Metaphysics, Communication, Agency and Salvation
Version Metcom10, 8 March 2011, edited 29 Apr 2014
C. C. Riddle
The purpose of this paper is to present a framework of metaphysics for better understanding of the process of human communication. The application will be the impact those ideas have on the understanding of human agency and of salvation. This will be done in an LDS context of understanding. The attempt will be made to be as plain and as simple as possible.
The definition of the word “metaphysics” varies from person to person, among philosophers especially. The following definition will be used in this discussion: Metaphysics is the unprovable assumptions about the universe which we use to think about the things which are provable. If what we are thinking about at a given moment is or has been seen, or is provable, then it belongs to the realm of physics, or nature. If what we think about is the unseen, unprovable aspects of the universe which make sense of what we do see, we are in the realm of metaphysics. Everyone has a metaphysics if they think, but few people are conscious of the metaphysics which they use and believe. For instance, no one can prove there will be a tomorrow. But most people believe there will be a tomorrow, and live their lives accordingly.
There are no human experts about metaphysics, and therefore there is no point in quoting anyone except to make explicit their opinions. Every thinking person either believes in an after-life, or does not, but no person is an expert on the matter who should be believed. If there were such an expert and if that person were expert because of physical evidence, then that subject would be part of nature and physics, no longer in the realm of metaphysics.
In saying that there are no human experts about metaphysics, we must take note of the role of prophets, seers and revelators. Prophets of God are people appointed by God to speak to the rest of us about the things which God wants us to know, which includes a lot of metaphysics. Seers from God are people to whom God shows things which are metaphysical to us, that they might tell us about the truth of metaphysics. Revelators from God are persons authorized by God to give us his messages. In an LDS frame, prophets, seers and revelators are sent to the rest of us by God so that each person may eventually become himself or herself a prophet, seer and revelator. Should all of us become such, the realm of metaphysics would largely become physics. If we believe the metaphysics taught to us by prophets, seers and revelators, it will be because we either have faith in them or faith in the ministrations of the Holy Spirit which testifies to us of the truth of what they say.
Meanwhile we all live by faith in someone or something. Every human being lives by faith because each of us must believe things about metaphysics to make sense of our physical world. There is no shortage of faith or of metaphysical belief in this world. The question is, how much of that faith and metaphysics is grounded in truth? It is the testimony of Latter-day Saints that the unique access to truth in metaphysics is the light of Christ, and to receive a fulness of correct metaphysics requires full faith in Jesus Christ.
We might suppose that our metaphysics should be internally consistent, but we cannot prove that that is necessary. Some people function very nicely with self-contradictory assumptions about metaphysics. For instance, many people are taught and believe in the Three-in-One God of the Nicene Creed and do not mind the inconsistencies associated with that belief.
We suppose that our metaphysics should be useful, helping us to make better sense of the seen world. But some people enjoy metaphysics which are not very useful in explaining the seen world. For instance, to suppose that our visible world is supported on the back of a great unseen turtle makes it possible to explain some things, like earthquakes, but little else.
Metaphysical assumptions are very powerful in controlling what we think about the seen world and what to do about it. For instance, if we think disease is caused by unseen metaphysical forces, we may treat disease by appealing to unseen metaphysical agents, such as appeasing unseen spirits. But if we think disease is caused by seen and known physical factors, we will try to deal with those physical factors to cure disease. It is interesting that the germ theory of disease accounts well for positive cases of given diseases but cannot account for negative cases, where the person is exposed but does not acquire the disease. The negative cases are disposed of by metaphysics: The person who does not acquire the disease is accused of having an “immunity” to the disease, which immunity is actually a metaphysical construct.
The line between physics and metaphysics is not the same for every person. A strict interpretation would make everything metaphysical which is not being sensed by me now. A loose interpretation would make everything in which I believe physics, metaphysics being the assumptions I make about existence when I think. This difference between persons as to what is metaphysical and what is not is the source of great confusion and the basis of much disagreement.
Metaphysics is powerful. Cultural control of populations is often undertaken by carefully controlling the metaphysics people are taught. For example, there is a concerted effort in the public schools of the United States to counter the concept of a God who controls the universe, and one of the chief instruments in that effort is the careful teaching of organic evolution. Usually in this teaching no distinction is being made between the scientific law of evolution, which is in the realm of physics and is very sure, and the theory of organic evolution, which is the metaphysics of evolution and is unprovable. The problem is that those who teach evolution often surreptitiously attach the surety of the law to the theory for all who do not understand what is going on, thereby convincing many that science is correct and that thus there is no God.
