Monday, March 7, 2011

Revelations - Past and Present

Last Week, Lawrence O'Donnell, offered a rather entertaining "Re-Write" about the relationship between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. In that op-ed, O'Donnell discussed that Huckabee, and other Evangelical Christians like him, are afraid of Mitt Romney, and other Mormons like him, because of their "heretical" religion. Here's a copy of O'Donnell's comments (pay close attention to the portion between :47 and 2:27.

I'm actually not as interested in the Romney/Huckabee controversy as I am in the notion O'Donnell implicitly asserts: that Joseph Smith invented his own religion. Aren't all religions based upon some person's individual personal experiences with the Divine? Smith, according to The Church of Latter Day Saints, was a prophet and martyr of God who personally encountered the personages of The Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Millions of members of The Church of Latter Day Saints have adopted Smith's visions and teachings as true. Millions of people of other faiths, or no faith, have not. History will show that a good number of people in New York, Missouri, Illinois, and elsewhere assuredly rejected Smith's visions and associated teachings. Mormonism's, support of freeing slaves, sense of divine privilege and adoption of plural marriage created a great deal of hostility. (Joseph Smith Papers, 2010).

There is no denying that Smith was controversial, as were Muhammad, Paul of Tarsus, and Moses before him, and David Koresh, more recently. Many Mormons died at the hands of the militia in Missouri. Smith, was of course, murdered in Carthage, IL. Koresh and most of his followers died during a heated battle between Davidians and officers of The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the FBI.

Jesus of Nazareth was executed by Pontius Pilate, most likely with some help from the Jewish temple leaders, because the Roman prefect determined Jesus to be a threat to the emperor and the stability of Judea. Christians were murdered for decades because of their faith and ritualistic practices, especially during Diocletian's reign. Christianity became popular (I wonder how many people know this fact as well as how many Christians readily admit it) when Constantine had (oddly enough) a vision of The Cross prior to the
Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. Constantine became Christianity's first imperial patron and the rest, as they say, is history.

Here are my rhetorical questions: does one person's/community's vision always come associated with another person's/community's heresy? Do historical/moderators' such as O'Donnell and Josephus or political/imperial leaders such as Constantine and Abu Bakr get to decide who wins and loses in terms of the legitimacy of religious revelations?

I wonder about these things because I essentially believe that all religious traditions begin with someone's personal and mystical spiritual experience. Jesus' baptism was in many ways a uniquely divine experience for him. Other persons may or may not have witnessed it but it doesn't really matter in some ways. What matters is that Jesus' baptism was the impetus for his proclamation of the proximity of God's reign. Jesus vision of the Spirit of God descending upon him was the moment when he first decided that he should heal the sick and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Jesus' baptism led him to confront the imperial and religious leaders of his day. Jesus' baptism ultimately led to his crucifixion and resurrection; consequently, providing humanity a pathway for salvation. Christians have determined that Jesus the Christ's vision and associated actions were and are "true" while often fundamentally rejecting the legitimacy of other faiths' leaders' truths and doctrines.

I, like O'Donnell, am libertarian enough to believe in a sense of pluralistic religious noblesse oblige. I don't personally adopt many Mormon doctrines such as Baptism for the Dead because the ritual isn't as important to me as is the essence and transcendence of the sacrament itself. I don't happen to believe that Joseph Smith's visions necessarily occurred in the way that Evangelical Christians or Mormons have received them. I do find it problematic that Smith always seemed to come into trouble wherever he traveled but then, so did Jesus of Nazareth. Ultimately, I desire that I would become more open to God's revelations to me so that I, like the Lord I follow, would profoundly improve the lives of the people and creation around me. The upcoming Season of Lent will provide me and other Christians plenty of opportunities for such revelations.

Blessings Along The Way,

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