Sterling McMurrin was invited to give a series of lectures at four institutions of higher learning in Utah about the philosophical underpinnings of the Mormon religion. At about the same time, Ohio State University requested that the church present a lecture on Mormonism. Harold B. Lee asked McMurrin to present these lectures to fulfill the request. These lectures are available in the book ‘The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion’. I have read this book a couple of times and have really enjoyed it. I would like to outline the book to help me keep some of the ideas straight, and as a way to recommend the book to friends and family.

Part one of McMurrin’s Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion addresses the concept of reality. While he does a good job of comparing the beliefs of Mormonism with the teachings of other religions, I will only focus on his presentation of Mormon beliefs in very small and simple terms. (This is for my benefit).

1. The first section has to do with naturalism and supernaturalism. He rightly describes the Mormon view of reality as having a naturalistic and a humanistic quality. It is typical for Mormons to view even God himself as being natural rather than supernatural. That God is part of the universe, and that there are ‘laws‘ that even God must obey are common ideas. Mormonism rejects the idea of creation out of nothing, and thus Mormon theology has a non-absolutistic character.

The Mormon conception of miracles is that the miraculous event is natural, and is simply not understood because of deficiencies in human knowledge. Mormonism views God as being in time and space, and presents God as having a body of flesh and bones, and having a past, present and future.

2. Section two deals with necessity and contingency. Again, it is pointed out that there is a belief in Mormonism that the world was not created in the ultimate sense, and that the elements are eternal. In addition, there is the idea that even human souls or spirits were uncreated, beginningless entities referred to as minds or intelligences. It was clearly Joseph Smith’s view that whatever is ultimate in the human soul is self-existent.

Necessity refers to something that must exist, or can not, not exist. Something is contingent if it must depend on something else for its existence. Mormonism maintains that even man is a necessary being, which is in opposition to classical Christian orthodoxy.

3. Section three is on materialism. Materialism is the idea that anything real has matter. Mormonism is unique in its consistent and emphatic defense of materialism. Mormonism teaches that even spirits have matter associated with them. So Mormon-style materialism is not a denial of spiritual beings. Mormonism teaches a dualism of the spirit and the body, yet both are material. It should be pointed out also that this materialism rejects the determinism that materialism is sometimes associated with. A commitment to libertarian free will is maintained.

4. Monism and pluralism are addressed in section four. Monism is the idea that all reality is one, or that there is only one reality. Pluralism is the idea that reality is a composite of more than one entity. Mormonism is thoroughly pluralistic. This is apparently not terribly unique, except perhaps in the view that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are described as three ontologically separate beings.

One of the implications of this thorough pluralism is how knowledge is obtained. In this there is a clear belief in personal revelation. And for Mormonism, revelation goes beyond intuition, and has significant leanings towards common-sense empiricism.

5. Section five deals with being and becoming. Mormonism is strongly in the becoming camp, and fully stresses the dynamic view of reality - even for God. For Mormons, God is a temporal being with a past, present and future, and is genuinely involved in the processes of the world. Mormon thought is oriented towards a grand conception of a dynamic cosmic process in infinite time and space in which God’s involvement and human freedom play crucial roles.

6. Section six is on universals and particulars. Particulars are things like white objects or just acts, while universals are whiteness and justice. Mormonism has strong leanings towards universals when it comes to morals and principles, and even exhibits this tendency when it comes to the church or to priesthood.

For Mormons, eternal laws are universal, even if they are not clearly articulated. And thus there are moral eternal laws that even God is subject to rather than they subject to him.

So there you have it, the Mormon concept of reality in a simple nutshell. I will try and review Part II soon. While I am no expert in this stuff, I would welcome comments on these reviews.

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