Friday, November 27, 2009

LDS Lesson #8

After arriving at the church and finding my missionary friends, we sat down for the discussion after I told them about my time in Eleusis earlier this morning. (None of them had ever heard of it, oddly, despite the importance of the Eleusinian Mysteries.) I had decided that, since my time in Greece is starting to run short, I would allow them to run through the fifth pre-packaged lesson that they teach, and then we'd tackle further questions of mine next time. That struck me as the fairest and most reasonable approach. Imagine my surprise, however, when Creon told me that the fifth lesson proper is generally given after an investigator has been baptized:

Creon: What we want to do is, we want to teach two principles really quickly, like fifteen minutes, and then we can go on to your, if you have questions or anything.

JB: That's all that the fifth lesson is, just... two principles?

Creon: It is a couple of... There's four lessons before baptism; the fifth lesson is for after baptism, which is really just struct-- structional organization of the church, um, and preparing you to live the life of a member, calling [. . .]. But the doctrine-- and we've talked about the Restoration, um, the Plan of Salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the commandments, we've taught a lot of the commandments, just a couple that we haven't really talked about.

Think about the implications of this: the underlying assumption is that basically any investigator will have either stopped the lessons or else converted by this point, after what would ordinarily be just four discussions with the missionaries. Does that seem presumptuous to anyone else?

At any rate, the first of the aforementioned two principles was the principle of tithing. He explained that the LDS Church has a wholly unpaid ministry, such that no church leaders are paid, and so some people wonder where the money goes. After he said that a tithe in their church is strictly 10% of one's income and that a form needs to be filled out for the end of the year, he enumerated some of the uses for those funds: free Books of Mormon for inquirers, nice centers and church buildings, temple construction, and the progression of the Church.

And it came to pass that Orestes jumped in to add that he especially likes the principle of tithing because it's the one thing that a Latter-day Saint can be sure that they can do perfectly, practically speaking. Not only is it simple to accomplish, it's quantifiable. And it came to pass that he explained that God gives us all that we have and asks only for a tenth of it back, and he cited Malachi 3:8-10 ("Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. Yet ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it"), which Creon read. Orestes went on to focus on the blessings, saying that modern-day prophets assure that faithful tithe-payers will survive on just 90% of their income.

And it came to pass that Creon moved on to what was evidently the second of the principles, fasting. He spoke of fast offerings. In the LDS Church, everyone fasts on the first Sunday of every month. They do this with a specific goal in mind, and the fast lasts for 24 hours, beginning and closing with a time of prayer. Having skipped two meals, they then donate the money that the meals would have purchased to the branch, which uses it to feed the needy in the branch. Orestes added that this allows even those who are down on their luck to have the opportunity to help those less fortunate, because basically anyone (save for medical reasons, of course) can fast and then give money that would've been outgoing anyway. And it came to pass that Orestes cited Isaiah 58:5-7 ("Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast into thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?"), a passage that I've always loved and have actually preached on from the pulpit, and said that fasting helps us to gain self-mastery, a valuable control over the body that Jesus exhibited during his time in the wilderness. Orestes, in fact, interpreted the phrase "loose the bands of wickedness" to refer to gaining self-mastery, which I consider exegetically doubtful but homiletically intriguing.

And it came to pass that Creon, jumping off this point, said that many sins result from the body overpowering the spirit, one example being violations of the law of chastity. Admetus finally spoke up and continued to quote from that chapter of Isaiah. In Isaiah 58:9-12 ("Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee thy yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in"), he said, prayer and fasting, "the twins of spirituality", are connected.

At this point, a lull in the conversation - I think Admetus had to take a call on his cell phone - gave me a chance to ask Creon and Orestes about the problems they'd had at the first fireside chat with the lights. Any readers out there may remember me having written:
Around this time, the Latter-day Saints were having some problems with the front two rows of lights in the room, which had apparently been working perfectly fine just this morning. They never did get them to work.
And it came to pass that Creon answered unto me, saying that they'd had an electrician come to look at it, and the electrician had said that the problem was actually quite serious, and the lights could have basically caught fire at any time. Yikes. So, he said, they'll be coming back to fix it tomorrow.

Returning to the topic of discussion, it came to pass that Orestes said that he likes to make his fast last from Saturday morning through Sunday morning because it means he can eat right after church. Admetus, now back from his phone call, related some experiences from his time as a bishop in Utah. This was the first I'd heard that Admetus had been a bishop, so that caught me a bit off-guard. Anyway, he said that at one point he helped out a non-member with supplies from the storehouse for three weeks, although normal practice is that the aid program is internal because the members are the ones contributing to it. Admetus also enjoyed the end-of-year tithe settlements, which he called "one of the most delightful things". He then related a case in which former LDS Church president/prophet/seer Gordon B. Hinckley had been in the Philippines - I think this was before he was president - and he preached on tithing. A journalist in the crowd, I think it was, asked how he could preach such a command to such poor people, and Hinckley replied with the promise that full tithe-payers would always have "rice in their bowls and shirts on their backs". And it came to pass that Orestes held up the example of the widow's mite (referencing a parable of Jesus--see Mark 12:38-44 and Luke 21:1-4) to show that sacrifice is what matters, not raw quantity. Finally, Admetus chimed in to say that some newspapers claim that the LDS Church is wealthy, but he said that 80%-90% of the money goes straight back into buildings and other programs. I was reminded of the story of St. Lawrence the Deacon, a sort of Christian parallel to the story of Cornelia Africana. To quote from St. Augustine (Sermo 302.8):
St. Lawrence was an archdeacon. Somebody was pursuing him in order to get the church's money from him, so tradition tells us. [. . .] What he said was this: "Let me have some carts so I can bring you the riches of the church in them." The carts were brought, and he loaded them up with poor people. Then he ordered them to be taken back with the words, "These are the riches of the church."
And it came to pass after that that Creon said that those were the two principles they'd wanted to teach, and then he said to me, "So, when you join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will you be a full tithe-payer?" My response was, "Of course I would." Note, of course, the distinction between his "will" and my "would"; I see no reason thus far to think that I will join the LDS Church, since I remain unpersuaded of their doctrine.

This concluded our scheduled programming, and so with this unexpected freedom to approach some of my other questions early, it came to pass that the first thing we revisited was the subject of Jesus and Jehovah. To review: Latter-day Saints hold that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, but that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit shares in the identity of Jehovah. They, for Latter-day Saints, are other Gods altogether. Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, hold that the Father is the one true god Jehovah, that Jesus Christ is a lesser, created being who can be called "a god" by a liberal application of the term, and that the Holy Spirit is not a person at all, but rather akin to a force. Trinitarians, on the other hand, hold that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons (not separate beings) who all share in the one unique divine identity of Jehovah. Ordinarily, when dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses, I have to present the case that Jesus Christ is fully divine, is the one true God rather than merely a lesser god of some sort. One way to do this, of course, is to demonstrate that Jesus shares in the divine identity of Jehovah. When dealing with Latter-day Saints, however, the situation is diametrically opposite, and I have to make the case that the Father, like the Son, is Jehovah. (Of course, if it can be established that both the Father and the Son are Jehovah, then the logical conclusion is at least binitarianism, if not Trinitarianism proper. There cannot be two Jehovah's--later Jewish speculation about Metatron as a "lesser Jehovah" aside.

At the end of the fireside chat, it had then come to pass that I'd informed Creon and Orestes that the Tetragrammaton was indeed used in the passages I'd cited at the previous lesson. So when it came to pass that we came to this subject now, it also came to pass that Orestes pulled out a card he'd drafted with some verses from Psalm 22, one of the passages we'd discussed, listing the Hebrew word behind various verses, two of which - ones that I'd cited - were affirmed as being the name of Jehovah.

Orestes: The bad news is, the Jehovah's Witnesses are right.

[some laughter by all]

Creon: There are some scriptures where there's some contradicting verses on who Jehovah is and who Jesus Christ is, um, three of them particularly. And we said that we would check them in a concordance that he had, what the actual words were, if they were Jehovah or if they were [Elohim], and on these particular three verses Jehovah [. . .].

Orestes: But the neighbor verses before and after were very-- like right at the beginning it says, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?", in Psalms 22, and he says-- that's where he says, "El, El", which is just the singular form of Elohim, and there's things like where Jesus Christ is-- when he's speaking to God, he never calls him Jehovah, never. But when it's, when it's kinda like talking about from a third-person, God and Jesus Christ, there are a few parts where it talks about, um, about Jehovah and "it pleases Jehovah to bruise him".

Creon: This is what we looked at these verses to, um, and we couldn't quite wrap our minds around it, um, but they are all those messiah chapters, so somebody prophesied that they are Christ--

Orestes: David talking from the perspective of Christ, um, basically (?) prophesying that about Christ--

Admetus: While speaking messianically.

Orestes: Yeah, yeah, while speaking messianically. And for me, [. . .], the only God that David knew was the god Jehovah, and so when he sees Christ and Christ speaking to God, I don't see how he could have any other name or anything else to call him but Jehovah. Well, I mean, that's my personal opinion.

JB: In my opinion, if the Father were not Jehovah, then the simple way to avoid giving the appearance-- I mean, this basically is, you know-- I would take these chapters as making it, as showing one person who is Jehovah and a distinct person who is the Messiah. Of course, I also believe that the Messiah is Jehovah as well, which is where I differ strongly from Jehovah's Witnesses. What I would say is that it seems like it would have been simple for God to inspire the prophet, "Just use 'Elohim' in those cases."

Orestes: Mm. Exactly. And that's what I think is interesting, like, whenever you see that it was, like, Jesus Christ quoted in-- from when he was on the cross, and, but, in the psalm, the original psalm, it never said Jehovah. That's just very interesting.

JB: In that verse, you mean?

Orestes: Yeah, in the first verse of [Psalm] 22, and in a lot of similar verses throughout all these psalms where David's speaking messianically, is Christ actually, like, speaking? You never hear Christ calling God "Jehovah". It says "Lord", Adonai, as you see there, or El, or...

Creon: When he was calling upon him.

Orestes: When he was speaking, like, as God, as Jesus Christ.

JB: So how would you--just to make sure I'm clear on how we're resolving this--what would you say about passages like Isaiah 53, verses 6 and 10, and Psalm 2, verse 2?

Orestes: Mm, just the fact that it says "Jehovah" in Hebrew?

JB: Yeah, where it's saying, you know-- like especially in Psalm 2:2, where it says, you know, "the kings will rage against Jehovah and against his anointed one", the Messiah.

Orestes: Mm. Well, what would I say... I haven't done much thorough investigation of that subject, but I say that I have faith in Jesus Christ, and that in the fourth chapter of Acts it says that there's no other name given whereby salvation cometh, only through the name of Jesus Christ, and neither is there any name given under heaven than the name of Jesus Christ, and that's where I put all my money, in Jesus Christ. If that makes sense.

JB: I'm not quite sure how it addresses the issue, but it makes sense. I think it would be a good verse to use against a Jehovah's Witness to show them that [. . .].

[laughter from all of us]

Creon: That's the hard part, too, that the, I mean, there's, there's verses like this but then there's just as many equally [sic] verses that say that Jesus [is the atonement (?)] and that would defer that [or: differ], and so, again going back to looking at the Bible, and there's conflicting verses in it, you can't be [sic?] faith in the Bible alone.

[a bit of silence, then something by Orestes I couldn't quite make out, but which may have been irrelevant to the conversation anyway]

Creon: But we did look at that, it was really fun, I've never used a concordance before. I was like, "Ooh!", I got really-- I started looking at other scriptures, it was a lot of fun. It was really fun.

So, in the end, the best answer they could come up with was basically, 'Well, yeah, these verses do go completely against what we teach. Must be corrupt verses, then, 'cuz we sure can't be wrong, no matter what the Bible says.' That seems to be a common fallback position here: if the source refutes your stance, stick to your guns and dismiss the source on no other grounds than its divergence from your own opinion. And it came to pass that, after a bit more conversation about the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, Orestes asked me if there were any other questions I had that they could help me with. The answer was yes, of course. I dug out the sheet of paper on which I still had a couple unanswered questions, and I decided to select #6. Here's what was next said:

JB: Do you remember a while back--I forget which meeting, I'm pretty sure it was the meeting, the first meeting you [i.e., Orestes] were there--uh, we were talk-- I'd asked about whether or not, um, God had a pre-mortal or a mortal existence, and I think you guys said that it's not really something that's been revealed to us, something along those lines?

