*****Also, a bit of news: Daymon has made his dissertation available for purchase in bound form here. All of the proceeds will go to the Utah Food Bank.
Brad: So those of our readers who have suffered the indignity of plodding through the numerous conversations thus far are probably wondering, “when are these guys going to actually start talking about Correlation?” And the answer is, today. At least sort of… As the conversation moves forward it will become even more clear why we’ve had to lay the historical groundwork we have up to this point.
Daymon: What we’ve been talking about so far, just to recap, is really what makes something like Correlation possible, as a formal term that describes this administrative realignment in the 1960s. We can only get there via this very long history that describes how the Mind became real enough that now you can begin to organize a religious revitalization around the Mind, rather than around bodies and interactions and relationships. In some sense, Fundamentalism had taken social organization grounded in the body and bodies out of the Church. They do it in a kind of caricatured way, ultimately, where it eventually becomes about things like, what kind of dress do you wear, how long is your hair, etc. These kinds of disciplines of the body weren’t really a prominent part of 19th-century Mormonism because there was this nice sort of check between the body and the spirit, or between mind and body, which, by the time Fundamentalists are removed from the Church, both mind and body become in some sense exaggerated.
Brad: So with that theoretical framing in place, we’re going to start with something a bit different today. Whereas our conversations to this point have tracked along a nicely historical narrative, I want to give Daymon a chance right now to introduce and outline an argument he makes in a couple of chapters in the dissertation, a kind of theological excursion. It’s still grounded in the historical narrative, because he’s effectively canvassing changes that took place in theological discourse from the 19th to the 20th Century, and how those changes typify precisely the kinds of conceptual issues you’ve been outlining here.
Daymon: This is something that, initially at least, seems to have very little bearing on Correlation, but in fact this is a very important line of development that will eventually permit Correlation to come about. In very brief terms—and, again, in the dissertation this is a much more detailed and fine-grained, even boring argument that goes through roughly 100 pages, a kind of history of Mormon theological speculation—this is an answer to the question of what happened to the speculative tradition in Mormon theology.
Brad: Brigham Young was a mighty speculator.
Daymon: Maybe in both senses of the word. But if you look at Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, at a lot of what was said and written from, say, 1850 to roughly 1890 you find that there really was a very rich speculative tradition. And the metaphorical base from which such speculations were typically drawn was the body. So they might, for example, talk about God, but rather than talk about how God feels, or what God wants, these kinds of mental, quasi-emotional speculations, they’ll talk about God or the gods, like, traveling from one planet to another—how long does it take God to get from Kolob to another planet? The kinds of speculative calculations that are very much physical and material. They might talk about how gods procreate—what kind of body do you need to produce a spirit child instead of a natural child?
Brad: There was a strangely naturalist discourse in which conversations about creation and the Fall were grounded. What were, for example, the mechanisms by which seeds were transmitted from one location to another, or what was the impact that eating fruit had on the physiology of Adam and Eve?
Daymon: So they drew from the arena of their own personal experience in order to draw speculations all the way up the line into the heavens, and not your emotional or mental experience but the more practical stuff: we moved out into the desert and that’s like what the gods do. They have to go out and colonize these worlds, well they have to bring seeds, right? Where else are plants going to come from? What about the animals? They must have transported them too.
Brad: Lehi and his family brought seeds and animals.
Daymon: So they would view the gods as not really that different from us. The question then becomes—and these are issues that have to do with language, and grammar, and syntax, etc.—
Brad: …And it should be noted that you’re making an argument that this kind of thing is a common cultural norm during the pioneer period of our history, not necessarily because it’s formally encouraged or even not discouraged—it’s not about rules or prohibitions; it’s about language.
Daymon: Because language is a shared resource, that everyone can draw from, you could find these kinds of speculations going on everywhere. It wasn’t that there were just a few people who had weird ideas like Orson Pratt or Brigham Young; this is a basic resource and a privilege that all these folks seem to really enjoy. But by the time you get to Talmage, and eventually to John Widtsoe, this trend starts to get, let’s say, bent downward, or maybe upward. But all of this, all the speculative possibilities and the changes and shifts, it’s all grounded in the notion of intelligence/intelligences. The way this seemed to be conceived in 19th-century writing was very much based upon anthropomorphic reasoning, so an intelligence had more or less all the same traits as a human, minus the organization of the body.
