“On the edge of beatitude”: Another review of Adam Miller’s “Rube Goldberg Machines”

rgmTitle: Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology
Author: Adam S. Miller
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Philosophy/Religion
Year: 2012
Pages: 132
Binding: Softcover
ISBN13: 978-58958-193-7
Price: $18.95

[Note: Adam Miller is co-founder of Salt Press, an independent publishing outfit whose books were recently brought into the Maxwell Institute at BYU where I work. This book isn't a Salt title, but I thought I'd mention the connection anyway.]

I watched Groundhog Day the other night. I’ve owned the DVD for years but never tore the plastic wrapping until Adam Miller put a bug in my ear via one of his theological essays. (It was just as good as I remembered it!) Miller, the theological film critic. I laughed when Phil, Bill Murray’s character, punched Ned Ryerson in the face at a busy intersection and I teared up as he fruitlessly pummeled the chest of a dying homeless man in a freezing alleyway. “Come on, pops, come on pops, don’t die on me.” Watching Phil struggle through incomprehension, laugh at absurdity, and find joy in relationships, reminded me a lot of reading Miller’s book. I’d already read great reviews of it, I couldn’t wait to get a copy. But I hit many more brick walls than I anticipated. This deceptively thin volume will take much more of your time than you might think. It felt at times like the alarm clock kept hitting 6:00 AM, February 2, and I was in for another round of difficulty. Not that all the essays were the same, but that they were each difficult in their own way. It’s way above my level to feel confident in doing this, but my review is an attempt to help readers like me have a better chance at making it through the book.

Of the book’s fourteen movements (pieces? Not essays, all; meditations, prose poems, songs disguised as analytic lists?) there were four that I really looked forward to re-reading. Not because they spoke of something I already knew I knew, but because they invoked something in me I had perhaps recognized before without being able to articulate it (“A Hermeneutics of Weakness”). Or because they took something I thought I was already well-familiar with and turned it on its head (“Notes on Life, Grace, and Atonement”).

The other essays felt too dense or too winding or too indirect. A friend suggested that Miller be read poetically which isn’t to say it is less-than philosophy, but that it manages (or attempts) to capture things which our rational Tetris-language can’t capture. (Roundness, for instance.) But still, I think a reader needs to be somewhat familiar with aesthetics of a text in order to facilitate the co-production of a text in the act of reading. I needed more help than Adam offered, but you may very well not.

Miller’s style seems to have much in common with Continental philosophy (you’ll see Badiou quoted more than Ballard), a debated and sometimes academic-political descriptor. You have to have a certain tolerance to make it through prose that sometimes seems deliberately obscure. But it’s more than stylistics that I think situates Miller, himself a professor of philosophy at Collin College, with that school of thought. Simon Critchley identifies Continental philosophy in general as being concerned with crisis, with the world coming to a point where it is unlivable in its repetition, which prompts a desire for something from outside to break through and redeem the whole.1 This desire is especially apparent in Miller’s “Humanism, Mormonism,” where he asks “How is something new possible?” (107).

The identification of the-thing-that-breaks-in-to-change-things is probably best explored in his “Notes on Life, Grace, and Atonement.” Givenness, awareness of the grace of the present moment, a Buddhist reading of Mormonism. To the extent that Miller can be understood as a Continental philosopher, then, it seems that his “Something breaking in” would be the grace of Christ, which he insists already breaks through in each moment for those with eyes to see, ears to hear, skin to feel, tongue to taste. Again, Clarice Lispector, who I admit performed some unintentional redemption for Miller when I read her book right after reading his and thus better understood his project:

“The body is transformed into a gift. And you feel that it’s a gift because you experience, right at the source, the suddenly indubitable present of existing miraculously and materially. Everything gains a halo that is not imaginary….The truth of the world, however, is impalpable. It’s not even close to what I can barely imagine must be the state of grace of the saints. I have never known that state and cannot even guess at it. It is instead just the grace of a common person turning suddenly real because he is common and human and recognizable….I want to see if I can capture what happened to be by using words. As I use them I’ll be destroying to some extent what I felt—but that’s inevitable. I’m going to call what fallows ‘On the edge of beatitude.’ It starts like this, nice and slow:

