The Light of Christ: Are We Human or Are We Energy?

In the above TED talk by MIT-trained artist, scientist and engineer, Jeff Lieberman, shares his ideas on the origin and nature of human beings. He talks about how we are not simply a single physical entity, but are made up of a community of trillions of cells which are, in turn, composed of trillions of atoms. Taking it down to the sub-atomic level, Lieberman suggests that the atoms that make up our body are composed of energy. That energy, he posits, came from a single source — the single, undifferentiated energy that led to the Big Bang. Everything in the Universe, including us, came from this one source and shares this energy in common. He goes into a lot more than this, but this is what I wanted to focus on in this post.

Watch the video and let me know how much you think it has in common with what I am going to say now.

I recently led a discussion on Doctrine and Covenants, section 88 in which we talked about the Light of Christ as described in that section. When I later saw this TED video, I was amazed by how many parallels between the two philosophies jumped out at me. For your convenience, I’ll quote D&C 88:6–13 here.

6 He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;

7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;

9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;

10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.

11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—

13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

Notice how Lieberman’s ideas approximate what is said here. The light (or “energy”) of Christ originates at one source and then goes forth to fill the immensity of space. Everything in the universe is made from and composed of this light, including the Earth — I think we can assume that the inference is that we, ourselves, are also made up of this light. The scripture explicitly states that this light enlightens our eyes and quickens our understanding and it is this light that is in all things and gives life to all things. The light is equated with the governing law of the Universe and with God’s own power.

I don’t agree with everything that Lieberman says in the video, but a lot of it makes perfect sense. I know that there is some discrepancy still among scientists regarding the exact nature of the particles (electrons, photons, neutrinos, quarks, etc.) that make up atoms, but some studies that I have read indicate that the smallest particles at the most fundamental level may be made up of what is, essentially, light. If we accept that notion, then although our body seems to us to be very physical and solid, we are actually just a big bundle of light moving around very quickly. I am no scientist, but this makes a lot of sense to me.

If we are made up of light/energy that all comes from a single source at the beginning of the Universe, then, as Lieberman argues, we have reason to feel a sense of commonality between our selves and every living being — everything in the Universe. There is something that we share that binds us all together. We should treat our neighbor as ourself!

This also gives us some insight into the type of intuition or communal consciousness and understanding that we should be able to tap into. If this light is in all of us — in all of our cells and our very molecules and atoms — then we share in this same light that created us and of which we are composed. As the scriptures says, this light illumines our eyes and “quickens” our understanding. This illumination is, by the way the scriptures defines it, available to all of us — to every living thing.

This could lead us into many other interesting discussions — but for now, what do you think of these ideas? What did you think of the video? Are Lieberman’s ideas really compatible with what I’ve quoted from D&C 88? Does he take too much from the idea of our eternal individual identity? If you have thoughts on this, please leave them in the comments below!

(This article is cross-posted from the blog Planting Mind Seeds. If you would like to see more like this, check out www.plantingmindseeds.com.)

20 thoughts on “The Light of Christ: Are We Human or Are We Energy?

  1. The more you study science the more you find areas like this that are compatible with the Gospel and revelations that Joseph Smith received 170 years ago. I find that fascinating.

  2. I agree. Whether it be science, ancient studies, eastern religions, etc., truth can be pieced together from so many diverse sources. The great thing is that the Lord has specifically encouraged us to seek out truth from all the best sources.

  3. The so-called “chasm” between science and religion was artificially constructed by humans who didn’t know any better.

  4. It was a beautiful video, and sweet to see that he seemed to become emotional at the end. In the past, I too had become enamored with this “Matrix” idea, common in Eastern religions, that the “self” is a deception, and that Enlightenment means understanding that you are one with the Universe. There is a lot of truth to what he says, and there are echoes of this in the Gospel of John, “he who loses his life shall find it,” “that they may be one with thee as I am one with thee” as well as in the Doctrine and Covenants scriptures mentioned.

    What he says makes sense scientifically and philosophically, and I think it is a quite common view among Eastern, and New Age types. However, I think that Mormonism is distinctly different. Fundamentally, his view is incompatible with the idea of a corporeal God, and the Resurrection, which perpetuates the idea of “self” or “otherness” as part of an eternal journey.

    The mystical view of the Nicean God, who fills the universe, but without parts or passions, fits in perfectly with his philosophy. This is how most people understand God. But our God, having, body, parts, and passions, is a much more “human,” “earth-bound” idea of God. (I recently had a conversation with a new-age-type about my view of God, and she thought the idea of God as having body, parts and passions was “monsterous,” ironically evoking Joseph Smith’s claim that the Nicean God was “monsterous” in the King Follet Discourse.)

    A particular aspect of Mormonism is summed up in the title of a beautiful book recently written: On Heaven as it is On Earth. This is the philosophy of Joseph Smith. That heaven is just like earth, but coupled with eternal glory. There is no sitting on mountaintops meditating ourselves into Enlightened bliss, leaving the self-deception of the flesh behind. No, the streets of heaven are paved with real gold we ourselves mined from the mountain, and families sealed to ourselves that we love and hold physically forever and ever. So I don’t see our “self” paradigm going away any time soon. The Mormon God seems share our same “delusion” of self. And if we aspire to be like Him, then we don’t aspire to loose our sense of self.

