PoMo Mormon Enchantment

I am delighted that Gary Cooper came to my defense with such honesty, passion, and insight on the question of “enchantment.” Yes, this is exactly what I had in mind.

But before I say more on that, I’d like to settle things up with Jim F. . . .

Jim writes that “The world for Heidegger . . . [is] not empty. [It is] infinitely rich.” He then goes on to dismiss the “American reading” of Heidegger that “turns infinite richness into a kind of arbitrariness.” Leaving aside this latest example of him describing the position I’m taking in terms of its cultural pedigree (as if the fact that many American scholars hold something like my view means that this view is a prejudice I’ve unreflectively taken on as my own), I have a question: Could you list some of the content of the Heideggerian world? Not just the purely formal existential structures of Being and Time, Div 1, and not just the even more purely formal “thing” (the “jug” etc.) of his early 1950s essays, but actual, concrete content — like, for example, Aristotle’s virtues or regime types? I doubt you can. And why? Because Heidegger provides no such content; such content is and must remain (for the purposes of Heideggerian “thinking”) radically (even absolutely) indeterminate. The “world” is ANY world, Provo, 2004 precisely as much as Freiburg, 1933 — if you take my meaning. The point is that Heidegger has absolutely nothing to say in answer to the question that motivated philosophy from its Socratic starting-point: How should I live?

Now, perhaps you’ll reply that Heidegger’s texts are filled with pronouncements judging (negatively) how modern man lives (technologically): Don’t these statements imply some positive standard? Indeed they do. But there is, in Heidegger’s thought, no coherent basis or ground for those standards. Not nature, not reason, not even convention. And if Being is the standard — well, then that means that Heidegger simply “saw.” But how are we to share in this vision? To know that he’s not just the most brilliant of the anti-modern intellectuals running around Germany in the middle decades of the twentieth century? As far as I can tell Heidegger is a godless prophet — and that’s an odd kind of prophet indeed.

Two concluding (and quick) comments on Heidegger:

1. I’m surprised that you (Jim) say “the other beginning occurs over and over again in the history of philosophy.” But surely you know that Heidegger himself never speaks this way. Heidegger de-constructs (better: takes apart) the history of Western philosophy in order to think his (and our) way out of the (ever deepening) error in which that tradition has been mired for over two millennia. The 1936-38 Contributions and the lectures of the same period [GA 37/8, for example], when talk of the “beginning” is most pronounced, accord precisely with my “historicist” interpretation. Or so it seems to me.

2. To the extent that Levinas, Gadamer, Ricoeur, Marion, Taylor and other Heideggerians do appeal to concrete standards, they have left their teacher behind in this decisive respect. Good for them.


Now, to enchantment. Before reading Gary Cooper’s comment on my post, I was prepared to add to what I wrote yesterday by pointing out what all of you know very well: Mormons believe, for example, that every human being who has ever lived is the literal spirit child of an embodied God who actually resides on a planet in the visible universe — and that after we die we will literally be reunited with Him. If that’s not an enchanted world, I don’t know what is.

But Gary did such a marvelous job of “testifying” to what I had in mind that I’m tempted not to add to his remarks. But, alas, I won’t give in to that temptation.

I agree with Jim F that the term “enchantment” is precisely the right word to use for what Gary describes. And I’m glad that Jeremy mentioned Marcel Gauchet in this context. For those unfamiliar with his rich and profoundly intriguing (and vaguely Heideggerian) argument, Gauchet claims (in a book titled “The Disenchantment of the World”) that what modern, secular thinkers call “disenchantment” actually began with Christianity itself (for Mormons, the apostasy), which placed God in a different ontological dimension from the temporal, mundane world. Unlike the world of the pagan gods, for example, the Christian world is one in which the divine has been erased or expunged or purged or withdrawn — it is an absence, deriving its meaning and purpose only from its status as a negation of God’s eternal fullness and perfection. In such a scheme, God is very distant (most distant in the nominalist theories that proliferated in the late medieval and early Protestant eras) — so distant, in fact, that it is merely one short step to the view that there is no God at all, and the world is meaningless and purposeless — in other words, “disenchanted.” It is to this condition that modern (or, rather, anti-modern) thinkers rebel.

What’s interesting to me about this account in light of Mormonism is how the LDS avoid the problem altogether. I don’t mean “avoid” in a negative sense, by the way. When I taught a Nietzsche seminar at BYU I was fascinated by how the students responded to him; it was as if he were railing against something utterly foreign when he attacked “Christianity.” This was because, I think, Mormon Christianity is so far removed from the supposedly world-denying character of the Augustinian/Lutheran Christianity that Nietzsche associates with its essence. Likewise, in relation to Gauchet’s story of disenchantment, the LDS account of the apostasy, combined with its emphasis on a profound continuity between this life and the next, between the world that we know today and the one that awaits us, grants Mormons an entryway to a world that looks surprisingly like Gauchet’s “pagan” world — in which gods and humans interact almost on a daily basis. So, as it is with Nietzsche, the LDS manage to emerged unscathed in their confrontation with the profound and protracted modern problem of disenchantment. “But you’re not talking about us,” is a remarkably apt response for Mormons to quite a lot of challenges.

Now, I’ll leave you today with a provocation. Of course if you’re a believing Mormon you’re likely to respond to these last few paragraphs with a bit of self-congratulation at the accomplishment of JS and his successors in bypassing so many of the problems that have grown up around the Church of the “apostasy” and its progressive disintegration in modern times. Yet, I’d like you to consider another possibility — one linked, I suspect, to some defensiveness I detect on the part of some readers of my initial post on enchantment.

One of Mormonism’s considerable strengths, which grows out of its “nearness” to everyday life (which I’ve tried to highlight in my first few posts), is the extraordinary “good news” it has to share: unlike for Catholics or Protestants, a Mormon need not worry or be confused about how or in what way he will be reunited with those he loves in an afterlife. (Often this worry or confusion takes the following form: “How will I be ‘me’ and my loved ones be who they currently ‘are’ if they have no bodies, which must be the case in a purely spiritual heaven, which is what must await us, since to think otherwise would be to assume that I’ll have a penis in heaven, and that’s ridiculous and shameful because I know that sexual passion flows from original sin, which will be overcome by grace in heaven, if I’ve made myself worthy of receiving such grace, despite the fact that I know that to assume that one can earn grace is to prejudge God’s will which is utterly inexplicable to me, yet the Bible says our bodies will be resurrected at the Second Coming,” and so forth). For a Mormon, I am this body, this wife is my wife, her body is hers, and I’ll see and “live” with her for “eternity” (a really, really long time) after I “die.” In other words, for a Mormon death isn’t really death at all. Of course this is true to some extent for all believers in biblical religion, but Mormon emphasis on the profound continuity of this life and the next, and human beings and God(s), makes this even more so for them. No doubt this contributes to Mormonism’s extraordinary missionary successes: everyone wants to hear such “good news.” But this also leaves Mormons uniquely vulnerable to the charge that has always been leveled against biblical religion — namely that it’s just wishful thinking, fairytales, Santa Clause writ large, Disneyland Christianity, etc., through lots of things I’m sure all of you have thought about and heard said about you by non-Mormons.

The question is: How to respond to the charge? . . .

39 comments for “PoMo Mormon Enchantment

  1. “But this also leaves Mormons uniquely vulnerable to the charge that has always been leveled against biblical religion — namely that it’s just wishful thinking, fairytales, Santa Claus writ large, Disneyland Christianity, etc., through lots of things I’m sure all of you have thought about and heard said about you by non-Mormons.”

    But Damon, as I’ve said before, there is a Santa Claus.

    More substantive response to follow.

  2. “The question is: How to respond to the charge? . . . ”

    From within the system, the response seems fairly straightforward, a la C.S. Lewis, that the critics have their causality backwards. It’s this world that is the “wishful thinking,” the earthly resembling the heavenly by design, because the earthly is modeled as preparation for the heavenly.

    From outside the system, the criticism is as unanswerable as any extrinsic criticism of religious belief. If your fundamental axioms differ, there’s not much to say beyond that.

  3. Damon: I suspect that one way of responding to the charge is the rather detailed debates you have over the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It seems to be an incarnation of the fairy tale, if you will. If you accept the incarnation, then you have a little bit of God sitting there on your table. It makes for a rather odd discussion, however, since one gets into rather intense theological debates via discussions of seer stones and Amerindian DNA.

    It is interesting to me that Catholicism seems to resist the complete disnechantement of the world. After all, I can go into any parish in the world during Mass and be in the presence of the literal flesh of God. Frankly, to my Mormonized mind that sounds much cooler than an blessedly atemporal beatific vision.

  4. Chesterton gets at the special enchantment of revealed religion when he writes that “orthodox theology has specially insisted that Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God.” It is indeed enchanting, but not like an elf, not like a centuar, as an unbalanced view of things would have it: but the fact that you can get elves & centaurs from it isn’t surprising or embarrassing. Tolkien’s another one who found plenty of enchantment in Catholicism (& the Christian story in general, which Mormons share), & indeed a pretty enchanting book sprang out of it. Joseph Smith simply seems to be reintroducing the enchanted world of the NT: the world & worldview which Tolkien (& Chesterton?) thought all really good fantasy was a reflection of.

  5. Damon,

    Boy! You’re good! (And not just because of your kind words for my reponse to your post–but thanks!) Very rarely have I encountered a non-LDS scholar who really grasps Mormonism, so Russell Fox was right about you. So glad you were invited to T&S!