2

Miller’s “edge of beatitude” as I understand it is the recognition of the present moment as given by the grace of God. It’s the edge spatially, but also in its cutting quality. Such attention to the present infuses Miller’s work with a serenity. His serenity can be taken for confidence, but his is an incomplete confidence in that he hasn’t created a solid, air-tight and systematic theology of Mormonism here, nor would he anywhere. His essays share some similar themes but there is no obvious thread that connects them together. Miller seems to work toward what Clarice Lispector called “the secret harmony of disharmony: I don’t want something already made but something still being tortuously made… I write in acrobatics and pirouettes in the air—I write because I so deeply want to speak. Though writing only gives me the full measure of silence.”3 In other words, there’s something about Miller’s project that he apparently knows he may never arrive at fully, and even his captured glimpses may not be adequate when he writes them down. His work is phenomenological in its emphasis on being attentive to the experience of the here and now as a guide to engaging in philosophy. Atonement happens in everyday life. This is beautiful, I tend to feel it’s even true, but it seems different from anything Mormons hear at Church on Sunday.

There’s a strange tension at the heart of Miller’s entire theological project, an anxiety which I think his title captures well: the Rube Goldberg machine. Such a machine is an almost comically created machine with many interlocking parts which lead to some basic function at the end. (OK Go did a great music video on this score, if you have a second.) It’s as if theological project were fun and games, etc. I can say, for me, there have been daunting times when if someone were to suggest to me I was merely playing games and waiting for a little red ball to pop out at the end I’d be crushed. Maybe Miller would say such crushing is needed.
Still, a certain anxiety occasionally slips off the edge of the pages, especially in the pieces which directly reflect on what Miller’s doing: Mormon theology. It seems that institutional constraints may play a part in Miller’s hyper-humility, his too-insistent reminders that theology is “gratuitous,” “beauty for its own sake,” “diversion,” (xiii-xiv). I sense a deliberate paradox here; his “Benedictus” begins by asserting “The theologian is indispensable” and concludes with “[the theologian] is nothing” (1-2).

But while he calls theology gratuitous, he also equates gratuity with grace, thus perhaps situating it closer to the heart of his Christianity than I thought (xv). At the same time, it’s hard not to read such apparently dismissive descriptions of theology as the result of allegiance to a religious tradition that favors hierarchical revelation, where theological truths (we Mormons call them “doctrines”) theoretically come from the General Authorities rather than PhD philosophy types. Miller calls attention to this when he says theology “decides no questions beyond what the Brethren have settled,” Further, it “is not an institutional practice” (59), a point which he seems to contradict by later saying “theology is a collaborative endeavor” (62). Institution and collaboration don’t exactly map up, of course, but I think there’s enough overlap between them to call into question Miller’s view here. Ralph Hancock’s thorough review of the book—which I don’t agree with on every point but which I found helpful in trying to understand Miller’s work—signals the anxiety some Mormons will feel if they sense Miller getting too far away from what they understand to be Church doctrine. (Miller’s response to Hancock is excellent and clear.)

Miller proposes distinctions between the historical (“concerned with reconstructing past events”), the doctrinal (“the determination of what is institutionally normative”), the devotional (“the expression of personal piety”) and the theological, which is “intertwined” with those other things, but which stands apart as being “concerned with charity” (59). I never fully understood why charity was placed at the heart of his theological project, or just how such a placement shakes out in practical ways. I think Miller might agree that each of those classifications (history, devotional, doctrinal) are each already theological in some sense, hence “intertwined.” I welcome his call for more “creative engagement” with Mormon scripture and prophetic teaching through theology, but I wonder how far our creativity can take us without disconnecting from its root.  I’d like to see a book of Primary lessons written by Miller, because some of his claims so radically reorient common perceptions of the world as to seem impossible to incorporate into my consciousness enough to make a difference in the everyday life Miller so persistently invites me to focus on. That’s perhaps the best grace Miller’s work offers, even though his Rube Goldberg machine(s) seems unfinished to me.

“Everything comes to an end but what I’m writing to you goes on. Which is good, very good. The best is not yet written. The best is between the lines.”4

FOOTNOTES

1. Simon Critchley, Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

2. Clarice Lispector, Água Viva (New York: New Directions, 2012), 80-81, the space is intentional. Lispector is an overlooked but brilliant Latin American writer whose work I stumbled on by accident and just happened to start reading right after Rube.

3. Ibid. 6. This also reminded me of James Faulconer’s Patheos blog, “Speaking Silence.”

4. Ibid., 87.

Comments

  1. Thomas Parkin says:

    Great review. Here is the key question: ” I wonder how far our creativity can take us without disconnecting from its root.”

    There is also a tension between theological pursuit of God and experiential pursuit of God that I think “Mormon theologians” are failing to bridge. In Mormon terms, I think a lot of this failure is due to an unwillingness to separate immanence from religious experience. Reality is indeed immanent in spiritually enriching ways, but that doesn’t mean that God, or Grace, is in any meaningful way personally present in every aspect of reality. We love God for being God, and love a tree for being a tree. We love the tree for its expression of its treeness; we do not love the tree because God is in the tree. (In Mormonism – or at least any version of Mormonism that I can remain interested in – we love God for his humanness, including the separation that allows us to love our own individual life. Creating false unities under lovely theory seems to me a continuing problem in whatever sensibility it is that drives an attempt to do a theology that is nominally Mormon.) Givenness is pretty much out, for me – at least right now. It seems to me an essentially religious attempt to elude the thing itself, while in theory granting attention to the present moment.

    As I told Adam on T&S, I read his book with a great deal of interest and attention. In fact, it easily became my most annotated book. Almost all annotations being something like No!, No!! and NO!!! but occasionally Yes! I also felt that there was maybe something that I was missing that would turn my disagreement 180 degrees around. But this might be more a hope that my project can be reconciled to the project of Mormon theology generally – since I really do like and admire those of y’all that are doing it.

    At some point, I mean to contradict this book, almost sentence by sentence.

  2. I’ll readily admit there were a few essays in there that were beyond my grasp, but there were some that have elevated and enriched my life as I pondered them, and even began to experience them. Miller’s essays and approach have rekindled my love of how gospel can inform and influence the way I interpret the world around me while at the same time acknowledge the fact that I can not grasp or understand it all. The have helped me feel grounded and appreciate and accept the (actual) life before me.

    Perhaps it would be more helpful to characterize Miller as an Artist whose task it is, “by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see. That–and no more, and it is everything. If [he] succeed[s], you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm–all you demand–and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”

  3. Nice and honest review, Blair — well done.

    Thomas Parkin #2, try substituting “light of Christ,” in the sense of being “in and through all things” (D&C 88:6-7), every time Adam says “givenness.” That is, very roughly, how I see Adam’s writing relating to Mormonism….

  4. J. Stapley says:

    This is a great review. Thanks Blair.

  5. Thanks y’all. Anyone out there have insights on how they situated Miller as they read the book? I’m looking for many perspectives on his work as a way to better understand it. What happens between his text and us readers is one thing I’m interested in thinking about.

  6. Thomas, I’m confused by your comment, especially the conflation of God and Grace as immanence. I don’t think Miller takes grace to be a “thing” that see in a tree, but as the gap between our own being and that of the tree. You seem to be suggesting that Miller would have us see God himself as “givenness,” which doesn’t seem to fit at all. And what do you mean when you say “We love God for being God” and then “We love God for his humanness.” Do we love him b/c he’s different, or b/c he’s similar but different?

