Since disaffecting from Mormonism, I’ve taken the time to read not only progressive Mormon blogs (and wishing that the experience on those blogs was closer to what more wards were like!), but also to read more about the theologies of other Christian denominations.
In doing so, I’ve found fragments within the theologies of other denominations that have seemed more pleasing — at least aesthetically or experientially, if not in terms of what I actually believe — than the counterparts within Mormonism.
Mormonism teaches us to believe strongly in free will, and in the ability to freely choose what we believe or do not believe. For someone who was not able to choose to believe that Mormonism is true, this overriding theology of belief voluntarism was a large source of anxiety and self-doubt for me — the only answer from a Mormon point of view for why someone doesn’t believe in Mormonism is that they quite simply didn’t try hard enough.
Discovering reformed theology and Calvinism was a theological “eureka” moment for me. Although it is anathema to Mormonism, it makes more sense to me that some people have spiritual experiences and are drawn to their religious and spiritual paths (even if they may not always appreciate it — the call to a religious life may not be a call to perpetual bliss and happiness) while others aren’t, and this is probably more a factor of personality and inspiration than conscious, voluntary choice. When I read scriptural narratives of the conversion of Saul to Paul on the Road to Damascus of Alma the Younger’s dramatic conversion, I see scriptural tales of God choosing his elect as he will, offering his grace irresistibly to those people.
…but just as well, when I read the scriptures, it seems more accurate to say that God’s grace doesn’t touch everyone in the same way. In the same family, one son (Nephi) can believe easily, while other sons (Laman and Lemuel), despite sharing similar experiences as Nephi, fall into unbelieving ways time and time again.
I know a lot of people bristle against Calvinism for its implications that our destinies are not fully within conscious control. People bristle at the idea that some people just will never understand God, and they will go to Hell for it — indeed, that some people were created as “vessels of wrath” predestined for hell. It’s not a warm and fuzzy proposition.
And yet, to me, that seems to better fit my own experience. I named my personal blog “Irresistible (Dis)Grace” because that idea appealed to me.
As I mentioned before, I often wish that the experience on progressive Mormon blogs could be closer to what the lived experience of Mormonism was like. But, if I am candid, I am not sure if that’s what is meant to be the case.
The basic idea that we must confront is that God is so radically different from us that in some very big ways, His ways may not be our ways and His thoughts may not be our thoughts. Both under a theologies of free will and theologies of determinism, there is agreement on this point — that without assistance, we will be utterly unable to understand God, and we may find his commandments onerous and burdensome. For Mormons, the natural man is the enemy to God.
But the difference between a doctrine of free will (such as Mormonism and other Arminian denominations have) and a doctrine of total depravity such as is found in reformed theology is the question of whether we humans have the ability to choose to turn toward God on our own, or whether it is God that must reach out through our sinful natures and begin the process of our sanctification.
I see the critiques of progressive Mormons about sexism in Mormon culture or doctrine, or about homophobia, or about a number of concerns and considerations. I respect the ability of these Latter-day Saints to have faith in a God that is beyond these things.
…but, I cannot shake the possibility that perhaps, those things are not just errors or cultural carryovers from a prior era. I have to accept the possibility that perhaps God is — under our 21st century way of thinking — sexist, or homophobic, or racist, or anything else. This is not to say our labels or assessments or judgments on God are legitimate — just that…
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Thus, the choice for every individual is whether they will submit to God even though he may appear as a monster or fiend. Those who see God’s ways as just (regardless of what society may say at any particular time) are the elect. Those who will follow God despite their reservations are saved.
But for the rest of us, unable to reconcile or submit, we are damned by that.
And I’m OK with that.
I have no problem with death being the end of the road. Eternity would bore me. Whether speaking of heaven or hell, people who imagine going there after death usually haven’t thought it through very well. I highly recommend that. Take a few moments to imagine the reality of living in one form or another for an infinite amount of time.
Whenever I think of eternity, I think of something like Borges’ “Library of Babel” (or the works inspired by it, such as Steven Peck’s “A Short Stay in Hell”). Infinite numbers are a lot stranger than a lot of us really consider.
“Whenever I think of eternity, I think of something like Borges’ “Library of Babel” (or the works inspired by it, such as Steven Peck’s “A Short Stay in Hell”).”
I haven’t read these, but I absolutely will. Thanks for the references. I agree about the idea of infinity. I had some head-spinning number theory courses in school, and that kind of rigorous thinking gives you a whole new perspective.
