El Sol and the end of conservative and liberal Mormons

Consider the images of sun images here, here, and here. The first is, of course, a Sunstone that has survived from the original Nauvoo Temple. In an unusually explicit nod to the past, the design of the new Nauvoo Temple replicated the old temple’s exterior, including this kind of sunstone. The second sun link contains a number of pictures of more recent and more subtle sunstones. In the third, an even better example, look at the lovely, understated sun that sits above the organ pipes in the Conference Center. I think I see, as I observe these early and recent suns, a movement from something baroque to something classical. The personality of the early church expressed in the Nauvoo sunstone: colorful, ornate, contradictory, unabashed, and oddly expressed. Contra Harold Bloom, and speaking generally, the same basic doctrine still exists and can be seen in the recent temple and Conference Center suns. Now, though, they are tempered, not only by a concern for their reception by a Protestant nation, but also with a concern for harmony, unity, consistency. The metaphysic is still present and potent, but is somewhat tamed, in these recent symbols, by the modern church’s concern for decorum and simple cheerfulness. They are sunstones for a people concerned with smiling and keeping lawns mowed – but a sun all the same, with flame. This kind of Classicism almost certainly presages a Romantic period. A breaking out period. We may be starting to see that shift with the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. The Mormon cheerfulness is still the face of that campaign – but it is almost possible to imagine someone saying “I love gathering tempests, and thunder, even gun fire, and my own idiosyncrasy and am gentle with the imperfections of my friends, and I’m a Mormon”, without a hint of that smile.

While this new state of affairs will please me greatly, it will be just one more example of being pulled this way and that across the field of tension. Classical virtues slowly traded across for Romantic virtues, the incompletely realized virtues of one period giving way to those of another. It isn’t that we should try to learn while looking at each other. We should, under the sun. But it is difficult, for reasons I’ve stated. I found this while reading Nikos Kazantzakis’ reflections on Spain, written not long before the Spanish Civil War. He has been presenting the views of the Spanish intellectuals, who line up roughly, like always, as either traditional or progressive, and then says,

“Which of all these apostolic voices will prevail? None of them alone; all of them together. … All these voices in unison, struggling, feeling sympathy, working together, will direct Spanish destiny, each one from its own sphere.”

This is a vision of health through diversity in community. It is not what happened. A few short years later, the terrible civil war erupted: one example among many against assuming that a divided society can become whole while its citizens remain fragmented within themselves. Even if we could maintain tolerance long enough, and educate ourselves with such an openness to truth that we absorb one another’s virtues perfectly, such a circumstance would fall short of the goal of being truly finished humans. We would still lack those divine virtues that are quite beyond our horizon, play and wrath and marvelousness, and who knows what more. Zion is built as its citizens take on an totality of spectrum.

None of this is meant to detract from the ideal of diversity. Tolerance for diversity is necessary for creating an environment in which individuals can more easily work out their own salvation, starting not from someone’s else’s place but from their own. Diversity in others is also is part of the fun of life and the richness of reality. My own opinion is that even beings who posses the full range of divine virtues maintain an important and powerful individuality that is apart from those virtues. A couple examples. First, male and female are not divine virtues, and there is some indication that they are permanent.  Whatever difference there is between the sexes,  those differences cannot be described as eternal virtues. Positing that would require two exemplars, and we have only one: Christ. Whatever eternal virtues it has been thought that a woman should posses – say, compassion –  men should also develop. Whatever eternal virtues that have been associated with men – say, some kinds of legalistic understandings – should also be developed by women. Men and women have one identical set of divine colors, and both can and should develop the entire set. So that even between equally divine beings there exists at least this one difference that provides variety. And in spite of the face that each is in full possession of all virtues, Even if there is no way of describing that difference other than the words male and female. Second, at the far end of this kind of thinking there is the individual himself. It seems to me that each person has a quality, inexpressible except perhaps by a name, that remains at the core of that person in spite of genetics, or repentance, the acquisition or loss of any number of virtues, or any way that that person might be altered. How this is manifest, I’m not sure. But I believe that it is real, and that it is rich. Perhaps it can only be spoken by a name. The first name I was known by was Tommy, and I am there in that name. Perhaps I have had other names, and will again have other names, that are even better expressions of this being that I am.

