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.


  1. Thank you for this post, David. I appreciate you having the courage to write this. The part of Mormonism I do not get is the do not see Christ as Divine. They believe that Christ chose the wrong apostles to carry out His Great Commission. They believe Joseph Smith (not the Son of God) was able to get it right when he chose his new apostles. How someone can look at this religion and not see it as a farce is beyond me. How we have Christians willing to support a GOP candidate that believes this is even more baffling.

  2. I think Mormons place "divinity" on a continuum with that which is not divine, and believe it to be accessible to non-divine persons by a process of "self-exaltation" (see King Follett discourse).

    Of course, this "divinity" is a contradiction in terms to the Catholic mind, which conceives divinity as something inherently transcendent, something unreachable without God's gracious condescension and loving generosity toward his creatures.