Review of Paulsen and Pulido’s “A Mother There”

          The response online to David Paulsen and Martin Pulido’s recently published article in BYU Studies (“A Mother There”: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven) about the history of LDS discourse about Heavenly Mother seems to have been overwhelmingly positive. Based on the commentary found in blogs and discussion forums, many have received their argument that 1) strict silence about Heavenly Mother was never mandated by church leadership and 2) that throughout church history discussion of her has been diverse and substantial as something like water on parched ground. V. H. Cassler at SquareTwo calls the article path-breaking, and in particular emphasizes its symbolic significance: “by the very act of publishing this article in BYU Studies, they have opened a door for the membership of the Church to speak openly of their belief in a Heavenly Mother, and to assert that silence about Heavenly Mother is not ‘sacred,’ but a cultural artifact which is not supported by the General Authorities of the Church.”

          I do not want to diminish what Paulsen and Pulido have done, for I think they have certainly shattered some assumptions commonly held by church members, while doing it in a venue that could not be more orthodox. And their exhaustive research has uncovered and caused to be remembered statements that have the potential of leading us toward a more productive and theologically creative discussion of the place of the divine feminine in contemporary Latter-day Saint belief and practice.

          But in spite of how much I appreciate what they are trying to do, I take issue with their claim that they have shown that historically “there has been substantial discussion and elaboration on the roles and divinity of our Heavenly Mother.” What do they mean by “substantial discussion and elaboration”? Apparently, “substantial discussion and elaboration” is the same thing as saying that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother has not been “marginalized or trivialized.” But on what basis do they make this judgment? Does it not depend on one’s view of what constitutes “substantial”? After all, the question over whether the doctrine of Heavenly Mother has been neglected by church leaders depends not simply on the number of statements made about Her, but the nature of the statements themselves, their meaning in context, and their place of emphasis in the whole shifting mosaic of LDS theology. And what about elaboration? Does not “elaboration” imply some kind of development, expansion, or refinement? Have Paulsen and Pulido demonstrated theological elaboration of the doctrine of Heavenly Mother in any sense of the term?

          Paulsen and Pulido’s strategy for demonstrating “substantial discussion and elaboration” is basically twofold. First, they document statements about Heavenly Mother that portray her in a range of roles, including Heavenly Wife and Parent, A Divine Person, Co-creator with the Father, Co-framer of the Plan of Salvation, Involved Parent in our Mortality, and Mother in Heaven in the Hereafter. With multiple references found in the endnotes, this arrangement is intended to show the breadth of discussion about Heavenly Mother, that she is imagined as more than a silent housewife. Second, they provide examples for each category from various epochs of church history, including from church leaders who are still living. This feature is presumably meant to show that discussion and development of the roles of Heavenly Mother have continued from the early days of the church until the present. Paulsen and Pulido seem to be saying, “Look! Can’t you see our extensive documentation? Heavenly Mother has always been an important part of LDS theological discourse.”

          Unfortunately, this presentation of the data obscures more than it reveals, since it homogenizes LDS discourse about Heavenly Mother, fails to make distinctions in the kinds of things said about her and the people who are saying them, and evaluates statements outside of their rhetorical and theological context. When we read the statements more carefully, we find that 1) few of the those cited are “substantial” in the sense that Heavenly Mother is a focus of theological discussion, and 2) even fewer rise to the level of theological “elaboration” in the sense that they go beyond the basic ideas articulated in Eliza R. Snow’s 1845 hymn: that we have a Mother in Heaven, that she is a divine queen, that she, along with the Father, sent us here to earth and will receive us again. The vast majority of the statements are of a rather unsubstantial and unelaborative (or mildly elaborative) sort. Heavenly Mother is briefly mentioned or inclusive language such as “Heavenly Parents” is used, but her alleged roles are not addressed in any significant way and we are given little confidence from the rhetorical and theological context that she plays anything but a minor auxiliary role in the cosmic drama of the plan of salvation, whose main actors are the Father and the Son.

          To illustrate what I mean by substantial/unsubstantial and elaborative/unelaborative, I will briefly evaluate the examples provided by Paulsen and Pulido in the categories of Co-creator with the Father, Co-framer of the Plan of Salvation, and Involved Parent in Mortality. These categories are the heart of their paper and more than anything else give their research the appearance of having broken new ground in expanding what has traditionally been thought to be the limits of LDS discourse about the divine feminine. My discussion of their references proceeds in the sequence they appear in the article.

 

Co-creator with the Father

          The first quote is from Brigham Young and is interpreted to imply Heavenly Mother’s participation in the creation of the earth. But on closer analysis, the context suggests that “our parents” (qua Adam-god theory) has reference to the act of reproduction in peopling the earth and not to creation in the sense of cosmic labor: “to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our parents [Adam and Eve].” From other sources, it is clear that Brigham Young believed that the creation of the earth was carried out by a divine council of male creator gods.

          Edward Tullidge is cited for his statement that Heavenly Mother was “the partner with the Father in the creation of worlds.” This statement belongs to one of the few substantial discussions of Heavenly Mother in LDS theological discourse and is authentically elaborative since it expands our understanding of Heavenly Mother’s place in the cosmos and her relationship to the Father in the creation of the earth. But despite Paulsen and Pulido’s attempt to give Tullidge greater spiritual legitimacy by citing the editorship of The Women of Mormondom by Eliza R. Snow, he is not a General Authority and is idiosyncratic in his views as an estranged Mormon intellectual (Godbeite) with feminist leanings.

          An article apparently written by Charles W. Penrose before he was ordained an apostle is thought to be further evidence of Mormon thinking on Heavenly Mother’s role in the creation. However, on closer examination this conclusion appears to be premature. First of all, the article is most directly a response to an article written in a California newspaper by a biblical scholar named A. D. Kinsman who believes that women become men in the hereafter and not an exposition of LDS thought on the creation or Heavenly Mother’s alleged role in it. Second, the comment about the divine spirit “that moved upon the face of the waters” being feminine in gender, while suggestive and compelling, is short and undeveloped, almost given as an aside. It is like a brief flash of light that quickly goes dark, probably generated (since Penrose did not read Hebrew) in response to Kinsman’s research on the gender of biblical terms that refer to divine and angelic beings.

          Elder Milton R. Hunter’s teaching that exaltation includes “the power to create or organize mortal worlds” does not mention Heavenly Mother at all, so is irrelevant. The statement may be meaningful for contemporary LDS women and may have theological implications for understanding Heavenly Mother’s role in the creation of our world, but, significantly, he does not draw those implications out.

          The last statement linking Heavenly Mother with creation is attributed to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and his wife Patricia, who are said to have taught that “our Mother and our Father are involved in the ongoing process of creating everything around us.” Here a number of comments can be made. First, the author of this chapter is Patricia and not Elder Holland. Second, the creation referred to is not the creation of the earth but a more situational, in process, in the present moment of our life kind of creation (this is not to say that it is theologically useless—the statement is actually creative, but to beg the question of why it is included in a section on cosmic creation). Third, she explicitly acknowledges that the thought came from something she had once read, which is left unspecified.

 

Co-framer of the Plan of Salvation

          The quote by Elder M. Russell Ballard with which they begin this section (“we are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us”) has theological potential. But on closer analysis his choice of terminology does not appear to mean that he wants us to understand that Heavenly Mother was equally involved in framing the plan of salvation. The point of emphasis is on “Heavenly Parents who love us.” In the immediately following paragraph, when an opportunity is given to continue the inclusive language, the divine is seen in masculine terms, “When our time comes to return to our Heavenly Father to give Him an accounting of our stewardship while here on the earth….” Throughout the chapter and book Heavenly Father is the divine point of reference.

          The next quote from the Gospel Principles manual is similar. Inclusive language is used under a bold heading “Our Heavenly Parents Desired to Share their Joy with Us” to suggest that both our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother “provided us with a celestial home” and “wanted us to develop the godlike qualities that they have.” But immediately following is another bold heading “Our Heavenly Father Presented a Plan for Us to Become Like Him” where we learn that it was our Heavenly Father who “called a Grand Council to present his plan for our progression… We learned that if we followed his plan, we would become like him.” The action of the Father as sole planner is so emphasized that we have the awkward, “we would become heavenly parents and have spirit children just as he does.” Taken in context, the quote does not really support the idea that Heavenly Mother was a co-framer of the Plan of Salvation.

          Sister Chieko Okazaki has a higher incidence of inclusive language than many other church authors or leaders, but this quote is not substantially focused on Heavenly Mother and is not really relevant to the question of her role in developing the plan of salvation. In the preceding context, the terminology is wholly masculine and centers on Heavenly Father’s role in developing the plan.

          The quote from Elder Theodore Burton is significant. I would count it as truly elaborative, since it expands the meaning of a well-known scripture (Moses 1:39) in a way that is innovative and inclusive. But I hasten to add that the context in which this statement occurs is his emphasizing that “we must believe with all our hearts that we are the spirit children of God.” He is not really trying to promote the idea that Heavenly Mother was a co-framer of the plan of salvation. Burton continually calls it “the Father’s plan.”

          The quote from Elder Milton R. Hunter is another example of Paulsen and Pulido drawing out theological implications that are not present in the work of the author itself. Yes, if both of our heavenly parents had to learn and obey the same laws to be gods, then it would make sense that they both contributed to developing the plan of salvation. But that is not what Elder Hunter says. He simply describes how they came to be gods. In his discussion on the plan of salvation in chapter 3 Heavenly Father is the sole author of the plan.

          The Gospel Principles manual describes both our heavenly parents attending the great council. Because this idea is not explicit in the canonical scriptures, it can in some sense be considered elaborative. But it is hardly theologically daring. Again, the context is unremittingly masculine and provides no reason to assume that Heavenly Mother was anything but a silent partner.

          Sister Chieko Okazaki’s portrayal of the heavenly parents together accepting the offering of their son Jesus Christ is creative and theologically elaborative since it brings Heavenly Mother into the serious business of instigating and effecting the plan of salvation. But Okazaki’s focus on Heavenly Mother is not sustained as her language easily slips into a Father-only plan of salvation kind of framework.

          The reference to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland is not applicable. It is not substantially focused on Heavenly Mother and has little bearing on her role in the preexistence.

          Lula Greene Richards’ poem is creative in that it treats Heavenly Mother as a cosmic entity unto herself, who functions separately from the Father. But the Father is clearly the authority behind the plan and the focal point of the poem: “We were there with God, our Father, and voted ‘Thy will be done.’”

          Elder Mark E. Peterson and President Thomas S. Monson’s statements do not focus on Heavenly Mother independent of the formulation of “heavenly parents” and do not inform us what her role in “sending” us to earth entailed.

          Ruth May Fox’s parable is unusually elaborative since it imagines the types of things Heavenly Mother would say and do for her daughters before their leaving her presence to come to earth. She is portrayed as a powerful authority figure, not only because the literary fiction of the parable puts her in the place of Christ, but because she bestows divine character traits on her daughters and tells them that she will hold them accountable for how they use them.

          Elder Orson F. Whitney, President Harold B. Lee, and Elder John Longden’s speculations about the circumstances of our departure from Heavenly Mother and Father are elaborative, since they refine the idea of our being sent found in the hymn “O My Father.” But they are elaborative in a very limited way. This is, after all, a farewell scene and not the serious business of the grand council.

          Elder George F. Richard’s statement about honoring our heavenly parents is creative since it interprets the fifth commandment as applying not only to our earthly parents and is inclusive of Heavenly Mother. But I find it a stretch to see it as evidence for Heavenly Mother as co-framer of the plan of salvation.

 

Involved Parent in our Mortality

          The lines from Eliza R. Snow’s poem are uniquely elaborative (though elaborating from what we do not know). Prayer to Heavenly Mother by the saints is seen as fully compatible with her understanding of the gospel. Heavenly Mother’s cosmic authority is underscored by reference to Her “throne” and by use of the epithets “great” and “eternal.” But should this statement be seen in terms of a larger and continually developing LDS discourse about Heavenly Mother? I think not. First, the sentiments expressed in this poem (as well as in the hymn “O My Father”) stand apart in the history of LDS discourse about Heavenly Mother. In all the time since Eliza R. Snow, we have no recorded example of an LDS leader who assumed or advocated for the theological normativity of prayer to Heavenly Mother. Second, Eliza R. Snow was a woman, not a General Authority. Her words should not be used to make up for an apparent lack of theological creativity among the male priesthood leadership. Third, the poem appears to have been edited when published to refer to Heavenly Father instead of Heavenly Mother. What does this say about the nature of LDS discourse about Heavenly Mother?

          The statement by Elder Harold B. Lee is elaborative since it sees Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother as equally concerned parents who work to help their children and in particular because it seems to allow for the possibility that Heavenly Mother may communicate with us and have a real impact on our daily lives. But this thought is unfortunately not developed in any significant way in the talk or in other writings or speeches by Harold B. Lee. We must also consider that the talk was given to a female audience (general Relief Society meeting) and subsequently published in the female Relief Society Magazine. This particular setting may help explain the slight deviation from normal authoritative discourse.

          Sister Okazaki’s statement about our heavenly parents suffering with their children is mildly elaborative since it implies that Heavenly Mother is emotionally involved in our mortal trials. But this idea is not a focus of discussion and is given more as a question that she wonders about.

          Elder Russell M. Ballard’s statement that our “Heavenly Parents’ love and concern for us continues to this very moment” seems significant by itself. But on closer examination, the mention of Heavenly Parents should be seen as a rhetorical transition from talking about living with Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother in the premortal existence to the nature of mortal existence. After this point “Heavenly Parents” or “Heavenly Mother” are not mentioned again. The sole active parent involved in our mortality is Heavenly Father, who is referenced again and again with regard to all aspects of the plan of salvation.

          President Spencer W. Kimball’s statement that our Heavenly Parents’ “love and concern for us never ends” is inclusive, but not substantial or elaborative.

          Jeffrey R. Holland’s description of our Heavenly Parents reaching across our personal wildernesses to hold us close is elaborative since it implies that Heavenly Mother is an active participant with the Father in comforting their children. But we should note that the statement is less theologically significant than it first appears. His use of inclusive language, in fact, seems to arise out of the rhetorical context where he analogizes about our heavenly parents from his and his wife’s personal experience and feelings for their children. To not have used “heavenly parents” would have been rhetorically awkward. In other contexts in the book, where inclusive language is not necessary, he mentions only Heavenly Father as the “involved parent.”

          Sister Okazaki’s description of the atonement as a familial embrace in which the Father, Mother, and Son include us in their circle of love may be one of the most  creative statements about Heavenly Mother by a general auxiliary leader in the contemporary LDS church. This theological move places the Heavenly Mother, even if only by inclusive language, at the center of the drama of the plan of salvation and makes her an active participant in the work of dispensing divine grace. Not surprisingly, the statement was made by a woman.

          Elder John A. Widstoe’s statement that the temple helps us “understand the nearness of our heavenly parents” has theological potential, but is left undeveloped.

          Milton R. Hunter’s brief mention of Heavenly Parents is not substantial and does not really lend support to the idea that Heavenly Mother is an “involved parent” in mortality.

          Elder Dallin H. Oak’s statement that “our highest aspiration is to become like our heavenly parents” can hardly be interpreted as “substantial discussion” or “elaboration” of Heavenly Mother’s role as an “involved parent.” This is merely an example of inclusive language used to describe the state of eternal life because of its rhetorical appropriateness to the context (which is about eternal family relationships). Most of the talk refers to “God the Eternal Father.”

 

Conclusion 

          As I hope this exercise has demonstrated, Paulsen and Pulido’s claim to have shown “substantial discussion and elaboration on the roles and divinity of Heavenly Mother” is deeply problematic. I have not dealt here with all their designated categories for describing Heavenly Mother’s various roles. But based on my own study, all the same kinds of problems that attend their presentation of the evidence in the above three categories are also evident there.

          As someone who is interested in the church developing a more progressive and spiritually healthy discourse about the divine feminine, I can appreciate what Paulsen and Pulido are trying to do rhetorically with their positively nuanced discussion of the history of LDS thought about Heavenly Mother. Nevertheless, I believe their presentation of the evidence obscures historical reality in several significant ways.

          First, their catalog of references about Heavenly Mother or our Heavenly Parents gives the appearance of there having been more extensive and substantial discussion than there actually was. This is because many unsubstantial, unelaborative, and sometimes even irrelevant statements and references have been included in their survey. 

          Second, their organization of statements and references about Heavenly Mother into several relatively evenly balanced categories that define her several roles obscures the fact that statistically-speaking LDS discourse about Heavenly Mother has depended almost entirely on the particular roles in view. LDS leaders and commentators have been far more comfortable in speaking about Heavenly Mother in terms of the distant past (pre-existence) or the distant future (post-mortal experience) than they have with the here and now.

          Third, their conflation of non-General Authority with General Authority statements obscures the fact that the most substantial and elaborative statements have tended to come from non-General Authorities (such as Eliza R. Snow, Edward Tullidge, Susa Young Gates, and Chieko Okazaki). Indeed, the most substantial discussions of Heavenly Mother from high-level priesthood leaders have been attempts to quash theological elaboration and innovation of the uniquely Mormon doctrine by others (Pres. George Q. Cannon and President Gordon B. Hinckley).

          Fourth, by amalgamating data from various periods of church history, Paulsen and Pulido have obscured the fact that the most substantial and elaborative discussions in their catalog come earlier in church history (19th-early 20th century) rather than later.

          To be sure, Paulsen and Pulido claim that their intent in cataloging statements about Heavenly Mother was merely to report what they find, not to theologically evaluate it. But then why frame the evidence as a rebuttal to the argument that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother has been neglected or marginalized by church leaders throughout church history? Is it possible to make this argument without a clear idea of what “substantial discussion and elaboration” is and without a historically nuanced discussion of whether the individual references measure up to it? I find Paulsen and Pulido’s presentation of the data to be rather unilluminating and their claim for “substantial discussion and elaboration” unpersuasive.

          In my view, although belief in a Heavenly Mother has been widely held in 19th and 20th century Mormonism (albeit in different formulations and rhetorically emphasized in different ways), and has firm roots in Mormon theology, despite the lack of obvious scriptural support, it is a doctrine that has not received sufficient attention from church leaders and has definitely not experienced elaboration. If anything, we seem to know less about Heavenly Mother than Eliza R. Snow did and seem less comfortable talking about her than earlier Mormon generations. Recognizing this is important. We are not likely to make changes in our culture and rhetoric if we cannot see what is wrong and what is missing. We have to be able to look to our past and try to discern not only what theological tendencies were inspired and inspiring, but what tendencies led and still lead to spiritual lethargy and ossification.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    Thanks! I will need to read more closely after classes tody, but I think this topic raises some interesting questions about how Mormon theology develops.

  • http://boaporg.wordpress.com W. V. Smith

    Nicely done, RT.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Killer post!

  • Clark

    But on what basis do they make this judgment? Does it not depend on one’s view of what constitutes “substantial”?

    I think this is fair, but I suspect the answer isn’t that different from asking what constitutes substantial discussion about Heavenly Father (beyond merely noting his existing and a few superlative generic qualities like “loving”). The fact is we honestly don’t know a lot about our Heavenly Parents. In my opinion even discussion of the Father is more about mentions than substantial discussion.

    I’ve not read the book but I remember the discussion a couple of years ago at the UVU SMPT discussion and many people raised the specter of both Adam/God as well as polygamy as problematizing the discussion. I assume those didn’t get discussed in the book. But I think it safe to say that one reason the topic doesn’t get delved into more is at lease significantly in part due to those two issues.

  • RT

    True, Clark, relatively little is known about Heavenly Father. Yet I think it is hard to claim that there is any kind of parity in the “substance” of what we know about HF compared to HM. In LDS teaching and thought HF is constantly said to be doing things of real significance.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the historical relationship of Adam/God theology and the practice of polygamy to the doctrine of HM should be a major barrier to theological elaboration or discussion. Neither seem to have been crucial to the earliest forms of the HM concept attested in Nauvoo. Rather, they seem to have been later elaborations.

  • Clark

    RT, what of significance did HF do? Besides point to Christ who did it (following the 20th century view that Jehovah was primarily Christ and not the Father)

    The sole thing I can think of is call the council in heaven.

    I’m not being contrarian here. I honestly think we assume a lot about the Father that’s just not stated. However if that’s what we’re doing is it really different to assume a lot about a heavenly mother?

    Regarding A/G I think it is a problem simply because if you want to see where a lot is said about a Heavenly Mother you look at the early Utah conception of Eve. I’ve not read the book in question but I suspect they sidestep this a bit (i.e. exclude explicit comments about Eve which were intended to explication Mother in Heaven or don’t mention that statements about Mother were statements about Eve. Certainly we can simply divorce the figure from Adam/God. That’s largely what the Church did with the Father and Adam. Just cut out one or two tricky bits and leave the rest and never mention things again. I’m fine with that. However if we’re looking at origins for ideas I simply don’t think we can divorce these things from their context.

    (Interesting how here I’m emphasizing origin whereas over in the recent JI discussion I was emphasizing common structures – however I think we need to keep both in mind when discussing these sorts of things)

  • Clark

    To add to the above, I’m not denying HF is presented a lot whereas HM just isn’t. Further we pray to HF, HF often appears introducing the Son, etc. But in terms of what we know about him, other than the dispute over the identity of YHWH, I don’t think we have a lot.

  • RT

    What I meant by HF constantly doing things is:
    developing a plan
    creating the earth
    calling prophets
    communicating his will
    sending Jesus
    appearing to JS
    organizing a church
    answering prayers
    healing the sick
    giving personal revelation
    providing gifts of the spirit
    prospering those who keep the commandments, etc.

    I think answering prayers is a big one. In the church that I know, HF is constantly involved in virtually every aspect of our personal and institutional narratives. His actions may be more transcendent and less concrete, but they are nonetheless significant and real for those who experience them.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    I wonder why their list of statements by GAs and non-GAs points to anything other than sheer speculation. Without an iota of scriptural backing that isn’t as easily or more easily explained by reference to the Father alone, whey isn’t it seen as wishful thinking to fill a void? I could produce a list like this for the Constitution failing and being propped up by Elders of Zion or the view that LDS shouldn’t practice birth control. Why are these statements anything more than assertions without an iota of scripture to back them? I am not naive — I am aware of the politically correct imperative to have a female deity. I suspect that is what really lies behind this effort. Is that too harsh to say out loud even if its true?

  • wreddyornot

    I don’t need Paulsen and Pulido’s listings on a mother there — although I happily welcome their working to bring the subject to the fore and its positive reception — to know the pervasive nature of the sentiment of a Heavenly Mother and Wife in my Mormon culture. I think those who deny this are disingenuous. As a man (still) in the church, I am highly embarrassed that powerful men, often aided by minion wives, have and continue to thwart the divine feminine, both on earth and in heaven.

    Isn’t scripture a listing of statements and histories by men that were at once viewed as speculative but then gained traction as they became sacred and inspired? Isn’t it kind of a circular argument to require scriptural backing for tenets moving forward into the future? So, I say, go ahead and list away your various irrelevant listings, but not here in this venue in this discussion. The list at hand pertains to a Mother in Heaven and her engagement, not to a bunch of off-topic hot-button subjects. What’s wrong with assertions without scriptures to back them, anyway? Often assertions become scriptural. Besides, don’t you as an author do plenty of asserting yourself? You are not naive. The postulates at hand however lay a newer, somehow quite familiar and refreshingly comfortable ground, too long in coming for my tastes.

    There are reasons enough beyond political correctness for doing so. Surely, one so astute can use his imagination to think of some. But even if the motive is being politically correct, I don’t find it in the least bit objectionable. Why should it be? Do you somehow feel threatened by it?

  • RT

    Blake raises two very important issues that I do not have adequate space to deal with here: 1) the status of teaching about HM in LDS theology and doctrine, and 2) the theological legitimacy of advocating for change and development of the doctrine.

    No doubt, the history of LDS discourse about HM reflects substantial speculation and personal folk doctrine (cf. the widely differing forms the belief has taken and the prominence of the language of logic and inference used to justify it). Since so little was ever “revealed” about her, this is as we would expect.

    But sheer speculation? I do not think so. Whether the idea was taught by Joseph Smith or not, I view it as integral to or strongly implied by the theological system that he taught. Belief in a HM goes to the very heart of Mormon theology and to ideas about the nature of deity, our relationship to deity, our divine nature, and the importance of gender. This is why Blake’s proposed examples of baseless theological speculation are not really comparable.

    I would even go so far as to see belief in HM as a kind of keystone to what makes Mormon theology special and a species unique. This is why the doctrine has been continually asserted by generations of Mormons and why church leadership has been loathe to completely abandon it, even in the face of a dearth of scriptural support. The latter phenomenon is particularly remarkable in view of the scriptural literalist and fundamentalist tendencies of some GAs.

    This is not the place to get into historical particulars, but I think a compelling case can even be made for the idea of HM originating with JS. When the idea first appears in writings by W. W. Phelps and Eliza R. Snow, it comes already significantly developed. HM has the appearance of mythos; she is a real supernatural being who does things. Her descriptions reflect a mythopoeic mindset, the same kind of mythopoeic mindset found in abundance in JS (and some parts of the Bible).

    As to the question about the theological legitimacy of advocating for change and development of the doctrine, I would merely say that Blake is right insofar as these kinds of efforts do reflect dissatisfaction with a male-only kind of framework and language for deity, arise out of deeply felt needs, and are conditioned by contemporary historical and cultural contexts. But why is this any different from how theology is more generally done? All of theology arises out of human need and a somewhat speculative engagement with our surroundings based on our current best understanding of the world. However, I think Blake is wrong insofar as he implies that the efforts to make a greater place for HM in LDS teaching are motivated only by those things, by a kind of wishful thinking or political correctness, and not by authentic spiritual feelings, intuitions, and inspiration.

  • RT

    I have described my own journey while a graduate student of the Hebrew Bible to understanding why HM needs to be a greater part of LDS theological discourse in a piece I wrote for Exponent II, fall 2010 called “My Search for the Divine Feminine.” It is available online.

  • Manuel

    “Isn’t scripture a listing of statements and histories by men that were at once viewed as speculative but then gained traction as they became sacred and inspired?”

    My instinctive answer to this question is yes. Nevertheless, I think this rises a good point about how we as a church assimilate new doctrine/ideas and how we dismiss faulty doctrine/ideas that didn’t work.

    The passive dismissal of controversial ideas has proven challenging to some members of the Church who fail to fully let go, since nobody has told them officially that they must let go. They have to assume they have to let go of some of these ideas simply because “we don’t teach that anymore,” which is relative, vague and open to interpretation. I’m thinking McConkian folk doctrine here for example.

    I think that similarly yet inversely, the concept of Heavenly Mother is going through this relative, vague and open to interpretation process. A passive assimilation of new doctrine/ideas of sorts, with no official declaration or canon of scripture to back it up. This is probably an exception when it comes to new doctrine, which makes it even more problematic.

    Do we believe in Heavenly Mother? Does the prophet believe in Her? Or is it a concept that “makes sense” and the General Authorities tolerate and appear to fully accept simply because it is “politically correct”?

    I am one of those who fall back into the extrapolations of our belief in eternal marriage, the requirement for man to be married in order to enter the highest degre of glory in the Celestial Kindgdom and the declarations that we are “literal” children of a “literal” Father and not just the creations of a creator.

    In my mind, I ask it this way:

    Is God the ultimate bachellor who creates beings or is God the ultimate family man who, with his eternal companion, begets children? I cannot help to see God as the second.

    Thus, the dismissal of a Heavenly Mother poses more doctrinal problems than answers. I think Heavenly Mother is much more than a concept to bring political correctness into our discrouse. I think it is the link that gives all of our doctrines and all of our understanding of the purpose of life and the plan of salvation the cohesiveness needed to actually pursue them.

    Spiritually, I am immensely satisfied with the belief of a Heavenly Mother, and I assume this is also the case for many. I then will wait for “further light and knowledge” since I do recognize the need official statements from those we honor as our revelatory guides and the lack of supporting official statements behind this part of the gospel.

  • Clark

    RT (8), but that’s also what I was talking about. Most of those functions we actually attribute to Christ who is working in the name of the Father. The only one that the last 100 years we actually have the Father doing might be prayers. However even there we usually say that they are answered in a delegated fashion too. It’s a rather curious feature of 20th century Mormon theology that the Father’s function appears to only be to introduce the son.

    Blake (9) I think that claim only holds if you assume all non-canonized texts are mere speculation. Personally I find that a very problematic stance to take for a variety of reasons. For one I don’t think all scripture (canon) is dictated from God and thus involve a lot of speculation. (Think Paul) But secondarily I think there’s lots of non-canonized stuff that’s significant. (Think the KFD)

    If one accepts the infinite regress reading of the KFD (which I know you disagree with) then it’s hard to say all the claims about Heavenly Mother are mere speculation IMO. And even if you don’t agree with the mainstream reading of the KFD I think you acknowledge that it’s at least defensible. It’s hard, in my view, to take the KFD as Joseph merely throwing out some speculation. He might be wrong, but I don’t think it’s speculation the way you or I might speculate.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    I admit to being a bit concerned/confused by your comment. Do you really think that “scriptural backing” is some sort of secure foundation for theological reflection? And do you really think that the idea of a female deity is nothing more than “politically correct, wishful thinking?”

  • Clark

    TT (15) I agree. Even if Blake thinks it’s speculation I think calling the motive political correctness is pretty dubious at best since it was a widely taught doctrine through much of the 19th century.

    wreddyornot (10) I have to admit I find some of your comments problematic. Surely we don’t want to say that theology is just speculation we’ve become habituated to. While I don’t agree with Blake’s answer to the problem I do think we have to ask ourselves how we determine what is a doctrine. However ultimately I don’t think there’s a good answer beyond just putting different texts and their providence into a kind of artificial dialog with each other. That includes not just scriptural texts but other texts as well such as Conference talks, and so forth.

  • wreddyornot

    Yes, Clark, problematic. But no, theology is not just speculation which is habituated to anymore than adaption in evolution requires only training. It’s more complicated than that. I don’t accept your assertion that there’s no good answer beyond putting texts into some sort of a false conversation. I’m convinced such conversation can and do have meaning and results. It seems to me it does and has had. I remember many years ago an article in Dialogue telling of Emma’s complaints about chewing tobacco’s mess leading to a raft of “doctrine”. But even then, the man (Joseph) wanted to drive. As long as men keep the reigns in their hands or the keys in their pants pockets to the only carts or cars that go anywhere, the women won’t be driving on their own. Women may get around, but to get anyplace worthwhile it’s ultimately only at the mercy of men. Regrettably, because sometimes I’d like to see where they’d take me. Like RT wrote, “We are not likely to make changes in our culture and rhetoric if we cannot see what is wrong and what is missing. We have to be able to look to our past and try to discern not only what theological tendencies were inspired and inspiring, but what tendencies led and still lead to spiritual lethargy and ossification.”

  • Clark

    I don’t think I’m saying we can only put the texts into a discourse. However it is through doing so that I think we converge on the truth. It’s just that I don’t think there is a fixed method of “origin” that will let us determine theological truth. At a certain point it’s reality and revelation that are the ultimate trumps.

  • RT

    Clark (14),

    “Most of those functions we actually attribute to Christ who is working in the name of the Father. The only one that the last 100 years we actually have the Father doing might be prayers. However even there we usually say that they are answered in a delegated fashion too. It’s a rather curious feature of 20th century Mormon theology that the Father’s function appears to only be to introduce the son”

    I really don’t know what you are talking about. Some LDS interpreters may have spoken in this vein. But I think the vast majority of LDS see HF as the one responsible for those things I listed. I really don’t hear that many people talking about divine investiture of authority.

  • Clark

    Well that might be but wouldn’t that be on par with how people talk about mother in heaven? I mean frankly she gets talked about a lot it’s just that there’s nothing much revealed about her. Likewise I think heavenly father gets talked about a lot but when you look to see what’s clearly and unarguably revealed it gets a bit trickier.

    This isn’t a problem for me since I honestly think most of what gets said about mother in heaven is accurate. I just don’t buy the way of theologizing that Blake adopts. But the theology really is all about divine investiture of authority whether the masses think about it in that way or not.

  • RT

    I think you’re missing my point, Clark. HF continually does things in people’s lives (or is universally regarded to do those things); HM is not said to do those things, while belief in her existence is still acknowledged. It is this tension that I’m getting at.

    And I see no evidence in scripture or in LDS thought more generally to say that “the theology is all about divine investiture of authority.” True, there is a strong hierarchical element in Mormon conceptions of the divine, with a division of labor between a transcendent and authoritative Father and a more active Son, incidentally, as there was in Israelite and Canaanite religion more generally, but that does not mean that the Father is not believed to constantly do things of real significance in people’s lives.

  • BZT

    This is a very interesting post. It appears that most of the statements made by living General Authorities regarding Heavenly Mother are rather vague and unelaborative. The majority of the GA’s, as researched by RT, seem quite hesitant to allow Heavenly Mother any sort of substantial role in the creation, the plan or her present relationship with us. I find this troubling, especially when there is evidence from the temple and early teachings that she does have a prominent role in our doctrine. Why are we only allowed to have a one-parent family?

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    I think the problem is that we view God as a “parent” instead of as God. It is easier to think of God as a father or mother figure, but I am not sure if it really helps us understand our relationship with God or the nature of God.

    I do not recall the Temple saying anything about HM….though I do daydream a lot in the temple.

  • wreddyornot

    And who was it, Chris H, who encouraged that Heavenly Father characterization along?

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    Ummm…is this a trick question? To be honest I have not done a serious geneology of the term.

    My guess is that it rooted in the patriarchal societies and social structures that served as the roots of modern religion.

  • RT

    I don’t think envisioning the divine in terms of a Father and a Mother is inherently patriarchal. What is patriarchal is encouraging patriarchal language for the divine while excluding the language of the Mother.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    It is not inherently patriarchal, though it is buying into patriarchal conceptions of the family which have a rather direct impact on patriarchal conceptions of gender. I say, let us scrap the whole paradigm and start over.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    I take the belief in a Heavenly Mother very seriously, so let me be express that what follows is an ironic take on a mere parody of such an important subject.

    wreddymot and RT: Sometime folks demonstrate and show something better than they can say it — and sometimes even contrary to what they say. Posts #11 and #12 demonstrate how the HM belief functions as a political statement of gender inclusiveness. Thus, at least in these posts the discourse regarding HM serves as a kind of political theology to legitimize the great American value (and perhaps the only one that really holds for all Americans) — inclusiveness. I add that it seems to me that this kind of political theology is precisely the kind of “theology” that is “dangerous” in the sense that James Faulconer preaches. While Jim and I disagree on a good many things (not the least about the value of theology itself) I believe he is correct about this danger. The danger, as I understand Jim, is that theology will supplant and ignore the necessity of revelation as its foundation.

    RT raises the issue as to whether the HM doctrine was taught by JS. Why is that important? I presume it is important to address because it is primarily his revelations and explicit teachings as founding prophet that we look to as the basis for Mormon “doctrine” or beliefs. However, as RT says, it really doesn’t matter whether he taught it if we have some other good reason to believe it. Do we? If these statements were meant to really do “theology” by showing that some LDS doctrines of marriage, or eternal progression, or degrees of glory, or creation or some such logically entailed or assumed or require a HM, and what such assumptions imply about her, then I would see it as a useful exercise. To just line up statements that are to be accepted because they are supposedly authoritative makes no sense to me since they aren’t really authoritative. We (and by “we” I really mean “me and I think you might too”) don’t accept what just any GA or quasiGA says as doctrine or a sound basis of belief in the absence of scriptural or revelatory support.

    Let me ask a few very central questions: Why would I believe that a HM exists at all? These kinds of statements by GAs and quasi-GAs cited by Paulsen and Pulido aren’t sufficient even to provide a rational basis for belief that HM exists, let alone what she would be like were she to exist.

    What does it mean to call HM a “mother”? Does she gestate spirits and give birth to them? Is she heavenly Father’s wife and for that reason a “mother” without being what we usually mean by “mother”? What do we mean by “wife” in this context? I don’t believe we even know or have a basis for using the term “mother” — it is vacuous in content.

    I have no problem with a whole retinue of female deities in the council of gods as the LDS doctrine of eternal progression and eternal marriage requires. But is there a single HM just like there is but one Heavenly Father?

    Do we have any reason based on the statements proffered by my very good friend and mentor David Paulsen and the promising and very intelligent Martin Pullido to believe any of these statement are a sound reason to believe what they so vaguely assert about HM? Do we have any reason to believe that HM is a co-creator with God in some sense that we are not? Is there any reason to believe that HM answers prayers?

    While I was in Italy on my mission I noted the many, many shrines to Mother Mary. I noted that prayers to Mary (the “Hail Mary” and others) were more common than prayers to any other saints — and it often seemed even to God the Father. Mary has a very central place in Catholic worship. To my rather stayed Mormon ears such prayers seemed (and seem) like idolatry — misplaced worship. Prayer to any divine being other than the Father seemed to me then, as it seems to me now, to be contrary to Jesus’s teachings and the imperatives he both steadfastly practiced and expressly asked of his disciples.

    Why did devotion to Mary get such a grip? It isn’t taught in the Bible — though idolatrous devotion to female gods certainly is present (which I don’t think is a good reason to view some divine feminine in the Godhead). What is certain is that worship of Mary (I know Catholics insist it is just “adoration” but I don’t buy it) began in Egypt in the 3rd century and probably largely out of prior devotion to Isis. I see in this practice a furtherance of the apostasy. Beliefs that supplant worship of God are simply accepted by the folk and perpetuated — very likely because of a felt psychological need for the feminine in deity. Is there any reason to believe that there is a basis for belief in a HM any more than Mary can answer prayers?

    However, I can see why wreddymot is willing to accept the belief in HM — “Isn’t scripture a listing of statements and histories by men that were at once viewed as speculative but then gained traction as they became sacred and inspired?” I don’t think that this is remotely accurate as to how scripture comes about. But if any speculation at all could some day become scripture, then surely we have a reason to accept anything and everything that sounds pleasing to us. If I believed that that were all there is to scripture and revelation, then I would be the first one headed for the atheist exit.

    I am also very caution about equating a feminine deity that was associated with Baal withe the Spirit in Gen. 1.2. Baal worship was regarded as idolatry in Israelite thought.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: “I just don’t buy the way of theologizing that Blake adopts.”

    This kind of statement isn’t very helpful. Which way do I do “theologizing” (whatever that is) that you just don’t buy?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: “This is not the place to get into historical particulars, but I think a compelling case can even be made for the idea of HM originating with JS. When the idea first appears in writings by W. W. Phelps and Eliza R. Snow, it comes already significantly developed. HM has the appearance of mythos; she is a real supernatural being who does things. Her descriptions reflect a mythopoeic mindset, the same kind of mythopoeic mindset found in abundance in JS (and some parts of the Bible).”

    I just don’t see it. The statments by Snow may well simply refer to her own parents who were recently passed. Phelp’s statements don’t seem developed at all re: a HM as opposed to a pre-earth life.

  • wreddyornot

    Blake.

    Since your entry (28) is “…an ironic take on a mere parody of such an important subject” would you mind saying, over against what you call a parody, where you or someone you prefer to you treats the subject seriously and not with sarcasm?

    Relative to my statements on scripture, I had in mind from the LDS Bible Dictionary the entry on “Scripture: The word scripture means a writing, and is used to denote a writing recognized by the Church as sacred and inspired. It is so applied to the books of the O.T. by the writers of the N.T. (Matt. 22:29; John 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15). For an account of the process by which the books of the O.T. and N.T. came to be recognized as scripture, see Canon. Latter-day revelation identifies scripture as that which is spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost (D&C 68:1–4).”

    So, for there to be scripture, a chronology is involved. Words are written. Those recognized as “spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost” are eventually afforded revelatory designation and added to the canon. The process has followers reading the words written, viewing them skeptically (not in a pejorative sense, but in the sincerely seeking sense), and, eventually, the words gain approval by the followers and get canonized. Not all words so written (speculations) gain traction, some do. I think that not all which should gain traction do.

    I’ve never advocated for just what sounds pleasing, although what sounds pleasing often is the correct answer. Furthermore, I’m less than comfortable with merely accepting canon without also recognizing the responsiblity for getting my own further light and knowledge. We all know, for example, there is often enough metaphor in the scriptures so that we can’t take everything literally.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake@29,
    There is much to say about your comment here, but I want to restrict my response to your charge that “HM belief functions as a political statement of gender inclusiveness” and that such a thing is “dangerous.” I’m not really sure of the context that Faulconer uses the term, or if he would support your application of his meaning here, but if so he is certainly included in my critique. What I think you don’t seem to understand is that either affirming or denying the existence of HM, speculating on her attributes, roles, etc, whether or not it is appropriate to pray to her or talk about her, or making claims about the relative authority of statements made about her, are ALL political theological claims. There is no theology that is not “political,” and pretending that advocates of her existence or importance are being “political” while your critique of them is not political is bald rhetorical nonsense. Your claim that there is a single, male HF and that women (at best) only belong to the council of gods, is as blatantly political as anything ever said about HF or HM.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: That you think all theology is political is something you’ll have to demonstrate and not merely assert. That theology can be used (or abused) as a political message or done with a political motive I don’t doubt. But that all theology is simply political I don’t buy at all. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    When I am asking if there is reason to believe that the HM exists, it is not a political statement I’m seeking, not is it political philosophy that I am doing, but seeking some reason to assess what I should believe. It is an epistemological inquiry — and the fact that you think that is political baffles me. When I assert that scriptures don’t support belief in a HM, I am assessing what I believe the text says, not whether females ought to be included. Those are very different issues for me.

    My assertion that the doctrines of eternal progression and eternal marriage will only support a view of females deities in the council of the gods is not political — it is merely what I believe those doctrines will logically imply. They won’t logically support any more than that as I see it — and that isn’t a political statement but a reading of the texts and an assessment of what I believe is entailed about what has been stated in scripture and revelation. Could such a conclusion (as opposed to a logical assessment) have political implications? Only if you also believe that false argument that the structure of deity must reflect the political and social structure we believe is best and has nothing to do with what the truth is about the structure of deity but with how we should use our beliefs to accomplish political ends.

    So let me make explicit what I think your subtext and real argument is: we should believe in HM because it is politically expedient and those who question that belief are just misogynists. That seems to me to be what you are implicitly arguing — and it just a bad argument (logically invalid and ad hominem). If you want to argue for inclusion of females in the priesthood for instance, then be up front about it and argue for it based on persuasive reasons that God must give his priesthood to everyone and not exclude anyone without confusing it with other issues.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    I won’t respond for TT (he is too smart for me), however, I think we can say that all arguments about gender are informed by our political and social context. This is not a dismissal of those arguments, but instead and recognition of social and historical contingency.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    That the HM is prostituted for political ends is precisely why I am discussing a parody of that belief and not that belief.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    To say that something is political is not the same things as saying that it is “prostituted for political ends.”

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    I will work on a post that fleshes out the basic notion of a hermeneutical circle to address your claim that you are simply deriving your beliefs from “a reading of the texts…in scripture and revelation.”

    “So let me make explicit what I think your subtext and real argument is: we should believe in HM because it is politically expedient and those who question that belief are just misogynists. That seems to me to be what you are implicitly arguing — and it just a bad argument (logically invalid and ad hominem).”

    This is not what I am arguing at all. I’ve actually written posts on HM, so you check those if you want to see what I do say here: http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2008/02/the-future-of-heavenly-mother/.

    In fact, I am arguing the exact opposite of this, and saying that you are merely engaging in the mirror image of this argument by asserting that those who don’t question the belief in HM are just inserting their political correctness, rather than your rhetorical claim to only be interested in the “text” and “logic.” It just so happens that there are other people that see the texts and logic quite differently than you. My claim is that neither view is more or less faithful to the “text,” “logic,” or more or less “political.”

  • RT

    Blake,

    I don’t deny that belief in HM has political implications, I just said that it was a mistake to see it as only that. Please read my comment more carefully.

    Do we have reason to believe in HM, apart from whatever JS taught? You’re right, the modern scriptural canon doesn’t provide any obvious prooftext for the belief (more on that below). However, I think the implications of JS’s theology and the statements and teachings by generations of church leaders and commentators (which is a far cry from other non-scriptrual, non-revelatory ideas I can think of) do provide a basis nonetheless.

    As to whether it can be rational to believe in a HM, I would say that it is no less rational than believing in a HF. What makes HF more rational than HM? What is really difficult for me personally is belief in God period. But I try, so the language I attribute to divinity and the symbols that inform how I relate to Him/Her/It do matter. I’ve tried to relate to Deity simply as the generic, neutral, non-gendered God, which is the path that many rationalists go, but haven’t found that to be very useful or meaningful.

    The importance of familial language for the divine is that it sets up relations and expectations. It informs how we approach the divine. Calling deity Father or Mother does not require that we interpret those terms in an overtly literal or mechanical way, as you seem to suggest.

    But where I think you have gone the most errant is in your assumptions about what the scriptures actually say and the place of goddess worship (or forms thereof) in Israelite religion and later Christianity. As I said before, the scriptural canon, whether ancient or modern, provides no obvious prooftext that legitimates worship of the divine feminine. But this is because our reading of scripture is informed by centuries and indeed millennia of interpretive, textual, and cultural developments that have led to the exclusion of the female divine from religious thought and discourse (a development that, in my view, was neither providential nor necessary).

    I feel very confident on historical evidence alone that a divine HM was fundamental to historic Israelite belief and worship, and that her belief and worship were crucial to the theological/political dynamics that led to the construction of the biblical text, and that a living goddess tradition can still be detected in parts of the Bible. I have written about my research as a graduate student of the Hebrew BIble on this subject at the link I gave above in #12. It is only a brief sketch. But in short, I believe that the “Holy Spirit” was originally an epithet of HM/Asherah and that worship and recognition of this goddess was preserved in certain Jewish communities during the theologically pluralistic post-exilic era/second temple period. For me, the evidence is actually quite conclusive.

    So specifically, Blake, I regard your characterization of goddess worship or even the worship of Mary as totally contrary or inimical to Jesus’s teachings as erroneous and historically mistaken. It is an assumption rooted in your cultural biases and a Jewish-Christian interpretive strand that shaped the formation of the biblical text.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Chris: “To say that something is political is not the same things as saying that it is “prostituted for political ends.””

    Chris, you’re entirely correct. But it doesn’t entail that it cannot be or hasn’t been so prostituted either. It depends on how the argument is used. I see HM often prostituted for political purposes. I just want to know if there is a sound reason to accept the belief and, if so, what a HM would be like based on something sound.

  • Clark

    Blake (29) I don’t think I mean too much by it that we’ve not discussed ad nauseum the past. It seems to me that you really don’t give much value to anything by any other figure other than Joseph and even with Joseph I think you tend to be selective. I also think you privilege scripture (canon) a tad too much theologically independent of context. That leads you to the conclusions you do such as your conception of God but ends up with conclusions very different I think from most Mormons and GAs (such as the nature of divinization and the Father)

    So it’s more how one put different texts into discourse with each other and gives some trumps over others that I disagree with. But I recognize that’s just a foundational issue we disagree over. I tend to put the writings of GAs much higher than you do and, I think, value context a bit more. (i.e. the context of the Jewish conception of the Godhead prior to the move towards strict monotheism)

    This is what’s so interesting about Mormon theology. We’re strong fallibilists who don’t mind calling canon wrong on occasion. We overturn even fairly established precedence when the Presidency announce something in conference. And we have texts that are quasi-authoritative in interesting ways. (Say the King Follet Discourse or the Proclamation on the Family) Change the ordering of texts and you really do end up with different theologies.

    Bottom line I just think that GAs are more inspired on doctrine over the past 150 years than you appear to. It doesn’t mean I think they aren’t often speculating (I reject A/G for instance). But it does mean I’m not quite as quick to cast their views off as you are.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: If you say it is a mistake to see it as “only” political then I take it you are saying that it is “at least” or necessarily political and could be something more. I disagree that it is necessarily political. Sometimes I just want to know what the text supports. However, Chris is undoubtedly correct that I cannot escape my skin and write outside of the culture and melieu in which I exist and have my being. But it doesn’t follow that I am therefore textually or hermeneutically disabled whereas others are not.

    I read your piece in Exponent II. I can see why we differ. You take the scriptural statements about idolatry and worship of Baal and Asherah as politically exclusionary. I take them as folk religion that was railed against by the prophets as idolatry. I’m well aware of the redacting of the OT that took place — but I don’t believe that we have a good sense of exactly what was redacted based on what is left to us.

    I also dispute that the Holy Spirit is another name or epithet for Asherah in any sense that would equate with Christian use of “Holy Spirit” — and I know you don’t expressly assert that, but it seems to me to be a subtext you leave as an assumption to finish the argument for belief in a female diety that is the Holy Spirit. I see that argument as not only unpersuasive, but equivocal in extremis and for that reason also misleading (in the Wittgensteinian sense that we are bamboozled by language and it is philosophy’s goal to disentangle that confusion). In any event, I don’t accept or believe it based on the evidence you adduce.

    Do you accept that the belief in prayer to Mary as just as valid as belief in HF or HM because it also has the folk religious support from the 3rd century on? I believe that some kinds of beliefs are just out of bounds — and prayer to Mary is one of them. Have I misread you, or do you believe differently?

  • Clark

    RT (38) I think you raise an interesting point. We should perhaps distinguish between determining theology and defending a theology. The latter is often done via prooftexting. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of that technique as the most interesting theological issues to me arise from broader patterns. (Like you I simply don’t think we can neglect the near eastern context of Judaism and look at their move to strict monotheism away from a more Mormon conception of the Father with a wife)

    Blake (35) Like RT, TT, and Chris I find your comment about heavenly mother being prostituted for political ends pretty problematic. While it’s definitely true that feminist oriented Mormons have latched onto the idea I think it’s unfair to only read the doctrine through that political lens. Especially when historically it’s been a very popular doctrine – long before the rise of modern feminism. Further while I often disagree with feminist critiques I think they need to be engaged with as we think through our theologies. While I’m no feminist I actually am pretty open to the question of what the role of women is and what it means for us to be in the image of God if there is no woman there. Further the very meaning of sealing and marriage in Mormonism is so wrapped up with divinization that it’s hard to separate the two issues.

    None of this is to neglect that there aren’t political aspects to theology. But that’s always the case. Look at many of the moves against views from the early Utah period (say 1850 – 1900). A lot of that change in theology came in no small part due to political opposition to apostate groups who often were practicing polygamy. Does this mean that all the theological changes are illegitimate merely because of that political context? Of course not. (And I’d assume you’d be the first to agree since you discount so much late 19th century theology)

    While not all theology has obvious political implications, a surprising lot does. Further the the development of theology often arises from political or quasi-political situations. Just look at the history of the Word of Wisdom from the first revelation through its becoming more mandatory to its current role as a fairly defining feature of Mormons separating us from many other groups.

  • Clark

    Blake (28) I had a big comment written addressing many of the points you raise in this comment. But I think a shorter one is better.

    So far as I can see there is absolutely no rational basis to believe any doctrine purely on the basis of its place in scripture or the teaching of any GA. We can talk about what is more authoritative (i.e. taught by leadership) at various times in Church history. We can talk about what is authoritative in the sense of canonized. But ultimately the only basis for believing any doctrine is on the basis of personal revelation. We have to prove all things and hold to what is good. (I vaguely remember several conference talks on this – but I can’t quite find them at the moment. There’s an excellent one by Elder Oaks on this that I love.)

    So to me theologizing at best is providing a place where the spirit can work. This leads to some incommensurability issues since you’ll get different people convinced there’s personal revelation on a topic. Obviously I don’t hold the revelation of lay members as that high a value for my personal theology. Although I think that when so many members believe based upon spiritual feelings that counts for something.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: ” I think it’s unfair to only read the doctrine through that political lens.”

    On this we are in agreement. In fact, that is my point. I have another — we shouldn’t allow the political considerations to determine whether this is sound doctrine.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: “It is an assumption rooted in your cultural biases and a Jewish-Christian interpretive strand that shaped the formation of the biblical text.”

    That is where we differ. You appear to believe that folk beliefs have some authoritative status that scriptural texts do not and the folk doctrines ought to trump the scriptural texts. This is a very large discussion, but in general I would say that is incorrect. I need to think it through a bit with respect to beliefs that were subverted in the text by the emerging church before I am ready to write about it.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: “As to whether it can be rational to believe in a HM, I would say that it is no less rational than believing in a HF. What makes HF more rational than HM?”

    Well, thousands of revelations over thousands of years from HF that are accepted as scripture and 0 from HM would seem to indicate that there is a rather big difference you’re overlooking.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake@45, You appear to believe that there is some self-evident distinction between folk beliefs and scripture. One person’s scripture is another person’s folk belief. These aren’t natural categories, but a posteriori judgements about the relative value of certain ideas.

    Blake@46, you know that is not a “rational” reason, right?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: “One person’s scripture is another person’s folk belief.”

    Quite so — but I’m a Mormon; not a Hindu or Muslim or Zoroastrian. Thus, what I accept as scripture is different for my community and tradition of revelation. You seem to think that all religious communities have equal claim to truth and all ought to somehow by accepted by Mormons as equally binding for belief. That just isn’t how it works – nor should it. You appear to give no priority to LDS scripture; I do. I take scripture accepted by common consent as the foundational documents of the LDS religious community and the history of its dealings with God — and the primary attempt to define what is accepted as authentic as opposed to what is spurious. Moreover, there is a self-evident distinction between folk belief and scripture — that is why the documents are consciously adopted as authoritative. The notion that the scripture has been inspired and superintended by God is as much a Mormon commitment as a general Christian commitment.

    What would count as “rational” for you if the fact that a doctrine is scriptural and/or founded in scripture isn’t?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: “But ultimately the only basis for believing any doctrine is on the basis of personal revelation.”

    So how do you account for Hiram Page?

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    “You seem to think that all religious communities have equal claim to truth and all ought to somehow by accepted by Mormons as equally binding for belief.”

    “You appear to give no priority to LDS scripture; I do. I take scripture accepted by common consent as the foundational documents of the LDS religious community and the history of its dealings with God — and the primary attempt to define what is accepted as authentic as opposed to what is spurious.”

    What the hell, Blake? You are making assertions about TT that do not make sense.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Chris: I’ll let TT speak for himself. I may have misunderstood him; but I don’t think I have misunderstood the implications of his statements. If “folk belief” that was excised from scripture is just as binding as scripture, then these views seem to to follow.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    I just think you are overreading his intent completely. As a result this has turned uglier than it needs to be.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Chris: “You are making assertions about TT that do not make sense.”

