The Secret in the Mormon Sauce: Sacrifice for Literal Beliefs

I was reading Andrew S’s article about Joanna Brooks over at Wheat and Tares: Who Puts the Mormon in Mormon Girl? I’m good friends with SilverRain and I was enjoying her comments on this thread as the commenters all chime in what what they think it is about Mormonism that makes it have such a ‘psychic impression’ that a Joanna Brooks can stop believing in it doctrines and even its culture but still want to be fully involved in it. Here, she tells us herself why:

I went back to church so that my daughters could know the same loving, kind, and powerful God I was raised to believe in

It is too bad that the rest of the comments on the thread seem to not really seem to understand this. Instead they became bogged down with discussions about who isn’t or is a Mormon and how to best extend the ‘big tent’ to anyone that wants to belong and how people that believe in “The Church of Jesus Christ of People Just Like Me.” (Score one for Adam for correctly rebuffing this in comment #19.)

Is There Really a Mystery Here?

But is there really isn’t a mystery here why Joanna Brooks can’t leave Mormonism even if she can’t believe in it?

It seems to me that the attractiveness of Mormonism is actually apparent and very simple.

What makes Mormonism so attractive and powerful? Sacrificing for a literal belief!

If you are a believing Mormon then you see the Church organization and the people in the Church as a sort of instrument meant to take a certain message, meant for everyone, to the whole world. This message is called “The Restored Gospel”. As I’ve previously argued, the Church is the organism meant to replicate the message sent from a talking and very active God. The process of replicating that message is the source of meaning in the lives of the believers.

This is all so simple, it’s shocking that many people on Mormon blogs (of all walks) continually fail to understand this even though any believing Mormon — or really any believer of any religion — can easily explain it. In fact the Mormons even have these people called Missionaries with a bunch of ‘discussions’ where they will make it very clear that it’s their literal beliefs that drive them and give them meaning in their lives. This is the worst kept secret of all times.

What if You Don’t Believe In God?

Even if you want to start with the assumption that there is no God, nothing changes. I wrote about this a while back. The belief in a message from God meant for the world – even if you assume it’s just a delusion – is still an incredible experience that gives powerful meaning to people’s lives and even produces improved well-being. The power in religion has always been the idea that God has spoken to the world and has a message for the world. This is a truly inspiring and powerful message. For one that believes in the message, it is the most powerful source of meaning possible in life.

This is the difficult truth that atheists keep avoiding because it means that even if they are right that there is no God, all they ended up proving was that religion was actually better-than-true. Atheism is a zero value proposition and no amount of mocking by atheists can disguise that fact. That is why believers are healthier and happier on average than atheists. The truth will not set you free unless that truth is that God exists.

The Talking God of Mormonism

All surviving religions are effective as creating meaning in a believer’s life through literal belief — but is there anything special about Mormonism here? There seems to be. As one commenter (Jeff) pointed out, ex-Jews don’t obesse over the Jewish religion the way ex-Mormons often do after Mormonism.

Even a moment on Mormon themed websites — especially less believing or non-believing ones — quickly drives home the point that having once believed deeply in Mormonism, you can’t really ever give it up. You must stay in some way connected to it for the rest of your life. Why is this?

Again, the answer is remarkably simple. When it comes to making a powerful religious impression upon people, the LDS Church is the best bar none at producing an active and talking God in a person’s life. And people just can’t give up such a talking and active God for anything. We do not want to believe in a passive God.

When a once believing Mormon comes to doubt the doctrines they are forced to recapture as much as they can by become permanent commentators seeking how to ‘fix it’ so that it’s ‘better’ for ‘the margins’ (which often includes themselves). This act of trying to fix it becomes the new source of meaning in such a person’s life. They will dedicate untold hours to seek after it. They’ll become writers, podcasters, media pundits, playwrites, historians, and authors, and will basically do whatever is needed to replace what was lost. It would seem that this belief in an active and talking God is so powerful that it’s basically impossible to ever go backwards. If you lose it, you will do almost anything to recapture it. Ex-Mormons on the websites spend more time thinking and talking about Mormonism then do the average active Mormon precisely because their need is greater in this regard.

This is the real reason Joanna Brooks finds herself returning to Mormonism — the Mormon God is the most active and talking of all Gods and this is the one she wants her and her children to know. The rest of Mormonism she isn’t so sure about.

What Joanna has failed to see is that these two are not only connected — but they are one and the same. For what is it that makes the Mormon God so active and talking? It’s the very beliefs she is now not so sure about.

The Psychic Impression Left By Mormonism

In other words, the ‘psychic impression’ left by Mormonism is the powerful belief in an active and talking God who directly participates in one’s life. The historicity of the Book of Mormon and the belief in exclusive truth claims is not what hurts the LDS Church — it’s what made it into a religion in the first place and what continues to make it a religion worth existing.

Now, of course all religions believe in some type of exclusive turth claim. And frankly, all religions require sacrifices. So Mormonism isn’t unique in that sense. Nor should we be suprised that all religions leave various levels of psychic impressions for that very reason. It’s just that Mormonism leaves the impression stronger because of the literalness of its beliefs and because it’s a high sacrifice religion. And those two are not disconnected points either. A religion can only be high sacrifice if it has very strong literal beliefs worth sacrificing for.

All the Problems Are Easy to Define — It’s the Solutions That Are Hard to Find

Once you realize this, it’s very easy to sort out this entire discussion Andrew S started on W&T. Of course Joanna Books can’t truly ever leave Mormonism. She lost her faith in its literalness but still longs for how it made her feel back when she did literally believe in it. So her actions now all stem naturally from the need to keep that one aspect of Mormonism alive in her life when perhaps most of the rest has died.

Pay attention to what the media pundits actually do with their Mormonism. I would argue that a John Dehlin now believes God is talking directly to him about how the Church needs to change for the better. He is still seeking the talking God even while no longer sure God talks.

This is also why Andrew S — as an atheist — spends so much time trying to analyze Mormonism even though there is really so very little to analyze. It’s a way of staying connected to what was lost.

It’s why Dan Vogel (or fill-in-the-blank historian) will devote their lives to studying Mormon history and to freeing people from Mormonism and thereby are actually making sure they will not themselves be free of it. It’s why John Dehlin, after losing his faith in the literalness of Mormonism, has practically made a career out of trying to change Mormonism to be less literal in its beliefs — sadly never realizing the very things he’s trying to change, literalness of belief, is the source of the good parts he wishes to keep. So he is forever chasing his tail.

And even the entire DAMU league is really a group of people desperately trying to re-find what they lost when they left the Church by collectively choosing to keep a steady stream of bad (but actually exception-based) examples about how the Church hurts people to reassure themselves that they made the right choice and now they are really on the side of the literal talking God of the Mormons (though they may call him Ethics or Morality now.)

So, yes, one does not give up the psychic imprint made by the literal Mormon God. Ever. For those that fully experience it, its there for life. And frankly, it’s there by choice. We don’t give it up because we want it so badly.

Who’s a Mormon?

Consider now the forever debate over “who is or isn’t a Mormon?” Rationally, it’s obvious it shouldn’t matter because anyone can call themselves anything they want any time they want. But for some reason it does matter. Why?

But the answer here is again obvious now. The debate isn’t about whether a non-believing Mormon has a right to call themselves a Mormon. It’s about whether a believing Mormon has a right to call them a non-believing Mormon.

Practicing-but-not-believing-Mormons need a connection to literal belief  — and thus literal believers — in a way that believing Mormons don’t need practicing-but-not-believing-Mormons. So the debate over “who is a Mormon?” is really an attempt to assert what moral duties believing Mormons have to practicing-but-not-believing Mormons. The debate is really over which moral duties are the right ones. That is why they are never really asserted as moral duties of non-believers to believers.

I wish we could save a lot of time by just admitting that the real discussion that needs to happen is around how to integrate a non-believing Mormon into a Church that is effective because it’s so literal in its beliefs. The dilemma is obvious once stated in this way and real solutions will only be found by understanding the real problem.

I suspect the reason people avoid really looking at the real problem is because there is no easy or even good answer here. For if you embrace practicing-but-not-believing-Mormons via a ‘big tent’ approach where all beliefs are treated equally, you kill the very thing that made Mormonism worth having in the first place. And by extension, you kill the very source of need that the practicing-but-not-believing Mormon need as well – the existence of literal belief. You make it into a club instead of a religion and it withers and dies.

But if you favor the believers over the non-believers – and this is what currently happens – it does leave out the practicing-but-not-believing members to some degree. So the need is real enough, but the answers won’t be found until we admit what the real problem is.

Book of Mormon Historicity

SilverRain, in the comments on the W&T post, suggests that a person that doesn’t believe in historicity of the Book of Mormon probably doesn’t really believe in the truth claims and beliefs of Mormonism. She suggests that one is really only a “believing Mormon” if they (tautologically) believe in it.

I have made that argument myself in the past. However, I will now admit (after talking to many friends on the Bloggernacle) I’ve come to accept that there are some exceptions. But one thing I’m sure about, its that we make this more complicated than we need to. SilverRain might not be right in every circumstances, but she is right about so many circumstances that it would be easier to talk about the exceptions rather than argue with her main point which is essentially correct.

And what is the main point? Again, it can actually be stated remarkably simply and without all the confusion people try to make it into. (Does it really matter if the translation is loose or not? Is this really just a matter of falling somewhere on a spectrum?)

Once you realize that it’s the literalness of belief that makes Mormonism the powerful experience that it is, you see immediately the problem with the Church ever giving up on the historicity of the Book of Mormon and trying to bring a message to the world of a fictional Book of Mormon.

Consider a hypothetical person that can accept a non-historical Book of Mormon while also accepting the Book as “inspired” but rejects that it’s a message for the rest of the world. Such a person is naturally going to struggle with the idea of a Church missionary program meant to take the Book of Mormon and the message of the Restoration to the rest of the world — even if they already have a religion. So our hypothestical person has therefore already undermined the two main sources of Mormonisms strength – a message from God meant for the whole world and the need to make sacrifices to take the message to the world.

For an ‘inspired but fiction’ approach for the Book of Mormon to really work comfortably in the Mormon religion it has to also believe that the Book of Mormon is still a message that God has commanded the whole world to accept. And here the dilemma is obvious now: how does one respond to the obvious problem of a God and Prophet that lies? (i.e. the Problem of the Plates.)

It’s Not About Being Mormon — It’s A Message To the Whole World

Yes, we are all Mormons. I have no doubt of this. But we are not all in favor of spreading the beliefs of the Church to the rest of the world. But the beliefs of the Church is the thing that is worth spreading about the Church. In fact, the Church exists for the beliefs and not the other way around.

Saying “no, the Church exists for the people” is a red herring. What the people come or return to Mormonism for again and again (even when they no longer believe) is the literal beliefs and the desire to make sacrifices for it. So for the Church to exist for the people it must exist for the literal beliefs. For what people want is to selflessly give their lives to the talking God.

138 thoughts on “The Secret in the Mormon Sauce: Sacrifice for Literal Beliefs

  1. Excellent article. This element of Mormonism has been there from the beginning:

    “No responsible historian can afford to underestimate the literalness of Mormon belief. These emigrants were convinced that they went not merely to a new country and a new life, but to a new Dispensation, to the literal Kingdom of God on earth.”

    -Wallace Stegner “The Gathering of Zion”

    “It’s why John Dehlin, after losing his faith in the literalness of Mormonism, has practically made a career out of trying to change Mormonism to be less literal in its beliefs — sadly never realizing the very things he’s trying to change, literalness of belief, is the source of the good parts he wishes to keep. So he is forever chasing his tail.”

    This is obviously THE problem with the “Mormonism as the world’s greatest mutual benefit society” contingent. Does anyone know if any of them have written to explain how they hope to get around this problem?

  2. Bruce, this post is pure awesomeness. I think your entire career as a writer as a religion has been leading to this post. You can retire now.

    But more seriously, this post hits home for me in some very important ways. I spent my early adult years finding the Church ridiculous. And then I had a conversion experience, and God (not so gently) reached out to me to show me the error of my ways. And when this happened, I joined a church with a lot of great believers. But there was always this phenomenon of people who stopped believing for one reason or another but still *hung around the church or around Mormon blogs or other social media criticizing the church.* I never understood this phenomenon at all. I have spent a lot of time around Catholics and even Baptists, and this phenomenon does not exist in these churches. A nonbelieving Catholic (for the most part, there are exceptions) quietly stops going to church and perhaps only shows up for a friend’s baptism or a wedding, etc. Very rarely among the 1 billion or so Catholics do you encounter the equivalent of a John Dehlin who spends all his time trying to claim that he knows what the Catholic church should and should not be. As I say, there are a few out there, but given how many Catholics there are in the world the phenomenon is tiny compared to the comparatively huge industry of “Mormons who aren’t Mormons anymore but can’t leave.”

    As you point out, the problem of how to integrate nonbelievers into the Church is a sticky one. I am a big believer in “loving them back into the Church” and at the end of the day this is probably the only thing that will work. When I was a nonbeliever, the strange phenomenon of really nice people being nice to me even though I thought they were idiots had a way of touching my soul. The love of Christ really is the only answer.

