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Posts Tagged ‘christ’

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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Continuing Revelation

Posted by nebula0 on December 1, 2008


In several ways the Mormon notion of continuing revelation makes sense.  If God is a personal God who cares about us, wouldn’t he want to continue to direct us?  Likewise, if God is at least relatively infinite and us comparatively finite, then it also follows that we have a lot more to learn and God has a lot more to reveal to us about truth.  On many levels this idea has appeal, especially as it is so ordered in the Mormon hierarchy as to exclude the possibility of confusion.  The usual evangelical Christian responses to Mormon continuing revelation and the ‘extra’ scripture that follows is to quote out of context biblical verses that don’t really work for their argument (for instance the verse from Revelation really only applies to the book of Revelation).  Is there a firm basis by which the orthodox Christian world might disagree?

All of those ‘extra’ scriptures Mormons have are ‘extras’ because they tend to have the effect of distraction.  The orthodox Christian story is a rather simple one overall: God creates creatures with the freedom to truly love him back, these finite creatures cannot be united to their infinite God alone, God erupts his finite creation by becoming a creature himself.  Via the book of Hebrews the Old Testament can be seen as primarily a collection of foreshadowing providing many different ways to understand The Event- the incarnation of the infinite God as Christ.  The New Testament restricts itself to discussing the meaning and ramifications of this event to those who had access at least to those who did have first hand interaction with Christ and so it ends.  There is no continuing revelation because The Revelation has happened, at a moment in history, two thousand years ago.  While we can always discuss and interpret and apply The Revelation, The Event, there is no more universal revelation to be had lest it distract from the greatest happening that will ever happen to us until history ends.

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Trinity and the Mormon Godhead

Posted by nebula0 on October 11, 2008


I’ll never forget the day when, as a new member baptized maybe three months ago, missionaries showed up at my apartment to ask me what the different was between the godhead as spelled out by the Articles of Faith and the trinity as believed by orthodox Christianity.  Part of the reason it’s an episode burned into my mind is that I was so shocked that these poor missionaries who had gone through the Missionary Training Center, one who was on the tail end of his mission, did not understand basic Mormon theology.  For all you orthodox Christians out there who read this, let this be a lesson for you when you speak to Mormons before you accuse them of lying or being brainwashed.  The reality of the situation is that many Mormons, maybe the majority, do not understand basic Mormon theology anymore.  For you Mormons, you may argue that the doctrine of the trinity just doesn’t make sense, it’s a contradiction in terms, and that’s why there is confusion.

Let’s start with the trinity.  The grounding assumption of any formulation of the trinity starts with the assumption that there is but One God.  By God here I mean the immutable, infinite, eternal, necessary being labeled God.  There are two ways to come to this conclusion, through philosophy and through exegesis of the Bible.   Through philosophy you can come to suspect that the God I stated above exists through classic arguments such as the argument from contingency or the ontological argument.  It follows from such arguments that there would be only one such being, as a truly infinite, necessary, immutable being would be a true unity.  From the Bible verses from especially deutero Isaiah and the New Testament, when monotheism was firmly established in Israel, reaffirm the notion that there is but one God.

With that established, the next thing integrated into the notion of the trinity is usually the Son, Christ.  Again, there are two ways of approaching this problem, through philosophy and exegesis of the Bible.  Through philosophy you may come to some notion of a finite creation separated from its infinite Creator and the question as to how to close that gap between two qualitatively different types of beings.  The incarnation is one particularly appealing solution, and since it is testified to in the New Testament, appears to many Christians to be particularly powerful.  From statements in the New Testament, most powerfully from John 1, it is understood that Christ is the expressed Logos, or spoken Word/reason/mind of God somehow enfleshed.  It follows from the notion that there is but One God, that there must be some kind of profound unity between the creator God and this enfleshed Logos.  There are a couple ways to do this, the easiest way mentally is through modalism/oneness theology, which states that God expresses himself through different modes of being- the father first, the son second and the holy ghost third.  Hence, Jesus IS the father IS the holy ghost.  That melding of persons into one person doesn’t prove satisfactory to all however, since through exegesis most Christians argue that Christ was a bonafide separate person from the Father (i.e. who was Jesus praying to when praying to the Father?  It seems reasonable to assert it was a different person). 

This is where it getes tricky and the doctrine of the trinity loses many well meaning people.  How can you possibly assert that two separate persons are the same Being?  Because recall, it was already established that there is only One God.  The notion of personhood is a tricky enough one to begin with.  What does it mean that youare a person when you are not made up of the same ‘stuff’ one year to the next as your cells are created and destroyed?  Is there a difference between a person and a being?  Usually when we talk about personhood we mean a rational agent, and when we talk about being we describe qualities.  To be a human being is to be a person with a mortal, finite body.  To be a human being is to be a a person and a particular being in unity.  But, what if there was a type of being which was unlimited, infinite, is it possible that multiple persons could share the exact same nature?  Think about this for a second, part of being a human being is being finite and imperfect- separate, distinct.  But if a rational agent has an infinite, immutable being, what’s to say that another rational agent, another person, could not share that exact same being of infinity?  There can only be one such being- multiple, perfect infinites would actually overlap and become the exact same beings, they would overlay each other or become contradictions in terms- but why not have multiple persons be that being?  From there comes the inclusion of the Holy Spirit as a third person to be the being of God.  From what I can tell, the inclusion of the Holy Spirit is primarily due to exegesis from scripture.

Whether or not you agree with the above, I hope you realize that it isn’t just silly, impossible nonsense.  It’s reasonable enough.  Now how does that compare to the Mormon notion of the Godhead?  Simple.  The Mormon Godhead supposes that there are three beings which compose it, not just three persons in one being.  This is made possible because deity in Mormonism is not infinite in the absolute sense.  It is infinite only in a relative sense- in the same way that a large sheet might as well be infinite to a speck of dust.  Therefore it is not contradiction in terms to assume that there can be multiple relatively infinite beings, it is only a problem if you suppose that there is an absolutely infinite being in existence.

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Are Mormons Christians?

Posted by nebula0 on September 21, 2008


I argue that this question is a very different one thannit asking if Mormonism is a part of Christianity.  Asking if particular Mormons are Christians, or if Mormons can be Christians is an easier topic if anything.  I propose that if you were to go around and ask a random sampling of say, one hundred Mormons what they believed in depth, you’d find great divergences in beliefs between them and to what you might see as Mormonism proper.  I’d suspect that you’d find a majority sincerely believe themselves to be monotheists, not seeing at all that Mormonism posits the existence of more than one God (and more fundamentally, that Heavenly Father is not the creator of the cosmic laws, but is a product of them).  I also argue that you’d see a disproportionate number of Mormons, of the younger generation and especially young converts, speaking in evangelical terms about salvation, were you ask them about that.  This is possible because Mormon theology is nebulous and ill defined.

That is, you’d find a number of Mormons agreeing to basic Protestant propositions about God and Christ’s soteriological role.  Their Mormon-ness would be a product of their acceptance of the Mormon canon and embrace of the basic Joseph Smith story (sanitized, of course), as well as acceptance of Mormon authority as expressed in the priesthood.  The question is, to you readers, are the elements in the last sentence enough to bar them from Christianity?  If you are evangelical, let me pose it this way, can someone sincerely believe that Christ has saved them from their sins through grace, believe in one God and be saved regardless of whether or not they also happen to believe that the Book of Mormon is scripture?  I leave this as an open question.

I would like to comment on another element in the opening paragraph however, on a different note, concerning the nebulous nature of Mormon theology.  Many educated Mormons would probably agree with that diagnosis, but would construe it as a boon rather than a problem.  They may argue that Mormonism is a religion that emphasizes orthopraxis over and above orthodoxy, leaving room for individual members to construct their own theology within certain malleable limits as long as they toe the line with their behavior.  It all sounds so good on paper… is it really though?  The lack of well defined theology is not a product of something inherent in Mormonism that really, from its groundwork, emphasizes good works more than correct belief.  You need only sit through a temple recommend interview to understand that fallacy: do you have faith in Christ?  Do you sustain the leaders?  Do you have a testimony of the restoration?  Having a testimony of the truthfulness of the Mormon story is the cornerstone to being a Mormon.  Sit through any fast and testimony meeting, and you’ll hear member after member testify that they have knowledge, not just belief, that ‘the church is true’.  In fact one of the first things missionaries will try to teach potential converts is to recognize the Spirit testifying of truth.  All this talk about knowledge and truth clearly reveals an obsession with some kind of orthodoxy.  The reason it is ill defined is because Mormonism shuns a professional clergy who could have the training necessary to untangle it all in a clear, and meaningful fashion.

The other tidbit I want to mention is this talk about ‘following Christ’ making someone a Christian.  What does that mean?  There are good people in all religions, including plenty of great atheists who are out to love their neighbors.  That doesn’t make them Christians so why should some vague set of good deeds make anyone else a Christian alone?  It doesn’t work that way.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »