27 July 2010

Another Challenge To The Paradigm

I just ran across a fascinating bit of analysis while surfing through Sunstone on line. The following comment was posted to an article about Mormons who come out and also choose to stay celibate and active in the LDS Church. I'd love to hear responses to this comment from those who defend the Dallin Oaks/Lance Wickman/Bruce Hafen theory that faithful celibate gay Mormons will be made heterosexual and given "all the blessings of family" in the next life if they can just grit their teeth and hang on for the duration of this one:

Mormon doctrine has from its infancy taught that our basic character and mind does not change at death.

Add to this another key Mormon doctrine: God did NOT create the mind/spirit of the individual. As Joseph Smith clearly taught in the Doctrine & Covenants, intelligence (meaning the individual mind) was not created–”nor indeed can it be.”

In his King Follett Discourse, Joseph taught regarding the mind of the individual “there was no creation about it…the very idea lessens man in my estimation….God never had the power to create it [the mind of the individual] because God could not create himself….”

So if the mind of the individual was not created by God, if it is “co-equal with God” (Joseph’s own words) and without beginning or end, whence comes the doctrine that God can change the mind of the homosexual in the next life if that homosexual is celibate and faithful to the Church until death?

God cannot change that which He never had the power to create and which is, by its nature, an eternal free agent with the power within itself to learn to become a God itself.

Neo-Mormonism (the evangelical, Christian fundamentalist doctrines that the LDS Church and her apologists have adopted over the past 30 years) is at odds with traditional Mormon doctrine.

I can think of no other area of current debate in which the shortcomings of Neo-Mormonism are more evident (and more out of touch with reality, reason and the findings of science and medicine) than that regarding the nature of human homosexuality.

The article which prompted this comment--and which is well worth reading itself--can be found here.


A Gay Mormon Boy said...

Very interesting. Would you mind sharing a reference. I have a feeling this could come in handy down the line.

austin said...

I don't agree with the Oaks/Wickman/Hafen doctrine, but I'll mount a response that I think its defenders might give. What can I say, I can't resist a chance to play devil's advocate--maybe in the next life God will snap his fingers and take that burden of mine away :)

It all comes down to whether one sees homosexuality as inherently bad. If it is, then like all of our natural tendencies that are wrong or sinful, we will be able to overcome it. No one can overcome pride or lust or judgmental thinking completely in this life, but we will be able to continually perfect our natures through God's grace even in the afterlife. God isn't going to magically change any of those things for us, but he will give us opportunities to do so ourselves. And, defenders of the OWH doctrine would be oh so quick to point out, there are some people (never admitted for what it is: a vanishingly small percentage) who are gay but are able to successfully lessen those tendencies and/or play up hetero attractions enough to enter into a straight marriage. And yes, although the (vast? I don't have statistics) majority of these marriages are very troubled, to say the least, there are some that are quite happy and successful. So, the argument would go, these people are proof that it is possible, and even though some (read: virtually all) gay people aren't able to achieve that in this life, if they stay celibate and faithful then in the next life whatever mortal impediments to progress are in place will be removed and self-initiated change will be possible.

austin said...

Of course, this is still a very speculative and fragile argument. Perhaps most important, it all rests on the assumption that homosexuality is inherently evil, a proposition that those against gay marriage have utterly failed at proving, while the view that homosexuality is a normal, value-neutral expression of human sexuality has very strong evidence in favor of it.

But anyways, where on Sunstone did you get this great quote?

J G-W said...

I agree this is a theological problem.

In the Mormon understanding of things, if homosexuality could change in the next life, it should be changeable in this life... In a way the argument that God will fix this in the next life is just an extension of the argument that had currency among the leadership until the 1990s that God would fix it in this life if people really tried.

I think there's also a potential problem with the "God will let you get married in the next life." Read D&C 132: 16. There doesn't seem to be much squidge room in there. No "giving in marriage" in Heaven.

This is probably why there are still diehard Mormon believers in this-worldly change of sexual orientation... And why the celibacy thing doesn't seem to be catching on. (When Ty Mansfield got married, that -- to me -- seemed a kind of death knell to the life-long celibacy scenario.)

Mister Curie said...

