Wednesday 24 July 2013

Comment on anti-Mormonism reposted from The Orthosphere


Addressed to 'Bonald' - author of the main posting.

You are experiencing what I have found many times when writing about Mormons: that there is a negative prejudice against Mormonism among serious mainstream Christians.

Neutrality is not possible – of course – therefore when approaching the subject of Mormonism there will inevitably be prejudice: either positive or negative. What we observe here is that the prejudice is negative.

Given this negative prejudice, and in relation to religious evaluations, it is likely that whatever evidence is examined, that prejudice will be confirmed. Mormons are assumed guilty until proven innocent, and – as usual in such situations – cannot prove themselves innocent. The prejudice frames the discourse, as prejudice does.


Now, what is interesting is why mainstream Christians should bring this prejudice to the table – why do Mormons attract this? Is there any sound reason? Any *good* reason? And I don’t mean the reasons for anti-Mormon prejudice which people use in public discourse and to excuse themselves – I mean the *real* reason.

(There are some groups where there are sound and good reasons why – from common sense and common experience – in approaching them a negative (suspicious, judgmental) prejudice is appropriate – but not Mormons, surely? And if Mormons – by such criteria, who will be exempt from negative prejudice?)


Surely, on the surface and with common sense criteria and from hard facts widely known, Mormonism should be approached with a *positive* prejudice – on the assumption that it is likely to be good, to be wholesome, to be Christian – and that mainstream Christians (if they want to engage with Mormonism) should not be putting it on trial – but rather engaging in a conversation where the reasonable hope is to discover a friend and ally.

This is what I did – since before I was a Christian convert I have regarded Mormonism as Christian, indeed one of the very best of Christian denominations, and I still do – although now I know a great deal about Mormonism from five years of reading, research and devotional study – but done with a positive prejudice, on the assumption that I was dealing with a friend and ally, until shown otherwise.

Yet such is the anti-Mormon prejudice, that Mormons are regarded by many – probably most – serious mainstream Christians as covert demons or brainwashed dupes – as we see in many of these comments.


I personally find this very distressing and painful.

Why? Most obviously it is distressing to see people I regard as exemplary Christians (in the primary sense of Christian, which is faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour, people who are exceptionally devout, and who display the Christian virtues to an admirable degree) continually (and indeed gleefully, aggressively) pilloried by other Christians.

This is a horrible thing to behold, provoking pity, sadness, and horror.

But secondly I fear that it imperils the souls of Christians who engage in it, and the denominations who encourage it. Not merely from the encouragement of resentment, pride, hatred etc – but even more from the distortions it introduces to mainstream Christianity, and the failure to learn theological, devotional and moral lessons that ONLY Mormonism can teach to the rest of Christendom.

Failure to learn these lessons from Mormonism may be the death of Christianity in the West – since Mormonism is doing fine, doing more than fine – while the rest of Christendom is in serious travail.

Maybe that is a root of the problem? Mormonism is doing too well – leading to resentment fuelled by envy? Whatever the reason for such widespread and entrenched anti-Mormon prejudice, I feel sure the *real* reason is a bad one, since it encourages, brings out and reinforces such bad qualities in those who display it.


In sum, I am seriously distressed by the prevailing anti-Mormon prejudice among serious mainstream Christians, and would love to see it replaced by pro-Mormon prejudice and an attitude of wanting to know more about what enables Mormonism to resist secular modernity so happily, and so effectively – especially in relation to those crucial domains of marriage and the family.

Mormonism is, for me, a litmus test issue in terms of seriousness about the future of Christianity: but the test is for mainstream Christians. If anybody is on trial here, it is not Mormonism but mainstream Christianity in the West.

Sadly, perhaps tragically, Mormonism is a test which most serious mainstream Christians fail spectacularly.



Jonathan C said...

I bet the source of the animus is that they are able, as you say, "to resist secular modernity so happily".

Commodore said...

I'm not quite sure I see as much animus there. The link was to a Catholic website, correct? Catholics are understandably prickly about their creeds these days, given the outright demonic forces in the Church at the moment. It doesn't seem to be personally hostile towards Mormons.

