Why Mormonism?

If you have read my “About” page, you already know that I am a “cradle Catholic” that is considering the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the “Mormon Church”.  While I briefly touch on the reason(s) why on that page, I thought that it would be helpful to explain a little further how I feel about that issue.

When a person leaves one religion for another, no matter what religion it is, members of the initial religion will claim that that person was not knowledgeable on that religion, that they probably didn’t have good experiences in that religion, that they are leaving for cultural/non-theological reasons, etc.  For those leaving Catholicism, this is no different.  As a regular poster on Catholic Answers Forum, I was amused to find that, after I changed my “religion status” from simply Catholic to “Catholic pondering LDS”, I received multiple private messages from people I had never even interacted with before.  On threads that I post in, some people may reference my “pondering LDS” status, and imply that I am not knowledgeable on the “real history” of Mormonism (which of course they are privy to).  One poster even called me “anti-Catholic”, then said he didn’t mean to be offensive about anything in his post, which amused me immensely.  My point is this: Yes, I am very knowledgeable on Catholicism, and was very active;  Yes I am very knowledgeable about Mormonism, and have researched it for a number of years from both sides-pro and “anti” material; No, I am not considering Mormonism for cultural reasons, or because I think they are nice people with a nice lifestyle; Yes, I have researched the unique doctrines of Mormonism, and they are the reason why I am currently “pondering LDS”.

As I mentioned above, I am a “cradle Catholic”.  I was baptized as an infant, and received First Communion and Confirmation in my pre-teen to early teenage years.  I have always loved reading about theology (any).  During high school, I taught two religion courses at my local parish.  I was also a lector (reader), the youngest one in my parish.

After high school, I attended Georgetown University, a major Catholic/Jesuit University in Washington, DC.  There, I studied Psychology and Health Sciences.  In addition, I took coursework in philosophy, the philosophy of ethics, bioethics, Catholic theology, and Hindu theology.

During college, besides other extracurricular activities, I was also involved in the Campus Ministry, where I was a Eucharistic Minister and Lector on campus.  The 12:30pm Mass was an oddity at Georgetown.  It was the “community Mass”, where people that lived in the surrounding Georgetown neighborhood of DC would come, and were involved in coordinating the Mass.  As an “informed Catholic”, I was well read on the issue of liturgics and liturgical rubrics.  I was aware of who should say what, and what was allowed and not allowed (to a general degree).  This Mass had a number of “liturgical abuses”, to the point where I confronted the Mass Coordinator about it.  She informed me that “each Mass has a different flavor, and this is how we do things”.  This was an odd statement, since, yes, one can use different music, decorations, etc., however there are certain “liturgical norms” that must be followed, which simply were not at this Mass.  I was so disturbed that I wrote an article about “losing traditions” in the Georgetown Hoya, the campus newspaper.

Nevertheless, I continued studying Catholicism, as well as attending Mass, as well as Eucharistic Adoration.  I frequently attended the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a wonderful, HUGE Catholic shrine in DC, on the campus of the Catholic University of America.  However, at one point, I began to be attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Why Eastern Orthodoxy?  I was disturbed by the lack of support in the Bible as well as history for a number of unique Catholic beliefs, such as indulgences, Purgatory, the Treasury of Merits, Papal Infallibility and Supremacy of Jurisdiction, etc.  I found that Eastern Orthodoxy allowed for generally the same doctrines, without those that I found spurious on Biblical and historical grounds (without “forcing” the interpretation or reading things back into history, which many Catholics do with doctriens such as the Immaculate Conception or Papal Infallibility).  I attended Vigil and Divine Liturgy a number of times at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, part of the Orthodox Church in America.  However, there was still something missing.

Being well-read on Christian theology, I was aware of the Mormons.  They intrigued me because of their unique beliefs, scripture, church organization, etc.  There was a difference between the Mormons and others likes the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Both groups claim a “Great Apostasy” of the original Church established by Jesus Christ.  The difference was, Latter-day Saints claim the entrance of God into time (again) to restore that original church, along with a claim of new scripture (not simply rewriting the Bible as the Jehovah’s Witnesses did), as well as a claim of historical events in the history of the New World.

At first, I was critical of Mormonism, and wrote in that capacity on a few forums, including Catholic Answers Forum and CARM.  I wasn’t necessarily anti-Mormon, however I did read the material, from Mormonism Research Ministry, Institute for Religious Research (perhaps the most scholarly of all), the material on Catholic Answers, Recovery from Mormonism, etc.  I also watched the anti-Mormon videos “Bible vs. the Book of Mormon”, “DNA vs. the Book of Mormon”, and “The Lost Book of Abraham”.

Later on, after reading much of the other side (i.e. LDS apologetics), as well as non-LDS related sources, I began to notice something that brings me to the point of this post: Mormon apologetics, especially in these times, is focused on showing the ancient origin of their beliefs and scriptures, in a way that leads one to wonder how exactly did Joseph Smith know about all of these ancient beliefs and practices (whether or not they are valid)?  Even if one accepts that Smith had help from his associates, if we accept the critical line of thought, they clearly had a huge library of materials on ancient beliefs that were yet to be known, and were able to write a very complex book, the Book of Mormon.

In my time posting on Catholic Answers Forum, I have come to realize that the vast majority of posters there, including the ex-Mormons, are simply not aware of this scholarship, and if they are, they simply dismiss it as false (without addressing the content), since of course they are members of the one, true Church, and the blinders go up.  The fact of the matter is that there is substantial evidence for most of the unique Latter-day Saint beliefs, from non-LDS sources.  What are these beliefs that find ancient support?

