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Posts Tagged ‘Mormon’

Mormonism and God

Posted by nebula0 on July 15, 2011

To be perfectly honest I haven’t given Mormonism much thought lately. I did present at the Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium last August for the second time and enjoyed that, and the thought that I put into that paper was the last time I gave the religion serious thought.

I have been giving the concept of God a lot of attention however. As I have been learning more about philosophy I have been taken aback by the sheer force of many of the arguments for God’s existence. I was of the mindset that modernity, culminating with Kant, had done away with Aquinas’ arguments. I was wrong, they are alive and well, thriving even.

My current favorite is the various forms of the Leibnizian cosmological argument (argument from contingency). There are several ways to approach this one, but it goes something like this:

There is a possible explanation for every contingent thing. [a contingent thing is one which could have conceivably not existed]

The aggregate of all contingent things is a contingent thing, call it C.

There is a possible explanation for C. [via the premise]

Any contingent thing posed as an explanation for C will be a member of C [by definition].

Therefore, there possibly exists some necessary thing to explain C. [a necessary thing is one which must exist in every possible world]

If it is to stand in an explanatory relationship with C it will be a concrete thing. [a concrete thing as opposed to an abstract, can effect things in the world]

Therefore, a necessary concrete object exists [via S5, a rule in modal logic which states that a possible necessary is necessary]

There is a stage 2 of this argument which explicates what sorts of properties this necessary concrete object must have analytically. Stage 2 ends up arguing for an agent with unbounded power and knowledge. There are of course rejoinders to consider, but in general if one accepts some form of the Principle of Sufficient Reason and possibly mereological universalism the argument seems to run.

I will pose this question, does Mormonism fulfill the requirements of these sorts of arguments? Historically obviously not, philosophy has been looked upon with suspicion and the corporal, finite nature of God the Father embraced as a positive distinctive element in the religion. But is there some room in Mormonism to integrate into it the insights that these kinds of arguments? After all, intelligence is the glory of God.

I have no immediate answers to this. It is clear that like any religious group Mormonism is changing, and as a young one is still defining itself. My hope is that as a group Mormons embrace all that reason reveals. Even if Mormonism as a theological system rejects what natural theology has to offer by engaging it it can only grow richer and deeper for its adherents.

Posted in Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Borderline Mormons and Doubt

Posted by nebula0 on November 26, 2009

Is it just me or is Doubt a major theme of Sunstone?  Why is it that doubt is such an obsession amongst self-declared Mormon intelligentsia?  Doubt as the root of real faith, Doubt as sacrament, Doubt as grace, Doubt Doubt Doubt.  Why is this?  I suppose my real question is , if you don’t really believe all that much is it worth it or even honest to stick around?  Perhaps this is easy for me, a relative outsider from the start.  I wasn’t born in the covenant, I was a convert.  When I knew my doubts caused me to really question whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet in any obvious sense of the word I became inactive.  When I became a monotheist I simply stopped being a Mormon.  It seemed so well… obvious to me that is what you do.  For many however I suppose it’s not as simple.  What it really appears to boil down to is family and social ties.

As much as certain people want to make romantic serious doubts about the basic truth claims of Mormonism as some kind of ‘dark night of the soul’ I will step out on a ledge here and assert the real problem is fear.  Certain people just do not believe Mormonism is true but fear disturbing their family and social lives.  As a result, their minds construct multiple layers of justifications for sticking around and finding meaning in their inner strife.  I assert that if the social aspect were removed, many of these people would simply quit being Mormons without much further ado.

I don’t think this is a problem of Mormonism alone, by the way, but of religion in general.  Certain sociological studies pretty thoroughly demonstrate that conversion is likely to happen if your social network is primarily of a certain religion and your past social network impaired for some reason (i.e. going off to college, getting a divorce).  Likewise, retention is likely only when the new convert makes lots of new friends in their new faith.  What these studies also demonstrate is that the subjects are typically unaware that their social contacts appear to be the major predictor of whether or not they convert and whether or not they stay.  The subjects typically talk about the merit of the truth claims.

