Pride

November 14, 2004 | 80 comments
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In Book X of Confessions (chapter 39), Augustine writes about various ways of being proud. One is to think that my goods, including my good characteristics, are, indeed, mine. For example, someone might say, “Basically, I am a good person,â€? assuming that she has genuine insight into the good, and that “goodâ€? applies to her and is innate to her existence or has been acquired by her—the self-made person. Or a person might think that he has some good, but that it was given to him because of his merit—he seems to have Pharisaic behavior in mind. Or someone could have a good and rejoice in it as a gift from God, but nevertheless begrudge that same gift to others, perhaps refusing to share it with others, perhaps hoping that others don’t also obtain it. I recognize what Augustine is talking about in this third case, but the only particular instances that come to mind are, unfortunately, personal, and I have too much pride to embarrass myself by making them public.

What Augustine says strikes a chord with me. All three of these are cases of pride, and as President Benson pointed out, “pride� is never used positively in scripture. That is enough at least to make us leery of thinking pride to be a virtue. In spite of that, however, I wonder whether Augustine’s thinking about pride is too much influenced by his belief in creation ex nihilo, particularly his thinking about the first kind of pride? If I am an eternally existing being—a common LDS understanding of our (non)origin—then isn’t it likely that some goods are innate to each individual’s existence?

The problem is figuring out what goods those might be. In spite of the theoretical possibility (probability?) of goods innate to the individual, I can think of none that clearly are. What might they be and is it possible to take pride in them?

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80 Responses to Pride

  1. Times and Seasons » Interpreting Scripture on November 15, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    […] stler, Larry, and Ivan Wolfe have started talking about the interpretation of scripture on the thread on pride. That is, in itself, an interesting discussion, so I […]

  2. Keith on November 14, 2004 at 2:03 am

    Jim writes: ” If I am an eternally existing being—a common LDS understanding of our (non)origin—then isn’t it likely that some goods are innate to each individual’s existence?” I think this is probably right, but to what extent this is, or what those goods might be, I can’t say.

    I’ve thought for some time that the doctrine of (non)origin works very well in helping us see how we are agents and that we, not God, are responsible for what we will and what we become. At the same time, I wonder if we don’t make too little of our spirit body creation. I wonder if some of King Benjamin’s statements don’t, in effect, make us more similar to some of the reasoning that goes along with Augustine and his notion of creation from nothing. Benjamin says God creates us, lends us breath, sustains us moment to moment. Doesn’t this have at the very least a similar attitude or effect that the doctrine of creation out of nothing does? Perhaps even more humility is called for because, for all the aspect of us that is non-created, we not only would not have gotten anyplace without being clothed in spirit, but we also, of our own will (for which we alone are responsible) and agency (which I take D&C 93 to say God gives to us) have gotten ourselves into a terrible mess and become fallen.

    I think there is definitely something there in the non-created to take responsibility for and even to value and enjoy. But I’m not sure what it would mean to take pride in it, though often when we say take pride in we mean something along the lines of valuing, enjoying, taking responsibility for, etc. But a boastful pride? We didn’t do anything to become an intelligence. We just were.

  3. Keith on November 14, 2004 at 2:11 am

    On second thought, what I said about our indebtedness to God for spirit bodies, would apply also our physical bodies (indeed, Benjamin seems to be focused on live now, not life before.) And if body and spirit are soul, then couldn’t we say that we owe our souls to God? Whatever we were as intelligences, we would not have souls without God.

    (Or is that stating it too extremely?)

  4. Joe Spencer on November 14, 2004 at 2:26 am

    I like the tie between creation ex nihilo and Augustine’s conception of pride. But I also like Augustine’s conception of pride. Perhaps Keith’s gradual drift in the direction of the physical dependence on God is the source of my inclination toward Augustine’s conception of pride. I admit that the pre-mortal existence is enigmatic at best for me (not that there certainly was one, but how many stages made it up, how transference from one to another happened, and what part of man is ultimately eternal).

    Perhaps my inclination in both (apparently opposing) directions comes from an equivocation, though. I like what Augustine says about pride, but I think that I understand “good” differently from him. It seems clear that he is referring to the Platonic ideal, and I think I am referring to the “idea” behind the Hebrew “tov,” namely, that which is according to the desire or will of God. If good is understood this latter way, the way in which it would reside in me intrinsically is not clear at all. Perhaps this satisfies both of my inclinations.

    Perhaps this also makes for a sort of creation ex nihilo, if we understand our existence without the work of God to be that nihilo.

  5. Keith on November 14, 2004 at 2:27 am

    Sorry for the typos in the last post. I have enough pride and vanity to want people to know that I see them after the fact, and that I don’t have enough time or discipline to read more carefully before I send things here. I think it’s a noncreated weakness in me.

  6. Russell Arben Fox on November 14, 2004 at 9:13 am

    This is a wonderfully thoughtful linkage, Jim; thanks for posting it. While the issue of pride didn’t come up (at least not directly, so far as I recall), many months ago on LDS-Phil Nate and I went back and forth on the related issues of freedom and creation a few times, with others joining in, and my position covered much of the territory alluded to by both Keith and Joe in their comments. (I wonder if I could find that exchange in the list archives.) Simply put, I do not believe that we have sufficient evidence in scripture to believe that the “co-eternal,” constant-possessors-of-innate-qualities interpretation of our individual pre-mortal existence can be sustained; on the other hand, I believe there is plenty of scriptural evidence to believe that Augustine’s ex nihilo interpretation of our existence, while perhaps not ontologically exactly as he wrote, is functionally accurate enough to serve as a basis for religious and moral thinking. We are not only saved, but we in fact are because of the agency of Another; consequently, I can only assume that we are, most fundamentally, not our own. Thus “ownership,” in the broadest possible sense, if false, and the essential root of pride.

    There can be agency, even possession, as well as goods and freedom and responsibility, which is not prideful. But they require an ontology which does not posit such through the self. Such concepts are widely available, but not easily reconciled with much modern discourse, both within and without the church.

  7. lyle on November 14, 2004 at 11:33 am

    agency is the best answer; yet…numerous talks by Brigham Young, et al. talk about agency as a gift of god. yet, as intelligences, it seems that we must have possessed agency also?

  8. Blake Ostler on November 14, 2004 at 11:37 am

    Russell: I am interested in the basis of your belief that Augustine’s view of creatio ex nihilo is “functionally accurate enough to serve as a basis for religious and moral thinking” since my sense is exactly the opposite. The point that Keith makes, that we are responsible for what we are or make of ourselves and not God is really quite essential to the tenor of LDS thought it seems to me — and it seems to me also to Joseph Smith’s views. I am quite uncertain as the the validity of the “spirit birth origin of spirits” in LDS thought since it seems to me to be inconsistent with how both the scriptures (Abraham 3) and Joseph Smith appear to address the issue (i.e., that spirits are uncreated). In the next volume of my book, I argue that creatio ex nihilo is incompatible with one important way of viewing moral agency — in the sense that I am the source of my acts and not God. So what you see as the root of pride I see as fundamental to the LDS view of things — and it appears to me that one of us is headed on a collision course with a very fundamental problem with LDS ontology if you’re right. Are you advocating the dis-appearance of the “self” as an eternal entity? Granted that a “self” is never an isolated “I”; still there is somebody accountable for my acts and it is not you.

  9. Joe Spencer on November 14, 2004 at 1:23 pm

    While there is clearly some part of man that is eternal (whatever Joseph meant by “mind” in the King Follett discourse… he did not say “spirit” if I recall correctly), there are quite a number of scriptures that point to the fact that “all good comes from God” and that man is (at least after the Fall) at least prone to evil, if not something more powerful still. The tension Lyle puts his finger on is the tension between most of the comments above and Blake’s, I think. Agency is quite clearly a gift from God (unless there is some other way to understand such scriptures). But it does “seem” that we had agency before agency was given us.

    It is in the King Follett discourse that Joseph also describes God as coming upon a sort of bank of spirits and seeing in them a propensity to expand and progress. It is not clear, however, whether that propensity must be seen as an agency, or whether that means that, indeed, all good comes from God. WIth all respect, Blake, to your work, LDS ontology is often at some distance from LDS scripture, perhaps just because LDS ontology usually oversimplifies the issue. I think the tension Lyle expresses and that is felt in the above comments gives weight to the fact that this issue is more complex and chiastic (in Merleau-Ponty’s sense) than it may at first appear.

    The intertwining Jim has put his finger on, I think, is the connection between human beings (at least as they are now) and God, which is not an unravelable connection. Pride may well be, if we translate Augustine into the discussion that has here developed, just man’s claim that he is autonomous, whereas the history of our intertwining of God may actually now render us inextricable. That would suggest “the dis-appearance of the ‘self’ as an eternal entity.” That disappearance happened when God looked on the broad expanse of eternity, found us, and took us up in more direct a relation than we may here be admitting.

  10. Jack on November 14, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    I wonder at what it is that God loves if it’s not individuals. Great care has been taken to both preserve the agency of the individual and to create circumstances wherein the individual may learn to prize the good. If such great pains have been taken, then it would seem that God is very interested in our potencial to embrace the good with complete sincerity. And, if we are sincere in our love for that which is good then we have arrived at a point of *being* good in some measure. And, if we are good because of the love of good then can we not assume that we have always possessed some measure of good, inasmuch as God has never forced us to accept that which is good – it being a good thing to embrace that which is good?

    Good grief! Is there such thing as too much good? :)

  11. Larry on November 14, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    My hope is we don’t detract from Jim’s initial point re: good and pride but may I suggest a couple of scriptures that might give us a staring point.
    The principle of agency is an eternal principle since w/o it there is no existence(D&C 93:30).
    There was an existence prior to our spirit existence because the same section (v38) indicates a beginning in which we were innocent. We are beings that were in the beginning with God (v29) as beings of light or intelligence or truth (which mean the same thing – D&C 84:45).
    In verse 31 of section 93 we are told that in the spirit beginning, at least, everything was plainly manifest to us and we had to choose.
    Given that those who chose the least level of good (as opposed to being completely evil) were still allowed to come to mortality, in that sense everyone can say that they are good. Attached to that can come a sense of pride in knowing that they are a son or daughter of God, instead of ,say, a blade of grass – which too has life.
    If one was more obedient in the pre-earth life then more understanding can be theirs. The most important understanding one can have is not only that they are a son or daughter of God but that they have an actual place with Him in the hereafter. This would make them truly “good”.
    However, if they were to adopt the position in Jim’s 3rd description, then they may be disqualified from that inheritance because the telling feature of one so blessed is humility, not a narcissitic pride that makes one hope that it is reserved for them alone and not for their neighbour.
    However, is there such a thing as a humble pride that would reflect the swelling feelings one has when they see someone else succeed and enjoy a vicarious elation with them?

