(continued from Part II)
With the Mormon conception of a premortal council in mind, as Roberts continued reading Pragmatism he set about noting where James steered askew from a Mormon way of seeing things, filling in the gaps where James does not follow the Mormon line of reasoning all the way out as well as identifying other elements that resonate with Mormonism. Where James suggests–again, perhaps hypothetically–that some proto-individuals, at this pre-dawn of creation, might recoil from such a dangerous proposition and prefer rather to “relapse into the slumber of nonentity” from which they had “been momentarily aroused by the tempter’s voice,” Roberts demurs. In the bottom margin of his copy of Pragmatism–and later in the footnotes of his published works–Roberts offered this corrective of James’s implication that God brought human souls into being out of a nonentity to which they might at any time return:
Of course this proposition of relapsing into a nonentity is no part of the “Mormon” scheme of thought since the actual proposition of our revelations was made to Intelligences alike uncreated and uncreateable, and alike indestructible; so that while in the exercise of their freedom these Intelligences might decline participation in the scheme of things proposed, they could not sink back into nonentity <, they would merely remain status quo>. 
The “Mormon scheme of thought,” so clear to Roberts, might not be as uniformly held among Mormons as Roberts seems to here suggest. Brigham Young had taught, in a manner somewhat congruent (if more literal) to the scenario James lays out, that those who ultimately reject God’s plan–individuals known in Mormonism as “sons of perdition”–will cease to grow and progress in truth and light and will decrease in ignorance and darkness until the return to native element. Though Roberts’s view of the ultimate fate of sons of perdition is slightly different that Young’s–Roberts views their fate as eternal separation from God but not as dissolution, which for Roberts is an untenable scenario–he still finds meaning in the concept of eternally lost souls, those who ultimately reject God’s plan, known as sons of perdition. Seeming to sense that this conception could further flesh out James’s cosmology (if it could be called that), a few pages after the above-quoted paragraph in Pragmatism, where James queries whether the claims of too-saccharine tender-mindedness had gone too far in suggesting that the world could be saved in toto, Roberts writes: “Add here consideration of ‘The Vision’ the loss of the sons of Perdition Sec 76.” At the top of the proceeding page, where James describes the “ineluctable noes and losses” of life–the “permanently drastic and bitter” dregs that “always remains at the bottoms of its [life’s] cup”–Roberts writes, “The sons of Perdition,” reading into James’s account the Mormon conception of souls beyond the pale of redemption.
Roberts quoted the above-cited paragraph and several more from Pragmatism–nine paragraphs in total–in his Seventy’s Course in a chapter on the “war in heaven” (which followed the council in heaven) and in his later masterwork, The Truth, The Way, The Life, where he further fleshed out the “startling parallels” with Mormonism. Roberts introduces the passage as one “so pregnant with suggestion relative to our theme, so supported by philosophical thought and analysis of human nature, both strong and weak, that one marvels at the idea and thought in it which so parallels our own doctrines.” He goes on to point out each of the parallels he sees:
The proposition put to intelligences before the earth was made, in each case; an earth-life full of adventure and danger, safety not guaranteed, in each case; the counter plan proposed that would guarantee safety rejected; and yet the existence of some ‘morbid minds’ among the spirits-found ‘in every human collection,’ to whom ‘the prospect of a universe with only a fighting chance’ made no appeal, and accordingly their rejection of it; in both cases enough heroic souls to accept the adventurous proposition of a scheme of things involving real losses.
Following these recognized parallels, Roberts proceeds to exult in the one element he sees as explicitly missing from James’s account–Jesus the Christ, whose “spirit stood for freedom of man in that great controversy.”
Not only does Roberts point out parallels between the two descriptions, but his own rhetoric in narrating the event is influenced by Jamesian vocabulary. This is most evident in Roberts’s narration of Lucifer’s hypothetical counterproposal to God’s proposition, recast using expression that are admittedly “a paraphrase” of the said passage in Pragmatism. I quote Roberts’s passage below, with Jamesian terminology or themes in italics:
Under this plan, Intelligences were to have an earth-life in which there would be no losses; a world where there was nothing adventurous and dangerous, a “game” in which there are no real stakes; all that was hazarded would be given back. All must be saved; and no price is to be paid in the work of salvation. The last word is to be sweet. All is to be “yes,” “yes,'” in the universe. The fact of “no” was nowhere to stand at the core of things. There could be no seriousness attributed to life under such a plan, since there would be no insuperable “noes” and “losses;” no genuine sacrifices anywhere; nothing permanently drastic and bitter to remain at the bottom of the cup.
Thus, not only did Roberts recognize similarities between the two accounts, but his own telling and perhaps even his own understanding of the event was modified by that “parallel” in James’s pragmatism.
It can be argued that Roberts was reading too much in James’s account–that James was merely posing a hypothetical and rhetorical scenario without any suggestion that such may have in reality been an actual premortal event or anything like unto it. Since James does not develop the idea further in any of his other writings, this is a valid objection. Nonetheless, Roberts’s contention is not that James is a proponent of the Mormon view, per se, in every detail and in it all literality, but that, due to thematic similarities in principle, the account is “pregnant with suggestion relative to our [the LDS] theme.” That suggestion, Roberts seems to imply, is that since James’s hypothetical account is grounded in “philosophical thought and analysis of human behavior” by one of America’s foremost philosophers, it lends support to the reasonableness of the LDS doctrine. That James could arrive at similar conclusions by pure reasoning, apparently unaware of the “parallel” LDS doctrines–though Roberts does wonder whether he read an LDS account of the council somewhere–suggests that the principles inherent in Joseph Smith’s revelations, mystical as they may be it terms of reception, are grounded in solid philosophical reasoning and sound principles related to human behavior.
1. This marginal note was reproduced almost verbatim, with punctuation added, in the manuscript of Roberts’s posthumously published TWL with the following lines, as indicated by brackets, added to the end: <, they would merely remain status quo>.
2. See Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal: 1838-1898 Typescript (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983), 4: 402; Brigham Young, “Disorganization of Soul and Body,” Contributor 10, no. 11 (September, 1889).
3. Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which Roberts makes reference to here, is a transcribed “revelation” describing a vision experienced by the Prophet Joseph Smith, in which he outlines a heaven consisting of three degrees of glory, which constitute the eternal residence of the great majority of mankind—as well as a region known as outer darkness, which is not a kingdom of glory, to which sons of perdition are banished.
4. Pragmatism, 295–296, B. H. Roberts Memorial Collection.
5. In the Seventy’s Course, Roberts quotes nine paragraphs and eight in TWL.
6. Seventy’s Course, 30; worded slightly different in TWL, 324.
7. In the Seventy’s Course, 32, Roberts here inserts, in a footnote, a reference to the following passage from the Book of Abraham in the LDS canon, which portrays a conversation between God and Jesus Christ prior to the creation of the earth: “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make on earth whereon these [Intelligences] may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; and they who keep their first estate [premortal existence] shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estates [sons of perdition] shall not have glory on the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate [mortality] shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever” (Abraham 3:24–26; the first bracketed explanatory note is Roberts’s, the rest are mine).
8. Seventy’s Course, 32; TWL, 326.
9. Seventy’s Course, 29–30. It would be an interesting study to compare narrative descriptions of the council in heaven in Latter-day Saint writings before and after the publication of Roberts’s Seventy’s Course to see if the Jamesian terminology Roberts here employs influenced the general LDS conception of the council and subsequent war in heaven. Did the idea of the potential losses it entailed by the council become more pronounced, for example, after Roberts’s conflation of the standard account with the Jamesian conception?