Mormonism and Pluralism

June 2, 2007 | 82 comments
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Mormonism and Pluralism

In the U.S. today, many people are wary of religion because they feel it often supports a kind of intolerance. Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy provides an interesting case study on the relationship between faith and pluralism. On the one hand, we see clear examples of religious intolerance from people like Bill Keller. On the other hand, ironically, the Mormon faith to which Romney adheres is committed in its very scripture to a deep and wide pluralism.

Mormons do make strong faith claims. We believe that God has revealed saving truths through ancient and modern prophets, and preeminently through his Son, Jesus Christ. We believe that God requires obedience to certain standards of behavior, especially loving Him and loving our fellowmen. We believe that departure from God’s commandments leads to misery and spiritual death, whereas the ultimate happy ending for human life is possible only through Christ. We believe it is important to be right about these matters.

Some of our faith claims conflict with those of other faiths, or with some popular points of secular culture. When folks express sincere disagreements with us, even vehemently, I don’t exactly blame them, though I think there are better and worse ways to go about it.

And yet, Mormons embrace a quite striking kind of pluralism. Indeed, we believe that a kind of pluralism and freedom is key to God’s plan for the best kind of human life. I will briefly highlight three major aspects of this pluralism and commitment to freedom in matters of faith.

First, far from believing that only they are favored with true spiritual knowledge, Mormons believe that there is some truth in all the world religions, and some spiritual truth in every culture. The Book of Mormon teaches that “I, the Lord your God, have created all men . . . I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth” (2 Nephi 29:7). Something like this is what we should expect from a loving God: “Know ye not that . . . I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak . . . unto one nation like unto another” (2 Nephi 29:8). While the Book of Mormon teaches that there is also plenty of error in human ways and beliefs, it teaches not only tolerance but a positive appreciation of the truths that one may learn from other peoples and cultures, and the fellowship we attain by respecting the truths others hold and express in their lives. Mormons thus maintain a serious theological pluralism.

Second, whereas religious conviction (or secular conviction, for that matter) can tempt one to presume a kind of superiority and wish to impose one’s views on others, the Book of Mormon specifically cautions against a hasty and one-sided preaching, and calls for spiritual humility. In part this simply follows from the belief that others have truths as well, including truths we may learn from (2 Nephi 29:9-14). Alma, for example, expresses this temptation to preach as though blowing a trumpet, “with a voice to shake the earth” (Alma 29:1). In a way this temptation is natural for someone who has found joy through his faith. I am reminded of a zealot I saw once, preaching from a loud speaker on his car while driving down the street. Yet this is a presumptuous and unloving way to go about trying to share one’s faith. Alma corrects himself, calling himself to an appropriate humility: “I am a man, and do sin in my wish . . . For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:3,8). Religious faith, and the blessing of truth, should not lead us to glorify ourselves, but rather should call us to serve our fellow human beings in humility, as the carpenter’s son showed us. We are reminded that Jesus used a Samaritan, from a group the Jews regarded as heretical, to exemplify the pivotal commandmant to love one’s neighbor. He seems to imply that the theologically mistaken will go into heaven before the well-instructed but unloving.

My third point, then, is that we are taught to love those who do not share our faith, and to be sure that any spiritual influence we may have is exerted through love. Faith is to be an expression of freedom, not something imposed from without. Our Articles of Faith and the Book of Mormon both specifically endorse broad freedom of religion. This lesson is further impressed by our own history: while Mormons suffered severe religious persecution in the early days of the church, they still recognized that only in a nation committed at least in principle to the freedom of religion could their movement have survived as it did.

Even regarding the function of leadership within the church itself, Mormon scripture explicitly teaches that authority is to be based on loving persuasion. It warns that if anyone in authority seeks “to exercise control . . . or compulsion . . . in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:37). Ecclesiastical power is to extend no further than the power of love: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:39).

So, does Mormon faith fit well with American principles of democracy, self-determination, and pluralism? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” A Mormon does not have to slide his religion to the side to participate whole-heartedly in the American project. Mormon faith, in contrast to some other faiths, positively requires these principles.

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82 Responses to Mormonism and Pluralism

  1. BTW on June 2, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    A resounding NO! Why doesn\’t the church stand up for those ADULTS who freely choose to practice polygomy (especially considering their own history)? (oh!, except for THAT self-determination). Why was Utah among the first to force business owners to forbid smoking on their PRIVATE PROPERTY? (Oh!, except for THAT freedom of association). Why doesn\’t the church defend those who wish to use Peyote in their sacraments? (Stop bothering me with that self-determination thing). Why, with a plurality of Mormons in state government since the beginning is Utah not a political (or economical) Zion? (oh, for pete\’s sake that has nothing to do with the subject at hand). Why doesn\’t the church condemn theft? (It does, idiot) … by government via taxes – what it\’s wrong for one person to steal, but if a group votes for theft it\’s ok?

  2. MikeInWeHo on June 3, 2007 at 2:27 am

    That’s a good point, BTW. Mormon culture supports pluralism as long as it conforms with conservative social values, which is really no pluralism at all. When the gays get married, all heck breaks lose. OK, so most Mormons are more theologically tolerant than a fundamentalist like Bill Keller. That hardly equates with valuing diversity. LDS theology is remarkably tolerant, and arguably universalist. Mormon culture is an altogether different issue.

  3. z on June 3, 2007 at 8:18 am

    Who decides whether you’re tolerant? The in-group or the out-group? Why don’t you ask the non-Mormon residents of Utah how they feel about your “tolerance.”

    I think it all just begs the question of what authority is unrighteous, and what pluralism should not tolerate. And if the priesthood is only supposed to persuade, how come you insist on “presiding” anyway?

  4. Dave on June 3, 2007 at 11:31 am

    Wow, tough crowd this morning. I think real-world Mormonism does quite nicely in a religiously pluralistic culture and society. But I wonder how relevant selected Book of Mormon citations are to how real-world Mormons actually behave, however. The story of Korihor (struck dumb by a priesthood holder; reduced to begging to survive, then eventually trampled to death) doesn’t establish modern-day Mormons as religiously intolerant bullies; why do the selected passages you cite establish modern-day Mormons as sensitive pluralists?

  5. MikeInWeHo on June 3, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Ardis,
    I’m not arguing for omniism, I’m just pointing out that when the dominant group believes it has the moral authority to determine what “goes,” the end result is typically anything but pluralistic.

    Let’s ask this question: Which region is more pluralistic, Happy Valley or the Bay Area? The concept of pluralism becomes meaningless if it encompasses only theological diversity. A pluralistic society values (celebrates!) diversity of religion, opinion, lifestyle, family pattern, cultural traditions, etc.

    I agree with Dave that real-world Mormonism does very well in a pluralistic society, but I fear this does not hold true in places where the LDS are the dominant majority. So sad how quickly the oppressed become the oppressor. It seems to always be thus.

  6. Mark IV on June 3, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Which region is more pluralistic, Happy Valley or the Bay Area?

    MikeInWeHo,

    I think I know what you are getting at, and if I’m right, I’m very sympathetic to your position. But the question you raise is an interesting one, and I think the answer is actually quite complicated.

    I’ve spent a few futile minutes googling around trying to find the reference, but I can’t, so I’ll wing it from memory. In 2004 Provo, UT gave 80% of its vote to George W. Bush, while Berkeley, CA voted 91% for the Kerry/Edwards ticket. Think about that – you are twice as likely to meet someone with a political opinion different from your own on University Avenue as you are on Telegraph Avenue. We could inquire into the merits of the opinions people hold, but that is another discussion. Here, were are talking only about diversity as a good in itself. Seen in that light, Happy Valley is a rainbow of diversity compared to that backwater of narrow provincialism on the bay.

    Of course I’m going over the top, but I wanted to make my point clear. I believe it is good for us to have our assumptions challenged, and to encounter people whose experience has led them to conclusions that we do not immediately understand. Maybe BYU and Cal could start a student exchange program, and raise the level of discourse in both places.

  7. Ben H on June 3, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    Do I actually need to point out that there is a difference between pluralism and saying that absolutely anything goes? Selling alcohol or cigarettes to fifteen-year-olds is against the law in the U.S. So is robbing banks at gun point. So is, as it happens, polygamy. Does that mean that the U.S. does not have a serious commitment to pluralism? Uh, no. Pluralism with limits is still pluralism, and that’s the kind that the American project embraces. Debating precisely where the limits should fall is an important question, but a different one.

    MikeInWeHo, you are quite right that Mormon culture does not always live up to Mormon theology. That is why we need the atonement, etc. and why we need to keep working to more fully assimilate the message we’ve been given. Bill Keller’s theology calls him to something better, too. That said, like Mark IV I think Mormons do a better job at pluralism than you give them credit for. Well put, Mark IV.

    Dave, my claim is not about any particular Mormon. My claim is about Mormonism. Mormons vary in how well they live up to their theology. See my comment to MikeInWeHo.

  8. Norbert on June 3, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    I was really happy in the last conference to hear Pres. Faust use the Amish as a deeply moving example of Christlike forgiveness. I wonder how that trickles down, though.

    I realizing I’m raising the whip over a dead horse, but how does the fairly negative response from a largish section of members to the officially ‘fair and balanced’ PBS programs reflect the church membership’s application of plurality?

    And Ben, can you give an example of a religious group in the US that is fundamentally not pluralistic?

  9. Russell Arben Fox on June 3, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Ben,

    Norbert’s suggestion is, I think, a good one: you need to give us an example of a religion that you consider be “fundamentally not pluralistic” for us to make better sense of your description of Mormonism as pluralistic. Because I don’t think you’ve provided a definition of the term, and consequently I can’t be sure whether ot not Mike’s comments are on point or not.

    For example, you say you want to show that Mormonism includes or is compatible with, pluralism, freedom, democracy, and self-determination, and in particular the American forms of such. But this is somewhat confusing, as those four things are by no means the same. Mormonism might be doctrinally pluralistic, but a recognition that truth might be obtained from a plurality of sources doesn’t necessarily translate into doctrinal support for discovering or sustaining such sources through a democratic vote. Or on the other hand, Mormonism might have streaks of respect for specific communities having the freedom to determine their own path, but not within the context of the already existing Mormon community, since the assumption might be that said community already has the truth. And so on: there are a lot of ways in which these concepts might fail to overlap with each another.

    Moreover, many advocates of pluralism would deny that the notion that “there is some truth in all the world religions, and some spiritual truth in every culture” constitutes pluralism at all, and certainly not a “serious theological pluralism.” I mean, you’re still insisting that there’s one truth that ultimately everyone must accept; you’re just allowing that sometimes other religions and other cultures get it right, sort of. What’s pluralistic about that? (Obviously it COULD be considered pluralistic, but if so, you’d have to explain why your definition of pluralism is distinct from, say, a doctrine of incommensurability, or some such thing.)

