Ambulation in Mosiah 4

May 13, 2004 | 20 comments
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Ambulation in Mosiah 4. Part 1.
King Benjamin has infused his sermons with a theology heavily freighted with corporeal rhetoric. I mean by that, he preaches the gospel of Christ, and living the divine life, by using lots of sensory verbs–seeing, hearing, tasting–and lots of mental operations–believing, knowing, understanding, speaking, asking, rejoicing. He also uses lots of ambulatory verbs: such as walking, standing, running, wandering, falling. Rhetorical ambulation proceeds to itinerancy: travelling a path or taking a journey. I want to explore the significance of the ambulatory and itinerant images. (I haven’t a thesis, only a number of heuristic themes.) So, an informal meditation on a theology of ambulation, in two parts.

Ambulation and Locomotion in Mosiah 4. Part 1.

King Benjamin has infused his sermons with a theology heavily freighted with corporeal rhetoric. I mean by that, he preaches the gospel of Christ, and living the divine life, by using lots of sensory verbs–seeing, hearing, tasting–and lots of mental operations–believing, knowing, understanding, speaking, asking, rejoicing. He also uses lots of ambulatory verbs: verbs such as walking, standing, running, wandering, falling. Rhetorical ambulation proceeds to itinerancy: travelling a path or taking a journey. I want to explore the significance of the ambulatory and itinerant images. (I haven’t a thesis, only a number of heuristic themes.) So, an informal meditation on a theology of ambulation, in two parts.

I. First, the material: some ambulatory passages. K.B. begins his response to the angelic sermon he has just delivered–the first portion was a message given to him by an angel–with the observation–I suppose technically it’s the observation of the editor–that everyone had “fallen to the earth,” though B. remarks they are fallen (a clever move from the spatial to the moral, assuming that reformed Egyptian had the same double sense as English “fallen.” What prostrate “corpse” could deny it is fallen?) As fallen, they could not stand or sit any longer. (Had they been sitting in their tents to hear him, all this time? I can’t imagine that: audio problems, and they wouldn’t have fallen to the earth. I imagine everyone standing around the tower, then prostrated. (In the early church services (I mean really early, 2nd, 3rd, 4th centuries), there were no chairs, nor pews: everyone stood during the service. Even now, if you attend a Grk. Orth. service, plan on standing, for a long time.) B. sees everyone prostrate, and he exploits the proneness for anagogical purposes. They are against the earth, but they’re really lower than the earth, in a state worthless, fallen. At least mud is morally/spiritually neutral, but they are lower. Anyway, they’ve fallen.
4:15 And how to get up, stand up again? Among other things, walk. “walk in the ways of truth.” and teach others to walk in the way of truth.

4:16: “succor those that stand in need of your succor.” Succurro, L. 1. To run.
2. To run to someone’s aid. So, while walking in the truth, be certain to run to the aid of those standing in need. We run to the standing

4:26. If we do the above, and more, we may walk guiltless before God. What else must we do? See comment below.

4: 27. But note that we have to do all the things cited in previous verses “in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength, . . . that thereby he might win the prize, [viz. finish the race first, though first refers to completing the race at all. Everyone finishing, finishes first ]

II. A few specific questions
A. 4:1 fallenness signfies the affect and effect of angelic preaching. Stunned with their guilt, the hearers fall and are prostrate. Assuming that the word has parallel meanings in whatever dialect K.B. uses, K. B. employs their prostration to address their moral condition, their uncompromised unworthiness. But they can stand, and receive a remission of their sins, if they will walk. Fallenness, then, signfies knowledge of sin, and sin itself.

B. 1. 15: What does that mean, “walking in the ways of truth and soberness?” Drunks stagger, and sober people, who are just, walk straight and strait. King B. likes appositive lists. That is, lists which amplify and clarify what he has already enjoined. So, walking in truth and soberness means we must “teach children [and so act ourselves] to love one another, and to serve one another.” Servers are servants like waiters, butlers, cooks, gardeners, slaves. Walking in the ways of truth, then, means teaching others to love and to serve. And surely, loving and serving ourselves. This walking follows the remission of sins.
Walking, then, for Benjamin signifies loving and serving.

“Walking in the way.” Lets cheat a little here and say that “way” signifies Grk. hodos, or Christ. It’s a good tropological anachronism. Christ is the “via,” the “hodos,” the path, and his paths are strait too. Only the sober can walk them. He makes the crooked straight, and strait, the rough places plain. And what was Christ but a servant, a lover, a teacher, who walked his entire life? So, those who walk in the way, follow him. (If they hold to the rod.)

2. Also, walking in the way when means running to the aid of others. See C. 16.

C: 16: succurro, to run to the aid of someone. How do we succor? Again, Benjamin lists appositives: run to those who stand in need. Administer of your substance to the one that standeth in need. Not simply give, but administer: manage, thoughtfully dispense. Do not suffer the beggar to put up his petition to you, in vain, or turn him out.
Notice that we run: without hesitation, quickly, deliberately, with direction and concentration. The runner is anxious to complete the task. Imagine running to help a member of your family who is in trouble. Succor implies an anxiety to help. “I will not have peace until you are healed.”
To succor signifies swiftness in charity, determination to aid, a certain moral velocity. It signfies spiritual advancement, spiritual acceleration. The sermon ends with an allusion to those who run the race successfully, achieiving salvation. This running is a succoring.

D. 26. How to walk guiltless. Well, run to those in need. And B. exhorts them again to impart substance, if they wish to walk guiltless. They must administer to one another’s relief, temporally and spiritually. Benjamin is focused, relentlessly emphasizes imparting substance. Here he includes spiritual substance.
Walking guiltless is synonymous with “retaining a remission of our sins from day to day.” How to secure that perpetual remission? B. discusses this at length in verses 9-12. There he concludes with a marvelous image–it seems almost Protestant in one sense. “And behold if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins.” What is Protestant in flavor, is the notion that one sense of forgiveness, is not the happy terminus of some concrete procedure, but rather a continual spiritual, soteriological condition. That is, some persons are perpetually, always already forgiven, without the four “R”s of repentance. This condition is the topic of another enquiry.
In Vs13, B. quotes the ancient criterion of righteous conduct (justice), “to render to every man according to that which is his due.” But he cleverly re-calibrates what “dueness” means. His recalibratiion seems much closer to a concept of mercy. Vs. 17 clearly warns the agent, “do not think of justice when giving aid, since such a thought says “this man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, so that he will learn that conduct has consequences, just as effects have causes. I will not rob nature of its pedagogy. Imprudent conduct has its just punishments, which must not be interrupted by sentimental interference, for nature must teach us to behave carefully. Those who do not learn this lesson become a burden. This man’s imprudence has led, quite properly, to his poverty. He has his due.” Justice, in K. B’s understanding, seems to me quite contrary to the “proper disposition of goods based upon ownership and debt.” Indeed, it seems K.B. doesn’t recognize fully property rights, if all our substance belongs to God. Or if K..B.’s view is one of giving to someone what he deserves, what one deserves is very much more complicated than what we would take it to be. That is, a second way of thinking through “dueness” is that everyone is due what God is due, in part: complete devotion, love, concern. Thus, whatever deficiency we find in another, justice demands we take steps to perfect. Or, so long as we have received mercy ourselves, or are in debt to God, so justice demands we secure the well-being of others. Their due is calculated by our debt. No one has not received grace, perpetually. This debt obligates us to give to others, until the debt is paid. Of course, this debt will never be paid. Thus, rendering substance is determined by self-examination, rather than analyzing the condition of the one before us. This is the calculation of “giving others their due.” “So long as I am in debt, you are due.” In this view, those before us in need, so to speak, hold the lien. This is another respect in which our posture towards others is like that to God. God has put us in His debt, but also in the debt of those in need. That is, we are obligated to them as well as to God.