Brad: It had a spiritual body/form, with spirit being a refined form of matter, but the difference between an intelligence and a human is more quantitative than qualitative. They’re on a continuum.
Daymon: The doctrine of intelligences is what grounds the close relationship between the realm of the spirit and the realm of the flesh, the realm of the mind and the realm of the body. Once this doctrine starts to shift linguistic ground, which by the 1930s will become increasingly read in much more abstract terms, with “Intelligence” more closely resembling intelligence as used colloquially, like a mental trait, rather than resembling a human being—once that happens, this connection between spirit and flesh, mind and body, and also between speculations about God as being something like a man, this whole speculative and analogic apparatus starts to fragment and crumble. The speculative structure that Joseph Smith had organized, particularly in Nauvoo, and which got very, very elaborate under Brigham Young and Orson Pratt, the whole thing starts to crumble. And it goes back to this notion of an intelligence. What is “an intelligence” versus what is “intelligence”?
Brad: And Pratt actually sows the seeds for the crumbling of the speculative structure, despite his own very impressive and highly materialist brand of speculation. He distinguishes himself, among other things, from Brigham Young on the level of grammar. This all comes back to a single letter, really, which carries massive syntactic weight.
Daymon: Right. Is “intelligence” something you can put the pluralizing “s” on? Can you talk about “intelligences” rather than just “intelligence”?
Brad: Is it a count-noun or is it an abstract noun?
Daymon: If you can’t pluralize it, then the analogies through which speculation can be shaped shift toward things like water, electricity, air. And, increasingly, they get pushed farther into the realm of abstraction, to the point where “intelligence” as opposed to “intelligences” becomes more analogizable to things like “truth,” “mind,” “love,” things which formerly had been far less central to this materialist and anthropomorphic style of reasoning and speculation.
Brad: This isn’t about semantics or semantic relationships—about “intelligence” meaning something similar to “water” or “fire” or “mind.” It’s about grammatical categories and how they capacitate speculative reasoning.
Daymon: And so what you see in the Mormon speculative tradition is a movement toward this realm of highly abstract notions, which is to say categories of nouns that refer to things that we do not have tangible access to and through which we can draw inferences.
Brad: Whereas if you have something like “intelligences” pluralized, it can fit in the slot of a sentence where you’d put a noun like “cornfield” or “rock” or “body”.
Daymon: Which serves as the linguistic and analogic foundation for talking about an animated, intelligent, communicating, moving agent. And this becomes Pratt’s foundation for talking about the idea that agency and will have always existed, that God could not possibly give agency to something because it’s a contradiction: how could the thing receive agency if it didn’t already have the agency to receive it? But by the early 20th Century, when Roberts is trying to make sense of some of these questions and create a coherent set of Mormon doctrines, he has some success in discussing both “intelligence” and “intelligences”, and compares it to the distinction between “the Holy Spirit” and “the Holy Ghost” and “the Spirit”—these are all different words that function grammatically to open up our imagination to speculate, to draw inferences and conclusions.
Brad: But you can analogize from personal experience when the nouns in question can be placed in the slots of sentences where normal, everyday, encounterable objects go—tangible things. “Intelligence”, when pluralizable, is a tangible thing so, through analogic projection, you can infer what kind of thing it might or might not be and your analogy and reasoning can be grounded in personal experience rather than in the categories and assumptions of abstract philosophy.
