I have a number of thoughtful and very religious friends I respect and discuss many subjects with, but with whom I have significantly differing views on many matters. I make no effort to change their way of thinking, and afford them the freedom to explain their views without interruption or disagreement. If I am pressed, I will offer my own contrary views, but for the most part I am not pressed and I do not comment on their “causes.” I regard them as friends and value their views. It is possible many of our conversations are as a result of them calling and wanting my input, assurance, or approval about something they are studying or discussing with others. For my part, I am not inclined to discuss with them anything other than what I believe. That does not include disabusing them of their strongly held beliefs. According to Joseph Smith, “It does not prove a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (DHC 5:340.) Below are a few of the major points friends of mine emphasize without necessarily having my agreement with their viewpoints:
Multiple-Mortal-Probations: Several friends believe almost all scriptural dilemmas are solved by using the “multiple mortalities doctrine” to explain events. They think many of the characters in scripture are the same individual returning again and again on missions to serve others. For them, it is very important that one know their prior life’s identity and from that everything else falls into place. I have friends who speak about the topic almost at every turn, and I listen to their thoughts, explanations and exegesis of scripture. I do not agree with their understanding of the subject. I doubt very much that anyone (let alone everyone) returns to this sphere in the normal course of history, although I do think the scriptures support the inevitability of progression by degrees through different estates. If returning were an option, it would be unlikely the Lord’s disciples would have looked upon “the long absence of [their] spirits from [their] bodies to be a bondage.” (D&C 45:17) If His disciples were going to have a “long absence of their spirits from their bodies” (meaning they were to die and remain in the spirit world), then a frequent recycling back into mortality was not going to happen for them. Hence their desire to escape the spirit bondage by either resurrection (coming quickly into the Lord’s kingdom) or translation (linger in the flesh) to remain of service as a ministering angel here.
It seems unlikely to me that we have more than one turn in any given creation for a mortal experience. When, however, a new creation is made, it seems inevitable that those who will populate it are chosen beforehand, participate in the planning, and are assigned to come live there as another “estate” in the long path of progression.
I dismiss the idea someone has been told by God that he is the former King Solomon returned to mortality, in part because I know of at least three claiming to be “King Solomons” living now. I know of several “John the Baptists,” enough “Peters” to form a congregation, and the plentiful “Jeremiahs” could play a college football game filling both rosters.
Most importantly, the concept of returning and knowing your prior identity seems counter-productive to me. The claim to have been some prior prophet, king or apostle returned again can quickly lead to arrogance, or complacency. Even if it were true, what good does it do? Does some past experience relieve you from passing the test now underway? If not, then what does it matter? No one claims to be the lowest ranking Roman soldier responsible for crucifying Christ. No one I know espousing this idea claims to have been an obscure, disease-ridden serf whose short life ended in filth or violence. They prize the idea because they were great before, trusted by God, and are now returned as a personal favor to the Divine King to slum with us a while for our good. It is vanity.
Devils: I say very little about opposing Satan and his minions by direct combat. For me the topic creates more mischief than if I leave it alone. I have a friend who spends a great deal of time dealing with the subject and actively working against such influences. Clearly the Lord’s ministry included confrontations, rebuking and freeing others from demons, and directly confronting the adversary. For me in helping others, the greatest problem created by our adversary is the confusion, false ideas, and subtle errors. Far greater harm is done with the general population by convincing people to believe a mixture of truth and error than through suffering from demonic possession. False traditions, priestcraft, and mixing philosophies of men with scripture is the wholesale way mankind is afflicted and harmed. The small retail operation of possession is a great concern, but only to a very few. I leave that issue for others to battle.
There is a paper written by the attorney Ron Poulton dealing with mental health issues and evil spirit possession. It is a very interesting work, written for psychologists. Ron has a rigorous mind and is a thoughtful man. His ideas are consistent with scripture. There are those who have been cured of mental afflictions using that approach. If it works, even for a few, then the benefit is worth it. I think his paper is available on-line.