Creon: Well we do know that couplet that we talked about, "As God is, man may become; as man is, God once was." [That's part of (?)] like who he was, or is, what he did.

JB: So then, did God have a mortal existence at some point?

Admetus: Pre-mortal?

JB: Mortal or pre-mortal.

Admetus: Heavenly Father?

JB: Yeah, Elohim. If we're going to agree with Lorenzo Snow couplet theology--and I know that not all Latter-day Saints do, I think there's a Latter-day Saint lawyer who does philosophy writing, Blake Ostler, he's written a three-volume series, Exploring Mormon Thought, something like that, I'd love to get my hands on it sometime, but I know that-- I remember reading somewhere that he rejects Lorenzo Snow-- the theology of the couplet. But it seems that if you do accept the theology of the couplet, that as, you know, God once was, man now is, basically, then you'd have to say that he had a mortal existence.

And it came to pass from here that the conversation took off into a rather fun ride. Admetus first agreed that yes, it does seem to follow, although one would have a very hard time actually finding Lorenzo Snow couplet theology in the Standard Works. And it came to pass that Admetus followed that up by saying, "The question is, does that mean that God is progressing? And if he's progressing, then how can he be omniscient?" He then basically pleaded out of the question by saying that, while we're given knowledge about "things pertaining to this earth", matters of pre-mortality are things that "we just don't know yet". Orestes, jokingly, boasted that maybe there are things that Admetus and Creon doesn't know, but he knows it all, which got a few laughs. And then Creon added, "Yeah, [JB], you should know that you've started some long discussions between [Orestes] and I. We've had some long nights." Heh, that's the idea.

And it came to pass that Admetus asked me what I thought about the couplet, so I said, "I think that it encapsulates very clearly a certain teaching. Personally, I don't actually agree with either of the two clauses in it." He then gave me some helpful biographical background about Lorenzo Snow. He studied theology at Oberlin College and was invited by his Latter-day Saint sister Eliza to meet with some Latter-day Saints. I interjected briefly to ask if this was the Eliza who wrote a Latter-day Saint hymn for which I couldn't recall the title but which contained the line, "Truth is reason, truth eternal tells me I've a mother there." The answer was yes, and it took them a little bit, but they remembered that the title was "O My Father". And it came to pass that Orestes said that these days it isn't a very popular hymn in the LDS Church, which I find interesting. I wonder if it has anything to do with a decreasing emphasis on the already low stress placed on the 'Heavenly Mother' idea; after all, she has been struck out of the latest revision of the LDS teaching manual Gospel Principles (see here and here).

Anyway, regarding the couplet, it came to pass that they said that it wasn't quite "pure doctrine that we totally espouse" (Admetus' words), but I asked them each individually whether or not they personally believe the teaching, with the result being that Admetus and Orestes both believe it, while Creon says that he suspects that it's true. At this point, we wandered into a brief discussion of books, a topic on which I could wax eloquent for hours, and I mentioned a few of the LDS books I've been meaning to get:
As Creon put it after I listed just a few of them--not even all the books by LDS authors on my wishlist, actually--"[JB], you're a better Mormon than I am." He said he was falling behind, and I said, "My mission in life is to inspire people to catch up." When we finally returned to the topic proper, I asked them for their thoughts on the couplet theology, and Creon said that he thought it was very beautiful. Then:

JB: So you would say that Heavenly Father is still progressing?

Creon: Mmhmm, and I believe that he progresses through the salvation of his children.

JB: So that progression is a progression of external glory, you know, through the salvation of his children, not really a progression in his own attributes? Okay.

Creon: He continues to progress through our development.

Orestes [to Creon]: You scared me for a second.

[Creon laughs, and they seem to bicker a little bit.]

JB: Here I am, sparking more conversation between you two for the rest of the night.

Creon: It's gonna be a long night tonight.

Admetus: Yeah, when these two go home, they'll be going back and forth all night.

And it came to pass that I asked them if they'd ever heard of the King Follett Discourse (KFD). Admetus and Orestes nodded; Creon looked confused and asked what it was. Admetus and I explained that it was a sermon delivered by Joseph Smith at the funeral of a Latter-day Saint named King Follett (that's a terrible name to have) who was put out of his misery (the misery of being named "King Follett", that is) by having his head smashed by rocks. The reason that the sermon is so important is that Joseph Smith preached a lot of fascinating new (and very unorthodox) teachings in it. Fortunately, I had printed out a copy from the BYU website, and I read them a few passages that I felt summed up the edgy parts pretty well:

If any man, not knowing what kind of being God is, inquires to know if the declaration of the apostle [cf. John 17:3] is true--and searches diligently his own heart--he will admit that he has not eternal life; for there can be no eternal life on any other principle. [. . .] First, God himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heaven, is a man like one of you. That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today and you were to see the great God who holds this world its orbit and upholds all things by his power, you would see him in the image and the very form of a man [. . .] I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. That he was not is an idea incomprehensible to some. But it is the simple and first principle of the gospel--to know for a certainty the character of God, that we may converse with him as one man with another. God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible. [. . .] Jesus said, "As the Father hath power in himself, even so hath the Son power." [. . .] To do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious--in a manner to lay down his body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again. If you do not believe it, you do not believe the Bible. [. . .] Here, then, is eternal life--to know the only wise and true God. And you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves--to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done--by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.
Rather bold statements for fellow to make, no? (I should note that Smith's "scriptural" quote from Jesus seems to be a mishmash of John 5:26 and John 10:18.) So I asked my friends for their reflections and thoughts on the KFD (especially insofar as Smith claims these things to be essential core doctrines of his message, without which no one can have eternal life), particularly Creon's since this was his first exposure to the text itself, although many quotes from it circulate in LDS circles. And it came to pass that he said that we all need to keep a goal in mind on life's journey or else we'll never obtain it. The Latter-day Saint goal is loftier than the goal envisioned by orthodox Christians (my term), and both groups will obtain their sought-after goal. While Admetus stepped out to take another quick phone call, Orestes raised another issue:
And what does that mean when John says, 'Life eternal is to know God'? I mean, by men's creeds they say that God is incomprehensible, that God is unknowable (?).
So this is where I decided to - yet again - try to clarify the incomprehensible nature of God. I explained to Orestes that back in the fourth century, there were false teachers, Arians, who went so far as to boast that they knew God's very essence just as well as God himself did, that they had comprehensive knowledge of God. This, obviously, goes way, way too far. Various orthodox theologians, reacting to it, had to stress the other side, the depths to which we can't know God. Because that was where they had to put their stress, some of them went a bit too far in denying positive knowledge of God, but the basic point is that speaking of God as 'incomprehensible' was originally meant to be a way of denying that we can know God fully in the sense that some Arians were saying (which is interesting because Arius himself seems to have held to a higher view of the essence of God, and consequently denied that even Jesus knew God's essence). Thus, while I would say that we can know (apprehend) God to a great extent, to comprehend God fully would require being utterly omniscient and equal to him. This, I think, is the best way to understand the creedal statements of divine incomprehensibility (though, of course, with shifting usage of 'incomprehensible', it might be best to rephrase things for clarity's sake). Orestes asked whether I thought we would someday fully comprehend God, and I said that I don't think so, because to grasp God fully would require understanding everything that he understands, and we will not be omniscient; he said that in his belief, knowing God is knowing everything about him, and because we will someday be just like God, we will have this.

And it came to pass that, when Admetus had returned, he provided some interesting background on the King Follett Discourse, including the interesting fact that Lorenzo Snow was present at the funeral and only publicized his thoughts after hearing Joseph Smith say basically the same thing; before that, Snow had only confined his couplet theology with his close friend Brigham Young. He said that, while "a lot of people don't know about the King Follett Address", the KFD has some "good, solid doctrine in there", but it's very deep. Admetus also said that he thinks that if Satan is smart, his best plan would be to confuse people about the right concept of the Godhead, because misleading someone there is crucial to misleading them everywhere. He said that "I think we have about 1524 Christian churches today, I don't know what the number is, and they all kinda have a little different belief in what God is." Needless to say, I corrected him by pointing out that theology proper, even matters of Christology and pneumatology, are those relatively few things on which all those Christian churches agree; the differences are in more relatively peripheral matters. On a related note, we turned to the issue of differences between Christians--and as Creon said of the LDS, "we're either crazy or we're right"--and I pointed out that there are crucial splits of theological opinion even within the LDS Church. I cited Blake Ostler's rejection of Lorenzo Snow couplet theology as one pivotal example; as I recall it, at least, Ostler maintains that the Heavenly Father was always God (see here and here). The presentation of a monolithic LDS Church against the woefully splintered 'apostate Christendom' is a myth.

