February 4, 2015

Mormon paganism: Gods that are created and mortal for a time, not transcendent

Perhaps one of the most striking features of Mormon theology, and certainly one of the most original among religions with a good following in the West, is that its major gods are created beings, not a god that has always existed in its fully godlike state.

First let's look at the Mormon view of creation, to see how their gods fit into the larger pattern of created beings. A person like you or me (or even plants and animals) was once a spirit being created by Heavenly Father, dwelling with him in Heaven, unable to be harmed or die, but also not yet living in a physical body.

At some point, this spirit is born on our world in a physical body, subject to pain, decay, and death. When we die, the spirit separates from the body and returns to the spirit world, generally back to Heaven to re-join Heavenly Father if the person lived a righteous life.

Eventually, these post-mortal spirit beings will undergo a bodily resurrection, only now this eternal body will not be subject to pain, sinfulness, death, and so on. Depending on how righteously they lived as mortals, these resurrected bodies will occupy higher or lower levels of heavenly bliss. If they make it to the highest level, they will become gods themselves like their Heavenly Father, and thereby become capable of ruling over a world of their own, creating a population of spirit beings that will be born on their world, and receiving the worship of the mortals on their world.

Mormonism had been fairly clear about human beings who reached the highest level of Heaven becoming gods in this sense -- creator gods who would then oversee their own world. As it has sought more mainstream acceptance over the past 30 years, the idea has been downplayed but not denied. It is now framed as something that is possible, that we may speculate about and even hope for, but not necessarily something we can be totally certain about -- or at least not in front of the non-Mormon majority, who might find the whole idea a bit out-there.

The state of eternally residing with our Heavenly Father in bodily form -- both him and us -- is called "exaltation," and is the last stage of the "eternal progression" that began when we were pre-mortal spirits. A being in that state is called "exalted".

You may be thinking that a return to our creator for eternity may not sound too different from the Christian view of the afterlife. But here's what makes Mormonism unique: it holds that our Heavenly Father has gone through the eternal progression himself. He began as a pre-mortal spirit, lived as a righteous mortal, was resurrected in flesh and bone, and attained the highest level of Heaven. In that most exalted state, he created all the spirits that will ever be born on our world.

Heavenly Father in Mormonism is not a figurative role model but a literal one -- if he made it, we could too. Or in the pithy phrasing of Lorenzo Snow, who would rise to Church President at the turn of the 20th century:

As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.

In Mormon theology, Heavenly Father, his spirit children, and the mortal beings they become, are all of the same genus, only at different stages along the eternal progression. But there is no unbridgeable metaphysical chasm between mankind and its creator. Indeed, we are caterpillars, and he is the butterfly.

Just as in the case of the looking forward idea -- can human beings become gods to populate a spirit world of their own? -- the backward-looking idea -- is Heavenly Father an exalted man who was once mortal like us? -- was clearly portrayed through most of LDS history. With the recent attempt to boost its mainstream appeal, this idea is being downplayed but not denied. I conclude that the view is still mainstream within their theology, given how common the view has always been, up to the highest levels of Church office, and how today's leaders are not clarifying by saying "No, those earlier prophets were off the mark, and Heavenly Father did not go through his own eternal progression."

All right, but how does that merit a term like "pagan"? Well, call it whatever you want, but that is a crucial part of pagan mythology -- gods are created, or perhaps emerge from the cosmic background, so that there was a time when they did not exist, or at least when they did not exist as gods. They may in fact stop being gods, if their god-like status is stripped away from them by another god, or if they switch from divine to mortal form in order to interact with human beings, when they would be susceptible to bodily harm.

Unlike pagan gods, whose divine vs. mortal status was subject to flux, mankind's creator god in Mormonism cannot have his divinity stripped away, or assume mortal nature after becoming a god. The eternal progression only flows one way.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Heavenly Father has not existed as an entity forever back into the past, let alone as a divine entity. In fact, he is of the same genus as mankind, only at a more advanced stage along the eternal progression, having reached the highest degree of exaltation.

This central feature of Mormon theology marks it as though it had come from an earlier stage in the evolution of religion than those of the Axial Age and its off-shoots, including Second Temple Israelite religion, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Greek Golden Age philosophy.

That shift circa 500 BC, give or take a few centuries on either side, forever did away with the notion of gods as created beings who looked and behaved anthropomorphically. The pantheon was whittled down to at most two creator gods (Zoroastrianism), usually one (the Abrahamic religions, Xenophanes, Aristotle's Unmoved Mover), but perhaps no god at all but an impersonal guiding force (Buddhism, Taoism). And importantly, these creator gods were not themselves created or emergent from a primordial cosmic stew. They were creators at the very dawn of time, and have always been transcendent.

Add to this departure regarding Heavenly Father, the view that human beings may become their own creator gods of other worlds, and you have an even further deviation from the Axial Age tradition. No matter how the nature of God was perceived during that time, it was certainly not possible for a mortal man to become such a god, or for God to have existed in mortal form before attaining godhood. The religious revolution of the mid-1st millennium BC separated God and mankind into two states of nature that were impossible to cross between.

In 19th-century America, Mormonism restored the much earlier pagan view of our creator as just one example of a created being, one who had existed in earlier mortal form, and whose godlike nature it was possible for us mortals to attain. This view continued to be mainstream among LDS Church leaders right through their fastest period of recent growth, roughly 1960 to 1990. Only since then has it been toned down, without disappearing or being denied, let alone denounced as a heresy.

This post has only touched on one aspect of God's nature in Mormonism -- his theogony (an account of the genesis of gods). It's already been hinted that he is much more anthropomorphic than Axial Age gods, but that will be explored in another post.

26 comments:

  1. And this sheds light on why some Mormons identify themselves as transhumanists. I got to meet a Mormon Transhumanist at a cryonics convention back in November.

    Have you looked into Russian Cosmism for a parallel to American Mormonism?

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  2. Mormons also have a reputation for becoming science fiction authors.

    Compared to other Christian religions, Mormonism is more specific and rational about the afterlife and divinity. I guess this is why they have a tendency to explain the divine in scientific terms.

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  3. You can date a religion's origins by its assumptions about cosmology. Americans in the early 19th Century knew about early modern astronomy, and speculations about inhabited extrasolar planets had already existed in the culture (in Voltaire's Micromegas, for example). So naturally the Americans who created Mormon theology would incorporate these ideas into their belief system, and in the process create something which sounds like 20th Century science fiction.

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  4. "Scientific" may go too far in describing their view of God, it's more "rational" and "naturalistic". They aren't claiming empirical or experimental support, so not scientific, but they do try to demystify the supernatural as much as possible. Undoing the mysterious and transcendental nature of God is a key step in doing so.

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  5. "Mormons also have a reputation for becoming science fiction authors."

    So basically Mormons (and the Euro subtypes they're drawn from) are meek and uh, dorky. If they really had any warrior spirit they'd ridicule culture with too much intellectualizing like Sci-Fi. The primary purpose of Sci-Fi seems to be pretentious escapism for bitter nerds. Of all authors it seems like Sci-Fi authors are the most smug and standoffish.

    Purely intellectual e.g. dorky Sci-Fi sure seems to get popular in falling crime periods. When Star Trek was originally on in the mid 60's it got mediocre ratings probably because people were beginning to get out more often by then. It only got revived after Star Wars, but the 1st Trek movie was so dull it really only made money because hardcore nerds saw it like 5 or 6 times. The 80's Trek sequel movies were much more popular since they dropped the cold pomposity of mid century Sci-Fi (part 4 was a comedy!) in favor of more unpretentious adventure stories that kept the mumbo jumbo to a minimum.

    "they do try to demystify the supernatural as much as possible."

    Again, sounds awfully dorky. Trying to explain everything and leave nothing to the imagination ain't very fun. This also seems to reflect insecurity and weakness; there can be no uncertainty or darkness since, well, it's a wittle too scarwy and we're too languid to deal with too much excitement.

    Nerds, aware of how much they fall short in charisma, social skills, and physical abilities need constant reassurance that at the very least, the possibility exists that they can use their intellect to control things, bend things for their own gain (and perhaps the benefit of others if they've got a conscience).

    People who lash out at the idea that things exist which cannot be fully grasped and thus cannot be controlled seem deeply insecure, weak, uncertain of their place in the universe whether they realize it or not. That may be why in times of very high inequality when there is much social/emotional/political chaos people become desperately aggrieved, fearful and anxious, causing enmity towards anything that could further hurt them including religion. Low inequality periods are marked by joy, peace, and comfort which leads to gratitude and respect towards authority including supernatural force.

    Another goofy aspect of Mormon culture is the wacky ass names they give their kids. Reminds me of a George Carlin bit (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo8CrY_ZfFk) in which he give a real beating to dorky male names. "Jimmy, Tony, and Nicky are gonna kick Tucker's ass.

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  6. Harlan Ellison, a notoriously nasty and litigious Jew Sci-Fi author has thrown tantrums about how much he hates it when people call Sci-Fi Sci-Fi. Get a life and get over the jocks stuffing you into lockers.

    Ellison must've gotten quite a woody when he successfully sued blonde goy James Cameron for the Terminator "plagiarizing" a couple of his stories. The movie studio settled with Ellison even though Cameron wanted to fight it in court (I'd go with Cameron and call BS,if artists can't reuse basic tropes then we wouldn't have any new art being made). I wonder if Ellison would've layed off the creator of the Terminator if said creator had been Jewish, female, or non-white.

    Ellison was born in 1934, further proof of Silents being as corrosive as the early Boomers.

    Cameron is of Scottish descent so score another one for the Celts in art/entertainment.

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  7. Mormons do have dorky personalities, but I wouldn't say they aim to intellectualize religion just because they demystify the supernatural.

    If their movement were part of the broader autistic and rationalistic shift, they would be more deistic, agnostic, or atheist. Instead, their creator god is even more personal, tangible, and easy to relate to than those of the Axial Age.

    I still think pagan is the best single word to sum up their inclinations. When modern folks try to explain abstract and impersonal things to primitive tribes, they don't get it. It's not an IQ thing, as though the field observer can see the wheels struggling to spin but not get going, a la the dunce called up to the blackboard to solve an equation.

    It's more like they feel speculation to be pointless, and indulging in abstract conversation is irritating, so they get impatient with the modern observer. They keep insisting on not talking about stuff that is removed in space or time, and just ask them about what has actually happened.

    Mormons are like that, too. They have enough intelligence to understand the abstract and transcendent God that Christians envision -- they just don't "get" why they would believe in such a strange god. It doesn't make any sense, when you can believe in a much more tangible god.

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  8. Everyone west of the Plains gives their kids gay novelty names. Sarah Palin's kids are named Bristol, Piper, Willow, Trig, and Track.

    Plains / western Midwest is pretty gay too.

    Really the one place where kids get traditional, unpretentious names are among Irish Catholics in the Northeast. Sean, Ryan, Patrick, Molly, Colleen, Shannon, etc.

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  9. I'm a Ryan myself, and there was a decent amount of Ryans born from about the mid 70's thru early 90's. In the upper Midwest where I grew up there are some others named that too, so I don't think it was just a NE thing although it may have been most popular there.

    Shannon also had some cross country popularity.

    I certainly wouldn't doubt the West being the biggest offender with dumb names. In more rooted places this kind of thing sticks out as vulgar posturing.

    If I ever have kids they sure as hell aren't gonna be branded with Dakota or Brayden or any other goofy ass two syllable "creative" name. I'd like to go Biblical, Daniel and it's variations in particular being favorites. If we're not gonna leave our current morass for a while at least I'll give the world some names which reflect some semblance of dignity.

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  10. "It's more like they feel speculation to be pointless, and indulging in abstract conversation is irritating, so they get impatient with the modern observer. They keep insisting on not talking about stuff that is removed in space or time, and just ask them about what has actually happened."

    "Mormons are like that, too. They have enough intelligence to understand the abstract and transcendent God that Christians envision -- they just don't "get" why they would believe in such a strange god."

    Having lived in Minnesota, I sorta get what you're saying about a disinterest in anything seen as too fanciful, too weird, too impractical etc.

    You get used to the how shall we say, "austere" mindset pretty fast. To be kinder, a pragmatic attitude.

    Most people just don't have time (or any sort of deeply felt need) for things that don't have immediate utility. Most people aren't really religious to any zealous extent, and even the ones who are get the willies when you start talking about the more, uh, exciting aspects of supernatural things. They're almost kind of prissy about it, like, "how dare you offend my carefully crafted vision of everything". The non religious will get uppity about how only retards are believers while the allegedly religious will get on their soapbox about how they only accept a very specific version of religion that usually emphasizes being as tolerant and gentle as possible.

    This kind of bottling up of very human, natural emotions and thoughts does make people really tightly wound so you never know when you might push the wrong button and get them to dump their baggage that they've been carrying way too long.

    Among Millennials this suppression is really bad, thus the common hissy fits.

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  11. Here's a map from nearly 10 years ago, on which names are most popular in which regions. The "Spanish south" names would look like the rest of the West, if the Mexican immigrant names weren't there.

    http://www.babynamewizard.com/map.html

    All are gay except for the "neotraditionals" in the Mid-Atlantic and New England. They aren't humble or unpretentious folks, by and large, it's just that their status contests are more directly about wealth and power, focusing on conspicuous consumption of large-ticket items.

