Bruce Was On to Something

I just recently finished reading “Mormon Doctrine” by Apostle Bruce R. McConkie. I noticed something in his entry on Monotheism that indicated that he was on the path to unintentionally discovering and agreeing with the doctrine of the Trinity.

Monotheism is the doctrine or belief that there is but one God. If this is properly interpreted to mean that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost–each of whom is a separate and distinct godly personage–are one God, meaning one Godhead, then the true saints are monotheists. Professing Christians consider themselves monotheists as distinguished from polytheists, those pagan peoples who believe in a host of gods, whose powers are exercised only in their own fields.

I agree. I’m sure with my agreement McConkie would choose to define some of those words in a particular way so as to decline his creedal confirmation. But he illustrates for us how the doctrine of the Trinity began to form. First with an affirmation of monotheism, then with an attempt to understand how three persons could be one God.

I think Mormonism better fits the definition of henotheism. Had McConkie chosen to identify Mormonism with henotheism he would not have been caught in this unintended ascent to Trinitarianism. What’s interesting is that McConkie also had an entry on henotheism and condemned the idea that ancient Jews were henotheist (an argument routinely made by FAIR).

I’m not saying that McConkie was a Trinitarian, he makes it quite clear in other places that he is not, but I think it shows that if his thinking had been pushed a little bit further he would either have had to drop monotheism or embrace at least a limited form of Trinitarianism.

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142 thoughts on “Bruce Was On to Something

  1. But he illustrates for us how the doctrine of the Trinity began to form.

    When would you say the doctrine was formed? Is it post-Biblical?

    One reason I ask is because I recently read all the letters of Paul, and I came away thinking that Paul’s belief on the relationship between the three Persons was much more similar to the LDS view than to the standard trinitarian view. On the other hand, I don’t recall seeing anything to indicate that he equated Jesus with Yahweh in the way LDS doctrine typically does. It was clear to me, though, that he did believe in some sort of three-in-one God or godhead.

  2. I’ve been saying that the LDS Church has trinitarian belief for some time. The only reason that members of the LDS Church (McConkie included) won’t admit to it is because they think the word is a synonym for modalism (a perception that Protestants don’t help with bad analogies and explanations).

    There really isn’t much about the traditional doctrine of Trinity that we have a problem with – except for uniquely Greek philosophical innovations like homoousis (homioousis?). We aren’t on board with that, but the Trinity really isn’t a theological problem for us.

    Truth is, we’ve just been isolated from the wider dialogue of American Christian development, so we’re having a bit of trouble communicating at first.

  3. Eric,

    What part of the development of the doctrine are you talking about? The doctrine that there is one God the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, each being worthy of glory and worship or the specific language used to describe the doctrine contra various theological controversies?

  4. Seth,

    The term is homoousios (same essence) used to counter homoiousios (similar essence). As a trinitarian you should probably have those down pat.

  5. Gundeck, my assertion would be that both of those terms are completely extraneous and uneccessary to the notion of Trinity.

    I apologize for mixing them up though.

  6. My suggestion would be to understand the necessity and the importance of the distinction now that you are a trinitarian.

  7. Eric said

    When would you say the doctrine was formed? Is it post-Biblical?

    Yes as a theological idea based on scripture (in other words a “doctrine”) it wasn’t understood as it is now until after the canon was formed. That doesn’t mean that all the pieces aren’t in the Bible, it just means nobody put all the pieces together until they had the New Testament. I believe the Trinity was revealing itself to all believers before the canon was formed, but the believers didn’t formally recognize it until they weren’t being eaten by lions.

    Asking if Paul understood it as Agustine did is a bit of missing the point. It’s like when people say “Jesus didn’t say anything about abortion”; as if the entirety of Christian thought is summed up in the red lettered words. It’s be like if I said to you “I read everything John, Matthew, Peter and James wrote and I see a lot about baptism but I don’t see anything about baptism for the dead.”

    If I HAD to boil down the strongest Biblical references that indicate that God is a Trinity I’d probably go with Deutoronemy, John, Acts and Revelation. The nature of God wasn’t necesarrily the issue Paul felt the need to clarify in his letters but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t teaching the prinicples that lead us to conclude that God is a Trinity.

  8. If Seth wants to say that he’s a Trinitarian I’m all for it. But to say that the LDS church is Trinitarian is to do harm to clearly stated LDS beliefs. Elder Holland made it quite clear, the Trinity is self-evidently false. Holland is in a much better position to define Mormon doctrine than Seth and we know that he’s no dodo. He went to a pretty good school and he’s read a book or two.

  9. Elder Holland in his remarks was obviously talking about modalism Tim – not the bare notion of Trinity.

    As every Mormon authority who has ever sounded off on the subject has obviously been talking about modalism.

  10. I can’t emphasize this enough – for everyday Mormons, the term “trinity” = modalism.

    A misconception the Evangelical counter-cult minstries, quite frankly, do absolutely nothing to correct.

  11. The LDS church is schizophrenically trinitarian. It generally refers to God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost in Trinitarian terms, as do the scriptures. I think that most Mormons see God similarly to the average non-Mormon believer who does not buy into modalism. However, tantalizing and generally undeveloped revelations from Joseph Smith shatter the traditional Christian conception of God, Trinitarianism included. The doctrine of the Heavenly Mother is an example.

  12. Mormonism began as a Trinitarian movement (which explains Abinadi’s frank endorsement of the Trinity in the Book of Mormon). Later, it left the Trinitarian fold (but retained the Book of Mormon, so that it can be Trinitarian or not these days, depending on what a particular Mormon wants to say).

  13. I guess a better question would be to ask what would qualify me as a “quadritarian” Tim.

  14. I agree with Seth that many Mormons, even in the church leadership, equate the doctrine of the Trinity with modalism. (So do many Protestants who haven’t been to seminary.)

    If you want to see a particularly horrendous apologetic article in the way it refers to the doctrine of the Trinity, see this: The Trinity Creeds: Roadblocks to Understanding Christ’s Atonement. The doctrine of the Trinity pictures God as a cosmic muffin? Yes, the article is that bad.

    Katie said:

    Heavenly Mother is the Holy Ghost! Problem solved.

    I have speculated about that, and I find it an intriguing hypothesis.

    Jared C said:

    The LDS church is schizophrenically trinitarian.

    I agree with the observations you made in that comment. I’d consider the LDS church to be functionally trinitarian, but, as you suggest, there are undeveloped aspects of our theology tht muddy things considerably.

  15. Seth, help me understand: In other venues, you’ve been a big proponent of developing the concept of Mother in Heaven. (placing the blame on our unwillingness to seek her out). You also seem to be pushing a trinitarian emphasis in the Mormon concept of God. How do you reconcile the two? Heavenly Mother as the HG? Although it seems like a fringy Mormon feminist thing to discuss, actually the concept of Heavenly Parents is firmly mainstream.

    You’re right that many Mormons have a very flawed understanding of the Trinity, but (like Eric says above), we have a a whole mess of problems to sort out before we even approach “one God in three persons”.

  16. There are so many aspects to this that it seems to me that an agreed on definition of Trinity would help.
    (I’m on an IPhone so can’t type much, also beware of the auto correct beast!)
    — Bible has Jesus in NT quoting OT that
    “ye are gods…” ( small g !) and Jesus saying the scripture can’t be broken.
    — also paraphrasing from NT ” though there be gods many and Lords many- on earth and in heaven –but to us only one God [to worship ]”
    — while also in NT showing in Jesus prayer to the Father ” that they may be one in me as I am one with thee ” ( from memory so para.)
    So the UNITY to me is in goals and working together – *never fighting each other – in one Godhead” — (contrary to those who thought one could pray to one God to counter another)
    — while also Jesus shown physically and mentally distinct from His father ” only Father knows when Jesus will return not Angels or son know Day and hour (from memory of NT)
    — the name Eloheim is plural
    As is “parentage” but does not mean the parents in the parentage are not distinct beings. — also Stephen as he was being stoned – what did he see? God the Father with Jesus Christ standing on his right hand? What does that mean? — it seems to me that the Bible should be taken to mean what it says in the basic meaning of words where ever possible ( a son is a son – a father a father ) unless the prophet says it is different etc.

  17. Christian, the problem is that Heavenly Mother hasn’t really been integrated into our actual worship paradigm. So it’s quite problematic to claim that we worship her at present.

    I personally do believe the Holy Ghost is female. However, I have problems with equating Heavenly Mother with the Holy Ghost. For one thing, it proves problematic for the notion of female resurrection.

  18. Tim, recently reading “Heresy” by Mcgrath and marveling at the very painful process of developing a unified and coherent narrative/belief system. Most Mormons (especially GAs) would never cop to it, but I like to think that the LDS Church will continue to evolve in this area.

  19. Sure, we don’t worship her – but we certainly believe in her – or promote the belief in her. (Family Proc?)

  20. Seth I could say that you’re a tri-theist or a quad-theist. But you’re not a trinitarian. You have to believe in one essence to be a trinitarian.

    Heavenly Mother hasn’t really been integrated into our actual worship paradigm. So it’s quite problematic to claim that we worship her at present.

    So that would be henotheism right? The acknowledgment of other gods that are not worshipped. The Trinity begins with monotheism, the existence of only one God.

  21. Christian said

    Most Mormons (especially GAs) would never cop to it, but I like to think that the LDS Church will continue to evolve in this area.