K.B. ought not to have employed the phrase “walk guiltless” because it decelerates the rhetoric of succor, and interrupts the conclusion, “running in moderation.” It appears to be an error of arrangement. Of course, we should retract this criticism if the angel told him to use the phrase, in the place he did. We should regard angels as good rhetoricians.

Notice also, that K. B. speaks of imparting spiritual substance. Any spiritual gift given us, is not owned by us, and is given for the benefit of others. That is, the purpose of the gift of prophecy, is to aid others. It is vain to keep it. Spiritual gifts are given for the beneift of others, and so must be given away. Spiritual gifts have also a unique feature: the more they are given away, the more we receive in turn. K.B. may think of material substance in the same fashion as spiritual substance.

E. 27. “in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength, . . . that thereby he might win the prize, [viz. finish the race first, though first refers to completing the race at all.] B. implies all must run, but no one should run too quickly, or unpaced. He refers specifically to the performance of good deeds. A thoughtless, disordered frenetic rush to do good, is destructive. Such conduct is foolish; it exhausts itself, and one cannot not only not succor, but cannot even walk in truth and soberness. Zeniff and Limhi sent out expeditions, too quickly, too zealously, and they ran into trouble. (The Willie and Martin handcart companies too? Undisciplined desire to inhabit Zion led to disordered conduct, and unnecessary death.) Wisdom is synonymous with order, in many medieval religious texts, e.g. St. Augustine’s “De Ordine.” Orderly means not just lined up, or without commotion, but with structure, purpose, and to be fitting.
Nevertheless, running with moderation is coupled with “completing the race” which signifies the achievement of salvation. The runner completes successfully mortal probation, the race, the itinerary, and is greeted with the prize.
As noted above, this running of the race is a succorring.

End part 1: K. B. unfolds a view of the divine life, by employing a rhetoric of ambulation. It begins with an observation on the physical posture of his audience, prostrate and fallen. The sermon moves to walking, then to running with discipline and diligence. Each verb has theological import. Falleness for unworthiness (at least in English). He uses their literal posture to make a figurative, anagogical point: they are without exception, completely unworthy.
Walking soberly signifies teaching, loving, serving. Succor signfies quickness in charity, or spiritual acceleration, perhaps. Running with moderation signfies salvation itself, completing the race.

In part 2 we ask the general question of why he would use such rhetoric, and the larger theological significance. The ambulatory rhetoric would be particularly forceful to a people whose history is itinerant. It would evoke important Old Testament themes, and foreshadow New Testament themes–Christ as the way. The Dominican order included vows of walking and begging. They are a mendicant order, an order of beggars, preachers, and walkers. (Thomas Aquinas walked from Paris to Rome, and south of Rome, dozens of times.)

Part 2: The general questions.

I. General questions: why the falling/walking/running/standing/wandering/racing themes? Theological implications?

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20 Responses to Ambulation in Mosiah 4

  1. Grasshopper on May 13, 2004 at 10:53 pm

    fix bug

  2. Jim F. on May 14, 2004 at 12:12 am

    I’m going to have to think about this excursion a bit, but in the mean time: In the Septuagint “hodos” (“way”) usually translates “derek” (pardon my poor transliteration), and it seems to have a breadth of meaning si ilar to that of “hodos.” So your trope may be less anachronistic than you suggest.

  3. james siebach on May 14, 2004 at 12:24 am

    JF: You’re quite right that the Hebrew, and Pentateuch images, will be closer to whatever K.B. conceives. I only meant that Christ as hodos would, ordinarily be anachronistic, but a tropologically proper figurative interpretation. Then again, it’s not as if K.B. doesn’t have a clear view of Christ’s life. Whether he would think of it as a particular way, in the sense of a walking or a path, is less clear. Then again, why not? It seems BofM prophets have a remarkable Christian anticipation. Why wouldn’t a large gospel (New Test.) vocabulary appear in that description?