    Trying to impress others with your kid's quirky original name is more of a lifestyle status contest, and so more to be found out West. Naming your kid is cheap and doesn't directly signal wealth, so the crass materialists on the East Coast can't be bothered to waste all that time thinking up the perfect unique name. Time is money.

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  12. "Compared to other Christian religions"

    Mormons claim to be Christian, but virtually no other Christians accept them as such. They make claims about Christ that are arguably farther from Christian doctrine than Muslims'.

    There are a lot of problems with Mormonism:

    - The historical Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both come across as fraudulent cult leaders. Smith had a long history of frauds and swindles before founding Mormonism. Both abused their positions to accumulate wealth and sleep with lots of (often very young) women, not unlike Mohammed. Viewed objectively it looks an awful lot like they made the whole thing up for personal gain.

    - Joseph Smith claimed some of the Mormon scriptures were translations from ancient Egyptian papyrii he had acquired. These papyrii have been conclusively proven to have nothing to do with anything in his so-called "translation" (they actually deal with Egyptian burial practices). This is a clear-cut case of him knowingly inventing Mormon theology out of whole cloth, and claiming it as an ancient revelation.

    - Mormonism makes a lot of thoroughly discredited claims about ancient civilizations existing in North America.

    - Mormonism claims that the universe was formed out of pre-existing matter, contradicting the Big Bang.

    - Mormonism claims a multitude of inhabited planets exist in the universe. Given what we know about the fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on earth, this is extremely unlikely.

    - There are lots of stories on the internet of Mormons who learned about the issues above, raised them with church leaders, and found themselves blackballed and persecuted by friends and family rather than having their legitimate concerns addressed. Almost like a cult that circles the wagons when its tenets are questioned because it knows it can't respond with good arguments...

    The most interesting anthropological feature of Mormonism to me is that it's growing so rapidly when these facts are widely available on the internet and elsewhere. It leads me to suspect that most people see religions as therapeutic social clubs instead of legitimate sources of revelation about the history and nature of reality.

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  13. "The historical Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both come across as fraudulent cult leaders. Smith had a long history of frauds and swindles before founding Mormonism. Both abused their positions to accumulate wealth and sleep with lots of (often very young) women, not unlike Mohammed."

    I shudder to think that Joseph Smith created a religion for the sole aim of plowing young pussy and unwittingly indoctrinated millions of human beings in his sham.

    "Mormonism claims a multitude of inhabited planets exist in the universe. "

    While not proven (and won't be for some time), this is not the worst thing I've heard a religion believe.

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  14. Hat and Coat2/6/15, 3:34 PM

    "Most people aren't really religious to any zealous extent, and even the ones who are get the willies when you start talking about the more, uh, exciting aspects of supernatural things. They're almost kind of prissy about it, like, "how dare you offend my carefully crafted vision of everything". The non religious will get uppity about how only retards are believers while the allegedly religious will get on their soapbox about how they only accept a very specific version of religion that usually emphasizes being as tolerant and gentle as possible."

    As part of a Catholic men's group in college, I noticed discernible differences between Midwestern and Northeastern Catholics. There were obviously lots and lots of exceptions, but in general, the Midwest and Northeast tended to produce distinct personality types and approaches to religion.

    To summarize crudely, Northestern Catholics were more frequently cynical, suspicious, and combative, even (or especially) about religion. They liked to argue and nurse grudges, and tended to mistrust most of their own bishops and priests (orthodox believers even more so than lax ones). Amongst the "serious" Catholics, liturgical preference was very strongly Latin Mass traditionalist, and politics often radically non-mainstream, if right-wing: Jacobitism, admiration for Generalísimo Franco, paleocons or paleolibertarians, etc. Lots were either heavy drinkers, or ex-heavy drinkers turned non-drinkers.

    Midwesterners tended toward the friendly, quiet, and helpful, much less inclined to confrontation and polemic. They tended to have less negative views of most bishops and priests, and the orthodox believers amongst them often seemed less overtly hostile toward the new Mass (probably because it hasn't been subject to as much abuse there as in the Northeast). In politics, they tended to favor mainstream-ish pro-life Republicans, and scorned radicalism. They also seemed to favor sipping beer over guzzling whiskey.

    Part of this is probably just the result of ethnic differences - Northeastern Catholics are more often descended from tribalist Irish and Sicilians, Midwesterners from Germans, Poles, and other Mitteleuropäische folk. Still, part of it probably has to do with the different ways they've interacted with the non-Catholic populations of their regions over the decades.


