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?
-creation from pre-existing material
-“secret”/esoteric ordinances in orthodox Christianity
-the Heavenly Mother
-deification (similarities with the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic concept)
-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.