  4. Jim F. on May 14, 2004 at 12:31 am

    Agreed on both points: (1) King Benjamin’s language fits with Hebrew images and language, and (2) even if it does not, the Christian imagery is likely to be appropriate, given Book of Mormon prophets’ understanding of Christ.

  5. lyle on May 14, 2004 at 12:56 am

    I’m not a farmer/do manual labor with my hands; but King Benjamin apparently did. Seems natural that he would talk about action/movement/work, kinda like a folksy farmer?

  6. Frank McIntyre on May 14, 2004 at 10:44 am

    Has the rest of Part 2 been lost to the clouds of ether(net)? Or is it being purposefully withheld for now in order that we may learn line-upon-line?

  7. Frank McIntyre on May 14, 2004 at 11:20 am

    Your comments on giving others their “due” are interesting in how Benjamin mutates the definition of due given our status before God. So Benjamin answers Ayn Rand, 2100 years ahead of time.

    “Indeed, it seems K.B. doesn’t recognize fully property rights, if all our substance belongs to God.”

    In one sense this is absolutely right. Benjamin works very hard to dissuade his audience of their ownership over anything, even themselves. Thus Corinthians 6:20 would fit in very nicely to the sermon, though it’s contextual point was somewhat different: “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

    In another sense, Benjamin sees all that God has given you, not as a property right against God, but as an important stewardship before Him, for which you are personally accountable. How one’s things ans talents are used in the succor and benefit of others is an important part of how we are to be judged. If we hold them to ourselves and “bury the talent”, we will lose at the last day. But if we are free with our substance and gifts we will be rewarded. Note how, when he refers to the poor who cannot give because they have not, he clarifies that what really matters is the internal disposition that leads to the giving. Thus we are worthy of being sanctified by Christ, by the action and feelings that accompany administering to the poor.

    Why does this distinction matter? Well, if Benjamin’s point is that the poor must be fed, and so you have no right to your excess possessions, then the right thing to do is to tax (or steal) those things from they who have them, to give to those that don’t. And yet, God could have done this from the beginning, if that were His desire. Benjamin’s extensive linking of our decision to serve others with our sanctification suggests that a very important goal of giving is to sanctify ourselves and make us more like God, so that He can save us. In such a view, charitable giving is about salvation of the giver. This purpose is thwarted if one takes from the rich to give to the poor—in that one is giving not of oneself, but of someone else’s. The giver has been deprived of the stewardship and decision to give and thus is not made more holy and more like God. The belly is fed, but the change of heart is unaccomplished.

    Thus I think aiding the poor is a responsibility we have with our stewardship, but am somewhat repulsed by attempts to adminster this giving through compulsory taxation. This removes us personally from the administration of the aid and robs us of the choice to use those funds righteously. Those funds may feed bellies, but they don’t measure up to Benjamin’s call for giving. Likewise, I don’t think I am sanctified by voting to take away someone else’s money and give it to a poorer person.

    This relates to a fine quote by a Prophet of the Church (though the subject in that case was different), “I think you are a very generous man with someone else’s property”

  8. Nate Oman on May 14, 2004 at 11:35 am

    Jim S.: I think that saying “Indeed, it seems K.B. doesn’t recognize fully property rights, if all our substance belongs to God.” goes a bit too far. It assumes that property rights means only something like Lockean property rights, ie property implies a single owner who has complete dominion over something both in fact and as a matter of moral entitlement. However, there are lots of other theories of property, all of which involve having some kind of rights in the thing. Consider:

    1. We understand property as a set of rules designed to solve problems of production and distribution in such a way as to increase aggregate prosperity. This theory doesn’t imply anything absolute about property rights, but rather sees them as purely insturmental means for achieving some other goal.

    2. We understand property as a nexus of social righs and obligations. For example, under feudalism one’s duties vis-a-vis vassals and lords as well as one’s rights vis-a-vis vassals and lords were defined in terms of how one owned land. Furthermore, these rights and duties have very little to do with the Lockean ideas of dominion, right of exclusion, etc. Rather, they included things like rights of support and protection and duties of service and protection.

