Sunday, August 28, 2016

Are Mormons Christian? Not really.....

While I was preparing for my group meeting before my second shift of work on Tuesday, my colleague told me about her day, mentioning that her young siblings had awoken her before she had liked. She concluded by saying "Some days you can only be so Christian" to which I remarked "Mormons are not Christians." This remark, like others I have made, was not met with enthusiasm and endorsement, but rather a general scorn and an asking to explain my position. I remarked that the time was too brief to give an explanation, but that I would write one out on my blog. So here it is.

I have been interested in the relationship of Christianity and Mormonism for quite some time, perhaps beginning when I was tracting (knocking doors) with the missionaries who taught me and remembering an encounter we had with an elderly woman who after answering the door said "I am a Christian", to which Elder Kidman responded "Well, we are Christians too." The response surprised me because it seemed that Christians and Mormons were theologically fundamentally opposed to each other, but I did not raise the objection at the time.

My friend Scott Dodge, who is a former Mormon and now a Roman Catholic deacon once remarked to me "There is no greater question than knowing who God is." That is particularly true of the Mormon-Christian dialogue because neither Mormons or Christians are questioning (at least not as a whole) whether or not God exists; that question is already presupposed to be that he does in fact exist. The real question is what are the attributes and nature of this being. All other questions, such as the nature of the Church, priesthood, scriptural interpretation, ethics, etc, flow out of who and what God is.

It would be impossible to cover all the differences between the beliefs of Mormons and Christians in a blog post; that is a book length work. Rather, I am going to present 3 things: 1) Who God is according to Christianity 2) Who God is according to Mormonism 3) Conclude whether or not Mormons are Christians, and to present how our interfaith dialogue should proceed.

1) Who is God according to Christianity? I should state outright that by Christianity I mean Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and the various denominations that fall under the Protestant label. While they differ on some matters of theology, their view of God is summed up nicely in the Nicene Creed:
"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."
So, according to this creed, Christians believe in one God and like Islam and Judaism are a monotheistic religion. Also, it is important to note a few things about this God that are of fundamental importance to Christians. First, according to Christianity, God is much like the Greek philosopher Plato's Form of the Good, meaning that God is the fundamental reality of the existence. To break it down a little further, in Christianity God is not a being; rather he is being itself. If that seems hard to understand, then you are in the right place because as Augustine of Hippo said "If you understand, that is not God."

In addition to being being itself, it is important to note the attributes of God include omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (being everywhere), omnibenevolent (all-loving), and omniscient (all-knowing). Since God is being itself, it follows that God is not created and exists independently of his creation, and is therefore ontologically distinct from his creation in the relationship of creator-creation. God also creates things out of nothing, because apart from God nothing exists. This means that Christians answer the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz question "Why is there something rather than nothing" as "Because God creates things."

The God of Christianity is an un-embodied mind, meaning that God is not human or humanoid. Because of this, it may be inappropriate to call God "he", "she", or "it" because those words apply to beings, but remember that God is not a being among many,God is being itself. Also, God has always been and always will be God according to Christianity; there never was a time he came into existence or did not exist.

These are the fundamental properties of the God of Christianity that are shared by various sects of Christianity, although they may differ on other matters about God's nature such as whether God is timeless (Boethius) or everlasting (Wolterstorff).

2) Who is God according to Mormonism? While Mormons often say they do not have a creed, they do in fact have one called The Articles of Faith, which like the creeds of Christendom sum up basic Mormon beliefs. According to the first article of faith:
We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
It appears on the surface that Mormons and Christians believe in something similar, but keep in mind that this view of God is not fleshed out well. To get a better understanding of the Mormon doctrine of God, we will need to turn to Joseph Smith, Jr. In one of his finals sermons called the King Follett Sermon Smith declared:
 "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another."
 "It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did"
 "Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power."
Ok, lets break that down. While the Christian God is synonymous with Plato's Form of the Good, the God of Mormonism is closer to the Demiurge described in Plato's Timaeus; a being who descends upon matter and organizes it rather than creates it. In fact the word "create" is one that does not truly apply in Mormonism because matter rather than God is what is eternal. While the God of Christianity is supernatural, God in Mormonism is natural and Mormons are materialists and naturalists unlike their Christian counterparts.