  12. Jim F. on November 14, 2004 at 4:30 pm

    I probably should have mentioned King Benjamin’s address in my post because it is what most made me think that Augustine is onto something. I kept hearing King Benjamin in the back of my head as I was reading Augustine (along with Jim Siebach who always and unintentionally makes me feel guilty for not knowing Augustine well).

    I think that Keith’s point that King Benjamin’s sermon seems focused on this life rather than on what happened before is right. That may release some of the tension between these ideas.

    Joe Spencer’s point about “good” is also very helpful. Perhaps it is a mistake to think about intelligences as having or not having goods. Perhaps the Platonic model is exactly the wrong one to use, which opens the possibility that “tov” points to: good is what it is only in relation to God. In that case, my existence prior to becoming a soul (whatever that means), my existence apart from God, was not good and absolutely so. Whatever good entered into my existence entered when I became a soul. Presumably it continues to develop as I continue in relation with God.

    Lyle: Thanks for making the tension very clear: we are given agency, but it could be argued that we had to be agents all along. How do we resolve that tension. My suspension is that Joe has suggested a direction that might work.

    Russell: Doesn’t Joe’s way of looking at it, with Keith’s, make possible the functionality of ex nihilo creation–it makes us totally dependant on God–without contradicting the usual LDS interpretation of intelligences?

    Blake: I understand the objection you make. It is a sensible one (and I hope to see it laid out more fully in your next volume). However, Joe’s response seems right: “LDS ontology is often at some distance from LDS scripture,” and it seems to me that scripture ought to remain the standard, messy as it may be. I also like Joe’s way of thinking about the “disappearance” of the eternal entity that intelligence may have been. That, of course, means that I’m interested to see what you might say to Joe.

  13. Jim F. on November 14, 2004 at 4:52 pm

    Jack and Larry responded while I was composing my last note, so I’m going to add to it (though this could turn into a never-ending activity if others keep posting while I’m writing).

    Jack: Let me see if I can boil your argument down to its basics:

    1. We are agents.
    2. God provides circumstances that allow us to learn to love the good.
    3. We learn to love the good more because we are already good to some degree.
    4. So, there couldn’t have been a beginning to the fact that we are already good. (That would require a change from no good to some good, which seems to be inconceivable without something exterior forcing that change and, thus, violating our agency.)

    Hasn’t Joe Spencer’s post (#3) dealt with that by suggesting that good isn’t a property, but a relationship, specifically a relation to God? If he’s right, then the change from no good (meaning neither good nor bad) to good occured when we first entered into relation with God.

    Larry, thanks for reminding us that the question is about pride: is there something of ourselves that warrants pride?

    It looks to me like the discussion is going in two directions: Some say that, however long we have existed, we have nothing that we can call merely our own and, so, nothing for which we can be proud. Others, as I understand them, say that we do have something that we can call our own, namely agency. (Though agency may be an eternal principle, it doesn’t follow that individual intelligences have agency. It only follows that it is one of the principles by which God operates.)

    If we take the second position, then it seems we may be able to claim some pride in the choices we have made: I might say that I chose to join the LDS Church and, so, can take pride in having done so. That could be a kind of pride not mentioned by Augustine, though it seems to me to be something like the second kind.

    Though I am not completely confident in my intuitions, which are based on King Benjamin’s sermon (which, as Keith points out, may not be completely relevant, hence some of my lack of confidence in my intuitions), my intuition puts me more in the first camp than the second.

    Beyond that point, however, I like very much your way of reformulating the question: aren’t there things, such as the achievements of my children–or, perhaps a better example, my neighbors children–things in which I can have a kind of pride that is compatible with humility? But perhaps “pride” is not the best word for such things. Perhaps “joy with” describes it more accurately.

  14. Jack on November 14, 2004 at 5:12 pm

    I’m going to have to think about the dissappearance of the self as an eternal entity. I could be way off, but this isn’t the picture I get from the temple ceremony. It seems to me that there’s a preservation of self as well as a preservation of relations. Indeed, how can there be relations without the self?

    This may sound like an oxymoron, but are you merely suggesting that the self will forever cease to be without relations?

  15. Jack on November 14, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    “If he’s right, then the change from no good (meaning neither good nor bad) to good occured when we first entered into relation with God.”

    Could be, though I still wonder at the fact that we would choose to enter into that relation. But then again, is it possible that the whole thing began without our consent – given that because we were not informed as to what was good or bad we didn’t have the faculties to give consent?

  16. Jim F. on November 14, 2004 at 5:36 pm

    Jack, you’ve got to read “academic-speak” to decipher Joe’s comment about the disappearance of the eternal self. I think that Joe is speaking of the autonomous, individual entity we sometimes assume intelligence to be. Once that entity is brought into relation, it is no longer autonomous nor merely individual. In that sense, it has disappeared; it is no longer what it was.

    As to your second post: is it a fact that we chose to enter into the relation with God? Where do we find that idea in scripture? Where do we find it outside of scripture? I take it that on Joe’s hypothesis, which I confess I find tempting, we weren’t able either to consent or dissent prior to entering into our relation with God. That would make talk about being given our agency by him make sense.

  17. Jack on November 14, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    Jim, you’re right that it is not a “fact”. That was a blunder on my part. The rest of my paragragh reads: “But then again, is it possible that the whole thing began without our consent – given that because we were not informed as to what was good or bad we didn’t have the faculties to give consent?” I’m open to the idea.

    With this in mind, perhaps pride stems from not recognizing the hand of God in all things. (which I believe has already been intimated)

  18. Russell Arben Fox on November 14, 2004 at 6:16 pm

    Blake–

    “I argue that creatio ex nihilo is incompatible with one important way of viewing moral agency – in the sense that I am the source of my acts and not God.”

    I’ll be interested to read this argument, since while I think I understand what you’re saying in a general sense, I don’t see how it necessarily works in the rather high ontological sense in which we are speaking. The reason why I find (like Keith and Jim) creatio ex nihilo to be not entirely unsuitable to thinking hard about the sort of statements made by King Benjamin, for example, is that the scriptures seem to insist that pride arises from taking our capacities and possessions as our own. If it is false and prideful to take them as our own, then we must understand them to be the product of Someone Else’s will. Which brings us around, in a general way, to Augustine’s claim that God’s will is original to our being, as well as the reformation of our being through grace. But none of this takes anything away from our own capacity to originate our own acts. God may have made us through His will–may have made it so that, as Lehi put it, we may be enticed one way or another and thereby receive the power/opportunity to choose–but He willed us to be capable of so choosing. So we are nothing without God, but through God, we can choose to act to become what He made us to be. It seems to me that preserves the idea that we are actors without making us into self-creators.

    Jim–

    “Doesn’t Joe’s way of looking at it, with Keith’s, make possible the functionality of ex nihilo creation–it makes us totally dependant on God–without contradicting the usual LDS interpretation of intelligences?”

    I agree that the relationship argument is an extremely important one. I would want to say though that in turning to God we experience that good which God made us to experience. I just don’t see how the scriptures can support a contractarian theology, and consequently I can’t see how the significance of our relationship with God is found in the fact that we choose it. (If I’m misreading your point here, Joe, my apologies.) I think that if we choose to respond to God, and our being is found in that response, it must be because responsiveness, the opening of spaces, dialogicity and all the rest are in some sense the condition of being. God relates to us, and in so relating, we relate to Him and others. I guess, if pressed, I would have to allow that there was an “us”–what Smith called an “intelligence”–prior to the divine relating, but whatever that “us” was, I don’t think it was a being.

    Jack–

    “But then again, is it possible that the whole thing began without our consent – given that because we were not informed as to what was good or bad we didn’t have the faculties to give consent?”

    I think this absolutely must be the case, Jack. Assuming the divine self must be what we think selves are, we assume that the”council in heaven must have been an environment in which there was input, wherein we could become “informed,” and thereby “agree” to what God willed. I don’t believe that really makes sense, or at least it doesn’t seem sensible to me. My experience with the scriptures suggests that there is no equivalence in our mutual relationship with God whatsoever; He spoke to us before we spoke to Him. Which means we didn’t consent; we submitted. (But submission doesn’t, or at least needn’t, make all subsequent action merely derivative or inauthentic.)

  19. Larry on November 14, 2004 at 6:38 pm

    Jim,

    You like Joe’s hypothesis and I don’t think it will astonish anyone that i like Jack’s.
    Here’s the reason.
    Section 93:21 says “I was in the beginning with the Father…” (speaking of the Saviour. Verse 23 says “Ye were also in the beginning with the Father…”.
    The Prophet Joseph taught that we are co-eternal with God. Does eternal in this sense mean without beginning and without end? If it does then what beginning is Section 93 talking about? Our spirit beginning?
    If so, then what was our condition before our birth into a spirit body, which is where I think Joe’s hypothesis stem’s from.
    If we were’t individuals then, then how could we be co-eternal with God? If we had a beginning as individuals, then how is it possible that at some point we won’t be absorbed back into whatever it was we were before and lose our identity.
    This would give credence to Augustine’s creation ex nihilo but possibly more to Joe’s nihilo in that we came into existence because of some act of God.
    However, we run into the problem of “where” does all life come from and why does some of it become plants and some animals and some human etc.
    If there isn’t a hierarchy of existence prior to spirit birth, then the general Christian doctrine that we were created out of nothing could be just as valid as suggesting that, in a metaphorical sense, God used a dipper and scooped out a bunch of pre-spirit matter and said “these I will make people” instead of dinosaurs or whatever.
    That would make our creation purely a fluke and boy did we hit the lottery on that one.
    If we assume that there was a hierarchy of existence prior to our spirit birth, then the idea of individual existence and the exercise of agency become important. Progression from the spirit world to this world and on into eternity is very much predicated on the correct exercise of agency. The correct exercise of agency is what adds “light” and increases our capacity to achieve a fulness with God (v28).
    If we are beings of light from the beginning (truth=light=Spirit etc. 84:45) as stated in v23, then a “Spirit of truth” might be interpreted as “Light(interpreted as God because it is capitalized here) of light (being us)” or in other words “light” being acted upon by “Light” and thus growing in knowledge and understanding when that “light” is obedient enough to have “Light” added to it.(Whew!)
    The point being, that prior to being spirit children of God, we still had to exercise agency in order to progress to the point where we could become spirit children otherwise we simply won the lottery and so many, many others lost out and had to settle for existence in whatever form they are manifested.
    This brings me back to the issue of pride and good. You stated it well when you said that my humble pride would be better equated with joy. Joy is only associated in scripture with the atonement (and experiences that relate to it).
    “Adam fell that men might be (the fall) and men are that they might have joy (the atonement)”.
    Associated with that we can assume that it is humility not pride that is appropriate because it is joy we feel.

