A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today
Understanding Representational Research
One very useful thing about once being so catastrophically wrong about a god — and all associated things religious — is that I am reluctant to say I can never again be mistaken, even in the most crucial areas of my faith. I have found, as have many ex-Mormons, that such an experience can make one tenuous and fearful. Most specifically, I will never again make the mistake of believing that any one person’s experience with a religious system is normative, or even necessarily reliable.
Probably one of the most useful concepts in my life that has helped me understand the authenticity of the Bible, and so to compare it to less-authentic systems of thought such as Mormonism, is an area of study about which I wrote in my dissertation.
Representational research acknowledges the triadic nature of the things of God. God is triadic. A full understanding of reality shows it to be triadic, consisting of the invisible world of God, linked purposefully by the Holy Spirit to the visible world.1 Even our own ability to process information about the outside world is triadic.2 It is this relationship of facts (the things, events, conditions, etc.) to representations (images, language, other ways to “access” the facts) which has given me great insight into Mormonism, and buttressed my faith in the Bible at the same time.
The Bible is the mind of God in linguistic form.3 In representational terms, He is the ultimate Fact, and the Bible is the exact representation of that mind in the same sense that Jesus Christ was the exact representation of His being. (No confusion there – Jesus was, after all, the Word made flesh. This connection of the personality and ontology of Jesus to linguistic representations is one reason, apparently incomprehensible to many Mormons, that Christians take strong exception to the LDS belief in the insufficiency of the Word of God, the Bible. Such a deficit speaks by implication of a God too impotent to protect it, a Savior who abandoned its advocates, and a hell which could indeed prevail against them for 1700 years.)
Mormonism and Christianity alike fall apart if, as many believe, the Bible is not a reliable document. The truthfulness of the Bible is presupposed by the nature of the God it represents. Such a God is entirely truthful and consistent. He is entirely able to protect that linguistic representation of Himself – the Bible — from error. Likewise — and this assertion bears repeating — He is able to keep His commitments to protect the people who adopt those representations of reality (the mind of Christ) as their own thinking processes: The gates of hell, He promised, would not prevail against those people as a body, as the Church.
Such people recognize that everything they know is accessed through representations and not through any direct contact with facts; and they choose Biblical representations over the report of their own experiences, emotions and senses. Just as those who celebrate the Passover in the 21st century say, “I was a slave in Egypt,” so those who accept those representations of reality as articulated in the Bible consciously appropriate the facts of Biblical history as if they happened to them personally. This was the kind of faith that Jesus congratulated – that which is based on the reliability of eternal truth, validated by someone who came back from the dead. Such “knowing” He Himself contrasted to inferior, direct experience: You see and believe with your own senses, He conveyed to the doubting Thomas, but blessed are those who operate on authentic representations of truth, once removed, representationally speaking, from experience.
So what does that have to do with evaluating Mormonism? My first doubts about Mormonism came about when I saw that the depictions of early Mormonism given to me in Sunday School, seminary, and university classes were illegitimate representations of the facts as I could myself read them in early LDS documents (those written by Mormons sympathetic to their own cause – not detractors nor apostates.)
Later when I sat looking at the woodcuts in the Pearl of Great Priceand saw that Joseph Smith had labeled what was obviously a woman as a man, that was the jarring discovery of a representational deception. When I read of a flesh-and-bone, finite, space-bound God in a grove, I was seeing Prime Reality redefined, re-represented. When I read that Joseph Smith said that all churches were not only false but deliberately, maliciously so; and when I read the Book of Mormon’s description of the Bible as something that causes men to stumble and gives Satan power over them, I saw a re-representing of the facts of God-protected, traditional Christianity and the Bible on which it is based.
I was witnessing the wresting of representational authority away from the Bible to be placed in the hands of a line of prophets who themselves would be systematically denounced by their successors.
I began to write about my findings and entitled my book The Mormon Mirage – and now, years later, I understand that a mirage is by definition a false representation of reality; one that not only deceives, but through its deception can mislead, disappoint and possibly destroy by taking attention away from what is verifiably true and essential.
Thus I should not be surprised that the battleground marked out for our conflict with false religion is that of language. Words are the representations that are at stake. The way God chose to communicate with our minds, from eternity to our time-bound selves, is language (could He not have used downloads of non-verbal impressions, had He chosen, or other methods?) Words merely symbolize the facts they intend to depict in the mind.
Representational fraud is committed when one assigns new and privileged meanings to otherwise-commonly-understood words without informing the correspondent. This is what happens when Mormons tell Christians, “we worship the same God,” or “of course we believe you Christians will be saved” and speak thus because they want our approval or possible adherence more than they want representational truth.
Read more about Mormonism and comment to qualify to win one of five free autographed copies of The Mormon Mirage athttp://www.latayne.com.
And, to learn more about representational research, go tohttp://www.representationalresources.com.
1) Actually, in the “Three-D Model of Reality,” a gable-like teaching device formulated by my colleague and friend Dr. J. Michael Strawn, the unseen and seen realms are actually connected by a series of “stacked indices” or successive connectors. The Holy Spirit is foundational, and upon His agential actions are built revelation (in particular the Bible itself), faith, and finally our own disciplined thoughts, words and actions which are atop – and grow out of — the previous layers.
2)As thinking beings, we are surrounded by facts – that is, physical objects, conditions, events, and so on. Yet we have no direct access to those facts without representations – the visual icons, sensory impressions, language, memories and so forth — which we link in various ways – some conscious and deliberate, some seemingly automatic — to the facts. For instance, I see a mountain range outside my window. Even when I travel to another state, I can still access the image of that mountain in my head, because the mountain is only “there” because I brought it into my consciousness. For more details on these concepts, I refer readers to my dissertation, A Definitional Study of Biblical Representational Research and Its Current Applications (Albuquerque: Trinity Southwest University, 2003), to “The Logic of True Narrative Representations” by Drs. John W. Oller and Steven Collins, online at Biblical Research Bulletin:http://biblicalresearchbulletin.com/Biblical_Studies.html, to Drs. Collins and Oller, Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? online at Biblical Research Bulletin:http://www.biblicalresearchbulletin.com/Biblical_Studies.htmland to Dr. John W. Oller, “Adding Abstract to Formal and Content Schemata: Results in Recent Work in Peircean Semiotics,” online at Arisbe: The Peirce Gateway: http://www.cspeirce.com/menu/library/aboutcsp/oller/schemata.htm
3) The Bible of course cannot contain the infinite mind of God, but does accurately represent what He wants us to know of that mind.