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The Madness of Mormon Monotheism

Posted by nebula0 on September 6, 2008


If any of you readers has had enough contact with Mormons, either as an insider or an outsider, no doubt you’ve run into plenty of Mormons who honestly enough think they are monotheists.  Here is a case in point: shortly after my conversion I became a popular source of information for the missionaries.  One pair of sisters came to ask me, with all honesty, what the difference was between orthodox/traditional Christian notions of the trinity and Mormon notions of the godhead.  For those of us who have spent a lot of time discussing these issues, on either side of the fence, the answer is painfully obvious.  But, I’ve found that this wasn’t an isolated case– plenty of well meaning Mormons really have no idea as to why certain Christians are so, well, mean.

An interesting thing I’ve begun to note more recently is that even those Mormons in the know about these issues don’t seem to see what the big deal is.  Why does it matter if you say there is One God or three, or four, or more?  Isn’t ‘being a Christian’ and hence ‘being saved’ or ‘being born again’ or however else you might put ‘being on God’s team’ all about following Christ?  Aren’t Christians, Jews, whoever might make a big deal of this issue being rather narrow?  For those of you who were raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition (the historic tradition, excluding Mormonism) this question may strike you as completely asinine.  You may respond to Mormons with this attitude with honest disbelief.

Here’s the thing: Mormons are taught to believe that theological training is an elitist privilege at best, and a tool of contention, and therefore of the devil, at worst.  This teaching used to be most explicitly represented by the minister who used to be a part of the endowment ceremony, a caricature of a priest or minister trying to convince the noble, simple Adam of an absurdity through sophisticated learning.  Hence, deep thinking about God’s nature is discouraged as ‘speculation’, ‘mere speculation’, things to be played with but not taken seriously.  This is the only way Mormons can make sense of the former President Hinckley’s declaration when asked about men becoming gods and god having been a man that he wasn’t sure those things were taught (even though they are most clearly included in the Gospel Principles manual used to teach new converts in the “Exaltation” chapter).

On the other hand, thoughts about God’s nature constitute the cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian tradition historically, making the clash between Mormonism and the historic Christianity it so longs to be accepted by inevitable.  This rift is at the heart of why I could not be a Mormon- thinking about what deity means is intimately connected with figuring out why we are here, why anything exists at all (see my post “Why Does Anything Exist”) and really the whole point of religion at all.  A religion that views those questions as useless speculation is a limp one.  Here is what I ask: if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church on the face of the planet, wouldn’t theological thinking, sophisticated theological thinking, only illuminate its brilliant truth? 

The alternative is that missionaries knock on the door of new converts in order to get answers to questions that they should have been experts at:  are we monotheists?  Imagine me, as a new convert, sitting in my apartment explaining to wide eyed sisters that they are not monotheists since the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are separate Gods (see the LDS Bible Dictionary).  That to be a god in Mormonism means to be a perfected human, that gods and humans are of the same species, subject to the same rules of the cosmos.

This is not a nit picking argument.  This is huge.  This is the whole point.  This changes everything- God, if He is to be actually God, that is a being of a separate kind than we humans are, is not subject to the same rules of the cosmos as everybody else.  God is the creator of the rules.  He is a different kind of Being because unlike the rest of us He is not limited and He has no cause.  The implications of this differentiation are so thoroughly enormous that it’s impossible to convey the weight in one post.  Let me say this, it is enough to claim that Mormonism and historical Christianity are separate religions because they refer to completely different theological systems. 

The fact that Mormons will read this and say “eh, this is all speculation anyway!  What matters is that we are good people/we ‘follow Christ’ (i.e. try to be ethical)” only proves my point.  Mormons don’t get it because they are operating from a completely different place, a different religious system altogether.

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29 Responses to “The Madness of Mormon Monotheism”

  1. Seth R. said

    You’ve hit at the heart of the rift between Mormons and other Christians and it accounts for most of the conflicts between us.

    Now, you wrote:

    “A religion that views those questions as useless speculation is a limp one.”

    This assumes that an orthodox approach to religion is supreme.

    Why do you assume that?

    Now, I’ve rather aggressively attacked the drawbacks of placing orthodoxy at the forefront of your religious worldview elsewhere on the internet and I hope not to be so strident here. But suffice it to say that I am far from convinced that placing orthodoxy at the head of your religious outlook, approach, and worldview is necessarily the best way to do things.

    Why are orthopraxy or other methods inferior? Why must religion be intellectualized to be superior? Why is the theoretical prized over the experiential?

  2. nebula0 said

    Faith without works is dead… and the reverse could be said as true too. We humans do not operate with two separate tracks, one that says “concepts” and another “practices”. The two are part of a two lane highway and travel together. If I do something, it’s because I have a concept that informs my decision. Likewise, my actions and the results of my actions help inform my concepts.

    Orthodoxy is important because it goes hand in hand with orthopraxy, and, because God wants the whole of us, not just the part that says “hey, this makes no sense, but I’ll go through the motions.” When we are commanded to love God with all of our hearts, hearts in the Hebrew context doesn’t simply mean ’emotions’, it means with our wills, our entire orientations to life.

    Now you recognize that Mormonism is a separate theologoical system altogether from historic Christianity. It affects how we view who and what God is. The whole point of Christianity is that it opens the pathway to have an actual relationship with God through Christ. If your concept of what God is is so different that it’s part of a different paradigm than what is true, don’t you think that will affect your heart? Your orthopraxy? The quality of your relationship?

    To illustrate this point, let me share with you a snippet of what has changed for me. When I was a Mormon God was a model of what I should do to be like him. I prayed to him for help and belived he had extraordinary power over me, but I also believed on a deeper level we were equals– similar to a helpless child knowing that he is by nature equal to his father. Now I pray as one who is nothing to one who is everything, to one who sustains my very existence and simply by a moment of will could cease to support my existence. My approach to what orthopraxy even means is quite different. As you can imagine that has changed everything.

  3. Seth R. said

    I agree that thoughts can inform actions. But actions also profoundly inform thoughts.

    Which one should be put first?

  4. nebula0 said

    Neither, they are symbiotic. That’s why a religion which does not provide any answers to those basic human existential questions is completely limp. The way it informs actions can only remain surface deep. When humans believe that their actions are in tune with the structure of reality itself, that the God who commands them is the God who fashions reality, it changes the nature of religion- praxy and doxy.

  5. Darrell said

    This is one of the best explanations I have ever read on this subject. Mormons concept of who God is and Historic Christianity’s teaching of who God is are completely opposite of one another.

    When I was LDS, towards the end, I could never understand why, when I aked questions of my Bishop, Stake President, etc., I could never get beyond the “why is that important to you” or “well, we just have to have faith and cannot understand that now” type of answers. I have always thought that asking questions about God and intellectualizing things would lead me closer to God. As it turns out, it did. I have left the church, my wife has left the church and we are now Christians. The freedom is unbelievable.

    Darrell

  6. Seth R. said

    I have been asking questions within the LDS Church ever since college. I have been intellectualizing the Gospel for years. Then one day I realized that I didn’t have to mentally categorize every aspect of my religion in some neat color-coded theological filing system. I realized that mental logic games were not the only way to reach God.

    The freedom is unbelievable.

  7. Darrell said

    “Then one day I realized that I didn’t have to mentally categorize every aspect of my religion in some neat color-coded theological filing system.”

    Nice way of saying… “if there are contradictions, I will shelve them. Because the cognitive dissonance it causes otherwise is unbearable.”

    Been there, done that. Now I realize that God does not expect me to turn off my brain. It is possible to be intellectual and a Christian. It is not possible to be intellectual and be a Mormon.

    Darrell

  8. nebula0 said

    Right, because having a coherent, reasonable theological system is a bad thing? To say otherwise is to deny that we are human, that we have minds as well as hearts, that we have beliefs as well as actions and all of those elements operate together.

    Why short change yourself with a theological system which does not satisfy?

    In our everyday lives, if things don’t add up, we assume they aren’t true and so we shouldn’t invest time, money and energy into the claims. Why should it be so different with religion?

  9. Seth R. said

    No, it’s not a bad thing.

    And believe me, the traditional Christian system is deeply unsatisfying to me. I found much more intellectual stimulation from the Mormon paradigm than anything I’ve encountered in Christianity.

    I said it was liberating. I never said I don’t even make the attempt anymore.

    And Darrell, it makes no sense to criticize Mormons for “shelving things” when that is exactly what traditional Christianity has been doing for over 2000 years.

    People in glass houses should not throw stones.

  10. Darrell said

    I cannot think of one thing that I am “shelving” right now. Perhaps that will change in the future.

    While I was a Mormon I shelved so many things it is unbelievable. Just to list a few…

    1) Why did God command a true Prophet to practice poligamy and marry a 14 year old girl?

    2) Why did God give “revelation” through a seer stone… the use of which is tied to the occult? Why does the church not disclose this today? Why do all the paintings (commissioned and used by God’s true church) show a false picture of how JS translated the BOM? The should show him with his head in a hat reading the words off of a stone?

    3) Why can we find NO evidence that the Lamanites and Nephites never existed?

    4) Why did JS take his time to put the plain and precious truths back into the bible (JS New Translation) and the church not use it?

    5) Why would God tell a true prophet (Brigham Young) that Adam was God and then tell a different prophet 50 or so years later that the belief in that is heresy? And then, to top it off, tell us in the temple ceremony today that Adam is the angel Michael?

    This is just a list of a FEW of the things I shelved while a mormon. I am not trying to take this conversation down another path (Seth accused me of that in a different thread). I just wanted to point out only a handful of the things that intellectual mormons are forced to shelve.

    In addition, while a mormon, I was discouraged by God’s annointed from searching too hard for the truth. Because, “all truth is not good” and it can “destroy faith”. In other words, we need to stick to the faith promoting, white-washed version of church history because the true history will destroy faith in the “true church”.

    Darrell

  11. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    And yet asking basic questions about what and who God is is considered speculative? Understanding what deity is like is key to truly engaging a religious system.

  12. nebula0 said

    Darrell #5– Thanks, by the way :). I’ve had similar experiences. Claiming that asking basic questions is ‘over intellectualizing’ is a sign that the Mormon leadership doesn’t know what it’s doing. That’s the unfortunate consequence of having no kind of paid professional clergy… but I suppose that’s a different post to write up.

  13. Seth R. said

    OK, here’s a basic one. The nature of God.

    Four propositions:

    1. God is one substance
    2. The Father is God
    3. The Son is God
    4. The Father is not the Son

    All of these are proposition that Augustine made about the Trinity and they are widely accepted by historical Christianity.

    I have never had a Christian explain this to me without doing one of three things:

    1. advocating tritheism
    2. advocating modalism
    3. simply stating “it’s a mystery.”

    Give it a shot.

    If you can explain this without ultimately telling me “it’s a mystery” or “we don’t comprehend God” then you deserve a prize of some sort, because 2000 years of Christian thought haven’t managed to do it.

  14. Seth R. said

    Not to mention that I find the problem of evil in the universe completely unmanageable if you adhere to the traditional Christian idea of creation ex nihilo.

    And what about what we are doing in the eternities.

    What about the basic LDS lead-in questions:

    Who are we?
    Why are we here?
    Where are we going?

    Traditional Christianity essentially punts on most of those issues. It’s all pretty-much speculative as far as your pastor is concerned.

  15. nebula0 said

    I don’t have a pastor, but I do find it interesting that you assume I’m a protestant.

    IN any case, positing God as the ultimate ground of Being IS an answer since God is also the object of our worship so it connects those basic questions to that which we worship. Mormonism fails to do that.

    As far as the trinity goes, at least it’s an attempt and there is more to say about it than you have said. If God is an ousia, an essence then it is possible for more than one person to have that essence. Part of the essence of Godness is also oneness pf Being because GOd is infinite and you cannot have a multiplicity of infinities without it be a contradiction.

    That thought follows immediately from positing God as the ultimate source of EVERYTHING, ever.

    Does this result in the problem of evil? I admit it does, but saying, in effect, that GOD does not exist (gods do ) is a cheap solution.

  16. Seth R. said

    “and you cannot have a multiplicity of infinities without it be a contradiction.”

    Says who?

    I didn’t say anything about what you are nebula. One of my ex-Mormon friends went Anglican and I’ve heard that Eastern Orthodoxy offers a pretty welcoming paradigm for former Mormons. I’ve seen Mormons go Evangelical, but usually because they had self-esteem issues and found the Evangelical emphasis on grace a welcome relief.

    I saw your callsign on a message board a while back that affiliated Catholic, so maybe that’s where you are. Most of the attacking of Mormonism comes from Protestants though. So, I suppose that’s where I was coming from.

    We need to clear up what godhood means to LDS.

    A lot of other Christians assume that the Mormon idea of godhood is that I’ll some day fly off from the planet Kolob with my 40 wives and colonize some corner of the galaxy that God hasn’t gotten around to yet. And there I’ll act pretty much as a law unto myself.

    This is a distortion of the Mormon view (perpetuated by cheap hack jobs like “The Godmakers”).

    A better analogy for Mormon divinization is holding a piece of metal up to the fire. The metal is then heated and takes attributes from the fire.

    Really, the Mormon idea of deification is completely indistinguishable from the E. Orthodox doctrine of theosis. It is also pretty darn similar to the Protestant notion of adoption in Christ.

    The only key difference is that Mormonism collapses the ontological divide between God and humanity. We still maintain the practical divide between the two, and all other divides between us and God. Just not the ontological one.

    And really, there is no definitive basis for proving or disproving an ontological divide. You can only imply it from the Bible.

    I find it interesting how firmly traditional Christianity clings to Greek philosophical assumptions – particularly those of Neoplatonism.

    You know, there’s been an awful lot of philosophy going on since then, and I think you’re on pretty shaky ground if you think you can just rest on a bunch of Greek laurels and assume your position is synonymous with logic or reality.

    And for the record, we do not say that “God does not exist.” Our solution to the problem of evil is free will and an infinite, eternal, and universal reality that God is a part of, and at one with.

  17. Darrell said

    “We need to clear up what godhood means to LDS.”

    According to GBH mormons aren’t even sure if they teach that they can be gods. And for the record, depending upon what mormon you ask you will get a million different answers to the question, “what does becoming a god mean to you under mormon theology.” However, JS was pretty clear about what it meant… having many wives and plenty of little spirit children being a part of it.

    Darrell

  18. Darrell said

    “Who are we?
    Why are we here?
    Where are we going?

    Traditional Christianity essentially punts on most of those issues. It’s all pretty-much speculative as far as your pastor is concerned.”

    No, Christian theology answers these questions quite clearly. You are completely wrong on this. You might want to do some more research before you make such a bold accusation.

    “OK, here’s a basic one. The nature of God.”

    The nature of God is not a mystery. As I said to you under another thread, in order to understand this you first have to understand what the bible teaches about Christ. Until you understand that you will never be able to grasp the nature of God. The bible is authoritative on this issue and leaves very little room for “speculation”. The problem for most mormons that I have spoken with is they…

    1) Don’t know what the bible says

    OR

    2) Somewhat understand the bible but want to pick and choose what verses are authoritative and what verses are “corrupted” (code word for they don’t agree with mormon theology).

    Once you accept the bible as authoritative understanding the nature of God is a given.

