Saturday, April 16, 2016

Goethe and Mormonism

Joseph Smith
This blog was inaugurated in August 2008 and is now approaching 250,000 visitors. I would not claim that it is solely my stellar posts that have drawn so many here. Clearly, Goethe attracts a lot of people, and internet searchers go where they can to find him. Since 2008 I have corresponded with many readers who have very little to do with Goethe scholarship per se (high school students doing research), with amateur scholars, and even with a few academics who have inquired about the source of some of my quotes (e.g., on Goethe and beggars). Most of the time readers are responding not to immediate posts, but to earlier ones. Thus, not long ago I had a query concerning a post of mine from January 2009 on Goethe and religion. This was the reader's comment on that post:

“I wonder what Goethe would have made of Mormon doctrine. The LDS church radically reinterpret the story of genesis as progressive and not a fall. The doctrine of original sin is rejected as part of the restoration. It sounds as though Goethe would have approved based on this post.”

Right off the top of my head, I had to admit that I had no idea what Goethe would have made of Mormon doctrine. Today, however, I began doing a little online research and came across a very interesting review of Walter W. Arndt's Norton Critical Edition translation of Goethe's Faust. It appeared in The Mormon Review in 2009 and was written by Terryl Givens, professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond. The review is entitled “The Redemption of Eve: Joseph Smith and Goethe's Faust.”

Before quoting what Professor Givens has to say, allow me to introduce here what I have learned (on Wikipedia, where else?) about Eve in LSD doctrine:

“Unlike some Christians, Latter-day Saints generally do not see the fall of Adam and Eve as a serious sin or as an overwhelmingly negative event. Rather, the fall is viewed as ‘a necessary step in the plan of life and a great blessing to all of us. Because of the Fall, we are blessed with physical bodies, the right to choose between good and evil, and the opportunity to gain eternal life. None of these privileges would have been ours had Adam and Eve remained in the garden.’”

So, already one can see, as my reader notes, that Goethe might have approved of LSD doctrine on this issue. Professor Givens fills out the picture. I particularly liked his comparison of Eve and Faust:

“Faust is just a middle-aged Eve, with a long life in the garden and a few diplomas to show for it. … Faust has acquired all the learning his garden has to offer. He knows every tree, shrub, and garden path. Like Eve, he has seen the same sun rise over the same grassy hillock on countless winter morns and summer daybreaks, while listening to the same dutiful companion (Faust has his Wagner) recite the same litany of another day’s chores under the same cloudless skies. Like Eve, Faust faces the same two sets of alternatives. Soul-starvation, or God-alienation. Or put in positive terms: Knowledge, wisdom, and the soul’s unfettered ascent, or a different kind of assent—to God’s dictates.”

And Goethe's “Herr” is definitely not the Old Testament creator, as Givens notes:

“But this Faust labors in a mortal sphere presided over by a God who is most emphatically not the God of Genesis. Devoid of jealousy, incapable of gratuitous tyranny, this God fully acknowledges the impossibility of Faust’s dilemma.”

And finally:

“Goethe’s Faust, like Joseph Smith’s Eve, breaks free of theology, because the imagination behind their creation is more artistic than priestly.”

Thanks again to my readers!

No comments: