Monday, November 21, 2005

Seer Stones Are Used by Modern Church Leaders

Theorem. President Hinckley, his counselors in the First Presidency, and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve use seer stones today.

Proof. The men listed in the theorem are sustained as seers. “…the possession and use of these stones were what constituted ‘seers’ in ancient or former times…” (JS-H 1:35). But “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing” (Morm. 9:9 and many others). Q.E.D. (Note the cute alternate meanings for this Latin abbreviation!)

Remark. Note that Mosiah 8:13 and 28:13-16 are not strong enough to make this argument. From these we learn that possession and use of seer stones are sufficient to call someone a seer, but their language does not entail the necessity of their use. It is from JS-H 1:35 that we learn that use of stones is constitutive of seership.

Something to keep in mind the next time you sustain them. ;->


34 Comments:

C'mon. Using the "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever" line, you could just as easily argue that modern churchleaders are polygamists. 

Comment by Last Lemming | 11/21/2005 04:42:00 PM  

Well, some of them are  polygamists, or at least will be---for example, Elder Oaks, who is sealed to more than one woman. It's not clear that the doctrine with regard to polygamy has changed, even if the practice is severely attenuated to cases like that of Elder Oaks, because of the insistence of American society around the turn of the 20th century. So I'm not sure your attempted counterexample is sufficient to defeat the proof.

Surely there's a more substantive counter-argument out there... (I can think of a couple, but will wait to see what others say. BTW, I hope that jokingly putting this in a theorem/proof format is sufficient to signal that I don't take this argument seriously. But still, I think that pondering why it might fail could be instructive.) 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/21/2005 05:03:00 PM  

I actually have had some interesting conversations with some leaders which may very well suggest that they do use seer stones or something like it. It's third hand information, but somewhat compelling to me. (Although obviously no one else since I don't feel able to relate the stories in question)

Without saying too much out of place, I'd suggest Rev 2:17 and the commentary on it of D&C 130:10-11 can be taken to indicate that such things aren't that uncommon. 

Comment by clark | 11/21/2005 07:40:00 PM  

Clark,  you've made my day. The theorem might actually be correct? Awesome. 

But you've ruined my day, too. I was going to trot out the scriptures you mention in a follow-up post tomorrow. (Well, probably I still will.) 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/21/2005 07:55:00 PM  

I'd probably add that Rev 2-3 is an example of the literary device called interspersion. I believe that most of "essence" of the endowment is given there. If you think through the "objects" given in the endowment, that verse discusses it. Of course both the anointings and endowment we are given are merely preparatory. There are rites after that which one is not anointed to become something but as something.  | 11/21/2005 09:53:00 PM  

I have absolutely no problem with the idea that our Church leaders might be using seer stones provided to them by God the Eternal Father in their callings as prophets, seers, and revelators. Frankly, all this anxiety over Joseph Smith's seer stone is really starting to get on my nerves. Like it's easier to believe that Joseph Smith created tin plates in his backyard and wrote an internally consistent manuscript of close to 500 pages, memorized it, and then "dictated" it while looking for hours at a time into his stone in the hat. Yes, this scenario eliminates God and inspiration from the picture but, frankly, takes as much faith as believing that God was revealing the contents of the BoM to Joseph Smith through the seer stone in his hat. 

Comment by john fowles | 11/22/2005 08:37:00 AM  

Clark,  I agree that those chapters are one of the most interesting Biblical passages supporting the Mormon doctrine of divinization. The progression of promises to 'those who overcome' is indeed remarkable.

Christians who complain about Mormon theomorphism should read their Bibles with a more open mind. Even if they disagree, they should at least be able recognize how one could arrive at divinization from several  Biblical passages. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/22/2005 09:15:00 AM  

Put me down for definitely no use of seer stones in the modern era. I'll bet they never even take it out of the First Presidency safe.

Have you ever heard of any major decisions being made by asking the stone? No, it's always comes about at the Thursday meeting of the 12 and the FP. Have the FP or the 12 had any literal revelations from God recently? Has any new scripture been revealed lately? (And don't say the Proclamation, which I think we can all agree was not written by God.)

I just don't see any recent revelations or policies that would be consistent with use of a seer stone. If new scripture or "thus saith the Lord" type revelations came out, then I would allow the possibility. Somehow, I don't think the decision about the ZCMI mall or the SSM came from the stone.  

Comment by NFlanders | 11/22/2005 11:27:00 AM  

Ned, why do you think seer stones would necessarily lead to a "thus saith the Lord" kind of response. Most of the journal accounts of seer stone use in the 19th century don't really indicate that sort of thing. I think we sometimes adopt some assumptions about the translation process and then read back from that how they work in general. 

