Friday, June 24, 2011

Why the LDS (Mormon) is a logical choice: The Trinity

What is the Trinity and what role does it play in our understanding of God? The Trinity is the very concept of the roles of God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost. It establishes some of the most fundamental doctrine of the Christian faiths. Whether you are an Evangelical, Catholic, Mormon, or Pentecostal the "Godhead" is one of the keystone doctrines of your belief. So why is it so difficult for so many people to understand let alone communicate. It never made since to me as young inquisitor. The separate but same just never jived and totally fell apart when I thought about how the different roles played out.

God scarified himself, to himself, to atone for sins He created us to commit? That sounds absurd. It always has. If we were created by God, and this world was created by God. Then every experience we have here is something that was set in motion by Him/Her. Yes, we make our own decisions and we are responsible for our own actions but we never asked to be placed in this no-win situation that would require a human sacrifice on our behalf. A sacrifice I never asked for but am responsible for. I am told that I have my own part in the driving of the nails into His hands.

I haven’t ever found this to be a coherent description and I haven’t ever found it a description that inspires awe or reverence. How can this be how we “understand” the God we worship and revere? Reading the Scriptures (and history) it is very clear that the Trinity concept, as we understand it now, was invented long after the scriptures were written and nothing of the sort was ever conceived by many, if any, of the original authors.

So what is the Mormon doctrine on the subject of the God-head? Well, when I was introduced to it it sounded much MUCH better. The Mormon assertion is that there are three separate and distinct entities. There is God the Father (who has a separate, resurrected physical body), His son Jesus (who also has a separate, resurrected physical body) and the Holy Ghost who is a separate, intelligent, conscious, self aware entity (who doesn’t have a physical body) that influences the way we feel and the decisions we make.

This is not without its problems, which I will get into in a minute but at least this is something I can understand. It’s something that makes since not just because I can more easily relate to it, but because the separation of the entities allows for the separation of roles. The idea that God must be just but Jesus can allow for mercy makes more sense, sort of.

This may not be an important distinction for some but it was HUGE for me, that is until I started thinking about it more critically.

I don’t need to get into a verse for verse comparison of all the potentially applicable biblical passages because I’m not here to argue whether one interpretation is more supported by the text than another. It’s a moot point, really, because all the different versions of the Trinity fail on the same fundamental levels. All we need to do at this point is to start with the Mormon Church’s own articulation of the doctrine. The traditional statement is “Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine.” How is this any better than being one entity with multiple incarnations? Why does there need to be more than one person? Why does there need to be a sacrifice? Why can there not simply be forgiveness? If forgiveness is good and right then there is no need for a sacrifice, in fact the sacrifice is an introduction of injustice. Why does my forgiveness depend on my acceptance of the story of Jesus? Do you only forgive those that embrace you? Do you only forgive those that are remorseful? No. You forgive what you can find it in your heart to forgive. Why should God be any less?*

All the different convoluted, incomprehensible approaches to the Trinity doctrines throughout Christianity is yet another betrayal of the the lengths theologians have had to go through trying to square a circle. The Old Testament and the New are so fundamentally incongruent accounts that any attempt to reconcile them is doomed.

This is the last entry for this series. I hope it was useful to someone.

*This is leading into a different discussion, the immorality of the doctrine of the Atonement. I want to address that separately so look for that soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why the LDS (Mormon) faith is a logical choice: Prophecy

This is the second to the last in my series about how the LDS faith (Mormonism) is a relatively logical choice among the Christian denominations. I am doing this series for two reasons.

1 – I think that it is good to understand this influential religion and some of the reasons why it is so tenacious in such an antagonistic social environment.

2 – So many of the arguments that skeptics/atheists use against the “standard” Christian dogma’s are often not applicable to the Mormon tenets. And if one might try making an argument about, say, the injustice of Hell to a Mormon - they might be in for some surprises.

Another aspect of “traditional” Christian doctrine that bothered me was the inconsistency between the Old and New Testament regarding the nature of divine communication. Throughout the Old Testament God does his own talking. God speaks to the prophets, to the people. God walks with them. The OT God goes out of His way to create situations (silly for a God to need to do?) where He could show off his power and prove to the Israelites, and their enemies, that He was their God. Divine chest pounding is rampant throughout the OT. Not so much, in the New Testament, and absolutely not now, unless you are Mormon. The claim that God is a constant being, the same now and forever is in complete contradiction with these ‘stylistic’ differences – especially if you believe that Adam and Eve are the first full humans. Why would the Israelites deserve/require so much more direct intervention?* The idea that we, in these troubled and doubtful times, are any less in need of prophet, of demonstrations of power is ridiculous. If you believe that all the secular influences are a threat to a spiritual connection to the true gospel then we are in a more treacherous time than we have ever been. How has Christ’s atonement, or his teaches, supposed to have eliminated the need for that more direct and demonstrative interaction with God?

