Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

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Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by Curt Sunshine » 14 May 2010, 21:38

The following is the post I promised to write earlier today:

In a national interview, President Hinckley said something that others have classified as a lie - or, at best, an evasion. Pres. Hinckley was an incredibly intelligent man (as everyone who interviewed him attested - including Mike Wallace and Larry King), so even those who don't accept him as a prophet have to consider his answers as carefully constructed - even if they don't accept them as inspired.

I will quote his response, sentence by sentence, with commentary. First, however, I need to highlight something about the question Pres. Hinckley was asked:

The interviewer asked:
"Is this quote ("as man is, God once was") the teaching of the church today . . .?"
This does NOT ask if many or most members believe it; it asks only if "the church" teaches it TODAY - not if it ever has been taught at some point by someone. It also does not address the second part of the couplet - that "as God is, man may become". Those are critical distinctions, and they get overlooked nearly always when people discuss Pres. Hinckley's response.

With that background, here is my response to those who accuse President Hinckley of having lied - or even of having evaded the question. Pres. Hinckley said:
"I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know."
First, I was raised in Utah. My own father and father-in-law are from the same basic generation as Pres. Hinckley, as were many of my teachers when I was a youth - most of whom were raised in Utah. I heard almost all of them use the phrase "I don't know that (fill in the blank) . . ." my entire life as a child and adolescent. Sometimes it meant "I'm not sure that . . .", but it also meant "I wouldn't say it that way." It was a "polite" way of disagreeing - a way to do so without saying, "No, you are wrong." I literally heard it at least hundreds of times in my youth.

(For example, my dad often said, "I don't know that your mother said that" - meaning, "I'm not sure that your mother said that." Howeve, in another example: "I don't know that Grandma is stubborn," meant, "I wouldn't say that Grandma is stubborn." He never told me that Grandma wasn't stubborn [because she was], but he told me more than once that he wouldn't call Grandma stubborn - that he wouldn't say it that way.)

When I heard Pres. Hinckley's interview, I automatically heard what I had heard constantly growing up and understood his words in that usage with that meaning. So, the quote can be rendered more accurately for those unfamiliar with that particular usage thusly:
"I wouldn't say that we ("the church") *teach* it. I wouldn't say that we EMPHASIZE it."
(In the actual interview, Pres. Hinckley paused slightly then added "EMPHASIZE it". It was very clear, and he actually emphasized the word "emphasize". He said the concept isn't "taught" by "the church", then he defined that even more specifically by saying the concept isn't "emphasized" by "the church".)
"I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse."
(I personally have never heard it (the first part of the couplet) discussed in "public discourse" by "the Church" - and rarely in private discourse. Pres. Hinckley had, but he hadn't for "a long time" - at least from before my memory.)
"I wouldn't say it that way."
Next:
"I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made."
(None of us do. The only transcripts we have are from records of four members who heard it, and what we have is the summary combination of their records. We know very little about the background of the sermon - the "circumstances under which [it] was made", since they were never recorded and Joseph never addressed it. It literally came out of the blue and was truly unique in many ways.)
"I understand the philosophical background behind it."
(True for many of us.)
"But I don’t know a lot about it."


(Joseph never elaborated on it, since he died only two months after giving the speech. I don't know a lot about it, either.)
"and I wouldn't say that others know a lot about it.”
(Perfectly accurate statement, given how debated it has been over the years.)

Finally, the concept is included in the Joseph Smith manual **as one sentence in a 7 page lesson**. Further, not one of the follow-up questions at the end addresses that sentence. There is absolutely no "teaching of it" and certainly no "EMPHASIS on it" in the lesson, while other things are emphasized.

What Pres. Hinckley actually said is perfectly consistent with the way the concept is handled by "the Church" (as an institution) - included in materials (not hidden) as something Joseph Smith said, but not emphasized in any way. Individual teachers might emphasize it over other things in the lesson that "the church" emphasizes, but "the church" certainly doesn't emphasize it - not even close.

Imo, there is no lie in this quote - none whatsoever - and he didn't evade the answer. It only jarred the ears of those who hadn't grown up hearing "I don't know that (fill in the blank) . . ." constantly and who wouldn't recognize what he meant when he used that phrase in that way. Since I grew up hearing that phrase, the answer was straightforward and simple and totally accurate to my ears when I first heard it.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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Re: Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by mormonheretic » 14 May 2010, 22:47

As a follow up to Ray's post, I did a post on this topic a few years ago. Hugo Olaiz did a presentation at Sunstone. Here's a brief excerpt of what I said,
According to Olaiz, it seems that most of the prophets embrace “as God now is, man may be”, but are much more uncomfortable with the “As man now is, God once was” part. He said Pres Hinckley only quoted the latter part of the quote in the 2nd half of the couplet in 1994, and that it seems that previous prophets also had problems with the 1st half.
Click here for more information, http://www.mormonheretic.org/2008/08/08 ... -sunstone/

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Re: Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by Cadence » 15 May 2010, 05:13

It is my experience when the claim is made "you did not understand what I said" it is generally because you said something misleading. You were probably trying to be non controversial or not reveal how you really felt. Although I see your point of view how the answer given in context could easily be explained by your observation. I still think it was an evasion. President Hinkley obviously was very well versed in this particular concept. He knew what the interviewer was driving at. He chose not to answer it directly. It was a political answer. Something you would see a politician say. An answer meant not to offend either side of the argument but ends up offending almost everyone. He could easily have said yes or no with an explanation. This was really a non answer. True in the context you put it it was an answer but certainly not an answer in the context to the way the question was posed. In my opinion Pres. Hinkley got a tough question. His mind saw all the ramifications of his answer, so he took sort of a middle of the road response. Perfectly human in nature, we all do it. But it still was not an answer to the question.

