I recently read an essay by Simon Critchley in the New York Times entitled, “Why I love Mormonism”.
In my mind, this essay couldn’t really figure out what it was trying to say, and it certainly did not justify its title because by the end I was quite convinced that the author doesn’t love “Mormonism” at all. He may have enjoyed the church members that he met, and he clearly has perceives value in the culture and morals, but he treatment of our “weird” doctrine showed little respect. But my purpose today is not to critique or criticize Mr. Critchley’s essay. You can read it and decide on its merit for yourself. My point is that his essay, and most every other essay ever written by a non-convert to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (as restored through the prophet Joseph Smith), egregiously misses the point. They may discuss points of doctrine such as the nature of the Godhead, or the three degrees of Glory, or whether Mormons really believe that they will receive their own planet. They may discuss cultural values, such as family, health, or business integrity that make Mormons valuable members of society. They may even discuss the LDS church’s stand on the issues of the day such as abortion, marriage or universal healthcare, but in doing so they fail miserably in describing what really makes Mormons different – what truly defines us. I propose to correct that failing, and in the process, perhaps share a little of how this pseudo-hippie-rebel child of the 60’s turned ultra-conservative ended up a baptized, endowed member of the LDS church in the first place.
I think what initially attracted me to the gospel of the restoration was the concept that the gospel of Christ which had evolved over the last 2000 years was a mish-mash of scriptural-based and man-made theology derived from sources such as Plato and Aristotle (the proverbial “philosophies of men….mingled with scripture) and as such bore little resemblance to the doctrine originally and eternally taught by Christ. I loved learning that the Bible, while originally written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, had, through the process of translation and deliberate alteration, become polluted to the point that the Lord Himself declared that plain and precious things had been left out (1 Nephi 13:40); and that these plain and precious things had to ultimately be restored through new volumes of scripture in order to thwart the cunning designs of none other than Satan himself. I also felt that by joining the Mormon Church, I was able to maintain that little rebellious streak that had marked much of my life; that in doing so I was able satisfy my deep desire to embrace Christ and still thumb my nose at the established churches of the day. After all, the restored gospel was, and still is, the ultimate “in-your-face” at “traditional” Christianity in that it effectively says, “You blew it so badly that the Lord had to start all over, entrusting the restoration to a 14-year-old farm boy rather than to any of the trained theological minds of the day”.
But as I learned more about the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, I found other truths that led to my ultimate conversion. For example, I began to realize that, despite the reputation of the LDS Church for being rigid, stodgy, and conservative, it is really the other Christian churches that “put God in a box” (my own quote). It is traditional Christian theology that seems to say, “This is God. Our creeds (Nicene, Apostolic, etc) say this is what He is like, and to suggest otherwise is sacrilege and will brand you as non-Christian”. “Mormonism”, on the other hand, says that God, Elohim of the Godhead, who was once a man and is now exalted, can say pretty much anything, be pretty much anything, and do pretty much anything He wants except to break His own laws (for if He did, He would cease to be God – Alma 42:22). He is in fact omniscient, and omnipotent, but he is NOT omnipresent – being omnipresent is left to the Holy Ghost, a being with all the attributes of God, but without a physical body. And whereas for traditional Christianity the cannon of scripture is closed, the restored gospel teaches that God can pretty much effect new scripture at any time and through anybody. As a matter of fact, He has declared openly that other scripture exists that has not yet been revealed, but will be revealed to us when we are ready, and according to His own will and timing. (2 Nephi 29:3-11)
I was further attracted to the Gospel of the Restoration because it is the only theistic religion that answers the question, “what happens to the little child in Africa who dies of starvation before ever hearing about Jesus Christ?” The scriptures of the restoration make it very clear that all men (human beings) will have the opportunity to be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, accept it or reject it according to their own informed will, and spend eternity in the state of existence that will afford them the greatest level of eternal comfort. I never could reconcile “God is Love” with the idea that He created billions of billions of humans only to consign 90%, 95%, 99% (you choose your percentage) to an eternity of damnation, hellfire, and “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth”. I’m much more comfortable with the three (or more) degrees of eternal existence described in D&C 76 where all men are rewarded for keeping their first estate by choosing to follow Christ instead of Satan during the great war in heaven; and where those who are more or less valiant in continuing to follow Christ by striving to live according to His commandments during this earth life claim for themselves, by virtue of the atonement of Jesus Christ, an eternal station more or less near to God’s presence, and thus live a more or less glorious existence. I embrace the ultimate justice of a theology where only those who completely refuse, with full knowledge, to play according to the rules (God’s law) are actually condemned to outer darkness.
I also find an interesting comfort in the idea, which can be gleaned from careful study of the scriptures and the words of the restoration’s greatest minds that, while truth can often be described and understood through the written word, there are limits to the concepts that can be conveyed – the limits of human language. Even though the English language had up many times more words than other languages, it is still limiting. One only need consider the word “love” to recognize this. Joseph Smith used the word “intelligence” numerous times in the Doctrine and Covenants to describe a unique, organized, eternal existence for which he could come up with no other word. Does that mean that these concepts are unknowable? Certainly not! We can come to understand these concepts and know of their truthfulness the same way Joseph himself did – by the Spirit. If we are humble enough to recognize that there are truths to be known and understood that cannot be fully expressed using our language, we open a portal to the heavens, limited only by faith, obedience and our ability to comprehend with the spiritual mind. When we seek, knock and ask, we in essence say to God, “teach me, lead me, and I will follow”.
Which brings us to the attribute of “Mormonism” that I think distinguishes it more than anything else from more commonly accepted religions or churches, and which outside critics fail most miserably at capturing. The gospel of the restoration encourages personal revelation, and is thus a very personal gospel. We are here to learn to know God (John 17:3), to become one with Him,(John 17:11-23) and to return to live with Him (D&C 76:62); and as with any relationship, that process is perfectly intimate. There are only two beings involved – you and the Lord. The Lord guides, teaches and encourages us each according to the way we learn. It is completely logical that, since we are each different, with different jealousies, fears, strengths and weaknesses, and God is constant and unchanging, then this process of sanctification must vary with the individual, as its variance cannot be attributed to God Himself. The scriptures, including the standard works and the words of modern day prophets, clearly encourage us to develop that personal relationship with God, with our Savior as our advocate and the only mediator before Him, with communication being facilitated through the Holy Ghost. That portal to the heavens that I mentioned previously becomes an inviting gateway to knowledge of things eternal and ultimately to experiencing the “peace that passeth understanding”. It is in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ that I have found that conduit that I was craving all through my life – that conduit back to the presence of my Heavenly Father – and it is customized for me. Mr. Critchley, although he touches on numerous points of “weird” doctrine, never even comes close to this great truth. In so doing he, like so many others, completely miss the mark, and will never truly understand the “Mormonism” that I have so gloriously embraced.
Finally, there is much talk today about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints becoming “mainstream”. Well, this Mormon rejects any such trend. I did not join the church because I thought maybe one day it would become mainstream. I joined the church because the gospel of Jesus Christ, as restored through Joseph Smith, is true! If the world wants to recognize this truthfulness, be baptized by the authority of the Holy Priesthood and live according to the eternal law of God, thus causing the gospel to become mainstream….Hallelujah! But if becoming mainstream means compromising even one “jot or tittle” of the true gospel of Jesus Christ – then I want nothing to do with it. We are a peculiar people because we stand for the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and unless the rest of the world wants to become peculiar with us, then they can have their “mainstream” – I’ll stand with truth.