Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 83

VOLUME 11, NUMBER 1 A JOURNAL FOR THE THEOLOGY OF CULTURE ambitious philosophical and doctrinal revision project, the first step is to accurately understand exactly what we are considering as an alternative. In my view, Webb’s case for Christendom’s abandonment of metaphysical dualism in favor of Mormonism’s metaphysical materialism falls short. One major reason is that his understanding of the origins of Smith’s metaphysical views misses the mark. Smith’s interpretation of a visionary appearance of the divine as material was neither natural nor self-evident; rather, Smith’s background in various aspects of esoteric thought shaped the material interpretations of his visionary experiences. Folk magic,23 Freemasonry, Hermeticism, Swedenborgianism, and his studies in the Kabbalah24 all played a part in his theological and doctrinal development—including metaphysical materialism—as well as in his interpretations of the Bible, which often placed him at odds with more traditional interpretations of the Christian denominations of his time. In this essay, I do not mean to be understood as dismissing Mormon metaphysical materialism simply because of its esoteric origins. That would be a case of committing the genetic fallacy, dismissing an idea simply because of its origins. It may be that metaphysical materialism is correct and to be preferred over the spirit-matter dualism of classical theism. The philosophical arguments must be considered on their own merits, and the theological ramifications taken into account. But in reflecting on these issues, we must engage in what Albanese has called the “deeper archaeology” of research if we are to understand Mormon materialism in its historical and religious context in order to assess it accurately. This will include recognition of the significance of Hermeticism and American metaphysical religion and the place this esotericism plays in an assessment of Mormon materialist metaphysics. 23. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998). 24. Lance S. Owens, “Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27, no. 3 (Fall 1994): 117–94. Cf. Lance S. Owens, “Joseph Smith: America’s Hermetic Prophet,” Gnosis Magazine 35 (Spring 1995): 56–64. 82