    Niether 1 nor 2 implies that there are no property rights, it simply means that those rights must be conceptualized differently than are Lockean rights. The problem is that if we read K.B. as simply dissing the idea of property or property rights is that we miss out on all of the fun questions, namely what kind of a concept of property is he proposing.

  9. james siebach on May 14, 2004 at 12:16 pm

    Gratias tibi, frank and nate. Both very helpful comments: Phil. 201 has been of inestimable value, I see. I meant to give two possible views of substance and ownership. One: we don’t really own anything in a narrow sense of property. Or what we do own is of pathetically miniscule worth, given our debts. I agree with Nate that there are problems pushing this view. It would seem that giving up something wouldn’t be a charitable act, for example. Or, there would be no distinction between me giving up a buck or two in my pocket, when I could reach into some hotshot Harvard lawyer’s pocket. No one has his or her own pocket. (Few teenagers don’t consider all pockets their own.) So, F.M. is exactly right to worry about coercion. So, the first view is something like, what we have isn’t strictly ours–Let N.O. figure out how it is ours–we only have some sort of temporary stewardship over it. We cannot rightly withhold it. Property is given to us, in whatever sense we have it, for the benefit of others. (I hesistate to elide the distinction between persons who work for what they receive and those who do not. Let N.O. work this out too.) I also want to preserve the deep moral pleasure which comes from working hard for a reward, and then sharing that reward with others, whether family or friends or those in need.

    The second view is that we do own property but so long as others suffer more than we, and we have means to heal them, and we find ourselves in debt to God–certain N.T. parables present this view–we have obligations to them. I modified this view somewhat by returning the focus, partially to the agent. So long as I am in debt, I must give to others.
    Obviously, it is difficult to reconstruct K.B.’s view, since we haven’t sufficient information.
    At any rate, our relation to God and Christ informs the way we must think about dispensing our property.
    One last question: is the “ownership” of spiritual gifts, which, given for the benefit of all, and which increase in the giver, when given freely, by God’s grace, properly serve as a model for administering material substance?
    I ask this question, in part, because toying with property rights can quickly have very destructive consequences. Again, like Frank, I can easily see a theoretical, theological view of property and obligation generating political coercion.

  10. Jim F. on May 14, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    Just the beginning of a response and, so, something completely obvious: the language of ambulation fits perfectly with the notion that there is a way into which we must enter and upon which we must proceed. The first theological implication I see is the one I see everywhere: the Gospel is a way of being–a set of practices, a life–rather than a set of beliefs. We must _come_ to Christ, proceed along the way to him who is the Way. Our lives must be oriented to him so that he can orient us to exaltation.

  11. james siebach on May 14, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    The language of ambulation, as jim f suggests, will follow from our materiality, both corporeal and spiritual. It follows too, from our conception of the Trinity as corporeal. Jim F. and I argue sometimes about whether practices are seperable from beliefs. I think we agree that the Gospel is a set of practices. I disagree that the gospel is this “rather than a set of beliefs.” We have bodies, in part, so as to form certain kinds of, and certain beliefs.
    Wisdom, phronesis, is a set of belief-informed practices, and practice iformed beliefs. What people do, is informed by, and informs what they believe. Habits construct beliefs and vice-versa. Often, what I do generates beliefs in me, and habituated deeds, sets of beliefs. This mechanism is natural.
    King B. insists that perpetual forgiveness follows, if I may use this awkward oxymoron, doxastic practices. He presents a creed, a set of beliefs, which I wish we would recite together every Sunday. “Believe: 1. in God; 2. that He is; 3. that he created EVERYTHING; 4. that he has all wisdom (omniscient?); 5 that he has all power (omnipotent?); 6. that man doth not comprhend all the things which the Lord can comprehend; 7. that we must repent of our sins; 8. that we must forsake our sins; 9.that we must humble ourselves before God; etc.” The thought of 10 million Latter-day Saints reciting this simultaneously, or roughly so, gives me warm fuzzies. (Distinct from Mt. Dew fuzzies.)
    Our bodies inhabit our spirits. This materiality implies, for me, a kind of union between conduct and belief. I call that union phronetic: wise conduct. We are given bodies, in part, so that we can form beliefs.
    I think, Jim F., you will agree with most of this. Where do we differ?

