Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thor's Day: Why I am not a Mormon

By Kyle Garza

I suppose I should begin in a way that lets you see my worldview as best I can explain it, just so you know where I’m coming from. I will try to go from broad to specific. I originally intended for this to be a very different post, but it took a turn I didn’t expect mid-way through.
    Firstly, I philosophically lean towards supernaturalism and not materialism. Simply put, I think there is more to Reality than the material universe; that is to say, I think there is an incorporeal side to the cosmos. Because of this thinking, I think most conversations regarding anything about the idea of God fail to gain traction if I am speaking to a materialist: that worldview just doesn’t allow a conversation of Supernatural Theology to happen.
    Secondly, to expound, I think the universe had a beginning, and I do not think space/time was created by itself. I think this philosophically because I cannot conceive of a universe that created itself, and thus I am stuck with axiomatically positing that “something” is “beyond” or “behind” reality (or whatever preposition you deem fit). On this point, I am thus a deist in the sense that I think a “Mind” is behind the universe. Essentially, mind is primary and matter is derivative (not the other way around).
    Thirdly, I am a Christian, and thus a theist. I think that the “Mind” that created space/time is correctly understood to be the Christian God of the Bible, and I think this as a result of a combination of philosophy, history, and science (in that order purposefully); I choose those three because, as an apologist, I invest my thinking first in my belief that I am capable of knowing anything for myself (philosophy gives me this), second in my belief that historical criticism is a valid medium of epistemology (more on this later), and third in my belief that the observable world does not contradict who the God of the Bible – Jesus – claims to be.
    Admittedly, I was raised in a Christian home. But then so was C.S. Lewis, who went through quite an apostate spell, and he eventually became a Christian through his thinking and not through his emotional experience, though admittedly it did have something to do with the company he kept, but then which of us cannot say the same? Likewise with myself: as a person, I consider myself more of a “mental” Christian than an “emotional” Christian. Granted, I am certainly a mix of the two, but I have always been much more persuaded by logos than by pathos (and ethos, only if I know the person in person).

Now I think I can explain why I am a Christian but not a Mormon. I began writing this in response to Paul Clark’s most recent column (“What’s wrong with Mormonism?” February 27). but then it became much more about Mormonism by accident, and I felt that the main subject I wished to dialogue with Paul about would be a different conversation, which I hope to have later.
    I will not say anything about Mormonism with the intent of offending or belittling Mandy Al-Bjaly, who prompted Paul’s column with her own two weeks earlier (“Are Mormons Chistians?” February 13). I also will do my best to articulate what I understand about Mormonism based on my own study of it in addition to conversations I have had with five or six Mormon missionaries at different times. There is actually a stake down the street from me, and I have visited over there a number of times to “put a face” to what I have seen in my reading. The conversations were all fantastically enlightening. I cannot recommend highly enough the benefits of talking to a person rather than reading about “them” online or in a book.
    Having said that, I essentially don’t think I could be a Mormon even if I were raised in a Mormon home since birth, and here you will have to lend me the grace of being allowed to say, “Trust me, I know myself.” Mainly, Mormons (and, Mandy, correct me if I misrepresent this) believe in the “confirmation of the Holy Spirit,” usually referred to as the “burning in the bosom” that essentially can confirm that what you are believing is true. Basically, if you pray to Father God and ask Him, “Is this Mormonism thing true?” then the Holy Spirit will spiritually confirm its veracity in your heart. Now I believe in the confirmation of the Spirit as well, but my belief does not solely rest in that. From what I understand, Mormons can usually be quite satisfied with that alone as a defense of their belief. This is where we differ in epistemology. I can’t completely trust the feelings “in my heart,” and I say that because I personally don’t trust my emotions/feelings as a valid source of Truth. This is one of the stronger reasons why I am not a Mormon.

I do not think I have a dogmatic position on Mormonism yet. I do think Mandy and I are both Christians in the sense that we believe Jesus was a real, historical person who somehow saves us from the penalty of sin (death) and grants us the option of eternal life after death, but I think our label as Christians roughly stops there. Namely, I think we differ in theology (who God is) and soteriology (the study of the doctrines of salvation in various worldviews) and eschatology (the study of “end times”) and teleology (the study of our “purpose” or “final cause”) and our views on what is divinely inspired scripture and what is not (I don’t know if there’s an “ology” for that).
    There is also quite a chasm between us in our understanding of prophets, those who convey revelations from God: basically, Christians like myself think the last bit of historical prophecy we got was from John (who wrote The Book of Revelation), whereas Mormons think that prophets from Joseph Smith and on were (and are) the rightful leaders of the “True Church” of God, and they gave (and give) ongoing revelations from God. This is without doubt my greatest qualm with the doctrines of Mormonism. In short, Mormon doctrine rests on the cornerstone of the word of the prophets, men like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff; however, they admit that these men were subject to error, and sometimes spoke falsely. That alone makes me hesitate to believe anything in Mormon doctrine. In the conversations I have had with Mormon missionaries, they do not seem very troubled with this issue because of the “confirmation of the Holy Spirit” that I referred to earlier. Again, this is a point beyond which our conversation usually cannot proceed.

Lastly, and I think it is always important to note this, I am a Christian who does assert that the only way to a positive afterlife (I say it that way because I am here trying to speak generally) is through Jesus, but I don’t completely understand how that works for everyone: namely, I don’t completely understand what God does with people who say they believe in Jesus but don’t seem to understand His salvation in the same way I do (Mormons, for example), and I don’t completely understand what God does with people who “never heard of Jesus”or were “raised in the wrong religion,” (this addresses the old “What about the [random tribe in Africa] people?” question), and I don’t completely understand what God does with people who are very young (this touches on the “age of accountability” that Mandy brought up). I haven’t yet decided if that is an issue beyond me or if it is an issue I haven’t contemplated well and long enough.

I hope this is helpful and spurs the conversation along! I honestly love talking about Mormonism, and I hope I have been more clear than verbose. I would briefly note that I didn’t include citations or references in any of this on purpose; I can definitely provide those when asked.
Copyright © 2014 by Kyle Garza

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  1. Kyle, THANK YOU for laying out some axes for plotting one's position with respect to materialism/supernaturalism, deism/theism, pathos/logos, knowing/prophecy, salvation/damnation. I think I might now better map my own position by their employment. I'm musing how to best express it, and whether to do so in a comment or a separate column.

  2. This reminds me of comment by D.T. Suzuki, about his perception of Christian dogma, that Joseph Campbell quoted:
    “God against Man, Man against God,
    Man against Nature, Nature against Man,
    Nature against God, God against Nature-
    very funny religion.”

  3. I enjoyed your writing very much, Kyle. I envy your knowledge of all those big words.

    I read Heinlein and Asimov years and years ago. They were great!

  4. Hello, Kyle. I am very proud of you, and I am glad that you are contributing to this blog. I especially like the point you made about materialism and supernaturalism. Superb!! I did not know that the two Mormon prophets ever quoted or made errors either. It would leave me to wonder to about the soundness of their books.