Ancient Egypt: I have a friend who is extremely interested in ancient Egypt and all things Egyptian. There is a great deal of truth preserved by the ancients of Egypt, and he is intent on harvesting it. I applaud his efforts, but leave that work for him to pursue.
Egypt was founded as an “imitation” and not the real thing. (Abr. 1:26) What the founder of Egypt sought to imitate was the original “order established by the fathers in the first generations” including Adam. (Id.) We do not have that original, even in the Restoration. We have discussions of the original religion’s effect, but not its rites, practices and particulars. So an imitation may be useful to us. But by the time Abraham migrated to Egypt, the imitation was so corrupted that Abraham was sent to lecture on missing, confused, incorrect and misunderstood elements of the Gospel. (See Fac. 3) In Facsimile No. 3 Abraham is depicted with a crown “representing the Priesthood” which he actually held. The Pharaoh, on the other hand, was “of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood.” (Abr. 1:27) Therefore, what Abraham imported to Egypt came when they were already corrupted and off the mark. Depending on how you date Egypt’s dynasties and how you fix the date for Abraham’s life, he entered Egypt anywhere from as early as the Third Dynasty or as late as the Sixteenth Dynasty. The earlier the dating, the more severe the problem was for Egypt to preserve the original order.
When you compare what Joseph Smith was doing just four generations ago with what “Mormonism” looks like today, you can see how quickly things are altered, forgotten and supplanted. That is a cautionary tale to us about relying on the past as a guide to inform our understanding. If the Egyptians were like us, then by the Third Dynasty things were in disarray because their faith had been altered, important truths had been forgotten, and many original practices were supplanted by innovations and incompletions. By the Sixteenth it would have been quite a mess.
So the search goes back from the late Book of Breathings (perhaps an Abraham-era product/which would put things more toward the Sixteenth Dynasty than the Third), to the earlier Coffin Texts, to the earliest Pyramid Texts to try to get the most accurate version. But in the end even the stone of the pyramids could have been recarved, repainted, and altered by later dynasties to comport with what they later believed. So the fact something is carved in stone is no guarantee it had not been altered. The disparate dimensions of the head and body of the Sphinx, for example, suggest tampering with stone structures to supplant the earlier depiction of the constellation Leo with the head of a later Pharaoh. Was it the product of Khafra, Khufu, Djedfre or someone else? I appreciate the insights this friend recovers from his study. But I do not share his affection for Egypt, founded as it was by one excluded from the patriarchal line and only able to imitate it.
Keys to Interpret: I have friends who believe they have stumbled onto the absolutely reliable, completely infallible key to interpreting scriptural prophecy. These friends believe they can understand all the details, dates and sequence of future events, including some in the very near future. They believe they can calculate exactly what the prophecies mean, because their “key” unlocks the truth. Using their analytical approach, they believe they can “prove” their interpretation of scripture. They rule out, or rule in, what is possible for God by their “key” of interpreting. But there is no such thing, and interpretation belongs only to God. He alone will decide how to vindicate His word, His covenants and His promises.
I do not believe there is any ability to use prophecy to establish beforehand detailed knowledge of the events they foretell. Prophecy does not have that purpose. The purpose is to show ONLY that God knows the end from the beginning. (Abr. 2:8) He proves He is God by declaring beforehand. (Isa. 42:9) It is for one purpose: To prove God knows beforehand. (Isa. 48:3-5) It is not to allow us to know, only to prove after the event has happened that God knew of it beforehand.
For example, when Christ was here, the scriptures did not inform His followers in sufficient detail for them to recognize who He was or what He was sent to do. They did not understand the need for Him to die at Jerusalem. (Matt. 16:21-22) They did not expect His resurrection and did not believe it when first told it had happened. (Luke 24:9-11) When He expounded the scriptures to Cleopas and a companion on the Road to Emmaus the day of His resurrection, they did not understand the scriptures foretold all the events until after He explained it for them. (Luke 24:13-32) Even after seeing Him they did not understand the prophetically foretold new dispensation and their obligations to act in spreading the word. They returned to fishing. (John 21:1-5) These were the ones most directly in contact with the most important, most prophetically foretold figure in history. But they were unable to understand Him or recognize His role when He came. It was only after His ministry ended that He acquired the identity, the recognition and the role that vindicated prophecy.
