My final thoughts in this series on Mormonism are excerpted from a recent letter to a young Mormon Evangelist whom I have not heard back from since posting it. Since Mormons base their apologetic on a well rehearsed and scripted narrative, any direct challenge to, or deviation from, that script is certain to evoke not robust rebuttal but generally a retreat from the debate. For the good Mormon faith is necessarily divorced from reason, or shall I say that the two things are hermetically “compartmentalized” out of fear that latter might somehow contaminate the former.
My arguments were presented to a “Miss Young,” a devout youthful Mormon engaged in doing the standard two years of missionary work. They are are as follows:
“The reason I hesitated to reply to your communications sooner is that I needed time to more thoroughly research and try to understand the fundamental principles of your religion. The first principle the Mormon Church seems to hold is a reliance on the Bible as its primary source of faith. This primary source was then added to, and further complemented, through modern day prophecies, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and various writings of Joseph Smith, the first and still most credible prophet among Mormons. Joseph Smith lived in a historical time period known as the Second Great Awakening. If you know anything about that era of Christian revival then you will appreciate Mormonism itself as a counter-response to that groundswell of great religious fervor and tumult in England and America.
“Joseph Smith was apparently a keen observer of his society, and was able to judge the spirit of those times accurately. What he observed was a type of Christianity that proffered a gloomy, Puritanical spiritualism inherited from classic Protestantism. The genius of Smith was his ability to offer a positive alternative to that dour Calvinist heritage, obsessed with sin and predestination. Joseph Smith gave his followers a fresh religious perspective grounded in robust earthiness, positive energy, and limitless optimism. This approach has proved to be a winning formula even to the present day, attested to by the growth and success of the Mormon Church, even in our skeptical modern age.
“In order to better understand this cultural/religious phenomenon I have gone beyond the Book of Mormon itself to study later exegetical works such as Mormon Doctrine of Deity by Brigham H. Roberts, first published in 1903. Elder Roberts quotes extensively from Doctrines and Covenants as well as citing Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young, and Elder Orson Pratt so that I feel confident that this work accurately conveys the church’s core teachings and beliefs as they had settled out and come to be accepted by the turn of the 20th century. The first and foremost contention of all these foundational prophets and spokesmen is that the Mormon Church holds and teaches a Biblical perspective on Christianity. The insistence that Mormons are Christians, and indeed the purest strain of Christianity, is a point of almost sacred honor in all their writings, speeches, prophecies, etc. Furthermore, that Christian identity is based upon strict adherence to the Bible and Biblical principles. This salient point only creates conflicts, however, when weighed against actual Mormon doctrines.
“For instance, in a discourse shortly before his death, Joseph Smith stated on 16 June, 1844, “I will preach the plurality of Gods… these three (Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Ghost) constitute three distinct personages and three Gods. (italics mine) The doctrine of a plurality of Gods is as prominent in the Bible as any other doctrine.” The fact that this particular “doctrine” of Joseph Smith stands in stark contradiction to 3,700 years of consistent, unbroken Jewish and Christian belief in monotheism did not seem to deter him. In fact the “oneness” of God is a primary and binding principle of Judaism known as the Great Shema: “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord:” (Deut. 6:4) Yet Smith’s doctrine of plural divinity seems a radical departure from this long held and cherished Jewish and Christian understanding of God. Such a radical departure from a core doctrine of Christianity would seem to preclude any valid claim to being “a part of” the Christian tradition.
“Not only did Joseph Smith unambiguously proclaim his Polytheism openly but he re-defined the very nature of God and His relationship to mankind in a very non-Biblical sense. I quote him from Nauvoo. Illinois on 7 April 1844. “The mind, or the intelligence which man possesses is co-eternal with God himself. I might with boldness proclaim from the housetops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all… The spirit of man is not a created being; it existed from eternity, and will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be eternal: and earth, water, etc. had their existence in an elementary state, from eternity.”
“Here the prophet, Joseph Smith, give a very odd construction to the Biblical narrative. Is man really co-eternal with God or did Joseph Smith confuse the term “eternal,” meaning to have neither a beginning nor an end, with “aeveternal” which means to have a beginning but no end? Immortal beings, such as angels, fall in this second category. Immortal, in other words, is not synonymous with the eternal. The distinction is crucial because Mormon apologists insists that anything which has a beginning will cease to exist at some point. Christianity does not hold to such a premise because God, being omnipotent, is able to hold His creation in existence indefinitely if He so chooses. But the God of Joseph Smith is not an omnipotent being because Smith claims that, “God never had the power to create the spirit of man…” Again, Christianity and Mormonism disagree on a crucial doctrine.
“Mormon doctrine advocated a crude scientific Materialism of the sort very much in vogue during the 19th century, and continues today. Unlike modern agnostic scientists though, Mormonism ascribes material attributes to God himself, “God the Father is material.” (quoted from Prophet, 24 May, 1845) Mormon leaders justify this divine materiality by referring to the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation as evidence. In fact, such an interpretation is a corruption of St. John’s Incarnational revelation, “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” (Jn. 1:14) John’s text clearly indicates that Christ was not a material being before this key event but that he assumed human flesh only “after the fact.” Nor does the Son of God’s willing assumption of mortal flesh for mankind’s salvation imply that the Father is also a carnal being. In fact such a novel interpretation defies 2,000 years of consistent Christian understanding regarding both the Trinity and the Incarnation.
“President Brigham Young later weighed in against that perennial Christian doctrine by insisting, “the Father, after he had once been in the flesh, and lived as we live, obtained his exaltation… as the scriptures teach. It is all here in the Bible. I am not telling you a word but what is in that book.” He further asserts, “He is a being of the same species as ourselves: he lives as we do, except for the difference that we are earthly and he is heavenly. He has been earthly, and is of precisely the same species of being that we are. (Brigham Young, 8 Feb. 1857) I am incredulous as to where President Young discovered such an opinion as God the Father possessing a fleshly body from any reading of the Bible. And how could the omnipotent God ever be reduced to such a dependent subcategory as “species” based, even remotely, on the actual Biblical texts? The very notion is preposterous. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible to rationally support such a far-fetched hypothesis.
“Mormonism also contradicts both Judaism and Christianity by postulating a kind of “conveyor belt” polytheism where new proto-Gods forever line up to get on that ladder (to use Joseph Smith’s metaphor) which leads one up and onward to deification through some unexplained process of “exaltation.” The only difference I can distinguish between Mormon polytheism and pagan polytheism is that, in the Mormon understanding, it is sequential, whereas pagans worship their gods side by side, contemporaneously.
“The Mormon doctrine of deity reminds one of Hegel’s dialectical process in which a plurality of Gods are ever caught up in a process of “becoming” rather than a single God existing as “pure Act” ~ which is the long accepted Christian understanding of deity . Part of the problem is undoubtedly Mormonism’s improper understanding of time. Eternity, where God exists, lies somewhere outside of linear time, it is not a function of it. Eternity, by definition, has no beginning and no end. Time, as we experience it, has a definite beginning (and a probable ending). The Mormon metaphysic, as it regards eternity, has more in common with the Hindu “wheel of life” than it does with the Christian “Alpha and Omega.”
“Concerning another point of doctrine, regarding marriage, Mormonism teaches that husbands and wives can be “sealed unto eternity” in a temple ceremony. This flatly contradicts Christ’s own admonition on the subject, “Do not be mistaken, because you know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels which are in heaven.” (Mk. 12:24,25) Here again a doctrine espoused by the Mormon church stands in flat contradiction to the very words of Christ as recorded in the very Bible that Mormons profess to hold as unimpeachable truth.
“One final thought. I find it fascinating that Joseph Smith and his followers placed such great emphasis on the idea of mortals “becoming Gods.” If you care to pick up your Bible and read the third chapter of Genesis you will come across these lines. “And the serpent said to the woman, Ye surely shall not die. For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4,5) The very temptation that first led to the fall of man from God’s grace is the very same promise that Joseph Smith makes his followers, echoing the serpent’s own words, “ýe shall be as Gods.” That Smith did not mean this in the same sense that St. John did when he wrote, “We shall be like him; for we shall see Him as He is,” (1Jn. 3:2) is evidenced by Joseph Smith’s insistence that “the mind of man is co-eternal with God himself.” St. John is speaking only of man’s future glory, but to be co-eternal means to have been equal to God from the very beginning, something quite repugnant to the evangelist and a concept hostile to several millennia of Judaeo Christian beliefs.
“Though I may have no quarrel with the Mormon church holding whatever doctrines it may choose, I strongly object to its claim to represent the only authentic and un-corrupted form of Christianity, By putting on this cosmetic “Christian” face, Mormonism sacrifices its very own credibility due to a decided lack of doctrinal transparency. The very appellation “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints” is intentionally misleading because that church openly misinterprets and misrepresents the true Gospel of Jesus Christ as plainly revealed in Sacred Scripture.
“I am perfectly willing to give the Mormon church high marks for the virtuous lives of its individual members. Mormons that I have personally known have been honest, upright, hard-working people and truly deserving of respect. Based on that record of moral probity I commend your church leaders for instilling such an elevated sense of integrity among their members. But I firmly believe that your official church doctrines only mislead the faithful and need to be thoroughly re-evaluated in an authentic Christian light. This would be a great act of charity to those members of the Mormon church who hope one day to arrive at the fullness of truth.
“Just some food for thought. Thank you and may the One and Only Triune God bless you.”
Francis J. Pierson +a.m.d.g.