    Me too. Give the LDS church 300-400 years of doctrinal development and it will figure it out and accept the Trinity. The only thing really standing in the way is the [oldest] version of the First Vision that happens to be canonized.

  22. “Mormon Doctrine” by Bruce McConkie is not part of the Official Mormon Canon, therefore it does not set up doctrine for the LDS Church, it does not have to be believed or accepted as authoritative in doctrinal issues and only represent the personal doctrinal opinions of its writer.

  23. I’m such a fan of the Heavenly Mother = Holy Ghost idea. I think She’s totes Resurrected. Why does the Holy Ghost have to be a Ghost? If we’re speculating that He’s a She, we’re already saying that some stuff we traditionally believe about the Holy Ghost might not be quite right…

    (Does everyone else hate that I just used the phrase “totes resurrected?” So annoying.)

  24. Heh, I knew you’d pull the “eventually they’ll agree with us” line. :) It may be. I don’t know. I do know that the Heavenly Mother crowd is a lot bigger (maybe even a majority) than any Valentinus or Arius that the early Christians dealt with.

  25. I’m such a fan of the Heavenly Mother = Holy Ghost idea. I think She’s totes Resurrected. Why does the Holy Ghost have to be a Ghost? If we’re speculating that He’s a She, we’re already saying that some

    D&C 130:22.

    I don’t know how you get around the clear and unambiguous language of a direct revelation given to Joseph Smith.

  26. Tim said:

    Give the LDS church 300-400 years of doctrinal development and it will figure it out and accept the Trinity.

    If I were to make predictions, I’d predict the opposite. I think we’re more likely, as Christian J suggests, to see some sort of trend toward incorporating our Heavenly Mother (or Heavenly Mothers) into our theology, which would be a move away from traditional Christianity. Of course, this is pure speculation.

    The only thing really standing in the way is the [oldest] version of the First Vision that happens to be canonized.

    I assume you mean the most recent version? But if one Person in the Trinity can have a body and still share an essence with the other two Persons, I don’t see how that’s more problematic than two Persons having bodies.

  27. Eric, Yes I meant most recent, thanks for that catch.

    I think we’re more likely, as Christian J suggests, to see some sort of trend toward incorporating our Heavenly Mother (or Heavenly Mothers) into our theology, which would be a move away from traditional Christianity.

    I might be inclined to agree if the doctrine of Heavenly Mother wasn’t so tied to polygamy. Joseph is looking less and less credible as a prophet on polygamy so I think the church is going to start moving away from everything connected to it. Mormons have traditionally liked those things that sets the church apart from Christianity, but Mormons used to like being polygamists too . . .

    Charles, thanks for providing the standard disclaimer. [rolls eyes] I don’t think anyone was claiming it to be THE Mormon doctrine in this discussion but I’m sure glad you saved us from that misnomer. There is something really sad about the need for this to happen every time the book is mentioned. Next we’re going to start hearing that even things a prophet says over the pulpit at General Conference shouldn’t even be regarded as true doctrine. I fear the day when we learn even things taught in the Temple can’t be trusted.

    . . . oh wait.

  28. “Mormon Doctrine” by Bruce McConkie is not part of the Official Mormon Canon, therefore it does not set up doctrine for the LDS Church, it does not have to be believed or accepted as authoritative in doctrinal issues and only represent the personal doctrinal opinions of its writer.

    Wait, what?

  29. I don’t know how you get around the clear and unambiguous language of a direct revelation given to Joseph Smith.

    Seriously? Let me compile a list.

  30. It’s right there in the NAME of the book! “Mormon Doctrine”

    or is it only doctrinal if it’s called “Mormon Doctrine of Jesus Christ”?

  31. It’s only doctrinal if it’s called “Mormon* Doctrine Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints (*’Mormon’ Is An Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Word That Means ‘More Good’ Not The Name Of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Which Is The Only True And Living Church On The Face Of This Earth In These Latter Days).” Jeez, don’t you know anything.

  32. A few comments I agree with Gundek that the notion of homoousios is essential to the Orthodox trinity. Without it you generally get semi-Arianism at least. I would say though that at least classical Mormonism which holds that both father and son are flesh and bone does in a litarl sense support homoousios however it undermines the whole point of the debate I have a hard time checking the box off. IMHO talking about Mormonism moving towards the Trinity (i.e. the orthodox trinity) is like saying I’m driving closer to China when I get groceries because I’m heading east.

    In terms of the Holy Mother as part of the trinity I think it is worth distinguishing “The Trinity” (i.e. Christian orthodoxy) from “a trinity”. There were ancient and influential Christian sects that essentially held the view of a heavenly mother for example the Collyridians. The identification of the holy ghost as female is also rather common. But in all those cases they were Arians or Modalists. Moreover there were many Christians who believed that even the Gods formed Syzygy which are male-female pairings of the emanations of God’s / divine beings.

    So there is a lot of room for various ideas of conceptualizing God, including as a trinity apart from the orthodox Trinity. But these work better with genuine polytheism. I agree with Tim that Mormonism right now is henotheistic not monotheistic. I agree with FAIR that the old testament is henotheistic not monotheistic.

  33. I’ve got something even better than a female Holy Ghost for you . . . a female Heavenly Father, a female Son of God and a female Holy Spirit.

    “man and WOMAN he made them in his image”

  34. Tim —

    True but this is the contradictory trinity.

    1) The Father does not have sex.
    2) The Son’s incarnation is as a human male.
    3) The Son has only one nature not two.
    4) The son is of the same substance as the father.

    The orthodox view of God is so contradictory you can read anything into it.

  35. And honestly, I think polygamy was perfectly fine as a revelation. If you take the doctrine of eternal families to its logical conclusion, I don’t see how you can avoid making room for polygamy.

    And it has the added bonus of being a lovely extension of the doctrine of unity in the Trinity as well. Take away human attempts to implement it, and I see no theological downside.

  36. “one essence” is the key part of the Trinity that separates it from modalism and tri-theism. If you don’t believe in “one essense” you’re either a modalist or a tri-theist. It’s the key part of the definition, if you remove it you’re redefining the word.

  37. No, I don’t think I’m going to give you that one Tim.

    The word “Trinity” may have been used a certain way by factions of Christianity for centuries, but they don’t have copyright on the word – any more than they have copyright on the word “Christian.”

    The word Trinity basically means three beings who are profoundly united in some way.

    Full stop.

  38. Seth,

    Unless you are deliberately trying to obfuscate your true beliefs why would you want to use a word that from the very beginning of its usage is used to describe the tri-personality of the devine unity?

    I am the last person to tell Mormons (Utah Mormons or otherwise) what they believe or what their doctrine is or isn’t. And by all means if you what to call yourself trinitarian have at it. I am sure the counter cult movement will love it.

  39. Because I understand that -essence/substance -was the word the council at Nicea choose to use to exclude those from the group as heretics for not believing the creeds they choose to use for the forced uniting of the empire with the church.

  40. Well – the meaning of words gets changed – “bad” now to some means “cool” and cool used to be a tempature. Etc
    Yet Trinity ( the word) is not in the KJV Bible either though so many new “translations” have changed so much in words which does change meanings too. As I see it.

  41. Sorry ;) but there is no Mormon Church. That is the nick name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it is only after passing an interview, showing that you understand the basic doctrine and are sincere in intention to follow the commandments with repenting and quitting any thing needful of repentance then by authorized baptism and the laying on of hand for the gift of the Holy Ghost to become a member.

  42. No, I don’t think I’m going to give you that one Tim.

    The word “Trinity” may have been used a certain way by factions of Christianity for centuries, but they don’t have copyright on the word – any more than they have copyright on the word “Christian.”

    The word Trinity basically means three beings who are profoundly united in some way.

    Full stop.

    That’s semantic nonsense.

    Words are just words; there’s no inherent meaning to the string of graphemes, t-r-i-n-i-t-a-r-i-a-n, or the string of phonemes that is pronounced /ˌtrɪnɪˈtɛəriən/. There’s no essential or inherent meaning to the word “trinitarian.”

    Tim (and by Seth’s admission, “factions of Christianity for centuries”) is using the word “trinitarian” to include “one essence.” For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to call that “Trinitarianism1.”

    Seth insists that the word “trinitarian” means “three beings who are profoundly united in some way. Full stop.” I’m going to call that “trinitarianism2.”

    When Tim says Seth is not a trinitarian, he means Seth is not a trinitarian1. Seth’s reply, which is that trinitarian2 is the essential meaning of the word “trinitarian” and thus Seth is really a trinitarian, is shifting the goalposts. Tim is unconcerned with finding out what the essential meaning of “trinitarian” is or whether Seth qualifies. Tim is concerned with whether Seth believes in one essense, i.e., is trinitarian1. Trying to redefine “trinitarian” to mean trinitarian2 doesn’t change the fact that Seth is not trinitarian1. Even if Seth Wins the Dictionary and forces an Impossibly Official Authoritative Redefinition of the word “trinitarian” to mean trinitarian2 for time and all eternity, Seth still will not be the thing that Tim–and factions of Christianity for centuries–have been talking about when they have been saying “trinitarian.” Tim (and “factions of Christianity for centuries”) are concerned with the substance of trinitarian1, i.e., whether Seth believes in one essence, not who wins a game of King of the Lexical Hill.

