I spent quite a bit of time as a missionary seeking out Evangelicals to talk with. (I spent 8 months of my mission within a mile of Azusa Pacific University, and I would tract through the student housing for fun.) Most of the Evangelicals that I met approached me with one of two attitudes: (1) ridicule, and (2 ) fear. I have never felt anyone fear me like I have felt in the presence of some true-believing Evangelicals when I was a missionary. I can chalk some of this up to pure physical presence (I was 6″2, and built a sort of like a skinny orangutan) but I am not a particularly hostile person, and I had made it clear that I was there to learn from them if they were.
It seemed that most of the fear came when I expressed my faith with both confidence and demonstrated knowledge of the Bible. I seemed to be able to explain my faith better than they could, and in a more confident spirit. Because they “knew” I was wrong, this made them fear that they did not have the prowess or ability to correct me, so they simply wanted escape. They saw me as a representative of the devil, when I knew I was a representative of God. I knew I was not from the devil, I knew I was there to save them, and they seemed to fear the salvation on offer. Their fear made me think that the Gospel they believed in must be deeply confused.
Christian J, commented on my post about evolution. In light of the conversion experience I had in November, my eyes opened to a a real vacancy within current Mormon practice and how the Gospel is taught to children. There is something that most Mormons just don’t get, or at least they don’t talk like they get it. They are often very hostile to it. I believe that a big part of the problem is the LDS understanding of sin. I want to be clear that I think that the problem is not in the LDS scriptures, it is in what is taught in primary. Mormons describe sin as crime, i.e. intentional disobedience to a law. I think this is a fundamental mistake that has dangerous psychological ramifications. This recent conference talk “Avoiding the Trap of Sin” which I chose at random from the LDS website gives a absolutely run-of-the-mill-LDS description of sin. Elder Mazzagardi explains:
I asked my blue-eyed, cheerful, and innocent granddaughter how she was preparing for baptism.
She answered with a question: “Grandpa, what is sin?”
I silently prayed for inspiration and tried to respond as simply as I could: “Sin is the intentional disobedience to God’s commandments. It makes Heavenly Father sad, and its results are suffering and sadness.”
Clearly concerned, she asked me, “And how does it get us?”
The question first reveals purity, but it also reveals a concern for how to avoid involvement with sin.
Elder Mazzagardi gives a typical Mormon caveat about the “trap of sin” and points to how a child might avoid involvement in sin:
When I was a teenager, my curfew was 10:00 p.m. Today, that is the time some go out in order to have fun. Yet we know that it is at night that some of the worst things happen. It is during the dark hours that some youth go to places with inappropriate environments, where music and lyrics do not allow them to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Then, under these circumstances, they become easy prey to sin.
This teaching and counsel seems like commonsense to a Mormon, and it is absolutely typical of what is taught in church. Mormons should realize that from a Christian point of view, it is near madness. Believing that we can “avoid involvement in sin” is a misunderstanding of Christianity. Continue reading
C.S. Lewis, in accord with other heavy hitters of Christian apologetics, contend that the most incontrovertible tenant of Christianity is original sin. (However, my favorite exposition of this doctrine is, of course, found here.) Indeed, most all people have an internal moral compass, a conscience, that tells them that they fall short of perfection. Those people incapable of feeling guilt are considered the most dangerous and potentially monstrous of all humans. While I am not convinced that universal sin is “proven” by the facts, it is clear that most of the people we call good or conscientious would agree that falling short of internal and external aspirations is a common part of life. Falling short is part of life not simply because we are defective, it seems to be an ingrained part of being a human to recognize that we do not live up to what our consciences aspire to. Even those that are often completely blind to their own faults can usually point out the faults of others. This brings guilt, perhaps one of the most important defenses against barbarism, yet it also one of those things that invariably saps happiness and joy from life.
What Christianity brings to the table is forgiveness. Evangelists tells us: “In Christ you will be saved and forgiven, white as snow.” Where Evangelicalism and Mormonism diverge is how they dish up the meaty meal of forgiveness to the believer. (To be specific: I am talking about how the forgiveness of is felt and experienced, not about whether or not either approach is justified by scripture, revelation or theology.)