Personally I feel this is not as big a deal as it is sometimes made out to be. Pres HInkley just did not want to deal with this particular subject at that point in time. Maybe he should have just said "next question please"
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Re: Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by Curt Sunshine » 15 May 2010, 06:48

Cadence, I agree that he didn't tackle it head-on and in great detail - but he actually did answer the actual question he was asked. What he didn't do is give a discourse on the topic - but he wasn't asked to do so - and, in fact, it would have been totally inappropriate for him to do so in that setting. That's important for people who are struggling with it to understand.

He was asked a very direct, quite narrow question. He could have said, "No, we don't teach that today" - but then everyone would have been up in arms because the line is included as one sentence in a 7-page lesson. They would have accused him of lying about it, and there would have been some legitimacy in their charge. Rather than give a truly evasive and slightly "dishonest" answer, he took the time to answer it fully.

He really did answer it fully. Go back and look again at the actual question he was asked - then look at the answer he gave. It wasn't a cursory "yes" or "no" - but rather a quite detailed answer.

Seriously, I am convinced that if he had chosen a different phrase than "I don't know that . . ." but said the exact same thing, there would have been almost no uproar - but I can't hold that against him in any way, since that phrase is part of his vocabularly, as it is mine. Was is a "political" answer? Absolutely, in a way - but it was a full answer, not a lie or an evasion. That really is a very important point that SO many people simply don't understand.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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Re: Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by GBSmith » 15 May 2010, 08:57

The interesting thing to me is that the following day Pres. Hinckley met with students from I think BYU and reassured them that he did know something about the subject which caused a lot of chuckles and applause. He had dealt with the media all his life and was very good a putting the right spin on things. It's a little like Richard Helms when he was director of the CIA told one of his deputies who was going to testify in front of a committee in congress, "answer the question they ask not the one they should have asked."

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Re: Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by Curt Sunshine » 15 May 2010, 10:56

"answer the question they ask not the one they should have asked."


Exactly, GB. Thanks for putting it that way.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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Re: Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by Rix » 15 May 2010, 12:17

GBSmith wrote: "answer the question they ask not the one they should have asked."
Hmm, wasn't there a little advice given to missionaries recently that advised the opposite approach? "answer the question they should have asked, not the one they asked?"

:lol:
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truth.] - Friedrich Nietzsche

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Re: Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by SamBee » 15 May 2010, 17:17

"I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know."
Complete rubbish, not only does the church teach it, but it is regularly discussed. If it is not emphasized, then that's a different matter, but GBH would have known all about this, coming from the generation he did.

Have to say, not a high water mark of GBH's career.
DASH1730 "An Area Authority...[was] asked...who...would go to the Telestial kingdom. His answer: "murderers, adulterers and a lot of surprised Mormons!"'
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Re: Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by SilentDawning » 15 May 2010, 18:39

Ryan -- the answer above doesn't satisfy me, unfortunately. I would've rather we just admitted Gordon B Hinckely made a mistake. We DO teach it, and we DO emphasize it. It's part of the chapter on Exhaltation in the current edition of Gospel Principles, standard curriculum for Gospel Essentials, RS, and Priesthood. The missionary discussions for years explain one of our goals to "become like God" ourselves.

As I've been anticipating your answer, which I forecasted would be an attempt to explain away what he said, I figured this is another one of those things you just have to overlook, relying on the Spirit you felt that convinced you to join the Church in the first place. I'm sorry he said it, unfortunately. At the same time, thanks for trying to address it.
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Re: Pres. Hinckley on Godhood Couplet: What He Actually Said

Post by Curt Sunshine » 15 May 2010, 19:22

Sam and Silent Dawning:

Go back and read the entire post more carefully, especially one of the very first points about the interview. I am going to repeat this, and I'm going to bold it - because it goes to the very core of why your comments are completely misdirected. (PLEASE, don't get defensive and upset at that choice of wording. PLEASE, step back, throw out your previous assumptions, and re-read the question he actually was asked. You are applying his answer to a TOTALLY different question than the one he was asked.)

Here is what I wrote:
The interviewer asked:

"Is this quote ("as man is, God once was") the teaching of the church today . . .?"

This does NOT ask if many or most members believe it; it asks only if "the church" teaches it TODAY - not if it ever has been taught at some point by someone. It also does not address the second part of the couplet - that "as God is, man may become".


Perhaps I didn't make it clear enough in the post that the interviewer himself quoted ONLY the part in parentheses above - that the interviewer actually asked about, and ONLY about, the idea that "as man is, God once was". The interview question and answer DID NOT deal with the second half of the couplet - man becoming like God. It dealt ONLY with the first half of the couplet - God once being a mortal man. That idea (that God once was a mortal man) is NOT taught or emphasized by the modern Church; it is NOT "the teaching of the church today".

That really is critical to understanding what he said, and you are totally missing the entire interview message if you expand his answer to include us becoming like God.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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