Relative Truth, Knowledge, and Morals in Mormonism, Law, and Mysticism

Will we ever discover the absolute truth, moral or intellectual, or otherwise? Can we ever know the Absolute?

Joseph Smith once said:

The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.

-History of the Church 4:540

Many people think Joseph Smith was referring to the LDS Church in this passage. But the Truth of God (or Ultimate Reality) cannot be contained by any organization or institution. It is far too great. That Truth or Reality-as-it-is will go forth “independently” of each and every sect on Earth. None can contain it, grasp it, or monopolize it. Some may point to it more or less well, some may lead away from it, but none owns it. Not one. No one ever will. It’s not something that can even be “owned.” That is the very reason why it will go forth boldly and nobly, and never be stopped, even if organizations come to an end.

Hugh B. Brown’s following quote could be noted:

We Mormons have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth yet to be discovered. Revealed insights should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers — that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.

A Final Testimony.” Brown served in the First Presidency of the church during the period 1961-1970, under President David O. McKay

Indeed, true revelation (or insight) shows us vividly just how extremely ignorant we are, how unknowing our egos really are, perhaps infinitely so! We actually “know” nothing. What we think we “know” as truth is perhaps culturally conditioned relative truths that may have “truth” in our time and place, being pointers or guides towards Truth, but are most likely not absolutely true at all times and places.

Many feel that this opens us up to moral relativism, that

…moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

And they would be right. Even what we consider “morals” are relative truths that our culture has created, hopefully inspired by divine insight or revelation, translated or interpreted from that experience of the divine One, that guides us into cooperation, fellowship, oneness, at-one-ment, living in comm-union with each other, in society. But those morals may change over time, as culture changes, as we learn and grow, as we come to know ourselves better, as more insights flow from Love, etc. Mormons may recognize this as “continuing revelation.”

There is no such thing as absolute moral(s) in the world, regardless of what some religions may profess at times, unless perhaps that moral is Love itself. As a friend recently said:

If we love everyone, we don’t need rules.
Otherwise, the rule is to love everyone.

But few are willing to so unconditionally Love, being as we are veiled in our egos.

If there was such a thing as absolute morals, then we would not need a justice system. We would just discover what those absolute morals are, and then we would be done for all time. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. We are continually refining, searching, changing, building, adjusting our society’s morals (laws) based on what we believe collectively is true, just, fair, right, correct, and good for us in the present time and place. There will perhaps never be a time when we arrive as a society at the absolute moral Truth, and the justices can all go home.

I do think we can arrive at that Truth individually, that unconditional Love, only in mystical experience and contemplation, and then attempt to apply it intentionally in the comm-unity, coming into that comm-union with others, in the congregation, in that ekklesia (church), in the sangha, etc. But I’m not sure this communal relationship can ever be final, complete, done, finished.

Will the “Great Jehovah” ever actually say the “work is done”? Will God’s purposes ever be finally accomplished? Maybe when the ego is crucified, that One may then utter those words (John 19:30; cf. Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3). Perhaps in our deepest moments of mystical contemplation and conscious oneness in the Divine it is realized as “done,” but I doubt it will ever happen out in the world, in the creation, in the unfolding evolution of the cosmos, in that Singularity’s incarnation. God’s “work” is never done “out here” in this dualistic sphere of activity. It seems that God was never born, Truth itself was never actually “erected” or had a beginning because it is simply Reality itself, and it will never die, and thus will never be “finished” or “done.”

And there are scriptures, even in Mormonism, which attest to this endless work:

…my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease…

And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.

-Moses 1:4, 38

For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting…

-1 Nephi 14:7

Speaking unto you that you may naturally understand; but unto myself my works have no end, neither beginning…

-D&C 29:33

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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7 thoughts on “Relative Truth, Knowledge, and Morals in Mormonism, Law, and Mysticism

  1. In the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, it says “Kabbalah draws on the awareness of the transcendence of God, and yet of his immanence. God can most closely be perceived through contemplation and illumination. God both conceals and reveals himself. Through speculation and revelation, the hidden life of God and his relationship with his creation can be more easily understood.”

    For mystics, divine revelation is here and now, not limited to sacred scriptures. Absolute Truth is always unfolding throughout this life.

  2. I’ve read your opening quote many times in my life but today I read it and found a fuller meaning beyond denominations. I agree w you.

  3. Thanks for the post, Bryce. Sometimes I come to a place where there is an experience of essence that is boundless and endless, and that place feels even beyond and inclusive of both absolute and relative. If it manifests as boundless love, then there is an energy with that and the fullness and wholeness experienced are everything and all of the relatives and absolutes are there in the radiance and abiding in this mystic heart is sufficient as it is.

    David

    1. Thanks, David. Yes, that experience seems beyond everything that we could possibly label, describe, define, or put bounds on. Even the Absolute doesn’t capture it. And so we use words like these, like boundless, inclusive, endless, fullness, wholeness, radiance, to point to it, to try and articulate it as best we can in language. But, of course, the symbolic forms of language never do it justice, and they all fail at some point. We let go of the words, the thoughts, and just abide in that heart, in that experience, in that Love, in that Presence.

  4. “The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”

    Rumi.

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