    Now, let me take up your challenge. There are a variety of ways Mormons could take up the “fairy tale” challenge, but the best way is found right in the New Testament. Remember when one of Christ’s disciples, early in Christ’s mortal ministry, goes to his brother (I believe it was Nathaniel, I don’t have my scriptures with me), and tells him of his seeing Christ, the Annointed One, the Promised Messiah, and the miracles and other evidences. Nathaniel is skeptical. “C’mon, bubba! Really? The Messiah, huh? And you say he’s from Nazareth? Oh, brother. Can any good thing come from Nazareth?”
    Now look at the response: “Come and see!”

    That could summarize the entire LDS missionary message: COME AND SEE! Don’t believe God speaks to prophets today? Come and see for yourself! In fact, pray to God and ask Him to reveal to you the truth! Yes, to you personally!”

    Again, the “enchantment” of Mormonism involves its *tangible*, *tactile*, REAL application. We have a BOOK you can read, a PROPHET you can read and listen to, a PRIESTHOOD you can be blessed by and which you can receive yourself and bless others with. We have SPIRITUAL GIFTS you can have access to, in fact, we won’t baptize you if we think you haven’t actually gotten a revelation from God, a testimony.

    What makes “fairy tales” what they are, is that we all know they are not real, and we know this because we know children can’t fly like Peter Pan, and that unicorns don’t live in our back yard. We don’t and can’t see such things, becasue they aren’t real. But, speaking for myself, I know the Holy Ghost is real, because I’ve received revelations. I know the Priesthood is real, because I’ve blessed people to be healed, and they were, and I’ve had priesthood holders tell me things in blessings about myself which no one knew but me. I’ve rebuked evil spirits, I’ve seen things about the future that in fact have come to pass. There are others I know with even greater experiences, and I don’t believe they are lying.

    Now, Mormons are not alone in claiming miracles. In fact, we admit quite openly that we don’t have a monopoly on faith, and where faith is, miracles follow, yes, also with non-Mormons. The difference is that we add an element to this: the invitation to the investigator to actually approach God, and DEMAND a revelation—a revelation that this Church is where God wants them to be, for it has the FULNESS of His Gospel. Not just the Gospel, but the FULNESS. It may seem like a fairy tale, so what! Come and see—and if you see what we see, and hear what we hear, and feel what we feel, and know what we know, well, then you’ll know if it’s a fairy tale or not, won’t you?

    As you have pointed out elsewhere, Damon, Mormonism is not just some piece of clothing one can exchange for another, like the Walmart-religion that is modern Protestantism. It is not just a culture and way of life that brings blessings, like how we would view Catholicism, for example. It’s the real deal—the old, ancient, REAL deal, where Gods speak to men, where men speak with Gods, where things metaphysical happen–in fact, they are EXPECTED to happen.

    Are there things out there that *seem* to contradict our little story? Sure, the BoM/DNA thing, the strange things Brigham Young sometimes said, etc. Why aren’t we swayed? Well some are, I suppose, but I am not. Why not? For the reasons I’ve given above—I came and saw, and I can’t deny what I’ve seen. That’s how we should overcome the “fairy tale” challenge, the only way it could EVER be overcome. We invite all to COME AND SEE.

  6. Damon, I think for Mormons the response is quite obvious: Test it and see for yourself, as in Moroni 10:3-5, the quintessential passage used in proselytization.

    Granted, the validity of such a “test” can be called into question (as can all of our experiences), but the experience of a response from God in confirmation of Mormonism is the answer to the question. I think this is analogous to Samuel Johnson’s famous “I refute it thus!” in response to Berkeley. The answer to the question of whether the world is inhabited by God is the experience of a world inhabited by God.

    (One quibble about some of the assumptions in your posts underlying the issue of God’s corporeality: To assert the corporeality of God “in the form of a man” is not necessarily to assert that every aspect of that corporeality corresponds to our own mortal corporeality. We do acknowledge distinctions between various degrees of glorified bodies and fallen mortal bodies, and it is not clear what those differences entail. Jim Faulconer has an interesting piece on this: Divine Embodiment and Transcendence: Propaedeutic Thoughts and Questions.)

  7. But Gary, we’re not invited to come and see AT ALL! We’re expected to believe in things NOT seen. We’re told that these things have been seen by someone, but it is not for us to see them.

    Basically, we’re told to be mightily impressed by magic, without looking. I don’t think it’s a little quibble. Do we believe in magic, or don’t we?

  8. Boy, D., you seem to change positions quite a lot. It’s difficult to keep up with you!

  9. Here’s another angle of response. The charge is tricky to respond to, because it is so broad.

    At one level it seems to be just a colorful way of saying, “But we all know that can’t be right.” Insofar as that is the charge, the sensible response seems to be either (a) to say, “Do we? What makes you say that?” From there the conversation might get into questions of how we know spiritual truths and whether those methods are reliable, or it might turn to objections against particular points of teaching, which will call for their own particular answers. Or (b) one might take this sort of statement to mean that the person making it is signalling that (s)he doesn’t see enough plausibility in the message to continue thinking about it, in which case the thing to do may be to be as graceful as possible in letting the person disengage, and hope to be able to talk again when (s)he’s feeling less incredulous.