  20. Blake Ostler on November 14, 2004 at 7:05 pm

    I raise the issue of fundamental agency because it is one that I see in tension the way that many of you seem to — a tension not only with creation ex nihilo (which leads to occasionalism in my view if not handled carefully) but also to the tension between all good coming from God so that all is grace and nothing is human response. It seems to me that the tenor of what Joseph Smith taught and also what is embodied in scripture (D&C 93 as well as Abraham 3 as several have pointed out here) favors a basic and irreducible agency-in-relationship-with-other-intelligences with a shared “Intelligence” that joins us all. So I don’t see it as ontology vs. scripture, that is a false dichotomy and overly simplisitic as I see it (though I am open to correction). However, I have real concerns about joining a creatio ex nihilo to our theology where it is so carefully and clearly rejected by Joseph Smith and our own scriptures. I would prefer to speak in terms of our fallen nature and nothingness as humans in the sense of an isolated “I” rather than creatio ex nihilo which carries a baggage of ontology that it seems to me is better avoided in such discussions.

    If we limit the “nothingness” to this life, then we perhaps also limit our “nothingness” to our fallen state that is redeemed when we are redeemed to return to God’s presence-in-relationship. Pride then becomes the failure to recognize God as co-creator and fellow-laborer, the way that Adam did when he sought to become God — but without God. Adam’s act is the ultimate act of pride because he thought he could become God on his own when in fact there is no such thing as “God-alone” or “God-on-one’s-own.”

    However, I also worry about the notion that all good comes from God — for God clearly sees our own eternal life as a good worthy of his own purposes and effort. I worry about the notions of predestination and grace alone (in the strong Calvinist sense) slipping in through the back door when such notions are pushed too far. It seems to me that it is possible to have pride in anything that is good and to turn anything that is good (even intrinsically so) into an evil through pride. When it is a good kind of recognition of what one has accomplished in relation to God we call it something else (as Jims points out). However, the good of a loving relationship is a relationship and precisely for that reason it is a mutal choice — a choosing to be in relationship of both lover and beloved. While God is the good of our goodness, we are also worthy of his attention and the purpose of his plan.

  21. Jack on November 14, 2004 at 7:33 pm

    Boy, what an amazing thread!

    Russell, I wonder though; if at the council we we’re receiving input, on what basis did we choose to accept the wisdom of God? Perhaps we were as infants, and after a season of nurturing we learned to know of God’s genuine love for us and therefore developed a trust much like a child has toward his/her parents. If so, this, for me, is where some of Larry’s thoughts come into play. It seems that we must have had some capacity, however small, to receive God’s Law (i.e., Light, Truth etc.), which could be enlarged given the right care. As larry inferred: Light cleaveth to Light, Virtue to Virtue etc. Therefore, is it wrong to assume that the individual was in possession of these principles to some small degree from the beginning?

  22. Jack on November 14, 2004 at 7:38 pm

    Blake, though I don’t know how to respond to your comment just yet, I must say that it feels good. I resonate with it.

    Hurry up and finish your book will ya! :)

  23. Russell Arben Fox on November 14, 2004 at 8:59 pm

    Blake, your warning about predestination and other concepts slipping in the backdoor is well taken. I’d like to know more about what you call “a shared ‘Intelligence’ that joins us all”–is it a panentheistic concept? Relating that to your discussion of isolation is interesting. Perhaps if we can come to properly elucidate how it is that God was and is already “in” our choices, then we can figure out how to speak of our nothingness without also losing the idea that we are worthy of God’s attention.

    Larry, you analogy to childhood is a nice one. There is probably something worth reflection there. I suppose one could say that my children “choose” to return my love because they recognize that they have learned and experienced something in the home that they value. But then again, have my children learned and experienced what they have because they chose to be open to such, or because this is the order of the home that Melissa and I have established for them? Surely it must be the latter. So perhaps their ability to recognize what we have given them, and respond to it, is not the result of any quality or possession of their’s so much as a function of the context into which they were born.

    Obviously, this can be pushed way too far. I’m not God, and my daughters are not in the position of pre-existent souls, whatever those in reality may have been. My children are embodied, they possess mental and physical traits, a genetic inheritence, as well as a host of habits they pick up by osmosis from Melissa and I, all of which is outside this frame of teaching and being taught. However, speaking broadly, I don’t think it is unproductive to think about our assent to creation, our response to being loved, our action and willing, as in a certain sense fundamentally ritualistic or performative; we are acting out a received role in a context that preceded us. In other words, children love their parents, if they do, because parenting, ideally at least, is a series of acts and performances that makes one lovable. One might think about the “council” (which I put to scare quotes because, really, we don’t know anything particular about this “meeting” at all) similarly: God, being God, is someone to whom it is proper to submit, and so we did. Those who didn’t must not have loved Him for who He was, by definition.

  24. sheldon on November 14, 2004 at 9:23 pm

    I think this is an interesting discussion, and I’m trying to work it all out in my mind without much luck.

    In Abraham, it says that “this fact exists� that some spirits are more intelligent (or more righteous, I think we can infer) than others, and that earth will be the sifting ground to find out who is who. Doesn’t that say that the nature of our intelligence is a self-existent fact that can’t be attributed to God or ourselves? We can no more take pride in the fact that we are good than we can take pride in the fact that 2+2=4. Then no matter how good we end up being, it will not be our grand achievement, but rather the inevitable unfolding of a potential that neither we or God is responsible for.

    But that explanation doesn’t quite feel right. It makes everything that happens in the universe the mere unfolding of potentialities. It also seems to say that whatever happens couldn’t have been any other way, and that no one is to credit or to blame.

    I don’t think Christianity or Mormonism, as I understand them (which is admittedly limited compared to some commenters in this thread), explain free agency satisfactorily.

    Christianity says that we are entirely God’s creatures. But the problem is that no matter how you try and spin it, a creator is entirely responsible for its creation–both the good and the evil.

    Mormonism says that there is something in us that is entirely ours—a principle of existence or intelligence that is not created by God. But does that really provide for free will? Doesn’t the nature of that uncreated intelligence determine our inclination to good or evil(or willingness to have a relationship with God)? Then we could say that “the fact exists� that Hitler may have come from an inherently bad intelligence(that he didn’t choose to have), and that Lincoln came from an inherently good intelligence, and that the innate nature of these intelligences determined their actions?

    So it seems to me that we can’t take credit for good in either scenario. Its either God’s Will, or 2+2=4, neither of which leave room for back patting.

  25. Blake Ostler on November 14, 2004 at 9:32 pm

    Sheldon: if an intelligence has a “nature” that is neither inherently good nor evil but capable of both depending upon the choices that it makes, then it seems to me that the problem is avoided. I agree with your assessment of the problem with “Christianity” (though I don’t like being excluded from being a Christian in an appropriate sense). In other words, I would reject any form of “nature” or “character” determinism.

    Russell: The notion of a “shared Intelligence” can be expressed in process terms as the initial aim of God shared with all actual occasions. But it could simply mean that we are all made of the same stuff and have the same essential capacity to respond to light and truth (as I read D&C 93). In my book (first volume pp. 126-29) I elucidate the concept of concurring grace — that is more precisely what I have in mind. Many medieval theologians had a concept of concurring grace, and I find Luis de Molina’s view to be somewhat amenable to the LDS view. Such a view of God’s general concurrence fine-tunes the admixture of the divine already in our choices while leaving them truly our choices to effectuate and not God’s in a sense that God could be culpable for them.

  26. Jack on November 14, 2004 at 9:33 pm

    As I pondered this thread over dinner I got to thinking a little more about Larry’s thoughts on a “hierarchy” of intelligences – which implies an “inequality” among intelligences.

    If, in the beginning, we were all on an equal footing with regard to our knowledge (or lack thereof) of good, then how do we account for the inequality of intelligences as suggested in the Book of Abraham without God being a partial God? It seems that the difference in intelligence between Abraham and myself must have something to do with primal characteristics of our distinct individual entities. Of course, there’s the argument that Abraham’s been at it longer than I have, but that idea comes apart when we consider that, in the end, different intelligences will opt for different degrees of salvation.

    At any rate, I think Larry’s question is an important one.

  27. Jack on November 14, 2004 at 9:39 pm

    Look’s like I was a little to slow on the draw!

  28. Jack on November 14, 2004 at 9:43 pm

    “if an intelligence has a “natureâ€? that is neither inherently good nor evil but capable of both depending upon the choices that it makes, then it seems to me that the problem is avoided.”

    Blake, then how do we account for the inequality in “choices” if all are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil?

  29. Joe Spencer on November 14, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    Two facets of this discussion that have not yet been clarified–perhaps what it is that is helping confusion to persist here:

    First, nothingness. The nothing out of which the creation at which we are looking arises is not an absolute nothingness, and it is not a physical nothingness. It is a sort of potentiality. There is “something” there, but until it is taken up in a relation with God, it is a sort of nothingness, the nothingness that qualifies anything entirely autonomous from God. I think that this understanding does away with the objection that some nothingness became plant, other nothingness animal, and still other nothingness human beings. It also responds to the problem that God would be responsible for the various righteousnesses of His children. Men have some eternal part to them, and that eternal part cannot be disregarded. It is undoubtedly the source of our selfhood. But that selfhood may disappear forever after when God opens up a relation between Himself and that self. That relation means that the self is no longer (and perhaps never again to be) autonomous or entirely independent. If it is possible for the self to return to an entirely pure selfhood again, we might be treading on the realm of outer darkness?

