Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Metaphysics of Mormonism

Most of us recall Joseph Smith's description of the power that controls the universe. This force, he said, is what gives God his power. “It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the universe together.”

Okay, so those aren't the precise words of Joseph Smith; I more or less cribbed that from Obi-Wan Kenobi. But Joseph Smith actually did teach a Theo-philosophy quite similar to what George Lucas presented in the Star Wars films.

As is well known, Lucas adopted the idea for what he called The Force from the East Asian philosophy known as the Tao. I like the description of the Tao given by Anne Collins Smith, Professor of philosophy and classical studies at Susquehanna University. She defines it concisely in a way that would be familiar to any Jedi, and should be -but most likely isn't- familiar to most Mormons:

The Tao,” says Professor Smith, “is kind of a force that pervades the universe. It is the source of the universe, but it also is the universe.”

If that sounds more like Buddhism than Mormonism, well, what can I tell you?  Similar teachings do exist in Mormon theology, but most people overlook them.  In addition to restoring many of the fundamental truths of Christianity, Joseph Smith also restored pure and true doctrines that would be easily compatible with Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam. His mission, after all was the restoration of truth.

You may not remember seeing the philosophy of the Tao or the Jedi in Mormon scriptures, but it's in there. If you didn't notice it in your reading, that's not surprising. My first experience with reading through the standard works was a goal set for me in seminary. The idea was to get through the scriptures a chapter a day until...Yay! I'm done!

I caught most of the narrative, but little did I know I was missing a boatload of philosophical gems. Goals are useful when you want to get something accomplished and out of the way, but when striving for enlightenment, I've found it's better to slow down and take your time.

Many of the theological treasures of Mormonism once commonly understood by the early Latter-day Saints have all but vanished from Church teachings today. Ever since the philosophy of top-down correlation captured and took over the programs of the Church, rarely do we encounter any of the meat of the gospel in our meetings  Nothing gets into the Sunday School manuals these days except milk.

I've noticed that even the scriptures assigned from the lesson manual often skip over the verses containing the really interesting stuff in favor of those sections which contain things the leaders feel we should be working harder at. We always seem to be getting counsel and instruction; rarely any real theology or religious philosophy.

Today, few members of the Church under the age of thirty have even heard of Joseph Smith's Lectures on Faith, but those short lessons contain information that the early Saints considered essential to an understanding of the attributes of God and the workings of the spirit. These lectures were considered important enough to have been published as part of the Doctrine and Covenants at one time, but were inexplicably dropped from later editions.

Of equal importance -and similarly forgotten- are Orson Pratt's Key to the Universe, along with his Brother Parley's Key to the Science of Theology, both which eloquently expound on Joseph Smith's far-reaching teachings on the workings of the universe and the spirit of God that fills it. Many Mormons today can rattle off a recitation from memory of the basics of how the restoration came about, but have little understanding of the theological mysteries that restoration was meant to deliver to the world. It's like a schoolchild telling how the founding fathers all gathered in Philadelphia to found a new nation without any mention or analysis of the founding documents created there.

The incomparable Denver Snuffer has commented on the result of this loss:
We are raising a new breed of Latter-day Saint today whose familiarity with doctrine is negligible.  They understand only a fraction of what has been restored, and for many of the doctrines, their understanding is incomplete, or so skewed that they are incorrect...More and more of the saints grow up inside this new environment and have never even gained a fundamental command of the doctrines which Joseph Smith restored.”

It's Alive!

I first got a hint that there was much more to my religion than I had ever imagined one Sunday evening when W. Cleon Skousen came to my home stake in Anaheim to present a fireside to the Young Adults which he titled “My Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement.” Brother Skousen told how, when he was a young man, he wondered why Jesus had to be tortured and killed. Why in the world was something like that necessary? What purpose could that possibly serve? And who wanted that?

Those are good questions. Until brother Skousen brought the matter up, it had never occurred to me to wonder exactly how and why the death of the Son of God would “satisfy the demands of justice,” whatever that meant. Now that Skousen had me thinking about it, the whole thing seemed futile and unnecessary. If God was God, why couldn't he fix whatever the problem was with simply a wave of his hand? Why was it necessary to allow himself to be killed? It made no sense to me whatsoever.

Skousen told how he took his questions to Apostle John Widtsoe, a noted LDS scientist and intellectual of his day. Over time, Widtsoe directed young Cleon to those scriptures that contained clues to the answers he was seeking. I won't go into his findings much here, because I hope you'll listen to the talk yourself, which you can find here on YouTube. Skousen walks you through his early epiphany, providing complete scriptural references to his findings, so have pen and paper handy.

A part of what Skousen learned was that the scriptures of the restoration teach that the entire universe is literally alive; that every tiny, quantum particle is made up not just of matter, but also a substance that Joseph Smith termed “intelligence.” Although the intelligence these particles are infused with is a lower form of intellect than we humans obtain, it enables all matter to fulfill the measure of its creation. Sub-atomic particles bond with other particles and in so doing hold themselves together and hold their places in the universe. Without intelligence, the elements would have remained unorganized, and if that universal intelligence were to abandon its duty, all would fly back to chaos.

This “intelligence” apparently infuses all matter in the universe with a sense of balance, or justice, which the elements are constantly struggling to maintain. Hence the saying “the universe bends toward justice.” It actually does. 
 
In 1908, Elder Widtsoe had authored a booklet entitled “Joseph Smith as Scientist: a Contribution to Mormon Philosophy,” which was a collection of essays expounding on what today we might call The Metaphysics of Mormonism. Widtsoe reminds the reader that Joseph taught that God did not create matter; it is as eternal as he is. Every particle of matter that exists in the universe today has existed here from the beginning with God. Creation consisted of God organizing the elements that were already in existence. Through Joseph Smith, mankind learned that matter can change its properties, but it cannot cease to exist. Likewise with energy. As Widtsoe points out, “when any form of energy disappears, it reappears immediately in another form.”

Why Mormonism?

Last month I was interviewed on Mormon Expression Podcasts and invited to explain my reasons for founding this blog. Much of what I expressed as my personal beliefs seemed so far removed from current LDS teachings that I was asked, “So why Mormonism? What does all that have to do with Mormon teachings?”

Well, not much, if your definition of “Mormonism” consists of the set of rules and dogmas that have filled up our lesson plans in recent decades. These days, you have to look pretty hard to find those core theologies that enthralled the early members of the LDS church.

In that interview I did with the good folks at Mormon Expression, I'm not sure I did much more than yammer, stammer, and ramble on, but one of the points I was trying to get to and never seemed to arrive at was that by “pure” Mormonism, I meant those doctrines and teachings that we have largely forgotten, or that have been de-emphasized in the modern LDS church. If what I expressed sounded more like Buddhism than Mormon theology, that shouldn't surprise us. We are inching away from what made us unique among all Christendom. And one of the things that makes us unique is the implication in our theology of the possibility that God is not completely omnipotent.

That statement right there would get me expelled as a blasphemer in most sectarian churches. According to their dogmas, God is all powerful. He can do anything. Anything at all.

Can he really? Then how come he couldn't prevent his own son from being tortured and killed? Why did he have to allow that? Whose big idea was it, and why did Jesus have to go through that awful experience? No Catholic or Protestant that I've ever met seems to have the answer to that one.

But Mormon theology does.

Our scriptures teach us that what makes God all-powerful is that the elements choose to obey him. Why do they obey him? Because they honor him. His honor is his power. Those little intelligences will do absolutely anything God asks of them, because they love and honor Him so much.

What would happen if those little intelligences suddenly stopped obeying God? Could anything get them to revolt?  Well, if the elements decided to stop obeying God, he would cease to be God, wouldn't he? Isn't the fact that he can control all things the very attribute that makes him God?

And what could possibly cause the elements to stop honoring God? We learn in Alma 42:13 that if the work of justice were to be destroyed, “God would cease to be God.” That is, if God were to stop playing fair, the elements would cease to obey him.  The universe demands justice. God must be just; there simply can not be an unjust God.

Well, you can stop holding your breath because the demands of justice have been met. All those tiny intelligences recognized and honored God's sacrifice. So now God can never cease to be God. This is all explained more powerfully in Skousen's talk, which I believe is essential to understanding the theo-cosmology inherent in the restored gospel.

The Tao of Mormonism

What Old Ben Kenobi described as The Force, Joseph Smith referred to as the Holy Spirit. He describes this spirit as not merely the spirit of God. It's more than that; a substance, a light, that reaches throughout space. It is made up of all consciousness. It fills and permeates you and me and all solid matter, and it connects us not only with God, but with each other. In section 88 of the D&C we're taught that this “light” proceeds forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space. It is in all things. It gives life to all things. It is the law by which all things are governed, “even the power of God.” (D&C 88:6-13)

Sounds a lot like The Force, doesn't it?

Joseph Smith did not use the language of science; he had only the vocabulary of his day
to describe the things he was trying to get across. Thus he used the word “intelligence” to describe something we might today call “consciousness.” To describe the spirit, which he tells us is made of matter, but in a finer and more pure form, he uses the word “light.”

In their book, Science and Mormonism, Melvin and Garfield Cook define this light as more than physical light. It could be, they maintain, more accurately called enlightenment. The scriptures, they say, “explain that light, truth, spirit, and enlightenment are all intimately related” and that all consist of a form of matter, or at least intrinsic properties of matter.

In short, the Spirit, this “light,” permeates everything. Absolutely everything, on earth and in space.

As I sit at my desk writing this, my home office is filled with light from outside, yet I can't even see the source of that light. The sun is not directing its rays through my window. I would actually have to get up and go outside and look around in the sky to find out where the source of this light actually is.

This room is filled with light even when I can't tell where that light is coming from. What's more, the room is also filled with air that is apparently sharing the same space as the light. There is no shortage of air just because light is filling the room. The light is not displacing the air. Both light and the air are somehow sharing the same space on a molecular level.  One does not crowd out the other.

Not only that, but the light is somehow coming right through my window, which is supposedly a non-permeable object made of solid rock. At some point that rock had been pulverized to sand, and through some magical process I don't pretend to understand, the sand was heated and converted into a clear substance that, though solid, still allows the light to fully penetrate, day after day, without breaking or even puncturing.

I am intrigued by all this, as I am by the fact that I can hold a strong magnet underneath the table and use it to control a piece of metal on top.  Whatever invisible rays are penetrating the wood are imperceptible, and don't seem to be harming the table. Although benign, it's undeniable that there is some very powerful force at work here.

