28 May 2008

On Transcendence: The Atonement of Jesus Christ (4 of 6)

The Atonement of Jesus Christ
Since the events of both creation and fall indicate a transcendent theme of separation, they lead to questions of unity. The purpose of the atonement is to unite men and women to God, resolving the tension inherent in the separation introduced through the creation and the fall. A comparable example of a transcendent experience that unites the separated is the marriage of a man and woman. Interestingly the scriptures use marriage as a symbol of the Covenant, enabling Israel (bride) to unite with the Lord (Bridegroom). If we look, we can see traces of the atonement and its scriptural equivalent each day in marriage and family. Is it a wonder that these issues have been a center of attention among leaders for decades? The atonement presents itself as a transcendent experience in each life that recognizes these similarities and changes as a result of the transcending theme of unity that can come about through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Before further analysis of the transcendent character of the atonement, an overview of applicable events may prove helpful. The events of the atonement have often been confined to the events on the cross. Some attempts have recognized its grandeur by expanding this timeframe to include all events from the agony of Gethsemane to the triumphal appearance at the Garden tomb and others even widen the timeframe to encompass the final week of Jesus’ life in its entirety. To appropriately include the transcendent nature of this act, given the eternal ministry of its Actor, it might be more appropriate to make the event of the Atonement inclusive of all of time.

Because the scriptures reveal Jesus as the Yahweh of the Old Testament who created the world and gave the Law (of Moses), we can push back the beginning end of the atonement to include all of recorded time. Even this (seemingly) generous expansion of the timetable, however, neglects to recognize that Jesus is the firstborn (even before Adam) and that He knew Job “when the morning stars were together” singing for joy (Job 38:7). This consideration leads us to consider that the atonement extends back eternally to the pre-mortal world. Similarly, the conversion experiences that employ the power of the atonement extend its efficacy and carry the event to the present. It is in this light that one can consider the ministry of Jesus to begin well before Bethlehem (or even Eden for that matter!) and to extend beyond Calvary and the empty tomb. Therefore, I cannot enumerate all of the events of the atonement. Nonetheless, a summary of the key acts of vicarious sacrifice can suffice for our purposes here. In Gethsemane Jesus “sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). This suffering constituted the cup of reconciliation that overcomes the separation between God and His creations on an individual level each time that one creation chooses to follow the “doctrine” or ethic revealed in experience with the sacred. Following this, the events of a cruel betrayal and (mis)trial were succeeded by torture and finally death by crucifixion. These brutal events and Christ’s mastery of the situation attest to His transcendent character and attributes of perfection. After enduring this, He arose on the third day, overcoming the death that had captured all of humankind previously. This arising opened an exit through which all will eventually pass; “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15: 22).

John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry seems to revolve around the recognition that His ministry was the archetype of eternity. In the first chapter of John, we read John’s narrative speaking to the reader as well as to the first century audience: “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1: 29). This theme ties Christ’s life to the era of sacrifice, emphasizing that all such sacrifices were emblematic of the ultimate sacrifice that John describes. The events of the fourth Gospel indicate Jesus’ compassion and divinity. Jesus declares Himself to be the Christ on several occasions (John 5: 43; 6: 35, 48, 51; 8: 12, 58; 10: 11, 14; 11: 25; 14: 6; ;15: 1, 5; 18: 5, 6, 8), using the phrase “I am” which was the equivalent of the forbidden pronunciation of YHVH (Yahweh or Jehovah).

John portrays the divine Lord, showing miracles throughout His ministry from the transformation of water into wine evident in Cana to the ultimate miracle at the Garden Tomb where He appeared as the risen Savior. Some miracles were not unprecedented events. Water nourishes grape vines which yield grapes that can be used to make wine all of the time. Likewise, a few grains can yield many and two fish can produce hundreds or even thousands of offspring naturally. But the Lord, in transforming water into wine and in feeding thousands from five loaves and two fishes, illustrated that He could control the elements such that the natural processes could be accelerated instantaneously to produce miraculous events. In similar fashion, John narrates Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee during a storm, healing illnesses and injuries, and performing many miracles where He seems to transcend time in His ability to yield results that would otherwise require much more time.

Other miracles performed and related in John’s gospel suggest power to act in ways inexplicable to science or reason. Jesus forgave sins and healed otherwise incurable conditions. This command over all things indicates that the Lord’s power transcends all that is comprehensible to humanity. Likewise, His teachings present opportunities to shock their recipients with the seemingly contradictory nature of their message, yet with the verifiable results attached to their observance.

In presenting “the Lamb of God” (John 1: 29), John shows the atonement as a supreme act of sacrifice and an exemplary use of choice or agency. John does not give details of the Savior’s moments in Gethsemane, but picks up the narrative with the betrayal, when the reader pictures the Lord following the agonizing hours of suffering in the garden. Given Luke’s description of the sweat being as blood, we can imagine Jesus standing on the night that John suggests is the night when each household would sacrifice its Passover lamb, His clothes stained with blood. As He stood, the events of betrayal indicate that He identified Himself, then turned His attention to those around Him. He tried to protect His disciples and to show love and mercy to all. He healed one of the soldiers who was to place this Lamb into the hands of those who would complete the sacrifice. In showing this, then showing the rebirth of the Resurrection, John proclaims throughout his gospel, “behold the Lamb of God” (John 1: 29). This presentation of a Lamb that transcends all other sacrifices illustrates a theme of transcendence prevalent in the atonement.

This transcendence can be seen in the theme of death and rebirth so prevalent in literary and religious traditions. I am not aware of any major religious tradition that has excluded this theme from its ritual or its canon. All sacrificial offerings prior to this “great and last sacrifice” (Alma 34: 14) were merely pre-representations of Jesus Christ’s life, sacrifice, death, and ultimate triumph over all things. The events of the resurrection open this possibility to all.

When individuals’ lives are directed to possibilities introduced by the resurrection and the atonement, they receive a measure of hope to add to their faith. This hope directs their thoughts forward, leaving behind any sufferings that they may have experienced or may yet experience and replacing these events with the expectation that the Lord will replace such sorrows with surreal celestial solace. The inception of this hope informs their living, changing the way that such individuals view the circumstances and things around them. With an attitude open to possibilities, despair has no power over them. Because of this power made possible by the atonement, such individuals are enabled to develop themselves, becoming embodiments of the principles taught through the transcending events that are operative in their lives. By presenting a theme so rich in its symbolic counterparts, the atonement of Christ can be seen in the seasonal cycles and the harvest patterns. The separation established during the creation and the fall is overcome by the atonement, which reunites Creator and creation and which unites body and spirit in a perfect condition called soul (see D&C 88: 15). This gives a unity to the themes of transcending experiences in that they separate or overcome separation.

In addition to the theme of separation and overcoming separation, transcendent events seem to involve both an event and participants in the event. Since the participants in these events recognizably cannot experience the event on their own, each event transcends itself to reveal within it and testify of itself of a Creator, Redeemer, Converter, Visitor, and Sealer—Jesus Christ! We now ask ourselves, seeing the transcendence of the Atonement a little clearer, ‘how does this play a role in my life each day?’ For an answer, we can turn to the scriptures in Alma. “And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works” (Alma 12:30). The last two words of this verse have intrigued me. Holy works. When examining their roots in Latin, one discovers that holy can be written sacra and works comes from the Latin root facer. When combined, these words sacra and facer form the basis of the word sacrifice. To truly live the Law of Sacrifice, or the Law of Holy Works, then, transcends ordinary experience to embrace a life founded on Christ, the “great and last sacrifice” (Alma 34:14). This transcendence extends further to include living a life unified by the Atonement and by true conversion to perform Christian (in its highest sense—meaning to act as Christ) works.

