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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Heavenly Father and Theodicy

Posted by nebula0 on October 30, 2009


One of the most prickly problems theists face is the problem of evil and developing a theodicy in response.  If there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator how can evil exist?  If he is all good and all powerful and all knowing there should be no excuse.  In response to the problem a number of responses exist from classic monotheists including the free will defense or arguing that from God’s perspective all really is well.   In the face of true evil however, these responses often feel thin.  Knowing that God, if he wanted to, have intervened in the Holocaust and prevented children from getting gassed, wouldn’t we expect a good God to do that, free will be damned?  What kind of God allows for the unbearable torture of the innocent?  These thoughts have in part led to the creation of new types of theologies, namely, process theology.  However, Mormonism also has an interesting potential angle.

One of the strengths of Mormonism, I argue, is that it has a very interesting solution to the problem.  In Mormonism God is relatively, not absolutely, infinite.  That is, as a mile wide piece of paper might as well be infinite to a speck of dust, God is relatively infinite in qualities to us.  God has so much more power, goodness and knowledge than we possess he is in effect infinite, though not in the absolute sense of the classical monotheist.  You can probably already sense where this is going, if God is not absolutely infinite, then perhaps his power is in some sense insufficient to prevent evils even if he wanted to.  What’s more, Mormonism provides a further avenue of thought on the matter by arguing that God became God by following pre-existing rules of the cosmos that just happened to be there, that he is in effect bound to them and to break them would cause him to cease being God.  We are, of course, also bound by these same laws. God wants to illumine these laws to us for our good and further our happiness.  He provides us succor and guidance as we learn, but cannot alter these laws.  So it is, that through the unavoidable operation of these laws people get hurt.  God can do much to alleviate suffering, but it is inevitable that suffering will occur and he cannot help that.  God in this theology remains truly good, without significant problem.

This is truly a great strength of Mormon theology and I hope it is not overlooked by the Mormon population.  The problem of evil is a disturbing one and the ability to salvage God’s character through the Mormon solution is not a trivial thing.

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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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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…

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Mormon Epistemology and Faith

Posted by nebula0 on November 29, 2008


Anyone who has encountered Mormon missionaries for any length of time is familiar with Mormon epistemology, that is, the Mormon way of knowing.  In one sense it is an advanced epistemology comparative to the conservative Christian world.  The core of it is simply this: it is not possible to prove empirically or analytically “spiritual truths” (theological claims), these can only be known by a witness through the Spirit and they can be known, not just believed.  One of the first things that Mormon missionaries are likely to do will be to attempt to teach you how to recognize the Spirit witnessing a truth to you.  This is accomplished by linking together a theological claim that they make to some kind of feeling of peace of comfort on your part.  Likewise, if you happen to feel unease they may teach you that Lucifer is active in the world and trying to keep you from the truth.

Through this means a Mormon convert receives their testimony, that is, their grounding belief that Mormon theological claims are true.  From there, it is through experimentation with these beliefs that leads to knowledge through obedience to the obligations that these beliefs carry.  For example, Mormon converts are taught that they are to tithe (give 10% of their income) as a commandment and they must accept this as a precondition to baptism into the Mormon church.  They are told that if they are unsure about this move, to try it out a few times as God promises to rain blessings down on those who are faithful to it.  From here follows stories about those barely scraping by who nonetheless make the sacrifice to tithe and find unexpected checks in the mail.  These sort of blessing experiences combined with many experiences with the Spirit testifying of truths leads to Mormon testimonies that begin “I know this church is true”.

I started out this post with the claim that Mormon epistemology is more advanced than that of the conservative Christian way.  Conservative Christians often think that the existence of God can be proven, as an example, through well worn philosophical arguments such as the Argument from Design.  Most of these amateur apologists (and here I do speak specifically of the non professional) are not aware of the devastating counter arguments to this argument.  They may also be creationists and argue against evolution only for you to find out through the conversation that the Christian in question doesn’t really understand the theory of evolution at all (for instance, how many times have you run into someone who argues that if evolution were true there should be no monkeys?).  The problem is that these conservative Christians have a naive faith in the provability of a myriad of empirical claims that are on very shakey empirical grounds.

Mormons, on the other hand, for the most part have realized long ago that their empirical claims are highly problematic and so have fully retreated into a subjective epistemology because there are so very many empirical Mormon claims that have little to no empirical evidence as a support.  For instance, what solid undeniable evidence is there to support the Book of Mormon claims?  If all you have is an inscription in Yemen and chiasm you aren’t exactly on the warpath to converting thousands.  Similarly, sometimes the empirical evidence is directly contrary, as in the case of the Book of Abraham.

