Thursday, 16 July 2015

Analysing the problem of Mormonism for mainstream Christians

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Musing on a recent posting and comments at The Orthosphere

http://orthosphere.org/2015/07/14/the-theological-foundations-of-the-mormon-religion/

The problem of Mormonism for mainstream Christians could be analysed as follows:

If we distinguish Mormon Fruits from Beliefs - with Fruits being the behaviour of Mormons, and Beliefs being the doctrines, theology and scriptures - then:

The basic observation is that

1. Mormon Fruits are very similar-to mainstream Christian ideals

But

2. Mormon Beliefs are very different-from mainstream Christianity.

So, to mainstream Christians there seems to be a large mismatch between Mormon Fruits and Beliefs.

How to explain this?

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If the above is accepted as true, with similar Fruits and different Beliefs both accepted as real facts - then either:

1. Mormon Fruits are distinct from their Beliefs - the two are utterly disconnected - in effect their different Beliefs are irrelevant. (This is the typical view of mainstream Christians sympathetic to Mormons.)

2. There is an elaborate fraud going-on - Mormon Fruits are a fa├žade, a pretense, a fake - the Beliefs are the reality. And these Beliefs are 'Not Christian'. (This is the typical view of mainstream Christians hostile to Mormons.) 

3. The Fruits are a product of the Beliefs, the Beliefs support the Fruits. 

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This third possibility, that Mormon Fruits and Beliefs make a mutually-reinfording unity is my understanding, and it is what makes Mormonism so revolutionary and astonishing a phenomenon.

Because it means that there is now - proven by 180 years of experience - an extremely-different way of being a Christian

The facts of Mormonism show that Christianity can be, and is, a product of an extremely-different theology, set of doctrines and set of scriptures.

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13 comments:

Nathaniel said...

Option 1. Some particular Mormon qualities (high IQ, high income, low-crime) may be caused by demographics, as those attributes are highly correlated anyway.

Option 2. This is simply incorrect, or requires willful blindness.

Option 3. Mormon beliefs on family, purpose, and Heaven are definitely related to maintaining higher fertility rates, focus on family as "hobby" or primary role vs. entertainment, and much younger marriages than the general population (esp. those in the same demographic groups). The motivation and support for family is very specific, and goes beyond what any other denomination provides.

Your argument for unity is valid. If there was a disconnect between Mormon beliefs and fruits there would be far greater apostasy among the population, but because the lived reality is confirming and verifying their belief system - it is certainly mutually reinforcing.

My argument is that Mormon fruits are clear evidence for superior adaptability. So, even though I'm not convinced of specific aspects of Mormonism, I must necessarily concede their belief system is more true than what I presently belief. It certainly holds more fullness and more closely adheres to reality.

To actually believe in Mormonism though, according to the CJCLDS, requires personal spiritual revelation from the Holy Spirit - which is another unique claim which, if correct, would be certainly be the ideal way for a Christian to know something is true!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nathaniel - Some useful stuff there.

wrt - "Option 1. Some particular Mormon qualities (high IQ, high income, low-crime) may be caused by demographics, as those attributes are highly correlated anyway."

My initial interest in Mormonism began in 2007 - and was due to the way in Mormons do *not* fit in with the usual demographic patterns - Mormon fertility is way above that predicted fro either social class or IQ, Mormon IQ is much higher than for any other traditionally/ devoutly religious group and (I think, but not so sure about this) Mormon income is higher than predicted for IQ.

Also, Mormon IQ is much higher than would be predicted from the working class artisan nature of the founding population - which is probably evidence for a relatively eugenic pattern of reproduction - the higher the level of Mormon education and social class (presumably also IQ) the more devout and the more fertile - which is the opposite direction from most other groups.

In conclusion, it is hard to use Mormon demographics to explain Mormon behaviour when the demographic pattern is so unusual!

scory said...

If I understand this correctly it would seem to follow that if the fruits manifest in large groups of LDS people outside the demographic found in Utah and surrounding LDS communities it would tend further to validate that belief system. There are now more Mormons outside the U.S. than inside. I know of no studies regarding the income levels, IQ level, etc. of these groups. Might be worth a look.

Nathaniel said...

Thank you for the corrections!

I'm sorry, I was quite wrong on income even based on my poor estimations. As far as I can tell, Mormons earn ~20% more than their demographic peers - not even accounting for the fact that many Mormons opt for single-income households (and spend a lot of their non-work time on church activities). It is quite impressive.

