.

    The Church today is completely different. We don’t hear of this any more. When President Hinckley was asked directly if he saw or spoke with God, he suggested they ponder things and do what feels best. Our prophets don’t prophecy anymore. Our seers don’t “see” the future any more. Our revelators don’t actually give us any additional revelations anymore – the last thing added to our cannon being a “declaration”, and that over 3 decades ago.

    So we are in this strange situation of relying on a Vision to get people to join the Church, yet having a church that seems more like a modern corporation with handbooks and real estate development and hierarchy and a shying away from visions, etc.

    It’s an uncomfortable hybrid, so personally, I forgo many of the trappings of the Church. My true relationship is between me and God. Aspects of the church that help me in that relationship – I embrace and live. Aspects that don’t help me – I ignore.

  • psychochemiker

    My experience is kind of the exact opposite of Mike S.

    I live in a church that lives & breathes on revelation. I receive revelation that President’s of our Church have received and taught revelations to us. I personally believe that those who don’t see the revelation can’t because they’ve told themselves there can’t be any. They literally look up to the sun, blazing in the sky, and say, “You do not exist.”

    That’s why I don’t trust such people.

  • Latter-day Guy

    They literally look up to the sun, blazing in the sky, and say, “You do not exist.”

    And by “literally” you, of course, mean “figuratively”. Sigh. Adverb FAIL.

  • Nate

    I’ve experienced many of the same feelings of ambivalence the author has articulated about trying to define who I am, and what my church is in the post-modern world. Finding ways to intelligently rationalize my beliefs in my church’s irrational past has been somewhat of a hobby of mine for the last few years.

    At church yesterday, I was chatting with a relatively new member of the church who was telling me her conversion story, one filled with angelic visitations, audible voices from heaven, and miraculous healings from the priesthood. I noticed one sister sitting next to me grow increasingly uncomfortable with the conversation. It seems to me that these kinds of stories have become increasingly rare in our church, and that people like the sister next to me didn’t like someone airing the “private obscene secret” of our church.

    The convert relating the miraculous experiences was what some might call “trailer trash.” Yet she was being endowed with a rich “pre-modern” spiritual life worthy of any of the great prophets of the Book of Mormon. Was she crazy? Or is all this real? I believe her experiences are real, because I’ve tasted some of the supernatural as well. But perhaps not enough to keep me from worrying about my “identity” within the post-modern world. It seems to me people who are always being caught up in profound spiritual experiences like this convert would never worry much about how they are defined in the post-modern world. They don’t fit in, and they don’t care. They are peculiar people.

    Miraculous and supernatural experiences with God may not be as common in our day, but they do still exist in our church, just as they did in the past, particularly among the poor and humble. Perhaps it’s just as Moroni says, has the day of miracles past? If so, it is because of unbelief.

  • David Clark

    TT,

    I share your confusion as to whether or not the LDS faith is pre-modern, modern, or something else. I think there is good evidence that the church is both modern and pre-modern simultaneously, which is what leads to the confusion. The question for me becomes: Is that tension creative or destructive? Because the church is so authoritarian, I think destructive, but I imagine that plenty of LDS people live the tension in a creative manner.

    I was recently reading a book on pre-modern polyphasic cultures, shamanism, and putting Jesus into that context. One of the things that really struck me was how much of Mormonism from 1823-1838 was either in that same context or at least really tried to be. The early Joseph Smith (again pre-1838) gave many indications of approaching religion polyphasically. Treasure digging, seer stones, angels, dreams, visions, ecstatic revelation, etc. are so much a part of pre-modern religion or at least fit really comfortably there. The whole translation style of the Book of Mormon might be described as shamanistic/ecstatic, done by people who were of that mindset (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris), and records a religious culture that acts in much the same way (at least for Mosiah, Alma, Helaman and selected other passages).

    But then you take something like Mormon epistemology. It seems to be textbook Cartesian modernism. One knows through some inner perception, without reference to anything in the external world. It even has a place for the “evil genie” who tempts people to deny their testimony through external data like archaeology and biblical criticism, instead of relying on their inner perceptions clearly and distinctly perceived.

