I’ve been thinking recently about two sides to Mormonism that seem to contradict and pull away from each other, creating tension. One side is the mystical or supernatural, while the other is the pragmatic.
There have been great comments about both sides throughout the Mormon intellectual world and some that aren’t directly pertaining to the question, but sparked thought for me. A few months back, an atheist visited an LDS sacrament meeting and was impressed with the pragmatic values that were taught. Later I read a couple of pieces from Sunstone about the importance of mysticismwithin Mormonism and the need to reclaim it. After that, I read the series about Mormonism and Transhumanism on RationalFaiths.
I was torn back and forth between mystical/supernatural and pragmatic. The transhumanism pieces, while not blatantly preaching pragmatism, suggested to me a pragmatic worldview, where God is an evolved human being, that we can work to reach the exalted state through science and technology, not through some spiritual transformation. A complete response would take too much time and space for this, but would be interesting.
Essentially, I felt compelled to try and reconcile two competing world views- the supernatural and the pragmatic. It seems easy to dismiss the supernatural as the stuff of myth, fantasy and children’s stories and to embrace the pragmatic, especially when there is such a benefit to the pragmatic aspects of Mormonism. However, while some may be spiritually satisfied with such a view, I cannot advocate such an approach. The supernatural feeds my faith and stokes my inner fire of curiosity.
Yet, something holds me back from fully accepting a supernatural world. Perhaps it is the ridicule that often greets those that express beliefs in ghosts, aliens and other unexplainable phenomena. Outside of religion (honestly, probably outside Mormonism), I am extremely skeptical of any supernatural events occurring. If I hold that God is a God of miracles and is the same yesterday, today and forever, why would the miracles and angelic visitations that accompanied the faith of the saints throughout the Old and New Testaments and the early days of the Church in the Latter days stop now? They wouldn’t.
Perhaps, I simply wish that the supernatural was more prevalent in our lives, so I could be a Jedi/wizard/mutant/superhero. That may be, but I know that I have had experiences with a ‘reality surpassing normal human understanding or experience,’ like that found by mystics. Such an experience serves as the foundation of my still abiding belief in God and Mormonism, with other experiences strengthening and building upon that foundation.
Without the supernatural and mystical elements and experiences, I would not have a burning desire to remain in the Church. Although, perhaps what seems supernatural is really in accordance with higher laws of science and nature and would appear completely pragmatic and rational, if we understood more. I don’t know how much things can and will be explained, nor do I know if that explanation can be as detailed as a scientific proof for the chemical reaction of photosynthesis.
Does the power of God inspire more faith if it can’t be explained? Would magic seem as awe-inducing if it were explained away with theories and formulas? Did The Force lose some of its cool, when it was stripped down to midi-chlorians? Maybe science is magic or magic is science and the same wonder from the unexplained can transfer to the transcendent explanation. Perhaps there is no innate special spiritual gift and we can all harness the laws of nature to work miracles and advance the work of the Lord. It’s about learning.
That’s the harmony between the mystical and pragmatic. What seems mystical is simply in line with a higher order of pragmatism, that once learned will enhance the experience with what was once mystical. No longer is it unexplainable, no longer need you stand as a bystander. Armed with knowledge, you can participate in the miraculous and supernatural. You can understand the why and appreciate the execution that much more for the art that is required, the beauty that accompanies it.
Believing in the supernatural and mystical is striving for a pragmatism that works in the ‘reality perceived as essential to the nature of life’ that mysticism interacts with. Thus, the truth appears to be found within competing contradictions.