For most Mormons this stuff isn’t a problem because most aren’t aware of the problems in part because they accept Mormon epistemology so don’t bother with things that might possibly disturb their witness of the Spirit.  For those who are familiar and indeed engage in apologetics a dangerous game is entered into.  Such an individual needs to carefully craft apologetic answers in such a way to neutralize the immediate dangers quickly.  Personally, I never could.  To some extent I bought Mormon epistemology knowing as I did that the existence of God, for one thing, could never be thoroughly proven.  I cast the problem as an either or issue- either the matter could be conclusively proven or there was nothing.  It was only later that I realized that exiling my intellect in the matters of faith lead to a tepid and stinking sort of faith, a rot which prevented my whole will from embracing God.

Now I would recommend to all the following thoughts: It is true, theological claims cannot be conclusively proven, however, unless you demonstrate the basic reasonableness of such a claim your religion and therefore commitment to God will be a facade.  If God didn’t want us to use our intellects, obviously we wouldn’t have them and God wouldn’t try to reason with us through scriptures and spokespeople.  If you aren’t sure if a theological claim makes sense, suspend it and investigate the matter.  Receiving a feeling of peace is not an answer since it has no content to show the intellect.  Feelings, emotions have a place in the religious life, yes, but when they are all that you rely on you have put to sleep that part of you which is especially made in the image of God.

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The Aesthetics of it all!

Posted by nebula0 on October 22, 2008


In my time discussing Mormonism over the years one of the biggest misconceptions that Mormons have about traditional Christianity isn’t so much over a particular doctrine or a ritual, but a whole feel that they have for the thing.  So many Mormons see traditional Christianity as oppressively bland.  You can tell if a Mormon harbors this bias by their overuse of the word ‘Platonic’ in describing Christianity.  By Platonic they don’t mean technically Platonic as much as they mean empty, vacuous, words cleverly hidden under more words crafted together in impossible creeds.  They may tell you that the Christian God sounds like a no-person and that Christian heaven sounds like a hell with its clouds and harps and unending hymn singing.  In fact, look at a recent Sunstone article, issue 150, “Of Time and all Eternitiy: God and Others in Mormonism and Heterdox Christainity” by James McLachlan- a well crafted, interesting article whose premise is just this very false notion.  Let’s face this bias head on.

After I finished my physics degree, I had the opportunity to work at CERN (yes, I knew I’d get to brag about that one day) and so lived in Switzerland/France for several months.  One thing that I quickly discovered would be a favorite pastime was looking at the glorious churches all around.  Even the smallest chapel was full of charm, usually stone, usually old, usually with stained glass.  The Mormon chapel I attended in Geneve on the other hand, was well, typically Mormon.  The biggest thing that sticks out in my memory is my visit to the cathedral at Milan.  What a truly awesome sight.  Not only is the exterior a monumental work of art to behold, but the inside… is the very definition of sacred.  I knew as soon as I stepped inside on an ordinary summer day why Catholicism has such a strong grip on the heart of humanity.  The space seeped with sacredness.

Or, I think of a more recent visit to a Presbyterian church (before I made my final decision to leave Mormonism, by the way).  The space is nice, large, with stained glass windows.  It sets the stage.  But that wasn’t what I was thinking of this time.  It was the music.  There is a giant pipe organ in that church, and it was played by a professional, and she played who else but Bach.  Unless you’ve listened to Bach played in a church with a good organ by a professional you can’t relate.  I highly suggest it.  The beauty of it is nothing short of sublime.

When I think of the richness of Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy in particular- the vestments, the decorated, large spaces, the music- and then I hear a Mormon complain about the emptiness of Christianity, I don’t know whether to laugh or wring my hands.  Really?  Have you never heard a Gregorian chant or listened to Bach?  Have you never stepped inside a Cathedral on Easter Mass and saw the candles lite up the darkness?

On the other hand, let’s look at Mormonism for a second.  The Salt Lake temple is an inspiring building.  There is not question about that.  But most temples feel like what a mansion would feel like if it were decorated by hillbillies who just won the lottery.  Most Mormon chapels feel sterile and popped out of a cookie cutter.  Sure, the Tabernacle Choir can do some great stuff, but the stuff Mormons are usually subjected to Sunday by Sunday is less than inspiring and I know as a fact I’m not the only one with that opinion.