    Second, agency. Throughout this discussion, agency has been assumed to mean our ability to choose. But I don’t think that is the sense used in the scriptures. The very word implies a relation. To be an agent–to have agency–is to be commissioned, to be called, or to be asked to submit. One cannot be an agent independent of the other. At the same time, it is clear that the scriptures use the term agency at times to draw out the fact that humans have the ability to choose. This seems to mean that our ability to choose cannot be extracted from our relation to others (hence, it is God who gives agency). If this is the case, it seems we cannot talk about agency before our relation to God (or at least to some other who summons us as an agent). Perhaps then the call to submission is the very beginning of being.

    If these two ideas are clarified the way I have tried to do so, where are we now? Here is how I think we are left:

    1) there is some (unidentifiable?) part of man that precedes relation to God, a part that may be characterized as a potentiality

    2) when God comes upon that preceding part of man and offers a relation, then the preceding part of man is entirely taken up in a new sort of being, one that (because it necessarily negates the preceding state) turns the preceding state into a sort of nothingness

    3) that relation itself might be called agency, understood as a sort of summonedness

    4) pride, then, is man’s taking any good to be his own, separated off from or autonomous from God (Indeed, pride becomes a sad confusion of things, as “good” may in the end only mean “in accordance with God’s will.”)

    I think that is what I have learned and come to by this point.

  30. Blake Ostler on November 14, 2004 at 9:48 pm

    Jack: Since I am a libertarian with respect to such issues, the choice is basic and there is nothing else behind it that accounts for it except the fact the intelligence had also made certain choices before which made such choices a rational possibility among many. To ask for what accounts for a choice is like asking what created the first cause.

  31. Joe Spencer on November 14, 2004 at 9:57 pm

    Blake,

    I thought I would respond to this in a separate comment. You said:

    “So I don’t see it as ontology vs. scripture, that is a false dichotomy and overly simplisitic as I see it (though I am open to correction).”

    While I think it would detract from this thread to follow this issue out to any valuable conclusion, I will offer as brief an answer as seems appropriate. (Perhaps we can ask Jim to start a post on this question that allows us to discuss it in full, especially since he seems to have taken an interest in the question.)

    It seems to me that any interpretation of the scriptures necessarily departs from the scriptures themselves. Interpretation is literally “to speak into” something, and whatever we speak into the actual words of scripture does change the picture, even if it be ever so slight. There is the text itself (what could be called the ontic with a nod to M. Heidegger) and the interpretation (what could be called the ontological, again nodding to Mssr. Heidegger). Any account of the ontic (in other words, any ontology) necessarily departs in some sense from the ontic itself, especially because we tend to simplify, expand, expound, and translate. That departure is necessary, not necessarily demonic (in fact, interpretation is necessary to understanding; it gives us access to the text). The problem arises when we assume that there is no difference between what we say about the text and what the text in itself says. I interpret your claim that I was working with a false dichotomy to be stating that there is no difference. I think that there is a powerful difference. LDS ontology is necessarily at a distance from the text, and LDS ontology may be a dangerous thing when it assumes that it is a perfect re-presentation of the text itself. So it is that I think that we have to be careful what we say about the accounts we make of the text.

    My apologies to any who are frustrated to see this departure. Hopefully, we can start a thread that will allow this to be better argued. Jim?

  32. Ivan Wolfe on November 14, 2004 at 10:11 pm

    Joe – so by your account, is all interpretation eisegetical (where one reads something “into” a text) by nature, rather than exegetical (where one reads the text and draws meaning “out of” it)?

    Or am I missing your point?

    (This is a request for clarification – I also agree another thread would be good).

  33. sheldon on November 14, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    “To ask for what accounts for a choice is like asking what created the first cause.”

    I suppose herein lies my problem. I’m looking for a first cause of how one makes choices.

    I was going to raise a similar doubt to Jack’s. What is that raw material that an intelligence bases his/her/its choice on? That “nature” that determines how a spirit will choose?

    Blake, to make sure I’m understanding you correctly, are you saying that there is no initial inherent nature that determines choice, but only an infinite past of choices? That’s pretty mind boggling.

  34. Blake Ostler on November 14, 2004 at 10:43 pm

    Sheldon et al.: What I’m saying is that choices are free only when the prior conditions do not dictate a unique result (that is determinism). The comments about “agency” assuming another as commissioner are appropriate to the extent that term is sometimes used, but as I read D&C 93 (again very fallibly) it seems that what makes us free is that we are independent in the sphere in which we act in the same way that truth exists independently. As I read 2 Ne. 2, we are free because we are not merely acted upon (a form of causal determinism that is rejected?) but also act for ourselves. If there is a sufficient cause or explanation for choices in prior conditions, then we assume a form of determinism that seems to me (but not to others who are compatibilists) to be otiose to “free will” (that term is also used in 2 Ne. 2 and elsewhere in scripture). I have given a long explanation of libertarian free will and why I believe it is essential to LDS thought in chapter 7 of my book. Admittedly, there are very bright people who disagree with me. What I choose freely is not determined by my prior character, nature, choices, circumstances etc. I am free in the moment of decision to do or refrain from doing an act A even given the entire prior history of the world — including all of the facts about me.

  35. Larry on November 14, 2004 at 11:02 pm

    The thread, I believe, is valid since we are trying to determine to what degree we can be proud because of any good we might exhibit or possess.
    The theme is whether or not we can take credit for any good and in that sense exhibit pride, or all good comes from God and we have no claim on it whatsoever.
    To answer that we are trying to establish the relationship between God and ourselves and when that relationship started and why.
    There is no question that ontology, as Joe explained, requires that we offer interpretations from each of our own perspectives. I believe that there are 2 distinct perspectives that have been presented.
    1) ) “there is some (unidentifiable?) part of man that precedes relation to God, a part that may be characterized as a potentiality” as Joe describes it and
    2) my point that we have always existed as individuals and independent, capable of acting and being acted upon, regardless of which state we were in – from pre-spirit existence to mortality. This being the principle of agency(the ability to choose), which in my mind precedes being an agent as Joe described.

    If we look at Lehi’s discussion with Jacob he makes note in verse 12 that if anything were created without opposition, it would have no purpose and would be a thing of naught. Even though he uses the word creation here I am assuming he does not mean ex nihilo but rather changing from one state to another.
    The reason I do this is because he later points out in verse 13 that if opposition did not exist there would be ” no God. And if there is no God we are not… wherefore all things must have vanished away”.
    This speaks to me of a principle that exists independent of God and is therefore eternal in nature.
    If we go to 2Ne.2:7 where we are told that if there be no Christ (I interpret this to be the office, not the person) there be no God. Thus indicating another eternal principle that must be obeyed in order for there to be existence.
    This indicates that in order for God to be God He must be in accordance with principles that precede His becoming God, just as we must.
    Therefore, He is not the origin of the principle, He is obedient to the principle and extends them to His children so that they can become like Him.
    That being the case, we extend to Him our gratefulness and thanksgiving, because as a loving Father He extends to us all those truths that will help us to become like Him and provides the means whereby, in spite of all our failings, we can be with Him again – in accordance with eternal principles.
    We are not only capable of doing good and being good in the exercise of our agency, we can’t be proud in either circumstance, because the joy that we feel comes from the “hope” we have that came through the atonement which requires us to acknowledge our own nothingness and inability to add one cubit to our stature. This requires a humility that excludes pride, but causes a swelling of joy in us when we see others achieve it as well.
    Therefore, we are all equal and no one is better than another in the end because we all require grace to enter His presence.

  36. Joe Spencer on November 14, 2004 at 11:28 pm

    Ivan,

    I think that the distinction doesn’t bear on what I’m trying to say. My point is that whatever we say about scripture is necessarily different from what the scripture itself says. Whether that is eisegesis or exegesis seems irrelevant. Any account (logos) sets itself over against the thing it makes an account of (ontos): ontology versus ontic. Personally, I think that interpretation can take both forms, though I think that exegesis ultimately accomplishes far more (i.e., is closer to the text, generally speaking). But ANY account is necessarily distanced from the text it takes account of. That seems clear.

  37. sheldon on November 15, 2004 at 1:27 am

    I appreciate everyone’s comments, as this is something of fundamental importance to spirituality. I don’t think this is just pie in the sky philosophizing, but something that affects our daily lives. This may sound absurd, but the idea that I need to be able to “take credit” for good acts has, on some level, I think, kept me from praying for certain things. As if to say, if I can pull something good off without God’s help, it will mean more because I did it alone. Though I realize that attitude isn’t right, I still wonder to what extent the purpose of life is to learn to rely on God, or to learn how to do things for ourselves–to “grow up” and wean ourselves of constant guidance.

    My wife, when I brought this up a few weeks ago, told me that I needed to repent of pride. I should have said, “No, I want to overcome pride all by myself.�

  38. Jack on November 15, 2004 at 1:41 am

    Blake, I was addressing the phenomenon of an *inequality* of choices that may come about in a group of individuals – all of whom have received the same baseline instructions as to what is good verses bad.

    So my general question is: how can this inequality exist if there isn’t some kind of self determination prior to our relation with God? Furthermore, it is my opinion that God extends His goodness to us because of our potencial to embrace it. This, to me, implies an inherent capacity to receive that which is good – which in and of itself is good.

  39. Jim F. on November 15, 2004 at 1:41 am

    Wow, lots to respond to.

    Larry:

    Section 93:21 says “I was in the beginning with the Father…â€? (speaking of the Saviour. Verse 23 says “Ye were also in the beginning with the Father…”.
    The Prophet Joseph taught that we are co-eternal with God. Does eternal in this sense mean without beginning and without end? If it does then what beginning is Section 93 talking about? Our spirit beginning?

    Why not? Or the beginning of this particular creation (as in Genesis 1:1)? There are lots of possible beginnings to which this refers. And the fact that it refers to a beginning suggests that there was some state before that beginning.

    If so, then what was our condition before our birth into a spirit body, which is where I think Joe’s hypothesis stem’s from.

    Right.

    If we weren’t individuals then, then how could we be co-eternal with God? If we had a beginning as individuals, then how is it possible that at some point we won’t be absorbed back into whatever it was we were before and lose our identity.

    We could even have been individuals—basic somethings indivisible into something else and with a particular potential, say that of becoming human—without having been spirits in relation to God.

    This would give credence to Augustine’s creation ex nihilo but possibly more to Joe’s nihilo in that we came into existence because of some act of God.

    The only modification I would make here is “we came into existence as individuals, in relation to God, and so persons, because of some act of God.”

    However, we run into the problem of “where� does all life come from and why does some of it become plants and some animals and some human etc.

