Yes, God is a Child-Sacrificing Misogynist and Racial Bigot

This is a guest post by Michael Towns.

Does the title inspire discomfort? Good. It was meant to jar you from a baleful sense of self-complacency and moral superiority.

It is all too human to project our vaunted, sophisticated value system on the very category of “God.” What ends up happening is that we create God in our own image, and while we possess the liberty to do so, that image is not really the God that stands revealed in the Holy Scriptures nor is it the God Who Reveals Himself through revelation to man.

In the 21st century, we applaud ourselves for our ethical progress and awareness. From our vantage point, we are the most advanced ethical creatures that have ever graced planet earth. We think that we are, in large measure, “better” than our forebears, who were deeply flawed humans who tolerated racism, bigotry, sexism, intolerance, and a host of other evils.

A problem quickly reveals itself when we contemplate our moral grandeur. As we peer back through the vistas of time, and we open up the pages of canonized scripture, we are suddenly confronted with not only bigoted prophets and preachers of righteousness, but, quite frankly, we find ourselves staring at a God who leaps from the pages as a ravening beast, cursing, killing, and afflicting his chosen people with tests from which we moderns recoil in terror.

How do we reconcile these disparate visions, these outpourings of divine wrath and almost Olympian capriciousness?

Please allow me to submit a solution to the problem.

We simply need to let go of our modern moral conceits and admit that God is above our self-imposed moral categories.

Blake Ostler has written some on this very issue. I’d like to quote from his latest publication, “Fire on the Horizon,” where he delves into this admittedly difficult subject matter. In the chapter entitled “Human Sacrifice, Plural Marriage, and the I-Thou Relation”, Ostler says the following:

“Before Abraham could walk to Mount Moriah with his only son, Sarai gave him Hagar because Sarai was not fruitful. Even before we confront the horror of human sacrifice commanded by a holy and loving God, we confront a suspension of our moral expectations. Abraham was a polygamist. Perhaps we excuse him because we expect him to be ignorant of the great moral truth that polygyny is tantamount to adultery.”

What Ostler is setting up for us here is the nuanced truth that if we read the scriptures with open minds and hearts, we cannot help but notice the conflicts between our contemporary morality and the reality of life in 2000 BCE. He is gently guiding us so that we can suspend our own moral judgment and biases in order to comprehend the God of Abraham.

Again:

“The divine purpose rests in the very fact that God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his only begotten son sets the mind in revolt. How could a loving God ask such a thing, let alone command it? Everything in my head screams, “No, that is impossible!” at the very thought of such a command. Can the being who command such a thing really be regarded as just, as good, as holy, as loving… as God? If the answer is even possibly yes, then everything we think we know and every moral judgment we make to give some order to our notions of justice, love, and the holy must be abandoned. But how can we abandon these beliefs without losing ourselves wholly and giving up our own lives entirely? No, it was not Isaac that was sacrificed on the altar on Moriah; it was every hope of making any sense of God in a way true to our own moral judgments.”

Are you feeling uncomfortable yet? Good.

Ostler continues by tying together the unthinkable command to sacrifice Isaac with the equally repugnant command given to Joseph Smith to initiate plural marriage. He asks why Abraham would even consider filicide, and why Joseph Smith (and his fellow brethren) would even consider taking additional wives? The answer is that they did it because they believed it was necessary for their spiritual salvation. In Ostler’s words: “[T]here is profound possibility embedded in the very command to sacrifice Isaac, and in the revelation to take another wife: to know God.”

How?

“Not merely to know of them, to know about them, or to be acquainted with them – but to know our Father and Savior intimately and intrinsically. The very command forced the Saints to cast off every belief and assumption that they had about God. Only in this way could they encounter God without prior judgments, without expectations, and without imposing their beliefs and demands on God. They were forced to let go of every presupposition, forget everything that they thought they knew, and suspend every notion about how and what God must be to be God – and simply to encounter God as He is, as He reveals Himself.”

There is profound wisdom in what Blake Ostler has graciously written here. I would commend the reader to pick up a copy of his book, Fire on the Horizon: A Meditation on the Endowment and Love of Atonement for greater details and further insights.

Great spiritual truths are in store for us if we can simply jettison our pride and put aside our contemporary ethical holiness and moral self-sufficiency. Why? Because it will warp and hinder the great revelation that awaits us: God Himself, Who wants to have a real relationship with us, but Who values our moral agency too much to force us to change our conceptions. We must do that ourselves. The God of Revelation waits.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

82 thoughts on “Yes, God is a Child-Sacrificing Misogynist and Racial Bigot

  1. We simply need to let go of our modern moral conceits and admit that God is above our self-imposed moral categories.

    Based on your post Michael, I hope we can agree that the details of history (not to mention scripture) should not be hidden, but readily available. Because, to hide them would be to allow our modern sensibilities/revulsion to cloud our view of the many ways that God has worked through his children in the past? In other words, the decision to downplay polygamy in official manuals that relate to Church history is and has been a mistake. The decision to avoid depictions with Joseph Smith looking through a hat, have been a mistake. Because that too is allowing our sensibilities to shame us away from admitting the various ways that God has worked though his children. I could go on.

  2. Christian J, here is the problem with that line of thinking. You are certainly correct regarding some things (for example, depicting Joseph Smith looking into a hat, which appears to be the most historically accurate translation process). However, how many “controversial” topics do we teach in our official manuals, and to what depth and to what extent? And how do we check off that we have covered enough controversial subjects? What about Mountain Meadows…and all of the history of Joseph Smith’s wives…and Porter Rockwell…and where exactly is the location of the Hill Cumorah…and on and on and on. It is very easy to see that we could spend ALL of our time discussing just these controversial issues to satisfy the endless critics, and it would still not be enough. As a Gospel Doctrine Sunday School teacher, I can tell you that there is more than enough just getting through the basic stuff. I am left every Sunday with three times as much material as allowed in my 40 minute period. Yes, we discuss the priesthood ban and polygamy, and there were references to both issues in D&C and Church History this year. The discussions were very illuminating and interesting, but there was so much more to cover on just these two topics alone.

    So, unless you think all baptismal interviews should immediately begin discussing the priesthood ban and polygamy, then I think we can agree that there are other issues to discuss regarding the Gospel besides just the Mormon intellectual check list.

  3. And one other point that bears mentioning: do we really want to “correlate” what painters decide to depict regarding the restored Church? We can probably agree that very many, perhaps even most, of the depictions have possible errors. Yet we still use them because they are simply recognizable pictures to depict certain events. We need to stop straining at gnats.

  4. Christian J, I know what you are referring to, and I agree with your *general* premise that the details of history should not be hidden.

    However, I think we disagree on the implied criticism of the church with respect to its Teachings of the Prophets series (and presumably, other examples that I’m sure you can provide). I well recall the strangely intense criticism that the church received when the Brigham Young manual of 1998 didn’t have polygamy in it. However, there is a difference, a nuance if you will, that needs to be mentioned. The church wasn’t trying to put out history books; they were putting out teachings of the prophets that would be relevant to *our* time.

    With respect to the “Joseph Smith looking through a hat” thing, I really don’t believe that there was a conspiracy at church headquarters. I just thing, on balance, that those details don’t really matter. Whether he looked at a hat, received a celestial email, or simply had information flowing to his brain via some ineffable means, really doesn’t take away from Joseph’s repeated and simple refrain that he translated the Book of Mormon “by the gift and power of God”. If that’s true, then the minor details really don’t matter. I am sure you disagree, but I have always been flabbergasted by folks that seem to stumble on these minor issues. They pale in significance to the majesty of God’s revelations to us in these modern times. “Exercise a particle of faith, dude, and get over it” is pretty much what I want to shout out occasionally.

  5. I am prompted to wonder, how exactly does characterizing a presentation of historical matters as “decision to downplay” not constitute “allowing our sensibilities” to manipulate otherwise accurate representation? And how should I presume to tell the difference?

  6. Another pressing question: How do you deal with the similarities between prophetic voices and the times and places in which they lived? For example, stories of Abraham might frighten our modern conceits, but there’s little from Abraham’s world that doesn’t do the same. I can only imagine what Moses would thinks of our acceptance of pluralism and religious freedom today. Allowing gays and adulterers to live among us freely.

  7. Nothing is easier than to identify one’s own favorite political, economic, historical, and moral convictions with the gospel. That gives one a neat, convenient, but altogether too easy advantage over one’s fellows. If my ideas are the true ones–and I certainly will not entertain them if I suspect for a moment that they are false!–then, all truth being one, they are also the gospel, and to oppose them is to play the role of Satan.

    This is simply insisting that our way is God’s way and therefore, the only way. It is the height of impertinence.

    Nibley, “Beyond Politics”, _BYU Studies_ 1974

  8. “I can only imagine what Moses would thinks of our acceptance of pluralism and religious freedom today. Allowing gays and adulterers to live among us freely.”

    You’re missing the point of the essay.

  9. Geoff, Michael,

    Yes, I am not in favor of trudging through all the uncomfortableness for its own sake. I know the Sunday block lessons have to be concise and fundamental/most relevant in their nature. I’m only against deliberate actions to revise or explicitly avoid relevant historical facts, when they come up. I guess we might disagree about how often this happens or why it happens. I tend to think that, though well intentioned, that it has happened numerous times in the past and done so for the same reasons Michael lays out in his post (it makes us uncomfortable).

  10. Thank you Nate. Credit duly belongs to Blake Ostler, who blew me away when I read his words and who verbalizes it better than I can.

    And of course, the implications for the blame-the-church crowd are enormous, since they are majorly guilty of projecting their 21st century Theurapeutic, Hipster-Jesus God onto the God of Revelation.

  11. Christian J, if you can accept that Sunday school isn’t meant for controversies, then you’re half way there. How much goes into the 3 hour block is subjective and so there is no, strictly speak, morally right or wrong amount. There is, however, an effective balance that needs to be sought. And that balance changes with time. And it takes time for the Church to figure out a response and print manuals.

    What makes this more difficult is the desire of the Church to go with what Joseph Smith pointed to as the official history. Of course we ended up canonizing parts of it and it didn’t happen to mention seer stones in hats, so it’s not at all suprising that many people forgot about that. Though this is not a cover up, it’s jut being loyal to Joseph Smith’s wishes.

    So I think its difficult to make the case that the Church has avoided these issues as a cover up — at least as far as the three hour block.

    You go on to charge that there are other cases outside the three hour block where there was a cover up. Perhaps you’re right. Care to get specific? The problem is that the Church hasn’t really been in the history business until recently. It tried once before and there was strong disagreement about what interpretations were appropriate in a book published specifically by the church historian department. (The biggest controversy being over whether or not to include a statement from Brigham Young that he was still working on the Word of Wisdom.)

    The church’s final solution to that problem was to shut down the church historical department from publishing and to move everyone to BYU. I know people try to turn this into a coverup. But the fact that the publishing went right on out of a Church owned school sort of makes it the lousiest cover up in history. Even Leondard Arrington, who was devestated by this, eventually admitted it was the right thing to do so that the Church wasn’t official supporting a single interpretation of history.

    Another charge often leveled at the Church as a cover up is that they didn’t respond and acknowledge the truth stuff out there, such as with Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History. But you look at, say, Brian C. Hales book on polygamy (to say nothing of Meg’s posts) and you start to realize just how difficult it is to agree upon a single interpretation and how long it takes for someone to come up with one. Had the church ‘came clean’ and said ‘No Man Knows My History is largely true’ it would have been a pretty bad idea in retrospect. But it took 40 or 50 years for someone within the church to finally do the necessary work to come up with a more friendly interpretation of the same set of facts. Maybe we should have ‘done it sooner’ but you can’t come up with a good response to something like that very quickly. It takes time. And someone has to want to take their time to look carefully into it.

    This is where the problem lies. What consitutes a cover up? Does the Church disagreeing with a historians intrepretation and excommunicating them a cover up? I’m guessing you think it is. But nothing is actually getting covered up. The church is just disapproving of certain interpretations in that case. (And often with good reason.)

    Then there is the fact that maybe we want to say Deseret Book just didn’t publish enough of the more difficult material. But that seems like a strange sort of cover up too that a single book house serving a specific group of people has some moral duty to print certain types of books and shouldn’t have a choice?

    As we examine the cover ups, they tend to melt away, I’m afraid. I think the case can be easily made that in retrospect the Church made some decision that turned out to be ‘short sighted’ (the fact that we make such decisions blind suggests even this term is wrong.) But we’re really just arguing over a great deal of subjectiveness at this point.

    So I have to reject your interpretation in your first comment unless what you meant by it is “it’s obvious now we need more to tell more.”

    But I’m not so sure we didn’t tell a lot. If you took seminary or read the ‘white washed’ Comprehensive History of the Church at a minimum you learned about controversial aspects like polygamy (if not the specifics) and were told about the Mountain Meadow Massacre as well as the fact that the Saints weren’t the best neighbors when the Missourians kicked them out. How much of the specifics have to be told before you’re not going to consider it a cover up any more?

    By the way, though everyone seems to remember the stone in the hat — it was a memorable scene — the historical record (or part of it) actually tells us that Joseph only used the hat when his eyes became strained and he needed to block out the light. So even this is a pretty good example of how uncertain the historical record is and how difficult it is to decide what to depict as “most accurate.” Because if I am to believe that account, then the whole face in the hat picture is NOT the most accurate way to show the translation.

  12. Michael, Its frustrating that you place the blame of -making God into our own image – on a certain “group” of people. We all do it man. The scriptures should challenge us all.

  13. I agree Christian. But I am equally frustrated with the aforementioned “group”. And it is really to them that the post was directly, despite its applicability to us all.

  14. Bruce, there’s a lot that I won’t be able to get to in your comment. Suffice it say that

    1. I don’t use the word cover up on purpose and was taking pains not to suggest it in that light. I recognize the difficult challenges that have faced the Church and tend to think that best intentions are to be assumed. I just think that Michael’s points have a direct application in how we’ve approached our history as a people. That’s all.

    2. The best example of what I’m talking about is the lack of celebration of, what Michael suggests, are great works by the God of Revelation. In other words, if polygamy was of God – specifically Joseph Smith era polygamy (I’m not saying it wasn’t), then why not celebrate it as one of the great defining practices of our dispensation? To those who practiced the principle, it was not a footnote to their faith, it was central to who they were in the Kingdom. I can imagine more than one Priesthood/RS lesson based on the principle of polygamy that would inform our present discipleship – if not for our general discomfort. That’s the only plausible reason I can see for omitting it. Plain old embarrassment.

  15. Christian, it very well could be a kind of institutional embarrassment. But if the church has limited time and resources, clearly they have to decide what to emphasize and what not to go into.

    If you really sit down and look at the curriculum, it’s main focus is about transforming us into disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s about becoming and sanctification. It’s about faith, repentance, and spreading the good news of the gospel. Polygamy just isn’t germane to the church’s purpose or destiny right now.

    I would also add that if scholars are putting out good stuff on Mountain Meadows, polygamy, Book of Mormon translation, then the church really doesn’t need to waste its time and resources on those topics and can buckle down on gospel essentials, which the church desperately needs.

    I don’t believe the church is “perfect” because no institution infested with human beings has perfection. However, the church is on the right path, the path of its eventual millennial destiny. We’re just sitting here quibbling about these details that really ought to keep historians awake at night, not everyday active and faithful latter day saints.

    Because: at the end of the day, the gospel and church is true, and these issues pale in significance next to those salient truths.

  16. Michael, the Church relying on historians (indy and institutional) is a very good scenario in my view. And I’m the first to complain when our teaching is not Christ-centered. But we still use Church history to teach contemporary lessons on discipleship.

  17. When Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac comes up, I like to refer to Hebrews 11:17-19. Paul says that because the Lord’s promise of posterity to Abraham was to be through Isaac, that Abraham believed that the Lord would _resurrect_ Isaac after the sacrifice so that Isaac could fulfill that promise.

    So in my view, the “test” wasn’t just in the sacrifice killing itself. It was perhaps also, or more, along the lines of “Do you _really_ believe that I will give you posterity through Isaac?” Which would include the question, either spoken or implied, “Do you _really_ believe that I have the power to resurrect Isaac?”

    However, Paul’s reasoning, or conclusion, is not mentioned in the Old Testament record, so I wonder how Paul knew that. Maybe it was in some record that was available to Paul but is no longer extant, or maybe it was merely a deduction on the part of priests and scribes that was made at some point prior to Paul’s time, or was a deduction made by Paul, or perhaps he knew it by revelation.

    Even if it was merely Paul’s deduction (that Abraham believed that the Lord would resurrect Isaac), it is a logical one in my view. Certainly Abraham, as a prophet, knew the gospel, and knew that the Lord had the power to resurrect. And if Abraham had taught the gospel to Isaac, Isaac would likely have known also. (However, our OT record makes clear that Isaac didn’t know that _he_ was to be the sacrifice at the ponit where they started the trip to Moriah.)

    The Lord’s power to resurrect (re-animate and bring back to a mortal condition, as with the widow’s son and with Lazarus) also figures into my beliefs about Noah’s flood. The Lord may have resurrected or “saved” the species of animals that could not fit in the ark. Noah was required to do all he could, and then the Lord made up the rest. This may be a parallel to the salvation of mankind. We are commanded to preach the gospel to as many as possible, and the Lord has his angels (spirits of the departed) in the spirit world take it to those who didn’t “get saved” in mortality.

  18. “But we still use Church history to teach contemporary lessons on discipleship.”

    Yes, and I enjoy it very much. I don’t understand your point here.

  19. Polygamy just isn’t germane to the church’s purpose or destiny right now.

    I invite you to consider the GD lesson topics from the past year. We’re given all kinds of illustrations from Church history that are trying to inform our discipleship today. Some could be considered equally irrelevant. A question from lesson 36: What can we learn from the perseverance of the Saints as they built the Salt Lake Temple? How can the Saints’ example of perseverance help us?

    The way we built temples in the early days is completely removed from the LDS experience today. And yet, the example is used to teach us something. But temple building doesn’t challenge our modern sense of morality the way polygamy does, so it gets the nod.

    Overall, it sounds like you didn’t intend the post to go down this road. If you instead meant to say that we shouldn’t allow the complexities and uncomfortable details of ancient scripture to get in the way of finding profound truths therein, I don’t disagree with you.

  20. My concern with folks teaching a circumscribed version of the gospel is that it risks folks freaking out when they become aware of the full story.

    I also think it is funny when folks decide God must necessarily be constrained to limits that are familiar because of our current circumstances. For example, I love the idea that God is omniscient and omnipotent (though not constantly mucking around in our lives because He respects our agency). However I’ve had friends who reject God’s omniscience because they think their own affairs should enjoy the privacy they demand of the state and therefore God can’t know their thoughts and actions.

    God is not a tame god – a point I recall C. S. Lewis making with his Aslan incarnation of God. But that does not mean God is less precious and dear, just that you can’t expect that all His dealings have been “civilized” by your standard.

  21. It seems you went just a little too far with this post, Michael.

    Ostler is correct that the Scriptures teach us that we should accept God as he chooses to reveal himself to us; we shouldn’t remake God in our own image. But it doesn’t follow that every scriptural account of God is accurate and of the same value as every other scriptural account. Instead of dealing with difficult issues in the Scriptures (“prove all things herewith”), you would have us approach morality with our minds turned off, and with a belief in Scriptural inerrancy.

    And the fact that you used Ostler’s thoughts as an excuse to pile on hipsters/intellectuals/[insert any Church member with an ideology that Michael Towns disagrees with], isn’t cool. Oh wait, I forgot, God likes us to judge and to take an eye for an eye. It says so right there in the Old Testament!

  22. I thought the post by Michael Towns was excellent and I immediately had a few supporting observations to make, but now this far down on the comments page most of them wouldn’t fit. Let me suffice with these observations and rantings:
    1. I teach in Sunday school the 14-15 year old members in our Ward and perhaps spend 6-8 hours just preparing for a lesson, using the new format. I find that with just teaching basic Gospel principles and skills, I am able to get through perhaps 1/3 of my prepared lesson. I am learning to be content with letting the Spirit (hopefully) be my guide such that, at the time I am with my class, I am able to share with them what is most important for their spiritual welfare right then. What is most important? I hope it doesn’t originate from me alone…although some of that is inevitable…but I hope at least some of it comes from above either from what I verbalize, or from my written handouts with which I try to annoy them.
    2. Knowing most of the so-called controversial issues of Church history, etc. (I started reading Dialogue as an adolescent, and it just got worse from there), I have planned to introduce some of these issues and their resolution at times to my class: to inoculate them, so to speak. However, thus far, if it is indeed been the Spirit (from above) prompting me, I have been prompted not to include most of these controversies in my lessons.
    3. What I have been inclined to teach are the skills, from the scriptures, that may help these young people cope as they learn the meat of the Gospel, and its history, in times that will come. One perspective taught that has come up repeatedly in class (again, hopefully from above) is that of Isaiah 55:8-9 about God’s thoughts and ways not being our thoughts and ways, and as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are…well, you know the rest. Another is from D&C 1:16, which I try to liken to our internet/podcast age of being careful that we don’t walk…not after the Lord’s righteousness, but instead after the way and god of our own intellect…in the likeness of the world, and so on, to paraphrase. Not that we have to leave our intellect at the door of the chapel, indeed among other things we are to serve God “with all our mind”, but there is a better way to do this. See John Welch’s “Loving God with All Thy Mind” (BYU-Idaho Devotional 31 May 2005 and elsewhere) for ways to fully engage all the difficult issues and yet come out on what we naïve may regard as “the Lord’s side” in the end. There are many alternate voices in the world that want to show that the Church to which we belong is not of divine origin, that the Gospel we preach is not truly from God. There are innumerable ways in which we could parse the details of the discussion, but the long and the short of it here is this: if these alternate voices are correct, then who cares! Who would care about anything? Nothing really matters. It is all going to be over in a flash. On the other hand, if the alternate voices are wrong…then the complete and total and astronomical degree to which they are wrong absolutely staggers the imagination. There is no way to be overly hyperbolic about how wrong they are. And if they have wrongly persuaded others to follow after the gods of their own intellect, their own interpretations of the historical data of which others are equally well versed and have more faithful interpretations…well, I won’t continue on this. Some may appreciate this: we have the heavy responsibility to teach these young people how to think, how to study, how to pray and strive for answers, and how to stay true to whatever light they have and to be patient until they (and we) have it all. Everything I have read, that I think comes from above, gives me the impression that God is a very biased Being. If so, perhaps much of importance hangs on our learning what is His bias, and then making that our own.
    4. I have just read after Michael’s post some back and forth on the method of Joseph’s translation of the plates. Actually, I did touch on this briefly to my 14-15 year olds. I mentioned that Joseph used the Nephite interpreters and his seer stone to “translate” the golden plates (no hands raised, likely because of my next comment). I did teach that these instruments were not magical lexicons, but inert physical devices used to focus Joseph’s concentration, or whatever. My testimony was and is this: I don’t care if Joseph looked at a bowl of spaghetti the entire time he received revelation from God as to what knowledge those plates contained for our benefit, that God wants us to know. The method is interesting but not vital. What is important is what it actually is that God wants us to know, and that we have. Likewise, I don’t care if Joseph had a comic book in front of him when he was revealing to us the Book of Abraham (or anything else). I don’t even care if he used an image from the comic book to illustrate something that was being revealed, if that did the job of helping us understand better. What I care about is what we do have, and that is the text itself. That I can read and reread, and ponder, and weigh evidence, and seek God’s opinion on the matter and in time, come to really believe and (I apologize to skeptics) know. (Before this time we have gone over, and I am still speaking to my class now, some of the many scriptures that talk about how we come to believe + “know” the things of God).
    5. While I am on a very dangerous rant right now, I may as well stay the course a bit longer. When I was a young adolescent I joltingly discovered that my once idolized parents were indeed full of imperfection. We didn’t have the internet then, I could just observe them. For awhile I even thought of them as some of the worst people on earth. When I came to learn about my grandparents and ancestors further back, things went even more downhill. But, in time (maybe around age 50?) I began to grow up and got knocked around enough by life that I began to see them in an ever changing perspective for the better. Now, I idolize them and love them more than I ever did as a young child. So it has been with the Church and the Gospel taught within it. As I see it for me, and for many other formerly lapsed LDS, I eventually grew up. I now have an absolute testimony that apostles and prophets and members in all ages have been human, imperfect, full of mistakes, and that the church organized has been at times less than perfect and got some things wrong and its history and doctrine not always taught in the best way possible. On a cosmic scale, so what? Evidently, we volunteered for all this. Through all the muck has come my faith, for which there is some scriptural support, as follows: all will be made up to us, all opportunities will be given, all will be made known, all desires of our heart will be acknowledged, and all of our tears will be wiped away by, as He has said, a loving Father in Heaven. And, through it all, has come real power and authority, real keys, real organization, real knowledge of who we are, who sent us and why, to whom are we responsible, and what our most sublime possibilities are. This is a short list. And this is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints No, I would not trade these imperfect apostles and prophets for anyone or anything, and who I love now more than ever…yes, knowing their weaknesses. Through these God gave all that I hold to be of any lasting worth. All our lives are indeed, some may agree and as the scriptures say, as grass that will grow, wilt, and then waste away. I wish I had learned all my difficult lessons before I was so far along on the “blade of grass” lifecycle. But, I will not waste it now, not on my former path which was…ever learning but never coming to a…well, you know the rest.

  23. “It seems you went just a little too far with this post, Michael.”

    Perhaps. Confronting our own biases is a frightful and disconcerting thing. But staying all warm and snug in our comfort zones is really not what I’m about. I don’t think we learn anything by playing it safe.

    “Instead of dealing with difficult issues in the Scriptures (“prove all things herewith”), you would have us approach morality with our minds turned off, and with a belief in Scriptural inerrancy.”

    On the contrary, I find that the Ostler approach requires us to turn our minds *on*, as well as our hearts. God wants the entire, naked, soul. And there is nothing in the essay, or in anything Ostler writes, that can possibly be misconstrued as to favor scriptural inerrancy. You’re bringing up a red herring.

    “And the fact that you used Ostler’s thoughts as an excuse to pile on hipsters/intellectuals/[insert any Church member with an ideology that Michael Towns disagrees with], isn’t cool.”

    At least I’m open and honest about where I’m coming from and about the biases and perspectives that I have. I’m really not impressed with most of the logic on the side of progressive left Mormons.

  24. “And the fact that you used Ostler’s thoughts as an excuse to pile on hipsters/intellectuals/[insert any Church member with an ideology that Michael Towns disagrees with], isn’t cool. Oh wait, I forgot, God likes us to judge and to take an eye for an eye. It says so right there in the Old Testament!”

    Hmmm, Hunter, you would never judge others with whom you disagree, would you?

  25. Just a thought experiment: what if President Monson were arrested for tying up one of his grandchildren on an alter, and caught in the act of almost stabbing the child, because God told him to! What if he married a 15 year old girl? What if Pres. Monson suddenly reinstated the ban on blacks, saying the time was again come to put the seed of Cain under subdugation again? What if we found conclusive proof that BY had ordered the MMM? He would still be far less genocidal than Old Testament prophets Moses and Joshua.

    Is the God of the Old Testament reallythe same God of today?

  26. “Is the God of the Old Testament reallythe same God of today?”

    I’d have to say yes. Reading Revelations, or sections 45 or 133 of the Doctrines and Covenants, or any of the apocalyptic prophecies of the last days, Armageddon, to say nothing of the apocalyptic pattern or type showcased in Third Nephi, leads me to believe that our God is not, as Meg pointed out above, a tame God.

    Consider: when Christ returns in glory, the earth is going to be cleansed by fire. It doesn’t get more “genocidal” than that.

    I recall the last verse of Pratt’s hymn, Jesus Once of Humble Birth:

    Once all things he meekly bore,
    But he now will bear no more.
    But he now will bear no more.

  27. Geoff: It’s true, I judge people. I even judge you — I expected better of you than a simple ad hominem attack. C’mon, man — step it up! [grin]

    Michael: I like Ostler’s major point. Part of my difficulty with your post is that I perceived that you weren’t, actually, “open and honest” about your biases. You presented the post as a general (provocative) idea, but then in the comments you revealed that part of your motivation was to smack down those weird lefties. I don’t know you so I won’t judge you; I think you took a good idea and tried to come up with a provocative post. But I still think you need to answer the question: what to do with the conflicting (not just morally difficult) accounts of God in the Scriptures? I’d like you to address that somewhere in your discussion. (Otherwise, the principle you are using as a stick could, logically, be used against any ideology. Under your reasoning, one could read the Scriptures and conclude that God is a communist, same-sex marriage-loving pacifist.)

  28. I’m chagrined and disappointed that you don’t know more about me, Hunter. I thought my anti-progressive bona fides were more widely known.

    “But I still think you need to answer the question: what to do with the conflicting (not just morally difficult) accounts of God in the Scriptures? I’d like you to address that somewhere in your discussion. (Otherwise, the principle you are using as a stick could, logically, be used against any ideology. Under your reasoning, one could read the Scriptures and conclude that God is a communist, same-sex marriage-loving pacifist.)”

    Nonsense. I don’t think you understood the finer points of what Ostler is suggesting. Getting a revelation from the God of Abraham is what dismantles those conflicts. But to get the revelation you have to set aside your pretentious pride and stop putting God into neat little moral boxes.

    By the way, I’m using it as a stick because quite frankly, I’m tired of progressive Mormons using their “advanced” moral sensitivities and political conceits to shame the church and her conservative defenders. Did I get a little under your skin? Good.

  29. Pingback: God Delights in Destroying the idols we make of Him in our Own Image | Junior Ganymede

  30. You and Blake Ostler are clearly correct in suggesting that it is foolish and wicked to judge God by the current standards of ‘morality’ (especially as we are living in the least moral time in human history – not necessarily in terms of behaviour but certainly in terms of beliefs: a large proportion and probably a majority of the population of most Western countries (not necessarily the USA) would assert that there are no objective moral rules – which is the same as saying there are no moral rules (because if moral rules are not objective then they are not moral rules but only rules of thumb to be discarded when expedient).

