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An Epicurean Question of the Great Apostasy

first vision tallOne sticking point in the Mormon narrative, to me, is the concept of the Great Apostasy.  I suppose the general idea that God’s authority and church could be removed from the Earth isn’t so objectionable per se, but the idea that it could be gone for such a long time seems to make the claim much more difficult to believe.

Some Mormons temper this absence of authority by suggesting that God was, of course, present in the world and did many remarkable things through people such as Muhammad, Confucius, etc.  The only thing that was missing was his priesthood, and therefore, his church. But think about what that means.  That means maybe 1700 years and millions of people – Christian believers even – without proper baptism.  Millions of families without the blessings of temple sealings.  Millions of fathers with sick and dying children that they couldn’t properly bless.  True, these people still could have been enlightened by some things, and received the Gospel in Spirit Prison, and maybe one day be baptized and endowed in the Millennium, but it still remains the case that in mortality, the blessings of the Gospel that Mormons today take for granted were withheld from them.

So the narrative goes, the people rejected the Apostles and Prophet, and God took his church from the Earth.  He did not call a prophet in 100 AD to rectify the situation.  He did not call a prophet in 200 AD either.  Neither did he call one in 300 AD.  And so on.

So if this were posed to Epicurus, he may likely ask the following question:  Was God unable to call a prophet at those times, or was he unwilling?  Let’s think about the possibilities, both of which have been considered by Mormons I’ve talked to.

1. God was unable to call a prophet before 1820.

The “impotent God” idea does have a place in Mormon thought.  Recently, Russell Stevenson, the “Mormon History Guy” has suggested as his main thesis to explain the priesthood ban for people of African ancestry (as he stated on his recent RadioWest interview) that the wickedness or hardheartedness of members of Christ’s church can truly shut up the windows of Heaven and prevent revelations from happening, against God’s objections.  In other words, our free will is so powerful that God simply cannot override it.

So people espousing this line of thinking might be likely to say that God had to wait for the conditions to be perfect:  he needed the Reformers to challenge the monolith of the Roman Catholic Church by breaking away and bringing the Bible to the people, then he needed some of those people to sail across the world to a safe place, then he needed them to found a nation based on religious liberty, then he needed to place the Smith family in just the right spot, etc.

However, there are a number of objections that could be raised at this point.  First, God didn’t seem to need such perfect conditions to call prophets in the past – Micah, Enoch, Isaiah, Moses, John the Baptist, and even Jesus were certainly not born in nations with religious liberty after 1000 years of political negotiation and Reformations, etc.  God raised them up in settings that were downright hostile to begin with, and many lost their lives.  But it seemed that God still felt it was worth it to raise up these prophets, even when their efforts seemed wasted.  During the Great Apostasy, there were no prophets bringing back priesthood at all.

As I read Jacob 5:47 in the Book of Mormon, I have reflected often on the line: “But what could I have done more in my vineyard?”  This Lord of the Vineyard worked as hard as he could over many seasons to bring as much good fruit as he could out of his trees, and lamented that despite his best efforts, bad fruit was abundant.  Is a God who doesn’t call a prophet for 1700 years doing as much as he can?  Must he really work in such subtle, backdoor ways that it takes 1700 years and millions of souls to get things working perfectly?

Compare this to a hypothetical timeline where God calls a prophet every 100 years, 17 times, no matter how difficult or hostile the situation.  Say he calls Joseph Smith in 100 AD.  Then, if he was killed, he could call another prophet in 200 AD.  If that prophet was killed, why not call another in 300 AD?  But maybe God didn’t want to see 17 prophets get killed.  Maybe that’s too emotionally painful for God.  This brings us to our second option.

2. God was unwilling to call a prophet before 1820.

Maybe there are various factors making God unwilling to call so many prophets.  Maybe he hates seeing prophets wasted on the unwashed masses.  Maybe he was so angry at those who killed the Apostles that he stormed off and sulked for 1700 years.  Maybe it was to teach humanity a lesson (“that man of sin be revealed,” perhaps).  Maybe he didn’t like the people who lived for those 1700 years.  Maybe I’m not giving this option a fair shake, but to me it reduces God into a petulant child.  I just don’t see why he would punish people in 200 AD for the sins of those in 50 AD.

A fairer notion might be simply that God had reasons for not calling any prophets or restoring the priesthood for 1700 years, we just don’t know what those reasons are.

But I really hate “mysterian” positions, as they seem to just be a major cop-out.  Compared to a God who is both able and willing to keep a church together for 2000 years, providing all the full blessings of the Gospel to all those millions of people on at least three continents, the Mormon God just seems like he has “some explaining to do.”  Was God Almighty, Creator of Heavens and Earth, so helpless, bound and gagged, that he was completely unable to prepare the Earth for a prophet for 1700 years?  Or alternatively, was God Almighty, Creator of Heavens and Earth, so angry at people in the 1st Century that he’d really get so angry and storm off, causing millions of people over the next 16 centuries to be denied the full blessings of the Gospel in mortality?  Is there some other alternative that I’m missing due to my own prejudices?

1700 years is a long time.


33 thoughts on “An Epicurean Question of the Great Apostasy

  1. In one of the last talks I heard in an LDS meeting before leaving the faith the speaker argued that God couldn’t restore the church until the 19th century because there wasn’t enough freedom anywhere else. This argument has often come to my mind since and I want to eventually to write a piece on this claim in which I do an in depth historical examination.

    Anyone familiar with the social and economic conditions of Holland prior to the 30 Years War, for instance, knows that this would have arguable been a period as good if not better to restore Christianity. The country practiced religious tolerance which drew merchants and inhabitants from a myriad of cultural and faith backgrounds. Further, places like Antwerp and Amsterdam, because they were booming trade centers, would have allowed such a restorationist gospel to spread rapidly and widely. I am sure there are other examples of times and places where the message would have thrived.

    One factor does add some power to the LDS claim, though. Because the Nephites and Jaredites supposedly came from the Middle East to the Americas, Smith’s restoration had to take place in the Americas where the plates could be discovered, and the U.S. would not have been a fertile bed for religious revival until the 19th century. God’s plan to restore Christianity using the gold plates could not occur until the gold plates could be used in an America ripe for Smith’s restoration. This all, of course, stands or falls on the reality of the Nephites, Jaredites, and the Gold Plates for whom and for which there is no evidence.

    Good post.

  2. That’s a great point about the Nephites, etc. That does add a layer of credibility to the Mormon narrative – still seems like a rather long timeline with many lost souls, but it does show that God was at least constrained by geography.

  3. It all comes back to the Mormon narrative. If the Americas really were the ideal location for the Jaredites and Nephites to flee, and if Moroni really did deposit the Gold Plates in the Cumorah hillside, then the restoration had to take place as it did. Remove this narrative, though, and a simple restoration or reformation could have taken place in a number of different places that would have been as good or better for revival.

    This is why I think revisionist theories from figures like Greg Prince, who treats the Book of Mormon allegorically like the Book of Job, are so harmful. Once you do away with the historicity of the Book of Mormon the narrative loses its credibility and force.

  4. Well, I definitely agree with you about non-literal Mormonism, as I’ve explained here: https://saintsandsaints.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/does-non-literal-mormonism-lose-its-punch/

    I think non-literal Mormonism kind of undercuts whatever uniqueness it had, and therefore undercuts its reason for existing. Unless Mormonism offers something unique or special than the rest of Christianity, it didn’t need to be “restored.” Going to heaven with a nebulous “special bond” with my wife isn’t a new doctrine. Likewise, A Book of Mormon that wasn’t an actual ancient record doesn’t seem to show anything other than Smith was a good storyteller who knew how to write Christian allegories (but so were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein).

  5. Syphax, the same argument is made by Jews concerning Christianity, only harder: 3000 years from Abraham to Jesus, filled with prophets, yet not one really got it right that God was not One, but actually three. Not one was able to make the Israelites understand that sacrifices were useless and that they needed God to be sacrificed. Either God was unable to make them see, or He was unwilling. 3000 years is a very long time….

    But you asked a question: Was God unwilling or unable to restore his Church earlier?
    Answer from my PoV: He was unwilling.
    Why? Because it was the best way to make sure that He could fulfill his plans. It was for certain not that the people did something He was unaware of and didn’t have already planned.

    In Rom 11 we read of a similar situation:
    “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. [..] I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?”

    And the Gentiles fell, too. We call that the Great Apostasy. But just as the Jewish fall is riches for the Gentiles, the fall of the Gentiles was the preparation for the Gathering of Israel, so that salvation in Christ can come to all and in all. And we work for the generations before us in our temples, and this work makes us love them more, so that we can be united in celestial kingdom one day.

    You surely remember the parable of the vinyard and the olive trees in the Book of Mormon, where natural branches are grafted into trees, and then some were cut off, and others were cut and grafted back into the tree they came from, in order to make all trees produce good fruit for a short time.

    We are told that this parable describes the House of Israel and the Gentiles. Now is the time where the natural branches are grafted into the natural tree, so that all may benefit, not only those who live now, but also those that lived and died.

    1700 years is a long time, but not for God.

  6. “Syphax, the same argument is made by Jews concerning Christianity, only harder: 3000 years from Abraham to Jesus, filled with prophets, yet not one really got it right that God was not One, but actually three.”

    Christians accept that God is one, so from the Christian perspective the Jews had that right. Not equivalent.

    “Not one was able to make the Israelites understand that sacrifices were useless and that they needed God to be sacrificed. Either God was unable to make them see, or He was unwilling. 3000 years is a very long time”

    Not equivalent. God did call prophets to Israel to tell them sacrifices are useless, for instance Hosea. And He called prophets to testify of a coming Messiah. The question of whether God was “unable” to make them see is also not equivalent because he was calling prophets to say that to them specifically – the people were then free to either accept or reject that message. Humans during the Great Apostasy were not even free to reject the message. They simply led short lives without access to the Gospel. If the whole Jewish timeline was a solid block of no Gospel, no Church, and complete darkness and apostasy, then it would be equivalent.

    The OT example is simply not equivalent because Christians do accept that the Jews were chosen and instructed before Jesus came, and given a lesser/preparatory Gospel, which was then fulfilled with Jesus. That’s why Jesus was still baptized, still felt the Temple was holy, still fulfilled the Mosaic Law, still was circumcised, etc.

    “1700 years is a long time, but not for God.”

    It’s a long time for humans, which is the whole point. That’s many, many human lifetimes. Whether it was long or short for God is irrelevant.

    But I appreciate your comment.

    Now there is still the Mormon objection that, no matter what your beliefs, there are humans who have lived on the Earth without access to the Gospel. However, Mormonism uniquely paints itself into a corner by insisting that God is powerless to save without physical ordinances being performed. The Orthodox certainly don’t insist that – they certainly do teach that the ordinary means of access to God’s grace is through the Sacraments, but that God is powerful enough and free enough to save people in whatever way He desires, even through extraordinary means in the case of those who lived in extraordinary circumstances. So for Mormonism, an Apostasy is a damning event for the humans who lived through it – for the Orthodox (and many other branches of Christianity) it is a roadblock, but not insurmountable.

  7. (additionally, I have noticed that Mormon apologists love tu quoque arguments: “such-and-such might be an objection to Mormonism, but it’s just as bad in other religions too.” First, that’s not a valid logical rebuttal – both Mormonism and Christianity could be wrong. But secondly, that’s exactly how Mormon apologists poison the well for other religions, and one of the contributing reasons for why people who lose faith in Mormon lose faith altogether. I’m certain Mormon apologists realize this, so it’s hard not to conclude that they actually don’t mind those implications. I’m not sure why those kinds of scorched earth tactics are preferable, because wouldn’t a Mormon apologist prefer a person to have a non-Mormon faith than no faith at all?)

    But I’ll let the comment stand because obviously this is about comparing two religions: Orthodoxy and Mormonism. The exercise itself is all about examining the doctrines of both religions and comparing.

  8. Syphax,

    I wrote 6 paragraphs, of which 5 are tagged as “answer to your question”. The first paragraph was not. Which means: It is not an answer to your question (or argument, if you prefer). But this first paragraph shows the implications of your argument. Implications, which you deny.

    Thus, it is not at all an argument I made in the first paragraph, and thus, not at all a tu quoque fallacy. You just misread what I said. Why?

    Also, instead of dealing with 5 paragraphs of answer (or if you so will, argument), you call me an apologet, tell the world what “apologists” do and ignore the argument. This is very much committing the logical fallacy of ad hominem (don’t listen to the evil apologet) and a strawman argument (picking something and blowing it up as if it was the real argument and then beating it down).

    See, two can play the silly game of “you are using a logical fallacy to not deal with the argument”. But to what profit?

    I would suggest, that instead of using rhethorics and showing our intelligence and debating skills, we should simply assume that the other is honest and wellmeaning and deal with the argument.

    Before you get me wrong again: I have high respect for Eastern Orthodoxy, and if I were not a Mormon by choice (not born into the fold), I would be Orthodox, though I’m not sure if Greek or rather a miaphysite. If not for Eastern Orthodoxy, I would be Catholic (which I already was), and I don’t think that I had the stomach to be any kind of Protestant. So, if you by any chance think that I am belittleing Orthodoxy in any way, read again, because that I will not do.

    Now, I would like it a lot if you actually answered to my argument from above. Later, if you want, I can show you why I think that your rejection of the implications of your argument is faulty.

    So, here is the argument again:

    But you asked a question: Was God unwilling or unable to restore his Church earlier?
    Answer from my PoV: He was unwilling.
    Why? Because it was the best way to make sure that He could fulfill his plans. It was for certain not that the people did something He was unaware of and didn’t have already planned.

    In Rom 11 we read of a similar situation:
    “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. [..] I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?”

    And the Gentiles fell, too. We call that the Great Apostasy. But just as the Jewish fall is riches for the Gentiles, the fall of the Gentiles was the preparation for the Gathering of Israel, so that salvation in Christ can come to all and in all. And we work for the generations before us in our temples, and this work makes us love them more, so that we can be united in celestial kingdom one day.

    You surely remember the parable of the vinyard and the olive trees in the Book of Mormon, where natural branches are grafted into trees, and then some were cut off, and others were cut and grafted back into the tree they came from, in order to make all trees produce good fruit for a short time.

  9. You say the first paragraph “shows the implications” of my argument. That requires an argument – that the logic that applies in my original argument also applies to the 3000 years of Jewish history. I denied that the logic applies – it’s not a parallel situation. You can call it an argument or whatever you’d like – the point is that I don’t think it’s relevant nor do I think the implications of my argument really apply to the scenarios you went over.

    If you really want me to “respond” to your “argument” (or whatever you want to call it) then fine. I just think your response is one that fits fine within the Mormon paradigm, but given a God who is simply able to keep a church+priesthood+ordinances together for 2000 years rather than having to remove it all and bring it back, I’m not why I’m supposed to prefer the latter. It’s not a question of kind in this case but degree: the former is able to bring the full blessings of a simple Gospel to more people in a faster time frame (at a time when people definitely needed those blessings in mortality). There’s no magic threshold, just that the God who can keep things together seems like a God more worthy of worship.