-corporeal God

-Pre-mortal existence

-creation from pre-existing material

-“secret”/esoteric ordinances in orthodox Christianity

-the Heavenly Mother

-deification (similarities with the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic concept)

-Divine Council

-Degrees of Glory

-Salvation for the Dead

All of the above (and perhaps others that I forgot) find ancient Judeo-Christian support from non-LDS scholars.  In addition, the Book of Mormon has been shown to include a number of “Hebraisms” (or peculiarities specific to Hebrew language structure) as well as other complex literary structures.  Again, if I accept the “anti” refrain that Joseph Smith made it all up from his mind, he was not only a literary genius aware of complex and obscure (until recent times) Hebrew literary forms, but was aware of a large amount of ancient Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices that scholars had yet to write about.  Clearly Joseph Smith had a large library of ancient texts (sarcasm).

So why Mormonism?  Because there is more to it than critics are wont to admit.  Critics are too quick to dismiss Mormonism as invented by Joseph Smith himself, without addressing the huge elephant in the room: if Joseph Smith invented LDS theology from his mind, how on earth did he, an uneducated young man, know so much about ancient Judeo-Christian beliefs and Hebrew language structure (some that weren’t discovered until long after his time), before he even started to learn Hebrew.  These are not reasons why I or anyone should convert, but they are reasons why Mormonism should be given more thought than critics give it.

Currently, I continue my studies on both sides of the Mormon coin.  In addition to my post-bacc pre-medical studies, I am also learning Biblical Hebrew, and perhaps Biblical Greek at a later time.  And of course much prayer is involved.  We shall see where God leads me.

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13 comments

    1. Thank you for commenting Aaron.

      I actually have already seen the God Never Sinned video, as well as most of your videos on Youtube (your postings on CARM generally alert me to new ones). Thank you for providing your perspective, which is helpful.

  1. Thank you for a well-written and thoughtful blog post. Latter-day saints welcome such open-minded scrutiny of our doctrines, history, and practices. I’m sure that your faith in God will guide you in the right way.

    Greg West

  2. BTW, Aaron is a notorious anti-Mormon street preacher, who likes to demonstrate at LDS temples Aka aaronshaf 2006 on YouTube (a grain of salt if you please)

    1. Thanks for the comments Larry. I’m aware of who Aaron is. In my post, when I say that I’ve read/watched the spectrum, from LDS apologetics to “anti” material, I meant it 😉

  3. I am not clear why the use of certain Hebraic structures implies the truth of Smith’s claims. Mohammed used them to some degree as well. This is explained it seems by Smith’s access to biblical literature.

    As for the “unique” doctrines of the LDS, they aren’t that unique in the history of ideas. Someone without a philosophical background would tend to think of deities as corporeal or temporally circumscribed. This is true for a number of 19th century religious groups, the JW’s included. The latter takes Jehovah to live somewhere near a certain star constellation.

    Pre-mortal existence isn’t distinctive to the LDS. Lots of pre and post-Christian bodies had such a belief. And the existence of such a belief in some Christian thinkers is no more verification of the LDS claims, than it is for others who claim the early church taught reincarnation or adopted Platonism. Origen’s view is easily explained by his exposure to Platonism. Similarity doesn’t imply correlation. Consequently none of the material from Origen or other writers has any evidentiary value for the LDS case.

    The same goes for a creation in terms of re-fashioning. Many primitie peoples have this belief and such a belief pre-existed Christianity, especially among the Platonists as Plato makes clear in his later work, The Laws. So I can’t see how this supports the LDS claims.

    Lots of so-called Christian groups were syncretistic, esoteric and mixed beliefs/practices. Early does not imply authentic. This is why the early church had tests to weed out imposters. If anything, this would be evidence for the authenticity of Gnosticism and not the LDS, since we know that the Gnostics existed, but we have no knowledge that the LDS did in the first to 2nd centuries.

    A heavenly mother is debated within the LDS and among LDS apologists. Second, pre and post christian paganism, gnosticism and other religious groups had some concept or another of a heavenly mother. That isn’t distinctive to the LDS.

    As for deification, lots of philosophical systems before and after Christianity favor some form of deification. A good number of 19th century religious groups did as well, including the JW’s. That said, the LDS concept is superficually related to the LDS concept. Consequently, the patristic material offers no evidentiary support for the LDS case. http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/contra-mundum-athanasius-and-the-lds-on-deification/

    1. Thank you for your comments Perry.

      I think that you have misunderstood the premise of my “Why Mormonism?” post. My point is not to say that the things brought up int he post prove Mormonism to be true (in fact, I have not concluded that Mormonism is true at this point). Instead, I believe that Mormonism deserves a more critical analysis than it is given by many critics, especially those that believe that Joseph Smith invented it all from his mind.

      Also, your entire reply is actually making the point I was making: that many of the unique beliefs of Mormonism (unique in comparison to traditional Christianity) are found anciently, and includes many views that were simply not known in the 1800s.

      It is interesting that you bring up Mohammed in relation to the Book of Mormon, since you again make my point. I would certainly expect the Koran to have Hebraic/Semitic structures, since Mohammed came from a time and location that we would expect to find such structures. That is the entire point. The Book of Mormon has some complex Hebraic structures, many of which were unknown i the 1800s, unless you would like to claim that Joseph Smith and his associates (depending on which theory of origin you subscribe to) were Hebrew linguistic geniuses ahead of their time. Chiasmus is one that is frequently brought up (and this is not just simple chaismus. Instead, we find whole chapters in chiastic structure). Access to the Bible does not explain this, since many of the Hebraic structures found within it that are also found in other ancient Semitic texts and the Book of Mormon were unknown in the 1800s, and Joseph Smith certainly was not a Hebrew linguist.

      The issue of creatio ex materia vs. creatio ex nihilo is actually one that I find very interesting. The fact is that non-LDS scholars frequently state that the belief in creatio ex nihilo originated post-Apostles. Olson in “The Story of Christian Theology” states “Theophilius is noted in the story of Christian theology for first introducing the concept of creatio ex nihilo-creation from nothing. That is not to say that other and even earlier church fathers did not believe it. But Theophilius explicitly contradicted the Greek tendency to view the universe as eternal.” Whether or not the view of creatio ex materia is found among the Greeks is irrelevant (especially since traditional Christianity had a habit of absorbing much of Greek thought, especially Neo-platonism and Stoicism, in explaining its beliefs). I suggest you read “Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of ‘Creation Out of Nothing’ in Early Christian Thought” by May and James Hubler’s University of Pennsylvania doctoral dissertation “Creatio ex Nihilo: Matter, Creation, and the Body in Classical and Christian Philosophy through Aquinas” to understand where the belief in creation from nothing actually came from (both non-LDS).

      You state that “early does not imply authentic”, and this is exactly what the LDS believe in regard to the traditional views of Christianity, especially when the vast majority of documents in support of traditional Christian beliefs come from the second century and later. Of course we do not have knowledge that the LDS existed in the first to second centuries, hence why they are called “latter-day” saints. That is the entire point of their belief in a Restoration. The point here is that many of their unique beliefs find themselves in ancient Judeo-Christian thought, and the study of pre-exilic Judaism is especially interesting in this regard. I suggest you read the article “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion by Margaret Barker (non-LDS, OT scholar, former president of the Society for Old Testament Study).

      I would not expect the LDS view of exaltation to be the same as the ECF/Orthodox/Catholic view on theosis, nor do many LDS themselves (by virtue of belief in an Apostasy). In fact, the views have to be different because of the difference in belief on creation and the nature of man. Perhaps you should read the dissertation “Partakers of the Divine Nature” by Vajda (Catholic priest turned LDS), who compares and contrasts the LDS exaltation to the patristic theosis. The point here is that Western Christianity, especially Protestantism, largely ignores deification, and it certainly was not something that Joseph Smith could have simply learned about at his local Methodist church. I’d be interested to read about the other 19th century religious groups that posited deification, especially the Jehovah’s Witnesses, since I have never read that they held such a belief.

      So, again it seems that you misunderstood the purpose of my post. I am not claiming that the things mentioned in it are proof that Mormonism is true (in fact, I explicitly stated that). Instead, those issues are things that I believe deserve a closer look by critics that quickly dismiss Mormonism as just heresy. Critics need to evaluate Mormonism in the context(s) that it came out of, the 1800s, as well as the context that it supposedly came out of, the ancient Judeo-Christian world. By saying that many of the beliefs of Mormonism find parallels anciently, you are making my point, which leads to the question of how such beliefs ended up in Mormonism, especially in a coherent fashion. I highly suggest you read “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion” by Barker, since she take the same view that I do (though I doubt that she is considering conversion).

  4. I don’t think what I wrote supports your point. Here is why. First a number of those views were known in the 1800’s.Plenty of Presbyterians,Lutherans, Catholics, etc. knew about them. And for ones not known, they aren’t exactly that hard to come up with. It seems far simpler to think that an uneducated person came up with a more simple and physicalistic conception of deity for example in the 19th century. Smith wasn’t alone in doing so.

    The point of Mohammed was such structures there do not imply any kind of supernatural verification or the existence of states of affairs claimed by the Muslims. The same is true for such structures in the writing of a good number of church fathers as well as medieval scholastics, hymns and such. It seems to me that the argument looks persuasive until you do some comparison analysis.

    Asserting that access to the Bible does not explain it is an assertion looking for an argument. Access to the bible explains it in plenty of other cases. I seriously doubt in terms of sophistication Smith has anything on Aquinas or other Latin medievals.

    As for creation ex nihilo, there is a difference between what can be demonstrated via historical data that we have access to and what the tradition is. The former may give us a more minimal picture, but it doesn’t imply that the latter is false. I’ve read May’s book already and I am not particularly moved by his thesis. And even if he were right, the thesis of creation in terms of fashioning matter is derived form Platonism, and not from a pre-existing Christian position, as May argues. Hence if May is correct, he has just falsified LDS claims. The source is Platonism and not the apostles. As I have argued, the idea that God alone is beginingless entails creation ex nihilo.

    As for the claim of “absorbing Greek thought” this is grossly over stated. The situation was far more nuanced in cases where there was influence and the influence in a number of cases went in the other direction as well. Moreover, plenty of Platonism was antithetical to Christianity, namely the idea that matter was the source of evil. I doubt the LDS adhere to that “early” belief.

    If early does not imply authentic, then finding examples of supposed similarity to LDS doctrines doesn’t imply that they are authentic so you have conceded the LDS case. To arbitrarily privilege some based on similarity to LDS beliefs is not only ad hoc, but it is question begging.

    Second, you make a faulty inference that the vast majority of documents in support of Christianity come from the second century, as if this implies some disparity. Moreover it hinders rather than helps the LDS case, for those documents include the NT documents as well. If that tradition is not reliable, then neither is the NT from which and upon which Smith’s claims were launched. There are no NT manuscripts in the case of the Gospels for example that have their traditional designations from before 200-250 A.D. This is known by tradition passed down through people like Polycarp, Ireneaus, Ignatius, et al. If we toss them, then we can toss the NT too on the very same basis. If you wish to object to “traditional” Christian beliefs on that basis, then you need to object to the NT as well. The LDS then are inconsistent since they should reject the NT too since the NT is a product of the apostasy like all of the other “traditional” doctrines. The NT is a tradition.

    The reason they are called LDS is not because we lack knowledge regarding their existence in the NT period, but because they posit themselves as the restoration of what they think was present. If your gloss were correct, LDS would be an appropriate designation for any restorationist group since we lack evidence that they existed in that same period too.

    As for the Restoration, if it were true, then the entire bible is to be jettisoned since it was produced by the post Constantinian Church in terms of canon, textual families, textual transmission and preservation. It is a great oddity that the LDS subscribe to the Protestant canon.

    I am familiar with Barker’s work and what that and other work in the field shows is not that there was present a body that had LDS beliefs and practices, but rather there were a number of differing beliefs, some faded over time and some were transformed and transformed for all kinds of reasons and some weren’t transformed substantially. Moreover, the beliefs are not isomorphic with the LDS and so again the similarity claim is attenuated. But even if we had sufficient similarity, we certainly lack sufficient warrant for concluding a correlation between that period and the LDS church. Moreover, the plurality of beliefs says nothing as to their legitimacy any more than the current plurality of sects of the LDS implies which one or that any of them are a legitimate expression of Smith’s thought.

    I’ve read Vajda’s work on line and while it’s a sketch, he gets some things wrong. The same goes for Norman and other LDS who have written on the topic. I can agree that Protestants and Catholics get theosis wrong or ignore it or it fell out of their tradition. But I am Orthodox and none of that applies to the Orthodox. So his case for the LDS claims calls flat given the Orthodox stumbling block. Second, if the LDS view is not substantially similar to that of the Fathers, then the Fathers can not serve as evidence for the LDS claims. That was the point, so that if you concede that they aren’t substantially the same, then you concede their apologetic vacuity for the LDS case.

    Second, deification was well known to the Methodists, particularly through the theology of the Wesley’s since John was an avid devotee to much of the theology of the Cappadocians. As memory serves the LDS were well exposed to the Methodists. So I quite disagree since a fair amount of theosis talk is recorded in Methodist sources, sermons, etc.

    Third, it wouldn’t take too much brains to look at some of the biblical material and conclude some form of theosis, which was and is present in Catholicism and Protestantism. The latter two didn’t give up a form of theosis, but transformed it. Smith’s view is no less structured by philosophical commitments than theirs is, which is why none of them map on to the patristic model. The Orthodox are unique in this regard. Added to this is that the Orthodox have an unquestionable continuous tie to the Apostles and the early church. There just never was an apostasy. I mean, one can visit Orthodox churches founded by Peter, Paul, John, etc.

    With the JW’s, their doctrine goes by the “sacred secret” and it is a form of deification for the 144,000 in which they become something like miniature Christs. Much the same is true for a good number of groups that did not survive the 19th and early 20th centuries. The LDS look unique in that regard because these groups either hide their views or don’t exist any longer or are so mall as to escape notice. Moreover, a form of theosis has been created by the Pentacostals in recent times with no influence from the LDS. If they can do it, I don’t see why Smith couldn’t. Benny Hinn isn’t exaclty a rocket scientist.

    So I don’t think you grasped the argument I put forward. I’ve looked at a fair amount of material from the LDS and respective apologists on theosis in particular. Most of it betrays a significant lack of familiarity with the patristic doctrine, that is, Orthodox teaching. They play up terms and phrases but tend to ignore or play down other passages or any serious analysis of how such terms and phrases functioned in the thought of the person in question. In short, they tend to spoof text.

    I agree with you how we should evaluate the LDS claims, but I see no sufficient argument or data to move me to grant anything more than a superficial similarity to ancient beliefs. If what has been put forward were sufficient for that, I’d have to conclude the same for lots of other sects. So this line is insufficient as a discriminating factor. Moreover, there isn’t sufficient evidence and are no plausible arguments for a strong relation of correlation, at least not that I’ve seen.

    I don’t think that such beliefs ended up in the LDS in a coherent fashion. They morphed and developed over time, in many cases with little regard for any kind of serious conceptual coherence. The same is true for a number of groups that came out of the 19th century.

    1. Thanks for the comments again Perry.

      You misunderstand my comments about Mohammed in relation to the Book of Mormon. I did not mention anything about Hebrew/Semitic structures in the Book of Mormon and/or the Koran means supernatural origin. What I did say and mean was that the existence of such linguistic structures is expected in the Koran, because of the time and place that it came out from. This ignores whether or not it is actually of supernatural origin. The point is that its language reflects where and when it came from, in the same way that Shakespeare’s work reflects the time and place that he came from. The fact that the Book of Mormon demonstrates Hebraic linguistic elements leads one to consider how they ended up there.

      Asserting that access to the Bible does not explain it is certainly a valid argument because one has to not only consider who originated the Book of Mormon (which depends on which theory you accept) and what their background in theology and the Bible was, but also how complex the supposed Hebraic structures are in the Book of Mormon, and whether it is probable that said person(s) could extract them from the Bible and replicate them uniquely. In the context of Biblical studies, one also has to consider whether said Hebraic structures were known at that time period (the 1800s), by whom, and if they weren’t, whether it is reasonable to claim that Joseph Smith and/or his associates could detect such structures and replicate them. It’s not simply a matter of whether it could be done by anyone, but whether it could have been done by Joseph Smith (or whomever you believe wrote the Book of Mormon) with his background, in the 1800s, with the Biblical Hebrew linguistic knowledge of that time (and the person’s knowledge of that knowledge). It is interesting though that you attempt to compare Smith to educated theologians as Aquinas. That seems to be part of my point here.

      May’s thesis does not invalidate the LDS claim, because of the belief in a Great Apostasy (if we are keeping this within the LDS worldview). May does not assert that the Apostles taught creatio ex nihilo. The importance of May (and all other scholars on the topic of creatio ex nihilo) is in researching the origin of creation from nothing. If said belief is Judeo-Christian in origin, then it is important to note when it originated, especially in the context of Hebrew thought (which we would assume originated it before Christianity did). For me, it isn’t enough to say “well the Bible teaches it”, since as you know, various Protestant groups claim things as Biblical that have no evidence in ancient Judeo-Christian history. So, if creatio ex nihilo is a valid Judeo-Christian belief, when did it originated, when was it discussed, etc.

      I certainly agree that much of Platonism was antithetical to Christianity. I never asserted otherwise.

      Early does not imply authentic (your view), as I know you agree in the case of Gnosticism, among other early heresies. My point was that such a view is dependent on your worldview. Catholics and Orthodox naturally invoke the “earlier equals authentic” argument in discussions with Protestants. However you certainly wouldn’t claim that all “earlier” beliefs are authentic. Nor would the LDS or myself. The point here is that because many of the beliefs of Mormonism find ancient parallels, the question is, how did they get there? Again, if one supports the view that Joseph Smith simply made it all up in his mind, perhaps after reading the Bible and hearing sermons by others (a view you seem to be advocating), then we also have to wonder if it was probable that such beliefs and history were known at that time, by whom, whether Smith had access to this, etc. It is simply not enough to claim that, well this other person did this, so it’s possible. We must evaluate in the context that such beliefs arose, specific to the world that Joseph Smith had access to.

      The point about the second century documents is, what were the beliefs in the 1st century? The same as that in the 2nd? The gap is certainly a time period that needs to be accounted for. Are you not aware of the LDS view of the Bible? One of the LDS articles of faith states that they accept the Bible as the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly”. Perhaps you should look into what that means to them. The New Testament is obviously not a product of the Apostasy. What we have certainly may be, since the manuscripts that we have so far do not date to the 1st century. Hence the caveat “as far as it is translated correctly” in regards to the Bible. The LDS view on the Bible is actually similar to how they view the “traditional doctrines”, and is quite consistent in this regard.

      As far as the Bible being produced by the post-Constantine Church, see above. I think you need to actually read more about how LDS view the Great Apostasy and what was actually happening post-Great Apostasy. In their worldview, the acceptance of a Great Apostasy does not necessitate rejection of the Bible as we have it today, because of how they view what was happening post-Apostasy, as well as the “as far as it is translated” caveat.

      I don’t think that any LDS expects to find some organization that had all of the LDS beliefs anciently. That is not how they view the ancient support. I believe that I already touched on this issue above. Again, I am not saying that the “plurality of beliefs” were all valid beliefs. What I am saying is that one has to wonder how certain beliefs and views found anciently ended up in Mormonism. I reject the assertion that they are superficial similarities in all regards, especially when many of these similarities come from Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic works. The more I read critical perspectives, the more I see them portraying Joseph Smith as a multi-talented genius with access to an extensive library of ancient texts, which ignores that context of his actual life that I repeatedly refer to.

      As far as deification, the views of Vajda and other apologists are their own, and they can assert whatever similarities they want between LDS exaltation and patristic deification. Vajda is frequently cited by critics in noting the differences between the two (which I noted in my last post, saying that he compares and contrasts both). Other LDS apologists I have interacted with leave the similarity between the two as simply “we both believe in becoming gods”, implying the difference on what that actually means. It seems as if you are claiming a stronger supposed link between the patristic evidence and the LDS exaltation than the LDS apologists claim themselves.

      As far as the Orthodox having a continuous tie to the ancient Church, well, obviously that is debatable. If it was so simple I (and others) certainly would be in the Orthodox Church (though I still do think about it) instead of the Catholic Church. You may want to look at the comments section of my post “As Far As It Is Translated Correctly”, where I have attempted (briefly) to show the Orthodox as having as much a valid claim to being the “one true church” as the Catholic Church has, in fact even moreso, since they have changed less than the Catholics have. The conversation has gone pretty much off my post-topic, but you may find something interesting to comment on.

      Thanks for the information on the Methodists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was not aware of such beliefs (though I was aware of the 144,000 and the JWs). Bringing up the Pentecostals is interesting, as that goes back to my point. One has to study the context of when and where these beliefs came out from. Who were these Pentecostalists that came up with their version of theosis? What is their background? What texts were available to them? You compare Smith to Benny Hinn. What was Hinn’s background? He was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church. Is he positing a belief in theosis? Again, just because one person did something doesn’t mean that the other person could do. We have to evaluate these people according to their lives and the time period that they were in (and therefore what they had access to).

      I’d certainly be interested in finding out the other sects that have documents and beliefs that find parallels in ancient texts (Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic included), when they originated, who was associated with them, what their backgrounds where, etc. I think that such beliefs did end up in the LDS worldview coherently, since views such as pre-mortal existence, creatio ex materia, exaltation, and a corporeal Father are all related. You may also be interested in knowing that some LDS apologists compare their “washing and anointing” temple ceremony (specifically the anointing part) to the Orthodox chrismation and statements by Cyril of Jerusalem I believe. I’d be interested in your views on that, perhaps at a later date.

      Anyway, thank you very much for your views. Even though I do not agree with all of your conclusions, I really do appreciate your views. You actually hit on something that I have repeatedly stated on a Catholic forum I participate in (specifically when you discussed deification or lack therof in the West vs. the East). LDS apologetics frequently are framed from the Western perspective, addressing only Catholicism and Protestantism, and not Orthodoxy. The many books and articles I have read on the Apostasy view the history of Christianity strictly from the Western perspective, largely ignoring Orthodoxy. Many of the arguments against “traditional Christianity” would have no validity against Orthodox theology, and this is something I hope that LDS address once they are exposed to Eastern Christianity more.

  5. Actually the existence of semetic structures is not to be expected in the Quran for a number of reasons. First, because of its late date. Second, because its in Arabic. Third because Mohammed was illiterate. Yet when we account for its existence in contemporary scholarship there is no credibility to be given to claims of supernatural origin.

    You state that asserting that access to the Bible does not explain such things is a valid argument. Its not a valid argument. It’s a statement, and perhaps at best a conclusion, but it is not a demonstration, deductive or otherwise. Its an assertion. There are no premises, no inference rule, nada.

    To suppose that their presence requires planned extraction and sophisticated placement begs the question by implying that this was done with forethought. That needs to be demonstrated and not assumed. Plenty of examples can be brought forward where methods, styles and such have been transmitted or deployed in unique sophisticated ways without any planning or consciousness on the part of the transmitter. This is the case in forged documents as well as authentic ones or entirely new texts that depend on other texts for inspiration. One can explain such things whether people in the 19th century knew of them or not. People use terms correctly and in new ways all the time in natural languages without knowing anything about grammar or the semantic content of the terms or phrases.

    My point with Aquinas was that Aquinas did so by just using the Bible and he wasn’t aware of such structures either. Knowledge and use aren’t the same things.

    I think you misunderstand my remarks about May. May falsifies the LDS claim in that he doesn’t locate creation from pre-existing matter in the apostles, but in Hellenism. In order for the LDS claim to have purchase, we’d need May to argue and to demonstrate that such beliefs were apostolic, not Hellenic or Mesopotamian for that matter. But there is substantial evidence that creation via pre-existing matter pre-existed both Christianity and Judaism.

    Correct, you did not assert that Platonism wasn’t antithetical to Christianity, but if there was the kind of wholesale borrowing that you seem to suggest, the antithetical structure of Platonism seems to render claims of whole sale borrowing untenable.

    As for the maxim that early does not imply authentic and that this is a function of one’s worldview, this is false. It is not that within some paradigms the maxim is truth preserving and in others its not. The maxim is truth preserving regardless. The Catholic and Orthodox cases do not rest on the idea that earlier implies authentic. What they rely on is a host of principles taken together that raise the probability of the authenticity of certain ideas or texts.

    And the fact that the LDS would not claim that all earlier beliefs are authentic is just the point. We need a criteria from them that is not ad hoc or question begging. Even if we could establish more than superficial similarity, this does not imply correlation. Substantial similarity has been drawn between a variety of ancient cultures in other areas where we know in fact that there has been no cultural or historical connection whatsoever.

    I don’t see why it isn’t sufficient to explain Smith’s parallels by reference to other cases of individuals coming up with the ideas on their own. Why exactly isn’t that sufficient? If its sufficient for those other persons and contexts, why not here? This is special pleading.

    The gap between first and third century is easily accounted for. First it is accounted for in the writings of people like Ignatius, Ireneaus and others. Second, we certainly don’t have the plurality of sources during that period and for very good reason. Given the persecution ad other factors, it is quite clear why we don’t have full blown documents until 200-250 A.D.

    You assert, but do not demonstrate that the NT is not a product of the apostasy. But if the apostasy sets in when the apostles die and continues to get worse and not better, why exempt the NT canon and the documents themselves? This is again, ad hoc.

    I agree that the LDS do not think that their view implies the rejection of the NT as authentic, but just because they don’t think it does, doesn’t show that doesn’t. So what they think is quite irrelevant to the argument. They frankly merely assume that the NT text and canon that they have, that was preserved by an apostate body run by Satan is authentic.
    As for the “as far as it is translated correctly” line, this demonstrates that Smith and others did not understand basic concepts in relation to texts and languages. It is a very common mistake to argue from versions to a claim of textual variation. Muslim apologists do it all the time. Second, it is question begging, since we need to know first that the NT is authentic on independent grounds prior to the truth of LDS claims. You cannot truck in LDS prophetic claims to fill in the gap. Consequently, the “as far as it is translated correctly” line, which presumes the veracity of LDS claims and hence that they are in a position to know that the NT is authentic in the main is irrelevant.