Prophecy is not understood until after it is fulfilled. Those friends who think they have a “key” to interpret events and know how God will fulfill the prophecies cause them to miss what happens in plain sight right in front of them. Their “key” is another form of conceit.
Buddhists: I have friends who are Buddhist/Mormon or Mormon-Buddhists. They think their study of eastern mysticism gives them an advantage in enlightenment. I have had several conversations that illustrate the difficulties of a mere transcendent enlightenment experience.
In visionary encounters, friends have seen themselves as an enlightened beings, and in that role experienced peace, joy and love. They have overcome the pains, jealousies and distress of the mortal sphere, and believe this reflects great credit upon themselves. In fact, almost all come to see themselves through enlightenment as having independent worth, no longer in need of a savior or the Christ. They think themselves equal to the Christ and responsible for their own salvation.
The frequent comment I have heard from these transcendental meditation practitioners is that there is no need of a savior. We are all god.
With newfound enlightenment they have become more dissatisfied with LDS Mormonism than before, ceased activity, and within a few years disassociated altogether from Mormonism. This has caused problems in their family relationships as they seek for something more.
We all have need of a savior. None of us come to the Father apart from Christ. Salvation depends on our rescue by Him. Seeing ourselves in that role does not make it our role. We are given a glimpse of what He is like for the purpose of making us appreciate Him, seek for Him, model Him, and understand Him. When we are relieved of pain it is because He knows how to succor each of us in our weakness and sin. (Alma 7:12) Experiencing that relief is not to make us proud and independent, but to draw us closer to Him.
These Buddhist friends, as many others who seek for and obtain visionary encounters, neglect their responsibility to then take what has been shown them and integrate the understanding of it into the pattern set out in scripture. If they use the scriptures to guide their understanding they would have known that Christ is the only one who can deliver us, forgive sins, heal afflictions and provide us comfort. Instead of accepting the truth in scripture, many of them assume the newfound Buddhist explanation negates the need for a savior. But it is the Lord, not mere man, who was God. And abandoning Christ because of an encounter with “enlightenment” is going backward, not forward.
Progressive Social Ideas: I have a friend whose feminist leanings inspire all of his analysis of scripture, Joseph Smith’s sermons, and the temple rites. He advocates for a Divine Feminine Christ figure, and even names her. His keen insights into inequities and priestly exploitation of women are valuable and much of what he notices is entirely accurate. His solutions do not persuade me. They create more problems, in my view, and are contrary to the very scriptures he uses to support his arguments. I do not dispute him, and find a great deal of value in reading his ideas and analysis. He at least has the commitment and desire to search carefully, think deeply, and advocate forcefully about gospel topics. His voice should be allowed to add to the discussion. He uncovers the problems and makes them undeniable.
I do not have an agenda, political goal, or social cause. I want to conform my thinking to what I can understand of God’s will. It is more important to me to learn of God’s will than it is for me to change God’s will. I doubt very much my own insights will ever be wiser, more compassionate, or better informed than God’s. In that regard, all ideas (including my friends’) must first be advocated by God, and not opposed by scripture, before I could accept them.
I do not verbally or openly disagree or argue with any of these friends. Their ideas are interesting to me, and I enjoy their passion. I do not share their viewpoints, nor believe their ideas are necessary for me to either accept or correct. I try to do what I am asked, when I am asked, and how I am asked. I leave all else for the Lord to manage. I am but a single individual, and no one person can accomplish what God alone controls.
I say only a tiny fraction of what I understand, even with all I have spoken, written and published.
Friends have many strongly held beliefs, insights and opinions. They belong to them, not to me. I have no spokesman. No one should replace what I have taught openly, published and recorded (in now publicly available sources) by another, purportedly private discussion as what I “really think” about some mystery. I do not and have not ratified or endorsed any of the causes, claims or precepts advanced by others.
I speak for myself directly and without an agent. I let others speak for themselves.