Friday, December 18, 2009

Mormon Trekkies

Today I was told by a friend of mine that my blog was "less controversial" than he expected when reading the title. While I am flattered by the acceptance of my ideas that I thought would be met with resistance, I'm afraid the need for this entry to be as clear as possible trumps the need for it to be complaisant, at least this once.

The English wiki with the most entries besides Wikipedia is website called Memory Alpha (I'm not completely sure; tell me if I'm wrong) Here's a link to it: It is the Star Trek wiki. Thousands of Star Trek nerds and nerdesses have devoted their free-time to recording every fact about the Star Trek universe in an easily accessible encyclopedia. They have detailed entries for everything, from big things like the article on Klingons, to tiny ones like the article about the SS Lakul, the Whorfin-class transport in Star Trek: Generations. Every meticulous little detail has been plotted and recorded in the wiki's vast database. But any attempt to make a database of a fictional universe is plagued by the same problem: what is canon and what is not? For something to be canon, it means that it is part of the accepted universe of that fictional work. For example, Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes would be canon, while fan-fiction would not be. It is very stereotypical of trekkies to be concerned about canon to a ridiculous degree. They will pour over a TNG (The Next Generation) episode and look for any contradictions with TOS (The Original Series) episodes. If they find one, they demand an explanation from the makers of the episode. A good example of this was seen in the hype leading up to the recently released Star Trek movie. There were rumors of things happening in it that were not canonical. J. J. Abrams, in order to avoid the entire mess, smartly set the movie in an alternate universe.

But that's beside the point. I go on this elaborate non-spiritual tangent to make a metaphor. The LDS community is a great deal like the Star Trek community. There are many Mormons who hold desperately onto their own kind of canon. It is based on the scriptures and the words of the prophets. If it is in the scriptures, it is right. If it is not in the scriptures, it is wrong. Now, there's nothing wrong with the scriptures in and of themselves. They are the prime way for mankind to learn about the things of the gospel. But this point of view takes the scriptures for what they were never meant to be: historical and scientific texts. And so the feeling is that the Garden of Eden was an actual garden in what is now Missouri (something I don't think Joseph Smith ever said), that an actual world-wide flood covered the entire earth, that all people are literally descended from Adam and Noah, and that the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old.

But, some of the adherents of this widespread opinion look at the world of science, and see that it does not match up with the world of the scriptures, if everything is explained simply by divine power. And so they begin a massive crusade of reconciliation, developing odd and complicated scientific explanations for the literal happenings in the scriptures. For example, my mom used to tell me that the reason people lived so long in biblical times was because their genes weren't "corrupted" yet. I've heard other people say how the city of Enoch must have been where the gulf of Mexico is today, because it's the only thing that doesn't fit if you put the continents together. And I've heard other people say that God did indeed create the world in 7 days, but "aged" it so that it appeared to go through billions of years of development.

And so, these Mormon Trekkies go through all kinds of elaborate and inefficient trouble to keep firm their belief that the scriptures are literally true. The canon is above all else in importance. It is irrefutable, and it trumps all debate and discussion. And in this mad pursuit of reconciliation and defense, I would say that the scriptures are divorced from their original purpose: to lead men to truth.

What is truth? Or, should I say, what is Truth? Various religions across the world, calling it Brahman, the Tao, the Monad, or God, all seem to say that there is some greater reality behind all things. Christianity and Mormonism are no different. Paul says that "we see the world through a glass darkly" in 1 Corinthians 13, and Joseph Smith describes the Celestial Kingdom in D&C 130 as a great glass globe, a Urim and Thummim, through which everything can be seen in the past,the present and the future.

I, calling again on the wisdom of Humpty Dumpty, will call the belief systems that acknowledge that the Truth exists and actively pursue it mystical traditions. Now, one of the most notable elements about the Truth is that it cannot be described, as words by their nature cannot completely describe anything, let alone the reality of the universe. As the Tao Te Ching says, "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao". And so, people who have experienced the Truth must necessarily use metaphor, simile, symbolism and stories, tuned to the experience of people's everyday life, in order to help other people understand it. However, as these stories get passed on from person to person, the delicious taste of the fruit of Truth is forgotten, and people begin to think that the stories themselves are the Truth. I will dub these story-based belief systems mythologies. A religion can have stories and not be a mythology, so long as they realize that their stories are just that: stories, used to help people understand the Truth, and aren't actually the Truth itself. As Alan Watts once said: "The menu is not the meal." A prevailing trait throughout mythologies is that their universe looks a lot like their culture, lives and immediate area. The early Mesopotamian deities were as wild and unpredictable as the Tigris and the Euphrates, while the gods of Egypt were as stable, timeless and predictable as the Nile. Most of them had a supreme deity who was king or emperor over the universe in much the same way a king or emperor on earth rules their kingdom.