    At another level, perhaps what the person is saying is, “But none of this connects with the world as I know it.” Perhaps then the response is to talk through in a very concrete way the continuity between the way (s)he understands the world and the way we Mormons understand it. The world is spiritual, through and through, but people can live in it without thinking of it as being spiritual. That’s a bit of a paradox. We talk about the guidance of the Holy Spirit in discerning good and evil, but lots of people think they recognize good and evil just fine without having ever thought of themselves as communicating with God. Part of what needs to happen there is for them to see how the way they’re accustomed to thinking about their moral experience is actually compatible with our parallel story about the guidance of the Spirit.

    When I was a kid, there was this joke where you would walk up to another kid and say, ‘You’re epidermis is showing!”, and watch the reaction. Kids don’t normally think about their skin as their epidermis, so it sounds like something is wrong, even though they thought everything was normal. Telling people who are fairly comfortable living without thinking about God probably have a similar problem seeing room for spiritual teachings in their lives, so they need help mapping spiritual concepts into the world as they already understand it. Otherwise it sounds like we just live in different universes.

    Working through the continuity of their world with ours is a sort of retrospective version of “Come and see!”

  10. Gary: I’m not sure that I would describe Catholicism as “just a culture and way of life that brings blessings.” This might be mere quibbling, but I think the church that gave us Augustine & Newman & Evelyn Waugh is more than that somehow. Of course, I get your general drift, & agree with it; at the same time, I find Catholicism, Judiasm, Islam, so pregnant with truth, beauty, history, etc., that I’m hesitant to summarize them glibly.

  11. I haven’t changed my mind at all. I think our doctrine is murky. Joseph Smith was given artifacts to empower him, but it isn’t enough for us to believe in Joseph and Jesus from the reality of the artifacts (like pilgrims may have in the Shroud of Turin, for example) but must have spiritual confirmation as well, or even despite evidence to the contrary of the reality of the artifacts.

    Joseph may have brought “enchantment” back to the world, but at the same time, he didn’t want us to lose modernity. He didn’t want hysteria. He wanted calm, reasoned, hard-working, realistic believers. He wanted us to believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but not in the usual way of testing and analysis. It’s murky.

    Yes, I’d be happier if it went one way or the other. If Joseph had said, “I’ve had a vision, here’s the plan, it’ll be a lot of work and I need you to testify of its truthfulness without SEEING,” I might be happier. Or, if Joseph had said, “If you don’t believe, come and SEE — I have a real book which may be tested for real facts and events. There’s nothing particularly magical about it, it’s real history, and from this history, we will build a new dispensation,” I think we’d be better off too.

  12. I really enjoyed your Nietzsche story Damon. That’s probably what I was trying to get at with the double-movement idea. (But apparently failing at) Over on LDS-Phil a month ago we had this interesting discussion on the utility of Nietzsche and other atheists that in certain ways touched upon what you’ve pointed out. I do suspect that Mormons are sympathetic to Nietzsche in ways that perhaps few other Christians are.

  13. Brother Fletcher,

    Since I don’t know if your word “magic” means the same to you that the word means to me, I’ll avoid that word, but your question is well taken, and I was expecting you to have a reply actually.

    You say that we are not invited to see, but to believe in that which is not seen. Well, yes and no. When I first received a testimony of the Holy Ghost (quite unwillingly, and without solicitation on my part, so it was somewhat like Paul’s conversion, without the dramatic action), I knew it was real, but I still couldn’t “see” how the Restored Gospel’s doctrines made any sense. I still didn’t see how there could be other Scripture besides the Bible, and how there could be living prophets today, and how Joseph could have actually seen the Father and the Son, etc. It all STILL made no sense me. But I wanted to be baptized now, because God through His Holy Spirit, in a way more real than anything I had ever experienced before, had told it was true. So, my attitude was NOT “Oh, I love this Church! It all makes so much sense.” Oh no, far from it. Rather, my attitude was, “This stuff makes no sense at all. It looks likes Satan’s work! But, God says it’s true—so it must be true, and I’m the one who’s wrong. I surrender—baptize me. And I hope to goodness I don’t screw up, because I just don’t get any of these doctrines!” (To say the least, my conversion was far different from most others I’ve talked to…)

    Now, a funny thing happened. Once I committed myself to God, and manifested my willingness to follow Him no matter what, then gradually I came to see. I say gradually, because it was months and months before I “gave up” all of my old beliefs (for example, having studied with the Jehovah’s Witnesses for 6 years, and being about 90% in agreement with their doctrines at the time, it took me a year to give up the idea that Christmas trees were idolatry, and to accept the idea that if President Kimball could have a blood transfusion, they must be okay for everybody, despite Acts 15:20), so I can sure understand the difficulty the early Brethren had with overcoming their old Protestant ways of thinking. I eventually overcame objections, came to understand what I couldn’t before, and yes, miracles happened, and revelations came, and my experiences grew.

