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.
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)
I think it is safe to say that every thinking human being is plagued by the belief that there is a world outside of us that is exactly the way we perceive it. We know this is not true, but most of the time, under most circumstances, we cannot avoid this belief. We have this belief in spite of the more rational belief that everything we know (our individual reality) exists totality within our functioning brain, and what gets into, and exists as activity in, our brain does not necessarily represent, in any degree of fidelity, what exists outside of our brain. These beliefs in the material existence of an external world and a physical brain are complicated by the problem of consciousness: how does the consciousness we have of a material world, including a material brain, arise out of the matter of which we are conscious? And, to complicate things even more, if and when we become unconscious of the material world (which we all will eventually do), will we still be conscious, and, if so, of what?
For the very few of us who believe that consciousness is fundamental and who also believe that our individual consciousness arises out of and is inseparably connected to a universal consciousness, the idea that matter (something) arises out of nothing (thought) is not a problem. There is also not a problem with the idea of an all-knowing universal consciousness (gawd?) who is constantly evolving and learning, since the knowledge of universal consciousness is the some total of the individual facets of consciousness that is us, and we are continually having new experiences that feed into this universal consciousness. In other words, evolution is a continuing and unending process — universal consciousness is all-knowing and yet continually expanding in knowledge.
As the thought that is a material world has evolved, and we as conscious entities enter into the stream of thought that becomes our individual reality, we become exposed to, and a conscious part of, the point within the evolutionary stream in which we assume awareness: the world, and what is going on in the world, and the particular body that we inherit. It is in these conditions that we come to know good and evil and to experience the vicissitudes of life. Universal consciousness experiences these conditions through us but is involved in the evolutionary process only to the extent that we, as individual facets of universal consciousness, make individual decisions that affect the evolutionary process. In other words, within our particular stream of consciousness we are able to freely make decisions that feedback to universal consciousness and are, in turn, integrated into the total stream of consciousness of which our particular stream of consciousness is but a part.
When we buy into the belief that there is only a material world, we exclude ourselves from this valuable insight
Dan & Jim,
I love these podcasts — they stimulate a lot of thought and consideration. In this podcast, I love the idea that we present the difference between “God” – pronounced in sort of a New York slang, and a very formal “Gawd” — which, during the podcast, none of you could quite get right — rhymes with “awed” as you noted, but then made some sort of dipthong out of it. No. It’s “god” as when we’re using the lord’s name in vain, and a very formal, British-sounding “Gawd”.
Ok — that was fun. But. There is something really important that you’re pointing out. I love that you define the Gawd of the Creeds as being impossible. This podcast presented and rejected three distinct ontologies of God:
1. Gawd — the God of the Creeds, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnibenevolent. A personal, conscious being that exists (if such a word can be used) outside of time and space. You reject this definition – as do I.
2. Pantheism – that everything is God. Again, you reject this — for good reasons, because it still does not address the problem of evil.
3. Atheism – that there is no Gawd. Interestingly, David spent time setting up a strawman of Atheism, proposing multiple universes to explain the Teleological Argument, that this finely tuned, complex universe exists as an intelligent design because there must be an intelligent designer. I don’t think Atheists care about Teleology, but that is another matter.
I don’t mind rejecting the first two arguments, and I would reject the mischaracterization of atheism as well.
Yet in all this, you fail to precisely define who or what god (note spelling) is. You asked David to explain Panentheism, and while I, too, see promise in a process ontology, it fails to actually define who or what god is. I share that sentiment. But in these four plus hours of podcast, none of you have been able to clearly indicate who or what god is.
Jim’s exegesis of “ehyeh asher ehyeh”, while creative, leaves us with a distinctly ontological mush, as I’ve noted before — that god will be whatever god will be. I can ask, “Who or what is God?” and the answer is he will be whatever he will be. Meh. unsatisfying, and ontologically mushy.
I am not a process theologian, certainly not any kind of theologian that has read what you’ve read. You pointed us to a vast number of very fine books to explore process theology. If I had time to read them, I would, and I would encounter a world of beauty, thought, and powerful theology.
But I’m not a theologian. I’m a Mormon. plain and simple. and I’m asking a question: “who and what is god?” I also happen to be, professionally, an ontologist, my field of inquiry is on how we identify people in every dimension possible. So when I ask “who or what is God?” I’m asking a question I ask all the time, and I have an expectation that there can be a coherent answer.
And if you give me an answer, I need to understand how that answer fits within the teachings of the Church — not because I necessarily agree with all — I do not — but if we are to have a concept of “god” it needs to be recognizable to Mormons. To Mormons, the fundamental ontology of god is:
– God is an exalted human being.
– There are many gods, but they operate as One in perfect harmony.
So, my challenge to you guys is to answer, in 25 words or less, “Who and what is God?” in a way (a) that fits within Mormon ontology, and (b) is understandable by mainstream mormons.
I suspect that we largely agree, but that’s not the issue. We need to have a coherent ontological statement of god, and i think that is distinctly possible in 25 words or less.
It seems to me that you are making a request that is impossible to fulfill. As mortals, we experience and know only a material world. We try to explain everything based on this experience. It seems reasonable, therefore, that God must in some way be a physical being, since for us nothing immaterial exists, including God.
A more reasonable question is whether or not our conscious existence depends on the existence of matter. In other words, does consciousness necessarily arise out of organized matter or could it be the other way around and matter necessarily arises out of consciousness? The answer to this question seems to me to be critical, but it is one that we ignore because we are so inextricably grounded in our material existence. Almost everyone believes that consciousness arises out of brain function even though there is no explanation what-so-ever as to how this might occur.
If we can somehow bring ourselves to consider the possibility that this material world we are currently consciously experiencing is only fleeting, and being conscious does not depend on the existence of matter, then we can open ourselves up to possibilities regarding our existence and how we came into existence as individual entities that we are currently apparently unable to consider.
To try to imagine a material god or to even discuss God within the limiting context of a material world is to me an exercise in futility. For us, the real source of our existence is unimaginable. Our thoughts, to the extent that they are language based, are totally controlled by our experiences, which are exclusively of a material world. The source of our existence is undoubtedly outside of time and space. This creates for us a conundrum. While there may well be conscious entities who themselves exist outside of time and space and who are having experiences (and this probably has applied to us during the majority of our existence as conscious beings), any attempts they may make to communicate to us their experiences are necessarily going to involve our material-based language.
What it comes down to, as I see it, is that we try to have experiences that are not language based, such as can sometimes occur in deep meditation and accept and not try to explain those experiences. Also, I believe there is a force, which we have described as God’s love, that is available to all of us and which may bring us as close as we can come in mortal life to understanding and knowing God.
Difficult? yes. Impossible? No.
The Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu wrote, “Words have something to say. If they didn’t how would they be any different than the chirping of birds.” There is an idea words pursue — the right words and definitions can point to an ultimate reality, but they cannot contain it — they only point.
Mormonism proposes words to explain God: Heavenly Father, Exalted Man, “As man is God once was, as God is, man may become.” These words have meaning — they pursue something.
If I say “god is the mystical oneness of all that is” — pantheism — then in 9 words I have defined pantheistic ontology. They define an ultimate reality of God. If I say, “god is three persons that share a common substance (homoousion), and say the Father is god, the son is god, the HG is god, but the father is not the son is not the holy ghost” — I have, in 25 words or less, defined what god is to Christian trinitarians. If I say “God is the ground of being, who exists outside of being, from which all being arises”, then in 16 words, I have expressed the essence of Paul Tillich’s systematic theology. If I say “God is an exalted man who once was a human like us, then later in his life became God”, then in 19 words I have expressed what God is to Mormons.
I am all for accepting the reality of spiritual experience — having had many that I cannot deny. I am all for understanding that there is a “more” that pervades all that is. And while I might well say that all the prior definitions above do not approach any degree of encapsulating my personal experience, we use a term, “God”, or “Gawd”, that is intended to mean something.
Dan, Jim, and David were really good at defining what “Gawd” is: “On omnipotent, omniscient entity, conscious and personal, who is the ground (source) of all being (and who interferes in this world.” (21 words).
All I am asking for is how Jim and Dan define “God” in 25 words, so that I can distinguish what God is and what God is not.
Am I making sense?
I don’t think i can drill it down to 25 words, and really, I make this comment so maybe Dan, Jim, and David can correct me if I totally missed where they were going with this, but my understanding from their discussions and independent readings I’ve done would contrast the systems like so:
1) Traditional “Gawd” theism asserts that there is an eternal BEING (“Gawd”) who creates the contingent universe and is wholly separate from the universe. (implications: that universe is wholly dependent on Gawd for its existence, yet Gawd is wholly independent of that universe and that universe does not change Gawd at all. For an image: imagine the universe as being a sculpture that a separate, independent sculptor Gawd has created)
2) Pantheism asserts that the universe is an eternal BEING identical with God. (For an image: imagine the universe as being God’s body, and we, along with all other things are component cells of God’s body.)
3) Panentheism in process theology redirects away from BEINGs to BECOMINGs (processes). Panentheism asserts that God is a process of interdependent interaction with a universe that interacts back. The reason this is possible is because the universe is co-eternal with God, and has its own creativity as does God. God is God not because of who he is, but because of what he does and is doing: because he is able to *persuade* the creative the creative energies of the universe. (This necessarily affects him too.)
Dan and Jim’s assertion (if i’m correct above) is that this fits with Mormonism because Mormonism asserts that the universe is eternal (through intelligences) and that Mormonism’s God became God by becoming able to persuade the intelligences (e.g., organization of intelligences into spirits, matter, etc.,)
Thank you so much, Andrew — I’m always a fan of what you write.
