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Provides basic background to Mormon theology and history

The Mormon Bible(s)

Posted by nebula0 on October 1, 2008


One term that inevitably rears its ugly head when talking about Mormonism is “Mormon Bible”.  Usually someone who doesn’t know the first thing about Mormonism hears about how Mormons have their own scriptures and so assume that Mormons go around using a Mormon Bible.  Now there is a half truth to this.  Joseph Smith did go about creating his own “translation” of the Bible, a product of what he felt to be inspiration of the Holy Ghost since he wasn’t fluent in the original languages of the Bible and wasn’t working from ancient manuscripts to translate anything into English as translators usually do.  This “translation” is known as the Joseph Smith Translation or JST and an example of this work, the recasting of Matthew, is found in the Pearl of Great Price and JST footnotes are found in Latter-day Saint church published Bibles.

With that caveat in mind, the translation of the Bible that English speaking Mormons use is the King James Version.  Given that Mormons in non English speaking parts of the world using more modern translations, why are Mormons stuck with the KJV?  Bearing in mind that the KJV is not the most accurate translation on the market (for example, the name Lucifer originated with a mistake when the Bible was translated into Latin and that mistake was carried into the KJV), and that it is difficult for modern ears to understand, especially when things get technical, some accuse the LDS church of choosing the KJV to keep Mormons purposefully in the dark.  That is, a Mormon could potentially read over Romans in the KJV five times and not quite get it because of the language barrier.  But if that were the case, why wouldn’t the LDS church choose a similarly difficult translation for use in non English speaking countries?  No, that doesn’t explain it.

The explanation is simple: the Book of Mormon appeared in English (whether you believe it was translation or not) and the Book of Mormon language is very KJV-esque.  More than that, the Isaiah portions of the BoM are largely a word for word match to the KJV.  So you can see the reasoning here, unless the LDS church wants to redo the BoM into a more modern sounding English perhaps using a modern translation of the Bible as a guide, the KJV will probably need to stay around- people will expect those Isaiah passaages (among other things, such as the numerous paraphrased KJV verses found in the BoM) to match up with their Bibles.  Since Joseph is believed to have been directly influenced by God in his translation of the BoM, messing with that (more than it already has been anyway) is unlikely to happen.  This isn’t a problem for non English speakers for whom the BoM has to be translated into a different language no matter, and is modernized in the process to begin with.

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

The Best Things About Mormon Life

Posted by nebula0 on September 30, 2008


One of the things that I hope to do with this site is provide insight for outsiders as to why rational, intelligent, well adjusted people might become, or stay Mormons.  There really are many benefits to Mormon life.  Here are some:

– tight, instant community.  If you move, you know that wherever you go, there will be people waiting for you, to befriend you, and help you out.

– real, meaningful identity.  All of those rules that Mormons have to follow has the end effect of giving you a specific identity as a part of a peculiar people, and you remember that everytime you turn down a drink or a coffee or you put on garments in the morning.

– specific goals.  One difficult thing about modern life in America is the number of choices we face.  College kids and do and be so many things, it can sometimes stop them in their tracks, it’s overwhelming.  Mormonism provides a specific life path for both genders, with concrete daily, weekly and monthly goals.

– interesting theology.  There really isn’t anything quite like Mormon theology.  It is truly unique and provides a rich opportunity for those with an interest in philosophy and theology to develop it and debate it.

– an instant pool of potential mates.  Singles wards provide single Mormons with an easy dating pool to test out potential mates who share similar values and goals.

– stability of values.  In a society where daily values can change rapidly, over decades, Mormonism provides a sense of solidity and direction and justification for a specific moral code.

Can you think of other elements to add to this list?

Posted in Basic Background | Tagged: , , , | 13 Comments »

The Exclusivism of Mormon Truth Claims

Posted by nebula0 on September 22, 2008


All this talk about whether or not Mormonism is a part of Christianity, or whether or not Mormons can be Christians got me thinking about this from another angle.  This goes back to my original question: why are Mormons so concerned about whether or not the conservative Christian community accepts them as Christians?  This question is quickly complicated when you take into account the fact that Mormons proclaim themselves to be members of the one and only true church on the face of the planet, the only church with the authority to baptize, the church to which one must belong and be a faithful member of if you want to have eternal life.  Given the exclusivism of those truth claims, is it so surprising that the conservative Christian community reacts?  -particularly given that Mormon theology is truly different.  Are Mormons really passive victims of a smear campaign, or is it time that they own up to their complicity in this problem?  I vote for the latter. 

Mormons, acknowledge that you preach exclusivist truth claims, truth claims which are truly unique as compared to normative/traditional Christianity.  By putting that forth on the table from the start, perhaps a fruitful discussion about where and how Mormonism fits into the Christian world can begin.

Posted in Basic Background, Controversial Topics, sociological thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Heavenly Mother: the Silent Goddess

Posted by nebula0 on August 28, 2008


One of the lesser known facts about Mormon theology is that there exists a heavenly mother, alongside the more traditionally known heavenly father (see the Mormon “Proclamation on the Family” an official proclamation given by the First Presidency, it reaffirms that we are sons and daughters of heavenly parents).  As heavenly father is the father of our spirits, and a god, heavenly mother is the mother of our spirits, and a goddess.  This fact is significant for a couple of reasons, one because it emphasizes the non-traditional nature of Mormon theology (it is quite radical, no matter how much ‘normative/historical/traditional’ Christian garb is thrown over it)- it does in fact posit the existence of at least four gods (heavenly father, the son, holy ghost and heavenly mother, and second because it reveals why the family is such an important part of Mormon rhetoric.

The ultimate possible destiny of every human person in Mormonism is exaltation, and that means becoming a god or a goddess, as heavenly father or heavenly mother is.  The heavenly parents that we have sets the pattern that we are to follow if we are to be what they are.  Since they are eternally married, we must be eternally married, if we are to be gods.  That means that ‘the family’ (traditional nuclear family) is actually a structure that is implemented and practiced by our deities, not just a human institution.  That’s why when ‘the traditional family’ is ‘under attack’ by propositions like gay marriage Mormons tend to react so quickly and vociferously- quite literally in Mormonism their conception of family is divine.  Any suggestion that the nuclear family with a man and woman (or women) as the married couple as an arbitrary societal construction also threatens the deepest structure of Mormon theology.

So, why haven’t we heard more about this goddess, after all, isn’t she our mother?  The answer you are likely to hear for this question is that she is so sacred we aren’t to talk about her.  That’s right.  She’s too sacred.  See, if we talk about her, some people might make fun of her or take her name in vain.  That’s why although we know the father’s name (Elohim) we don’t know the mother’s name.  Heavenly father has decided that he needs to protect his goddess wife.  Now, why does a goddess require protection?  Why wouldn’t a deity be able to stick up for herself?  And what does it mean that she’s too ‘sacred’ to talk about or talk to?  Don’t mothers want to hear from their children?

That’s what one BYU feminist professor thought, and, not surprisingly, got canned for sharing those thoughts.  Apparently the Mormon men at the head of the church decided that they’d better protect poor, fragile heavenly mother from those nasty women who might want to pray to her and thus expose her to being dragged in the mud.   Does this really make any sense?  If heavenly mother does exist, and she’s a goddess equally divine as heavenly father, she ought to be worshiped.  End of story.  That’s what you do to deity, you acknowledge and worship them, especially if she is your mother and helped you come into existence.

Furthermore, since the heavenly parents represent the ultimate destiny of good Mormons, what kind of great role model is a silent, passive goddess for young Mormon women anyway?

Posted in Basic Background, Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Theosis vs Exaltation

Posted by nebula0 on August 26, 2008


If you run around in Mormon circles enough and especially if you get to the stage of looking at Mormon apologetics, you are bound to run into the following argument: Did you know that the church fathers taught that we can become gods??  Yes that’s right!  That implies that becoming gods isn’t a new Mormon invention, but rather a restored doctrine lost from the early church.