  12. Grasshopper on May 14, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    It is interesting to me that scripturally, those who follow King Benjamin’s counsel are spoken of as “walking with God.” This suggests to me, in connection with Jim S.’s point about our conception of God as corporeal, that God also walks in the ways K.B. describes. And as our bodies are the temple of our spirits, they should also be the temple of God, so that our ways become his ways — God walks in us. When we follow him he is with(in) us. (And this is reflected in our receiving his name.)

  13. Jim F. on May 14, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    Jim S: had I said _merely_ a set of beliefs would that have assuaged your concern about my claim? If so, then I hereby insert “merely” into my previous post, and we do, indeed, agree on almost every point.

    But I don’t see King Benjamin presenting a creed. I see him giving them things they must _do_: “believe” is an imperative commanding an action. That action has a belief content–no surprise–but its importance is as an action rather than as a content.

    Those on the list who are not philosophers will see that we are quibbling over semantic points. Welcome to philosophy.

  14. Jim F. on May 14, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    Another tack (rather than an attack): couldn’t we summarize Mosiah 4:6-10 as “submit to God”? If so, then verse 11 says “If you have submitted to God, continue to do so.” Verse 12 begins a series of promises (consequences) that follow from that submission: (12) you will rejoice and be filled with God’s love; you will retain a remission of sins; you will grow in the knowledge (acquaintance?) of God, in other words, of what is just and true; (13) you will live peaceably with one another, giving to each his due; (14-15) you will care for and discipline your children; (16-26) you will succor those in need; (28) you will return what you borrow.

    Of course there are beliefs associated with each of these things: I cannot submit to God if I do not, in some sense or another, hold some correct beliefs about his power and mine; I cannot help those in need if I do not believe that they are in need, and so on. But the demand King Benjamin describes is for an act—submission—and the results of that act are not couched in terms of belief.

    Suppose, as is the case, there is a man in my ward who objects to Benjamin’s claim that we are nothing, worthless, and fallen (verse 5). He finds that teaching offensive and rejects it. In spite of that, it seems to all who know him that he is devoted to God and to serving as he is called to serve. He believes that God is good, he lives a life consecrated to doing that which God would have him do, and he believes that he can only do what he does because God gives him the power to do so. We might say that the man has confused beliefs, an explicit belief that he is not nothing (in King Benjamin’s sense) and an implicit belief that he is. But I don’t think we could describe him as having correct beliefs, beliefs in accord with King Benjamin’s teaching.

    In spite of that lack of correct belief, this man seems to be exactly the kind of person of whom King Benjamin is speaking when he speaks of someone who knows the glory of God, has received a remission of his sins, and continues to live a life of remitted sin. This man walks in the way of the Lord though he does not have concepts that fit well with his walk. He seems to me to be the case that demonstrates that the way is way of life rather than merely a set of beliefs.

    I doubt that you disagree with my evaluation of this person’s character, but we may disagree about the philosophical import of the example.

  15. Adam Greenwood on May 14, 2004 at 6:01 pm

    I note that all of King Benjamin’s action words–walking, running, standing–refer to repetitive, habitual actions that can proceed without constant attention to the details. Even standing, requiring continuous minute adjustments, is really a series of ‘stands’ in the way that running and walking are a series of strides. Falling or fallen is the only verb you cite that isn’t habitual (albeit intentional) action, but it is associated with guilt and is not enjoined by King Benjamin. Even the ‘don’t run faster than you have strength’ injunction points to the necessity of the ceaseless repetition of the activity. Running now doesn’t matter if you can’t keep it up.

    Apparently truth and service are to be so ingrained that we won’t have to think about them when we do them. I wonder if the idea of ingrained action sheds some light on what it is to be divine–it is neither a static state of ideal being nor constant choice and reevaluation.