    "Almost like a cult that circles the wagons when its tenets are questioned because it knows it can't respond with good arguments... It leads me to suspect that most people see religions as therapeutic social clubs instead of legitimate sources of revelation about the history and nature of reality."

    In this respect also, Mormonism is very much like old Greco-Roman paganism. Educated philosophers in the classical world were often quite skeptical of their own gods and myths in private, even whilst paying them lip service in public. People worshipped their gods more out of patriotism and civic pride than because they were really 100% sure that, say, Athena really did spring instantly from the brow of Zeus, who was actually physically present on Mt. Olympus. When I've seen Mormons challenged on the many historically false or dubious claims made by their religion, the typical response is "Well, everybody else's belief system is just as historically dubious, so why can't you just leave us alone with our myths?"

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  15. Mormonism is definitely not part of Christianity, although their views on Jesus are less distinctive and novel than their overall cosmology and theogony, their rituals, and their reliance on entirely new sacred scriptures developed in the 19th C.

    The Book of Mormon is around 300,000 words, while the New Testament is only around 200,000 words. Unlike the NT, the BoM features a Pentateuch-like account of the travels and trials of an ethnic group that populated a strange new land and were given divine assurance that it would one day be restores as the Garden of Eden.

    Only in the BoM, the ethnic group is an off-shoot of the ancient Israelites, who are now said to have traveled to the Americas, descended into a civil war between righteous and wicked, are visited by Jesus after his resurrection, and the Garden of Eden is located in North America.

    The NT doesn't have any sort of Genesis-like account of creation, or an Exodus-like account of an ethnic group's travels and trials. It's all about the ministry of a single individual, and his disciples coming to grips with his capital punishment, and trying to work out some of the major disagreements about their nascent movement (do Gentile converts need to be circumcised, etc.).

    It doesn't seem to be common knowledge among non-Mormons that the BoM is their central sacred text, akin to the Koran among Muslims, however much either group may also revere the Old and New Testament scriptures. I'm not even sure if the average Mormon realizes how distinctive the BoM is, if they haven't studied the OT or NT very much.

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  16. I don't think Joseph Smith founded a new religion just to score with dozens of nubile babes. Just like I don't think Bon Jovi started a band primarily to attract groupies.

    It's more like a charismatic leader will naturally find himself becoming the object of female groupies' desires, and that can be hard to resist. Smith went further, though, and tried to seduce girls and other men's wives, like most charismatic leaders of a cult. But again, that seems to be a decision they turn to once they become aware of the sway they hold over their adherents -- not something that they had in mind and motivated them at the outset.

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  17. Judging from history, I doubt the revelations about Mormonism's past or its distinctiveness today will kill off the religion. It is causing a crisis of faith primarily among late Boomers, X-ers, and Millennials, whose minds were receptive enough to hear the revelations but who also remember a very different picture from their formative years. That clash creates cognitive dissonance.

    But with the LDS Church in full damage control mode for nearly 20 to 30 years, I don't think today's young Mormons will grow up with such a sanitized version of their Church's past, and will be told that's the way it is for all religions. The early days of a new religion may look crazy by later standards, but that was then and this is now.

    When such people read further revelations over the internet, or learn more about how distinct they are from Christians, I don't think they'll be in such shell-shock, having been prepared for it. For the Mormons born in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, that news came from left field, and must have been hard to understand and cope with.

    Also worth remembering that Mormonism is still a young religion, not quite 200 years old. Look at Christianity circa 200 AD -- they were still more than a century away from the Council of Nicaea, let alone the rest of the formative Ecumenical Councils of the Middle Ages. There were all kinds of now-bizarre and exotic strains of Christian belief and practice, but eventually they were weeded out as heresies, leaving a more explicitly codified religion.

    Something similar will probably happen within Mormonism, though who knows what the timing will look like. And by that time, no one will have been alive back in the early days when the members were lied to about Joseph Smith's polygamy, etc. They'll write off the to-be-heretical views and practices just as Christians write off the Gnostics, Adoptionists, et al. from the early centuries of their Church's evolution.

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  18. I once wrote a paper on Mormonism. The early Mormons were mostly poor tenant farmers and unskilled laborers. I guess egalitarianism was the main draw - which is also one reason why the religion may have scared the establishment. That, and the early Mormons preached radical revolution.

    Not sure why they ended up becoming polygamous, but it was probably more complicated than Joseph Smith wanting groupies, since the polygamy tradition continued after Smith was dead. he religion was polygamous during its incubation at Salt Lake City, with Brigham Young taking several wives. It could be that the early Mormons just attracted more women than men.

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  19. Are the Mormon's the only Christian sect of any significance to ever have a large, sustained polygamy culture? Maybe you could put it down to a quirk of an early leader(s) which became codified by followers who as usual wanted to show reverence by fully emulating everything (and I do mean everything) that their idols did.

    The fact that Mormons appear to have had relatively few skeletons in the closet, especially after a rough beginning, is a sign that they are relatively agreeable. Also it appears that they made an evidently sincere and effective effort to firmly cast out polygamy. The Mormons show their basic integrity and good faith with their treatment of polygamy; compare that to the way that Catholicism has dealt with pedophiles (the Catholic church has been steadily eroding, in terms of integrity at least, for eons due to a lack of accountability, arrogance and rigid adherence to practices which should have been chucked centuries ago. Mormon's certainly aren't arrogant, because of their character and civic orientation it's possible that only centuries of growth and power would create Catholic style problems. Then again, maybe their essential character would be enough to stave off corruption.

    "Mormons claim to be Christian, but virtually no other Christians accept them as such. They make claims about Christ that are arguably farther from Christian doctrine than Muslims'.

    There are a lot of problems with Mormonism:"

    When you realize that religion is usually a proxy for ethic/cultural character, it becomes clear that Mormons become Mormon mainly because they identify with (and/or were descended) from relatively humble, docile, civically engaged Wasps and Nords.

    Choosing to be a Mormon is done more for bonding with like minded people than it's done for any sort of metaphysical reason. In fact, the pragmatic nature of Mormons makes it all the more unlikely that they've devoted much effort to validating the integrity or value of their religion's claims. They see how clean cut, businesslike, charitable, and productive the average Mormon is and that's usually all that matters.

    The kinship of a religious group supersedes any sort of qualms about the historical and even ethical integrity of your religion.

    In all honesty, Mormons do have their faults but there are certainly are more corrosive groups out there.

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  20. Tuchin has discussion as to why Axial religions arose on his blog.

    In his view, they arose as an integrating force for empires, in order to fight off nomadic archers, and their characteristics follow from that.

    https://evolution-institute.org/blog/does-affluence-lead-to-asceticism-part-i/

    Another view which he criticises is the idea that Axial Religions arose in response to increasing concentrations of wealth - http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822%2814%2901372-4

    Do you view either of these explanations as having currency as capturing the cause, essence and nature of Axial religions, and if so, how, if at all, does this intergrate with your idea of Mormonism (and Parsee Zoroastrianiasm) as like pre-Axial religion? For'ex, Mormonism is a universal proselytising religion, which would fit it as Axial within Turchin's pattern.

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  21. "Are the Mormon's the only Christian sect of any significance to ever have a large, sustained polygamy culture?"

    Mormons aren't a sect of Christianity. Polygamy was not common in the earliest Joseph Smith days, other than with Smith himself.

    After he died, the movement split in two directions -- one stayed in the Midwest (Missouri), and the other went off toward the West (Utah).

    The Missouri-based group, now called the Community of Christ, has always been small, and didn't really go anywhere. Today they are very close to being just another (small) Mainline Protestant denomination. They have not practiced polygamy, not held a multiple-gods view of the Trinity, not taught the doctrines about exaltation (men becoming gods), not used temples for secret members-only rituals, and so on.

    Those are distinctive of the LDS Church, the Utah-based one led by Brigham Young that did go on to have a larger and larger membership and influence. These many distinctions place them outside of Christianity, not just being another Christian sect.

    "Also it appears that they made an evidently sincere and effective effort to firmly cast out polygamy."

    Well, they only stopped polygamy because the US Gov said they wouldn't allow Utah to be its own state unless they ended polygamy. That was in 1890, although new polygamous marriages continued through 1907. So it wasn't like the Catholics and child molestation, where everyone's official view has always been that child molestation is evil. The Mormons back then thought polygamy was great, and only watered it down in order to gain statehood.

    "The Mormons show their basic integrity and good faith with their treatment of polygamy; compare that to the way that Catholicism has dealt with pedophiles"

    Mormons can show good faith about polygamy now, because they haven't practiced it for over 100 years. Back when it was still within living memory, they certainly didn't just get over it, prostrate themselves, beg forgiveness, etc. It was just one of those things we're going to have to let go if we want to have our own state and not be governed by non-Mormons.

    In fact the Catholic Church has been the most honest and forthcoming about child sex abuse. They commissioned a neutral third party to go through Church records and reconstruct the history of accusations from the 1950s through the present. What were the characteristics of the offenders and victims -- age, sex, geography, role within the Church, year, and so on.