Looking at the explanation of panentheism — Yes, I absolutely recognize that process theology moves away from being to becoming, that god is a process. The problem I see with this, and have for many years, is that a “process” does not exist. It *IS* not. Even the very expression “process theology redirects from BEINGs” poses an ontological impossibility: you cannot BE without BEING.
Mormonism proposes a distinctly materialist ontology of God. God is not a process, god is a BEING: material, personal, individual, conscious, and powerful. HOW powerful God is, is part of the debate between Gawd and God — mormonism does not require the Omni-Gawd: in the multiplicity of Mormon Gods, there is “priesthood”/hierarchy, where a given BEING named God is so by virtue of its priesthood — subjection to the Hierarchy of Gods. Jesus is subject to the authority of God the Father.
I find no evidence or support in Mormonism for process theology. While I may personally appreciate process theology as being more reflective of my spiritual reality, unless and until we define God — by simply answering the question “What IS God”, and having an answer that accommodates that God is a material person, individual, aware, conscious, and in some way powerful, the result of trying to blend process theology with Mormon doctrine will lead to ontological mush.
Let’s say, for a moment, that there is a divine reality — a “more” that goes beyond any possible word to describe this divine reality. Is that reality “god”? Well, no, it isn’t, because by the very ineffable nature of this divine reality, there is no “word” that can explain it. Yet we use the term “god” to point to it. If we are non-Mormon, that may well work, because to non-Mormon Christians, God is not a material person — god is not a being. Thus, process theology finds a far better home in non-Mormon Christianity, because the distinctly illogical basis of calling something unreal with a tangible label begs some sort of coherent description. Hence, God can be the “ground of being”, the “process of becoming”.
But to Mormons, God is very much a BEING. As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become. There is no such thing as immaterial matter, all spirit is matter, only more refined. God the Father and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bone, but the Holy Ghost does not. If the Holy Ghost had such a body, it could not dwell within us. These statements are our theology — they describe a physical being we call god.
Yet defining god as a being in place in time, we cannot use the same label to define god as an ontological monad as implied in pantheism or panentheism. To get away from ontological mush, we must be consistent in our terminology. Once Mormons start talking about God-as-a-being, then the term “god” cannot refer to the ultimate reality that is (pantheism) or infuses (panentheism) all that is.
Our Mormon scripture does have a term for this ontological monad: From D&C 88, we call it “the power of god”, or “divine law”. It is eternal, universally applicable, and unchanging — it is also not personal, not conscious, not aware, and not a being in any way, shape, or form. While some of the Section 88 may imply that in observing the movement of the heavens you are witnessing “God moving in his power”, such language cannot be reconciled with a personal, physical being who occupies space and time.
I’m seeking ontological consistency here, because as Mormons, we must define god as a person: an exalted human *being*. And in doing so, if we identify that *being* as the same as the Christian/pantheistic/panentheistic monad. then we have an irreconcilable problem. Your very language above betrays this inconsistency: “the universe is co-eternal with God, and has its own creativity as does god…” To process theology, this very creativity — the process of becoming — is God — you cannot use language that differentiates between the panentheistic reality and god. God is either than panentheistic monad (the conscious/personalized process-of-becoming of the universe) or it is a *being*.
There are two fundamental things here: the being of God, and the power of God. I find it useful to *identify* the two separately, in order for us to derive a usable ontology to chat with Mormons.
My 25 word definition is this:
A God is a being who is one with the Way, the Truth, and the Life (the power of God, eternal laws of the universe).
Why I think this definition is critical:
1. The Power of God — the eternal law of the universe — is not, by itself, God. We cannot use the term “god” within Mormonism to refer to that which does not have a body.
2. The Power of God is very much a process — always becoming, always returning. It is the Way that infuses all that is — it is “pan-en-[stuff]”, while not being panentheist by definition. Process Philosophy (theology) very much explains this power.
3. The Power of God, by itself, is not personal, conscious, aware, or intelligent. I think process theology errs in defining everything as having consciousness, personality, awareness, and intelligence — it’s an attempt to make the definition of god unite between process and traditional theology — and in my impression, not only fails, but also confuses.
4. A being — any being — is god in the moment it is One with — in perfect harmony with — the power of God. The Mormon theology that Elohim and Jehovah are exalted beings in perfect harmony with each other and the power of God fits perfectly into this definition.
5. But there is more to it: By thinking of “a god” as “a being” — particularly a “human being” who in a moment is one with the power of god, brings a certain ethic to our ontology. We have the responsibility to seek to this goal, not as an eventual “we will become” gods, but rather, for us to BE gods to each other. When we bless another person, when we act as a proxy or a veil worker in the Temple — in these moments, we are not “acting for” god in some sort of artificial capacity — we ARE god. When we realize the responsibility we have to do so, then the very interaction we have with others becomes sanctified.
We approach the veil, not dismissing the person on the other side as a mere veil worker, but rather, we realize, deeply, that that person, in that moment, to us must BE god. In like fashion, the worker, in that moment, must realize the weight of the instant, and that person must seek the harmony with all that is within him, to BE god to the patron.
I’m using a sacred moment to demonstrate how and why this simply, 25 word ontological identity of God is critical — it helps us understand the deep responsibility we have to BE gods, not to become gods. As well, it helps us understand that God is not some abstraction of panentheistic process of becoming, but rather, a real, tangible human being. In contrast to Sartre’s “Hell is other people”, we can “be still, and know, that I am God”, and realize that God is as well other people. We realize, deeply, that “I AM OUR GODS, I AM ONE”, and it fundamentally changes how we interact with each other and all that is.
I actually hit the maximum comment limit, so I had to trim this down, but I’ll see if I can summarize things…
Overall, I think we probably are very close; I think that it’s mostly just an issue of communication/focus. There’s a lot of stuff you have written that I don’t think is incompatible with process theology/panentheism. I don’t think panentheism or process theology dispute that there are beings who *do* Godliness, and whom we therefore call God as a shorthand. I think panentheism asks us to reconsider whether we can really identify God with the *being* who does Godliness (or people in line with the power of God/way/truth/life, as you say), or whether God should be identifies as a process anyone can join in on. I think we are very close because even your 25-word definition reads to me that what’s important is doing a certain process.
What process theology disputes is that Godliness is inherent to being, rather than to doing or becoming. God is not the person of Heavenly Father, Jesus, or the Holy Ghost in in process theology — and, dare I say, Mormonism. It’s not intrinsic to who Heavenly Father *is*, even if we refer to Heavenly Father as God. Yes, there are beings that *have* Godliness in Mormonism, but “Godhead” is more like an office that is shared (and that Mormons believe humans can share in). Rather, Heavenly Father *becomes* God because of what he has done, and can *cease to be* God if he fails to do certain things. (To say God can “cease to be” doesn’t mean that the person who is Heavenly Father stops existing as a being…but rather, he loses whatever the “office” or “role” that is God.) This is core Mormonism: we can say “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become” precisely because Godhead/Godhood is something you DO, not something you ARE.
This is something you mention in the distinction between the power of God and God. I think the real disagreements are whether the focus should on the action/process of the power of God or on the beings who perform/use/align with said power.
But I want to emphasize this is radically different in traditional Christianity/Gawd. There is no such distinction there because in traditional Christianity, the power of God is expressly collapsed within the being of God, and there is no separating the two (divine simplicity).
It’s not just that Mormonism does not “require” the omni-Gawd. It’s that it cannot even theoretically have the omni-Gawd. There’s all this eternally co-existing STUFF (intelligences) that was never created out of nothing. That is how you can say that Mormonism proposes a distinctly materialist ontology of God. Because matter already was here, and matter goes all the way down and through it all. When you refer to priesthood/hierarchy and how a BEING *is named* (note that: that’s a verbal process…) God, you are referring to process. What Dan and Jim are arguing is that the process that Mormonism already explicitly refers to is extremely compatible with process theology.
I think you can define God exactly as you have in Mormonism and it’s still compatible with process theology — that’s Dan and Jim’s argument, that process theology should be incredibly similar to Mormonism, because it’s already something Mormons believe without knowing it. The only difference in your later comment is that you have to recognize the process of “the power of God” as being more critical than the beings of Heavenly Father, Jesus, or the Holy Ghost. That is the operating element of exaltation.
Because process theology doesn’t reject that there is a person doing God processes that “is a material person, individual, aware, conscious, and in some way powerful” (and in fact, it explicitly accepts all these things), but what it does is explain how we can define God as “material” where traditional Christianity’s Gawd utterly cannot be material. It redefines how we can define God as “in some way powerful” where Christianity’s Gawd is defined as ALL powerful (omnipotent.)
I think your statement about trinitarian/traditional Christianity makes some missteps. It’s true that to non-Mormon Christians, God is not *material*, but God is still a being, and is comprised of three persons.
Process theology cannot work in non-Mormon Christianity because process theology needs a God that interacts and interdepends on the material universe. (In other words, the “power of God” has to be separate from the beings who use/wield/align with it.) This fits Mormonism because God arose from within the material universe (it is a process by which beings such as Heavenly Father negotiate and persuade with the other intelligences of the universe — Dan would say this has awareness all the way through, but you think not), but cannot fit traditional Christianity because Gawd is defined precisely in such a way that makes the material universe wholly dependent on Gawd (“creatio ex nihilo”) but Gawd is wholly outside and unaffected by it (e.g., the classical theistic concepts of impassivity, immateriality, etc., etc., Those traits are necessary to make something being itself or the necessary ground of being, but they also make that thing very difficult to talk about conventionally…but hey, that’s part of what ineffability means.)