    Not if there is a difference in the possibility of the various pre-existing intelligences. There is a difference between what can be made of steel and what can be made of clay. There could be analogous differences in whatever the “stuff� of human existence is. And that stuff could exist as basic individuals or as a “pot� of stuff from which individuals are made. (Both of those views have been held by various General Authorities.)

    If we assume that there was a hierarchy of existence prior to our spirit birth, then the idea of individual existence and the exercise of agency become important.

    I don’t see why we have to assume the idea of individual existence, with agency, prior to our spiritual birth in order for individual existence and agency to be important to us after that birth.

    Progression from the spirit world to this world and on into eternity is very much predicated on the correct exercise of agency. The correct exercise of agency is what adds “light� and increases our capacity to achieve a fulness with God (v28).
    If we are beings of light from the beginning (truth=light=Spirit etc. 84:45) as stated in v23, then a “Spirit of truth� might be interpreted as “Light(interpreted as God because it is capitalized here) of light (being us)� or in other words “light� being acted upon by “Light� and thus growing in knowledge and understanding when that “light� is obedient enough to have “Light� added to it.(Whew!)

    Of course I agree with all of that, but I don’t see how it is relevant to the question of what we were prior to our birth as spirits.

    The point being, that prior to being spirit children of God, we still had to exercise agency in order to progress to the point where we could become spirit children otherwise we simply won the lottery and so many, many others lost out and had to settle for existence in whatever form they are manifested.

    I argue against that above.

    This brings me back to the issue of pride and good. You stated it well when you said that my humble pride would be better equated with joy. Joy is only associated in scripture with the atonement (and experiences that relate to it).
    “Adam fell that men might be (the fall) and men are that they might have joy (the atonement)”. Associated with that we can assume that it is humility not pride that is appropriate because it is joy we feel.

    Here we are in complete agreement, and the rest doesn’t matter anyway. It may be fun to speculate about our state before our spirit birth, but it is ultimately irrelevant. Though I’m not so sure about some of the conclusions you draw from 2 Nephi (in post #34), I agree completely with your concluding paragraph:

    We are not only capable of doing good and being good in the exercise of our agency, we can’t be proud in either circumstance, because the joy that we feel comes from the “hope� we have that came through the atonement which requires us to acknowledge our own nothingness and inability to add one cubit to our stature. This requires a humility that excludes pride, but causes a swelling of joy in us when we see others achieve it as well. Therefore, we are all equal and no one is better than another in the end because we all require grace to enter His presence.

    Blake: I don’t think that Joe was speaking of “creation ex nihilo� in the same sense as the tradition. He seemed to me to be using it more as a metaphor for our nothingness before God. So I don’t worry that it is a rejection of Joseph Smith’s teachings.

    Jack: I assume that the Council comes after our birth, so we would have already had the capacity to respond to the Father. Or am I misunderstanding your point?

    As to Larry’s question, you assume that the view that we were “nothing� prior to our birth as spirits requires that we all begin with the same knowledge. I don’t see why it would. Consider the example I gave above, of steel and clay. Even if every intelligence were “steel,� it doesn’t have to have the same potentiality for becoming something or another. But as long as those are merely potentialities (as Joe suggests), it cannot take credit for them. And if they can only become something other than potentialities through the agency of another, then they also cannot take credit for them.

    Sheldon: As I see it, the problem is that “intelligence� may not have been a defined term for Joseph Smith. It could have carried a number of different meanings. Webster’s 1828 merely defines it as “a spiritual being.� In any case, the word doesn’t seem to me to be used in the same way in the King Follet sermon that it is used in the Book of Abraham.

    I think you’re right about the conceptual difficulties no matter which way you fall on this issue. And I also think you may be right that in neither case is there room for back patting. On the other hand, as Augustine argues, if a good is my good, not coming from someone else, then I can be proud of it. Suppose that I didn’t attribute a particular talent to God, but claimed that it is inherent in me. It doesn’t follow that I can’t be proud of myself for having that talent. Some people are proud of their good looks, for example, though those looks are simply natural to them, not something they have achieved.

    Joe: Give me until tomorrow and I’ll start a thread for the discussion that you and Blake have taken up. Others, like Ivan Wolfe, may also wish to join (or not). Just a note: I’m not sure how comfortable I am with your use of “ontic� and “ontology,� but I’ll live with them for now.

  40. Larry on November 15, 2004 at 1:45 am

    Joe,

    In any sense of what you told Ivan, what does it really mean then when we are told to repent and be baptized if “ANY account is necessarily distanced from the text it takes account of. That seems clear.”
    What do we do?

  41. Jack on November 15, 2004 at 2:12 am

    Jim, I address your response in comment #37

    How long did it take you to whip out that last comment? You’re amazing. (of course, you realize that you have to accept my compliment without pride :) )

  42. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 10:17 am

    Jim et al,

    I am coming to this late, so perhaps this has already been dealt with (I read through the comments above, but I was reading fast and hence may have missed it.).

    As I understand it the conundrum goes something like this: Augustine seems to be on to something when he suggests that the affirmation of self-ownership (of virtues, qualities, etc.) is a manifestation of pride. Augustine’s notion of pride, however, rests on the notion of ex nhilio creation which we reject. Hence we go off in quest of functional ex nhilio creation. (Russell gets very excited. “Self-ownership! Ick! Liberalism! Enlgihtenment! Bad! Bad! Bad!”)

    Might we be mistaken, however, to assume that the affirmation of creaturliness is the only route toward the negation of self-ownership? I suspect, that in addition to King Benjamin what makes Augustine appealing to you is Paul, e.g. “You are not your own, you are bought with a price, etc.” (1 Cor 6:19-20). Paul, however, provides language for thinking about self-ownership that doesn’t necessarily rest on creaturliness. (I am not taking any position on whether or not Paul affirmed creaturliness as well; I suspect that he did, but I don’t know Paul as I ought.) Hence, Paul uses the language of slavery. We do not own ourselves because he have been purchased by Christ’s Atonement.

    This language is not really popular when it gets translated into philosophical terms because it tends toward the Ransome Theory of Atonement (Bad! Ick! Hiss!). On the other hand, it might provide a way of thinking about the negation of self-ownership in terms other than creation. What I have in mind is something like this:

    1. We are self-existent agents who own ourselves. (Affirm that strong, B.H. Roberts, extra-canonical view of intelligences and self-existence.)

    2. Self-ownership, however, is alienable. As we sin, we in a sense lose control of ourselves, we cease to be owned by ourselves and become owned by sin and Satan.

    3. Christ’s Atonement rescues us from sin and in a sense returns us to ourselves. Self-ownership is restored, but it is a gift from Christ.

    Now I freely admit that I don’t really understand how to understand the mechanics of 2 and 3. Obviously, there is a a bit of work to be done if the Ransome Theory is to be made philosophically respectable. On the other hand, I am EXTREMELY uncomfortable with the attempts of Kieth, Russell, and yourself to restore creaturliness to Mormon theology through the back door. It seems to give up too much of what I find compelling and exciting in Mormonism. (It is the part that “tastes good” to me to use Joseph’s phrase.) Ransome and Purchase, however, seem to suggest that this raprochment with ex nhilio creation is unnecessary.

  43. Jack on November 15, 2004 at 11:18 am

    Nate, I agree that “self-ownership is alienable”. However, not only does the atonement restore the self to itself, it also makes possible the union of self and others through the agency of Christ. (we shall see as we are seen etc.) Therefore one may assume that the grand limitation of the individual is the eternal division between the self and others. Therefore IMO, God offers us a way out of what has become a painful paradox i.e., self vs. others.

    That said, I wonder if the two trends of thought on this thread may, in part at least, stem from these two facets of the atonement – one being restorative, the other being progressive.

  44. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 11:40 am

    Jack: I think that I largely agree with you, but I would just emphasize that this line of argument does not depend on any assumption of creaturliness soft or otherwise. Russell and others who secretly lust after Protestantism and soft-ex-nhilio creation are going to have to find some other crack in Mormon theology through which to smuggle their apostate assumptions ;->…

  45. Jack on November 15, 2004 at 11:50 am

    Check. Your move Russell.

  46. Jim F. on November 15, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    Nate: I am EXTREMELY uncomfortable with the attempts of Kieth, Russell, and yourself to restore creaturliness to Mormon theology through the back door.

    As you may know, I am very much a proponent of the view you describe in your post (#41): we are lost to sin and redeemed from it by Christ. It is difficult to miss that doctrine in the scriptures, and I think it is central to Christianity, whatever its stripe and however we figure out to explain it. But I find it odd that you don’t see that very doctrine as a doctrine of creatureliness in Mormon belief. Passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Mosiah 27:26 use the very phrase “new creature” or “new creatures” to describe what the Atonement makes of us, and the image is in a lot of places where the phrase doesn’t appear.

    I assume that you take the newness of creation made by the Atonement seriously. But, if so, why can’t there also have been a newness of creation in the transformation from intelligence to spirit (or, for that matter, from spirit to soul, or from mortal soul to immortal soul, though probably only the first of these and the transformation from sinner to one-atoned-for could count as creation “from nothing”).

    In other words, I don’t think your objection has the strength you (and Jack) think it does.

  47. Joe Spencer on November 15, 2004 at 12:30 pm

    Larry and others who want to comment further on interpretation: watch for Jim’s next thread. I’ll postpone my response, etc., until that thread is up and running.

    Nate:

    I admit that I had not thought of the greatly distant future until you made your last comments here. An odd thing about Mormon thinking is that we have a sort of pure autonomy way in the past (before God took us up, if we follow the trend of this thread) and way in the future (with the idea of becoming gods ourselves). The appeal of Augustine’s creation ex nihilo is its resonance with our current position: life. It seems that though we were at one point “entirely individual” and that we will at some point in the future again be such (though I confess I can’t understand how), we are now inextricably bound up with God (and especially Christ). I think that Paul’s discussions of slave imagery may summon the idea, but I also think that it is found in many other places. The language throughout all of Exodus 19, 20, and the first six verses of 21 attests to a slavery theology. The servant songs of Isaiah seem to do the same. Benjamin has the idea powerfully in his speech. And I think Alma (the elder) has the concept buried in his baptism pericope of Mosiah 18. “abodah” is one of the most permeating themes of the scriptures, it seems to me (though I’d love to hear arguments to the contrary).

    Now, I do recognize that all of the scriptures I’ve mentioned are very much taken up with the now, with this life as it now stands. Perhaps all of our discussion of pride, though, is likewise taken up with the now. Whatever we were before God opened up a relation with us, this discussion may imply that pride was not then or there an issue. And whatever it is that we will become on the other side of our intertwining with God (full apotheosis), this discussion may also imply that pride will not then or there be an issue. It does seem inescapable to me that this life is constantly cast in terms of an inextricableness, an intertwining that we CANNOT unravel. Perhaps, though, it is a bit extreme to label our pre-being-with-God state “nihilo,” particularly because that may have unfavorable consequences for the future possibilities of godhood.

  48. Keith on November 15, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    “On the other hand, I am EXTREMELY uncomfortable with the attempts of Kieth, Russell, and yourself to restore creaturliness to Mormon theology through the back door. It seems to give up too much of what I find compelling and exciting in Mormonism. (It is the part that “tastes goodâ€? to me to use Joseph’s phrase.) Ransom and Purchase, however, seem to suggest that this raprochment with ex nhilio creation is unnecessary. ”

    What back door? This is just reading what Benjamin says and taking it seriously. I don’t think of this as a rapprochement (at least from what I said) with ex nihilo, but instead a pointing out that some of the attitudes found in humility before ex nihilo can be found in something like Benjamin’s speech AND made compatible with the idea that some part of us was uncreated. I am not arguing for ex nihilo creation and certainly not for throwing out the passages of scripture (such as D&C 93) or things Joseph taught. This is simply working to square those things with other passages of scripture that do seem to speak of a kind of creatureliness.

    I agree that ransom and purchase (no matter what one thought of creation or non-creation) would argue against any kind of pride in self-ownership. (By the way, I accept a ransom and purchase theory of atonement–though certainly not all models of it. Blake and I had an extended argument about this on LDS-PHIL last February or so.) But Benjamin taught what he taught about our being created and sustained by God. I don’t know how to read that otherwise.

    I accept that there is something of non-createdness, self-existence and so on, but there is a moment of creation, birth, etc. What I would argue is that any birth or creation (including creation from already existing material or intelligence) would make something like Paul’s statement (“You are not your own”) applicable to our existence and our being/having souls (spirit and body), even before fall and redemption. I also admit that the passage in Corinthians does seem to be in the context of redemption. I’m just saying the general idea of not being our own would apply to our existence even apart from the context of redemption (which then adds more to the idea).

  49. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    Keith and Jim: I suppose that my point is that I want to interpret the sin and repurchase in terms of choice, consequences, and gift rather than creation. I may have more to say about this after I think a bit more. For now, I have a memo for a partner that is three days overdue ;->….

  50. Jim F. on November 15, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    An addendum to my response to Nate (#45): It seems to me that the doctrine that we are nothing without the Atonement, in other words, that the Atonement makes us new creatures, creating us anew, is central to the Book of Mormon as well as the New Testament. And it is a sufficient explanation for our inability to have pride in ourselves, whatever we were originally.

    So, in spite of my sympathy for Joe’s hypothesis about the transformation from intelligence to spirit, what is interesting about what you have reminded us of is that regardless of which direction (of the two discussed on this thread) we take in thinking about our origins, we are nothing before God without the Atonement. There is no room for pride even if we had agency, personality, etc. prior to becoming spirits.

  51. Jim F. on November 15, 2004 at 12:45 pm

    Of course, I wrote my last post (#49) while Keith and Nate were posting theirs (##47-48). That seems to be my lot on this thread.

  52. Keith on November 15, 2004 at 1:02 pm

    “So, in spite of my sympathy for Joe’s hypothesis about the transformation from intelligence to spirit, what is interesting about what you have reminded us of is that regardless of which direction (of the two discussed on this thread) we take in thinking about our origins, we are nothing before God without the Atonement. There is no room for pride even if we had agency, personality, etc. prior to becoming spirits.”

    The point you and Nate make here is key. Fall and redemption change everything. I do find, however, that many, believing the doctrine of our (non)creation and of our being children of God, then may make the mistake of not taking the fall and therefore the redemption seriously enough. ‘Oops, we’ve fallen and we need a little help up, but otherwise we are fine. There’s still something innately strong about us that can keep us going.’ The fall (and especially our individual falls) goes clear to the bottom in making us spiritually dead and in need of life-restoring and life-sustaining atonement–a fall made even more personally devastating by the fact that (since we don’t believe in creation ex nihilo) we are entirely responsible for what we willed and for what we chose.

  53. Jack on November 15, 2004 at 1:41 pm

    Maybe I’m being a little nit-picky, but I’m not sure we’re all on the same page with regard to “creatureliness”. Are we thinking solely of it as “one (or something) who is created”? Or can the definition be expanded to include: “one that is the servile dependent or tool of another”? (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary)

  54. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    In my posts I have been using the term “creature” or “creaturliness” to refer to one who is the sole creation of another. This is the traditional relationship of God to man in monotheism. I take it that Mormonism (at least as taught be Joseph in the KFD) decisively rejects this position. It is not one that I desire to re-interpret back into Mormon theology. I suppose that in a sense when I am forced to choose between a strong reading of the KFD and a weak reading of The BofM and the NT or a weak reading of the KFD and strong reading of the BofM and the NT, I choose the strong reading of the KFD.

  55. Russell Arben Fox on November 15, 2004 at 2:43 pm

    Blake–

    Regarding comment #24, thanks for your reference to your discussion of “concurring grace” in Exploring Mormon Thought vol. 1; I’ve read through it and been enlightened thereby. You write: “Mormonism maintains that intelligences and natural substances have power too, although in order for them to exercise this power God must cooperate by lending his power to bring about the effect desired by these actualities….God’s causal influence as the initial and universal condition to the exercise of power by other beings distinct from God is directed toward particular ends by the natural inclinations of natural substances and the free choices of intelligences.” I can understand your position a lot better having read this, and I think I agree with most of it. If one wished to engage in further, utterly uninformed and irresponsible ontological speculation however, I would want to press you on the point of what it would mean for a substance to be “natural” when nature itself is, as I think the scriptures make plain, a condition made actual through God’s original willful act on behalf of such. I’ve long been troubled by the inconsistent way in which “nature” seems to settle in among the diverse theological concepts implied, as best as I can tell, by our revelatory, relationship-centered account of God and creation. Say a million billion years ago, I was an “actuality.” Did I have a nature? But if that which is “natural” is a context within which God wills to operate, then the direction of my actuality–my own willing–is itself concomitant to having been willed. (In other words, maybe I really was “just” within the mind of God–which doesn’t necessarily strike me as so implausible, given how little we understand about what it is to say that God is embodied.) Yes, I realize this moves me in the direction of a kind of nominalism, but I don’t find that inconsistent with latter-day scriptures, at least not the BoM. (The D&C, I recognize, poses more direct challenges to this line of thinking, but not insurmountable ones.)

    Of course, if you hold nature to be not a willed context, but a ground or law upon which all (including God) stand, then one could claim that everything has a nature, that that nature tends in a particular direction (water freezes at 32 degress Fahrenheit, etc.), and it is the power of God to make actual that already natural tendency. In my thinking, however, the idea that there is any “natural” continuity between the uncreated material which God moved upon, entered into a relationship with, and thereby brought into being, and those beings which experience fulfillment through that relationship, strains credibility.

    All that said, this remains murky metaphysical speculations of the highest order, and I wouldn’t want too much attached to my claims on way or another. The idea that, as beings (however we became such), our wills function “concurrently” with God’s willing (in giving us the gift of life, etc.) strikes me as an important aid to our thinking about agency and grace.

  56. Russell Arben Fox on November 15, 2004 at 2:49 pm

    Nate (#43): “Russell and others who secretly lust after Protestantism and soft-ex-nhilio creation are going to have to find some other crack in Mormon theology through which to smuggle their apostate assumptions.”

    Nate (#53): “I suppose that in a sense when I am forced to choose between a strong reading of the KFD and a weak reading of The BofM and the NT or a weak reading of the KFD and strong reading of the BofM and the NT, I choose the strong reading of the KFD.”

    It appears that the scriptural grounds of my apostate theology have been exposed. Heaven knows that the standardized works are a mere footnote to the wonderous mystical glories of the KFD. (I think Harold Bloom said that. Or Sterling McMurrin. You know, experts.)

  57. Keith on November 15, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    “I suppose that in a sense when I am forced to choose between a strong reading of the KFD and a weak reading of The BofM and the NT or a weak reading of the KFD and strong reading of the BofM and the NT, I choose the strong reading of the KFD. ”

    This may be the difference, Nate. In the choices you’ve outlined, I give a stronger reading to the BofM and the NT. My preference is to make passages in the KFD consistent with things said in something like King Benjamin’s speech, not the reverse. There ought to be a primacy given to canonized scripture. I think there is a general shift in theology since Pres. Benson’s persistent reminder that we’ve taken the Book of Mormon too lightly. I honestly believe the shift is a tremendous blessing.

  58. Joe Spencer on November 15, 2004 at 4:10 pm

    I feel the weight of the strong reading of the canonical texts as well. But I wonder if the choice you presented us is phrased appropriately, Nate. If the canonical texts are taken as setting up the interpretive framework in which to understand the non-canonical text, then the “weak” reading of the KFD may be, in the end, strong.

    Further, I think Jim’s summary in #49 is succinct, perhaps a position all here are happy with. However, Keith’s response to that in #50 seems to me to be too far out hermeneutically. I wonder if he is not equating what we have built up here about pride with the Fall. Pride and the Fall cannot be set in an equation, because it seems that pride is just as impossible without the Fall as it is without the Creation. The Fall, then, is not entirely our fault, just like the Atonement is not entirely our fault. The Fall and Atonement, if I understand 2 Nephi 2, arise together as a sort of tension that allows for experience, a tension that gives actuality to an otherwise dead Creation.

    Maybe this spells out an understanding of the three “pillars of salvation” that departs somewhat from the one Elder McConkie shared with us some time ago. Creation is a sort of dead field out of which a tension arises, a tension between Fall and Atonement. Is this LDS being?

  59. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    “It appears that the scriptural grounds of my apostate theology have been exposed. Heaven knows that the standardized works are a mere footnote to the wonderous mystical glories of the KFD. (I think Harold Bloom said that. Or Sterling McMurrin. You know, experts.) ”

    Ouch :->

  60. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 4:40 pm

    Perhaps I could rephrase the issue in these terms: Suppose that we decide, a la Jim’s suggestions, that we understand fall and redemption as a process by which we lose claims to self-ownership and become dependent on God’s grace. We dispense with speculative notions of ontological regeneration or re-creation via some transformation from intelligence to spirit to soul, etc. The point is that we read Paul and Benjamin to the hilt. At this point, I am wondering what D&C 93 or KFD have left to teach us. If the self-existence of the agent turns out to have no theological implications at all for the status of the self, then what is it that we are supposed to do with it.

