The Anarchy of Revelation

July 26, 2004 | 32 comments
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I recently finished Jon Krakauer’s book about Fundamentalist Mormons, called Under the Banner of Heaven: The Story of a Violent Faith (I know, I know, I am about a year behind in my reading list). The book was a fascinating read, though often frustrating for its reductionism, historical inaccuracies, and sometimes sophomoric view of religion. However, he does seem to make an interesting point about what I like to call the Anarchy of Revelation.

In the preface to chapter twenty-five, Krakauer quotes a famous passage from William James:

“A genuine first-hand religious experience…is bound to be heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled a heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself and orthodoxy; and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live second hand exclusively, and stone the prophets in their turn…and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which, in purer days, it drew its own supply of inspiration.”

He implies that the fundamentalist prophets in Colorado City, Bountiful (Canada), the Dream Mine, etc., are of the same prophetic spirit as Joseph Smith, and that the LDS church orthodoxy is a spring dry of that spirit. Joseph Smith taught that we all must become prophets, but the inherent risk here is that we all receive different messages, which is not only likely, but empirically verified by the existence of splinter groups. They bear their testimony like us, pray like us, and many of them were once a part of us. The protagonists of the book are the Lafferty brothers, who grew up in Provo, converted to fundamentalist ideas, and then received a revelation to kill their sister-in-law and her daughter. It turns out that praying to receive revelation about the truthfulness of the church can be a very dangerous idea!

The solution that we have for this anarchy is to place authority for what kinds of revelation can be had by whom. Despite the bottom-up potential for truth that such an epistemology brings, we are in fact told that truth is top down. It turns out that if we pray about a specific teaching of the church, we are supposed to find out that it is in fact true all along. (Some therefore reason that we need not pray at all because the conclusion is foregone).

But does authority really control the anarchy of revelation? We all know of people who received a revelation that they were supposed to marry someone, but the other person never gets the memo, despite praying and fasting about it. What are we to make of the fact that people get all sorts of strange and conflicting answers to prayers? On weightier matters, what mistake has the sincere person made who receives a revelation that a new fundamentalist prophet is God’s chosen mouthpiece? How do we keep the spring dry?

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32 Responses to The Anarchy of Revelation

  1. Fix on July 26, 2004 at 2:20 pm

    Fix

  2. Taylor on July 26, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    shamefully fixing my own bug…

  3. Jim F. on July 26, 2004 at 3:01 pm

    Do we want to keep the spring dry of “the same prophetic spirit as Joseph Smith”? I doubt it. Does that open the door to anarchy? In a certain sense, perhaps. Certainly it doesn’t allow for us to objectively certify which revelations are acceptable and which not. But if the archon of the Church is Jesus Christ, then even in the absence of objective criteria for certifying revelations, there is no anarchy. Of course, that is the issue: is Jesus Christ the head of the Church? And, frustratingly circular, the answer is only found in revelation. If I did not have faith in Jesus Christ, I could not escape the viciousness of that circle; in faith the circle collapses.

    I think Alma’s teaching to the Zoramites is the only answer for those who do not yet have the faith that makes the circle collapse: allow the seed of the word to be planted; if it begins to grow, it must be good; if it is good, nourish it with patience and faith and it will become the tree of life from which we can pluck the fruit of salvation. In short, the seeming anarchy of revelation is, in the end, a product of our resistance to the Word.

    Having said that, however, I recognize that many have experienced the goodness of the Word quite differently than have I. They are sincere, not only in their Catholicism or Sikhism, but even in their atheism. I ought not to impugn their sincerity by assuming that they haven’t had the revelatory experience I have had because there is something wrong with them. (After all, I can’t say that I had the revelation that the Church is true because I deserved it.) So, I have confidence that the revelation I received is the revelation of the Word of God and that I am obligated by that revelation. But I don’t think my confidence is grounds for judging my neighbors. It is grounds for continuing in friendship to offer them the Gospel as I understand it, but not grounds for deciding why they believe what they do. How we can both sincerely believe such different things is a mystery that God has not revealed.

