367–368: Faith within a Mormonism that Points Beyond Itself

We all sort of “know” but still very often forget that God and religious and spiritual truths are couched in symbols, language, propositions, metaphors, stories, and ritual actions, meaning that, by definition, a religion’s primary languages themselves are not meant to be taken literally. Words and stories and teachings are not the things in themselves but rather pointers toward them, guides for us to experience these beings and powers more directly and “learn” them for ourselves. In a provocative post a couple of weeks ago on the Rational Faiths blog, “Mormonism as ‘Metaphor and Sacrament’,” Benjamin Knoll introduced writings from scripture, a mystic, a Christian theologian that all made this point about the need to remember to not mistake the pointers for the real thing, to center in relationship with God/Spirit rather than the forms of language and praxis that are central in religious lives. From part of a quotation by Marcus Borg cited in the post: “The Christian life is about a relationship with the one whom the Bible both points to and mediates—namely, a relationship with God as disclosed through the Bible as metaphor and sacrament. To be Christian is to live within this tradition and let it do its transforming work among us.” For Borg, a sacrament is “something visible and physical whereby the Spirit becomes present to us. A sacrament is a means of grace, a vehicle or vessel for the Spirit.”

In this episode, Benjamin Knoll, Brian Hauglid, and Susan Meredith Hinckley join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon to talk about this paradigm–and especially possibilities of it finding more of a home within Mormonism, for this might be quite helpful to many Latter-day Saints struggling for breathing room within a church culture that emphasizes literalness of most scriptural stories and various truth claims. The panel also evaluates the weaknesses of this model and drawbacks that many would see should too many church members come to hold this view. How might a “metaphorical and sacramental” view change one’s interactions with the institutional church, with LDS scriptures, with our wards and branches, with various behavioral expectations in contemporary Mormonism?

It’s a lively discussion that we hope you will join in through the comments section below!

Links to items referenced in these episodes:

Benjamin Knoll, “Mormonism as ‘Metaphor and Sacrament’,” Rational Faiths blog, 2 February 2017

 “Theory of Religious Economy,” Wikipedia (relates to issues of stricter, more high-cost of membership, churches tending to grow and thrive better than others)

Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (HarperCollins, 2004)

Marcus Borg, Convictions: A Manifesto for Progressive Christians (HarperOne, 2014)

Frances Lee Menlove, The Challenge of Honesty: Essays for Latter-day Saints by Frances Lee Menlove (Signature Books, 2013)

 Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford University Press, 2010

123–124: “Emergence Christianity and Mormonism,” Mormon Matters Podcast, 29 August 2012

Reza Aslan, “Why I am a Muslim,” Believer, CNN.com, 26 February 2017 (speaks to similar themes as this podcast episode)

Reza Aslan, “Three Questions to Ask Yourself about Faith,” SuperSoul Sunday, Oprah Winfrey Network

366: Sin

Because it’s so central to Christianity, and because of the concerns so many have about “salvation,” the concept of “sin” deserves fresh consideration. What does scripture say about it? Does that match up with how it is often thought and spoken about within Mormonism? How have our views of it been affected by readings of scripture and thoughts about the Atonement that focus on laws and punishments for breaking them, which, in many ways leaves the view of a loving God practically out of the picture except for providing Jesus Christ to overcome the demands of justice? Does this emphasis on law distort the real harm and effects on us that come from sin? Are there better ways to think about all of it? A few passages of scripture come to the fore as being especially in need of different readings, such as ones that speak of “no unclean thing” being able to “enter the kingdom of heaven,” of God not being able to “look upon sin with the least degree of allowance,” that “the wages of sin is death,” and admonitions to “sin no more” yet “unto the soul who sinneth shall the former sins return.”

In this episode, Adam Miller and Julie de Azevedo-Hanks join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a fresh look at sin and the ways our thinking about it can and often does become distorted. What are the panelists thoughts about the true nature of sin?

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Links:

Julie de Azevedo Hanks, The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2016)

Julie de Azevedo Hanks, The Burnout Cure: An Emotional Survival Guide for Overwhelmed Women (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2013)

Adam S. Miller, Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016)

Adam S. Miller, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (2015)

Adam S. Miller, Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012)

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (HarperCollins, 2015), paperback

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Four Titles,” April 2013 General Conference address

365: More on the Mormon God (with help from Process Theology)

In somewhat of a continuation of our previous episodes (363 & 364), Jim McLachlan and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon are joined by David Ray Griffin, a world-renowned philosopher and theologian specializing in process theology. Griffin has recently published a new book, God Exists But Gawd Does Not: From Evil to Atheism to Fine-Tuning, in which lays out the powerful the arguments against the existence of the omni-everything God of classical theism (what Griffin terms “Gawd”–pronounced as you would “awed”) yet challenges this as the only “God” possible to believe in and worthy of that title. Hence, in the second part of the book he presents and evaluates arguments for the existence of another type of God (that he labels in the book “God”) that is the God of process theology, and very much like the Mormon God in terms of its rejection of creation ex nihilo, and its affirmations of a God who is powerful yet not omnipotent, who exists within a context of other pre-existing entities with whom God seeks to persuade to embody the greatest amount of life and experience possible for them. It’s certainly a book well-grounded in the arguments of many, many other thinkers, with some technical philosophy/theology here and there, but ultimately it is a very accessible and readable overview of arguments for and against the existence of God, which is one of the key issues of the philosophy or religion, but also of many faith journeys, including Mormon ones. For those who find themselves in turmoil as older conceptions of God are falling away for them, this is a must-listen episode. There is a lot of terrific common sense here, as well as hints about lovely possible ways to re-engage with Deity as well as persons and the world around us.

Links:

David Ray Griffin, God Exists But Gawd Does Not: From Evil to New Atheism to Fine-Tuning (Process Century Press, 2016) paperback; Kindle version is here
Element: A Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology, link to online journal. Issue 6:1 (2015) is a special one devoted to Mormonism and Process Theology (including pieces by James McLachlan and Dan Wotherspoon)
Donald W Musser and David L Paulsen, eds., Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies (Mercer University Press, 2007). Contains a section on Mormonism and Process Theology with David Ray Griffin and James McLachlan.
David Ray Griffin, God, Power, & Evil: A Process Theodicy (Westminster Press, 1976), reprint
David Ray Griffin, Evil Revisited: Responses and Reconsiderations (SUNY Press, 1991)
David Ray Griffin, Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (Cornell University Press, 2001)
John B. Cobb, Jr., Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed (Fortress Press, 2016)
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, God, Christ, Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology (Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992)
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, The End of Evil: Process Eschatology in Historical Context (SUNY Press, 1998)
Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God (Columbia University Press, 2011)
Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese, eds., Philosophers Speak of God (Humanity Books, 2000)
Daniel Wotherspoon, Awakening Joseph Smith: Resources in Mormonism for a Postmodern Worldview (doctoral dissertation written under David Ray Griffin, Claremont Graduate University, 1996)

363–364: Mormonism’s Wonderful, Vulnerable God

For many who find themselves in the middle of a faith crisis, casting about for new footing and ways of orienting to life and others, one of largest stumbling blocks is often their view of God. All of a sudden, as they find themselves far more aware of the confusion that marks life on earth, of the horrendous suffering experienced by so many, or the multitude of paths and choices we all must face, the idea of an omnipotent God who is also loving begins to crack. A frequent refrain we’ll hear is for the need to dismiss the idea of a God who regularly helps people with small things such as finding their lost keys yet who does not stop the terrible evils all around, such a that of people being sold into sexual slavery. Interestingly, for Mormons who encounter this disconnect between a God of power and God of love, already built into its theology—however, one that is too often overlooked—is a radically different view of God that mitigates some of this sting. This episode is designed to serve as a reminder of the fundamentally different view of God, God’s power, God’s life, God’s relationship with persons and other existents in this world that Mormonism holds.  And it is these views that, though they don’t make suffering go away, for many Latter-day Saints still allow them to have a deep and abiding faith in a God. For them, it is a wonderful God, even in this God’s vulnerability.

Fiona Givens, James McLachlan, and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon are three such Latter-day Saints who find the LDS framing of God to be rich, deep, and empowering. They find themselves drawn toward this God who is “in the fray” with the rest of creation rather than being outside it, a God who cannot, even if God wanted to, control what unfolds in life, yet who will always return love for hate, largeness whenever faced with smallness, and who suffers “with” us as we meet life’s vicissitudes. In this two-part discussion, they describe this God and why they are attracted to this Being. They also discuss God’s power and its limits, and how this affects their views of scripture (which often depicts an angry God who destroys cities and persons), and God’s ways of intervening in things like healing. In the final section, they argue as well for the superiority of time over eternity and why a God who exists in time alongside other free agents is the only one they could ever truly love.

Links:

Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormons Make Sense of Life (Deseret Book, 2015)

James McLachlan, “Of Time and All Eternity: God and Others in Mormonism and Heterodox Christianity,” Sunstone, July 2008

Daniel Wotherspoon, Awakening Joseph Smith: Resources in Mormonism for a Postmodern Worldview (doctoral dissertation, Claremont Graduate University, 1996)

362: Taking Jesus Seriously

a-christianMeet in this podcast two wonderful, active Latter-day Saints who are “alive in Christ,” Jesus focused, and modeling in their wards and circles a robust faith in Jesus Christ and the transformative power of the Atonement in ways that stretch far beyond forgiveness of one’s sins. They are on engagement paths that both thrill and challenge them (and even frightens them at times) as Jesus continually surprises and calls them into deeper relationship. In this conversation with Mormon Matters host Dan WotherspoonBilly Phillips and Tom Gleason share their stories–quite different from each other–that led them to direct encounters with Jesus that have changed their lives and orientation toward God and their spiritual paths, and also share their views of worship that have been known to stretch the comfort zones of some of their fellow saints. How might Mormonism embrace more enlivened worship and expressions of faith related to a God who actively breaks open previous conceptions? Can Mormonism embrace a less “safe” Deity that, once in contact with, will draw those who experience at this level into a different type of engagement with the church–and, especially, its traditional, “acceptable” ways of doing things?

Link:

Unity Gospel Choir webpage

361: Joy Amidst Sadness: Kim Puzey’s Journey to Peace

kevin-kim-dan-sept-19-2016This episode continues a conversation with one of the panelists from the previous installment, Kim B Puzey. Picking up where we left off in his life story, it explores with Kim more about how he joyfully orients toward Spirit and what is most valuable even as his life has been full of struggle and pain, such as the loss of his father at an early age, long battles with depression, deep feelings of existential angst, and much more. Kim has emerged from this life of questioning and learning from difficulties with a fantastic sense of peace that naturally draws many to him, as they find in him an authentic and thoughtful mentor and model for a spiritual journey well walked. Friend of the podcast, Kevin Kapp, joins Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon in interviewing Kim.

Please listen and share your questions and thoughts in the comments section below!

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Link:

M. Sue Bergin, “Keeping the Faith,” BYU Magazine (Spring 2014). Mentions Kim and some of the faith development dynamics in his family.