Wednesday, October 22, 2008


In my wanderings through literature, I have recently paused to study Gnosticism for a while. I have read some of the early Christian writings which attacked it, so now I want to examine the other side.

I am not one of those credulous folk who got caught up in the recent Gospel of Judas hoopla. I have been a student of pseudepigraphical writings for more than a decade.

It is intriguing to compare the positions of Gnosticism with some of the developments in the LDS faith. It is not possible, as some half-wit critic might suggest, that the Prophet Joseph borrowed ideas from Gnosticism, since, aside from fragments, almost nothing of their writings was extant until the Nag Hammadi library was unearthed in the 1940s.

So any similarities are either coincidental, glimmers of original truth that "orthodox" Christianity later lost, or perhaps represent decisions that every religion must make.

Nothing trumps the testimony of the Holy Spirit to truth, in LDS experience. For Gnostics, the ultimate experience was a mystical sort of enlightenment -- and both fight the perceptions of critics that it's all about warm fuzzy feelings or even hallucinations. The LDS Church, however, combines the testimony of the written Word and the promptings of the Spirit, as the ultimate guide to truth. All churches must choose what will be their authority: sola scriptura or the baptism of fire. Some go one way, some the other, some, as we do, combine the two.

Original but garbled truth may lie somewhere in the Gnostic considerations of a Heavenly Mother.

Original but garbled truth may lie somewhere in the Gnostic considerations of a structured heaven and certain steps taken to get there which I will not discuss here.

The early LDS Church seemed to be a movement, like the Quakers, in which all could receive equally valid revelation, whether apostle, prophet or candlestick maker. But such a society could quickly get out of hand, with competing and contradictory revelations cropping up. It came to a head with Hiram Page, after which the Lord revealed His pattern of revelatory order. Revelation would continue -- a path long ago rejected by "orthodox Christianity" when the same dillema was faced --but only in each person's allotted sphere: the prophet for the whole Church; a father for his family, etc.

Finally, it is fascinating that in the Gnostic Gospel of Peter, that Apostle is told by the Lord to place his hand over his eyes and only then does he truly "see." Compare this to the account of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, when the Lord places His hand over Abraham's eyes, after which that one truly sees, all the cosmic works of God. (Abraham 3:12). This bears some similarities to the account in Mark 8 of Jesus healing the blind man, but the latter account is purely a healing, not a doorway into spiritual visions.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Belloc, continued

What would this great Catholic thinker have said about Mormonism?

It is a puzzle that he devotes not one word in his "Great Heresies" to our faith. Granted, in the 1930s, we were still a small body, a drop in the world's religious ocean. Still, some aspects of our faith ought to have intrigued him.

Namely, we were unique among the many churches that arose in the Protestant milieu - we were a heresy within the Protestant heresy, he would have said -- in consciously becoming more like the Mother Church of Rome, rather than less. This flies in the face of the law of religious entropy.

Not councils of presybters, not a priesthood of all believers, but rather one man was to be Christ's representative on Earth -- our Prophet rather than a Pope.

A specific line of priesthood authority traceable to very Peter himself, not a mystical "calling," was to be rigidly required in order to administer in the ordinances of the church.

The word of the Prophet would be on a par with the canonized scriptures. As opposed to Sola Scriptura.

We would reclaim the office of bishop -- anethma to many 19th century Protestants. Indeed, some in the early LDS Church were quite concerned when this was done.

And we give consideration to a Divine Mother.

The point should not be carried too far, but our missionaries -- rigidly celibate, cutting themselves off from any worldly books and music or other such entertainment -- also live much like monks, albeit in the world, not in a cloistre.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Ducking into a bookstore out of the sunshine at a festival yesterday, I found a wonderful old book by the late Hilaire Belloc, entitled "The Great Heresies."

Published in 1938, it remains astonishly relevant to our time, as Belloc virtually prophesies that the Islamic world, hardly a concern to the West in those days, might very well become an issue again; and that the great Protestant movement, though then dying, might see a rebirth as well -- which is to some degree beginning to happen as fervent Christians from Europe's former colonies now seek to convert the urbane and materialistic great grandchildren of the missionaries who once brought them their faith.

The first great heresy that Belloc examines, is Arianism.

That is intriguing because Mormons are sometimes accused of being modern Arians.

The Arian ideas were that Jesus was not God but man and that Jesus was a created being.

Although I am still studying out these concepts and am certainly no philosophic expert, I know that Mormons absolutely believe that Jesus is God -- in fact, we proclaim that He was Jehovah of the Old Testament. And though we may believe that the Father created His spirit body as well as His physical body (the latter being a point obviously accepted by "mainstream" Christianity, we also say that He has always been, that something of His nature is Uncreate.

So we are not Arians.

In fact, the whole Catholic vs. Arian quarrel comes about precisely because Catholicism inherited from the chaos of the Great Apostasy the apostate rejection of the igospel principle that God and man are the same species, even though such a doctrine is very much at home in the New Testament.

We mortals are simply at a much earlier stage in our development than our Father and the Savior are, and we are flawed and imperfect, though commanded by Him to become perfect. We are only different in the sense that a baby is different from its earthly Father, not in the sense that a worm is different than an orchid -- and also that Christ passed through His mortality without ever yielding to sin. Presumably, the Father did so as well.

Were that to have been understood and believed, the whole argument underpinning the Catholic vs. Arian debate would have been moot.

Back to Belloc: He makes another great point: the religious beliefs of a people shape their entire societal outlook. This is why he states that the study of heresy remains so important: a Protestant-based society will of necessity always be very different from a Catholic-based or a Muslim society.

When a heresy takes control, it changes the outlook of a society. Arianism, he said, appealed to those in the Roman world who wanted to see Catholicism weakened, who feared or resented Catholicism's cohesive structure and the social revolution that it was bringing about. It also appealed to those who considered themselves socially superior to the great masses of persons in the Empire. Thus its adherents were many of the nobility as well as virtually the entire army.

I hope that I have not mangled Belloc's conclusions too badly. I may come back and refine this rather hasty post.

Based on his theory, a Christian world in which Arianism had triumphed rather than Catholic Christianity, would have been an entirely different society.

That brings to my Mormon mind the story of the Zoramites, from the Book of Mormon. They were not godless folk. They were heretics -- devout elitists who overtly denied the divinity of Christ. Very much in the Arian spirit -- and the kind of society that they created in their sphere of influence seems to be exactly what Belloc suggested that Old World Christianity would have become had Arianism triumphed there.

My last thought: it would be interesting to study the kind of society that develops from a Mormon worldview, whether one believes as Belloc no doubt did that Mormonism is a heresy, or whether one accepts the claims of the Church that it is the restoration of the original Christian Church.

How do our distinctive beliefs affect our outlook?

Can such a study, however, even be made with a Church that is so aggressively a proselyter amongst other Christians? In other words, with so much of our membership becoming composed of people who were born and raised in another Christian tradition, with another outlook, would such a study be impossible to scientifically carry out? Would it have to be limited only to some small, isolated Utah hamlets?