Welcome to the eighth chapter of the not quite weekly reading club for Adam Miller’s Future Mormon. For general links related to the book along with links for all the chapter discussions please go to our overview page. Please don’t hesitate to give your thoughts on the chapter. We’re hoping for a good thoroughgoing critical engagement with the text. Such criticisms aren’t treating the text as bad or flawed so much as trying to engage with the ideas Adam brings up. Hopefully people will push back on such criticism if they disagree or even just see flaws in the logic. That’s when we tend to all learn the most.
The very work of seeing truth as truth, of bearing that truth truthfully, depends on our willingness to take up the perpetually necessary project of thinking through the truth again—always once more—from the position of the enemy.
This chapter is Adam’s conception of theology and apologetics. He doesn’t call it that, but I think it’s fundamentally about how he thinks we should think about our religion. There are two main aspects. First is the idea of bravery and love as foundational for thinking in truth. Truth can be used as a weapon which means it’s not part of the essence of truth. Second we have to be able to think truth not just from our perspective but from the perspective of an enemy. For truth to be truth it can’t only work from a single perspective.
Adam’s next step is to question the secular. If secularism is the enemy then from the above we ought love it more and think our truths through secularism. That is if truth to be truth must persist in any perspective, then we have to be able to explain our truths in terms of secularism. Otherwise we’re just caught in subjectivity. To Adam this is not appeasement but resistance. The secular defines itself against the religious, framing the debate. Our first step must thus be to rethink what secular and the religious are, reframing the opposition. To truly engage secularism is thus to rethink what the secular is rather than letting the secularists define it.
Finally Adam attempts to engage with the objective & subjective opposition. If religion is seen as pure subjectivity, as most foes and even some defenders say, think through the issue. In doing this Adam notes that “subjectivity” or “minds” can’t be separated from body. The opposition between mind and body, and thereby objectivity and subjectivity, is a false one. Adam thinks the real task of Mormon thinking is this ground below objectivity and subjectivity.
Adam concludes with a more controversial claim that the “supernatural” is rare and peripheral and not what service is really about.
I suspect for many readers the end of this chapter is a bridge too far. It’s also not really argued for beyond a claim that “the supernatural” is rare and peripheral. But is it? To apply Adam’s same method we might well call into question the traditional opposition between the so-called “supernatural” and natural. After all as materialists, aren’t all things from revelation to angels just natural? And are they really rare? For those who believe they’ve gained their testimony via such an experience they clearly aren’t. Those who feel they’ve received answers to prayers, or received inspiration when giving a blessing, or even stronger experiences don’t think it peripheral. Indeed many would see it as the center to the point that the service Adam wishes us to focus on can be best focused on by paying attention to this manifestation of the heavenly here on earth. It seems odd that in a book that focuses in on grace so heavily that this key common aspect of the Father’s grace is dismissed as peripheral. Adam says “you can sit in church for three hours each Sunday for decades and never see anything supernatural.” That may well be true for some. However for others it is nearly impossible to go to church without encountering the divine grace manifesting itself, if only through the physical manifestation of the Holy Ghost during sacrament.
I get what Adam is getting at with his move, but I think it an unfortunate way of putting it. Further it calls back into question the very meaning of Grace that he is pushing. Put an other way, a critique of the secular might be that is misses Grace. Yet an other critique of Adam’s grace is that he misses Grace for a broader kind of secular Grace which is just manifestation in general. This gets us back to what I brought up in the first chapter. Is a Grace conceived of too broadly missing the Grace before us?
Of course to be fair to Adam he’s not arguing this in a general case. Rather he’s asking how, in love, we are to approach our secular “enemies.” (Of course if we love the secular they’re not our enemies at all) He’s suggesting that by focusing on these aspects of common ground we can reach them in a way that the so-called “supernatural” can’t. This might well be wrapped up in the recognition that even many atheists still recognize the spiritual in say nature. They can be filled with awe at contemplating the universe. But even if we agree on that common ground, how far does it take us? Not very far I fear.