    Now, if you mean by “not seeing” that we don’t get to see the gold plates, or see God the father, or angels, or Nephite ruins in MesoAmerica, well okay, then I haven’t seen these things. (But frankly, if I were to see God, I would never tell anyone.) But I have seen other things, which I alluded to in my earlier thread, and these things were real. Can I just pretend I didn’t? And even if some, for the moment, make a persuasive case, to some, that things don’t seem right with the Mormon “story”, that doesn’t explain how the whole thing could be a fraud but I could have these things happen to me that can only make sense if the Church is what it says it is.

    In other words, all of us, as imperfect humans in an inperfect world, engage in some form of “mental gymnastics” every day to try and make sense of it all. Which requires more gymnastics—to believe that God is real, and that this is His Church, and that I HAVE seen and experienced what I know I have—or to completely ignore my own personal experience with the Infinite, and believe the conclusions of the DNA experts (though I don’t understand their field, haven’t seen their evidence, and wouldn’t understand it if I did), or the handwriting experts (same problems as the DNA people), or the Journal of Discourse excerpts (where I wasn’t present and don’t have any idea of the context), or the Archeologists (who can only tell me what they have seen, but admit they’ve not seen everything under the earth, and never could), etc. In other words, *IT IS JUST AS MUCH A LEAP OF FAITH TO DENY ONE’S OWN SPIRTUAL EXPERIENCES, IN RETURN FOR THE CYNICISM OF EXPERTS IN FIELDS I DON’T UNDERSTAND AND HENCE CAN’T “SEE”, AS IT IS TO SIMPLY BELIEVE MY OWN EYES, EARS, AND SPIRIT, EVEN MORE SO.” I’m not really trying to shout here (I just don’t have a way to italicize or bold print)–just emphasize with all my heart that every body exercises some kind of faith in something, and I find faith in Man’s knowledge weighed, weighed, measured, and found wanting. If I have to believe somebody on faith, why not God, and my own experience? I find the company there more congenial that with the “experts”, the “scholars” and the learned men—their residence’s altitude is too high, and the foundation beneath it unstable.

  14. D. Fletcher writes: “[Joseph Smith] wanted us to believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but not in the usual way of testing and analysis.”

    Joseph Smith writes: “The Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true of all the people. … Surely “facts are stubborn things.” It will be and ever has been, the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experimentis. …”

    Joseph Smith did not shy away at all from “the usual way of testing and analysis.” He sent the Book of Mormon characters off to Prof. Anthon first thing, confident that Prof. Anthon, with his great learning, would be able to translate them, thus providing Joseph with a sort of Rosetta Stone for his own translation. Of course, he wanted the Saints to gain a spiritual confirmation of the book as well, but he never told them not to wear out their intellects on it.

    No, “calm, reasoned, hard-working, realistic believers” don’t believe in “magic.” The Holy Ghost, revelation, priesthood, these things aren’t “magic.” When Gary invites to the world to “come and see,” he’s obviously not inviting it to come & see the plates, much less Harry Potter. Come see the Church; come see the prophets of God; come see the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price; come see this marvelous work & and a wonder, the Kingdom of God on earth–& ask God is it all “true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ,” etc. etc. etc.

    No abracadabra about it.

  15. G&G do it again (Gary & Grasshopper),

    Jesus said something like, “if you want to know, come & do.” Their is no fairy tale. The _real_ world is the fairy tale & what you see around you is the illusion. Welcome to the celestial mattrix; except that the _real_ world isn’t a computer controlled, but a God ruled universe.

    This is also to answer D. Fletcher. If the gospel is murky…’tis only because you haven’t done the work to make it less so. My apologies if that comes across as an attack; but ’tis the only conclusion that I can draw from the proof-statement the Jesus made that I paraphrase above (& echoed in James 1:5, Moroni 10:3-5, etc).

    Alternatively D. Fletcher, we can just say I’m wrong. That leaves you with the “clarity” of science & me with a fairy tale that _feels_ (which I know to be the Holy Ghost) right. I’ll take the _feel_ of truth over science anyday. Mormon doctrine = murky? Hah…the inability of science to come up with coherent truth that doesn’t change is far more murky.

  16. Kingsley,

    Thanks for pointing out that the Catholic Church deserves to be treated as much more than my description of a culture and way of life with blessings. I was typing at white heat, and so didn’t think that aside through.

    And Damon, accept my apologies for referring to your spiritual home in that way. I am one of many Mormons who believe that the Catholic Church has the second strongest claim to divine authority today (bet you can guess who we think has the strongest claim, can’t you!).

  17. “The Holy Ghost, revelation, priesthood, these things aren’t “magic.””