I disagree with the OWH doctrine and the church's stance on homosexuality, but this comment is very easy to tear apart and I'm surprised if it stands uncontested for long on the Sunstone site. The replacement of the word "intelligence" with the phrase "individual mind" is a gross misinterpretation of the Mormon doctrine of intelligences as understood in the 19th century. An "intelligence" in 19th century is not an individual mind, but rather it is a refined entity, more refined even than spiritual matter and which ultimately makes up everything. One might reinterpret the word as "essence" but it is an "essence" that is more pure than even spiritual matter, and these "intelligences" ultimately make up everything. These "intelligences" are themselves self aware and they make up every thing (living and non-living), but they are also very tiny and every thing is made up of many intelligences. Perhaps the best example would be that intelligences are self-aware atoms that make up all things, but they aren't actually physical atoms. The confusion comes due to our current use of the word "intelligence", but which is very different from 19th century speculation.

Rob said...

I've now posted a link to the original article and comment thread. It's a few years old but still very relevant. And @Mr. Curie, you are correct, someone almost immediately took issue with the comment just as you anticipated. More interesting discussion ensued.

Mister Curie said...

And, honestly, Ty Mansfield's IQD is hardly a thesis for lifelong celibacy, nearly every chapter contains his yearnings to be able to marry a woman and reassertion that heterosexual marriage is ultimately the Lord's way.

austin said...

MisterCurie, that's one strain of Mormon thought on the pre-existence, and it sounds like it's pretty much what Ostler referred to as neo-Absolutism (see his whole article on the evolution of Mormon understandings in his Dialogue article on the subject). That our spirits or intelligences are made out of some sort of generic spirit element is one view, but my understanding of Joseph Smith is that he rejected that and literally said that our spirits/intelligences are unformed and eternal, that they do correlate to our "individual mind." The Church hasn't really weighed in on either version, but it's not incongruent with Mormon thought to equate intelligence with individual mind.

I'd really like to do a survey of Mormons to see which view is more popular, because I grew up with the understanding that our individual spirits/intelligences were eternal, that my mind was always "my mind" (not part of something else) in some sense.

J G-W said...

Mister Curie - It seems to me that the definition of "intelligence" as you've laid it out here actually strengthens the argument with regard to homosexuality. Because, in fact, our sexuality isn't just a function of what we describe in twentieth-century parlance as "mind." My sexuality isn't just "in my head." It resides in the complex interplay between brain and body; it's emotional, it's social, it's spiritual. It really is more a function of "intelligences" as you describe it.

Or, sexuality is, as I have described it elsewhere, a function of "soul" (in the D&C 88: 15 definition of that word... spirit + body = soul).

Honestly, I don't see how you just rip the homosexuality out of me in the next life, when it is so deeply implicated in the web of relationships, emotions, perceptions and responses to same that make my life meaningful...

J G-W said...

I guess the question is, will anybody in favor of life-long celibacy please stand up? Because I don't see any takers...

Mohohawaii has expressed deep skepticism that celibacy can last past the age of 35... I suspect he's right.

Catholicism has a strong culture supporting and validating celibacy -- strong enough to make it appealing to a handful of gay and straight Catholics. There it could work. (It was in a Roman Catholic context that I explored it most seriously.)

But Mormonism has a culture and history that could only be described as outright hostile to celibacy. I attend sacrament meeting, and hear talk after talk expounding on how all our joy, strength and meaning in life comes through our family... And I can only find myself nodding in agreement. That's where I find all my joy, strength and meaning in life -- with my husband and our son. Mormon teaching isn't inclining me to take the celibate road... If anything, it's (unintentionally) affirming my choice to be with a man.

Daniel said...

The Church today is very different than it was in Joseph and Brigham's day--there was an amazing podcast over on Mormon Stories about the shift and the role correlation played in that shift.

Today, the LDS Church interprets things in a very abstract way. Before correlation, Mormons had a very physical view of things. (For example, LDS now view "the intelligences" in Abraham as abstract ideas like "the mind." In Brigham Young's day, intelligence was commonly talked about as tangible matter.) The new abstract way is more palatable to other religions, especially evangelicals. I take issue with it, but I'm not sure I like the physical view of the original Mormons any better. The more literal and tangible spiritual things get the more problems you run into in the details. What color is intelligence if it is matter? Are all glorified beings white? Do they have sex? Is there offspring? Etc. With all these problems, it is easy to see why the suddenly global, missionary minded Church would want to view things more abstractly.

AKLDS said...

Thanks for posting, great read.