For further insight, we can turn to Mormon 9: 29 where we read: See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily; but see that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out. The key phrase from this verse comes when Moroni exhorts us to “do all things in worthiness.” The word “worthy” connotes something “of worth,” when taken literally. The exhortation to act worthily, then, means to perform actions “of worth.” We can be married or sealed to Christ, “sealed His own” (Mosiah 5:15) if we will perform such works. As an example, we can examine the works of the Savior. He healed the sick and lame, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute. He forgave, taught, and even raised the dead.

Can we not act similarly? We can visit the sick, mourn with those that mourn (Mosiah 18), offer comfort and friendship, bring others to drink of the living water (John 4) and to eat of the bread of life (John 6), and raise ourselves and others from among the spiritually dead as well as administering to temporal needs. We can act as “saviors on Mount Zion” (Obadiah 1:21). We can offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit (2 Ne. 2:7) in service to God and to others. In short, we can perform on a microscopic scale what the Lord has performed on His divine scale for all of us. In this way, the atonement becomes transcendent and meaningful to each of us. It not only holds a prominent place in our doctrine, but also shapes our way of living as we strive to follow the Savior and to become living testimonies (2 Cor. 3:2-3), showing the transcending significance of our Master’s sacrifice.

On Transcendence: The Fall of Adam and Eve (3 of 6)

Our evaluation of the creation seems incomplete without giving some consideration to the fall of Adam and Eve as presented together with the creation story in the opening chapters of Genesis. The fall presents several ideas and themes which elaborate on the themes of creation and bring the transcendent qualities of those myths to a head through the universality and unity of the themes tied together through these narrative accounts. In the story of the fall, we find aspects of the atonement’s transcendence as will be shown in the following section. Similarly, the themes of the first deception, the beginnings of evil, and the results of individualism and comparison come to mind when considering the transcendent nature of the fall.

The narrative of the fall portrays both Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and shows their being beguiled by a serpent. The pun in the Hebrew language emphasizes the similarities between serpent and human who were subtil (ערום or arum Gen. 3:1) and naked (ערומים or arumim Gen. 2:25). This similarity seems to betray a difference in nature between the humans and their Creator. The pair of Adam and Eve resembles the serpent or the animal creations in some ways more than they resemble their Creator in whose image they had been formed. This irony indicates that the separations established during the creation perhaps divide more than appearances might indicate. Although the man and woman appear similar to Yahweh, their actions resemble those of the serpent. The separation evident transforms to become a seemingly insurmountable chasm when they partake of the forbidden fruit. Only when these events have their complement, the atonement, do they reveal that these degrees of separation find their subsequent reversal. Nevertheless, the events of separation seem to establish a tension, leading one to question when the separated elements will be reunited.

The Garden location directs attention to the availability of fruit, but more importantly to the lush location where all seemed paradisiacal. The presence of fruit and the general lushness bring to the surface the green coloring and its theme of fertility that became apparent in our evaluation of the creation. An additional theme appears in that the phrase “garden of Eden” in Hebrew meant both this Garden location and heaven, where God dwells. By equating the two localities, the language allows modern readers to glimpse the culture begun through the myths of creation and fall. The society that came out of these was one in which the trek to the Garden was most desirable, even when such a trek required traversing a desolate intermediate ground. This theme recurred in the history of the Hebrew people with the Exodus, then the captivities under the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and other nations. Because the people drew meaning from the foundational narratives of creation and fall, informed by this trek through barrenness into a promised land, the Hebrew nation was able to continue without despair taking over their existence.

A later trek to another Garden (of Gethsemane) ultimately made possible the return to the Garden. But fallen mankind would never return to its pre-fall status. This realization begs the question of whether the fall hindered humankind’s progress forever. Because God carried out the creative process by His word, the conclusion that God could likewise bring about a different result than what occurred in Eden seems logical. But such a conclusion seems to ignore the inherent ability of each individual to choose his or her own path. In evaluating Eden, then, we benefit from the theme of separation introduced in the creation and the tension that this theme leaves intact until some reunification comes about. Through separation, we find that humankind learns much that was unavailable prior to the separation itself. By initiating humankind’s existence separated from God, the fall brings about a state in which men and women have a choice between belief and disbelief. Either option exercises faith (the difference is in what object the faith is being exercised). Thus, the fall brings about a condition of faith unavailable prior to the separation of man and God. Such a realization leads our inquiry into the nature of the fall through the theme of separation to the foundation of faith. Since we observed God’s actions in the creation, we can see the necessity of faith in constructive existence. God spoke and through the power of faith, the words He uttered were obeyed and fulfilled. Likewise, in humankind’s condition following the fall, all of humanity was given a new possibility, unrealized and unnoticed prior to the taking of the fruit: humankind is now capable of developing a faith akin to that of its Creator.

The temptation to partake of the fruit presents an interesting dialogue between the serpent and Eve. When presented with a new way of living opposed to that prescribed by God, her temptation begins. The end result is that she partakes and brings for Adam to do likewise so that they can remain together and fulfill the command to “multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The ensuing “courtroom” scene brings sentencing or judgment upon all involved, man, woman, and serpent. Interestingly, Adam and Eve’s banishment from the garden is accompanied by their being clothed in “coats of skins” (Gen. 3:21). This act of covering with coats of skins implies that an animal gave its life for their benefit. The Hebrew language directly connects covering with atoning as will be mentioned below. This union between fall and atonement indicates a pattern that seems to mirror our individual experiences in many ways. The act of disobedience exemplified in Adam and Eve can be widely misunderstood; however, it seems to indicate the beginning of discernment between opposites. They asserted their own wills and this assertion against that of Yahweh became the source of difficulty and trouble in their lives. Clearly the possibility to partake of the forbidden fruit existed before the serpent used it to present an alternative to the pair’s way of living; yet they never seemed to consider the alternatives as available until another whose cunning appealed to them presented the choices in a new light. The consciousness of other points of view became the defining characteristic of humanity as well as the cause of its fall. The ensuing mortal life became paved with roads leading in different directions to see which path the pair (and their counterpart, humanity) would choose. Their experiences with the sacred presented them with one alternative, yet their experiences with another creature and with themselves as “other” from God opened up a multiplicity of means to infinite ends. The use of their power to deliberate and choose differentiated “good” from “evil.” Thus the fall distinguished good and evil, continuing the pattern of separation in the same vein as the creation had established.

Individualism became a possibility when the man and woman recognized the independence of their existence from that of others around them. Interestingly, the first response to this possibility was to act collectively, the couple choosing to remain together and thus to preserve their unity. Since that time, some civilizations have preferred individualism whereas others still prefer collective thinking. Adam’s statement that husband and wife should “be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) suggests that the possibility remains open to acting both individually and collectively at the same time when individuals have been successfully united.

The actions of Adam and Eve transcend their circumstances when we consider what the story of the fall relates. We find therein the beginning of choice and consciousness. Since these form such an integral part of each life, we can see that Adam and Eve’s unique experiences transcend specific situations to apply to all of humankind. When experience reveals to us sacred elements of life, we can respond using our choice and consciousness. The different ways of responding that are available to us lead to differing consequences and, hence, to distinct destinations. The problems of ethics might disappear when “the good” is defined according to the ultimate consequences that present positive possibilities in our daily decisions. In this light the events of the fall become crucial commencements rather than a disappointing disaster. One’s outlook on life depends on which interpretation prevails. From Adam and Eve’s choice to act collectively, we can derive the importance of family and of marriage. Likewise, the collective mentality suggests that overall success flows more from an uplifting influence on all than from a competitive impulse to drag others below one’s own status. When such an outlook prevails, the synergistic result elevates humanity as well as all individuals that are a part of that humanity.

25 May 2008

John Taylor: Apostolic Author

“John Taylor: Apostolic Author”

Epithets earned in resolute defense of Mormon belief, such as “Champion of Right” and “Defender of the Faith,” recognize John Taylor’s complex and influential life.[1] Little emphasis, however, has been placed on a significant and especially important aspect of his life: his writings. Scholarly treatment of his influence as an author is very limited and often neglectful of his historically significant literary contributions. One biographer even reduced Taylor’s major contributions to missionary and ministerial aspects, almost completely ignoring all other facets of his life.[2] Through authorial excellence, Taylor exercised a written influence as great as or greater than was his oratory prowess.

Joseph Smith once admonished, “John Taylor, I believe you can do more good in the editorial department than preaching . . . you can write for thousands to read; while you can preach to but a few at a time.”[3] If the founding figure of Mormondom regarded John Taylor’s potential to teach in print as greater than his already established missionary endeavors, Taylor’s written imprint should be most carefully examined. A similarly intriguing statement from Brigham Young, Smith’s successor, emphasizes the importance of Taylor’s literary ministry even more directly. He proclaimed:

With regard to brother John Taylor, I will say that he has one of the strongest intellects of any man that can be found; he is a powerful man, he is a mighty man, and we may say that he is a powerful editor, but I will use a term to suit myself, and say that he is one of the strongest editors that ever wrote.[4]

This bold opinion held by the Mormon church’s first two presidents seems largely overlooked by scholars. Among the few scholarly attentions paid to John Taylor’s authored works is a discussion of his early works in defense of Mormon beliefs in the book, Men With a Mission, where Taylor’s writing is portrayed together with that of other Apostles, showing the development of an influential group of LDS authors.[5] Biographies on Taylor’s life rarely provide a detailed examination of his prolific writing career, preferring to mention his literary contributions superficially and chronologically.

During the early 1850s Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were sent to the East coast of the United States of America to publicly announce and defend the Church’s practice of polygamy.[6] This mission was important in John Taylor’s literary development. Editing the New York City newspaper, The Mormon, during that period won him the mentioned praise of Brigham Young. These important events not only developed the theology of the infant church, but provided an evolutionary environment in which their authorial talents would be magnified. The emphasis placed by the Mormon church on writing cannot be ignored, nor can the impact of the Englishman, John Taylor, on the written record in early Mormon history, be neglected.

The range of style in the church’s early authorial endeavors has been analyzed and outlined in Appendix A of Mormon History, by Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker and James B. Allen. They suggest that Orson and Parley P. Pratt represent the styles used and define the spectrum of thought contained in early Mormon writing.[7] Such a continuum is categorized by Parley on one extreme, writing with a “malleable”and artistic style of writing, who tended to elaborate on a theme and define it through an almost poetic description.[8] The other end, associated with Orson Pratt, presents a contrast, using similar themes, but with a more logical, legalistic approach to defend Mormon thought.[9] John Taylor’s authorial influence thus seems to be overshadowed in scholarly examination of early Mormon writings, which, instead, emphasizes the Pratt brothers. As John Taylor’s authorial contributions are read and analyzed, they could be compared with one or both of these bookend figures, but are more accurately and distinctively classified as a diplomatic effort to reconcile the two stylistic extremes. Taylor’s writing displays influence from both ends of this literary spectrum, as he diplomatically utilizes the advantages of both styles to unify the promulgation and defense of Mormon doctrine. Diplomatic style, in early Mormon writing, would represent a reconciliation between contrasting styles and viewpoints to elaborate on and to defend established religious ideas.

Concurrent to these stylistic changes were thematic changes in LDS church leaders’ remarks in church conferences and elsewhere. Gordon and Gary Shepherd suggest that “ leader rhetoric reflects . . . organizational and ideological changes.”[10] The church’s emphasis appears to have developed similarly to the transition represented in the rhetoric of John Taylor’s literary works. In his early works, Taylor tended to address predominant themes, but as his unique style developed, he applied it to less common topics which have since seen much more attention. As the coinciding of thematic and stylistic changes of the period with John Taylor’s writings and leadership indicates, his writings exercised a change in the thirty years following their respective publications, which was induced by the development of a unique, diplomatic literary style, a major cause for the development of Mormon theological thought.

Logical Strains

An examination of John Taylor’s major literary works begins with The Government of God, his 1852 response to European philosophy and ideology.[11] This doctrinal exposition was written during Taylor’s mission to Great Britain, France, and Germany. He was disgusted with the ideological revolutions native to the European region regarding the issue of “legitimacy”[12] in religious organizations.[13] As a result of frequent debate among religious scholars, Taylor found himself identifying the ideal world government in a government established by God, rather than a system invented by man.[14] He sought to describe the attributes of God’s government in clearly definable terms. The style demonstrated in such a reflects Taylor’s manner of religious debate and logical reasoning. It demonstrates a fusion between the styles embodied by the Pratt brothers. Taylor presents his ideas in a logically sound, legalistic manner, while maintaining the artistic–and at times poetic–style, characteristic of his later works.

John Taylor’s arguments on man’s freedom to choose are particularly representative of the artistic aspect of his style. Building on the theme of free agency from several different viewpoints, Taylor uses examples from both scripture and everyday life to illustrate his argument. His example of the relationship between father and son represents an elaboration on this theme, suggesting that a father cannot force a son to obey. God’s government is then paralleled to the fatherly figure of the example, showing that God does not force men to respect His laws but encourages obedience through principles of righteousness. Taylor suggests that “nothing but the wisdom, power, and blessings of God can restore” the world to perfection,[15] effectively emphasizing the superiority of divine government and artistically drawing attention to God’s perfect capacity.

The concluding remarks of The Government of God represent the same pattern of thought and beauty of expression. Taylor summarizes his arguments, describing the requirements for men to receive salvation through Jesus Christ. This description includes phrases which present the hope that mankind can be redeemed. Recognizing Christ’s triumph over man’s government, Taylor suggests that only upon the realization of such a victory can men “live and flourish eternally in possession of that immortality which Jesus...promised to the faithful.”[16] Not only is the logical congruity sketched in these closing arguments sound, but the passage presents an artistry which cannot be ignored.

These eloquent passages represent, however, only a part of the style manifest in The Government of God. Its first page presents the logical reasoning, similar to Orson Pratt’s style. Taylor makes several hypotheses based on the conditional “if” and then completes the logical equation, suggesting that if things are as we now know them, then that is the result of their obedience to divine law.[17] Later in presenting God’s perfect government, similar legalistic arguments are made to prove the desired point. In showing that none of the Christian churches with whom Taylor debated in Europe had God’s authorization, all possibilities for obtaining such authority are outlined and subsequently disproved by this skilled author, appealing to his audience’s common sense.[18] Later, arguments pertaining to the need for prophets and apostles, as well as the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth, are presented both similarly and rationally.[19] These arguments further illustrate the author’s purpose of presenting evidence to support his case and to eliminate potential doubt.

Overall, this initial literary achievement displays both sides of the stylistic spectrum outlined by Walker, Whittaker and Allen, with a style joining the two “bookend” views. It presents passages typical of the artistic, poetic Parley, and maintains the legal, rational approach of Orson. To attach either stylistic label to Taylor’s work would be inconsistent, it representing a diplomatic fusion of style in accomplishing its objective. The influence of Taylor’s writings on the church can be readily seen in the prevalence of the “Kingdom of God” theme in church conference addresses. During the thirty years following Taylor’s publication of The Government of God, this theme peaked and quickly became one of the most addressed topics in the church.[20] John Taylor’s diplomatic writing approach had resounding repercussions.

Transitional Works

Although the focus here is to examine more closely Taylor’s major literary contributions, other works that provide evidence of John Taylor’s distinctive writing style should be mentioned. John Taylor penned several poems which were published in church-sponsored periodicals, such as the Millennial Star. Among these, “Lines” is illustrative of the author’s distinct, artistic style. It contains such passages as:

Thou hop’d for this. At length it came; and thou
Appear’d on this terraqueous ball,
Body and spirit; a living soul, forth
From the hands of Elohim[21]–eternal
As himself–part of thy God . . . .[22]

This selection portrays well the poetic style of John Taylor as he expresses the nature of man’s soul as the offspring of God. The word “terraqueous” was artistically chosen to reflect a connotation rather than a denotation, portraying a feeling in addition to an idea. Such usage reflects Taylor’s artistic tendencies. Representative of the legalistic end of the spectrum, Taylor’s arguments in defense of polygamy might be carefully examined, especially the debate carried on between he and the Vice President of the United States, Schuyler Colfax[23].

The Artistic Apostle

John Taylor concluded his major authorial contributions in 1882 with what one prominent biographer considers to be his culminating work[24], An Examination into and an Elucidation of the Great Principle of the Mediation and Atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ[25] (hereafter referred to as The Mediation and Atonement). This book’s style closely resembles that of The Government of God, although it relies more heavily on the artistic side of the spectrum to diplomatically join the stylistic continuum.

The logical aspects of this work are somewhat more difficult to isolate, as Taylor uses faith in scripture as the rational basis for much of his argument. His distinctive, logical style is abundant, however, in his discussion of man’s need for a Savior. Taylor presents the idea of free agency, similar to the theme discussed in The Government of God, and shows that man’s imperfection results in sin and error. He then indicates that the only realm of possibility existing for man’s salvation is through “an infinite, expiatory atonement.”[26] Outlining all possibilities and subsequently eliminating those that are unreasonable, Taylor illustrates a very logical argument for the claim that all men rely on the atonement. This legalistic approach is also used in presenting the argument that Jesus Christ was the “only personage capable” of performing this eternal atonement.[27] Such reasoning elaborates on the established themes, while relying on the logical reasoning of his audience.

Taylor’s discussion of divine law displays a similar style. His statement that “all the works of God connected with the world which we inhabit . . . are strictly governed by law” is bold in nature, but supported throughout the passage by logical reasoning.[28] His reasoning presents astrological movements, plant and animal life, and man’s existence, each as evidence supporting such a declaration. Taylor goes on to elaborate that as “God is unchangeable, so are also his laws, in all their forms, and in all their applications.”[29] By using such a logical approach, John Taylor shows his classical training and demonstrates his love for reason. References such as these suggest that John Taylor relied on logic in presenting and defending his arguments. He shows this in addressing similar subjects in both major literary works and demonstrates in each a mastery of the spectrum’s logical side.

John Taylor displays in The Mediation and Atonement an artistic and descriptive talent presented, but not relied upon, in The Government of God. His poetic style radiates in presenting the ancient tradition of animal sacrifice. He describes Jesus as “the Being provided before the foundation of the earth . . . prophesied of . . . and also on account of whom the sacrifices were offered up,” demonstrating a rhetorical talent of emphasizing the point, repeating essential information, and characterizing the artistic side.[30] His choice of words also represents a poetic style absent in other works.

Taylor also uses repetition as a literary means of emphasis. This technique is abundant in The Mediation and Atonement and presents a major stylistic attribute in his writing. A powerful segment illustrates this principle and the emphasis that it gives to the overall argument:

The Savior thus becomes master of the situation–the debt is paid, the redemption made, the covenant fulfilled, justice satisfied, the will of God done, and all power is now given into the hand of the Son of God–the power of the resurrection, the power of the redemption, the power of salvation, the power to enact laws . . . He becomes the author of eternal life and exaltation. He is the Redeemer, the Resurrector, the Savior of man and the world.[31]

Taylor abundantly uses literary techniques in this eloquent portrayal of the position occupied by Jesus Christ. The rhetoric used in emphasizing the effect of Christ’s sacrifice places great importance on the fact that a reconciliation has been provided to bridge the gap between God’s law and man’s imperfect condition. Saying that “the debt is paid”[32] and reiterating this idea with parallel phrases such as, “the redemption [was] made, the covenant fulfilled, justice satisfied, [and] the will of God done,” Taylor shows a beautiful and artistically masterful use of parallelism.[33] Later, he uses a similar pattern in describing Jesus as the “author of eternal life and salvation,” followed by three other parallel ideas.[34] The realm of Christ’s power is similarly described in four different, parallel phrases, each with similar meaning. Such use of rhetorical and powerful literary techniques portrays John Taylor’s proficiency as an artistic author.

Another artistic attribute described by Walker, Whittaker and Allen is that of taking a specific element or topic and being “malleable and literary” with it; the author might toy with the idea before moving on.[35] This technique is employed several times by John Taylor in The Mediation and Atonement. A good example is Taylor’s discussion of deviation from established law. The law of gravity is discussed, followed by examples of how it can be defied. Playing with the idea of exceptions to the rule, Taylor mentions magnetic forces attracting or repelling, birds flying, and hot air balloons floating as evidence that laws are, at times, overcome by other forces strong enough at specific locations to supercede the general rule.[36] These passages clearly demonstrate that John Taylor’s logic is balanced by his artistry. He is able to clearly present a rational argument, while writing poetically, with an artistically logical style. His authorial contributions display full use of the stylistic spectrum exemplified by Orson and Parley Pratt and thus create a unique, diplomatic style.

This new style influenced Mormon leaders’ treatment of Jesus Christ as a theme within the church. Until this time, Christ had been the topic of relatively few church conference addresses.[37] In the thirty years immediately following Taylor’s publication of The Mediation and Atonement, however, Jesus was the topic in twice as many conference talks, proportionally. He has since become one of the most often addressed themes in the Mormon church.[38] Modern authors have followed Taylor’s innovative example, as in James E. Talmage’s publishing of Jesus the Christ[39] and Bruce R. McConkie’s Messiah series.[40] John Taylor led this revolution in Mormon thought and used his “leader rhetoric” to bring the church into its modern philosophy.[41]

Identifying a New Style

While categorizing Taylor’s writings according to the spectrum outlined by Walker, Whittaker and Allen may be helpful, these seem to be specific to Orson and Parley Pratt (and arguably other authors), but less pertinent to John Taylor. Among other possible descriptions are the terms “definitive”, “editorial”, and “diplomatic.” Definitive writing might, in this context, be described as using differing or contrasting approaches and styles with the objective of defining religious thought and philosophy. It has been shown that John Taylor used differing points of view to defend and define Mormon thought. His work, The Government of God, seems to be especially representative of this description, as it defines God’s and man’s forms of government, using both artistic and logical lines of reasoning. It might be argued that this term applies well to Taylor; however, since his objective was not to define, his writings cannot accurately be labeled “definitive.”

The “editorial” style differs from others in that it is not seeking to define an idea, but to logically give purpose to or to unify the ideas and styles of others. This style certainly is manifest in Taylor’s writings, although it is less prominent in his major literary works. The compilation of a variety of opinions and styles to support an assumption has been pointed out in both The Government of God and The Mediation and Atonement. This style is applicable to John Taylor as an author, but it somewhat disregards his original ideas and artistic contributions.

The most accurate categorization of Taylor’s works is the term “diplomatic.” Diplomatic style, in early Mormon writing, would represent a reconciliation between contrasting styles and viewpoints to elaborate on and to defend established religious ideas. The purposes of both artistic and logical styles are retained, but the objective of their inclusion is to portray an existing idea in a different perspective. Since John Taylor’s writing is moderate in scope and style, it serves as a middle ground between the extremes of Orson and Parley Pratt. Taylor uses similar methods to theirs, but with a different purpose and outcome. His writing is thus not distinctly editorial, nor is it absolutely definitive, but is best categorized as diplomatic.

After close analysis, the spectrum represented by Orson and Parley P. Pratt is helpful in examining the writings of John Taylor. It does not, however, fully represent all of the major literary traditions which have since arisen, nor does it include all authors both contemporary and subsequent to the Pratt brothers. John Taylor’s style follows neither of those styles, but combines them diplomatically, creating a moderate, yet effective manner of presenting his ideas. Taylor’s calling as apostolic author was fulfilled and magnified in both the content and the development of his significant literary contributions. He used both traditions contemporary to his life, but with them suited his own purposes by unifying the styles in the promulgation of faith and belief distinctive to the “Defender of the Faith,”[42] creating what is now identified as the diplomatic style in early Mormon writing.

