Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CGtM: Stairway to Heavens (Part 1)

“Contrary to the views found in the uninspired teachings of the creeds of modern Christendom, there are in eternity kingdoms of glory to which resurrected persons…will eventually go. These are named: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial – the glory of each being beyond mortal comprehension” –McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 420.

I don’t think I have to say too much to show that this is radically different from the Christian (or any other theistic faith out there for that matter) conception of heaven. Not to mention the bit about “the uninspired teachings of the creeds of modern Christendom”. Keeping on track, just what are these different kingdoms of heaven, also called the “Degrees of Glory”?

A nice description of these kingdoms can be found in Doctrine and Covenants 76: 50-112. I’ll point out the important verses, but feel free to look up this section on your own.

Let’s begin at the top: the Celestial Kingdom. This is where God the Father resides. It is what all other religions call “heaven” (assuming their religion has a heaven). Perhaps more important than the question “what is it?” is the question “who gets there?”. “They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized…That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins…These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever…unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all…These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all…”

Next is the Terrestrial Kingdom. It is where people who lived before Christ, moral non-Mormons and Mormons who don’t keep the law are held. Beginning with verse 17, “And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn [those in the Celestial Kingdom] who have received the fullness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament [sky]. Behold these are they who died without law…These are they who are men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fullness…wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial…These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus…”

Then, there is the Telestial Kingdom, whose glory is better than mortal humans, but not as great as the other two degrees of glory. “And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament [sky]…These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus…These are they who are thrust down to hell…These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers [immoral people], and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire…until the fullness of times [ie. not for all eternity], when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work…”

Finally, we have Outer Darkness, those who reject the Holy Spirit after it has been revealed to them, which is described earlier in D&C 76, in verses 30-49. “…They are they who are the Sons of Perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come– Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame...”

I’d like to mention something interesting about these Degrees of Glory: not once are they mentioned either in the Bible, nor, more strikingly, the Book of Mormon. Considering that the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book”, isn’t it curious that a precept of this importance is absent from it?

Let’s return our thoughts on the highest Kingdom: the Celestial. Perhaps the question more important than “what is it?” is the question “how does one gain admittance?”. Essentially, as the verses I cited show, there are three things you need to do to get into the Celestial Kingdom: believe on the name of Jesus, be baptized, and keep the commandments. As far as the first is concerned, it lines up with Christianity: “For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13). Mormons then take this two steps further. They insist that one must be baptized in a Mormon temple. This is a literal baptism, unlike the kind seen in Christianity that only manifests itself in physical form in order to be a symbol of an internal, spiritual change. Finally, we have “keeping the commandments”. Now, I’m going to have to unpack Mormon salvation in another post, but for now I’d like to briefly look at what this entails. “Keeping the commandments” means just how it sounds: adhering to all (read: every) commandments in the Bible, Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants, all the time. Is it even possible to do this?

To put it differently, God the Father cannot be in the presence of sin, which is why those in the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms do not have access to him. This means that in order to gain access to the Celestial Kingdom, one has to be completely sinless. Thus, an important question arises for members of the LDS Church: are you (or anyone you know), or have you become, completely sinless?

To quote Bruce McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine again, “An inheritance in this glorious kingdom is gained by complete obedience to the gospel or celestial law. By entering the gate of repentance and baptism [by one in authority] candidates find themselves on the straight and narrow path leading to the celestial kingdom. By devotion and faithfulness, by enduring to the end in righteousness and obedience, it is then possible to merit a celestial reward.” (emphasis added)

In Part 2, we'll take a look at what the Bible has to say about heaven.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hawking's God is Too Small: A Review of "Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe?"