The Invisible Ether

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of the great scientific minds hypothesized that, in addition to matter and energy, the universe must contain some additional unseen, all-pervading substance. This invisible substance they dubbed Luminiferous Ether. By the mid eighteen hundreds, scientists determined through tests and observation that this ether was, in fact, undeniably real. Ether exhibited all the properties of that which the Prophet Joseph Smith had described as attributes of the spirit. It was believed to fill “the pores of wood, soil, lead, gold, and the human body.” Everything was filled with ether: air, space, you, me, everything.

The eponymous Lord Kelvin, after whom we name measures of heat units, declared, “One thing we are sure of, and that is the reality and substantiality of the luminiferous ether.”
It is something that the planets move through with the greatest ease. It permeates our air; It is matter prodigiously less dense than air -of such density as not to produce the slightest resistance to any body going through it.”
Sounds like spirit matter to me. Or in terms of the Tao: “It is the source of the universe, but it also is the universe.”

The Quantum Revolution

The Ether hypothesis fell out of favor somewhat following Einstein's theory of relativity. Ironic, as Einstein spent the last thirty years of his life attempting to come up with a Unified Theory of the Universe that would explain how everything works together. The old-fashioned theory of the ether, a substance which had been said to permeate everything in the universe, would have fit the bill, but the Ether Hypothesis didn't fit well with Einstein's new gravity-based theory of the universe.

Once it was learned the atom could be split, a whole new scientific discipline was born. Physicists experimenting with matter at the sub-atomic level found that the known laws of physics no longer seemed to apply. The smaller the particle, the less consistently it behaved. In the famous Double Slit Experiment described by theoretical physicist Fred Alan Wolf, electrons behaved as if they had minds of their own; as though they possessed some kind of intelligence. “It was here,” says Dr. Wolf, “That physicists stepped into the strange netherworld of quantum events. What is matter?”

A “quantum” is defined as “the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction.” It is really, really small.

It's just about the smallest thing you can think of. Much smaller than a molecule, way tinier than an atom. The only thing that's smaller than a quantum is a quark.

You can't see either one. The only way we know they exist is...well, we don't know. We can only surmise their existence by observing their effects. We certainly have no way of knowing what either one might look like. It's impossible to build a microscope that can show us.

Considering quarks and quantums from a theological/metaphysical point of view, we might think of a Quantum as “that which acts,” while a Quark might be “that which is acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:14).  In other words, a quantum seems to be a quark with an intelligence attached to it.

This is as good a time as any to admit that I don't really have any idea what I'm talking about here.

At least I'm in good company. Quantum theory is just that: a theory. No one can do anything but hypothesize about how this stuff works or why particles behave the way they do. In the words of Richard Feynman, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics.”

Quantum theory can really take you down the rabbit hole. When you're dealing with matter that seems to have a mind of its own, anything goes. But to the person seeking evidence of the spiritual workings of the universe, quantum mechanics represents a fascinating playground. Here's Brian Greene, author of The Fabric of the Cosmos:

Quantum Mechanics implies that something you do over here can be instantaneously linked to something happening over there, regardless of distance.”

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of RealityBy the nineteen eighties,” says, Greene, “researchers confirmed that there can be an instantaneous bond between what happens at widely separated locations...Long range quantum connections can bypass spatial separation. Two things can be far apart in space, but as far as quantum mechanics is concerned, it's as if they're a single entity.”

Or, to put it in theological terms, The “spirit” of God can be in God, and it can be in you -or, for that matter, you and everybody else- all at the same time. Put another way, you can transmit your love and light to someone from here and that person will receive it over there. Sort of how prayer works, I would think.

Your thoughts are not traveling through empty space, they're traveling through the connective spirit matter (“All spirit is matter,” the Prophet taught, “But it is more fine or pure”). Your thoughts and prayers are conveyed through the spirit ether and are received instantaneously by God, the one you're praying to, as well as to the person you are directing your prayer at.

Quantum Theory appears to be the nexus where science and sprituality can comfortably intersect. Notice I didn't say “science and religion.” Both science and religion are populated by partisans who tend to be rigidly dogmatic, in spite of claims by either side to be involved in the search for truth. (“Don't make the mistake,” cautions physics professor John Hegelin, “of thinking that the scientific community is scientific.”)

Of late, researchers in quantum theory have made dialogue with philosophers and theologians. There is a fascinating film called What The Bleep Do We Know?, which was somewhat of a phenomenon when it came out in 2006. It features interviews with theoretical physicists, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, biochemists, molecular biologists, philosophers, theologians, and at least one 35,000 year old mystic. It is not to be missed. You can see it on YouTube, but I recommend you get the expanded version, which is entitled What the Bleep/Down the Rabbit Hole: Quantum Edition. Where the original film will give you a taste of the metaphysical, the expanded version includes three double-sided DVDs with extended interviews and insights. This is essential viewing if you are at all interested in this kind of stuff.

Another Shot At The Unified Theory Of Everything

Then there is the relatively new subset of particle physics known as String Theory, another attempt at arriving at a Unified Theory of the Universe. Some also see string theory as a viable explanation for the workings of the all-pervasive universal spirit; replacing, in effect, the Ether Hypothesis. 

According to string theorists, all matter is ultimately made up of one-dimensional, sub-atomic oscillating frequencies of energy, or “strings.” According to the theory, when you get down to the smallest quantum bit, there's no solid matter there, only vibrations. Everything in the universe is made up of these vibrations, which can pass through any solid object. Like the mystical ether, these sub-atomic strings fill and permeate you, your furniture, your friends, the rocks and trees, your shoes, socks, and underwear. Everything.

Planets? Yes, everything. The sun? Of course. Everything. Strings permeate and travel through all matter. According to string theorists, these strings are the essence of all matter.

Which makes you wonder why they don't just go back to believing in the ether.

Do we really know these so-called “strings” exist? Not really. According to Andrew Zimmerman Jones, author of String Theory for Dummies, “String theory is a mathematical theory. It's based on mathematical equations that can be interpreted in certain ways.”

Some critics say the math is based on faulty premises, and that the theory is a real stretch. And, let's face it, from the point of view of LDS theo-cosmology, matter can't ultimately end up being just a bunch of empty vibrations. All matter has to ultimately be some thing. (D&C 93:33).

Nevertheless, string theory could possibly explain how everything and everyone is connected with everything and everyone else, and how all of us are connected to God.

However, there is a growing movement in the scientific community that suggests we take a look back at the Ether hypothesis. Rather than developing convoluted mathematical formula that are impossible to test or observe, these maverick scientists are examining the possibility that the workings of the universe can best be understood by the view that we live in a universe based on electro-magnetic activity rather than the common assumption that the universe is gravity-based alone. 

The gravity-based theory of the universe necessitates mathematical formulas that require weirder and weirder assumptions such as the existence of unobservable things such as dark matter and parallel universes. Pretty soon you've got science relying on faith much more than the religionists ever did. Why not, say these dissenters, look at the evidence that makes all the pieces of the puzzle fit together nicely, and provides that elusive Unified Theory of Everthing?

Why The Universe Is A Vast Electric OrganismOne reason the Electro-Magnetic View of the Universe was rarely given serious consideration in mainstream scientific circles was that one of its earliest proponents, George Woodard Warder, tended to publish his findings under such non-scientific sounding titles as “Why The Universe Is A Vast Electric Organism,” “Man Is a Soul Clad in Air: A Spirit In An Electric Organism,” and “Why Love Is the Electric Law Of Life And Why All That Live Must Come From Loving.

Titles like these would be intriguing to theo-philosophers, but they didn't fly with Warder's scientific peers.  Although Warder was not the only advocate of the Electro-Magnetic thesis, he didn't make it easier for those theories to gain traction in the mainstream. The work was ignored without investigation, and Warder dismissed as a kook.  But now his research, and that of other proponents of the electro-magnetic view, are all getting a second look.

It was actually all that high weirdness attendant in quantum physics that got the science guys willing to give this previously abandoned theory of the universe another look-see. After all, solar wind is not really “wind,” but electrical particles in space. So maybe there's something to all this electro-magnetism after all. For those of us interested in the Theo-cosmology of Mormonism, it's another reason to perk up our ears. 

Everything Is Plasma 

If I understand all this correctly (and I'm not saying I do), the electro-magnetic theory maintains that the visible universe consists of 99.999 % cosmic plasma (hint: that's a lot!). Plasma, they say, is the fourth state which matter can attain to (the other three are, of course, solid, liquid, and gas.)

This plasma consists, as far as we can tell, of tiny charged, ionized particles called Neutrinos. Neutrinos are not unknown in quantum physics, but in the electric universe theory they behave a bit differently. According to Wikipedia, a neutrino is “an elementary particle that usually travels close to the speed of light, is electrically neutral, and is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected.”

The difference in neutrinos under the electro-magnetic theory of the universe is that they are not limited by the speed of light. They don't seem to be limited by any field. (Remember Greene's description of something happening in one location immediately having an affect in another?) 

And that invites the question: Could this actually be a more accurate explanation than string theory, and a better description of what nineteenth century scientists referred to as the ether? Here's a description from Dave Talbot and Wallace Thornhill, two of the leading proponents of the electro-magnetic view of the universe today:
"From the smallest particle to the largest galactic formation, a web of electrical circuitry connects and unifies all of nature, organizing galaxies, energizing stars, giving birth to planets and, on our own world, controlling weather and animating biological organisms."
That theory would certainly describe the universe God lives in, where spirit matter permeates every one and every thing.

Perhaps the most prominent champion of this view of the universe as it reflects LDS theology is Anthony Larson, author of “And The Moon Shall Turn to Blood” and several other books of Mormon cosmological exegesis. Brother Larson maintains a fascinating website, Prophecy, Ancient History, and the Restored Gospel. He also conducts regular online seminars which bring together ancient prophecy with ancient mythology, cosmogeny, history, and astronomy, and ties it all in with the teachings of Joseph Smith. I've attended five of these webinars so far and I'll tell you, this stuff is mind-blowing. All the pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place when looked at through the lens of this discipline.

I highly recommend you sign up for the next series of webinars if you are at all interested in a fuller understanding not only of the teachings and prophecies of Joseph Smith, but also of the deeper mysteries of the cosmos. It's all completely consistent with LDS theology, and I guarantee you'll know more than you ever did before about your own religion. If you attend the start of the next series, I'll probably attend again with you, as I really eat this stuff up. (If you can't attend a regularly scheduled class, Anthony will put on a private one-on-one session for you. All you have to do is email him and suggest a time.)

(Update July 6, 2014: Since I originally posted this piece, Anthony Larson's acclaimed online courses have been pre-recorded, so you are no longer tied down to specific class times, but can attend at your leisure.  Click here to get started.)

Thought Vibration And The Latter-day Saints

It's pretty apparent from a reading of early church history that the gifts of the spirit were readily apparent in those days and really quite common. Healings were instantaneous, visions were common, and the bond of community among the Saints was both intimate and strong. When the Saints addressed each other as “Brother” and “Sister,” it was not the formality it is today. It reflected a spiritual familiarity.

These days, we Mormons get along fine with each other, and we even have close friends at church, but we don't really see the gifts of the spirit readily apparent among us, at least not like they were in the old days. The experience of being overcome by the spirit is so rare in our meetings, we don't even come to church expecting it anymore.

When we give a blessing of healing to a sick member, we pretty well know from experience that it's going to be a crap shoot. Maybe the healing will take, maybe it won't. Most likely the person gets better after a few days anyway, just as they would have, blessing or not. We often even qualify our blessings by adding words such as “conditional upon your faith” just to let the sick person know that if he doesn't get well, it's not our fault, it's his.

In D&C 130:20-21, we learn that “there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated, and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

This is another one of those scriptures that we all know, but have probably completely missed the meaning of. I think the problem is most of us attribute modern meanings to those words that aren't really there. We take those verses to mean that if we want blessings, we have to be obedient, because God says so. He's the boss, so if you want good things, you better straighten up and fly right.

When we think of "law," we usually think in terms of statutes and ordinances; arbitrary rules made up by men, and which can be changed or altered by political will. But when we're in the arena of God's law, "law" tends to mean something else entirely. We are taught that God commands the elements because he understands the laws of the universe and works with them. He never works against those laws. This definition of “Law” when used in scripture, usually refers to “the way things are.”

A common example of a law of nature is if you were to step off the top of a tall building, your body will travel downwards toward the sidewalk below. That's an example of “the way things are.”

This scripture states that there is a law -simply the way things are- that existed from the beginning. It doesn't say that God decreed it, it just says this is the way things have always been, not just since this world began, but before the very foundations of this world were begun.  So this goes way back to before the beginning. The way things are can't be changed or reversed, not even, presumably, by God. If God could change the way certain things are, those things would not be irrevocable. But this specific law cannot be revoked. It simply is what it is.

So, What Does It Mean?

This scripture tells us that if we want good things to come our way, we have to be obedient to the law. Here again, I think we normally interpret obedience as “doing what we are told.” But instead of thinking of "blessings" coming about as a result of our being “obedient to the law,” it might be more helpful if we think of it as “being in alignment with" the way things are.  Being one, as it were, with the universe.

So this is what I think is being taught here:

There is a way the universe works, and it cannot be changed. This is just the way it is, and here it is: If you want any particular thing to happen, it's absolutely necessary that you are in alignment with the way things are so that what you want to come to pass, can come to pass.”

In other words, like attracts like. Good attracts good. Love attracts love. Fear will bring you more things to be fearful about. Whatever you send forth into the universe, you will call forth more of that back to you. 

It's the law of the universe. And it's the way things are.  

By all accounts, the universe seems to react best to two great expressions: Gratitude, and love. Those who go through life radiating these qualities seem to attract more good things to themselves. Since the great law of God is the commandment to love, If we demonstrate pure, unconditional love to everyone, the gifts of the spirit will flow to us and through us.

I submit that one reason we as Latter-day Saints may be experiencing a dearth of the spirit is because we are failing, on the whole, to hold in our hearts sincere, unconditional love for all our fellow beings.

[What?! Is he crazy?! There is no more loving group of people on the earth than the Mormon people. Everyone knows Mormons love everyone equally. We are the salt of the earth.]

Judgment Call

May I offer a truism? It is not possible to love any person or group of people unconditionally at the same time you are holding them in judgment.

Now, we may not like it, and we may be baffled by the accusation, but the rest of the world sees us as among the most judgmental of all religions.
 
That's how we are perceived, and as the saying goes, perception is reality. A couple of years ago I was visiting in Utah. I had lived there in my twenties from the late 1970's to early '80's. But in the time since I had left and come back, something felt different. Something had changed. I sensed a disturbance in the force.

Under the surface of Utah society I could discern a tacit undercurrent of hostility between the Mormon community and the growing number of their non-Mormon neighbors of an intensity I had no noticed before. Most of this hostility seemed to emanate from non-Mormons, some of who told me they felt the disapproving eyes of the Mormons on them pretty much all the time. They knew they were viewed as lacking and inferior by the members of the dominant religion, and that feeling of disapproval has made many of them bitter and suspicious of Mormons in general.

Now, you may feel you don't have a judgmental bone in your body, and be convinced that whatever problems these people have, it's all in their imaginations because you adhere to the teachings of Christ who taught us to all love one another.  You ignore the problem because you don't think it's about you. 

If  your friends and co-workers were telling you all day that you had a piece of spinach in your teeth, at some point maybe you would want to check yourself in the mirror. If we are perceived as judgmental, it's because many among us are judgmental, whether we want to believe it or not.

8: The Mormon PropositionIf you can view the recent documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition without weeping at how cruelly some of our people are treating their own children, then you are a hard case indeed.  It's one thing to oppose homosexual marriage; it's quite another to put your own child on the street where he is forced to subsist on nothing because you hate who he is.  No matter what side of this volatile issue you fall on, it goes against the spirit to treat those who take a differing position as enemies who must be defeated at all costs.  Administering a gleeful beat-down to your opponent does not contribute to the harmony of the universe.  We as a church and as a people are in serious need of repenting for this ungodly attitude.

I knew of a young couple here in California who began attending services at a local LDS ward for no other reason than they felt the need to start attending a church, and our building was located a few doors down from where they lived. During the break between Sacrament Meeting and Sunday School, they took to going outside for a cigarette, because they were unable to last three hours without smoking. Many of the members, watching them from the foyer inside, were horrified at what they saw.  Didn't those two realize that people in the cars passing by would see them smoking on the front steps of a Mormon Church?!

The couple continued to attend church the following weeks, each Sunday heading out front for a cigarette break between meetings.

Question: How long do you think it was before some well-intentioned member strolled outside and suggested to them that perhaps it would be best if they worked on getting their habit under control before they returned to church again?

I guess that couple never got control of their bad habits, because they never did come back.

I also know of a woman, a one-time neighbor of mine, who was taking the missionary lessons and desired to be baptized. According to Church decree (not revelation, mind you, simply church policy) she could not be baptized because she wasn't married to the man she was living with. Unlike the early LDS church, the modern LDS Church(TM) doesn't recognize common-law marriages, only those marriages sanctioned by the State.

This neighbor, having heard I was LDS, sought me out one day to express her frustration. “All I want,” she told me, “is to be baptized, to show God I am committed to him. I just feel this need, that's all. I don't necessarily want to join your church, or even any church; I just want to be baptized. The missionaries convinced me that it's important and that they are the only ones who have the proper authority to do it, and I want to do it, so I don't understand -why can't I just be baptized?”

I didn't tell her the answer, though I knew it, of course.  It was a judgment call. Like that young couple who smoked, she wasn't good enough for us.  
Oh sure, John the baptist didn't stop to interview those who desired baptism and run through a list of rules for them to commit to, and neither did Alma when he baptized the multitudes at the waters of Mormon. Ditto with Joseph Smith regarding the early nineteenth century converts. The only thing that has ever been required for baptism was a desire to be baptized, to wash away one's sins and take upon one's self the name of Christ.

But things are different in the LDS church today. Unlike most other Christian denominations, when we baptize a person, that baptism comes bundled complete with membership in our particular club. Converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints(TM) don't merely covenant with Christ, they have to be willing to follow the rules of their new Church. Since members are seen by the world as representatives of that entire body, we have to be careful to protect the Church's image. Sinners need not apply.

Who's Being Undoctrinal Here?

The true power of the universe are can only be accessed by those who carry in their hearts an attitude of unconditional love for all mankind. Few of us can completely qualify.  But it is possible to come pretty close.  What that means is simple respect and acceptance of other people and their chosen lifestyles, even though the paths they choose to trod may not resemble that which you would choose for yourself. Many members today never obtain that simple divine quality.

And why would they, when their leaders now dismiss as deceptive and undoctrinal the most divine of all attributes of the Almighty, the doctrine that God's love for his children is unconditional? Such was the news from Apostle Russell Nelson in 2003, when he officially condemned the concept of God's unconditional love as an anti-Christ deception. Here's more from a 2003 Sunstone Magazine News Update:
"Sunstone has learned that the question of whether God's love is unconditional was discussed by the Church's correlation committee five years ago and submitted to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve for direction. The highest governing bodies in the Church replied that God's love is not unconditional, and the expression, “God's unconditional love” has since been eliminated from all official publications.”
This is an astonishing reversal of a well established doctrine. Never mind that a search of officially published Church addresses during the last thirty years alone shows over 840 matches in support of divine unconditional love; the concept has now vanished down the memory holeThat reversal did not come through divine revelation from God, you will note, but as a result of discussion in committee over time. In days gone by, an unprecedented about-face like that would have been considered heresy.  Now it's just Church policy.

Is it any wonder the once prevalent gifts of the spirit are all but absent in the Church today?

The apostle Paul taught that when God's people reject the love of truth, God will send them what they seem to want: stronger delusions to assist them in going along with their comfortable falsehoods. I can't think of a bigger delusion this people engages in than the ongoing belief that the Church is still led by a prophet who receives direct revelation from God, while at the same time they cannot point to a single prophecy or revelation that has been received in their entire lifetimes. 

The Awakening 

At a time when darkness seems poised to envelop the earth we are simultaneously witnessing an amazing spiritual awakening across the land.  More and more people are walking away from structured, organized religions, yet embracing a deeper spirituality that better suits them.  This includes Latter-day Saints who are leaving by the tens of thousands each year because they no longer find in the religion that once nurtured them any compelling reason to stay.  We need not be overly concerned by this. To all those seeking greater spiritual fulfillment than they have been able to find among us, I say, God speed you on your journey.  

