BY COMMON CONSENT
VOLUME 9, NO. 2 March 2003
Our first conference critique in Salt Lake City's glamorous new library will occur Monday, 7 April 2003, 6:30-8:30 p.m. No doubt future dissertations will be written on the significance of the Mormon Alliance's move to the new library hard on the heels of the institutional Church's move from the Tabernacle to the Conference Center; but the first task will be for everyone to end up in the same place instead of being sidetracked into one of the enticing snack-n-shopping stores in its mini-mall.
The room is designated L-133 which is on -1 floor. The quick way is to get inside the library, ask someone at the information desk where to find it, and go where he or she points.
But here's how I got there. Driving east on 400 East, I entered the parking terrace. It's only two lanes wide, not well-lighted, and not well-labeled (silver lettering on gray concrete), so keep a sharp look-out. It's evenly spaced between the two streetlights on the south side of 400 East, just west of the library wall and east of the construction scaffolding. There's a mall-style arm that raises when you take a ticket, which you will have to turn back when you exit from the parking terrace. Rates are: 30 minutes free, to one hour 75 cents, then 75 cents for each additional half hour. (Parking is also available on the street around the block and facing the library in front of the City-County Building, free after 6:00 p.m.)
Take the elevator up. You will exit on the plaza with the library's door immediately to your right. When you go through the doors, you will be walking west down a long mall-hall with a bookstore, coffee shop, and staircase (don't take it) on your left and shops on your right. There is also an elevator on your right. Don't take it either.
Two thirds of the way down the hall is the entrance to the library proper to your left (or south) through a quartet of security scanners. Inside the library, you will be standing in front of an information desk with a check-in/check-out desk on the right and a bank of elevators built into the glass wall separating the library from the mall on your left. Between the elevators and the information desk is a large staircase leading down. Take it and go down a flight. At the end of the staircase, turn right, go a couple of rods north, then turn left at a hall. The hall is blocked by two wooden doors that will probably be locked, but the room we want, L-133, has an entrance just before the double doors to the left. It has an inconspicuous number on it. We'll make a more flamboyant sign for the occasion.
If you take the elevator, exit from it and go basically straight but veering slightly to the right to avoid the staircase. Go to the same hall running into the west wall to your right.
And inside, well, it'll be the same great gang mapping the subtle and not so subtle currents of Mormon cultural thought as manifested in the Young Women's general meeting (March 29) and the sessions of general conference. We'll almost certainly have room for a few comments on Elder Cecil O. Samuelson's appointment as president of BYU and what it means that it wasn't Bruce Hafen. Enter to learn, as they say!
Some Thoughts on Humility
Alfred North Whitehead, a grand philosopher and mathematician, penned: "Never swallow anything whole. We live perforce by half-truths and get along fairly well as long as we do not mistake them for whole-truths" (Whitehead, Dialogues, 243.) Nietzsche warned everyone of the danger and of the tendency of religious people "to believe their own beliefs." Daniel Boorstin, American historian, warned that the problem is not human ignorance as much as it is "the illusion of knowledge." Socrates warned that knowing when in fact we do not know is a dangerous thing for our soul and for our progress.
We must cease to cherish our delusion of the finality of things. Karl Popper warned that all knowledge (scientific or religious) is finite. With all our multitude of finite bits of knowledge, our ignorance will still be infinite. As Will Durant expressed it: "We are as a drop of rain trying to understand the sea."
How can mortals be so arrogant to believe we have the whole truth of anything in a cosmos in constant flux? Whitehead knew we achieve "no triumph of finality." Our metaphysical knowledge is slight, superficial, incomplete. Errors come and go. With time, even our most sacred "revealed" doctrines become modified. The march of history is the grand spoiler of mortal illusion.
Whitehead also warned through his voluminous writings that the "Doctrine of Dogmatic Finality" flourished equally throughout theology, science, and metaphysics. Rigid dogmas have the capacity, in the anthill of human discourse, to destroy larger truths vital for the advancement of civilization. It is the rigidity that is the evil. "Anything when clung to falls short," spoke the Buddha. It is the rigid clinging that stifles creative growth, the very movement to becoming as a philosophical concept.
"The appeal to reason is the appeal to the ultimate judge, universal and yet individual to each, to which all authority must bow. History has authority so far, and exactly so far, as it admits of rational interpretation" (Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p. 165).
