Junior Ganymede
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Mormons and metaphysics – should be more aware!

April 26th, 2017 by Bruce Charlton

If Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living – he was probably referring to metaphysics: metaphysics being the fundamental assumptions about reality, upon which our knowledge and beliefs are built. He perhaps meant that unless we know our own metaphysical assumptions then we are unwitting slaves to them; and freedom, agency can only come from knowing, evaluating then deliberately embracing our own basic assumptions.

We all have metaphysical assumptions; but most people do not explicitly know what these are. And indeed many modern people (eg. most scientists) do not even know they operate from basic assumptions; but instead deny that metaphysics is a genuine discourse – they regard it as nonsense – either sheer idiocy, wish-fulfilment or covertly manipulative. Modern people believe only in ‘facts’ and ‘feelings’…

Yet we all have assumptions even if we unreflectively take them for granted; and we may be accepting assumptions that we would reject if only we were explicitly aware of what they were.

Mormons are, in an important sense, more aware of their metaphysical assumptions than are most people, including most Christians; although Mormons do not identify their metaphysics as such. I mean the Plan of Salvation or Plan of Happiness, which is one of the first and most basic things that missionaries teach and that children learn – is in fact a metaphysical system expressed in the form of a narrative. It describes the main components of reality, their nature, principles and purposes.

However, Mormons mistakenly label their metaphysical assumptions as ‘doctrine’ – that is, as something given by revelation and to be ‘learned’ along with many other doctrines. Yet the nature of metaphysics is that it provides (in broad terms, at least) a coherence and explanation of everything else; metaphysics really is more fundamental than the doctrines that are derived from it.  Mormon metaphysics really does underpin the detailed doctrinces and practices of the religion – and where it does not, then those doctrines and practices probably require examination, evaluation and clarification of their nature.

What is astonishing about Mormon metaphysics is how truly, astonishingly different it is from anything which (so far as is known) ever came before in the history of the world. Certainly it is radically different from the metaphysics of preceding Christians – but also different from anything known to philosophers or theologians; indeed the basic nature of Mormon metaphysics was not described philosophically until a couple of generations later, by William James (who developed his ideas independently, but then explicitly recognised the similarity with Mormonism).

I cannot go into the distinctive characteristics of Mormon metaphysics in a blog post – they can be found in the work of Sterling McMurrin, Blake Ostler and (more digestibly) Terryl Givens (also, before these, in BH Roberts, although I have not personally read him). (I previously put my thoughts onto a blog: theoreticalmormon.blogspot.co.uk).

As I have often stated, I am in love with Mormon metaphysics, smitten by its beauty and truth – I am thus (perhaps uniquely?) a full and unreserved believer-in Mormonism, even though not a member of the CJCLDS. I hardly know where to start in describing it! But if I was to make just one statement of the unique nature of Mormon metaphysics – that which sets it apart from all others – I would say that it is the first and only metaphysical system built upon the primacy of relationships, specifically of the loving relationship between God (i.e. our Heavenly Parents) and children. Whereas, almost all other metaphysical systems are based upon concepts derived from physics (Time, Space, Change, Stasis, the apparent versus the real etc). The idea of Mormonism is that at the very bottom level of reality is family relationships and love – these are the ultimate things.

From where did Mormonism – Joseph Smith in particular – get this astonishing idea? Well, from the Gospels mostly; especially (I guess) from John’s Gospel and his first letter: a metaphysical system built on the princacy of love, the ‘literal’ relatedness of God and his children. To this, Joseph Smith added many other revelations – but the basic metaphysics is based on the Gospels seen from the perspective of a vast interconnected web of personal relationships; this instead of Christianity being seen frm the persepctive of prior-existing Greek and Roman metaphysics with its already-defined categories. Thus Joseph Smith set aside centuries of philosophical tradition and made a new metaphysical system; and it supported Christianity quite easily and naturally.

Not many people know about this – not many people are interested in metaphysics. Secular non-Mormons are ignorant and incredulous: they simply cannot believe that Mormonism could have a coherent and novel metaphysical basis (“Joseph Smith a major philosopher? Per-lees…”). Mainstream Christians – insofar as they do understand the metaphysical differences – usually regard them as logical errors or dangeous heresies; or simply as unChristian.

But Christianity can and should be distinguished from the metaphysics used to make coherent and explain it – one can be a real Christian on the basis of many types of metaphysical assumption.

Yet some metaphysical systems do interfere-with Christianity, do tend to subvert it. For example the mainstream modern (but implicit and denied) metaphysics that everything that happens is either directly caused or else ‘random’ does make it hard to believe in the agency necessary to Christianity. The usual non-Mormon Christian emphasis on reality as being essentially like physics, can make it difficult for Christians to have a relationship with God, or even to be confident in God’s personal qualities such as love, or to know that humans are genuinely agents… and so forth.

Mormon metaphysics really does have many very helpful qualities compared with what went before – and has the advantage of explaining what is most distinctive about Christianity (as contrasted with other religions such as Judaism and Islam); but first we need explicitly to know what our metaphysics is, to understand it – only then can it be evaluated.

So, in the end, nobody is really off-the-hook: we need to know our own metaphysics. It is too much to say the unexamined life is ‘not worth’ living – what about children? – but it does leave us defenceless against the kind of covert metaphysical manipulation (the smuggling-in of false and incoherent – but undetected and denied – fundamental assumptions) which undermines Christian belief, and which has probably been Satan’s most potent weapon over recent generations.

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April 26th, 2017 04:55:26

Define the Modern Left

April 24th, 2017 by G.

The modern left is knowledge class purity spirals.

That’s my entry. What’s yours?

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April 24th, 2017 05:17:17

The Haves and the Have Nots

April 22nd, 2017 by Bruce Charlton

I hvae often seen people pondering about their good fortune in being born among the Haves rather than the Have Nots of the world (and of human history) – meaning that those of us born into the modern West and to wealthyish parents have undeserved good fortune.

(And therefore a reason to feel guilty, or perhaps grateful, for being who we happen by sheer chance to be.)

But for Christians and in a spiritual sense; this is to put matters exactly the wrong way around.

Those of us born into a society of material peace, plenty, comfort and convenience – but of spiritual poverty incuding value inversion the likes of which is unprecedented in its badness.

The compensatory supposed-imperative of the Developed ‘helping’ the Undeveloped nations (via so-called ‘aid’) therefore ends-up being also an inversion: inversion of the traditional idea of Christian mission: because – insofar as it is effective, rather than counter-productive (e.g. funding guns and thugs for warlords) – Western redistribution acts as a potent materialist corruption to infect those more spiritual parts of the world.

We are the spiritual Have Nots; therefore by spreading around our ‘fortune’ we act to make the rest of the world more like ourselves – in our irreligion, alienation, nihilism, anti-morality and despair.


(Note: The spiritual reality is that we in the prosperous West, now;  have been born into the most difficult, challenging environment that humans have ever experienced.)

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April 22nd, 2017 07:53:28

Patriarchy Implies . . .

April 21st, 2017 by G.

A friend observed that patriarchy implies succession. Fathers and sons.

God is a father.

Mormons are supposed to have some really out-there views. If anything, the opposite is true. Our notions are childishly simple.

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April 21st, 2017 04:24:30

The necessity of resurrection

April 20th, 2017 by Bruce Charlton

It is a puzzle why humans need to be born, die and be resurrected before attaining eternal life. And why even Jesus also needed to do this….

Clearly, this fact implies that the actions of our creator are constrained – in time and space – because it is necessary that this process actually happens requiring bodies and duration. (i.e. God cannot do anything instantly – perhaps especially where he is dealing with agents. Some things must be done via stages.)

One way of understanding may be that incarnation is (for Jesus as well as ourselves) into actual, ‘biological’ human families – and Mormons recognise that this is also our eternal destiny.

So; we were premortal spirits who were (in a sense) inserted into biological matter (derived from our biological parents) when we were incarnated. And therefore there is a tension, and an unintegratable quality about our union of spirit and body, during our mortal lives.