Metaphysical considerations are of controlling importance in all thinking. This because the frame of reference in which a person thinks sets the limits and possibilities for that thinking. To have a false metaphysics is to guarantee the creation of a false picture in the presentations of that person, which may, in turn, lead to acts which are not productive of good. If we do not promote good, we promote evil. Good and evil are, of course, metaphysical assumptions which some persons deny exist.
The main point about metaphysics: If you think, you have to have a metaphysics. Whatever metaphysical framework you use is a matter of faith, not knowledge, and that faith both empowers and restricts all of your thinking, choosing and acting.
The metaphysics of communication in one LDS frame of reference is to view the human being as an intelligence housed in a spirit body, and that spirit body housed in a temporary tabernacle of flesh and bone. The real person is the intelligence housed in the spirit body, not the body of flesh and bone. This human person of three parts exists in this world for a testing, a probation, to show the true nature of the intelligence by allowing the spirit to control the body.
The intelligence and spirit of each person receive information about the world around it’s physical body through the nerve mechanisms of that human body. These nerve mechanisms transmit nerve impulses to the brain which are differentiated only by the source in the sensory organs of the surface of the human body. Thus the nerve impulse from the retina of the eyes is exactly the kind of impulse as the impulses from the tympani in the ears. If the two nerve systems were crossed, we would “see” with our ears and “hear” with our eyes. This information is the physics of the functioning of the human physical body.
This picture of the human nervous system leads to the idea of epistemological solipsism. Metaphysical solipsism is the idea that I alone exist and that the universe and all of its inhabitants are but figments of my imagination. We are not here espousing or commending metaphysical solipsism. But I am propounding and endorsing epistemological solipsism. Epistemological solipsism is the idea that my consciousness exists in my brain and I know nothing directly about the outside physical universe. I invent ideas about the physical universe in response to the physical stimuli which my nervous systems send to my brain, but my universe is all a construct, an invention of my mind.
In my particular LDS frame of reference as added to that scientific account of human sensing, we also need to posit that the human spirit is also subject to two kinds of spiritual influence to which it may and must respond: First, the influence of God for good, either the light of Christ or the Holy Ghost, or both, which inform the spirit as to how to interpret physical and spiritual experiences for truth and for good. Second, the influence of Satan for error and for evil, interpreting physical and spiritual experience of the person in ways that encourage each person to do evil, to break the commandments of God. There is some scriptural evidence that the spiritual influence of Satan comes to the human being only through the flesh, the mortal tabernacle.1
The sum of this metaphysical picture of the human being is that the human spirit is trapped with the human physical body and knows or is affected by only three things: 1)physical stimuli which come through the sensory mechanisms of the physical human body, 2)spiritual stimuli which come to it from God, and 3) spiritual stimuli which come from Satan.2
When one human being communicates with another human being, the communication consists of both physical and spiritual elements. For the instance of voice communication, the speaker creates noises which travel through the air as sound waves and which disturb the hearing mechanisms of the physical body of the recipient person. The recipient hears the noises in his or her own brain and invents a meaning for the noises. This meaning is constructed on the basis of the recipient’s prior experience with the language being used, and on the basis of the construct of the universe which the recipient has, which will include prior experience with the speaker, with other speakers of that language, previous thoughts of the recipient about the topic being discussed, etc. The point of this is that meaning is never transmitted directly from one person to another. It has no place in the stream of nervous impulses which arrive in the human brain. Meaning is always invented by the recipient. No sign, signal or symbol has any inherent meaning. Again, meaning is always invented by the recipient and is never transmitted physically when humans communicate.
But the recipient is never alone in constructing meanings in a communication situation. Always there is the additional influence of Satan in every communication. Satan supplies to the recipient possible interpretations for the noises heard, and may or may not indicate the true meaning intended by the speaker. The purpose of Satan’s communication to the human spirit is in all cases to lead the recipient to do evil. Satan will thus indicate to the human spirit whatever interpretation of the communication he desires to the end that the person break the commandments of God.
The third element of most human communication is the influence of God. When a person is spoken to by another person, God may also supply to the recipient an interpretation of the physical message of the sender. This influence of God will come either through the light of Christ, which all mankind receives at most times during mortality, or through the ministrations of the Holy Ghost. The influence of God in the communication situation is to give the recipient part or all of the true intention and message of the speaker. Having access to the true intention and message of the speaker arms the recipient to deal with reality, the way things really are. Should the speaker be describing some truth of the universe, the influence of God may give a correct interpretation of the intent of the speaker, and may also give the real truth of the matter under consideration, depending on the worthiness of the recipient. Along with the correct interpretation of the communication, instruction may be given as to how to respond to the sender in a way that is good, within the framework of the commandments of God, which good will be some form of blessing others by one’s actions.
The influence of God is not always present. It is always present for little children, and sometimes little children understand human communication better than their elders. But for those over eight years of age, if the person consistently chooses and uses only the interpretations given by Satan, the spirit of the Lord is grieved and leaves the person to be led solely by Satan.3 My metaphysics tells me that when any person rejects the influence of God, he or she is left with only his or her personal inventions as to the meaning of communications as influenced by Satan. For a covenant servant of Christ I see no middle ground: Either we accept the help of God in communication or reject it. But when we reject the influence of God we back ourselves into the arms of Satan and whatever interpretation we give to the communication in question will be tainted or controlled by the influence of Satan.
To say that human words and symbols have no inherent meaning must not be taken to say that they have no importance. Some human words and symbols have great importance in and of themselves, and the appropriate use of them gives the speaker great power. The prime example of this importance of a word or symbol is the name “Jesus Christ.” When a true and faithful covenant servant of Jesus Christ uses that name in prayer or in blessing or cursing someone or something, the use of the name has the power to change things in the natural world, such as healing the sick or causing the blind to see.4 When a person who knows who Jesus Christ is uses that name in vain by swearing or by attempting to give unauthorized blessings or cursings, damage comes to the speaker instead of to the person or thing he or she is trying to bless or curse.5 The use of magical words and incantations is the evil reverse practice of using the name of Christ to bless. Satan also has special words which his followers are taught and use to wield his Satanic power in the realm of natural things, and such formulae are much sought after by purveyors of evil.6 The power, of course, does not reside in the words themselves, but in the persons of Christ and Satan. The person who uses the words correctly, using the instructions given by the respective master, thus has power through using words. But the power is not in the words themselves. Meaning must be intended by the user as well as being invented by the hearer.
The meaning of any communication is thus supplied by three sources: The imagination of the hearer, the influence of Satan, and the influence of God. It may also come from any mixture of those three sources.
The main point about communication: Human beings as spirit persons have only indirect communication with each other through the physical sensory mechanisms of the human body, but have direct communication with both God and Satan.
Agency is the freedom of an individual to choose between alternatives and then to carry out the chosen action. Choosing provides a partial agency which is sufficient to show the nature of the person choosing, whether they themselves are good or evil. Action provides the fulness of agency. Where there is no power to act, there is no power to do actual good or evil, even if chosen.
The purpose of mortal probation is fulfilled simply by choosing.
Human beings exist in this world to give each an opportunity to choose between good and evil, thus to display the nature of their eternal intelligence. God provided this human experience for each person so that when he rewards each with eternal blessings, each human will know that God is just and is rewarding each person appropriately.
The agency of each human being thus consists in having the God-given opportunity to react to both the influence of Satan for evil and the influence of God for good. How a given person reacts to their experience with those two spiritual influences determines how much weight of glory that given person can stand in the eternal worlds. Those who learn to take interpretation and direction only from God, and who then do what God directs, are candidates for exaltation, to become as God is. Those who mix their interpretations and instruction to act, using some from Satan and some from God, are candidates for glory because of the degree to which they follow God, but are damned or stopped to the degree to which they hearkened to Satan.
No human being can determine the eternal salvation of any other human being. Because no human being can communicate directly with any other human being, no person can control the mind or choices of any other human being. It is true that human communication may engender good or evil, but each person will be given a full opportunity to choose between good and evil for himself or herself. A missionary may present a message about the Gospel of Jesus Christ to another person, but it is not receiving the missionary’s message that saves anyone, it is rather because the person listens to the Holy Spirit which may be present when the missionary teaches or bears testimony.7 The task of a missionary is to be so humble that he or she is accompanied by the Holy Spirit. Then the salvation of souls is made possible. Likewise, no human being can damn any other human being, no matter how they treat the other person or what communication they attempt to give them.
Part of the agency of each human being is the ability God has given each to interpret and use the communications of other human beings. Another part is the influence of Satan. A third part is God’s own influence. Thus each human being lives in a mental universe of his or her own choosing, and chooses actions to attempt to remodel or change that universe according to his or her own desires.
God has set up a flawless system to give each human being agency to affect others temporally, but never to control the eternal destiny of anyone but themselves. Every person will say at the day of judgment that they have been given the correct reward. No one will accuse God of being either harsh or indulgent towards any of his children, for each will see and know that each has chosen his or her own eternal destiny and rewards by the actions he or she chose in the mortal probation.
The main point about agency: The agency of human beings is the opportunity to choose either good by hearkening to God, or to choose evil by hearkening to Satan at a given moment. There is no third possibility.
Salvation is to be saved from something. In the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, salvation is to be saved from ourselves and from the consequences of the evil things we have done.
To be saved from ourselves means to be helped to get rid of the evil within our own nature, our character, which causes and enables us to sin. To sin is to break the commandments of God, and all sinning involves injury to others in the process of breaking the commandments of God. To be saved from the things we have done is to be saved from the consequences of a just reward for each of the acts of disobedience to the commandments of God wherein we have caused injury to others.
Our Savior helps us to be saved from ourselves through the process of repentance. In repenting, we change our actions so that all of our acts become acts of faith in Jesus Christ. We can do this only by treasuring the influence of God in our lives and at the same time rejecting the influence of Satan in our lives. By such choosing we learn to keep all of the commandments of God. This change, or repentance, is a change of character, which change of character involves changing how we view the world and how we react to the world. This salvation is a reformation of our habits of thinking, feeling, speaking and acting. These changes do not come simply by desiring to change, but come only as our character is reformulated by our persistent actions in choosing to do good for our neighbors under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, and then doing that good. The change has to be so complete and so firm that eventually we come to the point where forever after we never will give in to the temptations of Satan to break the commandments of God, thus to sin. The goal of faith in Jesus Christ and repentance is to come unto the stature of a perfect human being, our character being remade in the image of Christ himself through our own choices and by the enabling power of God.
Our Savior helps us to be saved from the consequences of our actions, from the just reward for the injury we have caused others through breaking the commandments of God, through his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross. In that suffering he took upon himself the pain for each human sin, the just recompense for our having caused pain. He will forgive us the necessity of making that same suffering on the condition that we truly repent, that is, that we change our nature and habits so that we no longer sin. Then it is worthwhile for him to forgive us, since we no longer are preying upon our fellow beings.
The key to salvation is to receive instruction from God and follow it, specifically to serve under the tutelage of the Holy Ghost. One cannot receive the gift of the Holy Ghost unto this salvation until he or she makes the covenant of baptism. One of the promises of that covenant is that we will keep the commandments Christ gives us, in other words, we will seek and gain full faith in Jesus Christ.
One cannot receive the covenant of baptism meaningfully if one has not received the witness of the Holy Ghost. It profits a person to receive the witness of the Holy Ghost only when one can tell the good from the evil in this world, so that one knows which is the good or holy spirit, and which is the evil or satanic spirit. Every human being of normal intelligence becomes well acquainted with both the light of Christ, which witnesses of that which is good, and the influence of Satan, which witnesses of that which is evil. Then, knowing good from evil, each can discern the difference between the Holy Spirit and the evil spirit. It is then meaningful to the individual to receive the Holy Ghost.
The salvation of a given human soul is thus a joint enterprise between that soul and Christ. The individual puts his or her whole faith in Christ unto taking upon himself or herself the New and Everlasting Covenant and then living up to all of the promises made. As the individual person does the works of righteousness by loving God with all of his or her heart, might, mind and strength, Christ enables the person to have greater and greater will power, priesthood power, discernment, understanding, and knowledge of the truth of all things, but especially and most importantly the power to love others with a pure love, the pure love of Christ.
The main point about salvation: Our Savior saves each individual by teaching and enabling each to have full faith in him unto repentance from every transgression of the laws of God until the person arrives at the stature of the fulness of the character of Christ himself and does the full works of righteousness which the pure love of Christ makes possible.
The agency of mankind is thus found in the simple paradigm of our communication situation as given by the correct metaphysical understanding of the human condition. This paradigm is that the human being is an intelligence tabernacled in a spirit body, that spirit body being tabernacled in a mortal, physical body. The spirit body has direct spiritual communication with both the good spirit and the evil spirit, but no direct connection or communication with any other human being. The agency of the person is simply to choose which of the two spirits to follow. Salvation depends upon deliberately following the Holy Spirit, upon deliberately rejecting the influence of the evil spirit, and not upon the intervention of any other human being except to receive all parts of the New and Everlasting Covenant as administered by some authorized representative of God.
1. 2 Nephi 2:29
2. 2 Nephi 2:28-29
3. D&C 121:37
5. Exodus 20:7, D&C 63:61-62
6. Moroni: 10:30