Monday, February 10, 2003

NEO-PLATONISM WITHOUT THE NEO-PLATONISM: Below the Literary Critic blogs about literalism and hermeticism. I think that he makes an excellent point about the way in which Mormonism transforms any sort of heremtic discourse by essentially missing the metaphor of the neoplatonic discourse.

It strikes me that the the Mormon doctrine of "worlds without number" does the same thing. The idea of infinite planets inhabited by God's creations has been fairly common since the Renessiance. There is a good discussion of it in The Great Chain of Being. The argument for the infinity of worlds was essentially neo-Platnoic: the creative plenitude of God could not be limited to the creation of a single world. Thus, "worlds without number" were posited as a necessary implication of God's infiinity.

Joseph reinterprets this -- particularly in Nauvoo -- by making "worlds without number" a way of explaining the finitude of gods. At one level in the face of God's metaphysical limits His worshipworthiness is maintained by emphasizing the brute size and number of his creations. God is great not because he has a particular kind of metaphysical absoluteness but because he rules lots and lots of stuff -- inconcievably huge amounts of stuff. At another level, "worlds without number" provide the possiblity of multipile kingdoms presided over by multiple gods and goddesses. Rather than being a reflection of the infinitity and plenitude of a single absolute deity, "worlds without number" marks the infinity and plenitude of a universe (pluriverse?) that provides a space in which finite gods can expand infinitely.

In short the entire relationship between God and the infinity of the worlds is reversed. It is not quite the same thing as the "literalizing" that the Literary Critic wrote of, but it does provide another example of how the Restoration creates new theologies by reinterpreting a neo-Platonic tradition without the neo-Platonism.