It’s true, several early church fathers did teach that we can become divine.  But, it wasn’t at all what Mormonism teaches.  Why not?  Let’s do a comparison of these two ideas.  The Mormon notion of becoming gods is called exaltation, and the early church fathers we’ll call it theosis.

Exaltation:  Gods are not different kinds of beings from us humans.  They are people all grown up into their full potential.  Hence, Heavenly Father was once a man on an earth, and became exalted to his position as a god (see the “King Follet Discourse Excerpt” I posted under “The Basics” and for confirmation that this doctrine is still taught in the LDS church day check out the Gospel Principles manual used to teach new converts during Sunday School, the exaltation section).  So that we can become gods as Heavenly Father is a god is like a seed growing into an apple tree, as long as we provide it the right conditions, and nurture it properly, it’ll become an apple tree.  Given the right conditions (righteous living, activity in the LDS church) it will become a tree (a god) because it’s in the nature of the seed (person) to do so.  After all, we are the spirit children of Heavenly Father, and as Heavenly Father as an eternal intelligence (core of being, not a god) so do we, we are co-eternal beings with God.

Theosis: God is a different kind of being altogether than we humans are.  God is not created, infinite, eternal, immutable, we are all the opposites of those things, created, finite, changeable.  We depend on God from moment to moment for our very existence, and He created us out of nothing at all.  God is a loving and wonderful God however, and desires for us to live forever with Him in His direct presence.  He desires to encircle us with His divinity, and as the Eastern Orthodox teach, invite us even in the Holy Trinity.  We as finite beings made out of nothing do not have it in our natures to be like God, if He shares with us any divinity, it’s because He has to infuse it into us, and we are always dependent on Him, utterly, for our very existence.  This is what the early church fathers meant about us becoming gods, they meant always little case ‘g’, they never intended to teach that we have the same nature as God, or the same potential.  We are dust, we are nothing- literally, and God is everything and out of His divine goodness may He infuse us with His divine nature.

Posted in Basic Background, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 53 Comments »

Excerpt from the King Follet Discourse

Posted by nebula0 on August 23, 2008


Excerpt from the King Follet Discourse

Given by Joseph Smith on the occasion of King Follet’s death.

I want to ask this congregation, every man, woman and child, to answer the question in their own hearts, what kind of a being God is? Ask yourselves; turn your thoughts into your hearts, and say if any of you have seen, heard, or communed with Him? This is a question that may occupy your attention for a long time. I again repeat the question – What kind of a being is God? Does any man or woman know? Have any of you seen Him, heard Him, or communed with Him? Here is the question that will, peradventure, from this time henceforth occupy your attention. The scriptures inform us that “This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

If any man does not know God, and inquires what kind of a being He is, – if he will search diligently his own heart – if the declaration of Jesus and the apostles be true, he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle.

My first object is to find out the character of the only wise and true, God, and what kind of a being He is; and if I am so fortunate as to be the man to comprehend God, and explain or convey the principles to your hearts, so that the Spirit seals them upon you, then let every man and woman henceforth sit in silence, put their hands on their mouths, and never lift their hands or voices, or say anything against the man of God or the servants of God again. But if I fail to do it, it becomes my duty to renounce all further pretensions to revelations and inspirations, or to be a prophet; and I should be like the rest of the world – a false teacher, be hailed as a friend, and no man would seek my life. But if all religious teachers were honest enough to renounce their pretensions to godliness when their ignorance of the knowledge of God is made manifest, they will all be as badly off as I am, at any rate; and you might just as well take the lives of other false teachers as that of mine.  If any man is authorized to take away my life because he thinks and says I am a false teacher, then, upon the same principle, we should he justified in taking away the life of every false teacher, and where would be the end of blood? And who would not be the sufferer?

But meddle not with any man for his religion: all governments ought to permit every man to enjoy his religion unmolested. No man is authorized to take away life in consequence of difference of religion, which all laws and governments ought to tolerate and protect, right or wrong. Every man has a natural, and, in our country, a constitutional right to be a false prophet, as well as a true prophet. If I show, verily, that I have the truth of God, and show that ninety nine out of every hundred professing religious ministers are false teachers, having no authority, while they pretend to hold the keys of God’s kingdom on earth, and was to kill them because they are false teachers, it would deluge the whole world with blood.