    Darrell

  19. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    SO you’re basically ignoring the rest of my posts. If you really think I’m resting “Greek Laurels” on my arguments and therefore making them valid you’re doing a damn fine job of ignoring most of what I’m saying. If you think a specific part of my general argument is wrong, then point out what you think is wrong. Whether or not you label it as “Greek” is beside the point. Say a Greek did come to a similar conclusion, who cares? What’s that got to do with whether or not it’s a good argument?

    Since I spent plenty of time as an active Mormon, plenty of time reading about Mormon teachings through faithful eyes, I find it amusing that you would come to the simplistic notion that I got my ideas from the godmakers. I’m all too familiar with the steel in the fire notion, and by the way, you shouldn’t plagiarize your ideas– offer credit where credit is due Seth, and that isn’t what Mormon exaltation is about. See my post on Theosis vs Exaltation. Mormonism posits that by nature we are of the same species as God. I argue that we are a separate species, and that is the only way we can truly answer the basic existential questions. Basically you have to answer for where those pesky rules of the cosmos came from in the first place by which heavenly father himself became a god, and by which you too can become a god (with the help of the godhead, of course). I posit that the source of all existence- Being itself, is one and the same as the proper object of worship, thus halting the succession of causation and answering those questions.

    Now, as to why you cannot have a multiplicity of infinite beings, it’s pretty simple. To be a truly infinte being means to be able to do anything that is logically possible without hindrance. Well, if there is another infinite being there, then it is possible, theoretically, for that infinite being to impinge upont he choices of the other infinite being. Say one infinite being wanted to create a universe right where the other one wanted a void. THese are logically possible choices so each infinite being should be capable of making such a choice– if they are truly infinite. So you see the absurdity of the situation. There can only be one infinite Being, that’s it, positing more than one means that none of them are really infinite.

    Anyway, I don’t think I’m obsessed with fighting MOrmonism more than having fun with it. I enjoy talking about it, thinking about it, because it’s a topic I happen to know a lot about and I have a passion for discussing and debating religion. Since I don’t believe it’s true, most of my posts are naturally going to reflect that sentiment, but there’s not much that I can do about that. If you choose to interpret that as fighting against it, that’s your prerogative.

  20. Seth R. said

    I really need to be more clear who I’m talking to. I’m not always addressing you personally nebula.

    From the rest of your posts, I would indeed assume that you would not base your ideas of Mormonism from something like “The Godmakers.” I was not trying to put you in the same camp. I merely used the film to make a point of some false assumptions about Mormonism and its view.

    No offense meant. Sorry about that.

  21. Seth R. said

    Now, you wrote:

    “Well, if there is another infinite being there, then it is possible, theoretically, for that infinite being to impinge upont he choices of the other infinite being.”

    No, it is not logically possible.

    If there is another infinite being out there, that being would be bound by the same restraints as the first. Both would, by logic and necessity, be perfectly in unison of will and purpose.

    A basic part of infinite set equations is that an infinite set can and does contain and infinite amount of also infinite sets.

    Infinite numbers do not work the same way as finite numbers. Ask any PhD mathematician.

  22. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    No the apologies are mine. I clearly misunderstood your intentions with the Godmakers film. It can be hard to tell online sometimes what the intended meaning of a statement is, one of the unfortunate drawbacks.

    The only way that the two infinite Beings could logically be constrained by the exact same constraints is to be the same Being. That is where the idea of separate persons sharing the same Being-ness comes from. To be God is to be truly unbounded and infinite– and a complete unity ( re the argument we’ve been discussing). It certainly seems reasonable then, to assume that there could be separate persons who share this identity as God.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s a good idea to tie this so directly to mathematics without strenuously defining what we are talking about. Consider, for instance, that you could have infinities in mathematics that look differently… some functions progress to infinity at a much faster rate than others. What exactly are we describing then?