    Maybe the Holy Ghost has more in common with the idea of “oneness with Universe,” and perhaps the Mormon Holy Ghost is simply the “Nicean God” or “Nirvana” of other religions. Our local, flesh and bone God, even though He understands Himself as distinct, is perhaps perfectly connected with the Holy Ghost/Nicean/Nirvana God, and is simply an advance member of our race, like Brigham Young’s idea that God was simply Adam, from our own planet.

  5. For those of you interested in the history of mysticism, and in comparative studies tangentially related to Mormon studies, and to the subject of this post, I would encourage all to read Chapter 2 of the book “The Shape of Ancient Thought.” I was going to share it in the post given a few weeks about mysticism on LDS Blogs, but didn’t have the time. I think it was on Bryce Hammond’s website. So, Bryce, if you’re lurking here, and I’m sure you are, this is also for you.

    The Shape of Ancient Thought is a comparative study of Indian and Greek Philosophy. The author theorizes that the Neolithic Revolution, as it developed from hunter gatherer to sedentary agricultural societies, and thence to city states in Mesopotamia and Egypt, precipitated a religious crisis in the ancient world. Whereas earlier peoples were content to worship their own geographically bound deities, as civilization brought more and more people together it engendered a cacophony of clashing gods, and religious systems increasingly chaotic and disorganized. (Abraham chapter 1 seems to offer insights on this.) Thus, by drawing on written sources such as the Song of Amun Re (ca 1500 BCE), the author posits that, beginning in Egypt and spreading first to Mesopotamia, enlightened thinkers of the ancient world (if not as much among the peasant class) increasingly began to conceive of the One God. The author calls this the Transcendent Immanent Absolute: all gods in one, all nature in one, or all is God.

    These ideas reached their furthest reach in India and Greece. Chapter 1 discusses possible lines of communication between the two regions, particularly through Persia; and chapter 2 discusses possible direct links between Indian and Greek writings. The author believes these ideas first reached India, where they evolved more slowly into organized religion; whereas in Greece they arrived later, but evolved much faster in a philosophical cult.

    The great innovation among Indian thinkers was their discovery, expressed in the early Upanishads, that the Brahmin (the universal soul) and the Atman (the individual soul) are one. And the author says that in Greece this concept reached its furthest scope in Parmenides, who explained that all is one, with no room whatsoever for duality or plurality. The preSocratics (Greeks thinkers from the Ionian islands and on Asia Minor, and also transplanted to Sicily and southern Italy) are the crown jewel of Greek philosophy, says the author (and the beginning of what we call rational thinking, science and enlightenment). The first such historical figure is the Milesian Thales, and a contemporary to Lehi. The author says their writings are a continuation of this ancient religious discovery of the One God; but with the Greeks, it was deeply tinged with mysticism, but not a part of organized religion.

    These Greeks, as with their antecedents, were fascinated with what the author calls The Problem of the One and the Many (the title of chapter 2). Their constant preoccupation was with what substance or substrate is common to all existence. Plato modified extreme aspects of this philosophy by popularizing not just the One or the Monad, which he identified with the ‘Good’, but also Duality. Over the centuries his philosophy emerged as Neoplatonism, the fountainhead of all western mysticism. The central idea of Neoplatonism is The One, The All, or All is One or All is God. And the central concept of mysticism is the unio mystica, the mystical union with the One.

    My thoughts after reading from this book is that I know of three other great thinkers of the One God. One is Spinoza, a 17th C. Dutch-Jewish heretic, whose philosophy many consider so similar as to be identical with Vedanta. The fact that his philosophy seems to have been wholly derived from himself, and not to have been influenced, so far as we know, from ancient Indian writings, suggests that the One God may not require a line of communication to ancient Egypt, but could have come individually or from a cult of philosophers. The second thinker was Lao Tze (or the writers of the Tao Te Ching). If you read the book, and you replace the word ‘Tao’ with ‘the One’, and the ‘thousand things’ mentioned in the work with ‘the All,’ it all makes so much more sense. And, of course, the third great thinker is Joseph Smith. His contribution is found most clearly in the Atonement teachings in the Book of Mormon, and in his teachings on light in D&C 88, which I call the Discourse on Light.

    I was reminded of these things recently reading 2 Nephi chapter 2. As I understand it, Lehi introduced the concept of the Atonement to the Book of Mormon. In some of the early verses Lehi seems to be explaining the deeper significance of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In this he first posits the dual relationship of Justice and Mercy, which is explored further by Alma. No where else have I found this dual relationship expressed so significantly as in The Bahir, the kabbalist text from Provence (11th C.), which itself seems to be an exegesis of the Merkabah text Sefer Yetsirah (2nd C. BCE – 2nd C. CE). I’ve believed for a long time that both Lehi and the Kabbalah are elaborations on the mysteries of the First Temple, even going so far as to call these Book of Mormon teachings a kind of cabalist poetry. The crowning idea of it all is the ‘infinite atonement’ (2 Ne. 9:7). Does anyone see a connection with this and The One, The All?

