Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mormonism Hits the Hustings

With Mitt Romney in the news, Mormonism is one of the hot topics. Accusations are flying that their natural political allies, namely evangelical Christians, will refuse to support Romney because they are prejudiced against Mormons.

That, and many other curious charges, will be explored in upcoming posts.

Many folks think that Mormonism is just another form of Christianity -- a notion that Mormons don't try to discourage. And let's stipulate at least this much: it is the fervent hope of this writer that it is possible to disapprove of Mormonism without disapproving of Mormons. I have Mormon friends and I value their friendship, but that does not mean that I am willing to give their theology a free ride. Experience suggests that Mormons know there are significant differences between their religion and Christianity, but for practical reasons pretend that there aren't. Only Mormons are allowed to be aware of the differences. It's impolite for Christians to notice.

But let's concede that at least Mormons have a theology, which is more than can be said for many of the liberal Protestant denominations these days. For just one appalling example, a woman Bishop in the Episcopal Church claims also to be a practicing Muslim, and claims not to see a theological contradiction. Even worse, the Episcopal Church apparently has no plans to excommunicate her. Folks, you can't make this stuff up.

Let's begin the festivities by exploring the notion that God was once a man. I don't mean that a man named Jesus was the eternal God the Son made flesh. Forget the Trinity. I mean that God was once an ordinary man, born of a woman, who managed somehow to become good enough to earn godhood. As the Mormons put it, "As man is, God once was; and as God is, man shall become."

It follows from this belief that God was born into a world He did not make. In Mormon theology, this is quite feasible. There are millions of gods, each with his own planet, and no word about who created the very first one. So then, we do not pray to the Creator of All Things, but only to one god of many, a celestial bureaucrat who has been assigned to regulate this planet. Not God at all, as Christians think of Him, but just the local sheriff.

But let's forget all that for just a minute and (as Alfred Drake implored in the song, "Rahadlakum!") discuss the nature of virtue. Christianity holds that morality is part of God's nature, and with Him always. Morality is absolute and has authority because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Otherwise, moral values would not be absolute and neither would be God.

However, if God is as the Mormons claim, having had a finite beginning to his life, then it follows that morality must not have originated with him, and is therefore not intrinsic to his character. It may be something he acquired, but that would imply some period of time during which he was without it. Or perhaps, God invented morality -- but then what about the period of time before that? How did he come to see the need for it, given that he was promoted to God beforehand?

Perhaps morality was something God was completely imbued with at birth -- but then that too would imply morality somehow predates God, and that someone or something else originated it. Whatever that someone or something was, that would be the real God, wouldn't it? The local constabulary would just be posturing.

And finally, if morality did not originate with God, by what authority could it compel anyone's allegiance? It would be just an aspect of nature, no different than a cloud or a particle of rock. Terrific, if you liked it; unnecessary, if you didn't. For morality to compel, it must be transcendent. How does morality transcend when God doesn't?

Mormonism shares with Christianity its nomenclature, and little else. It is not enough just to claim that one worships God the Father and Jesus, his son; it also matters who you think they are. If I were, for example, to create two golden calves, name one of them "Father God" and the other "Jesus the Son", and then worship them, I would still be guilty of worshipping false gods. Clearly, nomenclature is not enough.


Ken C. said...

Fascinating questions, Lee. I would really be interested to hear how your morman friends might answer them.

Lee said...

I find discussing Mormonism with Mormons frustrating. The ones I have talked with are very well coached on their theology, and they make you pull the differences between their theology and our theology out of them one point at a time. If you present them with quotes from Joseph Smith that are as unambiguous as unambiguous can be, they will respond with links to Mormon apologists who do their best to pretty up Smith's rhetoric where they can, and mildly dismiss what they can't pretty up. The bottom line is: we are not qualified to comment on what Mormons believe. Even when we quote Mormons about what they believe. Because no matter how carefully you construct your argument, you're simply misinterpreting them. You have to have a lot of patience.

Lenoxus said...

"… if morality did not originate with God, by what authority could it compel anyone's allegiance? It would be just an aspect of nature, no different than a cloud or a particle of rock. Terrific, if you liked it; unnecessary, if you didn't."

But as far as I'm concerned, that's the beginning and end of morality's whole point: That most of us aren't 100% "compelled" to carry it out. That's why when Wesley Autrey, the famous "Subway Superman", saved that guy's life last year, people thought it was special. If morality existed for us only in the form of "compelling to allegiance", we would all be Wesley Autreys, and morality would, paradoxically enough, not really exist.

Lee said...

Lenoxus, I don't mean "compelling" in the sense that it overpowers, but in the sense that it commands respect. Even bad people understand the power of morality, and have at their disposal a thousand justifications for the way they behave. The urge to self-justification may be the only pull morality has on them, but such is morality's pull, even the bad folks can't stand to look at their own deeds in the eye and admit their sins.