Cui Pertinebit said...

It's not difficult: there is such a thing as Natural Religion, which many faiths manage to practice fairly well; in addition to this, European culture is heavily formed by Christian ideas of altruism, etc., and many even of the liberal activists will run soup kitchens and do charitable work. There is also the broadly White (or Indo-European) ethos, tied to our genes and immemorial cultural customs.

But what things do I associate particularly with Christianity and its peculiar forms of sanctity? The Scriptures speak of voluntary abstinence and celibacy, holding one's self aloof from the world and even its legitimate goods in abstinence and fasting, "buffeting one's body and making it one's slave," embracing suffering and identity with the Passion of Christ. And, moreover doing all of this while maintaining a balance that does not result in a condemnation of legitimate goods as inherent evils. As St. Maximos and so many other Saints affirm, with the Scriptures, martyrdom is really the typical life of the Christian. The Christian should be striving to increase his voluntary martyrdom until such time as he may be worthy to actually shed his blood for Christ. But if that day never comes, his life must have been a martyrdom nevertheless.

Authentic Christianity - i.e., the Catholic Faith - succeeds in this with flying colours throughout history. Voluntary celibacy, great feats of asceticism joined to a perfect balance of the highest kinds of spiritual aspirations with genuine humility, an enduring tradition of contemplation and silence and ineffable worship... and yet, somehow, one also finds praise of marriage, large families, a refusal to condemn good food and good wine, a tendency to indulge in very good cheer on festive days, vigorous social action and public preaching, true imitation of the Apostles in enduring exceedingly perilous and laborious work to spread the Gospel. It seems unbearable to its enemies for contradictory reasons, as Chesterton says: far too meek, far too violent; far too effeminate, far too patriarchal; far too social, far too eremitical. It is a veritable sign of contradiction! We see sanctity, miracles, incorruptibles, rites of unparalleled and unearthly beauty, a completely coherent and infallible theological system, and on and on.

By contrast, Mormonism comes across entirely as a natural religion. Yes, it has very moderate fasting, which is tied once again primarily to altruism, rather than to asceticism. Mormonism takes hallmarks of white and European culture - family commitment, residual Christian altruism, hard work - and strengthens them by extending them into a cosmic sphere. There is intense emphasis on the continuation of the family into the next world (whereas the Scriptures tells us celibacy is preferable, marriage is dissolved at death and "in heaven they are neither married nor given in marriage"), and this turns the closest kinds of earthly emotional bonds towards a spiritual focus, amplifying and focusing the religious sentiments of Mormons. I agree that it is very effective in increasing the likelihood of observing the tenets of natural religion. But no, I do not see any of the authentic fruits of the supernatural and Christian religion in Mormonism. In Mormonism, I see a beefed-up Protestantism, a kind of "Ultra-Americanism" that takes being nice and clean-cut and respectable to the next level. Certainly one would like to have such citizens as neighbours. But I absolutely do not see a New Jerusalem of "other Christs," heirs to a New Law given in the New Sinai of the Cenacle, a communion of deified sons and daughters of the Most High. That I see only in the Catholic Church... though I will concede that the crisis of the 60's has eclipsed this. It still occurs, but the Babylonian Captivity at present complicates matters greatly.

Bruce B. said...

I think the contrast between what’s perceived as false beliefs and the common sense observation that Mormons behave like devout Christians is what leads some Christians to attack Mormons by citing statistics that supposedly prove Mormons aren’t as “healthy” as they seem. I think these attacks are way off – all but a few small, devout Christian groups (traditional Catholics, certain fundamentalists Baptists) engage in behaviors that statically mimic those of secular culture. Mormons do have a healthy culture – I would love to have the Mormon culture.
From a mainstream Christian perspective I guess one could explain it by arguing that partial truths about God can yield good fruit. Likewise with Muslims (No I am NOT equating Mormons with Muslims) who display some good fruit (almsgiving, female modesty, devout prayer, intact families, etc.) and of course some bad fruit.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I liked your comment, but I don't publish explicit discussion of the other major monotheism: would you care to resubmit your comment without that part?

Bruce Charlton said...

@CP - I don't think you are talking about Catholicism, but ascetic monasticism: which is distinctively Orthodox, and has only ever been a tiny minority in the Roman Church since the Great Schism. However, if you personally regard that as the only 'Christiainty' then naturally your conclusions follow - at the cost of regarding the vast majority of Eastern and Western Catholic Church members - including most of the Roman Catholic Priest and Religious Orders, and married Orthodox Priests throughout the past 200 years - as non-Christians.

