Mormonism and Pragmatism

william jamesIn my experience (and I reiterate that this is just my anecdotal experience), most Mormons have a sort of crude Pragmatist theory of truth.

As a psychology student who studies religion, I have a huge soft spot in my heart for William James.  In fact, my first son’s middle name is James for that very reason.  James and some other American philosophers developed a philosophical theory of truth that the average person probably wouldn’t understand (I barely do), but the naive version is this:  we can judge whether a belief is true by whether it “works.”

I put “works” in quotation marks because the biggest criticism of Pragmatism is that the criteria for “working” is not very well-defined.  But I think a lot of people, and Americans, still kind of hold the naive version of Pragmatism as true (we’ll just call it Naive Pragmatism, or NP).  And I think this is especially true for Mormons. Continue reading


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

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

There is no Liturgical Year in Mormonism

mormon-jesus-palm-sundaySince today is Palm Sunday in some churches, I feel obliged to say something about liturgical years.  I had never even heard of a liturgical year until I really started studying Orthodoxy.  I had heard of Lent – particularly that my Roman Catholic best friend seemed to eat a lot of fish at certain times of the year.  But the concept of celebrating the life of Christ through the year, or that different parts of the year could have different meanings (besides Christmas and Easter), was entirely alien to my religious experience.  Until just a couple of years ago I didn’t even know what Palm Sunday was.

I feel that this is something significantly lacking in Mormonism.  With the exception of fast Sundays and conferences, there is no organized cycle through the year with didactic value at all.  The curriculum in classes change every year, and we sing Christmas hymns all December, that’s about it.

So whenever a religious holiday or liturgical season passes without any mention in church, I get kind of frustrated.  I feel that members of the Church would have so much more of an emotional connection with the events that took place in Christ’s life if they would just organize some kind of liturgical year – or recognize one that exists already.  There’s no reason given in church why they reject the use of such calendars, and little to no recognition that they even exist.

So as far as saying something specifically about Palm Sunday – I don’t know how.  I know the origin of the day – Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  But as far as what Palm Sunday means emotionally to people, or what I’m supposed to be pondering during it – I have no idea.

The (Eternal) Family

I was having a discussion with a friend about whether Mormonism truly brings any theological innovation to the table of the world’s religions.  I think that there are some good arguments that it does, but my friend suggested that Mormonism’s primary contribution is its unique way of exalting the immediate Earthly family.  In other words, in Mormonism, the immediate Earthly family is given an eternal primacy and is not just the fundamental building block of Earthly society, it is also the building block of Heavenly society.

I have been thinking about it, and I don’t think that this is indeed as wonderful as it first appears.  In Richard Beck’s book Unclean, he notes that our allegiance to familial ties is the source of our opposition to outsiders.  Evolution has given us a strong sense of altruism and kinship with those related to us by blood – but the extension of this is that people who are not kin are second class in our minds.

This even shows up in language – the words “kin,” “kind” (as in type), and “kind” (as in nice) all come from the same root.  Therefore, we are kind (nice) to people who are our kind (type), or our kin.

The traditional Christian view, in opposition to the Mormon view, is that the Earthly family is a temporary analogue to our Heavenly family, aimed at creating good Earthly societies and helping children come into the world.  So we are organized into our families so that we can learn something about the Kingdom of God. Continue reading