Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is Mormonism Christian, continued?

I continue to think that Mormons are to Christians as Christians are to Jews. It's a good shorthand.

But there was another group in Western history which lay claim to the title of Christians, a group which also departed crucially from the historic shape of Christian orthodoxy: the medieval Cathars.

Cathars making a convert away from the Catholic Franciscan friars.

And they, I would argue, were no more Christian than the Mormons, although, like the Mormons, they lay a passionate claim to the title and suffered gruesomely for it. My reflections on these matters are about doctrinal content, not about their personal morality or their undoubted sincerity and courage.

There are fascinating similarities between the two groups as well as deep differences. The Cathars (Greek for "pure ones"), or Albigensians (from their central stronghold, the southern French town of Albi) also denied the Trinity*, judged the historical Christian Church to be irredeemably corrupt, had a separate sacramental system and priesthood, a restricted canon as well as supplementary scriptures. They also rejected veneration of the cross. Cosmic dualists, they viewed Jesus as a pure created spirit sent in the guise of human flesh by the Good Father God, who was at war with the co-eternal Evil Satanic God who had created the world of matter and imprisoned their souls in bodies on the earth.

[The best book on the subject is Yuri Stoyanov's (2000) The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy.

Incidentally, it was confrontation with this group which sparked St. Dominic to found his community of preachers. His first foundation was a monastery of nuns, all women whom he had converted from Catharism to Catholicism.]

What really separates Cathars from Mormons is religious dualism, a tradition shared by Zoroastrians, Gnostics, and Manicheans. While perfect Cathars dualists abstained from marriage (and considered escape from this world through starvation --the endura--the ultimate religious achievement), it is precisely through marriage for eternity and childbearing that the very non-dualist, practical and world-affirming Mormons achieve perfection.

Although their motives for rejecting orthodoxy are very different, the somewhat similar forms of distance from it that both Mormons and Cathars assert makes it impossible to include them within the Christian religion. To do so would empty the category of little meaning beyond "expressed religious veneration of Jesus Christ, regardless of doctrinal content."

That's hard to sell to a Five.

*The Mormons accept a trinity, but Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit are three separate gods united only in a harmony of purpose. Hence, they are polytheists, not Trinitarians.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps Mormons are dualists but don't mention dualism. ... Max Weber indicates that Joseph Smith only pretended to have a charisma (Economy and Society, 242, 1112), sc I guess that he didn't manifest or docetize into world via flesh that the point was spirituality or spiriting out of the world. In contrast to the Cathari who manifest dualism, and to Christians who manifest a pretense to condemn dualism, LDS don't even sin or are Amalekites.

Accordingly, Mormons cannot be saved via forgiveness of sins, however much they may fail the formal requirements of LDS religion and regret these failures. Sin is not moral failure (Heidegger, What is Call'd Thinking? p. 105)

If Christians are to Mormons as Jews are to Christians, it is Christians' duty to be "reprobate" vs LDS doctrine.

Yours in expressed religious veneration of the Mahatma, MLK, Hildegarde of Bingen, Che, et al,

PNWReader said...

I think I've missed something here. What's wrong with defining Christianity as "expressed religious veneration of Jesus Christ". The "regardless of doctrinal content" seems to be only for the purpose of establishing the one making that pronouncement as the arbiter of who is or is not a Christian, without demonstrating the the arbiter has any legitimacy. E.g., if the Southern Baptist Convention declares Roman Catholicism to be "not Christian" because of the doctrine of super-erogation, who is correct (and how would one know, and what difference would it make)?

Anonymous said...

@PNWReader: "expressed religious veneration of Jesus Christ" would include Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and even some Judaism, I suppose, as well as many western atheist religious worldviews, for instance, the perennialist philosophy of Traditionalists.

Strictly speaking, Christian institutional "legitimacy" is intelligible only if from a declaration of the glory or charisma of Jesus Christ. This will involve "doctrine."

It is said that prelates would never have declared any doctrine, nor had any legitimate governance, were it not for heretics, who threaten'd to steal sheep away from the prelates. But the need to define sheep stealers of this sort as "not Christian" only connected doctrine to the prelates. It isn't the entirety of doctrine. There is, obviously, the distinction between (Christian) heretics and non-Christians. Jesus began as rather a heretic of Judaism.

Your example, though, I definitely affirm because mentioning "super-erogation" reminds us of the curious disappearance of many an item from Roman Catholicism. Are SBC prelates objecting to the doctrine of super-erogation in the Pacific North West?
cc. Joe Namath-Rose

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