Daymon: Rather than some dry, obscure Aristotelian map of logical categories. But by the time you get to, say, Joseph Fielding Smith’s Answers to Gospel Questions, as well as McConkie’s work, they will tell you that these things are basically just mysteries. And we should stay away from the mysteries. We don’t know what “an intelligence” is or what “intelligence” is. So by the 1950s the speculative tradition had been broken and lost. My question, as I wrote these chapters, was, what happened to it? And the conclusion that I eventually reached was that there were, first, a couple of accidents in terms of the grammatical placing of these things. Whether you’re talking about “intelligences” or just “intelligence” makes a great deal of difference, over the decades from the 1890s to the 1930s.
Brad: Before then, you had Brigham Young almost exclusively using “intelligence” as a count-noun that can be easily pluralized, whereas Orson Pratt uses it primarily as a more abstract, non-countable noun.
Daymon: But even Pratt’s more abstract grammatical category is still going to yield analogies from water or electricity or even weather, something classified as having some kind of animacy—we talk about water and electricity as running or flowing—and some kind of material existence. This provides a lot of infilling for the meaning of this term that Joseph Smith, in the Book of Abraham, first introduced. It doesn’t necessarily explain what it is, but it gives you rules for how to think about it. The rules are mapped grammatically, because nouns in similar grammatical categories tend to share certain incidental properties. So we have important words, we don’t know exactly what they mean, and in the 19th Century they would just speculate on what it could mean based upon analogic projections drawn from their own tangible experiences with and in their own bodies in the world. And the foundation for the speculation was the doctrine of Intelligence(s).
Brad: And that foundation is situated on these grammatical categories, because you can speculate differently—the possibilities of what “intelligence” can mean are different if the word can be pluralized versus if it can’t.
Daymon: If it is pluralizable, it is reluctant to shift upward into the realm of wholly abstract nouns, like truth, beauty, love, faith, these kinds of things which, at one point, were the foundations of the Lectures on Faith, which is radically different as a speculative and speculation-capacitating text than, say, Orson Pratt’s The Seer, which is built more on Joseph’s later thinking than what was going on in the early to mid-1830s. And the key difference is that the anthropomorphism is possible only after Joseph introduces this notion that men can become gods.
Brad: And that spirit and matter aren’t ontologically different, but exist along a continuum, that they are quantitatively but not qualitatively different.
Daymon: This all opens up the door for radically new kinds of anthropomorphic reasoning and analogizing. But by the turn of the 20th Century, Talmage is asked to write a theological treatise, in which he talks about the difference between The Spirit, The Holy Spirit, and The Holy Ghost. And he draws his analogies quite differently, in a much more abstract, intellectual, philosophical, almost Aristotelian way than, say, even B. H. Roberts would have done. But, of course, his book is published far and wide, it receives the approval of the first presidency.
Brad: And this falls on the heels of something we discussed before, that in the decades leading up to its publication—and it should be noted that Talmage was a monogamist—Mormonism has in some sense had its Mind severed from its Body judicially.
Daymon: So even going back to the 1879 ruling, this is where the trouble starts, but it still takes a couple of decades before it crystallizes formally into theology and everyday practices and rituals, etc. So today, for example, when people speculate on the meaning of the endowment they tend to do so in terms of mental states—it is about symbolism and remembrance, rather than about making covenants which are literally going to bind different worlds together or utilizing keys and forms that can literally call down heavenly messengers into our presence. Of course we do still talk about covenants, but the dominant strain for speaking about rituals today is in terms of remembrance, states of mind having become the realm to which we have retreated, as a result, in no small part, of this 1879 ruling which takes almost a full century before it becomes fully written into the bodies and minds of Mormons.
Brad: And it’s this ruling that forces what once was the essential grounding practice of pioneer Mormonism—plural marriage, the organizing principle for bodies, individual bodies and social bodies—that ends up being forced by the law into the realm of the mind.