    Also, significantly, if you look carefully at verse 11 in 2 Nephi chapter 2, Lehi criticizes a false notion of oneness. Although Lehi came before Parmenides, it sure looks to me as if Lehi was criticizing a school of philosophy identical or similar with him: one that went too far with the One without allowing for free will as allowed by the the All or the Many.

    As for D&C 88, verses 6-13, as I see it, help us understand those few verses in New Testament (such as Eph. 4:6) that suggest Pantheism or Panentheism. This remarkable teaching is a marvelous discourse on light. Later verses in the section, especially verses 62-68, about the School of the Prophets, is a remarkable teaching about mysticism and the unio mystica.

    I believe these new writings help us grapple with the personal and even practical implications with the belief in the One God. In our Church we emphasize the monotheistic God while acknowledging the polytheistic version. But learning about the pantheistic aspect of the godhead has profound implications for our own spirituality.

  6. Jettboy — yes, the Killers’ song! That was indeed the inspiration for the title.

    Nate — you’re absolutely right and your comment was the type I was hoping for when I posted this. As LDS we believe that the self will never end, even when we become “one” with God. But there is also that great “chain of existence” that does connect us all in a way that we do not fully understand. Also, as you say, the Spirit connects us all somehow as we’ll.
    I am on the road and can’t comment more at the moment but appreciate very much your ideas here.

  7. Intelligence = the light of Christ = Strings? If Brian Greene were LDS, I think that is something he might explore. Since there is no such thing as “immaterial matter” – only a basic something which is far beyond out ability to ever see or measure – the idea is interesting. I, personally, believe that string theory has more of a potential of giving us the “theory of everything” than partical physics does.

  8. David, I’m glad to see you posting here. I agree with your post whole-heartedly. While some have questioned the concept of oneness, I think we LDS need to consider it more deeply. We were all once just matter floating in space (at least what now constitutes our bodies and probably much of what makes up our spirits, as well). We may not always have had personal identity/personalities. If Orson Pratt is right, intelligence is particles (strings, quarks, atoms, molecules) that have an inherent capability or more that when combined with other matter develops into a higher form with more capability (compare what Oxygen can do by itself, to what it can do when combined with two Hydrogen atoms). Eventually, one gets to sentient beings, “organized intelligences” that are spirits (Abraham 3).
    As separate beings, we now must find out how to become one again. This is not so very far off from Eastern philosophy, where our physical world has deceived us into being less than part of the whole. When the Godhead acts, are they not acting as one Conscience? The BoM tells us that the Doctrine of Christ is that the Godhead is One, and we are to become one as they are (2 Ne 31, 3 Ne 11). While we do not believe in reincarnation, we do believe we can come back in a different form, based on what we do in this life (Cel/Terr/Tel).
    I think we can learn a lot from many Eastern concepts, just as we can from ancient Hebrew writings, if we just follow the Spirit and see what God inspired in their teachings (Alma 29:8).

  9. Sorry for not responding to these excellent comments. My hard drive crashed on Saturday and I have been largely offline since then. Cadams, larryco_, and Rameuptom — thank you for contributing your thoughts to this very interesting topic. I think we can all agree that there are some ideas that the speaker puts forward that are very compatible with what we, as LDS, believe, although there are also important differences. I hope to share more posts in the near future that will help us continue this discussion.

  10. Joseph Smith taught that all spirit is matter, but more refined than we can behold with our mortal (material) eyes, so I have a theory that spirit either is subatomic particles, or at least operates at the level of subatomic particles. And the physics of subatomic particles is dramatically different from what we experience in mortality, which could help answer questions like how God hears and answers prayer, how we can “feel” the Spirit, how God can visit and oversee all his creations, and other things I wonder about.

    In Section 88 we learn that the Light of Christ is the reason any material thing in the universe exists. And we know that the atoms that make up material things are composed of subatomic particles. And I believe the Light of Christ is synonymous with the Spirit of Christ, so here’s my theory. The Spirit (Light) of Christ permeates the universe, and at various points in the universe, God has taken that spirit, or “mater unorganized”, and organized it into atoms to create material objects like us and our earth. So if the Light of Christ is the common element, then I guess it makes sense to claim that all material things are related.

  11. Thanks for your thoughts here, Matt!
    I think you’re really onto something here. I have often thought of what the nature of “spirit” is and think it must be something along those lines — it is matter just like we experience in the physical world, but perhaps moving at a higher (or lower?) speed/vibration. Also, it would seem that resurrected beings have a greater degree of control over the “particles” of their bodies, which allows them to move through solid objects, etc.
    I agree that the better we understand how subatomic particles, quantum physics, etc., work, we will be closer to understanding how the spiritual realm works.
    Thanks!

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