    Then what exactly ARE they? Miracles, the power of God made manifest, inspiration by the Holy Ghost, these are all unexplainable phenomena that are manifestations of a larger, stranger world. They aren’t Rings of Power or Harry Potter, but they’re magic in the sense that they invoke the super-natural.

    So far as coming to see the Kingdom in its current state, and read the standard works and see all these things the Restoration has provided, those are all great works, but the fact that they have been produced largely by the power and will of God places them outside the realm of our control or influence, and into the realm of the ‘magical’. D. (and I) are using the term ‘magic’, not to denigrate the wonders the Church produces, but to properly address their unexplainable, miraculous nature (which I consider more important than external proofs by Charles Anthon). Try not to get hung up on the negative connotations of the term; they’re not meant to be implied.

  18. Steve: Are you serious? The word “magic” is a way to “properly address” the “wonders [of the] Church”? Sorry to get all hung up about it, but in my own defense I doubt there are many inside the Church (or out of it) who would agree to describe the Holy Ghost, the priesthood, Christ’s miracles, etc., as “magic,” i.e. hocus pocus, abracadabra, shazam, whether one has a special definition for it or not.

  19. “”magic,” i.e. hocus pocus, abracadabra, shazam, whether one has a special definition for it or not.”

    The fact you responded this way makes me realize that you completely missed my point. As you said, you are are all hung up about it.

    That’s fine. The word is clearly a loaded one for you, but in most circles today it isn’t as devastating as you make it out. Similar reactions are common in response to usage of the word “myth” in other contexts.

    We can disagree on this one, and everybody will still be o.k. I was just trying to express that the unexplainable wonder of the church, of Christ’s atonement, etc. are what really matter to some people — like myself. I use ‘magic’ as a shorthand to categorize unexplainable super-natural things that generate belief.

  20. Steve: I think I can count myself as one of the people for whom “the unexplainable wonder of the church, of Christ’s atonement, are what really matter”–my response to Bro. Fletcher had to do more with the idea that on the one hand you have faith (or magic) & on the other hand you have the intellect (or Prof. Anthon etc.). I think Joseph Smith saw a closer connection between the two than what was implied.

    I must not be moving in the circles that equate magic with miracles. This little snippet from Justin Martyr describes the common view, unchanged through the centuries:

    “We, who were once slaves of lust, now have delight only in purity of morals; we, who once practiced arts of magic, have consecrated ourselves to the Eternal and Good God … “

  21. Steve,

    I recently blogged about the non-miraculous nature of “miracles” at Let Us Reason, in my post on Mormon naturalism. There are some good quotes on the subject there. I think Mormonism teaches that the “miraculous” is not only not “supernatural” in the conventional sense, but definitely not unexplainable. Unexplained, perhaps, but I don’t think we hold anything to be unexplainable, and that makes a world (literally) of difference.

  22. Grasshopper,

    I spoke a little carelessly earlier. ‘Unexplainable’ wasn’t correct. Note though that I said “super-natural”, meaning that God commands nature (though you can argue that’s not the case, he really just understands nature better, etc., etc.). In general, however, I was speaking from an earthly, mortal perspective, rather than trying to speak for how God does what he does. From my point of view, God’s works are bewildering and amazing, and hence “magical”. We’re all kind of speaking around each other here, I think.

  23. While I think there are many Mormons who believe something like the supernatural – i.e. the natural is what it is because of God’s command and he could make the universe anything he wants – I also think that a very strong tradition within Mormonism is the idea that there are laws external to God and God is bound by them. These laws are what we might call the ultimate laws of physics. I admit that I consider that view most likely. I have a difficult time with the idea of miracles proper. To me miracles are are God working by laws we simply don’t understand. As Arthur C. Clarke put it, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

  24. I don’t imagine that many who read this blog are interested in seeing Damon and me thrash out our differences with regard to Heidegger. So I will try to keep my comments in that vein relatively brief, and I will paint with a very broad brush. (As those who’ve read other of my posts and responses will know, the word “relatively” is crucial.)

    Let me start with an apology with two prongs: First, I didn’t mean to dismiss Damon’s position merely by pointing to its American pedigree and implying that he has unreflectively accepted the reading given by that pedigree. My point was that there are two very different readings of Heidegger. The one that Damon finds most compelling is one we find mostly in among North American interpreters. Instead of dismissing that interpretation or suggesting that Damon’s conclusion aren’t reflective, I was trying to place myself in another interpretive camp. Second, my comment about turning the richness of the world into arbitrariness and nothingness wasn’t aimed at Damon or those with whom he shares an understanding of Heidegger. It was aimed primarily at those for whom postmodernism, Heidegger, Derrida, etc. was a fad until recently, those who said the emptiest things and dressed those empty things up by pretending to be deconstructionsts or postmodernists or Heideggerians or Foucauldians or . . . , but who rarely really knew much about the issues at hand nor the thinkers in question. To be frank, most of those I had in mind were in literature departments.