As time has gone by I realize that this is largely true of my story.  I became a Mormon when I went off to college.  I converted and though was friendly with many never managed to make any good Mormon friends.  When I got married to a Mormon he was on the edge of activity himself (actually I was MORE active), so although I gained a  large social network of Mormons by marrying into a family of Mormons that was hardly enough to keep me in.  When expecting our first child I realized that I didn’t want to be a Mormon in part because I didn’t care at all for the culture and didn’t want to impart it to my children.  So while it was a truth claim issue that caused the final severing, social and culture belonging likely played a larger role.

My hope is that those who doubt the very fundamentals of Mormonism honestly think about their motivations for staying and come to a true clarity within themselves.  Trying to maintain the kinds of ‘making doubt meaningful’ mental structures that some erect just takes too much striving- eventually, something will give.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Models for Conversation

Posted by nebula0 on November 1, 2009

There are several theological approaches to dealing with the problem of religious plurality, that is, how to deal with the fact that there are multiple truth claims made by others who seem very sincere.  These truth claims are often exclusive.  The evangelical and Mormon conversation typifies one response to the problem, that is, simply maintaining strict exclusivism.  The best that can be done in this model is attempting to understand the other position thoroughly while maintaining that the end of the day the other position is just not a path to God.  Though the other party may be sincere and well-meaning, there can only be one true path to God.  This position has several advantages, among which are that it is simple, straightforward, and in a not so obvious fashion perhaps more respectful than the other possible positions because it recognizes that the other side is trying to claim an absolute truth which isn’t the same as your own.  This model of conversation envisions an eventual total replacement of the other side by the one true way.

But there are other ways too.  In Roman Catholic theology it is common to think of other religions as containing ‘anonymous Christians’ who have access to real grace in their own religious traditions.  While Catholicism maintains that it has the clearest path to God and the most truth, it argues that there are sincere believers in other traditions that despite their traditions are, in a real sense, making their way to God.  So it is that Karl Rahner can argue that other religions are ways of salvation, if not as bright and well-marked as the Catholic way, and even if the individuals in question are in reality being saved by Christ even if they don’t agree.  This way has the advantage of approaching the other as possibly, in a true sense, approaching God and therefore listening closer, but all the while thinking that you are still most correct. 

In liberal Protestantism there are generally two approaches that can be taken.  One is that world religions are all mutually valid ways of approaching God- that is, different paths up the same mountain.  Some arguing that this position is too arrogant in assuming that someone has access to seeing the whole mountain while others do not (those who insist their way is truly exclusive, for instance) and that there is but one peak argue that there are multiple mountains with multiple peaks.  If a Buddhist expect nirvana and a Mormon the Celestial Kingdom, a good Buddhist will get nirvana and a good Mormon the Celestial Kingdom, exactly as they expect and desire.  Naturally this approach creates the greatest openness to hearing others speak and completely eliminates the desire to convert the other.

I argue that it is best to be clear and straightforward about what our biases are.  Obviously if we did not think we had the best way to worship God, we’d do it the way that we did think was best.  The danger is that conversations with those very jealous about the exclusiveness of their truth claims often quickly become frustrating as each side, rather than being able to have open conversation, is on constant guard against giving too much ground while attempting vigorously to convert the other.   I have seen too often conversations between evangelicals and Mormon degrade into a mutual play act, in which one side recalls ‘tips for evangelizing’ and the other resorts to bearing his testimony.  Both sides walk away frustrated and having gained nothing whatsoever.  Is there a way to engage in real conversation?  Only if there is a modicum of danger involved, that is, an allowance of the possibility of changing minds, if even a little bit.

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Heavenly Father and Theodicy

Posted by nebula0 on October 30, 2009

One of the most prickly problems theists face is the problem of evil and developing a theodicy in response.  If there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator how can evil exist?  If he is all good and all powerful and all knowing there should be no excuse.  In response to the problem a number of responses exist from classic monotheists including the free will defense or arguing that from God’s perspective all really is well.   In the face of true evil however, these responses often feel thin.  Knowing that God, if he wanted to, have intervened in the Holocaust and prevented children from getting gassed, wouldn’t we expect a good God to do that, free will be damned?  What kind of God allows for the unbearable torture of the innocent?  These thoughts have in part led to the creation of new types of theologies, namely, process theology.  However, Mormonism also has an interesting potential angle.

