Thursday, April 19, 2007

Beware the Mormon Jesus!

I stumbled across this humorous video on IFILM - it's an animated exposé, made by Christians in the 1970s, deriding the false theology (is that redundant?) of Mormonism:

What Mormon Theology is Really All About

I never saw this film in my youth, but I may as well have. In my protestant (Assemblies of God) church, we were taught that Mormonism is a cult. My aunt is a Mormon (I'm told she was converted after an attractive Elder proselytized to her), and she raised her children in the LDS Church. I remember talking to my cousin, when we were about 9, and found that he didn't even know who Adam and Eve were. I figured that Mormon churches had a tactic of hiding the crazy stuff until the children were older and already self-identified as Mormons. I pitied my cousin's brainwashing, and tried to warn him about spirit babies, the new worlds that Mormon couples would inherit in the after life, Jesus going to the American continent, and the multiple levels of heaven and hell. I see that didn't have much effect: years later he was overseas performing the requisite missionary training.

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, has within the last year abandoned the Mormon belief of his upbringing. He still remains active in the church and has not informed his family, or other members of the church, of his apostasy. I have been disabused of the notion that young Mormons don't learn their theology, as he is very knowledgeable of Mormon belief and practice and is now my answer man for questions about Mormonism. I guess my cousin just wasn't paying close enough attention in Sunday School.

Updated Update! If you've seen the video (it's a clip from the film "The God Makers" (Thanks, A.C.)), please read the comment posted on this blog by An Anonymous Coward to get the full story of how well (and poorly) it represents Mormon theology.

7 comments:

An Anonymous Coward said...

My comments on the video, posted here at Ross's request:

That video snippet is from a production called The Godmakers, which was made by fundamentalist Christians and intended for other fundamentalist Christians, to show them what's wrong with Mormonism. It's not really a reliable source of information, to put it mildly; while there are some things in the video that do accurately represent LDS theology, there's also an awful lot of distortion and misinformation, too. Specifically:

ACCURATE:

The history of "Elohim"--God the Father--having once been mortal and then proved himself worthy and been elevated to godhood is pretty much correct according to LDS doctrine, though it's certainly not something that's given a lot of emphasis in LDS teaching.

The "star named Kolob" is another thing that doesn't get a lot of
emphasis in modern LDS teaching, but is indeed part of the doctrine. (Mention of it survives in one of the hymns in the official LDS hymnbook: "If you could hie to Kolob".)

The whole bit about the "heavenly council meeting" is also basically
accurate according to LDS theology. The only detail that might be in disagreement is the mention of a "vote"; I'm pretty sure doctrinally the deciding factor as to whose plan was followed was which one Elohim agreed to, not which one most spirits voted for. But anyway, yes, the whole thing about Lucifer wanting to force obedience and one third of the spirits following him, etc., is part of LDS doctrine.

"According to the Book of Mormon, after his resurrection, Jesus came to the Americas to preach to the Indians who the Mormons believe are really Israelites. Thus, the Jesus of Mormonism established his church in the Americas as he had in Palestine. By the year 421 A.D., the dark-skinned Israelites, known as the Lamanites, had destroyed all of the white-skinned Nephites in a number of great battles. The Nephites' records were supposedly written on golden plates buried in the Hill Cumorah by Moroni, the last living Nephite." This is a basically accurate (though very abbreviated and incomplete) summary of the Book of Mormon.

"1400 years later, a young treasure seeker named Joseph Smith, who was known for his tall tales, claimed to have uncovered the same gold plates near his home in upstate New York. He is now honored by Mormons as a prophet because he claimed to have had visions from the spirit world in which he was commanded to organize the Mormon Church because all Christian creeds were an abomination. It was Joseph Smith who originated most of these peculiar doctrines which millions today believe to be true." Faithful Mormons would, of course, disagree with the description
of Joseph Smith as a "treasure seeker" or "known for his tall tales", but other than that this is all consistent with LDS teaching. (Well, one could quibble with the mention of the "spirit world", since Moroni, the angel who supposedly appeared to him, was supposed to be a resurrected being and thus possessing a body and in a sense not from the spirit world, but that's just a detail of the wording.)