    That is not to say that the True God is always the one I’d “prefer,” just to say that if we’re identifying a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, and no respecter of persons, the former just seems more in line with that being. Furthermore, the latter God – who requires physical ordinances for salvation in Christ but then removes them from the Earth for millions of people – seems like He is placing an undue burden on millions of people who desperately needed the full blessings of the Gospel. By contrast, a God who made the Gospel and its ordinances so simple and powerful that – indeed, His very Body Itself – never died or was removed from the Earth in its fullness seems to me to be a God that cares a lot more about the suffering in mortality.

    Think about it: if I have a pressing, urgent need of my father in Heaven right now, which God would it make more sense to pray to?

    As far as your comments about temple work and loving those in the past, I don’t see how Orthodoxy doesn’t have just as much love for those who have existed in the past (indeed, the saints of the past adorn almost every inch of the walls in every church – Orthodox Christians ask for prayers from those very saints, so they don’t even have to wait till they get to the Celestial Kingdom to enjoy the blessings of communion with their ancestors in the faith), plus has the added benefit of those people in the past having more access to the full blessings of the Sacraments while they were in mortality. I don’t think you intended to disparage Orthodoxy in your post, but as you know from the fact that you’re here, this is a blog intended to compare/contrast Mormonism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

    I’m not denying that the Mormon paradigm has answers to all this, or isn’t an internally consistent system, but what I’m saying is that, at the end of the day, I’m not sure the Mormon paradigm (with the Great Apostasy, temple work, ordinances, etc.) is really that superior to the paradigm that already existed in classical Christianity, which already had love for ancestors, salvation through history, opportunities for salvation to those who may not have heard it in mortality, etc. As I’ve argued numerous times on this blog, Mormonism has a tough burden to carry because it claims to be an improvement on Christianity – a restoration of the true order. If it ends up being less coherent, or even functionally equivalent (say they replace some old paradigm of priesthood with an essentially equivalent version), it fails to justify its own existence. It has to show that the Mormon God, the Mormon plan of salvation, etc. really is an improvement. If the Great Apostasy just means that fewer people in mortality had the opportunity to partake of the full blessings of the Gospel, then I have a hard time seeing how it’s superior? Even if Mormonism provides a retro-active solution to the problem. Maybe it was never a problem to begin with.

  10. Oh and for the record, I apologize for immediately going on the defensive when I saw your post. However, I have more than a reasonable suspicion that I know who you are and why you’re here, and who sent you. If I’m right then you obviously didn’t come here by accident – you came here with a certain agenda. I could be wrong and you don’t know what I’m talking about. If so, you have my apologies.

    But if I’m right and you know I’m right, then we can cut the BS and we don’t have to pretend you just stumbled on this website by accident, and have spent so much time already commenting on the blog of a complete stranger. Talking to someone who came to this blog with an agenda – especially in the middle of what you may/may not know is a family dispute/issue – is a different proposition than talking to a random curious person. It would be a far more intense, passionate, long-term and sustained, and less productive discussion – because frankly I don’t think any “convincing” will ever occur. I know that, you know that, so we can drop the whole “pretend” game where we’re just passionless observers having a friendly chit-chat. I’m in a doctoral program and I have two children and no money. I seriously, seriously don’t have time for a FAIR-fight. I barely have time to update this blog at all.

  11. Well, honestly, I thought that you would understand that the reason I give is similar to the reason the Apostle Paul gives for why the Jews fell. So, if this is a reason good enough for why the Jews fell (for the benefit of all), the same argument can be made for the Great Apostasy (for the benefit of all). But it seems that’s nothing for you.

    I am engaged in Mormon vs traditional Christian exchanges for the last 20 years. My access to this is usually non-combative. I want to really understand the other side and value the good they have. I compare the concepts that are similar. When I look at Eastern Orthodoxy, I see that they do have temples (templum being, as you know, the Latin word for the Hebrew Beth-El, House of God. And surely, the Orthodox and the Catholics call their church buidings House of God. The Jewish temple has washings and ointment in preparation to enter, and the Catholic and the Orthodox have these too. The Jewish Temple restricts access in that a Gentile must not be in the Holy, let alone the Holy of Holies, and sure, in traditional Orthodox Churches the non-Orthodox need to leave before the Eucharist. In the temple, there is an Altar, as is in the Orthodox and Catholic church building. There is a priest. There are offerings. At special rites, special clothing is given [baptism, ordination] and henceforth worn to designate the rightful priest. Eastern Orthodox church building architecture even follows the pattern of the temple of Salomo), so I think your easy hand concerning temples is not warranted.

    Now, let’s talk about the restoration. You say, that Mormonism claims to be superior to what was before. I’m not so sure about that. But let’s go with this for a moment.

    I think that from the First Vision a rejection of creeds could be formulated. Christ says that the Creeds are an abomination.

    If we go back to the creation of the Creeds, there were baptismal questions: Do you believe this and that, do you promise to not do this and that, do you promise to do this and that. Those were public scenes, where the baptizee was asked and answered in the affirmative. This is still kept in Catholicism, and I think in Orthodoxy in the renouncement of Satan.

    If you are not familiar with this, you might find J.N.D: Kelly’s “Early Christian creeds” helpful.

    Then came Irenaeus. He faced severe persecution, and he feared that if the Christians were centralized in belief and practice, they would not withstand persecution. So he fought the “Gnostics” claiming that they were not true to the symbolon unto which they had been baptised.He formulated the beginnings of the Creeds. He still new of genuine prophets. His work was used to not only fight the gnostics, but also the New Prophets, the Montanists. Irenaeus objected, because Christianity without prophecy and the gifts of the spirit was just not the same. Nevertheless, he claimed that no revelation may go beyond that which is in the Canon and that which is in the symbolon. This effectively led to the rejection of prophets: New real prophets became unthinkable.

    And since the revelation of God now was seen as completed, new and better knowledge could only come from exegesis of the existing material. Also, philosophy was the hype back then, and so, to better proselyte, more and more the tools of greek philosophy were used to make sense of the revelation they already had.

    This combination led to a systematic theology of definite answers, to a Christian philosophy and a total rejection of ongoing revelation.

    Later, especially in the East, Monasticism and Mysticism would try to reintroduce bidirectional communication with God, but firmly under the premisse, that there cannot be new revelation or even new guidance from Heaven. It is only a personal revelation that can bring union between God and man and deification on a personal level: Theosis (which as a doctrine is still kept by Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but strictly rejected by most protestant churches).

    The creedal system and systematic way of theology had its highest moment with Calvin, who rejected theosis summa summarum as absolute heresy.

    I applaud the Eastern Orthodox Churches for what they did in the absence of ongoing revelation. I applaud how much they kept their church to the doctrines and practices of the 6th century AD. Their way of joining systematic theology with mysticism is laudable. But nevertheless, it is the 6th AD, and not the original 1st century AD Christianity, mainly because of the Creeds.

    Mormonism is de facto a return to a narrative theology with living prophets guiding the people (as much as they are ready to follow). From the first vision, creeds are rejected, because they hinder personal and organisational revelation. They are made up by men and on par or above scripture, as the Bible is judged by and read through the lens of the creeds.

