For those interested, these are my (very sparse) lecture-discussion notes for today. This is the day where we begin to think about the relationship between cosmology, soteriology, and political behavior by spelling out as clearly as possible the mormon cosmology. Feel free to comment, ask questions, kvetch, whatever.
RELS162 S12—Week 3
Mormon Cosmology, Soteriology, and Ritual
Goals & Agenda
• to understand the deep relationship between a religious world view and they way religious adherents act in the world (belief and practice)
• to develop an theoretical understanding of what a cosmology is and how it functions
• to begin to create an understanding of Mormon cosmology and soteriology in order to understand how mormons perceive the “profane” or secular world
• to begin to theorize how Mormons and other religious groups might act politically
Theory of Cosmologies:
theory in the technical sense of the word
When we look at religious belief and practice around the world, what patterns do we find? Where does religious cosmology come from? How does it shape individual (and group) feelings and experiences and (most importantly) behavior?
cosmology: explanation of the origin and nature of the cosmos
scientific explanations (Big Bang, physics, chemistry, Evolution, etc.)
[Bellah argues that elements of B-cognition can be found among scientists, that as humans, we must give meaning and significance, even to the “objective” facts of science.]
from Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane
(builds off of Emile Durkheim’s notion of Sacred and Profane)
• The Cosmos
• The World (TRUTH); the Known, OUR order
• (potentially) violent defense of "our order" through cosmogony
access to or conduit to the Sacred
kinds of middles (city, mountain, building, etc.
religious behavior as a sign of the middle-ness of a space
Sacred Space (already sacralized)
• undefined, homogenous, relative, unknown, foreign, chaos: UNREAL; the Unworld
• profane world must be sacralized in order to be made intelligible
• Sacralization of space:
hierophany or theophony
signs also work
evocation (ritual & sacrifice)
always an act of cosmogony (origin or beginning)—through repetition of the creation, the space becomes sacralized
• desecration: when the sacred becomes profane again
Religious people experience a bifurcated world, one that is more real than the other, more true and through which they experience “transcendence” or B-cognition. They perceive the world through that bifurcated lens and act in the physical, empirical everyday world according to that bifurcated view.
Question: So what are religious people doing in politics, then?
The History of Mormon Cosmology
1) Mormon cosmology and soteriology developed over time, and has been hotly debated and contested throughout the history of Mormonism. We are sort of artificially entering into an ongoing cultural emergence. If you have questions about specific times and influences and histories, let me know and I’ll try to give you the historical frame of the development.
2) In 1968, under Joseph F. Smith, the church began a program that has come to be known as “correlation,” which sought to tightly control the information and doctrine that Mormons were exposed to, that Missionaries taught, and that could be said over the pulpit at meetings. This has resulted in a flattening of doctrine and among everyday mormons an ignorance of the history of their beliefs and of the specifics of their beliefs. For example, the belief in “eternal progression” is glossed over in such a way that the president of the church in the late 1990s, Gordon B. Hinkley, said that “He doesn’t know that we teach that” to a direct question on the Larry King show.
Key Historical points:
1) Joseph Smith developed Mormon cosmology and soteriology gradually over nearly 15 years
2) Mormonism began as a relatively standard Christian sect and evolved into a radically different cosmology and soteriology as Smith created a pastiche of Protestantism, magic & treasure-digging (hermeticism), charismatic Christianity, restorationaism (e.g., Disciples of Christ), American mythology (the Book of Mormon), sexual experimentation, Swedenborgianism, Free Masonry, and very likely Kabbalah.
3) Smith created a series of new rituals (combining biblical references to washings and anointings with Free Masonry) that included washings and anointings, endowment, sealings (celestial marriage), and Second Anointing. This included the blending of the sacred and the profane in The Council of Fifty and in Smith’s run for the U.S. Presidency.
4) A system of temple building was envisioned in the early 1830s for Davis county Missouri, transferred to Kirtland, and fully realized in Nauvoo. The meaning of and use of those structures evolved over time.
5) The “Mormon Exodus” had a powerful sociological impact on the cohesion of Mormonism as an ethno-religion
Brigham Young both molded and continued Smith’s theological and soteriological innovations, especially with regards to Adam-God theory and blood atonement; and in his gradual cobbling together of an official temple ritual, codified and standardized.
6) Whereas Smith represents a charismatic beginning and the “religious genius” behind Mormonism, Young made it into a lasting ethno-religion (or alternative religion) through his exertions of power in Utah Territory and his creation of a clear and rigid hierarchy.
Mormon Cosmology, Theology, and Soteriology: The Basics
Nature of Godhood:
Godhood is a stage of development, which is an eternal process of “progression” from one state to another.
“As man is, god once was; as God is, man may become.” [paraphrase from King Follet Discourse, probably Kabbalistic]
human life, then, is a necessary stage on the way to godhood
in the early church, heterosexual marriage and polygamy were intimately tied to this notion; today, polygamy is less important, but still present
Progress (“Plan of Salvation” or “Eternal Progression”)
mortal life (embodiment)
salvation vs. exaltation
degrees of glory (Swedenborg)
celestial (with three degrees within)
Elohim, Jehovah, and Heavenly Mother(s)
Jehovah/Jesus (not the same in Young’s theology)
role of Jesus, nature of sin, & theodicy
["that they may learn by their experience"]
["ascend to highest mountain tops, descend into the deepest abyss"]
Aaronic & Melkezidek
corresponds to degrees of glory
Temples (axis mundi)
ritual purification and callings
reenactment of cosmogony
enactment of eternal progression
enactment through the stages of Priesthood
enactment through the degrees of glory
Given what we know about how Cosmologies & Soteriologies divide the world into Sacred and Profane, what kind of world is created by Mormonism? How is the world seen? How does this world view impact behavior and practice in the everyday world? How might this impact mormonism and political activity?