    On the other hand, the inscrutability of God’s morality can be pushed too hard – for example by Calvinism. If pushed too hard then it becomes almost impossible to regard God as loving – and the Christian life becomes a matter of mere submission to power. However, this extreme of fatalism is not likely among Mormons.

    The point I would like to make is that there is often an insincerity, I think, among people who profess incomprehension at the tough-mindedness, and anger of the Old Testament (account of) God.

    Some people seem to be trying to make a rhetorical point that they personally could not possibly behave in such a way (judgment, anger, infliction of suffering) because they have never experienced such emotions or feelings – they are actually arguing that they find such behaviour incomprehensible.

    But in fact, I would suppose any normal loving parent could envisage situations in which extreme bad, evil behaviour from their child would require extremely tough sanctions – for example if one child was torturing and killing your other children (which is the situation for God).

    Add in that God’s children are immortal souls, and so cannot (in general) be killed and can only be induced to reform; because free agency is real and cannot (even if that were a good thing) be overcome…

    So God is in the situation that he must deal with his immortal children at war with one another, he loves them (us) all, and he cannot compel us but must work by persuasion and psychological pressure.

    Something like that is the basic situation.

    By contrast, I think that many who criticize the Old Testament depiction of God believe that free will is either unreal or optional, and that God can and probably should compel humans to behave well (in other words they believe either that free agency is an illusion, or unimportant, or contingent).

    Perhaps some also believe that God can destroy exceptionally-evil souls and solve the problem that way (whereas, if souls can really be destroyed, then it seems to be by their self-choice of destruction by rejection of salvation – not by God’s command).

    So, my point is that some of the criticism of Old Testament Morality is insincere and dishonest moral grandstanding – where people affect to find incomprehensible what they themselves actually know from experience; and some of it is a misunderstanding of the basic situation wrt God and Man.

  31. By the way, I’m using it as a stick because quite frankly, I’m tired of progressive Mormons using their “advanced” moral sensitivities and political conceits to shame the church and her conservative defenders.

    Since when is the conservative Mormon position a wholesale acceptance of every depiction of God in the Bible? The unifying message I get from GC, Ensign and other official sources is very much not the God of the OT. Isn’t that what the Restoration is for? Isn’t that why we have prophets? To synthesize and resonate the often contradictory and confusing accounts of who God is and what the plan is for God’s children? In our 2014 GD classes, do you predict that we will become well acquainted with the God of genocide and polygamy and capriciousness? And when we don’t, will you then level your charge of moral conceit at the writers and producers of our manuals?

  32. Christian J, I think you are (deliberately?) missing Michael Towns’ point. Of course “conservative” Mormons sometimes do not understand that God will act in ways that are incomprehensible to our modern sensibilities. Polygamy is one example, but another is the Church’s immigration policy. His post can be applied both ways. And please don’t bring up the GD manuals again: I think we have successfully pointed out that this is a red herring.

    If we can agree that God does indeed act in ways we do not understand we have made some progress, so on Christmas Eve, let’s concentrate on that. Your point “Isn’t that why we have prophets” is exactly correct and in line with what Michael is saying.

  33. Geoff, I too thought Michael’s post was a general critique of the way we all want to create God in our own image. I endorsed that view, but he’s been clear that that was not the intent of his message. He’s speaking to a specific group of people and critiquing the specific way that they fail to take seriously the God of old. It really cries out for balance. That is all I was trying to do.

    Merry Christmas. May we all find God in this season, with all of his complexity.

  34. Christian J,

    Please allow me to give you a bit of Christmas cheer. I endorse Geoff’s last comment. My post can be used to morally spank conservatives and progressives in equal measure.

    However, since I am not a progressive, and since I have profound concerns as to what progressives are doing to the church nowadays, naturally I have my biases. I am open about those biases.

    Do you accept my peace pipe? And I do hope that we all enjoy tonight and tomorrow.

  35. I think there is likely a lot to be gleaned from polygamy lessons in principle, but since we as a people don’t want to be seen as praising what is illegal, and what most of us find morally awkward, and what is used as a weapon against the church we avoid it. I would assume if the church had a history involving child sacrifice we’d avoid Abraham too.

    You might say it’s a mistake but it’s one the people probably bear because we don’t want to hear it. But more so, I think even the Lord himself has spoken on the issue when he said this is a subject that only he can reveal and if he reveals it to someone it’s to command them to practice it. So perhaps we should recognize this is clearly an issue that the Lord does not want to teach for the sake of a lesson to a people striving to learn milk before meat.

    In general I think we give away too many answers in the church. I wish the lessons were more simplified in a way to brings the answers from the class rather than delivering them to the Roy from a teacher and it seems like that is happening. Not to say the answers aren’t needed but we need to do a better job getting them from God directly through study and revelation.

  36. After about seven times through the Book of Mormon and about 4 times through the OT (on the LDS GD reading schedule, plus extra readings of the BoM), I finally saw how the BoM not only connects, but reconciles the OT God with the NT God.

    The OT God is not a contradiction to the NT God. The apparent or seeming disconnect or contradiction comes from false Protestant (and maybe some Catholic) teachings which have woven their ways into our Western culture.

    The strictness of the Mosaic Law was brought on by the rebelious nature of Israel. The severity of the punishments, fire from heaven, etc, inflicted on the Israelistes of the Exodus was (in my opinion) due to the fact that they _knew better_. They saw the pillar of fire and column of smoke guide them, they saw the miracle of the sea parting, they saw Moses’ miracles. They were sinning against the greater light, so of course they had to receive the greater punishment.

    The accounts of the BoM prophets, especially Lehi and Nephi, lead us to believe that the Old Testament prophets _did_ teach of the atonement of a Savior, and did so clearly. If Lehi and Nephi knew it, the other prophets had to too.

    Therefore, I think It’s obvious from what Lehi and Nephi knew, that much had been taken out of the OT before it got to us, because I have to assume that all the OT prophets knew as much as Lehi and Nephi did. Yet much of the gospel about the Savior is missing from our OT, and what’s left is only in code and symbolic language. As if later editors removed all the obvious teachings.

    The final destruction of the Nephites, long after the Lord’s mortal ministry and the time of the NT, show that the same rules still applied from the same God: sin long enough, and sin against the light, and you get wiped out. The Nephites knew better. The Lamanites didn’t have as much light.

    The weird or scary part is not that God is no longer the OT God. The scary part is that God _is still_ the OT God. He hasn’t changed. He is _both_ the OT God and the NT God; always has been, always will be. And if we think there is a contradiction between the two, then we don’t really know God, and don’t understand the laws and principles by which He operates.

    That may then be a secondary purpose of the Book of Mormon, not to merely testify of Christ alone, but fill in the blanks (the missing “plain and precious parts”) of the Bible, and thereby reconcile this apparent disconnect or contradiction we seem to have about the God of the OT and the God of the NT.

    Or worded another way, if we can understand the God of the Book of Mormon, then we will better understand how the God of the OT is the same as the God of the NT.

  37. As true as I percieve this concept to be, I struggle with what is for me the inevitable consequence of a kind of ‘practical’ moral relativism. If you cannot know without revelation that Islamist suicide bombing is not of God, then how can you persuade those who reject your revelation to work with you in opposition to it? Once you *know* God in this sense, I don’t see how you can even be *in* the world.

  38. “That may then be a secondary purpose of the Book of Mormon, not to merely testify of Christ alone, but fill in the blanks (the missing “plain and precious parts”) of the Bible, and thereby reconcile this apparent disconnect or contradiction we seem to have about the God of the OT and the God of the NT.”

    I completely agree with your points, and have believed for a long time that this was one of the many purposes of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

    Also, ditto on your comment that the God of the OT and the God that we worship are still the same God. If you delve into the Doctrine and Covenants, check out all the allusions to OT prophecies. It is replete with them. And The Lord really doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about the destruction of the wicked at His second coming. Many folks will get to become acquainted with the God of justice, despite how jarring that sounds to our 2013 ears.

  39. Hi Michael,

    I’ll try moving my comments here, and you can respond as time permits.

    That is where the personal encounter with God comes in. A revelation from God tends to clear up a lot of categorical tensions…..for us on a personal basis.

    Given that we cannot transcend our own categories, and that revelation is experienced by human beings as human beings I’m not so certain this clears things up.

    However, let me just say that the God we think we know is shattered by the God who actually reveals Himself to us, and we — all of us — put barriers between that reality and ourselves. Humility means putting aside our vaunted moral sophistications and acknowledging that God is above and beyond all that.

    We are way too smug in our 21st century ethical conceits.

    I actually don’t disagree with much of this. There should be a certain degree of humility and trust toward those things we believe to be from God. Given, however, that we can’t escape our “ethical conceits,” I think we’re better off with 21st century ethical conceits than 19th century ethical conceits.

    Let me say this another way, Michael. Do we have any reason to believe that we (in the 21st century) are more (or less) trapped in our own ethical categories than those of say 19th century America? Why endorse what appears to be bigotry as coming from God when it very well could be the trappings of 19th century ethical categories?

  40. SmallAxe,

    I’m glad to be able to resume our conversation, because I thought you and I had a pretty good discourse happening. Please allow me to haltingly respond to your questions as best I can, while keeping in mind that I am in no way a trained philosopher, just someone who does a lot of reading and thinking about various issues.

    “Let me say this another way, Michael. Do we have any reason to believe that we (in the 21st century) are more (or less) trapped in our own ethical categories than those of say 19th century America? Why endorse what appears to be bigotry as coming from God when it very well could be the trappings of 19th century ethical categories?”

    I don’t think we have any reason, at all, to believe that we are any less trapped in our own ethical categories. In fact, I believe firmly that if a 26th century hipster traveled back in time and observed us 21st century ‘enlightened’ folks, we would evoke profound condescension. We cannot escape our moral/ethical constructs. However, God comprehends this, and compensates accordingly as an eternal omniscient being does.

    A huge point of mine is that we *think* we are more ethically enlightened than our 19th century counterparts, but we are *not*.

    Now you will certainly object and say, “But we condemn racism and slavery. We’ve advanced so far.” Sure, in those two areas. But we have retrograded in other areas. We tolerate two kinds of genocide: brutal ethnic cleansing and the systemic acceptance, codified in law, of partial-birth abortions (See: Gosnell). We are *no* better than folks in the 19th century, and I find it ludicrous that we seem to think that we’ve evolved. We 21st century folks have our terrible blind spots. I’ve only mentioned two egregious examples, but there are *many* others.

    This is what I am getting at when I urge some epistemological humility and a willingness to extend a modicum of forgiveness and tolerance to prior generations. Yes, they had their terrible blind spots. But they also did some marvelously brilliant ethical things, too. We humans are a combination of the sublime and the satanic. *And we are all that way*. I just can’t take people seriously who look back at the 19th century and say, “What morons!”. *We are also morons, moron.*

    “Why endorse what appears to be bigotry as coming from God when it very well could be the trappings of 19th century ethical categories?”

    I actually didn’t (and don’t) endorse ‘bigotry’. What I am suggesting is that God has to deal with His children *as they are*, not as He would wish them to be. In Abraham’s time, polygamy, child sacrifice, slavery, and patriarchy were the norm. It was how even enlightened and even *moral* people were brought up, raised, and inculcated. It would make no sense for God to present to Abraham a progressive-leftist Mormon paradigm for him to deal with.

    I also don’t mind that we 21st century folk have ethical standards. I just don’t want us to treat other paradigms with disparagement because *we* have our own serious issues to grapple with. And that 26th century time traveler, as advanced as s/he is, has his/her own serious problems to deal with. We are not better than our forbears.

    And let me finish this long post by just saying that I really like Joseph Smith’s comment that if you gazed into heaven five minutes, you would learn more than was ever written on the subject. Getting actual revelations from Almighty God have done more for me, in my life, than sitting around wringing my hands over what the Church has or hasn’t done wrong. Revelation makes all the difference, and God possesses the ability to give us what we need, if we are willing to receive, and this *despite* our ethically challenged blind spots.

  41. This is what I am getting at when I urge some epistemological humility and a willingness to extend a modicum of forgiveness and tolerance to prior generations. Yes, they had their terrible blind spots. But they also did some marvelously brilliant ethical things, too. We humans are a combination of the sublime and the satanic. *And we are all that way*. I just can’t take people seriously who look back at the 19th century and say, “What morons!”. *We are also morons, moron.*

    Since we don’t know each other very well, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that I completely agree with this (and just about everything you say previous to this paragraph).

    I actually didn’t (and don’t) endorse ‘bigotry’. What I am suggesting is that God has to deal with His children *as they are*, not as He would wish them to be. In Abraham’s time, polygamy, child sacrifice, slavery, and patriarchy were the norm. It was how even enlightened and even *moral* people were brought up, raised, and inculcated. It would make no sense for God to present to Abraham a progressive-leftist Mormon paradigm for him to deal with.

    I’m with you on this as well. I think we need to endorse some kind of historical relativism, while also acknowledging that at least some wrongs of the past were and are still wrong (and at the same time be open to those things we may be wrong about now). The problem, though, is that we don’t just live in moments, but live across time where things change, so we are left struggling to make sense of how something wrong yesterday might not be wrong today (or vice versa). This is particularly problematic because human beings, while possibly living some 100 years, also tend to be members of traditions, so our “yesterday” is not just the era we were born into or raised in, but are the generations of people that have come before us.

    A larger point, though, goes back to something you say in the OP:

    What ends up happening is that we create God in our own image, and while we possess the liberty to do so, that image is not really the God that stands revealed in the Holy Scriptures nor is it the God Who Reveals Himself through revelation to man.

    Since we cannot transcend ourselves, we cannot but create God in our own image. This goes for God as depicted in the scriptures. The scriptures do not transcend culture. This isn’t to say that all creations are equally valid, but that even revelation is mediated through culture; and revelation mediated through culture cannot completely transcend morality.

    So, here are a couple of serious questions: Would you sacrifice your child if the prophet asked you to? Would you strap a bomb to yourself and blow up 25 random people on a bus if the prophet asked you to? Would you marry a 15 year old girl if the prophet asked you to?

    We might be able to imagine some scenario where some of this might make ethical sense (perhaps the 25 people on the bus each have bombs strapped to themselves and are planning to go out into the city to set them off individually), but that doesn’t seem to be the purpose of your post. These kinds of things are not supposed to make sense.

    At the same time, I would answer “no” to my series of questions. And I would do so on ethical grounds. Does this mean that I place ethics above Mormonism? Maybe or maybe not; but I do think there are some clear lines that should not be crossed. Should the Church ask me to do things that don’t make sense? Sure. I think the Word of Wisdom fits into this in some degree. Should the Church ask me to do things that are not ethical? To be honest, I’m struggling to come up with an example where I would say “yes.” Of course, not all ethical issues have the same weight, so in minor things I suppose we could say “yes.” And of course what counts as “ethical” is not always uniformly agreed upon.

  42. “Since we cannot transcend ourselves, we cannot but create God in our own image. This goes for God as depicted in the scriptures. The scriptures do not transcend culture. This isn’t to say that all creations are equally valid, but that even revelation is mediated through culture; and revelation mediated through culture cannot completely transcend morality.”

    I actually agree with your thoughts here. My only qualification, and I know I’m being nitpicky, is that there are transcendent moments where the God of Abraham gives you a revelation, and some (certainly not all) of those artificial cultural categories get collapsed, and true enlightenment takes place.

    “So, here are a couple of serious questions: Would you sacrifice your child if the prophet asked you to? Would you strap a bomb to yourself and blow up 25 random people on a bus if the prophet asked you to? Would you marry a 15 year old girl if the prophet asked you to? ”

    I recall a piece of wisdom that I believe C. S. Lewis gave out when he remarked that we are not required to answer abstracted theoreticals.

    To bring it down to earth, how about this: what if polygamy laws are rescinded nation-wide and (extraordinarily unlikely) the church says polygamy is authorized. And let’s say I happen to know a high-ranking apostle (I don’t irl) who tells me that I need to take another wife. Well, the only way to verify it is to do what Saints have always done: go directly to God and find out, for sure, if that’s what He wants them to do. Personal revelation is where it’s always been.

    “Should the Church ask me to do things that don’t make sense? Sure. I think the Word of Wisdom fits into this in some degree. Should the Church ask me to do things that are not ethical?”

    I don’t think the *Church* should do these things, but I think it’s wholly appropriate for the aforementioned God of Abraham to do so. I again refer back to Joseph Smith, who as always sets the gauntlet down:

    “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill'; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”

    This is hard: “whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is”. We do not worship a “tame lion”.

    Your thoughts, SmallAxe? I’ve really enjoyed our exploration of an admittedly difficult topic.

  43. My only qualification, and I know I’m being nitpicky, is that there are transcendent moments where the God of Abraham gives you a revelation, and some (certainly not all) of those artificial cultural categories get collapsed, and true enlightenment takes place.

    I don’t think you’re being nitpicky; and I might even suggest that a possible point of disagreement is over the degree to which we can recognize true enlightenment or perhaps come to a shared understanding of enlightenment as a community.

    I recall a piece of wisdom that I believe C. S. Lewis gave out when he remarked that we are not required to answer abstracted theoreticals.

    To bring it down to earth, how about this: what if polygamy laws are rescinded nation-wide and (extraordinarily unlikely) the church says polygamy is authorized. And let’s say I happen to know a high-ranking apostle (I don’t irl) who tells me that I need to take another wife. Well, the only way to verify it is to do what Saints have always done: go directly to God and find out, for sure, if that’s what He wants them to do. Personal revelation is where it’s always been.

    I actually do not think any of the examples I provided are abstracted theoreticals given that they come from our sacred texts (an example actually first used by yourself in the OP), our history, and our contemporary world where some people do believe that suicide bombing could be a divine command. Regarding polygamy, I’d like to push the example a little further. Let’s say that the Spirit told you that God did not want you to do it. Let’s say that the apostle also threatened to excommunicate you if you did not move forward with it. What would you do?

    This relates to the point in your next paragraph about the Church versus the God of Abraham. Does this distinction function any differently than revelation as expressed through an institution and ethics? In other words, my point previously is that there are ethical constraints to the kinds of things God would ask of us. If the prophet (i.e., the Church) asked me to blow myself up I wouldn’t do it because it violates my conscience (i.e., ethical standards). How is this different from saying you wouldn’t do it because God told you not to?

  44. “I actually do not think any of the examples I provided are abstracted theoreticals given that they come from our sacred texts (an example actually first used by yourself in the OP), our history, and our contemporary world where some people do believe that suicide bombing could be a divine command.”

    Well, please allow me to push back a little. It *is* an abstracted theoretical because *I* have not been asked to do any of the things you’re asking me about. I simply don’t know what I would do *if* I received a *legitimate* revelation telling me to sacrifice my child. That’s the problem with these abstractions, and I suspect that your subtext includes the implicit assumption that no true revelation from God would command a father to kill his son. But that’s an assumption that is unwarranted, because we know that God has, in fact, done this. (And not only that, but He’s a God who actually *did* kill his own son, rather harshly, in fact.)

    “Regarding polygamy, I’d like to push the example a little further. Let’s say that the Spirit told you that God did not want you to do it. Let’s say that the apostle also threatened to excommunicate you if you did not move forward with it. What would you do?”

    If I am armed with an *actual*, *legitimate* (and those are important qualifiers) revelation from God, then what I have I to fear? I ain’t scared of no mere ‘Postle.

    “In other words, my point previously is that there are ethical constraints to the kinds of things God would ask of us.”

    Not so fast. My entire thesis (building off of Ostler) is that there are no ethical constraints to what God could ask of us. I think you are putting an artificial constraint, not on what God actually does, but on the kinds of things that he tests us with. Do you see the difference?

  45. “and our contemporary world where some people do believe that suicide bombing could be a divine command”

    And let me talk briefly about radical Islam. I’m kind of a subject matter expert due to my day job. Yes, those jokers *believe* that what they are doing is divinely inspired. However, they have no received revelations commanding them to do it. They are actually following Shaitan or Iblis. Again, this is a rather fine distinction, and I recognize that it may not convince some folks, however, I am certain that the God of Abraham isn’t asking the sons of Ishmael to blow up buildings. Hence, the question is rather irrelevant.

