Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 78

VOLUME 11 NUMBER 1 2015 MORMON METAPHYSICS AND “MAGICAL” MATTER John W. Morehead∗ Stephen Webb presents an interesting thesis in his volume Mormon Christianity,1 suggesting that Christendom should adopt the metaphysical materialism of Mormonism instead of the matter-spirit dualism, including divine immaterialism, of classical theism. In Webb’s view, Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith’s claims about a visionary experience with the divine are the major shaping influence on Mormon metaphysics. In this essay, I will argue that Smith drew upon aspects of the Western esoteric tradition,2 in particular Hermeticism and what Catherine Albanese has called “American metaphysical religion,” and that it was these influences that shaped Smith’s hermeneutic related to his visionary experience and his reading of the Bible, as well as his overall views on spirit and matter. Webb and Mormon Metaphysics One of the reasons why Mormon Christianity is such an interesting volume is that Webb is a Catholic scholar and philosopher writing not only empathetically but also enthusiastically about Mormon metaphysics. It is not his empathic and respectful engagement of Mormons and Mormonism that makes this book unique, since I would argue that Christians of whatever background should follow this approach. Instead, it is Webb’s embrace of Mormon materialism that is surprising. This is Webb’s second exploration of this topic, the first coming in his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God.3 In that DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11630/1550-4891.11.01.77 ∗ John W. Morehead has a background in the study of new religious movements, including Mormon studies. He can be contacted at www.EvangelicalFRD.org; johnwmorehead@msn.com. 1. Stephen Webb, Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). 2. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed (London and New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013). 3. Stephen Webb, Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). 77