You may say, hey nebula, that’s not what we’re talking about.  We’re talking about the belief system.  The theology.  In Mormonism we know all this stuff about the afterlife.  We’re married, we have families, we’re resurrected!  Well many Mormons don’t seem to be aware that orthodox Christianity teaches of the resurrection of the dead.  I agree, Mormonism does spend much more time thinking about the specifics of the afterlife, but a lot of that I don’t personally care for.  If the Celestial Kingdom really looks like an ostentatious living room in which we all have to whisper- no thanks.  If I really have to continue to be subjected to Home Teaching in the Spirit world- no thanks.  Frankly the orthodox Christian notion of glorious union with The Bridegroom sounds much more interesting.

The next time you feel the urge to paint traditional Christianity as vacuous, empty, Platonism, remember the cathedrals, the vestments, the music, the paintings, the sculptures, and ask yourself, would emptiness have the power to inspire such beauty?

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Can Mormonism ever be considered a Christian religion?

Posted by nebula0 on October 22, 2008


The answer is yes.  In fact, if things keep going as they are in the LDS church that is bound to happen at one point or another, and by the general public be embraced as a Christian religion.  Here’s why: the Mormon leadership seems very keen on downplaying distinctive differences. 

-Hinckley publicly stated that “I don’t know that we teach that” when asked about the exaltation (being made a god) of Heavenly Father.  That’s a biggy.  If Mormons can get that out of the way, that is one of the biggest hurdles.  It is essential that Mormonism comes to a ‘traditional’ view of God to really be considered Christian without great opposition (loony counter cultists don’t count, you know, the kind who say that Catholics aren’t Christians… yeah.)

– The temple ceremony is downplayed over time.  This matters because the temple ceremony is going to have to readapt and become more explicitly Christ centered than it is.  That is, for example, Celestial marriage (sealed for time and eternity with your spouse) cannot be considered the gateway to exaltation (eternal life).  It can only be the usual known elements, faith in Christ, baptism is okay, and so forth.  Eternal marriage will have to be reinterpreted as a peculiar Mormon bonus perhaps, but not as the capstone in the plan of salvation.

– Mormon history is severely watered down over time.  An example of this is the fact that it was not mentioned in the blurb talking about Brigham Young’s life in the manual used for Relief Society and Elder’s Quorum a couple of years ago that he had more than one wife.  That’s right.  Nor is the issue of plural marriage tackled in the latest Temple Square movie showed about Joseph Smith (which in my personal opinion sucks, but others like it, so what can you say).  This is important because it will allow those unique theological elements to be watered down with impunity.

– An emphasis of Christ and grace over and above traditional Mormon topics.  We see this happening easily; just look at the latest General Conferences.

Things that won’t have to change include:

the Word of Wisdom- health code, why not?,

garments- easily interpreted in a vestment sort of way, lots of established Christian churches use special clothing

some kind of temple ceremony- reinterpreted of course, it’s one of those things that will keep Mormon Christianity, Mormon

the unique Mormon canon- think about this, the emphasis given to the Book of Mormon since Benson’s time has gone hand in hand with an increasing talk of traditional Christian themes.  Why?  Because the Book of Mormon was written (translated, whatever) before Joseph Smith developed unique Mormon theology.  So it is that emphasis on the BoM actually brings Mormonism closer to the larger Christian fold.

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Mormon Misconceptions about Traditional Ideas of Heaven

Posted by nebula0 on October 14, 2008


This isn’t meant to pick on anyone in particular, but it’s a widespread problem in Mormonism.  Mormons really don’t understand what normative Christian heaven is supposed to be about.  This is partly due to the fact that Mormonism is a religion which is in a way obsessed with the beyond mortal life realms.  Who hasn’t seen that elaborate diagram drawn which called a depiction of “The Plan of Salvation” which consists of demonstrating how a spirit child in the premortal realm moves through mortal earth to the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom?  And, think about this, Mormon temples are arranged around those same degrees of glory, and move participants through that same drama to the Celestial Kingdom.  There is talk about all the work that is to be done in the spirit world.  There is talk about all of the families sealed to be together for all eternity.  Yes, there is a lot of specific, embodied talk about the afterlife in Mormonism, which can make traditional Christian notions of heaven seem pale and thin. 