  4. Ryan Bell on July 26, 2004 at 3:03 pm

    Interesting idea from James– the path from heterodoxy to orthodoxy. It’s funny, though, to note a subtle suggestion that we should place a premium on innovation.

    What if the original, once-heterodox, now-orthodox, revelation is the truth, and encompasses most of what we need to know? In our system, although we accept continuing revelation, we do not look for anything that will drastically overhaul what we now have. It seems that James places too strong an emphasis on innovation, which is not really the point of revelation, for us. If the current system is basically correct, innovation is, religiously speaking, largely unnecessary.

  5. Frank McIntyre on July 26, 2004 at 3:36 pm

    Joseph Smith was deeply concerned with false revelation. There are several sections in the Doctrine and Covenants relating to it. I am not going to look them all up, but there’s the one about shaking hands as a key, there’s the mention of Lucifer appearing as an Angel of Light on the banks of the Susq. River. There was the fellow who had his own seer stone. Korihor, 2 chapters before the seed discussion mentioned by Jim, claims to have been under the influence of an angel. And surely discerning true messengers is a central theme of the temple ceremony. There’s many more. So I think false revelation is a big concern for the Lord and perhaps important to learn about as we ponder the available doctrine.

  6. Gilgamesh on July 26, 2004 at 4:04 pm

    To play Devil’s advocate a bit.

    Supposing that many people are at different places in their journey towards God, I would venture to say that some are prepared for the gospel while others are not quite ready. In such a case, could the spirit tell some that the church is true, because they are prepared for the Gospel, while telling others not to join because they are not prepared yet to live up to its standards?

    I personally feel the Lord wants us to succeed, and will not extend Celestial covenants to a Telestial people. The revised 10 commandments and the Law of Consecration to tithing are two examples of the Lord modifying his command until the peole are prepared.

    As another matter, could the Lord actually call good people into other churches as a means of building solidarity with the church from the outside. I think the church has better public support when other churches support our position. If all the good people leading other churches were supposed to be join our church, would we have any allies on the outside? Maybe the Lord calls people like Jan Shipps to not be a member so we can have an ally on the outside.

  7. Kristine on July 26, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    Ironically, we’d probably have kicked Jan Shipps out by now if she’d started out as a member.

  8. Frank McIntyre on July 26, 2004 at 4:37 pm

    Kristine,

    It is unsurprising that Jan expresses views out of line with the Church since she is, you know, not a member. Presumably if we are imagining a universe where she was a member, we would also be imagining a universe where she believed the doctrine of the Church and followed it.

  9. Josh Kim on July 26, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    Who is Jan Shipps?

  10. Gilgamesh on July 26, 2004 at 4:57 pm

    Maybe Jan Shipps is not supposed to be a member, so she can express objective views. I just feel that though I believe the Gospel to be true, maybe others will get their chance to see it more clearly in the next life because in this life they are needed to do things in humanitarian service, politics, interfaith work, etc… that membership in the church would hinder.

    I always wonder what a the better scenario is – an influential Priest/Pastor/Rabbi that joins the church or an influential Priest/Pastor/Rabbi that appreciates the church, but acts within their circle to help create better relations between us and their communities. I just think the Lord may want people to build bridges from both sides of the river, so we can meet in in the middle and dialogue.

  11. Sheldon Lawrence on July 26, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    The fact that revelation has been used to justify heinous acts throughout history does not mean that it is a flawed system, or a principle given to anarchy. I would guess that just as many, if not more, horrible crimes have been committed in the name of logic and rationality. Think of Stalinism and Nazism. Both were secular regimes that rejected notions revelation and favored their own philosophies (all meticulously “proven” and defended by intellectuals, of course). Look at the brutal, fascistic society that Plato, the champion of rational inquiry, imagined in The Republic.

    None of this, however, proves that there is such a thing as “Anarchy of Reason.” Although people have used reason, as apposed to revelation, as a tool to justify their cruel or stupid acts, we still rely on reason as a way of taking actions and making judgments. We can’t abandon it because its been misused or misunderstood. Our only task is to try to determine good reason from bad reason.

    I think it’s the same with revelation. Obviously its been misused and abused through the ages, but it remains a valuable tool to making decisions and receiving instruction. And this isn’t unique with Mormonism. Just about every major religious tradition holds that individuals are entitled to direct communion/instruction from God.

    So why all the contradiction in revelations? That may have to do with the situational nature of revelation. Revelation recognizes, to an extent, that morality can be situational, and that what is right in one situation may be wrong in another. Also, people obviously impose their own desires and bias on whatever revelation may have been received. (Hence: “What a coincidence that God wants me to marry you AND you happen to be the most beautiful and intelligent woman I’ve ever met.”)

    The Lord says that we should study things in our heart AND mind, indicating the need for both love/feeling and reason in making decisions. If something appeals both to intuition and reason, then we aren’t likely to go wrong. If we are wrong, we can always repent and learn.

  12. Hellmut Lotz on July 26, 2004 at 6:17 pm

    Charismatic Christianity has several advantages. It is the most egalitarian form of Christianity. You do not need to hold offices like Catholics. You do not need to learn ancient languages and learn interpretive techniques like evangelicals. The biggest disadvantage of the charismatic approach is that it escapes responsibility. Who can disprove someone else’s revelation?

    But Jesus taught us that we can distiguish the false prophets not through revelation but by their fruits. Christ’s standard is empirical. As fruits are observable, prophets can be held accountable.

    By the way, Mormonism is a peculiar mixture between the Catholic and the charismatic model, which has far reaching implications for the political economy of the church as an organization.

  13. DaveB on July 26, 2004 at 7:00 pm

    Jim, something in your post is unclear to me. You say that if we believe that God is the wellspring of all revelation, then the apparent anarchy of revelation is actually quite under control, thank you, when viewed by its originator and governor (God).

    I can see two ways of reading this:

    (1) Since God is the originator of revelation, all revelation is good, whether it’s Joseph Smith’s revelation, fundamentalist Mormon revelation, Sikh revelation, etc. While you have had a particular revelatory experience that places you in the Mormon camp, you do not presume to say that another’s revelatory experience is not equally authentic.

    (2) Since God is the originator of revelation, all true revelation is good, while other phenomena that are sometimes called revelation (fundamentalist Mormon prophets’, Sikhs’) aren’t really revelation. You believe this because of your own revelatory experience, although your humilty and other obligations to God and fellow humans prevent you from judging those who accept alternate revelations.

    It seems from my experience in the church that most Mormons would go for Reading 2 (maybe without the part about not judging others). But you’re learned and subtle, so I’m wondering if either reading actually gets at what you meant to say.

    It also seems that disambiguating this issue is a prerequisite to discussing the issues Taylor raises. (How does the church keep the spring dry? Does it? Should it? What are Mormons to say about the heretic’s mistake, given Joseph Smith’s original, massive heresy? What are religious believers in general to say about heresy, given the heretical origins of most or all religions — in strong misreadings, according to Harold Bloom?)

  14. Susan on July 26, 2004 at 11:36 pm

    I’m concerned with any implication that inability to access Mormon revelation is attached to some inability (obvious or buried) to live the gospel rules. (An implication explicit or implicit in some of the comments in this discussion.) Very saintly folks (who would be just fine loving family, living a disciplined life based on dietary rules that make sense, going to church, being kind, etc.) very often aren’t visited by the spirit that testifies Mormonism is the one true way. In fact may be visited by a very different Spirit–that nevertheless conduces to very fine works and very thoughtful living.

    I agree with Jim F that it’s mysterious. I also have my antenna out for the condescension in discussions such as this one. One of the most transforming religious experience of my young adulthood was meeting my Seventh Day Adventist double–a young scholar employed by the church and researching Ellen Smith, the seventh day adventist prophetess. This person not only had to worry about alcohol and tobacco but also meat, pierced earrings, and dancing. His concerns about sacrifice, belief, family, profession, religion, commitment just sounded so very familiar

  15. greenfrog on July 27, 2004 at 12:10 pm

    I think Susan meant Ellen White, not Ellen Smith, though the latter would have been an interesting match, indeed.

  16. Jim F. on July 27, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    DaveB: I’m not sure how to take being called “learned and subtle” since neither is necessarily a compliment in scripture, especially not the second. Proverbs 1:4 is the only case I could find where the word is used for something good.

    You ask a good question, a very good one: (1) do I think that all revelation is good, no matter who receives it and that, though my experience is an experience of LDS revelation, others also may receive genuine revelation; or (2) do I think that all revelation is good, but some so-called revelations aren’t really revelations, but I nevertheless ought not to judge my fellows who take them to be?

    My first tendency is to say that I mean the first, but not without some qualification. I take it that non-LDS have and do receive revelation from God, even revelations that found religions and, so, it would seem, also revelations that confirm the divine origins of those religions. (Interestingly, in this I may have the First Presidency on my side—message of the First Presidency, 15 February 1978.) As a result I am generally unwilling to say that the revelations of others are inauthentic.

    On the other hand, I have received a revelation that the LDS Church is true, the Book of Mormon is what it purports to be, and so on. That revelation is meaningful and I accept it, and it is incompatible with some claims to revelation. That incompatibility has at least two possible explanations (1) There are some false revelations. Given my experience, I assume that the revelation of fundamentalist Mormon prophets is false. (2) God works in ways that I do not understand. I believe both of those, but the second trumps the first in any case of doubt, so I think it is best to avoid judging others’ revelations, especially since some of them are genuine. (A third possibility is that there is some sense in which another person and I have had the same revelation and understood it differently, but that’s too complicated to take up here.)

    In the end, I don’t know whether I believe “1″ with qualification or “2″ with qualification.

    That wasn’t learned; I hope it wasn’t subtle.

  17. Taylor on July 27, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    Jim, this is all nice and dandy pluralism, but let’s say you’re a bishop or a home teacher and one of those under your care professes that they have received a revelation that the Prophet Onias has restored the Gospel lost by Wilford Woodruff. What do you do?

  18. Jim F. on July 27, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    Taylor, I wasn’t advocating pluralism, nice and dandy or otherwise. Nor was I answering a question about being a bishop or other church leader. I was responding to a question about how I personally understand the revelations of others, nothing more.

    There are times when judgment is unavoidable and the bishop is a person who has to judge. Were I the bishop, it would be relatively straightforward: I would talk about my experience of revelation and my testimony, and I would ask the person about his or her previous experience and testimony. And I would ask that person to recognize that revelation as incompatible with membership in the LDS Church. We would have to see what happened then to know what I would do.

  19. Jack on July 27, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    I think an important key to identifying true revelation is, not only the fruit it bears, but the process of growth toward the capacity to bear fruit in a final sense. Certainly any degree of growth may be defined as “fruit” and ought to increase our faith. However, in my own experience, it is the ability to look back at the road thus-far traveled (forgive the mixed metaphor) and evaluate my position relative to a distant starting point that, at times, has more power to build testimony than merely remembering the “feeling” of a revelation. Alma 32 is not only about the experience of planting the seed. It is also, if not more so, about cultivating it in such a way that it grows into a full fruit-bearing tree. Therefore, sometimes we can do no better than be patient and believe that our undersandings will be increased so as to have greater discernment with regard to true or false revelation.

  20. Taylor on July 27, 2004 at 3:55 pm

    Jim, I was really just trying to get you to make a judgement about someone elses revelation. I didn’t think you were not answering DaveB’s question. I just wanted to put it to you in another way.

    I understood both of DaveB’s readings of your first post as a way of attempting to account for pluralism but I am curioius as to why you don’t think this label applies.

    Mostly, I just wanted a more satisfying answer than “God works in ways that we don’t understand”. Somehow I feel a little empty with this as an answer to what I take as a serious issue. Now, personally I don’t care so much about people being Sikhs or Catholics or Muslims. I agree with you that I can acknowledge thier experiences as perfectly valid (but, doesn’t this epistemological pluralism still operate on an ontologically singular notion of “truth”- such as that exhibited by your comment that “if the archon of the Church is Jesus Christ, then even in the absence of objective criteria for certifying revelations, there is no anarchy”?). However, I am concerned about Mormons who convert to fundamentalism, or Catholocism, or whatever. I want to account for this. How do people who once shared my faith now come to abandon it based on a fundamental teaching of that faith, namely, personal revelation? Further, from the perspective of the institutional church, how do we council bishops, etc, to deal with these abberations in revelation which is supposed to validate our story?

  21. Jim F. on July 27, 2004 at 4:12 pm

    Taylor, sorry if I bristled at “pluralism.” It was probably just a knee-jerk response. Without good reason, I saw it as another version of the accusation I sometimes get that I’m really a simple relativist pretending to be otherwise.

    Others may have a better answer than “God works in mysterious ways,” but I don’t. You’re right that my experience of revelation requires that the notion of truth ultimately be singular and that that requirement makes it difficult to understand the authenticity of others’ revelations. I don’t pretend to understand that, but–also based on my experience before I was LDS and on my experience with friends of all sorts of religious persuasions–I do accept that many of them are authentic.

    Similarly, I don’t know how people who once accepted our faith have turned away from it based on personal revelation. That is much more difficult for me to understand than is someone who has a different religion from the beginning. But even in the case of someone who leaves the LDS Church in response to a personal revelation I can believe that some of those revelations were authentic. But it is far more difficult for me and I doubt that it is common.

    However, I think that the question of how to respond to those in the Church who have revelations that cause them to leave the Church is much easier to deal with than the question of how to explain those revelations. We counsel bishops, stake presidents, etc. to deal with those cases by trying to keep those persons within the fellowship of the Church if it is possible to do so, to disfellowship or excommunicate only if we feel that the person’s continued membership is a danger to the Church.

  22. Jim F. on July 27, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    Sorry for being so prolix. Here’s the short version, a quotation from my earlier post: “I ought not to impugn their sincerity by assuming that they haven’t had the revelatory experience I have had because there is something wrong with them. (After all, I can’t say that I had the revelation that the Church is true because I deserved it.)”

    I think this applies even in cases where someone says he or she has had a revelation that has obligates them to leave the Church. If I were in a position where I had to make a decision about that person, I could make that decision without having to conclude that there is something wrong with the person I am judging. My judgment would be a judgment about the relation to the Church that is possible for one who has had that revelation. It need not be about the authenticity of their revelation, though it could and, on occasion, might necessarily be.

  23. Rob on July 27, 2004 at 4:30 pm

    I think this thread really illustrates that we have a real problem in the Church in that we are taught to seek personal revelation, but really get very little coaching on how to recieve or understand it. We have few ways of judging the veracity of another’s subjective feelings. We are told to read, ponder, and pray, but not to judge the feelings we get in response to that process. There is no technology of prayer that we can use or standards by which we can judge our answers…or at least there are multiple standards. Is that warm fuzzy the Spirit? Or is that tingling up and down my spine the Spirit? Is that peaceful certainty I feel when I really think I’m right the spirit? Is that uncomfortable feeling I feel when I don’t really want to do something I think I should do the Spirit? Is that voice in my head telling me to buckle my seatbelt the Spirit? And how do I tell the difference from that voice that tells me how easy it would be to stick that candy bar into my pocket and walk out of the Circle K?