Because many of Taylor’s stylistic authorial contributions are not recognized, the theological development which he furthered is likewise overshadowed. Thematic transitions in Mormon thought closely parallel Taylor’s writings and subjects. Following his publication of The Government of God (during the years 1860-1889), the “Kingdom of God” theme appears in conference addresses more frequently than in any other period of church history.[43] More importantly, Jesus Christ is emphasized in eras following his publishing of The Mediation and Atonement more than ever before.[44] The ideological shift between 1860 and 1900 coincides nicely with the shift in Taylor’s writings. The stylistic development portrayed in John Taylor’s literary achievements is not only interesting, but indicative of a greater ideological trend to emphasize similarities with other Christian faiths rather than to dwell on differences between Mormons and others. The unique diplomatic style developed by John Taylor was a major cause of both literary and theological change, which continues to shoe it influence in modern Mormon thought.


[1].Francis M. Gibbons. John Taylor: Mormon Philosopher, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), p. 21; B. H. Roberts. The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1963), p. 87.
[2].Francis M. Gibbons. John Taylor: Mormon Philosopher, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), p. 235.
2.B. H. Roberts. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), vol. 5, p. 367.
[4].Brigham Young. “Testimony to the Divinity of Joseph Smith’s Mission,” in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), vol. 4, p. 34.
[5].James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, David J. Whittaker. Men With a Mission (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), p. 259-261.
[6].Samuel W. Taylor. The Kingdom of God or Nothing: The Life of John Taylor, Mormon Militant (New York: Macmillan; London: Collier Macmillan, 1976), p. 175.
[7].Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker, and James B. Allen. Mormon History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), pp. 201-204.
[8].Ibid., 204.
[10].Shepherd, Gordon and Shepherd, Gary. A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 2.
[11].John Taylor. The Government of God (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1852).
[12].John Taylor. The Gospel Kingdom, ed. G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987), p. xxx.
[13].Ibid, xxviiii-xxx.
[14].John Taylor, Government of God, p. 2.
[15].Ibid., 56-57.
[16].Ibid., 118.
[17].Ibid., 1.
[18].Ibid., 60.
[19].Ibid., 89,96.
[20].Shepherd, Gordon and Shepherd, Gary. A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 243.
[21].Elohim is the title used by Latter-day Saints to refer to God the Father, see Keith H. Meservy. “Elohim,” Scriptures of the Church: Selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995), p. 291-292.
[22].John Taylor. “Lines,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millenial Star (Liverpool), vol. 8, pp. 178-179.
[23].For an account of these debates, see Schuyler Colfax and John Taylor. The Mormon question; being a speech of Vice-President Schuyler Colfax ... a reply thereto by Elder John Taylor and a letter of Vice-President Colfax published in the "New York Independent", with Elder Taylor's reply (Salt Lake City, Deseret News Office, 1870).
[24].Samuel W. Taylor, Kingdom of God, 278, 295.
[25].John Taylor. An Examination into and an Elucidation of the Great Principle of the Mediation and Atonement of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Publishing, 1892).
[26].Ibid., 96-97.
[27].Ibid., 136-137.
[28].Ibid., 163.
[29].Ibid., 168.
[30].Ibid., 125.
[35].Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker, and James B. Allen. Mormon History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), p. 204.
[36].John Taylor, Mediation and Atonement, 167-168.
[37].Shepherd, Gordon and Shepherd, Gary. A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 242.
[39].James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1915; reprint, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983).
[40].Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979); idem., The Mortal Messiah, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book 1979); idem, The Millenial Messiah (Deseret Book, 1979).
[41].Shepherd, Gordon and Shepherd, Gary. A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 2.
[42].B. H. Roberts. The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1963), p. 87.
[43].Shepherd, Gordon and Shepherd, Gary. A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 243.
[44].Ibid., 242.

"life of Book"

"life of Book"

leaves turn,
poetry and prose,
brim with beauty,
elegance, opportunity,

reading, page by page,
hunger never quenched,
encompassed by
enamored, enveloped.

plot unfolding,
all familiar
but new

gifted storyteller
consuming while increasing,
ever becoming and

awakening as i dream,
your leaves fly by
renewal, transformation,
nostalgia for tomorrow.

blank pages, filling in,
return to beginning
and end,
a Book
without beginning,
a story

On Transcendence: The Creation of the World (2 of 6)

Nearly every civilization has relied on some form of creation myth to explain its system of morality and to justify its religious system. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this creation myth has played a part in ritual as well as scripture for millennia. The most renowned book of scripture in the tradition begins with accounts of creation which set the stage for the remainder of the tradition. The accounts of creation should be understood as coming from two sources as recognized in biblical sources as the “Yahwist” author and the “Priestly” author. Because of the importance attached to these accounts, one might wonder how a creation story such as that pieced together in Genesis could change how we relate to the world around us. This question would soon lead to transcendent qualities that creation myths narrate themselves.

We read in Genesis 1 that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, KJV; all Biblical references are to the KJV unless otherwise noted). Similarly, Genesis 2:4 states that “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” Both of these verses speak of beginnings, but to take this theme of beginnings as our starting point would ignore the presuppositions that precede that theme. Although both creation accounts commence with “beginning statements,” they both suppose existence prior to this state of creation described during the remainder of the stories. The phrase “In the beginning” begs the question ‘the beginning of what?’ leading our thoughts to consider the purpose of the creation story. Neither attempts to scientifically or philosophically account for a creation ex nihilo, rather, they recount the beginning of humankind. These “beginning statements” illustrate that the story picks up in the middle of things and recounts the founding events, the transcending creation of life that happens in every person’s life at some point (or points) in time. The “deep” mentioned in Genesis 1 already existed. Similarly the Yahwist’s account of creation makes no attempt to explain the origin of matter; rather, it tells “the generations of the heavens and of the earth” (2:4). This beginning involves the introduction of certain differences between Creator and creature/creation. Such differences can illustrate some of the transcending qualities of creation. When united with the account of the “fall” of Adam and Eve these differences also show human nature and potential.

The seventy-fourth Psalm, recognized as one of the earliest documents discussing creation, describes the creative act as “working salvation” (Psalm 74:12-17). This act of salvation seems to also allude to a previous existence from which humankind can be saved through the conditions initiated by this creation. The salvation referred to in Psalms could also allude to the battle against chaos often represented in ancient traditions through some reenactment of the battle at the outset of each new year. The account of creation and the additions of the “fall” seem to indicate that this redemption or salvation from chaos remains uncertain due to the separation inherent between Creator and creation.

Inherent in this theme of battle and conflict is the relationship between the profane and the sacred. The conflicting forces in the battle and conflict seem to represent these polar opposites. Thus, a dual nature is associated with life, the inner self juxtaposed with the natural self. In such a dual state, the reflective person will find conflict that can only be resolved through the type of salvation prototype set forth in the Psalm. Without such an act to work our “salvation” from the inherent conflict in our creation, the life created will never reflect the potential within it.

Creation myths seem to set forth the distinction of sacred and profane. Although these topics may be discussed and compared in depth, for the purpose of examining transcendence we may be justified in leaving a more extensive discussion of their natures to a later time. For the present, we note that the sacred experienced as sacred gives cause for reflection and worship. Although a precise definition may elude the reflective thinker, sacredness might be described as experience that goes beyond the temporal, physical nature of living common around us (the profane). Thus, when we experience the sacred, we cannot suggest that we cause it. Such experiences seem to give themselves to our perception. We cannot create sacred experiences. Attempts to do so inherently are profane as we attempt to force our temporality and momentary desires onto the sacred, which has no permanent connection to such things.