You say in your first sentence here that God is very much a BEING. but then, in the rest of your paragraph, you point out why Mormons actually believe that God is a process, that certain beings (such as Heavenly Father) engage in and call others to engage in as well. If God could be something else and man can become God, then God is not a being. It is a process or job. Like, I am an accountant because I do accounting. Anyone can do accounting and become an accountant by doing particular kinds of work with relation to other people and other things (like numbers) in the universe. If I stop doing accounting, I cease to be an accountant. But I am a human being regardless of whatever I do. I can never stop being a human being by failing to perform certain actions or by performing other actions. Being human is about something intrinsic to me; becoming an accounting is about particular actions and processes.
I’d completely agree that having God as a being in a place in time can pose difficulties if you make the focal point on his being. BUT that’s why process theology redirects to the action/process/becoming. Heavenly Father is not God as someone who lives in a particular physical location and is God as a result of who he IS. Rather, Heavenly Father is God in his doing the work of calling intelligences to organize into spirits, calling spirits to organize into coarser matter, and so on. This process is (literally) universal. That is how one dude in time and space (Heavenly Father) infuses all that is.
Exaltation for SURE is NOT the same as the Christian monad. Exaltation is a process.
I think Mormons want to believe they think God is identified with the persons of Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, but really, if you really get to it, God is whoever engages in the process (the power of God, as you put it), and I think Mormons would agree with that more than that it’s intrinsic to Heavenly Father, Jesus, and Holy Ghost.
This podcast definitely had me thinking about a lot of things. I also found it very interesting that the different participants didn’t necessarily get the God/Gawd distinction right — that to me speaks of how thorough the cot/caught merger is in many/most American dialects (I definitely merge. So, I don’t think the “awed” pronunciation trick works for me, since to me, “awed” is pronounced the same way as “odd”.)
But as Mark said, “that was fun.”
To me, as an atheist reading up a lot more on all the traditional Christian stuff that I didn’t ever read up on when I felt theologically “committed” to LDS theology, my main issue is that I am not sure that the God described by in process theology or in Mormonism really deserves that title.
I admit that this is all “head” stuff, because quite frankly, I don’t have the experience/heart stuff that Dan keeps talking about. I don’t think I’m rejecting or dismissing past experiences I’ve had (although maybe I unconsciously am?) — rather, I just don’t think I’ve had any sort of experiences that I would really say have pointed me to thinking there is a God.
…but to me, traditional theological arguments for “Gawd” do give me pause. I think I’m somewhat amenable to cosmological arguments and arguments about contingency and necessity. To me, I’m somewhat amenable to the idea that matter, being contingent, probably isn’t the kind of thing that can effectively be eternal, and that empirical data probably doesn’t support an eternal material universe anyway. I’m not as bothered by the idea of a God that is so above and outside of temporality and materiality as to be irreconcilably different to us.
I thought the idea of consciousness being all the way down (and the connection to LDS intelligences) was interesting, but I’m not sure I understand it enough for it to be compelling to me. To me, my understanding is that there is not empirical support for matter to be eternal (which explains to me why the traditional conception of God is immaterial, changeless, impassible, etc., My understanding is that these are the traits that one could logically derive for whatever must exist as the ground of being, regardless of whether you call it God or believe that such a God is the same as the Judeo-Christian God or whatever.)
I’d need more information on why that shouldn’t be seen as the case. Just saying that you don’t like that “Gawd” isn’t enough to me.
I really appreciate the time you’ve spent responding and your thoughts here.
I can see we agree across a lot of this, and where we have differences, as I see it, it is because this medium of typing long messages on a phone, submitting them and being unable to edit, makes for a lot of errors in the expressing the thoughts.
Believe it or not, I am fairly aware of Christian theology. When I said “god is not a being” but rather one god in three persons, I was accurately expressing trinitarian thought of what is “Gawd”, for god who exists outside of the universe is not a “being” in the same sense as those within it. The creator is never the creature and vice versatile.
Yet such an entity is but an extreme representation of “gawd”. I am suggesting that any “Omni” aspect of theos leans toward “Gawd” rather than “god”. The prefixes “Pan-” and “Omni-” are identical in meaning “All”.
This is not a head game. I am making a pastoral plea for clarity of doctrine. Whenever we define a god as being either an abstraction or pan-/omni- anything, we make god inaccessible to the average person. It’s how we use terms, how we teach, how we preach, and how we relate to the each other in loving godliness as the ultimate expression of our divine humanity.
This has become a discussion of what process theology is or is not, and how this wonderful theology can help us recognize that god need not be gawd. I agree to a point, that if each of us read Dan’s dissertation and the ten or so books on process theology, we might get a new language to think of god outside of the gawd box. But such will lead us to a specialized language no one can understand.
I am seeking clarity, and I am sorry to say, it’s not happening.
Is or is not a god a real human being? Not it “can be”. Not it is a person in some abstract definition of a person. When I use the term “identity”, I mean the label we use to point to something. I believe we need a working, nontechnical, yet rigorously accurate definition of the word “god” that helps us minister to each other in Mormonism.
In King Follett, Joseph Smith provided such clarity in five words: “God is an exalted man”. I propose that we stick with that. Yes, it is very limiting — and that is precisely the point. But we cannot stop there: there is much “more” that pervades all that is. There is “all power”, there is ” all knowledge”, there is “all presence”, there is “all goodness”. A person (human being) by him or herself is not “all”/”pan”/”omni” anything, AND abstract attributes like powerful, knowing, loving, present, good are not personal. The process of becoming god — exaltation — is not nor ever can be god. Let’s not further confuse things, please.
We see scripture expressing how god is love. Obviously this is an abstraction. Is god really the process of love? Or, is this to express that a person is god by virtue of being completely loving, and if a person isn’t loving, s/he would cease to be god?
Yes, I am defining god in very personal terms. I am bringing the definition all the way home to humans. I see godliness in exalted humanity, not as an abstract, but rather, that a god is any exalted human. To Mormons, our unique heretical identity of “god as an exalted human” both brings intimately home, and gives us the challenge to BE true to our divine nature and to BE gods to each other, not just in the speculative future state of becoming, but also in being. As Dieter Uchtdorf said, “We are in the glorious middle of our eternal lives.”
How, then, do we explain the divinity we observe everywhere in the cosmos? Again, I will take Joseph Smith at his word in sections 88, 93, and 130-131. Eternal matter, the eternal laws, the omnipotent, omnipresent power of god: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. All abstractions. Are these abstractions “God”. Absolutely not! Any degree of *identification* of the person of god being the “same as” the abstraction convolutes our ontology: the abstraction is no longer an exalted human. We need to be 100% clear on this.
How then do we reconcile this? Atonement. Exaltation is the process of *becoming* One with the ubiquitous, eternal power: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Yet in saying “becoming” we ARE One. A god is simply a person, any person, who is in this moment “exalted”, that is, One with this divine reality.
I just think if you read Trinitarian thought, you’re not going to get very far without a discussion of God as three persons/hypostases in one substance, essence, or, yes, being (ousia).
It was statements like these that made me think that we are not referring to the same thing when we say “being” or other terms. I don’t think colloquial understandings of terms necessarily are superior to technical philosophical understandings in terms of conversation.
But we are on the same page that whether we define Gawd as a being or not, he is clearly not the same as created beings. And ultimately, since I don’t have a dog in this fight, I will bow out.
Although you may no longer be reading this — I stand corrected — i was using the latin sense of consubstantialis (same essence) rather than the greek homoousion. Tillich made it clear that god could not be properly referred to as a “being”, but rather, the “ground of being”.
I can never truly quit a Mormon Matters comment thread, lol.
Yeah, the thing I would point out is that Tillich is in some sense *also* railing against the traditional omni God. His criticisms of “theological theism” are criticisms of “Gawd” as understood by traditional Christianity. It could be that his criticisms have merit, and it could be that his definitions still are drastically different than Mormonism (they are), but they are not equivalent to what traditional Christian philosophers and theologians are emphasizing.
I suspect there may be some sort of equivocation going on here. Like, I am 100% sure that what Mormons refer to as “being” is not the same as what traditional Christians do, and Tillich is different still.
To respond to a different comment, I think that equating “pan-” with “omni-” definitely is equivocating. Those prefixes may both mean “all”, but what’s important is *what* the all describes. Like, the pan- of pantheism isn’t the same as the pan- of panentheism because of the suffixes, and both of these pan-‘s don’t modify the same sorts of things as the omni-s of omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent.
Thanks for bearing with me here — I appreciate it greatly. I’m not trying to sort out who has what definition of Gawd, but rather, trying to get to a simple, practical, and useful definition of god that helps me better sort out the relationship. In a sense, I’m trying to DTR/Determine the Relationship we humans have with god. Thank god this being isn’t Gawd, so let’s leave that aside for a moment.
What we think about god matters a very great deal. It affects our relationship not only with god, but it affects how we act towards others.
I think to almost all religion, God is in some way the “infinite other” — superior in to humanity. To suggest that mankind is in any way equal to god is the ultimate in blasphemy. There is always a difference between fallen mankind and the god.
Yet in preserving difference between who I am and who god is, I suggest something, perhaps harmful, to the relationship.
I believe our LDS faith helps us a little in this. We think of God not as the “infinite other”, but rather, as an exalted human being — a Heavenly Father and Mother. This is not a metaphor to Mormons. Like many things in Mormonism, we are literal in our beliefs. Joseph Smith proclaimed most adamantly, “God who sits in yonder heavens is a man like us. That is the great secret” (King Follett Discourse).
Yet in our same LDS beliefs, we distance ourselves from this radical definition. We preserve the hierarchical relationship of us to God: God is the Parent, we are the Child. God is the Master, we are the obedient Servant. God is creator, we are creature. God is infinite, we are finite. God is exalted, we are fallen.
We believe, from our Christian background, that God created a perfect world, a literal garden of eden, and based upon mankind’s disobedience, things are fallen. Yet, in believing this, we create a kind of nostalgia inherent to most religion. God, and our first prophets, always get it right, and we screw things up — we apostatize from the true faith, and thus god needs to come back through his prophets to restore things again. This justifies our worldview that the world is inherently evil and fallen, and we should go back to the good old days when God revealed the truth to his prophet in perfect, pristine form.
Because we are so fallen, so depraved, our only hope is to obey god through his earthly servants the prophets. Everything in our relationship with God is hierarchical, and in consequence, our earthly religions, based upon this hierarchical relationship, are also hierarchical. “Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same”.
I have come to realize, in my faith journey, that this definition of god — that of an infinite superior — is a human creation, and harmful doctrine. By creating a distance between us and God, we create distances between each other. By thinking of God as infinite creator in the beginning who got everything right, we deny our own journey of eternal progression. By preserving a master-slave relationship between God and us, we preserve master-slave relationships in this world, creating inequalities and injustice.
I’m not just talking about Gawd here, but rather, any definition of god that creates this unequal relationship.
I think that if there is any value to the First Vision and to Joseph Smith’s last major “King Follett” discourse, it is to fully humanize god. To almost unanimous rejection by theologians and mainstream Christians, I believe that Joseph was on to something more important than any other of his doctrines. To define the identity of god as an exalted man has devastating implications to Christian theology, but more than that — this is not an exercise in theology. To think outside the traditional god box has deep implications for how we relate to one another, how we view the Church and its male priesthood hierarchy, how we address science and knowledge, and how we assess all things we do.
Yes, who we think god is has that much impact in our lives — it’s a total impact. This impact comes down to four questions, which are simply answered in our doctrine, if we look for them:
1. Who is God?
A: God is an exalted person.
The moment we suggest that God is an exalted person, every aspect of the traditional god definition must be set aside. While we speak of the power of god as being everywhere, God the person is in place and time. God is a person! What a glorious thought. And not only that, God is not just one person, but many — any person who is exalted is god.
To many, this is mumbo-jumbo. God cannot be a person because…. ….because we have already defined god as the infinite other. We must lose any preconceived notion of god as infinite other if we are to believe that God is an exalted person. We take this definition of God as an exalted person as THE DEFINITION of the word “God”.
2. Who are we?
A: We are unexalted gods.
The moment we suggest that mankind is co-eternal with God, every aspect of the Fall becomes irrelevant. ALL Christian theology disappears — the gulf of separation between god and mankind is eliminated. There can be no pristine former condition that we return to. Instead, we recognize that we are on a journey of eternal progression — the process of discovery to become gods — not in the sense of becoming “infinite others”, but rather, exalted people in every way we can be.
3. What is the difference?
A: Atonement — oneness.
Our current doctrine suggests that exaltation is a future “point in time” event, that occurs as a result of resurrection and final judgment. At that point, we become gods, to rule and reign over worlds without end. I am going to suggest that this definition of exaltation is only one way to look at it, and one which defers the idea of exaltation to a later date. As well, it proposes that once we’re “perfect” as it were, then we no longer progress. In his talk “Seven Deadly Heresies”, Bruce R. McConkie condemned any notion that God is progressing. McConkie was thus tied to the “infinite other” definition of god, and thus creates a logical impossibility: God cannot have once been man, and also be unchanging from everlasting to everlasting.
I personally reject any definition that dehumanizes God. So, what, then, is “exaltation”? What does it mean to be an exalted person? What does it mean to be “perfect”? Surprisingly the answers are in our scriptures: it means to be One — united in love and purpose with each other, with god (however we define god), and with all that is. Scripture after scripture, particularly in the Gospel of John, describe how humans, acting in the place of god in loving and blessing others are Gods, even if they die like people in this life.
4. What is our relationship?
Consider Jesus’ last commandment in John 15:
9. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
10. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
11. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
12. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
15. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
16. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17. These things I command you, that ye love one another.
How often we misquote these verses! We think they are a justification of the hierarchal model of God and Church, that “Obedience is the First Law of Heaven”, and that we must obey those who are Called and Ordained. Context is everything. His commandment is love. You are to obey *THAT* commandment. He’s saying, “keep my commandment. And this is my commandment: that ye love one another as I have loved you.”
Yet what kind of Love is this? Is this the kind of love between Master and Servant? Absolutely NOT. He is telling us, “Henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.” Of all the kinds of relationship in this world, friendship is the only one that is not hierarchical.
The love of a master to a servant, a parent to a child, a king to a subject is one of condescension not friendship. In return, the servant, child, or subject is loyal and obedient, love is expressed as adoration and worship. I suppose there is nothing wrong with this kind of love, but unfortunately, it’s neither friendship, nor is it immune from abuse. There is always a power dynamic at play, restricting the freedom of the servant, and empowering the abuse by the master. While we may suppose that an “infinitely other” god is immune to such abuse, mankind is not. Thus, in our religion, if we adopt the hierarchal model of relationship, we result the an inherently abusive situation found in all religion today.
Instead, the Love Jesus commands is that of perfectly equal friendship — something completely impossible when we think of God is any kind of “infinite other”. This unequal relationship extends to our Mormon definition of God as Heavenly Father. Yes, I understand the ideas behind the thought, but a relationship between father and son is not friendship, although later in life it can be to an extent.
I am suggesting that when we think of God as an exalted person, and ourselves as unexalted gods, then what makes the difference is equal love, one for another. When we look at another person as being an enemy to god, but we are God’s friends, then we justify our dehumanization of others. When we realize that God is fully human and we are fully gods, then our relationship between each other demands respect, equality, and friendship to all.
To be a friend to god is to be friend to others. To love god is to love others, to see the divine within each person and fundamentally change our relationships from unequal hierarchies to mutual respect and empowerment.
That’s why I think this discussion is very important.
I totally track with what you’re trying to do (and props on generating another discussion topic for the ATF crowd on FB from here). And I totally agree with you as to your explanations of what Mormonism is trying to do.
I think that these things create more issues for Mormonism than it attempts to solve. I agree with you that “to think outside the traditional Christian God box has deep implications for how we relate to one another,” but I do not agree that these are all good implications. By making God into an exalted man, we have reified a lot of the issues Mormonism has with gender, sexuality, and race. After all, if God is literally an exalted man, then we can seriously consider whether his literal actual maleness matters (and the church officially answers: yes it does, and priesthood is tied to maleness in a way that many Mormons cannot decouple.) Whether his literal, actual heterosexuality matters (and the church officially answers: yes it does, and exaltation is tied to heterosexual couplings). All of a sudden, we can question whether if — assuming Joseph’s eyes could adjust to the amazing light surrounding him — Joseph would recognize that his very skin looked like his. In 2017, it looks like we are still shakily trying to relinquish speculations on this front, but the issue is that if God is a human, then he is bound to these human contingencies like this.
But I understand that for many, Gawd’s lacking these material traits makes him more distant rather than more impervious to human difference. And I’m not saying that traditional Christians necessarily have a better track record on these issues. However, they cannot say, “Well, this stuff must be believed because God literally is male/straight/white/etc.,)
I emphasize that the difference between Mormonism and traditional Christianity is not on personhood — in traditional Christianity, God is still tri-personal. Here I think theology and philosophy is important — we need to be clear about where the differences are and where they are not.
YES, Mormonism is different that it establishes God as human (and so I agree that in Mormonism, we can say that humans are unexalted gods for this reason). He is the same “species” as we are.
But NO, Mormonism is not different that it establishes God as a personal, and NO, you don’t need to be limited in space and time to be a person. If your issue is that Gawd is impersonal, that’s just not a correct understanding of traditional Christianity.
It seems as you go through that more of your concern is in making God the same “species” as human to allow for the radical re-evaluation of the fall, radical re-evaluation of what humans can do and how we do it, etc., And I’m fine with that. I agree that Mormonism makes most of those changes.
As always, you make very good points. As long as we preserve the ontological notion that there is any kind of “The God” — a person or tri-persons who are THE god of existence, then, all the problems you lay out are indeed exacerbated by making god human.
I am not so encumbered. And yes, this deviates from traditional mormon and christian thinking quite a bit. “God” is not to me a single person or even three. God is a status of a person, any person, who is “exalted” — not in the LDS sense of having been engaged in “The Priesthood”, eternally sealed, resurrected, etc., but rather, in a far more common present concept. God is a person who, being harmoniously one with the power of god in that moment, uses that power to bless and act in the name of god.
When you and I are interacting, seeking to find answers to the questions of existence, we are gods to each other in the moment we truly connect. “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, there I AM in your midst.” Jesus quoted Psalm 82, which, being directed towards those who must serve as judges in the place of god, “Ye are gods, and all of you are children of God most high, but ye shall die like men.” Jesus prayed that we might BE one, in exactly the same way he is with the “Father” and the “Father” with him. And when he spoke of the father, he pointed out that when the disciples saw him, they saw the father.
Such comments, when applied to a human, create a whole lot of very tough challenges to any ontology of god. Sure, we can speak of process theology, we can embrace trinitarian thinking — all good. Also, all very vague and often difficult for amateurs like me to grasp. Certainly Joseph Smith didn’t get it — he first proposed modalism — that god the father incarnated himself as Jesus Christ, then in Lectures on Faith, God a personage of Spirit, Christ a personage of Tabernacle, and Holy Ghost as the shared mind. Ultimately he landed, shortly before he died, on yet a third model — the God as a man. None of these, of course, are purely trinitarian — but that hardly matters. Brigham Young then further literalized the “Man” concept by Adam-God, the New and Everlasting Covenant of Polygamy, and a distinctly sexual way that Jesus was encarnated as God. In short, all of these are guesses, and mostly, in my impression wrong.
I’m trying to suggest that the problems with the maleness of god, the whiteness of god, the marriedness of god — all of these are deeply problematic when we hold to any idea that there is a “THE GOD” who is over this earth. When we franchise who and what god is, that god is an exalted human, without the baggage of THE GOD, then is God a male? sometimes, when the person who is god in that moment happens to be male. Is God female? Sometimes as well. If my wife, in this moment, is acting for god in blessing or guiding my life, then is god not female at that moment?
I have the benefit of actually having to deal with what human identity is all about — it’s my professional field. When we were designing the identification approach for foreign visitors after 911, as chief architect of that effort, I had to figure out how to represent humans in all their attributes, and identify whether someone was a friend or potential terrorist. This led me to some important discoveries:
1. No human attribute is truly persistent. Gender, name, race… all these are fluid in many ways.
2. All knowledge about people is assertion — we do not have a concrete basis of understanding of people, therefore we must always suspend judgment of who or what someone is.
Then I had the absolute privilege to be one of the architects of India’s national identification program UIDAI/Aadhaar. This is where we were able to uniquely identify over one billion residents of india. Key to this was an ontology that insisted that all humans share one attribute equally — their human body, which can be identified by their biometrics. All other attributes are fluid — and in order to provide justice, equality, and equal opportunity, we must consider all humans as equal, without otherwise differentiating attributes.
This was more than just a mere technical challenge. Deep within Indian philosophy, within Advaita Vedanta, there is a foundational question: Who am I? Adi Shankara Charya, and then later, Ramana Maharshi, expanded this question into a contemplative practice, to examine all possible answers to the question, “Who am I”, deconstructing our non-persistent identity labels. We discover that there is no fully satisfactory answer to be found in the Who am I? question, and in the end, we come to the realization that there is only one answer: I AM. To Advaita Vedanta, the Atman (human soul) is the same as Brahma (eternal god/creator). We are ONE — which is what “Advaita” means — non-dualism.
Andrew, I’m suggesting that when we define “God as an exalted person”, we open up some very distinct opportunities for a discussion of what it means for us to BE gods to each other in the present. Properly done, we also realize, as we did in India, that to preference THE GOD over the very real and present gods among us, is to construct unequal hierarchies. Whenever we have to choose the identity of THE GOD, we are forced into White, Male, Married… The moment we decide that there is a hierarchy of God over us, we make us different than god, and no longer friends.
While we have the tools in Mormonism to adopt this “franchise” kind of ontology, we are consistently held back by vestiges of THE GOD. In all of these discussions, I have tried to make that point alone — any vestigual reference to a single being or person that is hierarchically in charge negates the very essence of Joseph Smith’s “God is a [person] like us”, interpreted not as THE GOD is a person like us (as he actually said it), but rather, that the gods everywhere, are persons like us. I accept that joseph, too, had many vestiges of THE GOD, even in King Follett. I’m proposing that he was on a trajectory towards “the gods”.
In my impression, we have three tools in Mormonism to think of each other as gods, and to treat each other as such. First, we are Children of God, co-eternal intelligences with “THE GOD” (yeah, we need to start with something they understand). Second, the Light of Christ — our conscience — is a permanent attribute of us. Third, we speak of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost — a person of spirit who dwells within us. We have the veritable trinity right here within in us. (ok, that’s a stretch — sure).
So we build on that — we build the idea that we are not just gods in embryo, but rather, as Dieter Uchtdorf has said, “We are in the middle of our eternal lives”. If we are going to BECOME gods, then the best way to do so is to appropriately BE GODS to each other in this life — blessing each other, acting in gods name with each other, connecting to each other, and above all, unconditionally loving each other.
When we bring God back into exalted humanity, we change the game entirely. We must think of each other as gods, and treat each other as gods. Respect, love, honor, equality, justice, truth — all attributes of how we must deal with each other as gods.
And what I’m saying is that I disagree that it’s a problem just because there is a “THE GOD” who is over the earth. I think it’s a problem when we overhumanize God. For traditional Christians, this is colloquial and allegorical. But for Mormons, this is essential and literal. If THE GOD is not material, then THE GOD is not literally male or literally female, literally heterosexual or homosexual or asexual or anything else, not white or black or brown or any of these. So, it’s not a problem with THE GOD. It’s a problem with saying THE GOD is human — whether this is one human, or two, or three, or any number of humans. It is you insistence even in this comment to say that God must be something that has a body. Because bodies have skin, and that skin has color, and bodies have sex organs, and bodies have hormones that create affinity for certain types of other bodies.
I mean, when we franchise who and what God is, that God is an exalted human, you still have to grapple with which humans can be exalted. Until 1978, we did not believe humans of dark skin could be exalted. Even today, we are confused as to whether humans with XX chromosomes or humans with certain anatomy between their legs can be exalted, or if it’s something they need to be attached to an XY human (or a human with certain anatomy between their legs) to be wedded to. Like, you have experiences in your life where your wife blesses and guides you. But from a Mormon perspective, the church isn’t sure whether that is possible. We have moments in Mormon history pointing this, but institutionally, we discount the authority or validity of women’s blessings and women’s ability to guide and counsel. So even if you define God as those who bless and act in the name of God…there are just big open questions.
I know you *don’t* accept that thinking — but as you note, that’s something where you must disagree with Mormonism on.
I know you *don’t* accept the persistence of gender, name, race, etc., But you have to graft on all these extra-Mormon things to get there, without regard for whether that actually fits in with Mormon theology or philosophy because you’re not actually concerned with the technical specifics over what sounds better pastorally.
I agree that there is a different sort of thinking that can occur depending on how we view each other, how we view God. I just don’t think Mormonism easily and obviously rejected hierarchy and division as you say. I think you have to do a lot of extra outside work (and you have outlined a lot of that here). And when you start doing that, you’re getting into the same stuff you’re critiquing Dan about with how you say process theology would be too “foreign” or “confusing” for Mormons who already have certain understandings of certain terms.
How do we be gods to one another? Yes, yes, you say bless and act in accordance with the power of God. But by making it about human stuff, we can add other human things to it — the church has decided that being married and having children now becomes part of this process, and failing to do so means failing to be gods to one another. I mean, that too creates a divide! Just saying “God is any exalted human” doesn’t clear out the messy questions.
Certainly humanizing THE GOD is a problem, and leads to some choices as to who gets to be god.
I accept that if we fully dehumanize god, then problems such as gender, race, marital status — all that goes away, and of course, in Christian theology, properly understood, there is a lot of potential for benefit.
But once we move away from “god is an exalted human”, we aren’t really talking about Mormon theology then? This is in part about defining terms.
Let’s say, for a moment, that there is a divine eternal “being”, expressed in one, three, or many persons, that has a conscious, personal interest in our lives, and to whom we owe obeisance. Such a being — or in Tillich’s case, ground of being, creates all that is, either through organization or ex nihilo — not sure, at this point, I care. Christians, and most other religions, would call this “god”, or “gawd”, provided it has the omni-connotations. I have no problem with this belief. It is a consistent, coherent definition of what most nonLDS believe. In fact, most LDS believe a similar thing.
Yes there are DEEP problems with humanizing such a being, so if we are to believe any aspect of a god who transcends humanity, then that being must necessarily not be human. In Christian theology, incarnation connects humans to god through the humanity of Christ — case closed and solved in many ways. God becomes human so that humans might become (like) god,” to paraphrase St. Augustine.
Yet as noted in the earlier discussions, such a god poses another problem, the problem of evil/theodicy. In this case, we need to explore alternatives to the omni.
Please don’t get caught up in the above as being accurate to all that is. That’s not my point. I’m on a different planet entirely here.
I’m proposing an alternative view, quite distinct from any traditional understanding of god. I define the word “god” as simply, a human who is, in a moment, exalted, where “exalted” means, one with the power of all that is. That’s it. That’s all there is. There is no “God” outside of that, for any god outside of that would approach Gawd in some way. There is divine power, there are the glorious laws of the unverse, but there is no BEING in any way, shape, or form, that is hierarchically greater than a human who is in that moment one with all that is.
You should recognize this as a tautology. I have defined god to exist as something that actually in truth exists. Humans exist. Humans in their finer moments are in harmony with the laws and powers of the universe. If I define god as a human, who in a moment, is in harmony with the of the universe, I have an unassailably true definition of god.
Yet oddly, this tautology can fully represent and be represented by Joseph Smith’s ontological statement of god. It finds compatibility with any theology that sees the divine as being possibly expressed through a human being. It is compatible with almost all of Jesus’ teachings as well. And yes, such an ontology can be compatible with agnosticism and atheism.
But the point isn’t that it fits within other belief systems. The point is twofold: whether we can teach it in a mormon context, and whether it aids our understanding of the behavior towards others it fosters.
Well, I think we’re closer than you think here. You want to move away from THE GOD and move to a more expansive concept of “anyone who uses the power of God” (of which Heavenly Father, Jesus, etc., are just those who came before us in doing this perfectly.)