  46. Well, please allow me to push back a little. It *is* an abstracted theoretical because *I* have not been asked to do any of the things you’re asking me about. I simply don’t know what I would do *if* I received a *legitimate* revelation telling me to sacrifice my child. That’s the problem with these abstractions, and I suspect that your subtext includes the implicit assumption that no true revelation from God would command a father to kill his son. But that’s an assumption that is unwarranted, because we know that God has, in fact, done this. (And not only that, but He’s a God who actually *did* kill his own son, rather harshly, in fact.)

    Perhaps we disagree as to what counts as abstract, and truth be told this disagreement may not be central to the larger issue, but I would say that these things are not abstract precisely because they are things God could ask us to do. And they seem to be in line with the kind of surrendering of ethical categories that you advocate in the OP.

    I’m not necessarily saying that no revelation could come telling a father to kill his son (if we take your example of Jesus, for instance, there may be good reasons to let Jesus die; although note that letting someone die is not the same as killing them). This may take us back to the point about the degree to which we can separate revelation from culture, but I don’t think we can separate revelation from culture such that we can give up our rationality and recognize something simply as revelation in these significant events (hence my point earlier about doing more minor unethical things being permitted. So my limit isn’t on God, per se; it’s on human beings.

    Notice your recent comment about radical Islam. On what grounds do you deny that they’ve legitimately received revelation?

    So perhaps the crux of this lies in what you/we mean by legitimate. Would you ever be so sure of your revelation that you would kill your son without good reason? I certainly wouldn’t trust another person’s revelation (even the prophet’s), and I wouldn’t trust myself either.

  47. “Notice your recent comment about radical Islam. On what grounds do you deny that they’ve legitimately received revelation?”

    I have a rather intimate knowledge of both the Qur’an and Islam; I won’t bore you with all the fine details but the legitimacy of suicide bombing in an Islamic context is pretty threadbare. It’s a modern innovation and has no foundation in fiqh or ijtihad. Plus, it seems a strange way to build a lasting and flourishing society, what with blowing up your own selves. Perhaps Allah is playing a long strategic game here, but I tend to doubt it.

    “So perhaps the crux of this lies in what you/we mean by legitimate. Would you ever be so sure of your revelation that you would kill your son without good reason? I certainly wouldn’t trust another person’s revelation (even the prophet’s), and I wouldn’t trust myself either.”

    Have you ever received a true revelation? I’m not talking about a ‘prompting’. I’m talking about a real parting of the veil in some fashion, being immersed in the Holy Spirit and not just feeling ‘uplifted’. An honest-to-goodness revelation makes itself pretty known. It’s unmistakable.

  48. Have you ever received a true revelation? I’m not talking about a ‘prompting’. I’m talking about a real parting of the veil in some fashion, being immersed in the Holy Spirit and not just feeling ‘uplifted’. An honest-to-goodness revelation makes itself pretty known. It’s unmistakable.

    First, thank you for continuing the conversation. I think I’m getting a better idea of where you’re coming from.

    Have I received a revelation that motivates me to come to Church, pay tithing, and participate in almost every aspect of Mormon life? Sure. But this wouldn’t suffice for me to suspend my ethical categories in the way you suggest in the OP. As I mentioned in my last comment, I wouldn’t trust myself let alone another person to identify such a revelation. Would you? And even if you trusted yourself to identify such a revelation, would you expect this to hold for a larger community? If so, how?

    Not to belabor this point, but I think it gets a major problem some people have with this post. If you believe in a God that transcends ethical categories, and you believe that human beings are able to clearly identify this God’s revelations to transcend ethical categories, but are not able to provide a way in which this confidence is shared and adjudicated communally then you leave the door wide open for the unethical treatment of others. Who’s to say that God isn’t behind suicide bombings?

  49. “I wouldn’t trust myself let alone another person to identify such a revelation.”

    The revelation identifies *you*, grabs you by the collar and says “do this”. Does that alter the paradigm you’re struggling with?

    “If you believe in a God that transcends ethical categories, and you believe that human beings are able to clearly identify this God’s revelations to transcend ethical categories, but are not able to provide a way in which this confidence is shared and adjudicated communally then you leave the door wide open for the unethical treatment of others. Who’s to say that God isn’t behind suicide bombings?”

    Instead of saying that human beings are able to clearly identify this God’s revelations to transcend ethical categories, I would turn it around and say that God is capable of helping human beings understand His will, which may or may not involve the violation of cultural shibboleths.

    Let’s example a case study, a famous one: Nephi’s killing of Laban. I have seen many progressive Mormons spilling a lot of online ink in excessively criticizing this episode of Nephi’s story, as well as being critical to Nephi’s reasoning. Of course, taking a human life is no small thing. Nephi himself cringed from the deep and the Spirit had to literally reason with him for several verses before Nephi gained the courage to go through with it. Of course, by Middle Eastern standards Nephi was practically a Gandhi, but that doesn’t stop progressives from accusing Nephi of being a moral monster.

    Nephi only knew a couple of things: the Spirit was clearly telling him to kill Laban, and yet he knew he really didn’t want to do it. However, God had given Nephi a specific task, and Nephi knew that the task was worthy and righteous. He also knew, being on intimate terms with the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit was going to great lengths to help him understand why God wanted Nephi to decapitate this unconscious drunk.

    To our contemporary mores, and American legal system, what Nephi did was criminal. Yet God commanded him to do it. Who do you obey?

    Nephi put aside his scruples and killed the man. He then accomplished the task that God had asked him and his brothers to do. In *this* specific context, Nephi was justified, because God justified him. But of course, that doesn’t stop some folks from calling him a murderer. But if God asks you to do it, it’s more like a judicial execution.

    You keep bringing up suicide bombers. Fine, I won’t shrink from the issue. You are saying (I think) that there is either no way for us to know whether or not suicide bombers are truly inspired, or else that there is no difference between what they do and what the God of Abraham might ask us one of us to do. I dispute the equivalence. First of all, there is only *one* God of Abraham, and if I have to choose between the program initiated and governed by the latter day prophets and that performed by the latter day Islamic terrorists, I don’t think we actually need a profound revelation telling us which is better.

    “Have I received a revelation that motivates me to come to Church, pay tithing, and participate in almost every aspect of Mormon life? Sure. But this wouldn’t suffice for me to suspend my ethical categories in the way you suggest in the OP.”

    You’re right. Paying tithing and showing up for the three hour block really doesn’t involve much Abrahamic testing. I agree with you.

  50. 1 Nephi describes events well after the fact and is not a recording from the Heavenly Dictaphone. No scripture is. Here is a reading suggestion to pair with yours in the OP: check out the book, Mormons and the Bible, where Barlow writes, among other things, that, unlike evangelicals and Catholics, we Latter-day Saints “have not developed a theory or doctrine of scripture adequate for a modern world” (p.247). It’s a problem.

  51. “we Latter-day Saints “have not developed a theory or doctrine of scripture adequate for a modern world””

    Poppycock.

  52. A comment in a blog post isn’t sufficient to explain in detail. But I have received revelation that asked me to cross the lines of my personal morality. For me, there was no ram in the thicket, just as there wasn’t for Nephi. And, like Nephi, despite knowing the edict was from God that act still haunts me in my darker moments. And, like Nephi, I am paying a price for my decision to follow God’s will long after the act.

    For those who have been asked by God to cross their personal moral lines, the difference is as clear as day. There is no mistaking when God truly commands you. Each will have to answer to God for acts done in His name. Those who misrepresent God’s will to themselves will have to account for the way they have taken His name in vain.

    Like so many righteous principles, Satan has successfully mimicked such revelation. Fortunately, God had provided a way to know what comes from Him and what doesn’t. Your problem, SmallAxe, is that you’re wanting an objective scientific formula. There isn’t one. The way to see is subjective by design. That is, as I see it, the point of the post.

    While I find the sensationalist choice of title words distasteful, the underlying principle of a not-tame God is a true one.

  53. Here’s the point that I want to make whenever something along these lines is brought up …

    Assuming, for a moment, that God does act violently (misogynistically, and so on), how could any religious people know that their understanding of God’s violence is the way God is rather than a projection/justification of human behavior? This is very serious because rarely if ever is God known to act violently himself directly. It is through human actors (and natural disasters) that he supposedly acts violently.

    I hope that you and some of the commenters here do not want to encourage anyone to act violently in God’s name. But as has been pointed out, you open a dangerous door that I personally think is better left entirely closed.

    In a Deseret News article marking 20 years since the religious murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty by Ron and Dan Lafferty, it was reported:

    “Dan said he and his brother were led by God to beat Brenda unconscious, wrap a vacuum cord around her neck until she went limp, and then slit her throat. She was 24. ‘I held Brenda’s hair and did it pretty much the way they did it in the scriptures,’ he says proudly. ‘Then I walked in Erica’s room. I talked to her for a minute, I said, ‘I’m not sure why I’m supposed to do this, but I guess God wants you home.’’ He then looked away as he slit the 15-month-old baby’s throat.”

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/595079489/1984-Lafferty-case-still-haunts.html?pg=all

    At bottom, just because the scriptures may say something or someone may feel that they have received revelation does not mean that it is a good idea to promote that scripture or act on that revelation. You would have a hard time, I think, arguing against Dan Lafferty’s appeal to scripture and revelation here, and in turn Dan Lafferty would probably agree with what you are suggesting in this post.

    Does that make you uncomfortable? Please say yes.

  54. GW,

    I’m going to give you a serious answer to your question. The simple truth is that you’re asking the wrong question and misunderstanding the nature of morality.

    Assuming, for a moment, that sometimes morality requires one to act violently, how could any moral people know that their understanding of the morally necessary violence is the way of true Morality rather than a projection/justification of human behavior? This is very serious because Morality only can ever act through human actors.

    The problem with your question is that you don’t realize is has no uniqueness to conservative religious people. The fact that you don’t realize that is why you are in fact prejudice against conservative religious people at times. (We all have our prejudices, I’m not trying to imply you are more than a normal person and might be a great deal less so.)