In vague connection with this, I asked what they thought about how Joseph Smith - unlike Admetus - appears to have regarded his teaching in the KFD as being necessary to believe in order to gain eternal life. And it came to pass that Orestes' answer was that, while knowing God is eternal life, a seeming rejection of these teachings isn't really a rejection of them, but merely a temporary case of ignorance that will be remedied in the future when the 'blinders' come off. Creon said that someone like Ostler, a faithful Latter-day Saint who disagrees with those teachings, is acting in accordance with his present level of knowledge, but won't be held accountable for that. First of all, I wonder what Ostler would think to know that these missionaries implied that he's just too ignorant to see the truth of it, considering that Ostler is without a doubt one of the keenest analytical minds in the LDS camp. Also, notice that this totally sidesteps the issue. Some Latter-day Saints reject Smith's view of God as presented in the KFD. That can't be avoided. We can't brush that off as 'not really rejection'; it is rejection, pure and simple. (Otherwise, allow me to just say that Latter-day Saints don't really reject the Nicene Creed, they're just in temporary ignorance that will be revealed when the blinders come off.) And Smith said that belief in what he was teaching, then and there, was a requirement for obtaining eternal life, the highest degree of exaltation. There doesn't seem to be any other way to understand what Smith was saying. So according to Smith, some LDS folks are for that reason excluded from the celestial kingdom. Either he was wrong (which would be bad for a prophet, considering the importance of that), or he was right (in which case, the matter is evidently a very serious one indeed, and Latter-day Saints should stop dismissing it as mere 'speculation'). Anyway, Admetus went on to say that scholars may differ on doctrine, but can maintain full fellowship, and that while some take issue with the KFD or even with the Word of Wisdom, they can be faithful members of the Church, "faithful to Joseph Smith and the Restoration". I merely question whether Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or Lorenzo Snow would have agreed with that statement.

And it came to pass that here's where I contributed a quick bonus question about exaltation, drawing on something Orestes had said earlier. The question was fairly simple: with respect to those of us who enter the celestial kingdom and eternal progression, will omniscience eventually be attained? The answer I was given was that it sure couldn't be easy, but Orestes affirmed that someday we will become omniscient; Creon and Admetus agreed. Here, then, is where I sprung a more challenging question: how is it possible to go from having finite knowledge (as we do now) to having infinite knowledge (as an omniscient being seemingly must)?

(Allow me to quickly defend a premise that they didn't challenge: namely, that an omniscient being has infinite knowledge. It seems that there must be an infinite number of truths. For example, using mathematics and dismissing constructivism for the moment, there must be an infinite number of truths about sums of real numbers. Turning to the extra-mental world, even if we allow for LDS variations on open theism and deny God knowledge of future contingent truths, and even if we affirm that the past is finite in extent, there seems to be an infinite number of facts, particularly if time is infinitely divisible and for any true propositions about times t(x) and t(z), there must be a true proposition about some time t(y) between them. If there are true counterfactuals of any sort, even probabilistic, then God must know an infinite number of truths about what he could have done with each of the infinite chunks of matter that co-existed eternally with him in LDS thought. And if we say that the matter is finite, then while there may no doubt be a finite number of permutations, he could probably have given an infinite number of names to any given object x, and so {"God could have named x 'Shelly'", "God could have named x '1001011101'", "God could have named x 'John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt'", ...} would be an infinite set. But if the past is infinite in extent--as is apparently implied by LDS cosmology, which is a reason I see to reject it, pace Ostler--then omniscience must definitely entail knowledge of an infinite number of facts about the various moments of the past anyway. So I think it safe to refer to omniscience as infinite knowledge.)

