An Addendum

June 7, 2004 | 7 comments
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After I wrote my earlier post, I realized I should have been more precise about something. I know that all orthodox faiths place limits on philosophical reflection. For example, an orthodox Catholic is not free to speculate about whether God is Trinity or whether abortion is actually a virtue. But I was trying to point to a substantive difference between all other Christian sects and Mormons in this regard: the Mormon limitation seem to be more primary (or radical) in that it demands that believers resist fundamental tendencies of Western thought that go all the way back to the Greeks — and that are considered to be indistinguishable from common sense for Catholics and most Protestants today and quite possibly have been since the second or third century.

Hence their postmodernism — or rather their attempt to fashion a genuine, stark alternative to the fundamentally Athenian character of Western thought, whether secular or religious.
That’s it for now. More tomorrow.

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7 Responses to An Addendum

  1. Jim F. on June 8, 2004 at 2:25 am

    Though I think postmodern thinkers can help Latter-day Saints think about theological issues (using the term “theological” broadly), I don’t think it is reasonable to believe that we can create a “genuine, stark alternative to the fundamentally Athenian character of Western thought.” I don’t think that is the goal of thinkers such as Heidegger, Ricoeur, Levinas, Derrida, or Marion. In fact, each of them recognizes, sometimes explicitly, the Greek character of philosophy. Levinas said that he was aiming for a thinking that brought together the Bible and the Greeks. I think that would more accurately explain something like the reasons that LDS thinkers find pomo useful in thinking about God: they are looking for a way to use philosophy, an inheritance from a variety of Greeks, to think about things that cannot be captured by philosophical categories.

  2. Jim F. on June 8, 2004 at 2:30 am

    Of course, as soon as I hit the post button, I realized I’d not copied everything into the window. I really ought to use the preview button once in a while. So, here’s the rest:

    Nevertheless, I think you are on to something when you say that the LDS Church “demands that believers resist fundamental tendencies of Western thought that go all the way back to the Greeks — and that are considered to be indistinguishable from common sense for Catholics and most Protestants today and quite possibly have been since the second or third century.” I think it is right to say that resistance has a great deal to do with why LDS thinkers find postmodernism and other non-standard philosophies (e.g., beside postmodernism, that of Peirce or Whitehead) interesting and helpful.

  3. Russell Arben Fox on June 8, 2004 at 3:22 am

    Jim, you say that you think Damon is “on to something when you say that the LDS Church ‘demands that believers resist fundamental tendencies of Western thought that go all the way back to the Greeks — and that are considered to be indistinguishable from common sense for Catholics and most Protestants today and quite possibly have been since the second or third century.'” Can you speculate as to the content of that “something”? Is it a matter of our theological conception of the God we relate to–the conviction that, for example, avoiding entanglements with doctrines of omnipotence and disembodiment (as traditionally understood) will allow us a fuller conception of how one may be God’s servant, etc.? Frankly, I’m doubtful (though obviously I haven’t thought through the issue that way you and many others have; for all I know, the argument about the substantiality and physical particularity of God really is fundamental to being able to properly worship Him).

    Of course, since I’m bothering to write this I’ll throw out my own ill-formed thoughts. Lately (and this is a line of thought prompted mainly by my engagement with Terryl Givens and his notion of “dialogical revelation”) I’ve been wondering if, assuming that there really is “something” about the philosophical roots of modernism that Mormonism eschews, it might mostly be a matter of how our sense of the world is shaped by canonicity, scripture, revelation, and consequently how we conceive of our own “secular” sociality and community. Your own work on community factors in here. The Christian tradition has always (despite important variations between Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and mainline Protestantism), with certain temporary exceptions, assumed that any instantiation of the Holy Spirit in our lives through the reception of God’s word did not involve any fundamental transformation of the world. God’s entrance into our lives is to be contained (through a host, a canon, an ordinance, etc.), as are we: we are positioned and tensed in an in-between state, with God being an ideal outside time that some holy individuals can aspire to but which essentially can serve only as a rebuke or call or reminder to most of us in the “real” world. This is just as well, since Christian history is loaded with attempts by various prophets and visionaries to make God “real” in everyday society via some utopian or eschatological program, and the result has practically always been antinomian violence. Thus there seemed to be an either/or choice; transcendence and secularity didn’t mix. Perhaps the greatest challenge to this presumption (whether it is a “postmodern” challenge or not isn’t something I’m sure of) is the Book of Mormon, and the Mormon idea that revelation is both personal and tangible (yep, it’s sitting right there on the shelf), something that you can talk about and through as part of the secular world: that revelation and the coming forth of scripture is “ordinary,” in the sense that there is a real (social, secular) order to it. Of course, millions of believers already treat the Bible this way, but it doesn’t function that way, so far as I know, on a doctrinal level in any current Christian church–except, just maybe, our own.

  4. lyle on June 8, 2004 at 9:24 am

    re: “attempt to fashion a genuine, stark alternative to the fundamentally Athenian character of Western thought”

    Jim/all: Why not? If the Restored Gospel is the Gospel (i.e. somehow true & outside the historical concepts of the time, i.e. let’s reject _new_ mormon history), then…

    why wouldn’t “mormon” thought be distinctive from Athenian or any other type of “thought”; whether western or not?

  5. Jim F. on June 8, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    Russell: I apologize in advance, but it’s going to be at least tomorrow before I can catch up with all of the good questions you’ve raised on Damon’s previous post and this one.

    Lyle: The short answer is that LDS thought, like any other thought, can be different but it is unlikely (impossible?) for it to be radically different as long as, as it must, it relies on the thoughts of those who’ve come before it. One of my reasons for finding the popular interpretation of postmodernism silly is that it assumes that a radical break in thought is possible. I don’t think it is.

  6. Aaron Brown on June 9, 2004 at 3:00 am

    Jim said:
    “I think that would more accurately explain something like the reasons that LDS thinkers find pomo useful in thinking about God.”

    Having just realized that “pomo” is short for postmodernism (rather than a spelling error), I can now relax and stop racking my brain over why Jim Faulconer would posit the relevance of “porno” to LDS thoughts about God. (I was literally staring at the screen incredulously for a minute…)

    Aaron B

  7. Jim F. on June 10, 2004 at 2:27 pm

    Aaron: wow! I hadn’t seen the “porno” in “pomo” until just now, but they do like quite similar on the screen. I think I’ll at least insert a hyphen in the future: “po-mo.” Or maybe I’ll just use the full term. Or, since I don’t like the term “postmodernism” very much anyway, I’ll use some better term, such as “post-Nietzschean.” Thanks.