I'd certainly classify many Mormons as mere Christians...the expanded scriptures they claim are heresy, certainly, but adhering to the heresies of the Book of Mormon certainly are less damaging, and less damning, than adhering to the manifold heresies of "Progress" or "Diversity" or "Modernity".

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ - "hate Mormons' insistence that they are Christians when they are not"

Do you think that sounds like an adequate reason for such widespread and strong negative prejudice? It just doesn't seem remotely adequate.

You know what? I would have supposed that a strong desire to be known as Christian combined with a very strong focus on Christ in all aspects of a religion would be regarded as, you know, a Good Thing?

Instead, because of the negative prejudice, the Mormon high emphasis on Jesus (a *much* greater emphasis than in most Catholic denominations) is held against Mormons!

When Mormon policy further emphasizes the Christian aspect (by adding Another Gospel of Jesus Christ subtitle to the Book of Mormon, or by changes to the LDS logo to emphasize the words Jesus Christ) - then such clarification angers mainstream Christians Even More!

Since Mormons are prejudged as not-Christian, then devotion to Christ is regarded as based on error and/or deception.

But that is what negative prejudice does!

I ask again - why is the LDS not approached with a positive prejudice: why not? It really should be. Approached with this correct positive prejudice, the LDS church looks radically different from the way it is depicted among most mainstream Christians. Of course it does!

No - the fault is the negative prejudice - it poisons and distorts all subsequent evaluations.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the great prejudice in Bonald- he hates his own church, and only finds the Mormons bemusing.

The frustrating thing for me about Christianity is that it's heavily mystical, which is nice in a way but makes it hard to make a practical guide to life from it. Nonetheless this must be attempted and every attempt is going to have critics.

I suspect the issue is that Mormonism strips out most of the mysticism and while that actually works best for most people, it turns off intellectual Christians who like to have things to think deep thoughts over.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Commodore - The Orthosphere is intended as a Mere Christian website and the editors include Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Conservative Protestants - the idea for it was indeed hatched-up on this blog:

Bruce Charlton said...

@bi - You misunderstand me - and you seem to misunderstand Bonald - our views are close on this matter, although arrived at from completely different directions.

"I suspect the issue is that Mormonism strips out most of the mysticism "

- this is a common misunderstanding, and one which I used to share.

In fact a core and vital aspect of Mormonism is that 'the Heavens are open' and therefore every Mormon should expect direct divine revelations to guide their lives (as well as overall guidance from living prophets, seers and revelators) - every key aspect of doctrine should (ideally) be appropriated by a specific religious experience of understanding and knowing its truth; a further aspect is the esoteric and mystic layer of the Temple, above and beyond the normal weekly Ward forms of public worship.

So Mormonism is potentially very mystical, but this aspect is much more private (or family based) than for example the ascetic monasticism of Orthodoxy and some denominations of Roman Catholicism, or the charismatic/ Pentecostal forms of public worship.

ajb said...

Perhaps also tribalism - to an extent, churches are political entities. You see it similarly in politics.

Adam G. said...

The cynical explanation is boundary maintenance. So convinced Christians in various denominations like to have clear boundaries so as to prevent the Mormons from stealing their sheep, so it makes them angry when Mormons 'blur the boundaries' by claiming to be Christians.

Mormons themselves don't always have an accurate view of mainstream Christian beliefs, for the same reason.

There is also the fact that an excess particularism and purism is an understandable reaction to the relativism Babylon is currently trying to shove down our throats.

NC said...

Christians are failing, as usual for the last few decades.

You got me thinking, Bruce, so I did a new blog post on the subject. It reflects my own experience which is very much as an outsider to Christianity.

As an outsider the Mormons are very impressive indeed.

The Mormons are unquestionably the closest to a true Christian church for a large denomination that exists today.

If the Bible has validity then this is exactly as it should be.

One reason I can't join something like modern Christians is the serious disconnect in what is versus beliefs.

As an analogy, it's as bad as joining the American style 'right wing', which seems more like an overamped group of sports team fan(atics) than anything remotely thoughtful or transformative.