While God is being itself in Christianity, in Mormonism God is a being among many and is not ontologically distinct from his creation. Further, Mormons are polytheists, they believe in many Gods while Christianity believes in only one. While God is being itself in Christianity, God is a PhD student in Mormonism; he begins as matter, he is organized into a humanoid, he learns things until he advances to the station of a God, and then he repeats the cycle among the organisms he then designs later. Thus Mormons are theological Darwinists rather than classical theists.

It is a matter of dispute among Mormons whether or not God truly has the attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence, and omniscience, but most would agree with LDS theologian and apostle Orson Pratt that in the process of becoming a God God acquires these attributes, while some like LDS president Brigham Young postulate an open theism that says that there are things God does not know and that he progresses in knowledge.

To sum up both positions, lets have a review. The God of Christianity is one God in three persons known as the Trinity, he is self-existent, has all power, all knowledge, loves all, is uncreated, and is being itself. The God of Mormonism is one among many, is contingent (meaning he could not exist), is embodied, came to be God, is a man, and people on Earth now can become Gods. In short, these conceptions of God are fundamentally opposed to each other.

3) It follows logically that if you do not worship the same God that you are not the same religion. Mormons are fundamentally non-Christian and are closer to the materialism and naturalism of Epicurus and David Hume than they are to the non-materialism of Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo. The only way for Mormons to be Christian are for them to state that they alone are Christans, and in truth this is really what Mormons do believe. The fundamental claim of Mormonism is that after the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the teachings of the Church he founded were corrupted by Platonic philosophy, and were wrong until the Restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith. This is the standard narrative taught by LDS missionaries worldwide.

If you want further proof that Mormons believe this, take into account the fact that if a Christian wishes to become Mormon, they must be re-baptized. Why? Because Mormons believe that they alone are Christians. If they truly believed that others were Christian, they would accept their baptism and just have them make a profession of faith as other Christian sects do. For instance, if a Baptist once to become a Roman Catholic, baptism is not required because the Baptist is a Christian already, they are just coming into communion with another Church by converting.

The thirteenth Article of Faith states:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
In order to be honest, you must clearly state what you believe, and honesty is the best avenue to have fruitful interfaith dialogue. In order for this to happen, Mormons will need to be honest and say that they are a separate religion from Christians, be straightforward about their materialistic and polytheistic beliefs, and honest that they alone are the vehicle of salvation and exaltation, even if other faiths do much good. We cannot move forward unless we are strictly honest.

If I have misrepresented Mormonism or Christianity, please feel free to comment and correct me (respectfully) and I will address my error.


2 comments:

  1. The problem is the lack of clarity in the definition of Christianity. If the question is, are you a follower of Jesus of the New Testament, (regardless of how literally you take the bible) then Mormons are Christians with all the other denominations. This is what most Mormons think the question is asking. But, most members of other denominations are asking if we accept the creeds as doctrine when they ask if we are Christians. We do not. So the answer, in that context, is no.

    In general, members of the church would do well to A) not respond to "Are you Christian" with yes or no until after the asker has defined what he or she means by Christian (Follower or Christ? or Creedal Christian?) and B) know their early church history and the bible (and I mean in the meridian of time, not in the 1800s) well enough to understand where the two groups split apart so we can discuss it intelligently.

    I think it's a situation where we need to be okay with acknowledging both our similarities and our differences in respectful manners. Focusing on one or the other leads to less productive conversations.

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  2. I agree Mormons and Christians should be respectful of one another. Being respectful requires honesty however. And the truth of the matter is that Mormons and Christians are in very different camps. One believes in one God, the other in many Gods. It is best to say we are different faiths with some shared tenets, like Islam and Christianity.

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