Friday, December 3, 2010

JOD 01-02

For the next installment of our series on the Journal of Discourses, we'll be looking at the second discourse in the first volume. This was preached by Parley Parker Pratt (1807-1857), a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Parley Pratt is also the great-great-grandfather of contemporary American politician Mitt Romney.) The discourse in question was delivered on the day of a conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 7 April 1853. The text as we have it was, like the first discourse we looked at, reported by George Darling Watt (1812-1881). The main theme of Elder Pratt's discourse that day was spiritual communication. (I apologize in advance for how philosophical some of my questions are, but in my defense, Elder Pratt started it!)

1. Elder Pratt opens with a discussion of the popularity of paranormal spirituality in his day - things like "visions, trances, clairvoyance, mediums of communication with the spirit world, writing mediums, &c., by which the spirit world is said to have found means to communicate with spirits in the flesh" (JD 1:6-7). I find myself somewhat inclined to wonder whether popular interest in these sorts of things has increased or decreased since Pratt's time.

2. Next, Parley Pratt reviews the beliefs of the Sadducees and how Jesus refuted them in that famed Synoptic pericope (Matthew 22:23-32; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38). Pratt observes that the view shared in common by the Sadducees and modern atheists about the fate of the dead would render all spiritualistic attempts at contacting the dead pointless, which is clearly true.

3. Pratt next presents what he understands to be Jesus' view of the constitution of the human person:

The outward tabernacle, inhabited by a spirit, returns to the element from which it emanated. But the thinking being, the individual, active agent or identity that inhabited that tabernacle, never ceased to exist, to think, act, live, move, or have a being; never ceased to exercise those sympathies, affections, hopes, and aspirations, which are found in the very nature of intelligences, being the inherent and invaluable principles of their eternal existence. No, they never cease. They live, move, think, act, converse, feel, love, hate, believe, doubt, hope, and desire. (JD 1:7)

Apart from the reference to the eternality of 'intelligences', this strikes me as a very Cartesian picture of the human constitution as body and spirit. That's not necessarily a bad thing, nor does it mean that it derives from Descartes, but it seems to harmonize fairly well with Descartes' strongly dichotomous dualism - at least up to this point. My own view is a somewhat more holistic dualism akin to that propounded by Richard Swinburne in his book The Evolution of the Soul, though I'm less sure about his view that the soul can only function apart from the body if God specially intervenes to allow it to do so.

4. Parley Pratt declares that these thinking beings, these inner selves of the human person, are "organized intelligences" (JD 1:8). My question here is, what does it mean for 'intelligences' to be organized?

5. Parley Pratt goes on to state:

They are made of the element which we call spirit, which is as much an element of material substance, as earth, air, electricity, or any other tangible substance recognized by man; but so subtle, so refined its nature, that it is not tangible to our gross organs. It is invisible to us, unless we are quickened by a portion of the same element; and, like electricity, and several other substances, it is only known or made manifest to our senses by its effects. (JD 1:8)

Needless to say, this one raises a number of questions for me! First of all, I understand that this view of spirit as a sort of material substance is rooted in LDS scripture (D&C 131:7-8), but I'm also wondering if there are any independent arguments for it that don't rely on exclusively LDS sources of authority. (If not, of course, that doesn't invalidate the concept.)

Second of all, Pratt's analysis of material substances seems to be somewhat outdated now in retrospect. For instance, describing electricity as a 'material substance' seems very strange to us today, and I may be wrong about this, but I don't think many Latter-day Saints today would be on board with Pratt's description of electricity as a "spiritual fluid or element" (JD 1:8). 'Air' is simply a variety of gaseous elements, particularly those commonly found in the atmosphere of our planet, and thus most notably refers to oxygen molecules in a gaseous state. 'Earth' is a variety of minerals and compounds as well. So what I'm wondering here is, could 'spirit' in principle be found on a periodic table? Is 'spirit' composed of atomic or subatomic particles - and, if so, are they the same sort of elements/particles that we experience in our physical cosmos, or are they different? And, with the advent of contemporary particle physics, is there a reason why we haven't yet been able to analyze spirit?

A related question - one not directly pertinent to what Pratt said - is, what is the relationship between spirit and 'gross' matter? I know that Latter-day Saints have historically affirmed creatio ex materia, the view that God created out of pre-existing materials. So is the matter of which our physical cosmos is made somehow itself composed of spirit, or was spirit somehow unrefined in order to generate 'grosser' matter? Or, alternatively, was it the case before the creation that some matter had eternally been in a 'subtle' state and other matter had eternally been in a 'gross' state, and that there has always been matter existing at various points on the spectrum of subtlety? And if this is the case, is there a deeper principle underlying the particular distribution of matter along this spectrum, or is it a brute necessary truth?