    Damon asks whether I can list some of the contents of the Heideggerian world, and he precludes me from referring to its formal contents. I think that is, unintentionally, a trick question. Heidegger’s interest is in the question of being, and his argument is that being is not a thing. As a result, his discussion is of formal structures. Along the way he gives us a number of philosophically interesting contents of human experience (e.g., being-present-to-hand and anxiety). (Hubert Dreyfus has done at least as much as anyone to explore these contents; with others, Mark Wrathall–of BYU–does similar work.) Nevertheless, it is true that these contents are not central to the thrust of Heidegger’s work. Only the formal contents are. In that case, however, I think Damon’s question is the problem, for it looks for the kinds of contents that Heidegger denies giving.

    Did Heidegger merely “see” being? I don’t think so. In fact, I think that way of describing his claim is quite unfair. For Heidegger, the contents of our world are produced hermeneutically in history. Perhaps the most accessible explanations of what that means are found in the works of Gadamer (_Truth and Method_) and Ricoeur (lots of things, but perhaps most important is _Oneself as Another_).

    I think that Heidegger does not give us an ethic. However, a number of recent scholars have argued that one is implied in his work. I also think that he does not give us a political science, though here, too, some have argued that one can develop a political science from Heidegger’s work. But whether one can argue that Heidegger’s philosophy did have content of the kind that Damon wishes to see in it or one can argue, as I have here, that there are reasons we ought not to expect it to, there is no question that a number of Heideggerians have produced works with such content. Again, Gadamer and Ricoeur are the most obvious cases, and I would add to them much of contemporary French, Dutch, and Belgian philosophy. Though Damon says that such thinkers have left Heidegger behind, _they_ don’t seem to think they did.

    For me, some of the most interesting of these Heideggerian thinkers are people like Marlène Zarader and Didier Franck, who argue that Heidegger’s attempt to “think Greek” is thoroughly infused with biblical ideas and thinking.

    As to “the other beginning”: this is a topic about which, in the absence of plodding through the relevant texts, we are going to have to agree to disagree. I don’t read the texts to which you refer in the way that you do, and I think I can give good reasons for doing so, reasons found in those texts.

  25. Let me second Damon’s reference to Marchel Gauchet’s book and agree with him that it is a sort-of Heideggerian argument. However, I think it also makes sense to see it as a Nietzschean argument. With regard to the question of enchantment, I have found Louis Dupré’s _Passage to Modernity_ also very helpful. Likewise the discussion of Duns Scotus (“Transition”) in Catherine Pickstock’s _After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy_.

    Changing the subject: I think Damon’s provocation is very important. How _is_ our belief any different from a belief in fairies and Santa? From within the disenchanted world, the answer has to be “not at all.” That is something we need to recognize. At the same time, however, it is important to recognize that from within the enchanted world, the two kinds of belief are quite different. Christian beliefs, biblical beliefs, Mormon beliefs—all are world-making in a way that beliefs in fairies and Santa are not.

    My concern is that if we do not recognize that there is no difference for those who live in the disenchanted world and we consequently believe that we live in the same world as they (but, of course, with some different beliefs), then we may confuse our world with theirs. If we think that there is no _essential_ difference between our world and that of those who deny the realm of the spirit, that the difference is merely a matter of holding to one set of beliefs rather than another, then we are in danger of much misunderstanding our own beliefs and perhaps of implicitly denying them. That is one reason that I think it is important not only to recognize that Joseph Smith has taught us, for example, that God has a body, but also to recognize that we know very little about what that means.

  26. Historically speaking, Mormon Modernism is a major mode of Latter-day Saint scholarship, and it would be a mistake to count it out yet. Smith, Young, Pratt, Talmage, Roberts, Widstoe, Eyring. In the more general world, we might count Ockham (the Good), Blaise Pascal, Baron de Montesquieu, Emanuel Swedenborg, Lord Acton, and the Open Theists among the Christian Modernists full of faith, piety, and right reason. Determinism no doubt deserves to die, but modernism modulated with Franciscan piety and free will theism has plenty of potential.

  27. Mark, I doubt that anyone doubts that most LDS are modernists nor believes that most LDS intellectuals are Heideggerians or some other stripe of post-Nietzschean philosopher, so I doubt that anyone is counting modernism in the Church out. There are a number of us interested in seeing whether post-Nietzschean philosophy (a term that I _much_ prefer to “post-modernism”) can provide better philosophical alternatives, but we aren’t a majority and few outside academic circles know about our thinking. Even fewer care.

  28. I think Jim is right in that many Mormons may risk denying their faith by not understanding its enchanted nature. The hostility to the term “magic” seems to be some kind of Christian prejudice not presumably shared by Joseph Smith and the early saints.

    Mormonism is (or at least was) a magical world view…and not just because it involves usually unseen powers and beings and tries to enter relations with them (according to the BOM we’re all supposed to see angels). It was magical because it involved seer stones, ritual magic, influences of hermetic mysteries, and the Kabalah–in short, real-honest-to-goodness hocus pocus magic.

