Truman G. Madsen was a renowned philosopher, teacher, and biographer and regarded as one of the greatest LDS thinkers of our time. One of his goals as a founding senior fellow of the Wheatley Institution was to bring academic experts and civic leaders “to the fire” at BYU. In honor of this goal, the Madsen Lecture on Eternal Man series features leading scholars of faith, who are oftentimes not LDS themselves, giving them opportunities to discuss their work on the foundational relationship between faith and reason.
Laurence Hemming’s lecture on September 20th, “Eternal Return: Humanity after Eternity,” was no exception. Hemming is a Catholic deacon, a research professor at Lancaster University, a philosopher of 20th century thought, and a scholar of Mormonism. Over the years he has become familiar with major themes found in LDS theology.
Hemming’s own theory of the sources of Catholic ceremonies run parallel to Latter-day Saint narratives. “My own researches have consistently led me to believe [Catholic liturgy] origins or roots are grounded in the first Jerusalem temple. . .They tell a story that is often remarkably confluent with the story told by Latter-day Saints, especially in the writings of Joseph Smith, writings which I have come to know.”
Using this background knowledge of LDS theology, Hemming described Madsen’s book Eternal Man as a book that “speaks with an encompassing voice, a unique and powerful combination of spiritual prowess and Mormon theology.” Readers come to find that “the question of the eternal, time as such, and the question of man as who he is, are perhaps the greatest challenges” found in the Western world’s foundational ideas.
Hemming suggested that those looking to tackle these challenges start with an analysis of our current attitude towards history. “We stand in the midst of a turning point in Western life. The past has become constituted as a place of injury. There is a refusal to constitute these emerging identities within the greater whole.”
However, without an accurate view of history, we begin to lose sight of what it means to be human and eternal beings. The difficulty in this is that there “are real injuries in the past,” injuries that are much easier to overlook than face. As this happens, “you have to reestablish the meaning of yourself because your history has fallen into the background. Its value cannot be found, it cannot be reached.”
To combat this loss of identity while confronting the ugly parts of history, Hemming suggested we begin by “seizing the moment” for “an overpowering self, any given ‘I’, overcomes the threat of eternal.” As we take accountability for the present we can accept the past and acknowledge that our eternal existence is what we choose to make it. To understand our eternal nature we must acknowledge and explain “the present whole of ‘being.’ We need to understand eternity, the human relationship to eternity, and the human relationship to God if we are to preserve the unity that is dissolving before us.”