Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Anthropomorphism of God

A couple of weeks ago a Church leader gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting about the Resurrection (Easter was coming up). After the meeting this Brother took me aside and said he wanted to get my opinion on something. He asked, “Why do you think it is so important that we teach that God has a body?”

Since I had just heard his talk on the Resurrection of Jesus I had some idea of where he was coming from with this question but it was still a very big question. I paused for a moment and then said, “I think that we over teach it.”

He looked a little confused.

Then I said, “I think we over teach, or overemphasize, that God looks like a man in his prime. You said it yourself, that the resurrected Jesus could walk through walls and rise up from the ground and depart into the clouds (See Acts). So I am saying that it is a very narrow teaching to emphasize that God has flesh and bones and looks like a man. God is more than that. But of course if God wanted to communicate to a human being in a dream, or otherwise, He probably would not appear as a fish or as an electron. God would be astute enough to pick a more effective communication medium. He would appear as something we could grasp. We teach our children (I pointed at Natalie, age 12, who was standing close by) about a God that looks like a man because that is all they can grasp; but surely God is greater than what children can grasp. So that is why I say we over teach the idea of an anthropomorphic God, because God must be more than that. [We over teach this concept when we expect educated adults to literally believe the same things that we teach our children.]

The Brother didn’t seem to want to engage the topic further and he started moving away. I guessed my answer was nowhere close to what he had been wondering about.

Before he got away I said a little more, “It doesn’t really make any difference to me what kind of body God has. I can’t say that I literally believe in a God that sits on a throne tapping his fingers while having a symbiotic relationship with His intestinal flora and having nipples, though if He is omnipotent then I’m sure He could do that.”

He looked at me without knowing what to say.

Then I said, “Well you asked.” And I gave him a big smile.

Now another person at Church thinks I’m odd.

Anti-Darwinism in the Church

I was sitting in a combined Youth Sunday School meeting when the teacher started to say something like, “How could anyone believe in Darwin and believe that we came from apes? We are children of God!” Then one of the smart (sometimes smart-alecky) young boys asked a question, “So Darwin got it all wrong?” His question was not acknowledged.

I sat uncomfortably in my seat and knew that I had to say something quickly before the moment had passed. I raised my hand without knowing what I was going to say but I knew I had to say something. The teacher saw my hand and called on me. I took a breath and tried to speak with a calm voice.

I said slowly, “Without disrupting the rhythm of the lesson, may I humbly interject a point about Darwinism. The issues of evolution have been debated many times by good Latter-day Saints at BYU and the Church has decided that we are not required to disbelieve that all life including human beings could have evolved from simpler life forms. I only want to bring this up now because this is the third time in about the last six months where I have heard the idea taught in Church that we do not believe in Darwin. But the reality is that the Church does not have an official position on human evolution even though most of our parents, grandparents, and many Authorities in the Church have spoken out against Charles Darwin. We, in fact, are not required to be anti-Charles Darwin nor anti-human evolution. The reason I want to make this point clear is because I think there are some kids in this room who might study science in college and decide that there is good evidence to conclude that humans did indeed evolve from lower life forms. And I don’t want those individuals to have memories of being taught anti-Darwinism in Church and thus needlessly feel that they are at odds with the Church.”

The teacher looked at me with a blank face and then moved on.

Some days later I spoke to the teacher to make sure that she was not offended by my comments. She seemed to be okay but has now probably categorized me as being a little odd.

The first book that I recommend on this topic is, Evolution and Mormonism, by Trent D. Stephens and Jeffrey Meldrum. This book gently shows how the LDS Church is not officially creationist even though most members and leaders are.