Despite this lack of permanent connection, many traditions engage the sacred through establishing sacred space. Such a space would feel exempt from time and from the profane. By setting up sacred spaces, communities distance themselves from the mundane, worldly life that typically engages them. They set boundaries to temporal existence. The lack of permanent connection between sacred and profane might suggest that crossing such boundaries would be impossible; however, when the communities enter their sacred space, they bring with them their temporal self. This suggests that the experience with the sacred (whatever is so designated) becomes a marking, transcending experience. In Creation stories, the sacred and profane are set up as different places entirely: the biblical Eden versus the fallen world correlates with the sacred opposed to the profane.

Memory corroborates this designation of transcendent experience as experience which crosses the bounds of the profane and enters the sacred, connecting the two. Both private and collective memories seem to be informed and shaped by the experiences that seem to transcend the profane and delve into the profound depths of sacred existence. Private memories are marked, shaped by our perception and also by what we choose to remember. Since memory is such a rich topic for discussion, I will only say that private memory seems reciprocally defined by private forgetting. Whenever we realize that we have forgotten something we are, in reality, remembering our forgetting and plumbing the depths of our memory to prevent such forgetting. As we experience sacred events, such as those resembling Creation, we can either remember or forget. In either instance, the event, be it private or collective, seems embedded in memory, leaving the constant (or, more commonly, the intermittent) remembering or forgetting to the one having the experience of the sacred giving itself.

The Creator, titled “Elohim” by the Priestly author and “Yahweh” by the Yahwist author carries out the creative acts as recorded in the first chapters of Genesis. Each act represents a degree of separation. Before recounting the works of each “day,” I emphasize that to create inherently is to separate. To create requires a Creator distinct from creation. Thus, the myth of creation begins with this presupposition. The presupposition informs all subsequent events. By recognizing the assumption, we can acknowledge that by separating Creator from creation, we establish a theme for the remainder of the creative events. The Creation proceeds from this supposition with the separation of heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1). The next action (as recorded in Genesis) differentiates light and darkness (1:3), separating the two. The Priestly author states that “God divided the light from the darkness.” The succeeding event involves the difference and separation of waters; “God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament” (1:7). And so proceeded the creation with separation of land and waters (1:9-10), of each “kind” of plant life from the other kinds (1: 11-12), of the lights governing day and night in their several degrees (1: 14-19), and of all animal life “after their kind” (1:20-25). Finally, God separated man from all other creation and formed him “in his own image” (1:27) and out “of the dust of the ground” (2:7).

The beginning referred to in these accounts does not attempt to pinpoint the absolute beginning of all things; instead, these creation myths recount a primordial beginning prior to the biblical narrative that treats of a specific group of people. The events of the creation myths (by myth I mean a story of beginning rather than a fictional fable) as well as of all events from Genesis 1-11 seem to point toward the beginning of the history of the Hebrew people—toward the story of Abraham. Because of the nature of this beginning, the creation story intends to set the stage for a history, rather than to begin the history. Setting the stage with a creation performed by God (Yahweh) makes the historic events of Abraham’s life and Israel’s subsequent history fit together with the conception that the people had of God. The events depicted in the primordial history (Gen. 1-11) seem to lead to a beginning in time, whereas these same events appear almost independent of time. This independence creates problems for those who would calculate geological or anthropological history according to the Bible because the events set the stage for the beginning of the “covenant” people as introduced in the story of Yahweh’s covenant with Abram (Abraham—Gen. 12-24). The problem disappears when the events are considered in this context of primordial history. The events set the stage for the beginning, not of time or of the sacred, but of a people.

Following the observation that the Creation story refers to a beginning, but not to any version of ultimate beginnings (could such a beginning be imagined by either the religious or the scientific person?), we note that “the Spirit [חור] of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1: 2). The Hebrew word for Spirit is used to signify the English equivalent of spirit, breath, and wind. Thus, the account of creation leads us to the breath of life (or the breath of God), which later enters Adam and Eve (the same word is used in both instances). Because we later read that God created Adam and Eve in His own image and likeness, we receive from this account both a story of prehistory and an introduction of the characters in our narrative of life. The narrator portrays God as having life, breath (spirit), and personality. The earth is formed from its previous formless state (again suggesting that the story is not intended to answer the question of when the beginning was and what was prior to the beginning) in Gen. 1: 2 and this formation is succeeded by the declaration “Let there be light” (Gen. 1: 3).

When the narrative proceeds to recount the divine declarations constituting the creative acts, the absence of the narrator in the story seems significant. The reader, in evaluating the source of this creation myth, notices that the narrator does not purport to have been present in person as the events unfolded; nevertheless, the myth gives itself to us in narrative form. By using this narrative format, the requirement of the reader to establish some relationship with the text itself (and by extension with its author as well) seems to lead the reader to the issue of faith. In order to take the text seriously, which the text itself requires (otherwise the purpose of the Bible would be merely to add to a body of mythico-religious writings, not to separate itself from the body and establish a new identity), it is necessary that the reader have received some background knowledge or belief. This belief may come through experience with the sacred or through trust in one who has introduced the reader to the sacred; however it comes, the relationship with the text informs the reading, just as the reading informs the developing relationship with scripture.

The narrative proceeds with God’s word constituting the creative power and act. By declaring “let there be light” (Gen. 1: 3), God initiates the process of creation. Significant to the Judeo-Christian tradition is the symbolism of light. By beginning the creation drama with its creation, the stage is set for all else to be seen. Since light sets off all non-lighted things as ‘dark,’ the initial act of creation separates light and darkness and also implicitly establishes opposites as the basis of creation and life. This theme of opposition brings meaning to individual lives which may experience intermittent times of difficulty and ease, of pleasure and pain, of joy and sorrow. Since the narrator presents a narrative based on this theme and the separation inherent in it, the trusting reader is led to look forward to unification and to the triumph of the Creator. Thus, the theme of salvation enters shortly after the creative act begins on the first day. Likewise, the threads of the narrative weave the reader into the middle of the primordial history with the reader’s fate intertwined with that of all creation. In the obedience of the elements to the word of the Creator, the concept of obedience implicitly attaches to all of creation.

The second day involved similar processes, but initiates a new theme. During this period, God separated the waters above (called the Heavens) from the waters below that covered the Earth. Thus, the dual nature of existence opposing Heaven and Earth continued the theme of separation and opposition. In like manner, creation (and with it the fundamental aspects of life) continued in obedience to God. Unique to this event, however, is that the dual nature of existence, yet the subjection of this existence to God, seems to suggest that one is subordinate to the other. Thus order becomes a founding principle of life and existence. Similarly, God giving the waters above a name, “Heaven,” (Gen. 1: 8) indicates the importance of heaven, associating it with the other named things present to this point in the creation drama: God, heaven, earth, day, night, waters, spirit, darkness, and light. Interestingly, these named things all are associated with either heaven or earth. Earth experiences day and night as a result of God’s action of creating light and of its counterpart through the concept of opposition, darkness. Some of the waters were separated to form the heaven. Thus with earth, we associate day and night, light and darkness. The waters are separated, some remaining part of the earthly things and some becoming the foundation for heaven. The presence of water, spirit, and God in both heaven and earth suggests a connection between the two, despite the separation inherent in the creative act.

In like manner, the division of heaven and earth resembles the spiritual and the physical realms of existence. Since the waters above that form heaven evidently are meant to refer to the clouds, the gaseous, substance of all that is of the heaven differs from the solidity of the physical that remains on the earth. Likewise, life turns on the recognition of things that are not as readily observable. By including the separation between heaven and earth, the author of the creation drama (and the Creator, Himself) draws attentive readers into the story, directing them to the resolution of the tension inherent in such a separation. The theme of duality carries into the remainder of the story, yet by leaving God present in the creation as connecting heaven and earth, the drama suggests that the recognition of the unobservable hinges on the recognition of God that a careful and faithful examination of the earth’s primordial history reveals.