My third line of question - which may well be pertinent for my previous one - is, what is meant in referring to spirit as an especially 'subtle' form of matter? I know what the words mean, but as a matter of concrete application, what does it mean to describe some matter as 'subtle' compared to other matter that is 'gross', and what prevents 'gross' matter from interacting with 'subtle' matter? I suppose that I so far don't see how this account of spirit can be rendered tenable in light of modern physics, though I'll be very intrigued to hear of any work done by Latter-day Saints in this area.

6. Parley Pratt builds upon this conception of matter to allow us to understand what might be understood as a 'spiritual body':

[Let us refine the elements until] we arrive at a substance so holy, so pure, so endowed with intellectual attributes and sympathetic affections, that it may be said to be on par, or level, in its attributes, with man. Let a given quantity of this element, thus endowed, or capacitated, be organized in the size or form of man, let every organ be developed, formed, and endowed, precisely after the pattern or model of man's outward or fleshly tabernacle - what would we call this individual, organized portion of the spiritual element? We would call it a spiritual body, an individual intelligence, an agent endowed with life, with a degree of independence, or inherent will, with the powers of motion, of thought, and with the attributes of moral, intellectual, and sympathetic affections and emotions. (JD 1:8)

Picking up from before, I have a few further questions here. First of all, why does a particularly refined 'spiritual element' have intellectual attributes? Is there something about the purity of the matter that automatically gives rise to such? And, what's more, if (as per one of my speculations above) gross matter is composed of or derived from this 'spiritual element', does that mean that gross matter also has intellectual attributes - and, if so, would that commit Latter-day Saints to a form of panpsychism?

My second question is, what is the relationship between this 'spiritual element' and intelligences? Here, Pratt says that a spiritual body is formed when (particles of?) spiritual elements are organized into a definite form. Earlier, he said that a spirits (for that, surely, is what he meant by 'thinking beings') are simply organized intelligences. Is an intelligence, then, a particle or hunk of this especially subtle matter? And would that mean that a human person is not just one intelligence, but many? Are intelligences discrete and/or capable of interpersonal relationships; do they have distinct essential identities? Or are intelligences more like drops of water that can split and merge without raising any philosophical quandaries because they have no distinct permanent identities - but, if so, in what sense can they be said to exhibit intellectual attributes? Or, on the other hand, are intelligences perhaps immaterial? To my knowledge, there is no specific statement on the matter in LDS scripture. The Doctrine and Covenants (131:7) states that there is "no such thing as immaterial matter" (which is a rather blatant truism), but it does not clearly say that there are no immaterial things at all (though it may plausibly mean that), nor does it address the issue of how this applies to intelligences.

However, here Pratt seems to say that a 'spiritual body' is the same as an 'individual intelligence'. This doesn't quite answer the questions, since it doesn't rule out smaller chunks also being 'individual intelligences' with similar attributes; if a 'spiritual body' were split cleanly down the middle, would each half be an intelligence? Furthermore, if an intelligence is just an organized spiritual body, then is it not redundant for Pratt to early refer to them as 'organized intelligences'? And on that note, how does this relate to the common LDS view that we personally pre-existed, not merely this mortal life, but also our pre-mortal existence as Heavenly Father's spirit-children? It seems that we would only acquire a 'spiritual body' when begotten in time by Heavenly Father, so what were we before that? But if we were disorganized and not yet an 'individual intelligence', how then can Joseph Smith be correct when he preached, in his famed King Follett Discourse [7 April 1844] as reported by all sources (and particularly by Wilford Woodruff) that "man exhisted in spirit & mind coequal with God himself"?

7. Parley Pratt adds that, underneath our tangible bodies of flesh and bone, made of gross matter, we are in fact beings with bodies made of subtle matter. My question here is, how does our body of subtle matter (spirit) interact with our body of grosser matter? And - although this question is no doubt excessively pedantic - if our spirit is itself a body, why does the LDS scripture state that "the spirit and the body are the soul of man" (D&C 88:15), rather than, e.g., "the spiritual body and the natural body are the soul of man"?

8. From here, Parley Pratt goes on to discuss the destination of the spirit after the death of the body. In keeping with LDS scripture, he denies that it goes to any kingdom of glory immediately, because the three kingdoms of glory can only be inhabited by resurrected and thus glorified beings. On this I have several more questions to ask. First, Pratt says that the spirit "passes on to the next sphere of human existence, called the world of spirits, a veil being drawn between us in the flesh, and that world of spirits" (JD 1:9). Given that the spirit is a material thing, is the world of spirits also a material place? In what way is it separated from our material world? Is this separation in some way spatial? (And yes, I realize that many of these questions in particular are perhaps unanswerable, just as analogous questions for traditional Christian views might be; but it does the mind good to seriously contemplate them and consider options.) Could a body made of grosser matter exist in the world of spirits? Also, if we had a pre-mortal existence, was that in the world of spirits or in the Father's celestial kingdom? If the former, then how were we in the presence of Heavenly Father in a way that permitted us to personally behold his embodied state - or, for that matter, to be organized/begotten? If the latter, though, what are we to make of Pratt's claim that a mere spirit-body cannot exist in a kingdom of glory? And how are we to relate that to the view that the Holy Ghost does not have a body of grosser matter, only of spirit? Can the Holy Ghost be in the Father's bodily presence where the Father resides?

9. Parley Pratt then goes on to discuss the situation of the repentant insurrectionist who was crucified next to Jesus. This man (whom I will call Dismas, following Christian tradition, for the sake of ease) went to the part of the world of spirits called 'paradise', which is where Jesus met him to teach him the Gospel between the crucifixion and resurrection. However, after the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to the Father, and thus is in a place that Dismas cannot access until after the general resurrection, and then only if Dismas "continued to improve" (JD 1:9). Here I have no questions.

10. Parley Pratt next discusses the issue of whether all in the world of spirits are taught the gospel immediately. His answer is no, on the grounds that the same is true in this world. He states:

I have not the least doubt but there are spirits there who have dwelt there a thousand years, who, if we could converse with them face to face, would be found as ignorant of the truths, the ordinances, powers, keys, Priesthood, resurrection, and eternal life of the body, in short, as ignorant of the fullness of the Gospel, with its hopes and consolations, as is the Pope of Rome, or the Bishop of Canterbury, or as are the Chiefs of the Indian tribes of Utah. And why this ignorance in the spirit world? Because a portion of the inhabitants thereof are found unworthy of the consolations of the Gospel, until the fullness of time, until they have suffered in hell, in the dungeons of darkness, or the prisons of the condemned, amid the buffetings of fiends, and malicious and lying spirits. (JD 1:10-11)

We'll set aside, for the moment, the accusation that the heads of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches are 'ignorant of the fullness of the Gospel'. The basic answer given here is that some folks in the spirit world don't get taught the gospel because they're being punished by the withholding of the word of God. After further consideration, I suppose I have no real major objection to that - though, on my non-LDS view of the afterlife, I suspect that this idea does not actually hold. Nor am I confused, so far as I know, so I have no questions.

11. Rather shortly thereafter, Parley Pratt makes a comment referring to the apostasy:

Between the commission and ministry of the Former and Latter-day Saints, and Apostles, there has been a long and dreary night of darkness. Some fifteen to seventeen centuries have passed away, in which the generations of man have lived without the keys of the Gospel. (JD 1:11)

First of all, note that this seems to be a fairly dark description of the alleged time of the apostasy. Virtually all of the great saints and spiritual fathers and mothers looked to by orthodox Christians - whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant - were not luminaries but rather were trapped in 'a long and dreary night of darkness'. Does this really sound plausible to those who are familiar with some of the deep and vibrant Christian piety that existed during many of these eras? For me, personally, some of the eras seem like a mixed bag, but certainly not 'a long and dreary night of darkness'. That's my perspective, though I respect the reasons for which Latter-day Saints are inclined to disagree. Second, given the figures estimated by Pratt, the loss of the 'keys of the Gospel' appears to have happened sometime roughly between the years 130 and 330. Does this sound like a reasonable account of the date of the apostasy to those of you who believe in it? Beyond that, Pratt states that:

Such apostates seek, in all dispensations, to bring destruction on the innocent, and to shed innocent blood, or consent thereto. For such, I again repeat, I know no forgiveness. Their children, who, by the conduct of such fathers, have been plunged into ignorance and misery for so many ages, and have lived without the privileges of the Gospel, will look down upon such a parentage with mingled feelings of horror, contempt, reproach, and pity, as the agents who plunged their posterity into the depths of misery and woe. (JD 1:11)

Harsh! Very harsh language, in fact. But, in the interests of polite and civil dialogue, we'll set that aside. I find it interesting to compare this to the model of the apostasy that has been presented to me by some other Latter-day Saints. On such a model, the apostasy was inevitable once the priesthood authority was lost, and it could not be sustained without the existence of a quorum of apostles on the earth. During the persecutions, the original quorum of the apostles was unable to reconvene and appoint new apostles, which eventually led to the survival of only one apostle, John, who in LDS belief was granted the privilege of living until Jesus' return (D&C 7:1-3). (Random thought: if John is still alive and thus still an apostle, then why is there not reserved for him a place in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, since he seemingly never left that position?) Hence, the apostolate was empty and... well, I don't really see a reason why the priesthood would have been lost (even assuming an LDS view of what 'priesthood' means), unless the loss of the apostles was somehow blamed on the other Christians and God decreed that all their priesthood authority was henceforth invalid. Or, the Christians are being blamed for accepting false teachings, perhaps... but the task then would be in establishing from the record any significant break between the central teachings of New Testament Christianity and the central teachings of the Early Church Fathers. If I may interject my personal views for a moment, there doesn't seem to be one, and certainly not the sort that would justify claims of apostasy - but I don't want to belabor my views here, just note them. Anyway, as for the actual text from Pratt - my apologies for exploring a bit of a tangent there - I really have no more to say.

12. After discussing the rather limited knowledge possessed by most in the world of spirits, as well as the importance of genealogical study in order to be able to help them further, Parley Pratt says:

God has condescended so far to our capacity, as to speak of our fathers as if they were dead, though they are all living spirits, and will live forever. We have no dead! Only think of it! Our fathers are all living, thinking, active agents; we have only been taught that they are dead! (JD 1:13-14)

This accords rather well with Jesus' response to the Sadducees, although as a caveat I must add that, if I remember correctly, it was only rather special individuals who were held in Jewish tradition of the time to be especially alive in that state. But I hold no real objection to what Pratt says right here.

13. Pratt then goes on to tell that, when the cornerstone of the Salt Lake City Temple was laid, he perceived - not with his five external senses, but with his inner faculties - that the spirits of many departed Latter-day Saints, including Joseph Smith himself, were present and eagerly watching because this was the beginning of the care that people in this world would take for those in the world of spirits. I simply found that interesting. As Pratt goes on to explain:

It is here, that the spirit world would look with an intense interest, it is here that the nations of the dead, if I may so call them, would concentrate their hopes of ministration on the earth in their behalf. It is here that the countless millions of the spirit world would look for the ordinances of redemption, so far as they have been enlightened by the preaching of the Gospel, since the keys of the former dispensation were taken away from the earth. (JD 1:14)

14. The remainder of Pratt's message appears to be focused on the importance of the work that would thenceforth take place in the Salt Lake City Temple (and, of course, in all other temples to be built), and I found interest in the concluding paragraphs of Pratt's talk:

Ye Elders of Israel! You will find that there is a spirit upon you which will urge you to continued exertion, and will never suffer you to feel at ease in Zion while a work remains unfinished in the great plan of redemption of our race. It will inspire the Saints to build, plant, improve, cultivate, make the desert fruitful, in short, to use the elements, send missions abroad, build up states and kingdoms and temples at home, and send abroad the light of a never-ending day to every people and nation of the globe. You have been baptized, you have had the laying on of hands, and some have been ordained, and some anointed with a holy anointing. A spirit has been given you. And you will find, if you undertake to rest, it will be the hardest work you ever performed. I came home here from a foreign mission. I presented myself to our President, and inquired what I should do next. "Rest," said he. If I had been set to turn the world over, to dig down a mountain, to go to the ends of the earth, or traverse the deserts of Arabia, it would have been easier than to have undertaken to rest, while the Priesthood was upon me. I have received the holy anointing, and I can never rest till the last enemy is conquered, death destroyed, and truth remains triumphant. May God bless you all. Amen. (JD 1:15)

My concluding question is mainly directed towards Latter-day Saints. How do you react to what Pratt said here? Do you similarly find it very difficult to rest? Why or why not?

On that note, so concludes this initial survey of the second discourse in the Journal of Discourses, and now I'll wait for the input of others.

1 comment:

  1. I think it has increased over time. I come from a family and have several friend who believe that the veil between both plains is very thin. The media supports this theory with many shows and documentaries.

    The church as a rule, does not support haunting, divination or anything that deals with the paranormal. However, if I am not mistaken, we believe in receiving visions from those in the next life, especially sealed loved ones.

    I think the Sadducees and the non LDS peers of Elder Pratt provide a slight parallel (I am not speaking exclusively of Atheists). Many Christians in the early days of the church rejected all forms of communication, including our doctrines on direct revelations from the Lord. But as Elder Pratt said: The dead are dead and cannot fully communicate with us on this side of the veil.

    I believe our spiritual being is separate from our physical being. Obviously, as children of our Heavenly Father, we were made in His image (Genesis 1:26). Jesus Christ said that “Except that a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. (John 3:5). These are discussions concerning our physical existence. John also says “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6) There is a popular prose within the church that we are not physical beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a physical experience. When we die our spirit separates from our bodies into the next life. I imagine this would be rather difficult if the two were one.

    I found Elder Pratt's attitude towards the Gentiles to not be at all conducive to the general attitude of the church itself. After the Apostles were slaughtered, the church began to be contentious and the ordinances as certain gospel principles became corrupt which launched His church as prophesied by Paul (2 Timothy 3:1-5,14-15/ 2 Timothy 4:3-4) into a state of Apostasy. We are taught that every Christian church has truth, but due to this apostasy they do not have the full truth.