    Great review of a great book. Re: how I situate Miller, I see him as the Mormonism’s premier mainstream theologian. He seems particularly invested not in stretching the borders of Church thought as refashioning and vitalizing the lived experience of modern-day Mormonism–his emphasis on theology tied to lived experience dovetails with the current emphasis in Mormon discourse on living the gospel rather than speculative thinking. The indifference to stretching beyond what the Brethren have defined is less an institutional response, IMO, and more a critique of the idea that the only thing keeping us from living a “true” Mormon life is a shift in church policy or even doctrine. The soil of the three-hour block, correlated manuals, and home teaching are rich enough to start planting. His response to Hancock’s critique of “Gospel as an Earthen Vessel” is right on, but I don’t think he went far enough. I read that essay not as a radical liberal text, as Hancock did, but as a defense of modern-day, correlated Mormonism that emphasizes eternal families above all else against critics who see Mormonism as having lost its way. This essay was perhaps the most provocative to me, because he seems to be making a case–a brilliant case, though I’m not sure I’m convinced–that the current church is more “Mormon” than the church of Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s day precisely because its message is so streamlined, fungible, and concerned almost exclusively with families. This is how I read him, at least.

  7. Brother Lewis,

    If Grace is another expression for the givenness of every moment, and the thing to be sought without distraction, and we are meant to be seeking God, the conflation of Grace and God is entirely necessary unless you want to eliminate all thoughts of God. In which case this theology is basically Zen Buddhism. Note! “Sin: a refusal of givenness. Sin: A refusal of grace. Sin: A refusal of the present moment.” (Although it is quite interesting that Miller immediately goes on to castigate any number of things that happen to us in the present moment, like fantasies, memories, etc. as distracting from the current moment!! Thought itself fails to happen in the current moment, it is “sequential”, leaving us to wonder what the hell is left if you accept this supposed grace? Note hard that in attempting to embrace life in the moment he is forced to leave off a great deal of what is beautiful about life. The religious neurosis perfectly on display.)

    I’d go on, but frankly, mein droog, I revolt so utterly at this kind of language that I can hardly do more than this at a time.

  8. “and we are meant to be seeking God”

    This is the key statement of your syllogism, and what Miller is trying to help us rethink. I see his argument as a critique of the usual theological metaphysics, esp. Mormon metaphysics, where we project ourselves into some future state in our quest to see God. Miller definitely opens himself up to the charge that he wants a sort of single-minded, narrow focus on the present moment always everywhere, but I think that’s too hard of a reading (though I imagine I’ll have to read his new book to get an answer to that one). There’s something of rhetorical playfulness here as he tries and pop some of our theological bubbles. The essay’s trying to reorient Mormon theology away from the future towards the present, and in that new orientation, seeking God and seeking grace (no need to capitalize it) are indeed different. Grace is what is given when God is not there to give Himself, is how I read it.

  9. “leaving us to wonder what the hell is left if you accept this supposed grace?”

    life — but a particular kind of life.

    “but I think that’s too hard of a reading”

    Exactly!

    IHMO Miller is not advocating for the elimination of fantasies and memories but presenting a paradigm where they are put into the background, while reserving the foreground for that which is most valuable. You get decide to which is which — like the double-edge sword that guards the tree of life. And whats more he’s not even saying that we don’t do this naturally anyhow by virtue of religious life we’re already pursing, he’s just finding a way to articulate how it works.

  10. “The essay’s trying to reorient Mormon theology away from the future towards the present, ”

    Unfortunately, hope is about the future. Maybe even more importantly, vision is about the future. And self-knowledge is largely about the past. What is more, narrative gives meaning to the present. Where did we come from, why are we here, where are going? These are things that are fully engaged in the moment and, importantly, before the moment. I know that Adam attempts to address this lack of meaning while theorizing against narrative, but very unconvincingly, to my mind.

    When you say, Dlewis, that he wants to turn Mormonism towards lived religion and away from speculative thinking, I think you are about right. I think, however, that what you are calling speculative thinking is actually grounding Mormon cosmology. Deprived of that cosmology, we become basically anyone. As essential as things like mourning with those mourn are, they can be done in any religion and, in fact, require no kind of religion. We could completely quit the church, It is the metaphysical background that gives these acts the charge that carries them into the future in a desirable way. Beyond this: is this REALLY a lesson Mormons need more of?? We know nothing except supposedly how to behave. We no longer believe that we can see into the heavens, or into the future. We only know that right now we need to do this or that. Here again we see with Miller that in the very act of affirmation he manages to negate.

    When Spencer W Kimball asked that the lyrics of I Am a Child of God be changed from know to do, it was a pivotal minute in the corresponding change that has now come full circle. The pendulum has swung so far that Mormons know nothing but busyness in the moment. Do you really think that pondering about the nature of God, and the revelations that follow, are currently overplayed in the church? Because I see it practically nowhere.

    I think both you and Carey are underestimating the project he is on the side of – the radical nature of his negations. But I don’t doubt that you are getting the church that you want.

  11. I read Miller as adverse to asserting and defending any truth claims at all. He is adverse to actually making an argument or staking a view that has to be defended — or even clearly stated and defined. I couldn’t find a single assertion that could be assessed for its truth value as opposed to its aesthetic pull. Thus, I read his book as aesthetics or poetics.

    I read his prose as clearly being influenced by New Age anti-intellectualism. In fact, I found the New Age influence to be rather heavy and pervasive. In fact, I think that reading Miller as a commentary on Eckhart Toller may be an interesting (though perhaps unflattering) comparison. The same anti-intellectual and anti-truth assertion emphasis conjoined with the ever-present focus on the now and grace pervade the “thought” of both.

    At the end of the day I am not sure how one can disagree with Miller given that he does not make any assertions that could be assessed as true or false. I think his work should be read as “provocative” on the sense that it is intended to motivate introspection and questioning rather than making a case for anything. In the end I found that it made the case for exactly nothing but was worth reading.

  12. Some days I miss the pre-1990 endowment so much, and when I think of it I feel sad and bitter because I have no home.

  13. I think it’s obvious from his essay on genealogy that Adam is not disinterested in how our past shapes the present. Nor is he trying to discount the plan of salvation narrative. What I think he’s trying to do is fold that narrative into the present, prompting us to ask, “What does it mean that I have an eternal family right now? What does it mean to be a pre-mortal being right now?” In many ways, I’d imagine Miller thinks we haven’t internalized this plan of salvation enough b/c we mainly treat it as that which was or is to come rather than as an narrative embodied in the present. We keep that plan at arms length by cutting it off from the present.

    I’m not sure how you read Miller as an apologist for Mormon busyness. If anything, I would suggest our busyness is a symptom of resisting the present in the way that Miller talks about because we are impatient for eternity to come. After all, reflecting on “the nature of God, and the revelations that follow” can become its own form of busyness. Busyness is doing pointless things while believing they are useful. Are we reflecting on heaven b/c we’re like kids wondering what we’re going to get for Christmas, or our theological reflections aware of their own gratuity and uselessness?

    Again, I don’t see the radicalness in Miller’s work, at least not a radicalness that would change the shape or doctrine of the church. I think he’s calling for a radical new way of living Mormonism that is still grounded in the present shape of the church. Miller’s theology writ large, Mormons would be different, but the church would be the same.

  14. Blake, you might review the responses to Miller’s work on SquareTwo, especially Hancock’s critique that BHodges mentioned, and Miller’s follow-up for an example of how people can disagree and debate his claims. Or review his essay on marriage, where his arguments are explicitly stated from the beginning. As for the New-Age, anti-intellectual label, that just doesn’t stick. Your back-cover blurb’s a more accurate assessment than your comment here.

