Tuesday, May 02, 2017

My Take on Meditation, Mysticism, and Mormon Transhumanism

For a number of years, I've been reading the blog Temple Study. I have found it interesting and informative, and I can't remember ever reading anything there that struck me as questionable. Recently the blogger, Bryce Haymond, has created a new blog, Thy Mind, O Man. This one is still interesting and informative, but when I read it I feel like I do when listening to evangelical radio.

See, I have a personal policy that, when scanning radio stations, I will stop and listen to any preacher until he says something that I can definitively say is untrue. Sometimes that takes 30 seconds, but sometimes it takes half an hour or more. My reasoning: truth comes from many sources, and injecting a little extra devotional listening into my life is desirable. But there's no need to listen to something obviously wrong, so when we cross that line, I move along.

Here's a recent example: the other day I heard a preacher making the case that fear is the opposite of having faith in God. I listened to some really good ideas for about five minutes or so, until he went into a wrong interpretation of what Paul means when he talks about "the third heaven." I said, "I gave you a wide berth because you had some good ideas, but now you're well past my line."

The result is that I end up listening with a more-critical attitude than I otherwise would; I sort of expect something to go wrong, and I'm just waiting until it comes about.

This is how I've been reading Thy Mind, O Man. First, there's a lot I can value. I can appreciate that there's value in meditation. The number of church leaders who have spoken highly of meditation far exceeds the number of regular church members who speak of meditation at all, even though the first group is tiny and the second group is huge. I can agree that manifestations of God occur in our minds. I can believe our experience right now is "all in our minds" (i.e.: we are living in a simulation). And when Haymond writes about these things, I find it edifying in the true sense of the word: I contemplate ways to become a better person.

However, God is a distinct consciousness, not another manifestation of my consciousness. I find Haymond is unclear on this point, seemingly thinking "the jury's still out" on this one. It's not. In Doctrine and Covenants 130, we read
the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man's heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's
I can believe that God's reality is so complex that we cannot comprehend it with our limited, imperfect, mortal minds, so God presents things to us in ways we can understand. Think of how you explain stars to a young child. A star is like the sun, but really far away. Okay, but what's the sun? Well, it's a ball of fire. Good enough? For a kid, sure; for an astrophysicist, not at all. It's highly likely that the explanations we get of spiritual, infinite principles are profound simplifications meant for our limited understanding.

This creates the possibility that we reject the deeper reality in favor of the simplification. I'm reminded of something I read once in a blog post by (I believe) Dan Peterson, where he was paraphrasing a point by (I believe) Sidney Sperry. (How's that for narrator reliability?) [EDIT: Long-time reader Stephen found it for me--see his comment below. I searched Dan Peterson's blog and Interpreter's website, but because I was wrong about Sidney Sperry, I couldn't find it. It turns out it was Stanley Kimball.] Anyway, as I remember it, Sperry said that there is the basic level of church teaching, what we might consider "Sunday School answers," like "go to church" and "say your prayers." There is a deeper level of "warts and all" church teaching, and then there is the deepest level of church teaching, where the context of the warts, so to speak, is included. The point is that once you've advanced to the deepest level of church teaching, the basic truths are pretty much the same as they were at the most-superficial level.

In the original context in which I read this, it was presented as questioning the obligation we have to lead people to the deepest level when we know that some of them will be lost by exposure to that middle level. In the context of Thy Mind, O Man, I wonder what is the value of plumbing the depths of the human mind in a gospel context if the only result will be including quotation marks around the word "saw" when we say Joseph Smith saw God.


Stephen said...

I think the Peterson thing you're thinking about may be this article: http://bit.ly/2qCuk5y

The Man Your Husband Is Worried About said...

That's it. Thanks. I was searching with "Sperry," so I couldn't find it.