  43. I wish I could remember the specifics, but in a sermon at Church, our pastor spoke about one of the early Church Fathers who was appointed to religious office by an Emperor in hopes that he would push the Church towards Arianism. This particular Church Father was not particularly religious at the time of appointment (I believe he was not even baptized at the time) – so the Emperor had every thought that he would be in favor of whatever the Emperor told him. However, God had other plans – he became a strong defender of the Trinity, and pushed for Arianism (or some other Gnostic heresy) to be pushed out of the Church. Does anyone know which Church Father this was?? Looking online I simply cannot remember – I thought perhaps it was Basil but I don’t think that’s right. I remember at Church we sang a hymn that tradition says is written by this Church Father. Let me know if you know who this is?

  44. Reminds me how some would change the meaning of marriage ? (uniting opposite sex not same sex)

  45. Since even in the Bible everything a prophet said was not to be taken as “thus saith the Lord” as the prophet Paul himself told is verily specifically – I think he said something like ” I speak as a man”? About marriage?

  46. Reminds me how some would change the meaning of marriage ? (uniting opposite sex not same sex)

    No. I’m not talking about changing the meanings of words. I don’t think you understood my comment at all.

  47. The challenge is in the developed creeds – which when I tried in the past to understand it – ended up with God having no tangible body but being everywhere but no where specific.
    — now me, I am looking forward to a warm fatherly embrace!
    It is also way more than the first vision but to much to get into on an IPhone. : /

  48. Well in my study in other faiths that accept the creeds – it is the very fact that LDS believe in unity/one mind like of goals and hearts but not of bodies – that they decided made us not Christian.
    Though the Trinity word is not Biblical nor the word meaning substance/essence that the creeds declare the Father and son to be inseparable from each other?
    Interesting to read the Near death n return experiences about this. :)

  49. Since even in the Bible everything a prophet said was not to be taken as “thus saith the Lord” as the prophet Paul himself told is verily specifically – I think he said something like ” I speak as a man”? About marriage?

    I’m pretty sure this comment would have nothing to do with the discussion, even if it made any sense.

  50. Well in my study in other faiths that accept the creeds – it is the very fact that LDS believe in unity/one mind like of goals and hearts but not of bodies – that they decided made us not Christian.

    Indeed, the question of whether Mormons are “Christian” (which, just as a heads-up to you, has been worn out pretty thoroughly on this blog about five times over) can be answered in almost exactly the same way as I answered Seth re: trinitarianism above.

  51. Kullervo, that’s a fair analysis. I don’t disagree with it.

    What I don’t like is how the use of catch phrases like “Christian” and “Trinity” are being used to obscure and hide what the real disagreement is.

    “They aren’t trinitarians” is a much more useful rallying cry than “they don’t believe in one-essence.”

    I suspect the reason there is a reluctance to frame the debate accurately as “they don’t believe in one-essence” is because, if you put it that way, the whole debate just so obviously sounds like a debate over Greek philosophy rather than the Bible. And of course, the likes of William Lane Craig would rather have their wisdom teeth pulled than let the debate get reframed in that fashion. It’s a losing position any way you try to slice it.

  52. I also think the rhetoric is being used as a method of dismissing how unified the members of the Godhead really are under LDS theology.

  53. What I don’t like is how the use of catch phrases like “Christian” and “Trinity” are being used to obscure and hide what the real disagreement is.

    “They aren’t trinitarians” is a much more useful rallying cry than “they don’t believe in one-essence.”

    That’s fair. “Mormons are not Christians” is rhetorically more powerful than “Mormon theology is sufficiently different from Protestant Christianity so as to constitute a separate religion, and thus we believe that Mormonism is not a saving faith.”

    At the same time, the Mormon push to identify as “Christian” is largely driven by PR concerns which are in turn largely driven by the missionary effort. It’s much easier to convert Protestants to Mormonism if they begin by identifying Mormonism as Christianity.

  54. I also think the rhetoric is being used as a method of dismissing how unified the members of the Godhead really are under LDS theology.

    Indeed, it is largely a rhetorical wedge, but I think its use is understandable, again, in light of how enthusiastically Mormonism has been trying to identify itself with mainstream Christianity over the past decade or two. Mainstream Christian America can hardly be faulted for perceiving Mormonism as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. given that Mormonism still (1) claims exclusive truth and exclusive institutional authority, (2) does not extend recognition/validation to mainstream Christian America that is equivalent to what it asks from mainstream Christian America and (3) aggressively proselytizes to mainstream Christian America.

  55. [Mormon Church] is the nick name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it is only after passing an interview, showing that you understand the basic doctrine and are sincere in intention to follow the commandments with repenting and quitting any thing needful of repentance then by authorized baptism and the laying on of hand for the gift of the Holy Ghost to become a member.

    You are correct, that is how you become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    But that is not the only way to become a Mormon.

  56. I asked my wife – it was St. Ambrose who was appointed Bishop of Milan while not formally trained in theology or even baptized! The emperor’s plan was for the newly appointed bishop to push the Church to Arianism! So that’s at least once that God protected the Church from the state, and used that which the state was going to use against the Church to do just the opposite = Ambrose defeated Arianism! He went on to baptise St. Augustine and composed the Te Deum!!

  57. I don’t think the main difference between the LDS view of God and the Protestant view of God is about essence. Protestants and Catholics believe God is a different kind of thing (or non-thing) than do Mormons. The dramatic difference in how they frame the Father permeates through the doctrine of the Trinity.

    I see Seth’s point about Protestant’s misrepresenting Mormon thought on the subject, But rhetorically I think it is a mis-step to co-opt the term “trinity”. It may be a reaction to the Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox attempt to dominate the word “Christian”, and makes a point, but it doesn’t get Mormons very far in the long run. As CD Host pointed out, affirming the unity of the Godhead doesn’t bring Mormons any closer to describing God in anywhere the same way that traditional theology does. The mormon “trinity” consists of three beings who are of one mind. The same-essence proposition is part of the complex attempt at resolving the possibility of a human being to also be one, in any meaningful way, with a God who is outside the universe. While on the surface it makes sense to say that the Mormon godhead is functionally the same as the Trinity, from a theological point of view, the traditional Trinity is a completely different animal.

    It would be far better to be openly frank about the differences but bring the debate back to the Bible. The Old Testament supports the Mormon view better than the Trinitarian view, IMHO. I also think that most believers see God in a way that’s closer to the Mormon view. The average believer doesn’t get what consubstantial means. . .

    See what the “Pope of basic cable has to say” about inserting the english term into the liturgy:
    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/403247/november-29-2011/yahweh-or-no-way—altered-catholic-mass–papal-seat-belt—offensive-vodka-ad?xrs=share_copy

    The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
    Yahweh or No Way – Altered Catholic Mass, Papal Seat Belt & Offensive Vodka Ad
    http://www.colbertnation.com
    http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:cms:item:comedycentral.com:403247
    Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive
  58. We sing the Te Deum every other week at Church – but there are also other hymns we sometimes sing which tradition has it Ambrose composed. But the Te Deum is really an awesome hymn – it’s very close to singing a creed!

  59. Seth said

    I suspect the reason there is a reluctance to frame the debate accurately as “they don’t believe in one-essence” is because, if you put it that way, the whole debate just so obviously sounds like a debate over Greek philosophy rather than the Bible. And of course, the likes of William Lane Craig would rather have their wisdom teeth pulled than let the debate get reframed in that fashion. It’s a losing position any way you try to slice it.

    This is incredibly uncharitable. Most of the Trinitarian scholars I know would LOVE to talk about the Bible over Greek philosophy, particularly with Mormons.

    William Lane Craig spends 80% of his time debating atheist where the Bible is a non-starter, so I think you should recognize the arena he’s in and cut him some slack. Particularly since you think atheism is the scourge of the earth. I don’t see Mormon scholars debating atheists of any stripes much less those of the pedigree that Craig engages.

    It really isn’t solely “one-essence” that would keep me from saying Mormons are not Trinitarians or monotheists. It just happens that that’s the lynch-pinch in the debate. If you do away with the fourth First Vision everything else would start to fall in place pretty easily.

  60. Jared is correct, in part, just as critical to the orthodox understanding of God is the creator creature distinction the tri-personal one divine essence is infinite, eternal, and uncreated. We are finite, temporal, and created.

  61. Mormons believe that God is finite, eternal (yet active in time), and un-created. Humans, like Jesus, are finite, eternal, and un-created as well. No need for a hypostatic union, or an imperative to fuse the essences. There is no need to resolve any theoretical conflict between a finite being being the same as an infinite one.

  62. Tim, we don’t really have a lot of resources at the moment.

    We’ve been so busy beating off Evangelical attacks, we frankly don’t have a lot of energy left to help you with the atheists.

    I don’t like it – but there it is.

    Frankly, I wish we had more energy to devote to attacks like New Atheism (because I think this is a bigger problem for us than Evangelical anti-Mormonism). I’ve been advocating less focus on Evangelical attacks and more care taken to deal with aggressive social secularism – because I see their critiques as more damaging in the long haul.

    But I think that is why this hasn’t been a focus.

  63. Words have no intrinsic meaning. They are signposts pointing at shifting contextual realities: we wake up every day, see this giant flaming ball in the sky and say, “Sun! Sol! Sonne! Helios! Shamash!” (or something else). These words are easy to understand because the thing we are pointing at with them is something readily apparent to just about anyone with eyes. God is nowhere near as obvious. Words pointing at him (her? it? them?) will always be unclear, until he (she? it? they?) decide to stop hiding.