As a young undergraduate, I had a long theological discussion with a friend who had some Calvinist beliefs. I couldn’t reconcile the idea of free choice with the idea that our salvation wasn’t up to us. Since then, with many more years of life experience, both personal and observational, I think that free choice is much less of an absolute than I used to. That being said, I think free choice still plays a significant role in our decisions.
In recent years, there has been a building scientific consensus that people who suffer from addiction and substance abuse have less free choice than previously thought. Beyond the obvious physically addictive nature of the abused substances, the people themselves are often genetically predisposed to addiction. In other words, they have less free choice in the matter than someone who is not similarly genetically predisposed. However, such knowledge also provides a backlash. Addicts who believe they have the power to beat their addictions tend to cope much better and relapse less often than those who realize they’re at a genetic disadvantage. That knowledge becomes its own self-fulfilling prophesy and further handicaps the addict. In my opinion, we have less free choice than we’d like to admit, but more free choice than a Calvinist philosophy allows.
At any rate, my problem with Calvinism is that it lends itself to too much judgement and too little empathy. If someone makes terrible choices because of addictions or mental illness or any other number of outside or genetic factors that cause people to “sin”, Calvinism states that they must not have been one of God’s elect. Logically speaking, they’re headed for hell so there’s no need to waste time on them. A God that would give someone weaknesses and afflictions, watch them predictably succumb to them, and then consign them to an eternity in hell anyway is not a God worth worshiping.
I recently visited my sister and we talked about heaven. My conclusion is that I am in heaven since I retired. All of my emotional, physical, and material needs are satisfied. I have time to exercise, study, and enjoy my loved ones and interests. I spend a good portion of each day hiking and enjoying the outdoors. That’s as close to heaven as I can imagine. I can almost imagine doing that forever, but I will only be in my heaven for another few decades, if I’m lucky. After that, nothing. So I plan to enjoy my heaven while I have it and not worry about whether I’ll be judged, punished or rewarded by some capricious god. That makes things very simple for me. I feel at peace with it.
P.S. I just read the Borges piece (available online). Reminds me of Umberto Ecco.
While I do get a certain of association of Calvinism with a level of judgment (although this could just be an internet debate sort of side effect), I actually have seen a different sort of attitude. Rather than thinking that anyone is not part of God’s elect (and therefore, there’s no need to waste time on them), the idea I’ve seen is that we really don’t know who is part of the elect and who is not, so no one can be given up on. Election is *unconditional* and God’s will is said to operate according to his own time scale, so you can’t just look at people making terrible choices and assume their final state, because one’s election is not determined by merit, what is “deserved” or what one’s works are. To me, this makes sense of the fact that Calvinists do still try to convert — it’s not as if they write non-believers off categorically.
If we were to apply the Calvinist view to addiction/mental illness/etc., it would be something like saying: Yeah, you are free to act according to your nature and will, but your nature/will is not freely chosen in the first place. If your will is bound up in addiction, you will choose choices consistent with that.
The question is: can someone’s will once bound in addiction become free? I think we can all see that there are cases of that. Someone can be healed from addiction (or, more often, someone can be strengthened in their struggle against addiction while still having that struggle).
But the question is whether someone does this out of some free and unbound will or whether that is something that requires a certain something else in their nature, or external existence. Like, if we recognize that it matters if an addict believes they have the power to beat their addictions, then the question is: where does *that* belief come from? Was that freely chosen and available to anyone or was that just yet another predisposition that some people have and others don’t? Or that some people may develop and others may not?
I think addiction provides a good way to understand the Calvinist critique of libertarian free will — libertarian free will basically trivializes the very notion of addiction. Even if we recognize that people can *beat* addiction, that is something that has to be *beaten*. There is a nature that one tends to that one must fight against. If one’s choices are not bound by one’s nature (one can always choose otherwise), then in what way is addiction even a thing? In what way is “nature” even a thing? The very idea of addiction is that one’s will is bound by a variety of internal and external factors — individuals still choose, but those choices aren’t equally desirable.
Sin in Calvinism simply represents a particularly strong addiction or particularly strong illness (spiritual though).
I will say, with respect to your last line…..this idea of judging who is a God worth worshiping and who is not a God worth worshiping feels to me like a decisive question in who is elect vs who is not. God is God, regardless of whether we like it or not. If we don’t like it, then living with that God will be hell. If we can come to accept God (through God’s own assistance), then that will be heaven. I understand your perspective, which is why I have “accepted” Hell.
