A meditation on religious conflict

[This is a prose poem that came out after I finished up writing brief about a particularly gnarly run in with original sin and the law that punishes it. Enjoy!]

“Religious War has signified the greatest advance of the masses so far, for it proves that the masses have begun to treat concepts with respect.  Religious War start only after more refined quarrels between sects have refined reason in general to the point where even the mob becomes subtle and takes trifles seriously and actually considers it possible that the “eternal salvation of the soul” might depend on small differences between concepts.” – F. Nietzsche

“But if all religious teachers were honest enough to renounce their pretensions to godliness when their ignorance of the knowledge of God is made manifest, they will all be as badly off as I am, at any rate; and you might just as well take the lives of other false teachers as that of mine. If any man is authorized to take away my life because he thinks and says I am a false teacher, then, upon the same principle, we should be justified in taking away the life of every false teacher, and where would be the end of blood? And who would not be the sufferer?” – J. Smith

Science tells us that our universe began as a single point, and that human beings are super-developed animals with incredible imaginations that in their limitless symbolizing and shaping of the world with their art spawned religion, civilization, and consciousness of our unfathomable beginning and becoming.

The orthodox catholic tells us that God is the unknowable Father that is the source of this point, but that he is nothing within it, that God is the substance of the man Jesus the Christ that became part of the created world, and the substance of the Holy Spirit that fills creation and the strange human souls that take on the the image of this substance but are condemned to be separated from it.

Mohammed tells us that man is nothing like God, and absolute and unknowable, who has no child and wills all that happens and all that exists, God is the final arbiter of this created reality and should be feared and loved.

The Buddha tells us that we are not separate souls, and God is irrelevant to our enlightenment to this fact; only in our giving up ourselves and our souls can we awake to the reality of God.

Paul tell us that man is a debased spirit separated from God, clothed in corrupt flesh but redeemed to God’s image through assent and capitulation to the reality of the single Christ, the God who submitted to death and suffering to save the world from it.

Moses tells us that there is a law from heaven that all must follow and that one people were chosen to proclaim it.

Joseph Smith tells us that God is the same as us: a single eternal soul living within the uncreated universe who discovered intelligence and then glory though the laws of reality that fill the immensity of space and makes all things as they are.

The Hindu tells us that we are all the shifting faces of God, the absolute reality that sits behind all appearances, and that only those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender themselves to other gods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own many natures.

Pilate tells us that truth is an illusion and then spilled the blood of the man the Christians call God by the power of the law and might of Rome.

Jesus tells us that God’s law and all other truth is swallowed in Christ, the mystery and promise of God’s love, that God’s kingdom has nothing to do with Rome that killed him, but is in midst of the love and joy that springs from His blood and suffering and ours.

The Evangelical tells us that we should proclaim this last Word above all others, and attests that there is no end to this blood that saves us.

It seems that in this blood there should be an end to the blood Nietzsche and Joseph Smith spoke of, but how remains its mystery.


Christian Books for Former Mormons

A couple of months ago I was asked for a list of books to help a former Mormons transition to Protestantism.  I reached out to some friends and we came up with this list.These books are listed in order of complexity and depth, starting with the easiest to read.

Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do

Starting at the Finish Line: The Gospel of Grace for Mormons

The Cross of Christ

An Exploration of Christian Theology

Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview

I also STRONGLY recommend getting a modern English translation of the Bible. I love the King James Version and I think it’s a great translation, I recommend it to all my 400 year old friends. The English language has evolved and some of the phrasing in the KJV is archaic which makes it more difficult to understand. The newer translation were all created consulting the oldest known manuscripts of the Bible and were translated from the original languages so you can trust them to be accurate. Fears of the “Telephone Game” are misplaced. I almost always use the NIV. I also highly recommend reading the Bible in a paraphrase known as “The Message”. It’s available for free on the YouVersion Bible App created by LifeChurch.tv.

I recommend a fresh reading of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews with an attempt to dismiss everything you’ve been taught about these scriptures. Try to read them as if this is the first time you’ve read. If you can read them each in one sitting I think your experience will be even better. Don’t view the chapters as natural stopping points.

Lastly there is a study program called LDS Transitions that was made by Christians in Utah who saw a need for it based on the large number of people that have started to transition out of the LDS church.

My favorite book for all Christians is “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard. It’s probably not the best book to start with as part of a transition, but sometime in your life you should read it.

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

Scared of Hell: Evangelicals don’t really know if they are saved?

Byline: Does the difficulty in feeling assured of salvation dissolve the practical differences in “works”-focused vs. belief-focused religion?Hell Awaits You!

I used to think that the problem of assurance of salvation was a big practical difference between Mormons and Evangelicals.  I am not so sure now.The theological differences seem stark. According to the rough academic analogy, Mormons believe that everybody is born with a passing grade, and you have to decide to fail.  So long as your intentions are in the right direction, and you are living up to your potential , you are going to the Celestial Kingdom. If you fall short you are going to get a great consolation prize– eternally living in heaven with Jesus forever.   If you criminally screw up and reject Jesus,  you are going to suffer for your  sins but eventually you will be in a heavenly place with the eternal joy that the Holy Spirit can bring you.  Mormons believe (or used to) that some striving souls could get a “second endowment.”  An ordinance performed in the temple that seals a person with their spouse to the Celestial Kingdom.  They have their “calling and election made sure.” Anymore, this concept and practice has practically disappeared from the Church.  Mormons are left completely sure they are going to heaven, but always unsure of which heaven they will go to. I believed that whatever I–or nearly anybody else–was in for in the afterlife, it was going to be a whole lot better than this world.

Contrasting my experience with the children of Evangelicalism. I can see how the “faith alone” doctrine would have scared the hell out of me.  Evangelicals believe you are born with a failing grade– the default is hell.  People qualify for salvation by correct belief and reliance on the work of Jesus alone.  It seems to me that if you are an Evangelical facing the never-ending torment of hell, you’d better make darn sure you are saved.  And the problem is, because non-saving faith can masquerade as true belief and faith, there is a lot of room for consternationJust as Mormons obsess about doing enough to be “good enough” , it seems that doubt-prone Evangelicals can easily fall into a cycle of severe anxiety trying to assure their faith is “true” enough.  And the stakes– and possibly the potential anxiety seem considerably higher.  It seems that many Evangelicals indeed have this problem of assurance gauging from this article in Relevant Magazine, by J.D. Greear, Evangelical author of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart.    

Continue reading

Finding Our Way Out of Mormonism


Former BYU professor Lynn Wilder was recently on the popular Evangelical television show “The 700 Club”. She discussed her book about her transition out of Mormonism and some of the differences between Mormonism and Evangelicalism. She mentions her perceptions of finding a different gospel outside of Mormonism and her embrace of the cross and grace.

You are SAVED (from Hell)!! – What Evangelicals have that Mormons don’t: Part II

One thing that strikes me as a key difference in how Mormons and Evangelicals view being “saved” is what they believe they are saved from.  For Mormons, the flip-side of not feeling the joy of being COMPLETELY forgiven like Evangelicals do, is the comfort of never having to worry about hell in the least, for me or anybody else.  I think this difference may shape how Mormons and Evangelicals differ in they way they see God, their purpose in life, and, to some degree, what life is about. I offer my own experience as a way for Evangelicals to gain some insight on how not believing in Hell can shape your thoughts and behavior.

To somebody raised in the LDS church in the late twentieth century, there is no hell.  A fiery place where souls are sent by God to burn forever? As a Mormon growing up, I took that as seriously as the idea that the devil had horns and pitchfork. The only thing close to “hell” that I was taught about was not anywhere God would send me, It was merely the pain and disappointment of not being with our Father again, who wanted us to be there and provided a way for us to do it. I was taught that if we even got a glimpse of the Telestial kingdom, we would want to kill ourselves just to go their.  The absolute worst part if it was that I couldn’t be with my family forever. This sounded crappy enough, so I couldn’t imagine my Father in Heaven, who loved me more than my real parents did, wanted any of us to go through anything worse.