It’s no secret that the “media” portrays a great deal of tension between matters of science and matters of religion. Controversies draw attention, and attention brings in money. So, when Discovery Channel announced that their new show “Curiosity” would open with the question “Did God create the universe?” I can’t say I was surprised. Nor was I surprised that famed physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking would answer that question with a resounding “no”. My curiosity, if you will, came from how he would come to this inevitable conclusion. So, without further ado, here is my review of “Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe?”
The show begins, not with the Big Bang, nor natural laws, nor any allusion to the beginning of the universe, but rather with a tale of Vikings who, upon seeing a solar eclipse, believe that the wolf god Fenrir has eaten the sun. So, they raise their weapons and shout fiercely in order to scare the wolf god away. Minutes later, the sun returns as a result of their war cries, or so the Vikings in all their lack of scientific knowledge believed. Fast forward to an ancient Greek philosopher astronomer named Aristarchus who also observed eclipses. While the religious Vikings had used a deity to describe an eclipse, Aristarchus sought a more scientific route. He concluded that lunar eclipses were the result of the earth blocking the sun’s light from the moon, and solar eclipses were the moon blocking the sun. Hawking then describes Aristarchus as “liberated by this discovery”. Hawking then tells more stories of a Pope who was afraid of scientific discovery, only to be crushed by a roof that fell because of gravity, and (of course) Galileo being marked as a heretic for his heliocentric solar system (neglecting to emphasize that Galileo kept his religious beliefs despite his condemnation).
But what do solar eclipses have to do with the creation of the universe? Well, nothing really. What it really is is an attack on any kind of “God of the gaps” theory, or “if we can’t explain the event, it must be God”. Hawkings tries to rid his viewers of the idea that we need a deity to explain how the universe works. Indeed, he says, “each discovery moved us further from the need for a God.” However, the episode is not about how or what makes the universe work, it’s about who or what made the universe exist in the first place. Apparently this did not bother the creators of the show. In fact, it takes 20 minutes of the episode for the word “origin” to be even mentioned. The entire first part of the episode is devoted to making people believe that religion is unnecessary and actually inhibits human understanding of the universe. The only real argument against theism I can give Hawking credit for is a single underhanded jab at miracles. Hawking says that natural laws are immutable, and concludes that “if laws of nature are fixed, where does that leave God?” and leaves the matter at that. At face value, it seems like just another way that religion and science are separate; however, if we consider the argument seriously, we see that it is not an issue of whether God exists or not, but an issue of whether or not miracles happen. Reformulated, it goes like this: If the laws of nature are immutable (cannot change), then they cannot be temporarily suspended. When a miracle occurs, the laws of nature are temporarily suspended. Therefore, miracles do not occur. Never mind that this by no means a new argument and has been challenged (I would say successfully) since the days of Hume.
The next 10 minutes of the program leads up to the entrance of the Big Bang, first talking about the “Cosmic Cookbook”. “To create a universe”, Hawkings begins, “you only need three ingredients: matter, energy, and space.” All of which you can pick up at your local grocery store. I kid, of course, but you can see that if you still believe in God at this point in the show, His creation has thus been trivialized to be made up of the cosmic equivalent of sugar, flour, and milk. Hawking then explains that matter and energy are essentially the same thing because of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (E=mc2). So, the universe is actually made up of "only" two ingredients: energy and space (sugar-free is all the rage anyway). Interestingly enough, Einstein was forced to accept the existence of a divine creator of the universe by his own scientific inquiries. This, of course, was not mentioned. That said, this trivialization was somewhat undercut by the sweeping CGI footage displaying the vastness of the universe.
It’s not like the program needed fluff to fill time and keep audiences interested. These are some of the most complex theories in science and instead of poking fun at that abstraction we call “religion”, the time could have been spent to explain some of these theories and actually further people’s knowledge. Or is that not what scientific inquiry is about?
Finally, half way into the show, Hawkings starts his main argument. Well, actually three different arguments. All three revolve around the assumption that the universe spontaneously popped into existence out of nothing, and without cause.
So how can something come from nothing? The first answer Hawking gives is regarding negative energy. Hawking explains that the formation of the universe is a lot like making a mound of dirt in a field. You take your shovel and pile dirt on top of itself until you have your mound. However, you don’t only have a mound, but you also have the hole from which the mound dirt came. For every shovel of dirt in the mound, you have an equivalent amount of “negative dirt” in the hole. Likewise, the universe is made up of x-amount of energy and therefore x-amount of negative energy as well. (x)+(-x)=0 Thus, the universe is basically made up of a sum of zero energy, nothing. The theist quivers under the immense weight of mathematics and physics.
Dr. William Lane Craig, a notable Christian philosopher and apologist, wrote an article in response to Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s recent book The Grand Design. In the book, Hawking and Mlodinow describe the balancing of positive and negative energy in regards to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. Craig concludes, “They are not even answering the same question.” Hawking’s terms in his answer are not defined the same as in the question. “Nothing”, in Hawking’s vocabulary doesn’t actually mean non-being, as described by the question “How can something (some thing/being) come from nothing (no thing/non-being)?”. What then does he mean by “nothing”? “Nothing”, for Hawking, is the balance of positive energy and negative energy, which is zero. But zero is not nothing (non-being). Zero is just the vacuum of negative energy, which Hawkings states is found in space, added to the positive energy found in matter. This doesn’t mean that neither of those exist, or even more absurd, that negative energy is also negative being (as we might conclude if “zero” means “non-being”). As Craig quips, “Like the philosophy student who, to the question, “What is Time?” on his final exam, answered, ‘a weekly news magazine,’ so Hawking and Mlodinow have avoided the tough question by equivocation.”
Hawking’s next argument as to how the universe came into existence ex nihilo comes by way of quantum mechanics. In the early universe (nano-nano-seconds after the Big Bang), the universe was the same size as the subatomic particles observed in quantum mechanics. These subatomic particles (protons, for instance) appear to pop out of existence only to reappear someplace else at seemingly random times. If such particles can pop into existence, why couldn’t the universe when it was a similar size?
First of all, there are many, many different theories regarding quantum mechanics (not to mention the many variations of string theory as well), so to say that Stephen Hawking’s version is correct is at this point in the study of quantum physics fairly speculative. For instance, not all scientists agree that sub-atomic events are uncaused (see David Bohm). This means that the universe was not necessarily caused to exist by means of a sub-atomic event alone. Ignoring that, however, Hawking’s argument still has a major flaw. Subatomic particles do not pop out of existence. Again there is a misunderstanding about what “nothing” means. Protons do not disappear out of being, but disappear within the fluctuating vacuum of energy.
Hawking’s begins his third and final argument with an explanation of a black hole. A black hole’s gravitational pull is so great that there is a point at which time itself stops. Just like a black hole, there was no time “before” the Big Bang. Thus, Hawking triumphantly concludes, there was “no time for a Creator to have existed…Looking for a cause is futile.”
Now, there are two things wrong with this as an argument against the existence of God. The first is very easy to see. Once again, it seems Hawking has trouble with definitions. If we define the “Creator” as existing within the confines of time and space, made up of matter, then yes, Hawking is correct in saying that such a deity could not have created the universe. If, however, we define the Creator as a Christian might (because the show is obviously aimed at Christianity), we find that out answer is very different. The Christian God is timeless and spaceless; non-physical. Time does not apply to Him, even when causing the universe to exist. Now, if Hawking were to argue that time is necessary for causality, there might be an actual argument to analyze, but instead he just pre-assumes naturalism (no supernatural beings exist) when dealing with this issue. As the title of this post says: Hawking's God is too small.
The second thing that makes this a failure of an argument against the existence of God is that it actually helps in arguing for the existence of God! If the universe had a beginning, which Hawking affirms and shows, and if everything that begins to exist has a cause, then it follows that the universe has a cause that must exist outside the universe (ie. physical reality)! This is what’s called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. A beginning of the universe is significant because there are many who try to claim that the universe is infinite or has existed for an infinite amount of time, and therefor there is no need for a cause. On the other hand, if the universe had a definitive beginning, then it also has a cause.
So, it turns out that despite Hawking’s conclusion from flawed arguments, the claim that God created the universe still stands. Really, Hawking’s arguments against God creating the universe didn’t fire me up as much as the first half of the show. With hardly any scientific substance for half the epsiode, I can only hope that future episodes of “Curiosity” won’t be so underhanded in what they are trying to show.

To see Craig's full article on The Grand Design, click here.
To watch "Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe": Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is Religion Fact or Opinion?

        Religion is like ice cream.  You can suggest your favorite flavors to people, but don't you dare say that chocolate is actually better than vanilla.  That's just your opinion, it's not a fact that chocolate is better than vanilla.  Likewise, you can't say that Christianity is any more true, as a fact, than say Islam.  That's just your opinion.  Or at least this is the mentality.
        You may have seen cars bearing the bumper sticker spelling "Coexist" in the Muslim crescent moon, peace sign, "e" with male and female signs protruding, Star of David, Wiccan pentagram as the dot of the "i", yin yang, and Christian cross.  If you've ever heard me talk about things such as pluralism, etc., you will have most likely heard the disdain and contempt for the ideas that "Coexist" embodies.  So much so that I have actively removed the words "judge" and "tolerance" from my vocabulary, knowing that the words have been so twisted that they no longer hold their proper meanings.
        As a note, when I refer to "Coexist" or the "tolerance movement", I'm not referring to some organization.  Rather, I'm referring to a societal undercurrent, displayed by popular figures like Oprah, or even perceived in daily conversation.
        "Coexist" is a complex ideology.  At its face value, it merely means that people of different beliefs should exist together with peace and understanding.  That doesn't sound so bad, right?  Who doesn't want peace and understanding?  The problem arises, however, when people start changing the definition of "peace and understanding" to something like "you can tell people about your beliefs [promoting understanding] but you can't tell them that your beliefs are any more correct than theirs [moving away from conflict and towards peace]".  Look!  Peace and understanding!  We like those.
        Can you see the problem, though?  No one's beliefs, especially religious, is any more correct than another's beliefs.  Where would humanity be if we actually kept this ideology?  Ptolemy's geocentric solar system is just as correct as Copernicus' heliocentric?  Aristotle's theory that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies is just as correct as Galileo's proof otherwise?  The theory that the universe is expanding is just as correct as a still universe?  We would never say such things.
        Oh, but here's the kicker: "But these are issues of science!  Science is fact!"  And what is religion?  Opinion.  Ice cream flavors.  Something that has no bearing on reality.
        This kind of thinking is wrong.  And that's not my opinion.  That's a fact.
        Religion, much like philosophy, asks and answers questions of ultimate reality, things that exist, but aren't (or even can't be) necessarily looked at through the lenses of empirical study.  Does a divine being exist?  If a divine being does indeed exist, what attributes does it have?  Do humans have some purpose outside of passing along their genetic code or not?  What is this purpose?  Are humans inherently good?  Evil?  Is their such thing as either?  Upon what do we base what is good or evil?  Is there any way to be saved from our wrongdoings?  These all have factual basis in reality.
        Let's take the question of a divine being as an example.  If we look at the question , we come to three possible conclusions.  (1) One divine being exists.  (2) Multiple divine beings exist.  (3) No divine being exists.  If (1) is true, then a divine being exists whether we believe in that divine being or not.  Likewise, if (3) is true, it is true despite every religion and ideology that believes (1) or (2).  One of these statements must be true, because we're talking about the literal, factual existence of something, not whether or not we prefer whether or not a divine being exists.
        And while we're on preference, I'd just like to mention that if religion was merely a matter of preference, why wouldn't more people be hedonistic atheists?  Absolutely zero moral accountability with the ultimate goal of doing that which pleases you, whenever it pleases you.  This sounds much more attractive than my own religion, Christianity, in which we are all morally responsible for our actions, which constantly fail to live up to the standard of the holy God, and our only escape from the eternal punishment we deserve was the death of God's only son.
        But what about something that's not as black and white as existence?  What about morality?  Surely that's just opinion.  Since it would take too long to get into objective morality, basis for morality, and other important things, I'd like to use someone else's brilliant work to prove my point.  A simple parody of the Coexist bumper sticker.
        So I ask, should we Coexist?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Coexist Creamery