    I think we tend to assume that the way we feel the Spirit is shared by others, and that we will all feel the same thing and get the same feeling when we ask the same questions. Is that a valid assumption to make? How would we know? The epistemology of prayer seems to me to be entirely under-conceptualized for us. I’d like to believe that feeling the Spirit is unproblematic, that we can all just nod knowingly to each other when we talk about feeling the Spirit. But, somehow, I don’t think it is that simple.

  24. Jim F. on July 27, 2004 at 4:40 pm

    Rob, it isn’t a technology and, so, cannot be assured of the same outcome in each case, but isn’t part of the reason we bear testimonies so that we can share in the feelings of another? At my conversion I had an absolutely overwhelming experience. I knew that I had to join the Church. When I bear testimony of that event, such as when I’ve talked with my children about it, I’ve felt something like a re-experiencing of that original event. And it has seemed that sometimes those to whom I have born my testimony have felt the same thing.

    I don’t think it is conceptually simple, by any means, but I don’t think the process is a difficult one.

  25. Rob on July 27, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    Jim, if it comes down to a shared feeling, why don’t we do a better job of teaching this at church? On my mission, we were supposed to help others feel and recognize the spirit. When I felt the spirit, I would ask the investigators how they felt and testify that this was the spirit confirming the truth of my teachings. I was a minority among missionaries in my mission who would do this. Most would just tell people to read and pray, and hope the investigators felt something that they would recognize as the Spirit.

    I’ve done the same thing while teaching sundays school, but I’ve never seen anyone else do it.

    How often in our meetings do we say–this right here is the Spirit testifying to us? Sometimes we say we’ve felt the Spirit at the end of a meeting. But am I the only one who has wondered why I missed it? Or if others were feeling something different?

    I agree that receiving a spiritual witness is not a technology (except, what about the “true/false” method of getting a stupor of thought or burning bosom?) so the shared feeling is very important. However, I still think we do a poor job of recognizing that spirit and acknowledging it to each other at the time, so we can all be on the same page.

  26. Jim F. on July 27, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    Rob, I don’t know why we don’t teach it better. It seems to me that I’ve heard people tell missionaries to do exactly what you did. But perhaps many feel that they don’t need to say “What you’re feeling now is the Spirit” because, rightly or wrongly, they think it is obvious.

  27. Lunkwill on July 27, 2004 at 8:27 pm

    I find it’s not generally true that others feel the spirit when I do. In fact, it was a big faith shaker in the MTC to hear teachers say how grateful they were that we had all felt the spirit at the end of a lesson, because I hadn’t.

    While I think it would be interesting to have sunday school lessons on revelation, I’d be worried that we’d want itemized lists of *exactly* what constitutes communication with God, making it that much harder for Him to work with us individually.

    It’s also frustrating to me when people talk about how the Spirit is unmistakeable, because that’s not how God works with me. That’s okay with me, now, but for a long time I assumed that something must be wrong with me. It seems that for some people, the Spirit does have a unique influence, but for me God has always chosen to leave some ambiguity.

  28. Jim F. on July 27, 2004 at 9:48 pm

    Lunkwill: Three remarks: (1) I think it is common for people to say “I’m so glad we all felt the Spirit” or something similar when it didn’t happen. Often, unfortunately, it is an odd kind of bragging intended, unconsciously, to make the person to whom it is addressed agree. I think that happens in the MTC or between missionary companions a lot. (2) I agree that we shouldn’t/couldn’t have Sunday School lessons on revelation because they would turn into such itemized lists. That is much worse than ambiguity. (3) I don’t know whether everyone has had experiences of revelation when the Spirit was unmistakeable. I only know that I have had a few such experiences. But most of my experiences of revelation are as you describe them, experiences with room for ambiguity.

