Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is Israel's God Glenn Beck's god?

I read in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News today where LDS convert Glenn Beck (he grew up Catholic), ever the showman, told the Israeli Knesset yesterday "Where you go, I shall go... Your people is my people, your God is my God" (Ruth 1:16). He was quoting from the Book of Ruth, when the protagonist, a Moabitess (i.e., not-a-Hebrew), says these words to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who urged her to return to her own people upon the death of her husband (Naomi's son). Granted, given that it was uttered in the context of a speech to a political body and that it was Glenn Beck, it was as much an ideological statement as a theological one. I am so rarely imaginative enough to come up with a provocative headline that on the rare occasion I do, I feel I must "go with it."

Beck's politico-theology operates on the basis of a common reduction; reducing faith to morality. Hence, if you derive the correct morals from your faith, your faith (i.e., specific beliefs) does not matter. Even among some Catholics and Evangelicals such a reduction that ultimately leads to religious indifferentism is not uncommon.

Last week in this same newspaper, I read a story about the response of a LDS scholar to a BBC program, Did God Have a Wife?. This documentary is based on the work of Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, a self-professed atheist, who asks what to biblical scholars is a pretty non-controversial question, which in essence, is not did God have a wife, but were the ancient Israelites strict monotheists? Tresa Edmunds is LDS and responded to the provocative question used as the title to Stavrakopoulou's program in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper: "God's wife, the mysterious mother of Mormons: The doctrine of Heavenly Mother offers hope for the position of women within the Mormon church".

In her piece Edmunds writes:
The doctrine of Heavenly Mother was introduced by Joseph Smith in the early days of the church, and affirmed by prophet after prophet in the years since, but without much elaboration. Much of the discussion about Heavenly Mother consists of references to the logic of the relationship – if God is the father of our spirits, as Mormons believe, then there would need to be a mother.

Edmunds piece provides a nice segue to the LDS doctrine of God, which I have written about before (one place is Romney's primary problem is not being LDS). The LDS doctrine of God can be characterized by two very brief summations. First is Doctrine and Covenants Section 130, verse 22, which states: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us" (the Doctrine and Covenants, along with the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, are books that the LDS revere as scripture in addition to the Bible). Second, is what is called in the Lorenzo Snow couplet: "As man is God once was. As God is man may become." Snow was the fifth president of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and so was revered by members of that church as "prophet, seer, and revelator," just as the current president of the LDS is, along with his two counselors and the entire Quorum of the Twelve of Apostles.

LDS Plan of Salvation

Since the Jewish people do not believe in the Trinity, contrasting LDS belief with the most fundamental dogma of Christian faith is not necessary. However, believing that God was a human being like we are and progressed to become a god. Further evidence of this progression can be found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, particularly verse thirty-seven, which clearly states that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, primarily by taking multiple wives and having concubines in obedience to the Lord's command, "have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods."

It is the third chapter of the Book of Abraham, found in The Pearl of Great Price," that sets forth the LDS view that is most incompatible with the theologies of the great monotheistic faiths at the most fundamental level. It does this by showing how we are ontologically no different from even God the Father, as well as rejecting creation ex nihilo. According to the LDS view we have all always existed. We began as unembodied intelligences who became embodied via a heavenly father and mother. This embodied state is called the pre-earth life. After this we were born into mortality. With reference to the diagram above, the eternal existence as an "intelligence" would come prior to "Premortal Existence."

All of this is not to "Mormon-bash," but simply an effort to point out legitimate religious differences between Mormonism and mainstream contemporary Judaism and, by extension, to note authentic differences between LDS beliefs sincerely held and those of orthodox Christians. After all, religious tolerance begins with understanding, n'cest ce pas? This is precisely where people, like Gov. Huckabee, who, during the 2008 Republican primaries, said that Mormons believed that Christ and Satan were spirit brothers, or something to that effect, could benefit from a better and deeper understanding of LDS doctrine. While such an apparently spectacular claim may well be true, in the context of LDS belief it is not all that significant.

A claim was madeby a prominent Evangelical, Dr. Richard Mouw, in a speech delivered in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City in November 2004 that the Lorenzo Snow couplet had "no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine." For those who are interested in this question, Ronald Huggins, formerly of Salt Lake Theological Seminary, who currently teaches at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to this claim by Mouw "Lorenzo Snow's Couplet: 'No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?'": A Response to Richard Mouw."

Whenever I speak or write about this topic the title of an essay by Blake Ostler, which I read in a book of scholarly LDS essays ( Line Upon Line) years ago, pops into my mind: "The Concept of a Finite God as an Adequate Object of Worship."

3 comments:

  1. LDS theology is very confusing to me. I have tried to understand it, but it is very foreign to me. Maybe some LDS feel that way about Catholic theology as well.

    So, in LDS theology, is Abraham, Issac, and Jacob the father-god of their own universe, and do they have a universe/kingdom (not sure if i'm using terms correctly) like ours with their own creation.

    Is there an endless chain of these father gods with their own particular savior's, etc.

    And is Outer Darkness the same as hell? Is one doomed for eternity there (if such a concept of eternity is consonant with their theology)?
    It is very confusing.

    Thanks

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  2. Dan,

    They have attained exaltation, which is the highest heaven in the highest kingdom (i.e., Celestial kingdom- there is also the Telestial, and Terrestial kingdoms, too). So, yes, like God, they, along with their plural wives (Mothers in Heaven) will bring intelligences into a premortal existence, send off to a mortal existence, and perpetuate the cycle. This is the goal of all Latter-day Saints.

    There is a rift in LDS theology with Joseph Smoth, Jr- the founder intimating in the King Follett discourse that perhaps there is an ultimate God and Brigham Young, his successor, who also taught what is called the Adam/God theory (i.e., that Adam was God the Father), opting for the infinite regress.

    Outer darkness is hell and reserved only for vile apostates like me. I go into more detail, especially about the Holy Ghost being a personage of spirit, but then in the next section of the Doctrine and Covenants saying all spirit is matter, etc. I have no desire to launch an apologetics blog. Catholic Answers does fine work.

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