        The little brass bells jingle as you step through the door.  The pleasant scent of cream and waffle cone wafts through the summer air.  As you approach the counter, you glance at a family happily licking their cold desserts.  The youngest child licks the melting treat off her hand, pausing only to look at her hand, absolutely befuddled by the strange phenomenon.  You turn to look over the various flavors.
        "Would you like to try any of the flavors today?"  The cheery employee smiles at you.  She has bright hazel eyes with mouse-brown hair pulled back in a tight bun hardly visible behind her green company visor sporting the logo and words "Coexist Creamery".
        "Um, sure.  Let me try Buddhism." You say almost at random.  Unlimited free samples, right?  The employee opens up the glass and reaches down with the tiny spoon and scoops a pea-sized portion of the soft cream.  She hands it to you, still smiling with rosy cheeks.  You lick the sample off the spoon, tasting what appears to be lemon sherbet with a hint of the Eastern fruit lychee.  Deciding that you ought to try out some more flavors, you ask for a sample of Islam.  Reaching down again, the girl hands you a tiny spoonful of deep crimson cream.  Rich and flavorful, it reminds you of plums and strawberries.  It is perhaps too rich, however, and all you want that day is something small to beat the heat.
        Noticing your indecision, the girl, trying to be helpful suggests, "Wicca seems to be increasing in popularity lately."
        "No thanks," You reply, looking at the black cream, "I don't much care for the taste of licorice.  See, I've usually just ordered Christianity, but that's been getting pretty bland lately.  I want to try something a little more exciting."
        She nods in agreement.  "Well, if you like, we have some of our more exotic religions over on your left.  If you're feeling adventurous, you could try Rastafari or Scientology."
        "I don't think I'm that adventurous," You say, laughing.  The employee no longer smiles, but now looks at you strangely, wondering what was so funny.
        "Well, if you don't want to stray too far, mixes are available."  She offered.
        "Mixes?"
        "Oh sure, people do it all the time.  It's a little more rare with flavors like Islam, but you mentioned you usually get Christianity and I see people do it all the time with that.  I know New Age tends to go pretty well with everything, but Buddhism and Hinduism are pretty similar so you could try it with those as well.  We're always adding new flavors too, so if you don't find something you like now you can always come back.  Soon, our new Mormonism flavor will come in.  It tastes like Christianity, only instead of vanilla fudge ripple, it's more like vanilla caramel ripple, if you want to try that."
        "You know what, I think I'm going to try a mix.  Let me do Christianity and Buddhism, please."
        "Sure thing!" Her smile was now more brilliant as ever as she took the two scoops out of the respective containers and smashed them between her two flat tools, creating a ball of streaks of vanilla, chocolate, and sherbet.  You pay and she hands you the bowl of religion cream and a spoon.  "Have a nice day!"
        You step out into the sun, already longing for the air conditioning of the shop as you stroll leisurely to your car.  Taking a bite out of your Christianity-Buddhism religion cream, you are pleasantly surprised at how well it tastes.  Sure, most of the pleasure may come from tasting vanilla and fudge and sherbet, and not the combination, but you are satisfied.  Perhaps this will become your regular order; at least until you decide to try something else.

Friday, April 22, 2011

CGtM: The Not-So-Wonderful Cross?

      Jews have the Star of David.  Muslims have the Crescent Moon and Star.  Taoists have Yin and Yang.  Christians have a Roman public execution tool.
      The Christian God incarnate, Jesus, was killed by crucifixion, and his future followers would use the instrument of his death as their symbol.  That's only a little morbid.  Perhaps this is why Mormons are so strongly opposed to it.  You can usually spot a Mormon Ward or Stake (aside from the bold letters "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints") because it will look similar to a Protestant Christian church minus any sign of the cross.  They reject the symbol of the cross on the basis of its very nature of being that which killed Christ.  "If Jesus was killed by a shotgun, would you wear it around your neck?"  I think it is important, especially on this Good Friday, to reflect upon what the cross means and why Christians adopt it as their symbol.
      First, let's look at why Mormons prefer not to have the cross as their symbol.  The cross, obviously, represents Jesus' death.  Mormons claim to celebrate his life, not his death.  Former President Hinckley stated, "And so, because our Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith. But what shall we use? No sign, no work of art, no representation of form is adequate to express the glory and the wonder of the Living Christ. He told us what that symbol should be when He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15)."  There are two important things we can draw from this: the inadequacy of the cross as a symbol of Christ, and that the apparent symbol of Mormons is "keeping the commandments".  It is on the second of these that I will focus.
      Jesus lived a life of perfection.  He overcame temptation, he performed amazing miracles, he was a great teacher, he was morally perfect.  He is the greatest role model a person can have.  It's no wonder why Mormons, who attain eternal life through works, would want to celebrate his life.  He is the model for future Mormons to become exalted beings, or gods.
      But that's not enough.
      Jesus didn't just live a good life.  He didn't preach the gospel then say "hope you get it this time!"  He was tortured and executed by his own people.  People who accused him of heresy, of claiming that he, Jesus, was God.  He died an innocent man, taking the punishment for, not his sins, but ours.  The burden he boar, the cross he carried was the punishment for the wrongs we have done.  We've heard "Jesus died for you" so often that perhaps it has lost its meaning.  Allow me to explain what it really means.  All humans, ALL of them (Romans 2:9-12, 3:23) have sinned against God, have willfully violated His laws, and because we sinned against the Everlasting, our just punishment is everlasting.  "For the wages of sin is death..." states Romans 6:23.  Christ died in our place.  He was punished so that we don't have to be punished.  That is what "Jesus died for you" means.  Are you glad Jesus died?  I am.
      But. That's. Not. Enough.
      Jesus didn't stay dead.  If he would have died, The End, that would mean nothing.  Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:14 says, "and if Christ be not risen, then our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."  For if death had truly overcome Jesus, then how could he be able to save us from death?  But he is risen ("He is risen indeed!" the congregation responds).  He showed his power over death.  Christ was raised from the dead and made appearances to many people over 40 days.  He is more than a role model; he is our one and only savior.  The fire-and-brimstone of the previous paragraph doesn't just stop with our condemnation.  Take Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death..."  If we stopped here we would have no hope in heaven.  We are all worthy of death and no matter what we do, we cannot overcome our sinfulness.  But the verse does not stop there.  It goes on, "...But the gift of God is Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  We have Eternal Life, living in the presence of God the Father forever, only through Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Savior, who died on the cross to take our punishments in our stead, and who resurrected, conquering death to save us from eternal damnation.
      So I ask you, in light of what I've written about what this weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is about, in light of what Christ did on the cross, in light of Jesus telling many people "take up your cross and follow me" (Matthew 10:38,16:24; Mark 8:34,10:28; Luke 9:23,14:27), and in light of the following verses in which the word "cross" is used: (1 Corinthians 1:17,18; Galatians 5:11,6:12,14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 2:8,3:18; Colossians 1:20,2:14; and Hebrews 12:2), how should we view the cross of Christ?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Christian Exclusivity (And Why It Doesn't Matter)

I was in my Islam class the other night, and my professor, heavily influenced by postmodern ideals of “tolerance”, multiculturalism, and even religious pluralism, was attempting to show that Islam promotes tolerance and pluralism.  Whether her defense of Islam was adequate or not, she was trying to defend a particular religion with the underlying assumption that religious pluralism is good.  This theory has pervaded society as people, generally secular, point fingers at religions, generally Christianity, and exclaim, “They think they have the only way to heaven!  How dare they be so arrogant!”  Religious exclusivity is seen as this evil created by religious institutions to claim superiority over the plebeians.  I’m not so sure that this is an inherent part of religious exclusivity.  After all, each religion makes truth claims about the ultimate nature of reality.  These truth claims are analogous to the type of claims we make all the time.  For instance, “Great Aunt Dorothy is wearing a blue blouse.”  This means that we are claiming that the blouse is exclusively blue, because it is blue, it is therefore not red or green or maroon.  Hindu’s claim, in truth, that all things are a manifestation of Brahman.  It necessarily follows that, if Hinduism is true, there is not a deity substantially separated from physical reality (as most monotheistic faiths claim).  Religiously exclusive?  Yes.  Wrong?  No.  “Exclusivity” is just a necessary byproduct of such a truth claim.
            Let’s critique religious pluralism a little more.  Religious pluralism essentially arose from the idea of multiculturalism; we should look at different cultures, without the assumption that our own is true, gleaning ideas from other kinds of peoples that we may want to incorporate into our own worldviews.  In theory, multiculturalism fosters an open outlook on the lives of humans across the world.  In practice, however, multiculturalism leads to cultural and moral relativism (which is a whole other can o’ worms).  When this concept is applied to religious study, I think it can offer a healthy way to examine religious traditions for their own sake.  Unfortunately, this also has lead to people to believe that all, or at least multiple, religions can be simultaneously true.
Any logician will tell you that two opposing claims cannot be simultaneously true.  This violates the Law of Non-contradiction, which is one of the foundations of logic.  Take the statements, “Man A is a bachelor” and “Man A is married”.  The qualifiers “bachelor” and “married” are opposing.  Therefore, according to the Law of Non-contradiction, Man A cannot be both a bachelor, and married.  A “married bachelor” is a logical impossibility.  I would argue that the same can be said for religions who have opposing claims.  They both cannot be right.  Either one is wrong, or both are wrong, but it can never be that both are right in making opposing truth claims.
Returning to the main point, Christians do claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven.  And if Christianity is true, then Jesus is the only way to heaven.  Likewise, if Islam is true, then Jesus is not a way to heaven, but rather submitting to God and His Law is the way to heaven.  Both truth claims cannot be simultaneously true.  One truth claim or the other can be true, or both truth claims are wrong.  Perhaps the atheist is right and there is no heaven.
A small aside on atheism.  Many atheists like to quip, “All people are atheists about every other god but theirs.  We just go one god further.”  This is a flawed way of looking at theism.  No theist is an “atheist” about any other gods.  By making the claim, “God is the transcendent, omniscient, incomprehensibly powerful divine being who inspired the Bible and sent Jesus Christ, who died and was resurrected, as the savior of the world,” the Christian is not making a denial statement about the Muslim God, or the gods of Classical Greece.  Instead, the Christian makes a positive claim that automatically and necessarily excludes the existence of any god that does not match such a description.
Returning to the original, original point, I don’t think religions should sacrifice their “exclusivity” to make themselves look better in the eyes of secular society.  Showing the truth and love of God ought to be enough.
So, now that I’ve explained Christian “exclusivity”, I think it’s appropriate to speak of Christian “inclusivity”, that is, the message that Paul espoused.  In Galatians, he claims to be the apostle of the Gentiles, which, in the original Greek, means “nations”, or everyone who is not a Jew.  Paul explained that Christ came to redeem everyone, not just a particular group of people.  Romans 10:9,13 states, “if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It’s verses like these that make me question those who point fingers at Christian “exclusivity”.  Because, as we know, the word “everyone” is the epitome of exclusive.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CGtM: Church of Whom?


As you well may know, the Mormon Church’s official name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Oftentimes, they will claim to be Christian, saying, “Look!  Jesus Christ is even in the name of our church!”  I have to object to this, not from a Mormon perspective (obviously each religious tradition believes that they have the attributes of the Divine, etc. correct), but rather from outside all religious traditions, from an outside perspective.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the church of Christ just as the God of Islam is the God of Abraham.  Now, what do I mean by this?  Islam claims to be the third step (much like Mormonism, actually) of the “Abrahamic faiths”, starting with Abraham and Judaism, continuing with Jesus and his followers (Christians), and finally completed with Islam through Mohammad.  Because of this, Muslims claim that the God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammad are the same God.  And from a Muslim perspective, that’s true.  However, it would be incorrect to say that, as religious traditions, Christians and Muslims believe in the same God.  For instance, the Christian God is triune, having three personages in one being (see my last post).  The Jesus of Christianity is also different than the Jesus of Islam.  The Jesus of Christianity claimed to be divine and resurrected three days after he died.  The Jesus of Islam, while a prophet of God, was not divine and was ascended into heaven (according to the Qur’an, he will return at the end of days).  Would it to be fair to say that both Christians and Muslims believe in the same Jesus? Of course not!  In the same way, the Jesus of Christianity (a.k.a. the Jesus of Christians) is not the same as the Jesus of Mormonism.

How about an illustration:  Person 1 has a Great Aunt Dorothy.  Person 1 says Great Aunt Dorothy has hazel eyes, white hair, is fairly tan, and is fairly shy.  Person 2 also has a Great Aunt Dorothy.  Person 2 says Great Aunt Dorothy has blue eyes, grey hair, has a fair complexion, and is quite outgoing.  So, does Person 1 have the same Great Aunt Dorothy as Person 2?  No, no they don’t.  They may share a name, but the different attributes of both of them mean they are different individuals.


According to the LDS Church News Week, in June of 1998, “President [of the LDS Church] Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints ‘do not believe in the traditional Christ.’ ‘No, I don’t.  The traditional Christ [the Christ of Christianity] of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak.  For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times.  He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820…”


So, if President Hinckley, said that Mormons believe in a different Christ than the rest of Christendom, why is it that his fellow Mormons are so reluctant to say that they are not Christian?  Notice that the Christ President Hinckley speaks of revealed himself to Joseph Smith, an attribute not given to Christ by ANY Christian denomination.


