July 29, 2008

Spirit Recycling?

Brigham Young
August 17, 1856

Toward the end of his life, Joseph Smith emphasized key doctrinal points regarding the eternal nature of the intelligence and the mind of man:

The soul the mind of man, whare did it come from? The learned says God made it in the beginning, but it is not so, I know better God has told me so. If you dont believe it, it wont make the truth without effect, God was a self exhisting being, man exhists upon the same principle. God made a tabernacle & put a spirit in it and it became a Human soul, man exhisted in spirit & mind coequal with God himself...1
After Joseph was killed the complexities of this sermon led to a few differing interpretations regarding the soul. On a few occasions Brigham Young discoursed on intelligence or spirit "recycling" for lack of a better term (particularly regarding those sent to Outer Darkness, or at least those who forsake the gospel). It seems Brigham diverged from the teachings of Joseph Smith that the "mind" (which I assume here indicates identity) is eternal. It appears as though Brigham saw intelligence as a kind of substance that can be formed and reformed into different identities, rather than intelligences as eternal identities, or minds.2

For example, on April 17, 1853, Brigham explained:

The Lord said to Jeremiah the Prophet, “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hands of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.”
The clay that marred in the potter's hands was thrown back into the unprepared portion, to be prepared over again. So it will be with every wicked man and woman, and every wicked nation, kingdom, and government upon earth, sooner or later; they will be thrown back to the native element from which they originated, to be worked over again, and be prepared to enjoy some sort of a kingdom. (BY 2:124)3
Technically "some sort of a kingdom" could indicate Brigham believed they could inherit a Telestial or Terrestrial, but never attain a Celestial, kingdom. He was careful to point out he wasn't teaching an annihilation, but a recycling. On August 17, 1856 he stated:

...the truth is, you are not going to have a separate kingdom [from God when you are exalted]; I am not going to have a separate kingdom; it is not our prerogative to have it on this earth. If you have a kingdom and a dominion here, it must be concentrated in the head; if we are ever prepared for an eternal exaltation, we must be concentrated in the head of the eternal Godhead.

Why? Because everything else is opposed to that kingdom, and the heir of that kingdom will keep up the warfare with that opposing power until death is destroyed, and him that hath the power of it; not annihilated, but sent back to native element...(JD 4:28).
Later in the sermon he mentioned the fate of those who forsake the gospel:

The moment a person decides to leave this people, he is cut off from every object that is durable for time and eternity, and I have told you the reason why. Everything that is opposed to God and His Son Jesus Christ, to the celestial kingdom and to celestial laws, those celestial laws and beings will hold warfare with, until every particle of the opposite is turned back to its native element, though it should take millions and millions of ages to accomplish it. Christ will never cease the warfare, until he destroys death and him that hath the power of it. Every possession and object of affection will be taken from those who forsake the truth, and their identity and existence will eventually cease.

“That is strange doctrine.”

No matter, they have not an object which they can place their hands or affections upon, but what will vanish and pass away. That is the course and will be the tendency of every man and woman, when they decide to leave this kingdom. (JD 4:31-32).4
More recent LDS leaders such as Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie have rejected the idea that those in perdition can ultimately be redeemed, which contradicts Brigham's speculations. (See, for example, Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 2, page 31; Bruce R. McConkie, "The Seven Deadly Heresies," BYU Fireside, 1 June 1980.) I believe these particular leaders were inspired not with a desire for some kind of eternal hell, but with fear that the view of Brigham will "lull men into a state of carnal security," (McConkie, Heresies) and thus hamper their mortal probation.