  3. Good post. I agree with your concept of the “spectrum”. Not all of us have a testimony of every little aspect or potential aspect of the gospel. That the gospel has changed us in some way (positive or negative) is very clear. For Joanna Brooks, there was both good and bad in her LDS experience, which is why she’s returned so her daughters can experience the good she saw.

    I have no doubt that most of our main issues against Mormonism (historicity, women and priesthood, etc), are political rather than spiritual issues. And they can become major distractors to us in enjoying the religion and the Spirit. I don’t mind John Dehlin wanting to share his view of historicity, but fear he will lose more than he gains by doing it. Perhaps this is what brought Joanna back: there was more to gain by being a part of the Church than there was outside of it.

    I am sure there are things concerning the Church that none of us like. I highly doubt any of the GAs like the history of MMM or the bad reasonings for the priesthood ban (curse of Cain, etc.) and how those still affect us today. But we need to recognize that the gospel is there, even with its warts. And sometimes we have to accept a few warts in order to gain more in our lives.
    To feel the presence of God, or as Joanna would put it, “know the same loving, kind, and powerful God I was raised to believe in”, is far more important than whether the Book of Mormon is 100% historical or not. Sadly, many people miss this. They focus on the oyster shell and sliminess of the oyster all too readily, only to miss out on the great pearl inside.

    BTW, ignore what Geoff said. It is not time for you to retire just yet. I’m sure there are a few more wonderful and compelling articles yet for you to write.

  4. And waking up at 3 a.m. has seriously hampered my typing abilities. That should be “ME blush.” -l-

    One more thing came to my mind.

    I once knew someone who had been raised Mormon, and ended up becoming something best simplified here as a gray Wiccan. He was actually the one who introduced me to Wicca. I didn’t know he was raised LDS until later, when he told me about it.

    When he was a teenager, he stopped serving the sacrament, not because he wasn’t worthy (in the sense of morally clean,) but because he didn’t believe in the Church, and wouldn’t tarnish the rituals of the Church by participating in them without believing in them. I admired him a lot for that.

    I’m fine with people wanting to participate in the LDS culture without truly believing in certain core claims of the Church. I’m fine with them calling themselves “Mormon” with a caveat. But I’m not fine with those who would finesse the temple questions to mean what they want them to mean so they can participate in sacred rituals, or pretend to be believing when they don’t. It is disrespectful and shows a deep lack of integrity on their part. It doesn’t tarnish my experience, but I believe it stops them from being able to interact openly with the Lord.

  5. Have you read “The Churching of America” by Finke and Stark? That’s my favorite book on American religious history, though a lot of scholars don’t like it. However, the reason they don’t like it is because of what it proves (and it does prove it – their use of historical data and statistics is excellent) that religions that require sacrifice for literal beliefs (as you put it) are successful religions. “Mainstream” Protestants have been in decline for a long time, and the more “liberal” (theologically speaking) a church becomes, the less successful it becomes over time.

    In fact, one reason I am not as worried about the decline of religion in America (as many complain) is that the process they describe – as churches become more liberal, members leave and either join or start “upstart sects” that eventually become new churches or religions. These upstart sects are ignored or off the radar until the suddenly seem to appear out of nowhere, though they have actually been around for awhile (they go so far as to argue the “great awakenings” aren’t so much a reality as just the elites of society deigning to notice, for a brief period, a process that has always been happening).

  6. This is a really good post and is a lead into my own thoughts on the subject. Its a little hard to take, but Joseph Smith’s revelations weren’t made to revolutionize the world. They were to restore a Church that no longer existed with the belief in a literal Priesthood of G-d. Without that, then there really is no reason for it to exist by its own admission.

  7. Great post. I really enjoyed reading it.

    I have come to accept lots of things within the teachings of Mormonism as symbolic and figurative, things that mmost members see as literal, but, at the heart of it all, my faith is very literal and focused on the concept of the relationship between God, as a real Father, Jesus, as a real Son, and all of us, as real children – that, “I am a child of God, and He has sent me here,” and that, “As God is, (hu)man(s) may become.” For me, that foundation is literal – even, again, as I have come to view many aspects of our “details” about that foundation as symbolic or best approximations.

    I believe one of the geniuses of profound prophetic vision is the ability to take the literal and the symbolic and meld them into a cohesive narrative that allows individuals to see either (or even both) within that narrative. I think Jesus was the Master at that – with the Biblical parables as a great example, but Joseph Smith also was phenomenal at it – with his repositioning of Heaven within the temple, the placing of Eden in his own land, etc. Literal and/or figurative, those narratives have great power – and they all are centered on the literalness of our intimate relationship as a human family.

    I really don’t care all that much about how individuals see the “details”, but, as you wrote, the literalness of the foundation itself is very important to me.

  8. Thanks Ray, that is how I thought you would respond. There are times when I was afraid of your figurativeness. I saw it as a slippery slope where I might lose the heart of my testimony if I went down the same path.

    I feel much more comfortable with figurative belief in many of the details. But the literalness of God as my Father and that He desires a literal relationship with me. To lift me where He is. I hold this as delicious and precious beyond any price.

    The key has been to focus on what I can do to walk more uprightly before the Lord. What I might change in my thoughts and actions to give away all my sins. The rest is the small stuff. Let’s not sweat the small stuff.

  9. I seem to recall a cultural idea that we have in Mormonism (LDS-ism?) that everyone is a Mormon, they just may not know it yet. There is the idea of being a “closen people”, but that’s just in having been given knowledge that others do not have yet. No matter what people believe, no matter what their level of previous experience in or out of Mormonism, we want them to obtain more, to help all of us learn to become like and get closer to God.

    I can understand the ideas of “big tent” and “you aren’t really unless you de/believe this“, but I think both of these ignore the concept of personal growth. Each person trying to pull the canvas of the “tent” to cover themselves will not be in the same place they are now in 5 years, or even 1 year, or even tomorrow. Each person not currently to your “standards”, if your standards are true, will eventually come into them.

    Those who truly wont come to God (by their own choice) will be the exceptions, and it will never be our decision to say they are not still progressing. You cant declare a redwood tree to not be growing, simply because you don’t have time to watch and see.

    This is not just religion. It’s not just philosiphy. It is learning the actual truth of God, a real and tangible person. Just like in science, the evidences are tangible and real, but unlike in science, they are invidivually tailored for our own progression of knowledge, independant of the progression of others knowledge.

  10. This relationship with God, this is what I believe transcends ethnic definitions. He does not care what we call ourselves or each other. We are all His children and He has a plan to save as many as will be saved. The time frame is very long and allows for us to work out the differences in our self-definition (how long until the bulk of the descendants of Joseph Smith are wholly reconciled with the descendants of Hyrum and Brigham? Not too much longer, I think, but it seemed such an important distinction for awhile). To whom, in our short time on this stage, would we return but to our parents? This is the call of our DNA, the promise made to Abraham. That we have an intimate relationship with your talking God!

  11. I got no quibble with this argument (outside of saying that I think a truly devoted (insert religious adherent here) would make basically the same argument no matter what the religion), cause while my literal beliefs are few, they are important and Mormon. My silly “Thaye-ian”, Debbie Downer concern would be to say that we be should be cautious to not let this lead to feelings of superiority, but rather think to ourselves “There but for the grace of God go I” and get back to serving our Lord and our neighbors.

  12. Thanks for this post, Bruce. Very well done.

    Regarding Ray’s comments about literal vs symbolic/figurative.

    I feel that we often impose an unfortunate notion that symbolic and literal must be mutually exclusive. So when we can’t conceive of how something could be literally true, but we can construct a symbolic meaning for it, we then decide that it must be _only_ symbolic and not literal at all. But just because something is symbolic does not mean that it is not also literal as well. And just because we cannot conceive of how something can be literally true, does not mean that it is not. So demonstrating that something is symbolic does not alone demonstrate that it is not literal.

    I’m not saying that this is what Ray is doing. I’m just making a general observation.

    The biblical account of the Fall of Adam and Eve can be symbolic while at the same time Adam and Eve can be literal people. Just because Job is a literary, philosophical work does not mean that it was not written because a real man named Job who experienced great trials lived. The journey of Israel in the wilderness to the promised land can be allegorical and historical at the same time.

    The Literal can be Allegorical, especially when you believe in a real God who is involved in the lives of His children.

    As an example of this from personal experience, my poem, The Kingdom of Pyssemyre, while clearly symbolic is also almost entirely literal.

    An Atheist would say that I imposed the meaning on a meaningless literal series of events. Some believers would say it was a sign from God. But neither one can say that just because my account is symbolic that it never happened. It did.

  13. You’ve got some insight here, for sure, but without being able to disagree with any specific point, I still don’t think you’ve got the Mormon secret sauce pegged. I don’t think it can be pegged. Its the totality of our unique (and non-unique beliefs) and the way they interact with our culture and institutions and families and memory. You can’t summarize that. “The Way that can be expressed is not the true Way.”

    My series on the Sweetness of Mormon Life and on Weapons-Grade Mormonism is my attempt to discover the Mormon secret sauce, as it were.

  14. I think that’s part of the difference in viewpoints, Adam. Some see it as a summary, others see it as a source.

    If you take away the source, you dry up the river. Some people think they can enjoy the river without the source.

    To stretch the metaphor, I concede their right to enjoy the river without being a part of the source. But that doesn’t change that they owe their enjoyment of the river to those who cultivate the source, whether or not they recognize or admit it.

  15. J. Max, thanks for that comment. That’s exactly how I see it, and I didn’t mean to imply that everything must be one or the other.

    There are lots of things about which I simply don’t know if they literally occurred, so I’m totally open to taking meaning from both a literal and symbolic view of them – but even if I am sure of their literalness, I still try to look at their possible figurative, allegorical or symbolic meanings, as well. That approach opens up the universe to me, so to speak – and that is important to me.

  16. If you had like buttons, I’d be pushing a lot of them for both the OP and the comments section. So, let’s note that I just figuratively did ( :D ) and move on to a point or two I’d like to refine.

    ” a message from God meant for the whole world and the need to make sacrifices to take the message to the world.”

    I think you preserve the essence of the active God, yet allow for that God to be bigger and more active than in what He is doing in the Restoration if that is rephrased slightly toward the original covenant with Abraham. And that’s important, because Jesus is not limited to a one-channel hierarchy.

    The rephrasing I would suggest would be:

    “a MISSION from God meant for the SALVATION OF THE whole world and the need to make sacrifices to COMPLETE THAT MISSION FOR THE SAKE OF the world.”

    As to why Catholics don’t obsess and try to fix their church — well there was this guy named Martin, and things got pretty messy for a century or two until people sorted out what they thought they heard God saying the church was supposed to be/do.

  17. Great post Bruce. Also thought J. Max’s thoughts on symbolic vs. literal beliefs are relevant.

    I’d like to stand up for non-literal believers, those who believe the Book of Mormon was inspired by God, but that God could inspire myth:

    Many non-literal believers accept that Joseph Smith was having completely legitimate supernatural experiences, and that he was an honest man. Yet if incontrovertible evidence disproves the historicity of some aspect of the Book of Mormon as they see it, they see nothing wrong with embracing that scientific or historical truth as well.

    They literally believe in science and history, and they literally believe in Joseph Smith’s honesty, and they literally believe in a God who is great, mysterious and paradoxical and who works with different people according to different paradigms.

    In a way, they believe more than literal believers, because they believe all things, both that the Book of Mormon is true, and that it is not true. They believe God said “hell was eternal” to one person, and that “hell is temporary” to another. They believe God revealed himself as a being of flesh and bone to Joseph, but that perhaps he reveals himself as the Madonna, or Allah, to others. They believe God said “This is the only true church” to Joseph Smith, and they believe He could say the same thing to other churches. They believe God said “by mine own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same” not because His servants always speak words written by the finger of God on tablets of stone, but because God adopts the words of His prophets as His own.

    They believe in a God whose ways are higher than our ways, and they refuse to judge God according to their own narrow perspectives of truth and reality.

  18. “And frankly, it’s there by choice. We don’t give it up because we want it so badly.”

    In other words, a talking/active God is the opium of the Mormons? ;)

  19. Geoff writes, “But there was always this phenomenon of people who stopped believing for one reason or another but still *hung around the church or around Mormon blogs or other social media criticizing the church.* I never understood this phenomenon at all. I have spent a lot of time around Catholics and even Baptists, and this phenomenon does not exist in these churches.”

    As a Catholic, I respectfully disagree. There are large numbers of what I consider disbelieving Catholics, who nevertheless “[hang] around the church or around [Catholic] blogs or other social media criticizing the church”. I call them liberal Catholics.

    The difference between them and non-believing Mormons who stay around the Church, may be that liberal Catholics stop believing in fact, yet claim to still believe (this is how I interpret their actions); whereas non-believing Mormons, perhaps, state frankly that they no longer believe(?).

    The way liberal Catholics accomplish this, is by simply re-defining for themselves what it means to be a believing Catholic. Whereas the objective teaching of the Catholic Church says that the bishops, in union with the Pope, are given authority to teach and to act in Jesus’ name, and therefore we are obliged to obey them and submit to their teaching, just as we would to Jesus himself; the liberal Catholic will say things like, the individual conscience has a higher claim to obedience than the teaching of the bishops, that the Church’s teaching can and should change over time, and that it’s the job of laypersons to sort of militate for change in the Church’s doctrine when the bishops grow too intractable; and so on along those lines.

    So really, they no longer believe in what the Church itself says the Church is, but nonetheless stay in the Church, while defining the Church as something essentially different, but with the same outward trappings, sacraments, etc. In other words, they can’t accept the faith which the Church actually professes, but they also can’t leave the Church alone.

  20. I’d return to the Karen Armstrong book you reviewed and query whether literal belief as we understand it today isn’t just a weird historical anomaly.

  21. Nate said:

    Yet if incontrovertible evidence disproves the historicity of some aspect of the Book of Mormon as they see it, they see nothing wrong with embracing that scientific or historical truth as well.

    They believe in a God whose ways are higher than our ways, and they refuse to judge God according to their own narrow perspectives of truth and reality.

    Nate, I understand what you are trying to say. But these two statements contradict one another. Scientific knowledge and evidence are always provisional. The minute you come to call it “incontrovertible” and believe that it “disproves” the historicity of The Book of Mormon, your have rejected the essential provisional nature of science and replaced it with faith– faith that the evidence as it currently stands is complete and never will be amended by further information, and faith in your own perceptions, your own reason, and your own mind. (see: Apostasy as Conspiracy Theory: Reason, Logic, Insanity and Mormon Intellectualism and C. S. Lewis on Scientific Fact versus Scientific Theory).

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t consider contrary evidence, but we should have a healthy respect for the limitations of both science and our own mind. People who talk about incontrovertible DNA and other “scientific” evidence “disproving” their faith need to subscribe to the RSS feed of retractionwatch.wordpress.com and get a dose of the reality of science by reading it every day.

    Your declaration that they believe in a God who reveals himself to Joseph as a being of flesh and bone, as the Madonna to others, Allah to others, and perhaps Xenu to others; a God who tells all churches that they are the “only true” one; reminds me of a quote from G. K. Chesterton’s book “Heretics” that I like to cite:

    “They are seeking under every shape and form a world where there are no limitations—that is, a world where there are no outlines; that is, a world where there are no shapes. There is nothing baser than that infinity. They say they wish to be as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe as weak as themselves.”

    Can you really believe *anything* and continue to be God’s people, fellow-saints, and children of Christ through covenant? Of course not! The idea is absurd on its face.

    The reality is that there are limitations, outlines, and boundaries. We should be seeking to be re-formed to con-form to the image of God, so that His image is in our countenance. The very idea of image and form require edges, outlines, and limitations. And by definition, if we remove all limitations then the image of God becomes meaningless.

    The whole point of having authoritative prophets and revelation is that we accept that a watchman on the tower can in most cases see farther than the workers in the walled vineyard and that therefore the workers should trust and accept the declarations of the watchmen over his or her own limited view.

  22. J. Max writes, “The whole point of having authoritative prophets and revelation is that we accept that a watchman on the tower can in most cases see farther than the workers in the walled vineyard and that therefore the workers should trust and accept the declarations of the watchmen over his or her own limited view.”

    Well expressed. (Also the part about limits and outlines.)

    I think the problem a lot of people have with this idea, is that it seems so un-democratic.

  23. J. Max, thanks for responding to my thoughts, and good points as always. However, I don’t think you have quite entered into the non-literal mindset I’m describing. You say:

    “People who talk about incontrovertible DNA and other “scientific” evidence “disproving” their faith need to…”

    But what I’m describing is that non-literal believers don’t let the scientific evidence disprove their faith. In a way, they view everything empirically, without questioning whether one disproves the other. They look at scientific evidence that native Americans came from Asia, and they say, “that sounds plausible, I can accept that.” Then they read about the witnesses to the Book of Mormon and they say, “that sounds plausible, I can accept that. Then they feel the Holy Ghost tell them the Book of Mormon is true, and they say, “I can accept what God is telling me.” Then someone shows them evidence of two Isaiahs, one who lived after the Isaiah Nephi quoted from, and they say, “that evidence sounds plausible, I can accept that.” But if evidence comes out that well actually there was only one Isaiah after all they can say, “that sounds plausible, I can accept that.”

    It’s about being believing, trusting in a God who reveals himself both through his natural works and sciences, and through prophets, even though those mysteriously contradict. Joseph Smith said, “no man was condemned for believing too much, but men are condemned for unbelief.”

    It’s a bit like the contradictions between quantum mechanics and Newtonian Physics. Physicists are not bothered by them, even though they know they exist. When studying tiny particles, they are happy to work within the rules of quantum mechanics, and when studying large bodies, they are happy to work within the rules of Newtonian physics. But they don’t worry that one must be right and one must be wrong.

    J. Max also correctly states about God:

    “The reality is that there are limitations, outlines, and boundaries. The very idea of image and form require edges, outlines, and limitations. And by definition, if we remove all limitations then the image of God becomes meaningless.”

    Non-literal believers do believe that God reveals himself to us this way, a straight and narrow way, a very clearly delineated form and theology. Non-literal believers also submit themselves to the narrow forms of that theology, because they believe they are inspired, and that they are from God.

    But they can only speak from their own personal, empirical experience. This is what Mormonism teaches us. It’s about personal revelation. If God reveals to you that Mormonism is true, then you have to follow it. But what do you really know? Just what you have felt from the Holy Ghost, that still small voice saying, “come, follow me.” Can you infer, because God said “come follow me” through the Book of Mormon, that God would never say “come follow me” through the Koran?

    But just because God told you to do something doesn’t necessarily mean God didn’t tell St. Bernadette of Lourdes something else. Maybe God revealed Himself to Bernadette through the Madonna, and maybe He didn’t. But why should we assume because there is a contradiction that God could not have revealed Himself through the Madonna? Non-literal believers believe in a God who can encompass contradiction.

    The boundaries exist, but only within the paradigm God gives us to work within. Non-literal believers submit humbly to the straight and narrow way. They just don’t feel obligated to make judgements and assumptions about things outside the straight and narrow paradigm, which God gave to them.

    It requires utmost humility to be a non-literal believer. And it really is entirely based on personal revelation. That is the only reason to stay in church. When Jesus told his disciples that they had to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” most of them left, because cannibalism was inconsistent with the revealed truth of God. But a few stayed. Why? Only because they had heard that voice: “Come, follow me” and trusted it.

  24. Nate your comments are interesting, well articulated and ring true for a segment of believers but different people find the gospel by different paths; line upon line, deductive reasoning, the Spirit and perhaps others as well. There should be room for all of them. Wouldn’t Christ embrace them? I agree the early promptings of the Spirit beckon “come follow me” but it doesn’t end there with a calling and a dos and don’t list. When we actually follow him his promptings become more and more clear. So why isn’t there room for promptings that say “it’s revealed fiction”? Why wasn’t there room for promptings that said “Blacks should not be banned”? Come follow me? That’s not the end, it’s the beginning.

  25. “So why isn’t there room for promptings that say “it’s revealed fiction”? Why wasn’t there room for promptings that said “Blacks should not be banned”?”

    First because they are two different issues. Second, because the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and all prophets from Prophet Joseph Smith to Prophet Thomas S. Monson have declared with divine authority that its history, predominantly of a spiritual nature though it is. I have never met a person who thought the book of Mormon was revealed fiction that wasn’t one step away from complete apostasy. That is evidence enough for me how dangerous such “promptings” are to the welfare and salvation of individuals.

  26. Well how many do you actually know Jettboy? Jeffrey Holland says he knows plenty: There are plenty of people who question the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and they are firmly in this church — firmly, in their mind, in this church

    You didn’t answer my question: Wouldn’t Christ embrace them?

  27. Howard says: “So why isn’t there room for promptings that say “it’s revealed fiction”?”

    I’ve actually met people who have received such revelations. I’ve also met people receiving revelations to leave the church (like Richard Dutcher), or not to join it. While I don’t assume that all such revelations come from God, I don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that they can’t be from God. Maybe God has another path for them. I wasn’t in their head when they received the revelation, so I can’t judge. All I can know is what God has given me. If God tells me their revelation was bogus, well then that’s what God wants me to know. Our religion stands or falls on personal revelation alone, not historicity and such things. If we automatically reject someone else’s personal revelation out of hand, we reject our own.

    But Jetboy is absolutely right about the danger of this perspective. If non-literal believers freely shared all they believe with most members of the church, it could shake their faith and be terribly damaging. When I’m teaching primary, I teach it in the most orthodox manner. When I comment in Gospel Doctrine, I’m careful only to share orthodox beliefs.

    However, when I’m in the blogosphere, or when I’m talking to someone who is struggling with aspects of Church History, then I might actually have a perspective worth sharing. Others can know that apparent contradictions and historical anachronisms have nothing to do with God’s revelation to you in your life. They are simply a distraction from your walk with God.

    Jesus said, “Be ye wise as serpents, harmless as doves.” I find it interesting that Jesus used the analogy of the serpent, which is traditionally the symbol of the devil. It was the serpent that first tempted Eve with knowledge in the garden. If non-literal believers feel they have “knowledge” (they often suffer from being overly-intellectual and proud), they must be careful not to be like Satan in the garden of Eden, beguiling other members with their fascinating perspectives, which might very well be extremely dangerous to them. Christ doesn’t want us to be blind sheep, but wise and clever serpents. But in our interactions with his other sheep, he wants us to be harmless as doves.

  28. Christ would embrace them, and then tell them to repent and sin no more. That last part is consistently ignored each and every time Christ’s interaction with less than perfect people comes up. I can read. Its in there. No amount of ignoring it will make Jesus’ words go away. He loves them and wants them to change their ways at the same time.

    As for Jeffrey Holland, I have no doubt what he said is true. I also have no doubt what I said was true. They are not exclusive from each other. Such lack of faith against official teachings and preachings of those in authority (and especially Joseph Smith who claimed Divine revelations on the subject) do not make for a healthy spiritual testimony. At the least it creates conflicts between what is taught and what is believed as Nate says, often bringing the whole Restoration into question. Its not a side issue. Its foundational. A certain parable about a house built on sand and another rock comes to mind.

  29. Seeing something as figurative instead of literal is sinning?

    Jettboy, you do understand that apostles and prophets throughout our history have disagreed about MANY teachings and doctrines, right? That even applies to core, important, “fundamental” doctrines – like the mechanics of the Atonement, evolution, the role of women in the Church, aspects of theosis, the specifics of the creation, etc. How do we square that undeniable fact with your assertion that seeing something figuratively (especially something that happened in the Old Testament, for example, that obviously is included in “as far as it is translated correctly”) is sin?

  30. Ray, I’m talking about the Book of Mormon historicity. There are other things that you have mentioned, but that is one I consider a foundational with little wiggle room.

  31. Jettboy, what would you recommend for those who find themselves on the road to Damascus, unable to believe in a historical Book of Mormon? “For all have not every gift given unto them…”

    Some of us struggle with literal belief in a number of things, yet we nonetheless feel strong convictions in other things, and desire to exercise the spiritual gifts we do have. Your judgment in calling us to repentance is extraordinarily unhelpful.

  32. I think it is sad that we have a discussion here that has veered away from the original thoughts, wherein it seems that some are judging what determines a testimony or faithfulness, what does or does not require testimony, etc.

    For me, if a person has a testimony of Jesus Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that lives faithful to the covenants made, then it does not matter to me whether the person believes in the historicity of anything at all.

    There are members who think if we believe in evolution, or that the earth is billions of years old, that we are on the way to apostasy. Should I be considered a heretic or on the road to apostasy, simply because I do not think the earth is 6000 years old? Heck, Elder McConkie and Pres Brigham Young stated that some portions of the Adam and Eve story were myths. Are they apostates for not believing in a perfectly literal history of everything?

    Perhaps we should view these things with more charity. That Joanna Brooks wishes to connect with the Church to the best of her ability, is a good thing. I would much rather have her in the Church, and us agreeing on 80% of things dealing with the faith, than to have her on the outside where we do not have the blessings of her talents and goodness in the Church.

  33. Trevor, I don’t think you should rely on Jettboy’s (or anybody else’s) impressions of your righteousness. Being an adult convert, I see some things differently than others. I spell it out here:

    http://www.millennialstar.org/big-tent-mormonism/

    The point is: who cares what other people think of your righteousness? The only thing that matters is your relationship with God (although I would add that if you are not right with your bishop/stake president and/or spouse, you probably need to get right with them. You do not, however, need to get right with Jettboy, me or anybody else).

  34. Geoff, I do agree with you. The thing is, it’s hard enough being an active member of the Church when I’m a round peg surrounded by circular holes. I’m ok with my relationship with God, and that’s ultimately what matters to me. But it’s often grueling because some of my brothers and sisters sometimes make this struggle even harder.