    So, in short, it be interesting to see just what you’re comparing Mormonism to, if anything. Do you think that there is any Christian religion which is not pluralistic in the manner you’re describing? Do you think that when Mormon members and leaders accepted political authoritarianism (such as in East Germany) or cultural conformity (as arguably is the case today in Utah County), they are failing their own theology? Etc., etc.

  10. Ben H on June 3, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    Norbert, I felt the same way at that mention of the Amish. Being able to recognize the good in others as something we can learn from is a very valuable kind of humility.

    As far as whether other religions are pluralistic, I think it is more helpful to talk about kind and degree of pluralism. I identified some specific kinds of pluralism that appear in Mormonism and which I think make it very compatible with the American project, which is pluralist in many ways. Some forms of Islam are clearly not compatible with the American project because they reject freedom of religion. (Other forms of Islam are compatible in this way, though, I gather). Historically speaking, Lutherans and Calvinists have often been quite happy to impose their beliefs using political force–look at the religious wars of Europe and the persecution of the Anabaptists–and there are still Lutheran state churches in places like Germany and Sweden. We don’t think about that much around here nowadays because we have plenty of Lutherans and Calvinists who seem like ordinary enough Americans, but Lutheran and Calvinist beliefs about faith and grace are theologically friendly to the imposition of faith by force, whereas Mormon teaching specifically rejects this. Some forms of Christianity are clearly compatible with the American project but are less pluralistic than Mormonism in important ways. For example, how many Christians would say that the Holy Spirit played a role in Mohammed’s teaching or that of Confucius? Lots wouldn’t. How many Christian denominations have had their top leaders issue a formal statement that the Holy Spirit played this sort of role?

    Russell, you are right that I haven’t given an overall definition of “pluralism”. Partly this is because I think there are a lot of different meanings for the word used by various people in various contexts. If we try to give a philosophical definition of the American project and the pluralism it involves, we will quickly find there is plenty of controversy over that! So I’m not sure how much it would help for me to try to give an overall definition of pluralism. At the moment I am most interested in saying that Mormonism is pluralistic enough to be quite compatible with the American project, and bringing in some of the doctrinal basis for this pluralism–recognizing value in others’ views, allowing them to make up their own minds about spiritual matters, and approaching those we disagree with in a spirit of friendship and service. Approaching the question pragmatically, I think these three points do a lot to show why Mormons make good Americans, as citizens or leaders.

    What you say about theological pluralism makes it sound like Mormons already have all the truth, and simply recognize that there are bits of what they have in other places. Of course, I think this is still an important kind of pluralism since it acknowledges multiple sources of truth (multiple cultural and religious traditions, holy books, prophets etc.). And people like Bill Keller (who I gather has a decent-sized audience) seem more interested in condemning whole traditions based on what they see as errors, rather than acknowledging truth where it appears. But Mormonism is pluralistic in a more radical sense: we believe there are other sources of truth out there that go beyond what we have. We believe we have the basic essentials that we need as a church, but that we will gain a lot when the truths given to other peoples are added to what we have. Isn’t that the point of 2 Nephi 29:9? It says, “because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.” Isn’t the point to say that because you have received some portion of God’s word that doesn’t mean someone else may not have received something you haven’t? God speaks to all nations, and speaks of the gathering of his words as something wonderful to anticipate.

  11. beorn on June 3, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    God commanded ancient Israel not to allow foreign influences into their midst, effetively creating a non-pluralistic society. Modern Israel is altogether different. Looking at Jewry and Mormondom worldwide today, one could easily make the argument that these are vastly pluralistic societies spanning all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples.

    However, if the term “pluralism” is used to denote a society which is openly tolerant or accepting of Babylonian practices, ideally it should never be used to describe God’s elect.

  12. Bob on June 3, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    “we believe there are other sources of truth out there that go beyond what we have.”
    Shall we take a vote on that!?

  13. MikeInWeHo on June 3, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    These comments raise an interesting question: What constitutes legitimate pluralism? When does it become “accepting of Babylonian practices” ?? A pluralism that extends no further than a right to worship how, where, and what one may is inadequate to support the American project, imo.

    I agree with Ben. Mormonism, theologically, is strikingly compatible with American pluralism. I can’t think of any other religion which elevates the sentiment of Article of Faith 11 to the level of scripture. How this foundation turns into uber-conservative social politics is somewhat of a mystery to me.

  14. Russell Arben Fox on June 3, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    “Lutheran and Calvinist beliefs about faith and grace are theologically friendly to the imposition of faith by force…”

    What do you mean by “theologically friendly”? I’m no expect on Lutheran and Calvinist doctrine, but what I do know suggests that the sort of evidence you present (the establishment of state churches during the Reformation, etc.) have far more to do with the political/ecclesiastical situation in Europe at that premodern point in history–a situation that what characteristic of all Christendom, not just the Lutherans and Calvinists–than with anything Luther or Calvin actually taught. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m curious what you’re basing this on.

    “How many Christian denominations have had their top leaders issue a formal statement that the Holy Spirit played this sort of role?”

    Hasn’t it long been the doctrine of Roman Catholicism that the Holy Spirit has moved through every culture and religious innovation in human history? The Jesuits approached China’s Confucian culture in the 16th century with the presumption that Confucius’s precepts reflected a spiritually guided awareness of the natural law.

    “Mormonism is pluralistic in a more radical sense: we believe there are other sources of truth out there that go beyond what we have. We believe we have the basic essentials that we need as a church, but that we will gain a lot when the truths given to other peoples are added to what we have.”

    I agree with Bob–I’d be interested in a vote amongst faithful Mormons on that topic. I suspect the crucial element of your claim is what you mean by “what we have.” I don’t think there is any serious Mormon who doubts that there are still truths we don’t have, and that exposure to other peoples can help us recognize what we lack. There is plenty of support for that position, both from the scriptures and from the modern prophets. But, at least in my experience–yours may be different, obviously–most of those who advocate this kind of “pluralism” do not, in fact, think that Mormonism can be corrected by our exposure to other religous truths; that the Catholics or Lutherans or Muslims may have something right that we have wrong, and that we therefore need them in some profound sense. In other words, the idea of recognizing truths in non-Mormon sources is a function of saying there are truths we don’t have yet; I have not seen, in my life anyway, much reason to believe that many Mormon leaders think that Mormonism might be wrong or fundamentally at sea on some pertinent point.

    If you think otherwise–if you know of instances where modern prophets have interpreted the scriptures the way you are, with the implication that God has revealed truths to others that we have can’t get on our own, or have gotten wrong, or need help with–then I’d like to hear it (because, frankly, I want to believer you’re right!). Arguably President Faust’s praise of the Amish as a superior example of the virtue of forgiveness, as Norbert mentioned, is a good example. Are there others?

  15. Ben Huff on June 3, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    Russell, obviously the political context was relevant, but that doesn’t change the fact that Luther’s and Calvin’s theology in rather striking and central ways supported a negation of freedom in religious matters. As I understand it, they both taught that there actually is no such thing as free will for humans; basically our wills are either controlled by God or by the devil. If they are controlled by God, we do right. For those under the sway of the devil, the best we can do is try to limit the damage they do in their wicked disposition by enforcing strict laws and preaching hellfire and damnation. This is quick and dirty, and I welcome those who can add some nuance, but this is the kind of thing I mean when I say their theology was basically supportive of imposing religion by force. If there is no such thing as freedom, there’s no point in giving latitude for it to be exercised. Obviously a lot of people today look to Luther and Calvin for various kinds of religious guidance without going this far in the negation of freedom, but it looks like the original was pretty harsh, and I have a very nice Calvinist colleague who still routinely talks about and recommends “good Calvinist” policies–by which he means political and institutional arrangements that get people to do what they ought despite the fact that their wills are corrupt.

    The Catholics had been imposing religion by political force for a long time already, and but Luther and Calvin took something like the most radical position one would find among Catholics and purified it.

    Catholics (setting aside, say, the Spanish Inquisition) have displayed a lot of nice pluralistic moments in their theology. I suppose you’re right about the role of the Holy Spirit in human culture. Certainly the idea of the natural law is that God has planted some sense of good and evil in all of us more or less innately. This is not as radical as the pluralism I see in Mormon theology, but it’s important, and certainly the natural law tradition has had a big practical impact.

    Frequent quoting of C.S. Lewis, and extended praise of reformers, especially of late those involved in making the Bible available to common folk, show the same kind of appreciation of others’ insights and contributions shown in President Faust’s reference to the Amish. I’ve also mentioned the FP statement about Mohammed and some others (quoted in part here). I would like to see more of this, but I think we’re making progress. I don’t expect to hear a lot more of it, though, any time soon because as a people, we LDSaints have our hands pretty full just trying to assimilate what we’ve already been given. If we know the Book of Mormon is the word of God and we still are repeatedly told we are under condemnation for not sufficiently heeding it, what is the point of talking about truths to be found elsewhere?

  16. Mark D. on June 4, 2007 at 12:37 am

    Ben (#15),

    I don’t think scholastic Calvinism admits free will for the devil either, but rather maintains that everything – from the Fall to the Holocaust – however we perceive such events from our mortal perspective – is the way it is because God determined it to be that way. (Islam has a similar theological strain).

    This attitude makes an appearance in several places in the Old Testament as well – notably Amos 3:6, “shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?”

    Of course the practical risk of such a view is that one may conclude that success in any endeavor (from war to terrorism) is evidence of divine approbation.

  17. SmallAxe on June 4, 2007 at 1:07 am

    I think the term “inclusivism” is more appropriate for the theology of most Mormons (although perhaps not for most Mormons around here). I think most Mormons see their religion as the Truth, and all other religions do is provide a new perspective on that Truth (hence parallel-o-mania). Other religions have portions of “the light of Christ”, and we have a fullness. Some would invoke the phrase “fullness of truth”.

  18. Norbert on June 4, 2007 at 1:19 am

    A cynical person may see the 11th article of faith as less a statement of doctrine and more an assurance to a newspaper editor that Mormon voters would not create a theocracy in rural Illinois, despite the fact that the prophet sometimes went by the title ‘general.’

  19. Matt B on June 4, 2007 at 1:54 am

    “For those under the sway of the devil, the best we can do is try to limit the damage they do in their wicked disposition by enforcing strict laws and preaching hellfire and damnation.”

    I’m not sure how much the devil as a being opposite to God really loomed in Luther and Calvin’s thought; I’d emphasize their anthropology (of absolute depravity) rather than their demonology.