Why is this so important?  What does it matter that Mormons call themselves “Christian”?  It matters because, frankly, it’s misleading for Christians.  When Mormons go seeking new members, as on their missions, they claim to be Christian, and tell Christians to read the Book of Mormon, which doesn’t depart much from Christianity (as I showed in this post), except for the issue of salvation.  It is only once they become a full-fledged member of the LDS Church that they actually learn about other LDS doctrines not found in the Book of Mormon or Bible, such as there being multiple gods all made of “flesh and bone” (as I showed here).  The LDS Church denies that they keep any doctrinal information from new members, and I’m not saying that they hide anything.  It’s just that many times, LDS members are troubled when they learn certain facts about their religion that they might have wanted to know when they decided to become Mormon.  I’m also not saying that LDS members are lying to anyone joining their church.  It’s more of a misunderstanding, that I would say is analogous to Catholics who say they are not Christian (perhaps also worthy of a blog post).

Let’s get back to the real issue at hand: Christ.  So, as we’ve seen, the Christ of Christianity and Mormonism are different.  The Bible makes it clear that we ought to get Christ right.  This is essentially what doctrine is.  As a side note, or those Christians who say “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship”, my answer is “yes, but no”.  Yes, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is critical.  However, it’s just as critical to have a personal relationship with the correct Jesus Christ.  We know this through correct doctrine, which makes up the Christian religion.  But I digress.  2 Corinthians 11:3-4 states, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve though his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.”  So, it is vitally important that we know the correct Jesus, and not another Jesus (whether “traditional” Christian or Mormon).  In the coming posts, I will show more specifically the differences between the LDS Jesus and the Christian Jesus.  Which Jesus do you follow?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

CGtM: A Biblical Defense of the Trinity

            One of the most confusing central doctrines of Christianity is the Doctrine of the Trinity: the concept that there are three divine personages (The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in one entity (God).  As I mentioned earlier in my “Christian’s Guide to Mormonism”, Mormons reject the Trinity, because they reject that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one being.  Muslims also reject the trinity for two reasons: they deny the deity of Jesus and that God is more than one person.  Since both religions somewhat acknowledge the authority of the Bible (Mormons slightly more so than Muslims), this post is devoted to giving a Biblical look at the Trinity.

There are essentially three objectives (no direct connection to being triune intended) in defending the Trinity.  Everyone knows that the Father is the divine God.  Thus, our first two objectives are to show that the Son and the Holy Ghost are also divine personages in the Godhead.  The third objective is to show that the Trinity is comprehensible.  Or at least logically coherent.

First of all, let’s look at Christ.  Now getting into Jesus’ radical notion of being divine with Mormons gets really, really confusing, because it gets into the actual Hebrew words and…well I’ll do a post on that later.  So, I’ll give a couple verses in favor of showing that Jesus is God.  Isaiah 9:6 is familiar, especially around Christmas time: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and he shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (by the by, this is identical to the Book of Mormon’s 2 Nephi 19:6)  Matthew 1:23 states “Behold, a virgin will soon be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”  1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”  Along the same lines, there’s John 1:1, 14, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory and the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”  These verses clearly indicate that Jesus, the one made flesh who dwelt among us, is both with God and being God, simultaneously.

My favorite way to show that Jesus is God is to ask the question, “Was Jesus good?”.  The automatic response is, “Well of course, he never sinned.”  Well let’s see what Jesus himself said.  “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Here, in his typical style, Jesus avoids the question at first and says something a little odd.  “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? None is good save one, that is, God.”  So, the argument goes like this: only God is good, if Jesus is good, he must be God.

On to the Holy Ghost.  Acts 5:3-4, “…why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost…thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”  Here, the Holy Ghost is actually equated with God.  The Bible also describes the Holy Ghost as having the attributes of a deity such as omnipresence, Psalm 139:7-12, and omniscience, 1 Corinthians 2:10-11.  A little later in this post, I will show more evidence that the Holy Ghost is also God in a less direct manner.  Of course there’s slightly less overtly textual evidence to show that the Holy Ghost is a personage of God.  One would think that the Holy Spirit being the living breath of God among humans would be evidence enough of his place in the Godhead.

A kind of fun way to look at the Trinity is to ask a few questions that have some…interesting Biblical answers.  So, let’s look at some of these questions.

Whose Spirit indwells all believers; the Spirit of God the Father, Spirit of Christ the Son, or the Holy Ghost?  Well, Romans 8:9-13 states, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his…But if the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you…by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”  So here we have both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ dwelling in believers.  In 1 Corinthians 6:19, we see “…Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God…”  So, we see that all three Spirits are in believers.  But are there three separate Spirits?  1 Corinthians 12:13 says otherwise: “for by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”  So, all believers have the one Spirit of God (Father, Son, AND Holy Ghost).  The Romans verse “…Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead…” leads to our next question.

Who raised Jesus from the dead?  Well, Galatians 1:1 states, “Paul, and apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”  So the Father raised him.  Well, then what about John 2:19, 21, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I [referring to himself, Jesus] will raise it up…But he spake of his body.”  So Jesus the Son raised himself from the grave.  Confusing, unless of course the Father and the Son are the same being.

OK, so it’s still confusing.  I’ll try to make it a little more clear.

An illustration of the Triune can be shown with human nature, specifically the mind, since man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  The relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is analogous to the relationship between the mind, its ideas, and the expression of those ideas in words.

Many Mormons object to the Trinity on the grounds that it is incomprehensible.  However, being incomprehensible is kind of an attribute of the Almighty God (remember the “mystery of godliness”?).  It’s rather unhelpful for gaining an understanding of God, but it’s not entirely implausible that God would escape our powers of comprehension.  What we can ask is “is the Trinity contradictory?”.  The doctrine of the Trinity does not state that there are three essences in one essence, nor three natures in one nature.  Those would be contradictory.  Instead, Christians believe that God is three natures (persons) in one essence (being/entity).  Another way of putting it is this: there are three “Who’s” in one “What”.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the three “Who’s”, and God is the “What”.  Take a look at this diagram.
All three personages of the Trinity exist inseparably and simultaneously in one being, which is God.

I’ll end with an illustration that Pastor Jan at New Covenant Community Church (who's own blog can be found here) loves to use to better understand the Trinity.  As 1 John 4:16 tells us, “God is love”.  But love is triune in that it involves a lover, a beloved (the one being loved), and a spirit of love between them.  In the same way, the Father is the divine Lover, the Son the divine Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love.  Love must have all three of these existing inseparably and simultaneously.  Yet love is one: three in one, just as the one God is three distinct personages in one holy being.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thoughts on Christian Musicianship

There are essentially two settings in which Christian musicians participate: worship in the private church setting and worship in the public setting.  These, I believe, have different goals and different ways in which to perform one’s music.
                First: the public sector.  This includes radio, live performances (gigs, if you will), recordings, and really anywhere else that’s not leading worship for a church.  If you read my last post, I shared my disliking for the Contemporary Christian music scene, mostly with regards to its lyrics.  In addition, they also fail in their musicianship.  Look at the great bands of the past; Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Eagles, Van Halen.  These guys made incredible music for themselves or for whatever earthly motive they had.  Christian musicians make music for the all-powerful and almighty GOD.  They have no excuse but to make music beyond themselves.  Shoddy composition and poor skill is simply unacceptable.  I have the same problems with basically all popular music, Christian or not, but you won’t see me writing too much about the terrible hip-hop “musicians” these days because Christian musicians should be held to a higher standard.  You all have heard the story of Cain, Abel, and their offerings to God.  The Christian musician, as an act of worship, should give to the very best of his ability.  Christian music listeners: support musicians who use their God-given talents to the best of their abilities. To the musicians content with creating endless covers of “Shout to the Lord”, who think that knowing the A, G, and F Major progressions are “good enough”: I urge you to hone your craft and give the best that you can possibly give to the God of the universe.  I believe creating and playing music is a gift of God as well as one of the greatest ways to worship Him.  Become the best you can to glorify God because He is worthy of the greatest music.  Make that great music.
                OK, I’ll stop preaching and continue on with those who lead worship.  I don’t revoke anything I said in the last paragraph; however, I want to clarify. If you are in a setting in which your music leads a group of people in worship, do not perform such that it is distracting for those whom you are leading.  Your perfect guitar solo is awesome for your personal worship, but when people stop noticing God through you and just notice you, it becomes a problem.  I’ll steal a metaphor from my good friend and mentor Randy Parker.  In a church setting, the stage, the lights, the sound, and the music should be a mirror that points to God.  Even if what you the musician are doing is completely for God’s glory, you have to remember that the audience may see you instead of the reflection of God in you.  I’m not saying to hold back your skill as a musician.  I’m saying that the better Christian musician should know what is appropriate to play while leading congregational worship.
Now, on to the listeners.  I think it’s OK if the music you sing in your church services is different than the music you listen to on a daily basis.  Congregational worship is meant to lead the widest possible audience in musical worship.  I realize God did not give everyone equal musical skills.  So, I’m OK with church music being simple and lacking some musical prowess.  All I’m really saying is that it isn’t the case that this is the ONLY kind of worship music.  This post is largely a reaction to those who want to box up and keep their “Jesus music” in church, or having simplistic music and lyrics.  There are wonderful Christian musicians out there.  You just have to peek your head out of the “Contemporary Christian” genre to find them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why Contemporary Christian Music Bugs Me

            I don’t like Contemporary Christian music.  There, I said it.  As much as I agree the lyrical subject matter, I don’t think the musicians are very skilled, I don’t think the lyrics are particularly good, and I don’t enjoy the genre in which they play (but that’s more of a personal thing).  This doesn’t mean I don’t like Christian music, I’m just very picky about my Christian music.  Oh, and one more thing.
            “Christian” is a lyrical theme, NOT a genre.
            I don’t know how many times I’ve asked a person what genre of music they like and they say “Christian”.  Yeah, it bugs me more than it should, but it bugs me.  You like Christian what?  Christian Reggae?  Christian Rap?  Christian Death Metal?  Gregorian Chants?  All these constitute as “Christian music”, but I doubt that most people listen to any or all these genres.  Now, I know what they mean, but the majority of listeners of “Christian music” listen to what is referred to as “Contemporary Christian”.  Again, this is not really a genre, just like 80’s music isn’t a genre: it’s a time period.  Contemporary Christian includes bands like Matt Maher, Hillsong, and Chris Tomlin.  These are all fine and good, but if they were to fall into an actual genre it would be Soft Rock.  To find a Christian group outside this genre, one has to make an active search.  You’re not going to hear Trip Lee, an excellent Christian rapper, on the local Christian radio station.  The closest you’re going to find is TobyMac (who, let’s be honest, is a forty-year old white guy attempting to do hip hop-ish music that appeals to the Contemporary crowd).  However, most people are content with leaving Christian music to the soft rockers.  They’ll listen to secular bands in the particular genre they like, but keep “Christian” music in their little box of “Contemporary Christian” music.  I refuse.
            There seems to be a misunderstanding that for music to be “Christian”, the lyrics have to explicitly talk about Christ, or even just have generally blunt lyrics.  Subject matter aside, I find the same problem with Cont. Christian lyrics as I do popular hip hop/rap lyrics.  “I don’t want to think, so just give it to me straight.”  That bugs me.  Christian bands do for Jesus what Snoop Dogg does for sex.  Look at Relient K.  This is a great Christian band that also has good lyrics!  Their song “Be My Escape” shot up on the (secular) charts when it first came out.  Christians and non-Christians alike loved it.  Guess what it was about?  Crying to Jesus for help.  And the word “Jesus” was completely absent.  Where Third Day said, “He'll meet you wherever you are, cry out to Jesus”, Relient K said, “I’m stuck inside this rut that I fell into by mistake.  I gotta get out of here, and I’m begging You to be my escape”.  Blunt; not so blunt; said the same thing.  In my opinion, Relient K’s lyrics are of a better quality.  In the same way, in my opinion, a physical description of Mr. Darcy by Jane Austin is of a higher quality than a physical description of Edward Cullen by Stephanie Meyer.  Actively listening to lyrics is a practice that, unfortunately, has been somewhat abandoned.
            My favorite Christian band is Project 86, mostly because the lead singer, Andrew Schwab, writes some amazing lyrics filled with Christian themes of turning away from the world, the power of God, the struggles of sin, running the good race, and more.  None of these are explicitly stated, but there are times when I’ll be listening to a song I’ve heard a million times and suddenly think, “Oh, that’s what they mean!”  Such revelations make the songs that much more satisfying to listen to.  However, when most people hear them, they’ll say “Oh, they don’t sound Christian.  They sound so angry.”  Does Christian music have to sound like you’re caressing a lamb?  Can’t it sound like putting on the armor of God, raising your sword against the powers of darkness, or voicing your struggles to He who can help?
            Here’s something that’ll bake your noodle: is there such a thing as instrumental Christian music?  No lyrics with which to praise God!  Somehow, I don’t think He minds.  Psalm 150 reads “Praise Him with trumpet blast; praise Him with harp and lyre.  Praise Him with the tambourine and dance; praise Him with flute and strings.  Praise Him with resounding cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals.  Let everything that breathes [the metal-heads, the Rastafarians, the techno dancers, the soul men, the blues brothers, the rappers, the jazz artists, the gospel choirs, the soft rockers, and everyone in between] praise the Lord.  Halleluiah!”
I guess my point here is to tell Christians to branch out.  If you like the softer sound of Contemporary Christian, that’s fine.  And I don’t want you to respond “Contemporary Christian Soft Rock” if I ask what genre of music you like.  However, don’t restrict Christian music to this.  If you like other genres, search for bands within those genres with Christian lyrical themes.  So go ahead, pop in that Demon Hunter album and headbang for Jesus.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CGtM: The God Father Part 2

Before I begin this post, I feel I have to make a disclaimer to all members of the LDS church who might be reading my blog.  I do not write in a spirit of contention or mockery.  I realize that speaking about the fundamentals of your religion is walking a very fine line.  I only wish to spread the truth of the Gospel of Christ.  My beliefs and the beliefs of Biblical Christianity are different than the beliefs of the LDS church, and I only ask that you read with an open mind, or at the very least, without the spirit of contention yourselves.  Please feel free to comment and discuss with me.
In Part 1 of “CGtM: The God Father”, I explained the core differences between the God/s of Mormonism and the God of Christianity.  In this post, I’m going to go a little more in depth into Mormon scripture and the doctrine of God the Father.
                If you go back to Part 1, you’ll see that I did not use a single verse from the Book of Mormon to support the current Mormon doctrine of God the Father.  This is because there is no such verse.  Concerning a plurality of Gods, the Book of Mormon has this to say: Alma 11:26-29, “And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou sayest there is a true and living God? And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God?  And he answered, No.”  If you were to ask a Mormon Amulek’s question of “Is there more than one God?” he or she will probably respond with something similar to, “Yes, but we only worship one God.”  However, the Book of Mormon explicitly states, not that there is only one God we worship, but that there is no more than one true and living God.  Plus, if Mormons only worship one God, do they worship God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Ghost?  Aren’t they all Gods over the earth?
Other verses simultaneously support a singular God as well as a three-in-one God.  As I have said, Mormons reject the idea of a triune God.  However, the Book of Mormon states:  2 Nephi 32:21, “…behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.”,  Alma 11:38-39, “Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”,  Mosiah 15:1-4, “And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son…And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.”  (See also: 2 Nephi 19:6, 26:12; 3 Nephi 11:27; Mormon 7:7)
The typical Mormon response to these verses is, “Well we believe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are united in one purpose, but are not actually one being.”  To which I ask the question, “But where in the Book of Mormon does it say this?”  I have listed several verses which explicitly state that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are indeed one God, not separate Gods “united in one purpose”. 
The Book of Mormon also claims that God is a spirit and thus not made of material flesh and bone as the Doctrine and Covenants and contemporary LDS teachings might say: Alma 18:26-28, “And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit? And he said, Yea. And Ammon said: This is God.”, Alma 22:9-10, “And the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem? And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in the heaven and in earth.”  Plus, Mormon 9:8-10 states, “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.”  So if, according to the Book of Mormon, God cannot change (ie. from a man to godhood), how was God the Father’s exaltation possible?
Remember D&C 130’s charge that “the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion and is false,”?  Compare with the Book of Mormon’s Alma 34:36, “…the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell…”
As you can see, the vast majority of this post has been verses from the Book of Mormon.  Compare to the verses I gave from the Doctrine and Covenants in Part 1 and Mormon LDS doctrine.  Mormon doctrine has actually changed since the publication of the Book of Mormon, even in the life of Joseph Smith, since he wrote the Doctrine and Covenants.  Of course, the Doctrine and Covenants has something to say about the changing of revealed scripture: D&C 56:4-5, “Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord. Wherefore, I revoke the commandment which was given unto my servants Thomas B. Marsh and Ezra Thayre, and give a new commandment…”  According to this verse, God’s word can change with newer revelation, as LDS doctrine states today.  Compare with the Book of Mormon, in Alma 41:8, “Now, the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared what whosoever will may walk therein and be saved.”  If the decrees (commands) of God are unalterable in the Book of Mormon (the keystone of the religion), how is it that God can revoke (alter), His commands?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Note on Mormon Scripture

The introduction to the Book of Mormon states, “The Book of Mormon…contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel…the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  (see also D&C 20:9; 42:12)  If the Book of Mormon is the “most correct of any book on earth”, and the combination of it and the Bible contain the “fullness of the everlasting gospel”, doesn’t this mean that the precepts taught in the Book of Mormon and Bible ought to take precedence over those in later revealed scripture (ie. Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price)?  I challenge anyone to find any verse in the Book of Mormon or Bible that supports the following doctrines: Exaltation, pre-existence of spirits, baptism for the dead, more than one true and living god, temple endowments, temple works, temple baptisms, temple marriages, marriage for time and eternity, eternal families, eternal progression, any of the Three Degrees of Glory (three levels of heaven), and latter day scripture and prophecies outside of the Bible and Book of Mormon are needed.
Of the four books of LDS scripture, the Bible has the least amount of authority.  Mormons will often say that they believe the Bible “so long as it is translated correctly.”  Mormons believe that the Bible has been copied over so many times that the modern translations are no longer accurate.  The LDS Church only accepts the Authorized King James Version of the Bible.  This is the version I use for this blog and is mandatory for anyone seeking to witness to a Mormon.   I generally don’t use Bible verses to show conflict between Mormon scripture and Christian scripture, because the Bible is subordinate to the other scriptures to Mormons.  However, it is extremely important that when Christians witness to Mormons, they show Biblical evidence for Biblical Christian beliefs.  Our goal as ministers to the LDS church is not to be contentious and show what is wrong with Mormonism.  Our goal is ultimately to show the truth of the Bible and the free gift of eternal life that is only offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 14, 2011

More Than a Feeling: A Look at True Love

When we say “I love you” to our significant other, we don’t mean the same thing as saying “I love you” to the buddy who brought chips and dip to the Super Bowl party, or “I love vanilla ice cream”, or certainly not “I love my Great Aunt Dorothy”.  So what’s so different about the love that married couples share, or ought to share?  For the answer (or at least part of the answer; I’m not sure anyone honestly knows everything about this crazy little thing called love), we turn to the ancient Greeks.

In the Greek language, there is not one word for “love”, but three.  All three are concerned with different aspects of what “True Love” really is.  The first word is “φιλία (philia)”.  This love is the love of friendship.  “Philia” is the kind of love that you feel towards basketball, or painting your nails, or your friends with whom you engage in such activities.  You love someone in this way because you enjoy their company on a day-to day basis, but don’t necessarily have any romantic feelings towards them.

The second is “ἔρως (eros)”.  This is sensual love, from which we get the word “erotic”.  It is sometimes translated as “desire”.  It is what we feel when we see that “certain someone” walk across the room.  This desire is not necessarily sexual, it can be a deep desire to pursue a certain study, but it is usually manifested in sexual desire.  The best way I can really describe what people usually feel when they feel “eros” is the “butterflies in your stomach”.  A more academic term for “eros” is “infatuation”.  Unfortunately, from what I’ve observed, the majority of relationships are built upon this kind of love (ie. “love at first sight”).  However, the majority of those relationships crash and burn.  Do the statements, “I loved him then but I’m not so sure now,” or “I just don’t have feelings for her anymore,” sound familiar to anyone?  That’s because the word “love” in those sentences is actually “eros”.  Can the other two types of love grow from “eros”?  Sure, but if eros love is the ultimate bedrock of a serious relationship, I can guarantee it won’t last.

Lastly, we come to “ἀγάπη (agape)”.  This is essentially “unconditional love”, or love for the sake of another.  It is the love a mother has for her child: a deep love usually entails sacrifice for another person for their sake.  The word is used in the Bible as Christ’s love towards humanity and, especially in 1 Corinthians 13, is oftentimes translated as “charity”.  This is a much deeper love than the previous two, and a lot more mysterious.  How does one know if they love someone in the “agape” meaning of the word?  Bruno Mars might have written a song describing how much he would sacrifice for a girl, but would he really catch a grenade for her?  Agape love is not defined by what someone would do for someone else, but what someone does do for someone else.  The best example I can give of agape love is from John 3:16, “For God so loved (agape) the world, He gave his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

In our quest to find out “True Love”, we have come across three different definitions for “love”.  However, each of these definitions seems to be lacking the others when it comes to the greater term of “True Love”.  Even two of these aspects could not constitute “True Love”.  If one has “phila” and “eros”, which is what most modern relationships are made of, then one doesn’t have the commitment to go the distance and will fail.  If one has “eros” and “agape”, then the relationship is probably obsessive and one-sided, like having a stalker.  If one has “philia” and “agape”, then the relationship is platonic and devoid of any intimacy which is so important to being in say a marital relationship.  No, the healthiest relationships have all three aspects of “love”.  The two individuals are friends, loyal to each other and enjoy the other person as that person.  They have a correctly directed intimacy, protecting their partner’s deepest secrets while trusting the partner with theirs’.  And of course they have the deep, indescribable connection, willing do anything for their significant other, if only because their other is truly significant.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

CGtM: The God Father Part 1

When it comes to discussion about religion, there really isn't any question more fundamental than “Who/what is God?”  Hindus, for example, believe that God (Brahman) is essentially the limitless consciousness forming the basis of Reality itself, and that the “self” is like a wave in the ocean; appearing for a brief moment but is soon absorbed into the greater ocean of Brahman.  Now, as you can see, the Hindu God is very different from the Christian God.  I aim to show that the Mormon God (or gods, as it were) is just as different from the Christian God as Brahman.

The Mormons believe Father God is the “Eternal God of all other gods before this world was…” (D&C 121:32).  According to the LDS website (lds.org), “God is the Supreme and Absolute Being in whom we believe and whom we worship. He is all-powerful and all-knowing, and He is full of love, mercy, charity, and compassion.”  That said, the Mormon God is not transcendent, he exists within the confines of time and space.  As stated before, God the Father is “as tangible” (ie. physical, can be seen, touched, etc.) as a man’s body.  D&C 130:3 also states that “the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion and is false.”  This implies that the Father and the Son can’t live in a man’s heart because they are as real as your Great Aunt Dorothy.   And it’s silly to believe that Great Aunt Dorothy lives in your heart.

According to LDS Scripture, God the Father was once a man.  D&C 130:22 tells us, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”   He then progressed to godhood as described in the Mormon doctrine of Exaltation: that a man may be exalted to godhood if he or she is baptized, married in a Temple, and keeps the commandments (D&C 132:20, “Then shall they be gods…”).  What this means is that there are indeed many gods in Mormonism, although Mormons claim they only worship “God the Father” of the Bible.  If one looks through the book of Abraham in Pearl of Great Price, one will find many usages of the word “Gods” in plural, especially taking part in the Creation.  See also D&C 76:58, 121:28, 132:17-20,37.

The God of Christianity is vastly different from the God of the Latter Day Saints.  First of all, there is only one God in existence.  Isaiah 43:10, “before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”, 44:6,8, “Thus saith the LORD of the King of Israel…I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God…Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any.”, 46:9. “I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me.”

Secondly, Christians believe God is transcendent.  He is beyond time and space, having created all of time and space.  The Bible supports this claim: 2 Peter 3:8, “…one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”, Psalm 41:13, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting.”, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God...”.  Also, in Biblical Christianity, God has never been, is not, and will never be human.  Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man…”, 1 Samuel 15:29, “And also the Glory of Israel [God] will not lie or have regret, for He is not a man.”, Psalm 8:4, “What is man that You are mindful of him…”, Hosea 11:9, “for I am God, and not man; the Holy one in the midst of thee.”, Malachi 3:6, “I am the LORD, I change not” (ie. from man to godhood).  Also, John 4:24 explicitly states, “God is a spirit…”, and Luke 24:39 supports this by defining “a spirit” as a being who “hath not flesh and bones…”.

Christians also believe in the doctrine of the Trinity: that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three personages in one entity (being).  Mormons, on the other hand, believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate entities (beings).  There’s a lot to unpack in the Trinity, so I’ll leave that for a later post.

And who believes the “old sectarian notion”?  That’s right, Biblical Christians: Ephesians 3:16, “…Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in Him.”

As I have shown through both religions’ scriptures, Mormonism and Christianity have vastly difference concepts of God the Father.  It’s important to note that like the God of Christianity and Brahman, the God of Christianity and the God of Mormonism cannot coexist.  In Part 2, I will explore some of the logical implications of both religions’ models for God the Father.

Note: I encourage everyone reading my blog to look up any scripture I cite.  As Levar Burton, host of the popular 90's children's show Reading Rainbow, used to say: "But don't take MY word for it."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Christian's Guide to Mormonism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the fastest growing faiths on the planet. According to the LDS website, there are 13,824,854 Mormons around the world as of 2009. They are the fourth largest religious group in America. Even with their reach extending across every continent, people still have many misconceptions about what exactly Mormons believe. Are they Christian? Who was Joseph Smith? What should we say when they come a-knockin'? The majority of Christians, not to mention people of other faiths, simply don't know anything about Mormon history and doctrinal teachings. My purpose in writing this blog series is to explain Mormon theology from a Christian's perspective in a manner that is both truthful and non-offensive, and then show the logical implications. I do not intend to "bash" Mormons or make fun of the LDS religion in any way. That said, there are a number of things I need to put forward before I begin, so that there is no confusion on my full position.
1. I believe Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God.
2. I believe that the Bible is the only source of Scripture, and the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are not divinely inspired.
3. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord God, a person of the Trinity, who died on the cross as a sacrifice for ALL my sins, past, present, and future, and that he rose from the dead, fulfilling the prophesies and proving himself to be the Lord.

During these posts, I will refer to a number of resources. Though I will be speaking from a Christian’s perspective, I will be using all LDS materials, such as the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price (all with the Church of LDS seal of approval), as well as President Spencer Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness. I encourage all of my readers to look up any verses or passages I cite for themselves.

OK, first things first: are Mormons Christian? The simple answer is “no”. Whenever I enter into a discussion about Mormonism, both Christians and Mormons alike look puzzled when I give this answer. “But aren’t Christians just ‘followers of Christ’? Look! The LDS church even has Jesus Christ in the name!” To which I reply, “Yes, but they follow a different Jesus Christ.” It’s not that there are two Jesus’ of Nazareth, but rather that Jesus is ultimately the core of both religions, and both attribute different qualities to Jesus. Similarly, the God of the Qur'an and the God of the Bible are different gods, yet don't simultaneously exist. In fact, Christianity and Mormonism differ on every major doctrine. For example, Mormons disagree with the Christian doctrines of God, Jesus, Salvation, and the Trinity. Also, Christians do not adhere to (much less hear of) the LDS doctrines of Exaltation, Pre-Existence of Spirits, Baptism for the Dead, Temple Endowments, Marriage for Time and Eternity, and Eternal Progression, just to name a few. Now they’re sounding more separate belief systems, aren’t they? As you can see, the doctrinal difference between Christianity and Mormonism is literally an eternity.

Speaking with a Mormon about certain doctrines can get complicated extremely easily. This is because of a language barrier that many people (Mormons and Christians alike) are unaware of. What I mean is this: Christian and Mormon terminology have different definitions for the same words. For instance, the first Mormon Article of Faith states, "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." However, when a Mormon says this, it means something completely different than when a Christian says the exact same words. When a Christian says the previous statement, he or she is talking about the Doctrine of the Trinity: three persons who exist as a single entity, a single deity. A Mormon, on the other hand, would say that the three are separate entities and separate deities "united in a single purpose". See how significant that difference is? Some other terms that share this difference in definition include Godhead, Jesus Christ, The Fall, The Virgin Birth, Sin, Forgiveness, Salvation by Grace, Redemption, Gospel, True Church, Authority/Priesthood, Baptism, Sons of God, Eternal Life, Immortality, Hell, Heaven, Kingdom of God...I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

I’ll explain the previous differences further in subsequent posts, however, for now, I will explain the essential difference between the two religions in two verses. In the Bible, Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” In the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:23 states, “…We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Notice the not-so-subtle difference. Both say, “by grace that we are saved,” but what kind of grace is it? For Christians, it is “through faith…not of works” (ie. what we do). For Mormons, it is “after all we can do” (ie. works).

In the coming posts, I will attempt to give a nearly-comprehensive guide to many of the most important differences between Mormonism and Christianity. I hope that I have sufficiently shown in this introductory post that both religions are different and that a closer look into these dissimilarities is warranted.

Other "Christian's Guide to Mormonism" posts: