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.