  35. Trevor, my advice is: ignore them. People are idiots sometimes. If I judged my righteousness by what many people inside and outside the Church think of me, I would drive myself crazy. The only things that matter to me are: 1)am I OK with myself and my relationship with God 2)do I have a good relationship with my wife 3)Does my stake president think I am doing OK and 4)Does my bishop think I am doing OK. I could add in my high priest’s group leader and my home teacher (and I am OK with them), but in the end they are not as important as the other four.

    My message to you is: Jesus is about love. I try (and always fail) to love the people around me. My message is I love you and I know that this Church is true. Peace.

  36. I do want to make out clear that everything I have said in this and the other topic was in no way intended to address anyone’s personal righteousness. It was always meant merely to outline the closest thing to what I think the label of “Mormon” should mean.

    From the beginning, I tried to make it clear that it wasn’t a hard line to me.

  37. Everything I said in this thread was meant to impugn someone’s personal righteousness. Even the conjunctions and articles.

  38. Adam, I am offended by your use of the word, “the”. You clearly are not the type of Mormon I want to associate with! ;)

    I used to be on the Zion email list for many years. Then one of the members called me a Signaturi (a title given 20 years ago to liberal Mormons, based upon the concept that Signature Books was evil incarnate). I decided that after spending over a decade with that group, they were not growing in wisdom or Spirit, and so I moved on. I personally am not a fan of George Smith (owner of Signature), and am fairly conservative on many concepts. However, I am willing to think outside the box on occasion, and accept new truths, while some members are still (sadly) clutching tightly to their first edition Mormon Doctrine.

    That we would condemn one another for personal beliefs, is a very sad thing. We should determine members’ goodness by their fruits (good or bad works), and not because they believe the earth is either 6000 or 4.5 billion years old.

  39. There are many things I don’t think Mormons have to believe for me to trust them. When it comes to evolution, for instance, I have made theological peace with it as a part of how the Earth and its life was formed. Creationism is a concept I believe that Mormonism picked up by the Evangelicals near the turn of the Century. As stated above, many ideas and theological teachings have been debated among the top leadership of the LDS Church since the time of Joseph Smith.

    The historicity of the Book of Mormon, on the other hand, is one I will stand behind as absolutely necessary. It is the keystone of our religion and only the most twisted of logic (ignoring all its claims and statements alone, not counting the witness of Joseph Smith and all prophets who followed after) can interpret it as “holy fiction.” There can be mistakes of history and mistakes of men in its pages, but there can be no mistake that ancient men wrote it as guided by the Spirit. This isn’t about righteousness, but faith that defines who we as Mormons are in contrast to the rest of the World.

  40. Jettboy, I personally agree with you. I believe the BoM is an inspired factual account. Nephi, Lehi, Laman, etc were real people. So were the Jaredites. Joseph Smith really did get the plates through supernatural means. I have read the BoM cover to cover and am teaching Gospel Doctrine in my ward, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is factual. The more you read it and consider what it actually says (rather than what people say it says), this becomes clearer to me.

    But then we get to the issue of people who are Mormon and trying to get their minds around this and have not yet gotten to that position. Should they be reprimanded? No, they should be encouraged to continue to explore, pray, think, ponder, etc.? Everybody takes his or her own road.

    Now, if these same people try to bring down the faith of others (which happens on blogs all the time, unfortunately), that is another question entirely. But I don’t think that is Trevor’s concern.

  41. I personally believe in the basic historicity of the Book of Mormon. Nephi and Moroni were literal historic figures. That said, their “history” was written not as a history, but as a spiritual teaching tool. It is very possible that Mormon interpolated the ancient record to fit his needs on many levels. We do not know if he only included items from the original written records, or if he also included oral tradition, myths, or took a story and livened it up with dialogue of his own.

    That said, I have no problem with those who do not have a testimony of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but do have a testimony of its teachings and witness of Christ. There is plenty of room in the Church for both groups, as we really do not know how exact a record it is in regards to historicity.

  42. I know its already gone off-topic, but what would be the effect of a non-LDS archaeologist finding the cave of records Mormon used to put together he BoM? Would people believe, or would they just discount those ancient witings as the non-literal ramblings of old American madmen? Did the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls cause more than a small ripple in people believing the Bible? If the gold plates were to be made available to independant scientists and linguests, and the dating and traslation proven as accurate, would more people believe, or would they just shift to another reason to not believe?

    I believe in the historicity of the BoM. I know there is a lot of stuff in it that can be hard (or even impossible) to scientifically prove, but that’s not why I believe in it. It is also fun to see the archeological findings and try to match them up to the BoM (I currently like Peru for the BoM Lands), but it does not have any effect on my belief in its historicity. What is most important, to me, though, is in what it is teaching.

  43. Geoff:

    Geoff writes, “But then we get to the issue of people who are Mormon and trying to get their minds around this and have not yet gotten to that position. Should they be reprimanded?  No, they should be encouraged to continue to explore, pray, think, ponder, etc.?  Everybody takes his or her own road.”

    You’re right, there are two different issues: First, which aspects of Church teaching are essential articles of faith, indispensable to being truly considered “Mormon”; second, what is to be done about people who find themselves unable to assent to essential articles of faith. I think Jettboy is arguing about the first, but not condemning people who may happen to fall under the second.

    In other words, what is the goal? When someone is interested in becoming Mormon, what does “becoming Mormon” mean, in terms of the beliefs one professes? Is there no bare minimum whatsoever?

    I hope you guys don’t mind me sticking my nose in, but I’m interested because I see parallels of this situation in my own Church.

  44. Jettboy writes, “This isn’t about righteousness, but faith that defines who we as Mormons are in contrast to the rest of the World.”

    IMHO, “defines” is the key word. For “Mormonism” to have any meaning at all, there has to be a defined, non-negotiable core, doesn’t there? If everything about it is fluid and subject to evolution or subjective interpretation, then there’s no reason it can’t be something entirely different in 100 years. For that matter, no reason it can’t be 100 entirely different things in 100 years. What then would there be to unite its members as a body?

    I am wondering, though, as a non-Mormon, isn’t this something that the Prophet decides, i.e., which beliefs are “core” and which aren’t? Have the Prophets made any kind of a binding statement in this regard? Or is the Prophet’s authority to define things like this one of the things that’s under dispute?

  45. Agellius, personally I think the reasonable dividing line is between those who get baptized and then continue to try (note the word “try”) to follow modern-day prophets and those who do not. I am a big tent Mormonism guy, and if somebody outside of this category want to call him or herself a Mormon, well, I don’t have a problem with that. But if you want to have some definition of what a Mormon is and isn’t I think you should start with 1)baptism and 2)should include the fact that said person is trying to follow modern-day prophets.

    Within the category of trying to follow modern-day prophets, there is room for people to find their own path, imho.

  46. Interesting look at being Mormon and one’s relationship to the Book of Mormon. Does being a Mormon require a belief in the historicity of the Book of Abraham? Or are more complex explanations of that scripture allowed? Should we treat the two books differently?

    For all the concern about Mormon Girl, who would you rather have appearing on TV talk shows discussing Mormonism? Joanna Brooks or John Dehlin?

  47. Geoff:

    I follow you so far. But I’m not talking so much about who is a Mormon. In the Catholic Church, anyone who is baptized is considered a Catholic, even if he was a baby at the time and incapable of belief, and hasn’t been to Mass ever since. (Which may help to explain polls in which the vast majority of Catholics favor birth control, etc.) So I understand not quarreling with anyone who wants to identify himself as a Mormon.

    But what about someone who is approaching the Church as an adult, seeking to be baptized? Do you just take all comers and don’t even give them a quiz? Or does there have to be some evidence that the person believes what the Church teaches? If so, what, specifically does he have to believe? And does he have to *really* believe it? Does he have to believe it in the same sense in which the Church has always believed it, or can he believe it in some special sense of his own?

    Let me ask you this: What if I wanted to be baptized as a Mormon — but wanted to remain Catholic? Would that be allowed?

    Honestly, I’m not being silly or disrespectful. I just find it hard to believe there are not any hard-and-fast lines drawn, and am trying to figure out where they are.

  48. There is a standardized set of questions given in a pre-baptism interview to determine if the person is ready for baptism. Included are questions of belief and of commandments.

    Here are the questions, as found in Preach My Gospel, chapter 12 (comments in parentheses are mine):

    1. Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of
    God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?

    (Note that there is no question as to whether one believes they are spirit/physical body, two separate individuals, etc. So this leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation)

    2. Do you believe the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the
    Prophet Joseph Smith? Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God?
    What does this mean to you?

    (This only determines whether the person has a testimony of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and the current prophet. No other specific belief claims are required, leaving a lot of room for interpretation, such as no historicity requirement for a belief on the Book of Mormon/Abraham, etc.)

    3. What does it mean to you to repent? Do you feel that you have repented of your past
    transgressions?

    (we’ve now left the belief requirements, and entered into personal worthiness questions)

    4. Have you ever committed a serious crime? If so, are you now on probation or parole? Have
    you ever participated in an abortion? a homosexual relationship?

    (Here we get a list of past serious sins that may need to be handled by the mission president or First Presidency prior to baptism)

    5. You have been taught that membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    includes living gospel standards. What do you understand of the following standards? Are
    you willing to obey them?
    a. The law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a legal
    marriage between a man and a woman.
    b. The law of tithing.
    c. The Word of Wisdom.
    d. The Sabbath day, including partaking of the sacrament weekly and rendering service to
    fellow members.

    (Here are the basic future expectations of obedience for the new convert. He has to agree to commit to being obedient to these. Note, the word of wisdom does not mention Coke drinks, and tithing does not mention gross or net pay).

    6. When you are baptized, you covenant with God that you are willing to take upon yourself the
    name of Christ and keep His commandments throughout your life. Are you ready to make
    this covenant and strive to be faithful to it?

    (Finally, a commitment regarding the covenant made with baptism, which reflects the Sacramental prayer’s promises, etc.)

    In all of this, I do not see requirements of believing the historicity of anything, no religion as science requirements, and no covenant to sacrifice chickens in the temple of your choice. Obviously, some members have a higher and more specific set of standards with which to judge membership than that required of the Lord and his servants, the prophets.

    Remember, these are the new, improved and inspired questions in the PMG manual, which I believe to be a very inspired manual. Nowhere in the PMG does it require any set of beliefs beyond those found in the baptismal interview. The modern prophets and apostles had a chance to include in the questions a series of tests, affirmations of faith on historicity, or who knows what else. They didn’t. And you know what? The temple interview is very similar, with the exception that it also asks if we are keeping our temple covenants!

    I believe Joanna Brooks is a member in good standing, and would be glad to share the Sacrament meal with her. There are plenty of anti-Mormons out there to deal with, without creating breaches of our own that create new barriers of disunity and contention (which is the doctrine of Satan, 3 Ne 11).

  49. Agellius, I would say that Mormonism is a peculiar enough, and demanding enough faith that there are few serious converts who would be baptized without having a “testimony,” some kind of divine witness that God wants them to be a member, or that the Book of Mormon is true. (There are less serious converts who may just get baptized for the heck of it, because it sounds good to them, or they are unduly pressured by the missionaries, but they usually drop away soon.)

    Contrary to the basic point of this blog, I would say that what defines a Mormon most accurately would be someone who lives their life guided by these divine experiences with the Holy Ghost. Mormonism provides tools for people to have the guidance of the Holy Ghost with them always, to have a conduit with the divine open to them. Mormonism teaches that in order to keep this conduit open, one must obey certain commandments and be true to certain covenants. Members find that when they obey these things, they do live a rich life filled with the Holy Spirit. Belief in God, belief in his prophets, and belief in His word are essential, otherwise we wouldn’t follow them. But belief in historicity or infallibility is unnecessary. Historicity is mired in the physical, the mortal, the dusty, irrelevant details that have nothing to do with the spiritual, which is where God wants us to focus: our relationship with Him.

    This is the point of Mormonism: To get people into a personal, living relationship with God. The point of the Book of Mormon is not that it is historically accurate, but that it tells the story of a family which leaves their home and follows the revelations of God, which takes them to a new land, where new blessings await them. Every Mormon convert experiences that exact process vicariously, regardless of whether or not Nephi lived on this planet, or in some alternate universe. The Book of Mormon is the story of sacrificing to follow the voice of the Holy Ghost. And that is the story of Mormonism for every person.

    Arguments about historicity are irrelevant in my mind. But they do serve as an anchor to people like Jettboy, who need things to “make sense” and be “rational.” That is why General Authorities stress historicity. It is for the members that need things to “make sense.” This is the milk before the meat.

    But the meat: ultimately, going back to Jesus’s teachings of cannibalism, (eat my flesh, drink my blood) God wants to challenge our mortal notions of rationality. He wants us to embrace the foolishness of God over the wisdom of men. Apologists try to spin the foolishness of God so that appears like the wisdom of men. But the whole point of the craziness of the Book of Mormon was to create a stumbling block, a rock of offense. The point is to trust even in the darkness. Faith would be unnecessary if everything made perfect sense.