    However, it’s quite clear that the concept of law was central to both their theologies; it existed for a dual purpose: first to ensure civilization and order so we may hear the Word, and second, through this come to break ourselves on it on it; to realize that we cannot attain perfection, and thus be humbled to receive grace. (Calvin emphasized the former function; Luther the latter.) Further, the law is important enough to God that he has given us conscience so we may intuit it. The classic example of the divinely ordained lawgiver for both Luther and Calvin was Moses, but neither had much trouble translating their reverence for him to (righteous) secular magistrates – here, I think, is where context and theology melded nicely.

  20. soul rebel on June 4, 2007 at 2:39 am

    For all this talk of Mormon pluralism, one could readily submit myriad examples of how Mormon society is closed. “The Zion Curtain,” as I’ve heard it put. Taking into account as welcoming and inviting as Mormons may be, the fact of the matter is that one may only join the Mormon community through conformance to a type. A clean-cut, suit-wearing, heterosexual, baby-producing, and, dare I throw politics into the mix, vastly Republican/conservative type.

  21. Jonathan Green on June 4, 2007 at 3:25 am

    Would it be too much to ask if those who find Mormons intolerant could, maybe, provide one of those myriad examples and avoid the use of scare quotes, as if merely gesturing ominously towards the state of Utah obviates the need for any kind of evidence or argument? Seriously, maybe you have a point, maybe you don’t, but it sounds like you’re expecting us all to nod our heads knowingly in agreement, while I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sure, there are issues about ideals and expectations that are worthy of discussion, but you’ve never met a bearded Mormon? A childless one? A Democratic one?

  22. Russell Arben Fox on June 4, 2007 at 9:00 am

    “As I understand it, they both taught that there actually is no such thing as free will for humans; basically our wills are either controlled by God or by the devil. If they are controlled by God, we do right. For those under the sway of the devil, the best we can do is try to limit the damage they do in their wicked disposition by enforcing strict laws and preaching hellfire and damnation….If there is no such thing as freedom, there’s no point in giving latitude for it to be exercised.”

    I think it is incorrect to elide the difference, as you seem to be doing here; my apologies if this is not your intention, between theological free will and political freedom. As Matt points out, the idea of law played a huge role in Luther’s and Calvin’s thought, but not necessarily in the sense of reflecting (and thus enforcing) religious edicts. Luther himself denounced the medieval idea that you could have a Christian prince who could establish a Christian polity through the law. Society needed the rule of law, and that means someone needs to be in charge–Luther and Calvin definitely weren’t democrats!–but such rulership shouldn’t be confused with righteousness; if there was a notion of election or divine right in the power of princes, it was only because Luther accepted that the alternative–anarchy–would be worse for the preaching of the gospel. So on my reading, Luther wasn’t turning his doctrinal belief in the bondage of the will into an argument about pluralism, one way or another–he didn’t believe you could or should have a society of deep religious differences, of course, but that’s because he didn’t believe the social fabric could sustain it, not because it would be theologically wrong to have such. (Though he was, in re-emphasizing old, pre-Thomist doctrine of “two swords,” theologically moving Western civilization in the direction of the separation of church and state.)

    “I have a very nice Calvinist colleague who still routinely talks about and recommends ‘good Calvinist’ policies–by which he means political and institutional arrangements that get people to do what they ought despite the fact that their wills are corrupt.”

    If “get[ting] people to do what they ought despite the fact that their wills are corrupt” is Calvinism, then there is hardly a law anywhere in the United States that isn’t Calvinist. (Paying taxes? Obeying the speed limit?) No doubt he has some more particular, perhaps moralistic idea in mind. In which case, well, again I’m not sure why Mormon theology would lead us away from such thinking. Faithful Mormon communities can’t organize to ban porn shops? Was President Kimball wrong when he praised the Kingdom of Tonga for banning commerce on Sundays?

    “Luther and Calvin took something like the most radical position one would find among Catholics and purified it.”

    Again, I’m not seeing this. There was never, to my knowledge, any kind of Lutheran Inquisition authorized by any Protestant prince anywhere in Europe. What examples do you have in mind, and how are you connecting them with Calvinist or Lutheran theology? (If you’re going to look at the Puritans and then, say, contrast them with Roger Williams or other freethinkers, I’d agree you’d have a good argument…but if you wanted to apply that argument to Mormonism, then you’d have to show how our presumably pluralistic theology is basically Baptist at heart or some such thing, and I’m not sure that’s true.)

    On the other hand, your example of the frequent C.S. Lewis quoting in general conference and elsewhere is a good one; that’s surely an example of Mormons turning to non-Mormon sources for enlightenment and understanding. In fact, it may even be an example of what I suggested looking for up above: depending on how one reads the recent history of the rhetoric of salvation in the church, one might well argue that C.S. Lewis and other socially conservative Christian thinkers and leaders were important corrections to the Mormon thinking about grace and works through the late 20th century.

  23. Adam Greenwood on June 4, 2007 at 10:47 am

    I think the first three commenters and others are missing the point in two ways. First, as Ben H. has already explained, its an error to insist that pluralism have no limits whatsoever. Second, pluralism is not the same as diversity.

    Pluralism is a tolerance and respect for other religious, cultural, or ethnic groups. Diversity is having a range of religions, cultures, and ethnicities within a group. An individual cannot be diverse but an individual can be pluralistic. Though they aren’t, its entirely possible for Mormons to be 100% socially conservative, white, etc., and still pluralistic.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bay Area would be ruled with a lighter hand in a world ruled by Utah than the converse.

  24. Bob on June 4, 2007 at 11:28 am

    “Pluralism is a tolerance and respect for other religious, cultural, or ethnic groups.” See First Vision for God’s view on this.

  25. Nate Oman on June 4, 2007 at 11:40 am

    ” Why doesn\’t the church defend those who wish to use Peyote in their sacraments? (Stop bothering me with that self-determination thing).”

    The Church filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Peyote smokers in Employment Division v. Smith, the case in which the court upheld Oregon’s ban on religious peyote. (The brief was actually submitted by the Council on Religious Freedom, an umbrella group that the Church associated with on this case.) The Church was then in the forefront of the lobbying effort that resulted in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an ultimately unsuccessful legislative attempt to over turn Smith. As I recall, stories on Elder Oaks’s testimony before congress on this issue appeared in the Ensign, so it is hardly as though the church’s involvment in the issue was hidden (except, apparently, from angry folks frustrated that the Church does not operate as an arm of the libertarian party).

  26. Andrew on June 4, 2007 at 11:51 am

    Pluralism certainly hasn\’t gotten us anywhere as far as NBC is concerned. What NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel has made abundantly clear during the past six years, is that reputation and image is everything to them. Executives from this corporation would rather gut themselves with swords, than go through the humilation and embarrassment of having a bad image, or being labeled \”incompetent.\” The importance NBC-Universal executives place on Internet bulletin boards in the fabricated salvation of their own egos and reputations is unprecedented in scope. These are executives who have to lie to look good, lie to appear successful, and lie to give the appearance that the public loves what they do.

    Ronald D. Moore\’s \”GINO\” series has been cancelled, and executives from NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel want us to believe that the cancellation was a voluntary decision on the part of Ronald D. Moore and David Eick. Of course, this corporation is banking on the fact that we are too naive to realize that, more than likely, the business and economic realities of Ronald D. Moore\’s low rated series is what did \”GINO\” in, and not any voluntary termination date set up by Moore and Eick.

    NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel has been a corporation that has run itself on 50% Bullcrap, and 50% ego. There has not been one shred of truth that has characterized this corporation since they began dinking around with the \”Galactica\” copyright before and after Ronald D. Moore\’s arrival on the scene. It has been three non-stop years of bucking the economic system of ratings, three non-stop years of fabricated press releases claiming success when no success was present. Three non-stop years of NBC-Universal Executives (Stealth Marketers) disguised as fans of Ronald D. Moore\’s series, showering undeserved praise and fabricated accomplishments on Ronald D. Moore\’ series.

    The fact of the matter is, the simple economics of the television industry finally caught up with Ronald D. Moore\’s series, and stated \”No more.\” With ratings hovering around 1.0, it was no longer financially feasible to bankroll and deficit finance Sci-Fi Channel\’s most expensive series. (Where the money went is anyone\’s guess, because it sure as Hell didn\’t show up on the screen.) So, Moore and Eick just decided to call it quits, huh? And Sci-Fi Channel implies in the cancellation notice that the series would have continued had Moore & Eick not decided to call it quits? This is blanket protection for all of the fragile egos involved in this series. This cancellation was not a voluntary decision on the part of Moore and Eick. It was an involuntary decision based upon the simple economics of the low ratings.

    It must also be pointed out that \”GINO\’s\” cancellation comes at the very time that NBC-Universal is going through its worst economic period ever. There are massive cutbacks going on within this corporation, and the cutbacks finally hit Ronald D. Moore\’s series. Even amid all of the ego gratification and ego diddling which transpired using \”GINO\” as a conduit, you would be hard pressed to find any of these mental stupidity NBC-Universal executives still willing to deficit finance Ronald D. Moore\’s low rated series. It ultimately came down to the issue of money at NBC-Universal, and money won out over ego and self gratification. Ronald D. Moore and David Eick had no say whatsoever pro or con in the life/death of this series. NBC-Universal cancelled it plain and simple. Zero ROI was something that couldn\’t be sustained and tolerated anymore.

  27. DavidH on June 4, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Some times I wonder how pluralistic a place would be if Latter-day Saints had political control unfettered by a federal government or current interpretations of the free exercise or establishment clauses (or the penumbral right to privacy).

    The closest example to such a “Zion” society in our time might be BYU. Certainly there is a pluralism of sorts at BYU–people of other religions are allowed to attend (although with 50% higher tuition). And something like 1 or 2% of the student body do follow other faith traditions.
    (On the other hand, as I understand it, former Mormons are not allowed to attend.)

    Of course, it could be argued that BYU is not a good example, because students are there by choice and sign an agreement to abide by the rules. In a hypothetical location where LDS had political control unfettered by secular consitutional interpretations, the residents would not have signed a agreement to abide by an honor code. On the other hand, I suppose one could argue that the nonLDS or disaffected LDS were still there by “choice”–if they didn’t like the rules, they could move elsewhere.

    In any event, in such a hypothetical Zion location or world, I suppose there would be no same sex marriage, no civil unions or domestic partnerships. Abortion would be much harder to obtain and possibly, in some cases, criminalized. Would homosexual behavior or other sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage be criminalized? Would Prohibition be reinstituted? Would smoking be criminalized? Would people of non-Sunday-sabbath faiths be prohibited from working on Sunday? Would fundraising Bingo games at other churches be prohibited? Would double-pierced ears or tattoos be prohibited? Would a certain issue of Sports Illustrated be banned? Would contraceptives only be purchaseable by those who could prove they were married? Would Muslims or others be permitted to practice plural marriage?