  29. DaveB on July 27, 2004 at 11:39 pm

    Jim — Thanks for the clarification. It’s a tricky issue. (And I meant “learned and subtle” as compliments, of course. A Mormon, non-relativist postmodernist? This is subtlety.)

    The discussion between Jim and Taylor raises an interesting issue of perspective. Obviously, simply talking about revelation from the perspective of a humble church member is complicated enough (you accept the authority of the revelation you have received, but you don’t have the grounds (the right?) to deny the authenticity of other revelations, but the two sets of revelations aren’t always compatible (and they can be incompatible in various ways)).

    But then there’s the perspective of a church leader charged with policing the boundaries of the community of believers. Someone in that position must sometimes take a stand regarding the authenticity of a Mormon-incompatible revelation. This is a burden of office, and it’s not necessarily incompatible with the individual perspective you sketch, there’s at least a little tension there.

    Then there’s the “outsider” perspective that considers a Mormon revelation in the same light as a Sikh, Catholic, or anti-Mormon revelation and — crucially — without granting privilege to the Mormon revelation. This is the perspective that William James takes.

    From the individual believer’s perspective, and maybe from the church leader’s perspective, it’s really hard to say why some people have revelations incompatible with your own. As Jim says, you have to say they’re false revelations (but this seems wrong, at least in many instances), or chalk it up to the mysteries of God (not very satisfying). (I’m intrigued by the suggestion of a third possibility, that all true revelation is the same but is just understood differently by different people. But I’m not sure that there’s a principled way to draw the line between the “content” of a revelation and its “interpretation.”)

    If you take the outsider’s perspective, though, you can say other things: for example, William James seems to say that people have the revelations that they need (in a psychological sense). This kind of explanation doesn’t concern itself with whether a particular revelation actually comes from God, or whether ANY revelation comes from God — since it’s not committed to a particular revelation. This kind of explanation seems more intellectually satisfying, since you can test it, refine it, change it in the face of new evidence. But am I correct in concluding that it’s really not an option for believers?

  30. DaveB on July 27, 2004 at 11:58 pm

    Let me add (sorry for going on and on) — it also seems that the “outsider” perspective is much more helpful for thinking about the institutional issues that Taylor’s original post raises. So can believers temporarily take an outsider perspective, set aside their commitments to their own revelation and revelatory tradition? What are the consequences of doing so?

  31. Jim F. on July 28, 2004 at 1:49 am

    DaveB: I hate using smiley faces, but I probably should have. I understood “learned and subtle” to be a compliment. My response was a too subtle attempt at humor.

    I think you’re right: a version of the outsider perspective is necessary for such things as comparative religion and the philosophy of religion. A person doing those kinds of things must be able to say “I believe X, but I am willing to try to see my belief as would someone who does not believe X.”

    For a better and more complete discussion of the issue, see the first 10 pages of Paul Ricouer, “Experience and Religious Language,” Phenomenology and the “Theological Turn”: The French Connection.

  32. XON on July 28, 2004 at 2:57 pm

    I like DaveB’s third way, and perhaps have a more maneuverable definition: Revelation as artifact.

    If we begin from the premise that we don’t atually have any useful understanding of exactly what the Celestial Kingdom is like, (indeed are incapable of usefully comprehending it, given our mortality,) then any communication from there would necessarily be 1) objectively, and I think absolutely true; and 2) at best, only minimally similar to knowledge we already posess. This puts us in the situation of the archaeologist, who seeing a new artifact, might be quite sure it’s a Nephite toilet; or it might be something completely otherwise, but he only can interpret it as a Nephite toilet because of the limits of his knowledge and understanding. Sort of like using a 2lb chunk of gold as a paperweight.

    I think this suggests that all divine revelation could be objectively true, but the reaction of the receiver is subject to their own insight and inclinations.

    Standing by to be ‘educated’ by those of you who are waaaaay more knowledgeable about these things than I. . .