    So as far as the Bible being a product of the post-constantinian church, I think you need to read a bit more about how the canon of the bible was formulated and the who and how of carrying out textual transmission. If the Church got the canon right, this lends support that they got other doctrines right.

    I agree that the LDS expects to find all of their beliefs in an ancient context. That wasn’t the point. The point is that they need to find in the main, the over all structure of beliefs and practices within a genuine historical society of people, and they don’t. And I didn’t assert that the similarities were superficial. I gave an argument for thinking so.

    You also prejudice the issue by saying that these similarities came from Apocryphal and Psuedopigraphical works. We don’t know that they “came from” them. We may know that they bear similarity to such and so beliefs, but that is true for all kinds of people who came up with those beliefs without any access to those documents. How did the Albigensians come up with an essentially Gnostic cosmology without the Gnostic texts or without reading church authorities that were critical of them such as Ireneaus?

    As for Vajda, you put him forward to support your case, but now you seem to be putting him aside. Why? Why is it that he is to serve a supporting role until it becomes clear that I am in a unique position to critically evaluate his work? The reason why critics cite him in terms of differences is that neither they nor their LDS interlocutors have anything more than a superficial grasp on the patristic and Orthodox doctrine. They have no substantial grasp of the doctrine of the energies, the deification of corporeality and so on. This is true for Abanes as much as it for Ostler.

    LDS apologists are sure to concede the dissimilarities, but what else could they do? And as far as the similarity, their view is just as similar in that respect to Gnostic, Manichean, Stoic or any other deifying perspective at the time. And that is the point, the similarity provides no support for the LDS claim that they are the early church restored. There’s just no inference to be had from theosis in the early church to the kind of deification the LDS proffer. Any inference will just as easily pick out any number of other views, which shows that the inference is not truth preserving.

    As for the antiquity of Orthodoxy, no it is not debateable. The Catholic Church does not find it controversial and this is why the Catholic Church recognizes Orthodox ordinations, which it doesn’t do for Protestants, including Anglicans. What the Catholic Church asserts is that we are in schism, but not that we are not an authentic continuation of the early church. Our orders in their view are illicit, but valid.

    Hinn’s Palestinian background is irrelevant for a simple reason. Hinn demonstratably got his view of deification from Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin and E.W. Kenyon. They got it from Quimby, who was something of an occultist and was influential on E.W. Kenyon, Mary Baker Eddy and William Branham, notable founders of three other religious groups/movements. Second, I have no reason to think that Hinn was a member at any time of the Orthodox Church or significantly influenced by it.

    As for other parallels in other sects, just start reading in the history of heterodoxy or minor sects across the world. Similar patterns emerge very quickly.

    I can grant that the beliefs you mention are all related, but that doesn’t demonstrate coherence, which is not the same as consistency. Moreover, their modern articulation is a far cry from their 19th century deployment. For example, does the father deity have a beginning or not?

    I am aware that LDS apologists compare some of their rituals to ours. Of course, plenty of modern scholars have done so with respect to Mithrasism too. Its not a big deal and demonstrates nothing much at all, except the fact that we know that the cult of Mithras existed in late antiquity and this isn’t the case for the LDS.

    1. Thanks for the comments again Perry.

      Firstly, I need to emphasize again that I have not concluded that Mormonism is true (though obviously I find much of it tenable) at this point (which I stated in my first reply to you, and is also stated in my blog), and therefore some of your arguments do not apply here, since they come from the premise that I accept Mormonism is true, therefore I should prove x is true because I believe that it is. What I do believe is that Mormonism is a coherent worldview and theology, which deserves more attention from critics than what it receives from most. That has always been the premise of my “Why Mormonism?” post.

      Of course we would expect Semitic linguistic structures to be found in the Koran. Arabic is a Semitic language. It is certainly odd to claim that Semitic structures would not be found in a Semitic language. Also, whether or not Mohammed was illiterate is not relevant (LDS also claim that Joseph Smith was illiterate as well), since the Koran is a Semitic text (whether or not it is of later origin than the Biblical texts), and we would therefore expect to find linguistic cues from that language and language family, since it came from a specific time and place. Supernatural origin has nothing to do with it. It is simply a fact of the origin of the Koran in a specific time and place that we would expect to find such language structures.

      On access to the Bible, I think that you also need to demonstrate that access to the Bible is a valid explanation for the Hebraisms found in the Book of Mormon, since you asserted it in the first place. Again, it must be demonstrated that Joseph Smith (or his associates, depending on which theory of origin you subscribe to, which I am not sure of) was able to detect those Hebraisms and replicate them uniquely in the Book of Mormon (as well as being able to do so while “translating” the Book of Mormon, however you believe that actually occurred). Sure it is possible, but is it probable? Again that goes back to understanding the time period that Joseph Smith lived in, the knowledge of the Hebraisms in the Bible at that time, Smith’s knowledge of them, his background and ability to detect such structures by himself, etc. To claim that this did not require “planned extraction and sophisticated placement” shows to me that you do not actually know the Hebraisms I am referring to that are found in the Book of Mormon. And to place Joseph Smith on the level of Aquinas is certainly to place him at a higher level than he actually was. That would be like me saying “because Einstein did it, so could I”. It is certainly true that things could happen by accident, however when one actually studies the Hebraisms of the Book of Mormon, it is certainly hard to claim that all of it simply fell in place by accident. As far as forgeries, perhaps you are interested in the book “Leap of Faith” by Bennett, which takes that very approach to the Book of Mormon. Bennett of course is a believer, however he shows the weaknesses in the Book of Mormon as much as he does the strengths.

      I can certainly agree on what May’s conclusion was on the doctrine of pre-existing matter, however he clearly does not agree that creation from nothing came from the apostles. Many other non-LDS scholars conclude similarly that creation from nothing is not found in the earliest Judaism and Christianity, nor is it found in the Hebrew/Greek Biblical texts (in contrast to what is found in the English translations, including 2 Macc 7).

      Again, I said nothing about “wholesale borrowing” from Platonism. What I did say was that ancient Christianity had a habit of absorbing much of Greek thought. It is simply a statement of fact.

      The Catholic and Orthodox claims do not rest on the idea that earlier implies authentic, however they both (at least many lay apologists) certainly invoke such an argument frequently, and some Orthodox even do so against the Catholics. And a better word for “authentic”, as far as what I am talking about here, is “true”. Earlier does not make it more true. It may certainly give it a closer chance of being what the Apostles actually taught, however it does not automatically imply that it is true (given your introduction of Gnosticism to the field).

      I never said that it is okay to judge other religious persons in a way that would not be acceptable with Joseph Smith. What I say about judging Smith in relation to others applies to everyone else as well. Simply saying that Thomas Aquinas did something, for example, and therefore it is possible that Joseph Smith did as well, ignores the realities of who these people were, their backgrounds, the time period they lived in, their location, etc., all of which impact the things that they did, the conclusions that they came to, etc. It is the frequent “if he can do it, why can’t you” argument that people invoke. It ignores the context of the person. I’m not interested in limiting this to Joseph Smith alone. This applies to everyone.

      Why should I demonstrate that the New Testament is a product of the Apostasy? Again, I have not concluded that Mormonism is true, therefore I don’t necessarily believe that there was an Apostasy in the first place. What I am doing here is showing why Mormonism is a coherent entity, and that its arguments can work within itself and without. So again, many of your arguments don’t make sense or apply in this context. The whole field of textual criticism is based on the changes between manuscripts that we have of the Biblical texts, since we do not have the originals. The LDS claim “as far as it is translated correctly” is related to the same issues that textual scholars are researching. It is because the LDS accept a Great Apostasy and that “apostate churches” transmitted and translated the Bible that they add on “as far as it is translated correctly”, since they readily believe that their are problems with the Bible(s) that we have. Also, which Church got the canon right? Is it the Catholic canon, the Greek canon, the Russian canon, the Ethiopian canon, etc.? The canon was a fluid entity in the early Church. I am curious if the Orthodox have ever defined what the canon is, since Catholicism infallibly defined it at Florence and Trent.

      I did not mean to imply that what is found in LDS works “came from” Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic works. What I did mean was that there are clear similarities between the two. It certainly would be interesting to study how the Cathars came up with their worldviews, and compare that to the LDS. Again, context is important here, and invoking the “if they could do it, so can you” argument doesn’t work, because it ignores the context of each.

      How am I putting Vajda aside? When i first brought him up, I quite clearly stated that I don’t expect the LDS view of exaltation to be exactly the same as the patristic account, and stated that Vajda’s dissertation compares and contrasts those views. I then stated in the next post that Vajda is cited by critics for the very reason that I stated initially, that he demonstrates the differences between LDS exaltation and patristic theosis, and that you are asserting a stronger link between them than many LDS apologists do themselves. So it is quite curious that you claim that I am putting Vajda aside, when I am doing no such thing, since I have continuously claimed that he presents the similarities and differences between exaltation and theosis, and that critics refer to him for that reason. Whether or not they grasp the “essence-energies” theology (a highly philosophized view, as I’m sure you recognize) is irrelevant, because no one will deny that there are differences between exaltation and theosis, which you yourself have stated. That was the entire point of referring to Vajda. Again, LDS do not expect to find their beliefs exactly in the patristic evidence, by virtue of their belief in the Great Apostasy. It certainly would be odd for them to find or attempt to find LDS exaltation exactly as it is found in so-called apostate patristic writings, especially because exaltation is tied to their view on pre-mortal existence and the nature of man, which the fathers obviously did not share. So again, it is important to keep things in the context that they come from, since you seem to assert things that LDS would agree with themselves, since you ignore the context of the Great Apostasy and what that means for LDS apologists when they read the patristic sources, as well as how they view their distinctive beliefs (were they all believed anciently, or are some of them newly revealed?).

      Of course the Catholic Church finds the situation of Orthodoxy controversial. What does it mean to be the continuation of the ancient church? How does schism play into that? Clearly the Catholic Church views itself as the continuation of the ancient church, in its fullness, with the Orthodox Church not in full communion with the “one true church”. My point is that it is debatable who is the “one true church”, since the Orthodox assert that, and the Catholics assert that. It might be obvious to you that it is the Orthodox Church, but it is obvious to Catholics (including one that is posting in another one of my posts) that it is not the Orthodox Church, whether or not they have valid but illicit sacraments. I find such an assertion on a schismatic group (that it can have valid sacraments and orders) problematic in itself, but that’s another issue.

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