Doctor Science Knows

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Three Questions about Other People's Religions

1. I've been reading stoney's account of growing up Mormon, 0myheck. One of the points she talks about that is known to all Mormons but not to many outsiders is their concept of God. In the words of Joseph Smith:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man ... He was once a man like us; yea, that God Himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did
LDS doctrine is that God worked his way up from human to God, and that humans -- well, men -- can do it too, working ourselves up to godhood.

Now, I learned a good deal about Mormonism when I was a teenager, but I never heard this part until a comparatively few years ago. This is so far off the beaten path of the other Abrahamic religions that it's really, truly not in the same universe. I'm pretty sure most Christians (and Jews) don't know that Mormons are not monotheistic in remotely the same way they are.

My question is, what is the technical term for this doctrine in comparative religion -- "promotional theism" is what I called it, but surely there's a jargon word for it.

2. Anthropologically speaking, holidays start with: "we've got a lot of food!! wheeee!!" As one of our friends says, "A feast is defined as so much food that if everyone ate it all, they'd be dead." You know it's a feast if there are leftovers.

In most cultures, holidays are bound up with particular foods, and special foods are bound up with particular seasons -- because food is seasonal. You have a harvest festival because you finally have more than enough to eat.

What I don't understand is how this works in Muslim cultures. You can tell Mohammed was a city boy, because Islam uses a strictly lunar calendar -- so Ramadan, for instance, moves around the solar year. The Jewish calendar, in contrast, is lunar-solar, so Passover is always when the lambs are young and Rosh Hashanah is always in the fall.

What happens to the harvest festivals in Muslim countries? How does it feel to have holidays that *aren't* tied in to a particular season of the year and its food, smell, landscape, weather?

3. I've just started reading The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America and this article came out in the NY Times, about teaching evolution in Florida. One catchphrase that creationists like to use is, "*I*'m not descended from an ape!"

What I don't understand is why this is convincing. What is the point, here? Are these people claiming not to be animals at all, or is the problem specifically with primates? Would they be willing to admit descent from a thoroughbred horse, for instance?

I have a suspicion. One recurrent theme of both "scientific" and garden-variety racism up through the 1970s at least is to equate black Africans and their descendents with monkeys or apes. (do I need to find cites, pictures, etc?) I think "I'm not descended from an ape" is code for, "I'm not descended from no n*gg*r."

Am I wrong?


  • It should be noted that your statement that "LDS doctrine is that God worked his way up from human to God" is not LDS doctrine. There is no requirement that a member of the Mormon Church believe that God was once a mortal. The quote that you give is from a funeral address that was given by Joseph Smith in 1844, shortly before his death. It was not written down prior to being delivered, but instead is the product of a compilation of efforts of various individuals to capture what was said. The current version of this sermon was published 11 years after the speech was given.

    A search of the LDS.ORG and MORMON.ORG websites demonstrate that it is indeed not a central or required doctrine of the church, but rather a fringe doctrine that is often represented by those opposed to the Mormon church as it's main doctrine.

    By Blogger RB, at 7:00 PM  

  • There is an early quotation (1864) by Benjamin Disraeli: 'Is man an ape or an angel? Now I am on the side of the angels.' It inspired a Punch cartoon. So I think in its original British form, the idea was about humanity as near the divine rather than animal. Apes probably also brought with them racist overtones in Victorian England (savagery, African, darkness, hairiness), but I don't think that was the primary meaning.

    By Anonymous magistra, at 2:35 PM  

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