    I am not sure it is wise to fight atheism. What does that word mean? Years ago, it made me think of Josef Stalin: “an atheist is someone who kills millions of people without batting an eye, because he has no moral foundation.” Learning history and living my life, I have learned that that “definition” of atheist was ignorant. I have met many atheists: some of them are people I do not like; others, most of them, actually, are just nice, ordinary people who ground their nice, ordinary human morality in something other than an ancient myth (kind of like people who are perfectly happy to celebrate Christmas even if they do not believe in the literal reality of Santa Claus — or Jesus, for that matter). Furthermore, believers (over the course of history) frequently invoke the word “atheist” against those whom they do not like: Catholics called Protestants atheists back in the day (and got the same accusation flung back at them); Anglicans called Baptists atheists; and everyone called Jews atheists. The word “atheist” is actually kind of like the word “anti-Mormon” — it is just an angry emoticon, pointing out that the speaker does not like whatever or whomever he brands with it. (An atheist might well be an immoral, dangerous asshole, or he might be a perfect gentleman, just as an anti-Mormon might be an angry bigot or a very mild-mannered scholar with no desire to hurt anyone or do anything besides tell the truth as he sees it.) I am tired of people throwing around words like “the atheist menace” or “the anti-Mormon threat” as though these words pointed to things existing as organized, monolithic phenomena. In my experience, personal and vicarious (reading and talking with others), they do not. I am done being scared of things that are not really there. The world is full of things that are really scary (like death and taxes).

  64. Atheism encompasses all sorts of people. Nice reasonable folks who just don’t believe in God, but aren’t really all that fussed if you do, and then militant secular facists like Hitchens who not only don’t believe in God, but feel duty-bound to undermine and attack the fact that you do. People who are actually agnostics, but call themselves atheists because no one in their neighborhood knows what “agnostic” means. And Stalin. Can’t forget him.

    I wasn’t really referring to any kind except the aggressive secularism that seeks to reduce the space religion needs to grow and thrive.

  65. We’ve been so busy beating off Evangelical attacks, we frankly don’t have a lot of energy left to help you with the atheists.

    Really?

    I’m honestly asking here. I wasn’t aware that evangelicals were putting out anything approaching new material on Mormons and Mormonism.

    I would think that evangelicals have pretty well been addressed by now and that Mormon apologists could turn their efforts to whatever they please.

  66. I can’t see that it is a matter of resources. . . it is just not economical to do apologetics for atheism. (1) Other faiths have been doing that task for centuries and (2)There is not a lot of bang for the buck in Mormons going after atheists. Mormon converts are generally believers, it is far more difficult to convert atheists as is apparent by LDS missionary efforts in Europe and Asia. If you don’t believe in God its far harder to accept angels visiting farm-boys.

  67. Evangelicals (and others) have difficulty distinguishing a theological discussion with a political one. The rhetoric Mormons object to is not calm theological discussion. The discussion seems more like a political battle where Mormons are trying to gain mainstream acceptance and some Evangelicals (and others) want to make sure they are marginalized.

  68. Mormonism appears to lose believers to atheism.

    Exactly. One of the goals of apologetics is generally to keep believers within the fold—probably moreso than making new converts. It seems it would be “economical” to address the claims and criticisms of atheists and agnostics for that reason.

  69. What Jack said. In fact Apologetics is much different than Evangelism.
    Mormon apologetics seem more bent toward justifying it’s existence to Christianity rather than actually addressing the problems presented by disaffected Mormons.

  70. i think Tim and Jack are right, probably because Mormons are less focused on those that fall away than on finding new converts. Re-activation is about “fellowshipping” not intellectual discussion. Mormons generally don’t much care for theological discussions anyway, 3 hours of church a week is plenty .

  71. It’s true enough Jack.

    Part of the problem is inertia, and what you’re good at. We’re used to Evangelical attacks and have kind of gotten into a groove with how to handle them. No one is quite sure what to do with the newer secular stuff. The problem is – there is less common ground to build from when talking to a secular skeptic than a religious skeptic.

    Honestly, as sinister and menacing as people on exmormon.org like to say FAIR is, it really is just a volunteer organization full of people with day jobs and limited resources. And the lay membership of our church is spread just as thin.

    You don’t get paid for defending the LDS Church. Even poorly paid.

  72. Pingback: The symbol of the Holy Trinity « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  73. What are you talking about? No one is getting paid through the Maxwell Institute?!?! Peterson said part of his salary comes from there in his MS interview. I agree that most of FAIR is volunteer, but not entirely.

  74. Jack, I don’t really see many direct attacks from atheists to Mormonism. I say this with a love and respect for Mormonism as a faith tradition, but they don’t really take it seriously. They also don’t see it as any sort of threat. The only ones that do (mostly Utah ex-mos) have been known to show little problem accepting other religious points of view – as long as they, in some way, injure the LDS Church. (not an attack, just an observation). So, they’re not truly secular/humanis/atheist arguments. Of course, this is all starting to change with the upcoming election. Mormons are about to find out.

    Aaaanyway, I concur with Seth, apologetics (of all varieties) doesn’t seem to defend what is not being thrown at them. (excuse the rambling, I’m not an anthropologist)

  75. Mormons don’t lose members to standard atheist / agnostic arguments. Mormonism is experiential, Mormonism is true because Mormons personally experience supernatural revelations. Standard atheism is directed more at Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism and Islam with claims based on historical revelations of supernatural events that occurred at some time in the past. Mormons freely use atheist critiques of historical religions in their own apologetics… High Nibly and FAIR often site atheists in their works. BYU professors use a language and philosophical approaches from the History of Religions school and as far as I can tell run of the mill Mormons seem to be rather familiar with this way of approaching religious thought. I’d say that intellectually Mormonism draws from the rich atheist tradition, and attempts to employ it to defend their own approach to scripture and theology. Which as an aside you also see in Hermetic Christians faiths on the left.

    Atheists, conversely don’t attack Mormonism. They don’t see Joseph Smith as being in any meaningful way worse in how he created a religious community than Mohammed or Paul and unlike Orthodox Christianities Joseph Smith didn’t leave behind piles of bodies to spread his particular brand of enlightenment. They are mostly open minded on sexual issues, so the big scandal of polygamy doesn’t trouble them in the least. Mormons with a few exceptions like Prop-8 don’t engage in what atheists consider religious coercion while orthodox Christianity there is another outrage almost daily. Finally, Mormon materialism, as 19th century Spiritualism proved, allows for a religious belief that doesn’t contradict the basic facts of secular science so evolution, global warming, relativity, psychiatry… can all be upheld by a Mormon in a way that is more difficult for evangelicals.

    So the only argument left for a negative Mormon-Atheist engagement would be that atheism recruits from Mormonism in large numbers. Except it doesn’t, that impression is a function of the internet The data is in and Protestantism is the major recruiting threat, via. marriage. Certainly there is the problem of LDS members discovering history that makes them uncomfortable but debating atheists is more likely to make those sorts of things come to light. Atheists, unlike evangelicals, don’t have a “you to” problem if they did have to debate Mormonism.

    So I don’t see any reason for an especially high level of Atheist / Mormon antagonism and see lots of reasons for a low one. As a final point, Mormon apologetics generally suck, why would they want to step into one of the most difficult areas of apologetics?

  76. Christian J. ~ Jack, I don’t really see many direct attacks from atheists to Mormonism.

    I’m actually kind of surprised to hear both you and CD-Host saying this, because my own experience almost from the beginning has been that there are just as many atheist/agnostic attacks on Mormonism as there are evangelical. Actually, my experience has been that the biggest faction of critics of Mormonism are ex-Mormons. I just happen to think that there are far, far more ex-Mormon atheists and agnostics than there are ex-Mormon evangelicals. Even as a teenager, I noticed that there seemed to be almost as many Web sites criticizing Mormonism from a non-religious perspective as there were evangelical anti-Mormon sites, and that the former sites were just a critical of Christianity as Mormonism. Currently, exmormon.org, mormondiscussions.com, and mormonthink.com all function as sources of criticism and are all atheist/agnostic-dominated.

    I do think that there are fewer published books by atheists criticizing Mormonism and fewer organizations geared towards attacking it, but atheism is still a pretty robust source of criticism.

    CD-Host ~ [Atheists] don’t see Joseph Smith as being in any meaningful way worse in how he created a religious community than Mohammed or Paul and unlike Orthodox Christianities Joseph Smith didn’t leave behind piles of bodies to spread his particular brand of enlightenment.

    I think most historical scholars (atheist or otherwise) recognize that Joseph Smith didn’t leave behind a pile of bodies because he lived in an era that was far less bloodier and (relatively) more tolerant than the preceding centuries.

    One of his successors was more prone to endorsing violent tactics and did see a pile of bodies (MMM) amassed under his watch. And MMM is something that atheist critics do talk about.

    They are mostly open minded on sexual issues, so the big scandal of polygamy doesn’t trouble them in the least.

    http://mormonthink.com/joseph-smith-polygamy.htm

    Finally, Mormon materialism, as 19th century Spiritualism proved, allows for a religious belief that doesn’t contradict the basic facts of secular science so evolution, global warming, relativity, psychiatry…

    Yes, Mormonism has the groundwork in place for supporting evolution and other aspects of science that have traditionally conflicted with faith, but Mormons don’t often use it well. Russell M. Nelson’s anti-big-bang comments at the recent April 2012 General Conference are a good example.

