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Some Recent Thoughts about Mormonism

Posted by nebula0 on October 28, 2009


Well folks, in case you haven’t guessed I haven’t thought a whole lot about Mormonism for a while now.  It has been over 2 years since I have been to a Mormon church, and I nearly thought we’d fall off the radar when we moved (someone, however, tattled us out).  Nonetheless, as I have been reviewing some of my comparative religion literature along with Christian history I thought about Mormonism vis-a-vis other religious traditions and I came to realize a couple of things through comparison.

In Hinduism there are 4 main yogas, or paths, by which one can become enlightened.  The most popular path is called bhakti yoga, the way of love or adoration of God.  By many Hindus, Christianity is regarded as an exemplar of this way.  Through total love of God adherents are able to turn from ego and progress spiritually.  Likewise, one way to approach God is Sufism is through a similar all out adoration of God.  Out of this tradition love poetry has been created.  I probably needn’t tell you about the emphasis on love and personal relationship with Christ (whom the Hindus would regard as an avatar of God) in Christianity, and how establishing the relationship is the way to salvation in evangelical thought.

How does this compare with Mormonism?  Mormonism doesn’t include a concept of the truly infinite, and therefore doesn’t include a notion of utter dependence.  It is the latter, I argue, which inspires the way of devotion which I describe above.  The idea that it is God who is the source of existence itself creates a relationship to God in which the finite worshipper finds himself swallowed up into God as the essence of Being itself.  In Mormonism, every individual is immortal, apart from God, at the core of his being.  God, in Mormonism, is to be loved, of course, but it does not inspire the sort of total love devotion that religions of the infinite God can command.  Whether this is good or bad is not the point of my argument at all, that is for you to decide.  What Mormonism has instead is a religion of covenant.  God is a sort of way shower, to show the individual how to succeed, helping him to do so at every step as humans need help and guidance.  In Mormonism, God is a literal and figurative Father figure, and the love and devotion shown by God most approximates the love and guidance shown by good human fathers than any other religion I am aware of.  As good human fathers, Heavenly Father is patient, knowing that we are but little children, and sacrificing. 

I believe that this distinction can explain much about the differences between Mormonism and many other world religions, particularly orthodox Christianity.

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14 Responses to “Some Recent Thoughts about Mormonism”

  1. shematwater said

    I like this, as it does put things very well.

    I would like to add something else to this that I have seen in the comparrison. I will agree that the total dependence is not found in the LDS church, and thus it may not command the great love spoken of (though I think it does a better job of earning love and respect) but I would like to consider the other side of the coin.

    If God truly is the great uncaused cause that brought everything into existance, why does he love us? With this perspective there is no need for our existance, except to elivate God. As such, the love God feels is lessened in my view, for a father loves his sone much more than an artist loves his creation.

    Thus, I will admit the total dependence commands more from us, but the LDS perspective seems to balance things, commanding us to great heights, but at that same time offering things from God.

  2. Seth R. said

    Hi nebula.

    You’re back!

  3. Seth R. said

    “God, in Mormonism, is to be loved, of course, but it does not inspire the sort of total love devotion that religions of the infinite God can command.”

    This seems to be a strictly theoretical statement that will end up not having any practical connection to real worship life. I don’t see why the Mormon God wouldn’t inspire just as much devotion from a practicing Mormon as the Catholic God would from a Catholic.

    People aren’t theoretical. They’re real. And in real terms, there is just as much love and worship in the LDS Church as in the Catholic Church. I don’t see how anyone would actually go about proving otherwise.

    • nebula0 said

      Seth,

      I argue that it has direct practical consequence in the entire tenor of Mormon worship life. I’ll post more about this to flesh this out more fully, but I do think it is something that anyone who has gone to other churches or been involved in otehr religious traditions can likely sympathize with. Mormonism is just different in this respect and it carries over into the very feeling of Mormon meetings, including temple worship. Mormonism cultivates the attitude of reverence, and reverence doesn’t speak of love-devotion to ecstasy type of experience, just doesn’t. There aren’t going to be any Mormon mystics.

      I like what shema added to this. Perhaps this difference is a strength of Mormonism, I think that could easily be argued.

  4. shematwater said

    I think Nebula has a point. However, Seth also has a point.

    The real difference, from what I can see, is that the utter dependance breeds a stronger devotional love, while the LDS interdependance breeds a stronger relational love. They are two very different forms of love.

    Many Christians have spoke of this “aggape” (or how ever it is spelled) love that God have, and then tell me man cannot have this kind of love, and so all we can have it a devotional love. I think that the LDS church teaches that we can have the same kind of love that God has for us, and thus the devotional love is not what we strive for. Thus, our meetings will see different for we have a different approach to it.

    Now, I am not saying who is right or wrong, just making my observations. The total dependance doctrine commands the devotional love in worship towards God, while the LDS are more concerned with the love towards others.

    • nebula0 said

      That’s an interesting observation shema. I think from a doctrinal point of view you are right; for Mormons major eternal units include relationships with Heavenly Father and Jesus of course, but also especially the family unit. I argue that exaltation in Mormonism is a process of continual layering- from an intelligence, to a spirit body, to a physical body and ever outward through a process of covenenting to God, to family and therefore to an endless chain of people backwards through ancestors and forward through offspring. This makes Mormon meetings just that- meetings which have a real practical bent and focus on dealing with all of the links of the eternal chain.