Knowing that disagreement exists in the teachings of various LDS leaders, perhaps for the time being it is safe to rely upon canonized LDS scripture. For example, D&C 76 (1832) maintains that no ultimate knowledge of the fate of the sons of perdition will be known to any but the partakers:

Wherefore, he saves all except them—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment—

And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof; (D&C 76:44-46).
Compare that with the following from an 1830 revelation:
Wherefore I will say unto them—Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And now, behold, I say unto you, never at any time have I declared from mine own mouth that they should return, for where I am they cannot come, for they have no power.
But remember that all my judgments are not given unto men; and as the words have gone forth out of my mouth even so shall they be fulfilled, that the first shall be last, and that the last shall be first in all things whatsoever I have created by the word of my power, which is the power of my Spirit (D&C 29:29-30).
Brigham's speculations are interesting, but currently remain outside accepted or official LDS doctrine, and stand in contrast to other LDS leaders past and present. Perhaps it is significant that in the official Church manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, a segment from a sermon given August 26, 1860 is included as follows:

Jesus will bring forth, by his own redemption, every son and daughter of Adam, except the sons of perdition, who will be cast into hell….

The punishment of God is God-like [see D&C 19]. It endures forever, because there never will be a time when people ought not to be damned and there must always be a hell to send them to.
How long the damned remain in hell, I know not, nor what degree of suffering they endure.

God’s punishment is eternal, but that does not prove that a wicked person will remain eternally in a state of punishment (JD
8:154-155; TPC:BY, 288-289, my emphasis).
Perhaps Brigham viewed the fate of the sons of perdition much like the fate of those who inherit a Telestial glory, who suffer for a time, as described in D&C 76:81-84. As members of the Church speculate in the meantime, perhaps the best course for the time being is to recall that, ultimately, "all [God's] judgments are not given unto men" (D&C 29:30).



Spelling in original, from Wilford Woodruff's journal account of the "King Follett discourse," a funeral sermon during the General Conference of the Church at Nauvoo on Sunday afternoon April 7, 1844. At least six different reports were made by various listeners in long hand, two of which (William Clayton's and Thomas Bullock's) were amalgamated into the version printed in the Times and Seasons a month later.
While it is possible that Joseph reviewed this version his clerks' diaries do not indicate one way or the other. A second amalgamated version was created in 1855 by Jonathan Grimshaw for the History of the Church. This version was also included in Joseph Fielding Smith's Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. For a brief overview of the sources, see Jonathan Stapley, "A Textual History of the KFD, Part I: Sources to the 'History of Joseph Smith,'" (June 3, 2008) and "A Textual History of the KFD, Part II,'" (June 5, 2008) Splendid Sun blog. An important side by side analysis of the available reports is available at the Book of Abraham Project. W. V. Smith of the BOAP argues that Joseph's doctrines on the eternity of man, among other things, was influenced greatly by the Book of Abraham, and demonstrates the theme as recurring in several of the prophet's sermons especially during the last 5 years of his life. For more on the history of the discourse, including a new amalgamation based on the known reports, see Stan Larsen, "The King Follett Sermon: A Newly Amalgamated Text" BYU Studies 18 (Winter 1978): 193-208 (pdf). For an interesting discussion on mind and spirit, see Jonathan Stapley, "Spirit and Mind," By Common Consent, Jan. 22, 2007.

Orson Pratt offered the diverging view of "spiritual atomism" as described by Jonathan Stapley in "Orson Pratt, The Seer and spiritual atomism," Splendid Sun, November 17, 2005. Matt W. of New Cool Thang posits that John A. Widtsoe found a way to reconcile various views on intelligence. See his post "A Rational Theology: Epistemology and Eternal Existence."  For interesting extended debates see Steve Evans, "Your Friday Firestorm #34,"
(February 15, 2008) and John C., "Monday Midday Theological Poll: Flat-out Speculative Edition" (October 27, 2008) at By Common Consent. See also Geoff J.'s discussions on the New Cool Thang blog: "A Child of God...the Son" (June 8, 2007) and "Is there such a thing as spirit birth or not?" (June 18, 2006).

Later that year (August 14, 1853) Brigham discoursed again on this "mystery of the kingdom." He described a hypothetical man who was so concerned with a large chunk of gold that he would starve to death sitting on it rather than leave it to get food. Having his heart set on the treasures of the world, the man would perish:

What good was his gold to him? He had not the power of endless life in him, and he will be decomposed, and the particles which compose his body and spirit will return to their native element. I told you some time ago what would become of such men [in the aforementioned sermon, presumably]. But I will quote the Scriptures on this point, and, you can make what you please of it. [Here Brigham seems to be allowing divergence of thought.]

Jesus says, he will DESTROY death and him that hath the power of it. What can you make of this but decomposition, the returning of the organized particles to their native element, after suffering the wrath of God until the time appointed. That appears a mystery, but the principle has been in existence from all eternity, only it is something you have not known or thought of.

When the elements in an organized form do not fill the end of their creation, they are thrown back again, like brother Kimball's old pottery ware, to be ground up, and made over again. All I have to say about it is what Jesus says—I will destroy Death, and him that hath the power of it, which is the devil. And if he ever makes "a full end of the wicked," what else can he do than entirely disorganize them, and reduce them to their native element? Here are some of the mysteries of the kingdom...

There can be no such thing as power to annihilate element. There is one eternity of element, which can be organized or disorganized, composed or decomposed; it may be put into this shape or into that, according to the will of the intelligence that commands it, but there is no such thing as putting it entirely out of existence (JD 1:275-276).
Brigham followed this up with an interesting aside on some conversations he had with Orson Pratt, which I'll post soon.

For a concise view on this topic, see one whom I am indebted to in regard to some references found here, namely, J. Stapley, "Brigham on spirit,"
Splendid Sun, February 14, 2007. For other examples on Brigham discussing his views on this topic Stapley cites JD 3:203, 4:54, 5:54, 6:346, 7:57-58, 7:276, 7:287, 8:29, 9:149-150, 13:316-317, 18:234, and The Office Journal of President Brigham Young, 1858-1863, Book D, pg. 35. More sources will be added as I encounter them. Finally,

Orig. posted 5/29/08


J. Stapley said...

Nice write up. I think you are correct that "spirit recycling" appears to be uniquely championed by Brigham. Though, as you note, Pratt's spirit atomism does require a measure of recycling as spirit particles progress up the chain of being.

One quick note about the historiography of the KFD in note one. I'd have to check, but I thought that the T&S version was based only on Bolluck's report. Later, the church historians amalgamated the Clayton, Woodruff, and Richards account (with Bolluck's) for the "History of Joseph Smith," which was edited for inclusion in the History of the Church and TPJS.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Good catch on the KFD historiography. I'll check the T&S version compared to the HC and later TPJS version and see what we have. I may have conflated the T&S with the HC version.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Upon further inspection it appears that the original amalgamation (in TS) involved the Clayton and Bullock reports, while the later amalgamation was done by Jonathan Grimshaw for the HC, and was created from the 4 principal accounts of Bullock, Clayton, Woodruff, and Richards. See Stan Larsen "The King Follett Sermon: A Newly Amalgamated Text." Brigham Young University Studies 18 (Winter 1978): 193-208, especially note footnote 4.

Kristen said...

BY's comparsion and description of clay and spirit recycling conjured up reincarnation-like images for me. Anyone else?

Thanks for your comments on Joseph Fielding Smith and McConkie in regards to avoiding the tendency of men to "hamper mortal probation". I always kind of assume they believed in mercy less than I do, but your comments and interpretation make sense to me.

LifeOnaPlate said...

I thought that Brigham's views reflected more of an Eastern twist, as well, regarding reincarnation, but I decided against making the comparison for a few reasons. For one, I don't see Brigham positing the recycled individuals returning to this very planet, rather, that their intelligence as random particles would be reorganized and later be put through a probation again elsewhere. Second, I'd have to learn more about the philosophical implications of an "orthodox" view of reincarnation before I tried to compare Brigham's views.

LifeOnaPlate said...

I should add, for J. Stape, I believe Heber C. Kimball also expressed similar beliefs on recycling. If I recall correctly, he used the potter and clay analogy as well, in that clay would be thrown back and then reused until it created a good vessel. When I find the exact instance I'll make sure to include it here.

Chester said...

HapiBlogging to you my friend! Have a nice day!

LifeOnaPlate said...

Thanks for the spam, Chester.

Jacob J said...

Yep, good stuff. Thanks.

Post a Comment

All views are welcome when shared respectfully. Use a name or consistent pseudonym rather than "anonymous." Deletions of inflammatory posts will be noted. Thanks for joining the conversation.