Saturday, September 20, 2008

Some general comments on Mormonism

I've been learning as much as I can lately about Mormonism, and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on it in a few blog entries. Mormons are extremely sensative about being misrepresented. Since I don't know a whole lot about the LDS church, I'm sure I have some misunderstandings, but I'm going to try to be accurate and fair. One of the things I've learned lately is that LDS theology is not nearly as well-defined as I thought it was. There is far more diversity of belief within the LDS church than I used to think. Some of their peculiar beliefs that I used to think were official doctrine turn out to be just some people's opinions. Or at least that's what I've been told.

For me, there are really two major questions to concern myself with about Mormonism, or any other worldview. First, what is it? Second, is it true? The question of epistemology always comes up when delving into the second question, and I plan on spending a lot of time on it.

According to a conversation I had recently with some Mormons, it isn't necessary to fully answer the first question before answering the second. In an email I got from a Mormon fellow I met on Yahoo Answers, there are three things I ought to focus on to determine whether Mormonism is true:

1. Was Joseph Smith a prophet of God?
2. Was the Book of Mormon really written by ancient prophets (...and is it true)?
3. Was Christ's church lost from the earth and then restored through Joseph Smith?

If these things are true, then all the peculiarities of the LDS church are also true, and he listed several of them. If a person answered "yes" to all of the above questions, I suppose they could conclude that Mormonism is true and they could convert without knowing all of the things that follow from those three points. I'm sure they'd have to know some of them; just not all.

It seems to me that these three questions are interrelated. If it turns out that the Book of Mormon was not really written by ancient prophets, then Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God. And if Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God, then Christ's church was not restored through Joseph Smith. So it seems like if you could answer "no" to any one of these questions, you'd have to answer "no" to the rest of them. But does it work the other way around if you answered "yes" to any one of them?

I don't think so. If Joseph Smith is a prophet, or if Joseph Smith restored Christ's church, then I think the others would follow. But if it turns out that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, I don't think that necessarily entails a "yes" answer to the other questions.

Lemme explain. If the Book of Mormon really is an accurate translation of ancient American writings, then I think it's safe to say that Joseph Smith translated those writings through some kind of supernatural power. But does that necessarily make him a true prophet of God? No, it doesn't. In Deteronomy 13:1-5, it says that if a prophet or a dreamer of dreams gives a sign or a wonder, and if it turns out to be true or comes to pass, that doesn't necessarily mean he's a prophet of God. That prophet may go on to encourage people to go after other gods, in which case he is to be rejected.


At 9/21/2008 10:50 PM , Blogger Paul said...

I think that because the Book of Mormon (BOM) cannot be corroborated in any historical way—indeed, it defies historical and genetic data—it becomes nearly impossible to take Smith on any other grounds than blind faith. Perhaps he could be believed on some personal grounds, such as a reputation above reproach or witness of miracles he had performed, but he is so surrounded in legal and social controversy that we really haven't that to depend upon except in an a priori way. For these reasons I think the Mormon missionary ultimately leans upon the request that we simply read the book and pray that God will give us a feeling (burning in the bosom) that it is true.

I have two responses to this.

1) I "feel" strongly that classical Christianity is true, and I also have rational and historical grounds for believing it as well. How is the Mormon to compete with my feelings, or to prove that his bosom burns more fiercely than mine?

2) If everything I know about the BOM smells dreadfully fishy, then how is it sensible or honoring to God for me to ask Him if I should embrace the religion that authored it? Not to be nasty here, but I may just as well pray to God to ask if a rotten fish would make a wholesome meal.


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