      Other religions which envision God as absolutely infinite tend to focus in on the individual meeting with God because after all it is God who is really real, everyone else is an essentially contingent being before the one true Reality. This has different emphasis in different traditions- the Catholics emphasize the entire community of hte faithful helping each other to the beatific vision- or the individual encounter with God, but still the end goal is the individual with God, whereas protestants are more individualistic from the beginning.

      seth and shema, what do you think about that?

  5. Seth R. said

    Mormonism is such a young religion that it’s hard to draw definite conclusions about what exactly it demands theologically and spiritually.

    I think a primary reason for this is that it’s hard to know exactly where the theology ends and the culture begins.

    I think many new religions run the risk of being dominated by their culture rather than the essentials of their theology. I think there probably is some room in Mormon experience for a “beatific vision” of sorts. But our here-and-now culture gets in the way.

    The focus on the here-and-now is probably, at least in some sense, due to the materialistic nature of Mormon theology. But I don’t think transcendent experience with the mystical is completely ruled out either.

    • nebula0 said

      I think at some point you just have to see it for what it is, right now, because it is impossible to project how it will evolve in another hundred or two hundred years. Do we have reasons to think that Mormonism will develop an equivalent of the beatific vision or the practice of mysticism? I don’t see any reason to think so, though it isn’t impossible. Why should it?

  6. shematwater said

    I do like what you are saying, Nebula, although I will say it does seem to over simplify things. I am fine with this however, as it is very refreshing after some of the discussions I have had recently.

    Now, I will say that as a religion I do not expect any serious changes in the future regarding the LDS doctrine, partly because the doctrine is such that some changes are not only allowed but expected. I was in a great debate over this a few weeks ago trying to show a man that the doctrine of the church has not changed over the years (which I do not really want to get into now) because doctrine and practice are not the same thing. Thus, for practices to change does not necessarily change the doctrine (like the sacrifices of the Old Testiment being changed after the Atonement was made).
    In this way the basic doctrines can stay the same but the practices alter to fit the current circumstances (such as the discontinuence of Plural Marriage).

    However, as to the differences between LDS and other religions, I do see what you are saying. To put things a little simpler (way too simple in all honesty, but what the hey) this is how I have noticed the actual doctrinal difference between the LDS and other Christian sects. Other Christians seem to glorify God by debasing man, seen in the constant comments that we are as filthy rags and unable to please God in any way. On the other hand, the LDS glorify God by glorifying man, seen in the simple quote “this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortallity and eternal life of man.”
    I think both seek individual relation with God, but the nature of the relationship is vastly different. Most Christians seek a servant-master relationship, while the LDS seek a son-father relationship.

    These are just simple comparrisons that really donot do full justice to either branch of doctrine, but I think it puts it in a clear way.

    • nebula0 said

      Shema,

      I think it’s impossible to have a conversation and NOT oversimplify things. If we took into account what every individual Mormon (or whoever we are takling about) happens to think right this second, or heck, even what you or I think over the history of our lifetimes, we would never get anywhere. I think it’s perfectly justifiable to attempt to generalize out of a mass of experiences, thoughts, writings and so forth, if they seem to have good explanatory and especially predictive power.

      In any case, I think there is some legitimacy to arguing that part of what a lot of religions which preach an infinite God end up doing is diminishing the role of humankind. What you say about people being filthy rags, however, is best applied to Reformed traditions, and pretty much that alone. In the mass of Christianity people, their physical bodies, their reason and so forth is seen as essentially good, if corrupted, and the great worth of people exemplified in the sacrifice of God himself through the atonement.

      Mormonism is different in arguing that the very essence of humanity IS that of God. That is a special doctrine, I agree. Orthodox Christianity argues that the essence of humanity is essentially other from God, contingent and derivative and therefore by its nature less. I don’t think it’s an either or chocie though- that is, essentially godlike or to the core filthy rags. Orthodox Christianity has typically exalted humankind as specially created in God’s image and debased humankind by arguing that our very existence is contigent on God’s will.

      • shematwater said

        Beautifully put.

        My comments about over simplifying really had no direct purpose, except to warn those who are not part of the discussion but passing readers. While I agree that such should be expected by most people, I just like being safe.

        I do agree that over simplification is needed to understand the differences on a general passes, and I prefer this kind of discusssion to any other regarding religion.

      • nebula0 said

        I agree shema. We all know that we deeply disagree. I think the challenge to these conversations is to forget about trying to convert the other and not be afraid of coming to agreements from time to time. Agreement in one area doesn’t have to mean agreement altogether and I think for some that is a scary proposition.

      • shematwater said

        I know what you mean. I have been in some discussions where me and the other person were actually saying the same thing, so they altered their belief so as to be in disagreement, as they just couldn’t agree with a Mormon.

        Of course I was also in a discussion once on the meaning of a verse in the Bible. I actually scared some of the Non-Mormons with my ability to objectively analyse the passage and show the actual meaning without siding with either the LDS or the rest of Christians.

        In general I do not enter these discussions to convert or even to persuade, but to have fun. Frequently I feel the need to correct people when they give false information about the church, but I am also willing to be corrected if I am wrong.

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