Friday, 6 July 2012

Problems with Mormon theology? Practice and theory.


Although I am not a Mormon (I am an orthodox and traditional Anglican), and although I wholly subscribe to the mainstream catholic Christian creeds (e.g. the Nicene Creed), I do not see major problems with Mormon theology.

Nor do I regard Mormon beliefs as absurd, certainly I do not regard them as obvious fakes, nor as demonic deceptions.

Indeed, I find them beautiful and moving, and am (most of all) impressed by their results in practice.


My main criticism of the distinctively Mormon beliefs are that (compared with the mature Christian theology, which took several hundred years to mature) they are incomplete and have a different emphasis.

This is unsurprising in a religion that is only 180 years old and virtually lacks a professional priesthood, expert theologians etc.

Mormon theology is therefore very concrete and takes place within Time; whereas the most advanced (and philosophically-coherent) Christian theology is highly abstract and takes place outside of Time (or, at least, includes an eternal and changeless and perfected - Platonic - perspective).


Thus Mormonism has little emphasis on creation from nothing and regards the Holy Trinity in very concrete terms (with God the father as a person, as well as Christ - but then, probably most of the mainstream Christians who have ever lived do the same, in practice).

The main difference between mainstream and Mormon Christians, in my opinion, is on the nature of salvation: by its denial of the effect of Original Sin, Mormonism comes close to a Pelagian attitude of men not needing salvation (therefore not needing a Saviour).

Or perhaps, for Mormons salvation is seen in a quantitative, rather than qualitative, fashion.

Such that life on earth is mostly about attaining the highest possible level of salvation rather than about the qualitative matter of avoiding damnation - and for Mormons the process of continuing the path of salvation is seen as continuing after death.


What difference this makes in practice, I am not sure - maybe very little. But it does open up the possibility of denying the necessity of Christ and draining the seriousness from mortal life since, everything mortal life might achieve could be put-off until later, and the sins of mortal life might be compensated later.

But, since Mormons regard themselves as Christians, and include the Old and New Testaments among their primary scriptures, I see no reason why future revelations (as and when necessary - and I think they probably have not been necessary up to this point) will not bring together the ragged edges between current Mormonism and mainstream Christianity, or between The Book of Mormon and the Testaments (which itself, in practice, has many, many ragged edges).

And in fact this whole question of the point and purpose of mortal life is unsolved for most people including most Christians throughout history - it is indeed hard to find and hold-to a middle way between the secular extreme that mortal life is everything and there is nothing else; and the 'Platonic' extreme that mortal life in this world is irrelevant (and all the important stuff happens afterwards).


(One effect of this may be the lack of Mormon 'Saints' - in the sense of Eastern Orthodox Saints: i.e. the very high levels of personal sanctity and spiritual attainment associated with monasticism. But then the same applies to Protestant Christians; and indeed - except for martyrs - Saints of this type of exceptional Holiness, based on many years of ascetic discipline, have become extremely rare in recent decades.)


While I personally find it hard not to probe into the deep layers of theology and metaphysics and seek clarifications - this is 1. a very unusual disposition among humans and 2. it is a task without end, since all answers lead to further questions.

After 180 years it is hard to deny that Mormonism looks very much like it is (in some overall sense) both True and Good.

If it was false it would be a delusion, and if a delusion then it ought not to work (whereas it works very well, by normal standards of evaluation); if it was not Good then it would be evil and evil is recognized by its destruction of the transcendental values of truth, beauty and virtue (whereas Mormons are less guilty of this kind of destruction than almost any group I can think of).

It seems likely that - at the level of individual practice, which is perhaps what really matters - Mormonism must have been getting the important things right; whatever problems mainstream Christians may perceive in its theoretical theological rationale.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for your perspectives. Your raise issues that I struggle with perpetually. I am a closeted Christian of orthodox persuasion who continues to loiter among the Mormons maily for family reasons (my family roots in Mormonism go back six generations, and leaving the fold would be prohibitively complicated). I have to keep a number of heresies to myself (my belief in original sin, my skepticism regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon, etc.) The question of whether or not Mormonism qualifies as Christian is one that is very close to me, and one that is frankly not easy to answer. Mormons believe in the virgin birth, in the resurrection, and in the divine sonship of Jesus Christ. They tend to a fairly literal reading of the Bible, especially of the New Testament. This things by themselves ought to qualify Mormons as Christians (certainly more than many liberal churches that are actually post-Christian). They reject the Nicene Creed as unbiblical (actually, there have been other Christian groups that have done that also). Their liturgy is simple, but includes the "sacrament"--what most churches call "communion"--which has always struck me as the most genuinely Christian part of Mormon worship.
My own personal arguments with my native church aside, I think that Mormon thought tends way too far in a Pelagian direction. This leads to a rather diminished concept of grace. Whenever grace comes up in a sermon or in a discussion, invariable 2 Nephi 25:23 will be quoted: "...for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." And, invariable, the last phrase will be emphasized. Also, since Mormonism has traditionally rejected ex nihilo creation, the concept of grace is further diminished. (I have come to see the creation, something out of nothing, as a wonderful example of God's grace, because He did not have to do it.) But I remain hopeful that Mormonism will be Christianized over time. I already see some movement in that direction.

Lordy! said...

Practice is what matters though.

If you had a lovely theory but the facts didn't bear it out would you then stick to the theory regardless? That would be unwise.

While I see the point about the reduction in seriousness of salvation, it's worth considering Mormons believe the War in Heaven is about choice.

Making it so that one 'chooses' God due to fear of eternal damnation is, in the Mormon view, an actual reducer in the very thing the War in Heaven is about,a free choice.

You should choose not out of fear, but out of conscious decision making to follow God's dictates.

Also, conversion in Mormonism is based on experience. People have assumptions about whether that is good or bad, but in my view spiritual experience is really the ultimate for what should be motivating people spiritually.

It makes no sense otherwise. Dry arguments are for academics, and other modes of deciding seem somehow political for lack of a better term.

Unlike the previous commenter, I do not hope that Mormonism be Christianized, but rather that Christianity be Mormonized.