  28. Adam Greenwood on June 4, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    “Pluralism is a tolerance and respect for other religious, cultural, or ethnic groups.” See First Vision for God’s view on this.

    Pluralism, as Ben Huff is using it here, is distinct from the kind of relativism or multi-culturalism that sees other groups as just as good as one’s own. Pluralism in religion does not mean abandoning the belief that this is the only church with which he, the Lord, is well-pleased.

  29. Adam Greenwood on June 4, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    By the way, pray God to send us more enemies like Bill Keller. I think my youngest daughter would match him pretty well in debate.

    Bill Keller: Mormons are Satanic!

    Rosie Peg: Phhhbbtt. Gah!

  30. Todd Wood on June 4, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Ben H., I just read your post and not any of the comments.

    I was say that Mormonism is a lot more friendly to religious pluralism than let’s say historic evangelicalism.

    But I think the two look at conversion differently.

    Is this extreme to say? To join the religion of mormonism, you may keep your previous faith, just add to those foundations. And be thankful that now you are in the one true church.

  31. MikeInWeHo on June 4, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    re: 27 That’s a good point. The Lord told Joseph not to join any of the other churches. He didn’t say go close them down.

  32. Thinker on June 4, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Let me just say that I agree with the general tenor of this post/discussion–that not only are there pluralistic (inclusivistic is actually the more accurate term in my experience) elements to be found in Mormonism and its scriptures, but they should be genuinely valued and play a greater role in our overall discourse. Indeed, I\’m convinced that LDS generally are far from even beginning the significant struggle with the numerous and complex issues entangled in these sorts of conversations, so this something that we need to take much more seriously than has been the case historically.

    However, except for the passing hint in #24, I\’m quite surprised that no one has brought up the fact that for every inclusivistic statement in the scriptures, one can easily find at least 10 exlusivistic one\’s.

    Let me just mention the 2 most obvious for restorationists:
    (1) (Everyone is going to read the first 5-10 words and then skip over the rest, but just note especially the repeated use of the word \’all\’ here.): \”My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” JSH 1:18-9

    (2) \”And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually\” (D&C 1:29)

    Countless others could obviously be given, but on the whole it seems to me that the exclusivistic moments in the Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C, and PoGP far outweigh the inclusivistic one\’s. Furthermore, Mormonism\’s scripture, doctrine, and theology are no more separable from their practice than your individual life is separable from its life-world. That there is a difference between the two, or that they are distinct modes, is something I think worth arguing for, but that they are in any way separable, particularly in a conversation like this, is to miss the intrinsic relation between linguistic meaning and its epistemic practice–i.e., that what we mean when we say something at all is largely determined by its actual use. If one wants to know how Mormonism understands passages like those quoted from 2 Nephi 29, along with Mormonism’s related pluralistic tendencies in any contemporary setting, therefore, I say look to its practice.

    Starting right with the exlcusivistic claims that thoroughly dominate each and every fast & testimony meeting, and the vast majority of our worship services, it isn\’t hard to discern that the inclusivistic claims are far outnumbered, and there seems to be very little discomfort with that fact. It isn\’t just that we make \”strong truth claims,\” as was stated in the beginning, but that we make many more exclusivistic truth claims–e.g., exaltation is not possible without receiving ordinances/rites that can only be performed by an one holding priesthood authority, etc.–than we do the inclusive variety.

    I personally wish the scales were more balanced, but let\’s not kid ourselves here that Mormonism might be some sort of model of religious puralism–tolerance yes, pluralism, no (not yet anyway). Though pluralism and inclusivism are lofty ideals, I think we have a very very long way to go before we can truly say that we exemplify either of them. So to say that “Mormons embrace a quite striking kind of pluralism” is highly questionable in my estimation, ignoring what takes place within the active mode of its discourse that so profoundly determines its self-understanding.

  33. ronito on June 4, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Yeah. I think it needs to come from where you’re making the argument. The mormon corridor? I’d think you’d find your answer concerning Mormonism and Pluralism to be a resounding NO (with several extraneous exclamation points to get the point across).

    Outside? Yeah I think the Mormon church can be very pluralistic, and it is one of its strengths. However, then it also comes down to the person. I still find plenty of jingoistic mormons out here.

  34. Thinker on June 4, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Sorry, didn’t see the further comments made in #27 and #30. This make me think that part of the problem with the disagreements have a lot to do with semantical issues involved. And, now that I’m doing to further reading (elsewhere), I’m seeing that there is a very wide spectrum of understanding the terms involved–e.g., pluralism, inclusivism, etc. My own conception is simply based on the texts/discussions with which I’m most familiar, which just happens to be in the landscape of religious studies. But, there are numerous and opposing ways that these terms have been and are used.

    At any rate, if puralism simply means respect and toleration of other modes of thought and being-in-the-world (religious or otherwise), then I’d want to qualify my comments from in my previous post. However, that Mormonism’s exclusivistic tendencies still dominates our *internal* discourse on the whole, that they appear far more often than those moments of pluralism, is something I think one can make a fairly strong case for.

  35. Bob on June 4, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you Thinker, you saved me a lot of typing! I love pluralism, I think the Church is moving in the right direction, but has a long way to go. Thomas Payne said: ” Tolerance is not the opposite of intolerance, accepting is”.

  36. Adam Greenwood on June 4, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Thinker,

    You may be right about the semantics. What you were calling tolerance I was calling pluralism, and so on. If pluralism is defined as not having exclusive claims, then I and most Saints would reject pluralism.

    At the same time, I would like to think that there’s something more going on than just tolerance. Mormonism doesn’t just allow for the existence of other groups, but, as Ben Huff has pointed out, gives them a certain divine value.

  37. Matt B on June 4, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    It strikes me that another important point to be made about the Reformers contra Catholicism is their abandonment of Catholic universalism; Calvin and Luther were entirely okay with the idea that there are some people who cannot be saved.

    Mormons, it seems to me, are more in line with the Catholics here; we won’t give up on anybody, which may have something to do with our generally benign thinking about other religious groups.

  38. Adam Greenwood on June 4, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    our generally benign thinking about other religious groups

    Our belief in vicarious work for the dead comes into play here too. Since we don’t think that other religions are irrevocably damning their followers, its easy to be insociant.

  39. Russell Arben Fox on June 4, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    “What you were calling tolerance I was calling pluralism, and so on. If pluralism is defined as not having exclusive claims, then I and most Saints would reject pluralism.”

    This is one way of getting at what I saw as a conceptual confusion in Ben’s original post, with its talk of Mormonism expressing a “serious theological pluralism,” and which thus prompted my subsequent comments about whether it’s possible (under Ben’s or anyone else’s readeing) to argue that Mormonism allows for the possibility that it is not merely lacking but might be mistaken about one point or another, and so forth. Basically, if it is Mormon doctrine that ours is the only way to salvation, exactly what kind of status can we theologically grant, under that doctrine, to those truths that might be found in other religions? Can they, in fact, have independent salvational value (which would suggest that our exclusivity is not, in fact, exclusive)? If they don’t, then how much theological weight do actually have, and what kind of “pluality” does that suggest of our own thinking?

  40. MikeInWeHo on June 4, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    re: 37-38 Yes! Mormonism presents a fascinating combination of exclusivity (only true church) and universalism (some degree of salvation for just about everyone). Has there been another faith in the Common Era that actively endeavors to bring salvation to the deceased?

  41. Chad Too on June 4, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    Adam Greenwood @ 28:

    LOL. My brain is moving slow today… took me a second to get where you were going. All I could think of was “Why is Rosie Peg channeling Bill the Cat?

  42. SmallAxe on June 4, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    This is one way of getting at what I saw as a conceptual confusion in Ben’s original post, with its talk of Mormonism expressing a “serious theological pluralism,” and which thus prompted my subsequent comments about whether it’s possible (under Ben’s or anyone else’s readeing) to argue that Mormonism allows for the possibility that it is not merely lacking but might be mistaken about one point or another, and so forth.

    Pluralism in theological discourse seems to refer to the possibility that others can contribute things of ontological significance to one’s own cosmology, and not simply provide a new view of the cosmology.

    I think one could comb LDS resources to articulate such a view (and IMO this should be done, and advocated persuasively), however I do not believe this is the dominant theology of Mormonism. Most Mormons are not open to the option that we could actually learn something ontologically significant from another religion. If we can find anything “good”, it was originally ours in the first place, or we can some how reduce it to our own terms. Part of this stems, I believe, from the notion that “religion” is primarily about soteriology. If religion is mainly about one’s status in the next life, and we seem to have all those bases covered, there’s little reason to look elsewhere.

  43. Ben H on June 4, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    re: #20 I was a long-haired, bearded, sandal-wearing, Nader-voting, and yet temple-going, Sunday School teaching Mormon for years, so it’s going to be pretty tough to convince me it can’t be done. I cut my hair for the job market, not for church! I have another pair of sandals coming in the mail tomorrow . . .

    Russell, if you want to argue that LDS are inclusivist rather than pluralistic, I need you to explain what you mean by inclusivist and how this implies the negation of pluralist. Definition 4b at http://www.m-w.com is pretty much what I have in mind. Since 4b is defined by reference to 4a, I will rephrase definition 4b for pluralism as: “a concept, doctrine, or policy advocating a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.”

    Part of the problem with this discussion is that some of you are proceeding as though the terms pluralist, exclusivist, and inclusivist were mutually exclusive. But they aren’t. Maybe about one idea they are, but not when used to refer to a religion, including a whole complex of doctrines and practices. Mormons recognize that other faiths possess true beliefs and practices that are congruent with our own. This is inclusivist. Mormons claim that other faiths lack some of the true and salvific beliefs and practices we have. This is exclusivist. Mormons believe that others have divinely inspired sources of truth independent of our own. This is pluralistic. All of these are true, and there is no contradiction between them. So, what are we arguing about? Now I think there is more to the pluralism. I think Mormon scripture and tradition indicate that there are religious truths we do not have which have been possessed by others and of which some are still out there somewhere in the world. I have given some of the sources for this idea. I would also remind y’all of the sealed two-thirds of the Book of Mormon which Mormons hope to have revealed to them some day when we’re ready. Two thirds! This is a more radical pluralism than what is usually expressed in Mormon discourse today, but there are implicit affirmations of it like what we’ve mentioned involving the Amish, C.S. Lewis, etc.

    Thinker, I am generally sympathetic to the idea that the meaning of language is to be understood in terms of what people do, but you are taking it too far. If I tell someone, “I’ll pay you my rent on the first day of each month,” and then my landlord complains because I consistently hand over the check some time in the second week of the month, does this mean my landlord misunderstood what I meant by “the first day of the month”? No! It means my actions do not match my words. If Mormon practice is not as pluralistic as Mormon theology, it means Mormons are not living up to their theology.

  44. SmallAxe on June 4, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    I was a long-haired, bearded, sandal-wearing, Nader-voting, and yet temple-going, Sunday School teaching Mormon for years, so it’s going to be pretty tough to convince me it can’t be done. I cut my hair for the job market, not for church! I have another pair of sandals coming in the mail tomorrow . . .

    Sunday school teach, yes. Scout master, sure. Church Educational System instructor, yeah right. Professor at a Church school, dream on. Bishop, highly unlikely. GA, not in this generation.

    Mormons believe that others have divinely inspired sources of truth independent of our own. This is pluralistic.

    I don’t think most Mormons believe such. I think most members subscribe to a light of Christ theory which subsumes “their” truth under “ours”. I actually do want to respond to your use and clarification of “pluralism”, but do not have the time at the moment.

  45. Kaimi Wenger on June 4, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    Ben,

    You clearly need to better than this for your official T&S photo . . .

  46. Blain on June 4, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    So, does Mormon faith fit well with American principles of democracy, self-determination, and pluralism?

    At least as well as any of the Protestant faiths that founded America ever have, although I’m not sure that Mormonism exactly teaches any of those things in a resounding fashion. Democracy is okay, unless you can always have a moral king, which is better. Self-determination is an expression of free agency, and is an important principle, but the best thing you can do is to follow God’s will — I’m thinking here of the teachings of Brigham Young on marriage as an expression of romantic love that would likely offend many of the students at his namesake university. Pluralism? “Let them worship how, where and what they may” works better than most anything I’ve heard from the “Celebrate Diversity” crowd, even if aggregated individual Mormons have a problem with people who disagree on fundamental faith points.

    Religious tolerance was still a rather wild and radical concept at the time the Church was founded — it hadn’t really settled in yet. Early Mormons weren’t all great at it, and certainly neither were their neighbors.

    Back toward the top of the original post, I’m increasingly curious how people are so terribly concerned that Mitt Romney will be a puppet in the hands of Pres. Hinckley if elected president, but I never hear anybody voicing similar concerns about Harry Reid. Is there the slightest evidence anywhere that anybody is aware of to show that Bro. Romney governed Massachusetts (or that Bro. Reid has lead the Senate) under the direction of anybody in the CoB? I recognize that nobody here seems to be arguing for this position, so I’m not challenging anybody here to back up this position as if it is their own, but, rather, to know if anybody is aware of any such evidence that could conceivable substantiate this concern.

    39 — Mormonism is very much a blending of apparently divergent questions. Salvation by Grace or Works? How about Salvation by Grace through Works? I’m increasingly amazed at the audacity of this dinky little 19th Century group planning to take their own understanding of the Gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people, and of seeing all of those people as children of God and spiritual siblings when very few of the people of the world could see them as siblings of any kind.

  47. Adam Greenwood on June 4, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Mormons believe that others have divinely inspired sources of truth independent of our own. This is pluralistic.

    I don’t think most Mormons believe such. I think most members subscribe to a light of Christ theory which subsumes “their” truth under “ours”.

    I don’t get the complaint here. Are you saying that to be truly pluralistic Mormons would have to think that the truths found in other faiths and cultures weren’t ultimately from God?

  48. Bob on June 4, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    “Mormons believe that others have divinely inspired sources of truth independent of our own. This is pluralistic.”
    In other words, if another Faith said “We know something about Jesus Christ you don’t”…we would be open to hearing it. I don’t think we would be.

  49. Matt B on June 4, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    “I think most members subscribe to a light of Christ theory which subsumes “their” truth under “ours”.

    There is something to this, I think; we tend to transform all ‘good’ non-Mormon religious figures – like our hero William Tyndale – into proto-Mormons. That is, they happened to be right (ie, like us) several centuries ago rather than being influences on our own ways of thinking about or expressing faith. We kind of negate history in that sense.

  50. BTW on June 5, 2007 at 12:13 am

    Oh, so mormons embrace “let them worship how, where, or what they may” as long as this worship doesn’t embrace polygomy? What’s legal/illegal got to do with it? The polygomist prophets practised it illegallly and claimed God’s law was higher than man’s law. But now, of course, to fit in with the mainstream we must punish this practise because it’s illegal?

  51. beorn on June 5, 2007 at 3:25 am

    MikeInWeHo (39): Mormonism presents a fascinating combination of exclusivity (only true church) and universalism (some degree of salvation for just about everyone).

    The doctrine of the scattering and gathering of Israel comes to mind. Israel’s exclusivism is portrayed in its designation as the “chosen seed.” The seed is then dispersed to the four winds and thereby all nations of the earth are blessed. The Saints naturally take on a more pluralistic/inclusivistic appearance.

    However, even though the Mormon ranks include people from varying backgrounds worldwide, it is still the calling of Latter-Day Saints to facilitate the expansion of the only true and living Church on the face of the whole earth, at the exclusion of all other churches.

  52. beorn on June 5, 2007 at 3:31 am

    Correction: the Church has also facilitated the growth of other religions as well. I remember hearing that the First Presidency approved a $25,000 donation towards the construction of the Krishna temple in Spanish Fork. There are likely other examples.

  53. SmallAxe on June 5, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Mormons believe that others have divinely inspired sources of truth independent of our own. This is pluralistic.

    I don’t think most Mormons believe such. I think most members subscribe to a light of Christ theory which subsumes “their” truth under “ours”.

    I don’t get the complaint here. Are you saying that to be truly pluralistic Mormons would have to think that the truths found in other faiths and cultures weren’t ultimately from God?

    I more or less agree with Bob, but maybe I can clarify myself a little more. I actually agree with Ben’s usage of “pluralistic” here. However, I don’t think this statement is accurate. A more true statement would be “Most Mormons believe that others have divinely inspired sources of truth dependant on their own.” This is not pluralistic. This is inclusivistic. Their systems fit into ours. If they provide anything “new” it is only a reminder of something we already have. To be pluralistic would be to say that they contribute to the system in a way in which they are not simply reduced to our terms. I don’t see the theology of most Mormons being “pluralistic”. I think one could work out a pluralistic Mormon theology, as Ben is pushing toward, but I do not think that it can be argued as the Mormon theology (which it seems that some assume it is).

    In regards to Ben’s defintion of “pluralism”…. Using Webster’s definition of “pluralism” in a theological/religious context to (perhaps) make a political point, conflates the discourses of theology and politics. In regards to Mormon faith claims, a robust inclusivism could satisfy the same political requirements Ben asserts in the beginning of the post. In other words, Mormons could be pluralists in political theory, but inclusivists in theology (although this may oversimplify the relationship between theology and political theory).

  54. Bob on June 5, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Beorm,
    Are you saying Zionism is Pluralistic? How can you make ‘gather’ and ‘disperse’ mean the same thing?

  55. Bob on June 5, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    #39: Yes, RLDS/CoC. And no matter how many Temples are built, Salt Lake Mormons will never catch them!

  56. Ben Huff on June 5, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    (#47) In other words, if another Faith said “We know something about Jesus Christ you don’t”…we would be open to hearing it. I don’t think we would be.

    What about the Amish? C.S. Lewis? Our leaders use their insights and examples to teach principles they think the LDSaints need to learn better. There’s a limit to how much of this we do; we have other spiritual goals that often take priority; but theologically we are committed (by our texts, even if some of us aren’t paying attention to them) to the idea that this should happen sometimes.

    SmallAxe (#52), I don’t really think it is a conflation (which implies error) to use a political notion of pluralism in a theological context. The gospel is about how we relate to other human beings as much as how we relate to God. That means politics. We are trying to build a kind of Zion.

    I do agree that most of the point I am trying to make on the political side could be made by appeal to a robust inclusivism in theology, though I am claiming we are (theologically) a notch more pluralistic than that.

    Thanks for mentioning the Krishna temple donation, beorn. This is the kind of thing that really ought to come up in a conversation like this. And I know there were other kinds of friendly support given by wards and stakes in the area, e.g. service projects to contribute labor.

  57. Ben H on June 5, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Ha! I’ll see what I can do Kaimi . . .

  58. Bob on June 5, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    “What about the Amish? C.S. Lewis?” Yes, accepting something new from them about Jesus Christ, we didn’t know, would be Pluralistic.

  59. SmallAxe on June 5, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    I don’t really think it is a conflation (which implies error) to use a political notion of pluralism in a theological context. The gospel is about how we relate to other human beings as much as how we relate to God.

    Alright, let me try it this way. The way you have conflated categories neglects the discourse on religious pluralism by individuals such as Hick, Knitter, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Dupuis, Heim, et al. I agree that a great deal of complexity is involved in the relating of categories, as you mention; but a discussion about religious pluralism without some attention paid to this discourse is like discussing virtue ethics without the discourse of Plato, Aristotle, or Aquinas in the background.

    What about the Amish? C.S. Lewis?
    I too enjoy when these types of references are made, but for the most part I see them employed more as reminders of truths or virtues that are already ours but we’ve been neglecting. The attitude seems to be “look how wonderfully they express this truth/virtue that we used to pay attention to/know about, but have pushed it aside”, not “look at what new and wonderful thing we’ve learned from the Amish/Lewis.” I do believe that there are times when the latter attitude is employed; but I do not think it is the norm, both practically and textually.

  60. Russell Arben Fox on June 5, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Ben,

    If you want to argue that LDS are inclusivist rather than pluralistic, I need you to explain what you mean by inclusivist and how this implies the negation of pluralist.

    I don’t think I have argued that; I have observed that some of the examples you’ve brought up seem to me to represent more of an inclusivistic than a truly pluralistic position, but I don’t think I’ve said that the one is incompatible with the other. (If you think I have, then I must have written one of my comments in a sloppy manner, because that’s not what I intended to say.)

    My dispute with your original post is solely theological: I don’t think you’ve made a particularly strong case for what you originally termed a “serious theological pluralism”–which, upon my reading, could only be supported by demonstrating that Mormonism recognizes the validity and effaciousness of claims to truth and/or morality and/or salvation which are entirely absent from homegrown Mormon teaching and indeed are possibly in opposition to our own teaching, thus showing a need for us to be corrected and/or expanded in our own understandings in the exact same way our missionaries go out to correct and/or expand others in their understandings. Anything less than that is not “theological pluralism,” which as far as I can tell means “a plurality of distinct ways of truthfully and/or morally and/or salvationally talking about God.” (This is also, again as far as I can tell, what a phrase like “serious theological pluralism” would be assumed to mean in the writings of thinkers like Isaiah Berlin, Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre, Stephen R.L. Clark, Quentin Skinner, Richard Rorty, etc.) To say “other folks have valid truths which do not contradict our own and which in time can be added to our own for the benefit of all” is not real pluralism in a theological sense; it’s just growth. “Letting a hundred flowers bloom” isn’t pluralism if it turns out that the flowers all fit into a pre-planned pattern.

    I don’t mean to turn this wholly into a semantic argument, but it surprises me (and, again, suggests that I must not be writing very clearly) that you don’t see what I’m getting at. Look at your own proposes definition of pluralism: “a concept, doctrine, or policy advocating a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.” There’s nothing in there that has anything whatsoever to do with theology or morality or the status of truth claims; it has to do ways of life and political and social organization. Not that the latter isn’t important; it is! But demonstrating that Mormon history and practice allows for and indeed perhaps even promotes that kind of pluralism is not the same as demonstrating that we have “seriously pluralistic” view of God or the heavens or the commandments; and moreover, demonstrating one does not necessarily translate into a case for the other, since you can have one without the other.

    Now all that said, it’s not as though I think you’ve failed to make any valid points. You’re right that there are passages of scripture which may be interpreted in a theologically pluralistic way. And there is the increasing comfort which many Mormon thinkers and leaders have in relying upon the writings of other Christians like C.S. Lewis in order to shape our own understanding of the Book of Mormon. But I’d need more than that to be convinced. (Your example of the belief that there is another two-thirds of the Book of Mormon yet to come forth doesn’t strike me as an argument for pluralism at all, unless you want to argue that there is an assumption implicit somewhere in our teachings about that hidden two-thirds which states that we expect it to utterly confound and differ from what the first third of the BoM had already taught. If such an assumption isn’t out there, then the possibility of a new bunch of scripture being released doesn’t amount to “radical pluralism”; it just means more truth(s) to go along with what we have now. Or do you think that the simple fact of revelation itself equals “pluralism”?)

  61. Russell Arben Fox on June 5, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    I notice that SmallAxe has made essentially my same point in #58, only much more succinctly. Good work, SA.

  62. Bob on June 5, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Russell
    You missed a memo (#56). Ben has now moved on to ‘Limited
    Pluralism’. I guess I used mine limit up on reading about Dumbo’s feather. No matter, back to trying to understand Pluralism within the Church.

  63. Adam Greenwood on June 5, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    What I’m missing from both Russell Fox and the dreadfully named SmallAxe is any sense that there’s a middle ground between thinking that the contradictory truth claims of other groups can be equally valid to one’s own and thinking that we’re the end all and be all. The middle way, which Ben calls pluralism and is probably as good a term as any, is that other groups are valid receptables of truth, goodness, and God’s unmediated action, potentially even in places where we lack, though ultimately not equally so.

  64. SmallAxe on June 5, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Adam,

    SmallAxe like to chop GreenWood… why else would you find it so “dreadful”?

    I think you’re missing the point that the debate is not about providing a “middle ground” between exclusive truth claims on the one hand and relativism on the other (I think we all agree that there is in effect this middle ground, even if we may disagree on how large it is), it’s about the appropriateness of labeling Mormon theology as “pluralistic”. I don’t think Mormonism, as a whole, is pluralistic by most (if not all) of the definitions provided here. I find that problematic. I do believe that a Mormon theology of pluralism can and should be created, yet I do not think it should masquerade as the norm. If “pluralism” is “as good as any other term”, why not consent to “inclusivism”?

  65. Adam Greenwood on June 5, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    I consent, provided I get to define inclusivism the same way I’m defining pluralism, or along the lines of your definition in #17.

    Part of the problem is that pluralism and inclusivism have somewhat different meanings in politics than they do in theology or sociology or philosophy or whatever, and Ben H. started us out in a political context.

  66. Bob on June 5, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    SmallAxe
    Upon reading your post, I was moved to pull a long forgotten or overlooked book by Vardis Fisher “Children of God”. It is his great novel of the Church moving from the 19th to the 20th century. Fisher always believe the move would kill Mormonism. It didn’t.
    As a young man, I held the hand of David O. McKay, as he sat in his wheel chair in Temple Square. That Church is no more.
    My question now: can the Church move to Pluralism, and at what price? Must it again give up the 19th century?

  67. Ben H on June 5, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    SmallAxe, actually I have read some philosophical essays on religious pluralism, exclusivism, etc. For example, in January I taught a course on philosophy of religion in which we read essays by John Hick, Al Plantinga, David Basinger, and Joseph Runzo. This is a blog, of course, so I don’t assume my readers have read anything in particular. What insights do you think we need to bring in from the authors you mentioned?

    What I’ve read doesn’t focus enough on the questions that arise for a specifically Mormon answer to the question of pluralism to get us much farther than I think we’ve already gotten. For example, in part III of his article, “God, Commitment, and Other Faiths” (Faith and Philosophy 5:4, Oct 1988) Joseph Runzo (who is commenting on Cantwell-Smith and others) says, “Religious Inclusivists jointly hold two these: That other religions convey part of the truth about Ultimate Reality and the relation of humanity to Ultimate Reality, but that only one’s own tradition most fully provides an understanding of Ultimate Reality, and most adequately provides a path to salvation.” This idea of inclusivism clearly is a good match for how Mormons understand what we have. Mormons believe their church provides the most complete and adequate understanding of God and path to salvation around, though there are partial truths found elsewhere. We already knew that, though it is useful to have a word, inclusivism, for this position.

    So now, does this tell us whether Mormons are pluralist? It depends on what you mean by pluralism. I am inclined to say that inclusivism in this sense is a form of pluralism. If other religious traditions have independently arrived at real truths, then they are independent sources of truth. Mormonism is pluralistic in recognizing a plurality of sources of truth (“Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?”). Nor does inclusivism in Runzo’s sense imply that one thinks all the truth anyone has is contained in one’s own tradition. Inclusivism is compatible with the idea that one’s own tradition has all truth, but does not imply it. Mormonism clearly teaches that we don’t have all truth (9th Article of Faith, continuing revelation, etc.) although we sometimes forget this.

    Runzo defines “Religious Pluralism” as follows: “ultimately all world religions are correct, each offering a different, salvific path and partial perspective vis-a-vis the one ultimate reality” (section II of the same article). I would be inclined to call this something more specific, like salvific pluralism–pluralism with regard to salvation. There are lot of things it makes sense to call pluralism in the neighborhood of religion, and this is only one of them, though an important one. But even with this rather specific notion of pluralism, is it incompatible with inclusivism? No. More than one path can be salvific even if one path is the best. And if you read Alma 29 and 2 Nephi 29, it looks like Mormons may believe more than one path is salvific: “I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life . . . Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience” (Alma 29:4-5) It looks like an up-or-down verdict can be passed based on one’s response to whatever tradition one was given. This point seems reinforced by 2 Nephi 29:11, “For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.” To really give a solid answer to the question of whether and how Mormons are pluralist in this sense would require, among other things, a careful look at what salvation means in a Mormon context (complete with degrees of glory and eternal progression), and I don’t know of any non-Mormons who have done that. But it looks like Mormons might be pluralist and inclusivist, both, even in this radical sense of pluralism, besides the sense in which inclusivism is already a kind of pluralism.

    So I’m not sure how much we need to bring in from the discussion you mentioned, SmallAxe, because it just doesn’t seem fine-grained enough on the questions that arise from a distinctively Mormon standpoint. Since you have it in mind, though, I hope what I’ve said just now is some help. If there is something we really need to bring in, won’t you tell us about it?

  68. Blain on June 5, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    60 — But in the original context it was “So, does Mormon faith fit well with American principles of democracy, self-determination, and pluralism?” Thus, it’s not about “democracy” or “self-determination” or “pluralism” in some abstract sense, but in the sense and to the degree that they represent American principles. You can cherry-pick another phrase from the original post, but that doesn’t take away this piece of context that tempers the claim you’re saying Ben said. And I’m going to worry about Mormonism being less theologically pluralistic when I see a list of 10 major non-Mormon religious leaders in this country praising the truths of the Book of Mormon. I’ll even count Lynn Ridenhour so you’ll have one, although I consider that a stretch (on the “major religious leader” part).

    66 — I don’t know what you’re looking for. The same process by which Pres. McKay was chosen was used to choose every leader since then. I don’t see a way that God ran the Church more or less then than he does now. I would like to see the membership of the Church more comfortable with more of what the Church was in the 19th Century, but that’s a separate question.

  69. Ben H on June 5, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Russell, you said, “I have observed that some of the examples you’ve brought up seem to me to represent more of an inclusivistic than a truly pluralistic position, but I don’t think I’ve said that the one is incompatible with the other.” I have explained how it is that I see inclusivism as (normally, and for Mormons) a form of pluralism. Please explain the contrast between inclusivism and pluralism that renders meaningful your locution of more inclusivist than truly pluralist.

    I have more to say in response to your last lengthy comment, but I’ll get back to this after dinner.

  70. soul rebel on June 5, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Ben Huff (43 re:20): I was a long-haired, bearded, sandal-wearing, Nader-voting, and yet temple-going, Sunday School teaching Mormon for years, so it’s going to be pretty tough to convince me it can’t be done. I cut my hair for the job market, not for church! I have another pair of sandals coming in the mail tomorrow . . .

    SmallAxe (44): Sunday school teach, yes. Scout master, sure. Church Educational System instructor, yeah right. Professor at a Church school, dream on. Bishop, highly unlikely. GA, not in this generation.

    Also, Ben, what you did by cutting your hair for a job symbolizes to me exactly what Mormons did over time to gain acceptance in the world. I understand – one must sell out to the man. I just think that this is especially sad considering the truly revolutionary roots of the LDS movement. I suppose the Church is still a few critical steps away from establishing the Zion ideal. For the time being, it seems necessary to “make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness.” (Luke, D+C)

  71. SmallAxe on June 5, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Part of the problem is that pluralism and inclusivism have somewhat different meanings in politics than they do in theology or sociology or philosophy or whatever, and Ben H. started us out in a political context.

    OK, but I must point out how odd it is that both Russell and myself are pushing toward just about the same point–Russell from the discourse of political thought and me from the discourse of theology. And Ben clearly states in his openning post, “Mormons thus maintain a serious theological pluralism.”

    I should also make clear that I agree with most of Ben’s thoughts. I disagree however with any claim that asserts Mormons are basically pluralists, the problem is that most just don’t realize it yet. This is the same inclusivistic tendency ironically creeping up in a pluralist theory.

    I think some Mormons in the past have been pluralists, some Mormons are pluralists now, all Mormons are pluralists in certain things, all Mormons will never be pluralists in certain things, and there are many things we should be more pluralistic about.

  72. Ben Huff on June 5, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Russell says (#60): I don’t think you’ve made a particularly strong case for what you originally termed a “serious theological pluralism”–which, upon my reading, could only be supported by demonstrating that Mormonism recognizes the validity and effaciousness of claims to truth and/or morality and/or salvation which are entirely absent from homegrown Mormon teaching and indeed are possibly in opposition to our own teaching . . .

