About Jared C

I am a criminal appeals attorney, father of four, raised in Kansas.

Dumb arguments against Mormonism

Recent comments by Ron Den Boer strike a pattern found frequently in arguments against Mormonism by Evangelicals. The attack generally plays out like this:

Evangelical: Mormonism is preposterous.

Mormon: No, its not.

Evangelical:  Yes, it must be because important LDS leader said and believed [insert preposterous thing].

To me, this argument always seemed unsound and ignorant.  The argument rests on the premises that: (1) Mormonism requires belief in any particular preposterous thing said by any particular Mormon priesthood leader and (2) a belief in preposterous things means a believer cannot also have faith in the most important truth.

The first premise is false. The heart of Mormonism is the belief in revelation— i.e. the belief that a person’s heart and mind can translate what God says into human language.  But most who believe in revelation recognize that any belief in revelation is bound to produce plenty of preposterous talk.  God can speak to people, but people always have the freedom to reason or dream the memories of that voice into ostensibly laughable propositions and phatasmagoria. To expect otherwise would be unreasonable.

Put differently, the LDS believe that the fact that a person receives revelation on occasion, even important revelation, does not guarantee the right-speaking (or right-living) of that person.  And when people speak in the name of God, they do so within a particular cultural context, making much of what they say strange to those outside that context.  Weird talk is clearly no problem for the LDS, in part because the LDS do not read and interpret scripture to form philosophy, but to feel and ponder it like they do music. The strangeness of the material and the language is part of the charm, but any particular strangeness is not required. Just as a person does not need to even listen to Elvis to be a rock-and-roller (let alone believe everything he said), a Mormon does not have to take into account any particular statement of any Church leader or ancient prophet in order to be on the path of truth. (Hence the predictable inability to pin a Mormon down on orthodox doctrine.)

The second premise is also false.  To believe in the preposterous is part of being human.  And to expect a person to obsessively root out their wacky or false beliefs is to expect madness.

The argument does have the rhetorical power of making a believer dance around the weirdness of how some interpret revelation.  But this rhetorical power casts the wielder as a crusader for impossible intellectual purity rather than a sensible bearer of the truth. The implication is that all evil is to be resisted, especially the evils of thought. But rejection of the preposterous is not something Christ expects, is it? Doesn’t the Gospel relieve a person of the unending task of constantly separating the grain from the weeds within one’s own beliefs?

One Mormon view of the Truth of Christ

I was once of the opinion that you could convert the entire world to Christ if you sat the world down and simply told them, with sincere love, that they could feel, that He was their Savior. Indeed, I thought that would inevitably happen.  I believed that once a person was converted to Jesus, and followed Him as a disciple, that it did not matter what I believed or thought outside of that one Truth—so long as I lived by what Jesus taught and the Spirit. I think this is a belief that many Mormons might share, and have tried to root out its source—-in my own mind at least.

To me, the core of what Jesus taught was very simple and clear—even if it was mind-blowing, revolutionary, and extremely humbling. It seemed that that was all anyone really needed—everything else was just another conference talk or sermon. The wild variation I saw within the scriptures was merely a function of the fact that the Truth was essentially ineffable, as was the Life. Given the task Jesus gave his disciples–to love as He loved–I did not think you could even precisely explain how to act like a Christian in any particular circumstance without the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The capacity of love was a supernatural gift. It was a gift offered to everyone, and it could be expanded by faith and hard work, but it was the only mark of a true follower of Jesus.

The process of arriving at the Truth also seemed very simple—you could only really know that Jesus was the Christ by the Spirit. These most important truths could only be expressed with the Spirit, and the Spirit was practically instantiated and invoked through love and sincerity.  Hence, the root of my belief that all we could convert anyone to Christ by simply finding the right words.

I recognize that this belief was ultimately unstable. But perhaps I saw things in these terms out of a tendency to keep things simple in what I found to be an immensely complex world.  Perhaps it was pride–I wanted to believe in truth without reservation, and that demands simplicity. Perhaps it was out of recognition of the difficulty of asking and answering the question: What is truth? As a Christian, the answer was ultimately both obvious and simple. The Truth was what Jesus told of. All other truth flowed from That. Whatever we could work out through reason was true, but without that Truth, what did it matter?

Is this an acceptable Evangelical church policy towards Mormons? 

I saw this excerpt from a Southern Baptist Convention policy on the internet the other day and modified it to fit Mormonism:

“In light of the fact that many tenets and teachings of Mormonism are not compatible with Christianity and church doctrine, while others are compatible with Christianity and church doctrine, we therefore recommend that consistent with our denomination’s deep convictions regarding the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church, membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints be a matter of personal conscience. Therefore, we exhort Christians to prayerfully and carefully evaluate Mormonism in the light of the Lordship of Christ, and the teachings of the Scripture as led by the Holy Spirit of God.”

Would this be an acceptable policy for low-church Evangelicals?

 

Is the Protestant Doctrine of Salvation Incommensurate with the Mormon View?

I am always harping about how Mormons are allowed to believe a lot more things than traditional Christians and still be Mormons. I don’t think the Mormons that run the Church care about truth per se, but its usefulness in the cause, and it is eminently useful not to engage in debates about what you have to believe to be LDS.  I think most sane people believe this— it is generally not wise to declare how stupid you think others are within their earshot, and most people are apt to say stupid things when they are cutting down another cause.

From my point of view, this reality presents those who make massive truth claims, such as Evangelical Protestants, an interesting test: Here is a group of people who ostensibly believe a lot of the same things you Evangelicals believe; they are going to hell, forever, because of their confusion; it seems that the power of your message should be able to convert these people.  For me, it’s as if the Mormons are laying ready on Mount Carmel and Evangelicals can’t make so much as a spark to ignite what is dry kindling. I thought a good place to put my pet theory to the test is to determine whether a Mormon can fully believe the Protestant view of Salvation and remain LDS.  Is there some logical necessity of rejecting the message of the Restoration?  If they are not now, Mormons even become saved Christians and remain in the Church?

The question seems important. If the answer is “no,” Protestants should joyfully want Mormons to believe in their view of the Gospel whether or not the Mormons remain faithful to their LDS covenants or attend LDS church or believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God, or even continue to gather converts.  The entire approach to LDS missionary work would not be to show them where they are wrong theologically (which is extremely boring), but to teach them the truth in spirit and in power like Paul advocated (manifestly less boring). I recognize that many Mormons do not, and never will, understand or believe the theology behind the Evangelical view of salvation from original sin. But most Mormons are new Mormons without set theologies, and LDS Missionary efforts require a wide tolerance for strange beliefs. (I learned this acutely while eating dinner with a Jet Propulsion Laboratory physicist and my missionary companion, who was convinced that the earth was hollow.)   Continue reading

Christian Creeds and the Great Apostasy

Gundek and Kullervo are on me to clarify why I don’t think Mormons have creeds in the way traditional Christians do. I thought I would go further and try to explain why Mormon rejection of creedalism is also a critical part of their belief system. I think G.K. Chesteron’s essay “What is America?” is a good place to start. (This is a bit long-winded so be warned.)  Chesterton describes how he was required to answer numerous questions about his political beliefs before being allowed to enter the United States, something he found laughably intrusive leading him to compare the Spanish Inquisition to the American Constitution:

“It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism. And it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things.  Continue reading

Do the differences swallow Protestant “orthodoxy”?

Kullervo was kind enough to point out that Protestant theologians have been tackling the Christian Unity problem lately in the form of a written debate and discussion of Peter Leithart’s call for a visible sign of unity between traditional Christians (during the oral discussion he explicitly said that Mormons wouldn’t be at the table.)   The links Kullervo shared give a good rundown of the discussion held at Biola University and the aftermath.

If anything, it was good to know that somebody very smart can point to what seems a huge problem in Christianity with few, if any, practical suggestions on how it can be accomplished.

Leithart said something during the discussion at Biola that resonated with my observations of Protestantism:

All members of Christ, recipients of the spirit, baptism and confession of certain truths, is a visible expression of unity, but those expressions of unity have become meaningless in the face of our differences.

I think this is on point.  Mormons are outside the boundaries because they don’t accept the summative doctrines of the creeds, but the differences between other Christian groups add up to dramatically different religious experiences, doctrines and spiritual foci. For a Mormon, the protestant world looks like a bunch of camps, with a barely visible unity, that essentially boils down to the Trinity, and often that doctrine is presented in a misleading or straightforwardly incorrect way.  The lack of unity, or even a path toward unity makes the Christian world look less-than-Christian to those who are (by definition) outside the tent.

Also, even if Mormons are properly excluded from the big tribe Leithart advocates, the way Protestants deal with Mormons shows some of the same sort of tribalism he feels is a leprosy on the body of Christ.  Identifying the tribalism on the margins of orthodoxy may help identify tribalism within.

From my perspective the entire discussion was very enlightening, and gives a very broad view of the differences between traditional Christians and why those differences matter theologically and historically.  I would recommend it to non-traditional Christians as a snapshot of what matters between the varied versions of Christianity, and how the differences grew and how they are sustained.

Interfaith dialogue: Knowing God Exists

I was reading Summa Theologica the other day and couldn’t get his imagery out of my head. So I dreamt up this dialogue: 

Kathy:  I think you can know that God exists.

Carl:  What does it mean to say that God exists anyway? Whether God “exists” necessarily depends on your definition of God.  If there is only one God, can there be more than one correct definition, and if you don’t or can’t define God, how can you know he exists?  But, if you alone decide the definition of God, then “knowing God exists” is simply affirming a personal belief in a certain definition. Right?

Kathy: St. Thomas Aquinas tells us:

To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him.

This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.

Norman:  In terms of that example, I know God exists because I have met Him in my personal experience. I can positively recognize Him every time as the same Spirit.  I define God by the doctrines and teachings that are spoken through the Spirit.

Chris: I have felt God as well, I know God as Christ, a historical person.  I have a lot of beliefs about God but I really only trust what comes from the Bible.  If you don’t believe the Bible, you can’t really know that God exists, because you won’t know who or what God is.

Kathy: But wait, in order to identify God you must be able to identify God’s interaction with humanity,   If you can’t identify God’s church—you can’t really <i>know</i> assuredly God exists, because whatever you call God will either be your interpretation of your experience, or your personal interpretation of the text.   And these subjective interpretations will always result in a morass of different definitions.  The Church provides the tangible basis for the existence of God and is the only reliable basis to define and identify God.

Carl: So does the entire question come down to whether your church is also part of God’s church?

What do you all think?