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Posts Tagged ‘apologetics’

Models for Conversation

Posted by nebula0 on November 1, 2009

There are several theological approaches to dealing with the problem of religious plurality, that is, how to deal with the fact that there are multiple truth claims made by others who seem very sincere.  These truth claims are often exclusive.  The evangelical and Mormon conversation typifies one response to the problem, that is, simply maintaining strict exclusivism.  The best that can be done in this model is attempting to understand the other position thoroughly while maintaining that the end of the day the other position is just not a path to God.  Though the other party may be sincere and well-meaning, there can only be one true path to God.  This position has several advantages, among which are that it is simple, straightforward, and in a not so obvious fashion perhaps more respectful than the other possible positions because it recognizes that the other side is trying to claim an absolute truth which isn’t the same as your own.  This model of conversation envisions an eventual total replacement of the other side by the one true way.

But there are other ways too.  In Roman Catholic theology it is common to think of other religions as containing ‘anonymous Christians’ who have access to real grace in their own religious traditions.  While Catholicism maintains that it has the clearest path to God and the most truth, it argues that there are sincere believers in other traditions that despite their traditions are, in a real sense, making their way to God.  So it is that Karl Rahner can argue that other religions are ways of salvation, if not as bright and well-marked as the Catholic way, and even if the individuals in question are in reality being saved by Christ even if they don’t agree.  This way has the advantage of approaching the other as possibly, in a true sense, approaching God and therefore listening closer, but all the while thinking that you are still most correct. 

In liberal Protestantism there are generally two approaches that can be taken.  One is that world religions are all mutually valid ways of approaching God- that is, different paths up the same mountain.  Some arguing that this position is too arrogant in assuming that someone has access to seeing the whole mountain while others do not (those who insist their way is truly exclusive, for instance) and that there is but one peak argue that there are multiple mountains with multiple peaks.  If a Buddhist expect nirvana and a Mormon the Celestial Kingdom, a good Buddhist will get nirvana and a good Mormon the Celestial Kingdom, exactly as they expect and desire.  Naturally this approach creates the greatest openness to hearing others speak and completely eliminates the desire to convert the other.

I argue that it is best to be clear and straightforward about what our biases are.  Obviously if we did not think we had the best way to worship God, we’d do it the way that we did think was best.  The danger is that conversations with those very jealous about the exclusiveness of their truth claims often quickly become frustrating as each side, rather than being able to have open conversation, is on constant guard against giving too much ground while attempting vigorously to convert the other.   I have seen too often conversations between evangelicals and Mormon degrade into a mutual play act, in which one side recalls ‘tips for evangelizing’ and the other resorts to bearing his testimony.  Both sides walk away frustrated and having gained nothing whatsoever.  Is there a way to engage in real conversation?  Only if there is a modicum of danger involved, that is, an allowance of the possibility of changing minds, if even a little bit.

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

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 »

Nicety Niceness

Posted by nebula0 on September 26, 2008

Let me state from the outset that my purpose here is not to argue that Mormons are meaner than anyone else.  I don’t think that.  What I am going to argue though is that Mormons aren’t nicer than anyone else either.  I’d say if you could get into the heads of Mormons you’d discover that they are thoroughly human, no nicer or meaner than any other large group of people.

Now if you don’t know about Mormonism, the above might seem trivial to you, but consider this, when people talk about knowing Mormons, what is one of the things they are bound to share?  Probably something like: oh, they are so nice!  Now this was my reaction when I first got involved with the Mormon community, first as an investigator then as a new member.  It wasn’t the primary reason I got involved, but I thought they were some of the nicest people on the planet.  So what changed my mind?  Experience, that’s all, and not even bad, traumatic experience or anything like that.  Just everyday experience with lots of Mormons all over.  This is my discovery: what I call nicety niceness is a cultural element.  It’s like saying please and thank you if you are a polite person.  Mormon culture obligates people to avoid conflict (because, contention is of the devil, after all), and just be nice.  The Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints take this to an extreme with their women whose motto is “keep sweet”, a phrase which helps illuminate the larger Mormon culture.  So, smiling, avoiding contentious topics, a sense of eagerness, all of that are a part of what it is to be polite in Mormonism, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the inner attitudes of those speaking.  Why would I say this, you might ask.  The reason is because I’ve seen people be nicety nice to someone, and whether male or female, turn around and immediately gossip about them.  Actually this happened, well, a lot.  At first it was discouraging to me to realize that Mormons weren’t as nice as I thought, but then it was something of a relief to know that they weren’t robots after all.  Another thing I observed is that if one Mormon wanted to get someone else to do something, or find out why they are inactive, or cover some other potentially contentious ground, they tend to go round and round but never actually touch the topic they wanted to get to or only get there after ten minutes of nicety.  As you can imagine, this tends to lead to plenty of passive aggressiveness.  Mormons who have a problem bottle it up and take it out in bizarre ways, such as the cold shoulder.

In short, if you are going to become a Mormon, one of the best things you can do is be someone not afraid of a little conflict because then you can get away with doing whatever you want.  Chances are, no one will quite know how to deal with that.  I much prefer just coming out and saying whatever it is you mean, even if it isn’t nicety.  I’m certain that this is one of the major reasons Mormons think everyone else is so darned mean because in other Christian cultures (especially the reformed, I’ve noticed) it isn’t considered rude at all to “state things as you see them”.  So you’ll see Mormons and some kind of other Christian apologists going back and forth, the Mormons aghast that someone would be so darned mean, and why are they trying to pull other people down and and… while the Christian apologist starts to accuse the Mormon of being brainwashed because why else would they avoid the topic?  and both sides don’t get it.  In Mormon culture you have to be nicety nice to have effective communication, no matter how distasteful or simply annoying you may personally find it.  If you don’t, the other person assumes you are a rude brute, that doesn’t mean that they are brainwashed or anything else, it means that you are ineffectively communicating with Mormonism.

How did this all come about?  A few things: Mormons are supposed to be really, really happy.  It’s part of the gospel in Mormonism, man is that he might have joy.  If you are not happy, then you aren’t doing something right.  Hence, act happy, all of the time (and plenty of Mormons are not afraid of taking anti depressants either, however you want to interpret the fact, Utah is the anti depressant capital of the country– I don’t think Mormons are any more, or less happy than the average outside person either).  For example, take the saying that goes something like “no outside success can compensate for failure at home”- family harmony and happiness is considered in the complete control of the parents, particularly the father and so if it lacking it is all his fault, so darn it, act happy.   Another element is that there ought to be total harmony amongst the Saints, after all, they are part of the one true church on the face of the planet led by a living prophet.  Contention, any contention, is from Satan.

hmm, if I think of anymore background elements I will add them, feel free to add your input too.

Posted in Reflections, sociological thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »