Earlier this year we explored some of the historical challenges for telling the story of “spirit birth” in Mormon theological history. In this post, we will turn our attention to the philosophical challenges raised by “spirit birth.” Again, here we are less concerned with tracing the teaching to Joseph Smith as we are examining the implications of spirit birth given our tradition. Some of the most detailed treatment of the topic is given by Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt. However, developing a coherent theology of spiritual birth is something Mormon theologians have not been interested in doing. Blake Ostler, for example, says little about this doctrine in his multi-volume series Exploring Mormon Thought, other than to conclude it probably does not originate with Joseph Smith. Indeed, others may feel little is to be gained from developing a theology of spirit birth. However, for those who are interested in developing a coherent theology of spirit birth several challenges exist.
1. Early Mormon thinkers believed that our spirits are fashioned from spiritual element or spiritual matter. Thus, God has complete control when he configures each of our spirits. Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt understood intelligence as an attribute of spiritual element. Thus, given this metaphysics, God is the one who determines the intelligence of our spirits, and therefore the question arises as to how fair it is to judge us according to our intelligence when this is predetermined by God when he creates us. Parley P. Pratt recognized this dilemma and argued that God does not create this intelligence. The level of intelligence, rather, is a function of the particular element used to form our spirits, and element differs in its level of intelligence. Pratt should be credited with acknowledging this dilemma even if his solution doesn’t quite solve the problem. One can presume that God still has control over the particular element used in the organization of our spirits. Isn’t there some consequence in how God creates our spirits? Is there any significant difference between God creating our spirits from preexisting spiritual element and God creating our spirits out of nothing? Doesn’t this lead to a kind of determinism? [Read more...]