Monday, November 01, 2010

Several difficulties with Mormonism

I enjoy studying religions.  I have been involved in a number over the decades including Catholic, Presbyterian, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, and Baptist.  I have explored Lutheranism, Methodism and Independent/non-denominational sects.   Of course, the reason why there are so many thousand denominations is because of differences in Bible interpretation or points of doctrine that are felt to be so critical as to cause schism and formation of new denominations. 

And the reason why various sects earn the title of “cult” is simply because they have strayed away from the main stream definition of orthodoxy which primarily relates to how the Godhead is defined, the role of Jesus in salvation, and whether any alternative or supplemental scripture is assumed sacred, meaning critical to the other major components of the faith.   The obvious non-orthodox religions that have violated orthodox standards are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its permutations, and Christian Science.   Each fall short of orthodoxy in a number of ways, but are arguably still legitimately “Christian” in many ways.

Having explored and participated in Mormonism for a few years, I have appreciated many of the qualities of that faith system and its adherents.  However, as with any human attempt to understand the things of God, compounded by the fact that I, Human, don’t understand God perfectly, I interpret that that faith system falls short in a number of areas.  The Christian less tolerant than I will find a dozen other horribles of Mormonism.  But the four most important to me, important to the point of provoking my desire to avoid the practice, are these:

God’s role in creation was limited:  My understanding of Mormon teaching of God’s role in creation is that God merely formed pre-existing mass into his creation.  He did not create everything – he did not create the formless matter.  Who did?  Another greater unknown God?  The reality is that God is the sole creator of everything, including the formless matter that he formed into his creation.

Disobedience was required by God to enable human progression:  My understanding of Mormon teaching of the role of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden is that God required disobedience in order for humans to progress, becoming aware of pain, joy, good and evil.  While the orthodox view also has its problems (it appears that God had to implement his Plan “B”, the sacrifice of His Son, to atone for human failure in the Garden), the Mormon version that requires human disobedience of God’s commands in order to progress, is counterintuitive to the character of God, and seems even worse than "Plan “B”. 

Second class citizenship in heaven for those not “sealed”:  The “sealing” of marriages and other rituals based on certain standards on earth is required to ascend to the highest levels in heaven. While Mormons don’t attach any other criteria except baptism and belief in Jesus Christ to attain heaven, their class system once we get there is very works oriented.  I suppose the Mormon system attempts to provide advance information about the level we achieve in heaven, while the orthodox system leaves such placement entirely up to God.  I would rather be surprised.

Elements of Mormonism akin to elements of Islam:  There are several elements of Mormonism that are eerily similar to Islam.  One big one is the arrival of a new prophet (Joseph Smith/Muhammad) who creates new Scripture (Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants/Qur’an, Sura, Hadith) that reinterprets the Old and New Testaments.  Granted, there are many more dissimilarities than similarities.  But the similarities I mentioned seem enough to create strange bedfellows between the leadership of the LDS church and leadership of American Muslims.  The little bit of research I have done on this indicates that there is about the same degree of misplaced ecumenicalism promoted by Mormons with Muslims as there is promoted by mainline Christian denominations and Muslims.  Part of the reason is that the Mormon perception of Muslim persecution is sensitized by their own 19th century persecutions.  This sympathy blinds them to the fact the Islamic ties are not in their interest due to the historic, orthodox, and often deceptive disdain of Muslims toward Christians and their use of unsuspecting Christians as pawns to further their own supremacist interests.

My criteria in selecting a new church was seeking messages that not only accurately reflected orthodox Scriptural teaching, but just as importantly, applied it not just to personal lives, but to our culture and politics as well.  Part of this application included the comparison and contrast of Christianity with other belief systems such as Islam so that we have a collective understanding of the world around us – making us aware that not all is sweetness and light.  Mainline and Mormon denominations continue to remain oblivious.


Mike Tea said...

A very well observed and thoughtful commentary on Mormonism and on our times. I liked the idea that you had criteria by which you judged these things and are confident enough to use them without apology. Nice.

Valerie Elliott said...

You have applied your definition of “cult” to some specific Christian religions, including Christian Science. As a Christian Scientist of many years, I disagree.

The Christian Science church was “designed to commemorate the word and works of our Master [Jesus], which should reinstate primitive [original] Christianity and its lost element of healing.” * I don’t think you could get more traditional or established rules or beliefs than that for a Christian religion, meaning the original orthodoxy of Christianity.

Christian Scientists use the Bible as their guide, and use the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, written by Mary Baker Eddy, as their textbook. It doesn’t replace the Bible; it doesn’t deviate from the teachings of the Bible. It isn’t a translation. It is simply to help understand the Bible’s spiritual nature, which, in turn, helps anyone achieve a closer relationship to God, as Jesus so diligently worked to explain and demonstrate while he was on earth. It is also used in conjunction with the Bible in our weekly Bible lessons and sermons, when we read from the Bible, first, and then correlative passages are read from the textbook.

My experience is that this textbook elucidates the Bible more clearly than anything else that I have read or heard. As to the purpose of this religion/denomination to promote healing as Jesus originally taught, I and my family have experienced healings of numerous medically-diagnosed conditions, including those labeled “incurable”. Reading the textbook, visiting a Christian Science Reading Room and asking questions was the best thing I could have ever done.

I found your article interesting, but misleading – at least in the case of Christian Science. I hope my response helps explain why, using your definitions, it is not a cult.

*The Manual of the First Church of Christ, Scientist by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 17

Gerardo Moochie said...


I appreciate your comment.

I might have worded this statement "And the reason why various sects earn the title of “cult” ..." more accurately using the words "acquired" instead of "earned." In several instances the label of "cult" is not earned but is thrust upon a new or less orthodox interpretation of Scripture out of ignorance. By "orthodox" I mean the system of belief and practice that the universl Christian Church leaders and laymen have agreed upon over the centuries. Obviously the same level of belief and practice in spiritual healing as practiced by Christian Science is not part of the orthodox belief system; otherwise there would have been no reason for that additional sect to be created. Sometimes and ufortunately just a different 'emphasis' on points of doctrine results in a cult label.

My reference to so-called "cults" was in the sense of what is popularly considered as such by defenders of orthodox faiths and those who are less knowledgeable about Christianity in general. Christian Science is typically thrown in with JW's and Mormons as part of the "big three." That usage does not represent my view. I personnally don't hold to the position that any of these are "cults" in the negative sense that popular usage portrays.

In fact, I believe that label is thown around carelessly as a means to protect a narrow, exclusive interpretation, which is fine as long as such exclusivity does not become the basis for slandering other well-thought out Christian belief systems.

First century Christianity itself was very much considered a "cult" at the time, just as the early stages of the Tea Party movement today was probably thought of as a radical cult by progressives. Sometimes we just don't like something that is "different" from what we are used to or that upsets the status quo, and we won't take the time to understand and appreciate the reason for such differences. It is easier to use a disparaging term.

No, my reference to "cult" was intended in the sense as understood by our popular Christian culture as a means to introduce the topic, not to endorse the usage as applied to those three sects. Some even label the Cahtolic Church as a "cult" because of its reliance on one revered person, the Pope.

The rationale that is used to label a group a "cult" could be used to call a group a "cult" if they practice a different mode of baptism, or have a different opinion on whether or not baptism is necessary for salavation.

Better yet, instead of a broad brush use of the word "cult" we should be more precise by simply suggesting one denomination is less "orthodox" or "differs in these X number of points of doctrine." Careless use of the word "cult" is like using the word "bigot." The one who calls another "bigot" might himself be the bigot.