Mormonism traces back its history in modern times to its founding prophet, Joseph Smith Jr., and his "First Vision." Joseph was a young farmer boy who lived in western New York, born in the early nineteenth century. This was the time of what's known as the Second Great Awakening, and where Joseph lived is known as the "burned-over district." It was a time of much Protestant religious excitement, revivals, reforms, and the formation of new religious movements and denominations (which eventually included Mormonism). A Restoration Movement grew in popularity in the area, which involved ideas of "restoring" a pure, primitive, uncorrupted, and original form of Christian faith.
I will begin to offer a reconstruction of the Mormon narrative, which also applies in many ways to Christianity in general.
At times I feel like much religious terminology and symbolism has failed to bring unity to our modern culture and global society, and that we need new terms and symbols to point to these highest realities for which we yearn. New religious movements often emerge under such conditions (and there are tens of thousands of these movements in the world today). But I'm not sure that helps, but just further divides us, each believing they have "the truth."
We see this theme repeated over and over again throughout religious history into the present day, from Judaism through Christianity, in Hinduism and Buddhism, in Islam, in Confucianism and Taoism, and even into modern day scientific studies, that the overcoming of "self" or ego is central to our flourishing in an abundance of Life and Love in the world, and in realizing higher Truths that go far beyond our typical everyday minds and consciousness.
In modern times the nature of the human ego has also been recognized by many in scientific disciplines, in psychology and other fields. I described some of this in an earlier post, in the psychological study of cognitive development in children. But what about losing the sense of "self," the sense of an "I"?
One element that I think is shared among all the religions, which has become quite conspicuous to me in recent times, is their history and beliefs about the nature of the human ego, and that this ego is a major obstacle to the flourishing of life and love in ourself and the world, and that transcending the ego is a major goal, if not the goal, of human life. This ego transcendence may be the central feature in all religions, the underlying core message and purpose of all spirituality. And science is beginning to discover this too.
This morning I came across a quote in an excellent essay by Daniel Christian Wahl, frequently attributed to the renowned modern theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. Wahl did not misquote him, but it seems to be often misquoted when cited in full.
Until we can get back to direct primary first-hand personal intimate contemplative mystical ecstatic experience of God in the lives of each and every human being, then God will increasingly become an abstract distant concept instead of a Living immanent reality.
In the video below, non-dual spiritual teacher Rupert Spira beautifully discusses the journey from traditional exoteric outward-facing dualistic religion that worships and prays to an external God, and towards higher stages of a more integrated perceiving of non-dual at-one esoteric inward-facing union spirituality, where we realize that "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30).
I see mysticism in Joseph Smith and his work at nearly every turn. Joseph united his mind and consciousness in God to such a great degree that he spoke with the voice of Christ. One only does that if one is genuinely in mystical union with God, or delusional, or a con man (a fake). I perceive Joseph was the first, and I'll share a few reasons why.