The Restoration of All Things

Many of us compartmentalize our lives in a way that would seem strange to scholars of past centuries. We talk about our religious lives and our academic lives as though they were two separate things, divided in a way that protects one from the effects of an error in the other, as a bulkhead on a ship may protect other compartments from being flooded by water. However, this modern separation of our academic and spiritual life is a very recent development. I believe that the division between spiritual and secular knowledge is a false distinction, and, as Richard Williams has pointed out, found nowhere in scripture.1

I believe the artificial division between the sacred and the secular has blinded us to the ways in which the apostasy has affected our academic lives. We frequently assume today that general knowledge always increases over time, but knowledge and understanding have not always progressed. Dallin H. Oaks, for example, said, “In fact, on some matters the general knowledge of mankind regresses as some important truths are distorted or ignored and eventually forgotten.”2 He was, in large part, referring to the Great Apostasy. Vital truths about the nature of God, our relationship with Him, and the reality of divine revelation were lost and forgotten during the centuries following Christ’s death.

But those lost truths did not only affect religious undertakings. Perhaps we could envision the collective body of human knowledge as an amoeba that was poisoned prior to splitting into two. Even though the two offspring are now considered separate, the poison still affects both. Thus, a cure can and should be applied to both (this metaphor fails, though, when we consider that there really is no division; we’ve just convinced ourselves that there is). If we believe certain ideas poisoned or distorted religious doctrine, we should consider the possibility that they have had, or would have, the same poisoning or distortive effect in academia. At a university devotional at Brigham Young University, Richard Williams explained,

Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Dallin H. Oaks have pointed out that a notable aspect of the Apostasy was the incorporation into the doctrine of the Church ideas and philosophies prevalent in that day, largely Greek in origin. … Since religion went significantly wrong in large part because of those ideas and presuppositions, we Latter-day Saints ought to be as wary of accepting them in our academic disciplines and social institutions as we are in our religion.1

On another occasion, in an address titled “Restoration and the ‘Turning of Things Upside Down’: What Is Required of an LDS Perspective,” Williams said:

We might well ask, … if while religionists went irrevocably wrong for fourteen hundred years, philosophers stayed on track and stayed right. Or, we might ask if scientists simply went on their way discovering truth, even thought the light of truth had gone out elsewhere. Are we to assume that only religion went wrong while science, philosophy, aesthetics, and moral theory went right (i.e. that only religious truth was compromised)?

… It follows, then, that whatever intellectual or artistic endeavor is based on those same philosophies and precepts [that informed the Great Apostasy], as well as the intellectual foundation on which they rest, must be as wrong as sectarian religion, and for precisely the same reasons. The Apostasy, I believe, occurred from top to bottom, infusing itself into every aspect of culture and every intellectual and aesthetic endeavor.3

On my other blog, I often compare the philosophies of the world with the restored doctrines of the gospel. One of the reasons I do this is because I have a firm conviction that many of the prevailing philosophies in academia differ from revealed truths in very important ways. Many of these philosophies have been poisoned, and some can even act as a poison by leading us away from revealed truth. What is the cure? The restored doctrines of the gospel, as revealed through living prophets.

Perhaps we sometimes underestimate the Lord’s promise to bring about “the restoration of all things” in the last days (D&C 27:6; 86:10). We expect that the forgotten truths he reveals will make clergymen surprised, uncomfortable, and sometimes unhappy; perhaps we should expect the same reactions among scientists, lawyers, and artists. Richard Williams referenced a scripture written by Isaiah, which reads: “Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as potter’s clay” (2 Nephi 27:27). He then explained,

From the perspective of the doctrines of the world, the precepts of men that pervade our culture, the prevailing ideas and perspectives that endow our culture with meaning, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ turns things upside down…

It is a very powerful metaphor. A turning of things upside down is not a mere course correction. It is no minor adjustment. Turning things upside down is not a process of refining. Certainly, turning things upside down requires more than just adding another dimension to the wisdom of the world. I submit that we must assume that “turning things upside down” does just that; it turns the wisdom of the world on its head….

Because the tentacles of the Apostasy reach into all of tradition, when the Restoration is brought to pass to set things right, that restoration turns upside down not just religious convention, but the whole of the Western intellectual tradition.3

I believe that most effective corrective to modern thought is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. However, a comparison between the philosophies of the world and the doctrines of gospel require more than just a cursory understanding of philosophy. For example, a casual observer might declare Carl Rogers’ concept of unconditional positive regard to be a perfect corollary between psychological thought and gospel truth. As I have pointed out in a previous post, however, this is a very dangerous comparison. An understanding of the way philosophy has progressed or regressed over the centuries can provide us a valuable context for understanding the far-reaching effects of the Great Apostasy.