I think this necessarily requires us to think about the power of God, and what role that has. The big issue conceptually that I still think we haven’t really gotten through is that when you say there are laws or rules or a way that God(s) (e.g., Elohim and Jehovah) is/are subject to that exist outside of themselves, then the question is: why not call those laws or rules God then? I think Dan’s thinking in terms of agreements rather than sheer laws is probably fruitful and can be meshed well with the language of Mormonism. But is that easy to explain? probably not.
I agree that if you want a being who is divine, eternal, and who creates ex nihilo, that thing cannot be human. So, the incarnation is — for traditional Christians — the only time that God picks up humanity.
And I totally agree that that doesn’t describe what Mormonism says or what you’re saying. I agree with you that Mormonism and you define God as exalted human. I question whether such a thing can be God over “the power of all that is”, but I understand your position and Mormonism’s position to insist that God is/are those beings.
I don’t think your tautology works as is. Humans exist. But humans who exist in alignment with the laws and powers of the universe? That’s a lot iffier. It’s a lot iffier to say that such humans as we call Elohim and Jehovah exist. And then, on top of that, you have to think: humans did not create the laws and powers of the universe, and are not (in human form) coeternal with the laws and powers of the universe, so there’s always room to prioritize those laws and powers over humans. (You have to provide justification for WHY being gets emphasized over impersonal law that constrain beings.)
(See, that’s not an issue with Gawd precisely because those laws are identified as Gawd’s nature. This is uniquely a problem with having a definitely that humanizes God because humans did not create the laws out of nothing.)
But as you say, you don’t care that it’s different from traditional Christianity. My issue is that you are glossing over things to Mormonism and still saying it’s Mormon. “Alignment with the laws and powers of the universe” is a nice thing to say, but it’s vague. It’s generic. How do you live that? WELL, Mormonism has very different answers to that question than what eastern traditions have, and so you can’t just graft eastern traditions in and say that’s native to Mormonism. Mormons might say that aligning with the laws and powers of the universe means men presiding over their wives and families in heterosexual, fruitful marriages.
Here is what I wrote on this in a closed group – it repeats some of the things I’ve already said, but it encapsulates my full response to this podcast series, and I would appreciate any feedback from Dan, Jim, David, and Fiona:
On the Identity of God
I think that one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my faith transformation is around how I identify who and what God is. Maybe it’s just me. Yet it fundamentally affects the way I can relate to god in this thing we call “prayer”. Perhaps it affects you as well, and I would like to hear your thoughts in comments.
I’ve been listening to Dan Wotherspoon’s recent podcasts on the Vulnerable Mormon God — and it has stimulated a fairly strong response in me. Dan has brought exceptional people to discuss this: Fiona Givens, Jim McLachlan, and David Ray Griffin — All stellar scholars. Yet as they talk of God, I’m finding a distinct departure from any kind of God with whom I can personally relate. Again, it’s just me.
Having been brought up in Mormonism, I relate to God as a *person*. To my Mormon self, God is an exalted person with whom I can individually relate as a “Father” and “Mother” and Jesus Christ is a real person with whom I can relate as “Brother”. This is deeply satisfying. It brings meaning when I pray. So when I consider the questions of my faith journey, what will happen when my evolving definition of God changes this relationship?
You may well ask, “Why are you evolving your definition of God?” The answer is pretty simple: it’s because the current LDS definition of God convolutes Joseph Smith’s physical-Father-in-time-and-place god with the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnibenevolent God of the creeds — creating a logical impossibility. What and how we preach about God is absurd to me — it makes no sense, and often creates an impression of a nasty, conditionally-loving, abusive god who punishes the good with evil. What we believe about god is inherently at odds with a being with whom I want to associate or emulate.
So I have gone on a journey to find a more satisfying definition of God. (This isn’t a journey to find God — for some reason, God found me — so it’s about the definition, not about the spiritual experience…) As I have explored the identity of god through many different faith traditions, and through the writings of liberal theologians — I find a more intellectually satisfying and “true” definitions of God that go beyond the simplistic Mormon “God as an exalted person”.
To liberal Christians such as Tillich, “God” is the ground of being — I can relate to that — a power or process from which all being arises. Tillich’s Systematic Theology is intellectually satisfying — it makes ontological sense. But, how do I create a relationship with a “Ground of Being”?
To Process Theologians, God is not so much a BEING, but rather a PROCESS of BECOMING. This is kind of cool — God is to be found IN the way things BECOME. Everything has consciousness, awareness, personhood, and we are but beings that are part of this pan-en-theistic reality. This, too, is intellectually satisfying, and maybe a bit more — it fits a mystical reality that I have felt in my deep spiritual experiences. I like the idea that I can relate to the divine within all things – that creation itself — the process of becoming — is expressive of the divine. But, how do I create a relationship with a process?
As I have explored Hinduism, I have appreciated the idea that God is everything — pantheism — and that the gods, and we, are expressions of this divine. This ultimate concern — the totality of all that is can be expressed in the eternal harmony of Om — a syllable that expresses the universal divine resonance. It’s beautiful to experience this, to feel that god is not just IN everything but IS everything. Yet, It’s hard, maybe overwhelming, for me to relate to this as a friend to a friend.
As I journeyed through Chinese thought, I have come to appreciate that there is a Way behind all that is — a ground of being, a pervasive pan-en-theistic expression of the divine. It’s beautiful to realize how this Way pervades everything, and how my harmony with the Way leads to a better, more sustaining immortality. Yet, how do I pray to a Way?
I have come to realize, through my journey, that the divine reality is our Ultimate Concern. It’s the “more” that underlies our existence and gives meaning to it — is something that goes well beyond words. A word like “god” not only cannot encompass what this is, it confuses the nature of ultimate concern. The ultimate concern is better expressed by “Ground of Being”, “Process of Becoming”, “Om”, “The Way” — all concepts that approach the ultimate concern. And while I can meditate and contemplate this more, bringing me to the depths of humility and soaring through the glorious wonder of spiritual experience — there are just some days I need a god I can relate to, friend to friend, face to face. I need a God with whom I can pray.
The Mormon definition of God satisfies this beautifully. How do we reconcile our Mormon definition of God with the “Ultimate Concern”? We don’t. We must not equate the ontological definition of “a God” as defined in our theology, with the “ultimate concern” — the ontological whole of all that is. They are different things.
We pray to God. We do not pray to an ultimate concern. Who and what, then, is God?
In simplest terms, to me:
God is a person who is One with the Ultimate Concern.
Why I think this definition is critical:
1. The Ultimate Concern — The Power of God — the eternal law of the universe — is not, by itself, God. We cannot use the term “god” within Mormonism to refer to that which does not have a body.
2. The Ultimate Concern — the Power of God is very much a process — always becoming, always returning. It is the Way that infuses all that is.
3. The Ultimate Concern, by itself, is not personal, conscious, aware, or intelligent. Personhood, consciousness, awareness, and intelligence are all emergent qualities that arise from the Power of God, but they are not in and of themselves the Ultimate Concern nor are they, by themselves, god.
4. A being — any being — is god in the moment it is One with — in perfect harmony with — the ultimate concern/the power of God. The Mormon theology that Elohim and Jehovah are exalted beings in perfect harmony with each other and the power of God fits perfectly into this definition.
By thinking of “a god” as “a being” — particularly a “human being” who in a moment is one with the power of god, brings a certain ethic to our ontology. We have the responsibility to seek to this goal, not as an eventual “we will become” gods, but rather, for us to BE gods to each other. When we bless another person, when we act as a proxy or a veil worker in the Temple — in these moments, we are not “acting for” god in some sort of artificial capacity — we ARE god. When we realize the responsibility we have to do so, then the very interaction we have with others becomes sanctified.
We approach the veil, not dismissing the person on the other side as a mere veil worker, but rather, we realize, deeply, that that person, in that moment, to us must BE god. In like fashion, the worker, in that moment, must realize the weight of the instant, and that person must seek the harmony with all that is within him, to BE god to the patron.
I’m using a sacred moment to demonstrate how and why this simple definition that “A God is a person who is One with the Ultimate Concern” is important. It helps us understand the deep responsibility we have to BE gods, not to become gods. As well, it helps us understand that God is not some abstraction of panentheistic process of becoming, but rather, a real, tangible human being. In contrast to Sartre’s “Hell is other people”, we can “be still, and know, that I am God”, and realize that God is as well other people. We realize, deeply, that “I AM OUR GODS, I AM ONE”, and it fundamentally changes how we interact with each other and all that is.
But most importantly, it affects how I pray. I can pray to a real person, a Heavenly Father, Mother, and Brother, who I have come to know in a personal sense. They are real people to me, deeply personal. They are both human and divine. They are striving with me to help me become one with the Ultimate Concern in the same Way they are. Instead of them being my judges on the other side, they are here with me in our common eternal quest. I can talk to them, and they listen, because they are as real as I am.
An identity is a name. We pray to God in the Name of Jesus Christ. And who is Christ? I AM. And so are YOU. In our finer moments, when we become One. And we pray to real people who, too, ARE.
Thanks, all, for the great comments! Lots of energy in this discussion!
In this note, let me concentrate on the things said about process theology here that I believe fail to reflect the options that it contains. I’ll try to put forth my attempt at a 25-word or less description of God in a separate post.
Process theology can very well think of God as a person. With Whitehead it’s not as easy, but when Charles Hartshorne came aboard, it became more intuitive. I am going to just spitball here rather than head into my library and get exact language, so forgive some possible misses here and there on the phrasing, but I think the gist will be correct.
The definition of persons (or a person–and we’ll leave out God here for a second) is basically a temporally ordered series of actual occasions of experience. In the metaphysics, everything is a temporally ordered series (rocks that persist, etc.) but when it comes to persons (organized entities from amoebae to animals to human beings) there is an organizational duality that arises. As something becomes more and more complex, a kind of unifying series of occasions emerges that prehends all the information of the various parts of what constitutes it (the cells that make up the organs the fit into the organ systems that lead to sensory imput, etc.) and integrates it. So the Dan Wotherspoon-ness of me is emergent from the rest of me through my direct aware of every part of my body and all the experiences being had of each part, allowing me to act in a kind of way that seems like “I’m” a consciousness separate from the rest. Hence, in process theology as understood by most of its adherents, there is no subjective immortality. At the end of the body (dis-integration of the systems that allow a sort of integrating “person” to emerge), we have the end of that person. David Ray Griffin, however, has been the leader in all of process theology to show that life after death for this consciousness is possible within the process metaphysic, so if a reason for rejecting process theology is its rejection of a continuing existence after death, don’t be too hasty.
God for Whitehead is the integrating actual occasion of experience that prehends the whole of every part of the universe and its experiences (the experiences of both non-animate and animate entities) and integrates it into Godself. So in that way, God is like a person. However, Whitehead had God be one actual occasion of experience that never fully “concresses” (the process term for when an actual occasion of experience closes and the next one arises). So, in some ways, his “God” is fundamentally different than every other type of existent in the universe). Hartshorne, however, challenged this and showed a way for process theologians to think of God in the same terms as other “persons”–that is as a temporally ordered series of occasions of experience.
Sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, I’m sure, to many who just come to it for the first time, but there are MANY really quite compelling reasons to take seriously a metaphysic that imagines all things (including God) as actual occasions of experience. I won’t go into them here, but I just wanted to say that characterizations in these comments above (and in places in the discussion of the previous episodes) that process theologians don’t think of and relate to God as a “person” just aren’t accurate. God is as much of a person as any of us are persons–just with a far more massive amount of input from others to integrate within Godself than what we do.
At my doctoral dissertation defense, basically the only fundamental stuff that David Griffin and I still disagreed with by the end of my time working with him had to do with whether an “event metaphysic” was necessary for novelty as well as genuine change to happen to or within a person. If anyone wants to read my dissertation (and I haven’t very often in the past twenty years, so I don’t remember how well I spelled out my goals with regard to this!), it’s in the sections of chapters 3 and 4 where I’m talking about “patterns” within an integrated whole that I’m imagining a place for Mormonism’s preference for talking about us as “eternal” without having to go to an event metaphysic. I wanted to imagine Mormonism having within its own toolkit the ability to respond to all the things that Whitehead and process theology could affirm that typical western thought and metaphysics of non-experiencing stuff making up the bulk of the universe couldn’t do.
For anyone interested, I have linked to my dissertation in the write-up for the previous episodes, and I’ll add it again here.
Another correction to assertions about process theology made here. PT does not assert everything is “conscious.” Only highly developed, complex entities are conscious. But it DOES assert all things “experience” (hence the term that Griffin uses a lot: panexperientialism) and to some degree are able to freely act. For the vast majority of the universe, this experience and freedom is of a very low level.
It would take many lines to lay out the conditions for consciousness (which exists only in higher animals), but please don’t think that PT has every electron being self-aware or conscious of its situation within an atom, etc.
My view of God really isn’t that far from Mark’s with the exception that I don’t believe we HAVE to imagine eternal laws. (I’m also in disagreement with David Griffin here, and I think, Jim McLachlan, as well. He’ll have to answer for himself.) Certainly there is a lot of Mormon scripture that contains language that seems to point toward eternal laws that God seems to obey, laws that Mark makes co-eternal with God, that are the things that Gods align with. I also have Gods, whatever they are, aligning with something, but my view allows them to be different for each universe. I spoke more about it in places in the comments to the previous podcast episodes, but where Mark wants them to be eternal laws, I prefer to think of them first and foremost as agreements. Ultimately the agreements can seem law-like in the sense that a God must continue to abide by the agreements, but they are still, first, agreements.
Here’s why I say this. I believe that a universe consisting entirely of eternal, uncreated, and to-some-degree free entities grants that everything that exists is an “end” in itself. Each entity’s intrinsic value can never be diminished, its freedom must always be honored. Kant’s famous axiom that we must always treat everything as an end in itself and never as a means to an end feels, to me, something essential within the universe.
Hence my sense that what seem like eternal laws to some emerge in each universe via agreement (ranging from very low levels of favorable responding all the way to actual self-conscious choice) that each and every thing will always have the right to exist, to choose/respond, and will never be coerced–that everything is its own end and capable of opting out of the agreement at any time. What we see as “moral laws” are simply things that are fair and just within a universe of completely free agents whose own ends are always honored. We know that at the subatomic level, the actions of the actors there that seem perfectly consistent and dependable are so only statistically with no ability to show determinism for any single electron or smaller particle, which, to me, hints again at choice “all the way down,” and therefore a better word than “laws” would be, for me, agreements.
My definition of God(s)? Gods are those who honor the agreements with EVERY individual and collective entity within the universe.
Another way of defining God(s): Gods are maximally “relational” beings, always aware of and willing to be in positive relationship with every entity in their sphere of influence.
Entities attain godliness through increasing their positive relations with more and more entities. By positive relations I mean willingness to be in a loving/caring relationship with them no matter their choices. Certainly it also means consistency of effort and encouragement for these other things to step into more relationality should they choose it, hence Gods can be said to always and ever be maximally loving and caring beings. And notice here, Mark, that I say that Gods are “beings”! No mush for me, sir! 🙂
Dan, you have me at a disadvantage. You’re using specialized technical language from a process theology metaphysic. When I read a word like “person”, I cannot help but use an English definition thereof, not a technical string of words like the “temporally ordered series of actual occasions of experience.” Such metaphysical definition could as well apply to a computer program or a video game.
I remember distinctly, as a new consiltant, when I presented to my Partner my presentation covering something I worked really hard to achieve. Spent weeks on it. She reviewed the presentation, and the first thing she said was, “I’m looking at this as if I’m the customer and I gotta say I don’t know what the f-bomb your talking about.”
She was amazing, and right. Increased complexity is not always an indicator of increased godliness. Elegance, simplicity, and clarity help a lot.
Believe it or not, I accept much of what process philosophy (setting aside the Theo for a moment) proposes. I am not an expert like you are. My issue isn’t with the philosophy, it’s with the theology, and specifically with how we define “god”.
Let’s examine some of process theology definitions of god you cite. For Whitehead’s god, the series of experiences that prehends all others is to define the “personhood” of god as only tautologically a person. It still is Gawd, just using process theology metaphysical / technical language. Other process theologians may see a more expansive set of possibilities, but the metaphysical ontology of a person being a series of experiences — aside from being unnecessarily obfuscatory, does not limit god to what we normal humans would recognize as a person.
Mormons believe, as fundamental doctrine, more fundamental than almost any other aspect of our doctrine, that god is an exalted human being, and that his existence as god, indeed, comes from a process of exaltation. Any other definition of a “person” either in Whitehead’s formulation, or in an obfuscatory tautologous definition you cite from metaphysics, simply cannot be compatible with this primary Mormon belief.
Let’s say that I agree with everything you present in process theology, with the singular exception of how you define god. Yes, there is a highly related, connected ontological reality that binds the very fabric of the universe. Yes, a god, would be a *person* who honors the relationships and agreements.
But what kind of “person” is this? You speak of a person who has a lot more input. Is this necessarily so? You speak of how God honors agreements with all other entities in the universe. Ok, does a god have that ability? Perhaps Gawd does, but a god, existing as a *person* in place and time does not directly have that reach.
So by depersonalizing the meaning of person to a metaphysical definition that includes things ordinary people would not recognize as a person, you are creating a tautology. God is a person in the way you have defined a person.
This is more than a mental exercise here. This is more than an academic study. The identity of god is the core of the First Principle of the Gospel, upon which our entire theology must rest.
You may be satisfied that in the tools of process theology you have a rigorous metaphysic that helps you grok this first principle, but if you need to redefine the meaning of the words beyond plainness, what good is it?
I would like you to step back from process theology for a moment, not in defeat, but in your victory: I agree that there is an ontological reality that pervades and connects all things in the universe. I just have a different name for it, and that name isn’t in any way, shape or form “God”.
I am going to return to the Mormon definition, that a god is a person — a human being in exactly the same way we would use the term “person”. To be true to our Mormonism, we might say that a god is also resurrected and exalted, but need this necessarily be so? Is it possible that if we break any definition, could we break the definition of god, to expand which persons might be considered gods?
In John 10, Jesus said, quoting Psalm 82 and referring to mortal human beings “Ye are gods”. The psalmist’ full quote is “ye are gods and all of you are children of god most high, but he shall die like men.”
Do you think that the psalmist had in mind that such humans were indeed honoring relationships with all entities in the universe, or that they were somehow meta-persons with massively more connections than the rest of us humans?
Not at all. Jesus was humanizing god, not by metaphor, but rather, for his disciples to realize that humans, operating in the Name of God, are gods in the moment of such an “honoring of agreements”.
For Mormons, we have many reasons for accepting that we are gods and children of god. We can adopt a rigorous metaphysical ontology of god that is fully in harmony with our exalted human definition of god in plain language without resorting to obfuscatory language designed for a different purpose.