One of the strengths of Mormonism, I argue, is that it has a very interesting solution to the problem.  In Mormonism God is relatively, not absolutely, infinite.  That is, as a mile wide piece of paper might as well be infinite to a speck of dust, God is relatively infinite in qualities to us.  God has so much more power, goodness and knowledge than we possess he is in effect infinite, though not in the absolute sense of the classical monotheist.  You can probably already sense where this is going, if God is not absolutely infinite, then perhaps his power is in some sense insufficient to prevent evils even if he wanted to.  What’s more, Mormonism provides a further avenue of thought on the matter by arguing that God became God by following pre-existing rules of the cosmos that just happened to be there, that he is in effect bound to them and to break them would cause him to cease being God.  We are, of course, also bound by these same laws. God wants to illumine these laws to us for our good and further our happiness.  He provides us succor and guidance as we learn, but cannot alter these laws.  So it is, that through the unavoidable operation of these laws people get hurt.  God can do much to alleviate suffering, but it is inevitable that suffering will occur and he cannot help that.  God in this theology remains truly good, without significant problem.

This is truly a great strength of Mormon theology and I hope it is not overlooked by the Mormon population.  The problem of evil is a disturbing one and the ability to salvage God’s character through the Mormon solution is not a trivial thing.

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Tracked Down! Families in Mormonism

Posted by nebula0 on October 29, 2009

So after having moved after having not been to church for over a year, I admit I had great hopes that we’d fly under the radar and never be tracked down by what is supposed to be our new local ward.  Most of our Mormon friends dropped out of the picture after we stopped showing up for sacrament meetings, so I reasoned that there would be no reason for our new address to enter the picture.  However it was only a week ago that an older gentleman came to our door and introduced himself as a neighbor ‘in our ward’ with, of course, an invitation to church.

What surprised me was not so much that our address eventually did get out, but my reaction to the visit.  I was deeply disturbed.  I realized that Mormonism threatened, at least in my own mind, our family harmony.  I am completely non-Mormon, I don’t even really think of myself as ‘ex’ Mormon.  I don’t feel related to Mormonism at all, good or bad.  However, my spouse considers himself a jack Mormon, even though he doesn’t accept its basic truth claims.  He feels some kind of cultural connection, as if he was born a Jew who disbelieves that Moses was a prophet.  It is for that reason I don’t want Mormonism an issue in our lives, I don’t want it brought up, I don’t want anyone thinking about it in our family.  We have such a happy, close family life and I am so pleased not to raise our children in the church, or any church for that matter, I don’t want this happy family ship perturbed.

If you are familiar with Mormonism you might find my sentiments ironic.  After all, isn’t Mormonism a bastion of happy, close families?  It really only works if all the members of the family are also active Mormons.  Only active Mormon couples can be sealed for ‘time and all eternity’ in the temples, and thus have their children ‘born in the covenant’ and thus sealed to them for ‘time and all eternity’.  And those promises are bound up with individual obedience to Mormonism’s gospel message.  So it is having one spouse an active Mormon and another not, or even worse, one who is non Mormon, is bound to cause stress on the marriage. 

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just a Mormon issue- interreligious marriages in general cause stress if one member of the marriage is committed to a religion.  But, Mormonism creates a unique stressor by stressing so much family unity, in the church.  In fact, a defective spouse can threaten the eternal possibility of the other.  It is a couple that is exalted to godhood through obedience to the (Mormon) gospel, not individuals.

Since nothing has come of the visit of the well intentioned older gentleman to our house, I have relaxed again.  But the episode has reaffirmed to me how far I have come in the matter of a couple of years in how I understand the very core of my identity.

Posted in My Experiences, Reflections | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Offspring of God

Posted by nebula0 on March 26, 2009

Alright, so this is the last little apologetics related post for a while… at least let’s hope.  But, Mormon apologists, future missionaries everywhere, it’s better to be aware of these things from the outset.  I’m sure you know about that verse in Acts in which Paul is speaking to the Athenians and says  that we are the offspring of God.  I’m sure you also know that that is a popular Mormon prooftext (i.e. a verse often used by Mormons to bolster particular Mormon claims).  Please be aware that in that verse Paul is actually quoting a philosopher named Cleanthes who wrote a poem exalting Zeus.  Given the context of the quotation, you may want to proceed rather cautiously when trying to use that tidbit to make any broad theological claims.

Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Posted in Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Philosophies of Men in Mormon Theology

Posted by nebula0 on March 24, 2009

I wouldn’t take delight in pointing out striking similarities between Platonic and Mormon thought it if weren’t for the fact that a persistent tactic in Mormon apologetics is to accuse orthodox Christianity of being nearly hopelessly infused with these ‘philosophies of men’ corrupting the purity of the gospel.  As that is the case, I want to point out a couple of places in which Mormonism fits better with Platonic philosophy than does orthodox Christianity (see Plato’s Timaeus). 

First of all: creation ex nihilo.  In orthodox Christianity, God creates the cosmos out of nothing and according to his own rules, this is creation ex nihilo.  According to Mormonism God created the universe out of pre-existent materials and according to pre-existent laws of the cosmos, the creation was more of an organization or building.  Now your immediate inclination may be to suppose that the Mormon view is closer to an authentic ancient Hebrew belief and that the orthodox Christian creation is a Greek notion- and that would be wrong.  According to Platonism, the  universe was created by a being called the demiurge who created it out of pre-existing materials and according to pre-existing rules.  Sound familiar? 

Another thing that I would point out is the Platonic notion that as the universe was being put together, there was a sort of life force or soul present in the things created, that this life-ness was present in the things put together before they were materialized.  Now if you know Mormon theology, you know that God formed all things spiritually before they were formed physically.  Compare that to the Platonic concept I just described and now compare that to the orthodox Christian notion that God infused life into the world in a single instant after physical creation.

I’m just saying, maybe the pot shouldn’t call the kettle black too quickly here…

Posted in Theological Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sacred or Secret? and Big Love

Posted by nebula0 on March 21, 2009

One of Mormonism’s common sayings is that the endowment ceremony is sacred, not secret.  The point of this saying is that there aren’t just weird things going on in the temple but rather that sacred truths are being imparted, so sacred in fact that they shouldn’t be discussed away form the sacred locale of the temple.  Obviously this line of thinking does have its rationale and that shouldn’t be ignored, but from the point of view of an outsider the Mormon IS keeping secrets, whether he labels it or understands it that way or not.  The effect is the arousal of curiosity, really, how could you NOT be curious if someone tells you “I’m sorry, but it’s too sacred for me to share what we do”?  Isn’t that just too tantalizing?  which relates to the following incident.

All of this, of course, has been debated in light of the recent decision by Big Love to portray the endowment ceremony on TV.  Outsiders are fascinated to get a glimpse of ceremonies they are not privy to and Mormons disgusted that something they hold to be too sacred to share with outsiders, or even uninitiated insiders, or even insiders outside of the temple, defiled by being shared through a popular HBO series.  This of course raises questions about religious tolerance and television, how far is too far, and so forth.   There is no way that Mormons are ever going to be okey-dokey with a portrayal of any part of the endowment on television, so does that mean that it is wrong to portray it?

Well, the reality is that it was only a matter of time before this was going to happen.  Mormons have lost their minority protected status with the passing of Proposition 8.  They seems like a far too influential group to give special minority rights to, too much money and too much status.  But then again, Mormons have been wanting out of their peculiar people status for the last couple of decades anyway by emphasizing the Jesus Christ in the name of their church and trying to find acceptance amongst America’s born again crowd.  Mormons are generally a people obsessed with respectability and in that seeking have sought mainstream academic treatment, media treatment, and demand to be called Latter-day Saints rather than Mormons.  Their recent re-emphasis of their all important family message led to wide association between the passing of Prop 8 and Mormonism, casting Mormons as sort of arch conservatives with money.  All of this, I argue, led to the inevitability of wide exposure of Mormon rituals.  Why?  Because as soon as you lose that minority status with the mainstream everything is fair game, that’s why.  It becomes okay to talk about funny underwear, endowment ceremonies, Joseph Smith having spirit wives who were already married and all kinds of issues that the liberal oriented media would have avoided to protect a small religious group.

All of that is to say that Mormons, in their quest for mainstream respectability and acceptance, asked for exposure, and exposure they will get.  This is only the beginning.  Here is the bright side Mormons: as America becomes more familiar with peculiar Mormon belief and ritual, it will, over time, become desensitized.  It will become less weird with each exposure and who knows, maybe that will lead to more converts.

Of course explaining the WHY this would happen in mainstream media doesn’t answer the question- is it right?  My unequivocal answer has to be yes.  I respect the right for Mormons to hold their ceremonies sacred and therefore secret, but that compulsion doesn’t cover the spirit of the First Amendment.  I do not agree with those who argue that anything which might offend someone somewhere ought to be avoided, we’d never talk about anything whatsoever that way.  I think we ought to have all the cartoons of Muhammad that we want, all of the misrepresentations of Catholicism which are so rampant in popular media, and yes, show Barb in the robes of the priesthood.  Just as much as HBO has a right to do this, not just legally but ethically, Mormons have a right to dissent, to explain and to boycott the show.  Hurray for freedom.

Posted in Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

How to Witness to Mormonism

Posted by nebula0 on March 18, 2009

Since I do believe that the theology of Mormonism is fundamentally flawed in a significant way, it makes sense to me to at least explain why I think this way to Mormons who are interested.  I do not go into such conversations with the unrealistic expectation of converting them to trinitarianism, my aims are much more modest, the hope to impart a greater understanding of what the trinity is.  Now that is not what evangelicals usually think when they think of witnessing.  Evangelicals in general are an excited lot, certain of the obvious truth of their position to the point that many become quickly frustrated when others don’t see the obvious aspect of their truth claims.  When dealing with Mormons this leads to disastrous results that you can see on internet boards all over- accusing Mormons of being brainwashed cultists, mocking Mormon rituals, ridiculing Mormon leaders and so forth.  Evangelicals will gleefully take part in these activities with the explanation that they are telling the truth and therefore being loving.

Imagine for a moment if Paul, in a fit of exasperation, threw up his hands and let those at Mars Hill know that they were brainwashed beyond belief and incapable of rational thought because they didn’t agree with his explanations.  Not a pretty picture is it?  Paul, instead, found common ground and patiently reasoned with the people so they at least understood what he was saying.  Likewise, he tells us that for Jews he becomes a Jew and for Gentiles a Gentile in order that he might convert some, that is, he explains things in a way that makes sense for each individual, not that he compromises the gospel message.

So here are my tips for witnessing to Mormons, borne of my experience having been a Mormon and on the receiving end of terrible ‘witnessing’.

1.  Don’t be a jerk.  This seems obvious but let me reiterate: don’t be a jerk.  Don’t take pleasure in trying to cause another discomfort with negative information about things they’ve held sacred or persons they’ve held in high regard.

2.  Understand Mormon culture.  Mormons are often thought of as nice people, that is because Utah Mormon culture prescribes extraordinary niceness and the standard of communications.  So this is especially for you Reformed people out there who liked to be in your face- realize that Mormons will interpret that ‘in your faceness’ not as being bold, but as being rude and whatever you have to say will then be ignored.  If you actually care about communicating a message, communicate in a way that Mormons are willing to hear.  Be polite, even excessively so, and you will find that Mormons will listen to your message without the message itself being compromised.

3.  Do your homework.  If you happen to run into misisonaries  coming to your house, or find yourself suddenly in a conversation with a Mormon friend, you may have to rely on scattered information.  In that case, stick to what you know best, your side of things, and avoid venturing into Mormon territory.  If you think that witnessing to Mormons is something that you should be doing all of the time, do not be lazy and rely on what this and that website tell you.  Take the time to read through Mormon scriptures, attend a few Mormon meetings, read through the literature they use to teach other Mormons so that you understand Mormon language and understand what Mormons hear every Sunday.  That way you will understand what is truly significant to average Mormons and not get on useless sidetracks about whether or not the Journal of Discourses ought to be counted as scripture, it’s just not.