    Mormons believe in magic. Or at least they used to. If you equate hocus pocus with bunk, then you aren’t in the same tradition as Joseph Smith, who took truth wherever he could find it…including ritual magic.

    Interesting notes (and associated article) at:

    The penultimate issue of Dialogue also had some good stuff on this to think about.

    Critics can either claim that a)there is no magic, so JS was a hoax (some here seem to accept their initial premise), or b) magic is of the devil, so JS is a warlock or sorceror (we haven’t really refuted this one yet).

    Accepting magical influences in Mormon origins, Mormons can either a) say they were minimal or primed JS’s pump for real revelation (Bushman), or b) accept that there is true magic, and at least some of it comes from God. Or…there could be more arguments here, but I think it is historically untenable to claim no connection between early Mormonism and real-live-magic.

    That said, and returning to the topic of enchanted Universes, I think there is a huge potential here for a Mormon Magical Realism Literature. Orson Scott Card has flirted with this, but what we really need is a Mormon Vargas LLosa or Garcia Marquez. The ordinance sequences in “Gods Army” and “Brigham City” might be a start here. As for TLOTR, Orks and Ents have nothing on Three Nephites and Baby Resurrections.

  29. Rob: I agree with much of what you’ve said: I simply got “hung up” on the idea that “magic,” as the word is popularly used, is a very helpful description of the Holy Ghost, miracles, etc. The furor in many Christian (including LDS) circles over Harry Potter is an example of this.

    & good point about the orcs & ents.

  30. I’d be very careful with that article on the hermetic culture of Joseph Smith. It’s definitely the worst of the bunch. The influence of kabbalism on Joseph Smith is still very much up in the air. While I agree there was a “magic world view” in early America and that early converts adopted this, I think there is a danger of pushing this too far. Further, what is often most notable isn’t how they adopted that style of belief, but how they radicalized it through a strong naturalism movement. It really wasn’t hermeticism anymore.

  31. R—-O—-B….

    y—o—u—should—-be—more—respectfull—of—the-trees-we—are-all-alive–too. ;)

  32. Welcome, Treebeard. I hope you’ve had luck with the Entwives. Rob: I find Bushman’s theory best: Joseph came out of the ideal prophet-making environment: a folk who had absolute faith in the invisible world (like Jacob & his poplar rods), Joseph sees the treasure stuff as an irresponsible use of his gifts rather than as superstitious hillybillyism, makes a smooth transition from the magic worldview, etc.

  33. Clark: I agree – Hermeticism is a consuming fire, nearly always corrupting those who inhale deeply. The same goes for what we call “Mysticism”. I generally avoid books on the subject like the plague – for reasons of disgust, loathing, and fear of corruption. I know a little better now, but books that induce anxiety, fear, and dread are hardly my favorite bedtime reading material.

    My feeling on all this stuff is similar to the D&C 91 statement on the Apocrypha, and that is putting it extremely generously. Once every great while someone writes a mystical book that coheres well with the spirit of faith, pragmatism, and right reason. Even then, I would take such things with a truckload of salt, lest one lose his (or her) foundation.

    The only hermetic book I recall purchasing [from the relatively recent shelves of Deseret Book, no less] I found worthless and confusing. The vast majority of Apocryphal works are almost as bad, and the vast majority of magical, “metaphysical”, and mystical books far, far worse.

    The Standard Works provide more than enough scope for an active imagination. My general inclination is to avoid commentaries completely, lest they obscure the truth. I am with those who say that the Scriptures are the best commentary on the Scriptures. One should prayerfully study hundreds of hours of sacred Scripture for every hour of extra-scriptural mystical anything. Justification before sanctification, meat before mysticism, in the Church – that is my philosophy.

  34. I might add that to the degree I find the higher mysticism valid at all, it generally related to the musical, mathematical, and literary distinction of our Lord Author and Composer, in a way that echoes of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul, Aquinas, Scotus and Ockham, and Calvin, Edwards, and Wesley. To say nothing of Bach, Grieg, and Gershwin, Abraham, Cantor, and Einstein, or Peirce, James, and Whitehead.

  35. Deseret Book did carry a book I found fascinating, if exceedingly speculative: “Written by the Finger of God”, by Joe Sampson. Meta-mysticism makes for much better reading, if one must read at all.

  36. Grasshopper, I am not familiar with the history of freemasonry except in general terms. All I can say is that I have little trouble reading most of the more eccentric aspects of our temple worship right out of the Old Testament.

    As for the other aspects, I think Hugh Nibley has done an admirable job of demonstrating that much of it is pervasive, notably including influence on Far Eastern culture. I spent a decent fraction of my life in Korea, and am completely fascinated by similarities in East Asian culture, especially in Confucianism and the development of Chinese characters.

Comments are closed.