I think that this is the problem we have today with Mormonism as it is commonly perceived and practiced: we treat stories that are obviously metaphors for the Truth as the Truth itself. We believe that every other belief system in the world is a corrupted version of ours. We think that the universe and reality are just bigger versions of our day-to-day lives and institutions. Many people within the church believe that in the Celestial Kingdom we will have shops and theaters and arenas and streets. We would all have our own house, and we could go visit anyone we want in their celestial house. Nothing could be further from the Truth, to make a pun. It is true that Joseph Smith sees the Celestial Kingdom as a city in D&C 137, but the actual description of the place is in passing, and is not the point of the chapter. I believe it is there to conjure up images of the divine City of God descending out of heaven in Revelation 21 (meant to contrast with the corrupt city of Babylon) and the city of Enoch, which ascended to heaven. As I mentioned earlier, Joseph Smith describes the Celestial Kingdom as a glass ball. Do we really think the celestial kingdom will be a ball made out of glass? I hope not. I'd never be able to stand up for fear of slipping. And besides, do we really think that the Celestial Kingdom is a city, or even a planet? In the eternity that we're there, we'll have more than enough time to explore ever nook and cranny to the point where there would be nothing new. The fact is, any finite representation of the Truth is bound to fail at describing it purely because of the fact that it is finite.

I suppose the Celestial Kingdom could be a giant, shiny city where we'd all go from place to place to place for eternity. I'd think it a very poorly-designed universe, but it's possible nevertheless. I feel very strongly that it is not, though. I have faith, all-pervasive and beyond my faith in anything else, that the Truth, the ultimate Truth at the heart of all things, is simple. It is not sculpted with the molding and friezes of any particular culture or religion. It is not lined with the frills and lace of theology or dogma. It is smooth. It is white. But within that whiteness is the spectrum of infinity. Everything from the tiniest cell and atom to the largest galaxy or plane to the brick on the wall at school to the idea you had yesterday is contained in its surface. But it, in its infinite grandeur, is still simple in its all-encompassing infinity. It is the screen on which the entirety of existence is projected. It is the diaphragm of the radio on which the music of the universe is played. It applies to all races, creeds and tongues. It is the common denominator of all things. Of course it is simple. It has to be.

And so, this blog will not try to do what so many other LDS scholarly works have done: cling to the canon. It will not regard stories, parables or doctrines as truth, but instead as the rod that one clings to to reach the Truth. It won't treat anything as authoritative simply because it is in the scriptures, but will try to see why the things in the scriptures are there in the first place, and try to understand what we can learn from them. To not do that, and treat the stories as literal, scientific truth, whether it actually is or not, destroys the entire purpose of stories: to help people understand great truths. So, if you seek to find a detailed almanac connecting various obscure gospel theories and doctrines to each other by coming up with yet more theories and doctrines, pick up a copy of Mormon Doctrine; don't look here. I try to keep it simple.


  1. interesting to think about. However, I would say that there are some things--truths--that we cannot know and must have faith in.

  2. Let me first say that I agree with you. People have to understand that Truth is inseparable with faith. If we rely on man-made institutions (science, even pseudo-science) to reaffirm our most divine beliefs, what's the point? I think that shows that, at least in some small way, people are ashamed of their faith, or afraid of being wrong. Which is completely against the purpose of having faith. Truth isn't something that needs to be defended, especially by those who believe in It.
    However, I feel as if there are some things you're overlooking. According to our faith, many events that took place in the Book of Mormon literally happened, and the prophets in the New World very well did exist, according to Church history. Otherwise there would have been no Gold Plates (and likewise no eleven witnesses), no Sword of Laban, and Smith would not have been visited by an angel named Moroni. It would be fallacious to call the Book of Mormon a "historical" record, but it's my firm belief that the events within it did literally happen as they were described.
    However, you're once again right that that's not what we should focus on as believers. The Gospel isn't there to be proven. It's there to be believed in. And we're really missing the point by trying to prove it to ourselves.

  3. Kolob theorists on the other hand, now that's a different story....

  4. Why did you stop, where is your blogs for 2010? Please continue.