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caligraphy pen, Petar Milošević, Wikimedia commons

Readers Respond: Issue 16

Letters to the Editor

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  • Lincoln Cannon

    Hi Samuel. You claim that Mormons are generally critical of novelty. I disagree. While you may know many Mormons that have thrown away their televisions, I know countless Mormons that have televisions in multiple rooms of their home, in addition to multiple computers (desktop and mobile) for each person in the family. Mormon have been highly involved in the development of technology for the last 150 years, with particularly notable contributions to the development of information technology: including Novell, WordPerfect, and Ancestry.com, among others. In contrast to your claim, I say Mormons are generally welcoming of technological novelty.

  • Lincoln Cannon

    Hi Michael. As you might imagine, I disagree with your characterization of Mormon theosis and how it relates to the broader Christian tradition. It's a straw man. Christians generally (not just Mormons) have been interpreting the doctrine of theosis in diverse and sometimes conflicting ways for two millennia. Your account of a few early Christians, and how their interpretations of theosis supposedly conform with orthodoxy and conflict with Mormonism, is too convenient. And of course neither Eastern Christians nor I grant you orthodoxy. ;) I wholly embrace the Biblical account of God's unity, which the text clearly describes as more than a simple unity but rather one that admits of some sort of internal plurality. Trinitarianism, to use a non-Mormon example, would be nonsensical otherwise. And among Mormons, I'm far from unique in my position on this matter. Many other Mormons, probably most, believe similarly because our theology is perfectly compatible with, and even demands, an understanding of God that incorporates both plurality and unity. Of course there are differences of interpretation, but they are not as simple as you've suggested. You claimed that, "If we ourselves can become gods, then this denies the Bible’s repeated assertion that there is only one God." Mormons aside, many other Christian authorities, from both the Eastern and Western traditions across two millennia, would disagree with you. A strong sampling may be found on the New God Argument website. By the way, I'm a Mormon, but I'm not a Mormon apologist. In fact, most Mormon apologists that know me would laugh at that idea. I love my religion for many reason, but perfection is not one of them.

We welcome letters to the editor. Letters and web comments may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium. Letter should be sent with the writer’s name and address to letters@plough.com.

Amish Technology

On John Rhodes’s “Anabaptist Technology,” Winter 2018: As a fellow Anabaptist from the Beachy Amish tradition, I have always viewed the Bruderhof’s cautious approach to technology as one worthy of emulation. I wish to thank John Rhodes for an excellent article.

In my own tradition we did pretty well at staving off invasive technology – until the Internet Age, that is. We capitulated when the internet swooped in because we would otherwise have been forced to change, drastically and almost overnight, our approach to commerce. We got caught flatfooted. Perhaps we should have copied our faith cousins at the Bruderhof and worked out a common purse system.

Gideon Yutzy, Dunmore East, Ireland

A Kingdom of Work

On Eberhard Arnold’s “The Soul of Work,” Winter 2018: At the international office of Word Made Flesh, the ministry where I work, our staff read and discussed “The Soul of Work.” Love and work must dance together for community to flourish. In the midst of our tasks and responsibilities, we don’t want to forget the reason for our work: love of God and love of neighbor. It’s wonderful to see Arnold’s vision of integrated work and soul being lived out in Bruderhof communities. At Word Made Flesh, we too seek the humanizing dignity of such holistic rhythms.

Clint Baldwin, Wilmore, KY

Silence and the Still, Small Voice

On Stephanie Bennett’s “Endangered Habitat,” Winter 2018: It is remarkable to consider the vast silence of space before God spoke our world into being, the vast silence of Adam before Eve, and the vast silence of man before his Maker gave him speech. Bennett’s piece reminds us of that which we forget almost daily – that silence is actually the ground of our being, and that speech is merely the figure. Organized sound is music. Disorganized sound is noise. When we noisify the environment to the degree that we have in technological society, we literally lose the ground upon which the scaffolding of authentic humanness is raised.

Jesus repeatedly removed himself from the crowds to pray, be alone, and be silent. Most citizens of technological society think that alone-ness is synonymous with loneliness. But the Psalmist tells us to “be still and know that I am God”: to be alone with God in silent prayer is to never be lonely, but to be comforted in the quiet assurance and embrace of our Maker.

In 1930, T. S. Eliot distilled both the question of our time and its chilling answer: “Where will the word resound? / Where will the word be found? / Not here, there is not enough silence.” Perhaps my favorite example of the necessity of silence is 1 Kings 19:11–12: “And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still, small voice.”

Read Schuchardt, Wheaton, IL

Yumeji Takehisa, Woman Reading a Book on a Sofa Yumeji Takehisa, Woman Reading a Book on a Sofa
Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Simulating Lent

On Alexi Sargeant’s “Simulating Religion,” Winter 2018: It is too often forgotten that, even in the midst of their materialism and atheism, the rationalists’ basic orientation is to do good and to advance human happiness. For example, giving has become a rationalist obsession; many rationalists tithe or make pledges to donate large proportions of their incomes to charity. Mr. Sargeant is on to something when he writes of the rationalists’ efforts to build a sort of church. Many are hostile to religion, but I have experienced, as a student in San Francisco, that rationalists take religious claims far more seriously than your average secular student.