    I, personally, do not believe in manmade finite creeds (“He who believes otherwise is anathema”). I personally don’t see that the Bible allows for a total end of prophetic communicaiton between God and man before the Second Coming of the Lord. And since in my opinion we deal in piecework of knowledge and prophecy (like a puzzle where you don’t have all pieces and don’t know the whole picture), systematic theology does not appeal to me. I prefer a narrative theology. I prefer to not being entirely sure about everything relevant (no, I’m not too fond of Elder McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine).

    But that does not make Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism bad, uninspired, devilish or evil. I am all for ongoing revelation, both on a personal and an organisational level, because I think that theosis is reached through perichoresis, not only between the man Jesus and the divine person, but also between God through the Holy Ghost and all who follow him earnestly and covenant with him, as described in D&C 50 and 88.

    The Eastern Orthodox did the best with what they had, after a development that took ongoing revelation away. They’ve kept temples to a degree, they’ve kept mysticism and tehosis, they’ve kept Eternal Marriage, they’ve kept the value of priesthood.

    But honestly, the Orthodox have problems formulating their beliefs in a way that even their closest kin, the Catholics can understand them, and both have problems formulating their systematic theology in a way that lay Christians can understand the doctrines of their own churches. That’s because philosophy is an art and a craft, and if you don’t know the craft, you cannot understand it.

    (Mormonism has its own problems, especially for people with a fundamentalistic mindset, who want a detailed formulated answer to each and every problem, and who believe that all answers can only be yes or no. Never yes *and* no, or yes, but. For such, the Evangelical way is probably best, followed by the Catholic and at last the Orthodox.)

    Now, I’ve talked a lot about doctrines, and not much about priesthood authority. The power of the Priesthood comes from Heaven. It is not a magical act that is necessary to be performed, but it is a power from on high that meets mortal men in a sign and with certain words. But while the Orthodox say that this power is only located in Heaven (you don’t need, for instance, to be baptized by a Hesychast or someone else who really is “touched” by the Heavenly power), we believe that personal sanctification and a personal “testimony” (being touched by God through revelation) is necessary to make ordinances of the Priesthood fully effectual.

    So, I believe that if you really want to get to the beef of the difference between Mormonism and Eastern Orthodoxy, you need to focus on the difference between systematic theology with closed canon and creeds on the one side, and narrative theology with revelation and an open canon on the other side.

    If you decide that philosophy and a closed system is important for you, forget Mormonism. It’s dead wrong for you. If you decide that the narrative way and revelation is more important for you, you should try to get personal revelation. And if it does not come or didn’t come, you have to decide if you want to live with that or not.

    Though philosophy and history of religion and especially Christianity are a hobby horse of mine, they are not more important for me than personal and ongoing revelation. I have those and therefore, I have no way of not being a Mormon. But I do cherish other Christian traditions and I try to get to know as much about them as possible.

  12. “If you decide that philosophy and a closed system is important for you, forget Mormonism. It’s dead wrong for you.”

    Okay! That was easy.

  13. Syphax, you are absolutely right in your assessment of why I started to post here: Someone asked me to help. You are also absolutely right to think that I am someone at FAIRMormon. I do have my doubts that you know who I am, though.

    But you are wrong in your assumptions about my motivation or my goals. I do not want to convince you.

    My answer to that person asking for help was that I would really enjoy talking with you about what I know about other Christian Churches and their doctrine, and what I know about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hope I got all the capital letters right. English is not my mother tongue, and I tend to make mistakes there). But I am not willing to talk you out of anything or into anything. I am not willing or ready to badmouth other Christian churches (oh wait, I make an exception: I will not talk about Christian Fundamentalism, as it is too hard for me to not make snarky comments about that mindset ;-)).

    No, honestly: If you switch to Eastern Orthodoxy (or any other Christian Church), because you sincerely believe that this is the true Church, more power to you! Everybody needs to do as he believes. To do otherwise is sin! Better you are strong and believing in the Eastern Orthodox tradition than that you stay a Mormon only to not make waves in the family. (though I’m not saying that doubting or thinking members are not welcome in the Church. Not at all!!)

    But I have spent years studying other Christian Churches, and if you want a headstart in your study and decision making process, I’d like to help.

    My personal idea is always to get to know the inside and the strengths of a mindset and a doctrine. To see if, as you said, the system is internally consistent. I don’t like to argue from the outside. Most systems have their built-in inconsistencies. And frankly, Mormonism has them, too. If not for personal revelation, I don’t know if I still would be a Mormon.

    That’s why I was a bit astonished why you focused on the 1700 years of apostasy while neglecting the internal remedy for that, which at the same time gave an internally consistent reason for the 1700 years. At least in my opinion.

    Be that as it may. I am not here to convince you of anything. But if you want a wall to throw thoughts against or someone who can give you a hint here or there for your reading, it would be my honor, just as it was my pleasure to talk for some months with a guy who wanted to become an anti-mormon.

    My goal in talking with him was not to get him off his track, but to help him eliminate all straw-men arguments and become someone who really knows the truth about Mormonism, though he disagrees. He still disagrees, he still is a very active Evangelical, but he found out that Mormons are indeed his brothers and sisters, and not some evil and deluded cultists. That was not what I aimed for, but better that than him publishing stupid lies.

  14. I appreciate that your motives are better than what I was expecting. If you’re not trying to convince me that Eastern Orthodoxy is wrong, however, then that might be a bit disappointing to the person that sent you here to begin with.

    Since I started this blog it has been a “safe space” for me to explore ideas anonymously without fear of recourse nor pressure from family or anyone else. The idea that that wall has been punctured is a little unsettling at this point. Especially given the conversations I’ve had with my father over the last few days, I had no doubt that you were simply an “attack dog.”

    Just know that I’ve “walked the Mormon walk” for 30 years at this point – I’ve done the rounds with Mormon apologetics since the ’90s when there were very few resources and I’ve interacted with the Bloggernacle and ex-Mormon resources and everything in-between. It has been a nauseating journey. I have an anxiety problem and I debate theology in my brain every day, and I have for over a decade now. It is an incredibly stressful thing for me.

    And so there was a point in my past when I just decided to hand everything over to God and ask Him to guide my journey. I wanted to stop relying on my own cogitations and just trust that God would guide me. Every night I’ve asked that God guide my footsteps and make sure I am doing the right thing, using my mind in the right way.

    It was then that I discovered ancient philosophy and the classical arguments for God’s existence. After reading debate after debate and everything I could about modern evangelical philosophical approaches (William Lane Craig and Plantinga), more classical systems (Aristotle, Aquinas, Plato, Scotus), and Mormon attempts at philosophical synthesis, combined with a voracious desire to understand the metaphysical underpinnings of human consciousness, I’ve come to the conclusion that the system that makes the most sense for me is the classical one: a synthesis of Aristotelian, Platonic, and Thomistic metaphysics, as well as the classical view of God.

    This is the only system that encompasses not only ontology, but a clear understanding of how consciousness fits into the picture. By comparison, modern Cartesian-influenced dualism and more “crass” Kalaam-style arguments for a personalistic God just didn’t work for me, and I found Mormon ontology to be simple incoherent or non-existent. There just isn’t a good answer (in my opinion) for how consciousness can exist in a Mormon ontological paradigm. Every Mormon philosopher has their own ideas, but the only ones that work for me are the ones that hearken back to classical metaphysics.

    Similarly, I’ve studied early Christian history and don’t see evidence for the evil, conspiring people who snipped pieces out of the Bible and corrupted the entire Body of Christ. Nor do I think the Creeds are themselves a problem – they’re only a problem if they’re incoherent or not true, but I don’t see a reason why they are.