    Should I simply adopt some sort of vaguely Arminian soteriology and let my eyes gloss meaninglessly over section 93 (“Don’t know what it means, but I DO know it has NO implications whatsoever for self-ownership!”) and thankfully dismiss the the KDF (Soul’s co-equal with God and all that) as non-cananonical. I am quite sympathetic to those who claim that an over-emphsis on KFD etc. leads to a rather crude Pelganianism and the ignoring of many passages of the standard works. On the other hand, when the interpretation of the standard words is carefully constructed so that KFD, etc. becomes more or less meaningless I become uneasy.

  61. Clark Goble on November 15, 2004 at 4:41 pm

    The danger I see in the approach Keith and Russell take is that they lie on the assumption that more not less was revealed to Benjamin over Joseph Smith. That, or a view of literal inspiration to Benjamin’s words which I’m not sure I’d buy in the narrative context to the speech.

    Perhaps these comments ought better be placed over in the other thread on interpretation. But it seems to me that the notion of continuing revelation that Mormons adhere to comes with it the assumption that scripture and scriptural understanding are very much tied to a notion of limited revelation and the idea that revelations in a context are given according to the understanding that context allows. Put in less technical language, Benjamin’s words ought not be pushed beyond what we know was theologically understood at that time. We can go beyond that, but only in terms of scripture acting as a catalyst to further revelation.

  62. Keith on November 15, 2004 at 5:22 pm

    Clark suggests that we move this over here. Good idea.

    Nate writes: “On the other hand, when the interpretation of the standard words is carefully constructed so that KFD, etc. becomes more or less meaningless I become uneasy.”

    But I really haven’t tried to make it meaningless. As I say, I think that (and D&C 93) go a long way in making us responsible for our own evil. Additionally, I even argue that if we take it seriously that it makes us responsible completely for our individual falls and that the loss–the loss of what we are–even that much greater. There’s even something more unique that’s been lost. But it has been lost and is brought back only by redemption.

    Clark writes: “The danger I see in the approach Keith and Russell take is that they lie on the assumption that more not less was revealed to Benjamin over Joseph Smith.”

    But doesn’t the fact that it one is canonized and the other not give some notion of priority? This seems to me to be crucial. And if we follow the continuing revelation line (a good idea), it seems to me that President Benson’s claim that we are under condemnation for neglecting the Book of Mormon would argue that the teachings there haven’t been used and emphasized like they should be. And Joseph himself said we’d get closer to God through that book than any other.

    I appreciate your thoughts and the discussion. (And, to be honest, I hope Nate and Clark aren’t as opposed to Jim and Russell and me as it seems. Certainly I hope you aren’t angry, but I’m not sure about tone here and there.) I look forward to your responses, though I really must stop commenting today.

  63. Keith on November 15, 2004 at 5:23 pm

    Oops. I meant to send this last over to Interpretation. Should I post again over there, or just keep it here. I let Nate decide.

  64. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 5:30 pm

    Kieth: You should assume that every time I accuse someone of suriptiously lusting after apostate doctrines that I am doing so with a broad grin and an ironic twinkle in my eye. I am certainly not angry or upset. ;->

  65. Jim F on November 15, 2004 at 7:33 pm

    Clark, beside the fact that the Book of Mormon is canonized and the KFD is not, isn’t it relevant that King Benjamin’s sermon is given to us by prophecy while the KFD comes to us second hand through the notes of those present at its delivery and the reconstruction of the sermon from those notes by the Church historian (and others)? In addition, Joseph did not seem moved to turn the KDF into what it has become for us. As far as we know, he did not bother to make a record of it, which implicitly says something about its status.

    I think the KFD is an important document and must be taken into consideration, but I don’t see how it can carry more weight than the Book of Mormon.

  66. Jim F on November 15, 2004 at 7:41 pm

    Nate: Suppose […] that we read Paul and Benjamin to the hilt. At this point, I am wondering what D&C 93 or KFD have left to teach us.

    Taking this back to the original post: I’m not sure what the theological implications of D&C 93 and the KFD are, but I am interested in what you would say about pride. Do D&C 93 and the KFD open the possibility of me taking in pride in what I am, on my own, before or apart from my becoming a spirit child of God and before or apart from the Atonement? It seems to me that they may. What are the implications of that?

  67. Joe Spencer on November 15, 2004 at 7:50 pm

    Amen to comment #65, and I too am interested in the response Nate may have to comment #66. I think this is where we have been heading for all too long now.

  68. Clark Goble on November 15, 2004 at 8:10 pm

    Jim, I put my comments largely in the other thread. I’d just say that there are two issues: the value of a text and the context of a text. While Benjamin’s address comes to us by prophecy, it came through a prophecy period when little had been revealed. I think most assume that Benjamin, living when he did, didn’t have the full doctrines of the restoration revealed yet. Indeed there are many compelling reasons within the text of the Book of Mormon to believe that.

  69. Joe Spencer on November 15, 2004 at 8:24 pm

    A brief response here to Clark:

    Benjamin in my opinion appears to have had some of the highest points of the restoration under his belt. Mosiah 5 speaks of things only had in the temple endowment, and that may suggest that the crescendo reading of scripture may be too simplistic. There is certainly an on-going building of a scriptural tradition that must be accounted for in the scriptures, but I don’t know that it is best to see this dispensation as having an absolute hold on all the truth that wasn’t had at other times. I think the fulness of times aspect of this dispensation is still coming, when the veil is lifted and we at last see more than what the scriptures seem to limit us to. At least that seems to me to be the tenor of Ether 4, etc.

  70. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 8:35 pm

    Jim: A couple of quick responses to your question sin #66. Here is what I would say:

    1. The ontological pluralism (for want of a more elegant term) that I see inherent in D&C 93 and KFD provide a unique grounding for the ransome theory of atonement. Our bondage to sin is something that we have genuinely done to ourselves. In a sense, I think that this makes the notion of sin and the need for redemption more coherent. We are no longer mucking around with questions of why God made sinners and the like. We are genuinely responsible for our sins.

    2. I suspect that it does have some implications for pride. I think that the ransome of Christ’s atonement does much to dispense with any kind of heroic Pelagianism. On the other hand, I think that without some denial of ex nhilio creation one is pushed to some sort of Calvinist position. The ontological pluralism of KFD and section 93 suggest that there is something to our acceptance of Christ’s Atonement and our affirmative willingness to repent. These are actions that we individually must take and they are genuinely our own precisely because we are not dependent on God for our ontological existence. Another way of putting this that we may not own ourselves, but I do think we have some equity. I am not sure that this makes repetence something that we should take pride in per se, but it does suggest that it is something that we should regard as genuinely admirable in others. When I see a sinner repent it is not ONLY God working his gracious will on a bit of his creation. It is also a “co-equal” soul turning toward its savior.

    3. I suppose that #2 suggests that we cannot conceptualize pride completely in terms of the negation of self-ownership. We can still argue that self-ownership does not provide any sort of a justification for a lack of humility (ransome and the Atonement dispense with that possiblity), but we are probably going to need to come up with some other account of the essence of pride. Interestingly, President Benson claimed that the essence was emnity. This, it seems to me, is something that is only possible if genuine competition is a real possiblity. This is something that the uncreated nature of the Mormon soul make possible. In Milton’s _Paradise Lost_ the Satan and his minions are in emnity against God and even against man. Adam and Eve, however, as new creatures lack the vitality as it were to be real players in this kind of pride. KFD and Section 93 suggest that it is a real possiblity.

  71. Nate Oman on November 15, 2004 at 8:40 pm

    Let me put it more succinctly:

    It is true that the term “pride” is never positive in the scriptures. On the other hand, the scriptures do suggest that there is some reality to the concept of “righteousness.” Hence, the scriptures speak — it seems to me — without conceptual apologizes of things like “righteous kings” “righteous judgements” etc. If a heroic self-ownership creates problems for the concept of pride, then an absolute negation of self-ownership creates problems for the concept of righteousness. Of course, one can offer some sort of hyper-Pauline reading of all scripture, bite the bullet and say that there is no righteousness, only God’s grace. That, however, seems to work at least as much violence to the text as does my reading of KFD.

  72. Joel D. on November 15, 2004 at 9:13 pm

    Joe Spencer [#57]: “Pride and the Fall cannot be set in an equation, because it seems that pride is just as impossible without the Fall as it is without the Creation.”

    Joe, if this is true, how do you account for Lucifer’s pride and his rebellion against God in order to receive the glory for himself? I think that pride must pre-date the Fall and that in some way pride (or the potential for pride) exists wherever there are conditions that permit the exercise of agency.

    To all: while so much of this post and comments has been highly stimulating and enlightening, doesn’t one signficant part of it seem somewhat silly? I’m referring to the discussion about pride. Do we really need a complicated philosophical argument/construct to justify the premise that we should not be proud? Doesn’t the voice of both ancient and modern prophets and the Son of God himself condemning pride suffice? And if the discussion is more about whether we have any basis to be proud (rather than why pride is bad), why go to the effort when we are sure that the scriptures condemn pride?

    However, the discussion about the nature of creation and agency and self-determination seem much more probative to our understanding of who we are and why we are.

  73. Keith on November 15, 2004 at 9:51 pm

    Joel D.,

    We don’t need a philosophical discussion to know pride is bad. It is helpful, on some level, and for some people stung by the philosophy bug, to clarify what we mean when we say pride is bad. For instance, the questions you ask (such as “And if the discussion is more about whether we have any basis to be proud (rather than why pride is bad), why go to the effort when we are sure that the scriptures condemn pride?”) lead to the kind of concerns Nate has (71–which is a very good response to folks like Jim and Russell and me) when he asks whether, if we condemn pride as we have done whether the concept of righteousness doesn’t become meaningless, whether admiration for someone who choosing to follow Christ rather than not makes any sense. Should a parent say to a child “I’m proud of you”? What ultimate meaning do we give to the Lord’s “Well done”?

