Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Perturbation Theology

Recently there have been several good posts related to the hypocrisy of judging prophets from an ivory tower. These judgments seem to be quite disconnected from the... color of the old testament. While it is easy to take a look at our current social practices and judge the past from this angle, I wonder if this doesn't just provide us with a view of what we consider righteous rather than what may ultimately be correct.

Obviously our cultural values should be included in our definition of righteousness. Becoming a law unto one's self usually leads to problems. Becoming a strong moral relativist may also lead to unforeseen slides. It seems to me, that intent really does go a long way. After all, it is one of the few ways around some of the more unusual events of the past. Being unable to assess intent makes reformulation of dissociative events problematic. Are some of these practices actually okay? Were they only okay within societal contexts of the time? When our world view starts to make sense of them, is it because we are discovering the righteous intents that were in the background, or is it because we have come to accept the unsavory aspects as not being overly bad? Obviously there is no answer for this, only the caution we have to remain true to the inspirations we have felt. However, I think there is more.

Most established religions are quite internally consistent. As much as people like to think religion B is full of holes, usually open minded people admit that most critiques are based on straw men. While this is not to say every idea is equally as logical and simple, most well thought out religions have a paradigm from which things make sense. Discovering this paradigm and being in harmony with it, is to many, the ultimate goal. So why pick one religion over another? I wonder if much inter religion debate isn't about how correct a perspective is, but rather how correct it stays from various perspectives. Basically what people may be arguing for is a type of perturbation approach to their selected interpretation. (ie wiggle the initial conditions and see how much the answer changes. My answer is better because it is so much more stable than yours.)

Most people would probably argue that theology that approaches absolute truth is what is sought. Truths should be condition independent. Indeed I think this is usually the approach we take when studying the scriptures. Look at all the weird events, determine a perspective that makes sense of them and can handle the inevitable wackiness of the past. The larger number of things that can make sense from this perspective, the better the perspective is. However, this will never get us beyond a mere reinterpretation of the past from our current cultural perspective. It requires social evolution to minimize perspective errors. But social evolution, is to my mind, a myth. It assumes a catholic like view where the spirit of god in a community ensures that the direction taken is what God intends.

Some faiths seem to tackle this problem differently. Instead of relying on God's influence on social progression, they take the idea that a paradigm shift is inevitable. What should be sought is the simplest paradigm shift that makes the most number of ideas condition independent. I think the saved by faith religions fit this model. But again there is the underlying assumption that universalism determines correctness. What works and makes sense for everyone is obviously what is correct. To me, this may be fallacious thinking. It assumes that God would choose a solution that is workable by anyone. Thus our reliance on perturbation theology to solve our questions. What works for any initial condition must be correct. However, I am not sure I am convinced by this.

Already 1/3 of the host of heaven is lost. Relatively few people will make it to the highest glory of the celestial kingdom. We assume any one can be saved through the atonement, but like war in heaven proved, not everyone is capable of accepting this. This is especially true as our mortal existence clouds over our previous intents. Now sure we could argue over what is really meant by "capable", but if someone was to repeat an event 1000 times and pass only once, from a statistical perspective, they are still pretty much incapable, especially if they only get one shot at things. So if most people won't gain exaltation, does it really make sense to problem shoot theology based on a model where what is correct is determined by what works for everyone?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The cult of the anti-cult

Procrastinating finishing my posts on creation, I thought I would toss out a quote from Niedzviecki'sbook "Hello, I'm Special"

Dr. Marc Galanter, a psychiatry professor at the New York University School of Medicine, has noted that the anti-cult movement itself functions like a cult, with "those who were de-programmed" exhibiting a "much more negative attitude toward the sect" than those who simply left the cult of their own accord. Galanter points out that the deprogrammed cult members generally become involved in the deprogramming movement and end up the most "articulate and active critics of sects such as the Moonies and the Hare Krishnas, in contrast to the majority of ex-members who had left on their own initiative." Galanter seems bemused when he notes that the deprogrammed members' "animosity toward the new religious movements in general paralleled the intensity of feeling found in the sects they opposed." This fascinating revelation has clear implications for the phenomenon of neo-traditionalists communities: The anti-cultists form, in a way, their own community devoted to being anti-cult. It's a cult against cults that may be no less enticing than the original neo-traditional community they now gather together to oppose.

While other posts around the bloggernacle have mentioned pretty much this same idea, I think the quote nicely illustrates some of the problems that come by attacking institutions for being well, institutional like.

For one, I always smirk when people want institutions to publicize ways in which they may be wrong, even if these mistakes may only appear from within limited paradigms or perspectives. Because verbal admissions are seen as so easy, it is often assumed that failure to do so is either because of spite, a belief in infallibility, a deep cover up, or as a net result of cultish indoctrination. It seems to be a contest of "just admit that you are wrong, and then I will let you go on believing that you are right." Personally, I think the attitudes necessary to create something substantial carry a natural consequence that makes these types of admissions difficult. It is not that many organizations don't believe they are ever wrong, instead it is probably because many mistakes are assumed to be part of a large process. Thus many controversial subject, like the war in Iraq for instance, can really only be judged long after the fact. Of course, then they are often judged from a winning perspective. This causes things to appear blatantly obvious, and neglects the other perspectives, whose perceived validity made the issue so controversial in the first place.

An article from the Maryland Cult Task Force adds to this idea.

