On the Orthosphere, Roebuck continues his treatment of Mormonism about which I wrote last week in “Mormons and Jesus.” His latest post, “The Basic Case against Mormonism and Other Pseudo-Christianities,” defends the necessity of proper theology for the Christian life. I commented:
And some, seeing the bad state of current Christian culture, hold that traditional Christianity is largely a failure. These people want an institutional Christianity that appears culturally successful.
[This objection, unlike those above, is at least based on a true premise. Current Christian culture is in a deplorable state. But this is not a valid reason to contradict the teachings of Christ.]
Charlton makes this point repeatedly in condemning “mainstream” Christianity. Each time that he raises that point, I want to state, following the old saying, that the problem with Christianity is the Christians, while the problem with Mormonism is Mormonism. Charlton and like-minded individuals may respond that a good tree does not bear rotten fruit, but even a good tree with put forth some nasty crops if it is placed in a cellar with little light or if it is continually malnourished. I am an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Russian Church, and I believe that the Orthodox Church is “the Church.” However, I readily admit the problems that exist among Orthodox Christians. The modern world is explicitly anti-Christian in so many ways, and its hostile, corrupting influence is a severe thorn in Christians’ sides. In the early centuries, the pagan world persecuted the Church, and the Church prevailed. Such is happening again. We often fail to remember all the compromises and the lukewarm folks who betrayed the faith in the early centuries, thinking only of the victorious martyrs. Yet, I wonder what the real numbers were. I assume that many Christians missed the mark in living out the gospel radically, but the Church eventually triumphed over idolatry and wickedness, as it will do so in the future. Every age has its peculiar temptations and occasions for apostasy, and I believe that the current age is the most insane, most depraved period in history. It should not surprise us, then, that so many of the faithful fail—and fail so miserably—at their vocations of discipleship. However, persecution also brings forth martyrs, and that bitter cup in the modern world teems with witnesses. In Orthodox lands, we have seen countless martyrs, confessors, and lifelong strugglers who lived and died for the Lord under the theomachist Communist regimes. In the West, consider the virtuous men and women who have held fast to the Good since the perfidy of modernity exposed its bloody jaws; from the patriots of la Vendée to today, there has been a strong minority of those who have maintained a view of heaven despite the clouds of modern confusion.
When Charlton points to Rome, the Orthodox, or confessional Protestants with a condemning finger due to the sorry state of their larger societies and of their nominal members, he errs in his sampling. When Mormons fail at being Mormon, they “leave the church” and become, well, Utahns (or the equivalent secular person elsewhere) due to the ostracism factor in Mormonism. That is a model of ecclesial discipline, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. And there are disadvantages—we are dealing with salvation here, and the stakes are quite high. Rome could increase its healthy piety stats if it took a different course, but such heavy handed discipline might jeopardize millions of souls by burning bridges on the Tiber, so to speak. Thus, grievous sinner O’Donnell continues to consider himself Catholic until his death, though he lives worse than a pagan. Yet, his continued affiliation with the Church remains for him a lifeline. The door remains open. What is the “recidivism” rate of Mormon defectors? Outside Mormon majority areas? I bet that Rome’s rates of return are much higher.
Besides, we are traditionalists, are we not? We are not soulless devotees of the latest fad in social science. We try to avoid tunnel vision, especially in only considering our own age. Charlton mentions fertility as an indicator of who is following the golden path. Right before the Great War, Russian Christians had one of the highest fertility rates in history. I recommend that you read “Young Russia: The Land of Unlimited Possibilities” from National Geographic in November, AD 1914. Ignorant of what future terrors awaited the empire, the writer predicted that Russia would have six hundred million people by the end of the twentieth century. However, a bloody revolution, a civil war, two world wars, including an invasion, generations of suffering under Communist tyranny and its consequent social and material depravity, and the influences of alien ideologies have reduced the fertility of Russian women to below replacement levels. Is this surprising? Are we really to blame Orthodox dogma and praxis for this? (Fortunately, that decline is starting to reverse!) Moreover, the same Churches that Charlton condemns provided centuries and centuries of healthy societies, thousands of saints, and, in summation, post-classical Western civilization! What has Mormonism given us besides good looking, clean cut blond families with a social ethic that would have been considered normal and unremarkable sixty years ago?
Everyone on this site pretty much agrees that contemporary society is mad. It is to be expected that Christians who live in this madness will be affected negatively, and we must implement and follow special survival strategies if we are to keep our good sense among the crazies. Forming and living within a counterrevolutionary subculture is one such strategy (the best option, in my opinion), and that is what the Mormons have done. The region of the country under their influence—from northern Arizona to Idaho—is a lovely land mostly populated by hearty WASPs descended from frontier stock. Their governors (their prophet and quorum of the twelve) live in this subculture and rule with its good in mind. However, if we formed a governing body from the men of any Christian group in this region, we would likely get some rather sensible people, too. I suppose that even the Episcopalians in Idaho are solid folks. Then, if these hypothetical rulers only made decisions with this subculture’s denizens in mind, they would probably come up with moral standards and social controlling decisions quite like the Mormons. Rome’s (or Russia’s or Germany’s vel alia) bishops do not have that luxury. Their flocks live in darker places, and the bishops have to keep them in mind and govern accordingly. Nonetheless, where there are counterrevolutionary subcultures among the papists (Society of Saint Pius X, for instance) or the Orthodox (say, ROCOR), you find even more sanity than what you see among the Mormons, just as traditional, healthy lifestyles and local communities are common among Orthodox Jews, Mennonites, traditionalist Lutherans, and so on. As the LDS move toward the mainstream and embrace accommodation for the larger society, they will become more like the Jones. Or, to be more precise, they will be like the Romneys and Huntsmans, only without the wealth, breeding, and industry of those elites. In other words, the average Mormon will resemble the average Methodist more and more. Of course, the Mormons’ wise men may switch course and refortify.
Rather than looking at such outward statistics, which is more a matter of how much one resists and sets oneself apart from the larger, godless culture (and such ghettoization comes with a cost), Charlton should ask where one can find Christ taught and glorified—where one finds truth, where one finds a path to holiness. In Greek jargon, we seek to unite ourselves with the Lord’s body and thus to become like God (theosis). Is that possible in the LDS? Roebuck argues no. The Church from the apostles to today has argued against heresies that resemble Mormonism in many ways (including Mohammedanism), and it seems reasonable to hearken unto such warnings.