    Similarly, I’ve studied theology regarding the Atonement, theosis, eternal families and marriage, and find that Orthodox theology has “enlarged my soul” far more than Mormon doctrine ever has. I simply can’t accept any form of Penal Substitution or Satisfaction theory in the Atonement, and Mormonism seems to require this based on the “bleeding from every pore” rhetoric. Additionally, I simply can’t accept (partly based on experience, but partly based on the philosophy) that God is an embodied person who is not ultimately the ground of being and existence. I don’t see how that God is very worthy of worship. Since I believe the traditional arguments (summarized by the Five Ways and other classical arguments) generally succeed, I don’t particularly think that an embodied, finite god is really even God at all – and I don’t see how the Mormon God can particularly claim to be our “Father” unless he is somehow ultimately responsible for our existence. But if the Mormon God isn’t even responsible for goodness itself that makes it even more difficult for me to feel like “worshiping” him. I think the doctrine of eternal families in Mormonism misses the mark – I think we should be “sealed” to all of humanity, not to our immediate families or chains of immediate families – and if Mormonism’s ultimate goal is to unite all humanity in one big sealing then how is it different than classical Christianity? We’re all going to be up there together, so what’s the difference?

    Similarly, I’ve studied the history of Mormonism and I don’t necessarily see much evidence that the Mormon power structure really has a track record that is any better or worse than other comparable religious or secular power structures. They still make really big mistakes, make decisions through trial-and-error, and the only real difference is that because Mormon prophets claim authority from God, the errors are slightly harder to correct. I also don’t think the Mormon apostles can really be successors to the original 12 because I don’t see how they are witnesses in the same sense that the Originals were (if they’ve seen Christ or talked to him in a physical, tangible way, why don’t they actually “witness” to that fact?).

    But most of all, I have gotten a taste of Orthodox practice. The liturgical practice of Orthodoxy I think is far closer to the practice of Solomon’s temple than the Mormon temples are (you seem to agree that they are similar). I find the Divine Liturgy to be more spiritual, more cognitively useful (I study prayer/meditation practices as a doctoral student in psychology and find the Orthodox prayer/liturgy tradition far more therapeutic than anything in Mormonism), and more Christ-focused. I have a prayer rule given to me by a priest and it is so much better than any kind of prayer I experienced in Mormonism – better for my daily life, my patience, and my spirituality.

    I am writing all of this not to make any argument at all (and I don’t expect you to respond to them, in fact this is already way too long, so I’d even rather you not), but to tell you exactly where I’m coming from. I came to all these realizations probably about 3 years ago, and they have not gone away. I seriously try, every day, to figure out some way to make Mormonism work despite having all these feelings and it just. Doesn’t. Work. There are simply too many reasons at this point to just stop sitting around twiddling my thumbs through another 30 years’ worth of Fast and Testimony meetings and Priesthood sessions and being told I’m just not trying hard enough to make Mormonism work. That if it doesn’t work, it’s somehow my fault. That I’m just doing it wrong.

    Mormonism has taught me to search, ponder, and pray, and I have done that for many years, and this is the result. I simply don’t think there’s any aspect of Mormonism that appeals to me that isn’t already in Orthodoxy, in greater measure. And in fact I’d much rather stop wasting my time in a religion that simply doesn’t help me anymore.

    So my real question to you is, after reading all this, why do you think I should still keep trying to make Mormonism work for me? Why does it deserve more years of my life than it’s already taken?

  15. Yes, your wall has been breached. I was given the link, I didn’t stumble on it. I understand your anguish, I think. I currently suffer from a burn-out (though I think, after 1.5 years of treatment I’m almost out of it), and my wife deals with a life of depression due to her original family. I’ve seen first hand, how psychological problems hurt everything in your life. I’m thankful for good therapists and medication.Please understand that this paragraph does not mean, “hey you have anxiety issues, this is the real problem.”

    Again, that would be nothing more than telling you “there’s something wrong with you.” And frankly, I don’t think that. My wife walked the Mormon way for 20 years and then decided that it is not true for her, because she prayed for all those years, but never got an answer. She was tired to hear and think that it was “her fault”. She was tired to fear that somehow her husband would only love her as long as she was Molly Mormon. She was tired to think that God was there and able to answer but decided not to answer her. Tired of not being good enough for someone else. Tired of not feeling loved.

    It took very long to make her understand that I love her no matter what and that though God may have a reason for not answering, this reason is not that she is not good enough or not doing enough.It was tough for me to see the years pass by without her getting an answer that she could accept. Seeing her anguish. Knowing that my testimony only makes things worse for her. Struggling with the LORD to give her an answer or at least tell me, why she got none in a way that I could explain to her. The LORD after two years gave me an answer, but of course it was not enough for my wife, who, after a year of staying away, decided to come to Church and fulfill a calling for my sake, as long as she doesn’t have to give classes, speeches or bear a testimony she doesn’t have.

    So please believe me when I say that you will not hear from me that you are the problem.

    After all these years of struggling, after the Orthodox way appeals more to you, why do you still try? What *is* your reason that still keeps you going? Because to me it seems that you still do. If there were no reason, you would already be baptised and chrismated an Orthodox.

  16. “After all these years of struggling, after the Orthodox way appeals more to you, why do you still try? What *is* your reason that still keeps you going? Because to me it seems that you still do. If there were no reason, you would already be baptised and chrismated an Orthodox.”

    Mostly fear. First, fear of the negative effects on my family. Leaving the church sucks for everyone involved. I have a wife and kids – my wife is not sure about the church but not sure about leaving (and I told her whatever decision we make, we should make it together). As you can see, just the suggestion that I don’t have a testimony in the Mormon church has caused my Dad to enlist someone from an apologetics organization to talk to my own my own blog. For him, people who leave the church at best end up in the Terrestrial Kingdom, forever separated from their families and from God. Not only that, I’d be possibly tearing my wife and children away from the Celestial Kingdom, and possibly leading them down a road to alcoholism and sex and misery. Several members of my family and my wife’s family would be devastated if they knew we were leaving. My wife is convinced it would send her mother to an early grave. I taught Institute for several years, and before that Sunday School for adults and then teenagers – there are lots of former students of mine that would feel quite betrayed and confused. Lots of my friends in the church would demand explanations and would probably try to convert me back or change my mind.

    Second, existential fear. After all, there are so many social “traps” that would keep any regular human in the church even if they knew it wasn’t true. People who leave the church after being endowed are covenant breakers – family destroyers. Some are Sons of Perdition. There are blessings in my Patriarchal Blessing that I would lose forever, if I were wrong about the church. While I’m pretty confident that Orthodoxy is right for me, and it just fills my soul with a lot of light, and I feel so much closer to my Savior than I ever have before… what if I’m wrong? What if Satan is deceiving me? What if this is all a trick or a test?

    A lot of this is just a result of the anxiety, but the fear is very real. Making covenants in a place like the temple and going on a mission and being sealed in a temple are huge psychological events, and the members of the church are all very good at painting a pretty terrifying picture of what happens to apostates.

    Finally, there is an element of ease – I would LOVE for Mormonism to be true. Just what I’ve gone through so far is horrible, and it’s only just beginning. If Mormonism were true, I could just go back to normal and everyone would be happy and I wouldn’t have to exert even a tiny sliver of courage. I would love for Mormonism to be true so this all would go away.

    But just wishing doesn’t make it so. All I know is that when I move closer to Orthodoxy, my inner world is so much better, and my external world is worse. At least in Mormonism it’s just the same lukewarm feeling of… nothing. No fire in my internal world, and no conflict in my external world. Just bland, gray nothing.

  17. Syphax, do you want to continue our exchange on the blog, or wouldn’t it be better as a private mail exchange? Probably with two or three mails a week, not more, to make the load manageable?

  18. Syphax,
    I’ve been thinking a lot about your last answer. Honestly, I do not believe that your first paragraph is a good reason, though I think that it may be your strongest reason.

    Let me tell you why.

    You say that your parents would be devastated by your decision, as they think that those who turn away from the Church will be terrestrial at best.

    Now, does it make a difference, if in your heart you believe to be in the wrong church and yearn to be Orthodox but still attend the CoJCoLDS only, because of fear? Isn’t it the heart that counts? And would it not already be that your heart has turned away from Mormonism and towards Eastern Orthodoxy? And your parents already know that you struggle, right? Thus, I don’t believe that there is a difference. On the other hand, your parents know, I guess, that you are heartbroken over this topic. Do you really believe they want you to feel bad whenever you go to church because it’s not what you want? Do they love you so little?

    Second, is it really true that everybody who made covenants in the temple and later stepped away from them (broke them), is going to be terrestrial?

    I rather think that there has been a different message in all the years of General Conference. Let me just point you to one such sermon: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2003/04/dear-are-the-sheep-that-have-wandered?lang=eng&query=tentacles

    What do you think about it? What does it tell you about your situation if you in fact really decided to become fully orthodox and leave the Church?

    Of course, your wife and children are a totally different topic. I firmly believe (after seeing much), that there is no program in the world, no program in any other church that is so efficient in keeping families together and strengthening them, and there is no better youth program than in the church. Yes, if you want to make sure that your kids will stay away from premarital sex and alcohol, the Church can really help.

    On the other hand, I strongly object to the notion that if you leave the Church, your children will be led to sex, drugs and rock and roll, so to speak. There are many good Eastern orthodox people who – if at all – use alcohol very moderately and who value chastity and marital fidelity just like we do. Yes, it may be harder to keep them on the straight and narrow, but not impossible.

    Let’s talk about students, friends and broader family. Do you really want to live a life of misery because others may not have a testimony of their own that is strong enough if their former teacher leaves the church? Hey, they are responsible for themselves, too! If their testimony can’t stand your decisions, they need to grow up and receive a testimony of their own! And concerning your mother in law and broader family, the same applies as to your parents.

    Concerning your wife, I’m sure a compromise could be reached. Something like 2 sundays a month you attend Eastern Orthodox liturgy, 2 sundays you attend your usual ward.

    Don’t get me wrong: I believe that the Church is true, more than that, I know it. I have a testimony as strong as it gets. But the reasons you brought forth in the first paragraph are not strong enough.

    The second paragraph you headlined existential fear. I can understand that. What if you are wrong? But also: what if you are right? The “Mormon Wager” is not strong enough, if you feel that the Church is wrong. It is only strong, if you are in the middle. If you do not know either way.I believe that an essential part of this life is to make decisions and face the music. And as it says in Revelations, to be “neither hot nor cold” is sometimes worse than being cold.You have to decide, and then see how you can live with the consequences. And if you are dead wrong, both the Mormons and the Orthodox believe that faith in Christ is what makes us elegible for Christ’s saving grace. Better to err than not to do anything. And the blessings you have been promised, well, if the Church is wrong than those promises are not worth the air the Patriarch used to utter them.

    Syphax, you study Psychology of Religion. I guess you know enough psychology to recognize what I’m doing here. I am taking your position to leave the church and argue for it. To me, it seems that you do not see a way out of your current situation. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That’s frustrating. That’s stressful. And it makes one angry.

    I think there’s a realistic way out. And only, if you see real options you are free to decide without loading psychological baggage on your soul.

    This leads to the third reason to give. You want Mormonism to be true. If it were simply true, then you could leave all this drama and heart wrenching behind and go back to your normal self. This is a very strong and good reason.

    But together with the fear, it is its strongest enemy, because instead of being free to decide, you have to convince not only your father, your mother, your wife, her mother, the neighbors and the students that you are right in leaving the Church and becoming Orthodox, but you have to convince yourself, too.This can only be done by obsessing over the topic, by ecoming angry and by constantly bearing to others and yourself negative testimony. You have to argue your way out of the church. And I think, that maybe this is what you are doing in this blog.

    Frankly, I think this is how an antimormon is made: Someone who leaves the church but cannot leave it alone because if he stopped fighting against the Church, it would suck him back. Or so he fears. And such a one really becomes a family breaker, the very thing you abhor.

    With your knowledge of psychology, I think you can see my point.

    If you are interested (and I think you are), I would propose a different way.

  19. What an interesting and irksome exchange. I honestly don’t have the patience to respond to moriancumr’s erroneous understandings of traditional Christianity, and thus will limit myself to one question: Moriancumr, in light of the millions of people in a diverse number of faith traditions who have claimed that “personal revelation” has revealed to them the truth, why does “personal revelation” has so much persuasive force for you? As an outside observer, all “personal revelation” seems to reveal is that people can feel positive emotions about a variety of ideas.

  20. WEll, Seraphim, I do not know you from Adam, but I know that I have been published and that theologians of other christian denominations congratulated me on my accurate and fair description of their beliefs.

    But since your observational skills are so large that you immidiately know that I am erroneous in my understanding and yet so kindly and ably argue your position and completely destroyed my arguments, I deflect to your greater intelligence.

    Obviously you are such a great observer, that I now reject my mormon folly and become a Christian like you. Where can I get baptised?

  21. No, for three reasons.
    1) Your question has nothing to do with the topic of this blog, and especially this blog post. Go write your own blog, ask the question and post the link here, and the situation might be different.
    2) With the first paragraph in your comment I answered to, you clearly set the tone of your way of reasoning: Belittleing your opponent and dismissing without argument. I see no benefit in answering a question that is probably not honestly asked (i.e. you don’t want an answer, but an argument, so you can show your “superiority”) to someone who is rude and unwilling to discuss things. I like dialogue with dialogue partners (no matter, how much they genuinely disagree with me), but I dislike useless inimical banter and pissing contests with someone who wants an opponent. So far you gave me no reason to believe that you are willing to have the kind of dialogue I want, so I’m not interested in answering your “question”.
    3) Your question shows a deep misunderstanding of both biblical and mormon principles at best, or a willful misrepresentation at worst. If I had reason to assume that you were honest in wanting a productive dialogue (which is not necessarily one where you end up agreeing with me ;-)), then I would argue my point on your misunderstanding and then answer your question. But as things are now, with you having set the tone and snark level, I see no reason to waste my time.

    Thanks you.

  22. Moriancumr, Forgive me for I let my emotions get ahead of me at times. I truly want to know why you remain LDS. As a former Mormon who once had my own sets of reasons for staying (reasons that I have since deemed insufficient) I want to know if there are some out there that have good reasons for staying. Please help me to understand where I misunderstand biblical and Mormon principles.

    I am saddened that I gave the impression I did, for I am a firm believer that the goal of dialogue and debate should be arriving at the truth, and not merely winning. Once again, forgive me.

  23. Seraphim, I must say that I doubt your sincerity, but it’s not my call of judgement. Time will show.

    Nevertheless, your question has nothing to do with the topic set forth by Syphax in this blog and in this blogpost, which is about comparing Eastern Orthodoxy and Mormonism. I don’t want to clutter Syphax’ blog.

    So, either Syphax tells us that he wants this exchange on his blog, or we would have to find another way of interacting on this.

  24. Moriancumr, So we don’t take up comment space here I invite you and anyone else interested to comment on my latest blog post. I look forward to hearing and learning from you.

  25. Sorry for not coming back to you yet, I’m in a hot phase of a propject at work. I’m working today, and will be working tomorrow, too. With luck, I’ll have more time by next Wednesday and will come back to you then. Hope that is OK.

  26. ´Seraphim, sorry this really took so long. My project is now over, and the two kids still living at home had influenza. Today I was in hospital with the younger for a heavy allergic reaction to the antibiotics he received because of the secondary infection (bronchitis) which he had…

    So, back to the topic. Let’s first check your assumptions. You start this with:

    “imagine there are three women, one Muslim, one Christian, and one Jewish. They all claim that they know their religion is true because God has shown this truth to them through personal revelation.”

    No can do.

    For orthodox Muslims, Muhammad is the “Seal of the Prophets”, the last prophet there ever was and will be. Even toi insinuate that there could be personal revelation is heresy. Of course there are the Sufis and some of the Amadiyya. Of those, only the Sufis believe in a personal revelation that can tell a simple believer anything about God. And those Sufis do believe that all religions are equal, so that God can and does speak to all believers, not only to Sufis. How this is relevant, I will explain later.

    For Judaism, I am not informed enough to say clearly which current traditions believe that the Shekhinah touches people today as it did as long as there was a temple. I think, though, that it is mainly Kabbalism, and within Kabbalism, the revelation is not given directly, but through Kabbalistic reading of the Tora.

    Now, let’s come to Christianity. Protestantism (with the exception of Charismatics) strongly opposes and rejects the idea of personal revelation. Even though Calvin said we need the testimonium spiritu sancti internale to really understand the scripture, it was his understanding that whoever studies the bible with true intent will have this internal testimony of the Holy Ghost. It will help the reader to gain wisdom from reading, but it is not a revelation. Further, the thought of a “true” or “correct” church is antithetical to Lutheranism and Calvinism. So, to pray about “which church is right” and receive answer is totally out of the picture for them.

    Catholicism is partially open to private revelation, as is Orthodoxy, but institutional revelation is rejected. Within Catholicism, though, private revelation is not something that any believer could have, but only special saints, who either are elected by God in their youth (like the kids of Medjugorje, Lourdes or Fatima) or who have lived a holy life, usually in a cloister (like Hildegard of Bingen). I believe that the Orthodox tradition of Hesychasm is the closest in Orthodoxy to personal revelation, and again, this is not something for the average Christian, a beginning of dialogue with God, but rather an endpoint of a long way, where meditational practices also known from Buddhism can help.

    OH, and from what I know about at least Chan Buddhism, the thought about meditating to get revelation when one wanted to know if Buddhism is the right way would be totally contrary to every Buddhist idea. You can receive sudden enlightenment only after following the way of Buddha for a long time, and you can receive gradual enlightenment only after following the way of Buddha. But you cannot receive enlightenment to know that the way of the Buddha is true at the beginning of the way. In fact, you need to let go of all such securities, which are seen as false,in order to even start your way to enlightenment. But I may err in this, as I studied Chan Buddhism only as a means to better understand, learn and teach Wing Chun Kung-Fu, and this study was very superficial.

    I don’t know about Shinto-ism, but if you know more, I’m willing to learn.

    I live in Austria, where Mormons are an insignificant minority (4000 of 9 million Austrians are Mormons), so I do not live in a closed community, as may be typical for Wasatch front Mormons, but most of my friends are atheists or Catholics or Protestants of various colors, some are JW, some are Jews, and one is Muslim. For most of them, the thought of normal people asking God if this or that church is right, is the vilest heresy. I’ve had literally hundreds of discussions with pastors and believers of various Christian churches here in Europe, and one of my standard questions is “how do you know that the Bible is the word of God”, and the answers range from “We have an unbroken tradition of witnesses” to “the Bible testifies for itself”, but even if I asked them if they had personal knowledge of God, they all thought the very idea ludicrous.

    So, your assumption that most believers believe because they received personal revelation is not something I can substantiate either from personal knowledge of many different religious people here in Europe, nor from official teachings of the groups you named.

    If this is different in the USA, specially in an environment heavily influenced by Mormons, I ask if this is not rather a defensive cultural phenomenon than something native to those denominations and churches.

    Anyhow. Let me sharpen your argument. Every day missionaries world wide ask people to pray about the Book of Mormon, and I am sure among those who are asked are those who answer that they did, and that God told them that it is a lie.

    Yes, among those are also those who say that the part they liked most about the Book of Mormon was the chapter where Brigham Young rides a white bull over the prairie to save his people. But not all are like this.

    So, can God answer one way to those and another way to others? Can this confusion really originate with God? I think, basically this is your question, right?

    Also, on Syphax’ blog you made the common error to reduce personal revelation to “positive emotions”. Or, as critics of Mormonism like to say, a “warm fuzzy feeling”. And granted, there are those who have received no more than a warm fuzzy feeling and believe that it was “an answer”. I even heard of a Mormon who said, “when I prayed about the Book of Mormon, it started to hail outside, and that was my answer.” And I know of at least one, who decided that he should lie down on the floor and meditate in order to receive an answer.

    I will try to give a clearer picture of what Moroni’s promise, as it is commonly known, really means in the context of Mormon Standard Works, and what I believe about revelation to those who are not Mormons, and especially what it means if someone either gets not a positive answer or even a negative one to his honest question if the Book of Mormon is true. But I will have to do this tomorrow or even the day after tomorrow, as it is late and I have to get up early tomorrow to work, and I have to tend to my sick children. My son just threw up in my bed.

  27. Now after both of the kids still at home, my wife and I had had influenza and Bronchitis, I am back to writing. Thank you for your patience. BTW, I tried to write this on Seraphim’s blog, but for whatever reason I was told there, that my user id is not not my user id, so after a few tries I gave up.

    Now back to the topic. Seraphim, your second assumption was that personal revelation is about “positive emotions” only. Evangelical critics of Mormonism really love to harp on this, and so it is a topic I put some time and effort in. How can I know that what I experience is in fact “something from the outside” and not my own feelings or my own wishful thinking? And if it is from the outside, how do I know it is from God and not as a young evangelical friend once put it “from the dark side”?

    Now, the basics are simple, I think. Everything I experience, I experience only because it is in my head.

    IF I burn my fingers, there is an outward hot stuff, there is a receptor in my fingers firing a signal (we are “inward” from here on), a nerve leading the impulse to my brain and my brain interpreting the impulse as “ouch”. My experience is 100% inward. If I dream, I can see beautiful things and believe them to be “real”, but the outward stimulus is missing.

    Thus the question to be asked is, “Is my internal experience triggered from the outside or not”, where “inside” is equivalent with “me”, and “outside” is “not me”, I do not talk about a “The Kingdom is inside of you” kind of “inside” in this case.

    Well, the easiest way to see if something has a part in the “real” world outside my brain, is to see if it affects this outside world.

    Think about how you learned what is “salty”, or “sweet” or “soft”. You experienced it, and someone who knew the word *and* the taste/feeling (your parents probably) told you that what you experience now has this and that name. And with time, you learned to recognize it on your own. And in fact, I do not believe that there is any other way to learn what “salty” means.

    That’s the real job of missionaries: Helping people connect a certain kind of feeling, shared by others, with the description “feeling the Holy Ghost”. Because it is a group thing, the investigator can become more sure. A good missionary will tell an investigator: “I feel this and that now, because of so and so. I think, you feel the same, and if so, this is the Holy Ghost. Think about those things, study them, pray about them, and then see, if you will get the same feeling or not.”

    And that’s the “prescription” on how to know about the Book of Mormon: As it says in Moro 10, first you read the Book of Mormon, then you think about all that you know about God, and if what is written there is consistent with what you already know about God’s character and dealings with His people. You study the issue and you it out in your mind, as we are told in D&C 9:7-9. This means that you are not trying to be a “God puppet”, but to make an informed and meticulous decision on your own. And then you lay it before God in prayer. Sometimes a short prayer will be answered (like that of King Laman), and sometimes, a long prayer time might be necessary, as with Enos. Sometimes you will have to think and ponder more in order to come to a decision, and praying during study and decision making is a good thing. And then you may get an answer.

    Unfortunately, there are Missionaries who seem to be *claiming* to feel the Holy Ghost without actually feeling it, and that’s when the teaching system does not work. Usually, those same missionaries are the ones who tell their investigators that they need not have read the whole book in order to get an answer.

    But where it works, we have an outward sign of the inward experience, namely that more than one person experiences it at the same time, and that is an indicator that it might be more than internal.

    The next thing is to see, where this inward experience leads. If it leads to a change of character, an extraordinary change of actions, then the chance is greater that this was an extraordinary experience, because the ordinary does not have power to induce the extraordinary. We usually call this a “mighty change of heart”. If you do not feel moved and empowered mightily to change for the better, then you probably have not felt what was promised. If you do not feel an abundance of love, the same. So, if the community is not love-centered, then the community does not have the Holy Ghost.

    Please keep in mind, that in this I talk about the experience of an investigator, not necessarily of those of someone born in the church.

    The third part of making sure if something is outward or inward triggered, is to look for the miraculous. It’s not that miracles are what make me believe, but the miracles are a seal to my belief. So, for instance, in our ward of 150 active members, I know of 4 people who were paraplegic, and the doctors said that there was no way they would walk again. Ever. One was a girl my age who had a skiing accident, the other was a girl my age with a disturbed blood flow in the spinal marrow, where marrow had already died. I knew both of them from childhood on. One of the doctors was a father of a friend of mine, and he was one of Austria’s top 3 neurosurgeons. So, I know firsthand. In both cases, the father (different father for each girl) blessed the girl and promised her that she would walk out of the hospital under her own power within three weeks. And it happened. One of the girls is now a police woman. The other is a mother of 4. The fathers said that they gave this blessings, with fear and trembling, because they felt the spirit command them to say such and such. For this father, the realization of his blessing was outward proof that he really had felt the Spirit. In our ward, we have those who were proclaimed terminally ill and those who were lame, who were completely healed. As an investigator, in accordance with Moro 10, I would ask myself if in the ward I attend there are more miracles testified by first hand witnesses than in any other group of the same size. If so, then it seems that the Holy Ghost is not only an internal thing with this group.

    Let me give you a beginner’s example from my life. One of the things that is not too holy for me to tell. My wife was in severe faith crisis, or rather in a phase in life where she rejected the existence of God. She was a nurse, and she was just in the process of doing a baby first aid course. Over the weekend, she was allowed to take a baby dummy with her for practice. This dummy had a very small soft grey thing as an obstacle to prevent breathing. On Sunday evening, the obstacle was lost in our 116 squaremeter flat, after one of our three kids had gotten it into hands somehow. We searched for hours. Then I decided to pray, but my wife refused, because she claimed that there is no God to answer, and we won’t find the thing.

    I knelt and told God that now a miracle would be needed. And I heard His voice in my mind telling me that indeed there would be a miracle, and that I should stand up, go to my wife and say, “Now I’ve prayed, what would you say if I would now find that thing?” And she said, “we searched for hours. There is no way you will find it now.” And the spirit told me to bend down where I was standing, and to grab without looking and show my wife what I found. And I did and had the thing in hand. This is outward confirmation for an inward reaction to an outward stimulus. The Holy Ghost. Finding the thing without having heard the voice would not be miraculous. Hearing the voice and not finding anything could be a reason to visit a psychiatrist. But hearing AND finding makes it a miracle, if only a small and insignificant, and a proof to me that God lives.

    Lastly, how do I know that what I experience is of the Holy Ghost and not of a demon?

    Well, Jesus tells the Jews that even evil fathers will not give their children a stone when they ask for bread, nor a snake when they ask for fish. Likewise, He continues, Heavenly Father will give good things to those that ask. Jesus promised us the Holy Ghost. We were told by what fruit we can recognize it. It would be out of character for Heavenly Father to answer my prayer for His Spirit by letting a demon cheat me.

    Now, back to my own personal reasons for believing that it is really the Holy Ghost I have with me, the reason I trust in His whisperings. First of all, I have numerous experiences, of which the above is the least holy, where I heard the voice, and miracles confirmed what I heard. I know the voice, and it is trustworthy and triggered outside of me. Second, what this voice confirmed as true to me is in character with God as I know Him from the Bible. Third, my life has been blessed and changed for the better by listening to what this voice and feeling urged me to do. Fourth, I was excommunicated as a 17 year old, and the gift of the Holy Ghost was taken back. I was rebatized a bit over a year later and received the gift again. I know the difference between having and not having the gift. And it is real.

    I hope this answers that part of the question.

  28. Let’s turn to the last part. What about others genuinely going through the steps and receving a negative answer?

    I don’t know. I think God will have His reasons, and I would advise them to not get baptized. If they get their confirmation somewhere else, then it is better for them to be members there than be Mormons against better knowledge. Just as I did with Syphax, whom I counseled to rather be Orthodox, if that is what he needs, than to stay a disgruntled and disbelieving Mormon.

  29. Moriancumr, I am sorry it took me so long to respond. I was expecting to see your response on my blog and I did not think to look here.

    You first take up my example of three individuals of differing faith perspectives all claiming to know their faith is true due to “personal revelation” as I put it. I see now that I should have been more careful to define my terms. Perhaps “personal witness” would have been better. Muslims (Shia and Sunni) as well as Nicene Christians, although they deny there can be continuing revelation as radical as what Mormonism claims, do affirm the possibility that one can receive an answer of sorts from God affirming or guiding them to faith. Anyways, I am not sure why you contested this since it seems obvious that these faiths recognize a personal revelation of some sort, even if it is different than the Mormon understanding.
    “ For most of them, the thought of normal people asking God if this or that church is right, is the vilest heresy. For most of them, the thought of normal people asking God if this or that church is right, is the vilest heresy.”

    You know as well as I do that what the majority of adherents believe seldom reflects official doctrine. Look at the Roman Catholic laity in America, for example.

    “So, your assumption that most believers believe because they received personal revelation is not something I can substantiate either from personal knowledge of many different religious people here in Europe, nor from official teachings of the groups you named.”
    If I understand you correctly you are essentially arguing that because, in your experience, you haven’t met anyone outside the LDS faith that bases their faith on personal experience or revelation my argument is therefore wrong. This is a fallacious argument, and I can assure you that I have met several Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, and Protestants who all appeal to personal revelation of some sort.

    I am not sure how to respond to the second part of your post since you move away from arguments I can understand to personal experiences you have had that may or may not be true. I do not want to disparage or dismiss your experiences, but stories just like yours are told by people of various faith backgrounds. Just today I listened to the story of a blind man who was healed by the holy water in a shrine. Even if I acknowledge that you have experienced miracles, all this proves is that you have experienced miracles, not that the LDS faith is true. What if God is some ever-present wellspring of goodness that responds to anyone who aligns their will with His?
    In the end I don’t blame you for staying where you are if you really have experienced all you claim, but to keep someone like me who was an active Mormon for over 20 years and never experienced anything like the miracles you refer to it is going to take more than appeals to personal experiences.

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