Friday, March 16, 2012

Richard Bushman on the Nature of God

I have been reading Richard Bushman’s published diary On the Road with Joseph Smith. Bushman is the author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, a massive biography of the Mormon prophet. I have read the biography as well and loved it. In this author’s diary he writes of his experiences going to book signings and meeting with people around the country talking about his book and about Joseph Smith.

I found the following entry especially intriguing. He goes on a whole riff about the nature of God and all kinds of interesting stuff.

October 28, 2005

… My son Ben came to the signing after finishing his work in Draper where his small computer firm has an office. Afterward we had dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant. He was curious about my answer to a question about any inspiration I had while writing the book. The questioner wanted to know if any doctrines had come to me strongly. I replied that some had, but I could not say much about them in that setting. Ben was intrigued by my mysterious evasion, and I told him that some doctrines I considered most valuable to my inner life were incommunicable. When I tried, they fell flat. Later in the discussion, he said he was working with the idea that God had optimized the world to the maximum benefit of all his children. I replied this implied he actually controlled everything, leaving us with no free agency. We went back and forth on this point rather unsatisfactorily. I could not make myself clear, underscoring my feeling about my favorite doctrines going nowhere when I try to describe them. My reservations go beyond my inability to describe them to my uncertainty about their validity. Am I demeaning God in not allowing him perfect control over all events and perfect knowledge of everything that will happen? What is my point of view?

1. God is one of a number of superior intelligences who have learned—how we do not know exactly—to obtain glory and intelligence. They can create worlds and do much else.

2. These gods take us lesser intelligences, swimming about like fish in the sea, under their tutelage, saying they will teach us how to achieve intelligence and glory.

3. One of their great lessons is that we can do more acting together than we can standing (or swimming) alone. Thus, they bind us to them with multiple covenants.

4. We are not only to obey them; we are to join with our brothers and sisters in the order of the priesthood under God’s direction. This priesthood goes back before the foundations of the earth and includes all the gods who have gone before. They are bound into one God whose combined force and intelligence is the source of glory. We may even add to the glory by joining them—like computers strung in parallel, generating computing power. Hence the essential importance of unity.

5. In this sense, the priesthood is God. When joined together like the council of gods that organized the earth, it manifests its godly powers. At the same time, any one God can speak for the whole because they are unified. Adam can become the God of this earth under Christ’s suzerainty.

6. We exist on the ragged edges of this holy order, but in subscribing to it we join the grand alliance that rules the godly universe.

7. Outside of this created order, only chaos reigns, but in the outer darkness are other intelligences such as Lucifer who have orders and priesthoods of their own, independent of and possibly in opposition to Elohim’s.

8. Within the created order, the intelligences find their places, some as animals, some as stones perhaps, some as humans. The diversity of forms on the earth suggests the diversity of unorganized intelligences. Hence the detail in the temple account of creation of the many forms of life, each to fulfill the measure of its creation.

9. Ben believes each of these intelligences will assuredly find its true place where it can maximize its possibility. God will guarantee that. He may be right but I suggest the alternative view that God is constantly recruiting intelligences to the godly path and the success of this operation depends on us. If we attract people to Christ, they get included; if someone doesn’t reach them, these souls may slip to a lesser spot. God will not necessarily guarantee everyone the highest possible position for his or her intelligence. Some may fall to a lower rung because there was no one there to raise them up. It is scary, but it makes life real. What makes it less scary is that there are many ways to grow in intelligence. The Mormons are not the only source of light. Christ radiates throughout the world, through many voices. We need only to listen to one to set our foot on the right path.

As I write, this doctrine tastes good to me. I believe it is truth. All of it can be found in Joseph’s teachings...

I have always found Joseph Smith’s ideas about eternal progression and exaltation very inspiring and expansive. I thought Bushman’s articulation of these concepts was interesting and worth sharing.

Note: The excerpt above is from pages 59-61.