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The Strangeness of Mormon Deity

Posted by nebula0 on September 27, 2008


Mormons forget how odd (i.e. very unusual) their theology and ritual is.  That’s to be expected; the longer someone is involved in something, the more normative it becomes.  A case in point is my experience.  The very first Gospel Principles class (the Sunday School class oriented to new members) I attended went over exaltation.  Now, keep in mind that I was familiar with this doctrine before I went to the class, and yet, that didn’t stop my reaction when I heard quotes from the manual about how God was once a man like us on another earth who progressed to godhood.  Hearing this spoken and taken for granted by class members was a truly otherworldly experience.  It is extremely odd.

Even in ancient pagan polytheistic theologies, gods were always different from the mortals.  Gods were immortal, a different sort of species of being than were mere mortal humans.  If mortals were to become at all like the gods, it was because the gods helped them, not because humans were like nascent gods with the difference between the gods and mortals simply being one of time and experience.  Yet, the latter is exactly what Mormonism teaches.  It is alien not only to traditional/orthodox Christianity and Judaism and Islam in that, but also to the kinds of paganism we are familiar with, such as the Greek pantheon.

So it is that Joseph Smith was truly a great innovator.  Combining what he knew about Christianity with an American sense of inherent rights (= eternal intelligences) and equal economic opportunity he opened the pathway for any ordinary Joe to reach the highest heights.  Not even God is beyond this American can-do attitude, as attaining Heavenly Father’s station is the ultimate purpose of the Mormon gospel.

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5 Responses to “The Strangeness of Mormon Deity”

  1. Seth R. said

    That is one thing I have come to understand from debating online for a couple years. Our God really is very different from other ideas of him.

  2. nebula0 said

    Really I think that is the foundational difference to discuss. What are the implications? What does it really mean? This isn’t a topic that is discussed and explored like it ought to be.

  3. Seth R. said

    Lack of professional theological training among Mormons probably contributes to that. Another thing that contributes is the refusal of traditional Christians to take Mormonism seriously.

    We’re constantly side-tracked by issues of Free-Masonry, seerstones, polygamy, Zelph, DNA non-evidence, and marginal differences on grace vs. works.

    No one in Christianity really bothers to actually tackle Joseph’s real theology. The book “New Mormon Challenge” is a nice start, but it’s still a bit superficial, and I think it often underestimates its opponent.

    On the Mormon side, there’s the three-volume series on God by Mormon philosopher Blake Ostler. He’s done quite a bit of work for FAIR and often gets dismissed as “just another Mormon apologist.” But from what I’ve seen and heard, his work has been really groundbreaking. So much so, that many Mormon scholars don’t think you can really mount an effective attack on Mormon theology without addressing his arguments.

    I haven’t read the books, but plan to. I have however, read his articles available online. From where I’m sitting, Ostler completely demolishes Copan and Craig’s arguments in New Mormon Challenge. It’s worth a look.

    I’ve also managed to get a copy of:

    David Paulsen and Brett McDonald, “Joseph Smith and the Trinity: An Analysis and Defense of the Social Model of the Godhead,” Faith and Philosophy Vol. 25, No. 1 (January 2008): 47-74.

    Excellent article that really ties in existing concepts of Social Trinitarianism to the teachings of Joseph Smith. Not available online (unless you want to pay for a subscription). But I’d be happy to email you a copy.

  4. nebula0 said

    It’s a viscious circle- Mormonism lacks much serious theological thinking which makes it easier for non-professionals on the evangelical side caricature Mormon theology. Like you said, I noticed some nascent attempts before I left Mormonism and I hoped to be a part of the discussion in some way. It’s truly a fertile field for anyone willing to go through the training, and that’s what’s really needed and I see happening more and more. Hopefully the church hierachy, if not encouraging these developements, won’t stiffle them either. The leadership of hte past few decades has struck me as harmfully reactive.

    Sounds like interesting reading Seth.

  5. Seth R. said

    Don’t know if you caught the debate over at “First Things” between Bruce Porter (LDS member of the Seventy) and Gerald McDermott (Evang. theologian).

    What I found most interesting about that debate was that it wasn’t just a Mormon scholar (like Robert Millett or Stephen Robinson) or some other Mormon character (like LDS author Orson Scott Card), but an actual General Authority entering the ring.

    Eveangelicals are always complaining that LDS leadership doesn’t weigh in on the complex theological stuff, but instead leaves it to surrogates, like Millett, or the FAIR crowd. So the emergence of an actual G.A. is noteworthy, I think.

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