    I think the source of the confusion is Joseph Smith himself. After 1838 or so the visions seem to stop, the seer stones are discarded in favor of papyri and grammars, etc. For some reason he switched gears. A faithful Mormon would say that he had advanced in his ability to received revelation. I think one could make a case that he realized that his goals for Zion and community creation were incompatible with his earlier religous approaches. Simply put, shamans don’t build communities. As just one example of the switch, I would say that the two most bold revelations that he ever presented to the saints are D&C 76 and the King Follet discourse. The first was received in an almost ecstatic trance, the other never claims to be anything of the sort and represents a kind of rough fronteir exegesis of certain biblical passages.

    Anyway, I share your confusion, but I think the confusion is because there is a definite tension.

  • Matthew Chapman

    In each temple throughout the world, there is a “temple journal” in which are recorded the most remarkable visions and miracles reported by the patrons of the temple.

    That these things are not “had before the world” is no indication that they do not exist.

  • Latter-day Guy

    Yeah, and when I opened my mission call there was only a telephone number, and when I called the number it put me through directly to Gordon B. Hinckley’s office…

  • http://www.heavenlyascents.com David L.

    I don’t appreciate the tone of Latter-day Guy’s comment (#11) and agree with many of the sentiments expressed by PC (#6), Nate (#8) and M. Chapman (#10). It does seem, on the one hand, that experiences involving spectacular visions, prophecies, healings, etc., are not being so emphasized by Church leaders, especially in settings with a broad, world-wide audience, like General Conference (although such talk is far from being completely absent). However, I think there are likely very good reasons for this, and I don’t believe it is because the Church administration is trying to move the members away from such beliefs. I would repeat the explanation given by some above, that these are topics that are sacred and not to be so publicly discussed.

    When I have heard apostles and other general authorities speak at smaller conferences and gatherings, they seem to be more open and forthcoming about such things — I have heard many speak about diverse spiritual experiences, personal revelation, healing, near-death experiences, etc. When I was in the MTC, one GA speaker (who is now in a very high position in the Church) told us that he knew that there were men in the Church alive today who had seen Jesus Christ. I have talked with stake patriarchs who have described the process of giving blessings as like “seeing a film” presented in their minds, and they just describe what they’re seeing. On my mission I saw many gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy, the gift of tongues, casting out devils, healings and much more.

    So I would have to disagree with anyone suggesting that the Church is actively moving away from these types of “premodern” religious expressions. I also disagree with suggestions that such stories merely represent, if I may, “faith-promoting rumors” in all cases. As Nate expressed above, there are some members of the Church who (for whatever reason) feel uncomfortable with talk of such experiences. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but I think such an attitude can perhaps represent a lack of faith. We are told in the Scriptures that these signs will follow those who believe. As we are told in D&C 63: “But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe. Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God.”
    Also, we read in Moroni 7:37: “wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.”

    Where did I see the highest concentration of “signs” and miracles? On my mission to Brazil — and while I think many missionaries would say the same of their missions, I feel that I saw more of these things happening there than in any other place in my life largely because I was working with many people who some may consider to have a “premodern” mindset — they believed that miracles, signs, and visions could happen and they did. So, in my opinion and understanding, the Church is still “premodern” in that sense, and I hope it becomes even more so in the future, in that I hope faith increases so that more of these spiritual manifestations can be experienced.

  • http://moderatebutpassionate.com Grant

    I’m sorta with David (#12) except for this – I do feel uncomfortable sometimes when people share spiritual experiences because I want to believe in things that are true and often emotions can masquerade as the spirit. There are a lot of faith-promoting rumors. And there are a lot of spiritual scams in the church right along with the financial. I also don’t want my private, spritual experiences to be disrespected or misunderstood by others. So, while I testify of spritual principles based on my personal, if spiritual (“pre-modern,” I suppose) experiences, I do not reveal details except to close family and friends, and even that’s pretty limited (my kids may be surprised some day by some of the things in my journal). I respectfully listen to those of others and I withhold judgment without a clear manifestation of the Spirit that is personal to me.

  • Manuel

    I also share the feelings of Mike S. In my relationship with God, I consider myself to align with premodern religion (because perhaps in my mind I can only see this type of religion as valid) and that’s why I was drawn to the church in the first place (I am a convert). I constantly yearn for strong spiritual experiences, longing for revelation and wanting to be nourished by leaders who equally yearn the same and strive for a true connection with the spiritual.

    Nevertheless, I find the Church is quickly moving away from their premodern roots that now only serve as anchors or foundations, a reprise of what once was and what we no longer enjoy. The church today seems to me more of a corporation, with a much stronger focus on marketing and public relations, the needing to be viewed by the world as “normal people.” I think one of the culprits of these efforts was the awkwardly edited promotional videos used in the “I’m a Mormon” promotional effort (which I still find heartbreakingly phony).

    I think the excuse that spiritual experiences are no longer shared from the mouths leaders because they are “sacred” is for the most part bogus. The church has become another entity in the endless ocean of groups of people needing to be marketable and sellable. They want their members to be political leaders, and Deseret Book has published some embarrassingly misguiding books in this lame effort to be accepted by others (around the time Mitt Romney was being pummeled publicly by Huckabee because of his Mormon background). I remember picking one of those lame little books in my local Deseret Book store. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or cry at the sight of such literary garbage.

    Somebody mentioned the “Temple Journals.” I remember one evening when a good friend of mine (a historian who was one of the founders of a popular blog in the nacle) complained silently to me “What good is a journal when nobody can have access to it,” as his mother (a temple worker) told “stories” that would more likely be found only in the said, elusive (and probably nonexistent) Temple Journal. Nowadays, I usually don’t agree with my friend in many things, but I still agree with his remark. What good is a spiritual experience that cannot be shared but only within a certain elite? Or, what good is a light under a table? (oh wait, someone already asked that second question).

    Yes it is confusing. We hide our experiences as our private obscene secrets, albeit we rely on those very experiences to explain why the church exists, how the Book of Mormon got translated, etc, etc, etc. On the other hand, I sometimes think that maybe the leaders are not really hiding any experiences, and they are not really making a conscious effort to distance themselves from the charismatic days of old. Maybe it is a consequence and not a cause. Maybe they are the ones who lack faith, maybe they need to repent of wrongdoings before that communication with heaven is restored. I know of several things that could be set right that they simply won’t. Maybe God will open the windows of heaven once more when they repent. As for now, I think these spiritual things are out of their scope.

  • Latter-day Guy

    My unappreciated tone aside, (and apologies to Patrick Henry), “Give me [documentation] or give me death.” I swear we need an LDS version of Snopes.

  • Matthew Chapman

    Latter-Day Guy

    When I received my endowments before my mission, I was encouraged to share future exceptional spiritual experiences with the temple presidency.

    Any endowed member may examine a temple journal. They are in the stewardship of a member of the temple presidency. Go look for yourself.

    I can only affirm to have seen and handled Volume Two of the journal of the Oakland California Temple.

    Or call a local temple and ask one of the presidency. These things were not done in a corner.

    Others:

    Dallin H. Oaks in 2001, and Kent F. Richards in 2011 seem to support the concept that miracles are common in the 21st century, both within and without the Church, but are not to be discussed lightly.

    http://lds.org/ensign/2001/06/miracles?lang=eng&query=dallin+oaks+miracles

    http://lds.org/ensign/2011/05/the-atonement-covers-all-pain?lang=eng

    Of course, these are all the effect of a frenzied mind.

  • Clark

    I’d second those who see a belief in miracles, angels and the like. It seems to me that there is a perception that we should expect such things but also a social sense that it’s inappropriate to relate such things “before the world” because of their sacredness. I think nearly everyone has met people with lots of big spiritual events that are almost always exaggeration our outright tall tales and lying. There’s typical someone like that in every ward I’ve been in. I’m not about to judge that nothing happened as they describe. But I’m skeptical.

    That said it seems to me that one can be quite skeptical of the typical tale of religious experience while simultaneously believing they happen quite often. Oddly whenever this discussion comes up on blogs it seems like some people see it as an either or. If people are skeptical of accounts they obviously don’t believe in miracles. Yet I bet you that the typical person who disbelieves does believe in miracles today. I’ve yet to find a member other than liberal ones (who tend to be skeptical of most religious experience as real – including the foundational narratives) who rejects things in this manner.

