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Archive for March, 2009

Offspring of God

Posted by nebula0 on March 26, 2009

Alright, so this is the last little apologetics related post for a while… at least let’s hope.  But, Mormon apologists, future missionaries everywhere, it’s better to be aware of these things from the outset.  I’m sure you know about that verse in Acts in which Paul is speaking to the Athenians and says  that we are the offspring of God.  I’m sure you also know that that is a popular Mormon prooftext (i.e. a verse often used by Mormons to bolster particular Mormon claims).  Please be aware that in that verse Paul is actually quoting a philosopher named Cleanthes who wrote a poem exalting Zeus.  Given the context of the quotation, you may want to proceed rather cautiously when trying to use that tidbit to make any broad theological claims.

Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Posted in Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Philosophies of Men in Mormon Theology

Posted by nebula0 on March 24, 2009

I wouldn’t take delight in pointing out striking similarities between Platonic and Mormon thought it if weren’t for the fact that a persistent tactic in Mormon apologetics is to accuse orthodox Christianity of being nearly hopelessly infused with these ‘philosophies of men’ corrupting the purity of the gospel.  As that is the case, I want to point out a couple of places in which Mormonism fits better with Platonic philosophy than does orthodox Christianity (see Plato’s Timaeus). 

First of all: creation ex nihilo.  In orthodox Christianity, God creates the cosmos out of nothing and according to his own rules, this is creation ex nihilo.  According to Mormonism God created the universe out of pre-existent materials and according to pre-existent laws of the cosmos, the creation was more of an organization or building.  Now your immediate inclination may be to suppose that the Mormon view is closer to an authentic ancient Hebrew belief and that the orthodox Christian creation is a Greek notion- and that would be wrong.  According to Platonism, the  universe was created by a being called the demiurge who created it out of pre-existing materials and according to pre-existing rules.  Sound familiar? 

Another thing that I would point out is the Platonic notion that as the universe was being put together, there was a sort of life force or soul present in the things created, that this life-ness was present in the things put together before they were materialized.  Now if you know Mormon theology, you know that God formed all things spiritually before they were formed physically.  Compare that to the Platonic concept I just described and now compare that to the orthodox Christian notion that God infused life into the world in a single instant after physical creation.

I’m just saying, maybe the pot shouldn’t call the kettle black too quickly here…

Posted in Theological Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sacred or Secret? and Big Love

Posted by nebula0 on March 21, 2009

One of Mormonism’s common sayings is that the endowment ceremony is sacred, not secret.  The point of this saying is that there aren’t just weird things going on in the temple but rather that sacred truths are being imparted, so sacred in fact that they shouldn’t be discussed away form the sacred locale of the temple.  Obviously this line of thinking does have its rationale and that shouldn’t be ignored, but from the point of view of an outsider the Mormon IS keeping secrets, whether he labels it or understands it that way or not.  The effect is the arousal of curiosity, really, how could you NOT be curious if someone tells you “I’m sorry, but it’s too sacred for me to share what we do”?  Isn’t that just too tantalizing?  which relates to the following incident.

All of this, of course, has been debated in light of the recent decision by Big Love to portray the endowment ceremony on TV.  Outsiders are fascinated to get a glimpse of ceremonies they are not privy to and Mormons disgusted that something they hold to be too sacred to share with outsiders, or even uninitiated insiders, or even insiders outside of the temple, defiled by being shared through a popular HBO series.  This of course raises questions about religious tolerance and television, how far is too far, and so forth.   There is no way that Mormons are ever going to be okey-dokey with a portrayal of any part of the endowment on television, so does that mean that it is wrong to portray it?

Well, the reality is that it was only a matter of time before this was going to happen.  Mormons have lost their minority protected status with the passing of Proposition 8.  They seems like a far too influential group to give special minority rights to, too much money and too much status.  But then again, Mormons have been wanting out of their peculiar people status for the last couple of decades anyway by emphasizing the Jesus Christ in the name of their church and trying to find acceptance amongst America’s born again crowd.  Mormons are generally a people obsessed with respectability and in that seeking have sought mainstream academic treatment, media treatment, and demand to be called Latter-day Saints rather than Mormons.  Their recent re-emphasis of their all important family message led to wide association between the passing of Prop 8 and Mormonism, casting Mormons as sort of arch conservatives with money.  All of this, I argue, led to the inevitability of wide exposure of Mormon rituals.  Why?  Because as soon as you lose that minority status with the mainstream everything is fair game, that’s why.  It becomes okay to talk about funny underwear, endowment ceremonies, Joseph Smith having spirit wives who were already married and all kinds of issues that the liberal oriented media would have avoided to protect a small religious group.

All of that is to say that Mormons, in their quest for mainstream respectability and acceptance, asked for exposure, and exposure they will get.  This is only the beginning.  Here is the bright side Mormons: as America becomes more familiar with peculiar Mormon belief and ritual, it will, over time, become desensitized.  It will become less weird with each exposure and who knows, maybe that will lead to more converts.

Of course explaining the WHY this would happen in mainstream media doesn’t answer the question- is it right?  My unequivocal answer has to be yes.  I respect the right for Mormons to hold their ceremonies sacred and therefore secret, but that compulsion doesn’t cover the spirit of the First Amendment.  I do not agree with those who argue that anything which might offend someone somewhere ought to be avoided, we’d never talk about anything whatsoever that way.  I think we ought to have all the cartoons of Muhammad that we want, all of the misrepresentations of Catholicism which are so rampant in popular media, and yes, show Barb in the robes of the priesthood.  Just as much as HBO has a right to do this, not just legally but ethically, Mormons have a right to dissent, to explain and to boycott the show.  Hurray for freedom.