    Precisely, my comments are in the nature of a reductio ad absurdum because I don’t believe anyone ought to accept these implications either. I’m not asserting that TT stated this was his position; I’m asserting these views logically follow from his views of the relation of folk beliefs and scripture. I should have been clearer so you are right to call me on it.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    I think we are talking past each other. You keep insisting that you have some objective access to the reality of the divine realm through the canon, rather than seeing both the canon and its interpretation as a historical, political, human phenomenon. That doesn’t mean that one cannot or should not take it as “authoritative,” only that judgments about which texts get interpreted (or why you think that you can ignore some GA’s), and how they get interpreted, including what kinds of “logic” are acceptable and what kinds aren’t, are not objective acts, but are imbedded within these historical and cultural practices. Your interpretation that HM should or should not be seen in particular ways is not the result of some neutral, non-political knowledge, and is therefor no different from those who see the HM tradition in Mormonism as in the “text” and “logical.”

    Anyway, that promised post is coming. Maybe tomorrow.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    Just one more quick note that I presume that you don’t think that demons are the cause of epilepsy, that women should not speak in church, and that slaves should obey their masters as if they were Christ. These are all “scriptural,” no? Just because something is “scriptural” doesn’t mean it needs to be taken authoritatively.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: “These are all “scriptural,” no? Just because something is “scriptural” doesn’t mean it needs to be taken authoritatively.”

    Of course I accept that all of these culturally dependent beliefs in scripture have been superseded; that is precisely the value of continuing revelation. But I don’t throw these beliefs out wholesale — I ask what is the function in that culture and how does it relate to my present culture and scientific knowledge. For example, I do believe that devils have taken possession of others (I have harrowing experiences with such things), that there are rules about speaking in church laid out in the D&C and that we should take Christ as our master.

    TT: “seeing both the canon and its interpretation as a historical, political, human phenomenon.”

    Do you mean it is merely and nothing more then a human phenomenon?

    I accept that scripture is a judgment about what is accepted as genuinely expressive of the religious community that adopts it and also as authentically inspired as opposed to other claimants to authority that may (or may not) be spurious. But I see it as more — also as superintended and protected by God and inspired both in the initial revelation or expression and in the decision to include it in the canon.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: “or why you think that you can ignore some GA’s”

    I have been very explicit about the hierarchy of authority that I believe exists in relation to scripture, non-canonized revelations to JS and his successors, First Presidency statements and statements by GAs. But as RT noticed, these statements about HM gathered by Paulsen and Pullido were not accurately parsed and are not all from GAs. Of course, we should take GA statements not offered as scripture with a lesser authority for the same reason neither Clark no I accept the A/G theory promoted by BY.

  • SmallAxe

    Blake,

    Is the temple ceremony genuinely expressive of our religious community? If so, where is it in the scriptures?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    SmallAxe: I would look in the Book of Moses, Genesis, Book of Abraham, Exodus, Leviticus and Revelations, but I won’t go into detail.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: “You keep insisting that you have some objective access to the reality of the divine realm through the canon, rather than seeing both the canon and its interpretation as a historical, political, human phenomenon.”

    Where did I make that claim? I do claim that the canon is not merely a historical, political and human phenomenon, but given my adherence to the Expansion Theory I clearly see it as embedded within all these influences in addition to being inspired. I do claim that the doctrine of HM isn’t expressly taught in the canon — I thought that we all accepted that as just a given fact. I have read arguments that the doctrine of a HM is somehow implicit in the canon — I just don’t find them at all persuasive.

  • Clark

    So how do you account for Hiram Page?

    Not following what your point is. I think I was clear that you can only receive revelation for yourself. Thus we constantly find people who purport to have revelations that conflict with your own. The only solution is the pray and inquire.

    If someone goes around claiming revelation on behalf of the Church that almost always counts as a pretty big mark against them in my book. On the basis of Alma 12:9 if nothing else. As I’ve argued before I think it only appears like there were more spiritual gifts in the 19th century due to the nature of the Church then and how we know about such matters. People now keep their mouth shut and those who don’t usually aren’t authentic (IMO).

  • Clark

    Blake (60) I have read arguments that the doctrine of a HM is somehow implicit in the canon — I just don’t find them at all persuasive.

    I’m a bit curious as to your hermeneutic here since it seems your reading of Mosiah 15 in terms of merkabah literature is a perfect example of just the sort of reading people make to see heavenly mother in the scripture.

    I’d say the reading of the female divine as being entailed by D&C 132:19-20 is much more explicit than your reading of Mosiah 15. (I agree with your reading by the way – I just don’t see why we can do it there and not with other scriptures)

    My personal feeling is that if we don’t take God the Father as the absolute beginning (as I know you do) but take the many scriptures about becoming like God literally and assume God did the same (as I think most see Joseph teaching in the KFD and Sermon in the Grove) then the clear implication of D&C 138 must be that we have a mother in heaven. Further, I’d argue, the whole doctrine of marriage makes very little sense if it wasn’t necessary for the Father. Why have it at all?

    I think that last question is the most difficult for those denying a Mother in Heaven doctrine within Mormonism to answer. The doctrine flows very naturally out of the traditional reading of Joseph’s sermons and as the clear implications of the very idea of the divinization of women. If women can be as God the way Jesus is one with the Father then doesn’t that logically entail Mothers in Heaven?

    Now I do think one can question the spirit birth. (I accept it – but I agree the sources for it are not nearly as strong as for a Mother in Heaven) However the idea of the female divine in heaven seems pretty hard to argue against in a Mormon context. At best one can argue that the Father isn’t married even though there are female gods. However then one is left with the issue of how can marriage be a required doctrine of righteousness yet something the Father himself doesn’t follow? I can see someone like Anselm arguing God is so different that the words mean something different for him than us. I’m not sure that Anselm approach works in a Mormon context where God and goodness are supposed to be comprehensible. Surely God is subject to the same account of righteousness we are…

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: “then the clear implication of D&C 138 must be that we have a mother in heaven.”

    Well, I’m feeling really dense right now because I don’t see how D&C 138 implies a HM even remotely. You’re going to have to spell it out for me.

    I’m also intrigued by your argument that HM means the Father’s wife or consort or something like that without being a literal mother. The earliest sources in Utah that do speak of a HM are pretty clear that her primary function is to gestate spirits among the many HMs as an adjunct to polygamy (and as you have already noted in this context of Mother Eve in the context of Adam God theory). So the primary function of HM in these sources is not what you accept about her. But I don’t see how one can accept the early sources (e.g., Orson Pratt, BY and ES) as a basis for belief in HM and yet reject what they affirm of her.

    I also don’t think that your last question is hard. God (the Father and also the Son as individuals) was fully divine before becoming mortal. They condescended to become mortal. We were not fully divine before becoming mortal on any reading. The Father did not atone for this earth, but the Son did. What is true of the Father isn’t necessarily true of the Son and what is true of them both isn’t necessarily true of us. Your argument is a non-sequitur. Further, heavenly wife doesn’t imply HM. These are two different concepts. As I stated above, all that follows from eternal marriage or the doctrine of deification of women (and men) is that there are goddesses in the council of gods. If we become gods, then how does that imply that there is a HM? It is perfectly consistent to believe that we can be deified without having been birthed as spirits by a HM . . . or that there is a HM who didn’t birth us but is just God’s consort.

    Clark: “I’m a bit curious as to your hermeneutic here since it seems your reading of Mosiah 15 in terms of merkabah literature is a perfect example of just the sort of reading people make to see heavenly mother in the scripture.”

    What? I read Mosiah 15 as a midrash — but midrash is simply an interpretive method found throughout scripture. I see it as in interplay of what JS is adding to interpret the text (based on several indicia) and the underlying text. How is the HM like that? Again, I just don’t follow. I must be missing something.

    Clark: “If someone goes around claiming revelation on behalf of the Church that almost always counts as a pretty big mark against them in my book.”

    I agree with you — and I have the same reservations. If I have properly understood TT, he believes that these kinds of private experiences about HM ought to be accorded the same status as scripture. I’ll wait to see what he has to say before fleshing out that observation. But how on earth can you then accept the HM doctrine? It isn’t scriptural (without wresting the texts). It would have to be based on something like private revelations not given the church.

    Look, here is how I see it. I accept what is based on revelation because God knows what the truth is and if he reveals something, then we have reason to believe it. The revelations that are accepted as trustworthy and foundational are placed in scripture to provide a basis for seeing what God has revealed in a trustworthy way and as the foundation for the community that accepts it. If someone is attempting to make sense of what God has revealed, then I see that as legitimate inquiry into what we accept as authoritative and both accept as a basis for truth. But if someone claims a doctrine not established by revelation, then what basis do I have to believe it is true? If you argue that HM is entailed by what is accepted as scripture (as you attempt to do), I see that as quite legitimate. However, when I assess the arguments, I don’t believe they hold up. Worse, when I press the concept of what HM is like, the concept of “mother” vanishes into a mere place-marker with no content.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake (60) I have read arguments that the doctrine of a HM is somehow implicit in the canon — I just don’t find them at all persuasive.

    Blake, we have an entire set of scriptures, the OT, that makes absolutely no mention of Jesus Christ, yet we have developed hermeneutical ways of reading this text as all about him. The rules for reading the OT as Christological were developed by the community. We can read texts in all sorts of ways. The rules are not given. The logic of interpretation is not inherent. We have Mormon ways of reasoning that suggest that the idea of no Mother in Heaven “makes reason stare.”

    I have been very explicit about the hierarchy of authority that I believe exists in relation to scripture, non-canonized revelations to JS and his successors, First Presidency statements and statements by GAs.

    Sure, but this is a totally arbitrary hierarchy, and one that is not even consistent since you already said that later revelation “supersedes” earlier scripture. The texts don’t offer you this hierarchy, you just made up it, or rather, follow a particular tradition for how to resolve contradictions and tensions, but this is not a hierarchy that is “scriptural” or “logical” and I doubt is even consistently applied by you (or anyone).

    these culturally dependent beliefs in scripture have been superseded

    One could say the very same thing about your contentions about HM, no?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: “the OT, that makes absolutely no mention of Jesus Christ, yet we have developed hermeneutical ways of reading this text as all about him.”

    No one who reads the OT to refer to Christ would accept your first statement that it makes no mention of him. They don’t believe that are merely reading something into the OT that isn’t there (and neither do I). Your own hermeneutic this begs the question. But lets say that you’re right. We have entire books of scripture (the NT, BoM, Book of Moses and D&C) that do mention him — and often.

    TT: “Mormon ways of reasoning that suggest that the idea of no Mother in Heaven “makes reason stare.”” Again, you’re going to have to show it rather than assert it or quote Eliza as if she were a prophet. Even her statement about heavenly parents may well refer only to her recently departed parents being in heaven.

    You are of course correct that my weighting of sources isn’t scriptural. However, giving scripture priority is scriptural and having prior scriptural injunctions give way to new revelations that are also scriptural is also scriptural (e.g., Peter’s dream about table fellowship, or Christ’s fulfillment of the Law of Moses).

    TT: “One could say the very same thing about your contentions about HM, no?”

    No. Just what cultural or scientific knowledge mandates belief in a HM? Your argument is a non-sequitur.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: I would be interested to hear what you affirm about HM. RT equates HM with the Holy Spirit and Asherah — which I don’t believe is remotely consistent with what Mormon sources affirm of her. You appear to believe that it is a cultural mandate akin to prayer in Mary — which also seems quite foreign to what Mormon sources affirm. So even if one affirms some female deity, that isn’t necessarily at all like what Mormon sources affirm of HM.

    Do you affirm that she is a literal mother of spirits? A mother in some other literal sense? If so, what sense? Just what the heck do you mean by HM? Are we even addressing a univocal notion that is anything like the earliest sources affirmed of HM? You see, I believe the very notion of HM given this kind of discourse is just vacuous and lacks content — so I’d be interested in just what kind of being (person?) you propose we are discussing.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    I just put up my longer post about interpretation, so perhaps we can move some of the discussion here over there, and let this thread stay on the point of the OP.

    “No one who reads the OT to refer to Christ would accept your first statement that it makes no mention of him. They don’t believe that are merely reading something into the OT that isn’t there (and neither do I).”

    This is precisely my point. Everyone who things their interpretation is correct denies that they are reading anything into the text. This “belief,” however, is the product of an acculturation to a particular way of reading. If you handed the OT to a person who knew nothing about Christian interpretation and asked them to read it and tell you all the places it mentions Christ, she couldn’t do it, because that reading is the result of an interpretive tradition.

    “However, giving scripture priority is scriptural…”

    No, it’s not.

    “having prior scriptural injunctions give way to new revelations that are also scriptural is also scriptural”

    Sort of. Acts didn’t think it was “scripture” when it was being written. Yes, meaning that interpretations change. This is precisely my point that what is taken as authoritative is always under revision.

    “Just what cultural or scientific knowledge mandates belief in a HM? Your argument is a non-sequitur.”

    Well, nothing “mandates” a belief in anything. However, there is a long Mormon tradition that sees HM as a perfectly logical argument given our theory of the divine, theosis, and eternal gender. That you don’t give any value to this tradition is your interpretive decision, not one that is somehow more faithful to scriptures, logic, or now “scientific knowledge”.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: I’ll move to your extended assertion without backing in your post about foundationalism later. Here I want to finish this discussion by asking what you mean by HM? I doubt it is continuous with or even recognizable as consistent with a Mormon trajectory.

    TT: “This is precisely my point. Everyone who things their interpretation is correct denies that they are reading anything into the text. This “belief,” however, is the product of an acculturation to a particular way of reading.”

    Well, this seems to me to simply an assertion that you are right that Christ isn’t really in the OT and those who assert he is are wrong. This is a very large issue. However, you ignored my observation that we have a lot of subsequent revelation that makes seeing Christ in the OT a lot clearer. According to the gospels, this hermeneutic began with Jesus himself opening the scriptures (the OT at that time) explaining how they spoke of him. This is especially true of the post-resurrection appearances.

    This approach is unlike HM in any way since we don’t have subsequent scripture that affirms or opens up such hermenueutic — your argument is a category mistake comparing HM with belief in Christ as interpreted through the OT.

    TT: ““However, giving scripture priority is scriptural…”
    No, it’s not.”

    I’m really surprised that you assert this, Anyone who reads the texts of second temple Judaism would be struck by how the Law and prophets are given authoritative status to establish the law and practices and beliefs of the community. Anyone who missed it has missed not merely a lot, but what is most essential to the way these texts are treated in the Jewish communities. The NT repeatedly quotes the OT texts as an authoritative basis for beliefs and means of resolving conflicts and arguments. The denial of an authoritative and privileged status for these writings isn’t really open to question as I see it.

    TT: “However, there is a long Mormon tradition that sees HM as a perfectly logical argument given our theory of the divine, theosis, and eternal gender. That you don’t give any value to this tradition is your interpretive decision, not one that is somehow more faithful to scriptures, logic, or now “scientific knowledge”.”

    Yeah, and this tradition includes ruminations about Adam being God, heavenly mothers gestating spirits and the practice of polygamy that you don’t accept — so you don’t accept it either — and for good reason.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake@66,
    Now, I think you are asking the right questions! These are actually the same questions that I have, and I am incredibly interested in how HM is represented. I accept the tradition of a HM in Mormonism as an important tradition, and see positing her existence to be the logical and necessary consequence of our notions of the divine, including our notions of theosis, the temple, embodiment and materiality, etc. I am critical of the ways that HM has been represented in the past as a quiet, private, submissive, invisible, domestic “wife” and “mother,” including notions of childbirth as her primary (or only) role.

    FWIW, I think that all the questions you ask about HM could (and should) be asked about HF. In what sense is he a “father” (especially without a mother?)? Are we even addressing a univocal notion of the “father” in scripture or Mormon tradition and revelation? What kind of work is the notion of “father” doing as the way we think about God, and why has this notion emerged as so important in this historical moment, compared to say the ancient Israelite tradition where such a notion is almost completely absent (anthropomorphic male roles assigned to God tended to favor husband, not father, a representation we never use today). And I think that we should critically investigate the discourses about him (as slaveholder, angry and jealous and violent husband, racist, etc). I think that we have discourses of HF and HM, discourses which are and always will be “political” and that we should seek to represent them in our texts and traditions in ethical ways.

  • Clark

    Blake (63) I’m also intrigued by your argument that HM means the Father’s wife or consort or something like that without being a literal mother.

    If we can accept the father as a father by adoption why not the mother? For the record I accept that both parents are parents in a stronger sense than adoption but I make no claims of what that entails physically. However neither do I see the problem with a mother by adoption.

    Blake (63) What is true of the Father isn’t necessarily true of the Son and what is true of them both isn’t necessarily true of us.

    Certainly. For instance I typed on a MacBookPro while God hasn’t. However are any of those characteristics essential for being divine? The scriptures, especially D&C 132, strongly suggest not.

    The difference is that God commands us as part of being righteous to marry. As I said if God’s ethically bound the same as us that logically entails he must be married.

    Blake (63) Well, I’m feeling really dense right now because I don’t see how D&C 138 implies a HM even remotely. You’re going to have to spell it out for me.

    Sorry. Typo. D&C 132. I sketched out the argument later.

    Blake (63) It is perfectly consistent to believe that we can be deified without having been birthed as spirits by a HM

    It seems to me you’re conflating two ideas. The idea of a heavenly mother or the divine female and then the issue of spiritual birth. While it’s true in late Utah they were related it seems they are separable. Surely someone who appeals to Iraneus as a parallel for divinization is open to separating out aspects of the doctrine of divinization. (big grin – bit of an inside joke for anyone not up on that debate. Many say that his different conception of the nature of God means that such parallels are misleading at best.)

    Blake (63) What? I read Mosiah 15 as a midrash — but midrash is simply an interpretive method found throughout scripture. I see it as in interplay of what JS is adding to interpret the text (based on several indicia) and the underlying text. How is the HM like that? Again, I just don’t follow. I must be missing something.

    You go farther than that. If I have time I’ll try and find some page numbers in your book and draw out the parallels more explicitly. The point is that you’re bringing a context to the text in order to interpret it. To even say it is a midrash is to bring in a context.

    Blake (63) It isn’t scriptural (without wresting the texts).

    I just disagree there.

    Blake (63) Worse, when I press the concept of what HM is like, the concept of “mother” vanishes into a mere place-marker with no content.

    Isn’t that what many say about the Proclamation on the Family and the claim gender is essential to our spiritual nature? What is the point of marriage if it has no role in the hereafter? Heaven knows there are lots of people who criticize Mormons on just that point. I don’t see how you can accept this for God the Father and God the Mother but see a distinction for humans made divine.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake@66
    “RT equates HM with the Holy Spirit and Asherah — which I don’t believe is remotely consistent with what Mormon sources affirm of her.”

    Well, my own view is that such examples might be seen as analogies that could inform our concept of HM, but I would say the same thing about the relationship between ancient concepts of God and our modern Mormon concept of HF.

    Blake@68

    “Well, this seems to me to simply an assertion that you are right that Christ isn’t really in the OT and those who assert he is are wrong.”

    Christ is not in the OT by some criteria (those of a historian following the modern rules of historical investigation or those of a Jewish interpreter). Christ is in the OT according to other criteria (typological or allegorical interpretation; the acceptance of the BoM as a record of ancient historical information). My point is that we have competing interpretations which are based on different rules.

    “According to the gospels, this hermeneutic began with Jesus himself opening the scriptures (the OT at that time) explaining how they spoke of him. This is especially true of the post-resurrection appearances.”

    Sure, and according to historical critical readings of the text these are invented traditions seeking to explain Jesus in a theological context for the readers of the gospels, or just another example of someone reading themselves into the text. We have LDS traditions of reading Joseph Smith into the biblical text too. Lot’s of evangelicals are reading Obama into the text. Reading oneself or others into the text isn’t evidence that that is what the text means unless one accepts this method of interpretation as legitimate.

    “This approach is unlike HM in any way since we don’t have subsequent scripture that affirms or opens up such hermenueutic — your argument is a category mistake comparing HM with belief in Christ as interpreted through the OT.”

    Again, what you are taking as the authoritative set of arbitrating “facts” here is entirely arbitrary. It forces you to ignore not only the LDS tradition which many people do take as authoritative (even if you keep asserting that it is not), but also an arbitrary decision that scripture SHOULD be the authoritative arbiter here, rather than the thing which should not be taken as authoritative about HM BECAUSE it lacks revelation on HM. At issue is not whether or not it is in scripture, but why you assert scripture as the authority which trumps a commonly accepted doctrine of the church.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Perhaps to state the problem even more clearly, the “scriptures” only support our LDS understanding of HF when understood by certain selective rules. Otherwise, he isn’t there anymore than HM is.

  • SmallAxe

    Blake,

    My point about the temple ceremonies (in #58) is that what we have (i.e., those ceremonies) doesn’t necessarily follow from the canon (i.e., BoMoses, Abraham, Leviticus, etc.). On what basis can you rule HM out as doctrinal, but not the temple ceremonies?

  • Clark

    I think that’s a good point Small Axe (73). Yes you can find elements of the ceremony in the interspersion in Rev 2-3 but we are able to recognize them as a temple ritual only because we have the temple ritual. This seems very much the same as having a doctrine of heavenly mother and then noticing all sorts of things related to that in the scriptures.

    I think the better example is TT’s one of finding Jesus in the Old Testament. To us when we read Isaiah, for example, there are pretty pronounced discussions there. But talk to a Jew and they would strenuously disagree because they already reject that doctrine. It’s all about context.

    Blake, I didn’t have time to nab your book from my library. So I couldn’t find the examples in the Mosiah 15 exegesis. I’m going to the game tonight so I might try and do it while watching conference tomorrow.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    Reading Ostler during conference…that is just wrong. :)

  • SmallAxe

    Clark,

    I agree that the OT is also a good example; but Blake missed the point there, so I’m trying again with another example.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: “Perhaps to state the problem even more clearly, the “scriptures” only support our LDS understanding of HF when understood by certain selective rules.”

    TT I’ve got to call you on this bunk. The vision of Stephen includes the Father and the vision of Joseph Smith of the Father is in the scriptures. By what torture of self-evident reference do you take the statement that JS saw the Father in vision to not be a reference to the Father? Now maybe you didn’t mean the existence and revelation of the Father’s appearance as “LDS understanding of the Father.” But then I have no clue what you mean by “LDS understanding of the Father” which could only be a theological construct from various sources and reasoning about them. How is that like the HM at all? She never appears in visions in any scripture. I suppose someone could cobble together a “theological construct” about the HM based on loose associations with the goddess Asherah, tortured connections between Asherah and the Holy Spirit epithet, between that epithet and the Christian Holy Spirit and Paraclete, and the HM who supposedly bore spirit children and then became Eve and now functions as a political place holder for gender equality in LDS sources. It is just a construct that falls apart on close inspection in my view.

  • Clark

    Chris (75), what can I say. Some talks bore me and I don’t enjoy the choir. (I know blasphemy – the one Mormon who hates listening to MoTab) I’ve never been good at lecture style learning – even in college. I always get far more out reading the conference talks. Which is why I’m very glad the Church puts all the talks up online so fast now. At least I put forth the effort to try and pay attention.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Smallaxe: As I see it, comparing temple ceremonies and HM is a vast category mistake. The temple ceremony is a teaching method; not a person. My point in citing the scritpures was to show how the the temple ordinances are explanations of scripture and often found in scripture — like the washing and anointing and investiture of the High Priest in Exodus 28-29. I agree that the ordinances don’t necessarily follow from what is in the canon; they were separately revealed and expressly taught by JS as ordinances. He expressly taught others abou the endowment and told them it had been revealed to him and he to them as the order they were to follow. We can’t say the same about HM. One of these is not like the other — and it is this glaring difference that is the difference.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: Chris is right. Don’t take conference talks as a sedative, my books are much more effective as sedatives. But don’t look in my books, it is in my Expansion Theory paper on my website. That should be enough to keep you from buying Somanex for a week.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    Clark, I will be reading Rawls and putting together religiuon-related proposals.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    “Clark: Chris is right.”

    Exactly.

  • SmallAxe

    I agree that the ordinances don’t necessarily follow from what is in the canon; they were separately revealed and expressly taught by JS as ordinances. He expressly taught others abou the endowment and told them it had been revealed to him and he to them as the order they were to follow. We can’t say the same about HM. One of these is not like the other — and it is this glaring difference that is the difference.

    Okay, so now we’re getting somewhere. What makes something doctrinal/official/canonical? According to you, the temple ceremonies are canonical, but not because they appear in scripture. It’s because they are “expressly taught by JS” and because JS taught that they had been revealed to him and others should follow it.

    Does this follow only for JS, or other prophets as well?

  • http://boaporg.wordpress.com W. V. Smith

    83. Well, sort of. ;)

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Smallaxe: How could ordinances be canonical? They can’t be canonical any more than the songs we sing in the hymnbook. No, the endowment was taught expressly by JS as revealed to him, but it wasn’t given as the basis for the community publicly as a canon is. That the ordinances are revealed doesn’t make them canon. The canon is the set of foundational documents received by the Saints by common consent as the scriptures and given to the public at large as such. They are public documents because they function to resolve disputes and give order to the community. An ordinance is a completely different order of being. No one believes that Peter James and John really visited Adam and had an orthodox minister there to teach a congregation. The ordinances are a mix of drama and ordinances that provide an experiential basis for teaching, learning and personal revelation. The canon doesn’t function in that same way. The canon consists of written documents that can be read.

    The HM is neither canonical nor revealed and given by JS to the Saints to be accepted as a method of teaching. The HM as it functions in this discourse is a placeholder for a female we know not what.

  • SmallAxe

    Blake,

    You didn’t answer my question.

  • SmallAxe

    Let me rephrase it:

    According to you, the temple ceremonies are officially accepted parts of Mormon life, but not because they appear in scripture. It’s because they are “expressly taught by JS” and because JS taught that they had been revealed to him and others should follow it.

  • SmallAxe

    Does this follow only for JS, or other prophets as well?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Smallaxe: It works for revelation to all prophets; but so far as I know only JS claimed revelation on the issue.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com John C.

    Blake,
    I’m an idiot and freely admit it, but I am puzzled by a distinction you are making. You speak, I think, regarding a belief in HM and a politically-motivated parody of belief in HM. What is your method for distinguishing one from the other?

  • SmallAxe

    So on what grounds do you dismiss statements about HM from other prophets?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    SmallAxe: “So on what grounds do you dismiss statements about HM from other prophets?”

    Grounding in revelation — actually having a reason to believe that the person who discussed it knew what he was talking about because he got it by revelation from God who presumably knows what he’s talking about.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    John C. — there is no publically discussable method to distinguish.

  • SmallAxe

    Okay, so let’s take The Family: A Proclamation to the World. “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

    Why doesn’t this pass muster?

  • John C.

    Blake,
    What on earth or in heaven is that supposed to mean?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    John — it means that truth is subjectivity. I discuss it at length in my 4th volume due out soon. Don’t assume that it means that the truth is whatever you really, really want to true. That isn’t what it means. My view is close to Kierkegaard’s based on a Kantian reading of him which is one of the prominent readings that Kierkegaardian scholars have given of his writings. It is why Kierkegaard adopted an ironic method of writing through pseudonyms through an ironic parody to show what cannot be said.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    SmallAxe: What do you mean, why doesn’t it pass muster? Why would you assume that it doesn’t pass muster. Each affirmation of this particular statement from the Proclamation has a solid backing in scripture. To whit, Gen. 1:26-27; Romans 8:14, 19 and D&C 76 and 132.