Following the separation of heaven and earth, the drama turns to the further separation of the earth into dry land and seas (Gen. 1: 10). In paralleling the separation of heaven and earth, the narrator turns the reader’s attention again to duality. The elements obey the command of the Creator as before, yet in this instance, the difference between the nature of the land and the seas seems more obvious and compelling. God divides them so that the desirable qualities of each can be enjoyed due to their uniqueness. Similarly, the duality points the careful reader ahead to the creation of humankind from the earth (man, “אדם” [adam] from earth “אדמה” [adamah]). The addition of the breath (or spirit) of life brings the man formed from the earth to life. In this manner, the creation drama presents a trajectory towards the ultimate creation which finds its life in both physical and spiritual. God is portrayed as the Overseer of both elements of creation, bringing the duality in harmony and resolving the tension remaining between the two varieties of life that might seem in conflict.

The following episode in creation involves the giving of life by God to the vegetation of the earth (Gen. 1: 11-12), to animal life (Gen. 1: 24-25), and ultimately to humankind (Gen. 1: 26). Beginning with vegetation, the general life-giving theme of this period of creative activity, the vivid color imagery adds to the feel of the creation drama. The colors associated with light, dark, earth, and seas generally seem to be black and white, with shades of grey or brown mixed in. With the creation of vegetative life, a vibrant green is added. Since green is generally symbolic of fertility and reproduction, the color adds a theme to the creative act: namely that creation involves the sharing of that which is sacred with others. This theme seems to be embodied in an idea of consecration that has been a common element in many religious communities from antiquity through the Christian communities of the New Testament and beyond. That the notion of consecration enters in the life-giving of Creation suggests that the principle extends beyond any and all instances of attempted implementation of it.

Likewise the addition of animal life contributes to the theme of consecration and life-giving. The creation of animals with variations and differences brings into relief the vast spectrum of creation, including many instances of giving and ordering. God’s commands are obeyed, bringing added order and adding to the level of existence and enjoyment in the creations. The variations reflect the personality of the Creator, offering a glimpse of His eternal vision and care.

Between these two life-giving aspects of the creation, God set in order the lights of the heavens. He gave dominion to one to rule day, to others to be present and rule the night (Gen. 1: 14-19). This idea of dominion later arises again with God’s giving the man and woman, Adam and Eve, dominion over the remainder of creation (Gen. 1: 28). In such an act, God seems to establish a hierarchy. But in doing so, God does not designate any position within creation as inherently superior to another. This ordering of things seems merely to indicate that all creation is subject to something else. The man and woman, despite their dominion, are subject to their Creator. In setting up such a system, God teaches that a seemingly hierarchical system may, instead, allow for recognition of something superior, something sacred. This recognition, and the resultant opportunity to submit to that sacred thing, highlights the principle of sacrifice. The creation is not compelled to act by those to whom dominion is given; rather those with dominion are more responsible to sacrifice all to the Creator. Thus, all creations have meaning in their lives, no matter where they may fit into a perceived hierarchical structure.

At the conclusion of these creative acts, God saw that all that He had created was good (Gen. 1: 31). This implicitly suggests that it was not evil. The opposition of good and evil involved in calling creation good allows the reader to reflect on the meaning of the word good. In the Hebrew language, the word for good, תוב or “tov” initially meant fulfilling the purpose for which one was created. By using this word to describe all that God had created, the narrator brings the reader, also one of God’s creations, into the description of being tov, being good or of at least being capable of being so described. The creation portrays all created things subjecting themselves to the commands of the Creator. The narrative technique employed allows this realization to become apparent because God is not portrayed as molding and shaping all of His creations; instead, God commands and the command comes to pass.

Having presented a brief understanding of the creation drama, the themes of separation and salvation become evident. Their transcendent qualities might require more explanation. The Hebrew language used to connect these primordial events uses the vav-connective to join the stories into one account of primordial history. This connective also appears in dramatic presentations, suggesting that the creation story could be presented as a drama rather than as a special case form of narrative. This may seem trivial, but when acting a part becomes intertwined with the theme of origin, one can find oneself inseparably connected with the events depicted in this drama. One reading the account might actually find that the Creation drama includes a role for the reader. Such connection overcomes the separation so strongly emphasized in the story itself. One can see the world very differently when the founding events seem to portray us speaking with God face to face as though we were Adam or Eve. Similarly we find meaning in the salvation that God’s creative acts afford us from the impending and looming chaos around us. Surely these aspects of the Creation drama involve a transcendence that adds meaning to our lives.

In like fashion, we each have our own beginning. The founding events of our life form the connection between us and the part of Adam or Eve that we play as we relive the Creation. None of us find ourselves present at the beginning of our lives (can anyone seriously claim to remember their birth?) just as the Creation myths recount events for which no eyewitness exists other than God. Because of such similarities, we find that founding events or primordial histories fit very well with our nature. Thus, the coincidence that creation stories abound in cultural traditions becomes logical in establishing a foundation for each tradition through recounted primordial events that explain one’s relationship with the world and with its Creator, identifying principles upon which each individual can establish this relationship and strengthen it. Likewise, the transcendent themes carry over beyond times of beginning, allowing for continual reinterpretation of the founding events informing our choices and behaviors. Thus the cycle of being informed and changed as a result of our beginning and our reflection thereon continues in our reevaluation of this experience as informed and changed by the event itself. The hermeneutic circle indicates that the event and its participant can be mutually changed through considered reflection on the impact each has in distributing meaning and interpretation to one’s life. When considered as such, stories of origin or of the Creation add to the body of transcending experiences. Seeing their pattern repeated in ordinary life suggests that one is acknowledging their transcendence and importing that quality to one’s own life as a source of meaning and inspiration.

The stories of how other groups originated or of how ideas, patterns, or even life itself originated reflect the same values and themes apparent in this analysis. Our reflection on and identification of these themes, and the meaning that flows from them, indicates the value of a study of origin to the educated person in establishing the fundamental principles of mutual understanding and meaning sought in much public discourse. As such aims are met, the value of a study of transcending experiences becomes even more apparent.

On Transcendence: Introduction (1 of 6)

Introduction: Transcendence

If told that transcendence merits close analysis, an attentive student might wonder why the topic deserves such consideration, either philosophical or religious, given (for example) the recent developments in astronomy which enable one to see more of the universe and comprehend the uniqueness of Earth and its inhabitants. In addition, the science of genetics reveals the differences between even the most apparently similar pair of identical twins. These findings, though, no matter how they are construed, offer only pseudo-objective opinions about the vast, generally unexplored realm of being and existence. To further evaluate these findings, one might question the validity of the scientific method as this generation’s technology for truth, especially given its implicit faith in perception and observation which has resulted in many accepted scientific theories being rejected as the ability to “more accurately” observe and perceive has advanced. The very questioning of the scientific method as proposed often offends those whose personal religion has become the worship of technology qua technology, preferring their own inventions to any other thing as the object of their worship. These individuals place at least as much faith in their methods as previous generations have entrusted to God. I say that their trust is at least as great as those whose trust lies in God because most of the self-proclaimed “religious” of this day merely profess belief as an act of conformity or convenience and rarely act according to the beliefs that they so earnestly confess. Such life-changing commitment often remains unrealized because of the lackadaisical atmosphere with which they are comfortable. Compounding the problem, the relativistic rejection of transcendence as a viable source of meaning in life discourages the religious life in general. The effort requisite to attaining the transcendent life, which (incidentally) seems to offer the only true and lasting happiness, often seems too great and the rewards appear too distant or surreal to accept as possible. Just as philosophers have rejected many seemingly valid methods for assessing truth and validity, this age has the philosophical task of evaluating the merits of the technological society in which we now live and recognizing its inability to fully comprehend the world of experience that each of us inhabits and the meaning that this world offers us if we will receive what it is giving. Because of these responsibilities, I find the topic of transcendence to hold renewed life.