    They released that extensive statistical and historical report to the public, for free.

    Nothing like that has been done within any Protestant group, nor for any Jewish group, the Mormons, or secular groups like the Boy Scouts (we know they have extensive records on sex abuse, they just haven't been released to the public, for the most part).

    The sex abuse in the Catholic Church was part of the broader rising-crime era, so you can bet that Baptists, Mormons, Jews, et al. saw similar waves of molestation in their groups during the '60s, '70s, and '80s. They just won't say anything about it.

    In fairness, the Catholic Church only commissioned their study and made it public because of the wave of complaints circa 2000 that made the news. Only after their sex abuse came to public attention did they do anything about it.

    But the other religious and secular groups (private schools, Boy Scouts, whatever) have never been thrust into the public eye for their sex abuse during the rising-crime period, and will probably never have to own up to their own sordid history, let alone publish an in-depth study of what happened to the public.

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  22. Re: rise of Axial religions, integrating empires sounds more correct than rising wealth concentration.

    Religions want to be local and particular to an ethnic group, to regulate behavior for the greater good (cohesion). When there are too many different ethnic groups, say in an empire, they're going to see something more universal and transcendent in order to not only appeal to all those different groups, but to appease them from squabbling.

    "Hey, we're not worshiping the god of one of our groups, but The Single God that rules over us all."

    Over time, empires crumble back into smaller-scale ethnic groups, and religions will undergo schisms along ethnic lines. E.g., as the Roman Empire is crumbling in the 5th C., the too-distant ethnic groups that used to be under its control in NE Africa and the Near East split away from the rest of Christendom farther west.

    They were the Hamito-Semitic Christians, who formed the Oriental Orthodox Church and the ("Nestorian") Church in the East. The Indo-European Romans, Greeks, Celts, and Rhineland Germans formed their own group that kept on with more Ecumenical Councils through the Middle Ages, which the Hamito-Semitic Christians did not participate in.

    That's at the sociological level. At the psychological level, the most convincing account of the Axial Age I've read is Julian Jaynes, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

    When you come into contact with a radically different people -- what Turchin would describe as being on the other side of a meta-ethnic fault-line -- you being to ask yourself what makes them so different from your people. There must be some difference in their inner essence. That naturally leads you to look introspectively inward and ask, "What is the nature of *my* or *our* inner essence?"

    That's the main psychological shift in Axial Age religions -- going from compliance with outward rules and rituals, to focus on man's inward nature. In particular, its inclination toward sin, and how that nature can be contained, altered, or totally transformed into a sin-free state.

    That's the beginning of introspective consciousness -- awareness of our own internal mental states. In the context of religion, we focus only on some of those states, namely the proclivity toward sin, and checking in our those states to see if we're making progress toward a more sin-free state.

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  23. What about Mormonism makes it look more pre-Axial, in light of the above? Well, it was not historically the religion of an ethnically diverse empire -- just the opposite.

    Interesting times are ahead, though, since it may (or may not) become a religion primarily of Amerindians / mestizos from the Americas, and various Pacific Island groups (especially southern ones).

    Mormonism is also way more ritual-based when it comes to its plan of "exaltation" (more on that in another post). It relies on secret words and gestures in its temple rituals on this world, and that is to prepare the initiates to pass through the highest level of Heaven, which will be guarded by sentinel angels who will ask for these secret words and gestures.

    Mormons are not very big on man's sinful nature, or regarding The Fall as a bad thing. They don't emphasize introspection into man's inner nature as sinful, and how to change that nature. It's more about going through the temple rituals that will deliver the initiate into the highest degree of Heaven.

    They are similar to the Zoroastrians in those respects. Zoroastrians focus more on ritual than reflecting on our inner sinful natures and trying to change our nature. They were historically an ethnically similar group -- Persians -- except for a phase when they ruled over an extensive and diverse empire.

    However, while I think the Parsis are the closest analog to the Mormons today, I wouldn't say that Mormonism and Zoroastrianism are sister religions, or that both are equally pre-Axial.

    Zoroastrianism is clearly transcendent in its theogony -- the light creator god and the dark creator god have both existed forever, were not created, did not emerge from the primordial chaos, have never been and can never be mortal, and will never go out of existence.

    What confuses discussion about Zoroastrianism is the focus on counting gods -- monotheist, or polytheist? That's not the primary shift in the Axial Age. It's about gods that were created or emergent, vs. ones that are transcendent. That has the effect of weeding out most of the old polytheistic pantheon -- how many such uncreated gods can there be?