I want to write a post about the idea you expressed here, because I have definitely read different theological musings on the idea of eternity not being about an “other life” (that has infinite duration), but about eternity as being a certain quality of life (that is, the quality of life that God lives — however that is defined), and that we can therefore live “eternal life” in this life. Thus, we are not waiting to die to go to Heaven for some infinite duration, but we are trying to figure out how to break down the various barriers of our existing lives so that we can come to appreciate the finite lives we have. EDIT: there have been some posts written by Loyd Ericson on this, based on D.Z. Philips (PDF here)
It’s not really consistent with this post. There’s a lot of great theological thoughts that aren’t all compatible with one another, haha!
P.s., it makes sense that Borges would remind you of Eco — Eco stated that he was greatly influenced by Borges.
Good to see you posting, Andrew.
Andrew wrote, “…the only answer from a Mormon point of view for why someone doesn’t believe in Mormonism is that they quite simply didn’t try hard enough.”
This idea is frequently brought up, but there are other explanations that don’t get the attention they should.
For example, Mormon doctrine points to degrees of glory. In other words, there are all kinds of rewards for God’s children depending on how they use their agency. Note, it it clearly states “degrees of glory”, not degrees of punishment or related concepts. This means that individuals will be content, happy, and fulfilled in whatever glory their most suited to.
Another way of thinking of this is: not everyone should or will be Mormons. I think Mormons need to lighten up on the idea that those who choose not to join or disaffect from Mormonism are disappointing God. Using the agency God gave us is not ultimately a “sin”.
What about this: God is infinitely powerful. Regardless of what us puny beings believe, regardless of what we imagine, regardless of what religion (or none) we subscribe to–after we die, God will take care of our spirits. I think that, if we accept that God is our loving creator, we accept that God is beneficent. All that fear-based “do it my way or go to hell” or “follow my rules or you don’t get exalted” is a bad thing invented by people as a way of differentiating one religious system from another and one mode of behavior from another. What’s the point of living a life of consternation and fear? Be as good as you can while you are alive. Trust God to take care of you after you die. And chillax.
Thanks for commenting as usual!
I don’t think that your comment disagrees with the line from me that you quoted. The fact that there are different degrees of glory within Mormonism still means that where everyone ends up is a matter of how hard they try. It’s just a more positive spin on that idea — you didn’t try hard enough Celestial Kingdom, but you’ll still like where you end up. I don’t think most members would say that there are some people who just aren’t “cut out” for the celestial kingdom.
AND while I ultimately forgot to write about this in the post (and it depends on whom you ask), there’s a big question regarding what happens to people who once were Mormon and then who left. What does it take to be considered a “Son of Perdition”. I can understand that most people would take a narrower view and say that there will be very few “sons of perdition”, but some people will still take a wider view.
That being said, i really appreciate your last paragraph! I just don’t know if a lot of church members are going to be OK with the idea of someone being raised in the church eventually coming to leave it. I dont’ think people would see that as a good use of agency.
Conceptually, I don’t think most people would have a problem. I actually have YET ANOTHER post idea for a different understanding of Hell — it’s not place where God sends you, but it’s a state of mind.
I think this is not very controversial. What is controversial is asking: what does it mean to be “loving”? What does it mean to be “beneficent”?
I think in our day-to-day lives we can understand that sometimes it’s easy to fear loving behavior even though that behavior is not actually fearful. For example, parents who want their children to grow or expand may ask and encourage them to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. It’s easy to imagine the same thing from God. It’s easy to imagine God asking or expecting us to let go of some things that we are strongly attached so that we can instead be given something better…and though that’s not the intention, we might be afraid, or not recognize that as loving.
That’s why in the post I mention things like homophobia. We are coming to a point as a society where we increasingly recognize and value the right for LGBT people to pursue their gender identity or the relationships of their inclination.
…but what if from God’s perspective, he simply doesn’t buy that? From our society’s perspective, that’s homophobic or that’s transphobic. But from God’s perspective, his reasons may not fit our reasoning in the same way a parent’s reasoning may not fit the child’s reasoning.
Those are all fair points, and I admit that my suppositions about the level of judgmental attitudes in Calvinism are limited to my interpretation of that idea, taking it to its logical conclusion, rather than an observation of how adherents to the Calvinist faiths behave generally.