Gnecht said...

Why are Mormons not approached with a positive prejudice?

Well, how often in history has a "new" or "reformed" religious movement EVER had that benefit? I propose that to the extent a religious movement asserts a claim to be "new" or "improved," it will likewise be resisted by the movements upon which it claims to improve. G. K. Chesterton has some things to say about this, in "The Everlasting Man," the chapter called "The Five Deaths of the Faith."

Another question, which might demonstrate the principle: have there been any schisms in Mormonism? If so (I haven't studied its history) how did the "original" group and the "offshoot / breakaway / new-improved" groups respond to each other?

Now, I'm curious, Dr. Charlton: what response do Jehovah's Witnesses elicit from you? Many people I know have the same response to Jehovah's Witnesses that they do towards Mormons, for some of the same reasons.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gnecht - The LDS church was founded more than 180 years ago - and we know a lot about it by now! If it was an evil sect, it would be obvious. I got interested because I had heard so many good things about Mormons (especially attitudes and behaviour wrt marriage and families) - my mother used to know and like some Mormon Missionaries, and she was an excellent judge of character.

I haven't heard anything similar about JWs (haven't heard any bad things either - haven't really heard anything at all except the stuff about blood transfusions) - so I never made the effort to find out more.

urquhart said...

"The truth pertaining to him is that he is our Father in heaven, that he has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's, that he is a literal person, and that if we believe and obey his laws we can gain the exaltation that he possesses. Now that is the greatest truth and the most glorious concept known to the human mind, and the reverse of it is the greatest heresy in all Christendom.

The Christian heresy, where God is concerned, is that Deity is a spirit essence that fills the immensity of space; that he is three beings in one; that he is uncreated, incorporeal, and incomprehensible; that he is without body, parts, or passions; that he is a spirit nothingness that is everywhere and nowhere in particular present. These are concepts written in the creeds had in the churches of the world."

- Bruce R. McConkie, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I find this an honest and lucid explanation by a Mormon of the principal difference between their religion and Christian and indeed all the Abrahamic religions.

Bruce Charlton said...

@urquhart - No, this is a consequence of the different way of reading the Bible - Joseph Smith read the Bible almost literally and without interpreting what it said through the lens of Greek philosophy. The different description of God is what you get as a consequence. The reasonable assumption of Mormons is that their way of understanding scriptural revelation is much closer to the Christianity of the Apostles, as we know of it through the New Testament.

Bruce Charlton said...

urquhart has left a new comment on your post "Comment on anti-Mormonism :

@Charlton -- well that presumes one accepts the Mormon claims, as you seem to. I came from an upbringing of no religious influence and I found that reading the Bible and the earliest Christians confirmed the Orthodox/Catholic story of Christianity. Certainly I've never seen any evidence for the Mormon story...

But even granting one accepts Mormonism as "true Christianity," this explanation from McConkie does show a clear division between LDS (to say that God is uncreated is heresy) and the Abrahamic faiths (to say that God is created is heresy). One may believe that Mormons are right in the matter, but one can't propose that the two are fundamentally similar, and that it is incorrect for the Christians to point out such a difference.


BGC replies - My point was that it is - I am afraid - typical of the anti-Mormon prejudice which most Christians bring to this matter that differences between Mormonism and Mainstream Christianity are presented as consequences without ever (and I mean *ever*) mentioning the source of these differences - which is often the different (non-Classical Philosophy but self-consistent) way in which Mormons read The Bible.

That is the primary cause of the differences down the line - but until or unless that is understood, then Mormonism is being seriously misrepresented as just a collection of odd beliefs.

"One may believe that Mormons are right in the matter, but one can't propose that the two are fundamentally similar, and that it is incorrect for the Christians to point out such a difference. "

But of course I AM proposing that they are 'fundamentally similar' in the sense that they are both Christian - and the differences are of second order importance - yet of course the differences are still important, as can be seen by the fact that Mormonism is thriving and growing while mainstream Christianity is doing the opposite.

Which is why mainstream Christians *need* to look at Mormonism sympathetically - for our own good.