    The private/public category is something one has to keep in mind.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    LDG,

    No need to apologize to Patrick Henry. He was not that great.

    I think that LDG is not questioning miracles, he is questioning temple journals.

    I do not feel a need to seek after such journals or the experiences of others. I go to the temple to seek out my God. However…that is between me and God.

  • psychochemiker

    I’m reminded of a parable I might write down soon.

    It involved a person who complained about not being able to see with his eyes, hear with his ears, or do anything with his hands. Of course, it certainly didn’t help that he kept his eyes tightly shut and plugged his ears with his fingers and ranted and raved, “I can’t see or hear anything and neither can you.”

    Of course, President Uchdorf may have already written about that here… (no link, just the URL)
    http://lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/your-potential-your-privilege?lang=eng

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    psycho, the irony of you writing that parable would indeed be worth it.

    all, there are some really excellent comments here, but I just haven’t had the time to catch up. While my intent was not to comment on the veracity of “miracles,” I can see why my post raises this issue. I’m going to have to think through this a bit more. It certainly deserves a post of its own.

  • psychochemiker

    [pc], the irony of you writing that parable would indeed be worth it.

    Indeed, because I’ve been the one going around telling others they can’t believe in miracles because I’ve been plugging my ears and closing my eyes insisting that miracles are not…

    However, TT, you should not view my post as an attack on you. Such was not my intent. I’m fine with people stating their own beliefs. I just don’t feel that people who insist on disregarding evidence shouldn’t be challenged on it.

  • David Clark

    TT,

    I think trying to figure out the veracity of miracles might be a philosophical and theological black hole. A better question might be: If a miracle happens, would a modern/post-modern be able to recognize it?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    psycho,
    My point is that accusations of “blindness” are just rhetorical covers for saying that you don’t like it when people disagree with you. We say others are blind, they say we are blind. This “parable’ is just silly circular thinking.

    David,
    Completely agreed. The issue of interpretation is really the central issue. A miracle isn’t something for which their is “evidence” but rather how one’s worldview produces certain interpretations.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    “A better question might be: If a miracle happens, would a modern/post-modern be able to recognize it?”

    As a modernist with postmodern sympathies, I recognize miracles all the time. Many are documented in the FPR journal.

  • David Clark

    As a modernist with postmodern sympathies, I recognize miracles all the time. Many are documented in the FPR journal.

    Since I no longer hold an FPR recommend, I’ll have to take your word on that.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    TT is always threatening to revoke my FPR recommend. :)

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    Coming into this late, but a few scattered thoughts, some of which have already been stated by others (and with the caveat that i haven’t read the books mentioned in the original post):

    →The whole premodern~modern~postmodern trichotomy strikes me as unhelpful. (I’m not really talking about this with regard to the Latter Day Saint Movement, either—i mean in general.) I think that what bothers me, now that i’m writing this down, is that they’re often (generally?) presented as a continuum or even as discrete labels, but i see them as really being axes in an n-dimensional space more than anything else.

    →What counts as a miracle, anyway? (I’ve been wanting to write something very brief on my own blog about this for a couple years now, actually, but i’ve never gotten around to it.) I remember hearing a debate between one of the New Atheists and a clergyman about miracles and whether they might actually exist, and they both assumed (without stating it directly) that if science can explain something, it doesn’t count as a miracle. Really? I mean, even aside from the whole issue of timing possibly being miraculous, why can’t a given deity use scientifically fathomable principles to accomplish a goal?

    →One problem with discussions on these sorts of topics in regard to any religion like present-day Mormonism is that Mormonism places so much weight on internal evidences, and those (generally) can’t be observed by others—or, in other words, the evidence isn’t directly available to the general public. Of course, this can get spun as a How convenient! sort of thing, or it can get spun as a There’s no stronger evidence! kind of thing. (I personally tend to believe both of these spins are correct, but that’s just me.)