  • RT

    I would like to tie up some loose ends here and summarize my response to Blake and his concerns about the validity of an LDS doctrine about HM.

    First, Blake is concerned that the effort to make a greater place for HM in LDS teaching and worship is politically motivated and does not arise out of authentic revelation. This is understandable. We would not want to be making such life-altering decisions merely on the basis of political expediency or the dominant political zeitgeist. But the reality is, his characterization of me and many others is simply untrue and reductionistic. My personal interest in HM arose out of strong spiritual experiences and intuitions, some of which came about through bridging my LDS heritage with historical study of the Hebrew Bible.

    Conversely, I think it is somewhat disengenuous of him to say that his stance of “sacred silence” is apolitical. Not only does his repeated assertions about the political nature of discourse about HM obscure and distract from the real ethical problems with a male-only framework for God and his prophetic/priestly representatives, but a stance of “sacred silence” is political in itself, since it seems to justify, or at least rationalize at some level, the lack of discussion and elaboration of HM among General Authorities of the present and recent past (if this assessment is fundamentally incorrect, Blake, let me know).

    Second, Blake is concerned that we lack an evidentiary basis for the belief in HM. This is obviously an important consideration. I would guess that it is and has been the major reason (among other factors) why so few church leaders have given much time to speaking about or elaborating on the doctrine.

    However, I think we should give due weight to LDS tradition and especially its oral and non-textual aspects. One of the things I have loved about LDS theology since I was very young, and I hope is more emphasized in the future, is its ability to include all of us in its canonizing and scripture-making process: “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (D&C 68:4). Mormon theology has always been an amorphous body of ideas, teachings, and concepts, some central to the faith and others not so central, that have constantly been under negotiation, discussion, and adaptation. This is, in my view, one of its greatest strengths.

    A corollary of this understanding of the contingent nature of LDS discourse about the divine is that not everything that has been taught within the LDS tradition is necessarily true, heaven-sent, or spirit-inspired. We are commanded to seek revelation, but we often see through a glass darkly without realizing it.

    This is one of the reasons why I am not particularly bothered by some of the past rhetorical and theological elaborations of the doctrine of HM, such as with regard to Adam/God, polygamy, and spirit gestation. What is important to me is the general acceptance by these interpreters of the principle of her existence and the fact that their elaborations were just that: elaborations, creative interpretations arising out of their historical context (that may have been simply wrong in some aspects or a projection of their own desires) and not necessarily essential to the doctrine.

    The lack of obvious scriptural support for the doctrine is seen as particularly problematic by Blake. She can only be found, he asserts, through eisegesis, of reading into the text what is not actually there.

    No doubt, some have made interpretive moves with regard to HM that “make reason stare” and militate against their leading to the establishment of some kind of theological consensus about what we should think about her. But Blake’s characterization of the scriptures as bereft of information about HM not only reflects a minunderstanding of the function and nature of scripture within religious communities, but it is empirically inaccurate.

    At some point the LDS Church (as will all other religious communities that find their roots in ancient Israelite soil and that value what can be known in the real/empirical world) will have to take seriously the almost cascading archaeological evidence that goddesses played a prominent, even normative, role in Israel’s pre-exilic religion. Asherah was not a syncretistic import into the Israelite and Judean cults, as the authors of some biblical texts would want us to believe. Rather, she represented a continuation of worship and belief in the divine feminine from the prehistoric past.

    Not surprisingly, since Asherah/HM was so important in the pre-exilic Israelite cult, she had a prominent role in the theological debates and developments that led to the construction of the Bible. The evidence is found not only in polemics against Asherah, but also in subtle defenses of the traditional Israelite cult, which included the worship of El, Asherah, and their son Yahweh.

    Obviously, ancient representations of the divine Mother, which I think are to be found in parts of the Bible, should not be simply transposed into a modern LDS idiom. We are in some ways vastly different cultures. But in other ways, I think we are very similar and have similar needs. Because the Bible is already considered canonical, its representations of the divine feminine/HM could provide a needed catalyst for sparking study, reflection, and maybe even more revelation than we already have.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT — my silence is bound by the nature of my commitment in experiences sacred to me.

  • SmallAxe

    Blake,

    Re 97. I must be unable to distinguish when you’re being ironic and when you’re not. What is your position regarding HM?

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com John C.

    Blake,
    That is quite possibly the most useless response I have ever encountered. First, your reasons are not discussable publicly. Then they are, but only under to the guise of obstructionist jargon designed more to intimidate than to elucidate. I know that you are a smart man, but you are behaving like a bully here. Either explain your reasons or shut up. Whatever revelatory experiences you may have had in the privacy of your devotion is, by yourself, inadmissible. So, again, give an answer (that doesn’t require a higher degree in Ostler studies) or just shut up.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    John: You rant in #101 is out of bounds of civility. Further, my own spiritual experiences are none of your business. They are mine and are not a basis for belief by you or anyone else but me. So I don’t rely on them to establish doctrine for you. Nor do I rely on them as a basis or reason to argue for a view in public discourse. Telling me that I have to somehow meet your demands or shut up is the height of arrogance and the very kind of bullying that you accuse me of — I suggest that you get a mirror and take a good look pal.

    SmallAxe: My own personal experiences are not and cannot be a basis for belief by anyone else. They are not and cannot be a basis for public discourse. However, let me explain my position on public discourse about HM.

    First, I believe it is imperative to realize that not everything stated by a GA or prophet is scripture or true. I don’t think that this is earth-shattering for anyone since it is entailed in the well-established view of prophetic fallibility. But there is a further lesson I think we learn from BY’s Adam God theory. To safeguard against such false teachings even by a prophet it is essential to distinguish between what is binding on the Saints and what is not when it is spoken by a prophet. I believe that only scripture can demand our acceptance and only First Presidency statements are intended to be official statements of the Church’s position. Thus, I suggest that they are privileged in LDS discourse as authoritative sources.

    Second, I think we ought to learn from the Church’s experience with blacks and the priesthood. There was never a basis in revelation for the practice as far as I can see. (I’m aware that a 1950s 1st Pres. Statement attempted to justify it by a reference to the preexistence). To make a story that is much more complicated than I can cover here, the exclusion was based in part on BY’s bargains with the US to avoid enslaving Native Americans which he opposed but which required accepting slavery of blacks of which there were few in Utah. But those church leaders who came after BY didn’t know the basis for the practice. They didn’t base it on revelation or scripture — it was just a cultural overbelief that got inertia going because of what I think is a “yes man” culture among church leaders where no one dares to disagree. There was a long and consistent history of refusing to excavate the basis for the exclusionary practice to discovery that it wasn’t based on scripture or revelation; it was based on a particular circumstance that had long since ceased to exist.

    To protect against this kind of cultural overbelief and mere parroting of the prior views not based on revelation, I believe that it is important to base our beliefs and doctrines on revelation.

    Third, there is also an important epistemological imperative that we ought to base our beliefs and doctrines on revelation because that is the basis for believing that the matter is not merely a matter of opinion or assertion. The reason that I believe the assertions of revelation is that I believe that they are based on knowledge from one who actually knows — God. I have no reason to believe or accept a mere opinion, a mere assertion or mere long-standing culture practice uncritically accepted.

    But it is also important to safeguard against spurious claims to revelation as well. There is a safeguard against doctrines such as Adam-God theory — the criterion that the revelation is distinguished from possible spurious revelations by acceptance of the community by common consent as scripture.

    I also think that accepting a belief because the folk have a need for it, like the Catholics when they adopted the practices of existing non-Christian religions when they went into new cultures, is not a basis for belief and is the essence of apostasy. I believe that practices like prayer to Mary are out of bounds even if they fill some psychological need or the folk will reject the gospel if we don’t let them import their folk religion into the practices of the gospel. Such practices are counter-scriptural as I see it.

    I also believe that using a doctrine to promote one’s own political agenda is inappropriate — an act that leads to apostasy. In essence, I believe that feminists sometimes use the HM doctrine to promote a political agenda. I am sensitive to the exclusion of women from the priesthood — but I am also sensitive to the fact that the priesthood is a gift and God can choose who he gives it to. He can limit it to only Levites, to only men or give it to everyone. I know that this fact presents issues that pull in both directions. I also don’t want to reject the HM doctrine simply because it can be used to promote feminist values. I therefore want to assess the doctrine on its own merits based on its claim to be true because it is established by revelation. If there is a basis for belief in a HM based on revelation that is accepted as scripture, that would be the strongest ground for belief in my view. In the absence of that, and based on the varied history of the competing concepts of HM, it appears to me to have no solid footing because it involves so may disparate and contradictory concepts. I believe that accepting HM as a belief based on these kinds of considerations is tenuous at best.

    What I am interested in is the actual truth of the matter as a basis for our public discourse about HM. I know TT doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as the truth of the matter. I disagree. I am a critical realist — there is a truth as to whether God exists, Jesus was resurrected and God called Joseph Smith. There is a truth about whether there is a HM and if there is whether we know anything about it. I accept that our discourse about such issues will be limited to human ability to communicate and cultures in which we exist — but the whole point of revelation is that it is a revolution, a breakthrough that transcends what we know of the matter on our own.

    In my view, the HM doctrine is in the same class as non-scriptural and non-revelatory beliefs such as the exclusion of blacks and the Adam-God theory. Until we receive further light and knowledge on the issue for purposes of establishing a ground for public discussion of the matter, I suggest that we recognize the HM is in the same category as Adam-God and Blacks and the priesthood — and in fact the Adam-God theory provided the basis for public discussion of the HM for both BY and Eliza Snow and others through at least the period from 1853 to BY’s death.

    Perhaps Jim McGlauchlan said it better than anything I have said here: “Of course, we can easily imagine numerous theologies that can be spun through reflection on the revelations that make up the Restoration. The problem comes when we mistake our reflections and interpretations for the revelations. This would be like theologizing about my beloved and then falling in love not with her but with my idea of her. This, of course, does not mean that we should not reflect on our faith or our love; we just need to remember what we are doing.”

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Smallaxe: I should add that I agree with virtually everything RT said in his post about Paulsen and Pullido’s discussion of the HM.

  • Clark

    I don’t think we can discount a doctrinal aspect to ritual Blake. I think you are conflating the style of a text that determines methodological aspects of interpretation (i.e. straightforward description, description by metaphor, or allegory, etc.) with the particular format of a text (written word, spoken word, performance, etc.) Something can be performative while making relatively straightforward historical claims. For instance in my lesson with the 9 year olds a couple of weeks ago we acting out various stories of Peter. That’s ritualistic in a sense but with a very simple historical claim.

    I don’t see how the endowment or Genesis 2-3 are particularly different in that regard. (Indeed I personally tend to see Genesis 1-3 as probably originally performative and closer to the endowment than say the Gospel of Mark)

  • Clark

    Blake (97) Each affirmation of this particular statement from the Proclamation has a solid backing in scripture.

    I’m confused then. Because it says gender is essential and then, “each [spirit] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents” That’s an explicit statement about the existence of Heavenly Mother. So either you don’t really accept what you say above or else you are conceding the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother.

  • RT

    Blake @102
    I think your understanding of canonical scripture as a “safe” resource for understanding the will of God is deeply problematic. I would not go so far as to say that there is no such thing as revelation–I believe there is–but all revelation/scripture is mediated and conditioned by the human.

    To give credence to your view that the scriptures are a secure source for all that we know or should know about HM, the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the (supposed) absence of the HM from canonical scripture did not result from the patriarchal views or patriarchally conditioned culture of its authors, which I do not think you can do.

  • Clark

    RT – while I disagree with Blake’s approach because I think it ignores context too much. However I’m not sure your argument (it’s due to patriarchy repressing the notion) works either.

    As I’ve said, I think there’s more than enough strong sources to justify a belief in Heavenly Mother. I think it’s required by our conception that marriage is an eternal law. I think it’s entailed by the Proclamation on the Family. I think it’s entailed by the standard reading of the King Follet Discourse. Once you have a reasonable support then I think that does justify going backwards into texts and seeing via more circumstantial routes the female divine.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: “the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the (supposed) absence of the HM from canonical scripture. . . .”

    Actually, I think it is rather clear that the burden of proof lies with those who claim that there is a revelatory basis for belief in HM. You so easily assume without proof that the HM has been repressed due patriarchy even tho as you admit it thrived in ancient near eastern folk religion whose societies were all very patriarchal — it could be due to lack of revelation or because belief in HM is just false we it is discussed for instance without such evil motives or influences). Further, not very clear that whatever the reason, your assertion is an admission of a lack of basis in scripture for any basis to believe in HM.

    You also ignore what I consider very reasonable requirement that we have some reliable reason or basis for belief. Ancient near eastern folk beliefs just don’t provide such a reliable basis of belief because: (1) we cannot easily reconstruct them with any confidence; (2) even if we knew exactly what such beliefs were, we have no reason to believe that they are reflective of reality.

    I agree that all of our discourse is conditioned by the horizons of our language and what you call “the human”; but if revelation is even possible, then we must be able to transcend our present knowledge. In fact, if we can learn or there are truly novel inventions, then we cannot just be limited by existing concepts or ideas in human discourse. So your argument against revelation and scripture based on considerations of “the human” proves way too much.