I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to inquire after God; for I want you all to know Him, and to be familiar with Him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of Him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am His servant; for I speak as one having authority.

I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of a being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man.

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible, I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.

In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how He came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.

These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.

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Definition of Common Mormon Terms

Posted by nebula0 on August 23, 2008


Since my Mormon Theology 101 is a tad long, I thought I’d make a shorter, easy to use version by defining common Mormon terms.  Notice how they tend to be different from normative/historic Christianity’s usage of the same terms.

God: A god is a person who is exalted, that is, a person who has reached his full potential (there are goddesses, too).  We all have the potential to become gods/goddesses.  There is no qualitative (different in kind) between us and God, it is all a matter of quantity (or degree).  There are potentially an innumerable number of gods in existence.

Godhead: The Godhead in Mormonism refers to three particular gods, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  These are separate, exalted beings who act as one in their intentions.  The Father became a god first, helping the Son and Holy Ghost achieve their godhood.

Christ: Christ is the Son in the flesh who was literally crucified and risen from the dead in three days.  Without him Mormons do not believe it is possible to achieve salvation.  He doesn’t have a dual nature as in trinitarianism, he has only the divine (as defined above under ‘God’).  It is also a traditional belief in Mormonism, going out of style, that Christ was conceived by Mary through intercourse with the Father.

Ordinance: rituals which require the LDS priesthood to be considered binding in Mormon theology.  Some which are essential to go to the CelestialKingdom are: baptism, confirmation and reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, the temple endowment, eternal marriage/sealing/temple marriage.  Some which are not essential for salvation include: blessings for healing or comfort through anointing with oil and laying on of hands.

Callings: since the LDS church is run on the local level by unpaid lay members, every lay member is giving a ‘calling’ or job within the church.

Word of Wisdom: the dietary law set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants prohibiting the intake of alcohol, tobacco, coffee or tea.

Ward/Stake: parallels parish/diocese in the Catholic setting.  A ward is presided over by a bishop, and a stake by a stake president.

Celestial, Terrestial, Telestial Kingdom: the 3 kingdoms of heaven in which almost every single person will go to.  The Celestial kingdom is reserved for those who have participated in LDS ordinances and upheld the covenants they made.

Pre-mortal realm: before humans came to earth they lived as spirits in the presence of Heavenly Father.  This is referred to as the pre-mortal realm or life.

 Spirit world: the place where spirits of the dead await the resurrection.

 Exaltation: Deification, being made a god or goddess. This is the divine potential of every human.

Temple: unlike chapels, only Mormons may enter these.  In them, ordinance work such as baptisms for the dead is done, as well as endowments and sealing of spouses and families for eternity.

Eternal marriage/temple marriage: marriages which are performed in an LDS temple and considered binding throughout eternity.  This is a requirement for exaltation.

Temple endowment: a series of blessings and covenant making made within an LDS temple.

Garments: the infamous underwear.  These are received in the process of the temple endowment, and are worn throughout life under clothing.  They are white, and resemble long underpants and a t-shirt, meant to remind one of covenants made within the temple.

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Mormon Theology 101

Posted by nebula0 on August 21, 2008


The place to start is an overview of Mormon theology. It’s much more complex than it appears on the surface, and there are important divergences from mainstream or historic Christianity, so when trying to understand Mormonism forget what you know about Christianity and start over.

I will explain this by going through the possible journey of an individual as he progresses through the stages of existence as understood by Mormonism.

Our person is eternal, the core of his being has always existed, and always will exist, and cannot be extinguished. However, the part that is eternal is a person barely there, and progress in potential and happiness he needs to be progressively clothed, embodied. The first step is to receive a spirit body. This happened when heavenly father and mother created a spirit body for our person, along with billions of other spirit children. Heavenly father is what our person strives to be like, because he represents the fullness of human potential. Heavenly father is now a god, but used to be in the same position as our man, and is now helping other persons progress to his position.