Continue reading

Mormons and Evangelicals, Can we rally around the Cross?

Recently I bought a couple of cool Ethiopian Orthodox cross in a flea market in Helsinki. I started wearing it. I have been reading the New Testament with my two daughters (8 years and 10 years) and I recently read The Last Temptation of Christ and the cross has been sort of a symbol for my renewed interest in what it means for me to be a Christian, so I have been wearing it nearly all the time for the last couple of weeks.

My wife questioned whether it was appropriate for me to wear it or use it as a symbol considering the prevailing Mormon position on the cross, i.e. we don’t use it as a symbol of Christ at all. I did some cursory research and found the standard justifications for not using the cross (i.e. that its a symbol of the torture and death of Christ by romans rather than the atonement and resurrection and that it is not an original primitive Christian symbol) but I could not find the origin of the tradition. I checked the handbook of instructions for priesthood leaders and found no reference to the cross. I am pretty sure that a prohibition against crosses is not in the Scriptures so it makes me wonder whether the prohibition might be hurtful to the cause.

So I have a bunch of questions.

For Evangelicals: What would your reaction be to Mormons using the cross as a symbol, would it make you all more likely to sympathize with Mormons as followers of Christ? (or would it be seen as more craftiness to dupe people into believing we are really Christians.)

For Mormons: is there any harm in allowing or even embracing the use of the cross? Is it “selling out” to gain acceptance from more worldly (less inspired) churches? Is a feeling of stronger brotherhood with other believers in Christ a good thing or a hindrance to the work of the restoration and the “gathering of the elect.”? Is there anything really doctrinally unacceptable with the cross, if so, where is the revelation that tells us this?

I am not sure of my own view yet so it would be interesting to hear from all who have anything to say.

(Forgive me if this was discussed previously I could not find any previous post on this with a search of the blog, but I might have missed it)

Me & Mormons – Part 9

My wife and I expressed interest to the LDS missionaries that we’d be interested in observing an LDS worship service and they were happy to facilitate that experience for us. The first invitation they offered us was to a baptism on a Saturday afternoon.

We entered the ward building through the opened back back door. We were exactly sure where to go so we asked the first person we saw, who happened to be a young man dressed in a white pleated jump suit. I assumed that these must be the Mormon temple clothes and wondered if we were suppose to see him walking around in this uniform. He seemed comfortable though and directed us to the right room.

The ceremony was interesting and we liked the idea of making baptism a special ceremony rather than a part of a regular church service. As part of the baptism ceremony we sang a number of 19th Century Protestant style hymns. The style of the music was familiar to my wife and I, who both grew up singing hymns but the tunes and the words were familiar. One of them stood out to us because it sounded really sing-songy. I believe it was called “Families Can Stay Together”.

A number of people spoke about the meanings and significance of baptism. One elderly man talked about how the next day the Holy Ghost would be given to the young woman who would be baptized. He also talked about how important it was not to go anywhere that the Holy Ghost could not follow. This talk stood out to us as how theologically different Evangelical and Mormon beliefs are.

Our understanding of the Holy Spirit is that he can not be contained or controlled. He moves in and through who ever He chooses. So it was quite foreign to us to hear people talking about controlling who and when they would give the Holy Ghost to. But this was not what most rattled us. We have a deep belief that the Holy Spirit pursues people and calls out for them in all places and in all situations. It’s when people are often in their deepest sin that they hear from God the loudest. We certainly agree that sin can get in the way of hearing from God, but we would never express an idea that there is any place on earth that God can not go and transform people.

As an example of this, our church has two satellite services every week in a bar. Our church has serious space and seating issues. In an effort to create space we have a number of satellite services. Two of these services are at a bar (which is closed on Sundays). Quite intentionally, the church leadership sought out space in a bar recognizing that there are a number of people who will not cross the threshold of a church. But these same people start warming up to the idea of a worship service in a bar because it immediately tells them that there is something different about this group of people than what they’ve experienced in the past. We believe that the gospel message is so powerful that it has the power to transform even a night club into a place where God can be worshiped and lives can be changed. (there is a lot more that can be said about the sacred and the profane which I’ll save for later).

Hearing that when people are most desperate a downtrodden, their cries to God may not be heard made us shutter.

A couple of weeks later we attended a Sunday morning service. The sanctuary reminded me of a great number of Bible-First Protestant churches, which have stripped way all decoration and anything that might distract from the reading of the Word. It surprised me how much I missed seeing a cross at the front of the room. The church service featured Elementary kids reciting scripture verses and singing songs. Probably not the service we would have chosen to go to, but you can learn a lot based on what kids are learning.

The first Sunday School class we attended as a couple. It took a little bit for the class to begin. The missionaries had to go find the teacher for the class and invite a couple of more people to join so that we wouldn’t be the only ones in the class. The lesson was on the atonement which the teacher dryly read directly out of a manual. At one point the teacher started crying for no particular reason which was very uncomfortable. I looked around and no one seemed to think this was out of the ordinary, but I was tempted to stop him and see if everything was okay. Being a visitor I decided to go with the flow. After the lesson there was some discussion. A woman (who had something to do with the Relief Society) said something like “now I know that the Atonement didn’t happen on the cross.” My inner bells and whistles started to go off and when I mentioned it to my later, wife she said she hadn’t even heard the comment. I decided not to debate that particular issue but did end up answering a number of questions about the Bible.

In the next Sunday School class we were separated by gender. The lesson was on the evils of pornography. The teacher read a letter from Salt Lake City that made it quite clear that this was a problem within the membership of the church. The discussion that followed seemed to put the problem back on those outside of the church and the need to protect children. This disappointed me, but did not surprise me. It is a defense mechanism I’ve seen Evangelicals employ numerous times when any discussion of sin starts to hit too close to home. I know from my own experience with discipleship and men’s issues that easily 25% of the men in that room had looked at pornography within the last week. So I was sad to see, in yet another religious context, where vulnerability and accountability were needed, the faithful point the finger away from their own need for holiness and repentance. (and if I’m not making it clear, I’ve seen this happen among Evangelicals many many times as well).

After the class we met a number of people individually. The question that kept coming up was “where do you live?” People seemed inordinately interested in our exact address. But aside from the discomfort of answering that question a number of times we met a number of very nice people who were often shocked to find out we were not Mormons.

Why I Love the Cross

I don’t wear a cross around my neck. I don’t hang one in my room. I don’t by t-shirts or artwork that predominantly features the cross. But I love the cross. I think the image of the cross is one of the most powerful symbols in the world and that it would only be the church’s loss to discontinue promoting the cross.

A cross in and of itself doesn’t prove anything. It’s foolish to assume someone wearing a cross is a Christian, or to even assume that a church is doctrinally sound because they have a cross (have you ever seen a cross being used by Scientologist? It’s the weirdest thing, they don’t even think of themselves as Christian). I don’t need to get into the many horrible things that have been done in the name of the cross.

There’s a general cultrual LDS bias against the cross. I’ve never seen anyone explain the prohibition via LDS canon. You will never see a cross inside or outside of a ward house or temple. On rare occasions you’ll encounter an LDS wearing a cross as jewelry, but it’s rare. Some say it’s because LDS believe that the atonement happened in the Garden, but as far as I can tell that’s up for quite a bit of open debate even amoung LDS. About the clearest argument against using a cross that I’ve heard goes something like: “If Jesus had died in an electric chair would you hang that around your neck? Why glorify a torture device.”

And that is exactly the point. Jesus’ act on that cross was so profound and powerful, that not only did it save humanity from sin, it even transformed a symbol of fear and tyranny into and object of beauty. What the Romans devised to strict terror into the hearts of men, is now something people look to for strength and encouragement. As Paul says, he used their own cross to make a spectacle out of them (and not just the Romans). Col. 2:15

That’s what Christ does. He takes what is vile and depraved and transforms it into something beautiful and mighty. That is why I love the cross.