Comment by Clark | 11/22/2005 12:34:00 PM  

Well, that is a good point, Clark, but let me turn the question around on you. What form do YOU think revelation with the seer stones would take? A burning in the bosom that, say, correlation is a correct principle? (No sarcasm intended, I am seriously asking, because I don't know myself.) I just think that seer stone revelation would (hopefully) be a little less ambiguous than the "warm fuzzy" method of revelation that seems to guide the Church today. 

Comment by NFlanders | 11/22/2005 12:55:00 PM  

From some of the accounts I've read (and I'm not vouching for them being a general principle) those using seer stones in 19th century Utah often saw images in their mind. That might involve lost sheep, a person, some event or the like. That's also in keeping with the general discussion in D&C 130. 

Comment by Clark | 11/22/2005 01:30:00 PM  

Interesting theory. I agree that I was overly focused on the BoM story of the stone.

However, from all the internal accounts we have of the way church heirarchy works, none have even a hint of the seer stone, nor anything like unto it. If something as important as, say, blacks and the priesthood came about with no stone involvement (at least from the accounts we have), I can't imagine it having a role in something less important, like say, stake creation.

I certainly allow that it is possible that the stone is used, but I'd put it as highly unlikely and suprememly secret (stones are bad PR, something GBH realizes). Do you seriously believe that the stone is used, or are you simply arguing its possibility? 

Comment by NFlanders | 11/22/2005 02:04:00 PM  

As I said, I don't feel like giving the stories I've heard, but I think there is circumstantial evidence that at least some use them 

Comment by Clark | 11/22/2005 03:41:00 PM  

Let me see if I'm understanding peoples' positions correctly.

Clark  and John F. are open to the possibility that the theorem is correct: modern leaders are  using seer stones. (Clark even seems to think it's likely.) But if they weren't, would you be troubled? If not, what do you think the flaw in the theorem is?

NFlanders is skeptical of modern use of seer stones. NFlanders, what do you think the flaw in the theorem is? 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/22/2005 03:56:00 PM  

NFlanders,  above  you seem to be making a distinction between "seer stone revelation" and "the 'warm fuzzy' method of revelation." What do you think the difference is?

Remember that our whole concept of the "warm fuzzy method" comes from D&C 9, which came about during use of the stone (see the section heading and then v. 8-9). 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/22/2005 03:59:00 PM  

Another point that I think should be mentioned is that revelation depends as much on the preparedness of the audience it is intended for as it does on being "true" or "correct". While Blacks should have received the priesthood a long time ago, I think a strong argument can be made that the ignorance and wickedness of both the membership and the leadership of the Church may have made it impossible for it to occur until it did. I bring this tangential topic up because it seems to me that some comments in this discussion are treating revelation as if it were simply a matter of receiving divine dictation, which, if properly received, would always be the same for whomever received it. What if revelation is highly personalized for the needs of both its recipient and its intended audience?

Comment by Carl Youngblood | 11/22/2005 06:04:00 PM  

Christian, good point about the "warm fuzzy" doctrine coming about from use of the stone. The distinction between using a seer stone and a burning bosom revelation seems pretty clear to me. I guess the problem is that I don't understand how the seer stone would work. Is it like the palantir in the LotR? I assume there has to be some sort of visual component to it, as opposed to praying about something and receiving a feeling that it is correct.

Going back to Clark's implication that each of the apostles get their own personal stones, I just don't buy it. I think it would be pretty incredible and shocking if information came out that the 12 were regularly using seer stones. Frankly, I just can't imagine what they would be looking for in the stones.

Modern apostles don't do the sort of things that I imagine a seer stone could help with. Modern prophets and apostles do not: predict the future, produce new scripture, translate languages, produce new doctrine, have visions that they share with us. All of these things Joseph did do, and often through the stone. Apostles mostly visit missions and stakes and speak in conferences and run the bureaucratic matters of the church, none of which need or show evidence of a seer stone.

Regardless, I think the flaw in your proof is the fact that while GOD may always be the same, the practice of his religion varies wildly. 

Comment by NFlanders | 11/22/2005 07:12:00 PM  

Somehow my last post got lost.

I should add that I can understand if some apostles didn't use such stones even if they had them. Further it seems that some 19th century Utah use of seerstones got into quackery over the issue of natural seers. According to the theology of the day if, according to your lineage, you were "an heir according to the flesh" you were of the lineage to be a natural seer. There is some indication that you could, like Joseph did early on, have the right to use seer stones. Much like Joseph, some would find particular river rocks or the like and utilize them. However it should be obvious that this would lead to abuse. By the turn of the 20th century there was a movement against this and most charismatic gifts not exercised by the hierarchy. This was especially true of women who were urged not to exercise gifts that they had been exercising up to that independent of the priesthood. (Let me note to any readers that I'm *not* disagreeing with those teachings by the brethren of that day and believe that restriction largely remains in effect)

BTW - for those interested Ian Barber had a paper on seer stones and women  called "Mormon Women as 'Natural' Seers" that touches upon a lot of this. Unfortunately beyond introducing the general principles he doesn't address some of the more interesting issues.

One argument against Seer Stones is that Joseph Fielding Smith disparaged them, strongly suggesting that he didn't even believe Joseph Smith used one for translating. If they were common, would Smith have said that? It's hard to say.

An other useful quote that Quinn brings up (Magic World View, 250) is this one from Brigham Young. "Joseph said there is a [seer] Stone for every person on Earth. . . I dont no [sic] that I have ever had a desire to have one." That was purportedly from 1855 minutes. (I say that since I don't have the source at hand and have been burned with short quotes from uncommon sources by Quinn in the past) However Quinn also noted that at the first General Conference after Joseph's death, Brigham emphasized that the President had the right to use the Urim and Thummim.

Quinn's section on Seer Stones here is worth reading. Both because there is a constant tension with competing authority (and one would presume inauthentic experiences or even influence from Satan) and because of the whole move towards centralizing authority. He even has a J. Golden Kimball story of Kimball going to someone with a seer stone to find some cattle. Up to the 20th century they really were ubiquitous. One wonders if their decline can be tied to many changes after the end of the economic orders and polygamy.

Quinn notes that as early as the 1880's the church was warning of seerstone use (although unlike Quinn, I think this is more to do with counterfeits than really questioning seer stones)

By 1902 Joseph F. Smith said, "These peepstone men and women are inspired by the devil and are the real witches, if any such there be." (Quinn, 254) On the other hand Presiding Patriarch John Smith used a seerstone and didn't die until 1911. Quinn notes that at least one mission president in the 1940's used one and discussed it. He also noted that when he first discussed the topic in the 1980's, many people told him they had seer stones.

The problem is that, as with so many things, even if public discussion largely ended around the turn of the 20th century that doesn't entail that such things aren't discussed. He who has ears to hear, to borrow the phraseology of the text in Revelation we mentioned earlier. One has to be careful, since would could from the paucity of evidence also say that there have been no second anointings conducted since the 30's, which would also be wrong. And indeed, I think the two closely related (although not directly tied together)

As I said, I think there is clear indication that they have the right to such items. Whether all apostles or Presidents use them is an other matter. But I believe at least several do. Once again for reasons I don't care to relate.

I do agree that Ned Flanders has a point though. Modern apostles are primarily asked to be managers and I'm not convinced that seer stones would help there. Further I think Carl's point is well taken that we have to prepare ourselves. Martin Harris' experiences are the model. I suspect that back in the early 40's when most of the apostles were ready for a revelation on blacks and the priesthood it could have happened then had all been prepared. Clearly our history involves God rarely forcing revelations on leaders against their will. Most of the time God will inspire, but we must ask. I'd note that Joseph, probably one of the greatest of all prophets and seers, certainly screwed up a lot.
 

Comment by clark | 11/23/2005 01:52:00 AM  

Well, I'd better put "Magic World View" on my Amazon wishlist. Very interesting points, Clark. 

Comment by NFlanders | 11/23/2005 03:55:00 AM  

Carl,  no doubt worthiness and preparation are important requirements for revelation in Mormonism. But I think your particular example is remarkable because you seem to be saying that most of society was more in tune with God's will than his chosen prophets. So much for the 'wickedness of the world'...  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/23/2005 07:59:00 AM  

NFladners,  yes, the very word "seer" implies a visual component. And several who were in the room with Joseph while he translated the Book of Mormon said he was reading words that appeared in the stone.

However, I think that Oliver's failure and D&C 9 are strong evidence that revelation with a seer stone was associated with concentration, heightened expectation, burning in the bosom, etc., phenomena also associated with seeking revelation without a stone.

Because of this similarity with 'normal' revelation I'm skeptical there's anything 'physical' going on with the stone, but that it simply functioned as a token or aid to faith, like the wet clay the Savior applied to the eyes of someone he healed from blindness (likely the clay itself didn't play any physically meaningful role). I think it's very likely that anything he 'saw' in the stone or Urim and Thummim was with 'spiritual eyes,' in his 'mind's eye,' and not electromagnetic radiation (physical light) impinging on his retina.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/23/2005 08:15:00 AM  

NFlanders,  I agree with your point about leaders being more managers than actually doing the kinds of things the scriptures say define seers. Why then do we sustain them as such? I think Clark's given the answer, it's more about defining their exclusive authority: even if they don't exercise those gifts, if anyone were to, it would be them.

I also think your take on the flaw in the proof is the beginning of a good answer, but I think it needs further work, because JS-H 1:35 linked in the main post says that it was God  who prepared the 'interpreters' for the purpose of translating the book. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/23/2005 08:26:00 AM  

So Christian, are you going to give us your answer?

Also, I'm not sure what you mean in your last sentence. Are you saying that the seers stones were prepared primarily for translation of the BoM and thus aren't as essential now? 

Comment by NFlanders | 11/23/2005 12:37:00 PM  

Sorry to have been slow to reveal my hand here. While some of my ideas about what's wrong with the proof have come up here, at least partially, I'll pull it all together and expand on it in a separate post sometime in the next few days.

I hope this striptease approach doesn't seem too condescending... I just want to stimulate thought, including my own. Plus, as a solo blogger I am constrained to resort to desperate measures to string along interest and seize upon the least excuse to generate new posts. ;->

The short answer to your last question is "Yes." (That'll teach you to ask yes/no questions. Didn't you learn anything from the Missionary Guide? ;-> ) I'll explain my thinking on this in the follow-up post.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/23/2005 01:52:00 PM  

Well, since you aren't averse to continuing the conversation let me ask you another question. JS-H 1:35 says that the U&T were prepared for the translation of the BoM, but it doesn't appear that they were used much. Was the seer stone that Joseph found in the well also prepared for the translation or just a happy coincidence? Was this Joseph's personal stone while the U&T are more institutional stones?

Also, are there no more seer stones today? Is there anything besides the presence of a seer that distinguishes a seer stone from, say, a large ruby or emerald? Could GBH go into a jewelry store and find a seer stone there? Why or why not?

Finally, I think it would be very interesting to know what type of mineral the seer stone that is in the possession of the church is. Will they evey allow a photographer to take pictures of it? Frankly, I find the topic of seer stones to be fascinating. 

Comment by NFlanders | 11/23/2005 05:28:00 PM  

Ned, I personally don't think there is a real difference between the U&T and the seer stones. But I'd further add that there is a lot of stuff to come in the future, including a lot of foretold new translation work. 

Comment by clark | 11/23/2005 05:56:00 PM  

I can't say that I know what you're referring to, Clark. Is this prophecy from the Standard Works or from JS? I thought we weren't getting any more until we properly appreciated what we had. 

Comment by NFlanders | 11/23/2005 06:29:00 PM  

There's the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon that is yet to be translated. I suspect a seer stone of some kind will be used. 

Comment by clark | 11/23/2005 07:03:00 PM  

NFlanders,  good question on whether the seer stone in the well was also prepared by God. I think Joseph and succeeding prophets (e.g. Wilford Woodruff and Joseph Fielding Smith as I recall) assumed so, because they referred to both the interpreters from Moroni's box in the hill and the stone from the well used in the hat as "the" (or "a") Urim and Thummim. It seems the term "Urim and Thummim" came to be a general term for any stone or implement involving stones that was used to receive revelation (remember again D&C 130:10-11 in which "Urim and Thummim" is used in this general sense).

As I've suggested above, my own guess is that such implements played no "real" role except to bolster the user's faith and confidence. My guess (here I differ with Clark) is that modern leaders wouldn't think they are necessary, though admittedly there are conflicting indications (a subject for yet another post). 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/24/2005 08:39:00 AM  

Just to note, even in the hermetic/occult traditions stones and glasses always were just to aid concentration. I'm certainly not saying the religious seer stone follows that. Although I suspect the folk traditions of early 19th century America influenced how Mormons looked at them up to the 20th century when scientific thinking started being more dominant. As Quinn said, those from that earlier culture died out. (Once again I urge caution taking Quinn too far on these matters - his text's flaws are well known)

But is having something to help one focus on receiving revelation such a bad thing? I think the evidence is such that as Joseph progressed he didn't really use the U&T or the seer stone. So in that I agree with Christian.

My point is more that there are reasons to think they are given or had. 

Comment by Clark | 11/25/2005 03:23:00 PM  

As I recall, Quinn does cite eyewitnesses of one or more of Joseph's stones still remaining in the First Presidency's vault. I see no reason to doubt that. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/25/2005 08:46:00 PM  

Christian: Get real. Your argument committs the ought-is logical fallacy. The argument that modern leaders ought to use seer stones because scripture says that is what a "seer" is doesn't support in the least that our leaders do presently use seer stones. The argument is invalid and anything suggested beyond this invalid argument is speculation without a shred a reliable evidence to suggest that the practice continues today.  

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 11:56:00 AM  

Blake, this post was meant to be ironic. I don't believe the "theorem" and was very surprised Clark sort of seemed to in the comments. I meant to discuss its flaws in a subsequent post---I think I promised that in the comments here---but haven't got to it yet (in part I guess due to interesting discussions about free will!).  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/23/2005 12:01:00 PM  

Chrsitian: I suspected as much. Woops -- ignore the crazy man who sent the prior post in my name. 

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 01:56:00 PM  

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