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Inequality and Agency

Posted: 20 May 2019, 16:08
by Roy
Cleon Skousen had a fairly all encompassing theory of the gospel that he claims to have received in large part from Elder Widtsoe.

It is in this same time period that Joseph Fielding Smith and others were teaching that men of African decent were restricted from having the priesthood as a sort of punishment for being "less valiant" in the premortal war in heaven.
What It Means to Achieve Godhood
Eventually, all of the priesthood holders who attain exaltation and are ordained to organize matter will do exactly what our Father has done before us. We will go out to the edge of space as Father did and gather up from outer darkness a host of intelligences, together with an appropriate amount of primal matter, so that we can begin our own round of creation.
Thus we will learn for ourselves what it is like to be a God.
Our first task will be to sort out these billions of intelligences and organize them with bits of primal matter. Then we will teach them to love us and obey us as we unite them with one another in a vast array of orderly combinations. We will then explain to them how we plan to organize a galaxy of our own. This will help expand the "space" of the Gods and add to the glory of those who went before us.
A very significant part of this stage of training will be to help these individual intelligences decide where they want to fit into this vast new order of things. One might think that they will all want to become Gods, but not so. Abraham tells us that as the intelligences are graded they will choose different levels of existence according to their desires. (Abraham 3:19-22; Teachings of Joseph Smith, p. 373)
Some want to be part of the planet, which will eventually be resurrected. Some will be attracted to participation in the kingdoms of plant life. Others will desire to be part of the animal kingdom. And a smaller segment which constitute the foremost intelligences will aspire to have opportunities comparable to that of their Heavenly Father.
The most significant aspect of this epic of training and decision-making is the fact that once the decisions are made they will last through all eternity. Each intelligence will not only choose its role in the spirit world and in earth life but also in the eternities following the resurrection.
Nevertheless, each intelligence will have had the satisfaction of knowing that it made its own free choice and thereby fixed the course of its development forever.

When it comes time for the launching of the spirit creation, each intelligence will take its chosen place. Joseph Smith describes this remarkable transition as the intelligences move eagerly from mere theoretical anticipation to actual participation. He says:
"The organization of the spiritual and heavenly worlds, and of spiritual and heavenly beings, was agreeable to the most perfect order and harmony; their limits and bounds were fixed IRREVOCABLY and VOLUNTARILY subscribed to in their heavenly estate by THEMSELVES, and were by our first parents subscribed to upon this earth." (Church History vol. VI, p. 51)
This tells us that after the intelligences have chosen the eternal role, which they desire to fulfill, the signal will be given, and they will all immediately take their places in the most perfect order and harmonious arrangement. Then every intelligence in God's elaborate structure for this round of creation will be ready to receive its spiritual embodiment. With this exciting and glorious commencement of the spirit creation, the First Estate will have begun.
What About Those Who Desire to Become Like Heavenly Father?
It may seem puzzling that all the intelligences do not aspire to become Gods. However, when we reflect on the statement of Abraham that the intelligences are graded according to their attributes it is understandable why the intelligences of lesser development would resist the responsibilities associated with the higher levels of existence. In fact, the genius of each round of creation is that there are opportunities for participation, which extend from the most simple involvement to the extremely complex responsibilities of Godhood.
The scriptures make it clear that an exalted being who is a member of the Priesthood and has been ordained to Godhood will undoubtedly encounter at least three monumental crises that, can jeopardize his role as a Heavenly Father and threaten to destroy his immediate round of creation.
Cleon Skousen does not mention people of African descent or women explicitly in this commentary. However, I believe if you read between the lines it indicates white male supremacy. It is interesting that in this theology women, Africans, and other "intelligences of lesser development" are not being punished by withholding the priesthood. Cleon Skousen tells us that they are permitted to participate in the plan to the extent of their desire and that it is only natural that some would decline the "extremely complex responsibilities" "associated with the higher levels of existence" and Godhood.

Like the justification promoted by Joseph Fielding Smith (and also BRM and others), the question of inequality and unfairness in life is explained as the consequence of agency in the premortal realm and therefore perfectly just.

To be fair, Brother Skousen was never speaking as a church authority. According to wikipedia in 1979 the LDS church issued a letter that church facilities and publications would not be used to promote lectures of his Freeman Institute "to avoid any implication that the Church endorses what is said during such lectures." Also a 1971 review in the Mormon studies journal Dialogue described Skousen as "inventing fantastic ideas and making inferences that go far beyond the bounds of honest commentary," and also of promoting concepts that were "perilously close" to Nazism.

What are your thoughts?

Re: Inequality and Agency

Posted: 20 May 2019, 22:08
by Curt Sunshine
Admin Note: Let's be open but careful as we respond to this topic. It could get heated in a hurry - and it is about a quote that is decades old from a long dead person who wasn't a top church leader.

