Saturday, December 20, 2003

The historian's dichotomy between "the gnostic" and "the kingdom" is interesting. He opposes them on the basis of salvation by knowledge (gnosis) and salvation by relationship (politia?). Without necessarily disagreeing with the historian's point, may I suggest a meaning intrinsic to his models that is at least as equally interesting? The gnostics didn't just emphasis knowledge, but gave know-ing the prime place in existence. Reality became conceived of in terms of ideas, with the ideas being more real than the material world. The kingdom, requiring relationships to be understood in terms of human relations, was much more materially minded.

In a sense the gnostic turned their heart away from others and sought a salvation within themselves. The kingdom turned to others, but often degenerated as well by seeking salvation by subjugation of others.

Within Mormonism there is, of course both knowledge and community. Yet both exist in an essential, inseparable relationship. Perhaps we can even see this in the second great commandment, which was like the first. Love thy neighbor as thy self.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

TWO THEOLOGIES- It seems that there are two general trends in Mormon soteriological theology. Let me characterize them by means of two typologies: Gnostic and Kingdom. Let me emphasize that I don't think that these have any historical instantiations, nor are the categories thought out very well. Rather, they represent trends or types of thought. The Gnostic view places much emphasis on knowledge of the true nature of the cosmos, a loss of sacred distance between God and humanity. On this list, the Antiquarian has claimed that the essence of Mormonism is gnostic. It hangs on recognition of the truth that "Ye are gods." I think Mormons are sympathetic to the Gospel of Thomas when it says "When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty" (3b). Such a theology emphasizes the self and the relationship of the human to the divinity. It is thus no coincidence that the Gospel of Thomas also sees the "single one" (monachos), the sole person as the soteriological ideal (4, 23). However, the other aspect of Mormonism that I have called Kingdom emphasizes the exact opposite. It is the family, community, and entire human race that it the soteriological ideal. We seek to be welded together with all of our brothers and sisters. The afterlife continues the same kinds of sociality that we have here. The downside is that sometimes people substitute relationship with the community for personal spiritual growth. They fulfill their callings, go to all thier meetings, have family home evening, but fail to progress spiritually, perhaps without even noticing it. Such a view even discourages individual spirituality as suspicious (see 1 Cor 13).
Has Mormonism successfully bridged these two opposing theological tendencies, or do they continue to stand in tension? My feeling is that rarely are the two evenly balanced, and that many people neglect either the community or themselves individually.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

ALL ABOUT US: It seem that we are both mysterious and insightful. It is interesting to see the gradual evolution of this blog. It began as just an extension of our lunch discussions. However, it seems that with geographic distance it has become more public. Also, it seems like in the year since we founded our mystical and sacred order that the Mormon corner of the blogosphere has grown significantly. One of the joys of modern technology is that you can be a well established vetern in just a little over six months. At some point, one of us ought to write up a history of the Metaphysical Elders, much like the Sunstone article on the "swearing elders" that provided part of the inspiration for our name. By the way, I was rereading a bit of Menad's The Metaphysical Club recently, and I was struck by the fact that William James' father found religion in the "burned over district" at about the time that Joseph Smith and Mormonism were getting kicked off. As our Literary Critic has noted, B.H. Roberts and others were facinated by the congruence of Mormonism with certain aspects of James's pragmatism. It would be interesting to see if there is any intellectual gealogical work to be done here. Can one trace certain ideas in the "burned over district" out through both Mormonism and pragmatism? I don't know enough about William James to figure out if there is anything to this connection, but it is an interesting possibility...