Some may object that this point of view is very negative outlook. However, I don’t see it that way at all. I think it is very exciting, even hopeful, to claim that all the great ideas floating around in the world may be counterfeits of better ideas. If any of our favorite philosophies turn out to be informed by apostate ideas, we can be sure that the real thing is even better.



Notes

1. Richard Williams, “Faith, Reason, Knowledge, and Truth,” Brigham Young University devotional address, 2000.
2. Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 84-87.
3. Richard Williams, “Restoration and the ‘Turning of Things Upside Down’: What Is Required of an LDS Perspective,” 1998.

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16 Responses

  1. Wow, great post. Really deep stuff.

    I would say more, but my mind is blown.

  2. Fabulous post, thank you!

  3. Thanks, Rutkowskilives and Janell the Great!

    Any dissenters?

  4. Many of these philosophies have been poisoned, and some can even act as a poison by leading us away from revealed truth.

    Are you prepared to explain how we know which philosophies have been poisoned and which haven’t?

  5. That is a very, very good question. I’m afraid I don’t have an easy answer. The thought that pops into my head is a scripture from Moroni 7:

    For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

    For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

    But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil.

    This, however, is not a very satisfying answer, because many the philosophies I speak of do not seem to have any immediate affect on our belief in God or the Savior Jesus Christ. For example, I believe that the philosophy of reductive materialism is a dangerous philosophy, and is one I would call “poisoned.” However, I know many reductive materialists who believe in Christ, and who’s personal testimony of the Gospel is not threatened by their philosophy.

    In the end, however, I believe that every philosophy has implications which often go unexamined. Just as one example among many: reductive materialism leads us to believe that agency is illusory and that we are really just meat machines trying to perpetuate ourselves in a world of scarcity. These conclusions, I believe, are contradictory with the teachings of the Gospel. However, because we compartmentalize our lives, as described in the post, our personal belief in God does not seem threatened by adopting this view in our scientific profession, even though we begin to describe the world as if God weren’t relevant to it, as if it could all be account for by chemical processes.

    I discuss more about this in one of my first posts on my other blog: http://ldsphilosopher.wordpress.com/2008/05/01/the-consequences-of-ideas/

    Here’s another thought: I believe it is certainly possible to be saved and go to the celestial kingdom even if we believe in many false and “poisoned” philosophies while in this world. That is, our individual salvation may not depend on understanding the consequences and implications of reductive materialism. However, I believe that society as a whole will be led away from the Savior, and that our collective salvation as a nation and a society may be threatened; that is, Zion cannot be established while the philosophies of the world hold sway in our collective hearts. We can never be exalted as a society while we are believing that all our problems arise from chemical processes and that they can all be solved by pharmaceutical intervention.

  6. In the end, however, I believe that every philosophy has implications which often go unexamined.

    I apologize if this sounds combative. It is not meant to, but wouldn’t this also be true of our own “philosophy/theology” as well? In other words, claiming that everything was poisoned during the Great Apostasy gives us great license to dismiss much of what happened previous to the 19th century, and uncritically accept our own circumstances. Without a robust explanation of how to sift the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, it might seem that we are dismissing much of the wheat from the past as chaff and accepting much of the modern chaff for wheat.

  7. Jeff Thayne; I have a firm conviction that many of the prevailing philosophies in academia differ from revealed truths in very important ways. Many of these philosophies have been poisoned, and some can even act as a poison by leading us away from revealed truth.

    SmallAxe; Without a robust explanation of how to sift the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, it might seem that we are dismissing much of the wheat from the past as chaff and accepting much of the modern chaff for wheat.

    The spiritual gifts of discernment and revelation are capable of sorting this out.

  8. SmallAxe: Wouldn’t this also be true of our own “philosophy/theology” as well?

    Exactly! Every philosophy or theology has implications. If they didn’t, why would they be important? For example, as Latter-day Saints, we believe that God the Father has a physical body. This has serious implications for the nature of deity, the reality of the resurrection, our relationship with God, the ontological status of matter, all sorts of things.

    Claiming that everything was poisoned during the Great Apostasy gives us great license to dismiss much of what happened previous to the 19th century

    It certainly gives us license to question the philosophies of the world that are inspired by the Great Apostasy. Whether we dismiss them or not depends on the results of our close scrutiny of their implications and history. Also, the 19th century really isn’t a cut-off point… just because God has restored His church doesn’t mean we no longer live in a world of apostasy.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to develop a systematic, fail-proof rational method of sifting the wheat and tares, so to speak. A heavy reliance on reason was itself a contributing factor to the apostasy. It is important to turn to revelation and spiritual discernment, as Howard has pointed out.

    As I said before, one of the tools I use is I compare the implications of a given philosophy with the restored doctrines of the Gospel.

  9. One thing I think we could add to all of this, and that might help with a couple people’s concerns, is that there are certainly apostate traditions and beliefs that are woven up in certain understandings of the Restored Gospel. This is probably the case for all of us, to varying degrees.

    In fact, I think that, sadly, many people who reject the Gospel and/or Church are really rejecting a caricature of the gospel, entwined with all sorts of false, apostate understandings. Certainly, this shoe fits the other foot: many people who come in the Church do so precisely because of a misunderstanding of what it is, again entwined with apostate beliefs.

    The Lord, fortunately, is merciful, and can endow us with understanding and power, even in the midst of our holding onto apostate doctrines and traditions. Faithful Latter-day Saints distinguish line upon line, precept upon precept, truth from error. “Line on line truth is revealed ’til all darkness flees away / In the face of perfect knowledge where celestial laws hold sway” (John Taylor).

  10. Good point, Dennis.

    For example, I am fully convinced that modernism and it’s faith in immutable scientific laws is a product of an apostate line of thinking. We all know how this modern worldview has been frequently superimposed on Gospel thought, sometimes with disastrous implications (such as the claim that God would stop natural disasters if he could, but cannot because science forbids Him; or that God’s power is simply the result of His extreme technological understanding of science). Or, as another example, the hedonistic idea that we are fundamentally seekers of gratification, and that the Gospel is simply the best and most reliable technique of satisfying those desires.

    There are many others. Would you agree with this, Dennis?

  11. Jeff,

    I agree wholeheartedly. We could also add many implications concerning knowledge and relationships, as you have written about before.

  12. Another thing that may help clarify any confusions: In the church, we often speak of apostasy as a period of time in which no priesthood authority is on the earth, in contrast with a dispensation which is a given period of time in which their is priesthood authority on the earth. Apostasy can also refer to a state of society in which people do not accept or believe God’s truth, in contrast with a state of society that is in full congruence with God’s truth. In the second sense, apostasy can coexist with the presence of God’s truth on the earth, because people may not understand or may refuse to believe in God’s truth.

    I use the term both ways in this post. While we are living in the last dispensation and are no longer in apostasy in the first sense of the word, we are certainly living in an apostate world in the second sense of the word. In the second sense of the word, apostasy is rampant in the world today, perhaps more so than it has ever been.

  13. Interesting experience I had today. My religion professor was explaining how the Hellenization of Christianity distorted spiritual truth. He then went on later to ask the question: why would Christ establish the early church knowing it would apostatize?

    Wait a second, doesn’t this question come from a very Hellenized perspective of God, namely that God has absolute foreknowledge? I objected to the question in class. I think he at least understood why I objected.

  14. Clayton,

    Didn’t Christ Himself prophesy of the Apostasy? We don’t have to assume that God has absolute foreknowledge to believe that He some foreknowledge; the existence of some foreknowledge is attested to by many a scripture. However, I don’t see any problem with God offering a gift to His children, knowing that many will reject it, so your professor’s question is not even a problem in my mind.

    I agree that linear time is a product of Greek philosophy, and thus we ought reconsider some of our conceptions of how God knows of the future, or the type of knowledge he has of the future. Divine foresight, however, is not a Greek invention. The fact that Christ can say to a Nephite prophet, “four generations from now this people will fall astray” signals that God has at least some foresight.

  15. Jeff,

    I understand what you’re saying. I think you’re reading too much into my comment. You had to be there and hear the class discussion, it was very apparent to me that absolute fore-knowledge was the assumption. The discussion was entirely outside of the scriptural basis for fore-knowledge of the apostasy.

    Furthermore, I never said God has no fore-knowledge. Personally I think God is omniscent, just not in the Newtonian sense.

  16. Thanks for the clarification!

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