  50. Agellius, what Rameumpton said.

    Regarding being baptized and remaining a Catholic, I would like to point out that I have been traveling to Latin America for 25 years, and I have lived various places over the years, and it is VERY common for people in Latin America to get baptized into the LDS church and then remain culturally Catholic (meaning they continue to go Mass occasionally, attend weddings and baptisms, etc). I have never heard of a believing LDS person continuing to take Communion at a Catholic Mass, but I am sure it happens.

    But is is also true that most Latin American Mormons, if they stay in the Church, will gradually move away from Catholic traditions and surround themselves with other Mormons. Their social lives will change, at least partly because they don’t feel comfortable socially around a lot of people drinking all the time (and partly because the older adult converts like myself don’t like the temptations of alcohol and coffee). Some of my most interesting religious discussions have been with Catholic priests in Latin America. Nothing is more interesting to me than discussing the Bible with somebody who is knowledgeable.

  51. Geoff, a bit off topic (okay, waaay off topic), so how do you score a cool job that lets you travel to Latin America? And where do I sign up???

  52. “Obviously, some members have a higher and more specific set of standards with which to judge membership than that required of the Lord and his servants, the prophets.”

    As one of antagonists in the original conversation, please tell me I’m not in that category. Because if I am, I’m so done. I obviously suck at communication. Tired of being misread.

  53. Rameumpton:

    I appreciate your detailed and thoughtful response.

    Based on your response, I see four things you have to believe to be baptized a Mormon:

    1. That God is our Eternal Father (as you subjectively interpret those terms).

    2. That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world (as you subjectively interpret those terms).

    3. That the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith (as you subjectively interpret those terms).

    4. That [current Church President] is a prophet of God (as you subjectively interpret those terms).

    Based on these criteria, I don’t see any reason why (from the Mormon point of view) a faithful and believing Catholic could not be baptized a Mormon, so long as he could find some plausible interpretation of the terms “God”, “Jesus”, “Savior”, “gospel”, “restore”, “prophet”, etc., that did not conflict with his beliefs as a Catholic. Do you?

  54. Geoff writes, “… it is VERY common for people in Latin America to get baptized into the LDS church and then remain culturally Catholic (meaning they continue to go Mass occasionally, attend weddings and baptisms, etc).  I have never heard of a believing LDS person continuing to take Communion at a Catholic Mass, but I am sure it happens.”

    Geoff: I appreciate the explanation. But you’re describing what Catholics do after having been baptized Mormon. What I’m asking is whether someone would be allowed to be baptized Mormon in the first place, if he told his Mormon bishop that he is and intends to remain a faithful and believing Catholic.

  55. Without having an “official response,” I think what would happen in real life is that it would really depend on the motivation of the person getting baptized. A bishop would interview the person, and if the bishop detected that the person really was not that interested in being baptized, in theory he would say the person should come back when they are ready. It is difficult to reconcile remaining Catholic with becoming LDS. A true Catholic believes the Catholic church is the true church established by Peter and a succession of Catholic bishops and then popes since then. A true Catholic believes that the Pope of today has authority from God. The LDS belief is the exact opposite of that, ie that our prophet has this authority. At a certain point, you can agree that both religions have a lot of great things (and as a Mormon I love the Catholic church), but it really is an either-or situation. Both cannot be right. Either the Pope has the authority from God or President Monson does.

  56. Geoff writes, “A true Catholic believes that the Pope of today has authority from God.  The LDS belief is the exact opposite of that, ie that our prophet has this authority.  … it really is an either-or situation.  Both cannot be right.  Either the Pope has the authority from God or President Monson does.”

    Assuming you’re right about this, then it appears we have found at least one place where it’s not a matter of personal interpretation: It seems to be an LDS Church requirement, for attaining membership, that you believe the Prophet has authority from God which the leaders of other churches — or at least the Catholic Church — do not.

    But this begs the question: What authority does the Prophet have, specifically? If belief in his authority objectively conflicts with belief in the Pope’s, then he must have authority that is the same, in some way, as what the Pope claims for himself; otherwise there would be no conflict in their both having authority.

    So it would appear that you must believe the Prophet has, not some indefinite kind of authority, the nature of which is subject to individual interpretation, but authority of a specific kind.

    Thus assuming you’re right, it seems there is more that you have to believe, to become a Mormon, than what is contained in Rameumpton’s baptism interview questions.

  57. For us, the term “prophet” holds two pieces of understanding.

    First, any person can be a prophet or receive inspiration for his/her life. In gaining a testimony of the gospel of Christ, we believe a person has this ability of inspiration and personal revelation. This is where our concept of the “priesthood of all believers” fits in.

    However, we also believe that we have Prophets, ordained to authority to receive revelation for the Church. They hold keys of priesthood authority to perform or delegate the performance of ordinances. For example, No one can baptize in the Church without delegated authority from the LDS president.

    Can a person believe the Pope is inspired to lead the Catholic Church, and still be a member? Yes. In fact, I believe that many Popes have been inspired of God. The issue is, the initiate has to be willing to commit to accepting and following the living Prophets of the LDS Church. I’m not sure one can follow both, with the various doctrines that separate us. For example, neither church recognizes the other’s baptism as being authoritative.

    For us, there is a difference with the Pope and Prophet. Both are the leaders of their respective churches. The Prophet may receive revelation that is binding upon the members of the Church. The Pope’s role is somewhat different, as traditionally he does not receive revelation per se, but can establish dogma that supposedly is based upon Biblical interpretation. So, Pope Benedict withdrew the concept of Limbo for children, as there is no Biblical support for it. Meanwhile, if the LDS Prophet received a revelation regarding such an issue, it would become part of the canon of revealed scripture.

  58. Rameumpton writes, “The issue is, the initiate has to be willing to commit to accepting and following the living Prophets of the LDS Church. I’m not sure one can follow both, with the various doctrines that separate us. For example, neither church recognizes the other’s baptism as being authoritative.

    Yes, but the point of this exercise is to nail down which Mormon doctrines are not optional. If they’re all optional — by which I mean, their meanings are subject to individual interpretation — then I think one could find a way to follow both.

    However, what you’re saying now seems to indicate that certain doctrines have definite, objective meanings, not subject to interpretation; otherwise they could not be in conflict with the definite, objective meanings of Catholic doctrines.

    Rameumpton writes, “For us, there is a difference with the Pope and Prophet…. Prophet may receive revelation that is binding upon the members of the Church.  The Pope’s role is somewhat different, as traditionally he does not receive revelation per se, but can establish dogma that supposedly is based upon Biblical interpretation.  … Meanwhile, if the LDS Prophet received a revelation regarding such an issue, it would become part of the canon of revealed scripture.”

    Nice job of explaining the differences between the two.

  59. An anecdote, not meant to indicate LDS Church policy:

    On my mission we were teaching a family of Catholics and the daughter was at the same time preparing for First Communion.

    The family had a baptismal date set and the daughter stated her intention to be baptized a Mormon and to complete her Catholic First Communion.

    I asked my Mission President (later a Area 70) what to do in this situation and his response was that the LDS Church doesn’t care what ordinances you participate in outside of the LDS Church because they’re invalid. His suggestion was to baptize the family and let the daughter make her own decision about continued participation in Catholicism.

    I was really struck by this as it seemed very odd to me to baptized someone who was contemplating continued participation in the Catholic Church.

    My recollection is that the family ended up not getting baptized, but I don’t recall the particulars.

  60. Agellius, if that is what you’re driving at, it is doubtless the case that there are SOME core doctrines necessary for baptism. I think there is actually a lot less wiggle room in the baptismal questions than some people like to believe. They’re not legal documents. In the end, people can interpret them however they like even to the point of outright lying about them. But, the catch is that they will be accountable directly to God for their interpretation.

    From what I understand (and I’m a girl, therefore without the vast training in Priesthood leadership that the men get, so take it for what it’s worth,) it is somewhat ambiguous for a reason. Bishops are endowed with the gift of discernment and operations as part of their office. With those gifts comes the ability to take each baptismal supplicant on a case-by-case basis.

    One person might tell their bishop they also want to follow the Catholic Church, and still be allowed to be baptized, while another person with another bishop might not. When we call bishops “judges in Israel” it is with a great deal of leeway in how to interpret individual circumstances.

    Thus, I received my ordinances in the temple when I was barely 20 years old with no mission service or marriage pending, despite then-current strict advice to NOT clear such people for them. Thus, someone in South America may be allowed to be practicing Catholic and Mormon, while someone in Germany may not be.

    Members of the LDS Church rely heavily on the Spirit and therefore God’s call on individuals. It isn’t palatable to a world where fine wording is used to hang people, and everyone wants to be able to control all circumstances, but in my experience it is a superior form of government.

  61. They are open for interpretation. I would just say they may not be open for a completely open interpretation. There are limits to how far one can go in interpreting things.

    For example, 5% does not equal a tithe, no matter whether you pay from gross or net income. There has to be limits on the interpretation.

    Kind of like, it is good to be open minded, but not so much that your brains fall out.

  62. I just want to be clear that my view in the necessity that a Mormon must believe in the Book of Mormon as history is personal. Any duties I would perform with the Priesthood would only follow the requirements of the LDS Church as officially dictated, and frankly the BofM issue is not one of them. That said, I take that view seriously as a guiding principal of my life and non-ecclesiastical interactions.

  63. Silver:

    Thanks for your interesting reply. Of course I understand that people can tell a bishop they believe things, while harboring reservations. There’s nothing you can do about that. And of course we’re all accountable for the times when we’re less than honest.

    I’m coming from a place where I believe a thing is what it is, and when you say you believe in it, you’re believing what it is, not what you wish it were. When you discover that it’s not what you wish, you can either conform yourself to it; or try to conform it to you; or just leave it alone.

    In the case of the Catholic Church, when I made the decision to become Catholic, it was a decision to believe that the Church was founded by Christ, who dwells in it for all time and preserves it in the truth. How could I think about conforming it to myself? Yikes.

    So when I encounter people who want to conform it to themselves, I can’t help thinking, what chutzpah. I try not to judge them morally, but I also think that’s the wrong approach to take.

    When I came across this discussion, it was a little different. You have people who seem to be trying to conform the LDS Church to themselves, but also, there seems to be but halfhearted resistance to that effort, at least in this thread. So I was trying to see whether my initial impression was correct: Is there really no objective thing to which people are expected to conform themselves in Mormonism? Is it really just a matter of each individual defining the religion and interpreting its tenets as he sees fit?

    I found that hard to believe, so I was trying to test it out, see if I could get anyone to say, “Here. Here is where we draw the line, beyond which things are not subject to individual interpretation.” Eventually I found a little of that, but only after putting forward the extreme case of someone wanting to become Mormon while remaining Catholic. It seems that’s where people finally said, “Well, I don’t know about THAT.” : )

    I would still like to know, if there’s “less wiggle room in the baptismal questions than some people like to believe”, where exactly the wiggle room ends. But it’s just a matter of curiosity. I appreciate everyone’s courtesy and patience with my questions.

  64. I think there are two reasons why you get only half-hearted resistance. One is because, as I explained above, judgment of an individual’s worthiness for baptism is left largely up to the bishop/mission president, so there are guidelines, but also exceptions to nearly all of them. That makes it hard to pin down hard and fast rules.

    Secondly, there is such a strong movement online to dissolve such delineations, and it is so personal, that any attempt to explain is taken as a personal judgment (as seen on this thread.) Believing that such judgment is the Lord’s and his designated servants’ leads to reluctance to discuss it, sort of a wheat and tares scenario.

  65. In other words, even the wiggle room has wiggle room.

    But, I imagine that those who wrest the questions for personal comfort will have to answer for it. That is what I meant by less wiggle room than people think.

  66. Agellius, I think you would be interested in the comments section of this post. Among other things, it covers a discussion if Mormonism has a creed and what that might be; especially when its so anti-creedal in its approach to theology.

  67. Agellius,

    I see the reasons as not being “half-hearted” but rather for other factors.

    First, Catholicism has a long tradition and well established theology. We do not. There is very little theology established, and even now is only in its early stages of being considered by LDS scholars (see saltpress.org for example).

    So, except for a few core doctrines, there really is no hard and fast rules on belief. The facts that we also have continuing revelation from the top, and personal revelation from beneath, also opens the door for people to see things from different perspectives.

    The Spirit works through our own personal perceptions, etc. So, int he Book of Mormon, Lehi and Nephi both saw the Vision of the Tree of Life, but only Nephi noticed the filthiness of the river, because Lehi’s mind was focused on other things. So it is today. Two people could receive the same inspiration from the Lord, yet still receive it slightly differently.

    Our Prophets, then, provide the ordinances, covenants, and framework for us to work within. Then we receive personal inspiration (hopefully, and dependent upon our personal righteousness) for all the rest.

    So, while there may be certain things I have a spiritual witness of, I do not require other members to have that exact same spiritual testimony. As long as theirs fits within that framework, I consider them faithful members.

  68. I would like to point out that Catholic doctrine is far from uniform. The Catholic church has had its own problems with renegade sects for many centuries. Even today, saying that the Catholic church will only baptize certain individuals under certain conditions is simply not reality, especially in many third world environments.

    The LDS is much more uniform, at least partly because there are only 14 million adherents but also because the Church makes a huge effort to make sure the church experience in Utah is very similar to the church experience in Nigeria. But even then, when it comes to the issue of who should and should not be baptized, there is a LOT of latitude given to individual bishops/branch presidents. So, answering the question, “would a believing Catholic be allowed to be baptized by the LDS church” is simply impossible because the answer is, “it depends.”

  69. Jettboy:

    Thanks, it was interesting, although I don’t have time to read the whole thing at the moment. One paragraph of yours caught my eye:

    ‘”What is it the liberals want?”

    ‘To become a liberal Christian church with a strange history. That is why it is confusing (to me as a conservative) why there are not wholesale conversions to the Community of Christ? They are everything that the liberal Mormons in the LDS Church aspire to and yet don’t want to be part of; almost like they reject the authority of the “Salt Lake” leadership and yet somehow reject the legitimacy claims of the CofC and refuse to join.’

    Substitute “Catholic” for “LDS”, “Rome” for “Salt Lake” and “Anglican church” for “Community of Christ”, and I could say the same thing about Catholic liberals. : )

  70. Silver Rain writes, “… judgment of an individual’s worthiness  for baptism is left largely up to the bishop/mission president, so there are guidelines, but also exceptions to nearly all of them. That makes it hard to pin down hard and fast rules.”

    Understood, but I think there are two different things here: An individual’s subjective worthiness to be baptized, and the objective meaning of the teachings of the Church. They should be able to be discussed separately, don’t you think?

    The fact that there are those who don’t grasp or fully assent to the Church’s objective teachings, IMHO, need not prevent others from stating clearly and forthrightly what the Church’s objective teachings are, nor the Church from telling people who are to be baptized which teachings are subject to individual interpretation and which are not.

    The fact that some people are indefinite about things, doesn’t have to mean that everything is objectively indefinite, does it?

  71. Silver Rain writes, “But, I imagine that those who wrest the questions for personal comfort will have to answer for it. That is what I meant by less wiggle room than people think.”

    But, how can they be held responsible to answer for it, if no one is telling them the objective content? You can’t know how far you are stretching the objective content of doctrine for personal comfort, if you don’t know what the “non-stretchable” objective content is.

    I’m not saying you guys don’t know, just that I am having a hard time finding it out, and am beginning to wonder if that’s because I happened to run into a group of people who don’t know, or because there just isn’t any non-stretchable content — except that Catholics can’t be baptized if they intend to remain Catholic. : )

  72. Rameumpton writes, “Our Prophets, then, provide the ordinances, covenants, and framework for us to work within. Then we receive personal inspiration (hopefully, and dependent upon our personal righteousness) for all the rest. So, while there may be certain things I have a spiritual witness of, I do not require other members to have that exact same spiritual testimony.”

    I see your point. I think this is a big difference between our churches. In the Catholic Church, when you decide you believe the Catholic faith, you are not deciding that you believe this or that particular doctrine, and that you don’t believe these others. Rather, you are placing your faith in the Church as the authorized teacher of the teachings of Christ — to clarify, you come to faith in Christ, and based on that faith, place your faith in the Church He founded.

    Once you have made that act of faith, you thereafter believe the particular doctrines taught by the Church, based on the fact that the Church teaches them in the name of Christ, “who can neither deceive nor be deceived”. To refuse belief or engage in outright dissent from the Church’s teaching, indicates that one has not actually placed his faith in the Church Christ founded, does not believe the Church actually teaches in Christ’s name and with his authority, etc. Just as, if Christ appeared to you in person and told you that such-and-such was true, believing him would indicate faith in him, and disbelieving would indicate non-faith.

    Of course, you can study and ponder, and puzzle over doctrines, and try to understand how this or that teaching makes sense. You may even have trouble giving a doctrine your full intellectual assent in the same way you would give assent to something you understand from every angle. But you would nevertheless submit your personal judgment to the judgment of the Church, on the ground that the Church is authorized to teach in Christ’s name and you’re not.

    When I first approached the LDS Church and learned something about it, I assumed things worked basically the same way: When you decide to become Mormon, you place your faith in the Prophet as God’s authorized teacher (based on your faith in God, of course), such that what the Prophet teaches in his capacity as Prophet, as having been revealed by God, is accepted and assented to as if it came from God himself. But I have since learned, that apparently each member of the Church seeks personal confirmation of each teaching before deciding whether or not to assent to it. Therefore, it appears that your faith is not so much in the Prophet as an authorized and therefore implicitly trustworthy teacher, as in the personal confirmations that you receive (or don’t, as the case may be) of each of the Prophet’s teachings.

    Again, quite a different way of looking at things.

  73. Geoff writes, “The Catholic church has had its own problems with renegade sects for many centuries. Even today, saying that the Catholic church will only baptize certain individuals under certain conditions is simply not reality, especially in many third world environments.”

    I’m not sure how this is relevant, but OK.

  74. Agellius writes: “In the case of the Catholic Church, when I made the decision to become Catholic, it was a decision to believe that the Church was founded by Christ, who dwells in it for all time and preserves it in the truth. How could I think about conforming it to myself? Yikes. So when I encounter people who want to conform it to themselves, I can’t help thinking, what chutzpah.”

    I’m curious, does this mean that you accept everything the Catholic church officially says as truth, without question? If you do, then you are the first Catholic I have met to do so. This may be the wrong impression, but I thought that almost all Catholics take at least some of their doctrines with a grain of salt.

    In my experience, many active Catholics are passionate and faithful in their devotion to the church, yet they may disagree strongly with a number of policies and doctrines.

    This kind of dissonance doesn’t exist as much in the Mormon church. It seems to me that there is much more cohesion and conformity of belief among active Mormons than among active Catholics.

    Liberal Mormons would perhaps like the church to be a bit more Catholic in this respect. You can be a passionate dedicated Mormon, but disagree with some of the doctrines or policies, maybe a “bigger tent” as Geoff describes it.

    Am I correct in my characterization of the Catholic church?

  75. There is some saying that goes: “In the Catholic church, the Pope is infallible, and no one believes it for a moment. In the Mormon church the prophet is fallible, and no one believes it for a moment.”

  76. Nate writes, “I’m curious, does this mean that you accept everything the Catholic church officially says as truth, without question?”

    Yes, I accept everything formally taught by the Magisterium of the Church, without reserve. By “Magisterium” I mean the teaching authority of the Church, which consists of the bishops in union with the Pope, or the Pope teaching alone. I explain this to make clear that I don’t necessarily believe everything taught by every individual bishop or priest who, being human, are subject to error like anyone else.

    Nate writes, “In my experience, many active Catholics are passionate and faithful in their devotion to the church, yet they may disagree strongly with a number of policies and doctrines.”

    In my experience as well. As I said before, to the extent they reject the teachings of the Church, I think they are exhibiting a lack of faith in the Church’s teaching authority. The Magisterium itself certainly does not give permission to dissent from magisterial teachings; in fact to do so is, objectively, a sin; though I don’t judge individual dissenters since I don’t know what might be hindering them from giving their full assent.

    Nate writes, “This kind of dissonance doesn’t exist as much in the Mormon church. It seems to me that there is much more cohesion and conformity of belief among active Mormons than among active Catholics.”

    You may be right. Though judging by this comment thread, I get the impression they are fairly similar.

  77. Nate writes, “I’m curious, does this mean that you accept everything the Catholic church officially says as truth, without question? If you do, then you are the first Catholic I have met to do so.”

    By the way, there are quite a few of us who do so. Pretty much my whole family and my close friends; pretty much all the families at the school my kids attend, as well as the faculty and staff; pretty much everyone on the EWTN TV network; many Catholic colleges; many well-known authors such as G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien; any number of blogs and websites, for example wdtprs.com, lifesitenews.com, http://www.lovingit.co.uk, jimmyakin.org … I could go on and on.

    It’s not a rare phenomenon.

  78. Thanks Agellius for the clarification. So you are right that many of the issues are similar with Mormonism.

    I do find it interesting that your fascination with Mormonism seems to be centered upon the integrity and consistency of belief of it’s members, and not upon the beliefs themselves. (Am I misinterpreting?)

    Is this because you feel that exhibiting complete faith without question is the whole point of religion, and not what the peculiarities of a particular belief happen to be?

    Or do you feel that your faith in a church (Catholic or Mormon) should be grounded in some kind of rational approach as well? Have you examined the Catholic faith in an impartial way, critically, or do you refrain from skepticism on principle, because skepticism is the opposite of faith?

    Mormons often refrain from skepticism because have a “testimony” that the church is true, from personal revelation. They often don’t bother to examine points of doctrine skeptically because they already “know.”

    But without the concept of revelation from God, how do Catholics exercise complete faith in their church, refraining from the skepticism which would undoubtedly crush various aspects of their faith? Is it through the concept of “mystery” wherein a believer submits to the glory of the church in it’s great Cathedrals and elaborate history and rights, making the faith more about romance and awe of the divine than about thorny theological details?

  79. Agellius, it goes back to what is probably one of the most central doctrines; a personal relationship with God. People are free to interpret things almost entirely how they like. So long as they don’t publicly attempt to subvert the Church or break certain commandments, they are free to be members according to the dictates of their own consciences.

    Even God Himself can be awfully subjective. If there is anything the scriptures teach us, it is that God gives different commandments in different circumstances. At times, He says do not kill, at other times He says thou shalt utterly destroy.

    That is why it is so vital to develop a close relationship with Him, and learn to be guided by the Spirit. We have a very personal God.

    It’s not that we don’t have answers, just that I’m guessing you aren’t recognizing them as answers because they aren’t what you are looking for.

  80. @ Nate #24 –

    I confess, Nate, your particular slice of “non-literal believers” seems rather innocuous to me. So I really have no arguments for you, though perhaps a couple of basic and obvious points:

    1. “Non-literal believer” is a phrase that means many things to many people. It often (I’d say usually) means “atheist who like’s religious practice” which is clearly not how you are using it here.
    2. There is a difference between what a person personally chooses to believe and what the Church can realistically teach and stay solvent. Your “non-literal believers” are, by your own admission in #24 and #31, making leaps of faith (i.e. “they believe more”) far far greater than most human beings are capable of making and frankly across a bridge far wider then merely deciding that the evidence against the Church is ‘just wrong some how.’.

    Further, your description of ‘non-literal believers’ does not strike me as in any way ‘non-literal’ in belief.

    I assume what you are really suggesting here is a non-historical Book of Mormon (a point I’ve discussed in this post and others.) So we’re positing that this person looks at the evidence for the Book of Mormon not being historical and says “I can buy that” but then also receives a testimony it’s from God and says “I can buy that too.” (For the sake of argument, let’s assume we’re still talking about it being a message to the whole world. Minus that, and I do think you automatically find yourself at odds with the continued existence of the Church to some degree, and thus this argument because problematic enough that I can see no solution.)

    I guess it would come down to whether or not this person could effectively keep this set of beliefs to themselves for the rest of the Church’s sake. Why? Not because there is anything inherently wrong with their beliefs (they seem fine to me), but because this is a really really far bridge they are trying to leap with faith. Far too far for myself I admit. And I believe way too far for the Church as a whole to realistically survive if the whole membership caught on to this approach.

    So based on practical matters, there is little choice here but to have them keep it to themselves. (Which you seem to agree with, particularly in Church.) If they were willing to do this it’s hard to see how there is any problem here at all. They are effectively as much or maybe even more believers then any other member of the Church. They are pillars of faith!

    I would have to wonder why someone that used this approach didn’t just decide to use their immense ability to leap with faith to just be dismissive of the evidence against the Book of Mormon in the first place. This approach really doesn’t lend itself to being more rational than the more straightforward approach. (As stated, it’s actually less rational and more faith-based.)

    But again, this will always come down to personal preferences based on one’s spiritual impressions. Personally, it seems easier to me just assume we don’t have all the facts rather than attempt to deal with the much larger rational issues of Joseph Smith carting around fake plates he forged that somehow he still honestly believed were really from God and somehow God blessed this approach and even asked for a missionary effort to take it to the world. So you have to basically leap across some sort of rational gap via faith either way. I’m just in favor of the smaller rational gap because it’s the only realistic one for the Church as a whole. But I have no issue with individuals leaping however they honestly feel God has moved upon them. Revelation is funny that way. And perhaps, if I felt so moved upon, I could make that larger leap of faith myself.

  81. If you define ‘non-literal believers’as pragmatists who some of them believe the Book of Mormon is literal because that’s where the totality of the evidence takes them, then you aren’t talking about non-literal believers anymore, you are talking about pragmatists.

  82. Nate:

    Interesting questions. : )

    You write, “I do find it interesting that your fascination with Mormonism seems to be centered upon the integrity and consistency of belief of it’s members, and not upon the beliefs themselves.”