"By maintaining a rigid code of financial and moral requirements, and through performing secret temple rituals for themselves and the dead, the Latter-day Saints hope to prove their worthiness and thus become gods." Some of the wording here is slightly misleading, but not really importantly so; this is essentially correct.

INACCURATE:

"Mormonism teaches that trillions of planets throughout the cosmos are ruled by countless gods who once were human like us." While Mormon doctrine does hold that others have lived and become gods, it doesn't specify that each god is assigned his own planet, or anything like that. In fact, there are some problems with this, in light of the Creation account. Then again, assuming that each god gets his own entire universe (another possible interpretation) raises other problems, such as the question of whether Christ's sacrifice on Earth sufficed for the inhabitants of all planets in the universe--unless the Earth is the only inhabited planet in the universe, which is maybe the easiest interpretation to reconcile with LDS doctrine, but still might leave one to wonder why it might have been necessary to create so much uninhabited space. In any case, the church has never really officially addressed this issue in detail, and while this line is one possible interpretation of some church doctrines, it's not the only one.

"...he lives with his many wives..." While one could certainly argue that given the church's history of polygamy it would seem likely that God the Father would practice polygamy, there's never been any explicit statement to this effect, and there are quite a few implications to the contrary; whenever God's wife is mentioned (which is rare), it's always in the singular. There is occasional (though very infrequent) mention of a "Heavenly Mother", but never of "Heavenly Mothers".

"Here the god of Mormonism and his wives, through endless Celestial sex, produced billions of spirit children." Besides, again, the fact that Mormonism doesn't teach that God the Father has multiple wives, it's silent on the subject of just how spirit children are produced, and whether it involves anything similar to earthly sex. (Though, to be fair, given the LDS emphasis on the physical similarity between God and man, this is actually a reasonable inference, even if it's not something
that's ever been addressed explicitly.)

"Those who remained neutral in the battle were cursed to be born with black skin. This is the Mormon explanation for the negro race." I'm honestly not sure whether this may have been given officially as an explanation for the black race at some point many years ago; the church has done a pretty good job of whitewashing some of the more objectionable elements of its past. But it certainly is not now, and has not been for some time. (Whatever the explanations that were given at the time, though, it's true that blacks were denied the priesthood until relatively recently, and there certainly are some things in the Book of Mormon that have a strong undercurrent of racism: the phrase "white and delightsome people" is an accurate quote from the Book of Mormon, though in more recent years "white" has been changed to "pure", presumably to try to mitigate the offensiveness.)

"The spirits that fought most valiantly against Lucifer would be born into Mormon families on planet earth." There is no current official LDS doctrine stating that those born into Mormon families were any more valiant in the preexistence than those who aren't--in fact, there have been explicit statements to the contrary. Again, however, I can't vouch that something like this may not have been said by a church official at some point in the past.

"Early Mormon prophets taught that Elohim and one of his goddess wives came to the earth as Adam and Eve to start the human race." What this is no doubt referring to is a famous very controversial talk by Brigham Young. However, this talk is nowadays generally thought of as his expression of his opinion, not as doctrine--and in any case, it doesn't really make any sense, given the interaction between Adam and God in the creation account--okay, not, granted, that the creation account makes a lot of sense anyway. Regardless, while some apostles did follow Brigham Young on this, no subsequent presidents of the church did, so it's still misleading to say that "early Mormon prophets", plural, taught this. (Even if one quibbles that apostles are considered in the church to be "prophets, seers, and revelators", it's only Brigham Young who actually taught this idea, even if some of the apostles believed his teachings.)

"Thousands of years later, Elohim in human form once again journeyed to earth from the star base Kolob, this time to have physical relations with the Virgin Mary in order to provide Jesus with a physical body." The LDS church certainly doesn't teach that God the Father had physical relations with the Virgin Mary in human form. The doctrine is vague on just how Jesus Christ's mortal body was conceived, but I think the general assumption is that it was done in some supernatural way that didn't involve God having physical sex with the Virgin Mary.

"The Mormons teach that everyone must stand at the final judgment before Joseph Smith, the Mormon Jesus, and Elohim." Joseph Smith is honored in the LDS church as a great prophet, but not worshipped as a god, and LDS doctrine certainly doesn't say we're going to face him at the final judgment.

"Those Mormons who are sealed in the eternal marriage ceremony in LDS temples expect to become polygamous gods or their goddess wives in the Celestial Kingdom, rule over other planets and spawn new families throughout eternity." Mostly accurate, except for the world "polygamous"--LDS doctrine doesn't state that polygamy will be the standard in the Celestial Kingdom. Again, given some aspects of church history, it may seem reasonable to assume this to be the case, but it's certainly false that most modern Mormons expect to become polygamous gods. Gods, yes, but I'm pretty sure most modern Mormons don't expect eternal polygamy.

"The Mormons thank God for Joseph Smith, who claimed that he had done more for us than any other man, including Jesus Christ. The Mormons claim that he died as a martyr, shed his blood for us, so that we, too, may become Gods." Again, Joseph Smith is honored in the church, but certainly not placed above Christ. While he's said to have died as a martyr, it's not that that makes it possible for men to become Gods; the Atonement is still the doing of Christ, not of Joseph Smith. John Taylor, who was with Joseph Smith when he was killed and who later became the president of the church himself, said the following: "Joseph
Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it." Note the "save Jesus only"--again, Joseph Smith is greatly honored in the LDS church (rather unfortunately, in light of some of what I've read about him recently), but he's not deified like Christ.


Anyway, that may be going into more detail than you wanted, but that's basically my analysis of the video. Like I said, some parts are accurate depictions of Mormon theology, but there's a lot of distortion and misinformation. (Which I guess shouldn't be too surprising, given that, like I said, the video was produced by and for fundamentalist Christians, who aren't really known for their fondness for facts either.) If you really want to see some more accurate discussions of Mormonism from a more skeptical view, there are some sites I've found:
http://www.lds-mormon.com/ and http://www.exmormon.org/. I've found a lot of information about the church on those sites that I wasn't previously aware of (like I mentioned above, the church has done a pretty good job of whitewashing some of the more questionable elements
of its past, and for that matter even of its present), though the sites may be more interesting to someone who's already familiar with Mormonism than to those who are just curious about some of the more esoteric elements of Mormon doctrine. (However, you may find this page, describing in detail the Mormon temple ceremonies and related matters, to be of interest.)

An Anonymous Coward said...

One minor correction to your update: The video itself isn't called The Godmakers; it's a brief excerpt from a much longer production called The Godmakers (based on a book of the same title). (Whoops--actually, it's The God Makers, two words. Okay, that one's my mistake.) The full film is (according to some quick Googling) 56 minutes long, though I've certainly never seen the whole thing. Presumably the animation is just the most amusing bit. ;)

Anonymous said...

People should leave the Mormon Church because it is a cult!

FrenchExpat said...

An Anonymous Coward wrote: "...he lives with his many wives..." there's never been any explicit statement to this effect".

What about Apostle Orson Pratt: "We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity, by whom he begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His first Born, and another being upon the Earth by whom he begat the tabernacle of Jesus [...] We have also proved most clearly that the Son followed the example of the Father, and became the great Bridegroom to whom kings' daughters and many honorable wives were to be married. [...] God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ inherit their wives in eternity" (The Seer, official LDS publication, p. 172)

FrenchExpat said...

History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 408, 409: Joseph Smith: "I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet..."

Michael Fisher said...

I am a 'Mormon' of 44 years and I don't consider myself 'brainwashed'. If I want to know something about Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or indeed any one or thing about the LDS church I ask someone at church and/or read the history of the church; I also read all I can from all sources then pray to know if what I have read is true, this includes anything spoken or written by church leaders past and present. Brigham Young cautioned members of the church in his day not to accept anything he, or any leader in the church, said on blind faith but to go to God in prayer find out for themselves if such things are true.

Ross said...

As you may see in the context of the narrative, I felt my cousin to be brainwashed because he was uncritical of the stories and unaware of their origins. I didn't find out until many years that I was "brainwashed" as well. Brainwashing here is only used in the most loose definition of being taught something incorrect from an early age - I don't mean to suggest that me or my cousin were being subjected to deprivation.

I'm glad you don't feel the need to accept anything you read, though I will caution that praying to the Heavenly Father to confirm beliefs does not constitute a form of proof. The answers you receive are very likely coming from within you and not some external source.