The next step is to receive a physical body. God the father has a physical body, and it is an essential step in progression. To receive a physical body it was necessary to create a physical earth to deposit the spirits on and join with physical bodies. Heavenly father once lived on an earth like us, and went through a similar process. This sojourn on earth would also be a time for testing to see what the spirits would choose to do when they were out of the direct sight of the heavenly parents. They would forget all about their pre-mortal life on earth, and this is known as the veil. It was known that they would mess up, make wrong choices, and it was necessary to atone for those choices since once they sinned they would be too imperfect to live again with heavenly father. Lucifer, one of the spirit children proposed to take away freedom of choice, free agency, from the spirit children, thus ensuring that they would all be able to return to the holy presence of the father, and incidentally, Lucifer would then take all of the credit for humankind’s return. Jesus, the eldest of the spirit children, proposed to keep free agency intact, and that he would serve as a sacrifice for the transgressions of the spirit children, and through the sacrifice they could be cleansed and live again with heavenly father, and all glory would go to the father.

Heavenly father rejected Lucifer’s plan for Jesus’ and Lucifer and a third of the spirit children revolted, and defeated and doomed to become bodiless demons stopped in their progression. It was once widely believed by Mormons that black people represent the third of the spirits who were neutral in the war in heaven, and white people the third who took Jesus’ side, and those born in Mormon families were the spirits who were truly valiant in the war.

Heavenly father would periodically send prophets to earth, spirits chosen for this purpose, to warn humans to choose the right things, and foretell of the coming of Jesus. The first prophet was the first human: Adam. Adam and Eve were the first souls, that is, spirits united with physical bodies. In order for them to progress and be tested, it was necessary for them to know both good and evil, but the only way to know the difference was to transgress against the father. Hence, Eve’s transgression of the commandment not to eat of the true of the knowledge of good and evil was necessary for humans.

Eventually Jesus did come and make his sacrifice, he atoned for the sins of everyone past present and future by taking on the burden and enduring separation from the father in the garden of Gethsemane, followed by his death on the cross. Jesus gave to his apostles the necessary authority to act in his name to provide ordinances necessary for humans to make use of his atonement and return to the direct presence of the father. Shortly after Jesus’ death, after the death of his first apostles, the authority was lost on earth in the Great Apostasy. The authority was not returned until Joseph Smith was chosen to return the authority, the priesthood, to the earth.

So it was that our man was preached the Mormon gospel and joined the church and was baptized by the proper authority in order to take advantage of the atonement. He also underwent other necessary rituals such as confirmation and the receiving of the Holy Ghost- a god who remains bodiless in order to dwell in the hearts of the embodied, a noted exception to the- general rule that to become gods people need physical bodies – as well as rituals in Mormon temples such as the endowment ceremony. He met a nice Mormon lady and got sealed, or married, in the temple for eternity. Remember how heavenly father has a heavenly mother? Our guy is walking in the father’s footsteps to be where he is, and having an eternal companion is part of that step.

Our guy dies and is ushered through the veil into the spirit world. He preaches to those in spirit prison, or those who haven’t been baptized by authorized authority (male members of the LDS church given the priesthood) in order to give them a chance to accept the gospel. If they do they can activate the baptism by proxy done for them by live Mormons in temples. Mormons will also do endowments and sealings for the dead person, so that they can take advantage of all of the necessary ordinances for eternal life. Our guy does this until the resurrection comes, at which point he is resurrected. He calls forth his wife’s secret name, given to her in the temple, which she revealed to him as part of the sealing ritual and she too is resurrected on the morning of the first resurrection, as good Mormons can expect. At the judgment, all are assigned to one of three kingdoms, and only the very worst apostates are consigned to outer darkness, where Satan dwells. The good Mormons are assigned to the Celestial Kingdom, in the presence of the Father, those generally good but not Mormons to the Terrestial Kingdom, where the Son will visit, and those not so great to the Telestial Kingdom, where the Spirit will visit. Those who are eternally married and going to the Celestial Kingdom have a chance to advance to godhood or exaltation to start the process all over again on worlds that they create.

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