That’s an interesting thought that one can take the idea of belief in one’s ability to overcome addiction as just another predisposition. I still don’t understand the utility of Calvinist belief, however. If God predetermines who is going to be saved and who isn’t, then where is an individual’s motive not to “sin”?
I by no means buy into the idea of libertarian free will, but I also think that we have more free will than Calvinism allows for.
You’re right that what I hope God may be has no bearing on how God (if s/he exists) actually is. It’s entirely possible that we are just lab rats running around a maze, but that’s not a philosophy that has any utility in this life. Given that the nature or even the existence of God (and consequently any overarching plan or afterlife) is unknowable, then religious beliefs and theology are only valuable to the extent that they provide utility to our existence (both individually and collectively) in the here and now.
Thanks for the post Andrew. I like to think of our identity as 33% free will, 33% biological determinism, 33% cultural determinism.
I like how you have used the word “grace” according to its original meaning, not as a universally available reward for righteousness (after all you can do), but unearned and unexpected help (or hinderance, “fate”) like Paul’s vision. The Bible is full of elements of this kind of arbitrary grace, but many find it hard to see when they have reinterpreted grace as a universally available reward for obedience.
We often talk about how Laman and Lemuel saw an angel, but were so hardhearted that they still didn’t follow God. However, I’m not sure this is a realistic way of interpreting how most people react to the supernatural experience of grace. Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, a whole group of murderous thugs who go down to kill Nephi and Lehi see angels and their lives are immediately transformed like Paul.
We sometimes interpret people who leave the church as “turning their backs on the light,” rejecting all the spiritual experiences we assume they must have had, like Laman and Lemuel and the angel. But maybe they simply haven’t been called. “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you.”
“For example, parents who want their children to grow or expand may ask and encourage them to do things that make them feel uncomfortable.”
This is something I have wrestled with and thought about a lot. Presumably, as parents, we “know the endgame” (or at least think we do) and so we want our children to do what’s best in the long run, not what seems best for the moment. On the other hand, we must also realize that we don’t know everything, and it’s possible our ideas about what’s best are wrong. More than that, sometimes, as parents, we have to allow our children to make mistakes, although it saddens us to stand by and let them experience failure and pain.
I have even thought about this relative to my relationship with my wife. For example, my wife seems unconcerned about being late to events, whereas, being even 1 minute late drives me nuts, and I’d rather be early. After getting angry at her, getting in arguments over it, and so forth, I finally accepted that it’s my wife’s nature to be late. I have to accept that about her and live with it. After all, she lives with my disorganization and messiness–I am sure she doesn’t yell at me as much as she’d like to. So, we can’t fix each others’ problems, we can only hope to move each other a bit in the right direction, and accept each others’ faults with love.
That’s how I think God loves us–but challenges us at times. Just as we don’t want to force our children and spouses to be something they are not, God allows us to be who we are. We don’t want our children and spouses to fail and be miserable. God challenges us, while still loving and caring for us.
P.S. There’s one scenario I absolutely *don’t* have an answer for: you have a child who engages in destructive behavior, say drugs, violent crime–something like that. Well, then the above formula doesn’t work. You can’t just let the child be themselves, make their own mistakes, and work through it. The only answer I can come up with is to draw the line when the child’s actions will begin harm you or someone else. Maybe at some point you have to have your child locked up or committed, even while you love your child and would give your life for him or her. So… what does God do with the incorrigible children?
I would probably say that to my understanding, the comments I wrote in response also must be taken in consideration for the logical implications of Calvinism. If I had to summarize the big premise from my ohter comment, it would be that even if *God* knows, *we* don’t. So, a lot of judgment is ad hoc, tentative and premature. So I would say any judgment that occurs is really ultimately more an observation of how individual adherents behave, not logical conclusions, because they don’t really “know” who is saved and who is not.
I feel like this isn’t really the right question. This is a very pragmatic question, whereas a lot of this stuff is trying to be descriptive or explanatory. Like, your previous comment seems to come from a perspective of, “It’s useful to believe that one has choice in overcoming addiction, because that leads to more people overcoming addiction. So we should try to promote that belief.”
But what if that’s not an accurate description — that some people overcome and some people don’t, and the fact pattern doesn’t map well to what people believed about their self-efficacy? We then could develop different ideas about what the common factor was, and it might not be self-efficacy.
I think this applies to Calvinism. The Calvinist is not asking, “Where is an individual’s motive not to sin” (because the answer there is: either God placed it in them or not)…rather, the Calvinist is trying to describe or explain from what they think a scripturally supported position is what the explanation for some people not repenting , some people not desiring to repent, vs some people repenting is. And their assessment is that God’s sovereignty is a prime part here.
Pragmatically, I agree it might make sense to appeal through things like saying that sin will lead to really bad stuff, etc., while repentance will lead to really awesome stuff…but if I am a reprobate who thinks God is a monster and don’t want anything to do with him, I don’t have motive not to sin.
What Calvinists say is that human nature is so depraved that from our own nature, we aren’t going to want to repent (or may not even see anything wrong with what we’re doing), or we aren’t going to be able to pull out of our natures on our own. To any extent that we recognize a better way and want to get better, or that we feel called to change, etc., etc., those motivations came from God. If you don’t have those motivations, you can’t brute force your way into having them on your own.
However, God works on his timeline. So, it could be that someone repents late in life — but still, the Calvinist would say that God did that.
What still motivates the attempt to convert or to convince people not to sin? Well, again, as mentioned above: God knows, but we don’t. But as well, even if the Calvinist would say that it’s the Holy Spirit that convicts people, God’s mechanism for doing that may be to work through people.
This assumes that philosophies are about *utility.* If philosophical truth isn’t necessarily useful (or not useful from a human perspective), then it doesn’t really matter if being lab rats isn’t useful.
Reading more about grace from the perspective of non-LDS Christianity has definitely really affected my views. I don’t think I can seriously go back to using it in the modern LDS way, haha. (I am very enthusiastic, however, for things in Mormonism like Adam Miller’s general theory of grace, Grace is Not God’s Backup Plan, and so on.)
But I totally agree that we should all probably take a hard look to re-evaluate Laman and Lemuel and other scriptural figures. To me, the idea that God chooses us, rather than the other way around makes a lot more sense even when looking at LDS scriptures that at least nominally are trying to support more free will.
I really love the example of accepting your wife’s nature!
I think the challenge, however, is this idea that our fallen nature’s are not our original natures. The main difference that I think is a meaningful distinction in the analogy is that your wife is not created in your image — she is definitely her own person. But, from a Christian foundation, there is a strong idea that God definitely created us to be a certain way, and we have done our best to run away from that.
I think the idea of the child on drugs or who performs violent crime works with that reformulation — the issue is that even if there are a wide variety of acceptable possibilities for a person’s nature, we don’t accept those things as legitimate.
At the same time, the scriptures are very stark on this point: I mean, think of that section in Romans chapter 1:
If you get involved with horrible stuff, then God will let you fall into that. There’s your “free will”. Yikes!
“What Calvinists say is that human nature is so depraved that from our own nature, we aren’t going to want to repent (or may not even see anything wrong with what we’re doing), or we aren’t going to be able to pull out of our natures on our own. To any extent that we recognize a better way and want to get better, or that we feel called to change, etc., etc., those motivations came from God.”
Having been raised Presbyterian, I engaged in the “predestination” discussion almost from birth. 🙂
Despite the *theoretical* tenets of Calvinism, the arguments presented in the pews are quite a bit gentler, at least in the various protestant denominations I’ve attended. It was more like “you have a sinful nature, but, if you sincerely profess acceptance of Christ, you’ll go to heaven…. period.” It didn’t matter if you were a criminal on death row… if you sincerely professed acceptance of Christ–even right before the switch was pulled–you went to heaven. In a turn of logic that somehow escapes me, the idea was that “Christ died for our sins, so accepting Christ nullifies (or “washes away”) whatever bad stuff we’ve ever done. ( That has never seemed quite fair to me, but there it is.) Anyway, that’s how I remember Calvinism being implemented. Here’s the Presbyterian blurb: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/predestination/
Personally, I have always rejected the “harsh” interpretation of predestination: that God already picked who’s going to Hell and who isn’t. I think of it more like this: God is beneficent and has my best interest at heart, just like a loving parent. I can be bad, God will let me be as bad as I want, and He will also let me deal with the consequences. Like a loving parent, God guides me and never punishes me. The consequences of my poor choices are punishment enough. I only have to trust God’s infinitely wise and forgiving nature–I don’t have to waste my energy trying to be holier-than-thou or some kind of goody two-shoes. God will let me be who I am, will love me as I am, and will accept me into heaven. Period.