    (Seriously, how could anyone hate the Big Bang Theory?)

    The data is in and Protestantism is the major recruiting threat, via. marriage.

    I’m genuinely curious to see your data on this. I did a paper on this years ago. At the time, there had not been a ton of studies of Mormon interfaith marriages, but Brent Barlow’s 1972 PhD dissertation found that only 9% of exogamously married Mormons defected from the LDS church at all, while 34% of them (48% of the LDS men and 25% of the LDS women) were successful in converting their spouses to Mormonism. I’d like to know if the numbers on this have changed.

  77. On MMM that wasn’t mostly religious violence it was political in the context of the Utah war. Given that the territorial governor of Utah was also doing things like running terrorists in Wyoming to harass President Buchanan’s troops while at the same time other Christians in Utah were unmolested, I don’t see any overwhelming religious themes, this is a border skirmish.

    And MMM is something that atheist critics do talk about.

    I haven’t heard atheists bring it up ever. MMM seems to be an evangelical obsession mainly because Mormons don’t want to admit that they were involved in anti-governmental separatism in the 1850s. From an atheist perspective what’s interesting about MMM, at worst there was a small scale human rights violation that some small Christianish sect white washed? Atheists have plenty of religious massacres where whole cities were massacred or good chunks of a nations population destroyed. Why would a one off caravan be of interest to atheists?

    Take for example Dawkin’s screed about Mormonism, the main focus is to use Jospeh Smith’s construct of the BoM as a likely model for how the Qu’ran was written. He’s not even that interested in Mormonism for its sake even when he’s talking about it directly.

    I think most historical scholars (atheist or otherwise) recognize that Joseph Smith didn’t leave behind a pile of bodies because he lived in an era that was far less bloodier and (relatively) more tolerant than the preceding centuries.

    I don’t see any evidence that Joseph Smith’s time with openly anti Catholic parties dominant in the USA as well as globally the invention of anti-Semitism and continuing colonialism towards Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists being a particularly low religious violence time. Nor was the period prior to the rise of Islam particularly bloody in terms of religious skirmishes. Christianity when the early violence 4-6th centuries happened was in a time of empire wide decay and the century before that had seen increasing religious violence that it is hard to blame primarily on Christians. However, the Christian religious violence of the 13th century was purely their invention after centuries of peace.

    So I don’t know about most historical scholars, but I think that analysis is fallacious and oversimplified relying on a general notion of treating the entire past as a big pile.

    I’m genuinely curious to see your data on [intermarriage]

    http://pewforum.org/newassets/images/reports/flux/fullreport.pdf

    The Pew studies which track the religion of intermarried

    Finally on Mormonthink I don’t know the site but they claim to be active Mormons not atheists.

  78. All of Mormonism’s biggest threats have always come from ex-mormons.

    Will Bagley is my no means a fundamentalist Christian. The best anti-mormon work currently being produced is at Mormonthink. The writers may technically be members but they are mostly atheists/agnostics. Palmer might be the one exception.

  79. CD, you don’t know what you are talking about here.

    Atheist ex-Mormonism is a HUGE problem. I’ve done some work with FAIR, and they’ve got a constant stream of problems coming from the atheist ex-Mormon community. We’ve got dads (it’s almost always the dads) who go atheist and then devote themselves to ridiculing their still faithful spouses in front of their kids. We’ve got Mormon fundamentalists who spend a couple weeks on MormonThink and then have their heads explode. The major message boards out there on anti/ex-Mormonism are positively CRAWLING with atheists – the Evangelical ex-Mormons often can’t even get a word in edge-wise. And every single newspaper article online has its comments section utterly infested with atheists.

    Almost every major negative piece of press Mormons got this year was spearheaded and powered by the atheist faction of ex/anti-Mormons and not the Evangelical wing (unless you count stuff like Tricia Erickson – who hardly anyone took seriously).

    The baptism for the dead controversy – atheist wing.

    Proposition 8 – atheist wing.

    Racism issues – atheist wing.

    Mormon politicians as tools of the prophet – Evangelical wing.

    Did I miss any?

    There’s a certain dominant pattern there.

  80. And since when were atheists “more tolerant” on sexual stuff?

    As far as a lot of them are concerned, Joseph Smith was a horny, misogynistic, pedophile.

    Yeah… I’m just feeling the open-mindedness there.

  81. CD-HostOn MMM that wasn’t mostly religious violence it was political in the context of the Utah war.

    You couldn’t be more wrong.

    One, for nineteenth century Mormons, there was no hard division between religion and politics. Political oppression and religious oppression were almost always seen as one and the same, while religious leaders often pulled double duty as political leaders (Joseph Smith = mayor of Nauvoo, Brigham Young = governor of Utah, etc.). Two, the desire to avenge “the blood of the prophets” was most certainly a motive for the MMM. In the wake of the MMM, Mormons frequently claimed that members of the Baker-Fancher party had claimed to have been in the mob that killed Joseph Smith, or there were Missourians in the party and this was revenge for what was done to Mormons in Missouri, or the party was from Arkansas where Parley P. Pratt had recently been murdered (which was true, but they left the state before he was murdered and had nothing to do with it). Three, Mormons in Utah were highly suspicious of and mistrusting of outsiders, i.e. “Gentiles,” and that was a function of their religion—not their politics. Mormon mistrust of outsiders was most certainly a factor in the massacre.

    Read any of the major modern historical treatments of the MMM (Brooks, Bagley or even Walker/Turley/Leonard) and you can see what I just outlined above.

    I haven’t heard atheists bring it up ever. MMM seems to be an evangelical obsession

    Then you haven’t spent enough time with atheist and agnostic critics of Mormonism. Case in point, Blood of the Prophets is by far the most Mormon-critical major historical treatment of the MMM, making the biggest case for religion as a motivation in the massacre, and it was written by Will Bagley—an ex-Mormon agnostic.

    what’s interesting about MMM, at worst there was a small scale human rights violation that some small Christianish sect white washed?

    I don’t consider the cold-blooded murder of 120 people (mostly women and children) who were just passing through the territory to be “a small scale human rights violation.”

    I don’t see any evidence that Joseph Smith’s time with openly anti Catholic parties dominant in the USA as well as globally the invention of anti-Semitism and continuing colonialism towards Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists being a particularly low religious violence time.

    I didn’t call it a time of “particularly low religious violence.” I called it lower than the preceding centuries. Let me just cite what an actual atheist who’s usually pretty critical of Mormonism said on the matter a few months ago:

    If Mormonism had been a majority religion in a region of Europe or of a major monarchical figure during the early modern era of Europe I’d about guarantee that horrors and travesties would have happened in Mormonism’s name. Religion was a useful reason (read: excuse) to fight as people tried to either gain power or to purify their domains of possible pockets of unrest during that period as European power was being consolidated by the major countries of Europe. Beyond the religious debate of the Reformation was the political uncertainty it created as it formed a new fault line around which the increasingly secularizing political world of Europe had to maneuver. Since the religious fissure ran so deep everyone in Europe, Catholics and Protestants, ended up getting more than a little bloody.

    Had Mormonism been around during the turbulent century after the Reformation began I’m sure Mormons would have killed and/or been killed in its name just like all the rest of Europe’s religious groups. Mormons should be glad Mormonism was founded in America during the 19th century because if it been founded in Europe during the 1500s it might have been another footnote to history with the many other splinter groups deemed heretical to Catholicism that were crushed before they ever got off the ground.

    I’ll take a look at your link on intermarriage later, I gotta wrap this up and run.

    Finally on Mormonthink I don’t know the site but they claim to be active Mormons not atheists.

    You do know that the two are not mutually exclusive, right?

    I don’t claim to know that all or even most of the contributors to MormonThink are atheists/agnostics, but the site is one that criticizes Mormonism from a secular perspective, not a religious one. Point out that the story of the Jaredite barges has similar problems to Noah’s ark or that parts of the Bible have similar historical problems to the problems in the Book of Mormon and the MormonThink authors will reply, “So what? Then they both have issues.”

    (I actually like MormonThink, btw. I could only wish that all criticism of religion were that polite, thorough and thoughtful.)

  82. I agree with Jack about Mormonthink. I also agree with Seth. I’ve never been a Mormon and it makes my head explode.

  83. Tim, anyone getting barraged with nothing but negative crap on something important to them is going to feel a bit disoriented. The trick is to realize that this feeling of disorientation is just that – a feeling, and not representative of any real responsible conclusions about Mormonism as a whole.

    As for MormonThink, I think the website basically the source anti-Mormons use when they want to look nice and reasonable. But it’s really all the same old stuff we’ve been hearing for years. Just in friendlier wrapping paper.

  84. Welcome to the club, it’s only going to get worse. Prop 8 showed Mormons could be a threat. Romney is the target, your religion will be attacked as never before to get at him.

  85. Seth —

    This is a good list.

    The baptism for the dead controversy – atheist wing.

    The baptism for the dead controversy was Jewish critics, not atheists. Why would atheists care about getting one person wet so as to benefit a dead person. The whole “controversy” doesn’t even make any sense from a atheist perspective. For atheists: dead people don’t have religious opinions, dead people don’t have rights, baptism is equally ineffectual for the living and the dead and thus no worse for either.

    Proposition 8 – atheist wing.