    Since God is not merely infinite IN spacetime, but beyond spacetime, we cannot so blithely talk about infinite sets borrowed from mathematics which speak about sets WITHIN three-four-five… spacetime dimensions.

  23. Seth R. said

    Sorry for triple posting. One last response. You wrote:

    “If you choose to interpret that as fighting against it, that’s your prerogative.”

    Yes, I know. I deliberately tried to keep my earlier posts on your threads a bit more restrained because I didn’t really feel like you were on the offensive (still don’t). So I tried not to as well.

    But I got sucked into a Bible-bash with Darrell and I guess you got some of the spillover. I have a naturally combative personality that I struggle with. It especially gets bad when I’m trying to juggle several debates in my head at the same time.

    I don’t particularly like playing FAIR apologist (at least, the nicer part of me doesn’t). But it tends to come out when I don’t think my faith is getting the respect that is due to it.

    Cutting back on where I go on the internet wouldn’t be all that bad an idea either. Sometimes I stretch myself too thin and forget who I’m talking to.

    One final note. Keep in mind that this issue of orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy (the original post) is a sore spot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Christians call Mormons “sneaky” or “dishonest” just because we don’t worship the same way you do. Because we approach religion from different assumptions, we tend to misunderstand each other. Misunderstanding easily leads to accusations of dishonesty.

    I’m really tired of being called a liar on the internet. Your post just tapped into that overall theme I guess.

  24. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    I don’t think you are a liar. I disagree with you, fundamentally, but you’ve shown yourself to be upfront and honest, plus very aware of the ins and outs of these debates.

    I don’t mind being called out if you’ve think I’ve gone overboard. I may not agree with you, but I don’t mind the disagreement. Honestly, my moods change just like yours, some days I’m feeling more personal about things, other days less so and I’m sure that tone is reflected fairly bluntly in my posts.

    The debate has gone beyond misunderstanding to the murky realm of simple, fundamental, disagreement. It’s murky because it’s always hard to accept that an opponent can understand your own position fairly well and yet have the audacity to disagree still. If the truth is so obvious, we think, understanding should lead to conversion (either which way). But it doesn’t. We still disagree. That’s the really interesting part, don’t you think?

    I’m fairly certain I have the better argument at the end of the day, otherwise I would believe that which correlates to the even better argument. You probably feel the same way so… something to think about.

  25. Seth R. said

    In the end, I am a wholly inadequate representative of my faith. And I feel it more some days than others.

  26. nrajeff said

    Seth did a great job of explaining some of LDS theology.

    And he made a good point: Historically, being part of the orthodoxy has NOT guaranteed that one’s beliefs were safely aligned with God’s position on things.

  27. nebula0 said

    Seth, you do a great job.

    jeff, that’s a given. There is no way to get out of having to take responsibility to figure things out best as we can with what we have. That at the very least demonstrates that we care about God.

  28. Thaddeus said

    You both do a good job defending your points of view. I have a question for both of you, if you will:

    Why does traditional Christianity maintain that monotheism is the correct mode of worship? There is evidence that early Israelites practiced monoaltrism, which is similar to monotheism, but corresponds better with Mormon teachings.

  29. nebula0 said

    Thaddeus,

    By the time of Christ monotheism was the order of the day. Even if you want to argue that early Israelites were monolatrists, you dodge the question of the intense, even militant, monotheism of Second Isaiah. Are you going to reject the parts of the Bible which are clearly and unambiguously monotheist? Because the clearly monotheistic portions are later than the fuzzy/monolatrist portions, understanding that perhaps God has clarified himself over time fits. This doesn’t work if you choose to read between the lines to get at monolatry (which, by the way, since the editors of the OT tried to minimize the suggestion in itself is another sign monotheism was the order of the day certainly by Christ) you have to willy nilly throw out the writings which are intensely monotheistic and go through a lot of bizarre manuevers to get around the fact that the standard Judaism that Christ came out of was monotheistic. Applying Occam’s Razor makes the first scenerio, theological development, stand out.

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