It’s sort of how I treat my puppy. I have never, ever punished our puppy, and he’s extremely well-behaved and well-adjusted. When he chews up my shoes, pees on the floor, or nips me, I think of a way to eliminate that behavior, but I *never* spank him. On the flip side, when he does something good–and sometimes for no reason at all–I praise and reward him. Why this approach? Because he *always* understands loving praise and I can’t really give too much of it. He probably doesn’t understand why peeing on the floor is bad, and wouldn’t understand being punished for it. From God’s perspective, we’re as innocent as puppies.
In summary, I think the harsh view is exclusive: God as some kind of big bad bouncer at the gates of heaven who doesn’t let you in if you don’t meet the strict dress code.
My view is accepting: God in a loud Hawaiian shirt and flip flops hosting a barbeque for the whole block where everybody is welcome.
I think the harsh view comes mostly from people wanting a reason to feel exclusive and better that the other guy. I reject that.
Thanks for sharing from your personal experience!
I guess I would probably want to recharacterize the “harsh” view (hmm, maybe I’m playing devil’s advocate, here, lol).
It seems to come from the conflict of saying that there will be some who are damned, while also saying that salvation is the unconditional gift from God. This doesn’t say what the criteria are (so it may not be about whether one was a criminal on death row or whether one met the “strict dress code”), but it seems that if salvation is the unconditional gift from God (and not something determined by the human response), yet some are damned, then God would damn those people. (Although I would say…I definitely see more language to say that from God’s perspective, we’re all *guilty* rather than to say we’re all *innocent*. So, God’s mercy is just that: mercy.)
“I guess I would probably want to recharacterize the “harsh” view (hmm, maybe I’m playing devil’s advocate, here, lol).”
It’s becoming evident to me how much I put my own spin on words like salvation, grace, predestination, etc. without really considering what the official meaning is. I hear expressions like “Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?” and say “Yeah, sure, whatever.”. I appreciate seeing stuff written down and formalized as you’ve done here. Extremely interesting.
If I had to sum up my personal feelings on the matter, the puppy analogy about covers it. When I say the puppy is “innocent” I mean the puppy’s understanding is so limited that he’s not capable of sin. Regardless of what official religion says, I think that when we pee on the floor and think we’ve been so bad, God just chuckles and gets a paper towel. I think those guys like Calvin and Luther were just grouchy because they were still getting over the Middle Ages…
I should also have put a disclaimer on all my comments: The views expressed herein are the views of the commenter, and not any recognized religious body. 🙂
My view of grace combines both Calvinism and Mormonism: I believe God’s grace is more expansive and inclusive than Mormons profess but also believe that we have more a a sin nature than Mormons accept. I combine my beliefs with a hefty dose of Buddhism that reminds me to accept life as it is, to appreciate and enjoy it mindfully. If God truly is LOVE, as I believe He is, He surely is more merciful than we or Calvinist portray Him as being. I believe most religions can do a better job of drawing upon and teaching about the power of God’s infinite love.
Great to see you here, Andrew S. I’m with Chris. I think anytime any religion claims they have figured out either the nature of God or the way he rewards and punishes in the afterlife, I’m immediately skeptical. As finite, beings with a rather limited capacity for expansive theology or thought, I think whenever we try to define God, we make Him smaller and more petty than He actually is. We can’t help it; we’re human after all. I have no concrete idea about any part of the afterlife, and neither does any Mormon and I include our leaders in that. It’s all speculation and it’s therefore troubling to see so many members be so zealous in their pursuit of something about which they haven’t the foggiest notion. I don’t really sweat the afterlife too much. If it’s as some (Joseph Smith in particular) have said, and we have the same social bonds that we have here on earth, I’d just really like to be with the people I care about and actually, that means I’d much rather hang out with my delightful, down to earth colleagues and students than with the folks I know at church. If that means I’m “damned” because that’s not the celestial kingdom, so be it. If we all end up where we’re happiest anyway, what’s the big deal where it is?
I am really touched by everyone’s optimism, hehe, but to me, I still can’t shake the possibility that God could nevertheless be incredibly merciful, while there still would be hell. My readings of Christian scriptures tell me that since we deserve the worst, anything better than that is by definition mercy.
That being said, I don’t sweat the afterlife (especially as a nonbeliever). It just seems to me that I can’t so immediately dismiss the “harsher” voices.
“I am really touched by everyone’s optimism, hehe, but to me, I still can’t shake the possibility that God could nevertheless be incredibly merciful, while there still would be hell.”
I expect a large part of the Calvinist biblical guilt trip is historical. At one time, Christian institutions were a powerful force in governance and politics (not unlike present-day Utah… har har). I wouldn’t have done for church leaders to say “You guys are perfectly fine the way you are. You don’t really need us. Just come give us some money and power whenever you feel like it.” The more likely message for maintaining control is “You are a bunch of nasty sinners by nature. You are all doomed to Hell and you can never be good enough. Thank goodness the church is here to provide access to God’s mercy. Now give us all your wheat and chickens!”
So the church emphasized certain biblical perspectives that are still with us today–I mean, the depressing “you are a worthless gonna-burn-in-hell sinner” perspectives we’ve all come to embrace. Truth be told, there’s a ton of stuff in the Bible that we all conveniently ignore (take a look at the crazy laws in Leviticus some time). Given that, I’m sure we can also ignore the horrible gloom and doom parts, if we so choose. I’m no Biblical scholar or theologian, but I’m willing to bet there’s an optimistic lens through which we can read the Bible. There’s a way to read the Bible that’s affirming, positive, hopeful and that celebrates the good in all of us.
From a personal perspective, I absolutely do *not* walk around feeling like a hell-bound sinner. I hope you don’t either. What a horrible way to live! I don’t feel I’m perfect–by a long shot–but I don’t have a constant need to ask God to fix me or even forgive me. Whatever minor issues I have, I expect God to understand and accept.
Most important of all: religious experience is highly individual and personal. There’s no “authority” on Earth who’s some kind of gatekeeper to the heavens and arbiter of correct interpretation. Everybody is free to interpret the Bible and religious teachings as they see fit. Religion is meant to be an instrument of joy, not control, so make use of the aspects of your religion that benefit your life and overlook aspects that detract.
Just to make sure that I understand the OP,::
1) You place your own human understanding above all church doctrines, freely rejecting anything that doesn’t seem reasonable to you, and
2) You place your own human understanding even above God Himself, rejecting His authority to dictate what you should and should not believe and do.
Is this right, or did I read that wrong?
That seems about right. Neither of those are controversial for a non-believer, right? And this seems quite fit for hell fire (or, for Mormons at least, quite a bit lesser glory), does it not?
I enjoy reading your posts, but certainly don’t grasp all the inner workings of your psyche. I like what you have said here:
“The basic idea that we must confront is that God is so radically different from us that in some very big ways, His ways may not be our ways and His thoughts may not be our thoughts. Both under a theologies of free will and theologies of determinism, there is agreement on this point — that without assistance, we will be utterly unable to understand God”
I have had some trouble reconciling this scripture in D&C 130:
“And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”
I feel that using the sociality that exists among us here as a description of what our life would be like in the presence of God is ‘reductive’? My life experiences over the last 3 years lead me to think in the way that you have said, that God is radically different from us in big ways. I am less afraid of that.
I had thought that your view on the existence of God was atheistic, so the your purpose for posting on the nature of God is not clear. Why? If you don’t believe in Hell, why do you care if other bloggers think you going there?
I think it’s definitely an area where Mormonism strongly disagrees with traditional Christianity. In Mormonism, God is essentially one of us, just far more developed than we are. In traditional Christianity, God is radically different because he is an entirely different species than us. So, I certainly wouldn’t expect everything from a Calvinist perspective to align with Mormonism. Calvinism emphasizes God’s sovereignty in a way that Mormonism simply doesn’t grant.
I think of this post (and there will be a series) is more of an exploration of different theological beliefs (as contrasted to what I was taught as Mormon.) But you’re right — since I don’t believe in God, I am not afraid of going there, and am not particularly worried if others (bloggers or otherwise) think I’m going there. But I still think it’s interesting to discuss. Hopefully the readers here also found something interesting to them, even if it’s just, “Well, I’m glad I don’t believe that!”
Late to the convo, but wanted to add the idea of spiritual gifts in the scriptures supports a view that belief is not as easy for some as it is for others (D&C 46, also in NT and BoM).
That’s definitely my reading of D&C 46 (and other locations), but I have seen a lot of people interpret verses 13 and 14 as if everyone is guaranteed to get at least one of these gifts — that is, if you don’t have the gift to know, you will automatically have the gift to believe on the words of others.
So, it seems a lot of people are uncomfortable with the possibility of people having any of the other gifts, but not either of these ones.