4.  Take the time to learn about different Mormon circles.  This relates to the above point.   Your average Mormon isn’t going to be in the same boat as your apologetic FARMS oriented Mormon, and he isn’t going to be in the same boat as your theologically  liberal Sunstone oriented Mormon, and you may occasionally run into the old school Mormon who hold onto old ideas such as natives getting lighter skin with baptism.  Get to know the way of thinking of these different groups and learn the basic apologetic arguments.  For instance, you may find yourself embarrassed if you aren’t at least familiar with the limited geographical model of the Book of Mormon widely accepted amongst true believers.  It is wrong to insist that “Mormons” believe that Elohim had sex with Mary when only your old school believers will assent to this.

5.  Examine your own motives.  You may have wiggled at some of my above information and said “but it’s true!  Mormon leaders DID teach that natives become lighter and that Elohim had sex with Mary!  that’s right!”.  The point is, will insisting on THOSE issues with average Mormons get them any closer to understanding the gospel?  The point is not about you winning points.

6.  Focus your conversation.  I suggest sticking to theological issues rather than trying to attack the historicity of the Book of Mormon or prove that Joseph Smith had sex with all of his spirit wives.  That is, I suggest sticking to the issues that actually matter- the nature of God, grace, atonement and so forth.  Now it is true, that some Mormons will show some interest in learning about other topics, and if that is so, you should discuss them using discretion, but avoid attacks.  I think of this as trying to talk to someone about a straying spouse, if you go in for the attack straightaway the natural human reaction is to clam up and defend the spouse.  Be patient and kind and avoid casting dispersions on Mormonism. 

7.  On that last note, think of a few things you can admire about Mormonism.  It will help the conversation along if you can admire some things about Mormonism- find some kind of common ground, to set the tone of the conversation as positive.  Likewise, be willing to defend misinformation of Mormonism against others who have an incorrect understanding even if it may seem to them that you are defending Mormonism itself.  It will advertise to Mormons that you have integrity and won’t lie to them.

8.  My last suggestion is to listen.  Do not follow a script.  I repeat, do not follow a script.  Be open to a real discussion, that’s where any meaningful exchange of discussion is going to happen.  You may never know if your Mormon friend was altered by your conversation, but it’s not for you to know, it’s for God to know, but you can be sure that if you are rude, if you are simply throwing out this and that negative statement about Mormonism, you did nothing for the glory of God.  In fact, many Mormons point to the perceived rudeness of evangelicals in general as proof that their messages must not be any good. It’s time to turn that around.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for out and out debate, if for no other reason than mutual amusement, but please be honest about your motivation.

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Continuing Revelation

Posted by nebula0 on December 1, 2008

In several ways the Mormon notion of continuing revelation makes sense.  If God is a personal God who cares about us, wouldn’t he want to continue to direct us?  Likewise, if God is at least relatively infinite and us comparatively finite, then it also follows that we have a lot more to learn and God has a lot more to reveal to us about truth.  On many levels this idea has appeal, especially as it is so ordered in the Mormon hierarchy as to exclude the possibility of confusion.  The usual evangelical Christian responses to Mormon continuing revelation and the ‘extra’ scripture that follows is to quote out of context biblical verses that don’t really work for their argument (for instance the verse from Revelation really only applies to the book of Revelation).  Is there a firm basis by which the orthodox Christian world might disagree?

All of those ‘extra’ scriptures Mormons have are ‘extras’ because they tend to have the effect of distraction.  The orthodox Christian story is a rather simple one overall: God creates creatures with the freedom to truly love him back, these finite creatures cannot be united to their infinite God alone, God erupts his finite creation by becoming a creature himself.  Via the book of Hebrews the Old Testament can be seen as primarily a collection of foreshadowing providing many different ways to understand The Event- the incarnation of the infinite God as Christ.  The New Testament restricts itself to discussing the meaning and ramifications of this event to those who had access at least to those who did have first hand interaction with Christ and so it ends.  There is no continuing revelation because The Revelation has happened, at a moment in history, two thousand years ago.  While we can always discuss and interpret and apply The Revelation, The Event, there is no more universal revelation to be had lest it distract from the greatest happening that will ever happen to us until history ends.

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