Bruce Charlton said...

@scory - I did try to do this in a small way - the results are here:

http://mormonfertility.blogspot.co.uk/

So far as fertility goes, British Mormons seem very similar to US Mormons - despite there only being a couple of hundred thousand, and mostly thinly-scattered. But there is a lot more work that could/ should be done on the topic!

Nathaniel said...

CP - It may interest you to read some of the replies of Mormons towards eternal marriage, celibacy, etc. to understand their position on these:

http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormon_ordinances/Marriage/Eternal_marriage

(I agree with you sentimentally - I find the monastic tradition, liturgy, and ritual incredibly beautiful)

Bruce B. said...

I think the contrast between what’s perceived as false beliefs and the common sense observation that Mormons behave like devout Christians is what leads some Christians to attack Mormons by citing statistics that supposedly prove Mormons aren’t as “healthy” as they seem. I think these attacks are way off – all but a few small, devout Christian groups (traditional Catholics, certain fundamentalists Baptists) engage in behaviors that statically mimic those of secular culture. Mormons do have a healthy culture – I would love to have the Mormon culture.
From a mainstream Christian perspective I guess one could explain it by arguing that partial truths about God can yield good fruit.

Leo said...

If by "authentic fruits of the supernatural" one means personally-experienced miracles, personal revelations, and life-changing events beyond the mundane, then Latter-day Saints are expected to enjoy these, and many do. Outwardly, Latter-day Saints may appear to be merely conventional, but the life of the saints of the latter-day, if truly lived, is not conventional. It may simply be hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3, Rom 6:11, 1 Pet. 4:2).

Cui Pertinebit said...

@ BC

"...I don't think you are talking about Catholicism, but ascetic monasticism: which is distinctively Orthodox..."

No, this is the kind of thing that could only be said by someone who does not know the Catholic Faith. Those who move in traditional Catholic circles know that they are very aware of the life of self-mortification and ascetic striving. I, who spent ten years in an Orthodox monastery, was surprised to find that the spirit of Christian mortification was far more alive amongst traditional Catholics than anything I witnessed amongst Orthodox Christians, despite the laxer minimum standards "on the books," so to speak.

And beyond personal asceticism, there is a strong sense of reparatory sacrifice, prayer and almsgiving/charity on behalf of others, in order to make restitution for the great number of public sins at present. In the Scriptures, one finds stories of whole cities being spared because of the interventions of the righteous. I have long wondered why God has not smitten us with fire from heaven, since our wickedness surpasses that of Sodom and Gomorrah by many orders of magnitude. Then I came to the Catholic Church, and found these Catholics keeping vigils, long fasts, giving alms, offering rosary crusades, having Mass said, etc., all for the sake of interceding to God and making reparation on behalf of public sins and outrages against Him and His sacred things. I came to realize that we have probably been spared thus long for the sake of such persons.

Amongst traditional Catholics, books such as the Spiritual Combat (of Lorenzo Scupoli), and booklets such as "The Practice of Christian Mortification" (of Cardinal Desideratus/Desire Mercier (here: http://www.catholicapologetics.info/morality/general/mortification.htm) are well known and used. One can find Catholics still who will wear cilices, etc. One finds asceticism as a normal practice in Catholicism long after the Schism, indeed, to the present day; honestly, the more I learned about Catholic Saints from the past millennium, the more I discovered that they rivalled or surpassed the Orthodox ascetics - just read about the practices of Ss. Dalmatius Moner, Rose of Lima, John Vianney, Maximilian Kolbe and his knights of the Immaculata or Padre Pio, just to name a few across the whole spectrum. I think that serious Orthodox Christians keep a stricter Lent, since Catholics have sadly lost some of the more formal and public fasting customs; but on the private, year-round level, I have found that the sense of mortification is far more vigorous in traditional Catholicism, and has always been a feature even of the laity's piety, as it still is. I will also say that moderately to strictly observant Catholic monasteries easily surpass the vast majority of Eastern monasteries for their ascetical and regular observance; Orthodox stand out only for abstaining from meat more frequently, but in other ways they fall behind. And while I'll agree that a crisis has emerged since the 60s, anyone who is unaware of the intense asceticism of Catholic religious orders in the past millennium simply isn't very well acquainted with Catholic culture.