A problem arises, however, when terms like "fraud" and "deception" are broadly defined, and interpreted by individuals hostile to the group under scrutiny. For example, it’s not unusual, when first visiting an "establishment" church, to receive a subsequent home visit from a pastor or lay leader. The pastor or leader will likely exude warmth and concern, inviting the newcomer to join a supportive community. It may only be in subsequent visits to the church that financial obligations are discussed, and target percentages of income identified as a worthy contribution. A cynic might call this kind of recruitment "love-bombing," and deception (i.e., failing to mention financial expectations at the outset). Others would see it as an established and well-understood practice, with no harmful intent. Again, the suggestion is not that the tactics of new religious groups are beyond examination or censure. What should be considered is the possibility that practices of "favored" groups can easily be seen as benign, while similar or identical practices of "unfavored" groups are portrayed as malicious and destructive.

Perhaps the last sentence that I highlighted is the key. People's underlying propensities rarely change quickly. Forcing belief to something that is personally incongruent requires fanatical conviction. As the first quote states, this propensity is carried into the ironic pursuits of some anti-cultists. So what's the solution? I think it is a congruence of thought and practice. The melding of these two is a long slow process of embodiment. One consequence of this may be to make problems that other's find obvious, appear innocuous. Of course from an anti-cultist's perspective, as from a believing member, they are jsut acting in harmony with what they think. In a world with such a myriad of perspectives, where everything will be wrong from one view point or another, I guess the big question is, is one embodying a position that enables exterior to one's self to be good or bad. Perspectives of attack seem to embody the latter. Perspectives embodying the former would seem one to allow one to believe in a god who could view the earth, and all the bad things in it as ultimately good.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Favorite Posts

In an effort to keep an archive of some great posts, here is my March list of favorite posts

Brainwashing our children The comments are great. I feel hesistant about the way some activities, such as trek, are encouraged, to the extent that I am hesistant to help out. Of course maybe part of this comes from the fact I have to be very concious not to indoctrinate students into a particular paradigm. Here's an example of how this take is getting beat into me as a teacher

Going to hell in a handbag I enjoyed this post because it got me thinking about how the changes we see in society today may be more about the popularizing of low class culture, upturning the impractical (for the masses) conventions of the high class.

Psuedo Individual. Normally I don't like reading old posts of mine. This is because I write farily speculative thoughts that don't age well for me. However, this is one of the few I enjoyed reading again.

Models of Pre-Mortal Existence. It seems like this topic has been a hit around the atolls this month. Geoff gives a good summary of some of the major perspectives.

From around

Religious Left

Medical Futility

Satisfaction from Criminal Suffering

How relative is culture & revelation

With some things happening up here in Canada for me, posting will probably be even lighter than normal for a while.

Outside of General Conference the only issue I have been thinking about is the whole polygamy issue that has brought up again at some of the major blogs. Thus, the focus on Joseph Smith the conference was nice. I wonder if we don't bring a lot of our societal morals to bear on the question. Difficulties arise when what we think is obvious and correct doesn't mesh with the way things were.

While there are many different ways people try and rationalize things, my way of thinking seems to lead me to the following: God is really only worried about sexual relationships when they are not between committed couples. Of course this may seem incongruent with the Church's strong focus on chastity. But perhaps, as section 132 outlines God's view towards David, Abraham and Moses is the key factor on the issue. Because of church emphasis on chastity as a way to protect the family and societal emphasis on monogamy to do the same, we tend to extrapolate a very conservative view of God. The intersection between the two ways of protecting the family makes rationalizing old church views on the issue problematic. However, perhaps this is because we are looking at the equivalent of policy rather than goals.

It is probably safe to say that revelation, modern, biblical and from the Book of Mormon, indicates that God is concerned about protecting the structure in which children are raised. What is less sure, is how this is accomplished. Perhaps this is an area where the vehicle is less important than the results. In effect, because sex is such a temporal issue, any laws tied to it are essentially temporal in nature. Thus, what ever works to ensure a sucessful family structure may be fine. Problems arise when a given method is followed in an ad-hoc fashion where inevitable problems are solved by individual desires rather than God centered goals. I think it is the culture of immediate satisfaction mentioned in conference that is the concern of chastity today. If monogamy is used to safeguard the family, this only makes sense. Things that detract from monogamous goals are wrong. If polygamy were to be used I am sure that the specific policies required to curtail its obvious limitations would be required. However, which one works may be more a function of culture than anything else. This seems to fit in with some views that have polygamy being used to create a distinct culture for the church, akin to the separation of the gentiles from jews as symbolized by circumcision.

Of course, with my cultural background, I am more than happy to have polygamy remain a relic of the past. As people always mention, there is just no way it would work with the cultural memes of today. Perhaps a good lesson is to realize just how culturally subjective many of God's commandments are. One would think that the different perspectives arising from the Law of Moses, Book of Mormon etc. would help one realize that, outside of faith, repentance and baptism, there are relatively few things that don't arise as solutions to specifc problems of our cultural and societal heritage. Prophets are essential, because one law doesn't fit all. Fundamentalist notions that would have us change our culture to recreate a point time replica of a revelation heavy society may be missing the point. Because of the fallen nature of the world, all paths are corrupt. Thus the goal of the gospel isn't cultural mimickry, it is cultural problem solving. Pick a path and work through it. Picking and choosing things in the vein of today's social progressiveness is misleading. It ultimately attempts to stay one step ahead of natural consequences rather than standing to fight through them. So perhaps the fast pace and change of today's culture is the ultimate attack on revelation. Revelation becomes insignificant if the ground in which it should apply is constantly shifting. Detailed revelation will usually be antiquated if we feel we have changed from the conditions which spawned it.