Nothing in the teachings of God or Joseph Smith have ever implied that the LDS Church was intended as the final stopping place for truth.  All evidence shows that the doctrines of the restoration were meant to be a starting place, a jumping off point from which God expects us to lift off into greater light and knowledge.  This church is a safe place from which to take our baby steps, but we are not meant to use it as a protective crib that keeps us from seeing beyond.  We can be sustained on milk for only so long.

The myth that nothing is valid unless it is channeled through the proper Church "authorities" is antithetical to the word of God, and it is contrary to wisdom.  I think many disaffected members would continue to embrace the Church if the leadership had not abandoned the metaphysical theology once known and appreciated by the early Saints.  Instead of a religion that expands the senses, a stodgy culture of control seems to have settled on this Church, resulting in an atmosphere that stifles free inquiry rather than celebrating it.

It was not long ago that I read an editorial in the Church News attempting to discourage members from looking to the internet as a source for researching gospel principles.  If research materials for an assigned talk or to teach a lesson are desired, the counsel went, the approved Church manuals contain all the information a person needs. 

The manuals! 

(I knew you wouldn't believe me.  I tried to find that editorial so I could reference it here, but alas, I've been unable to locate it.)

[Update: Eagle-eyed reader "Young Lion" has provided the link to that editorial. Here it is. ]



The Key to the Science of TheologyIn The Key to the Science of Theology, Parley P. Pratt defines "theology" as "the science of all other sciences and useful arts, being in fact the very fountain from which they emanate.  It includes philosophy, astronomy, history, mathematics, geography, languages, the science of letters; and blends the knowledge of all matters of fact, in every branch of art...It includes all that is useful, great, and good; all that is calculated to sustain, comfort, instruct, edify, purify, refine, or exalt intelligences."

If this doesn't sound like the Mormonism you know, if your mind and heart are not being edified, instructed, and exalted by your religion, maybe you're stuck in a brand of "Mormonism" that was never intended by its founder.  Maybe it's time to expand your sources of knowledge beyond that useless, dumbed-down Sunday School manual prepared by the correlation committee that keeps you in a state of perpetual stuckness.

As Joseph Smith said, "We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true 'Mormons.'" (DHC 5:517).

How To Come Out A True Mormon

If you're interested in treasuring up all "the good and true principles" as Joseph Smith advised, I would suggest expanding your consciousness in ways consistent with pure Mormon Theo-cosmology.  I would start with the late Cleon Skousen's The Meaning of the Atonement, which is not only edifying, but Skousen is always a delight to listen to.  You can find it in nine parts on YouTube, or download it here in its entirety

Next, I'd check out Anthony Larson's website: Prophecy, Ancient History, and the Restored Gospel, and schedule an online class at anthonyelarson@gmail.com.  By the time you reach lesson three, it'll blow yer mind, dude.

Don't miss the documentary What The Bleep/Down The Rabbit Hole for a fascinating presentation of quantum theory and thought creation. And again, if you don't watch the three disc, six-sided compilation, you're missing the greater part of the film.  There is also a hardcover book. Keep in mind that not everything I recommend here contains information that I agree with completely or that is all 100% consistent with gospel principles; I make these recommendations because I found much that is of value in them, and I think you may too. Check things out, and decide for yourself  how much of it is of worth to you.

Connie and I have been very much impressed with The Immortal, a book by J.J. Dewey which is framed as fiction but contains more profundities between two covers than anything else I've read in the past twenty years. Three more books follow in the series, each one building on what went before.  Connie and I can't recommend these books highly enough. The information contained in them really resonated with our souls. If you want to be challenged and edified, read all four. You can get the first book for free, or you can download the free Mp3 audio version.

I've found some of Eckhart Tolle's stuff helpful for learning to quiet the mind, which assists me when I wish to ponder things in my heart.  There is a bounty of tools available out there. Look for books that deal with the intersection of Quantum Theory and spiritual consciousness.  Get ahold of those books I mentioned above that deal with Mormon Theo-cosmology, and click on the links I provided to the sites on plasma and spirit. Follow the spirit to see where it leads you. You can type the word "consciousness" into the YouTube search engine and follow the endless number of videos there until your eyes red up. 
 
Don't be afraid to look into unusual claims from unusual sources.  Sometimes that which most resonates with the soul can come to us through the unlikeliest people.  If a book or a video seems at first glance like hippy-dippy new-age nonsense, don't let it scare you off.  Neither should you be intimidated by authorities who counsel you to avoid non-approved sources of information, no matter whether the "authority" comes from the realm of science or from religion. Both are often biased against truth.  Sometimes that which is of greatest value is found not in the comfortable center, but out around the fringes. The spirit within you will confirm whether something is of value or not if you follow the advice of the apostle Paul: investigate everything,and hold fast to that which is good.  The rest you can let go of, and no harm done.


The Brethren Invent A Boogeyman

Not long ago a reader informed me of a letter sent from the First Presidency to all bishops and branch presidents to be read in Sacrament meeting.  The letter warned members that they should not participate in "so-called 'self-awareness' groups sponsored by commercial enterprises that promise heightened self-esteem, improved family relationships, and increased spirituality."

I must say, it takes a lot of chutzpah for an organization that is failing on all those fronts to forbid its members from seeking self-improvement anywhere else. Since the letter did not mention any of these organizations by name, I won't either, but I believe I have an idea who they might be talking about.

The fact is, I'm somewhat familiar with one such organization based in Utah, and I am close friends with many who have participated in it.  Unlike the Brethren, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people running this service.

If I'm right about my suspicions, and I believe I am, the Brethren are approaching this topic from a position of jaw-dropping ignorance.  In the first place, the outfit I'm thinking of does not refer to itself in any way as a "self-awareness" group, nor does it make any such promises as the letter charges.  The program consists of a series of three or more four-day seminars in which participants sometimes re-arrange their chairs to face each other.  Sometimes the seminars run at night.

And that, apparently, is what so alarms the Brethren.  They counsel the members not to participate in programs that run into the night, or require married people to pair off with others of the opposite sex who are not their spouses.

People of the opposite sex not married to each other actually (Gasp!) sitting across from one another in chairs and talking. Goodness Gracious! There could be a danger of the two of them running off to a motel together!  (Never mind each person's spouse is there in the same room, talking with other participants.)  If we all took such ridiculous warnings seriously, we'd have to take our children out of primary when they sit in a circle facing each other.

But here's what I find to be the kicker: the Brethren forbid the members from participating in a forum that "fosters physical contact among participants."  I assume that means no hugging.

It all sounds so frightening the way the letter is worded, but I happen to have many friends who have been through this program.  The husbands were "paired with other partners" (the way the letter puts it sounds so nasty!), the meetings were held at night, and they often fostered physical contact among participants.  Four "graduates" of this program happen to be in my ward here in Sacramento: two couples, husbands and wives.  And they are hands down my favorite people in that ward.

For one thing, while everyone else stands arms distant from me to shake my hand at church, these good people have no reservations about greeting me with a hug.  They also happen to be incredibly spiritual, and deeply devoted to the Christ.  Like other program graduates I know, they are people of honor, integrity, generosity, and light.  These two couples are at church every Sunday, sharing their inner light with the rest of the ward.

The impact of these trainings has been undeniably positive on those who attend.  Invariably Mormons who go through the program emerge as better Mormons, Baptists as better Baptists, and atheists as better...well, actually, atheists who go through the program tend to no longer be atheists by the end of the week.  They are transformed.

That's because this program and others like it that the institutional Church so derides, actually assist people in getting in touch with their spirit selves.  Once people learn to shed their emotional garbage and to align themselves with the spirit, they are never the same again, you can take my word on that. They often "experience the mighty change" our scriptures so often refer to and so few of us ever actually experience.  Too bad the church doesn't offer some kind of "self-awareness" program of its own. It might slow the hemorrhaging of those thousands of new converts who leave the church just months after joining because they find insufficient spiritual sustenance at the meetings.

We like to quote the saying "by their fruits ye shall know them."  Well, Utah is filled with tens of thousands of graduates of this unique program, and their lives testify of the good fruit.  The testimonials from those whose family and personal relationships have improved beyond measure fill page after page on the program's website.  Some of them are, or have been bishops, counselors, Relief Society presidents, and others who hold positions of responsibility in their wards, and they are people who truly know how to shine their light.  Former participants I have talked to scoff at the ignorance displayed in that First Presidency letter.  I can virtually guarantee that no member of the First Presidency that endorsed that letter has ever so much as driven down to see what the program is really all about.  They've likely heard a few rumors, and assumed the worst.  

This is the kind of uninformed scaremongering the corporate Church(TM) refers to as "counsel" these days.  Further proof to me that the leaders of that institution are almost completely lacking in the power of discernment.

But perhaps these bureaucrats are smarter than I give them credit for.  Because for every forty or fifty graduates of the program who return to their wards with renewed vigor, there's one or two who arrive at the conclusion that the Church no longer serves their needs.  They find they have grown past the need for that type of structure in their lives.  And that, I think, is what the leadership really fears. They are threatened by members who are able to change themselves and the world utilizing something other than approved Church programs.

My point in all this is to remind you not to let anyone claim authority over your own search for truth and meaning, even if they hold title and office and station in the Church.  Let the Holy Ghost be your adviser, and no one else.  Otherwise, you could miss out on the experience of your life.

We should never be intimidated away from our personal paths of enlightenment. I find richer counsel from the earlier leaders of this Church than I do from the current crop of flaccid usurpers. A hundred years ago the leadership actively encouraged members to seek for truth no matter the source, as witness this excerpt from the Millennial Star from the year 1901:
"Anything that is true in theology, philosophy, literature, science or art; in any discovery, invention or project, we accept and it blends into the truths of religion which the Lord has revealed in these latter-days, just as separate drops of water unite in one mass as soon as they coalesce. For "Truth is truth where'er 'tis found, on Christian or on heathen ground." There are some great truths in oriental non-Christian religions as well as in the sects that call themselves "Christian." None of these comes into repulsion with the system now revealed from heaven, and which is commonly dubbed "Mormonism" -Millennial Star 63 (August 22, 1901), p. 549-551. 
On the few occasions that Joseph Smith used the word "Mormonism," he usually meant it more as a philosophy than a religion.  "Mormonism" was a way of looking at the world in terms of truth and wisdom and unconditional love. It was an idea put into practice. "One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism," declared Brother Joseph, "is to receive truth; let it come from whence it may."