This disunity of spirit and body is solved by death – by the death of the biological body, followed by its re-making in a perfected form, from the surviving spirit. My assumption is that the process of resurrection is not possible until the spirit has experienced life ‘in’ a body – and only after this experience that is it possible to make a new, resurrected, perfect and therefore immortal body – using the experienced-spirit as a ‘template’.

In sum – the pre-mortal spirit cannot be a template for resurrection, because it lacks experience of incarnation; and only after incarnation (and this applies no matter how briefly incarnation is experienced – including those who die in the womb, or at birth). But after incarnation is experienced, the spirit is a suitable template for an eternal incarnation.

The temporary incarnation of mortal life makes the template for the permanent incarnation of immortality.

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April 20th, 2017 02:42:17

Supernova and the Economy

April 13th, 2017 by Zen

As a star (of sufficient size) burns its nuclear fuel, it fights against contraction from gravity without, by pressure from the nuclear reactions within. But when the hydrogen in the core runs out, the star contracts until it is hot enough to burn helium. Once the helium is gone, it contracts more, until it can burn the next available element.

I have been doing some thinking about what makes a nation, or society of nations, fragile. I posted recently about the collapse that destroyed the very powerful nations of the Bronze Age, and left them with Dark Ages. And I have been wondering why we are headed in the same direction. Why is it that Americans have lost their mojo?   1

I think the problem is productivity. I can see a few of you have (Vulcan-like) raised an eyebrow in abject shock, but let me explain.


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April 13th, 2017 23:45:34

Easter & Isaiah 53

April 11th, 2017 by Zen

My wife, who is a former Catholic, complained to me that we don’t do as much for Holy Week as we should. And I have to say, I think she is right. But rather than complain to the Brethren, I think any change on this, ought to start with the members. So, let us remember and worship this season with greater fervor.

In line with that, I share with you, chapter 53 of my Isaiah translation. It makes things clearer to me, and I hope it helps you as well. Of course, the actual text has greater depth, but there is nothing wrong with some training wheels to get you started!


Isaiah: Chapter 53

1 Who believes the prophets? And who has seen the power of God in their lives?

2 The Messiah will grow in the knowledge of God, like a tender plant in a dry, barren desert. He didn’t look impressive. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance. His appearance is not attractive.

3 He is despised and rejected by mankind. He is familiar with pain and suffering. He is excluded from popular company and is ignored.

4 He took up our pain and sickness, and it was he that bore our suffering but we assumed his problems were his own fault, and were a punishment for his own sins. (more…)

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April 11th, 2017 09:46:45

So, how was your 38th birthday?

April 10th, 2017 by John Mansfield

Saturday night I had occasion to try to remember my 38th birthday, and found that I could. On that birthday almost thirteen years ago, I went directly to the temple after work and realized as I drove that it marked 19 years since I received the temple endowment on my 19th birthday, a precise bisection of my life.

As for why I was calling up memory of that day, well, (more…)

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April 10th, 2017 10:29:40

Those are all turning to dust.

April 07th, 2017 by John Mansfield

Anne Case quoted in a Washington Post interview describes our times in a nutshell:

“In a previous generation, you had the chance of getting a good job with only a high school degree — a job where you could move up the ladder, where there would be what we call ‘returns to experience’: that as you grew older, your wages would rise. (more…)

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April 07th, 2017 06:26:30

The demon of bureaucracy (according to Rudolf Steiner)

April 06th, 2017 by Bruce Charlton

Whenever the demon Ahriman sees a committee at work compiling statues, he is in his element! Point 1, Point 2, Point 3… First this will be done, then that; thirdly this member has these rights, fourthly that member ought to do such-and-such. The member would not dream, of course, of respecting these rights, nor doing what it says at all… But this part of it does not matter. The important thing is to compile the statutes and cultivate the Ahrimanic spirit.

Ahriman would like people to be active, but everything must be run along programmed lines. Everything should be forced into legal terms… Every morning, a person should (as it were) find a list lying on his bedspread telling him what to do throughout the day, and he should do it mechanically…

We do, of course, now and again see modern human beings rebelling against the work of Ahriman; grumbling about bureaucracy, which is absolutely Ahrimanic – complaining about the stereotyping of education and so on. But as a rule they only fall deeper into what they are trying to get away from.