    But that still allows a little wiggle room -- monotheism (a good god is primary, he creates whatever sources of temptation there are in the world), dualism (both a good and an evil god are primary, locked in a struggle), or force-ism (for lack of a better term, creator god as an impersonal force; Buddhism, Taoism).

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  24. In case it wasn't clear, the major change during the Axial Age was the prolonged encounters of radically different ethnic groups, mostly of the sedentary farmer vs. (semi-)nomadic herder type. That really blew up in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, although there was a hint of that during the Late Bronze Age Collapse -- the nomadic groups moving by boats rather than horses.

    That's why you don't really see much of Axial-type religions before then.

    Hunter-gatherers encountering farmers -- the farmers swamp them right away, not much time for an even match between the two, that would lead one or both to explore the strange inner nature of The Other, and hence to look inward at their own nature to see how it was different.

    Like hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists become highly limited by climate (tropics) and don't really encounter other subsistence types on an ongoing basis. Sometimes an agrarian empire creeps up to its borders, but large-scale agriculture isn't suited to the tropics, and they keep a no-man's-land separation.

    Ditto for why herders and horticulturalists tend not to run into each other too much. The main exception is in East Africa, a la the Rwandan Civil War between highland herders and lowland gardeners. Pastoralism south of the Sahara is very recent, though, so it may be awhile before the herder-gardener exchanges lead to a heightened awareness of the inner nature of Us and of Them, which would get codified in an Axial-type religion.

    That would be a good bet for a new Axial-type religion: after centuries of friction between herders and horticulturalists in sub-Saharan Africa.

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  25. "The sex abuse in the Catholic Church was part of the broader rising-crime era"

    I guess I did think a bit about this fitting into Silents/Early Boomers having a total perv out in the swinging 60's and beyond, as opposed to this stuff being uniquely Catholic. And sure enough:

    "though there were reported acts of sexual abuse of minors in every year, the incidence of reported abuse increased by several orders of magnitude in the 1960s and 1970s. There was, for example, a more than sixfold increase in the number of reported acts of abuse of males aged 11 to 17 between the 1950s and the 1970s. After peaking in the 1970s, the number of incidents in the report decreased through the 1980s and 1990s even more sharply than the incidence rate had increased in the 1960s and 1970s."

    That's from the 2004 "Jay Report" that you were referring to.

    Why has the Catholic Church gotten so much flack? Seems like the Catholic Church would be an obvious target for lawsuits given that the Church is the largest and most visible Christian institution. So they have more abuse cases in terms of sheer numbers and they also have lots of money to grab.

    When we talk about the "rising crime" era, I think it's helpful to point out that the real sick F'ers who did some of the grossest stuff were usually born from the late 1920's-mid 50's. This stuff started to diminish in the later 80's, probably from several things including but not limited to:

    - Children being less naive and more cautious; Gen X-ers are more aloof and cynical for good reason, having grown up in the Adam Walsh era (in Minnesota, the Jacob Wetterling era).

    - Pervs aging which reduces libido and risk taking (the BTK killer appears to have mostly stopped by about 1990 after wreaking havoc in the 70's/early 80's). Some "expert" profilers claim that hardcore sexual psychopaths "never" stop absent arrest, death, or infirmity, yet there have been cases of healthy killers caught decades after their last serious crime spree. Seems like after a guy reaches about 45 his ferocity begins declining. As our hair dulls so does our aggression.

    - Late Boomers and Gen X-ers not grabbing the perv baton from older generations

    -The no duh factor of middle aged pervs being stopped by encroaching law enforcement, poor health, and so on.

    The media in the 80's/90's made a lot of hay about juvenile crime waves, but that was mostly feral blacks/browns. To the extent that white Gen X-ers caused trouble, it was mostly for mundane reasons e.g. to get revenge, get drugs, get money, or just raise some fairly harmless hell. The real sicko sex motive crimes were the province of white Silents/early Boomers as well as Gen X blacks.

    See this website for a breakdown on serial killers by race and generation: http://www.practicalhomicide.com/Research/BlackSexSerKillers.htm

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  26. A.B. Prosper2/9/15, 6:21 PM

    The Mormon view kind of reminds me a bit of of Asatru, the Norse reconstruction where at least parts of the AFA (Asatru Folk Assembly) often discusses evolution to a more divine state and the like. Its also a bit like Hinduism in way

    It seems to work though and Mormons are decently educated,, healthy and have among the highest White fertility rates on earth.

    As the Bible says

    Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

    It works though of course this does leave them vulnerable to Leftism but that's another issue.

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