The Mormon answer to this is pretty simple. There is no difference. We have always needed a prophet as much now as ever and there is one. Currently his name is Thomas S. Monson. Elder Monson receives direct communications from God, as did Gordon B. Hinkley before him and so on back to Joseph Smith. The clear line of communication between God and his people, through a prophet, is the same today as it was in OT times. While this seemed a real strength at first to me it was ultimately this doctrine above all others that proved to be the undoing of my faith.
Here is why:

1. First and foremost a prophet must be a prophet. If they are the prophet and speak for the church, even if there wasn’t a biblical requirement of infallibility (Deuteronomy 18:20-22), there would be a logical one. We have too much information and history on all the modern LDS prophets to ignore how terribly fallible they were. Not fallible as people**, that wouldn’t be a problem, but fallible as prophets, seers and revelators. They are invariably products of the thinking of their eras with no evidence to a higher, more eternal understanding of truth (moral or physical). The minute you hang your hat on a doctrine of prophetic (or papal) authority then the validity of your entire doctrine is contingent on the validity of that single claim and it will invariable prove to be the easiest claim of all to disprove. There are more reasons below why this doctrine of modern day revelation fails but this one refuses any attempt to be reconciled by any other means but blind faith, and dismissal of the preponderance of evidence so completely that you don’t really need anything else. This is the one that forced me to start pulling at the foundation of my house of cards.
Other reasons it fails…

2. Even with the LDS reinstating the prophets on earth, there is still a vast difference between the God of the OT and the one most Mormons 'know' now. There are no more miracles; there are no more overt demonstrations of destructive and genocidal power. The only similarity is that there is a prophet who speaks to God. Some Mormon lore maintains that there is a chair for the prophet AND a chair for God in a special temple room where the prophet and He converse, and that both chairs are equally worn. So the contention is that at least some of the communications are physical face to physical face.

3. If the divine design calls for a prophet to lead his people, what than of the great apostasy, the time between the death of the last of Jesus’ apostles and the revelation to Joseph Smith? How can the wickedness of the Dark Ages be a reason for God to remove his presence instead of a reason for greater intervention? Are we supposed to accept that there was not one single person throughout all those centuries worthy of the “true” gospel? Were all the prophets of this dispensation so much more virtuous then everyone that lived for almost 1800 years? If the contention really is going to be that Joseph Smith was the most worthy individual, the only one able to receive the fullness of the Gospel throughout all that time, well that is a hard case to make considering the true (untarnished, and unembellished, unimproved) history of this character.

4. The Mormon Church’s attempt to reconcile the modern dogma with the OT is just as problematic as any attempt to align the OT and the NT, because they don’t work together. You can align your dogma with one but not the other. Most modern Christians align themselves (sort of) primarily with the NT ignoring most of the old, under the blanket idea that Christ made the OT essentially irrelevant, somehow knowing which few little bits like the 10 commandments, are still relevant. The Mormon Church makes a valiant attempt at bridging the gap, more fully embracing both. This bit about prophecy shows how much folly there is in that idea. Christ was not a prophet, at least not as those that came before. He didn’t receive revelations, he shared that which as innate knowledge. He preached from a totally different kind of authority, and the apostles continued in the same vein thereafter. A place of personal spiritual awareness and authority, much less so the walk and talk and negotiate with God prophets like Noah, Abraham and Moses. So to align themselves more so with the OT the Mormon Church has to distance itself more from the NT in some crucial ways. This is inevitable because they are fundamentally different representations of a fundamentally different God.

* They were not so primitive as to lack the ability to understand the more subtle concepts of modern Christianity. They were not so crude that they couldn’t understand forgiveness, it may not have been as valued culturally, but it wasn’t beyond them. God was not a respecter of cultural justifications for immorality anyway. If loving thy neighbor as thyself is so central a theme to the message from God why was it a new concept in the NT? Why were the Israelites the only people of consequence before the NT, if all the people were God’s creation?

**So much of the stuff that the LDS prophets have established as official doctrine in the past but is unpopular now (Blood atonement, Adam-god theory, spiritual inferiority of blacks, etc.) is disavowed by saying that those were the statements of true prophets but that they we not speaking from divine inspiration when the said them. If you read the statements, it’s pretty clear they were absolutely confident of the divine authority from which they were speaking. So if THEY didn’t know, shouldn’t they have? Who are we to say they were mistaken – except it is current prophets that are saying it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why the LDS faith (Mormon) is a logical choice: Original Sin

One of the traditional Christian doctrines that bothered me in my initial investigations was the tenet of Original Sin. The idea that we are “created sick and commanded to be well.”* The assertion that the fall of one man, Adam has doomed all of mankind to the burden of a sinful nature. The very idea that Infant baptism is required lest the poor innocents be damned is antithetical to the idea of a just and loving God. This comes from the Catholic cannon, but there are equivalents in all the Christian religions.** We are all base and sinful creatures, due to the fall of Adam, or just because God made us that way – it doesn’t matter. It is unjust either way. If you believe in Hell, if you believe that we are a sinful people, if you believe that “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction” ( Matthew 7:13, 14) than how cruel is God to create so many doomed creatures. Better He had left us unmade then to make us such that the vast majority of us will endure eternal torment. Even if He was powerless to control our nature He would have known we would have ended up this way.

The Mormon version of this still establishes us as a sinful and imperfect people. It still says most of us are headed for “destruction” – they have to, they use the KJ Bible. The key differences are these:

1. The Mormon version of “destruction” isn’t so much eternal torture, but eternal life without spiritual advancement.
2. The specific doctrine of “Original Sin” is addressed by the 2nd Article of Faith. (2nd of 13 published in a letter from Joseph Smith, 1842): We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.
3. Mormon doctrine is that it wasn’t God that created our spirits. It was God who created the bodies and the earth our spirits would inhabit.

Point 1: So God is not cruel but a spiritual facilitator, a Heavenly Father, with limited power. This is a much easier way to imagine God. It seems to even be supported by some scripture. Great! Unfortunately it only works if you leave it at that.

The problem is that it really isn’t supported by much scripture. Most discussions of Hell and the utter destruction that faces the unbelieving and the sinful sound nothing like an eternity spent on a new earth, in a perfectly resurrected body. They barely even sound like “outer darkness”. The LDS teaching is that these passages refers to either a lesser exultation or to Outer Darkness but neither work with the idea that the majority of humanity will suffering and punished eternally as these verses suggest. Unfortunately this IS the hell of the bible and if we are going to accept the bible as scripture then we cannot disavow this hell and no amount of clever re-branding can change that.

Point 2: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.”This is a great sentiment, and a necessary one because the idea of inherited sin had been losing popularity for some time. The problem is that Brigham Young and subsequent prophets taught that blacks were black because they were under the mark Cain and the Curse of Ham, ineligible for the priesthood. Is this not an inherited unworthiness no different than the idea of Original Sin?

Point 3: As much as the idea of eternal spirits uncreated by God helps with some troublesome bits of Christian theology once again there isn’t any support for the concept in the Pre-Joseph Smith scriptures. The majority of Christian dogmas established the beginning of life and of the spirit is at conception. Adam came into existence (flesh AND spirit) when God created him.

Even if it was true and the scriptures support it, as I’ve already noted in my previous post (LINK) there is no more justice in an eternity of spiritually blocked souls. The doctrine seems to assert either that these people are incapable of learning, growing and improving themselves, or they deserve to be disqualified from the opportunity – forever.

There is no way to reconcile the pain of life, and threat of Hell, with the reputed love of a perfect God.
* Mustapha; Fulke Greville (1609)
**Few assertions are more ridiculous as the one I have heard made by many a “true Christian” (See ‘True Scotsman’) regarding Catholics. Apparently modern “Christians” are increasingly inclined to disavow themselves from their Catholic roots. While I can understand the desire to separate from such a beleaguered organization, it is more than hubris to accuse the Catholic church of corrupting the “word of God”. So many of the modern interpretations of the message of Christ, so many of the apologetic arguments that are still used by “true Christians” today are the result of centuries of Catholic theology. The very existence of Christianity is due to the perseverance of the early Catholics until Constantine. Thomas Aquinas formalized many of the still used proofs of God (The Quinque viae, Five Ways, or Five Proofs are five arguments regarding the existence of God summarized in his book, Summa Theologica. - LINK). Martin Luther and the Reformation may have challenged the spiritual authority of the Catholic Church, the idea of free will, Papal authority, etc. but much of Christianity’s understanding about the fundamental nature of God, and Jesus Christ, creation, heaven, come from centuries of Catholic apologetics and theology. If you want to say the Catholic Church isn’t a “true” church you had best do some homework on how much of your beliefs are rooted in Catholic theology and traditions.