This is also partly due to the fact that traditional Christians aren’t very good about talking about heaven.  Many are so confused by their own theologies concerning the afterlife that they aren’t even sure if they are going to be resurrected.  All of this stems from the Western obsession with salvation from Sin and Death.  Once that is conquered, it is assumed all will be very good, but exactly what that means isn’t well explained.

These two items combine to in the unfortunate current state of affairs in which most Mormons assume traditional Christian heaven consists of disembodied spirits singing hymns to an invisible God- invisible even in heaven!  So here is misconception #1: traditional Christians deny the resurrection.  Not true.  Most orthodox Christian theologies affirm the resurrection.  Misconception #2: there will be no friends or family in heaven, just individual spirits praising for eternity an invisible God.  Why not?  Yes it’s true that the highest loyalty will go to God.  It should be to God right now on planet earth (remember, Jesus claims that one must ‘hate his mother, brother,’ and so on to be a disciple).  But that doesn’t then follow that we won’t recognize each other in heaven, I can’t imagine why not.  Misconception #3: it will be very boring.  What?  By definition heaven will be great, the greatest.  We will have fullness of joy. 

What this comes down to is faith.  Do you have faith that God knows you, better than you know you, and cares for you completely?  Children may not understand why their parents make them do boring things like learn to read or eat gross things like vegetables.  It isn’t until later that we find out what gifts they were preparing for us.  Similarly with God.  I imagine when we see face to face, with full reality before us, our God, that our relationships with those we knew will be richer and better than anything, literally, imaginable to us now.  Our existence will be the richest and fullest possible.  The real problem is that our finite imaginations are simply not capable of really understanding the joys that God has in store for us.

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Conversion: More thoughts on brainwashing

Posted by nebula0 on October 9, 2008


It seems as though those unfamiliar with Mormonism just cannot get over the feeling that only brainwashed fools would become Mormons.  They point to the ‘strange’ belief system, the hierarchical, centralized authority, and all of the sacrifices which are necessary to become Mormons.  I’ve pointed out previously that Mormons (to make things simple, let’s focus on the LDS today) partly bring this on themselves by refusing to talk about and poorly explaining many elements of Mormon theology.  The LDS church sells itself as Christianity Plus, Christianity plus the Book of Mormon, to outsiders, when the reality is that there is quite a bit more to it.  When outsiders find out about the little extras the LDS church isn’t explicit about, from temple ceremonies to the nature of deity, outsiders make their judgements not only on the fact that the beliefs and rituals of Mormonism are strange (unusual) but that the LDSchurch appears to these outsiders to be hiding things.  This is never a good combination of elements.  Let’s, for a moment, assume that the LDS church simply doesn’t know how to explain itself well, and that’s why it doesn’t get explicit with outsiders.  This, by the way, is what I believe to be the case.  The LDS church is run by businessmen, not trained theologians, and they are afraid that if they get too deeply into the theology that they’ll be misunderstood, which is understandable.  They probably would be.  But, back to the topic at hand, how does a rational, normal person become a Mormon?  No matter how odd the belief system and rituals seem to you, try for a moment to really understand how this could happen without jumping to the conclusion that because it doesn’t make sense to you at this moment, therefore the only option is brainwashing.

First of all, what is conversion?  It is the process by which a person moves from one overarching worldview to another.  Simple enough.  But how does this process occur?  How does someone go from being an atheist say, to a born again Christian?  Let’s look at things from an atheist worldview: the scientific method reigns supreme, the only reality is empirical reality, physical phenomena which can be observed.  The supernatural, by definition of being above the natural, does not fit this category and is therefore unreal and belief in it irrational.  For an atheist, for whom the only reality is that which is empirically demonstrable, to become a born again Christian is a momentous change of world views.  For a born again Christian, the ultimate reality that matters is the category of the saved vs the unsaved persons because the eternal, real drama is the ultimate destination of every person to heaven or to hell.  Those who enter heaven are those who have accepted their status as sinner vis a vis an eternal, perfect God and that they cannot dwell in the presence of a perfect holy God as a sinner and are therefore destined for Hell.  Out of this sad realization is the joyful one that God incarnate, Christ, has made a way for the sinner to go to heaven simply by trusting in him and accepting him as one’s personal savior.  For the atheist reality is the physical universe and the striving to understand how the mechanical universe operates, for the born again Christian reality is all about ultimate affiliation- are you committed to Christ or not? all else is scruples.

Only when you think about how utterly different these worldviews are will you be sufficiently amazed at a true conversion from one to another.  You might come to the conclusion that any paradigm shift of this magnitude must involve brainwashing, especially if you happen to be an atheist who thinks anyone who believes in a supernatural existence is irrational.  But any number of ways of thinking and social circumstances can create a passageway in the mind of an individual to consider other possibilities.  Simply meditating on the ultimate meaning of life, the meaning of death and the meaning of existence itself can prime an atheist to consider the possibility that there is some kind of existence beyond the natural.  An atheist might be in a socially unstable position as an adolescence who has just left home, someone in a perfect place to completely reinvent his or herself, for it is a known fact that having extensive social networks in place is the most likely way a person will remain faithful to their worldview, whether atheist, Christian, pagan, or whatever, so disruption of the social network often precedes a radical worldview shift.

Once the possibility is opened in the mind of an atheist, the next step is interaction with born again words.  Ultimately, conversion is about appropriating a way of thinking- a way of speaking- which reflects a new reality.  Atheism has a particular language with certain key phrases which pinpoints a person as an atheist, likewise do born again Christians.  Through extensive interaction with born again Christians who attempt through evangelizing to get prospective converts to appropriate their language, to begin to think about themselves as sinners in need of a savior, to begin to ‘hear the Holy Spirit’, an atheist may, unwittingly, begin to think of the world in these terms.  This process is no more brainwashing than you can describe any process of education as brainwashing.  A similar process happens in any classroom when an instructor attempts to open up a new dimension of reality to his or her students through teaching them a new language, whether that language happens to be that of math, science, history or Spanish.  It’s how we humans share our findings with each other, and in this case, the born again Christians are trying to share their findings with the listening atheist.  Conversion is completed when the atheist is not only a listener of born again rhetoric, but has become a speaker of the same rhetoric (and, to be fair, the same thing can and does happen in reverse as well).

It is this same process which brings a non Mormon to Mormonism.  Missionaries teach prospective converts the peculiar language of Mormonism, inviting the listener to think of the world in terms of Mormon-ese.  If the listener accepts the challenge of listening, he or she will find themselves challenged to think of the world in Mormon terms, and may find themselves speaking about it in Mormon terms.  When the language has been appropriated and made their own, conversion is complete.  The baptism, by that point, is icing on the cake.  Actions naturally follow once the new understanding of the cosmos is appropriated.  Conversion to Mormonism happens in the ordinary way, the same way conversion happens from atheism to born again Christianity (or vice versa).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a relativist.  I don’t think all choices are equal (see my “Why Does Anything Exist?” post for example).  Some worldview languages better reflect the way reality really is than others.  I’m not entirely sure what Real Reality looks like, but I do not think Mormonism is an accurate reflection, which is why I ultimately experienced mental tension and de-conversion.  Though I kept trying to describe my experiences of the world in Mormon terms, I increasingly found Mormonese to be a clumsy language to describe the world, the more I thought about things.  I ultimately realized that I no longer thought about the world in Momonese except on a superficial level and therefore was, for all real purposes, no longer a Mormon.  No one had to do a brainwashing intervention for this to happen, I simply attempted to experience my expanding world as a Mormon and experienced failure in the attempt.

I invite all readers of the blog to set aside insulting, and unecessary, accusations that Mormons are brainwashed and therefore, unlike the rest of us, unable to think clearly.  That is an unnecessary and counterproductive assumption.  If you really want to convert Mormons, take the time to understand Mormonese and communicate with Mormons effectively.  Show them why their Mormon ways of approaching the universe, using Mormonese, do not sufficiently account for their experiences of the world.  Create a rift in their langauge of the world, and their experience of the world, and then show them a way of thinking which better fits the reality of the universe.  By simply getting frustrated that Mormons don’t immediately see how your way of thinking about the unvierse is superior and so claiming that Mormons must be brainwashed, the only thing that you are proving is your own laziness and inability to communicate effectively.

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The Cult of Motherhood

Posted by nebula0 on October 8, 2008


The men and women Puritans who settled America worked side by side in small family farms.  There was, to be sure, a division of labor, but husbands and wives normally saw each other often during the day.  The Calvinist theology they held preached that both men and women were depraved sinners desperately in need of Christ’s grace.  If anything, women were viewed as snares to men, as Eve was a snare to Adam, so that husbands needed to carefully watch and manage their wives as heads of their house.  It was women in these times who were the sexual beings needed managing, not men.  If that surprises you, it’s no doubt because you too have been indoctrinated into the cult of Motherhood.  In the cult of Motherhood, women, mothers in particular, are creatures close to the angels, pure and spiritual, and through their very presence in the household civilize their men.  How did women go from being sexual temptress to asexual angel?  And, considering this is a blog about Mormonism, what does any of this have to do with Mormonism?

