AriArmstrong.com, Religion in Culture and Politics.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mormon Missionaries

I just passed a couple of Mormon missionaries on the way back from King Soopers. We had a very pleasant conversation for ten minutes or so, which I'll summarize here.

They asked me if I'd ever talked with a Mormon missionary. I said yes, and I don't believe a word of it. We quickly established that I don't believe in God and therefore regard every religion as false.

I suggested that in the coming years they allow themselves to seriously question the underpinnings of their religion. I pointed out that the community ties of Mormonism, a strength of the religion in many ways, also bears the danger that many Mormons adhere to their beliefs largely because of social pressure. We talked about the fact that, around the world, people tend to follow the religious beliefs with which they were raised.

One of the missionaries said that he listens to the Holy Spirit, which guided him in working through his doubts about the religion. I pointed out that such an approach is circular. By assuming the Holy Spirit exists, you're assuming the entire supernaturalist framework. To evaluate a religion at a fundamental level, it is precisely supernaturalism that must be questioned. I added that, what he sees as guidance from the Holy Spirit, I regard as self-talk; he's basically working through a problem mentally, and when he comes to persuade himself on some point, he mistakes this as guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Regarding the general issue of faith, I replied that one should base beliefs on reason rooted in the evidence of the senses, not resort to faith. After all, I argued, if faith is the reason to accept Mormonism, then why not accept on faith any other religion, such as Catholicism or Islam?

One fellow replied with two prongs of the faith line. First, he argued that the scriptures contain some verifiable wisdom. I replied that, to be sustainable as a religion, any religion must adopt a certain amount of common-sense wisdom, which by its nature is not inherently religious. (Scripture also contains a lot of bad advice, I added.) For example, I accept the view common among religions (but not inherently religious) that murder and adultery are wrong. So the fact that scripture might contain some truth does not justify a belief in the religion. Next, the fellow argued that, while we can go a long way on reason, finally we must resort to faith. I said that "punting" to faith is no way to ground beliefs, nor is it compatible ultimately with being honest with one's self.

Mormon missionaries tend to be young (one of the ones I talked with, a nineteen year old, nevertheless bears the title, "Elder"), which is why I tried to emphasize that they seriously question their beliefs over the next few years. I certainly don't think people have some sort of responsibility to try to persuade Mormon missionaries that their religion is false, and they are trained to handle discussions (in pairs, in something like a "good cop, bad cop" relationship). But I was up for it, and I thought that if they want me to consider their ideas, they might as well consider mine.

They asked me if I wanted a Book of Mormon. I said I already have a copy. I said that I'm on my way to read Atlas Shrugged in preparation for a reading group. I suggested that they read it, too.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

McCain, Romney, and the Politics of Satan

Recently I wrote that "Romney's religious background did hurt him, not only among some urbanites, but among some evangelical Christians." How much did Romney's Mormonism hurt him among Catholics and Protestants? And just how different is Mormonism from those other Christian strains?

James Dobson of Focus on the Family recently endorsed Mike Huckabee. (In response to concerns that he is so far behind the delegate count, Huckabee responded, "Well, I didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles. And I still believe in those, too.")

Notably, Dobson endorsed Huckabee only after Romney left the race; Romney's Mormonism was not a deal-breaker for Dobson in terms of presidential politics:

I am endorsing Gov. Mike Huckabee for President of the United States today. My decision comes in the wake of my statement on Super Tuesday that I could not vote for Sen. John McCain, even if he goes on to win the Republican nomination. His record on the institution of the family and other conservative issues makes his candidacy a matter of conscience and concern for me.

That left two pro-family candidates whom I could support, but I was reluctant to choose between them. However, the decision by Gov. Mitt Romney to put his campaign "on hold" changes the political landscape. The remaining candidate for whom I could vote is Gov. Huckabee. His unwavering positions on the social issues, notably the institution of marriage, the importance of faith and the sanctity of human life, resonate deeply with me and with many others.


Notice that Dobson's sole criteria here are issues particular to Christian dogma. Christians believe that homosexuality is wrong, and Dobson supported the Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. McCain did not support that amendment, even though he has come out strongly in favor of the view that "the institution of marriage is a union between one man and one woman." But on this point Dobson insists on agreement with means as well as ends; he does not see as adequate prohibiting gay marriage (or "domestic partnerships") by means other than a Constitutional ban.

In opposing the Constitutional measure, McCain cited federalism:

"The constitutional amendment we're debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans," McCain said. "It usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them."


Dobson also puts McCain outside of the anti-abortion camp, even though McCain has stated that his ultimate aim is "ending abortion."

So, even though McCain has essentially adopted Dobson's religious-right platform, the very reason that I will vote for McCain's opponent, McCain's positions on these issues are not strong enough for Dobson.

As a side note, at least Ann Coulter gave reasons for opposing McCain other than those grounded in Christian faith:

He promoted amnesty for 20 million illegal immigrants. He abridged citizens' free speech (in favor of the media) with McCain-Feingold. He hysterically opposes waterboarding terrorists and wants to shut down Guantanamo. He denounced the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. He opposes ANWR and supports the global warming cult, even posturing with fellow mountebank Arnold Schwarzenegger in front of solar panels.


I have no basic problem with McCain's view on amnesty, but I agree with Coulter that McCain's censorship law is terrible. In my view, that single position should disqualify McCain from any elected office.

Of course, Coulter also finds fault with McCain's partial support for stem-cell research and his marginally "soft" position on abortion. This tells us something about the religious right. It is not enough for the religious right merely for a candidate to advocate "ending abortion;" the candidate must stop at nothing to achieve that aim. Yet the view that a fertilized egg is the equivalent of a human person is based on nothing but religious dogma, and a ban on abortion would sacrifice the real rights of people to the make-believe rights of embryos.

But on to Romney's Mormonism. David Harsanyi wrote a humorous yet poignant column about the issue:

...Mitt Romney's exit from the presidential race was inevitable the moment evangelical voters heard he was a Mormon.

Evangelicals have shown us they now have a stranglehold on the Republican Party. ...

In 2006, Dr. James Dobson -- whose wife excluded Mormons from participation in the National Day of Prayer that she chaired in 2004 -- explained, "I don't believe that conservative Christians in large numbers will vote for a Mormon...."

... When asked if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion, Huckabee answered, "I think it's a religion. I really don't know much about it ... . Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

Golly, gee, ya think? (All this time I thought the Dark Lord Xenu was Satan's brother.)

It seems perfectly reasonable to vote against a candidate based on faith, if the candidate's beliefs conflict and/or pose a theocratic threat to the Constitution.

An example of this latent danger might be seen in an aspiring presidential candidate declaring his supporters to be members of "God's Army" or "soldiers for Christ." A candidate like Huckabee.


The alleged belief that "Jesus and the devil are brothers" is hardly stranger than any belief of Catholic or Protestant Christianity. Indeed, the idea that gods have offspring arose long before Christianity. But is Huckabee's claim true? Certainly many other Christians think so. For example, GodVoter.org (!) -- "Honoring God In Election 2008" (!!) -- claims:

"What evidence do you have that Mormonism teaches Jesus is Satan's brother?"

Quoted below are the founder, presidents, leaders and writings of Mormonism on your question, the teaching that God began as man, and the Mormon heresy of man becoming God someday:

"Jesus is the literal spirit-brother of Lucifer, a creation." (Gospel Through the Ages, p. 15)

"Long before you were born a program was developed by your creators... The principal personalities in this great drama were a Father Elohim, perfect in wisdom, judgment, and person, and two sons, Lucifer and Jehovah." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 32-33)

"The appointment of Jesus to be the Savior of the world was contested by one of the other sons of God. He was called Lucifer, son of the morning. Haughty, ambitious, and covetous of power and glory, this sprit-filled brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind." (Milton R. Hunter, Gospel Through the Ages, page 15)


I have not checked the citations in question, so I have no idea whether GodVoter.org gets this right. (I welcome the comments of any reader, Mormon or otherwise, who can offer a good evaluation of this.) But the Catholics, too, claim that the Mormons adopt the "doctrine of Jesus Christ being the 'spirit brother' of Lucifer." (Of course, as Elaine Pagels writes in The Origin of Satan, "As he first appears in the Hebrew Bible, Satan is not necessarily evil, much less opposed to God. On the contrary, he appears in the book of Numbers and in Job as one of God's obedient servants --a messenger, or angel... In Hebrew, the angels were often called 'sons of God'..." -- page 39).

If you've not had your fill of crazy for the day, perhaps World Net Daily will satisfy:

'Vote for Romney is vote for Satan'
Christian leader follows up Sharpton attack on Mormons
Posted: May 10, 2007
9:15 pm Eastern

While some evangelical Christians are defending the presidential candidacy of Mormon Mitt Romney from an attack by Al Sharpton, another prominent pastor is going further in his condemnation -- saying a vote for the former Massachusetts governor is a vote for Satan.

That's the word from Bill Keller, host of the Florida-based Live Prayer TV program as well as LivePrayer.com.

"If you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for Satan!" he writes in his daily devotional to be sent out to 2.4 million e-mail subscribers tomorrow.

Sharpton, the Democratic Party activist and former presidential candidate, has been widely condemned for singling out Romney's faith as an issue in the campaign.

"As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don't worry about that; that's a temporary situation," he said.

Keller also comes out swinging against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a cult.

"This message today is not about Mitt Romney," he writes. "Romney is an unashamed and proud member of the Mormon cult founded by a murdering polygamist pedophile named Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago. The teachings of the Mormon cult are doctrinally and theologically in complete opposition to the Absolute Truth of God's Word. There is no common ground. If Mormonism is true, then the Christian faith is a complete lie. There has never been any question from the moment Smith's cult began that it was a work of Satan and those who follow their false teachings will die and spend eternity in hell."


See? Dobson is restrained by comparison.

And so it is that an American election for president, the most powerful political office in the world, will be determined, in part, by what members of some religious sects think about the position of another religious sect on the relationship of Jesus and Satan. Or, "My god is better than your god." Because, you know, the (alleged) idea that Jesus and Satan are "spirit brothers" is so much more bizarre than the idea that God impregnated a mortal virgin with Jesus and created Satan as an angel.

Absolute insanity.

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