    I think it is beyond strange that you accept very difficult to ascertain Israelite folk religious beliefs in Asherah as a reliable basis for belief in HM and not scriptures. There is always the danger that HM is precisely a political doctrine rather than one based on sound considerations of what has been revealed. I also find Clark’s reliance in his reading of the KFD (with which I disagree) is a foundation for reading such a view back into the texts of scripture.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: We both accept the Proclamation as joint statement of the First Presidency and the Twelve. As such, it is due careful consideration and due weight. However, I thought that we also both agreed that what it is to be a “son or daughter” of God is not easily discerned. Is it literally gestations and births in the womb of a HM? I thought we agreed — probably not. Is it adoption in the sense Paul speaks of it in Romans 8? Maybe. Are “heavenly parents” literally both a heavenly father and also a HM? We don’t know — maybe. In any event, it doesn’t make a claim to revelation and may well just perpetuate what has become the inertia of a belief-structure that no one dares to question. Does that belief-structure include Adam God and Eve as the HM? If not, what is the basis for distinction?

    With respect to the temple ritual — as I said, it isn’t a basis for establishing a HM. Further, as to “doctrinal” aspects I wouldn’t know how to derive “doctrine” or “assertions of fact” from drama and ritual. I don’t believe that Adam had an orthodox minister teach him anything or that Peter James and John contended with one; maybe you think that establishes that such events occurred or are “doctrinal” but that just seems silly to me.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: Sorry, that first paragraph came out weird. Let me redo it:

    Actually, I think it is rather clear that the burden of proof lies with those who claim that there is a revelatory or some other sound basis for belief in HM. You so easily assume without proof that the HM belief has been repressed due to patriarchy — even tho you admit it thrived in ancient near eastern folk religion whose societies were all very patriarchal. Instead of an evil motive or influence such as patriarchal repression, it could be due to lack of revelation or because belief in HM as it is discussed in Mormon political discourse is just false.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com John C.

    Blake,
    Frankly, based on your past online discourse, I’m not sure you’d know the boundaries of civility if they came up and bit you on the tushie.

    That said, your answer continues to be no answer. I said, you seem to be barging in here because you respect something called “belief in HM” and you want to get rid of something called “parody of belief in HM”? I said, how do you know the difference? You said, I can’t tell you. I said, what’s that supposed to mean. Then you told me that truth is subjective, adding “Don’t assume that it means that the truth is whatever you really, really want to true.” Fine, how do anyone distinguish subjective truth from someone speaking out of their own head? How am I supposed to know that you are actually talking about something I should understand as true rather than Uncle Ostler’s continuing fight against everything he dislikes in the world? Even if you’ve got some legitimate reason (which I question), you telling me that you’ve had some enlightened experience that leads you to pick fights online against political correctness where’er you find it certainly isn’t convincing.

    “My view is close to Kierkegaard’s based on a Kantian reading of him which is one of the prominent readings that Kierkegaardian scholars have given of his writings.”

    This is disingenuous and useless. Say what you mean. For instance, I find the application of Kant to Kierkegaard absolutely backward. So much so that interposing them like this is meaningless. But pretend for a moment that I’ve no training in any aspect of philosophy. How is that supposed to mean anything? You are retreating into philosophic jargon in order to intimidate and to obfuscate. I don’t believe that you are so short of communicative power that you can’t explain yourself without recourse to this. I’m also skeptical that you can provide a convincing alternate explanation for this sort of answer. You could explain the answer of course, but that would be something else (not that I’d mind it).

    “It is why Kierkegaard adopted an ironic method of writing through pseudonyms through an ironic parody to show what cannot be said.”

    Again, this is meaningless. Outside of the fact that I haven’t read enough Kierkegaard to know anything about the context you are creating here (or even the historical contexts of his writings), there is no warrant that connects this with the previous statement or my question. It is, effectively, gobbledegook. I continue to believe that it exists because you didn’t want me to ask my stupid question because it made your motivation in this discussion look bad. Again, please correct me if I have misunderstood the meaning of the message.

    And please don’t assert that I’ve mislead you about what sort of training you expected me to have. I told you at the outset that I’m an idiot. While that doesn’t exclude me from engaging in philosophy (or even parodies thereof), I would tend to think that wouldn’t lead you to assume that I’ve extensive background in either Deontological or Kierkegaardian studies.

    Finally, You just don’t get to use that to justify your behavior in this or any relatively secular setting this is. And frankly, I’m not certain that you’re not trying to marry me because you’ve had a vision of our lives together in the temple, so to speak. I’m skeptical that God (or anyone else) has called you to come here (or anywhere online) and behave as a jerk. That’s all you, friend. In the meantime, while my gracious co-bloggers and other commenters may feel like there is worth in discussing things with you, I don’t see it. You are an online bully, Blake. Whether or not I am (and the debate is still out), you are and always have been. Get your own darn mirror.

  • RT

    The problem is, Blake, you keep equating revelation with the written word. This is what I find to be “beyond strange.”

    I do not easily assume that HM has been repressed due to patriarchy. I make my judgements carefully and only after long study and reconstruction of the historical and social changes that occurred between the religion and culture of ancient Israel and what became later Judaism and Christianity. Obviously, there is a vast difference between the biblical tradents who wiped Asherah out of Israelite cultural memory and the President Hinckley’s who don’t have an evil motive but who nevertheless grow up in a culture that predisposes them to conceptualize and talk about the divine in a certain way. And I understand that calling something patriarchal is somewhat reductionistic and simplistic. Nevertheless, in this instance I must call a spade a spade.

    “You so easily assume without proof that the HM belief has been repressed due to patriarchy — even tho you admit it thrived in ancient near eastern folk religion whose societies were all very patriarchal”

    You’re playing word games here that I do not find enlightening in the least.

    You keep calling the religion reflected in archaeology and biblical texts “folk religion” in order to delegitimize it and make it “other” to revealed religion. But this was THE religion, inclusive of royal elites and commoners. And I happen to believe that certain aspects of it were just as inspired and meaningful as ours.

    “it could be due to lack of revelation or because belief in HM as it is discussed in Mormon political discourse is just false”

    It could be… could be? Again, your first suggestion reflects a problematic view of God as somehow controlling how much revelation we are to receive. The real issue is what questions we bring to God.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    John C: ” For instance, I find the application of Kant to Kierkegaard absolutely backward.”

    John, it is obvious to me that you have no background in Kierkagaardian scholarship. Not only is the influence of Kant on Kierkagaard well recognized, the Kantian reading of Kierkegaard is one of the primary positions on reading him. Even a cursory google search would have exposed the lack of basis for questioning this reading:

    http://www.mun.ca/animus/1998vol3/staford3.htm
    http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books%20II/Kant%20and%20Kierkeegard%20on%20Faith.pdf
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Either/Or#Kantian_interpretation
    http://www.arsdisputandi.org/publish/articles/000317/article.pdf
    http://www.sunypress.edu/p-1436-kierkegaard-and-kant.aspx
    http://www.geocities.com/nythamar/kant-sk.html
    http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Reli/ReliWenn.htm
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/q107n4l7p88662n0/

    I could go on for several pages.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    John C: “I’m skeptical that God (or anyone else) has called you to come here (or anywhere online) and behave as a jerk.”

    You’re only skeptical of that? Heck, I would have thought that certainty on this issue was beyond question. I submit that you engage in calling me names because you disagree with me but have nothing intelligent to say — at least in my view you haven’t so far.

    Frankly, this kind of discussion with RT, TT and Clark has been a very good discussion about very core issues on an important subject from my point of view. They are careful and respectful. It is unfortunate you feel obligated to muck it up.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: “I do not easily assume that HM has been repressed due to patriarchy. I make my judgements carefully and only after long study and reconstruction of the historical and social changes that occurred between the religion and culture of ancient Israel and what became later Judaism and Christianity.”

    I accept this statement based on my experience of you. You are both careful and thoughtful — and incredibly smart. If it appeared that I was calling that into question, I apologize.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com John C.

    Blake,
    Of course I don’t have anything intelligent to say. I am, as I have stated, an idiot. :)

    However, you still haven’t addressed my question. If the difference between actual belief and parody of belief is discernable only to you (and only via forces beyond explanation), what good is the distinction? Why should we think your opinion (however justified a posteriori) matters?

    Mine certainly doesn’t (I admitted that up front). I’m still trying to figure out why yours does and you still aren’t explaining that.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    John C: I apologize. I should have been nicer and more understanding. My experiences are sacred and I choose to not share them. Since for LDS private experiences are not a basis of public belief I believe it wouldn’t make any difference to anyone but me anyway. In any event, the nature of my experiences precludes me from sharing them.

    My mere opinion doesn’t count for much. But the reasons I give for problematizing the HM belief do have weight in my view. Reasons and evidence have weight to persuade. RT, Clark and TT have given reasons for their views beyond merely stating opinions. While they are not fully persuasive, they are reasons that I have to account for and take into consideration. These are very smart and well-read guys who have thought about and care about this issue. I find discussing these issues with them to be very informative and challenging of my view. Often I modify or give up on views as a result of these kinds of discussions because I find the reasons given to be persuasive. However, I don’t count my own spiritual experiences as a reason for anyone but me — and I couldn’t give them as revelations that have some binding force on others. I feel bound by my own experiences, but I cannot make them publicly accessible for purposes of being scrutinized as a reason for belief.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com John C.

    Blake,
    Don’t worry about it. I certainly haven’t been well behaved myself. :)

  • Clark

    Blake (109) I have the sense that at the root of much of our disagreement is a semantic issue rather than a doctrinal one. Exactly what you do think “Heavenly Mother” denotes? It seems to me you are bringing things in other issues regarding what properties she has. But it seems to me we can agree there is a Heavenly Father even if we disagree over some of the qualities he may have. (Say foreknowledge) Why can’t we do the same with Heavenly Mother?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: I just want to know what counts as “culture” for you. Are you really asserting that God doesn’t transcend human cultures?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: “Exactly what you do think “Heavenly Mother” denotes?”

    The HM is an entire cluster of contradictory concepts in Mormon discourse — among them the literal mother of spirits through spiritual gestation, Eve the wife of Adam, the ultimate feminist, one of the female gods in the council of gods, one of God’s wives, Eliza Snow’s mortal mother, Ashera the consort of El — it means really not much given such ambiguities. What do you mean by HM? You say we can disagree, but since I don’t even know what it is we are disagreeing about I’m not sure that we can.

  • Clark

    Blake (120) Not quite sure how to take that. I take seriously D&C 130:2. Further I think God and man are the same “species” (in a more broad sense of the term than earthly biology). So depending upon what you mean by “human” then yeah, I don’t think God transcends it any more than any human transcends it. (But of course I do think humans transcend culture in certain ways)

    Now if you merely mean to say is he a member of a particular culture at a particular place and time here right now. No, I don’t think that’s the case. Do I think he transcends all culture in some special way? No, I don’t. I think that to be embodied and in real relationships entails culture.

  • Clark

    I mean something suitably vague. Just that our Heavenly Father is sealed to a person of an opposite gender in an eternal relationship. No claims more than that. (In fact if you read back in the comments near the beginning I stated that due to the doctrine of divine investiture of authority we actually know almost nothing about the Father either)

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: Are you saying that God is limited by human horizons? If I replace “human culture” with “mortal human culture” would you change your answer?

    Inasmuch as God is a member of all cultures in virtue of his maximal knowledge, and knows vastly more than any member of any mortal in any culture, aren’t we forced to say that God transcends any reference to mortal human culture?

    Frankly, if you think that God is limited by and does not transcend mortal cultures, I’d say we don’t even belong to the same religion.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: “Just that our Heavenly Father is sealed to a person of an opposite gender in an eternal relationship.”

    Well, that isn’t what Paulsen and Pullido argue. If that is all that you mean, is HM a mother in any literal or metaphorical sense? If not, why not just heavenly wife? Is there just one? Do the Son and HG also have heavenly wives?

  • Clark

    Clark Inasmuch as God is a member of all cultures in virtue of his maximal knowledge

    Culture is about more than knowledge.

  • Clark

    To add, even if we limit ourselves to the knowledge portion of culture (and exclude performances, values, goals, practices, etc.) then we have the problem that culture isn’t just about what the group knows but also what they don’t know.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Clark: You overlooking the fact that if culture isn’t merely about knowledge, it is at least about horizons of knowledge. If god is limited to mere mortal horizons of cultural knowledge, then he is limited in a way that is inconsistent with any acceptable view of God it seems to me.

  • Clark

    Blake (125). I think the doctrine of heavenly mother frankly like the doctrine of our heavenly father is pretty vague. Much vaguer than most people assume. I made this point way back in (4). So there’s a bit of a distinction between established clear doctrine and what most everyone believes. (Which I think is largely your point)

    From that point there are all sorts of different doctrines over the past 150 years that have been believed by major Church figures. The literal spirit birth is the most common and dominant (and of course I tend to believe that myself although I haven’t a clue what it exactly means). However there are also people like yourself who believe in adoption. But then I think earthly parents who adopt a child are fully that child’s parents so why not for our heavenly parents? That is I think the doctrine(s) regarding the creation of spirits are pretty independent of the identity of a feminine part of the godhead.

    As for what Paulson and company wrote, I’ve not read the document in full. So I’m more going by the SMPT presentation. I think I expressed some misgivings in my early comments. For one I think they neglect commentary that is focused on Eve during the era of Brigham Young since to Young that’s the same as discussions about a Heavenly Mother. One part might be wrong (i.e. the identity of the term “Adam”) while the rest is correct. The second part is that they don’t look at the issue of deification as much as I think they could since those often are referring to the properties of female deities in most common theologies.

    As I’ve mentioned several times it devolves down to the issue of how separable an idea is from its particular context. (Say deification from the doctrine of creation ex nihilo)

  • Clark

    Blake (128) To say that God has a culture and is logically limited by culture is not to say he is limited to mortal cultures. If that’s all you mean by transcendence in this sense then I agree. However if God communicates to humans and the humans are embedded within a culture then God’s communications are limited by culture. Which is not to say that culture totally determines the possibilities of God’s communications. Which is a fancy way of saying I think Sapir-Worf is wrong in the sense of overly limiting what we can say or understand.

  • http://nickelonthenacle.blogspot.com/ Nickel

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