    Actually, my “fascination” with Mormonism — I prefer to call it “interest” — goes back to some personal experiences about 25 years ago, when I lived in Utah and knew some Mormons personally.

    You write, “Is this because you feel that exhibiting complete faith without question is the whole point of religion, and not what the peculiarities of a particular belief happen to be?”

    Good question. The “whole point” of religion, I would say, is to worship God. But closely following on that, is that if God has revealed things about himself, what he has done and intends to do, then I want to know about it, and want to know it accurately. This is where I think that taking revelation “non-literally” isn’t much use.

    You write, “Or do you feel that your faith in a church (Catholic or Mormon) should be grounded in some kind of rational approach as well?  Have you examined the Catholic faith in an impartial way, critically, or do you refrain from skepticism on principle, because skepticism is the opposite of faith?”

    I did take a rational approach when deciding which church I would join, at least to the extent that I was able, given my level of education and experience. However once I joined, I never looked back.

    This is not to say that I could never be dissuaded of the truth of my faith. I can think of things that might shake it. But I regularly engage with people who attack my religion, so over the years I suspect I have heard most of the arguments against it, and have not found any compelling; while at the same time, my experiences of living my faith have done nothing but reinforce it.

    I don’t rule out skepticism on principle. There may be reasons for doubting a particular doctrine. The key, to my mind, is recognizing and admitting that once you have entered a state of skepticism, you are no longer in the state of faith. This isn’t to say you can never be skeptical once you have believed. But if you do become skeptical, then you’re no longer being faithful. You may switch back and forth between them, but you can’t do both at once.

    I wrote about this a while back: http://agellius.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/are-doubt-and-faith-compatible/

    I may say to myself, “I don’t see why birth control is wrong.” But that’s not doubt. For it to be doubt, I need to take the further step of saying, “Therefore I’m not going to believe it.” I don’t see why the Theory of Relativity is true, but I accept its truth based on the word of knowledgeable and trustworthy people who tell me it is.

    But if I proceed to say, “I don’t understand it, therefore I’m going to suspend belief,” then I’m no longer trusting those people to know what they’re talking about and tell me the truth about it. So the question is really, do I trust the Church as a source of revealed truth, or not?

    You write, “But without the concept of revelation from God, how do Catholics exercise complete faith in their church, refraining from the skepticism which would undoubtedly crush various aspects of their faith?”

    I don’t know why you say “without the concept of revelation from God” with regard to the Catholic faith. It’s all based on revelation from God.

  83. Silver Rain writes, “It’s not that we don’t have answers, just that I’m guessing you aren’t recognizing them as answers because they aren’t what you are looking for.”

    Then my question becomes, why won’t anyone give me what I’m looking for? : )

    You apparently believe you’ve answered my question, and therefore we seem to be going around in circles. I don’t agree that my question has been answered, but it’s not worth quarreling over. Again I appreciate your patience and thoughtfulness.

  84. Bruce, thank you for responding to my comments. Just to clarify my particular brand of non-literal belief:

    It’s true that it’s not actually non-literal from a certain perspective. You mention the absurdity of believing Joseph Smith forged the plates and carried them around. This is not actually the sort of rationalization I am referring to.

    The kind of belief I am talking about is one that looks at Joseph Smith’s life and says: “It seems to me he was being honest. I don’t have any reason to doubt what he is saying. There were witnesses to the plates and to the angels. Sounds like it really happened.” But this same kind of belief applies to science. If science presents evidence against the historicity of the Book of Mormon, you apply the same kind of trust: “I don’t have any reason to doubt that either. Experts say that it seems most likely the Book of Mormon is non-historical. That sounds good to me. I have no reason to doubt an expert.”

    Contradiction is not a reason to doubt. Indeed, contradiction is a characteristic of divinity. God is a God of contradiction, whose ways are higher than our ways. The absurdity of the Book of Mormon is a testimony of it’s divine origin. Indeed it is almost as absurd as the Bible.

    So this kind of belief is empirical. It is innately trusting. It ignores contradiction. It approaches everything from a perspective of belief, including the many stories about the Madonna, as well as the exposes debunking the Madonna.

    But I would say that for some people, it is easier to have this kind of empirical belief than to actually believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is very challenging, which is why so few people are Mormons. Joseph Smith’s life is so challenging that he himself said: “If I had not lived it myself, I would not have believed it.”

    For some people, it is easier to believe everything, than to believe dogmatically in a single theological orthodoxy.

    But if you believe everything, how do you choose which path to take? What keeps you in the straight and narrow Mormon church, when you believe everything? The purity of your own personal revelation, which has guided you to this path. You do not choose the church. God chooses you for the church. You do not question this calling, no matter what. You do not question your covenants no matter what. You follow the call, and you trust in a God of contradiction.

  85. Jettboy writes, “what is your question simply?”

    Well, I asked Geoff, “In other words, what is the goal? When someone is interested in becoming Mormon, what does “becoming Mormon” mean, in terms of the beliefs one professes? Is there no bare minimum whatsoever?”

    I later asked you, “I am wondering, though, as a non-Mormon, isn’t this something that the Prophet decides, i.e., which beliefs are ‘core’ and which aren’t? Have the Prophets made any kind of a binding statement in this regard? Or is the Prophet’s authority to define things like this one of the things that’s under dispute?”

    I said to Rameumpton, “the point of this exercise is to nail down which Mormon doctrines are not optional.”

  86. Agellius, for the most “committed” Mormons, I’d say the core concepts are asked in the temple recommend interview – but even those questions are broad enough to allow for differing interpretations in nearly all cases. As long as the “final answer” is correct for each question (always nothing more than a “yes” or “no” – or, for many interviewers, for at least one question, “I’m trying my best.”), and each person is being honest and sincere in giving those answers, that person can attend the temple – almost regardless of what those yes or no answers mean to each individual person.

    In fact, the final question asks for nothing more than an affirmation that the person seeking entrance into the temple feels worthy to do so.

    There is a belief among many members that the Bishop or Stake President conducting the interview can exercise the power of discernment to ascertain instances when the interviewee is not being honest and/or sincere – but that also is not believed unanimously among the membership (including the local leadership), and the actual instructions to the interviewer is clear that the questions are to be asked only as worded and not altered for individual interviews or to reflect interviewer understanding of meaning. Iow, theoretically, the validity of the “confessional” (meaning “confession of faith”) and the ultimate result of it (reward or punishment) is supposed to be between the individual and God.

  87. Guys,

    Agellius isn’t asking about what a Mormon has to do to be “committed” or to get into a temple. He’s asking what defines Mormonism as a religion and a belief system. And I do not feel the answers you are giving really get to the heart of his question.

    Agellius,

    Mormons do have a fairly easily definable set of core beliefs and doctrines. I have written about this here.

    It’s exactly what you are expecting. I think this link is the real answer to your real question.

    However, as Ray says, the Church tries to balance the realities of life with this narrative that defines us. So to be an active and participating (and even temple worthy) Mormon is largely based on your own personal interpretation and judgment mixed with that of your Bishop. But the temple recommend questions do not (and are not meant to) truly define Mormonism in a rigorous way.

  88. Bruce, with all due respect (and I mean that), you said exactly what I said. I used the temple recommend interview questions to illustrate that, even at the level of “highest commitment”, “to be an active and participating (and even temple worthy) Mormon is largely based on your own personal interpretation and judgment mixed with that of your Bishop.”

    I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear, and if the word “committed” got in the way (even with the quotation marks to show contrived or limited meaning), but that’s exactly what I meant.

  89. Ray, I have no issue with what you said. I intentionally and knowingly repeated what you said.

    It’s the post that I link to that I think answers Agellius’ real question. Read that and you’ll see what I mean.

    But in all honesty, I’m somewhat guessing as to what Agellius was seeking. But I know him, so my guess might just be correct.

  90. @Nate in 101,

    “Contradiction is not a reason to doubt. Indeed, contradiction is a characteristic of divinity. God is a God of contradiction, whose ways are higher than our ways.”

    Nate,

    I am truly proud to call you brother. I think the LDS Church as a body (if not as a doctrine) should be as emcompassing as is reasonably possible without undermining the meme that it exists for. And I think people in the church (if they are choosing to be in it) should follow what they feel is right after prayerfully approaching God. To some degree that means that “what works for me” is the order of the day. And this should be respected.

    However, I hope you can see that there is a fundamental incompatibility between my beliefs and yours that can’t just be brushed over. For I do not accept the idea that contradiction is a characteristic of divinity. In fact, I emphatically deny it entirely.

    Contradiction is equivalent to untruth. I’m sure you are aware that if a system accepts one contradiction, it can be shown it accepts all contradiction. And if God can contradict Himself, he is thus a God of untruth.

    God is not a God of untruth.

    I believe in a God of truth. I believe this is fundamental to the ability for human beings to have faith in Him (as per the lectures on faith.) We must be able to believe that God does not lie and a God that is contradictory is a God that can lie.

    So while I’m very happy to call you brother and hold communion with you, there is a difference between an individual believing in a God who is contradictory and a Church and religion that does. If the Church were to — heaven forbid — adopt such a belief, it would not longer be a place I could personally ever belong.

    Because my beliefs are fundamentally about God being a God of truth and yours are fundamentally about accepting contradiction as divine, I would hope you could see that this places a burden on you that can’t actually be accepted by me. That is to say, if we are to hold communion of belief, its up to you to contradictorily accept that our beliefs are compatible and make them compatible enough for us to hold communion — because our beliefs are in fact not compatible beliefs at all. I see no way around that because I’m starting with the idea that God is a God of truth and consider that to be non-negotiable. And I cannot accept that your beliefs are correct because of that requirement.

    It’s too easy to call my position ‘rigid.’ Truth is by definition rigid. Truth always has a constraining requirement like this or it wouldn’t be truth.

    But I can accept that your approach works better for some people than mine. After all, I do accept that all people are different and have different needs. But I’ll also always work to convert such a person to my position, because I believe that is one of the demands of Truth on me.

  91. Bruce:

    You write, “Mormons do have a fairly easily definable set of core beliefs and doctrines. I have written about this here. … I think this link is the real answer to your real question.”

    It is in a way. At least now I have one Mormon telling me which doctrines are non-negotiable.

    But I’m not totally clear: Is it your position that these doctrines are objectively non-negotiable because the authority of the Church says they are? or is it more like, these are non-negotiable in your personal opinion, based on the fact that losing one or more of them would make Mormonism no longer Mormonism?

  92. Agellius,

    That’s an interesting question. I’m not even sure how to answer it definitively because I think the answer is “both.”

    It’s clear that losing certain doctrines makes Mormonism into nothing and therefore we’d expect it to go into non-existence or mutate into something else entirely. So I suppose the second possiblity you list *is* true by definition.

    But the authority of the Church plays a role in this also. The leaders of the Church (the 15: First Presidence and 12 Apostles) do collectively define what the LDS Church believes with the President of the Church playing a special role in this. If by “Mormonism” you mean “the LDS Church” (and that would be 95%+ of anything called “Mormon” probably) then ‘authority’ does define Mormonism both interms of doctrine and practice.

    However, the Mormon concept of authority is different from the Catholic concept. Specifically because there is no assumption of infalibiity.

    I think something you should keep in mind is that Mormons you meet online are non-representative of the Church as a whole. It’s a fair guess that very few ‘regular Joe Mormons’ would challenge the core doctrines I list in the link at all.

    Online Mormons often follow a sort of logic where they take the Mormon belief of ‘falibility’ to an extreme and you end up with a form of Mormonism where everything is symoblic, figurative, in flux, and the authority of the Church plays no role whatsoever. (Probably very similar to your description of a similar line of thought that exists with liberal Catholicism.) This can range from the honest and sincere to the outright dishonest and insincere. With quite a bit of both online and often very hard to sift through or tell apart.

    I guess I would challenge the permabloggers here on M* to read the link I gave Agellius in 105 and turn that “at least now I have one Mormon” into “at least now I have 4″ (or whatever.) I think it would be easy to find several permabloggers here that fully admit that these *are* the doctrines of Mormonism.

    Defining core Mormon doctrines is not hard at all. It’s the fringy stuff that is difficult to pin down or define because it’s generally left up to the individual to come up with their own answers on.

    Unfortunately, this threat is so stale, probably none of them will notice my request now.

  93. Bruce, I am not a permablogger here or anywhere else, but I would agree that each entry on the list you refer to is a core doctrine of Mormonism, perhaps with a minor quibble in wording here or there.

  94. Bruce writes, “However, the Mormon concept of authority is different from the Catholic concept. Specifically because there is no assumption of infalibiity.”

    Are you saying you can’t have certainty of the truth of any Mormon doctrine? I ask that because it seems to me that you can’t have certainty of a revealed truth (and by “revealed truth” I mean a truth that we could never know unless it were divinely revealed) unless the source on which it is based is infallible.

    For example, don’t you consider the Mormon scriptures to be God’s word, and therefore infallible? And since some of Joseph Smith’s writings have been declared scripture, doesn’t that make them infallible?

  95. Agellius.

    My recommendation here would be to read Popper. ;) (Do you remember the reference here when you asked me about my philosophy?)

  96. Adam:

    If you mean communication that is completely immune from misunderstanding, I agree.

    Nevertheless, an infallible source of information can and does play a vital role in Christian revelation, in my opinion. Do you disagree?

  97. Bruce:

    Can you recommend a good introductory book on Popper? If you did so before, I don’t remember what it was. Thanks.

  98. Okay, best recommendation is probably one of the two books by David Deutsch. The Fabric of Reality or The Beginning of Infinity. Warning, it’s more than just covering Popper. You’ll get a healthy dose of evolution, computation, and quantum physics as well. However, his books are Awesomeness incarnate. So they are worth the read anyhow. And has the (in my opinion) modern torchbearer for Popper, you’ll get a more up to date view of Popper’s theories than even Popper had.

    If you just want a short introduction to Popper and his views, I don’t have a recommendation yet. I am reading a book called “Karl Popper” (how original!) by Bryan Magee right now. I haven’t finished it yet, so I can’t really recommend it. It has the virtue of being short, however.

    Popper’s philosophy of science was built on the idea that (if you’ll allow me to change language around a bit) you don’t need infalibility to make progress. You just need a way to know one explanation is better than another.

    Even though the LDS Church officially teaches against infalability, I think you’ll find that a number of Mormons still believe in some form of infalibility (even if they don’t call it that and deny that they believe in infalability) that you (as a Catholic) would be comfortable with.

    I am not one of them.

    I believe that infalability is an old idea that humans grew up with anciently and that it was wrong and even misleading. (Outside of math and logic that is, though even those require the ‘leap of faith’ in the postulates they’re built on.)

    Popper explains why it’s both ultimately misleading and unnecessary to believe in infalibility.

    Whether or not such ideas apply to *religion* is probably a diferent matter. Obviously Popper wasn’t even trying to address religion via his theories. His focus was science and reason. (He was heterodoxical himself, but seems to be somewhat of a Theist and friendly to organized religion from what I can tell so far from reading him.)

    But I think Popper does present a plausible way forward with understanding religion without the need for any sort of infalibility.

  99. Bruce:

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll put them on my list.

    By the way, Feser mentions Popper in his book, just in passing, but as I recall, in a favorable way; not to say he endorses Popper in any general way (nor criticizes him), but he cites Popper in the course of making one of his arguments. Don’t ask me what it was though because I can’t remember.

  100. I think Popper is generally well thought of. If you read my Karen Armstrong posts, she was very favorable to Popper even as she made him roll over in his grave.

  101. If you mean communication that is completely immune from misunderstanding, I agree.

    I think I mean more than that. If my four-year old asked me what I did at work all day, she wouldn’t be able to understand a detailed, accurate answer. I could give her a simplified answer that she could understand, but there would be inaccuracies built in.

    Nevertheless, an infallible source of information can and does play a vital role in Christian revelation, in my opinion. Do you disagree?

    Meaning that God is infallible? Agreed.

  102. Adam:

    I think it would be possible to give her a simplified answer without any inaccuracies. “Infallible” only means incapable of error, it doesn’t speak to how intelligent or knowledgeable people are relative to one another, or how much detail is included or omitted.

    If your daughter believed you were infallible, that would mean she believed you incapable of saying anything false. It would mean she would submit her own (fallible) judgment to yours on a matter on which you had spoken infallibly; and neither would she take the word of any other fallible person over yours.

    She might not fully understand some of your infallible statements, but she would assume they were true regardless whether she fully understood them. And while she might misunderstand an infallible statement that you made at one time, it would be a good faith misunderstanding and not a willful one; and you could always correct her misunderstanding at another time, since she would accept correction from you as from a trustworthy source.

  103. Adam:

    I’m tempted to let this end on a simple disagreement. But if you’re right then I’m badly in need of correction, so I hope you don’t mind my pressing the point. Why must “simplified” mean “inaccurate”?

    By the way, I’m assuming that by “inaccurate” you mean “false” or “containing error”. If you mean something else, please correct me.

  104. Simplified means, by definition, leaving stuff out. To the degree stuff is left out, it is “false” or “containing error” to that same degree.

    This can be vitiated by communicating that the simplified statement is simplified. But not entirely, because in order for the interlocutor to have a fully accurate understanding of the ways the simplified statement is inaccurate, the interlocutor would have to fully understand the unsimplified truth, which ex hypothesi the interlocutor can’t.

    This is a view I’ve formed on my own. I’m sure its received much deeper philosophical treatment elsewhere and there are controversies and arguments and even other sides to the debate I don’t know about. But my current belief is that infallible or error-less communication is only possible among beings who completely share the same frame of reference, i.e., the Godhead.

  105. I think it would be like explaining child birth to a small child. Most are not ready to understand how sex works, or how the sperm fertilizes the egg, or how the egg attaches to the placenta, etc. Most small kids are able to understand an easy, true, but incomplete explanation. We do not need to talk to them about storks bringing the baby. As they are prepared and more mature, we can then give them a more accurate picture of what happens.

  106. Adam:

    I’m sorry, but I’m not sure where we’re disagreeing.

    This started, I believe, when I said, “… it seems to me that you can’t have certainty of a revealed truth (and by “revealed truth” I mean a truth that we could never know unless it were divinely revealed) unless the source on which it is based is infallible.”

    You replied, “If the receiver of a communication (you) is fallible, infallible communication is impossible.”

    I said, “Nevertheless, an infallible source of information can and does play a vital role in Christian revelation, in my opinion. Do you disagree?”

    And you said, “Meaning that God is infallible? Agreed.” You also, in the same comment, made the point that if your daughter asked what you do at work all day, you could only give her a simplified answer, and therefore an answer that is partly false or contains error. This appears to be an analogy meaning that God can only reveal to us information that is partly false or in error.

    As far as I can tell, you’re saying that perfect, error-free communication between an infallible source, such as God, and a fallible source, such as a man, is impossible. Mistakes are liable to be made on the part of the man; and furthermore God, in simplifying the communication of spiritual realities for our benefit, has to give us information that is partly false or contains error. Have I got this right?

    But what conclusion are you drawing from this? That there can’t be infallible sources in religion other than God? That God is infallible but not the scriptures? That no man can be infallible? However I can’t see how any of these follows logically from the aforesaid premises.

    I’m not trying to make hash or straw men out of what you’ve said. It’s just that I drafted a detailed response to your last comment before realizing that I wasn’t even sure what I was arguing against. : )

  107. Let me back off on one point. You correctly characterized me as saying that “[t]his appears to be an analogy meaning that God can only reveal to us information that is partly false or in error.” On reflection I went to far. I’d rather say that it’s an analogy meaning that *on some subjects* God can only reveal to use information that is partly false or in error.

    To be honest, Ag., I’m not sure what conclusions I draw from it either.

    I would probably use it as part of a defense of the rationality of the Mormon doctrine of continued revelation and/or an argument that Catholic definition of Papal infallibility probably should not exclude some formal conflict between infallible current Papal pronouncements and infallible prior Papal pronouncements. But to do that, I would need additional premises. Off-hand, they’d include (1) the possibility that groups at Time A and Time B can have different capabilities that require different simplifications to best approximate the truth and (2) that God’s revelations may be intended to communicate with contemporaries to a greater degree than subsequent persons who might receive it (which I think is the same as saying something like a cost-benefit analysis of having revelation that is experienced as always and everywhere fixed for all time versus the greater truth value of revelation that is more adopted to the contemporary understanding).

  108. I believe God communicates to people “in their own language” (meaning using words and concepts they can understand / with which they are familiar), “according to their understanding” (meaning he won’t tell them things they have no chance of grasping). Therefore, I believe the word of God can be different to different people at different times and still be the true word of God – but I also believe much of what people have thought of and do think of as the “pure, eternal, unchanging word of God” really is nothing more than their own best comprehension of the actual pure, eternal, unchanging word of God. Iow, the word of God is honest and infallible – but how we receive and process it, even when totally honest and sincere, is partial and “fallible” in a real sense.

    Within Mormonism, I think this is best summed up in three concepts:

    1) The 13th Article of Faith (which says we need to “seek after” lots of things) and Joseph Smith’s explicit statement that we will accept truth no matter its source when we find it (meaning there is truth outside of Mormonism and the LDS Church).

    2) The practice of vicarious ordinances for the dead, which rests on the foundational conviction that God will save and wants to exalt ALL of His children – regardless of what they knew and did based on that knowledge in this life.

    3) To become is better than merely to believe.

  109. Adam:

    You write, “”… *on some subjects* God can only reveal to use information that is partly false or in error.”

    Since I have a hard time with the idea that God can communicate anything that is false or in error, I tend to think that if, hypothetically, a thing could not be communicated without falsehood or error entering in, then God would refrain from communicating it. However I also disagree in principle that things communicated in a simplfied manner must necessarily contain error or falsehood. But that may be the point you’re backing off on(?).

    You write, “I would probably use it as part of a defense of the rationality of the Mormon doctrine of continued revelation and/or an argument that Catholic definition of Papal infallibility probably should not exclude some formal conflict between infallible current Papal pronouncements and infallible prior Papal pronouncements…”, etc.

    Not as an argument, but as a point of interest since you mentioned it: Papal pronouncements are subject to interpretation and clarification as time goes on. Later popes can explain and expand on the teachings of earlier popes. And it is of course understood that the particular wording of a pronouncement may be more suitable for one age than another; it is recognized that a word may have a certain connotation at one time that it lacks at another, and so a different, more “contemporary” word may be substituted in explaining or teaching the doctrine at a different time. The important thing is that the substance or content of the teaching cannot change. A proposition that is true at one time can’t become false at another, even if different words are used to communicate its substance.

  110. I do not think God deceives or gives false information. I believe he does give incomplete information to us, when we are not ready for all of it, such as how we explain where babies come from to small children.

    I also think that there is a transmission issue when we receive things. It must come through our personal perceptions, distractions, fears, ignorance, etc. We tend to fill in the blank spaces with our own assumptions, sometimes mingling revelation with the philosophies of men.

  111. Since I have a hard time with the idea that God can communicate anything that is false or in error, I tend to think that if, hypothetically, a thing could not be communicated without falsehood or error entering in, then God would refrain from communicating it. However I also disagree in principle that things communicated in a simplfied manner must necessarily contain error or falsehood. But that may be the point you’re backing off on(?).

    That’s not what I’m backing away from. I assert that for any question where the answer is too complex for the interlocutor to understand or where it requires reference to knowledge or experience that the interlocutor does not posess, *any* answer that the interlocutor can understand will be partially false or partially in error.

    I assert that God would not be lying if He gave an answer that was as true as possible, i.e., that minimized the falseness or error. I also assert that God would not be lying if He gave an answer that best prepares the interlocutor to be able to understand a fuller answer later. (These two assertions overlap but are not the same).

    In other words, a middle school science teacher who explains motion in terms of Newton’s 3 laws is not lying, even though the explanation is not wholly true.

  112. I think I follow you. My feeling still is that God would avoid situations where any falseness or error must occur on his part, even assuming that his intention was not to deceive.

    Take the statement that “Jesus died to save us from our sins”. I don’t think anyone understands the full import of those words — how precisely Jesus’ death leads to our salvation, and how precisely that salvation is applied to each person who is saved from his sins, etc. — save God alone. We definitely lack the knowledge or experience reference to which is necessary to fully grasp these things. Yet I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that the words are false or contain error in any respect.

    I think God could express any number of other revelatory truths in a similar way, without any falseness or error, leaving us with propositions which are completely true so far as they go, even if we aren’t capable of fully grasping them in every detail and from every aspect.

    If you were saying that God can reveal things with complete accuracy and truthfulness, yet we somehow manage to form an understanding of his revelation which is false or inaccurate in some way, of course I would agree with that.

    I remain quite open to the possibility that I’m mistaking your meaning even though what you’re saying is true and error-free in itself. : )

  113. Agellius, Ezekial saw a wheel – or something that he only could describe as a wheel – or something that he understood through revelation and knew wasn’t a wheel, but a wheel was the best way to describe it to those of his time – or any number of other possibilities.

    Did God lie to Ezekial in showing him something that he perceived to be a wheel, if it wasn’t really a wheel – or did Ezekial lie to others in his day by describing it as a wheel, if it really wasn’t a wheel – or is the entire vision something that was inserted into the canon by someone else who made it up and, thus, a complete fabrication – or was it inserted by someone else who had a vision that gained more import by being attributed to Ezekial – or any number of other possibilities?

    The only “totally and completely infallible” option (in the narrowest sense of that phrase) is that God showed Ezekial an actual wheel that wasn’t an airplance wheel (since the rest of the airplane wasn’t described in detail in the vision). I actually am fine with pretty much all of the options I’ve listed – and others I didn’t list, largely because I view translation and scriptural compilation very differently than as an infallible process.

    One of our Articles of Faith says, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly. Fwiw, the following is a greatly simplified post I wrote last year about the issue of translation that deals directly with the question of translation – and it has direct relevance to scriptural infallibility:

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/05/translated-technically-includes.html

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