Thursday, October 11, 2007

Alice Cullen Learns About Mormonism II

(In an earlier post I talked about my experience meeting with a pair of Mormon missionaries and getting a copy of the book of Mormon. See here. For more on the subject of Alice Cullen see here and here.)
At the end of our discussion Elder G presented me with my own personal copy of the book of Mormon and bade me to make good use of it. I should read it and ask God to tell me if this book was true. If I open up my heart to God he will open up my eyes and I will see the truth of this book. I asked Elder G if he thought we should apply this method of verification to other fields of human endeavors such as history or science. I will open up the Principia Mathematica and pray: God open up my eyes and let me know if Newtonian mechanics is true or if I should stick to Aristotle like a good Catholic.
Later that night, while reading St. Teresa de Avila’s Interior Castle, I realized that there is a far more basic flaw with what Elder G was telling me. Teresa was a sixteenth-century Spanish nun who had all sorts of mystical visions. Her books are descriptions of her visions and a guide to how to go about achieving such experiences. One of the major concerns running through her thought is how the devil sets traps for people along the mystical path to mislead them. Teresa questions herself as to whether she really is experiencing the presence of Jesus or if this is just Satan deluding her. For Teresa, this was more than just an academic question. She had to justify herself before priests, who were investigating her to see if she was truly in contact with God or if she was with the devil. Many of these priests happened to have been members of the Inquisition. A negative answer could get someone imprisoned or even killed. In fact, one of her followers, St. John of the Cross, did end up spending several years in jail.
I am a spiritual novice. I have not spent decades in prayer and meditation. I am way too easily distracted over such things as the escapades of teenage vampires at the expense of my immortal soul. To the best of my knowledge, I have not had any genuine mystical experiences. I would have no idea what one would be if it hit me on the head. So when I open up the book of Mormon to delve into it how do I know that God is opening up my mind to its truth? What if it is Satan trying to trick me? Alternatively, as I do not believe in the sort of Satan who haunted sixteenth century Europe, how do I differentiate between God opening up my eyes and me simply wanting to believe something? These Mormons are really nice people. They definitely are the sort of group that I would love to belong to. What about the hundreds of other students that Elder G will be talking to this year? They will likely be even bigger spiritual novices than I am and have spent even less time thinking about their immortal souls. How are they going to be able to tell if God is speaking to them?
To all my haredi friends and relatives, who have lectured me about the value of emunah pshuta, simple faith and about how Judaism does not require that you make coherent arguments in support of it. You should be very thankful that I never bothered to listen to you. If I did I might actually have to take the book of Mormon seriously. Clearly, if Judaism does not have to make sense then I should not expect Mormonism to have to make sense either.

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