Joseph Smith understood that reason alone will not save us. Sterling McMurrin warns all Mormons that reason alone can destroy all value. It must be balanced with desire and hope turned to tempered faith. Reason forestalls the superstitious in religion. But reason, going it alone, has the power to destroy all that is good. Reason and Faith must work hand in glove to keep us out of the black hole of the abyss. We must harmonize credulity and skepticism. The Gods find it to be in our mortal best interest to exhibit faith before the heavenly intervention, before the creative intuition, the inspiration that moves us to fully embrace the noble impulse.
John A. Widtsoe observed: "A rational theology is founded on truth, on all truth . . . and `A truth has no end.' In building a philosophy of life, a man, therefore, cannot say that some truth must be considered and other truth rejected. Only on the basis of all truth, that is, all true knowledge can his religion be built. . . `It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.' `A man is saved no faster than he obtains knowledge.' 'The glory of God is intelligence.' and `intelligence is the pathway up to the Gods.' (A Rational Theology, 8).
In contrast is the present-day stake president who explains to a high priests quorum that this "knowledge" is simply knowing "who has the authority to baptize," to see how far our own tradition has departed from Apostle Widtsoe's imbuement of a rational religion.
Sterling McMurrin has written: "The primary task of theology is the reconciliation of the revelation to the culture, to make what is taken on faith as the word of God meaningful in the light of accepted science and philosophy. Mormon theology has in the past pursued this task with some consistency and at times with intellectual strength, and certainly with a stubborn independence and indifference to criticism from traditional thought. Today, much of that strength is gone as Mormonism suffers the impact of religious and social conservatism, as the Mormon mind, in the general pattern of contemporary religion, yields to the seductions of irrationalism, and as the energies of the Church are increasingly drained by practical interests" (Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, 110-11).
Whitehead was interested in both the transient and in the abiding in experience. He penned: "God is the cosmological factor that elicits actuality from possibility." That, of course, is pure Mormonism, couched in the language of beauty (poetry) and brilliance (intelligence). "Genuine knowledge is approximation, not a complete group of data," Whitehead would write. He believed that "civilization dies of boredom--and boredom arises from too narrow interests."
Joseph Smith warned: "Some revelations are of God; some revelations are of men; and some revelations are of the devil" (see B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:162-166). I leave these aphorisms of others with one by the mad German, Nietzsche: "Faith too often means not wanting to know what is true."
BEST WISHES TO LEW
Readers who are accustomed to seeing Lew Wallace's byline above a column of feisty and illuminating prose in By Common Consent will join their prayers and supportive best wishes with ours during his recuperation from a stroke. He and his delightful wife of fifty-seven years, Nola, had spent the last couple of years in their country retreat in Arimo, Idaho, where more than a score of cats sought them out and where Nola recuperated from some health problems of her own with his energetic and assiduous care. They had returned to their usual winter home in San Gabriel before Lew's problem developed.
Nola admits that the old clichť about physicians and other health care professionals being notoriously difficultpatients was only the simple truth where Lew has been concerned. He's currently pursuing his physical therapy with dogged determination and full exercise of his constitutional rights of free and unfettered speech (to no one's surprise) while their home is being rehabbed to work around some of its stairs.
Nola says she has lots of support from family and friends and would welcome new jokes to add to Lew's collection. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
A FEMINIST MIDRASH
Note: Midrash is a method of explaining biblical stories used by the rabbis in which they achieved greater understanding of scriptural stories by expanding them. The Institute for Contemporary Midrash (http://www.icmidrash.org/) puts it this way: "Midrash fills in the cracks . . . puts flesh on the bones . . . reinterprets stories and characters . . . gives a voice to those in the story who have no voice." This particular midrash on Genesis 22 was written by Marion McNaughton, a member of the Society of Friends, who are committed to peace.
And with a heavy heart Abraham went to his wife Sarah and said, "God has told me to take our son Isaac, whom we love, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering."
And Sarah said, "A shrewd move. This God is no fool. This is Her way of testing you. What did you say to Her?"
And Abraham replied, "I said nothing. I want God to know I will obey Him without question. I will do as He commands."
And Sarah threw up her hands in despair and said, "Abraham, you are a bone-headed fool. What kind of a God do you think you are dealing with? What kind of a god would want you to kill your own son to prove how religious you are? Don't be so stupid! She's trying to teach you something; that you must challenge even the highest authority on questions of right and wrong. Argue with Her, wrestle with Her!" But Sarah's words smacked to Abraham of blasphemy, and he went into the mountains with his son Isaac.
And Sarah said to God, "Sister, you are playing with fire. He is too stupid to understand what you are up to. He won't listen to me and he won't challenge you; if you don't stop him, he will kill our precious son. Is that what you want?"
And God said, "Sarah, they have a long journey to the mountains; I'm hoping one of them will see sense."
