My point in this endeavor is not to give a full exposition of either Mormonism or Wagner’s Ring cycle, but simply to compare and contrast Mormonism’s Jehove and Wagner’s Wotan for the purpose of reflecting on whether love for the story of Wotan is rational.
The Mormon prophets refer to one of their gods as Jehovah to couple their vision to the Bible. However, to distinguish their creation from the living and true God, (“before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me,” Is 43:10), I will change the name of their god slightly, to Jehove, to ensure that there is no ambiguity of reference in this discussion.
Mormonism’s chief god (for us) is simply called Heavenly Father (hereafter: HF). He has a body more or less just like ours. Through actual relations with cosmic females, HF has sired a vast multitude of children, the first-born of which is Jehove. The proper goal of each “spirit-child” is to prove itself by sustaining a moral test, in reward for which it will be granted immortality and creative power like HF himself. To provide the field for this moral test, Jehove (following HF’s instructions) shaped the earth from pre-existent, eternal material. Each human born on earth is one of HF’s pre-existent spirit-children, but now with a second, human pair of parents that brings its body into being. The plan was for Jehove to be incarnated to show the way; he is the only one whose physical body was also conceived directly by HF on earth. Though there are many celestial beings out there as exalted as, if not greater than HF, we are to direct our worship only to HF due to being part of his project and progeny, though he shares this praise with Jehove due to Jehove’s unique place in the project.
In Wagner’s Ring, Wotan (based on Odin of nordic mythology) is one god among many, but he has become chief god by virtue of carving a spear from the primal ash tree, and inscribing on it covenants that establish the various relations between the gods, enforced by the powerful wielding of the spear. Wotan’s spear is thus the origin of law, which is the presupposition for the orderly world of the gods and their doings. Wotan himself dare not violate his own oaths, for doing so would break the power of the spear and thus unravel the basis of his pre-eminence and bring about his own downfall. There are other beings that have power not subject to Wotan’s spear, most notably the dwarf Alberich. Alberich is willing to renounce love in order to unlock the magic power of the Rhine gold which he has stolen, and by doing so, becomes a threat to the tranquility of the gods. In a complicated scheme to retain his position and thwart Alberich, yet without violating his own oaths, Wotan sires at least two orders of creatures: the twelve Valkyrie sisters by union with Erda, and the Waelsungs by union with a wolf-like creature.
Both stories are fiction. But is the love we feel for Wotan over Jehove unfair, brought about, perhaps, by the magnificence of the aesthetic experience alone? I examine this question by looking at each under a couple key rubrics.
In the Ring, both cosmos and gods seem to emerge spontaneously from primal chaos in accordance with a principle of fate. There is a beginning, though nebulous. In Mormonism, the sequence of trial-success-glorification seems to repeat into an infinite regress as you look behind in time, and an infinite repetition as you look forward. The ultimate grounding of this two-fold infinity is unspecified. (It could not be specified, of course, without absurdity.)
The cosmology of each story includes a dualism of the personal and material that are equally ultimate. The divine beings in both stories are confronted with brute fact that must be assessed, overcome, manipulated. By this alone we know we are not dealing with the living and true God in either story. How would these gods ever find the equally ultimate matter? This implies they must share a universe: but what is the origin of that universe that is sharable by autonomous, brute particulars?
In Mormonism, the law of ethical achievement seems to be transcendent, but this is illusory: it is itself simply an aspect of the brute facticity of the universe. It is cold and impersonal: HF and Jehove had to perfect themselves in accordance with it no less than we do. Where did it come from? Don’t ask. It just is.
In contrast, in the Ring, the law emerges immanently from the will of the characters, and it is not unrelated to love. (Wotan never could grasp how it was possible for Alberich to be willing to renounce love to achieve power.) It is as personal as it gets. Obviously, we can criticize how it plays out in this or that aspect. But how much better it is than an Abstract Universal that came from no where.
To complete this brief analysis, let me now reflect a moment on the story-tellers themselves.
Can we say that what Richard Wagner did is analogous to what Joseph Smith did? Each took pre-existing material and shaped and molded it for his respective purpose. But to ask it is to answer it: Wagner does not present the story as something to be believed literally.
Perhaps there is an analogy under the topic of revelation. Joseph Smith fobbed off his tall tale as divine revelation; Richard Wagner, you could say, presented his epic as a revelation of something deep and profound contained in the Nordic myths.
Let’s take the Nordic myth-makers as the author and reflect on this question of revelation. Can we say, Joseph Smith is more evil than the Norsemen, because he corrupted the divine revelation, while the Norsemen were sincerely seeking?
This is not quite adequate, because all men know the living and true God; this knowledge is corrupted immanently, in the very act of apprehension, by the antipathy of the natural man to the sight of God. The Norsemen intentionally distorted the revelation of God, and Joseph Smith intentionally distorted the revelation of God.
A distinction does need to be made, however. Though, as van Til pointed out, General Revelation (GR) has the attributes of authority, perspicuity, and sufficiency just like Special Revelation (SR), it is also true that SR produces a corrective to our self-distorted vision (Calvin’s spectacles) that GR cannot do on its own. So the Norsemen did strain after something true, though corrupted by the noetic effect of their sin; while Joseph Smith intentionally obscured and distorted the verbal revelation of God that he had access to.
Wagner’s story of Wotan is the crafting of an inherited myth into a drama that expresses themes that are true of the human situation; and since man is made in the image of God, there are shafts of light that are reflective of the true God, albeit in fictionalized form.
Thus, when you find yourself exclaiming, “Oh would that this story were really true,” there is a sense in which it is true. There are not actual persons that you can have an I-thee relation with under that name. But there are real persons that reflect the themes in their characters, dilemmas, and hopes; and what is good about those persons is from God.
Whereas, the story of Jehove is a deliberate distortion of the truth. Love and life are attenuated where they appear at all; a mechanical scaffolding of “eternal virtue” is constructed around a universe of brute fact that is (somehow) peopled by godlets that have no intuitive appeal whatsoever.
Mormonism claims to be everything Christianity is, plus additional insight. But this is as absurd as someone saying, “Jesus of Nazareth was really Wotan incarnate. No: really.”
We need to pray for the Holy Spirit-induced conversion of Mormons, as for all that are blinded by Satan.
And when it happens, perhaps a milestone in their sanctification will be a proper appreciation for Wagner”s myth.