Daymon: Polygamy here is not just a strange or quaint kind of practice, or just a policy which you can just formally set aside with no consequences, so by the time plural marriage is rejected, that requires a complete restructuring of Mormon social relationships, of ritual, and this in turn reorganizes the way we think about and speculate on these ideas, these mysteries—“mysteries” in the modern sense, rather than in the old sense of “rituals” or “performances”—the Mysteries of God. By the time Talmage comes along, he’s very much a modern Mormon and really does write a basic Protestant Christianity into our theology, into the very origins of man. So whereas Orson Pratt says that intelligence has always existed, and that your personality, in some sense, has always been here, or Brigham Young saying very similar things, with a different angle on intelligence(s)—and Pratt is even going to take the stance that God himself had to organize as a god—but Talmage organizes a very different positioning within the public sphere of this speculative tradition. And he really makes his default position very basic Protestant notions of the Holy Spirit being the Mind of God, just like it once was in the Lectures on Faith. He’s the one who really revives the Lectures, as a sort of preeminent theological text.
Brad: And none of this stuff takes place in a vacuum. The First Presidency doesn’t ask Talmage to work on clarifying these questions because of a simple curiosity. These kinds of speculations, from Young and Pratt, that draw analogies from basic day-to-day interactions, from bodies, from the concrete and material aspects of our daily lives—these speculative teachings lead to, well, problems. At least what we would today call problems. And what people, within a decade or so of Young’s death, began to consider as problems. Brigham took his speculative work, beginning with Joseph Smith’s teachings, down a road that eventually led him to articulate his now famous teachings about the nature of the relationship between Adam and God, our Father.
Daymon: So Adam-God becomes this fulcrum that grounds the heavens in your very being, in your body, your genealogy. You are literally a son of god, and this opens up all kinds of possibilities for speculation, it makes it possible for you now to know the person of God, not just the mind and emotions and will of God.
Of course, it wasn’t that the first presidency was just confused about what the Holy Spirit was so they went to Talmage because he understood geology, that wouldn’t really make sense. They went to Talmage because he had some credentials which added real credibility. Why were they looking for cover? Well, you’ve got all kinds of problems with B. H. Roberts running for congress, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious to the American public that the Mormons are not keeping their contract they made to abandon polygamy. And Smoot will make things even worse. We’ve already talked about some of these things. The confusion, in other words, that dominated in terms of “what is our doctrine of celestial marriage?” and “how can we know what this is really about?”—this confusion opens up a space for these public documents to circulate, which are very traditionally Christian. This is also the time that Adam-God gets completely erased from the temple. It’s very difficult to completely recover how most of these things actually worked themselves out, but the turn of the century becomes a turning point of the Church toward exploring and focusing on the realm of mind.
Brad: A kind of Protestantization of Mormon social reality.
Daymon: Brigham Young would talk about faith as the ability to raise your arm and call down the assistance of an angel, by the time you get to Bruce R. McConkie he’s going to say that faith is basically the same thing as belief.
Brad: And this is so important because faith is essential to salvation, and if faith = belief then under McConkie’s rendering correct beliefs are essential to salvation. And this is where you have an almost comical bringing of the story full circle, because when Brigham Young and Orson Pratt are going at each other, fighting it out theologically in public—they’ve worked through the analogic, speculative process in slightly different ways which originate in the grammatical-categorical question of the pluralizability of the term “intelligence” but lead them eventually to different views of the nature of God. Conflicting conclusions. Pratt’s God, on the one hand, becomes almost impersonal, a kind of amalgamation of limitless and numberless personalities.
Daymon: Pratt’s God becomes a reflection of the collectivity of all people. Pratt is arguing that once you achieve a certain level of progression you stop. But you all share in this level of progression, so in a certain sense he’s drawing the metaphor from the sociality of the quorum of the twelve. They’re all equals and together they collectively hold all the keys. Whereas Brigham Young is saying, no, no, there’s one God who’s the head of everybody.
Brad: It’s endlessly hierarchical.
Daymon: Right, which fits very well with how Brigham Young saw the world and with his own position vis a vis the Twelve.
Brad: And one of the practical implications is that Pratt ends up arguing that God, in his highest mode of being, is not capable of progression in knowledge, is not capable of learning. His knowledge does not progress. And Brigham vigorously and publicly denounces this as heresy.
