Theme change(s).

Hey, loyal readers (and visitors), you may be noticing that I’ve been goofing around with the theme of this blog over the last few days.  I might continue to do so over the next few days.  I hope I’m not irritating everyone by doing so – I’m just incredibly picky.  Also, I don’t like dark themes very much, so I decided to axe the old one I had.  Sorry.

Why Mormons don’t care what you say.

missionary-nottingham-cc-hoveringdogThis is a cross-post from an old blog that I wrote for.  Every now and then I see members of various churches ask questions like, “What do you say to a Mormon to prove that they’re wrong?”  Those types of questions really frustrate me, because it assumes that you can forcibly go to another person and tear down their entire worldviews with a few well-placed rhetorical below-the-belt shots, and even more incredibly, it assumes that this person you’ve just pulverized is going to turn around and thank you and actually listen to your message and join your church.  I just don’t see that happening with Mormonism, because, unless you really know what you’re talking about with Mormonism, the Mormon will likely just assume that you’re ignorant and not worth listening to (and furthermore, a jerk).  Here’s the essay: Continue reading

Joseph Smith’s interpretations of the First Vision

While it seems like this blog might generally be a comparison and contrast between Orthodoxy and Mormonism, generally favoring first visionOrthodoxy when the two are contrasted, I have also mentioned that not all my posts about Mormonism are unfavorable.  This is a post (perhaps the beginning of a loose series of posts) that explain why a lot of anti-Mormon* arguments don’t seem to work with me.

See, I don’t really “click” with a lot of the disaffected Mormon crowd.  I don’t hate Mormonism, I don’t think it’s evil or demonic, and I don’t think it is “so easily dismissed.”  I generally approach Mormonism as a religion that I love, but think is for the most part incorrect.  So I don’t particularly like reading anti-Mormon* stuff or dwelling on the historical problems of Mormonism, etc. because I just think it’s mostly a waste of my time – I think we can decide whether Mormonism is correct by examining its theology alone, especially contrasting it with other major theologies in the world.

One thing that a lot of critics of Mormonism seem to think is an obvious kill-shot to Mormonism is the fact that Joseph Smith’s ideas, visions, and interpretations shifted over time.  Let’s examine one in particular:  the differing accounts of the First Vision.  Now I’m not going to do a side-by-side analysis of all the different accounts because other people have done this way better than I could, but I want to address the idea that a person’s interpretation of a mystical event can shift over time. Continue reading

Top 11 Things Every Mormon Should Know About Eastern Orthodoxy

lds-jesus-with-pantocratorDavid J. Dunn recently posted an article on his blog which he called “Top Ten Things Every Protestant Should Know About Eastern Orthodoxy.”  I liked the idea, and have always felt that there are a number of things that Mormons ought to know about the Orthodox, so I have  decided to create this list.  It’s not meant to replace Dunn’s article since I think Mormons would like to know all those things, too (in fact I think you should all read that one first), but I think there are some things that Mormons would be particularly interested in. Continue reading

Does non-literal Mormonism lose its “punch?”

temple marriageThe title of this post might seem either trivially true or too vague to be useful, so let me unpack it a bit and then use an example to see if it’s more clear.  I have found that a lot of “Cafeteria” or “Middle-Way” Mormons (maybe the “StayLDS” or John Dehlin crowd) compartmentalize some of the more troublesome doctrines of the LDS church by sort of mythologizing them.  However, I wonder if this renders Mormonism less coherent as a result. Continue reading

Watching the Clock

Orthodox-Candle-Lighting1This is a guest post by regular reader orthojaxy.  She is a former Latter-day Saint who recently was baptized into the Orthodox faith.

I love listening to the sermons that my priest gives at our Greek Orthodox parish. This week he told us that he does not wear a watch once Orthros begins; he does not keep track of time. Divine Liturgy follows directly after Orthros. My parish begins Orthros at 9 a.m. and Divine Liturgy usually begins around 10 a.m. Could it start a little after 10? Could it start before 10? The answer to both is yes, and neither time would be late or early. Many parishes don’t even give a time for Divine Liturgy. They only provide the time for Orthros. That is because once the first service begins, we are in heavenly time. Worldly time is lost, and it is all about the divine experience.

There are no breaks between services. No stops and starts. It is just one continual flow of time and worship. I didn’t know that during my first visit to an Orthodox Church. I remember sitting in the dark candle lit Orthros service. It was beautiful. It was amazingly wonderful to watch when Orthros became the Divine Liturgy. The room suddenly became well-lit and the priest sang, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.” When our priest mentioned that he never wears a watch during service, I realized that I never look at my watch during service. Orthodox services aren’t kept to a schedule. They end when everything that is supposed to be done is done and when everything that should be said, is said. Continue reading

Facebook Page

I’ve decided to create a Facebook Page for “Mormons Discovering Eastern Orthodoxy” that will basically just be a collection of links to blog posts, articles, and other information for anyone interested in the two religions (and I’ll even publish some Catholic and other posts if they are relevant).  This way, if you want to keep track of this blog, you can subscribe to that one in your Facebook and have links delivered straight to you.

The link is also at the top of my sidebar, as you can now see.

If anyone else wants their blog listed, please send a message to the page and I’ll consider making you an admin.  We will have to agree on a set of ground rules, but I’ll make it simple for you.

Thanks for following and “liking,” everyone.

Poll Results

Back in June, I posted a poll asking my regular (and semi-regular, and anyone else) readers what best describes their religious affiliation.  I sort of regret some of the wording of the options, but as a graduate student in psychology I’ve been trained in poll construction and know too much for my own good.  However, I wanted to report the results because I find them interesting.   Mostly, I should have constructed the poll so people could answer more than one thing, though I’m not sure how much difference that would have made.

10 people answered the poll.  That’s not so bad, considering this is an anonymous blog that very few people (even my friends and family) know about.  The thing that stuck out to me was that I seem to have more diversity than I thought.  Here are the categories, plus the number of people in each category.

Ex-LDS:  3

Questioning LDS:  2

Faithful LDS:  1

Faithful Eastern Orthodox (never LDS):  1

Former LDS, now faithful Eastern Orthodox:  1

Protestant:  1

Other:  1  (this person indicated that they are an Eastern Catholic, which is one of a group of Eastern Churches who are in communion with the Roman Catholic church)

None of my readers indicated that they were:  Questioning Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Non-Christian Religion, Nonbeliever (Atheist/Agnostic), or Other.

What’s an apostle? What’s a special witness?

12apostlesI was recently reminded of a question over at Wheat and Tares in the form of a poll.  I brought up a couple of questions in the comments and some interesting thoughts shook out of the discussion.  “What is an Apostle?”  The immediate Mormon stock answer might be:  “A special witness of Christ.”  I’m not sure what the immediate Orthodox answer might be (though I’ve found that in Orthodoxy there are very few “immediate answers”), but let’s unpack the Mormon answer.

What is special about the witness of the current 12 Apostles of the LDS church?

We could answer that question easily for the Original 12 Apostles:  they were actual eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  Even Matthias, who took the place of Judas, was very likely an eyewitness, at least to some events of Jesus’ life, as he was taken from the new Christian faithful immediately after Christ’s death.  So if we take the word “witness” to mean something similar to what happens in a court of law, it is easy to see how the Original 12 are witnesses.

Was Saint Paul a witness in this way?  Not really in the same way.  He saw Christ in a vision, true, and was immediately blessed by the Apostles.  So, though Paul was called an Apostle, he wasn’t a witness in the same way that the Original 12 were witnesses (at least, we don’t have direct evidence that he witnessed events in Christ’s life, though it’s not impossible).  So he wasn’t a witness to the resurrection of Jesus, but he was a witness to the vision of Jesus he had and his special calling by the Apostles.

Finally we come to the current 12 Apostles of the LDS church.  What are they witnesses to?  Well, none of the current 12 have reported any visions in the same sense that Paul did, and none of them were present to witness Christ’s life or resurrection.  Many Mormons, in my experience, do insinuate or speculate that the General Authorities have seen Jesus.  Maybe so.  But if they don’t tell us about it, how exactly are they “witnesses?”  A witness testimony that is withheld from a court of law is no witness at all.

The answer may be that the current 12 Apostles aren’t necessarily witnesses to some special vision of Jesus, but rather they have experienced a witness from the Holy Spirit.  But how is that witness special?  In other words, how is that witness different, or unique, compared to the witness from some other member of the LDS church?  If they are both subjective, spiritual feelings of truth, then I’m not sure which one is “special.”

Perhaps the strongest answer is that LDS apostles are specially called to present the witness of their testimonies to the entire world.  On this view, “special” is a question of jurisdiction.  So, while an LDS Sunday School teacher is not necessarily instructed to bear his or her testimony to the entire world, an LDS apostle is.  This answer still needs elaboration, I think, but it’s probably the strongest candidate to answer why the current 12 Apostles of the LDS church are “special” witnesses.

More on Mattsson and Historical Faith Crises

I don’t have much to say regarding the recent New York Times article that seems to have blown up in the Bloggernacle.  First, the article is far inferior to much of what has already been said in the Bloggernacle about faith crises.  The only thing notable about it is that it was featured in the New York Times, and also features a Area Authority’s faith crisis (a Seventy named Hans Mattsson).  However, the actual information is something that Mormons have known all too well ever since the beginning of the Internet era, and we’ve written millions of words about it since.

I think there have already been some good faithful responses to the NYT article, for instance, By Common Consent’s suggestions on inoculating members and improving the curriculum.  I think it was a really good article, again, not because it was necessarily novel (who in the Bloggernacle, or even in CES, doesn’t think the curriculum needs to be improved?) but because it was a single, coherent statement of the problems and solutions to the curriculum without bashing the Correlation Committee over the head.  It’s an easily digestible nugget that faithful and conservative members would likely agree with.

Similarly, the NYT article has prompted The Mormon History Guy, Russell Stevenson, to post a couple articles in response.  Stevenson, a close friend of mine and a brilliant scholar, just published an extremely interesting book on Elijah Ables, a black man whom Joseph Smith ordained to the priesthood, and the related history of blacks in the LDS church.  His blog seems to be oriented towards faithful members who want to explore Mormon History, and people who question the church, in a fair way, but it is more faithful in orientation than other efforts (like John Dehlin’s).

During Joseph Smith’s time, those who left the church were cast as the ultimate demons and traitors.  They were apostates and Sons of Perdition – those who had seen the light and rejected it, worthy of outer darkness.  I think that narrative still exists in Mormonism, but has somewhat softened over the years.  A second narrative was in full force when I was young:  those who leave Mormonism want to sin.  Their spiritual eyes have been darkened by a desire for [alcohol, sin, pornography, etc.].  Luckily, people are discovering that this narrative isn’t always fair or accurate either.  These two narratives are really just labels that help Mormons deal with their own discomfort upon seeing people leave.

Now, Stevenson, the NYT, John Dehlin, Michael Ash, FAIR, the Bloggernacle, and others are introducing a new exit narrative:  historical faith crisis.  Mormons everywhere are discovering troubling things about the Church via the Internet, and this makes them feel betrayed, hurt, shattered, etc.  When they go to priesthood leaders, family, friends, or Mormon apologetic sources, they find rejection, misunderstandings, and bad answers.  Feeling bitter and outcast, these members leave the LDS church (but they don’t “leave it alone,” since this poor treatment causes many of them to become those infamous anti-Mormons).  In fact, many people use this narrative to describe their own experience, including several who visit this blog.

However, I am still wondering whether this narrative is a fair or accurate way of describing what is actually happening.  Now I’ll be the first to admit that maybe I’m not sympathetic to this narrative because it’s not how I’d describe myself, or perhaps because, as a psychology student who leans towards Behaviorism I am always trying to collapse vague abstractions into more concrete things.  But to me, there are problems with the faith crisis narrative.  First, it glosses over individual differences.  Not everyone who leaves characterizes their journey as a crisis.

But more importantly, to me, the question is whether that many people are actually having “historical faith crises.”  The NYT article seems to imply that the fact that this happened to a Seventy shows that this is a grassroots problem that is climbing higher and higher among the ranks of the LDS church.  But is that true?  General Authorities have left the LDS church before.  “But wait, what about John Dehlin’s army of minions who filled out his survey, and all the people in comment boxes on Deseret News articles?  What about the DAMU and all the anti-Mormon websites out there?  What about the fact that the Church isn’t growing like it used to?  What about the fact that they are recruiting younger missionaries and restructuring the whole missionary program?  Aren’t these all pieces of evidence that this is a real thing?”

Well, perhaps.  Or it could be that online ex-Mormon communities give us a biased sample, that John Dehlin’s “exit narratives” survey and Mormon Stories were constructing exit narratives for people who already needed one, or that few churches can sustain massive inflationary growth for two centuries without some restructuring, rebuilding, and course correction.

But mostly I think the “historical faith crisis” is just a reification of a normal process of learning and growing for many people.  The fact that we use the term crisis implies that those who learn things about the history of the Church necessarily go through some painful battle.  But aren’t there Mormons out there who simply learn about Mormonism, live it faithfully, but then find something better and move on?  Or they read the history of Mormonism on both sides, and simply decide that, on the balance, Mormonism probably isn’t true?  And they experience rough spots along the way with family members and apologetics, etc. but these are all just “growing pains” that eventually resolve themselves as people go along?  Many people leave many religions all the time and don’t refer to this process as a “crisis.”  As I’ve learned more and more about Orthodoxy, Mormonism seemed less and less plausible/true/useful and Orthodoxy seemed beautiful, dazzling, exciting, and above all true.  Is that a crisis?  Not to me.

So I’m not denying that leaving the church is painful for many ex-Mormons, but I also think that the “historical faith crisis” narrative is limited, because now it’s just another convenient label – not just for ex-Mormons to label themselves with, but also for Mormons to use to label those who leave.  Isn’t it possible that Mormons have an emotional need to characterize leaving the church as a crisis?  Could it be that the idea of people simply leaving without experiencing some kind of major emotional upheaval is unacceptable to Mormons?  These are just some reflections I’ve had in response to all these articles.