The change happened primarily with the Industrial Revolution.  Men and women no longer labored side by side on their small family farms or running their small businesses from their homes, now men went to the factory or the office and the wife stayed home to tend to the children.  The doctrine of the spheres came into being: the proper sphere of men is the public one, the world of business and industry, the proper sphere of women is the private one, home and family.  Men began to imagine that Industry and Business were cruel and harsh worlds, that they had to become uncivilized warriors of sorts to go and tame it.  Yes, perhaps they put on a suit and did paper work all day, but it was a world of rough morality and cutthroat action nonetheless, suited to their rugged masculinity.  The home became envisioned as a place of rest from the rough and tumblel work place, a place with the calming influence of a loving wife.  Women now were portrayed as naturally more spiritual than men, more moral and less sexual.  The less that men had interactions with women, the more women were put on a pedestal because the more that men could erect fantasies about their wives’ purity.  The private sphere became exalted as the cornerstone of societal morality, and wives as the guardians of morality.  If men were to succeed in business, they would have to dirty their hands, their wives on the other hands, would keep their homes clean physically and spiritually.  This began to backfire when women, encouraged by slogans promoting their moral and spiritual superiority to men, began to take over their churches and enter the public sphere in order to purify society as a whole.  There was a backlash against this as the nascent fundamentalist movement reemphasized the masculinity of Christianity, but mainline Protestantism never did get women out of the church committees.  The cult of Motherhood survives and flourishes in many corners of conservative Christianity.

So, how was Mormonism affected by these changes?  As Mormons began to seek greater respectability with the larger American culture at the end of the 19th, and beginning of the 20th C they began to embrace these trends.  The most obvious example is the Manifesto of 1890 officially ending the practice of polygamy, and the actual suppression of polygamy by the LDS church within a decade of the 20th C.  Interestingly, the practice of polygamy (plural marriage) initially had an insulating affect against the Victorian ethos of putting women at home.  Mormon women were already flaunting Victorian morality in the first place, and were excluded from respectable society for even accepting polygamy even if they didn’t personally practice it.  As a result, Mormon women fashioned their own culture, including one that gave their organization within the LDS church, the Relief Society, great autonomy.  Many polygamous wives used the freedom they had through having helping sister wives to campaign for women’s suffrage (Utah was the first to grant women the right to vote) or to go to college.  Women gave each other blessings and learned to look after one another.  That’s not to say that polygamy wasn’t a hard way of life, but a result of the way of life had unexpected benefits too.

When Mormonism began to embrace the larger culture, suppress polygamy and accept the larger standards of morality, the advances that Mormon women had also crumbled.  Mormon women were encouraged to stay at home, and the Relief Society lost more and more autonomy with time.  In short, Mormonism embraced with special vigor the cult of Motherhood.  This is partly why Mormonism is not in a position at this time to grant women the priesthood: the priesthood has to do with the nitty gritty running of the ecclesiastical organization, women have a more lofty position that shouldn’t get itself distracted with the operations of power.  The majority of Mormon men want to continue to be able to experience their wives as selfless angels doing the direct work of heaven rather than face the reality that perhaps their wives might enjoy the same kind of base pleasures such as public power that they do.

The cult of Motherhood may seem on the surface to be a boon to women.  Who doesn’t want to be seen as nearly supernaturally good by nature?  But the result has been reduced autonomy of women’s organizations and increased sequestering of women away from the public sphere.  Women who ascribe to the cult of Motherhood soon find that they have to live up to these expectations of angelic proportions, or at least make an appearance of it, and suppress whatever human urges they have for public power and increased recognition.  The cult of Motherhood does serve them in a practical sense, encouraging their men to provide for them and their children, and to protect them, in a way that perhaps would not happen if the cult did not exist.  So, women find themselves in a bind, to continue to suppress that part of them for serious respect and public recognition, or to deal with the possibility of less security, financial and otherwise, that is found with their men who especially ascribe to the cult.  This is a very real dilemma, and many rational, intelligent women have decided to opt for the security for themselves and their children in a world in which men no longer feel bond by societal constraints to stay with their ‘first’ wives and provide fully financially and temporally for their children.

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