By transcendence, I do not refer to the overly-general sense of this term so often misemployed in its use. Many contemporary authors and speakers use this word to mean merely superb or universal. Such simple (pseudo-) synonyms allude to the quality of transcendence, but ignore its intensity, its meaning. I see no equivalence between such pseudo-synonymous terms and transcendence, and prefer to consider transcendence in its more literal and specific meaning of crossing or surpassing boundaries. This sense of crossing and passing brings to transcendence its power and true meaning. Because experiences can transcend personal, societal, political, and religious boundaries (all of which are imposed on the events or experiences artificially), one could refer to such experiences as transcendent; as existing beyond the world as we now perceive and observe it, but nevertheless existing.

This meaning gives life to some literary and religious topics that often are disregarded because transcendence (or transcendent experience) has been reduced to universality, rather than embracing the literary and historical idea of transcendence that has existed throughout recorded history. This transcendence finds its form in myth (including stories of origin), archetypes, and religious systems that proclaim a kind of transcendence in the deity who closes the hermeneutic circle of their worship and takes shape in the transcending need for humankind to partake in certain experiences exactly as these experiences have given themselves to others previously.

To explore this topic, I have selected experiences that seem to transcend time, culture, and all other boundaries, becoming accessible to all of humankind. Though not all share in these specific experiences, their merit lies in their transcendent nature, not in their universality. The events offer (or give) themselves as reaching beyond the existence as defined by societal norms. As such, I recognize that many who read of these transcending experiences will not relate completely to all of the examples presented. To expect this from my attempts here would be to misunderstand my purpose in this work. My aim is not to relate experiences to which all readers can relate; instead, I hope to convey how some particular recorded experiences transcend themselves and that this possibility could extend to others, renewing life’s meaning in our present nihilistic world. An underlying presupposition necessary to enable my completion of my desired task requires me to address topics with which I am familiar. Thus, I limit my discussion to Judeo-Christianity. I emphasize, however, that this limitation merely limits the scope of discussion and does not circumscribe the implications of my findings within this religious context. Because of the nature of the topic of transcendence, I feel warranted in some limitation to my subject matter; yet this limitation ironically opens up limitless possibilities for application of the philosophical topic of transcendence.

Although the topics presented here pertain directly to religion, the subject of transcendence merits attention even by those whose religion (or irreligion) does not accept these particular ideas due to the underlying philosophical outlook presented through these examples which can bring the aforementioned meaning to all lives, regardless of their religious orientation. The examples of transcending experiences presented in this work relay a message of meaning and hope to all. Public memory seems to have (perhaps deliberately) forgotten the idea of transcendence, and, as a result, many who might otherwise find happiness and satisfaction in life wander about purposelessly and meaninglessly, contributing to a mentality of the “here and now” that eliminates some possibilities from all who embrace such an attitude. I believe that the remedy to this malady of despair, almost pandemic in today’s society, lies in the remembrance of transcendence and its return to the forefront of the social conscience. Despair cannot withstand the introduction of transcending events into one’s life. Thus, by recognizing this transcendence, I find that my life carries meaning and hope beyond what I now see. Recognizing the importance of this topic, I find that the treatment that it receives here remains woefully inadequate; nevertheless, I hope that this work can serve as a stimulus to further thinking and incorporation of the ideas presented in it. If you find that you see yourself and the world around you—and the relationship between the two—have changed as a result of your reading this series and reevaluating the concepts that I present in it, then my efforts have served their purpose.

20 May 2008

The Forgotten

Sam, Shiblon, Hyrum, and others figure less prominently in the annals of history than do their counterparts, Nephi, Helaman and Joseph Jr.; however, with this post, I hope to focus on the lesser-known figures as we consider their contributions. By doing so, I hope to provide an opportunity for us to consider the oft-unacknowledged hand of many comparable figures in our own lives--and to take comfort in the Lord's approval of this more prevalent form of service in the kingdom. I call these "the forgotten" not because we do not know their names (although the scriptures have plenty of accounts of some "forgotten" whose names are omitted entirely, too), but because they do not figure as prominently in our collective memory--we have forgotten them in favor of other, more visible, figures.
One of my favorite accounts of "the forgotten" comes immediately following Mormon's tribute to Captain Moroni. Without detracting from Moroni's leadership and exemplary life (which Mormon describes as having power to shake the powers of hell and resist the power of the devil), it seems appropriate to recognize the less-heralded, but likewise powerful influence of those whose contributions may not be announced as widely. As Mormon concluded his description of Moroni, he inserted what might appear to be an aside regarding others who he regarded equally with Moroni:

18 Behold, he [Moroni] was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah, yea, and even the other sons of Mosiah, yea, and also Alma and his sons, for they were all men of God.

19 Now behold, Helaman and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni; for they did preach the word of God, and they did baptize unto repentance all men whosoever would hearken unto their words.

Alma 48: 18-19. This passage implies that men and women of God could be likewise described as having power to shake hell and ward off the devil--even when they may not lead thousands in battle. (See Alma 48:17). By including Alma "and his sons," Mormon certainly includes Helaman, but also Shiblon and Corianton. That the same tribute could be applied to Shiblon and Corianton suggests that being an extraordinary historical figure is not a prerequisite to meriting praise similar to Captain Moroni.
In like manner, father Lehi paid tribute not only to Nephi's righteousness, but also to Sam, bestowing a blessing as recorded below:
11 And after he had made an end of speaking unto them, he spake unto Sam, saying: Blessed art thou, and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days.
2 Ne. 4:11. "Thou shalt be even like unto thy brother." Lehi likens Sam, a virtual unknown to most of us, to Nephi, the great hero to so many Latter-day Saints! His position as patriarach of the family and prophet to the people attests to the veracity of this teaching. By recording this blessing, Nephi conveys to the modern reader, together with Mormon, the egalitarianism of the gospel. Nephi is not greater because he figures more prominently into Nephite history. Nor is Shiblon a lesser citizen because of the limited range of broadcast for his life's mission.
Hyrum Smith and John the Baptist also present historical figures who recognized their more limited roles while serving with more recognizable figures. Said John, "He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30. Yet Jesus later taught "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist." Luke 7:28. The Lord Himself praised Hyrum for "the integrity of his heart." Doctrine and Covenants 124:15. From such figures, we can see how the Lord uses us each differently, but values us equally. See Doctrine and Covenants 18:10.
Hoping you will forgive the personal aside, in a relative short time frame (I'm 27 at the time of this writing), I have held many callings, ranging from Aaronic Priesthood presidencies to Scouting to Sunday School to Bishoprics to Elder's Quorum positions to Primary to Missionary work to Activities to Home Teaching. Some of these certainly gave more visibility to my service than others. All rewarded me for my efforts to serve. Having experienced such a range of opportunities and having observed many who have served me, I have gained a greater appreciation for the service rendered by thousands and even millions of Latter-day Saints which falls into the category of "the forgotten." Men and women of God regularly give of self in worship of their Lord and their God.
So I post today to point out how we, as everyday adherents to the Lord's covenants, contribute greatly to the kingdom and (despite worldly accollades which gravitate to the visible contributors) merit mention alongside Nephi, Helaman, Joseph, Moroni, and the noble and great ones of yore. Although these faithful are often forgotten for a time, all are "alike unto God" (2 Ne. 26:33), known and remembered unto God.
As taught by Paul,
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Romans 12:1-2 (I'll post more thoughts on this passage another time). When Paul calls our living sacrifice of our bodies "acceptable" unto God, he uses language echoing that of the Father--the same Greek root is at work in describing our sacrifice as "acceptable" as when the Father describes Jesus as His Beloved Son in Whom He is "well pleased." May we find ourselves in the company of Sam, Shiblon, Hyrum, and the other "forgotten" in becoming well pleasing unto the Father.