    →Finally (for now), going back to the original post, i know a lot of Mormons (including even people who are generally highly rationalist, like me) who would respond to the question “Okay, let’s cut the crap. Do you really believe in some kind of divine or not?” without any stuttering (well, unless it was a sudden question that didn’t fit with the surrounding context, but you know what i mean), but rather with a “Hell yes!” I know that this is the case for a lot of people outside the Latter Day Saint Movement, as well. As a result, i’m wary of generalizations like the one of Zizek’s reported in the original post—it seems like such things are more a “Here are some issues i see among people i know, or at least pay attention to” rather than a real generalization about human behavior.

  • psychochemiker

    TT,
    If you reread all of my comments, you may be able to notice that I never said “I think TT is the blind one.”

    In fact, if you reread my first post, you may be able to notice that I initially responded to Mike S. I was responding to his insistence that the LDS church no longer has God communing with man. He insisted “our prophets don’t prophecy anymore. Our seers don’t see… any more” He insisted that our church is just a corporation run merely with handbooks and lacking inspiration and revelation.

    My comment was directly counter to that. You are the one, TT, who decided that I was calling you blind, not me. And it is certainly not a rhetorical cover. It is an insistence that when one (not TT, but anyone) insists that there can be no miracles today because they don’t happen exactly like the ones in days of old, they aren’t really miracles. Why must we tell God, “You must do the following things in order for me to believe it’s a miracle.”? Really, who are we to place demands on how God acts in response to us?

    “This “parable’ is just silly circular thinking.”

    I’m sure you’d say the same of Jesus parables too. That’s OK. Bcz I can think of another group that disdained parables that they couldn’t understand…

    I again insist that this church lives and breathes on revelation. I have received revelaton that President’s Hinckley and Monson have received revelation for the church. I feel it is necessary to respond to this and point out that there is revelation today, and miracles are felt and experienced. But don’t get too upset with those of us unwilling to cast our pearls before, trying to be nice, those who wouldn’t value them. For when you discount my spiritual experiences, you also discount me. Why would I allow anyone to do that? I don’t.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    psycho,
    I don’t care if you are calling me “blind” or someone else, or calling me a Pharisee or someone else, or me swine or someone else. These are not arguments but really offensive rhetoric. For when you discount my spiritual experiences, you also discount me. Why would I allow anyone to do that? I don’t.

  • Clark

    TT, it seems hard for me to say there can’t be evidence for a miracle unless one defines miracle so narrowly that it’s a tautology. (Say what Hume did)

  • SmallAxe

    I also intend this as a response to others who have put forth the view that the same kind of miracles that happened in the early church still happen today, it’s just that we keep them private now.

    I again insist that this church lives and breathes on revelation. I have received revelaton that President’s Hinckley and Monson have received revelation for the church. I feel it is necessary to respond to this and point out that there is revelation today, and miracles are felt and experienced. But don’t get too upset with those of us unwilling to cast our pearls before, trying to be nice, those who wouldn’t value them.

    How have things changed since the time of Joseph Smith such that we now need to keep these revelations/miracles private? What would be lost by a prophet/apostle clearly stating that he has seen Jesus or God the Father if he in fact has?

  • David Clark

    TT, it seems hard for me to say there can’t be evidence for a miracle unless one defines miracle so narrowly that it’s a tautology. (Say what Hume did)

    It’s not that there’s no evidence, it’s that people don’t see the evidence.

    Suppose your friend gets diagnosed with cancer. He gets a priesthood blessing, then goes in for another checkup prior to chemotherapy and the cancer is not there. It’s a miracle!

    Suppose your atheist friend gets diagnosed with cancer. He gets drunk, then goes in for another checkup prior to chemotherapy and the cancer is not there. It’s spontaneous remission!

    The question is, why is one a miracle and not the other? Or if they are both miracles, isn’t that the same as saying they are both spontaneous remission? If the priesthood blessing is identified as the miracle maker, why not getting plastered?

  • Mike S

    I suppose my comment above (#5) was misconstrued and perhaps comes back to the definition of “prophet, seer, revelator”.

    I suppose some people include “inspiration” in the definition of “prophet, seer, revelator”. But I don’t think inspiration is unique to the LDS Church. I think people make inspired choices in their families. I think scientists make inspired choices. I think businesses make inspired choices. I think that God can inspire people in all walks of life. To me, being the Prophet should mean MORE than what us “common folk” also experience.

    To me, “seer” means someone who sees something regarding the future. In GC talks around the time of the Middle East conflicts, President Hinckley said specifically that he didn’t know what would happen but that we should have faith. In talks about preparedness, he specifically said that he was NOT predicting anything, but instead talking about the principle.

    To me, being a “Revelator” as far as the Church as a whole is concerned means bringing forth additional canonized revelation. It means something directly from God to man. It’s been a long time since this happened.

    So, perhaps it’s my own failing and my definitions are too strict. But in President Hinckley’s own words, he is also wishy-washy and actually sounds more like a CEO than the boldness of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, for example, or any of the prophets in the scriptures.

    KING: You are the prophet, right?
    HINCKLEY: Right.
    KING: Does that mean that, according to the church canon, the Lord speaks through you?
    HINCKLEY: I think he makes his will manifest, yes.
    KING: So if you change things, that’s done by an edict given to you.
    HINCKLEY: Yes, sir.
    KING: How do you receive it?
    HINCKLEY: Well, various ways. It isn’t necessarily a voice heard. Impressions come. The building of this very building I think is an evidence of that. There came an impression, a feeling, that we need to enlarge our facilities where we could hold our conferences. And it was a very bold measure. … I think it’s the result of inspiration.
    KING: And that came from something higher than you.
    HINCKLEY: I think so.

    In my opinion, this doesn’t sound very much like the picture I have in my head of “Revelation” (with a capital R). But I am perfectly willing to admit that it’s my own personal issue where I picture prophets speaking directly with God and bringing His will to us.

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    David Clark (#32):

    In answer to your closing questions, my response would be a counter-question: Why can’t it be spontaneous remission and a miracle all at once? I mean, it’s not like they’re mutually exclusive.

    As for whether the priesthood blessing or getting drunk was what led to the whatever-one-calls-it, i’d suggest that it’s entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that neither was causative. As i see it, though, that doesn’t make it any less of a miracle, nor does it make it any less an intriguing medical phenomenon.

  • psychochemiker

    TT,
    You choose to take offense. If you would rather misunderstand by taking offense than trying to understand, that’s your choice.

    My point was, I don’t share my sacred experiences with people who attack me. My point wasn’t “You’re an unwashed filthy gentile swine” like Ardis called Jack awhile back.

    FTR, I haven’t discounted your spiritual experiences. And, when you quote someone else, you should really use quotation marks, otherwise it’s quite dishonest.

  • http://rainscamedown.blogspot.com SilverRain

    “How have things changed since the time of Joseph Smith such that we now need to keep these revelations/miracles private?”

    We, as a people, have become a great deal more skeptical and a great deal more reliant on proof than on miracle. That, alone, is a reason not to publicize as much.

    Not to mention the instant and semi-permanent communication we are now subject to. It has benefits, but also flaws.

  • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis E. Parshall

    I clicked through to read SilverRain’s comment and see psychochemiker’s just above it. Without having followed his apparent exchange with TT, there’s no doubt in my mind that he is misrepresenting TT’s statements as badly as he misrepresents mine. What’s wrong with you, psycho?

  • David Clark

    In answer to your closing questions, my response would be a counter-question: Why can’t it be spontaneous remission and a miracle all at once? I mean, it’s not like they’re mutually exclusive.

    Spontaneous remission is a naturalistic way of saying, “We don’t know what happened, but there’s a causal, physical mechanism that can account for it.” That is not a miracle, so yes, they are mutually exclusive. Since most people find answers that violate the law of non-contradiction to be “less effective” (to use the old Missionary Guide parlance), I would think most people would not want to go that route.

  • Dan

    Growing up in the Church, I have always heard the Prophets referred to as “Modern Prophets”. Not until I had finished a graduate degree and learned about the Pre-, Modern, Post-Modern trichotomy did it strike me as interesting.

    Craig Manscill, Robert Freeman, and Dennis Wright published “Presidents of the Church: The Lives and Teachings of the Modern Prophets” in 2008.

    I have always felt that the LDS Church has been thoroughly modern from its beginnings, and deliberately and self-consciously so.

    The “Enlightenment project” of modernity recast the past (especially the “Dark Ages”) so as to demonstrate that all history was a prologue to and culmination in Modernity. In the same way, Joseph Smith saw his church as the religious enlightenment of modernity, with all history leading up to “the Restoration of all things”, culminating in the second/final coming of Christ and the advent of the Millennium.

    This is what is meant by “Latter-day” in the name of the Church: the Last/Final-days of human history and mortal existence, which essentially means “Modern”.

    Put another way, it would not be misleading to call the Church “The Church of Jesus Christ of Modern-day Saints”.

    But just as with modernity in general, the Church and its theology have become self-contradictory, and has “run its course.” Its relevance to the “postmodern” world has been rightfully and profoundly questioned, and I am not seeing a substantive response coming from Salt Lake City.

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    David Clark (#38):

    You raising the law of non-contradiction is presupposing that miracles can’t have scientifically founded causes. I questioned that definition in the part of my comment that you didn’t respond to—like i said, i see nothing that forbids a deity from using scientifically verifiable methods to get things to happen. Simply repeating a conclusion based on a problematic definition doesn’t actually reply to the substance of what i raised, which is really questioning why miracle has to be defined so narrowly (so narrowly, i would argue, as to define it out of existence, not actually prove that it doesn’t exist).

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    Dan (#39):

    Serious question: What would such a “substantive response” look like (in your view, of course)?

  • psychochemiker

    Ardis,
    Just so long as you feel comfortable judging someone without any facts in hand, I’m sure that makes it OK.

  • David Clark

    You raising the law of non-contradiction is presupposing that miracles can’t have scientifically founded causes. I questioned that definition in the part of my comment that you didn’t respond to—like i said, i see nothing that forbids a deity from using scientifically verifiable methods to get things to happen. Simply repeating a conclusion based on a problematic definition doesn’t actually reply to the substance of what i raised, which is really questioning why miracle has to be defined so narrowly (so narrowly, i would argue, as to define it out of existence, not actually prove that it doesn’t exist).

    David B,

    Stop hyperventilating and read what I actually wrote.

    My point has never been about the existence or non-existence of miracles. I’m not interested in having that debate, it’s a black hole as far as I am concerned. I am more interested in when and how people identify things as miracles.

    My point is NOT that miracles violate the law of non contradiction. Indeed they can’t, since the law of non-contradiction can only be applied to linguistic phenomena. For example if you say that grass is green and then you say grass is not green, you have violated the law of non contradiction, grass is either one or the other. But, calling you out for violating the law of non contradiction says nothing about grass or the color green.

    Likewise, I was simply pointing out that you cannot say that a particular event is both fully explainable via physical causal mechanisms (spontaneous remission) and not explainable without invoking something outside the normal causal order (a miracle). So cancer going away is either due to an entirely physical cause (without any intervention of deity) or it isn’t. It cannot be both. That’s my point. So your argument that it can be both does nothing but confuse the issue.

    No, the oft invoked idea that Mormons view miracles differently (it’s not a suspension of natural law), does not help you because deity still has to get involved for the miracle to happen. Either deity is involved (miracle) or deity isn’t (spontaneous remission).

    Now as far as “questioning the definition,” who cares? I’m utterly sick of language games people play to avoid actually dealing with the real issues at hand.

  • Dan

    David B.

    A serious question deserves a serious answer ;)

    Seriously, I suppose it would look like a “miracle” = “deity involved” (I think that cuts to the meat of the issue). I don’t see deity in human affairs any longer. I honestly wonder if god is really “dead”.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    David Clark, I think you are missing David B’s point (which is the same as mine). Why do you define miracle as “outside the normal causal order.” I suppose you have some wiggle room with the word “normal.” I recognize you are raising an epistemological point and not an ontological one. But it seems to me to still be a basic Humean one. To which the obvious rejoinder is how we establish anything is causal yet outside the normal causal order.

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    David Clark: Yes, exactly what Clark said in #45. Basically, it seems to me like you’re trying to eat your cake and have it too—you’re saying that miracles don’t happen (or, perhaps, that they can’t be verified as having happened) because you’ve defined them in such a way that anything can be redefined into non-miracleness.

    Oh, and hyperventilating?? Ad hominem much?

    p.s. David Clark, David B, and Clark all commenting on the same set of issues? There’s a wacky network sitcom just waiting to be written!

  • http://nateinslc.blogspot.com Nate W.

    Clark:

    Why do you define miracle as “outside the normal causal order.”

    Because otherwise, literally (and I mean that in its correct and non-figurative sense) every phenomenon is a miracle, and you have just made the word “miracle” absolutely meaningless.

  • http://nateinslc.blogspot.com Nate W.

    A follow up to my previous post…

    Clark and David B, if you reject the definition of miracle as something without a naturalistic explanation (which, given that this is the commonly accepted meaning of the word, puts you squarely in the Humpty Dumpty school of semantics), then what is your definition? What are the indicia of miracles, so that we can distinguish them from other naturally occurring phenomena?

  • David Clark

    David B and Clark,

    OK, last time I’ll try. I think miracles do happen, I take that as an article of faith. However, I am completely dubious about the ability of moderns or post moderns to actually identify them. Cognitively speaking, the tradeoff for the advances of modernity was giving up our ability to see miracles. It’s a classic case of not getting something for nothing.

    If you want to see where I am coming from you will need to read (or review) anthropological studies comparing polyphasic and monophasic cultures. Simply put, polyphasic cultures readily see and identify miracles. Monophasic cultures do not, and modernity is monophasic. Culture gives us our interpretive lenses for seeing the world. Monophasic cultures seem to not have that interpretive lens, while polyphasic cultures do. I simply think it’s more honest to admit our shortcomings than to try and redefine miracle so moderns can pretend to still see things in the same way as pre-moderns did.

  • Clark

    David – certainly some miracles are ambiguous nut are they all? There are low probability events that happen whether anyone calls them miraculous or not. Say cancer remission. However I think if I saw an obviously dead person healed that’s a bit easier to identify. So surely we can’t make the epistemOlogical critique a general one.

  • David Clark

    Clark,

    You are framing your entire response in terms of modern categories in a monophasic culture. Not a single thing you said would hold a polyphasic culture. The very framing of your response is part of the problem moderns have with miracle. In a polyphasic culture miracle is not ambiguous, they are not necessarily low probability events, they wouldn’t have a category for cancer, and seeing an obviously dead person is just as easy to identify as any other miracle. When you are dealing with ancient cultures you are dealing with something that is radically other.

    I’m also not offering a critique, I’m simply trying to understand the radically other. Critique is a modern procedure that gives us modernity.

  • David Clark

    Follow up,

    I don’t really know where TT is going to go with this topic so I’ll stop now. I’m not an expert on anthropology and getting into how polyphasic people think is something that is hard to do, and definitely not achievable in a series of blog comments. I think I have the rudiments down, but I still could be mistaken in how I am approaching this. Suffice it to say in the end I am not making a philosophical or epistemological point in terms of traditional philosophy of religion.

  • Clark

    David Clark: Suffice it to say in the end I am not making a philosophical or epistemological point in terms of traditional philosophy of religion.

    OK, that’s fine. I’m not quite sure what you’re saying then as I was reading you as making a more Humean point. Certainly I agree that different cultures have different categories and it is difficult to translate between cultures (if possible at all).

    Nate W: if you reject the definition of miracle as something without a naturalistic explanation (which, given that this is the commonly accepted meaning of the word, puts you squarely in the Humpty Dumpty school of semantics), then what is your definition?

    Divine intervention doing something we couldn’t do.

    I’m obviously bias by the Arthur C. Clarke quip about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistiguishable from magic. I think the definition you point at is very influenced by Hume. By why follow that historic trajectory of understanding scriptural miracles? The narrative accounts come prior to the definition. Why assume those events were extra-naturalistic?

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    Just a note in response to the monophasic~polyphasic mini-discussion: It’s worth noting that those labes are actually (end?)points on a continuum, not discrete categories. Further, a single cultural group can have monophasic and polyphasic individuals as part of it, and in fact individuals may themselves be a mixture of monophasic and polyphasic.

    Or, in other words, trying to say something like “X doesn’t hold in a monophasic culture” or “X doesn’t hold in a polyphasic culture” is at very best an approximation, and quite possibly an untenable claim simply because such generalizations may well be impossible.