  16. Dan M. on May 14, 2004 at 8:43 pm

    Aren’t ethics supposed to be more than a few sporatic benevolent acts; but, rather a pattern of behavior that underlies and influences all of the decisions a person makes throughout their life?

    When I think of charity and brotherly love I don’t think of someone constantly trying to force himself to love his fellow man. As our relationship with the Lord gets more and more intimate His spirit changes our desires (Mosiah 5:2) and our heart literally turns to Him. At this point we are no longer led by our carnal natures, but by the Spirit of the Lord. We have no need to think about the right thing to do because our heart is in tune with the Spirit; and He inspires us. This, for me, is being perfect in Christ.

    My mission president told me chapter two of Mosiah was how to turn church members into servants, and three was about how to turn servants into saints. Each and every one of them had to be broken down and spiritually put back together. Only in this state of mind is the saint prepared to receive the atonement in his heart.

    The word atonement is often defined as at-one-ment. As accurate as that is, it does not convey all that this word holds. It literally refers to an intimate embrace – a hug, if you will. In Arabic the term refers to covering with a robe or garment. It was often used in reference to a fugitive finding sanctuary under the protection of a shiek. He would cover him with his robe and pronounce him under his protection. The Egyptian heiroglyph for “atonement” is a torso with outstretched arms. 2 Nephi 1:15 “I am circled about eternally in the arms of His love.” 2 Nephi 4:33 “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!” Joseph Smith had a pretty comprehensive understanding of the etymology of the word atonement!

    This state of one-ness with Christ is our goal here on earth. Christ prays in His intercessory prayer that we become one with HIm as He is one with Father. As the atonement is applied our hearts become one with His and our will becomes His at that point we no longer have to worry about making the right decision, for the Spirit of the Lord will show you “all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5)

    Hey Jim, Anna says hi.

  17. jim siebach on May 15, 2004 at 12:04 am

    Thanks to all, for helpful comments. I’ll get to them ASAP. A question or two for Jim F. Jim, we are speaking past one another, I think. I agree with your interpretation of Mosiah 4:11 ff. We disagree, it seems, about the extent to which K.B. is demanding certain beliefs as well as a certain kind of conduct. Even if K.B. bids us to submit to God, the purpose behind 4:6-10, that submission clearly has a belief-component. And to be sure, consequnces follow if we do submit. We act in certain ways, and are able to act in certain ways. But that conduct presupposes right belief, right understanding of God, to the extent possible, including holding this belief: we do not know everything God knows. Such a belief manifests itself both in conduct and in understanding: at least is may. It seems to me obvious that, on many occasions, belief informs practice, and it is crucial, therefore, that our beliefs be true.
    (You’re not denying this belief, are you?)

    Clearly, the introduction of the word “merely,” in your original remark, does help me see what you’re saying. And I would agree with you if someone said, true Christian living is really a matter of holding certain beliefs, regardless of conduct.

    Now, with respect to living the Gospel, what does denying the relevance of holding beliefs, or, if not denying, de-emphasizing the importance of beliefs, get you? It is true that K.B. tells us to believe and that the verb is in the imperative mood. But K.B. could easily ask us, perhaps after the benediction, if we have the belief that . . . etc. He could also ask us if we have humbled ourselves, or if we have administered our substance. In other words, it is quite useful to distinguish between belief and practice. If you wish to call beliefs, covert mental acts, then let us distinguish between mental acts and physical ones. The distinction is useful.
    It is also useful to see the intersection between the two, and to diminish the distinction as much as necessary, if it obscures something about the nature of the Gospel life. Jesus enquired quite often as to a person’s belief. “Whom do you say that I am?” Indeed, Jesus’ frustration with the apostles, occasionally, is that they fail to understand who he is. Their beliefs are imperfect. On other occasions, they fail to act properly.
    One can fail to act in certain ways, in spite of one’s beliefs.

