A brief account of my conversion to “half-Protestantism”

I plan to post more on this but this is a brief response to Ray, who asked about my conversion from atheism to what I call “half-Protestantism” Another way of putting it is this, while I was a Mormon, I felt that the Spirit was representative of God. I lost faith in a personal creator of the universe when I determined that all we know about God is myth, not fact. I recognized the Spirit as a special kind of intuition, but not necessary the source of “truth” only more myth. In this philosophical move, I lost all faith in Mormonism. I think you could call me an atheist because I denied the existence of God, mainly because I did not think that whatever  caused the world was sufficiently definable to be called a “thing”.  In other words, I did not think I believe in God made any sense without a sensible definition of God, and I did not believe that any definition of God I had heard made sense.

In November I accepted that there is a fact that is also the deepest mystery that yielded the world, I accepted this fact as God. I sought to sort out what that meant, including trying to determine if it made sense to call God a “person” or a “father” i.e. whether those sorts of myths meant anything at all in light of science and philosophy. I started thinking about what could be behind the myth of the love of God. I posted this about Mormonism and the love of God and the Mormon approach to theology.

While in this process of coming to terms with how I could sensibly talk about God it dawned on me how unique orthodox Christianity was in concept with regard to virtue, sin, and redemption,and the world. I began to think that if the love of God means anything at all it is a means of escape from the torments we face in the world that came from God. I recognized that it was unquestionably that there were experiences of reconciliation where justified guilt turns to joy in the human mind without rationalization.  When I accepted this as a fact, the same experience happened to me, I felt joy.  At root the joy did not come from a spiritual experience, it was from the real recognition that the guilt that hung over my life was, in reality, somehow redeemed.

In my past religious life, I have experienced such joy in the context of spiritual experiences, but I recognized that the joy I now felt was not a spiritual feeling brought on by prayer, but a simple fact of reality that I had failed to see before.  It was similar to when I first grasped calculus, but in this case it seemed to allow a solution for any problem of the soul.

I consider myself a “half-Protestant” because I accept what the New Testament was talking about as reality, i.e. the fact of Christ. I also believe the New Testament reliably points the mind to this fact.  I am only “half” Protestant because although I am clear on the redemption of the soul, I am still unsure on the other half of the Gospel, i.e. the redemption of the world.

Whatever new light or insight I now have is similar to what I had as an LDS, but I think contemporary LDS teaching does not make the fact of Christ clear to most of its members in a way that they can readily explain it or talk about it.  In this sense I think LDS are just bad Protestants, i.e. they do not clearly repeat the proclamation of the New Testament even though they proclaim it as the Word of God.

How accurate are your myths? –The Curious Case of Transubstantiation

In a friendly effort to get my friend SlowCowboy to eat his words regarding the importance of the doctrine of transubstantiation, I also want to present my case for a “Great Apostasy” during the very earliest history of the church.

There was quite a bit of discussion about  transubstantiation because Gnostic Docetists were being theologically cast out for taking the doctrine of transubstantiation too seriously. They didn’t take the bread and the water because they did not believe that Christ could be present in the bread and water because Christ was completely separate from the world. The doctrine that the bread and the water were also the Christ makes a very deep philosophical (not spiritual) point that the Gnostics Docetists were not getting. i.e. that the substance of Christ was before us and actually present, even inside of us.  This is perhaps a stronger point than “the Kingdom of God is in our midst” but it is really quite breathtaking as far as theology goes. The doctrine of transubstantiation allowed people to explain their faith accurately to pagan peoples.

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Failing LDS-Evangelical Dialogue: “Was it the Holy Spirit telling you something? Or last night’s pizza?”

TheOldAdam, (aka Steve Martin) is the indomitable Lutheran delegate to this blog.  Over the years he has attempted to demonstrate that when it comes to certain good news, repetition can never be redundancy. As much as I sincerely appreciate the charm of theOldAdam’s message, I think he gets the LDS wrong in a very common and egregious way, i.e. by completely mis-characterizing the LDS view of the Holy Spirit.

I have tried to point to my view of the LDS understanding of the experience of the Spirit hereherehere and here, but my recent exchange with theOldAdam seems like he missed these points and it might be worth reiterating how the LDS view and the Lutheran view of the Holy Spirit are, in principle, nearly identical. It went like this:

Jared C. (Me): . . .  Mormons believe they are following the Holy Spirit and place faith in that as primal. Whatever the membership classify as common experiences with the Spirit ultimately dictate the social facts that make up doctrine. This is why some doctrines stick and others don’t, regardless of whether they are taught by the leadership.

 theOldAdam: Once again, a dubious exercise (following the Spirit)…since apart from the gospel and God’s law…”the devil can come to us all dressed up as an angel of light” (Moroni). As St. Paul said, “Even if an angel from Heaven come down with another gospel, let him be accursed.”

Me: This really makes no sense oldadam, the Holy Spirit is an integral part of any Christian life, no?

theOldAdam: What is the job of the Holy Spirit? We believe that it is to point to Christ. Not to lead us off into self-focused ladder-climbing, or experiential feelings which we cannot trust in. Was it the Holy Spirit telling you something? Or last night’s pizza?

This sort of talk always makes me shake my head. This is one of the oldest of chestnuts flung at Mormons by Evangelicals and the like: i.e. that Mormons are misguided by their emotions rather than reason because they believe in following the Spirit.

Whatever differences the LDS and Evangelicals have, it really makes no sense to say that the LDS believe substantially differently about the Holy Spirit. The OldAdam and other Lutherans wishing to speak intelligently with Mormons should take note that Mormons share the same view of the Holy Spirit: i.e. that the Holy Spirit it is the source of all scripture, and that – according to one celebrated angel – its purpose is to point Jesus. (Revelation 19:10.)

For Mormons, like most other Christians, do not believe that following the Spirit is following a human feeling at all.  “Experiential feelings” may be product of an experience with the Spirit, but not the experience itself.  The phenomena of feeling is simply the product of experience. If theOldAdam rejects the practice of trusting experiential feelings is foolish, then it’s difficult to imagine why he believes anything at all.

And the argument that Mormons are somehow not Christian because they believe in “self-focused ladder climbing” also seems like a strange argument coming from a bible believer. Mormons do, indeed, believe in the value of righteous acts committed through actively following the Spirit in faith. And, from time to time, dress themselves “in fine linen, clean and white”, to symbolize what God gave them to wear when Jesus comes again. As the voice of the Spirit pointed out, fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people. (Revelation 19: 8) However “self-focused” it may be by some estimations to wear pure white clothing, it is indisputably engaging in biblical symbolism. In the context of this symbolism, Mormons do not believe they earned their “fine linens”. The garments are literally given to them by the Lord’s servant, as a consequence of tendering a broken heart and contrite spirit, and in preparation for the Second Coming. Even though many Mormons misinterpret these symbols, this is not a knock on the “Mormon Gospel” but only on its adherents.

If Lutherans and other Evangelicals want to actually bring more LDS into the light of the Holy Spirit that testifies of Jesus, it seems far more practical and friendly to reinforce the biblical basis for the LDS temple and baptismal symbolism rather than to mock them for participating in these sorts of symbolic exercises.  (This strategy also seems less ridiculous to the outside observer.)

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?

Filling the Gaps in the Divine Game of Telephone

When Protestants attack the LDS prophet model there is often an exchange where LDS point out how the process of compiling the bible is as open to the same failings as the LDS model of venerating the words of prophets and forming scripture.   In the previous post, Tim and Seth (and I) got into an exchange regarding the similarity between the belief that a prophet won’t lead the church astray and the position that the Bible is inerrant.

As I see it, Mormons and Protestants have the same rough model of receiving information from God:

1. God uses spiritual experience or historical events to convey messages to people

2. People (lets call them prophets) have these experiences and witness these events.

3. Prophets speak about these experiences and events.

4. Authors write down what the prophets speak.

5. Scripture is chosen from the available writings of these authors.

6. Interpreters/Preachers explain the scripture.

Even if you believe that the God does reveal things to people and everybody in the process is acting conscientiously, there seems to be editing in every step of the process:

1. A prophet doesn’t always say (or can put into words) everything he feels/thinks. He might not be able to understand all of it.

3. Not everything prophets say is clear because some people are not as smart, analytical or eloquent as others.

4. Not everything every biblical prophet said, (especially Jesus) was written down.

5. Writings could be lost, mis-copied, or left out by compilers of the canon.

6. Not every scripture is considered equally important or worthy of focus by preachers/interpreters.

This editing occurs with regards to every biblical event and every prophet or revelator and is compounded in the Bible because there are so many events, authors and revelators.

I have always had a hard time with trusting this sort of process for a full or final picture of what God is offering people.  Even if everyone is acting with complete honesty and integrity, without a belief that God is intimately involved in every step of the process ( a belief that is not justified by the biblical text) you have to expect significant gaps.

The beauty of the LDS model is that it acknowledges these gaps and has a way of correcting it (at least in principle), i.e. by continuing clarification and revelation from God.

However LDS have not reconciled the real problem because when it comes to modern prophets and scripture, they do not have a principled or consistent way of delineating what makes the cut and should be focused on by the current teachers/interpreters.  Right now it almost comes down to a purely authoritarian/military model of whoever is in charge is in control of the editing.

Protestants deal with the the problem of the mess  in the early stages by arbitrarily eliminating it and leaving everything to the interpreters.  They set the canon as the only (and complete) explanation we have from God. However they have the problem of explaining why the current Bible is not suffering from gaps and has no need of continuing the kludgy cycle of receiving and interpreting messages from God.   I can understand the concept of using past revelation as a benchmark, but postulating that the bible is complete or completely correct seems quite a stretch.  Of course this “solution” simply ignores all of the problems up to stage 5, but it at least gives some common ground to judge various interpretations.

Without some sort of explanation that is more than simply an article of faith, its hard to see where Protestant biblical interpreters and Mormon Prophets/interpreters have the ability to come up with ultimate answers that are more trustworthy than seeking personal experience with God.

So, I am actually looking for answers for myself here and would be interested in what believers have to say:

What would you say to convince me that either the Mormon or the Protestant answer is more trustworthy?

How do you resolve the obvious problems with the chain of communication, and why is that resolution satisfying?

 

Got Fruits? (if so, then what?)

In response to my last post an ex-Mormon, Evangelical teenager, Richard, come pretty strong and hard in expressing his reasoning from scripture that Mormons hate God and don’t understand him. He argued specifically that I was blind to the “Real” truth, qouting this scripture:

1 Corinthians 2:14 : But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

Kullervo  (in his typical understated manner) responded to Richard and suggested that Richard’s approach was evidence that, according to Christianity, it didn’t seem that his religion was really inspired by The Spirit:

Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance”

Now at this point in my spiritual quest it would be hard to classify me as either a Mormon or a traditional Christian by my  partly because of my “lifestyle” and partly because of my eccentric theology but I think the idea that we can find out what is good by examining the fruit.   Love, joy, peace, gentleness are things I that I can sink my teeth into.  It’s experience rather than abstraction. Something that even atheists may understand.  Real proof . . .

QUESTIONS REMAIN

Of course the question is, is this an appropriate way of going about discerning what is of God from either the Mormon or Evangelical (or any other) perspective?

Does lack of these fruits demonstrate a failure to be “fully” Christian?

Do fruits of the Spirit demonstrate a closeness to the Spirit regardless of theology?

If I feel the Spirit and experience its fruits outside of either Mormonism or Evangelical Christianity, maybe even to a greater degree than I have experienced it in those contexts what conclusions can i draw?

Why do we believe the implausible? – Do we have to in order to be good Christians?

Questions concerning why or whether we should believe in implausible things that lack evidence come up tangentially in many threads on this blog. They often comes up when people are trying to show that that the Book of Mormon is not believable because it has stuff in it that is at odds with current understanding of archeology or history.  At risk of starting another boring discussion of archeological evidence , I am genuinely curious about in these questions and how believers answer them.

I think it is clear that both LDS and Evangelicals (1) believe things to be true that are historically very implausible and (2) believe these things without the type of objective evidence that is generally accepted as required to establish historically implausible things, and (3) believe that its extremely important to believe these things to be true, despite there implausibility and lack of objective evidence.

When it comes to my questions, it is irrelevant what specifically these beliefs are are and I think its probably counterproductive to compare lists, even if one religion had a longer list, there is are things on each or their lists of implausibilities that are important and maybe even critical to the religion.

It seems that in order to be a strong member of either group you cannot take the position of agnosticism even when there is barely any of evidence to justify belief.    It seems that in order to be a strong follower you need to overlook the lack of evidence and embrace some things as doctrine (e.g. Inerrancy of the Bible, the divine power behind the translation of the Book of Mormon, or even the Resurrection).

Apologetics of course is the activity of making these implausibilities seem more plausible, or at least not silly, but they seem to be more of an afterthought rather than the primary ground of most people’s belief.  Without some other ground to believe, it seems that there is no compelling reason to engage in apologetics.  However should our faith fail if our apologetics do?

So, arise the questions:

A. Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?

B. On what basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible?

C. Can you be a good Christian if you are not willing to accept some things that are unsupportably implausible?

D. Do Mormons and Evangelicals answer these questions differently?