Seven Deadly Heresies

I’ve been thinking recently about some of the wild theological controversies in Christian history, such as the inclusion of the word filioque in the Nicene Creed (having to do with whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son), which was one of the dividing lines between East and West; the Reformation debate over justification by faith alone; and the meaning of the Eucharist: transubstantiation, or just a symbol? (I recently read about how during a particular historical period in England when anti-Catholic sentiment carried the day, you could be outright imprisoned for elevating the Host.)  And I’ve been thinking also about Mormon disputations with other Christians, focused on issues like the nature of God and salvation by grace, as well more internal Mormon controversies over matters such caffeinated drinks, Book of Mormon historicity, and of course all kinds of questions related to gender and sexual orientation.

Those who are deemed on the wrong side of these debates might get the label “heretic.” Bruce R. McConkie famously spoke of “seven deadly heresies”: the doctrine that God is progressing, the theory of evolution, the idea that temple marriage guarantees exaltation, the notion that you can get a “second chance” in the next life, the idea of progression between kingdoms, the infamous Adam-God doctrine, and the teaching that you have to be perfect to be saved. While I might actually believe in some of McConkie’s particular heresies, or at least be open to them, I’m thinking that there are nonetheless certain teachings that I’ve heard regularly which I think are deeply destructive—in my view, much more so than not  having the “right” view of the Trinity/Godhead, or even of Book of Mormon historicity. So here’s my list of my own “seven deadly heresies”: Read More

Conformity Is the First Law of Heaven

I was listening to an episode of Kristy Money’s new relationship podcast, Mormon Journeys, where she was talking with fellow therapist Rachel Brown, and Rachel made a point that particularly struck me. Here’s what she said:

There’s not a lot of cultural room in the LDS tradition for differentiation of an individual. It’s almost like we’re set up to never differentiate as adults. And by “differentiate” I mean a couple of things, but mainly the idea that you can choose your own set of beliefs and values.

Now this might sound obvious, but what was striking to me here is that I typically think of us Mormons as being obedience-happy, but Rachel’s point is that we’re also conformity-happy. The distinction between the two is that obedience is doing something in response to a command(ment), whereas conformity is doing something in response to a social norm. Conformity also includes changing beliefs and attitudes, in contrast with obedience, which only involves behavior. (Here’s a nice article I found that discusses the differences.)

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Obedience

I decided a couple of days ago that I should write something for the blog, since it’s been a month since anyone posted, and more than 6 months since I posted. I wasn’t really feeling inspired about what to write about, so I started looking at some old drafts, and this one caught my eye. I started it 5 years ago, but it’s a subject I’ve been thinking about again lately, so I decided to open it up and look at it. After reading the opening paragraph (which I could have written this week pretty much word for word), I knew it was the one to finish.

I felt tonight like I should write a post (not because I feel bad about not having blogged in forever, though I do a little bit — luckily my blogmates are quite relaxed about things like that — but just a nagging feeling that I should write something), but there wasn’t anything in particular I felt like I ought to write about. I signed on and started looking through my saved drafts to see if there was anything I felt like finishing, but nothing stuck out to me. Then I got distracted putting kids to bed, cleaning up the house, etc, and left it alone until a few minutes ago, when again I felt like I should write something.

When I left off I was thinking about possibly finishing one post I’d started a while back that talked about one of the main themes in my patriarchal blessing — faithfulness. When I came back, however, I started thinking about the other theme in my patriarchal blessing, which I touched on briefly in that post — obedience. In that post I only mention briefly that obedience is one of the main themes of my patriarchal blessing and then move on. I remember that the reason for that was that I was somewhat uncomfortable with that being one of the themes of my patriarchal blessing, and I felt the same way when I re-read the draft earlier today.

You see, I’m not particularly comfortable with obedience. It’s not a principle I like very much, or one I’m particularly good at. Read More

Patriarchy and Agency

Agency is central to LDS theology. We fought a war in the pre-mortal existence to preserve it, and it is an essential part of becoming like God. For this reason, one of the aspects of patriarchy that I find most disturbing is the way in which it affects agency, particularly female agency.

To make sense of this assertion, I need to start with a discussion of the nature of freedom. Mormons as well as other moderns tend to have what is called in theology a Pelagian understanding of freedom, as advocated by the early fifth-century Christian thinker Pelagius in his ongoing dispute with the well-known theologian Augustine. For Pelagius, freedom means the absolute ability to choose good or evil. The will is neutral, un-inclined in either direction, and entirely autonomous. Although in reality all humans fall short, perfection is in fact within human reach—there is no reason why a human being could not in theory make all the right choices. Sin is external to the will, something we choose; it does not infect the will itself. Read More