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.
At The Orthosphere, Kristor has posted an interesting reflection on faith: “Faith Is Not Work.” I recommend it along with the comments thread.
I think that Kristor’s account leaves out what my own experience entailed. When I wandered for years in agnosticism, it was not because of willful unbelief. Far from it! Moreover, my exile did not result from a lack of spiritual awareness of God, which I had had for as long as I could remember. Rather, I became fixated on certain problems that I had encountered during my education, which became my focus. In my post “The Faculty of Faith,” I mentioned Strauss’ philosophical-religious dilemma in his “Progress or Return.” Strauss’ impasse along with Nietzsche’s attack on religion and realism captured and held my spiritual focus for many years. During that period, I did not unlearn what I knew. I did not change allegiance. I simply became captivated with particular questions, and I did not attend to other truths of which I was once well aware.
Men are limited, and, as the Jedi say, one’s focus determines his reality. Fellow Cincinnatian Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that the scientific enterprise in the West has not been one of pure progress but rather of shifting paradigms where men seek out answers to different sets of questions. Old lessons are forgotten when they are no longer useful for—or when they complicate—finding solutions to popular problems of the age. As such, natural philosophy is not comprehensive but ever specialized in addressing particular aspects of the world and of our experience of the world. I suspect that individual seekers of truth function in the same way. We set our gaze in a certain direction, and it is difficult or impossible to attend to everything that is not our current object.
I think that this quality of the human mind and of its quest for truth explains the widespread spiritual alientation of modern intellectuals. Their minds have been trained to sniff out mechanistic relations among particular beings in time and space. Entire lifetimes of genius are occupied with what Socrates calls the world of sights and sounds, though made academically respectable with formulae and accurate prediction. The best of our intellectual culture has become thoroughly earthy, and this does not even address the madness of the irrational movements in the humanities.
Kristor does write about the importance of proper intellectual formation and of preparing oneself to understand. I just wish to add that there are traps inherent in “faith seeking understanding” whereby one’s attention could be distracted for a long time in such a way that divine truth becomes inaccessible to the mortal mind.
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.
Today is the March for Life. I intend to attend as much of it as possible, though I have other obligations that will disrupt my usual whole day dedication. May all the marchers be safe, and may the march achieve some good in their hearts and in the commonwealth.
Alan Roebuck has addressed Dr. Bruce Charlton’s recent apologetics for the Latter Day Saints on the Orthosphere: “Christian Salvation Is Not Visible to the Naked Eye.” Over the last month or so, Dr. Charlton has shown much approving interest in Joseph Smith’s children in his posts, and the Orthosphere’s resident Calvinist is not having any of it! I recommend Roebuck’s article and its comments, to which I contributed:
Mssrs. Roebuck and Jas, this is a broader problem of reference. Is the “Mormon Jesus” the same as Jesus? Is the intended object of any deficient understanding of the Christ the same as Jesus? It’s a similar question to whether the Islamic God is the same as the Christian God. I found Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics helpful in this matter [I wrote about this in “Can We Speak Truth without Knowing It?” ]. I remember reading a section on knowledge, opinion, and error, where the Philosopher uses the example of a geometrician’s and an ignorant man’s approach to the hypotenuse of a right angle. The geometer knows the Pythogorean relationship in such a triangle, whereas the ignorant man does not. As such, each man would understand the hypotenuse differently. In a way, they do not intend the same object. The object of the geometer is the real hypotenuse, while the object of the ignorant man is a faulty opinion. However, that faulty opinion does have some relationship to the real object. His poor understanding of the hypotenuse is not a skewed vision of the workers in the Agora, Athena, or Chuckles the cat. I find this helpful in the “Mormon Jesus” discussion. In a sense, Mormons refer to Jesus when they speak about Jesus, though their understanding of him is perverse, just as the Mujahideen refer to Jesus when they conceive of him as their prophet or as the hippies think of him as a proto-radical social revolutionary (Occupy Cardo Maximus!). The ultimate object of their mind is Jesus the Word, though their glass is murky, indeed. Whose isn’t?
Indeed, the Mohammedans are theologically closer to Christianity than the Mormons. For the Mohammedans understand God as the transcendent, ultimate source of being, whereas the Mormons revert to a pagan understanding of God as merely a god — another particular being like you or me who happens to be far more powerful and historically important in the formation and direction of this world (understood locally, not the cosmos).
So, are Mormons Christians? I’m fine with classifying them as heretical Christians, but I would say the same about Mohammedans, Creflo Dollar prosperity Protestants, Unitarians, Marxist atheists, Pentecostal holy rollers, gnostic Scientologists, and old school fire and brimstone Presbyterians — not to mention the Methodists (oh no, not the Methodists!). Their heresies are matters of degree, it seems, and I cannot see a non-arbitrary boundary of where to distinguish “heretical Christian” perversions of the Gospel from those that cease to be Christian.
A similar problem exists for orthodoxy. When does a false theologoumenon become a heretical opinion? I think that is why holding heretical beliefs does not make one a heretic. Rather, persisting in such rebellion when one is instructed otherwise by the Church is what makes one a heretic. Heresy then seems to be more a matter of ecclesiology than personal theological opinion. The demarcation of orthodoxy is the Church (and then where is the Church — does our quest ever end? But that would be thread-jacking!). I have a friend who likes to say that human beings are rational in the species, but not always (often?) in the individual. Similarly, proper theology is a concern for the Church — we cannot expect every pious Christian to understand, much less to articulate well, all the doctrines of the faith. However, such folks can be in the right ship, which has the proper sails, hull, and seamanship to get them through the turbulent waters.
This is perhaps why Charlton goes astray with the Mormons. As a disenchanted Anglican, whose fleet has long been lost at sea, he wants to revert to Lewis’ (another Anglican) “Mere Christianity,” hoping that simple personal piety will function as a lifesaver for one. Charlton notes that little of the daily life of piety has to do with correct theology, and he thus reckons that the Mormons, who appear quite pious in their own way, are good members of the Body of Christ. I would counter that theology (and philosophy) does have a “trickle down effect,” even to the most basic and thoughtless of daily activities. If Mormons exemplify healthy tendencies in living, it is because they hold good opinions about human nature. I wonder, however, if the transforming sanctity of a saint has ever occurred in a Mormon. Was there ever a Mormon Seraphim of Sarov or Francis of Assisi? I doubt it. Mormonism is a workable Christian heresy that has enough good sense to work for a society just as enlightened paganism has undergirt many fine civilizations. But the ocean is too big for a lifesaver to save us. I fear that Dr. Charlton comes close to the Grand Inquisitor’s reasoning in justifying a counterfeit Christ because such works well enough for the masses who cannot hope for theosis.
Again, I wish my fellow marchers a fine day. Stay warm, and please pray and work for justice (true justice, that is!).
Christ is born!
I have been posting music to celebrate this first week of the nativity feast. To end the week and to commemorate the feast of the holy innocents, I wish to share a request for corporate prayer for the health and salvation of Lawrence Auster, who maintains View from the Right. Kristor has posted the details on The Orthosphere, where he also recounts his own experience of communal supplication with regard to his son. He also adds some typically Kristoresque commentary that I appreciate:
Amazing things can happen with prayer. With God, all things are possible. I have some fancy-shmancy philosophical theories about prayer that make it seem all reasonable and tidy, and intelligible (to me, anyway). But really, it’s not. Not that my theories are just wrong, but that while reality is surely intelligible, and orderly, it is also fundamentally wild, and far transcends our inward vision, no matter how far or well we see.
Fundamentally wild—like Lewis’ “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
Please pray for Lawrence.
Merciful Lord, visit us in our time of need and affliction; and as you healed Jairus’ daughter and raised her from her bed of infirmity, visit your servant, Master, and deliver him from sickness and pain. For you alone have born the sickness and affliction of our world and with you nothing is impossible. For you are all-merciful and to you we ascribe glory and adoration forever. Amen.
I wish you a merry feast of Saint Nicholas!
In the spirit of the saint is a lovely account about charity in The Detroit News: “Most Holy Trinity Christmas Party crosses religious lines to help kids in need.” Read about the Ecclesiatical Shakedown Society and smile at a very American Christmas story.
And may your holidays be bright!
I wish you a blessed feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos!
Michigan State University hosts a site dedicated to images of the Theotokos in Byzantine iconography; you may read about the Natvity of the Theotokos icon.
Here is a Russian video with icons and hymns:
When I was in Jerusalem last year, I visited the Basilica of Saint Ann from the Crusader period and the neighboring Orthodox monastery of Saint Anna. Both claim to be upon the home of Joachim and Anna where the Theotokos was born. The complex may connect underground; so they both could be right. Regardless, the local tradition marks the Virgin Mary’s birth near the Gate of Saint Stephen, also called the Lions’ Gate. The Crusader basilica was built upon a former church, the Basilica Sanctae Mariae ubi nata est. Even in Latin, that is unwieldy; nouns make better church names than clauses. Other scholars think that the Theotokos may have been born in Galilee, in Nazareth or in nearby Tzippori, as Joachim and Anna had a familial or residential connection to the area. Bethlehem is another contender as well as a small village near Bethlehem where Joachim and Anna are thought to have lived at one point before or after the birth of the Theotokos. However, the Jerusalem tradition is probably the oldest, and there has been a liturgical celebration of the Virgin’s birth there since late antiquity.
Happy New Year to all Orthodox Christians! I hope that the upcoming year is blessed.
During my break, Kristor initiated an edifying discussion about the Eucharist on the Orthosphere: “The Bread of Heaven.” I highly recommend it; do not forget about the comments.
Kristor may be an Anglican, but he thinks like an Orthodox Christian in many ways.
I wish everyone a joyous feast of the Resurrection. May your Paschatide be full of happiness and wonder.
I always enjoy seeing how the Western media cover “our” holidays. Russia Today is not fully Western, but it is geared toward non-Russians and it employs many Westerners. Here is the news segment about the celebration at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.
In Jerusalem, they’re a bit crazier, naturally:
Here is another video about the Holy Fire:
You may also watch the celebration in Beit Jala, which we visited last year on our way to Bethlehem, and in Ramallah, through which we passed on the way to Jericho. The latter story is on an Iranian site. I find the political propaganda interesting.
Lastly, you may wish to see how the Eritreans celebrate the feast.
RIA Novosti also has some nice photographs from Christ the Savior.
I hope that everyone is having a beneficial lenten season so far.
Last month, Robert Spencer published an article about the current troubles that the Copts are facing in democratic Egypt: “Requiem for the Third See of Christendom.” Spencer provides a brief history of the Alexandrine Church with some attention shown to the christological controversy that separates the Copts and the other non-Chalcedonian Christians from the Orthodox and from Rome.
Life in dhimmitude is always precarious. Foolish Westerners ought to consider the Copts; for the same fate may await Brits, Frenchies, Scandinavians, and Germans one day. The Hebrew scriptures offer many precedent situations wherein people who once followed God were delivered to enemies as a result of their apostasy. We should take heed.
May the Copts reclaim their freedom, may they convert their fellow Egyptians, and may they return to the Church in fulness.