Daymon: And the irony, of course, is that a very stripped down version of what Pratt is saying is the one that gets picked up by Roberts, who’s also trying organize it around and square it with some of what Young had done, but by the time Widtsoe comes around, he goes back to Orson Pratt’s stuff, but he doesn’t have the same understanding to read it. This is really what I wanted to get at in terms of what Correlation does. It changes and seeks to control the way we interpret words. Which seems like a very silly thing, I mean you could just open up a dictionary and look it up, right? But it’s not that simple. And we’ll see that, for example, “priesthood”—whether you’re talking about “priesthood” without the definite article “the”, or “the Priesthood” or “priesthoods” or “the priesthoods”—these things generate entirely different images and understandings in our mind.
Brad: Grounded in syntax and in grammatical categories.
Daymon: But this is very, sort of, obscure and technical stuff that I talk about at some length in the dissertation, but I think that’s probably about as far as we can really take it at this point in this conversation.
Brad: The sort of punchline I was alluding to earlier is that, whereas you have in the 1870s you have Brigham Young using the pages of the Deseret News to publicly flog Orson Pratt for daring to preach the heresy that God is incapable of learning or progressing in knowledge, you then have, a century later, in the 1970s, Bruce R. McConkie essentially making Pratt’s argument on this question, in another very public venue, this time at the university named for Brigham Young, arguing only that God is not progressing in knowledge, that He’s perfect in knowledge and not capable of learning anything new, but the labeling Brigham Young’s argument heretical. And not just any kind of heretical, but a deadly heresy, a kind of heresy that will jeopardize one’s salvation.
Daymon: It is one of these things that’s tragic and ironic in a number of ways, but it’s something that only becomes possible because the body had become so separated from the mind in Mormon ontology. McConkie would have, in some sense, not been possible in the 19th Century. His ideas wouldn’t have even made sense, really. Whereas someone like Orson Pratt doesn’t make much sense to most of the Mormons today who read him. We go back and try to read Pratt, or Brigham Young talking about Adam, and unless we really spend a lot of time working on this stuff, it’s inscrutable. If we try and go back and do, like, a topical guide search for “intelligence” with a computerized aggregator, that’s not going to be adequate to give us a proper reading of what these guys mean by the term. Such an approach simply cannot reveal to us the historical transitions in terms of how this word is filled in. So Pratt might have said something like “intelligence is to spirit as the spirit is to the body.” So it’s something which animates it, which gives it the capabilities of motion, and communication, etc., and this analogy was productive in that it could potentially lead through analogic projection to a speculative understanding of, say, what the gods eat in the celestial kingdom. So all these questions were connected, were a part of the same fundamental reality. But McConkie’s not even willing to take the chance of attempting to define something like “intelligence” because he can’t—the speculative structure that earlier permitted well-grounded inferences about how these things worked has completely crumbled.
Brad: He can no longer analogize from everyday experience because it’s all retreated into the realm of absolute abstraction, which renders it completely impervious to speculative reasoning and inference. It’s inaccessible and, as a result, becomes a mystery.
Daymon: An equivalent expression might be, “well, intelligence is to truth as spirit is to faith.” It doesn’t make any sense. These are just purely abstract words. They’re not grounded grammatically in anything that has tangible, encounterable properties, by which we could fill in with our practical knowledge.
Brad: The point of analogy is to be able to use one mode of reckoning to fill in the other.
Daymon: But by the time McConkie is addressing these questions, these things are not really even possible to think anymore. He doesn’t create this problem, but he kind of exemplifies it.
Brad: These words are no longer susceptible to analogy in the same way they were a century earlier.
Daymon: But what this means is that when they go back and they read Orson Pratt, they read him through the lens they have developed as modern Mormons, which is to say they misread Orson Pratt.
Brad: So when Pratt uses the word intelligence, what he means is the same thing that we mean when we use it—completely abstract, totally severed from material reality, a mystery.
Daymon: Because the word is the same, so the meaning must be. And this is where Correlation does its work, and what makes its work possible. What Correlation really does is it tries to reorganize Mormonism around the static eternal categories of abstract nouns.
Next time—back to history.