That's the Mormonism I like.  And that's the Mormonism I miss.

The Metaphysics of Mormonism

Most of us recall Joseph Smith's description of the power that controls the universe. This force, he said, is what gives God his power. “It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the universe together.”

Okay, so those aren't the precise words of Joseph Smith; I more or less cribbed that from Obi-Wan Kenobi. But Joseph Smith actually did teach a Theo-philosophy quite similar to what George Lucas presented in the Star Wars films.

As is well known, Lucas adopted the idea for what he called The Force from the East Asian philosophy known as the Tao. I like the description of the Tao given by Anne Collins Smith, Professor of philosophy and classical studies at Susquehanna University. She defines it concisely in a way that would be familiar to any Jedi, and should be -but most likely isn't- familiar to most Mormons:

The Tao,” says Professor Smith, “is kind of a force that pervades the universe. It is the source of the universe, but it also is the universe.”

If that sounds more like Buddhism than Mormonism, well, what can I tell you?  Similar teachings do exist in Mormon theology, but most people overlook them.  In addition to restoring many of the fundamental truths of Christianity, Joseph Smith also restored pure and true doctrines that would be easily compatible with Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam. His mission, after all was the restoration of truth.

You may not remember seeing the philosophy of the Tao or the Jedi in Mormon scriptures, but it's in there. If you didn't notice it in your reading, that's not surprising. My first experience with reading through the standard works was a goal set for me in seminary. The idea was to get through the scriptures a chapter a day until...Yay! I'm done!

I caught most of the narrative, but little did I know I was missing a boatload of philosophical gems. Goals are useful when you want to get something accomplished and out of the way, but when striving for enlightenment, I've found it's better to slow down and take your time.

Many of the theological treasures of Mormonism once commonly understood by the early Latter-day Saints have all but vanished from Church teachings today. Ever since the philosophy of top-down correlation captured and took over the programs of the Church, rarely do we encounter any of the meat of the gospel in our meetings  Nothing gets into the Sunday School manuals these days except milk.

I've noticed that even the scriptures assigned from the lesson manual often skip over the verses containing the really interesting stuff in favor of those sections which contain things the leaders feel we should be working harder at. We always seem to be getting counsel and instruction; rarely any real theology or religious philosophy.

Today, few members of the Church under the age of thirty have even heard of Joseph Smith's Lectures on Faith, but those short lessons contain information that the early Saints considered essential to an understanding of the attributes of God and the workings of the spirit. These lectures were considered important enough to have been published as part of the Doctrine and Covenants at one time, but were inexplicably dropped from later editions.

Of equal importance -and similarly forgotten- are Orson Pratt's Key to the Universe, along with his Brother Parley's Key to the Science of Theology, both which eloquently expound on Joseph Smith's far-reaching teachings on the workings of the universe and the spirit of God that fills it. Many Mormons today can rattle off a recitation from memory of the basics of how the restoration came about, but have little understanding of the theological mysteries that restoration was meant to deliver to the world. It's like a schoolchild telling how the founding fathers all gathered in Philadelphia to found a new nation without any mention or analysis of the founding documents created there.

The incomparable Denver Snuffer has commented on the result of this loss:
We are raising a new breed of Latter-day Saint today whose familiarity with doctrine is negligible.  They understand only a fraction of what has been restored, and for many of the doctrines, their understanding is incomplete, or so skewed that they are incorrect...More and more of the saints grow up inside this new environment and have never even gained a fundamental command of the doctrines which Joseph Smith restored.”

It's Alive!

I first got a hint that there was much more to my religion than I had ever imagined one Sunday evening when W. Cleon Skousen came to my home stake in Anaheim to present a fireside to the Young Adults which he titled “My Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement.” Brother Skousen told how, when he was a young man, he wondered why Jesus had to be tortured and killed. Why in the world was something like that necessary? What purpose could that possibly serve? And who wanted that?

Those are good questions. Until brother Skousen brought the matter up, it had never occurred to me to wonder exactly how and why the death of the Son of God would “satisfy the demands of justice,” whatever that meant. Now that Skousen had me thinking about it, the whole thing seemed futile and unnecessary. If God was God, why couldn't he fix whatever the problem was with simply a wave of his hand? Why was it necessary to allow himself to be killed? It made no sense to me whatsoever.

Skousen told how he took his questions to Apostle John Widtsoe, a noted LDS scientist and intellectual of his day. Over time, Widtsoe directed young Cleon to those scriptures that contained clues to the answers he was seeking. I won't go into his findings much here, because I hope you'll listen to the talk yourself, which you can find here on YouTube. Skousen walks you through his early epiphany, providing complete scriptural references to his findings, so have pen and paper handy.

A part of what Skousen learned was that the scriptures of the restoration teach that the entire universe is literally alive; that every tiny, quantum particle is made up not just of matter, but also a substance that Joseph Smith termed “intelligence.” Although the intelligence these particles are infused with is a lower form of intellect than we humans obtain, it enables all matter to fulfill the measure of its creation. Sub-atomic particles bond with other particles and in so doing hold themselves together and hold their places in the universe. Without intelligence, the elements would have remained unorganized, and if that universal intelligence were to abandon its duty, all would fly back to chaos.

This “intelligence” apparently infuses all matter in the universe with a sense of balance, or justice, which the elements are constantly struggling to maintain. Hence the saying “the universe bends toward justice.” It actually does. 
 
In 1908, Elder Widtsoe had authored a booklet entitled “Joseph Smith as Scientist: a Contribution to Mormon Philosophy,” which was a collection of essays expounding on what today we might call The Metaphysics of Mormonism. Widtsoe reminds the reader that Joseph taught that God did not create matter; it is as eternal as he is. Every particle of matter that exists in the universe today has existed here from the beginning with God. Creation consisted of God organizing the elements that were already in existence. Through Joseph Smith, mankind learned that matter can change its properties, but it cannot cease to exist. Likewise with energy. As Widtsoe points out, “when any form of energy disappears, it reappears immediately in another form.”

Why Mormonism?

Last month I was interviewed on Mormon Expression Podcasts and invited to explain my reasons for founding this blog. Much of what I expressed as my personal beliefs seemed so far removed from current LDS teachings that I was asked, “So why Mormonism? What does all that have to do with Mormon teachings?”

Well, not much, if your definition of “Mormonism” consists of the set of rules and dogmas that have filled up our lesson plans in recent decades. These days, you have to look pretty hard to find those core theologies that enthralled the early members of the LDS church.

In that interview I did with the good folks at Mormon Expression, I'm not sure I did much more than yammer, stammer, and ramble on, but one of the points I was trying to get to and never seemed to arrive at was that by “pure” Mormonism, I meant those doctrines and teachings that we have largely forgotten, or that have been de-emphasized in the modern LDS church. If what I expressed sounded more like Buddhism than Mormon theology, that shouldn't surprise us. We are inching away from what made us unique among all Christendom. And one of the things that makes us unique is the implication in our theology of the possibility that God is not completely omnipotent.

That statement right there would get me expelled as a blasphemer in most sectarian churches. According to their dogmas, God is all powerful. He can do anything. Anything at all.

Can he really? Then how come he couldn't prevent his own son from being tortured and killed? Why did he have to allow that? Whose big idea was it, and why did Jesus have to go through that awful experience? No Catholic or Protestant that I've ever met seems to have the answer to that one.

But Mormon theology does.

Our scriptures teach us that what makes God all-powerful is that the elements choose to obey him. Why do they obey him? Because they honor him. His honor is his power. Those little intelligences will do absolutely anything God asks of them, because they love and honor Him so much.

What would happen if those little intelligences suddenly stopped obeying God? Could anything get them to revolt?  Well, if the elements decided to stop obeying God, he would cease to be God, wouldn't he? Isn't the fact that he can control all things the very attribute that makes him God?

And what could possibly cause the elements to stop honoring God? We learn in Alma 42:13 that if the work of justice were to be destroyed, “God would cease to be God.” That is, if God were to stop playing fair, the elements would cease to obey him.  The universe demands justice. God must be just; there simply can not be an unjust God.

Well, you can stop holding your breath because the demands of justice have been met. All those tiny intelligences recognized and honored God's sacrifice. So now God can never cease to be God. This is all explained more powerfully in Skousen's talk, which I believe is essential to understanding the theo-cosmology inherent in the restored gospel.

The Tao of Mormonism

What Old Ben Kenobi described as The Force, Joseph Smith referred to as the Holy Spirit. He describes this spirit as not merely the spirit of God. It's more than that; a substance, a light, that reaches throughout space. It is made up of all consciousness. It fills and permeates you and me and all solid matter, and it connects us not only with God, but with each other. In section 88 of the D&C we're taught that this “light” proceeds forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space. It is in all things. It gives life to all things. It is the law by which all things are governed, “even the power of God.” (D&C 88:6-13)

Sounds a lot like The Force, doesn't it?

Joseph Smith did not use the language of science; he had only the vocabulary of his day
to describe the things he was trying to get across. Thus he used the word “intelligence” to describe something we might today call “consciousness.” To describe the spirit, which he tells us is made of matter, but in a finer and more pure form, he uses the word “light.”

In their book, Science and Mormonism, Melvin and Garfield Cook define this light as more than physical light. It could be, they maintain, more accurately called enlightenment. The scriptures, they say, “explain that light, truth, spirit, and enlightenment are all intimately related” and that all consist of a form of matter, or at least intrinsic properties of matter.

In short, the Spirit, this “light,” permeates everything. Absolutely everything, on earth and in space.

As I sit at my desk writing this, my home office is filled with light from outside, yet I can't even see the source of that light. The sun is not directing its rays through my window. I would actually have to get up and go outside and look around in the sky to find out where the source of this light actually is.

This room is filled with light even when I can't tell where that light is coming from. What's more, the room is also filled with air that is apparently sharing the same space as the light. There is no shortage of air just because light is filling the room. The light is not displacing the air. Both light and the air are somehow sharing the same space on a molecular level.  One does not crowd out the other.

Not only that, but the light is somehow coming right through my window, which is supposedly a non-permeable object made of solid rock. At some point that rock had been pulverized to sand, and through some magical process I don't pretend to understand, the sand was heated and converted into a clear substance that, though solid, still allows the light to fully penetrate, day after day, without breaking or even puncturing.

I am intrigued by all this, as I am by the fact that I can hold a strong magnet underneath the table and use it to control a piece of metal on top.  Whatever invisible rays are penetrating the wood are imperceptible, and don't seem to be harming the table. Although benign, it's undeniable that there is some very powerful force at work here.

The Invisible Ether

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of the great scientific minds hypothesized that, in addition to matter and energy, the universe must contain some additional unseen, all-pervading substance. This invisible substance they dubbed Luminiferous Ether. By the mid eighteen hundreds, scientists determined through tests and observation that this ether was, in fact, undeniably real. Ether exhibited all the properties of that which the Prophet Joseph Smith had described as attributes of the spirit. It was believed to fill “the pores of wood, soil, lead, gold, and the human body.” Everything was filled with ether: air, space, you, me, everything.

The eponymous Lord Kelvin, after whom we name measures of heat units, declared, “One thing we are sure of, and that is the reality and substantiality of the luminiferous ether.”
It is something that the planets move through with the greatest ease. It permeates our air; It is matter prodigiously less dense than air -of such density as not to produce the slightest resistance to any body going through it.”
Sounds like spirit matter to me. Or in terms of the Tao: “It is the source of the universe, but it also is the universe.”

The Quantum Revolution

The Ether hypothesis fell out of favor somewhat following Einstein's theory of relativity. Ironic, as Einstein spent the last thirty years of his life attempting to come up with a Unified Theory of the Universe that would explain how everything works together. The old-fashioned theory of the ether, a substance which had been said to permeate everything in the universe, would have fit the bill, but the Ether Hypothesis didn't fit well with Einstein's new gravity-based theory of the universe.

Once it was learned the atom could be split, a whole new scientific discipline was born. Physicists experimenting with matter at the sub-atomic level found that the known laws of physics no longer seemed to apply. The smaller the particle, the less consistently it behaved. In the famous Double Slit Experiment described by theoretical physicist Fred Alan Wolf, electrons behaved as if they had minds of their own; as though they possessed some kind of intelligence. “It was here,” says Dr. Wolf, “That physicists stepped into the strange netherworld of quantum events. What is matter?”

A “quantum” is defined as “the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction.” It is really, really small.

It's just about the smallest thing you can think of. Much smaller than a molecule, way tinier than an atom. The only thing that's smaller than a quantum is a quark.

You can't see either one. The only way we know they exist is...well, we don't know. We can only surmise their existence by observing their effects. We certainly have no way of knowing what either one might look like. It's impossible to build a microscope that can show us.

Considering quarks and quantums from a theological/metaphysical point of view, we might think of a Quantum as “that which acts,” while a Quark might be “that which is acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:14).  In other words, a quantum seems to be a quark with an intelligence attached to it.

This is as good a time as any to admit that I don't really have any idea what I'm talking about here.

At least I'm in good company. Quantum theory is just that: a theory. No one can do anything but hypothesize about how this stuff works or why particles behave the way they do. In the words of Richard Feynman, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics.”

Quantum theory can really take you down the rabbit hole. When you're dealing with matter that seems to have a mind of its own, anything goes. But to the person seeking evidence of the spiritual workings of the universe, quantum mechanics represents a fascinating playground. Here's Brian Greene, author of The Fabric of the Cosmos:

Quantum Mechanics implies that something you do over here can be instantaneously linked to something happening over there, regardless of distance.”

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of RealityBy the nineteen eighties,” says, Greene, “researchers confirmed that there can be an instantaneous bond between what happens at widely separated locations...Long range quantum connections can bypass spatial separation. Two things can be far apart in space, but as far as quantum mechanics is concerned, it's as if they're a single entity.”

Or, to put it in theological terms, The “spirit” of God can be in God, and it can be in you -or, for that matter, you and everybody else- all at the same time. Put another way, you can transmit your love and light to someone from here and that person will receive it over there. Sort of how prayer works, I would think.

Your thoughts are not traveling through empty space, they're traveling through the connective spirit matter (“All spirit is matter,” the Prophet taught, “But it is more fine or pure”). Your thoughts and prayers are conveyed through the spirit ether and are received instantaneously by God, the one you're praying to, as well as to the person you are directing your prayer at.

Quantum Theory appears to be the nexus where science and sprituality can comfortably intersect. Notice I didn't say “science and religion.” Both science and religion are populated by partisans who tend to be rigidly dogmatic, in spite of claims by either side to be involved in the search for truth. (“Don't make the mistake,” cautions physics professor John Hegelin, “of thinking that the scientific community is scientific.”)

Of late, researchers in quantum theory have made dialogue with philosophers and theologians. There is a fascinating film called What The Bleep Do We Know?, which was somewhat of a phenomenon when it came out in 2006. It features interviews with theoretical physicists, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, biochemists, molecular biologists, philosophers, theologians, and at least one 35,000 year old mystic. It is not to be missed. You can see it on YouTube, but I recommend you get the expanded version, which is entitled What the Bleep/Down the Rabbit Hole: Quantum Edition. Where the original film will give you a taste of the metaphysical, the expanded version includes three double-sided DVDs with extended interviews and insights. This is essential viewing if you are at all interested in this kind of stuff.

Another Shot At The Unified Theory Of Everything

Then there is the relatively new subset of particle physics known as String Theory, another attempt at arriving at a Unified Theory of the Universe. Some also see string theory as a viable explanation for the workings of the all-pervasive universal spirit; replacing, in effect, the Ether Hypothesis. 

According to string theorists, all matter is ultimately made up of one-dimensional, sub-atomic oscillating frequencies of energy, or “strings.” According to the theory, when you get down to the smallest quantum bit, there's no solid matter there, only vibrations. Everything in the universe is made up of these vibrations, which can pass through any solid object. Like the mystical ether, these sub-atomic strings fill and permeate you, your furniture, your friends, the rocks and trees, your shoes, socks, and underwear. Everything.

Planets? Yes, everything. The sun? Of course. Everything. Strings permeate and travel through all matter. According to string theorists, these strings are the essence of all matter.

Which makes you wonder why they don't just go back to believing in the ether.

Do we really know these so-called “strings” exist? Not really. According to Andrew Zimmerman Jones, author of String Theory for Dummies, “String theory is a mathematical theory. It's based on mathematical equations that can be interpreted in certain ways.”

Some critics say the math is based on faulty premises, and that the theory is a real stretch. And, let's face it, from the point of view of LDS theo-cosmology, matter can't ultimately end up being just a bunch of empty vibrations. All matter has to ultimately be some thing. (D&C 93:33).

Nevertheless, string theory could possibly explain how everything and everyone is connected with everything and everyone else, and how all of us are connected to God.

However, there is a growing movement in the scientific community that suggests we take a look back at the Ether hypothesis. Rather than developing convoluted mathematical formula that are impossible to test or observe, these maverick scientists are examining the possibility that the workings of the universe can best be understood by the view that we live in a universe based on electro-magnetic activity rather than the common assumption that the universe is gravity-based alone. 

The gravity-based theory of the universe necessitates mathematical formulas that require weirder and weirder assumptions such as the existence of unobservable things such as dark matter and parallel universes. Pretty soon you've got science relying on faith much more than the religionists ever did. Why not, say these dissenters, look at the evidence that makes all the pieces of the puzzle fit together nicely, and provides that elusive Unified Theory of Everthing?

Why The Universe Is A Vast Electric OrganismOne reason the Electro-Magnetic View of the Universe was rarely given serious consideration in mainstream scientific circles was that one of its earliest proponents, George Woodard Warder, tended to publish his findings under such non-scientific sounding titles as “Why The Universe Is A Vast Electric Organism,” “Man Is a Soul Clad in Air: A Spirit In An Electric Organism,” and “Why Love Is the Electric Law Of Life And Why All That Live Must Come From Loving.

Titles like these would be intriguing to theo-philosophers, but they didn't fly with Warder's scientific peers.  Although Warder was not the only advocate of the Electro-Magnetic thesis, he didn't make it easier for those theories to gain traction in the mainstream. The work was ignored without investigation, and Warder dismissed as a kook.  But now his research, and that of other proponents of the electro-magnetic view, are all getting a second look.

It was actually all that high weirdness attendant in quantum physics that got the science guys willing to give this previously abandoned theory of the universe another look-see. After all, solar wind is not really “wind,” but electrical particles in space. So maybe there's something to all this electro-magnetism after all. For those of us interested in the Theo-cosmology of Mormonism, it's another reason to perk up our ears. 

Everything Is Plasma 

If I understand all this correctly (and I'm not saying I do), the electro-magnetic theory maintains that the visible universe consists of 99.999 % cosmic plasma (hint: that's a lot!). Plasma, they say, is the fourth state which matter can attain to (the other three are, of course, solid, liquid, and gas.)

This plasma consists, as far as we can tell, of tiny charged, ionized particles called Neutrinos. Neutrinos are not unknown in quantum physics, but in the electric universe theory they behave a bit differently. According to Wikipedia, a neutrino is “an elementary particle that usually travels close to the speed of light, is electrically neutral, and is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected.”

The difference in neutrinos under the electro-magnetic theory of the universe is that they are not limited by the speed of light. They don't seem to be limited by any field. (Remember Greene's description of something happening in one location immediately having an affect in another?) 

And that invites the question: Could this actually be a more accurate explanation than string theory, and a better description of what nineteenth century scientists referred to as the ether? Here's a description from Dave Talbot and Wallace Thornhill, two of the leading proponents of the electro-magnetic view of the universe today:
"From the smallest particle to the largest galactic formation, a web of electrical circuitry connects and unifies all of nature, organizing galaxies, energizing stars, giving birth to planets and, on our own world, controlling weather and animating biological organisms."
That theory would certainly describe the universe God lives in, where spirit matter permeates every one and every thing.

Perhaps the most prominent champion of this view of the universe as it reflects LDS theology is Anthony Larson, author of “And The Moon Shall Turn to Blood” and several other books of Mormon cosmological exegesis. Brother Larson maintains a fascinating website, Prophecy, Ancient History, and the Restored Gospel. He also conducts regular online seminars which bring together ancient prophecy with ancient mythology, cosmogeny, history, and astronomy, and ties it all in with the teachings of Joseph Smith. I've attended five of these webinars so far and I'll tell you, this stuff is mind-blowing. All the pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place when looked at through the lens of this discipline.

I highly recommend you sign up for the next series of webinars if you are at all interested in a fuller understanding not only of the teachings and prophecies of Joseph Smith, but also of the deeper mysteries of the cosmos. It's all completely consistent with LDS theology, and I guarantee you'll know more than you ever did before about your own religion. If you attend the start of the next series, I'll probably attend again with you, as I really eat this stuff up. (If you can't attend a regularly scheduled class, Anthony will put on a private one-on-one session for you. All you have to do is email him and suggest a time.)

Thought Vibration And The Latter-day Saints

It's pretty apparent from a reading of early church history that the gifts of the spirit were readily apparent in those days and really quite common. Healings were instantaneous, visions were common, and the bond of community among the Saints was both intimate and strong. When the Saints addressed each other as “Brother” and “Sister,” it was not the formality it is today. It reflected a spiritual familiarity.

These days, we Mormons get along fine with each other, and we even have close friends at church, but we don't really see the gifts of the spirit readily apparent among us, at least not like they were in the old days. The experience of being overcome by the spirit is so rare in our meetings, we don't even come to church expecting it anymore.

When we give a blessing of healing to a sick member, we pretty well know from experience that it's going to be a crap shoot. Maybe the healing will take, maybe it won't. Most likely the person gets better after a few days anyway, just as they would have, blessing or not. We often even qualify our blessings by adding words such as “conditional upon your faith” just to let the sick person know that if he doesn't get well, it's not our fault, it's his.

In D&C 130:20-21, we learn that “there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated, and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

This is another one of those scriptures that we all know, but have probably completely missed the meaning of. I think the problem is most of us attribute modern meanings to those words that aren't really there. We take those verses to mean that if we want blessings, we have to be obedient, because God says so. He's the boss, so if you want good things, you better straighten up and fly right.

When we think of "law," we usually think in terms of statutes and ordinances; arbitrary rules made up by men, and which can be changed or altered by political will. But when we're in the arena of God's law, "law" tends to mean something else entirely. We are taught that God commands the elements because he understands the laws of the universe and works with them. He never works against those laws. This definition of “Law” when used in scripture, usually refers to “the way things are.”

A common example of a law of nature is if you were to step off the top of a tall building, your body will travel downwards toward the sidewalk below. That's an example of “the way things are.”

This scripture states that there is a law -simply the way things are- that existed from the beginning. It doesn't say that God decreed it, it just says this is the way things have always been, not just since this world began, but before the very foundations of this world were begun.  So this goes way back to before the beginning. The way things are can't be changed or reversed, not even, presumably, by God. If God could change the way certain things are, those things would not be irrevocable. But this specific law cannot be revoked. It simply is what it is.

So, What Does It Mean?

This scripture tells us that if we want good things to come our way, we have to be obedient to the law. Here again, I think we normally interpret obedience as “doing what we are told.” But instead of thinking of "blessings" coming about as a result of our being “obedient to the law,” it might be more helpful if we think of it as “being in alignment with" the way things are.  Being one, as it were, with the universe.

So this is what I think is being taught here:

There is a way the universe works, and it cannot be changed. This is just the way it is, and here it is: If you want any particular thing to happen, it's absolutely necessary that you are in alignment with the way things are so that what you want to come to pass, can come to pass.”

In other words, like attracts like. Good attracts good. Love attracts love. Fear will bring you more things to be fearful about. Whatever you send forth into the universe, you will call forth more of that back to you. 

It's the law of the universe. And it's the way things are.  

By all accounts, the universe seems to react best to two great expressions: Gratitude, and love. Those who go through life radiating these qualities seem to attract more good things to themselves. Since the great law of God is the commandment to love, If we demonstrate pure, unconditional love to everyone, the gifts of the spirit will flow to us and through us.

I submit that one reason we as Latter-day Saints may be experiencing a dearth of the spirit is because we are failing, on the whole, to hold in our hearts sincere, unconditional love for all our fellow beings.

[What?! Is he crazy?! There is no more loving group of people on the earth than the Mormon people. Everyone knows Mormons love everyone equally. We are the salt of the earth.]

Judgment Call

May I offer a truism? It is not possible to love any person or group of people unconditionally at the same time you are holding them in judgment.

Now, we may not like it, and we may be baffled by the accusation, but the rest of the world sees us as among the most judgmental of all religions.
 
That's how we are perceived, and as the saying goes, perception is reality. A couple of years ago I was visiting in Utah. I had lived there in my twenties from the late 1970's to early '80's. But in the time since I had left and come back, something felt different. Something had changed. I sensed a disturbance in the force.

Under the surface of Utah society I could discern a tacit undercurrent of hostility between the Mormon community and the growing number of their non-Mormon neighbors of an intensity I had no noticed before. Most of this hostility seemed to emanate from non-Mormons, some of who told me they felt the disapproving eyes of the Mormons on them pretty much all the time. They knew they were viewed as lacking and inferior by the members of the dominant religion, and that feeling of disapproval has made many of them bitter and suspicious of Mormons in general.

Now, you may feel you don't have a judgmental bone in your body, and be convinced that whatever problems these people have, it's all in their imaginations because you adhere to the teachings of Christ who taught us to all love one another.  You ignore the problem because you don't think it's about you. 

If  your friends and co-workers were telling you all day that you had a piece of spinach in your teeth, at some point maybe you would want to check yourself in the mirror. If we are perceived as judgmental, it's because many among us are judgmental, whether we want to believe it or not.

8: The Mormon PropositionIf you can view the recent documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition without weeping at how cruelly some of our people are treating their own children, then you are a hard case indeed.  It's one thing to oppose homosexual marriage; it's quite another to put your own child on the street where he is forced to subsist on nothing because you hate who he is.  No matter what side of this volatile issue you fall on, it goes against the spirit to treat those who take a differing position as enemies who must be defeated at all costs.  Administering a gleeful beat-down to your opponent does not contribute to the harmony of the universe.  We as a church and as a people are in serious need of repenting for this ungodly attitude.

I knew of a young couple here in California who began attending services at a local LDS ward for no other reason than they felt the need to start attending a church, and our building was located a few doors down from where they lived. During the break between Sacrament Meeting and Sunday School, they took to going outside for a cigarette, because they were unable to last three hours without smoking. Many of the members, watching them from the foyer inside, were horrified at what they saw.  Didn't those two realize that people in the cars passing by would see them smoking on the front steps of a Mormon Church?!

The couple continued to attend church the following weeks, each Sunday heading out front for a cigarette break between meetings.

Question: How long do you think it was before some well-intentioned member strolled outside and suggested to them that perhaps it would be best if they worked on getting their habit under control before they returned to church again?

I guess that couple never got control of their bad habits, because they never did come back.

I also know of a woman, a one-time neighbor of mine, who was taking the missionary lessons and desired to be baptized. According to Church decree (not revelation, mind you, simply church policy) she could not be baptized because she wasn't married to the man she was living with. Unlike the early LDS church, the modern LDS Church(TM) doesn't recognize common-law marriages, only those marriages sanctioned by the State.

This neighbor, having heard I was LDS, sought me out one day to express her frustration. “All I want,” she told me, “is to be baptized, to show God I am committed to him. I just feel this need, that's all. I don't necessarily want to join your church, or even any church; I just want to be baptized. The missionaries convinced me that it's important and that they are the only ones who have the proper authority to do it, and I want to do it, so I don't understand -why can't I just be baptized?”

I didn't tell her the answer, though I knew it, of course.  It was a judgment call. Like that young couple who smoked, she wasn't good enough for us.  
Oh sure, John the baptist didn't stop to interview those who desired baptism and run through a list of rules for them to commit to, and neither did Alma when he baptized the multitudes at the waters of Mormon. Ditto with Joseph Smith regarding the early nineteenth century converts. The only thing that has ever been required for baptism was a desire to be baptized, to wash away one's sins and take upon one's self the name of Christ.

But things are different in the LDS church today. Unlike most other Christian denominations, when we baptize a person, that baptism comes bundled complete with membership in our particular club. Converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints(TM) don't merely covenant with Christ, they have to be willing to follow the rules of their new Church. Since members are seen by the world as representatives of that entire body, we have to be careful to protect the Church's image. Sinners need not apply.

Who's Being Undoctrinal Here?

The true power of the universe are can only be accessed by those who carry in their hearts an attitude of unconditional love for all mankind. Few of us can completely qualify.  But it is possible to come pretty close.  What that means is simple respect and acceptance of other people and their chosen lifestyles, even though the paths they choose to trod may not resemble that which you would choose for yourself. Many members today never obtain that simple divine quality.

And why would they, when their leaders now dismiss as deceptive and undoctrinal the most divine of all attributes of the Almighty, the doctrine that God's love for his children is unconditional? Such was the news from Apostle Russell Nelson in 2003, when he officially condemned the concept of God's unconditional love as an anti-Christ deception. Here's more from a 2003 Sunstone Magazine News Update:
"Sunstone has learned that the question of whether God's love is unconditional was discussed by the Church's correlation committee five years ago and submitted to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve for direction. The highest governing bodies in the Church replied that God's love is not unconditional, and the expression, “God's unconditional love” has since been eliminated from all official publications.”
This is an astonishing reversal of a well established doctrine. Never mind that a search of officially published Church addresses during the last thirty years alone shows over 840 matches in support of divine unconditional love; the concept has now vanished down the memory holeThat reversal did not come through divine revelation from God, you will note, but as a result of discussion in committee over time. In days gone by, an unprecedented about-face like that would have been considered heresy.  Now it's just Church policy.

Is it any wonder the once prevalent gifts of the spirit are all but absent in the Church today?

The apostle Paul taught that when God's people reject the love of truth, God will send them what they seem to want: stronger delusions to assist them in going along with their comfortable falsehoods. I can't think of a bigger delusion this people engages in than the ongoing belief that the Church is still led by a prophet who receives direct revelation from God, while at the same time they cannot point to a single prophecy or revelation that has been received in their entire lifetimes. 

The Awakening 

At a time when darkness seems poised to envelop the earth we are simultaneously witnessing an amazing spiritual awakening across the land.  More and more people are walking away from structured, organized religions, yet embracing a deeper spirituality that better suits them.  This includes Latter-day Saints who are leaving by the tens of thousands each year because they no longer find in the religion that once nurtured them any compelling reason to stay.  We need not be overly concerned by this. To all those seeking greater spiritual fulfillment than they have been able to find among us, I say, God speed you on your journey.  