Let's try to focus on how the issue impacts our own interactions with and within the LDS Church - and how to deal with it in a way that helps us stay LDS.

Re: Inequality and Agency

Posted: 21 May 2019, 06:34
by DarkJedi
I put absolutely no stock in Skousen and wholeheartedly agree with his critics. He made stuff up - sometimes bad stuff - and presented it as doctrine. It's telling that even in the 1970s where such things were (I believe) a little more commonplace and accepted in the church, the church was warning about some of his teachings. Actually more troubling were others who were GAs who espoused and taught some of these same things. My faith crisis issues were never with the history of the church, but if I did have issues with the history of the church it would be this era (McConkie/Fielding Smith/J. Reuben Clark). I truly and honestly believe that many (maybe all) of the changes we are seeing today are an attempt by the leadership to move us past and away from that era. The greatest evidence I have for that is the current focus on Jesus Christ and lack of focus on any of this pseudo-doctrine. Yes, some of these teachings did become mainstream and widely accepted - but that makes them no less wrong.

Re: Inequality and Agency

Posted: 21 May 2019, 07:09
by SilentDawning
The church has already admitted they made a mistake with the priesthood ban. They are slowly moving toward greater equality for women, although I know it's not nearly as fast or expansive as many would hope. Policies and principles that seemed like iron walls previously framed as being built on the rock of revelation have fallen recently.

For me, what Skousen said was his own opinion about something that can't be verified. Some have visions and long tutorials from angels -- or at least -- report they had them. The most I can count on is a warm fuzzy feeling (spirit) when I hear some snippet of truth. It's normally regarding some interpersonal kindness, or other soft skill or courtesy, and never, ever have I had a direct revelation about what awaits us in the afterlife. And I can feel it watching Old Yeller, Forrest Gump or other movies that have nothing to do with Mormonism. In short, can we really know the truth about any of these future things in this earthly life? I believe not.

So, I no longer feel any desire to debate things I can't verify now. I put Skousen's comment in that bucket. Not that I am trying to throw cold water on the discussion -- this is simply my opinion. Others may enjoy the intellectual tickles.

A kind of resigned acknowledgment that these matters are unverifiable, and are simply intellectual commentaries rather than a discussion that leads to coping skills.

For me, the inequality that Skousen seems to imply is a relic of the age in which he lived. An age that the church has moved beyond, within the corner it has painted itself with past prophetic and leader statements. They are slowly painting their way out of those corners with new paint. The floor is getting a makeover...that makes it easier. Just wish they'd speed up the renovations even faster than they are now :)

If these inequalities bother you, then I suggest coming up with ways of reducing their reminders, focusing with hope on long-term change, and quietly raising awareness -- rocking the boat without sinking the ship. Finding ways of preserving your inner peace without direct opposition to the church.

Kate Kelly rocked the boat and sank the ship. So did others who have had recent, high profile excommunications.

I have a feeling that posting in the bloggernacle on these issues, and the impact they have on us, anonymously (or semi-anonymously?), probably has more impact on church policy than a conscious movement does. First, it doesn't create direct opposition to the church in the form of an organized movement. So in responding, the church saves face.

It doesn't recruit other people to an adversarial cause. And to some extent, it's anonymous. Further, I don't think the church can ever say you're not allowed to express your opinion online. Only when it is overt, in your name, and gaining traction with a lot of others in a contrarian way, does it become self-destructive and probably not effective.

I know upper leadership, at some point, reads the bloggernacle, and I believe it is the best way that members can share their voice and concerns without attracting discipline (knock knock wood). I also believe this site, with its balanced approach, probably carries more weight than we think. Not that I see my posting here as a form of activism -- I don't. But I do see the information it provides to our leaders as a beneficial byproduct.

To this extent, discussions like these can be useful.

Re: Inequality and Agency

Posted: 24 May 2019, 16:20
by Roy
Joseph Fielding Smith was a proponent of the "less-valiant" in the war in heaven theory to justify the priesthood ban. Brother Skousen taught (and claims that he received this from Elder Widtsoe) that premortal intelligences could self select their roles in mortality based upon their personal level of ambition. Elder McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine wrote about a similar concept as "believing blood". "In general the Lord sends to earth in the lineage of Jacob those spirits who in pre-existence developed an especial talent for spirituality and for recognizing truth. Those born in this lineage, having the blood of Israel in their veins and finding it easy to accept the gospel, are said to have believing blood." I get that we have disavowed the priesthood restriction theories and justifications. I also get that Bro. Skousen (although influential) was never a church authority and that Elder McConkie was privately reprimanded over his book.

What then is our church doctrine/teaching in regards to the use of Agency in the premortal world and the mortal consequences of that use of agency?
I submit that we still teach and believe that use of agency in the premortal realm created distinctions among us and those distinctions carried over into rights and privileges in the mortal realm. There are a number of scriptures used to support this (Abraham 3:22, Alma 13:2-3, Deut 31:8-9 and more) and I observe that this is a fairly well accepted and non-controversial teaching when not taken to racist or sexist overtones. We also continue to pander to the youth by telling them that they are some of the noble and great ones referenced in Abraham - even the "elect" that had earned their coveted position.
I do not recall the concept of "believing blood" having been specifically taught for some time. I had even wondered if it had been intentionally allowed to drift into the past. I was therefor surprised to hear President Nelson teach it in a discourse that is being emphasized as marching orders for the youth at this time (as well as calling today's youth elect, noble spirits, finest players, and heroes reserved to be born in this latter day)
Those whose lineage is from the various tribes of Israel are those whose hearts will most likely be turned to the Lord. He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”3 Those who are of the house of Israel will most easily recognize the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and will desire to be gathered into His fold. They will want to become members of His Church, make covenants with Him and Heavenly Father, and receive their essential ordinances.
The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith that now, meaning our day, is the eleventh hour and the last time that He will call laborers into His vineyard for the express purpose of gathering the elect from the four quarters of the earth.4
My question tonight to every one of you between the ages of 12 and 18 is this: Would you like to be a big part of the greatest challenge, the greatest cause, and the greatest work on earth today?
Would you like to help gather Israel during these precious latter days? Would you, who are the elect, be willing to help find the elect who have not heard the message of the restored gospel? Would you like to be among those “swift messengers” of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke?5
Now, participating in the gathering of Israel will require some sacrifice on your part. It may even require some changes in your life. It will definitely take some of your time and energy and your God-given talents. Are you interested?
Just think of the excitement and urgency of it all: every prophet commencing with Adam has seen our day. And every prophet has talked about our day, when Israel would be gathered and the world would be prepared for the Second Coming of the Savior. Think of it! Of all the people who have ever lived on planet earth, we are the ones who get to participate in this final, great gathering event. How exciting is that!
Our Heavenly Father has reserved many of His most noble spirits—perhaps, I might say, His finest team—for this final phase. Those noble spirits—those finest players, those heroes—are you!
RMN June 3/2018

I fully recognise and support that the more racist and sexist edges of these teachings have been filed down. However, I observe that we still believe in birthright privlidges that are justified based on premortal use of agency. This seems to be established teaching.

Re: Inequality and Agency

Posted: 27 May 2019, 13:21
by Roy
I have thought about this post some more over the last few days. What I suppose it comes down to for me is elitism. We LDS are the cream of the cream of the cream. We chose the winning side in the pre-mortal world when 1/3 of our brethren did not. We then were of sufficient caliber that we were designated to come down to earth through a coveted and privileged bloodline. Being born in these latter days apparently adds another dimension to having been super duper special in the pre-earth life and held in reserve for a special and uber important mission. All of that earned privilege just for being born when and where we were born - we deserve it.

In this life we are members of the one true religion that comprises only a tiny fraction of the world population. If you have been through the temple then you are a member of an even smaller inner circle. (not to mention the second anointing that seems reserved only for an infinitesimally small select few as a sort of "capstone" ordinance).

Then we move forward to being elitist in the afterlife with our teired heaven and even teired CK.

I believe that this can be incredibly motivating but also a tad too competative for my tastes.

However, in the final analysis, to say that the church and church membership has elitist tendencies is not really any big revelation. It is just part of the tapestry of Mormonism that we live with. The cultural "air that we breathe".

Re: Inequality and Agency

Posted: 27 May 2019, 19:07
by Curt Sunshine
To be fair, nearly all religions and denominations are elitist - and our overall and temple theologies lower our "elitist quotient" to a fairly large degree.

1) Yep, chose better than 1/3 (or a third part = minority) in the pre-existence, but so did everyone else who has been born since the beginning of mortality.

2) Yep, we are adopted into a chosen bloodline when we join the Church, but, theoretically, everyone else will be baptized eventually, have the chance to accept it, and get adopted, as well.

3) Yep, we are born into a chosen generation, but so has everyone else according to the leadership of their time.

4) Yep, we are a tiny minority now, but we teach that we won't be close to a minority in the end. We even hold open the possibility for apparently wicked people to make it to the top in the end, based on God's knowledge of their capabilities and degree of true agency.

Having said all that, we absolutely have our Rameumptum elements. We aren't nearly as special as we like to think we are - but, overall, we are good people.