    So, I’m prepared to believe you, if you’ll show me what “work” or what insight, I gain from the elimination of important beliefs, or the reduction of all belief to practice, or the de-emphasis of belief, to living the Christian life.

    Thanks again for the observations. I’ll post something more tomorrow.

  18. Ben Huff on May 15, 2004 at 2:16 am

    I want to walk from Paris to Rome!!! Yummy!

    Some day when philosophy really is a leisure activity, and I can make the trip in the manner of the Peripatetics!

  19. Mark Butler on May 15, 2004 at 6:53 pm

    Dan M. has mentioned one mode of a key scriptural paradox, used by the Savior himself in the intercessory prayer and in the book of Revelations (Rev 3:21), as well as by King Benjamin (Mosiah 5:7), and no doubt elsewhere. In this mode, hereinafter mode one, The Son becomes our Father, and we his children, spiritually begotten sons and daughters unto him, taking upon ourselves his name. Christ is the ultimate mediator, deserving of our direct worship in relative preference to the Father.

    Mode two is Christ as perfect examplar. In this mode the Son teaches us how to relate to the Father by following his perfect example. The Father places upon us the name of Christ, making us joint heirs with his Son. We pray to the Father, not through Christ, but in the name of Christ. Christ apologizes to the Father when we attempt to worship, or pray to him directly.

    Which mode is more accurate? I am inclined to say mode two, as a matter of practice. Prayer is fundamental. Mode one is considered a bit of a heresy in the Church, at least since an unusually sharply worded talk on the subject Elder McConkie delivered at BYU in 1982 or thereabouts – Elder McConkie said in no uncertain terms that we should focus on building a personal relationship with the Father rather than with his Son.

    But Jesus Christ surely intended to teach us something about the order of heaven with the mode one scriptures, even if they do not directly govern our relationship with him.

    Has there been a change or softening of this quasi-doctrine since 1982?

  20. Jim F. on May 18, 2004 at 3:37 pm

    Sorry to have taken so long to respond. I’ve been taking care of quotidian matters for several _dies_. Jim S. asks what work my insistence on practice and beliefs as practices does that needs to be done. In many ways, not much. For most practical purposes, it is equally good to speak of beliefs and practices as separate as it is to speak of them as the same and, since we already speak of them as separate, I’m happy to stick with common usage.

    Nevertheless, it seems to me that the philosophical difference is important. For example, I think that the separation of belief and practice and the emphasis on the former is one of the effects of believing that the spirit is immaterial and the body is not, and that immaterial existence is superior to bodily existence. I suspect that traditional doctrine about the spirit and the body and their relation has effects on the way we live the Gospel, so–presumably–an emphasis on practices rather than beliefs would have different effects. (As you can see, my argument for emphasizing practice includes the belief that beliefs have effects on practices.)

    In my experience, it isn’t uncommon for young Saints to be too concerned about their beliefs and insufficiently concerned about their practices. For example, as I interviewed new missionaries some years ago, I often found them worried that they didn’t have a testimony because they hadn’t had doubts that were then overcome. They would say something like “I’ve never questioned whether the Church is true, so perhaps I don’t know whether I have a testimony.” There are several things going on in that kind of worry, but among them: by focusing on the status of their beliefs, they came to believe that they might not have testimonies. It seems to me that understanding beliefs as practices that are part of more encompassing practices would perhaps ameliorate some such difficulties. You are right, of course, that one can fail to act in certain ways, in spite of one’s beliefs. But one can fail to believe in certain ways in spite of one’s acts. And the first failure is, I think, usually a greater failure than the second. I take that as additional evidence that practices are fundamental.

    As Adam pointed out, thought and reflection are is not necessarily good things; as you know better than I, Aristotle’s argument is that morality is found in habit. Surely religion is the broader category within which we find morality, and I think that it, too, is primarily a matter of habit. If we are to avoid dividing beliefs from practices ontologically, and I think we should, then it makes sense to speak of beliefs as acts, or–better in my estimation–as practices.

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Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.