You see, Dan, whether you see it or not, Whitehead’s god is Gawd. It still is the God that is en (sic) all things. It still creates all things by its will. He resides there because that is the Christian ground from which he had to construct his theology. And while you may find parallels in later process theologians, gawd is still there.
I think Mormons are not so constrained. Our ground is that god is an exalted human being. By clearly and plainly defining god as a being who is one with the ultimate concern (the ontological Oneness of all that is), then we as humans can better be god as we honor our agreements with all. God becomes more real, more present, more connected to us because s/he is us.
I’m not Dan (and I am also not technically precise like a philosopher), but I KNOW from my limited understanding of process theology as compared with traditional Christianity that you CANNOT define the God of process theology in a way that approaches Gawd.
It cannot be done. It’s not just a matter of trying harder. It’s that the two are irreconcilable.
Gawd does not “honor agreements with all other entities in the universe,” because Gawd is not in the universe and is not moved by entities of the universe, much less beholden to “agreements” with the entities of that universe.
Both process theology and Mormonism give creation waaaaay too much power and ability to impose on God vs traditional Christianity’s Gawd.
I think there is still a basic misunderstanding of traditional Christianity here. Process theology’s God does not create ex nihilo as Gawd does. That is an unbridgeable gap between Gawd and process theology, and you can *never* dress up Gawd in process theological terms because it’s intrinsically pointing to a different thing. This is the same thing with Mormonism — Mormonism’s God is never going to be seen by traditional Christians as being Gawd. As David said: Mormonism’s God is “talking about nothing” from the traditional Christian perspective (which is why traditional Christians point out that Mormons believe in “another Jesus”…Yes, Mormons do. But Mormonism is about asserting that that’s not a bad thing.)
Hear, hear, George! Thanks for your helpful additional witnessing to how far from Gawd process theology’s claims about God are!
As I understood it from your discussion, gawd is the god of the omnis. The moment we ascribe an Omni aspect to the person of god, in my opinion, we are talking about gawd and not god. Pan- is a synonym of “omni-“.
Mark, you’re thinking I’m a process theologian. I’m not. I’m a Mormon theologian. As I shared above, part of my dissertation goal was to show that Mormonism within its metaphysic of everything being eternal could do the same really impressive things that process theology can. My whole bit into PT stuff about temporally ordered series of actual occasions, etc. above was to say that you have been mischaracterizing PT by saying God, for process theologians, is not a person. I was simply trying to share (following Hartshorne, as I think most process folks do on this point) that God is a person in PT just as much as human beings are persons. There’s no worship of God as “Becoming” or any of the impersonal labels you want to put on it. Like Andrew says, ain’t no way to call process theology’s God “Gawd,” just as you can’t label Mormonism’s deity(ies) with that label.
My entire reason for these three episodes was pastoral. It was to say that Mormons who find reasons to doubt God because they are thinking of Gawd (the sort of cultural, Sunday-rehetoric kind of being who finds lost keys but doesn’t stop horrendous evil) and not the Mormon God. We have been trying here to share just how different Mormonism’s God is from that of traditional theism (and this view that has infected our culture and Sunday discussions). I didn’t bring David Griffin on in this episode to convince people to become process theologians, but in order for them to hear another (and a well-known) critic of standard theism’s Gawd.
Where I was working on a pastoral issue, you decided to make arguments about ontological issues, and so I played along. In doing so, I gave what I think is a viable alternative to your view of God(s) as person(s) who align(s) with impersonal laws. I make everything that you call an impersonal law into interpersonal agreements, but I don’t see it as mushy ontology at all. And mine has the advantage of not adding an extra factor to the metaphysic like you do when you insist on impersonal laws as being as fundamental as eternal persons.
Aside from asking you to believe me that I’m not really pushing process theology here (except as a wonderful conversation partner for Mormonism), you’d have to read chapters 3 and 4 of my dissertation to also see that I answer all your critiques about how a God in space and time could do all the things I say about agreements through my work there on eternal beings as similar to patterns within a unified field (similar to whirlpools within a river) in which the field is in and through all others things as well as not having hard edges that define exactly where within the field the pattern begins and ends. At least I think I succeed. You’d have to check out those chapters with your criticisms in mind to see whether or not you agree.
All in all, I think you’re fighting me on things that are not disagreements except for that one point about impersonal laws vs interpersonal agreements. Hardly a “hill to die on” kind of thing, IMO, just as David Griffin and I agreed to disagree about whether my alternative to PT’s event metaphysic can really speak well to how anything “really” changes.
Dan, you know I believe you and trust you regarding your *intent* to not push process theology. Why, then, did it end up being the summary of these discussions? Why then are references to the books all about process theology? Why then have we focused our discussion in the abstruse technical language of process theology?
If we are going to be pastoral, then our language must be clear and understandable to those with whom we seek to commune. We need to use terms that Mormons would recognize. I believe Joseph Smith was on track to create a highly coherent definition of god, one that has deep and powerful pastoral connotations.
When we fully embrace a god as an exalted person, it brings our understanding and use of the divine into sharp focus. I think we profoundly lose that connection when we refer to god in any way as an abstraction.
If I were somehow able to gain an audience with the Queen of England, I am certain I would approach that event with a great deal of fear, awe, and trepidation. After all, the Queen is Royalty and as such is much superior in all respects to the common, everyday person such as me. To approach the Queen I would be expected to observe certain protocol and to show abject respect.
If I were somehow able to be a silent observer into the life of the Queen and how she interacts with her family I would undoubtedly see that those interactions would be quite different from what my interaction would be and what would be expected of me. I would think that to her children and other family members she is “mum” and a grandma, not the Queen.
I really believe that much of the way that we historically view God is a carry over from the way that we have interacted with Royalty. There have been times in history when the King or Queen has been all-powerful, the dispenser of rewards and punishment, and someone to be feared. This in turn is the way humans have historically viewed God or Gawd.
In today’s more democratic world we tend to view God differently, or at least try to. There is considerable difference between the God that appeared to Moses and the Gods that purportedly appeared to Joseph Smith. And there have been numerous reports of visitations by beings of light, who are assumed in many instances to be God/Jesus.
The point I want to make is that the beings of light that we as humans may have audience with and who we look upon with awe and sometimes fear have, we assume, an existence, in what we commonly refer to as the spirit world, as spirit beings. While in our physical world they may appear as beings of light, in the spirit world, depending on their level of advancement, this may or may not be the case. I doubt very much that they would look upon each other as gods, but more likely with varying degrees of respect. All indications are that they recognize the existence of and are attracted to a force superior to themselves.
When it comes to consciousness, I think that the course of the discussion here has been very much influenced by materialism and the attempt of materialists to explain consciousness. I suggest that attention be given to the writing of someone like Bernardo Kastrup. Only humans are conscious to the extent that, as far as we know, only humans are able to give meaning to their experiences. Upon death, it is only humans that retain a conscious individual identity and memory of their experiences. For animals, other than humans, if anything it is a conscious group identity.
If we want to know what the spirit world is like and what spirit beings think about God, I suggest we look into the considerable evidence that is available beyond that provided to us by Joseph Smith. Take for example, Silver Birch or the NDE of Howard Storm. There are hundreds of examples.
All that has been said here is way beyond me. In this context, does anything that I have just said make sense?
You may have already done this, but viewing God from a pastoral perspective, I think the best counsel that can be given Mormons at this time is the assurance that God’s love is unconditional. There are many parents, children, and siblings in Mormondom who are grieving over the imagined eternal loss of a loved one or loved ones. By convincing them that God does not judge, but if any judging is done, it is we who judge ourselves. And this judgment of ourselves is not necessarily permanent. We may temporarily separate ourselves from our loved ones because of some indiscretion, but once we have worked through our guilt we can return to and be accepted by those we love. We are inseparably connected to God. God’s love and light are always available to everyone. It is we who choose to separate ourselves from that love and light. Using our free will, should we so choose, we can be together with our loved ones forever.
Okay. I get the message.Dumb me. It is acceptable in materialist academia to debate God, even the Mormon God, as long as one ignores the evidence for an afterlife and the possible environment in which gods might exist and the activities in which they might engage. Ironically, although Joseph Smith was, himself, a medium, Mormons tend to ignore the abundance of evidence provided by mediums, along with evidence from other sources, of an afterlife. This evidence gives us an insight into the actual nature of God and the spirit world that we should incorporate into our discussion about God but can’t because this evidence is considered spurious, at best, is ridiculed by materialists, and therefore ignored by academia because, after all, academia is dominated by materialists.
Perhaps I have an ax to grind. I was trained as a neuroscientist in the late 60s and early 70s, and was a devout materialist. It wasn’t until the late 80s and early 90s that I made a complete turn around in direction and became essentially an idealist. Unfortunately, my verbal skills are limited, and while I have made feeble attempts since the early 90s to present my position that consciousness is fundamental, I have generally been unsuccessful. Fortunately, other more effective voices are now being heard, I mentioned Bernardo Kastrup. There are also the psychologist Donald Hoffman, Robert Lanza, the much maligned Deepak Chopra, various physicists and astronomers, and others. Add to this the thousands of personal accounts of the continuation of consciousness after death. Materialists, as would be expected, are not giving up control of their turf quietly. They not only continue to control academia and research grants but have also taken over Wikipedia and suppressed any and all evidence supporting the afterlife (look up Etta Wriedt, for example).
So, anyway, I have said my piece. For me, time is running out. Hopefully there will be others who will take up the banner.
What is the likelihood of you doing a future episode where a process theologian and a classical theologian dialogue about the strengths and weaknesses of each respective position?