But back to the man on the field of tensions, captured by the fixing tensions of like and unlike, and moved by tensions created by the insights and phantasms that draw him towards his goals. The sun has also risen and sits in the sky above him. ‘The Light of Christ is given to all men.’ The sun is a perfect mandala, or symbol of wholeness, completion and psychic integration. Jung identified it as the symbol of the imago dei, the God image. We say that the glory of Celestial beings is ‘that of the sun, even the glory of God.’ It is the final goal to which we are drawn. I feel inadequate to this image. It requires a poem or a hymn that I’m not yet capable of writing.

As in the case of the Brass Serpent, one must disengage and reorient one’s gaze upward. This requires a tremendous moral effort, such that it often only happens after our vision across the field has been shattered. Plato asks, within a similar metaphor, about looking at the Sun: “(when a man looks at the Sun) would his eyes hurt and would he flee, turning away to those things he is able to make out and hold them to be really clearer?” He affirms that the tendency will be to turn back to the things one thinks one can perceive. He will assert, once again, I’m a conservative! I’m a liberal! But my metaphor is better, because Plato claims that those who look for the sun are a separate class, and must be forced to come back to serve as philosopher-kings. In fact, we never leave the field. The questions that we ask, and the answers we receive, are those drawn from our experience on the field and they are related to our action on the field – although they involve the acquisition of additional light, color, from above, as they say.

One begins to recall scriptural phrases to this effect: when the eye is single then the whole body is full of light.  ‘Coming to Christ’ – a phrase that for a while we used quite glibly – involves forming a binding tension of the seeing and moving kind. And all those who will look will be saved. Grace to Grace. Revelation to revelation. Color to color. Truth to truth. Light to light. Until, full of light, like the Sun, we, too, are able to love perfectly – sight is made possible by light, and real love is the inevitable end of seeing. We will see as we are seen and know as we are known, because we are full of light.

Might be there is no end of conservative and liberals. But for all these reasons, I refuse to participate.

Buena suerte!


  1. Oh, I am glad to have this done. I am so desperately in need of someone to edit me. Even under the influence of the attention disorder medication, I can read something through ten times and still miss mistakes like half-finished sentences. I see the sentence that I think I have written. Oh, well!

    Hope someone gleans something here. *chirp*

  2. Mark Brown says:


    I think the analogy of the incomplete crayon box is useful and helpful. But I also think we need to account for another way to define conservative people, beyond orthodox or politically conservative. If we describe an investor as conservative, we don’t know anything about how he votes, but we know he is cautious and risk-averse. I think this characteristic maps well, though not completely, to many church people, and even the church as an institution. If we stay with the crayon box analogy, we need to think through how this pattern of behavior influences our ability or willingness to try out new colors.

  3. Mark Brown says:

    Oh, and btw, thanks for this series. It may have been difficult for you, but I enjoyed it and will return to it in the future.

  4. Thanks for the posts, Thomas. Enjoyed all of them but maybe this one most. What Mark said in #2.

  5. Hi Mark,

    I agree. I think my model itself privileges a liberal way of viewing things. It’s progressive, as in eternal progression. However, I wanted to highlight the fact that things that _tend_ to run with highly conservative sensibilities – things like submission to authority – are themselves virtues; that liberals also cling to the virtues they possess or desire and refuse to progress, as well; and that any virtue itself is a problem due to the incompleteness that it lies within. Because of these … truisms … I thing a fundamental shift in project is needed at an individual level.


  6. And I’m fishing for someone to pay for the ADD medicine. *smirk*

  7. Thomas, I simply love the Lord’s answer to Moses when he asked about when Israel would ask who sent Moses to them. There is great power in the idea of “I AM” – and I think it fits really well into the posts you’ve written.

    It’s interesting to me that I have been called apostate by some people and ultra-traditional by others – and everything in between by others. Truth is, my views are all over the spectrum, depending on the exact topic in question – and they have changed in many cases over the years. I’m not trying to be any classification in particular; I’m just trying to be my own “I am” the best way I know how at the moment – with the hope that eternity will last long enough for me eventually to become my own “I AM”.

    Finally, I was struck by the following sentence in this post:

    “Zion is built as its citizens take on a totality of spectrum.”

    I know I’ve said this to you previously, and cited it more than once here and there, but I absolutely love Elder Wirthlin’s analogy in “Concern for the One” of God’s orchestra. Zion won’t exist until all instruments are allowed and desire to play together, creating a complex and beautiful symphony that just isn’t the same without each instrument, harmony and counter-melody.

    I’m a bit torn between the individual ideal of being able to color with every imaginable crayon and the same collective ideal – but I tend toward a unity of the two (the communal being my immediate objective and the individual coming much, much later). In the end, it doesn’t really matter to me if I can play every instrument beautifully or if my own saxophone contributes to a whole, complete, fully developed orchestral performance. If the picture or score created includes my offering, I will be happy – whether it is mine or ours or both.

  8. Thomas, is does my heart good to read an artist and a poet waxing upon these things we so often see treated with academic eyes and the sword of intellect. The flickering light you use for your vision makes me feel not so alone on my path. Thank you.

  9. Thomas,
    Thank you for this series, the coloring box analogy really touches me, it is an interesting metaphor with which to analyze a whole host of things.
    I had a thought on comment #7 by Ray. I too like Elder Wirthlin’s analogy, however I don’t Thomas is implying that we learn to play every instrument perfectly (I don’t believe that I will become an expert at motherhood for example), but rather that we become completely proficient at playing or being the instrument that we are (Whenever I do become a father, I’ll develop the fatherhood virtues in my crayon box). This is where I think the individual and collective come together, that were all part of the symphony working to emulate Christ’s virtues within the context of whatever we as individuals are, in Thomas’ case it is the “Tommy” that he was trying to describe.
    Anyways, that’s how it makes sense to me, and I guess I’ll keep working on being/improving the strange little instrument that I am.
    (BTW,this is my first comment ever on BCC, so woo for that)

  10. I, too, feel both conservative and progressive at once. I’m committed to the radical idea that every person is a person, and as such has the right to nutritious food, decent housing, shoes, and clothing, basic medical care such as immunizations, and cure for treatable diseases, and free education. I believe in being humane to illegal immigrants, and also that governments perhaps should not have ever been given the right to tell people where they can and can’t live to begin with, that corporations’ right to be multi-national naturally implies workers’ rights to be mobile, and so less captive a group ripe for exploitation.

    I’m also fiscally very conservative, believe guns aren’t controllable, since every country-boy or -girl with a lathe can make their own, and the needs of the lives of rural people (and some urban people, as well) require that guns be readily available to them. I really think I should be allowed to build my own flamethrower, if I promise to be responsible with it, and was heartbroken to find out I can’t. I think debt is a bad idea for individuals and for governments, but there are only a few things worth going into debt for, including a house, a good education, and transportation to get you to work. I believe that everyone should work hard and do the very best work they can do at whatever they do, but that those too sick to work should be taken care of. I believe in food storage, water storage, and savings, home production of food and other necessities, when possible, and general self-reliance. I think home schooling can be far superior to the public variety, and school vouchers would be a great idea. So though I mostly vote for liberal governments, when hearing my views, one might think I was an ultra-right wing type in many areas.

    As for our individually as gods, I think we’re all going to be one in many many ways, but we will still retain our individuality as people. We’ll also have a way of solving disputes that is very peaceful and wise and doesn’t foment contention, yet lets everyone’s view be heard and recorded. I’d like to see a large online repository of family history information as well as passionate discussion and explanation of all sides of every dispute, either societal or family based, so that all sides can know they are heard. Of course, this might just lead to the articulate and educated having an unfair advantage. Or it might lead to an arms race of people gaining in education and facility of persuasive writing, so they’re better able to tell their side. We won’t really know unless we try it.

    Involved as I am at the moment in two different cases of forced limiting of agency in my family: a mentally ill son who would rather be off all medicines, and a mother who’s no longer able to care for herself but doesn’t want others to care for her either, I’m acutely aware that many moral choices are anything but easy to discern. The person with stewardship makes their best choice, day to day, and the proof is in finding what works out most happily, or least grievously, as the case may be. It helps me to understand these things better when looked at in context of concrete examples.

    I feel that as a society we lurch toward more light over time, as well. Not because it’s inevitable but because of the struggle for rights and recognition that is ongoing. During my lifetime in the US there was the Civil Rights Movement, Feminism, Immigrants’ rights, GLBT rights, now the rights of the middle class with respect to the rich, and so on. I think these struggles are always with us. The mentally ill were first warehoused in asylums, then dumped into the community, and now are cared for in group homes in the community when they aren’t able to live with their families, which is mostly a huge improvement over how they were treated in the past. Much of this comes from the development of better medicines which help them live more in harmony with their surroundings. So further light and knowledge involves better technology as well as increases in understanding.

