Disconnection and the Healing Practice of Imagination for Mormon Environmental Ethics
1. Creation Ex nihilo, Creation Ex profundis, and Formare Ex materia
1.1. Creation Ex nihilo
1.2. Creation Ex profundis
1.3. Formare Ex materia
The word ‘create’ came from the word bāra’, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize, the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time He had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end.
“For by the power of my Spirit created I them; yea, all things both spiritual and temporal. First spiritual, secondly temporal, which is the beginning of my work; and again, first temporal, and secondly spiritual, which is the last of my work—Speaking unto you that you may naturally understand; but unto myself my works have no end, neither beginning … Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal” (my emphasis added).(D&C 29:33–34)
2. Locating a Mormon Environmental Ethic: Lost and Found
Know the ways of the [plants] who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.Take only that which is given.Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.Give thanks for what you have been given.Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.
3. Reviving Communal Imagination: Mormon Theopoetics of Creation
Toward a Mormon Theopoetic of Creation
Around noontime on Highway 666, we are driving to town. It is Pepper’s fifth birthday. My dad is working. He is probably running laps with students. Cloudless. Our two vehicles leave the Chuskas. I want a sucker. Cheii takes me south. There are six of them in the other car; they turn north. It is too bright today. Two weeks ago my mom dreamt of night birds chanting amid juniper berries. Today, the land formations look like owls. I leave Little Water Trading Post with Minnie Mouse’s heart in my mouth. Pepper is singing, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” with our cousin-sister when—Mom was holding Baby in the front passenger seat and shot a look over to her sister—My little brother sips root beer while Baby sleeps. It was May. I sit alone in the back of my cheii’s truck, wiping rouge across my eyelids. I don’t understand the dream or the land—Grandma clenches my hand as we stand on the road, watching the sun take them.peppergrass gathered in a pink cup, here, Daddy.
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The official and preferred name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I will use the colloquial ‘Mormon,’ ‘Latter-day Saint,’ or ‘Saint’ throughout for convenience and readability.
I use this nickname to refer to the Church in addition to the well-known nickname ‘Mormon’.
This is developed in (Hubler 1955, p. 980).
Augustine takes up creation ex nihilo in his De Trinitate. The problem of evil has its roots in the creation; for Augustine, the answer is in the being of God and that being’s creation of the world. First, Augustine decisively unifies the trinity as one substance—“unchangeable, incorruptible, eternal, immortal, and infinite”—with no separation between the identities. Consequently, and intricately connected, he answers the problem of evil by saying that God’s “incorruptible, eternal, immortal, and infinite” nature is wholly and completely responsible for all creation.
I use male pronouns for God intentionally when discussing God’s conception according to the early church fathers, who imagined God male. For the rest of my discussion, I use no pronouns for God.
I use the word ‘restoring’ intentionally. Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission was to restore the original gospel of Jesus Christ that had been changed since Jesus’ day.
The first stage of creation, according to Augustine, is a forming of matter. From that matter, all things are made. “Thus, creation ex nihilo is preserved without caving to the darksome deep.” Quoted in Keller, Face of the Deep, 16.
Several traditions claim the scripture of Joseph Smith as theologically relevant and employ them in different ways. This paper interrogates only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Joseph Smith taught, “The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits. …Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement” (quoting Joseph Smith sermon 7 April 1844).
Mormon doctrine is not monolithic, so it is tenuous to claim a single theological view. See for example Faulconer (2020), Thinking Otherwise: Theological Explorations of Joseph Smith’s Revelations, Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Teachings such as that of God organizing intelligences are found in church handbooks used to teach adult and youth classes.
And others, like A. N. Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, David Ray Griffin, and Willie Jennings.
George Handley writes, “Deep in the visions and translations of the seer, Joseph Smith, even many Mormons have missed the implications of the belief that the new earth and new heaven would be this earth, this place here, now. The theology of such a restoration promises that the very stuff of our mortal lives will become the stuff of our heavenly existence … This is a philosophy of hope, hope that mundane, physical life, when properly cared for, might become the stuff of eternity.” (Handley 2010, p. 121). Additionally, I am attending to dualism as treated in philosophy: continental philosophy in the school of phenomenology has explored the dangers of reductive dualism, and I accordingly discard a tendency toward spiritual and physical dualism: it is a false dichotomy here to separate the physical from the spiritual. See Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Donald A. Landes (2012), Phenomenology of Perception.
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ claims to be a record of Indigenous peoples on the American continent. Accordingly, regardless of the truth of this claim, Mormon believers are poised to be foremost in learning from their wisdom, in and out of the Book of Mormon.
The varied history of Indigenous Mormons, for example, as well as the scholars and individuals I have briefly surveyed provide important exceptions.
Willie Jennings makes similar moves in The Christian Imagination, where he situates creation ex nihilo as part of a framework of dominance: “I want Christians to recognize the grotesque nature of a social performance of Christianity that imagines Christian identity floating above land, landscape, animals, place, and space.” This imagination was constructed ex nihilo, just as ex nihilo doctrine itself was. (Jennings, The Christian Imagination, 293).
Image via shutterstock (https://www.shutterstock.com/search/provo+river) 21 April 2021.
See Dr. Atsitty’s website, http://taceymatsitty.com/bio/ April 2021.
See Dr. King’s website, https://farinaking.com/biography/ April 2021.
Photographs accessed via https://farinaking.com/photos/ in April 2021.
Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass.
For example, Instagram accounts like Womb Sisters or the peripheral Mormon Women’s magazine Exponent II.
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Blair, K. Disconnection and the Healing Practice of Imagination for Mormon Environmental Ethics. Religions 2021, 12, 948. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110948
Blair K. Disconnection and the Healing Practice of Imagination for Mormon Environmental Ethics. Religions. 2021; 12(11):948. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110948Chicago/Turabian Style
Blair, Kristen. 2021. "Disconnection and the Healing Practice of Imagination for Mormon Environmental Ethics" Religions 12, no. 11: 948. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110948