And Sarah said, "Like father like son. You'll have to send an angel."
And it came to pass as Sarah foretold, and the angel of the Lord spoke to Abraham the first time and told him not to kill his son. And Abraham sacrificed a ram as a burnt offering. And the angel of the Lord spoke to Abraham a second time and told him his offspring would be as numerous as stars in the heaven and would possess the gates of their enemies. And the angel of the Lord spoke to Abraham a third time and said, "Because you were ready to kill your own son in the name of your God you will be known as a great patriarch and millions will follow your example. And they will believe that He is indeed a jealous and a demanding God, and they will willingly sacrifice their sons in His name and to His glory. And there will be bloodshed and slaughter in all the corners of the earth."
And Abraham returned to his wife Sarah and said, "God is well pleased with me for I am to be a mighty patriarch."
And Sarah said nothing. But she took the garments of Abraham and Isaac that were stained with the blood of the ram, and she carried them to the river to be washed. And the river ran red with the blood of generations to come, and Sarah wept bitterly.
And God came to Sarah at the water's edge and said, "My sister Sarah, do not weep. You were right. It will take time. Meanwhile hold firm to what you know of me and speak it boldly. I am as you know me to be. Many generations will pass and a new understanding will come to the children of Abraham, but before then I shall be misheard and misrepresented except by a few. You must keep my truth alive."
And Sarah dried her eyes and said, "As if I didn't have enough to do."
STORY WITH AN UNEXPECTED (HAPPY) ENDING
Friends of anthropologist Thomas W. Murphy, chair of Edmonds Community College Anthropology Department, cheered when a suspenseful story of ecclesiastical threat and postponement ended with permanent cancellation of the scheduled disciplinary council. Tom had been called in by Matthew Latimer, president of Lynnwood Washington Stake, about Thanksgiving for having published an essay reporting that DNA studies currently could provide no evidence that any group of Indians in North or South America had a lineage that was not traceable to eastern Siberia. Tom therefore concluded that the Book of Mormonís claim to be the history of a group of Middle Eastern Israelite families had little or no scientific basis. He went further in stating that the Churchís use of the Book of Mormon to designate Native American peoples as the corrupt descendants of this lineage group, marked by a dark skin, was a racist position that inflicts harm on native people who must accept that a dark skin is the result of unrighteousness.
When Tom refused to either recant or resign (not an option in lieu of a disciplinary council, according to the Church Handbook of Instructions, but one offered by Latimer), the stake president scheduled a disciplinary council for Sunday, 8 December. In the face of widespread media attention and vigils of protest, the court was "postponed" with less than twenty-hoursí notice. He said he wanted to get to know the Murphy family better and was motivated by feelings of compassion since Tom had said that being excommunicated would cause him and his family distress.
In early February, after several weeks of no contact, President Latimer again requested a meeting with Tom and Kerrie, his wife. Tom posted a letter to friends, family, and supporters on February 23, 2003, in which he described the meeting with President Latimer as "very pleasant."
Tom reported: "I am pleased to report that President Latimer has placed a permanent hold on disciplinary action against me. He invited Kerrie and me to participate in continued private dialogue with the hope that he can encourage us to return to full activity and belief in the LDS Church without any threat of disciplinary action. In response to my inquiry, he assured us that he was not receiving pressure from his priesthood leaders to take action against me. He acknowledged consulting them to discuss my case but found them to be very supportive of his responsibility to make the proper decisions for his stake. He declined my invitation to co-sponsor open academic forums on genetics and racism in the Book of Mormon and recommended that I discuss that option with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies at Brigham Young University. We all agreed that these issues are best addressed in an academic rather than an ecclesiastical setting."
Tom, who had presented a paper called "Skin, Sin, and Seed: Mistakes of Men in the Book of Mormon" at Sunstone had been invited to present this same paper at a public meeting sponsored by his collegeís Teaching and Learning Diversity Committee on February 25. He had invited Latimer to attend the lecture and to "join with me in sponsoring future events" in an academic environment.
Tom concluded by expressing appreciation for "the support that so many of you have shown us throughout this ordeal. We hope that other stake presidents will follow this most recent example of President Latimer and likewise refrain from using the threat of the threat of excommunication as a tool for disciplining scholars."
Note: Hugo Olaiz wrote this variation on a well-known Primary song between the postponement of Tomís court and its cancellation. It was sung at a party in Tomís honor with gusto and improvised hand gestures, including upward spiral motions to represent the double helix on the last lines of each verse. Used by Hugoís permission.
Book of Mormon stories
Folks at FARMS were frantically
Scholars, like the Lamanites,
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