Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why I Don't "Get" Mormonism

I recently read Michael Otterson's Post at the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog. In it, he objects to categorization of the Mormon Church as a "cult".

An examination of the following statement from Otterson will help to demonstrate why I don't "get" Mormonism. Incidentally, I think it will help to demonstrate why people are comfortable labeling Mormonism a "cult". Otterson says,
"It is not true that Mormons do not draw their beliefs from the same Bible."
I can find a grain of truth in that statement, but I think the casual reader who knows nothing about Mormonism will be completely misled. You can't trust your first impression with this statement. It is an onion with many layers, and peeling the layers negates your first impression rather than develops it.

You can read for yourself, at publicly available Mormon sources like this one, that Joseph Smith produced his own "translation" of the Bible. But wait, when Mormon documents say "translation", they actually mean "revising" and "correcting", as if all the terms were synonyms.
"The Prophet's main work of revising, correcting, or translating the Bible was done during the three-year period from June 1830 to July 1833."
That's one layer.

In the next sentence, we learn that the meaning of the word "translation" is even farther removed from your first impression. As you can see, Joseph Smith was not working from original-language manuscripts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Rather, the source for his "translation" was already in English.
"During this time he and his scribes went through the Old and New Testaments of the King James Version and produced nearly 500 pages of manuscript, containing thousands of variant readings and new passages that clarify and enhance the message of the Bible."
That's another layer.

Why are we still calling this a "translation?" The only justification seems to be that the end products are in English, rather than Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Does that word help to convey the truth, or does it obfuscate it? Is the author trying to tell us the truth about Mormonism, or is he trying to communicate a sentiment?

Read a little further, and you'll see that Joseph Smith denied the inspiration of an entire book of the Old Testament, "Song of Solomon", which makes the Mormon Bible look even less like the Bibles used by other groups identifying themselves as Christian.
"The Prophet also censored the Song of Solomon by declaring that it was not inspired scripture."
So, there's a third layer.

And yet, Michael Otterson can, in good conscience publish this statement for all to see?
"It is not true that Mormons do not draw their beliefs from the same Bible."
This type of communication, which presents one meaning upon first impression, and entirely different, negating meanings upon examination, arouses my intellectual defenses. I don't think I'm alone in this respect. This 'double meaning' gives the impression that the speaker is trying to deceive, and when the speaker identifies itself as a religion, the concept of "cult", in the pejorative sense, is a natural association.

I examined a lot of Mormon writings and talked with a lot of Mormons, and it seems to me this a deeply rooted principle in Mormonism and probably why Mormonism was a non-starter for me. It resists intellectual engagement from the outset. Am I missing something?

Trinitarian, Incarnational Christianity, on the other hand, demands no such thing. On the contrary, this Christianity perceives the human intellect as an aspect of the image of the creator, and a useful, complementary part of the spiritual journey. Not a hindrance! (See Fides et Ratio.)

That is something I can "get", and probably one reason I am Catholic.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Conversion Fragment 4b: Justification Revisited

I've already blogged about the important role played by the Doctrine of Justification in my conversion, but after hearing Dr. Anders speaking on Catholic Answers, I feel compelled to fill in the picture just a little more.

You see, there are certain elements of the Protestant interpretation of the Passion of Christ that I don't get. In particular, I don't understand the ideas of (1) God literally punishing His sinless Son with the pains of hell in order to effect a (2) purely juridical and extrinsic salvation in which we remain guilty and worthy of punishment. I heard both of these things repeatedly while dwelling in Protestant circles.

I find this narrative confusing because it clashes with one of my most basic assumptions concerning the character of God: that He is just.

How can we maintain that God the Father is just while also saying that He punishes His sinless Son undeservedly? Furthermore, if we remain deserving of punishment even after 'getting saved', how can we maintain that God us just for withholding punishment from us?

Is this really, really, really hard to understand, or is it just an error? A error concerning the very heart of the Gospel?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Praying With Adults

I'm hoping to use one of my favorite chant books with some guests we're entertaining tonight. The book covers the "Office of Compline" (night prayer) in both Latin and English. It is just simple enough that you could learn it by ear, but not so simple that it would bore you to tears.

I've actually purchased a few extra copies of the book for just such an occasion. It seems like a good investment to me, since the hour of Compline seems to be the one time we most frequently entertain guests that share our faith, (or guests in general).

The longer I celebrate the Divine Office, and especially the longer I chant it, the stronger the urge becomes to celebrate the hours in community. There's something truly magical about the Word of God set to music. It demands to be shared with others. I hope you'll consider making this book a part of your "domestic church" as well.