  15. DLewis: I am tempted to line up statements from Eckhart Tolle to show the New Age relationships, but I will leave it for an essay. I had already read his “response” on SquareTwo which is more of a non-response and “no, I don’t that is what I was saying” counterpoint. Not an argument in sight. That may not be all bad; but it is definitely against the type of theological intellectualism that assesses, defends or elucidates the claims made by the faith. As I read him, Miller does not make any arguments on marriage — merely assertions as if they were self-evident but we just haven’t quite realized just how true they are and what we think is true may not be so. Maybe you could outline one his arguments to show otherwise.

  16. From “Love, Truth, and the Meaning of Marriage”
    1. Eternal Marriage is God’s kind of marriage, i.e., that of infinite duration but also infinite fidelity
    McConkie: “eternal life is the name given to the kind of life that our Eternal Father lives”
    Analogy: eternal life :: eternal marriage
    Eternal marriage –> God’s kind of marriage, that is, eternally faithful to his word
    Eternal marriage as more than just endless duration

    2. Traditional marraige=insufficient of eternal marriage b/c grounded in finite interests
    Historically, marriage has been about 1) economic exchange/social production 2) marriage as personal satisfaction
    Stephanie Coontz: “for centuries, marriage did much of the work that markets and governments do today.”
    Later, marriage become grounded in personal choice, which destabilized this social meaning (ref. to Coontz again)
    Thus, a return to “traditional marriage” is to argue that “marriage ought not to be centered in personal choice” (Miller 92)

    I’ll let you take it from there. If Miller’s theological project is not to your taste, or if it doesn’t tackle the problems that you want or the way that you want, fine. But to dismiss it outright as New-Age hokeyism is intellectually lazy (not to mention the dismissal of anything that smacks of Eastern philosophy/thought as “New Age”).

  17. Blake, I’m confused about your comment here vs. your blurb on the book.

  18. DLewis: I respectfully suggest that your comment only supports what I previously stated: there is no argument or support for the assertions made; they are merely assertions about marriage. If it is intended to be an argument, then it is a rather poorly made argument and obvious non-sequitur. I just don’t think that Adam is that bad at logic and argumentation to think that anything like what you have presented is an argument — or was ever intended to be. Rather, it is an occasion to think about marriage and what is entailed in the choice that we make in marriage and why a mere choice is not enough.

    It is your judgment that New Age is hokeyism; not mine. I happen to believe that New Age insights can be rather valuable. Indeed, many of them are the same ones I find valuable in Adam’s writing.

    BHodges: I am not sure what your confusion is. It is probably my shortcoming, but your brief declaration of confusion is not enough for me to divine why you are confused. You probably have a very good reason to be confused — I am often confusing and confused myself. I do not see anything inconsistent with my comments and the blurb on the back-cover. I happen to admire Adam’s book.

  19. Regarding Adam’s lack of truth claims, I think Adam’s newest book is very helpful in getting a handle on what he’s doing.

    In particular, chapter 31 (they’re very short chapters, only about 3-4 pages each) is on science and religion, and Adam basically argues — following Latour — that the purview of religion is lived experience (“immanence”), whereas the kind of truth claims Blake is looking for (“transcendence”) is the purview of science.

    I think there’s something very right and very Mormon about this approach. Take for example, Mormon truth claims regarding eternal punishment. D&C 19 reads to me like a kind of mockery of attempts to think about metaphysical truth claims that go very far beyond the here and now: “Take no thought for the morrow . . . . Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

    That’s how I situate Adam….

  20. Fair enough; maybe I’m the one with the dismal view of New Age-ism. I was responding primarily to the way you lump it with anti-intellectualism and anti-truth, which seems like a loaded way to describe Miller’s hermeneutical approach.

    That seems right, Robert–I guess the question is on which side of immanence/transcendance does “theology” fall. My hunch is that for many, it’s Miller’s appropriation of this term in his unusual way that is troubling.

  21. Thomas Parkin says:

    “D&C 19 reads to me like a kind of mockery of attempts to think about metaphysical truth claims that go very far beyond the here and now: “Take no thought for the morrow . . . . Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.””

    Boy howdy, I sure do agree that throwing a cloak of mystery over anything other than the moment is a typical part of the project. The old Mormon trope was to penetrate the mystery – not to be satisfied with speculation but, in Joseph’s words, to see and know for oneself – the emerging trope is to engage the present – whether that is Mormon busyness, or engaging divinity in the immediate.

    “You know enough.” “We don’t know.” (With a strong bent that ‘we can’t know.’) All negations of the idea that Eternal Life is to know (and therefore that the gospel process is one of augmenting knowledge, or I would even say augmenting being. Ideas that Adam has specifically spoken against on T&S.) This is essential to me, non-negotiable; to give it up would be to give up my religion.

  22. Thomas Parkin says:

    D&C 19 is an invitation to understand words like eternal, endless, without beginning or end, etc., not to mock the idea of understanding them. Good grief.

  23. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m not meaning to disparage too much. Adam Miller is very intelligent person and wonderful writer.

    To me, he is the most alive and interesting point (and therefore the most in need of a challenge) of a very broad, multi-pointed change in the mind of Mormonism. This project is not seeking to add line upon line, changing perspective through a synthesis that leaves the essential intact, but to recast Mormon thought on new ground. (One notes the absence in Adam’s writing of references to common Mormon cosmological tropes.) (Most often this is done in total ignorance because there is no real cosmological discourse in the church anymore.)

    I welcome the cultural changes that are happening in the church. I can even foresee that someday I might feel at home in the day to day church, as now I only feel in the temple. I think, however, that certain central but very difficult aspects of our faith (how to really gain knowledge through the Holy Spirit, what the meaning of that knowledge might be, what ‘progression’ really looks like) have had a sort of cultural smile written over them. That smile is now painted over the face of the entire church, and in shock we might begin see that this false and easy smile has left us without tools to even make a gesture towards knowledge. This is blank slate from which members of the church are left without personal recourse against whatever idea strikes them, or resonates with them. (Among my, obviously, many criticisms of Miller would be his inability to see this crisis.) A genuine return to difficulty would entail more than a dissimulating and difficult style. We need a redirection to the totality of human being and _potential_ being, and not this kind of reduction of the subject to (nearly) nothing combined with an attempt to forestall vision.

    With that sermon, I’m done for now.

  24. Thomas, could you explain what you mean by “cosmological tropes” or “cosmological discourse” and why you see that as so crucial to Mormon thought? Are you talking about speculating what the afterlife is like, what the terrestial kingdom is like, what it’s like to progress and become like God? Not sure what exactly you’re referring to.

  25. DLewis: “I was responding primarily to the way you lump it with anti-intellectualism and anti-truth, which seems like a loaded way to describe Miller’s hermeneutical approach.”

    DLewis, it is apparent that what I said was not clear (but for one who likes Adam’s stuff that surely is no real defect). I thought that I was clear that Adam is anti-intellectual with respect to a certain type of truth claim and way of doing theology. It is not anti-intellectualism tout court. There is a very important distinction here — and if that distinction is missed, then the entire point is missed. Sorry for my lack of clarity (but I trust not lack of charity which is far more important to me).

    However, I would respond to Adam and Robert C. (and somewhat in agreement with Thomas Parkin) that I believe that Adam way too facile in the dismissal of truth claims in religion and the spiritual life. The notion that some part of us is eternal is not merely referring to lived experience. It is a truth claim though surely not a scientific truth claim. One could say the same thing about the claim that Jesus resurrected, that he visited the Nephites after his death, that we have certain moral obligations not to harm others, that families are eternally united, that we act freely and so forth. The approach taken is way too dismissive of the fact that these are not merely lived experiences but assertions in which lived experience finds meaning. In fact, if we reduce it to lived experience per se, then there is no difference between the lived experience of an atheist who sees and experiences God nowhere (note that I said the atheist experiences God but is experienced nowhere) and the theist who experiences and see’s God’s hand in all things. Both have lived experience. But whether God exists makes a difference that cannot be reduced to lived experiences as such — and if it does not make difference, then let’s not do anything like theology at all.

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