But in the end I am not so optimistic. The rationalists entertain our claims because their philosophy demands that all claims be neutrally entertained … except one: reason is a jealous god and he insists that nothing exists above him or beyond his grasp. In the final analysis, the rationalists are simply carrying forward the old lie, first uttered by the serpent: “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4–5).

Is it any wonder that many support cryonics? The rationalist Silicon Valley engineer believes in the wrong promise.

Elliot Kaufman, Stanford, CA

Alexi Sargeant responds: I share Mr. Kaufman’s worry that there’s something satanic in the rationalists’ quest for immortality, which is why I look askance at cryonics and mind-uploading. But the desire for eternal life is not wicked in and of itself. It’s in our God-given nature to long for the defeat of death. Of course it’s wrong to seek a manmade eternity, but the presence of that desire in the rationalists should spur Christians to convert them to a true understanding of our destiny in the kingdom of God.

Finally, an intriguing piece of evidence that the rationalist movement is a parallel religion: I recently came across an open thread promoting “Rationalist Lent”: forty days of giving up or scaling back one’s use of video games, social media, or other practices. When non-Christians display a “holy envy” of Lent, I’m reminded of what a gift the season is. It also reminds me of how much more Christianity has to offer. Our Lent is not a self-improvement regimen but preparation for a real (not virtual) resurrection.

Becoming Immortal

On Michael Plato’s “The Immortality Machine,” Winter 2018: I would like to clarify Michael Plato’s comments about Mormonism. While technology is widely appreciated among Latter-day Saints, transhumanism does not have a strong appeal. I have been a well-read and practicing Mormon for over four decades and had never heard of the Mormon Transhumanist Association until reading Plato’s article.

In general, we are critical of novelty. We encourage each other to keep computers in a central location in the home to avoid the temptations of the internet. Many in my congregation in Cedar City have thrown away our television sets altogether. There are exceptions, of course, but to argue that a significant proportion of the Mormon community hopes for a divine future through technology is an egregious mistake.

Samuel Wells, Cedar City, UT

Michael Plato references theosis, the idea that humans will evolve into gods, in a way that may lead readers to think it’s unique to Mormon theology. Although interpretations vary among sects and even among their adherents, theosis is an ancient and enduring doctrine among Christians that is broadly, even if sparsely, recognized or acknowledged among some sects. Mormons call it “exaltation.” Eastern Orthodox call it “apotheosis.” Catholics call it “divinization.” And Christians of any sect that embrace theosis will rightly question the non-Biblical idea that any static conception of human nature is permanently good enough, when it wasn’t permanently good enough for Jesus, who exemplifies and invites our transformation into divine nature – to be one with him in Christ.

Almost all Mormon transhumanists would claim to have a goal of immortality, and almost all would claim that we might individually contribute toward achieving that goal. But almost all of us would insist that achievement of that goal also requires a power that transcends us. No one self-attained the laws of physics, the evolution of complex intelligence, or the cultural and technological context that we’ve inherited. If it’s now possible for someone to contribute meaningfully toward a goal of immortality, the possibility itself is pervasive and persistent grace. As Jesus put it, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do”; and yet, “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.”

Lincoln Cannon, Orem, UT

Michael Plato responds: I did not mean to imply that transhumanism is a majority position amongst the LDS community. I simply meant that, due to certain aspects of Mormon theology, some LDS have found transhumanism very appealing, and have become highly organized and vocal within both the LDS and transhumanist worlds. Yet, as I pointed out in the article, this position is not endorsed by the LDS church.

Regarding Mr. Cannon’s comments: while many Mormon apologists have argued that their understanding of theosis has roots in the church fathers and Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the equation does not hold up to scrutiny. Theosis, as it is understood in Mormon doctrine, conflicts with two central tenets of Christianity: monotheism and the doctrine that God created the universe ex nihilo [from nothing]. If we ourselves can become gods, then this denies the Bible’s repeated assertion that there is only one God. Similarly, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo asserts that there is a permanent difference between God and humans, creator and creature.

While some early church fathers such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, Justin Martyr, and Augustine made use of terms such as theosis, deification, and divinization, they meant something quite different. Deification means that we can participate in God’s glory, never that we become God in essence. (For a fuller explanation, see the Eastern Orthodox theologian Timothy [Kallistos] Ware’s The Orthodox Church.) By contrast, Mormonism’s doctrine of men becoming gods is unique, and does not accord with orthodox Christianity.

Georges de la Tour, Saint Jerome Reading a Letter Georges de la Tour, Saint Jerome Reading a Letter
Image from WikiArt (public domain)
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