    I can see animal rights, ecosystem rights, and the rights of women in developing countries shaping up as some of the struggles in our future. I can also see us learning how to avoid wars altogether, which almost always seem to be worse evil than they were trying to prevent, in favor of non-violent, politic struggle. Pit your strength (wisdom, steadfastness, restraint, determination for justice) against the enemy’s weakness rather than your weakness (military might) against the enemy’s strength. I see us increasingly becoming one world as the internet erases the distance between us. I see us building a worldwide quick-response network to mitigate natural disasters, bulldozers and teams flown in immediately to earthquake epicenters to rescue the buried who often die now within the first 2 to 5 days after the quake. I see asteroid defense spacecraft kept at the ready to deploy and redirect whenever big rocks and planetoids are found flying around the solar system posing a danger to earth. I see us colonizing the solar system with inside-out worlds as well as bases on the Moon and Mars, and eventually places like Titan and Ganymede, with DNA banks of every species from whom we’re able to collect it, so that the Earth could be reseeded in the unlucky case of catastrophic damage to her ecosystem. Reseeded, then perhaps kept as a garden, our original home. I see those colonies becoming more and more self-sufficient over time.

    I see us learning more about early childhood development, and brain development, and finding out what causes anti-social personality disorders and other poor outcomes which can then be avoided or corrected, as fraught with evil as these agency-affecting therapies might be. Particularly since unique individuality is absolutely vital to species survival, and the force for homogenization would be intense. Artists, poets, prophets, visionaries, and madmen share many traits.

    I think as we understand the brain better, and the spirit better, we’ll come to understand each other more, and grow in our capacity to love one another. When we truly love each other as ourselves, many things that were difficult will become much simpler. Greed will recede when we learn that abundant life is the best prize to cherish, meaning the kingdom of heaven, and coveting paltry goods and lucre just gets in the way. The rare prize will be finding someone with whom to share, someone who stands in need of anything we have, and the joy that comes from giving and receiving it.

    I’ve been trying to formulate and write up my vision of the coming golden age, of what will happen after we pass through the crunch of near extinction and make it out the other side, much changed and grown up as a species. We must picture it in order for it to come to pass.

  11. Not sure why my comments aren’t posting, but it may have to do with the new website link I tried to add. Can someone please fix it for me? Thanks! =)

  12. I have really enjoyed the series, Thomas. I think you have made a very powerful analogy with the spectrum of crayon colors.

  13. Hey Ray,

    I would answer like this. We need not all be flutes. We need all kinds of Mormons. But that isn’t really what I’m talking about. The spectrum is referencing only virtues that we have to posses, in the long run and by definition, to be like Him. So, we need not all be flutes, but we do all need to be compassionate. We wouldn’t say, well, I’d be more merciful but there are already a couple people in the ward that are merciful. I prefer being knowledgeable. That’s just my thing!

    I think some degree of diversity is a given because we are irreducibly different. Tolerance is a virtue that everyone should covet. Whether like it or not, god bless me!!

    One of the things about calls to change is that we have this fear that we will somehow lose something essential about ourselves if we do. But, I think that we are always with ourselves. I’m as much with myself now as I was with myself when I was unchanged. And I suspect I will still be with myself when I am more changed.

    I think that many virtues are necessary to a Zion society, and that Zion develops as its citizens develop those virtues. I’m hesitant to privilege one over another.

    Tracy … thanks so much. It is good to find one’s kind, that’s for sure. The church has always been a lonely place for me. I often feel the pain at … just feeling like no one really knows what to do with me. I hold a lot back out of the anxiety. It’s nice to not have to hold back.

    Chad … it means a lot to me that would choose to make your first response on BCC a response to something I’d written. I thanks you I thanks you. I feel less lonely, myself.

    Hi Tatiana!!! :)

    prometheus says a lot about you. If the gods provide no fire, steal it. I’m with you.

  14. Beautiful and BRIGHT, Thomas. Thank you!

  15. Thanks Margaret. Next time my sister hints that I need to be more of a sunbeam, I’ll refer her to you. :)

  16. #13 – Well said, Thomas. Thanks.

  17. Threadjack (but fun): My son resisted Primary fiercely. We persuaded him that he’d enjoy being a “sunbeam.” He was still resistant. Finally, he acquiesced and went through the rite of passage that is Primary. Afterwards, I said, “Well, you’re a Sunbeam!” “Yep,” he answered, “I’m a sunbeam. I’m not a little boy anymore.”
    So, the goal is to be sunbeams AND retain our humanity. Right? (Or does our humanity evolve into something far more glorious than we might imagine now?)