Imposed Openness

Imposed Openness February 12, 2010

How is God infinite and embodied? Are we born in the spirit world or have our spirits existed forever? What is the nature of “intelligence”? What is eternal progression?

These are issues that LDSs have different views on. Leaders throughout the history of the Church have also expressed a variety of views in responding to these kinds of questions. The fact that 2 different LDSs can hold opposing views about these issues and both still be considered “faithful” is a primary reason that some see Mormonism as having postmodern tendencies.

“Postmodern”, of course, could mean a number of things; but when people use it in this case I take it to highlight the degree of interpretive “openness” within the tradition. In other words, multiple–often contradictory–viewpoints are taken as permissible within the same community. The contours of LDS belief are postmodern in the sense that no one narrative rigorously systematizes these diverse viewpoints.

Not everyone, of course, agrees. What I want to highlight in this post is the tension between the points of disagreement. There is a glaring conflict between claims of LDS openness and the degree to which alternative views on these kinds of topics are actually welcomed in church settings. In other words, one would think that a tradition that allows a diversity of views on things as important as the nature of God would tolerate the expression of this openness. On the contrary, properly following the manuals usually entails suppressing it. It seems as if this kind of openness, while permissible, is not welcomed.

There are a number of reasons for this tension. In searching for a way to describe it, I propose to use the term “imposed openness”. An imposed openness occurs when a variety of viewpoints are deemed acceptable, but the situation is not desirable by the community of interpreters. In this case, I don’t think that most LDSs believe that there are in fact multiple correct points of view on these issues. Ultimately speaking these questions do have answers, and there is not more than one right answer. Unfortunately, our position as human beings with limited capacity for understanding and limited knowledge of the situation entails that we only grope after the solution to these questions. Openness, therefore, is a result of our ignorance or the limits of our knowledge; and is not something purposefully sought out. Our openness is imposed, therefore, by the constraints of our circumstances and not because our theology desires it. Ontologically speaking, most LDSs do not believe that multiple views on these important issues is permissible. While we should be satisfied with permissibility (perhaps throughout our mortal lives), we must not equate this with an endorsement that there are multiple correct beliefs, or multiple truths.

While I do not share some of these views, I think this analysis captures the crux of an important problem–ontologically speaking most LDSs are not postmodernists; and while many permit an openness of views on some very important issues, many of them will tend to do so begrudgingly as nothing more than the result undesirable circumstances attributed to the limits of our understanding. As such, we shouldn’t be surprised that expressions of this openness will continue to be unwelcome in church settings.

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