I like how Andrew S and Brigham Young actually reach a parallelism on deconstruction (so that they do not reach the same place but they both realize that the current paradigms in the Church are social constructs).
Without taking too much time on deconstruction as it is in philosophy, the essence of deconstruction is that intrinsic and stable meaning to concepts is impossible because we instead derive meaning through context — “concept is constituted, comprehended and identified in terms of what it is not and self-sufficient meaning is never arrived at” because context precludes “self-sufficient” meaning.
LDS versions of the same concept conclude that there is a reality, but no description can properly define it because all descriptions are in our language and limited by what we have for language.
For example, from the Journal of Discourses, Brigham Young remarked:
When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities…. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings
When the Lord reveals anything to men, he reveals it in a language that corresponds with their own. If you were to converse with an angel, and you used strictly grammatical language he would do the same. But if you used two negatives in a sentence the heavenly messenger would use language to correspond with your understanding
In discussing that point, I agreed to revisit the topic for a post at Wheat and Tares.
Brigham Young and Joseph Smith both taught that we see the world through a lens of our own experience, language and knowledge and that it creates filters not only for what we see and know, but for what God is able to communicate to us and what and how revelation works in our lives. (See additionally comments from George A. Smith on the dependence of the very grammar of scripture or revelation on the language of its recipient).
It is important to realize that in that framework, our viewpoint is not superior to the framework of Abraham or Moses or Peter or Moroni — it is just different. Each framework has its own selection of weaknesses and follies. The best way to understand it (rather than the morass of philosophy and outside of just reading Joseph Smith and Brigham Young on the topic) is the linguistic relativity hypothesis.
Large differences in language lead to large differences in experience and thought. They hold that each language embodies a worldview, with quite different languages embodying quite different views, so that speakers of different languages think about the world in quite different ways. This view is sometimes called the Whorf-hypothesis or the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, after the linguists who made it famous. But the label linguistic relativity, which is more common today, has the advantage that makes it easier to separate the hypothesis from the details of …
This is easily seen in the three ball experiment. In dealing with people whose language does not have a word for the color orange, if they have three balls (orange, red and yellow), are allowed to handle them for a while, then told to remember the orange one, when they are asked to choose the ball that was identified, they tend to pick the red or the yellow one. If their language has a word for orange, they pick the orange one. They literally remember the ball as the color they have a word for, rather than the color it is.
In religion, it is not only if five people without inspiration read a scripture that they will have five different interpretations. If if five people with inspiration read the same scripture they also will have five different inspirations. This applies even if the five “different” people are the same person, just at different stages of their life experience, different vocabularies and different connotations with the vocabularies. Notably Brigham Young was very clear that if Joseph Smith had translated the Book of Mormon at 30 it would have been a much different book than it was than what we have now.
“And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation.”
This raises a number of questions and should serve as a warning that anyone who writes down a spiritual communication is not writing down what the Spirit communicated but their construct of it in the language they have at the time. Anyone reading it or hearing it has to escape both the frame of the sender and their own frame to come closer to the truth. I touched on this on the older essay on God being a Quantum God — the idea that the views of God that we have are like the blind men and the elephant — except if you are someone who can see you would see that there is no “elephant,” just the differing views of the blind men.
The difference between Brigham Young’s deconstruction and many modern deconstructionists (who could use a lot more real science in their backgrounds) is that Brigham Young believed in not only a physical reality, but that there was a pure spiritual reality that we could someday grasp and that should inform the way we faced life. He believed in an ultimate meaning that we all approached, and that had many valuable approaches (thus his famous sermon about how other religions had truths that we lacked and how we need to go out and bring back those truths for ourselves). He realized that his vision of that spiritual reality had holes in it that were inevitable. (Cf., Joseph Smith’s discussions of a perfect language and similar matters on language.)
But from the same post is Joseph Smith’s insistence that everyone also seek the spiritual:
…Joseph Smith may not be counted among those whose knowledge-claims were esoteric. The world has seen many who claimed isolated individual access to special realms reserved for the few. But Joseph Smith was not in this sense a Gnostic. Though his life and privileges set him apart–and there was something unfathomable in his suffering as well as his understanding–and though he was to his people in a generic sense “Prophet, Seer and Revelator,” yet no note is more frequent in his private and public statements than that each can come to know for himself. Second-had assent, even to him as prophet, was, he said, a form of ignorance.
Thus, just because there are many socially created paradigms does not mean that our paradigm is the one true paradigm untainted by human error; instead it means that our paradigm and our filter necessarily has error and mistakes. It means that we believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things and that we, at present, go through mists of darkness in the Church, with only Christ’s core principles that he gave us to hold to.
In addition, we believe that the parable of the Iron Rod reflects that those who have entered into the way and who have the truth will experience “mists of darkness” and find themselves unable to know which way to go from logic and intuition alone.
So where does this leave us in our own quest for truth? What is “really” true?
I begin with the Book of Mormon’s two key doctrinal points:
- Jesus is the Christ. The true love of Christ is the heart of what it means to have a testimony that Jesus is the Christ.
- Cleave unto Charity (be kind).
At greater length (from Moroni 7:13-14):
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
and also, verses 43-48:
43 And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.
44 If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.
45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
Everything else flows from this, and for everything else there is always more time.