Sunday, October 7, 2007

Alice Cullen Learns About Mormonism

For all those people like me who cannot say no to free books, you can go to the LDS Church's website and give them your name and address and they will send you a free copy of the book of Mormon. When I was in high school I got myself one through them. I am not sure what happened to it but it disappeared for some strange reason. Either I lost it or, more likely, my parents found it and threw it out. I recently decided that, considering all the time I am spending studying Christian theology, I should get myself another copy. So I went to the website and put my information down. Then I figured, since I have no real interest in telling the LDS Church about myself, that I might as well have some fun with this. So I decided I was a 27 year old female named Alice Cullen and that my phone number was (614) 770-6660. As readers of this blog know, Alice Cullen is one of the vampires in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I was thinking of doing Esme Cullen since Esme was originally from Columbus. Alice though is the character that I am really in love with. I figured that since the Twilight books were written by a Mormon anyone in the church looking closely at my information would get the joke.
I come back to my room after the first days of Succot and find a post-it note on my door saying:
We stopped by to drop off your free copy of the Book of Mormon that you ordered. Please give us a call when you know of a good time for us to come back.
Elders G_
& M_
It seems that instead of simply delivering a copy of their holy books to Alice they had sent missionaries to deliver it to her in person. How nice of them.
Still wanting my book of Mormon I called the phone number they had left. But what to do about Alice? I am in no position to pass as a female even over the phone. So I told them that my name was Ben and that I was a friend of Alice’s and that as a joke she had ordered a book of Mormon and sent it to my address. I then asked them if they would be so kind as to send me a book of Mormon so that I could give it to her.
Elder G suggested that I come down to the Mormon center on campus. Oh Goodie, an opportunity to expand my religious horizons and talk to two friendly Mormons! Maybe the answers will surprise me. So I went down there and talked to Elders G and M. I tend to wear an OSU baseball cap around campus so it is usually not immediately obvious that I am Jewish. When I sat down to elders G and M they asked me what I knew about Mormonism. I think I did a pretty good job at going through the basics. I then started asking them about their theology. This is a game I often play with Christians, who usually do not have a clear idea what such notions as grace, transubstantiation and the incarnation are supposed to mean. Since one of my areas of interest is medieval Christian thought, I usually can count on knowing more on the topic than they do.
What I was not counting on was for my two Mormon missionaries to know nothing about predestination, Augustine of Hippo or John Calvin. So I took it as my good Christian duty to fill them in. I even went into a whole defense of the doctrine of predestination. Despite its very cynical view of human nature, that we are all such corrupt sinners that we are incapable of even accepting Jesus as our savior on our own and that God simply chooses to bestow grace on certain individuals allowing them to be saved, believing in predestination allows you to be very tolerant of non-believers. While they may be going to Hell, it is not their fault. They are not actively choosing to follow Satan. Because of this, despite the fact that Calvin himself was a rabid anti-Semite, there is a long history of Calvinist philo-Semitism. Predestination also very neatly solves the problem of little black unbaptized babies dying in Africa. For some strange reason, my Mormon missionaries had no idea what I meant by this. This is a very famous challenge posed to Christians. What do they do with babies in Africa where it would have been physically impossible for them to have been baptized before they died? If you accept predestination, this is not a problem. Those babies were not amongst the chosen elect, who receive grace, and are therefore doomed with the rest of humanity.
Now, these Mormons have an excuse to be so ignorant of Christianity. Mormons believe, to quote a Mormon friend of mine, that the entire Church went to pot soon after Paul anyway. So Augustine and Calvin are not part of their religious tradition. This though raises an interesting challenge to the claim that Mormons are Christians. Mormons are completely outside the Christian tradition. Protestants and Catholics, despite their doctrinal differences, have a common religious tradition. They can sit down together over an Origen, a Tertullian, an Augustine or an Aquinas just as Orthodox Jews can sit down with Reform and Conservative Jews over a Gemara, Rashi and Tosfot. What do Mormons mean when they call themselves Christians? It would seem that, as they purposely put themselves outside of the Christian tradition, they should drop the label of Christianity and that it is dishonest of them to maintain it.


Gazelem said...

We call ourselves Christians in the only sense that means anything at all, that we seek to follow Jesus Christ's example and teachings. Jesus never engaged in psuedo-intellectual, philosophical gibberish he left that fumbling around in the dark to the pharisees and saduccees. So we likewise choose to spend our intellectual energy exploring the many many answers and revelations God has blessed us with. As for theological questions 'Mormonism' has the answer to any theological issue you've got. The babies in Africa issue is no challenge at all.It's not even a complex explanation. Keep exploring you can find the answers, that is if you really want them.

Izgad said...

I hope you did not take this post as an attack on Mormonism.
I don't view Augustine or Aquinas as pseudo-intellectual gibberish; I have way too much respect for them to say that. One problem with what I said here is that I approached the whole issue from a very Jewish framework. Judaism is a religion built around the study of texts so my attitude was that good Christianity is, or should be, about studying texts.
You say that Mormonism has the answers to any theological question I may have, how are those answers better than the ones that I would get from other religions?
I agree with you that there are answers to the babies in Africa question. That being said it is the sort of question that, as with the rest of the gambit of questions about evil, needs to be actively on a person's mind and needs a personal answer.