    What would this look like, Russell? It sounds like you are saying we have to accept and reject the same thing at the same time in order to be pluralistic. We have to affirm something we don’t teach, even something in opposition to our teaching? How would we do this? Maybe that is a kind of pluralism, but it sounds like incoherence to me. What I think is realistic is to say that there are truths we don’t yet have, and others may have some of them. If we could say what those truths are, we would have them.

    When you say that theological pluralism means “a plurality of distinct ways of truthfully and/or morally and/or salvationally talking about God,” that makes sense to me, and I think the scriptures I’ve quoted directly affirm it. How much truth and morality is found elsewhere and how far it gets one toward salvation is a more subtle question. Israel was given through Moses a preparatory gospel of sorts, but still had to be saved through Christ, which they didn’t always recognize. Still, it was designed to and presumably did at least move them a certain distance closer to salvation, so it was salvific in that sense.

    But even “other folks have valid truths which do not contradict our own and which in time can be added to our own for the benefit of all” is a serious kind of pluralism, it seems to me, if we recognize that these truths were independently obtained, and especially if we allow that some of them are truths we don’t already have.

    You say about my proposed definition, “There’s nothing in there that has anything whatsoever to do with theology or morality or the status of truth claims.” But if their autonomy consists in their having independent access to truth about God, from God, and their autonomous activities are religious and theological activities which we for theological and religious reasons respect and appreciate, then it has plenty to do with theology, and that’s what I meant to be saying.

  73. Ben Huff on June 5, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Okay, soul rebel, cutting my hair was a compromise. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing, though. Sometimes compromise is a way of playing nice with one’s fellow human beings, responding to their wants and needs. If your ideal involves a kind of friendship and care for other people, then compromise is an expression of the ideal rather than an erosion of it.

  74. Bob on June 5, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Ben (#68) ( Runzo) “ultimately all world religions are correct,”……….to this you add: (Ben) “it looks like Mormons may believe more than one path is salvific…….”. Again, see First Vision. Do you really think Mormons, Mormonism, The Mormon Church, believes this? If so, you win! Mormons are Pluralists.

  75. soul rebel on June 6, 2007 at 3:30 am

    Indeed, compromises must be made as one progresses line upon line towards the ideal. But if the ideal is already attainable, then why must a Faustian bargain be made?

    Perhaps the ideal is actually unattainable at this point. Perhaps the revolution is futile until the King of Kings actually reigns supreme. As it stands currently, Mormons are stuck with the compromise known as the United States of America, a nation whose government has been usurped by Gadianton Robbers.

  76. Russell Arben Fox on June 6, 2007 at 8:30 am

    Well, Ben, I don’t know if we’re getting anywhere or not. It seemed to me that your comment #67 reflected a shift in your position (though perhaps it wasn’t a shift, and rather I’ve just been misreading you all along) that I could agree with, but then comment #72 reads to me as though you’re taking that back. Either way, I do think I understand better what you’re claiming.

    In #67, you offer up what strikes me as a probably widely accepted definition of religious inclusivism: the belief that “other religions convey part of the truth about ultimate reality and the relation of humanity to ultimate reality, but that only one’s own tradition most fully provides an understanding of ultimate reality, and most adequately provides a path to salvation.” And I think you’re right in suggesting that such a position is “a good match for how Mormons understand what we have.” You then provide what also strikes me as likely a broadly accepted definition of religious pluralism: “ultimately all world religions are correct, each offering a different, salvific path and partial perspective vis-a-vis the one ultimate reality.” And here is where things get interesting: you suggest that this latter definition shouldn’t actually be taken to describe religious or theological pluralism in general, but rather as only one facet of it; what you call “salvific pluralism.”

    Now this is an interesting argument; by making religious pluralism less about about the specific salvific efficacy of truth claims and/or moral dictates, and more generally about–I am supposing here; you don’t explicitly say–means and structures and processes as well as beliefs, then I can make sense of the idea that religious inclusivism would be a form of religious pluralism, rather than in contrast to it, which is what my statement “more inclusivistic than pluralistic” implied. And perhaps this is what you’ve been getting at all along, with your reliance from the start on quasi-sociopolitical terminology to make a theological point. Since Mormonism holds that there are other traditions that God has guided in certain ways, and that there are other truths–ones perfectly compatible with our truth, of course, since they have the same Source–that we are going to have to learn or have revealed to us, in part through our interaction with those other traditions, then it makes to say that Mormons believe we have doctrinal reasons for respecting other traditions, studying them, establishing societies where we can tolerate and learn one another, etc. If this is all you’re saying, then I’m with you, and if you want to call it a “form of [religious] pluralism,” well, I suppose that makes sense. (You seem to reiterate this point in #72, when you say that the pluralism you’re discussing turns on the idea of the autonomy and independence from Mormonism of those traditions which Mormonism nonetheless respects.)

    But then you go on to argue, on the basis of Alma 29:4-5 and 2 Nephi 29:11, that it is our doctrine that God is going to be judging people–measuring out their path(s) of salvation, as it were–on the basis of whatever they receive, from whatever tradition, and that such a doctrine constitutes (here are those words again) a more “radical pluralism” than that form of pluralism called inclucivism. My first instinct–one which reflects much of what I’ve written in this whole thread–is that what is being described in those scriptures (and in some of the other examples you’ve brought up) doesn’t amount to what you say it does, because the point of those scriptures is that God is merciful, and will not hold people accountable to truths they did not know during their time in mortality, and yet also gives His light and spirit to all people sufficient for them to make choices between good and evil in mortality. Those scriptures do not, on my reading, suggest that God is making a statement about the sufficiency, efficacy, or indeed ultimate worth of whatever portion of light and knowledge is available to His childred through different traditions; all I see is a statement about how God will act in response to people living their lives with different portions of the truth, not a statement about those truths themselves. And here we come back to definitions again; if you want to say that Mormonism teaches some sort of salvific or radical or “serious theological” pluralism, then you’ve got to address the status of the truths and morals taught themselves.

    In #72, you write in response to my explanation of religious pluralism that “it sounds like you are saying we have to accept and reject the same thing at the same time in order to be pluralistic….[that we would] have to affirm something we don’t teach, even something in opposition to our teaching”; you conclude by saying that this sounds like “incoherence.” Exactly! This is the very debate that has occupied at least a few philosophers and theologians and political theorists (some of whose names have already come up in this thread) for a couple of hundred years now. The modern Western world–a world very different from the one Luther and Calvin knew!–is one that has gradually accepted pluralism as normative; with various exceptions here and there in various venues, in Western societies today you are not going to see the laws and norms by which people live explicitly adhering to a single set of truths, because for sociopolitical purposes it has been accepted that multiple, conflicting, even incommensurable thoughts about truth exist and can be made to co-exist. The argument has long been: what is to become of revealed religion in such a sociopolitical world? The general assumption on the part of most of those who like sociopolitical pluralism is that religion must be carefully limited and privatized in its operations, because it is a given that religious claims cannot be truly pluralistic in the way modern society requires. A religion cannot teach that there is a prophet of God in Salt Lake City today and teach that Muhammad was God’s last prophet. Teaching such oppositions, such multiple and conflicting truths, would be incoherent. So under this definition of “pluralism”–a definition reflected in modern Western society at large, a definition which has been shaped by centuries of revolutions and religious war, a definition that assumes that, ultimately, what religion is about is truth claims and moral edicts and teachings about salvation, none of which could be taken seriously if they were incoherent–revealed religion is tension with the pluralistic reality of today, and cannot avoid being so.

    I take this challenge pretty seriously; I see no good, compelling reason to introduce a definition of pluralism which elides this charge of incoherence (though, as I said above, if you want to present “religious pluralism” as a multifaceted concept that inclucivism could be a form of, I have no problem with that). Admittedly, I’m intellectually invested here; a good part of my dissertation was about various 18th and 19th-century German Romantics (Hamman, Hegel, and particularly Herder), who spent part of their careers trying to come up with a truly pluralistic (generally panentheistic) Christian religion, one in which the definition of truth, or at least the way in which we talk about truth, was reworked and historicized so it would be possible to really see God’s ultimate purposes–not just His inspiration and grace, but His definite salvific plan for humankind–in, for example, Islam and Mormonism simultaneously. I think a lot of their solutions were genius; I have friends and colleagues who are convinced that all their claimed pluralism ultimately falls apart–you can never, they say, get around the problem of having several incompatible things add up to the same thing (that same thing being a single true God who will save His children). But in any case, that’s the issue, as I see it. If we want to talk about the autonomy of and differences between traditions, and how God uses them to revealing saving truths to His children, then we can, and we can call it “religious pluralism” if you’d like (again, your argument about inclucivism being a form of pluralism makes sense). Certainly there is a kind of pluralism present in the notion that God would reveal a prepatory gospel to the Jews, but the full gospel to a different group at a different time; or that God would reveal Himself and give one record to the Nephites, but reveal Himself at a different time and presumably support the creation of a different record amongst the other tribes. But unless somewhere in all of this you can show me evidence that what we’re talking about is the actual nature of the ultimate truths in those revelations themselves, then I’m going to have to continue to argue that “radical pluralism” is not to be found in Mormonism (yet!).

    Yes, I know, I just wrote an article. Kudos to anyone who makes it all the way through.

  77. Bob on June 6, 2007 at 11:11 am

    #76: What Russell said.

  78. Ben H on June 6, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Okay, Russell, it is clear that you have a very specific idea of theological pluralism that you are very invested in. That is fine, but most people aren’t invested in that particular idea. The idea that this has somehow become accepted as a prevailing norm for Western society I think is a big exaggeration.

    There are a few academics who have convinced themselves that this kind of pluralism is the new dominant paradigm–maybe a large percentage of academics, but a rather small portion of society as a whole. There are a lot of confused youths and some ex-hippies and Howard Dean supporters and such who really feel this way. And we have a society that is somewhat schizophrenic in its institutions and norms and practices. But what the West is deeply invested in is not pluralism in the sense you describe. There is a little bit of actual pluralism, combined with a lot of egalitarianism and individualism, a lot of muddling through, uncertainty, and incoherence, a lot of pragmatic refraining from fussing too much over absolutes, and a lot of getting used to disagreeing with people. Advocates of pluralism point to a lot of things as signs that their ideal has been embraced, but a lot of that is not pluralism but egalitarianism or individualism or relativism or pragmatism. Pluralism as some sort of absolute is something only a few really embrace. That’s how I read the situation anyway. So the idea that somehow to move into the modern era religion generally or Mormonism in particular needs to embrace incoherence-pluralism is just a misreading of what the modern era is. This kind of pluralism is certainly not central to the American project, as passionately as some may wish it were.

    Incoherence-pluralism is incoherent, and it is not what I take Joseph Runzo to mean when he identifies religious pluralism. Nor is it really what John Hick, for example, has in mind.

    So what do we make of the scriptures I’ve referred to? You say, “all I see is a statement about how God will act in response to people living their lives with different portions of the truth, not a statement about those truths themselves.” Maybe it is more a statement obout God’s love than a statement about the value of other traditions, but what does it in fact say about these other traditions? Here again we are seeing why I think the usual spiel about inclusivism vs. exclusivism vs. pluralism just doesn’t really address the relevant questions from a Mormon standpoint. Are these other traditions salvific? I think the Mormon answer is, “Well, somewhat salvific.” Salvation is what Alma is talking about, and he says God gives people portions of the truth because he loves them. The FP statement that says God worked through Mohammed and others is titled as a statement “regarding God’s Love for All Mankind”, but the point of the scriptures I quoted is that he expresses his love in this way, by guiding them.

    So where are we at? I am not and was never trying to say that Mormon theology is pluralistic in the “radical” sense you have in mind, which I’m calling incoherence-pluralism. I am not very interested in that kind of pluralism, and I don’t think America is, either, people like Richard Rorty notwithstanding. But as I explained in my last couple of comments, I think Mormon theological pluralism is more radical than mere inclusivism.

    Bob, I’ve never said that other religions and cultures were free of serious error, which is what Christ was telling Joseph in the First Vision. Religions and cultures are complex and mix truth and error all the time. Joseph was being prepared to receive something much more pure and true. I don’t see a contradiction here.

  79. SmallAxe on June 6, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    I was hoping to have more time to respond to this today than I’ve had; but I figured I should probably put up some initial thoughts rather than letting it sit for another day.

    This is a blog, of course, so I don’t assume my readers have read anything in particular.

    I assumed that you were acquainted with some of the discourse, which is why I was so surprised that you employed a m-w.com definition for pluralism. I certainly don’t expect a highly technical discussion on a blog, but I do expect the sophistication of the technicality to be maintained (albeit in more accessible terminology); especially from someone such as yourself.

    So I’m not sure how much we need to bring in from the discussion you mentioned, SmallAxe, because it just doesn’t seem fine-grained enough on the questions that arise from a distinctively Mormon standpoint.

    So basically we already have all the tools we need to work out a theory of pluralism, so there’s no need for all this other stuff? Sounds like a rather inclusivistic claim, when attempting to make a pluralistic point. I know you can’t really believe that. Would you agree with the assertion that we should push aside non-Mormon ethical theories in attempting work out a Mormon ethic because of our unique position on ethics and the fact that we already have ethics as found in scriptures X, Y, and Z?

    Regardless of our “distinctiveness”, there is significant overlap on issues of dealing with religious truth claims. I think we (Mormons and these theologians) ask similar questions: How do we deal with exclusive soteriological claims (salvation only through Christ)?
    Can we broaden our conception of “sources of truth” (to use your term) to include other religious traditions? What are the implications of this (metaphysically, etc.)? Do we really worship the same God? How do we relate with these other traditions, especially when they seem to have so much good in them?

    To provide one concrete example, Hick takes the position that all religions are attempts to relate to the same transcendent. He calls it the “Real”. Since no religion has complete knowledge about this Real, we should be open to the possibility that others could in fact be true expressions of this same Real. For Mormons, the first statement sounds similar to the opening line of the missionary discussions (Most people believe in a supreme being but may call him different names). Are we comfortable, however, admitting that there are things that we do not know about God, that others somehow do? Does this admit that we may be wrong about certain aspects of God? While you may rush into this question saying, “Sure, see AoF 9, yada yada”, many others may feel uncomfortable with that and interpret scriptures such as AoF 9 as a statement that there are things we do not know, but those things will only come through the correct priesthood channels; which other religions are most definitely not. Heim, who provides a thorough critique of Hick, provides an alternative vision which may actually be more compatible for Mormons (of which I have not enough time to convey). Point being, I don’t see how you can be so dismissive.

    I should also quickly add that while Runzo’s definition of inclusivism may not conflict with his notion of pluralism, there are other more useful ways of defining the terms. Some of which I have suggested in earlier posts.

    Related to this is your notion of “independent sources of truth”. For all the scriptures you cite, there are unfortunately many more that are exclusive. Furthermore, it is difficult to prove that the passages you present should not be read with the attitude of “they simply express less of the same light that we have”. It seems like a forced reading to interpret them as injunctions to go out and learn from other traditions.

    I guess what I am pushing at is that a purely historical justification of pluralism will not work. While it can be proved to be a historical possibility, it cannot be proven to be the norm past Mormons were searching for. Can we accept that we highlight certain portions of scripture according to our time and downplay others? Can we deal with an attitude different than, “this is what we’ve really believed all along”? I guess I am more interested in how you can justify a Mormon pluralism, rather than how will actually create one.

  80. greenfrog on June 7, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    I’m venturing here with some trepidation, as I’m generally unread with respect to the various thinkers identified in this thread. But this caught my attention:

    …To provide one concrete example, Hick takes the position that all religions are attempts to relate to the same transcendent. He calls it the “Real”. Since no religion has complete knowledge about this Real, we should be open to the possibility that others could in fact be true expressions of this same Real. For Mormons, the first statement sounds similar to the opening line of the missionary discussions (Most people believe in a supreme being but may call him different names). Are we comfortable, however, admitting that there are things that we do not know about God, that others somehow do? Does this admit that we may be wrong about certain aspects of God? While you may rush into this question saying, “Sure, see AoF 9, yada yada”, many others may feel uncomfortable with that and interpret scriptures such as AoF 9 as a statement that there are things we do not know, but those things will only come through the correct priesthood channels; which other religions are most definitely not.

    Can someone help me understand how it is even remotely possible that any unique and sentient (and therefore subjective) individual interacting with any object — whether the object is a toaster, another sentient being, or God — would not come away with a unique perspective and understanding of that object? While I don’t want to downplay the similarities of perceptions, nor the possibility of common ground upon which to build societies (religious or otherwise), some of the discussion on this thread seems to assume that the knowledge is independent, absolute, and entirely determinate. When Joseph Smith interacted with God, of course he came away from that encounter with a different perception of God than others had had before him. The same is true of St. Teresa de Avila, St. Juan de la Cruz, and each investigator I had the opportunity to teach as a missionary.

    Each time I enter a Sunday school classroom, I have the opportunity to re-encounter God. Just as I can’t step into the same river twice, neither does the same greenfrog enter the Sunday school classroom. The same is true of each time I commute to work, I unroll a yoga mat, or I cook a meal. In every experience, we can re-engage with God. And as we do so with our changed set of understandings, perceptions, abilities, and faculties, we experience that “object” differently.

    I’m not sure whether this is simply a mundane observation that fits within RAF’s definition of the common view of religious pluralism, but — whatever scripture may say — experientially, is the observation wrong or only marginally relevant?

  81. SmallAxe on June 7, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    Hey greenfrog,

    Venture without trepidation, the post probably should not have ventured into a specific set of thinkers–limiting the audience to only those who are familiar with them. My appologies. I also composed this partially some time ago and did not finish it so when I hit “submit” there actually may be comments in between that I have not seen.

    Can someone help me understand how it is even remotely possible that any unique and sentient (and therefore subjective) individual interacting with any object — whether the object is a toaster, another sentient being, or God — would not come away with a unique perspective and understanding of that object?

    I take that to be a perfectly good interpretation of the situation if we believe we are in fact experiencing the same thing –in this case, God (or more broadly conceived, religion as the same thing). The analogy that is usually given here is the elephant and the blind men–each person feels after different parts of the elephant assuming it is the whole; but in all reality it is only a portion, or a particular perspective. If we want to talk about this as a form of pluralism, it is a perspectival pluralism–there is only one thing, but a plurality of experiences with it. This seems to be the type of theory that most Mormons would subscribe to if they could add the condition that not all experiences are equal–some are more accuracte descriptions of God.

    The issue, though with this position is two-fold: first of all, are we willing to see ourselves as simply one perspective of many? In the story of the elephant, do we want to be the one telling the story rather than being positioned as one of the “blind men”. Secondly is a question of value. If we have in fact gained access to God through our perspective, what value does the perspective of others play, other than giving me a new glimpse at what I already have? This can cause one to look to other to reinforce what one already believes, rather than looking for truly new insights into God. IMO this is manifest in Mormonism when members look to other religions by searching for parallels. The question is, how can religion X reinforce what I already believe to be true; and not, how can religion X actually teach me something I do not know.

    IMO, the problem with this position is in the assertion that we are all feeling after the same thing. This is a perspectival pluralism (and could be elided, as Ben is doing, with inclusivism–we are all included in the same search); but not an ontological pluralism. Why should we assume that religions are after the same thing? That they serve the same purpose, or are in the same room trying to feel the elephant we are? A pluralistic ontology opens the possibility that other religions could contribute things of ontological value and not simply perspectival (or “hermeneutical l”) value.

  82. Bot on June 9, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    · Christ’s Atonement: .

    But Mormons don”t term Catholics and Protestants “non-Christian”. . They believe Christ’s atonement in Gethsemane and on the Cross applies to all mankind. . The dictionary definition of a Christian is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ”: . All of the above denominations are followers of Christ, and consider him divine, and the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. They all worship the one and only true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and address Him in prayer as prescribed in The Lord’s Prayer.

    It”s important to understand the difference between Reformation and Restoration when we consider who might be authentic Christians. If members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) embrace early Christian theology , they are likely more “Christian” than their detractors.

    * * *

    · Christ-Like Lives: . . .The 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion published by UNC-Chapel Hill found that Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) youth (ages 13 to 17) were more likely to exhibit these Christian characteristics than Evangelicals (the next most observant group):

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . LDS Evangelical

    Attend Religious Services weekly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71% . . . . 55%

    Importance of Religious Faith in shaping daily life –

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . extremely important .. 52. . . . . . . 28

    Believes in life after death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 . . . . . . 62

    Believes in psychics or fortune-tellers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 5

    Has taught religious education classes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 . . . . . . 28

    Has fasted or denied something as spiritual discipline . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 . . . . . . 22

    Sabbath Observance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 . . . . . . 40

    Shared religious faith with someone not of their faith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72 . . . . . . 56

    Family talks about God, scriptures, prayer daily . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 . . . . . . 19

    Supportiveness of church for parent in trying to raise teen

    (very supportive) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .65 . . . . . . 26

    Church congregation has done an excellent job in helping

    Teens better understand their own sexuality and sexual morality . . . . . 84 . . . . . . 35

    Comments appreciated Bot@alum.MIT.edu

WELCOME

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