Can truth be created? In the church, we tend to privilege truth that is discovered, and we dismiss creative doctrine-making attempts as the “philosophies of men”. Our common discourse places the identification of truth as solely within the purview of God’s authority, to be dispensed only through His designated prophet. In this paradigm, discovered truth is the only solid truth, and the only reliable mechanism for discovering truth is authorized revelation through priesthood channels.
This worldview that privileges discovered truth is what anti-Mormons attack when they point out how Joseph Smith’s environment influenced his revelations, translations, and doctrinal innovations. Masonry, Ethan Smith, and kabbalah are threats to the “discovered truth is the only truth that matters” paradigm. The same is true of the observations that Joseph’s later doctrinal innovations came more often in observations and treatises than through explicit revelations.
The attackers suppose that if they can demonstrate that Joseph’s work was influenced by his environment then he was not a true prophet, since a true prophet would obviously reveal supernal truths, unbounded by time and culture (which is how Amos revealed antibiotics and vaccinations and how Isaiah was inspired to draw up plans for the world’s first internal combustion engine).
Obviously, my bias is away from objective, discovered truth and toward intentional, created truth. James Olson’s recent post on Heavenly Mother received a lot of criticism for promoting or exploring a doctrine that is poorly grounded, authoritatively speaking. That criticism is correct — we are grasping at doctrinal straws when we prop up our Heavenly Mother in conversation. In fact, I doubt that we’ll ever have a clear doctrinal treatise on the precise nature and constitution of God, the godhead, and the heavenly hosts.
From a created truth perspective, however, it doesn’t much matter. Rather than ask whether the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is well supported through authorized revelation, I would prefer to ask whether it’s a doctrine that is uplifting, useful, and valuable.
While created or manufactured doctrines may not hold authorized water, it doesn’t mean that they are worthless. Defenders of slavery had clear doctrinal support from the Bible, while the Christian abolitionists had to cherry pick (and perhaps decontextualize) scriptures in order to oppose slavery. That said, I don’t know anyone who feels that emancipation was an unfortunate “philosophy of men”. Building a theological paradigm by cherry picking statements from church authorities can provide hope and real change in the same way that selectively configuring boughs and branches can create a shelter that keeps out the rain. The exercise of agency is not only in choosing what we will receive, but also in how we will apply and privilege the things that we do receive.