The only thing that can lead us out from all this, is a complete change of attitude; a turning towards knowledge of the spirit, to the kind of thing that will once more fill our thinking with genuine spirituality – so that the living spirit can take hold of our whole being, and not merely our head.

From a lecture by Rudolf Steiner – 1921.


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April 06th, 2017 05:44:46

The F Word

April 05th, 2017 by Man SL

Good insight:

In the period immediately following World War II, both of the triumphant blocs moved rapidly to define the word ‘fascism’ expediently. The critical objective, on each side, was to emphasize those features comparatively understated in its own domestic version of the phenomenon, in order to underscore the impression that they had unambiguously sided against it. ‘Fascism’ was, definitively, that thing recently and at an enormous cost defeated. The immense sacrifices – and, in fact, progressive fascist reconstruction of society that had been accelerated during the war years – was justified by the crushing defeat of an absolute evil. Distinction was imperative. Thus, the Soviets drew particular attention to the comparatively muted anti-capitalism of the Axis powers, while the Atlantic allies concentrated upon the exotic trappings of German anti-semitic Aryanism.

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April 05th, 2017 12:36:45

Scott Sterling Hit by Pitch, Steals Second and Home

April 05th, 2017 by John Mansfield

“The baseball season is only a few days old, but already Stephen Piscotty has had what is going to be one of the weirdest, scariest innings of the year.

“The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder managed to get plunked by a baseball three times — in the elbow, the other elbow and finally the head — in roughly three minutes during the Cardinals’ 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

“‘ … [T]hat was probably the toughest trip around the bases I’ve ever seen,’ said Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. ‘You just hope he’s okay.'”


[Note: The Cardinals didn’t win; they lost 2-1.]

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April 05th, 2017 08:07:36

Bill of Rights, Bill of Responsibilities

April 02nd, 2017 by Vader

It’s an old observation that we need to recognize the civic duties that go with our civic rights. Robert Heinlein even performed a thought experiment in which he postulated a society in which this was a matter of law: Only those who served their time in dangerous public service (including, but not limited to, military service) were entitled to vote or sit on juries, on the theory that only those who showed themselves willing to risk their lives for their society were fit to participate in its most important decisions. Unfortunately, Heinlein’s thought experiment, while it made for a rip-roaring science fiction yarn, was not convincing as a political system; for one thing, it has a slight whiff of fascism that I find off-putting.


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April 02nd, 2017 18:10:34

It’s that man again

March 28th, 2017 by Bruce Charlton

Having made a qualified but strong recommendation of the movie version of Timur Vermes’s Hitler satire Look Who’s Back;

Look Who’s Back – Movie recommendation

I can make a whole-hearted recommendation of the audiobook version of the original novel superbly translated into English by Jamie Bulloch and given a perfectly-nuanced performance by Julian Rhind-Tutt.

The narration is in the first person by the man himself, whom Rhind-Tutt performs with a ‘clipped’ German intonation, rather than an accent – and he does all the other voices in class-appropriate variations of the London/ South East accent.

In one sense, the novel has just one conceit – which is that Hitler is always exactly himself, but everybody assumes he is joking – but the variations that are rung on this (tragic as well as comic) are amazingly inventive, and the novel never flags right up to the satisfying and haunting end.

You need a reasonable knowledge of German history to get the references – the translator provides an explanatory appendix at the end of the audiobook, which it might be helpful to listen-to first.

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March 28th, 2017 11:54:49

The Rise and Fall of the Bronze Age

March 26th, 2017 by Zen


At the end of the Bronze Age, the Mediterranean was full of wealthy, powerful nations like the Hittites, Mycenaeans, Minoans, Egyptians, etc. The world was international and cosmopolitan. Then around 1177BC, it all collapsed and the world entered several hundred year dark ages. Over 40-50 years, most major cities were burned or destroyed and were never inhabited again. This collapse was worse than the Fall of the Roman Empire, but like that collapse, it introduced 3+ centuries of dark ages. Other places had more like a thousand years of dark ages. You can see this in the technological primitiveness in the book of Judges.


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March 26th, 2017 14:43:03