    So on one level, you are right. Pride is bad. Period. I don’t think anyone here disputes that at all. I also don’t think anyone is looking for a philosophical basis to support this–especially since the person who started all this (Jim) doesn’t believe that we need a philosophical basis for the gospel, or (if I read him right) that there is a philosophical basis. But there are questions of a particular kind some might have about this–questions they’ll find interesting and important, but which others may find either irrelevant or uninteresting. That’s philosophy. Some like it. Some don’t. Some it just plain annoys (and this group often includes philosophers themselves).

  74. Joel D. on November 15, 2004 at 10:41 pm

    Keith [#73]: What ultimate meaning do we give to the Lord’s “Well done”?

    It would seem to me that we could draw a distinction between pride and commendation. Although we certainly could both give or receive commendation to gratify pride, commendation could also express love and/or approval of one’s conduct. When I imagine the Lord telling me “well done”, I don’t think that the Lord is really trying to tell me how great He is that I turned out so well, but rather that He loves me and approves of my attempt to live righteously and draw on the Atonement through repentance.

    Your point on philosophical discussion is well taken. I did not mean to suggest that philosophizing is meaningless since we have the commandments–I simply wanted to call attention to a particular part of this philosophical discussion, in the spirit of the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I’m sure it was very interesting for many of the people to discuss the Emporer’s new wardrobe–it doesn’t change that the Emporer is naked.

    That said, I think it very interesting to explore the ramifications of pride–a sin we surely all need to work on.

  75. Blake Ostler on November 15, 2004 at 11:31 pm

    Boy, I go to work and a new theology breaks out! I worry that emphasis on creatio ex nihilo as an expression of our fallen “nothingness” is misleading. After all, ex nihilo refers to absolute negation, not our lowly status. Moreover, it assumes a prior state of nothingness that leads to somethingness — and if I grasp what Jim and others are suggesting, we always remain dispossessed. So if ex nihilo is a metaphor, it is poor one that says much more and much less that it intends to — it seems to me.

    I also worry that the tenor of LDS thought countenances not merely our fallen-ness but also our innate divinity. When we sing “I am a Child of God,” the focus isn’t our distance from God but our near-ness to him and what we are as a result — literally. Isn’t there also such a thing as a false humility that fails to recognize that while we are fallen, we are of the divine species? While we can focus on our nothingness, couldn’t it be seen as more life-affirming to focus on God’s love for us and the fact that, amazing as it is, our best interest is his purpose in creation? The amazing thing is that after King Benjamin focuses on our fallen nothingness, he follows it up with giving the name of “Christ” to those who repent — imagine, being referred to by the name of Christ. That doesn’t sound like nothing-ness to me and it doesn’t sound like pride to be humbled at such an awsome appellation given to us while yet mortal.

    While the status of pre-mortal intelligences is fuzzy at best (and pre-spirit birth intelligence fuzzier still), there is something about us that us uncreated and among what is uncreated are gradations of intelligence. As Jim F. said: “Do D&C 93 and the KFD open the possibility of me taking in pride in what I am, on my own, before or apart from my becoming a spirit child of God and before or apart from the Atonement? It seems to me that they may. What are the implications of that?” Perhaps not pride (that is always negative), but at least reassurance that I am not totally worthless and there is someone who loves me who is not wrong about me being worthy of his love. There is room for hope that my fallen-ness can be (and in baptism has been) redeemed — and in the process I can let my light shine before others without having to fear that I’m being proud of that light.

    Just a few thoughts. Except I’d like to see Nate O. develop a Ransom Theory of Atonement that doesn’t turn the Son against the Father and trivialize the atonement. I doubt that it can be done but I’ll remain open to the possibility that Nate can pull it off if, for no other reason, because Nate’s a bright and good hearted guy. Could we expect a paper at the SMPT Nate?

  76. Blake Ostler on November 16, 2004 at 12:04 am

    Russell: “I would want to press you on the point of what it would mean for a substance to be “naturalâ€? when nature itself is, as I think the scriptures make plain, a condition made actual through God’s original willful act on behalf of such. I’ve long been troubled by the inconsistent way in which “natureâ€? seems to settle in among the diverse theological concepts implied, as best as I can tell, by our revelatory, relationship-centered account of God and creation. Say a million billion years ago, I was an “actuality.â€? Did I have a nature? But if that which is “naturalâ€? is a context within which God wills to operate, then the direction of my actuality–my own willing–is itself concomitant to having been willed. (In other words, maybe I really was “justâ€? within the mind of God–which doesn’t necessarily strike me as so implausible, given how little we understand about what it is to say that God is embodied.) Yes, I realize this moves me in the direction of a kind of nominalism, but I don’t find that inconsistent with latter-day scriptures, at least not the BoM. (The D&C, I recognize, poses more direct challenges to this line of thinking, but not insurmountable ones.)”

    Interesting suggestions Russell. I think that the nature of “nature” in LDS thought is the greatest departure from traditional thought. There is a “nature” as I see it that is defined by our basic potentialities to act if God cooperates with us. We cannot act without God; yet God cannot unilaterally bring about our acts. In particular, we can choose what to do but we cannot translate a choice into a realized act unless God concurs. It follows that God cannot cause us to accept him because that is our choice. On the other hand, we cannot accomplish anything outside of our own will without God’s cooperation. So I see God as co-creator and fellow-laborer in virtually every human endeavor. Every human act from our first (and every) breath is an act of grace; yet it is our breath.

    I have nothing against nominalism — indeed, I am a nominalist of sorts! However, I don’t buy the “idealist” view of intelligences that your propose in passing (though I don’t think that it can be ruled out on texutal grounds either). If I am merely in God’s mind it seems that I am merely a property of God’s thought without any real existence at all. Thus, such a view would differ not at all from the traditional view as read through Platonist glasses.

  77. Nate Oman on November 16, 2004 at 7:46 am

    Blake: I really don’t understand your objection to the Ransome Theory (I probably should have followed the thread on LDS-PHIL where you and Kieth hashed this out). You express concern that the RT turns Christ against the Father. It seems to me that this is precisely what the RT doesn’t do. I can see the power of this objection as applied to a Substitutionary Theory (ST). ST requires that Christ suffer so as to appease the Father’s need to punish sinners. The RT avoids this problem by saying the Christ suffers so as to redeem sinners from Satan. As I understand it, the RT has traditionally been something of a theological embarassment not because it turns the son against the father, but because it requires a rather Manichean conception of Satanic power.

    What am I missing?

  78. Blake Ostler on November 16, 2004 at 10:57 am

    Nate: Christ ransoms us by his suffering but the Father remains aloof and accepts the payment — why doesn’t the Father just forgive us w/o requiring a payment? That is how it suggests a split between F & S. Of course there a different types of Ransom theories — sometimes the payment is to Satan. But why is Satan owed anything? The basic premise that something is owed to someone is the problem — forgiveness seems to be willing to not exact payment whereas the theory suggests that the essence of forgiveness is paying the debt. Moreover, the very commercial structure of the theory seems both to trivialize sin and to misunderstand that we are not dealing in the commercial realm but the interpersonal. It is to pass from the realm of I-Thou relations to the realm of I-It relations. The theory just doesn’t connect with anything for me. But you’re right, the penal substitution theory is far worse as I see it. It is just that two wrongs don’t make a right for me.

  79. Joe Spencer on November 16, 2004 at 12:03 pm

    A response to Joel D., but also a general comment on all of this…

    I still feel the weight of Benjamin’s description of absolute dependence on God very strongly. While recognizing that this does not necessarily extend to the pre-mortal and post-mortal realms (about which we know far too little as it is), I wonder if we are still claiming far too much for ourselves in this discussion. It has certainly been recognized that we do not have a right to claim our own salvation. But does it not also appear that we do have a right to claim our own fall? One of the fantastic claims generally made by the saints is that the fall was a “positive” thing, mostly because we affirm that the Garden was a ticking timebomb. God set up the fall, and He set up the atonement. Perhaps our claiming any absolute on either extreme is what we have been trying to pin down here as pride.

    I think I return to the absolute inextricabibility of us and God. The disappearance of the eternal self seems thrust upon us by the scriptures, and I don’t see a way around that without going a great distance into the pre-mortal or an even greater distance into the post-mortal, both times and existences about which we know very, very little. It seems to me that singing “I am a child of God” or receiving the name of Christ very much corroborates this inextricability. There is an “I” in the song, but our very identity there ties to God, not to ourselves. We find our existence because we are bound up with God. Receiving the name of Christ is very much the same. The autonomy we seem to be (at least philosophically) seeking seems to me to be the very problem of pride.

    What are we without God?

  80. Clark Goble on November 16, 2004 at 12:39 pm

    It seems that we haven’t yet necessarily explained what we mean by pride nor its associated phenomena(s). If I could throw out a perhaps tentative suggestion, pride is the phenomena of claiming exclusive ownership of an attribute. In other words it is not a shared attribute nor a fundamentally relational attribute, but that it is uniquely mine is some fundamental way.

    The appeal to a essential soul that endures rather than perdues seems more conducive to the problem of pride than I think the alternatives do. For instance if we perdue (i.e. are made up of temporal parts) then in one sense, what we are made of is never uniquely mine. We are always made up of something else, of something beyond myself. In a fundamental way there is never a stable or absolute border between what is me and what is the other.

    Now my own views on this I’ve discussed before and I’ll not bore people with it. I simply think that a soul, in the model of Descartes or Aquinas, is an incorrect model. Yet clearly that is a view that has been rather influential on LDS notions of intelligence – especially since B. H. Roberts (although one can see it in Pratt as well) As I read him, Brigham Young moves much more towards the perdue view of human souls, in which there is an underlying unity to all beings. i.e. in one sense we are making pre-existent intelligent part of us. It is thus, most probably, an idealist conception of the soul.

    I certainly understand why Blake would disagree with this. And, I hasten to add, I’m not at all prepared to defend this reading of Young. (I may well be misreading him) But this more neoPlatonic way of reading things does offer interesting insights – especially to explain pride.

    Regarding Benjamin, I’d suggest that there are two levels to the endowment. I think that much of the more interesting Nauvoo doctrines were associated with these higher ordinances. Which is why they were taught only to the inner circle and why we tend to get them in secondary discussions primarily in the Utah period. However I’m simply not about to throw out the KFD because I think it so characteristic of these teachings. However at the same time I’m still not quite sure exactly what the conflict between Benjamin and the KFD is. (I should also add that texts like Helaman 10 can be read to imply at least some prophets had even these higher ordinances of Nauvoo)