And so it came to pass that Orestes gave the response, and verily it was a rather disappointing one. Here's the exchange, best as I can reconstruct it:

JB: I guess I'm just trying to get my head around how is it even theoretically possible to become omniscient. I mean, assuming, you know, a sort of a finite span of time or something analogous to time at the very least, it seems like because of what infinity is, you know, to know an infinite number of truths would take-- we'd never actually get there, there's-- It seems, at least in my reflection on it, there's no to go from having a finite amount of knowledge to having all knowledge.

Orestes: That's what's so crazy about our little mortal mind. It's just something that I don't think the mortal mind can comprehend infinity, because we've never even experienced infinity, we don't know what infinity is. Who knows what eternal is [. . .]. All we can see is, 'There has to be a beginning!', you know? Like, you're just like, 'How are (?) some things just there?' [. . .] They're just like, our minds can't comprehend that. I think that probably doesn't answer your question.

JB: I think that's because infinity itself is so infinitely far above us that we can't really...

[I get cut off for a while by other pressing business with Admetus for a moment.]

Orestes: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off. What were you saying?

JB: It just seems like the reason our mortal minds have such a hard time comprehending infinity is that infinity is infinitely above us, it's not-- it's too high for us to comprehend. And I suppose my opinion is, that's kind of my point. That it's not only too high for us to comprehend, but as a matter of sheer logical reality, it's too high for us to ever actually attain to from where we are now. I mean, the question I've been asking is, how might it be logically possible to at one point have a finite amount of knowledge and gradually work your way up to having an infinite amount of knowledge, to being omniscient.

Admetus: I don't know if logic can really answer that.

Orestes: I don't think logically any mind can comprehend infinity [. . .]. We're too restricted.

Admetus: That's the philosophy major coming out in you.

JB: Yep.

Orestes: But how did God, how does he have no beginning? Like, how did he just appear, he's always been there, he's always there. Doesn't that just blow your mind too? Yet you accept it.

JB: It doesn't really blow my mind. It doesn't strike me as logically incoherent, for example. It actually strikes me as sort of natural.

Orestes: That something lasts forever.

Admetus: That's kind of the definition of eternity.

JB: I mean, by definition God is the constant because time was an invention of his. He entered-- he chose to begin time, so naturally it isn't something that applies to him as he is in himself. It's something he freely chose to initiate.

Admetus: So how does the concept of man ever becoming (?) a god, how does that strike you?

JB: It really depends on what you mean by the term "god". If you mean the term "god" in the same sense that the Father is God, including all of the, uh-- what I'd call the essential divine attributes, things like 'being all-powerful', 'being all-knowing', and so forth, I would have to say that it strikes me oddly, because I just don't see any way that it could be possible. Not that I'm having a hard time understanding what it means, but it just seems to be as false as saying that in the future, two plus two will equal seven.

[Admetus asked a question that I can't quote verbatim, but I think it was along the lines of, 'You don't doubt that there's a divine spark in us that longs to grow to be like the Father, do you?'.]

JB: It depends on what you mean by "divine spark". I would say that-- how did Blaise Pascal put it? That there is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every one of us that only God can fill, I think is the way he stated it. I believe that the way God has created us does reflect something of his communicable attributes at the very least, and even finite reflections of his infinite attributes. But I really don't think that there is a-- I think that what he is and what we are, are two fundamentally different things.

Creon: I like what you said 'cuz it reminded me of a scripture. You said, I mean it just seems impossible that man could ever obtain, become like God. And that just reminded me of a scripture. In Luke 1:37, "For with God"--'cuz without God we can't do anything, we couldn't obtain that--"for with God, nothing shall be impossible".

JB [as I flip a page in my notebook and prepare to reply]: Hold on one second...

Admetus: Well maybe that's a great place to end.

JB: Sure, why not?

Orestes: Unless you want a rebuttal.

JB: That just carries this on [. . .].

So I opted to let it go there, because I knew that time was tight, although in a more ideal world I would've pounced on that egregious abuse of the verse in question, first of all, and I also wouldn't have let them get away from the whole 'becoming omniscient' thing by saying that it's beyond logic. But, sometimes things have to be let go, unanswered and unrefuted, sadly enough. This brought our meeting to a close; the next one is Monday.

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