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Post Reconciling Paul, Christ, and Moroni; from Gary Moore
Created by John Eipper on 04/28/17 5:09 AM

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Reconciling Paul, Christ, and Moroni; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA, 04/28/17 5:09 am)

Gary Moore writes:

The wonderfully two-sided WAIS exchange on the New Testament between Ric Mauricio (pointing out contradictions in rich and seldom achieved detail) and David Duggan (articulating the response from a position of deep faith) brings up such a profusion of landmarks that on every hand are vistas.  (See Ric's and David's postings of 25 April.)

The mapping of this is made easier, though, by Ric's subsequent post focusing specifically on the origins of the Mormons--a topic which indeed reflects the whole landscape (below). But first, a phrase thanking Ric for his similar proofs on the misogyny of St. Paul, which I had heard about but didn't realize it went that far. What strikes me is how similar Paul's hair-shirt grumblings against marriage and procreation were to the view imputed a millennium later to the large Albigensian heretic community of southern France, including many nobles. They, too, were said to recommend people not get into the sexual niceties, but allegedly said that mere mortals shouldn't always be held to such standards, so there was a mix of celibates and ordinary shmoozers in the Albigensians, unlike in, say, the still later Shakers. But the point that jumps out from Ric's discussion is that the Church massacred the Albigensians, devastating the Provencal society that was then the flower of Europe; though from what Ric reveals, they were only following St. Paul.

Talk about "It doesn't matter what I said yesterday, because I'm still the boss today..."

The countless fanciful wanderings of Church doctrine between Gethsemane and, say, the Borgias or Medicis, remind us that What I Said Yesterday could have a brave new ring every day--and it was always supposed to be the only truth. Way back in the early days, stalwarts from Venice went to Egypt and stole the supposed body of St. Mark so they could take it home and make it Venice's patron saint, with Venice ever afterward living and dying by cries of "San Marco!" It didn't matter that it was stolen, or that it was probably not any sort of real Mark anyway, because every day was a brand new day, and was not what we said yesterday. Well, yes, this is faith--but is it really the faith that we are given to understand the faithful are faithfully following? It would seem to need some other name. Fear? Grandiosity? Mere happy confidence? A profound deeper personal meaning that finds the inner truth no matter what? This was worth massacring the Albigensians for being like Paul? (Voice among the skulls: Well, we needed to feel good, and the heretics were depriving the people of certainty, so they couldn't feel good...)

There are reasons to suspect that we owe an unrecognized debt of gratitude to such Church demonstrations of life's mysteries--because current theological cant, whether from euphoria in politics or even scientist apostles like Richard Dawkins, sound suspiciously as if they are going to keep hitting us, no matter what, with this kind of enduring happy confidence.

Now: Moroni. Ric is right to bring up questions about the history of the Mormons in this discussion because, being close enough in time to us for some documentation, they so neatly capture how a new messianic sect (the news used to call them cults) can outlast many other frailer flowers, if it can bring meaning and happiness into enough lives, and then can take on a mainstream-type bureaucracy, while shedding its early difficulties like polygamy--which is what Ric's discussion implies also happened two thousand or so years ago. There are not going to be many Church disquisitions on the disowned allegation that before his vision, young Joseph Smith (that Kinko's allusion was clairvoyant) worked in a print shop, where, in typical Great Awakening fashion, an especially creative minister brought in a fanciful historical romance he had penned--almost a science fiction novel--which Smith then allegedly stole, laundered a bit, and presented as the Book of Mormon. This allegation may not be true. But we don't have to wonder whether this also happened in another case a millennium or so earlier--because the Koran actively incorporates the Old Testament, with just a shift in ownership; how much more Mosaic could you get than jihad?

What is certainly true is that Joseph Smith said he deciphered his golden tablets by using his established skills as a magical diviner, and burying his face in a hat in which two divining stones were cradled--the Urim and Thummim (whose very names have the liberating feel of glossolalia)--and these stones taught him how to translate the tablets from their original Egyptian. He said he had found these Egyptian tablets after visitation from the angel Moroni, who told him to go to a place near his home in western New York state, and dig in the Hill Cumorah, where, sure enough, he found the tablets. The antebellum United States was filled at the same time with wild exuberance over the Roman-ruin appearance of abandoned Indian mounds. Indeed, the Book of Mormon (or its progenitor book) is straightforwardly a history of the American Indians, and how Jesus came among them as the great white God, with bad Indians attacking good Indians, and all Indians, in fact, coming from long ago Israelites. Joseph Smith's era was filled with speculations and fanciful novels to such effect.

But those tablets. What happened to them? Smith sternly said that only the most pure in heart would be allowed to get a privileged glimpse of them. If one or two especially reliable acolytes climbed up through the hierarchy, he might take them into the darkened room, then triumphantly give them a glimpse, very briefly: Did you see 'em? Yeah, yeah, I saw 'em, I'm sure I saw 'em. Add a couple of thousand years, a few Albigensians here and there, and all of this could conceivably become a completely unpardonable discussion someday.

JE comments:  The "poor Albigensians" have come up in WAIS discussion since our early days; see, for example, this Ronald Hilton post from last century:


Their ruthless persecution underscores Gary Moore's observation that ambiguity in matters of the Divine is not to be tolerated.  How many millions have been slaughtered in the name of "certainty"?

A fine essay, Gary.

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