    When any moral person — and that would be 100% of everyone that has a sense of morality and convince themselves they are following it — decides its necessary to move to violence whether physical, social, legal, or any type they *always* justify it according to their moral worldview whether or not we perceive that as religious or secular. And so the question is if there is a difference pre or post facto. You would not be making the points you are making if you did not in your heart honestly believe that the conservative religious view of a God that might in theory command to break societal laws and conventions leads to greater violence. But what evidence do you have for that thesis? How do you know that secular types (to pick an example, not because you are secular) aren’t actually more likely to break laws or move to violence and then justify it as “justice required it” rather than an appeal to a revelation from God? I would suggest that you have no such evidence and have probably never even thought to look into this rather obvious first question precisely because you, to some degree, hope to find problems in people you don’t agree with. (Again, no accusation here. I am only suggesting this is human nature.)

    Now if you could demonstrate that statistically conservative religious people in equivalent circumstances (socio-economic, education, etc.) showed a tendency to increased violence then *maybe* you’d have a case to start worrying like you are worrying that the mere fact that they believe in revelation from God could command something society condemns created a greater likelihood for such actions. But I know of no such evidence. And in fact, what studies I’ve seen have suggested that conservative religious people actually are far more charitable. Jonathan Haidt brings this out in spades.

    Over the course of watching you, I’ve noticed you spend considerable time on “the other.” What is wrong with conservative types? How can you fix them, etc.? Maybe this isn’t so abnormal. We all do a lot of comparisons to people we disagree with and we all have considerable biases. But maybe it’s not the most helpful either to be so fixated on finding a problem that isn’t there. This is mere Rejectionism.

    Further, you are misunderstanding the nature of religion. Conservative religious types are probably not more likely to move to violence when in comparable circumstances. But to make sense of a God that is really there and present in a personal way probably does require them to make a post like this. And that sense of God’s presence in a personal way is probably a factor in the move to further charity. (Jonathan Haidt’s studies suggest a direct tie in that religious belief mixed with religious practice in a religious community flips a sort of ‘superorganism’ switch that causes the religious person to become less selfish by identifying with a group. The religious group is taken care of first, but there is a statistical ‘splill over factor’ that benefits society as a whole.

  55. For the sake of continuing the conversation, let me attempt to summarize my primary objections to your post, and then respond to your recent comment.

    Your primary point seems to be that God transcends our ethical categories, so we should not limit him to our ethical categories; and furthermore we should be willing to abandon our ethical categories to truly encounter God. Such abandonment should occur because of revelation.

    My response is that God may very well request that we give up searching for rational reasons for some things he wants us to do. I used tithing (or perhaps the WoW) as an example. I’m hesitant to concede the abandonment of ethical categories except in minor things, however. Minor things aren’t what was under discussion in the OP, though, so I’ve used examples of killing others, underage marriage, and you’ve used polygamy. My objections to abandoning ethical categories in dealing with these issues are as follows:

    1) I don’t trust myself to identify such a revelation, because I, as a human being, am enmeshed in my culture; and as such, I experience and interpret revelation through culture. I advocate epistemological humility not only in constructing our ethical categories, but also in identifying and interpreting revelation. Do you see the double standard that you are advocating where you urge epistemological humility in constructing our ethical categories but not in understanding religion? How do you account for that?

    Said another way, the more that’s at stake (ethically speaking) the more confidence we should have in the reasons we do things. Revelation can provide a kind of irrational reason, but we’d better be more certain about it the more that’s at stake.

    Additionally, I should point out that lurking behind this issue is also the question of whether or not experiencing revelation entails rationality or other cognitive processes.

    2) I don’t trust others to identify such a revelation.

    2a) Even if point 1 could be resolved, namely that I could trust myself to identify such a revelation, I could not demonstrate to others that this was in fact a revelation. This leaves me in a situation of being judged unethical by those who do not believe it was a revelation (a big problem with living in a pluralist society, hence g. wesley’s comment about not being fit for the modern world), and trusted by those who believe it was a revelation. Given the private nature of revelation, however, it creates a system open to abuse within the community of believers where the only check against truly unethical requests are subjective interpretations of revelation.

    You can refer back to the institution of the Church as a kind of check against subjectivism, as you did in your last comment, but we crossed this bridge a while back when you said that you’d suffer excommunication if you didn’t receive a revelation about polygamy. To refine this point: suicide bombing doesn’t need to be an Islamic thing. What’s to stop Mormons, in the view you’ve portrayed, of receiving revelation to commit suicide bombings?

    Hopefully all of this helps to move the conversation forward. It at least attempts to respond indirectly to your recent comment. At the same time, here’s a more direct response:

    Who do you obey?

    Of course I would obey God, but I would guarantee you that if I found someone drunk on the side of the road I would not suspend my ethical categories in considering whether or not I would kill the person. Perhaps I believe that God works through our ethical categories, or at least that revelation works through rationality as well as through other means. FWIW, I don’t think Nephi is a fitting example here. Certainly he had other (ethical) reasons to kill Laban including the fact that Laban had tried to kill him earlier and the lack of a system of law and law enforcement that we’d recognize. Hence, I don’t think we can say that he necessarily had to abandon his ethical categories. A more fitting case would be coming across a stranger passed out on the side of the road. From all respects this person is “innocent” because we have no reason to believe that he is worthy of being killed. I wouldn’t kill such a person no matter what I thought I had experienced. Would you?

  56. Towns, in hind sight, it would have helped if you gave a brief summary of how you view scripture (particularly the OT). In spite of our tradition’s fairly liberal view, many LDS tend to resort to a literalist readings in many instances. You seem to be doing this as well, but because you’re a Mormon (with a wide range of scriptural approaches available to you) I don’t know for sure.

    Instead of saying, “we need to take the scriptures more literal” (which I hear a lot in the church) I would prefer an approach that attempts to look at the reality of the text in how it was composed and edited or passed down and how the original readings/hearers viewed it. Of course, that would force us to reevaluate some of the Mormon themes we insert into the narrative, but it would do a better job of taking the scriptures seriously, in my view.

  57. “Assuming, for a moment, that God does act violently (misogynistically, and so on), how could any religious people know that their understanding of God’s violence is the way God is rather than a projection/justification of human behavior?”

    GW (or g.wesley): I think what you and SmallAxe truly struggle with is the inherent insufficiency of rationalism. You ask, “How could any religious person know?”. As SilverRain indicated, “there is no mistaking when God truly commands you”, emphasis on the word *truly*. You bring up the Lafferty case. You’ll have to forgive me, I was not born or brought up anywhere near Utah, so this case doesn’t resonate with me like it seems to with folks out there. In short, since in my job I deal with religious extremists, I am not moved by their justifications and excuses for committing heinous acts. As I have said repeatedly, if God *truly* gives you a revelation, you really do *know* it. And sure, lots of people claim to be receiving revelations that excuse them in committing sin — that’s human nature. That is also, as SilverRain pointed out, Satan’s counterfeit.

    I’ve just been trying to emphasize that in some cases, God will ask you to do something that offends your precious political/social/ethical pretentions. My essay, in no way shape or form, condones or justifies the lies that people tell to do evil.

    And if I may make the point again, if you keep harping on that one aspect of my essay, then you truly are either missing the point, or you are not interested in exploring the nuances of how God likes to test, try, and surprise His people.

    “I hope that you and some of the commenters here do not want to encourage anyone to act violently in God’s name.”

    You are being deliberately obtuse. Nobody here has come within a mile of doing this, nor does anyone here wish to do so.

  58. “it would have helped if you gave a brief summary of how you view scripture (particularly the OT). In spite of our tradition’s fairly liberal view, many LDS tend to resort to a literalist readings in many instances. You seem to be doing this as well”

    You are correct that a summary of this kind would be helpful. I am not a full scale literalist (or heaven forbid, an inerrantist) with respect to scripture, but neither do I view every verse through some sort of hazy metaphorical spin that I can then ignore in my personal life. My rule is rather threadbare: read the scriptures by the power of the Holy Ghost, and supplement with wide and extensive reading.

    I err on the side of caution when interpreting scripture and this makes me inherently conservative in its treatment. That being said, I am not shy about employing a variety of means to gain new insights and truths. The Adekah, or the Abrahamic sacrifice episode as it is known in Jewish midrash, may or may not have actually happened (I tend towards thinking that it really happened). But its absolute historicity does not take away from any valuable/potential spiritual truths that God might desire us to learn. (And I do have a testimony that God actually does want us to read the OT).

    One thing I’ve definitely picked up on in my exposure to this schizophrenic Bloggernacle: progressive Mormons absolutely detest the Old Testament. I absolutely love it. I guess that just confirms a few things about me that you likely already suspected.

  59. “At bottom, just because the scriptures may say something or someone may feel that they have received revelation does not mean that it is a good idea to promote that scripture or act on that revelation”

    I agree with you!! Are dogs and cats living together?!

    However, I am talking about warm fuzzies. I have never been talking about mere promptings or “gee, I think God wants me to do x”. I’ve always been talking about actual, real, no-mistake-about-it, revelations. You seem to have difficulty believing that these really happen. Please let me tell you that they do. (See SilverRain, for example.)

  60. “While I find the sensationalist choice of title words distasteful, the underlying principle of a not-tame God is a true one.”

    I really enjoyed your comment up above and I appreciate your contribution to this discussion. Thank you. While I don’t know the specific details of your experience (and I don’t need to know obviously), I can sort of relate.

    Yes, the title is absolutely provocative, but I chose it for a reason. I apologize for evoking distaste.

  61. *** not *** talking about warm fuzzies…..good grief. I am doing this too fast.

  62. Bruce: I wouldn’t want to try to claim that traditionalists are more prone to violence than non-traditionalists, or religious folks more than irreligious. I do get worried though whenever anyone says that God commanded/commands violence. I would get just as worried if someone were to call for violence against theists because, I don’t know, they are supposed to be categorically dangerous.

    Michael: We could say that both true and counterfeit revelations pass through the open door, each sent by God and satan respectively. But when it comes to revealed commands to violence, I would prefer to keep the door entirely shut, because as far as I can tell the recipients of the counterfeit are liable to be just as certain as the recipients of the true. And because I doubt that there is such a thing as a true revealed command to violence in the first place. That doubt might prevent me from receiving the true that you describe. Still, I would rather close the door than run the risk. If I am found to be sub-Abrahamic or sub-Nephi material, so be it.

  63. progressive Mormons absolutely detest the Old Testament.

    I know Ben S. would probably not call himself a “progressive”, (he’s def. to the left of most/all at M* in regard to his approach to the scriptures) but his posts concerning the beauty and complexity of the Old Testament are very much in line with how liberal Mormons that I know of – appreciate and value the OT. As one example, I think its more correct to say that liberal Mormons detest proof texting the OT or cherry picking convenient passages for argument’s sake.

    In fact, your friends at FPR are some of the biggest fans of the OT that I know of among Mormons – they just detest the before mentioned abuses. Another example you should look into is David Bokovoy, professor in Hebrew Bible and ancient near east at the U of U. Again, I’m not sure he would call himself a “progressive”, but his work and writings are certainly academic and to the left of your average conservative American Mormon.

    Maybe you read in different parts of the internet than I do, but I see progressive Mormons raising issues with traditional Mormon approaches to the OT, not the whole of the text outright. And that is what I was getting at above – traditional approaches need to be re examined, because many of them are outdated or irresponsible or flat out wrong. And I’m not talking about modern conceit, but real scholarly and archeological work, that informs our understand of what we are looking at.

  64. “But when it comes to revealed commands to violence, I would prefer to keep the door entirely shut, because as far as I can tell the recipients of the counterfeit are liable to be just as certain as the recipients of the true. And because I doubt that there is such a thing as a true revealed command to violence in the first place. That doubt might prevent me from receiving the true that you describe. Still, I would rather close the door than run the risk. If I am found to be sub-Abrahamic or sub-Nephi material, so be it.”

    g.wesley: Please let me say the following. I *do* understand and respect where you are coming from. Your “closing the door”, though, leads progressive Mormons, oftentimes, to closing the door to revelation in general. I see that online all the time. I do find it fascinating that you place your own artificial limitations on God, but not upon your own mortal wisdom. Hence the “conservative/progressive” divide we see manifested so much on the Bloggernacle.

  65. Do you see the double standard that you are advocating where you urge epistemological humility in constructing our ethical categories but not in understanding religion? How do you account for that?

    I just realized that “religion” should be “revelation.”

  66. SmallAxe,

    Revelation can only be understood by receiving true revelations. It has to be experienced, not just abstracted intellectually. Revelation really makes no sense at all when examined in just the cold light of reason. There has always been a great divide between the prophets and the philosophers. I am sorry if this response doesn’t satisfy, but as I indicated much earlier, I don’t consider myself an expert on parsing these issues.

    We keep dancing around this one, central issue: does ‘true revelation’ exist, and if so, how do we recognize it? It is tied intimately with the question of whether or not there is a Lord God who speaks to humans. I just think it makes logical sense that if there is a God, and presuming he wants to speak, that he adapts Himself to the capacity of us mortals. That is why we adults sometimes sound silly when we try to explain things to our little ones.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that we collectively are not seeking for true revelations. I honestly don’t know. But via the revelations I’ve received in my life, I know that there is spiritual safety in following the latter day prophets who happen to make their headquarters in Salt Lake City, and in seeking the face of the God of Abraham. I am a totally unprofitable servant in that regard, but I can’t deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance.

  67. Michael,

    To me it’s important that you know why your response does not satisfy. It’s not because I do not believe in revelation (I do), nor is it because I do not believe in the latter-day prophets (I do). It’s because your view enables a kind of fundamentalism that can be truly harmful for many people. You have provided no response to the variety of ways I have asked this question: What’s to stop Mormons, in the view you’ve portrayed, of receiving revelation to commit suicide bombings? If that is too abstract for you, then perhaps you could explain it in terms of the Lafferty murders mentioned by g. wesley.

    I know this post was well-intentioned; and I would even say that the full title should be something like “Yes, God is a Child-Sacrificing Misogynist and Racial Bigot; But only because We Confine Him to Our Ethical Categories.” That’s fine, but you need to see how your view, while exploding our ethical conceits, also allows for real child-sacrificing, misogyny, and racial bigotry all in the name of God.

  68. “It’s because your view enables a kind of fundamentalism that can be truly harmful for many people. You have provided no response to the variety of ways I have asked this question: What’s to stop Mormons, in the view you’ve portrayed, of receiving revelation to commit suicide bombings?”

    I don’t think it enables anything that isn’t already in a state of enablement. It’s not like I invented the concept of doing evil in God’s name. Right? But to answer your question: what’s to stop *anyone* from doing anything sinful? God can’t stop us from doing harm. Your question, while I totally comprehend the intent, is essentially meaningless because yes, people do things in the name of God all the time that are wrong. People can choose. Once again, it’s *true revelation* that determines whether such actions are truly valid. And you can’t know that unless you get revelation.

    “That’s fine, but you need to see how your view, while exploding our ethical conceits, also allows for real child-sacrificing, misogyny, and racial bigotry all in the name of God.”

    I knew it would come to this. Progressives paint themselves into a real corner when they imagine up a God that couldn’t *possibly* do anything that violates their political/social conceits. And that’s not really my problem. That’s *your* problem, respectfully submitted.

  69. So, Michael Towns, was Jettboy’s recent comment supporting death penalties for gays a statement deriving from extra-hierarchical revelation or otherwise? How did you judge it? By what criteria did you either endorse it or reject it? What am I supposed to do with his self-righteous zeal when it means death for others? This ain’t me blowing smoke, this s***t is real.

  70. I don’t think it enables anything that isn’t already in a state of enablement.

    I don’t think there is a strong fundamentalist mindset within the LDS Church, and I don’t think we should enable it.

    Once again, it’s *true revelation* that determines whether such actions are truly valid. And you can’t know that unless you get revelation.

    Agreed, but you haven’t provided any theory by which such a revelation can be recognized/interpreted on an individual level, nor how such a revelation can be shared/recognized/interpreted by others within the community (let alone a pluralistic society).

    Perhaps my point about your views allowing for real unethical behavior was not clear. Given that you’ve provided no way to adjudicate between true revelation and false revelation on either a personal level or inter-personal level, you have no way of ruling out violence in the name of God. Let me rephrase the question this way: What’s to stop us from objecting to other Mormon’s who claim to receive revelation to inflict harm on innocent others?

    Let’s not make this about progressives versus traditionalists (or whatever categories you’d use). I’ve already stated that I’m fine with a God that transcends our ethical sensibilities.

  71. “I don’t think there is a strong fundamentalist mindset within the LDS Church, and I don’t think we should enable it.”

    I’m not a fundamentalist, believe it or not. So I believe you, and I agree that moderation is a wonderful virtue, if taken moderately.

    “Agreed, but you haven’t provided any theory by which such a revelation can be recognized/interpreted on an individual level, nor how such a revelation can be shared/recognized/interpreted by others within the community (let alone a pluralistic society).”

    I’m not a theologian. I cannot rise to your challenge. And it could be entirely possible that no such theory is workable. Perhaps it’s part of the fabric of the cosmos for us humans to always see through a glass darkly. I don’t pretend to have all the answers that vex us. And I never have considered myself an expert on anything other than gospel opinion.

    “Given that you’ve provided no way to adjudicate between true revelation and false revelation on either a personal level or inter-personal level, you have no way of ruling out violence in the name of God.”

    I’m not aware of *anyone* having the ability to plausibly rule out violence in the name of God. It simply exists. There are means and methods whereby you can detect false revelations. They are found in the scriptures and in the teachings of the prophets.

    “What’s to stop us from objecting to other Mormon’s who claim to receive revelation to inflict harm on innocent others?”

    There is nothing to stop you from objecting. In fact, I would encourage all of us to object to violence unless God sends you an angel, and even then, you might wanna shake his hand. I mean, the contexts where God will tell us to do something contrary to our developed consciences are so rare, that is partly why they occasionally get written up in scripture. I thought this is pretty obvious. Do I need to reiterate that my essay in no way advocates for Mormons to take to the streets and act like Occupy Wall Street, raping and pillaging and pooping everywhere? My essay simply acknowledges the possibility that God is not going to act like a 21st century hipster.

    All humor aside, I think we are both missing something vital in each others’ world view. And I will confess that I am sometimes not the best at clarifying things. If you’re interested, perhaps you and I can go into this in more detail via personal email? I keep things confidential if you’re concerned about keeping your online persona anonymous, or if you want, you can contact Geoff B. and he can arrange a way for us to keep this going. I’d like to publicly thank you for engaging with me on this issue; I am not afraid of pushback, in fact, I welcome it because I learn new things and I really am in a quest for personal enlightenment, where ever it may be. Let me know if you’re interested.

  72. “So, Michael Towns, was Jettboy’s recent comment supporting death penalties for gays a statement deriving from extra-hierarchical revelation or otherwise? How did you judge it? By what criteria did you either endorse it or reject it? What am I supposed to do with his self-righteous zeal when it means death for others? This ain’t me blowing smoke, this s***t is real.”

    Calm down, bro. You taking it way too far. My essay doesn’t call for jihad on gays! And I don’t speak for Jettboy, either. But you’ve really missed the point of my thing here if you feel the need to get validation from anyone other than God.

  73. “Agreed, but you haven’t provided any theory by which such a revelation can be recognized/interpreted on an individual level, nor how such a revelation can be shared/recognized/interpreted by others within the community (let alone a pluralistic society).”

    MT mentioned scriptures and prophets (general conference, Ensign). Missionary lessons (PMG) and “Gospel Principles” also teach about recognizing personal revelation.

  74. oudenos,

    For the record, I was commenting against a set of self-righteous people who were pretty much predicting (without revelation themselves I might add) that homosexual “marriages” would become accepted by the Church, and perhaps even in the Temple. It was an over-blown troll statement to be a reminder that the general active and believing membership of the church are not going to embrace the homosexual lifestyle because the laws change. hmm, I wonder who else said something similar to that? If I said it without the hyperbole, my experience is the comments would have been ignored or not taken even half as seriously as it was with the way I said it.

  75. Thank you, Michael. I know you had reason. Part of my distaste is for the perceived need for that reason. But don’t worry about it. And I’m glad my contribution helped.

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