Nothing in the teachings of God or Joseph Smith have ever implied that the LDS Church was intended as the final stopping place for truth.  All evidence shows that the doctrines of the restoration were meant to be a starting place, a jumping off point from which God expects us to lift off into greater light and knowledge.  This church is a safe place from which to take our baby steps, but we are not meant to use it as a protective crib that keeps us from seeing beyond.  We can be sustained on milk for only so long.

The myth that nothing is valid unless it is channeled through the proper Church "authorities" is antithetical to the word of God, and it is contrary to wisdom.  I think many disaffected members would continue to embrace the Church if the leadership had not abandoned the metaphysical theology once known and appreciated by the early Saints.  Instead of a religion that expands the senses, a stodgy culture of control seems to have settled on this Church, resulting in an atmosphere that stifles free inquiry rather than celebrating it.

It was not long ago that I read an editorial in the Church News attempting to discourage members from looking to the internet as a source for researching gospel principles.  If research materials for an assigned talk or to teach a lesson are desired, the counsel went, the approved Church manuals contain all the information a person needs. 

The manuals! 

(I knew you wouldn't believe me.  I tried to find that editorial so I could reference it here, but alas, I've been unable to locate it.)

[Update: Eagle-eyed reader "Young Lion" has provided the link to that editorial. Here it is. ]




The Key to the Science of TheologyIn The Key to the Science of Theology, Parley P. Pratt defines "theology" as "the science of all other sciences and useful arts, being in fact the very fountain from which they emanate.  It includes philosophy, astronomy, history, mathematics, geography, languages, the science of letters; and blends the knowledge of all matters of fact, in every branch of art...It includes all that is useful, great, and good; all that is calculated to sustain, comfort, instruct, edify, purify, refine, or exalt intelligences."

If this doesn't sound like the Mormonism you know, if your mind and heart are not being edified, instructed, and exalted by your religion, maybe you're stuck in a brand of "Mormonism" that was never intended by its founder.  Maybe it's time to expand your sources of knowledge beyond that useless, dumbed-down Sunday School manual prepared by the correlation committee that keeps you in a state of perpetual stuckness.

As Joseph Smith said, "We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true 'Mormons.'" (DHC 5:517).

How To Come Out A True Mormon

If you're interested in treasuring up all "the good and true principles" as Joseph Smith advised, I would suggest expanding your consciousness in ways consistent with pure Mormon Theo-cosmology.  I would start with the late Cleon Skousen's The Meaning of the Atonement, which is not only edifying, but Skousen is always a delight to listen to.  You can find it in nine parts on YouTube, or download it here in its entirety

Next, I'd check out Anthony Larson's website: Prophecy, Ancient History, and the Restored Gospel, and schedule an online class at anthonyelarson@gmail.com.  By the time you reach lesson three, it'll blow yer mind, dude.

Don't miss the documentary What The Bleep/Down The Rabbit Hole for a fascinating presentation of quantum theory and thought creation. And again, if you don't watch the three disc, six-sided compilation, you're missing the greater part of the film.  There is also a hardcover book. Keep in mind that not everything I recommend here contains information that I agree with completely or that is all 100% consistent with gospel principles; I make these recommendations because I found much that is of value in them, and I think you may too. Check things out, and decide for yourself  how much of it is of worth to you.

Connie and I have been very much impressed with The Immortal, a book by J.J. Dewey which is framed as fiction but contains more profundities between two covers than anything else I've read in the past twenty years. Three more books follow in the series, each one building on what went before.  Connie and I can't recommend these books highly enough. The information contained in them really resonated with our souls. If you want to be challenged and edified, read all four. You can get the first book for free, or you can download the free Mp3 audio version.

I've found some of Eckhart Tolle's stuff helpful for learning to quiet the mind, which assists me when I wish to ponder things in my heart.  There is a bounty of tools available out there. Look for books that deal with the intersection of Quantum Theory and spiritual consciousness.  Get ahold of those books I mentioned above that deal with Mormon Theo-cosmology, and click on the links I provided to the sites on plasma and spirit. Follow the spirit to see where it leads you. You can type the word "consciousness" into the YouTube search engine and follow the endless number of videos there until your eyes red up. 
 
Don't be afraid to look into unusual claims from unusual sources.  Sometimes that which most resonates with the soul can come to us through the unlikeliest people.  If a book or a video seems at first glance like hippy-dippy new-age nonsense, don't let it scare you off.  Neither should you be intimidated by authorities who counsel you to avoid non-approved sources of information, no matter whether the "authority" comes from the realm of science or from religion. Both are often biased against truth.  Sometimes that which is of greatest value is found not in the comfortable center, but out around the fringes. The spirit within you will confirm whether something is of value or not if you follow the advice of the apostle Paul: investigate everything,and hold fast to that which is good.  The rest you can let go of, and no harm done.


The Brethren Invent A Boogeyman

Not long ago a reader informed me of a letter sent from the First Presidency to all bishops and branch presidents to be read in Sacrament meeting.  The letter warned members that they should not participate in "so-called 'self-awareness' groups sponsored by commercial enterprises that promise heightened self-esteem, improved family relationships, and increased spirituality."

I must say, it takes a lot of chutzpah for an organization that is failing on all those fronts to forbid its members from seeking self-improvement anywhere else. Since the letter did not mention any of these organizations by name, I won't either, but I believe I have an idea who they might be talking about.

The fact is, I'm somewhat familiar with one such organization based in Utah, and I am close friends with many who have participated in it.  Unlike the Brethren, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people running this service.

If I'm right about my suspicions, and I believe I am, the Brethren are approaching this topic from a position of jaw-dropping ignorance.  In the first place, the outfit I'm thinking of does not refer to itself in any way as a "self-awareness" group, nor does it make any such promises as the letter charges.  The program consists of a series of three or more four-day seminars in which participants sometimes re-arrange their chairs to face each other.  Sometimes the seminars run at night.

And that, apparently, is what so alarms the Brethren.  They counsel the members not to participate in programs that run into the night, or require married people to pair off with others of the opposite sex who are not their spouses.

People of the opposite sex not married to each other actually (Gasp!) sitting across from one another in chairs and talking. Goodness Gracious! There could be a danger of the two of them running off to a motel together!  (Never mind each person's spouse is there in the same room, talking with other participants.)  If we all took such ridiculous warnings seriously, we'd have to take our children out of primary when they sit in a circle facing each other.

But here's what I find to be the kicker: the Brethren forbid the members from participating in a forum that "fosters physical contact among participants."  I assume that means no hugging.

It all sounds so frightening the way the letter is worded, but I happen to have many friends who have been through this program.  The husbands were "paired with other partners" (the way the letter puts it sounds so nasty!), the meetings were held at night, and they often fostered physical contact among participants.  Four "graduates" of this program happen to be in my ward here in Sacramento: two couples, husbands and wives.  And they are hands down my favorite people in that ward.

For one thing, while everyone else stands arms distant from me to shake my hand at church, these good people have no reservations about greeting me with a hug.  They also happen to be incredibly spiritual, and deeply devoted to the Christ.  Like other program graduates I know, they are people of honor, integrity, generosity, and light.  These two couples are at church every Sunday, sharing their inner light with the rest of the ward.

The impact of these trainings has been undeniably positive on those who attend.  Invariably Mormons who go through the program emerge as better Mormons, Baptists as better Baptists, and atheists as better...well, actually, atheists who go through the program tend to no longer be atheists by the end of the week.  They are transformed.

That's because this program and others like it that the institutional Church so derides, actually assist people in getting in touch with their spirit selves.  Once people learn to shed their emotional garbage and to align themselves with the spirit, they are never the same again, you can take my word on that. They often "experience the mighty change" our scriptures so often refer to and so few of us ever actually experience.  Too bad the church doesn't offer some kind of "self-awareness" program of its own. It might slow the hemorrhaging of those thousands of new converts who leave the church just months after joining because they find insufficient spiritual sustenance at the meetings.

We like to quote the saying "by their fruits ye shall know them."  Well, Utah is filled with tens of thousands of graduates of this unique program, and their lives testify of the good fruit.  The testimonials from those whose family and personal relationships have improved beyond measure fill page after page on the program's website.  Some of them are, or have been bishops, counselors, Relief Society presidents, and others who hold positions of responsibility in their wards, and they are people who truly know how to shine their light.  Former participants I have talked to scoff at the ignorance displayed in that First Presidency letter.  I can virtually guarantee that no member of the First Presidency that endorsed that letter has ever so much as driven down to see what the program is really all about.  They've likely heard a few rumors, and assumed the worst.  

This is the kind of uninformed scaremongering the corporate Church(TM) refers to as "counsel" these days.  Further proof to me that the leaders of that institution are almost completely lacking in the power of discernment.

But perhaps these bureaucrats are smarter than I give them credit for.  Because for every forty or fifty graduates of the program who return to their wards with renewed vigor, there's one or two who arrive at the conclusion that the Church no longer serves their needs.  They find they have grown past the need for that type of structure in their lives.  And that, I think, is what the leadership really fears. They are threatened by members who are able to change themselves and the world utilizing something other than approved Church programs.

My point in all this is to remind you not to let anyone claim authority over your own search for truth and meaning, even if they hold title and office and station in the Church.  Let the Holy Ghost be your adviser, and no one else.  Otherwise, you could miss out on the experience of your life.

We should never be intimidated away from our personal paths of enlightenment. I find richer counsel from the earlier leaders of this Church than I do from the current crop of flaccid usurpers. A hundred years ago the leadership actively encouraged members to seek for truth no matter the source, as witness this excerpt from the Millennial Star from the year 1901:
"Anything that is true in theology, philosophy, literature, science or art; in any discovery, invention or project, we accept and it blends into the truths of religion which the Lord has revealed in these latter-days, just as separate drops of water unite in one mass as soon as they coalesce. For "Truth is truth where'er 'tis found, on Christian or on heathen ground." There are some great truths in oriental non-Christian religions as well as in the sects that call themselves "Christian." None of these comes into repulsion with the system now revealed from heaven, and which is commonly dubbed "Mormonism" -Millennial Star 63 (August 22, 1901), p. 549-551. 
On the few occasions that Joseph Smith used the word "Mormonism," he usually meant it more as a philosophy than a religion.  "Mormonism" was a way of looking at the world in terms of truth and wisdom and unconditional love. It was an idea put into practice. "One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism," declared Brother Joseph, "is to receive truth; let it come from whence it may."

That's the Mormonism I like.  And that's the Mormonism I miss.