In the previous posts “Mormons and Jesus” and “Charlton’s Mormon Advantage,” I comment on Alan Roebuck’s treatment of Mormonism on The Orthosphere. L.D.S. commentator Leo wrote a response on the comment thread to “The Basic Case against Mormonism and Other Pseudo-Christianities” by Roebuck. I reply:
Let me clarify that I do not think that the Russian Church exhaustively manifests the Church. Church is said in many ways. In Orthodoxy, we speak of the Church as the Body of Christ, and we also use the term Church for the local manifestations of the Christian community—the local bishop surrounded by his priests, his deacons, and the faithful under his supervision (I originally typed “failful” mistakenly, but that does characterize the Christian flock to a large extent!). As to the boundaries of the Church beyond the Orthodox Churches, I defer to my ecclesial authorities. However, I personally suspect that the Roman Church participates in or constitutes, perhaps in an ailing way, the Church, as well. There is so much good fruit, clear truth, and consistent, perpetual sanctity among the papists. I do not know the nature of schism (or rather, its bastardized anti-nature), but I doubt that Rome and the non-Chalcedonians are not part of the family. Even (especially!) families have their squabbles and sins.
With everyone else, though, it seems like their separation is pretty evident. Anglican and confessional Protestants have drifted farther from apostolic teaching and practice as the centuries have passed, where those who hold steadfast to the theological and moral truths of the faith have become ever fewer in number. And even they cling to poisonous errors, as Protestantism is the spiritual side of modernity. As for pious individual Protestants, clearly there is something to their faith. Kristor and Alan here are good examples. I distrust loosey goosey kumbaya ecclesiology, but there is power in the gospel, in the reading and reflection upon the scriptures, in the name of the Lord, and in the external signs of the Church that light the darkness even apart from their proper setting (in the Church). Perhaps, this truth lies behind Augustine’s and the Roman Church’s understanding of validity—whereby there may be sacramental efficacy beyond the visible Church.
In his Confessions, Augustine writes about the importance of the name Jesus, even in the wildly heretical setting of the Manichees. I think that the same must be true of all fallen away sects. When the Mohammedans show respect toward Mary or when they acknowledge the holiness and authority of Christ, they thereby reap blessings and draw closer to the truth. When the leftist ideologues envision humanity as a family of mutual support and love (and let’s be honest, that does happen), they dip their toes in the river of life. When the young Kristor entered into a state of awareness of God’s presence in bread, he truly witnessed God and the grace of the mysteries, though I do not think that the Anglicans as a group are the Church or that they perform the rites of the Church. I guess that I remain an ecclesial exclusivist who acknowledges the truth that folks like Rahner and Lewis (and Kristor and Charlton) see, though I think that they err in not complementing those insights by solid ecclesiology. “Mere Christianity” is mushy hooey with bits of wisdom.
Just so, I think that the Mormons truly experience the gifts and benefits that God bestows to the extent that they worship him, though they are extraordinarily confused. Most “mainstream” Christians find odd things to criticize about Mormonism, such as that Jesus preached in the Americas, the Mormons’ ethno-mythical understanding of American Indians and negroes, the three heavens, their history of polygamy, or their special underwear. One even hears denunciation of Mormons’ morality, family centeredness, and patriarchy in some quarters. I find those objections wrong or uninteresting. For me, what is obviously repellent in Mormonism is its pagan theology, wherein God is not God but merely a god. Why, then, should we worship him whom we call “God”? If there is something greater than god, such as the universe in which he is a fellow being with us and whose laws he must follow, then ought we not to worship the universe instead? Mormonism, like crude paganism, requires men to succumb to idolatry.
What also troubles me about Mormonism is both the widespread ignorance of its basic theology among its members and the widespread disinterest in this theology (and in the phenomenon of the nearly universal ignorance thereof). Mormons just don’t seem to be bothered by fundamental questions, as in the problem of god regression. Mormonism appears therefore a more wholesome form of Epicureanism, which seeks to guide its practitioners to live decently but without any interest in transcendence. God has been transformed into a Big Daddy in the sky, who, along with Big Mommy, rules over our world like benevolent royalty while, presumably, hanging out in the Celestial Kingdom with other deities (which my brother has affectionately named the God Club). Mohammed simplified monotheism for the masses, but Joseph Smith created a religion wholly appropriate for Americans who have no perspicacity outside their daily lives. As another commentator (A Lady) noted, Mormonism is the most essentially American religion.
As far as the lamentable history of the Puritans’ children, well, I think that their original Calvinist and egalitarian errors have evolved into the chief perversions of American society. Look at the intellectual history of New England since the eighteenth century, and you will find one malady of the spirit after another. Those WASPs have done much to destroy the world. Had they been mediocre or weak folks, they would not have done as much damage. So, I suppose that Mormons were part of this story, yet their own mutations were far more beneficial. I would rather live in a country populated by Mormons than one populated by Unitarians or the average congregants in the United Church of Christ—those religious cultures most directly descended from the Mayflower.
Like Charlton, I am impressed by how Mormons have semi-corrected many of the problems inherent in the Protestantism of their ancestors. Mormons respect and acknowledge hierarchy, reject iconoclasm, and have some sense of sacramentality, though without decent metaphysical support. Mormons do a fine job in seeing one’s life as the setting of both spiritual warfare and the preliminary taste of paradise rather than a mere test that determines one’s everlasting fate in “real life.” Mormons abandoned the bibliolatry of their forebears, though they kept the mistrust and outright ignorance of the continual apostolic tradition of the Church. In other words, Mormons are extremely fascinating.
But every ecclesiastical leader worthy of the name looks out for the interests of his flock.
Surely, Leo could not mean this! Perhaps, he saves the sentence by adding “worthy of the name.” Well, the vast majority (and I do not exaggerate) of the West’s religious leaders are not worthy of the name. They do not govern their institutions with the spiritual or even temporal interests of their flock in mind. They are the vanguards of civilizational ruin.
Concerning Leo’s point about regional culture, even if most Mormons now live outside of “Zion,” the leadership appears to be from and focused on the Mormon heartland. Mormons elsewhere are colonial outposts, working to transform their new frontier into an extension of the promised land. It is a good strategy. Anyway, perhaps LDS is becoming globalized, but that is not a good sign for its future health. There is an advantage in being raised in Zion.
As far as traditions, we, of course, are called to follow the tradition handed down to us by Christ through the apostles and not to follow the meanderings and traditions of men. How may we tell the difference? In the early centuries, the Church Fathers defended the gospel and the apostolic tradition while arguing against various heretics who wished to alter the Christian tradition to appease some philosophical or cultural obsession that Christianity offended. When the gnostics claimed special, secret knowledge of Christ, the Fathers pointed to the consistent public witness of the Church in every generation, where they preached the faith delivered to the apostles. Naturally, life is messy, and an examination of Church history is sometimes trying. Consider the history of Origen’s popularity and unpopularity. However, there is a generally clear witness of the Church’s teaching from the first century to today. It is not hidden from us. It is not secret or mysterious. It is not obfuscated by translations. (And what is it with Mormons and translations? Do they not know that people know Greek? That some Christians have always known Greek? That some Christians still speak Greek [yeah, yeah, it’s not koine, but still!]?) Mormons’ account of a post-apostolic apostasy is as historically ignorant and—not to spare words—stupid as that of the Seventh Day Adventists or fringe Baptists who think that Constantine invented Catholicism. One cannot worship God in spirit and in truth when one’s basic understanding of God and of God’s dealing with man is based on falsehood.