    Prop 8 was social liberals and California’s moderates, particularly among the gay community. I saw no difference between atheists and theists in their hostility towards Mormon intervention in their state. Atheists certainly fall into both groups but they were the dominant players here.

    Racism issues – atheist wing.

    Huh? The racism issue was headed by NAACP all through the 1950s and 1960s. Blacks are not atheists in large numbers and the NAACP is mainly Protestant.

    Later it was liberal Mormons themselves that led the attacks on church policy and were often excommunicated for it.

    None of these were atheist issues. Let me give you a few examples of atheist issues

    1) Taxpayer funded worship ex. prayer in schools and city christmas trees
    2) The right to have social services in the military provided by social worker and psychologists and not chaplains
    3) Opposition to most vice laws.

    On a more philosophical religious level

    1) Empiricism / neo-positivism as a common epistemology
    a) Defense of free inquiry
    b) Freedom as an ideal
    2) Absolute separation of church and state.
    3) Common ethics based on critical intelligence.

    etc…

  86. CD,

    Are you the one going online to deal with criticisms to our church anywhere besides here? Are you fielding email questions from church members and what they encounter? Do you monitor stories in the media to determine who is saying what about us? Do you take note of where the criticisms are being made and who is making them? Which critics do you engage?

    Are you tied into the secularist wing of ex-Mormonism at all?

    Your shining portrayal of atheists as a tolerant, uncaring bunch is completely laughable. The most vile, the most angry, the most hostile attacks I’ve ever had in my 7 years of debating with anti-Mormons online – 7 times out of 10 – it was an atheist.

    Evangelical anti-Mormons are downright pleasant by contrast.

    I’ve had experience of the dialogue out there. Which makes me highly suspect you are simply making stuff up based on vague impressions.

    And no – the baptism thing was not being pushed primarily by Jews. Jews were pretty evenly split over whether the baptisms were objectionable or not. The prime blogs, journalists, and outlets bashing on us in the media over the baptism thing were almost all secularists, not religious folk.

    And the racism thing is something I get constantly beat up over on SECULAR and ATHEIST venues. They have an absolute field day with it.

    When the online atheist community thinks about us at all, CD Host, they generally hate our stinking guts. Actually, that’s too strong. They generally hold us in amused contempt. Until we actually look like we might matter (Romney, Prop 8) – then you get the sort of rhetoric I’d generally expect from a KKK rally.

    Try it CD.

    Walk on over to Dawkins.net and see what sort of reception you get. I’ll wait here for your report (from a safe distance).

  87. Jack —

    The problem with your theory that where was something uniquely Mormon about the events in Utah and the MMM is that the same or similar things were going on elsewhere. For example under your theory why is Brigham Young running a terrorist operation in Wyoming at the same time as the MMM happened? It wouldn’t make any sense if this was all about revenge for Pratt.
    Why was President Buchanan facing the same kinds of problems in Kansas that very year? Or facing similar problems in South Carolina the next?

    What makes far more sense is to treat Brigham Young like a typical Whig territorial governor. President Fillmore, a Whig, appointed Brigham Young territorial governor, conversely Mormons had violent confrontations with the Democrats like Lilburn Boggs in the 1830s, Thomas Ford in the 1840s. Polk had gotten along with Brigham Young and Franklin Pierce didn’t want trouble so he appointed territorial justices that were amenable to Brigham Young. The Mormons were semi-separatists and Buchanan wanted Brigham out which was his general solution to most of the anti union spirit that existed in the US, treat it like an issue of personalities and prevent any sort of decisive action. Brigham obviously objected since he was running a theocratic democracy and drove Buchanan’s war costs up. When another Whig (now called Republicans) Lincoln came to power Brigham Young had a strong ally and put the federal officials on notice that the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act was not to be enforced.

    The MMM was typical of all sorts of actions that occur in these sorts of military plays. No different than what Barack Obama had been dealing with in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan from Ali Khamenei. And just like in that case there are religious undertones but the issues are fundamentally political. What makes this confusing is that Mormons were both a political and religious body at the time.

  88. I’m more of the opinion that LDS engagement with secularism is almost nonexistent because Mormon Apologists rely too heavily on secular scholarship in their engagements with Evangelicals.

  89. And the charge of the Trinity being “too much like Greek Philosophy and not enough like the Bible” is one of the strangest tropes I’ve ever seen in the Mormon-Evangelical dialogue. Almost every modern Philosophical idea has its antecedent in the Greeks.

  90. Seth —

    I’ve written about 10 rather pro-Mormon articles for Church Discipline. All of them have been posted to an atheist site with high traffic: link to articles on planet atheism. No particularly negative comments on any of the articles.

    As for what critics do I engage… you’ve seen me on enough other sites to know it isn’t just here. I also deal with a very large range of religious viewpoints. In terms of apologists that are rude, I’d give it to conservative Catholics followed closely by Evangelical Presbyterians. Though I think tone really varies by blog.

    As for baptism explain to me exactly on what grounds an atheist blog (not generic secularists) can bash Mormons over baptism for the dead. Show me a link to these articles so I can get some idea of what such an attack would even look like. I went to richarddawkins.net and they just had a link to an article in Haaretz (a liberal Israeli newspaper) which indicated that the Mormon / Jewish deal regarding baptism of holocaust victims had been broken without much additional comment.

    The only other article I see that is recent is a video which tells Mormons if you want to stop beng considered sexist and anti-gay don’t run commercials stop doing sexist and anti-gay stuff. That incidentally also has similar messages about an Islamic and Catholic issue that are related which means it is putting Mormon issues into the basket of problems with rightwing religions.

    So at this point I think you should link to some sort of focused strongly anti-Mormon materials by mainstream / leading atheists. I’ll say in advance that I expect there are some atheists that have said some rather anti-Mormon things, and certainly x-Mormons are going to be hostile the same way most de-converters are anti their old faith. I have yet to see any focused attention on the LDS except during times when the LDS church is working. And I think you are being far too harsh towards a group that doesn’t really know enough about Mormons to even have strong hostile opinions. A few cracks about magic underwear are not evidence of deep seated hatred.

  91. CD,

    As is your m.o., your obscuring the point by burying us in historical detail. No one is saying the four horsemen are focused on Mormonism. Rather, Mormonism’s greatest threat is now coming from the secular, disaffected Mormon underground.

    If you really don’t know this and you lack the ability to recognize that you may not always be the most informed person in the conversation you’re only going to make yourself look sillier than you already have.

    The larger secular world may have zero interest in Mormonism. It may also lend little support to anti-mormon efforts. But anyone with any history with online Mormon activities knows that secular ex-mormons are presenting the biggest threat to belief.

  92. I’ll agree that ex-Mormons are the nastiest to engage. But I don’t know that it’s limited to secular ex-Mormons. I’ve met some pretty nasty evangelical ex-Mormons too.

    So maybe it’s the “ex” that’s the underlying issue? Which I think is maybe what CD’s saying…

  93. As is your m.o., your obscuring the point by burying us in historical detail. No one is saying the four horsemen are focused on Mormonism. Rather, Mormonism’s greatest threat is now coming from the secular, disaffected Mormon underground… But anyone with any history with online Mormon activities knows that secular ex-mormons are presenting the biggest threat to belief.

    Tim —

    Who is “us”? The historical data is about the MMM which has nothing to do with the current existence of non existence of a “disaffected Mormon underground”, nor was it supposed to it was about another topic.

    As for the rest of your comment, online Mormon activities are mostly irrelevant to faith communities; they are biased, unrepresentative samples. If you want data on mass movements, far better than looking at internet discussions is to look at statistical data gathered from random samples measuring flows of members from intergenerational faith communities. And when you stop thinking about the few thousand internet Mormons and start looking at the many hundreds of thousands of people that have left the faith in the United States what they have left for in overwhelming number is Protestantism. Mormons who want to leave do not become atheists, they marry Protestants and convert out.

    Religious conversion for Mormons, and Protestant and Catholics is in large numbers a multi generational affair. The sort of thing that happens gradually, which doesn’t create the kinds of angst that leads to spending time discussing your conversion at length on the internet. People who spend time agonizing about their choices are not the general membership that quietly fades away.

    As an aside a group that does have a substantial problem with seculars is Catholics. About 2-3 generations after Humane Vitae they are having real problems getting the grandchildren of people who objected to this teaching to baptize their children and marry in marry in the Catholic church. At the same time Catholics reject the legitimacy of Protestant churches so they often become non-religious in preference to Protestant.

    As far as atheism the only groups that lose a meaningful percentage of their members to atheism are people where both parents identified as: agnostic, non-religious or no affiliation.

  94. And when you stop thinking about the few thousand internet Mormons and start looking at the many hundreds of thousands of people that have left the faith in the United States what they have left for in overwhelming number is Protestantism. Mormons who want to leave do not become atheists, they marry Protestants and convert out.

    Curious: where did you get this info? Was that in the Pew report?

  95. Katie —

    You were right about the ex comment above. That’s exactly it, it is ex-Mormon that makes people negative (generally). As far the longitudinal data Pew is absolutely terrific and has good data on Mormons.

    Above and beyond this there is a ton of information on de-conversion of community religions in America. The data shows that Mormons act like Hindus, Jews, Muslims and for Jews there is a ton of excellent research on de-conversion.

  96. CD-Host wrote:

    Mormons don’t lose members to standard atheist / agnostic arguments. Mormonism is experiential, Mormonism is true because Mormons personally experience supernatural revelations.

    I completely agree with this. Atheism doesn’t pose a threat to Mormonism. The cessation of personally experienced, supernatural revelations among the general membership would signal the end of Mormonism, (generally speaking, for there would always be a remnant of saints who continued to experience these things.)

  97. Patrick Mefford said:
    And the charge of the Trinity being “too much like Greek Philosophy and not enough like the Bible” is one of the strangest tropes I’ve ever seen in the Mormon-Evangelical dialogue. Almost every modern Philosophical idea has its antecedent in the Greeks.

    Sure, the point is that you should not have to rely on Greek philosophy or modern philosophy to understand the nature of God. The argument is that Greek philosophy has trumped other interpretations of the text, and the only basis for it to do so was that it was the best philosophy available centuries years ago.

  98. I concede to Jack, Seth et al that Ex-Mormons attack the Church more than anyone ever has and probably will – and that they are commonly not religious types. I suppose I’m just picky about lumping them in with other atheists, b/c they don’t seem to be driven by the same objectives. The material/arguments also seem to employ an *anything and everything* approach – usually ending in a view that is more distinctly anti-Mormonism, than pro-atheist/secular/humanist.

  99. I don’t think atheism is the greatest threat to Mormonism. Whether Mormons remain Mormons will ultimately depend on the character of the experience inside the Church. Atheists have few convincing arguments against the transformative experience of Mormonism, or any other form of Christianity. Mormonism will rise and fall based on its missionary efforts to introduce people to this experience. This may explain why more effort is focused on resolving traditional Christian believers’ concerns with the history and doctrine than defending Mormonism against atheists.

    I think the same point applies no matter what the religion. No matter how nasty and/or cogent the attacks may get, so long as people feel the power of the Mormon/Evangelical/Catholic/etc. experience they are going to remain strong. So long as they can introduce that experience to others, they are going to grow.

  100. The nastiness and frequency of attacks does not necessarily correlate with their effectiveness.

    e.g. the greatest threat to Obama’s reelection are not those that believe he is secret Muslim and communist.

  101. Mormonism will rise and fall based on its missionary efforts to introduce people to this experience.

    And this is exactly why ex-Mormons are a threat to the LDS church. Conversion rates in internet satuarted areas are terrible. The congregational growth rate for 2011 was 0.4%. Missionaries may get their foot in the door, but immediately after they leave people hop on Google and get the rest of their questions answered, with less than faith-promoting results.

  102. Hard to say, I was a missionary pre-internet. But in 1993 in Southern California there was plenty of opportunity to find out the “dirt” on the Church, Evangelical churches would consistently have sermons on the evils of Mormonism. Its been a cottage industry among the ministry for a long time. But those open to spiritual experience, and not entrenched in another faith were generally open to Mormonism. I personally saw plenty of very intelligent people converted even when the answers were available. If people like what they feel and see, they continue to investigate the experience despite whatever evidence their may be that the Church isn’t precisely what it claims to be.

    Atheism may be a barrier to growth, but its not going to change the character of the experience of Mormonism or Evangelicalism.

    Atheism/agnosticism is a perfectly reasonable position, and it has become the default when society in general does not embrace spirituality. However, the spiritual human needs eventually rise to the surface.

    Mormonism/Evangelicalism/whateverism will fail when they do not maintain a commitment to, foster and focus on what makes people alive in their faith and brings good fruit to their lives.

  103. Tim, I think you are overestimating the lack of credibility that the LDS Church has online.

    If you want to talk about problems, fine.

    But I won’t let you get away with saying that the LDS Church is obviously false once you learn to use Google and Wikipedia.

    I’m not that stupid. Nor am I a brainwashed tool who is oblivious to the “obvious” evidence out there. I’ve read the stuff at MormonThink.

    I just don’t find it particularly compelling.

  104. Tim didn’t affirmatively state that the internet makes the LDS church look obviously false.

    I think the presumption was that investigators will be dissuaded from continuing to investigate based on the stuff on the internet.

    Tim may have a point. . . the internet does have a great track record for dissuading people from believing unusual things. . .

  105. Jared, that last sentence is so vague as to be basically meaningless.

    And I don’t believe it’s accurate anyway.

  106. Seth, let me share a story to illustrate my point.

    6 years ago my wife and I visited a temple open house. Immediately upon getting home my wife got on Google to figure out everything she wasn’t told on the tour. Within 20 minutes she knew everything she wanted to know (and I mean everything). She couldn’t have been more convinced that she was uninterested in the LDS church.

    Investigators don’t have to wait for the missionaries to come over to get their questions answered. Mormon.org offers such vapid and polished answers that even if it happens to show up in the rankings people check the other links as well.

    MormonThink.com may not rock your world, you’ve had a lifetime of experiences to solidify your faith. Investigators don’t. Members who for any reason feel dissatisfied with their faith experience can find more than enough justifications to doubt what they’ve been told.

  107. I know several people in my own ward who joined the church even after encountering the full raft of anti-Mormon material.

    A lot of them report thinking how ridiculous the haters were behaving. Not everyone simply goes along with the first negative thing they read on the Internet. And a lot of people are willing to take negativity in stride along with other things.

    I know its hard for apologists who live and breath this stuff to comprehend, but there are people who don’t see it as earth-shattering or game-changing.

  108. I only have a little bit of time to post this week, but regarding investigators losing interest in Mormonism after consulting the Internet:

    http://blog.mormonanswers.com/file_download/2

    This was apparently from some sort of blog post or press release that was hosted online at the Marriott School of Business Web site, back in 2006. The original URL (now defunct) was http://www.ceobyu.com/create-a-business-plan-to-help-lds-church/2006/11/30/. It was taken down shortly after it was posted.

    Back to this thread later.

  109. I actually agree with Tim – if he’s saying that a lot of internet users make a lot of choices to do or not do something (even monumental things) based on what they read on the internet. Is that a good thing? Debatable.

  110. Jared C said:

    But in 1993 in Southern California there was plenty of opportunity to find out the “dirt” on the Church, … I personally saw plenty of very intelligent people converted even when the answers were available.

    And Seth R. said:

    I know several people in my own ward who joined the church even after encountering the full raft of anti-Mormon material.

    Count me in that group in both cases. There’s not really all that much available now than wasn’t readily available to me back in the days when Jared C was a missionary. Nor was it hard to find; early in my studies of the Church I checked out Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History from the public library (not nearly as good nor as trustworthy as Rough Stone Rolling, but still an interesting read), and there certainly were plenty of anti-Mormon books available in evangelical bookstores (more so than is the case today).

    Although I didn’t find the anti-Mormon “facts” and arguments persuasive, I wouldn’t discount their power. I think they can be especially effective with those who take or are inclined to take a more literalistic and infallibility-based approach to the faith. Although there are exceptions, I’ve noted that many of the vocal ex-Mormons had indeed taken the literalistic and infallibility-based and, dare I say it, simplistic approach to faith; it’s no wonder they became disillusioned upon finding out, for example, that Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy was messy at best.

    In my case, I had already rejected Biblical literalism, and I believed in the inspiration of the Bible (and still do) even though I was aware that it included contradictions, mythology and pseudepigrapha. I had already come to believe that God does his work through imperfect, fallible people. It just wasn’t that big of a step to adopt an expansive faith that was rife with such things as well. But I certainly can see how a knowledge of history could be an obstacle to those who take a different approach.

    Tim said:

    MormonThink.com may not rock your world, you’ve had a lifetime of experiences to solidify your faith. Investigators don’t. Members who for any reason feel dissatisfied with their faith experience can find more than enough justifications to doubt what they’ve been told.

    There’s much truth in what you say. I doubt very much that many people join the LDS church because they are persuaded by facts. It would be foolish for me to extrapolate from one person’s experience, but I doubt if my oldest son’s experience as a missionary was all that untypical: Those who joined the church as an indirect result of his missionary efforts did so because they saw some spiritual need that could be met by the church. In one case, for example, the love shown by church members played a role in fighting a drug problem.

    I assume that the same is true in the evangelical world. The fastest growth these days is among Pentecostal churches, and I would guess that’s because of the emphasis they put on spiritual experiences.

    To the extent that the LDS church is struggling with retention (or getting converts), it isn’t primarily because of historical facts and their availability on the Internet. It’s because it’s not meeting the needs and/or expectations of those who eventually leave (or in showing people that it has something relevant to offer).

  111. Let me just comment here since there have been a few comments to the effect that the LDS church is having trouble getting converts.

    1) The LDS church is doing better than evangelical Protestantism and Fundamentalism in getting converts through missionary activities and people joining the church. It has a solid but not spectacular recruitment.

    2) Over the last two decades (though not before) Evangelical Christianity is losing the children of members to mainline Christianity and non-belief at a much higher rate than Mormonism is losing members. The LDS church also has excellent intergenerational retention, children raised Mormon are very likely to themselves be Mormon.

    3) Most intermarried Mormons marry evangelicals and a huge majority of these intermarried couples raise their children as evangelicals. That’s the bleed not the internet and not atheism. While Mormon conversions to evangelical Christianity is a statistical blip for Evangelical numbers (because of the relative size) this pattern holds more generally most importantly with Catholics and this is where they are currently picking up millions.

    The facts are that Mormonism not Evangelicalism is convincing around the kitchen table. You Mormons do have a good story. But… Evangelicalism is more convincing in the bedroom. If Mormons want to address the bleed that is actually having meaningful important statistical impact what they need to address is why intermarried couples do not feel comfortable becoming Mormon rather than Protestant. Conversely it is evangelicals that really need to worry about substantial percentages of x-members running around who simply hate and disbelieve their old religion and don’t want to be part of it.

    Mormons act like Jews or Hindus. If they marry in they stay in, if they marry out they leave. Or alternately the way they leave is by marrying out not just renouncing the faith and quitting. The internet is loaded with the renounced the faith and quit people, who are totally unrepresentative.

  112. I personally think that the Mormon Church needs more “offense” rather than more “defense”. The
    “I am a Mormon” campaign is a good example. People believe all kinds of things that are not supported by the strongest evidence. Most of what people believe is derivative of other’s experiences. Mormonism’s strength is providing an avenue to have first-hand spiritual experience, revelation, and inspiration. It does this in a way that allows you to be deeply spiritual without looking fanatical. It provides a near-instant tight community of people who actively participate in each-other’s lives.

    This is true no matter how many women Joseph Smith slept with, or whether Brigham Young was a partisan rather than a saint.

    When people understand the reality of Mormon practice, and its benefits, they are attracted to it even if there are massive holes in supporting evidence. What the average atheist needs is first-hand evidence. When they are able to get that, it can smooth over a ton of doubts.

    On the deep level, the Church, shouldn’t care what comes out on the internet. It is gathering the elect, those that God has chosen to be part of the marvelous work. Its not for everybody, its not supposed to be. And if it is what it says, there is nothing that anybody can do to stop it. You might as well put out your arm to stop a river. That is why, from a faithful believer’s point of view, the appropriate response to anti-mormonism is usually testimony rather than debate.

  113. If Mormons want to address the bleed that is actually having meaningful important statistical impact what they need to address is why intermarried couples do not feel comfortable becoming Mormon rather than Protestant.

    From watching intermarried family members, my guess at the reason for this is that its a pain in the ass to integrate into a Ward when your spouse doesn’t attend. You are always a target of missionary efforts, you feel out of place and unable to participate in the full Mormon experience, i.e. temple marriage. There is a tension between the love of your spouse and commitment to the church. When that happens I am going to bet that if you have to choose between your marriage suffering or your church attendance, you are going to choose the latter. Also, more devout family members will worry that you are are short-changing your exaltation. Which will generally stick in your spouse’s craw.

    Evangelicalism is generally more welcoming to the semi-devout, because you can participate nearly 100% in Mainline Protestantism or Evangelicalism without having to make regular serious declarations of faith and belief, and eventually you get some of the same experiences you get inside Mormonism. An average believing Mormon could go to mainline protestant church and participate fully without having to disclose that they don’t buy the Trinity, and really believe there is no forever hell and there are three heavens not one.

  114. CD-Host ~ I could engage you on whether or not the MMM really was an act of political or religious violence, but I’m not going to because I think that’s beside the point. The point was, how do atheist/agnostic/secular critics of Mormonism perceive the MMM? You claimed that complaints about the MMM were an “evangelical obsession” and that atheists would be much more open to seeing it as an understandable act of political violence.

    That you “haven’t heard atheists bring it up ever” just shows how deeply unknowledgeable of this topic you are. You haven’t heard of Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, which is being made into a film directed by Ron Howard with the screenplay being written by Dustin Lance Black? Really? (Krakauer is an atheist. I don’t know about Howard and Black, but they definitely strike me as skeptical of religion in general.)

    There’s a preview of UtBoH available at Google Books which covers some of the material where Krakauer lays out how religion drove the MMM—including Parley Pratt’s widow coming to Salt Lake City at about that time and imploring Mormons to hold the entire state of Arkansas responsible for the death of her husband.

    In contrast, the only things I can think of that evangelicals have put out on the MMM is September Dawn (which was a commercial and critical flop that spent only two weeks in theaters before being pulled) and a historical fiction novel by Diane Noble called The Veil. I haven’t read the latter, but one of my atheist friends who’s quite knowledgeable of Mormon history says that she gave it “high marks for historical accuracy compared to LDS writers.” MMM doesn’t work well for evangelicals as a polemic against Mormonism for a lot of reasons, but it works very well for atheists eager to show how religion leads to all kinds of badness.

    Katie L. ~ So maybe it’s the “ex” that’s the underlying issue? Which I think is maybe what CD’s saying

    I’ve been saying this for years. Literally.

    Where I disagree with our resident anti-evangelical gadfly is on the idea that secular criticism of Mormonism (ex-Mormon or otherwise) is a minor force in this debate because atheists are supposedly more open to and tolerant of Mormon theology and history than evangelicals are. It isn’t, and they aren’t.

  115. An average believing Mormon could go to mainline protestant church and participate fully without having to disclose that they don’t buy the Trinity, and really believe there is no forever hell and there are three heavens not one.

    I can go to a mainline Protestant church and participate fully.

  116. I don’t know about Howard and Black, but they definitely strike me as skeptical of religion in general.

    Interestingly enough, Black is a gay ex-Mormon.

    Which essentially means that we’re right: ex-Mormons are our biggest problem. And like you said in the comment you linked to from a couple of years ago, Jack, that they’re so angry is every bit as much our fault as anyone else’s. Probably more so.

  117. Which essentially means that we’re right: ex-Mormons are our biggest problem.

    Not in my opinion, if you biggest problem is ex-mormons then, in fact, your actual biggest problem is faithful Mormons. Mormons can’t change their history, they can only come to terms with it, the more that they do, they less problems they will have with ex-Mormons and other non-believes. Mormons can focus on the core of the spirituality within the Gospel, and reject Pharisaical practices. The more they do, the less problems they will have with ex-Mormons.

  118. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, which is being made into a film directed by Ron Howard with the screenplay being written by Dustin Lance Black?

    I think I’d heard about it a few months back, from an anti-Mormon evangelical and now again from a similar source. I don’t hear atheists talking about it at all since overwhelming atheists don’t know anything about the MMM and expect religions to be violent.

    I hadn’t known about it. But Ron Howard is a liberal Methodist and Dustin Lance Black is an ex-Mormon gay activist. As an aside the LDS church is officially and openly working with Black in trying to soften their image with regard to gay issues. As both sides agree “trying to find some common ground”.

    I could engage you on whether or not the MMM really was an act of political or religious violence, but I’m not going to because I think that’s beside the point. The point was, how do atheist/agnostic/secular critics of Mormonism perceive the MMM?

    Actually if you read back in the thread that wasn’t the point. You were making historical claims that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were inclined towards the same kinds of mass terror and religious violence of the people that founded your sect but do to historical accidents had far less opportunity to carry their nefarious plans out. You were using the MMM to prove that Brigham Young would have engaged in mass terror if he had been given the opportunity. So my point about this not being religious violence mostly was very much addressing your argument.

    As far as perceptions I stand by original. Atheists don’t know about the MMM but consider all or most all religious violence to be highly negative. I’d agree that if they did know about MMM they would use it as yet another example of religious violence. But atheists do rate faiths on their relative body counts and the Mormons do quite well in that regard. They don’t believe your excuse that the 19th century wasn’t religiously violent since Protestants were in fact carrying out widespread religious terror during the 19th century, and while inside the USA they were much more focused onracial violence towards blacks, hispanics and asians they did occasionally break from for some anti-Catholic mass violence. Just to pick an example from my home town.

    So no most atheist are not going to find Mormons with one incident of religious violence occurring in the context of a war to be anything less than an excellent record, though they would attribute it more to the fact that Mormons have generally lacked the political power to conduct massive violence than anything else.

  119. CD-Host ~ I think I’d heard about it a few months back, from an anti-Mormon evangelical and now again from a similar source.

    Nonsense. I’m not an “anti-Mormon” in any way, shape or form.

    And unless you think places like ABC News or The Deseret News are evangelical anti-Mormon sources, evangelicals weren’t the ones who originated the reports, either.

    Actually if you read back in the thread that wasn’t the point.

    Moving the goal posts. Classic.

    the same kinds of mass terror and religious violence of the people that founded your sect

    My sect is the Evangelical Covenant Church. Please list some of the mass terror and religious violence we have engaged in.

    As far as perceptions I stand by original.

    And this is why engaging you is a waste of time.

  120. Not in my opinion, if you biggest problem is ex-mormons then, in fact, your actual biggest problem is faithful Mormons. Mormons can’t change their history, they can only come to terms with it, the more that they do, they less problems they will have with ex-Mormons and other non-believes. Mormons can focus on the core of the spirituality within the Gospel, and reject Pharisaical practices. The more they do, the less problems they will have with ex-Mormons.

    Really good point.

  121. Regarding the Trinity/Godhead subject, as a Mormon I don’t really have a problem with it. Even just from the Bible alone. Who was Jesus praying to? Himself? He directed others to “pray unto the Father in my name.” He said “my Father is greater than I.” At his baptism the Father spoke from heaven. He said the Father would send the Holy Ghost in his (Jesus’) name. Seems obvious to me. Yet they are one in love, truth, purpose, glory, power, and every other eternal god-like attribute. Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon use the “one” phrase which makes perfect sense.

  122. Additionally another point I didn’t mention … several times the Bible refers to Jesus going off alone into the wilderness to pray and be with God. It only makes sense to me that he was communing with his Father in Heaven (who is “separate” from him).

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