Posted in Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

How to Witness to Mormonism

Posted by nebula0 on March 18, 2009

Since I do believe that the theology of Mormonism is fundamentally flawed in a significant way, it makes sense to me to at least explain why I think this way to Mormons who are interested.  I do not go into such conversations with the unrealistic expectation of converting them to trinitarianism, my aims are much more modest, the hope to impart a greater understanding of what the trinity is.  Now that is not what evangelicals usually think when they think of witnessing.  Evangelicals in general are an excited lot, certain of the obvious truth of their position to the point that many become quickly frustrated when others don’t see the obvious aspect of their truth claims.  When dealing with Mormons this leads to disastrous results that you can see on internet boards all over- accusing Mormons of being brainwashed cultists, mocking Mormon rituals, ridiculing Mormon leaders and so forth.  Evangelicals will gleefully take part in these activities with the explanation that they are telling the truth and therefore being loving.

Imagine for a moment if Paul, in a fit of exasperation, threw up his hands and let those at Mars Hill know that they were brainwashed beyond belief and incapable of rational thought because they didn’t agree with his explanations.  Not a pretty picture is it?  Paul, instead, found common ground and patiently reasoned with the people so they at least understood what he was saying.  Likewise, he tells us that for Jews he becomes a Jew and for Gentiles a Gentile in order that he might convert some, that is, he explains things in a way that makes sense for each individual, not that he compromises the gospel message.

So here are my tips for witnessing to Mormons, borne of my experience having been a Mormon and on the receiving end of terrible ‘witnessing’.

1.  Don’t be a jerk.  This seems obvious but let me reiterate: don’t be a jerk.  Don’t take pleasure in trying to cause another discomfort with negative information about things they’ve held sacred or persons they’ve held in high regard.

2.  Understand Mormon culture.  Mormons are often thought of as nice people, that is because Utah Mormon culture prescribes extraordinary niceness and the standard of communications.  So this is especially for you Reformed people out there who liked to be in your face- realize that Mormons will interpret that ‘in your faceness’ not as being bold, but as being rude and whatever you have to say will then be ignored.  If you actually care about communicating a message, communicate in a way that Mormons are willing to hear.  Be polite, even excessively so, and you will find that Mormons will listen to your message without the message itself being compromised.

3.  Do your homework.  If you happen to run into misisonaries  coming to your house, or find yourself suddenly in a conversation with a Mormon friend, you may have to rely on scattered information.  In that case, stick to what you know best, your side of things, and avoid venturing into Mormon territory.  If you think that witnessing to Mormons is something that you should be doing all of the time, do not be lazy and rely on what this and that website tell you.  Take the time to read through Mormon scriptures, attend a few Mormon meetings, read through the literature they use to teach other Mormons so that you understand Mormon language and understand what Mormons hear every Sunday.  That way you will understand what is truly significant to average Mormons and not get on useless sidetracks about whether or not the Journal of Discourses ought to be counted as scripture, it’s just not.

4.  Take the time to learn about different Mormon circles.  This relates to the above point.   Your average Mormon isn’t going to be in the same boat as your apologetic FARMS oriented Mormon, and he isn’t going to be in the same boat as your theologically  liberal Sunstone oriented Mormon, and you may occasionally run into the old school Mormon who hold onto old ideas such as natives getting lighter skin with baptism.  Get to know the way of thinking of these different groups and learn the basic apologetic arguments.  For instance, you may find yourself embarrassed if you aren’t at least familiar with the limited geographical model of the Book of Mormon widely accepted amongst true believers.  It is wrong to insist that “Mormons” believe that Elohim had sex with Mary when only your old school believers will assent to this.

5.  Examine your own motives.  You may have wiggled at some of my above information and said “but it’s true!  Mormon leaders DID teach that natives become lighter and that Elohim had sex with Mary!  that’s right!”.  The point is, will insisting on THOSE issues with average Mormons get them any closer to understanding the gospel?  The point is not about you winning points.

6.  Focus your conversation.  I suggest sticking to theological issues rather than trying to attack the historicity of the Book of Mormon or prove that Joseph Smith had sex with all of his spirit wives.  That is, I suggest sticking to the issues that actually matter- the nature of God, grace, atonement and so forth.  Now it is true, that some Mormons will show some interest in learning about other topics, and if that is so, you should discuss them using discretion, but avoid attacks.  I think of this as trying to talk to someone about a straying spouse, if you go in for the attack straightaway the natural human reaction is to clam up and defend the spouse.  Be patient and kind and avoid casting dispersions on Mormonism. 

7.  On that last note, think of a few things you can admire about Mormonism.  It will help the conversation along if you can admire some things about Mormonism- find some kind of common ground, to set the tone of the conversation as positive.  Likewise, be willing to defend misinformation of Mormonism against others who have an incorrect understanding even if it may seem to them that you are defending Mormonism itself.  It will advertise to Mormons that you have integrity and won’t lie to them.

8.  My last suggestion is to listen.  Do not follow a script.  I repeat, do not follow a script.  Be open to a real discussion, that’s where any meaningful exchange of discussion is going to happen.  You may never know if your Mormon friend was altered by your conversation, but it’s not for you to know, it’s for God to know, but you can be sure that if you are rude, if you are simply throwing out this and that negative statement about Mormonism, you did nothing for the glory of God.  In fact, many Mormons point to the perceived rudeness of evangelicals in general as proof that their messages must not be any good. It’s time to turn that around.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for out and out debate, if for no other reason than mutual amusement, but please be honest about your motivation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »