Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Friend the Mormon

My Mormon friend, CJ, recently wrote me an email commenting on my posts about my meeting with some Mormon missionaries. (See here and here.) CJ himself spent two years as a missionary in Peru. He is the sort of religious, intelligent, decent person that my parents probably would have wanted me to turn out like. (Just a Jewish version though) We had an interesting back and forth between the two of us, which CJ has kindly allowed me to reprint here.

Well I do appreciate you getting to know the church before you past judgment on Mormons. So many times even my closets friends never really took the time to understand its basic principals. I do realized that you are probably not looking to convert, but just to know more information. It was pretty obvious from your method of getting the book of Mormon and because I know you. By the way I have like 4 extra copies, so if you ever lose the one you have I got your back. If you are ever interested Mormons have other canonical books as well that I could get to you a free copy as well. But anyway, I think some of your concerns are quite valid, especially regarding whether a spiritual experience is from god or not. This is something that has worried me and many people I taught as a missionary. But I think there are ways to know, it just might take longer than people are willing to invest. Although I do disagree with you on one point, just because we don’t believe in Thomas Aquinas or any other post New Testament religious philosopher doesn’t disqualifies from being Christians. I always have viewed Christians as people who believe Christ is the Messiah (and subsequently follow his teachings). But I think you were more concerned about the Christian tradition than beliefs per se. So in that sense you are right. By the way the missionaries are only 19-21 years olds that haven’t had much university training. There are Mormons that are more knowledgeable regarding Mormonism versus classical Christianity. They don’t really train missionaries to encounter people have a master’s degree from Yeshiva University. (Although I do know a Mormon who went there). So that’s what I think. I still think you have good potential for becoming a Jewish Mormon Missionary. I not sure we can work that one out (you would probably actually have to become Mormon), but it would be hilarious none the less.

Well there is one Mormon, who goes to OSU, whom I have great respect for. ;)
I greatly admire Orson Scott Card, though I have never met him in person. What other holy books do Mormons have? The life of Joseph Smith, anything else? Let me get through the book of Mormon. Lord knows when that will happen. As to the issue of how one defines being a Christian. There is an evangelical Christian group known as Jews for Jesus. They argue that they are Jews who simply believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and part of the Trinity. The Jewish community as a whole refuses to view them as part of the Jewish religion. I would justify this stance by saying that Jews for Jesus is outside of the Jewish tradition and is part of the Christian tradition. In this sense Jews for Jesus is different from Reform and Conservative Judaism which, while I may disagree with their understanding of Judaism, I still view as part of the Jewish tradition and therefore a type of Judaism.You view Catholics and Protestants as Christians even though you disagree with them. Do you view people who say that Jesus is not a divine figure as still being Christians? I believe in Jesus. I believe that he was a great moral teacher. I have no problem with saying that he was born of a virgin, did miracles or that he ascended to heaven alive. I do not believe that he was God nor do I believe that he fulfilled Isaiah 11. Can I be counted as a Christian? You believe that Christianity went to pot after Paul. I believe that Christianity went to pot with Paul. As to our 19-21 year old Christian missionaries, I assume they are going to run into educated Christians at some point, who are likely going to do to them what I did. There is no way that you are going to be able to talk to such Christians unless you can talk about Aquinas or Augustine. Or have the Mormons simply decided to only talk to Christians who know nothing about Christianity. Whats the story behind the Mormon who went to YU? Did he go to one of the graduate schools or did he convert to Mormonism later in life?

… We have two other canonical books along with other inspired commentaries. In truth Mormons have a pretty loose definition of scripture. We believe revelation is a continual process.
As for defining who is a Christian and who isn’t really does not concern me. I am well aware of the Jews for Jesus movement and if they or you or anybody else wants to consider themselves Christians, I don’t really care. I just wanted to affirm that Mormons are Christians since they are followers of Christ. Hence the real name of the church: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In regards to Missionaries, I think it is unfair to expect them to have read Aquinas or Augustine, since they don’t even believe it. Would you expect a Rabbi to have read the Book of Mormon? (Or even one of the more obscure religious tracts from Mormonism.) I sure many have, but I would not view it as an expectation. We seek out all classes of people, not just the uneducated. I myself taught people as a missionary that were in the seminary and who knew a lot more about Aquinas and Augustine that I would ever hope to. But my message wasn’t about Aquinas or Augustine. The message of the missionaries is inherently spiritual. There are other Mormons that could and would be elated to discuss medieval religious philosophy, if you want to converse with them I would be glad to provide their email.
As for my friend who went to Yeshiva. To my knowledge he has been a Mormon all his life. I believe he did a master’s degree there. In what, I do not know.
I hope I don’t sound too contentious. I just want to be well understood. I not sure we are every going to agree on some of these issues, but I do enjoy discussing them. …

… My problem with the missionaries was not that they had not read Augustine or Aquinas, I myself have only read bits and pieces, but, from what I could tell, they did not know who these people were. I asked them how Mormons understood the concept of Grace and how their conception of it compared to someone like John Calvin. I got a blank stare from them. They should have gotten this in high school history. Yes I know our school systems stink, but that only means that it was all the more important for whoever trained them to make sure they knew this.By the way I have yelled at Rabbis before, not because they had not heard of the book of Mormon per se, but because they did not know what the Four Gospels were. Side story, I once, as part of a quiz, asked the students in my section what the name of the Christian Bible was and one student said the King James. I also asked them to name three early Christians. Someone put down Augustus. With the campaign of Mitt Romney the whole issue of are Mormons Christian becomes more of an academic issue. Let us imagine that a member of Jews for Jesus was running for public office. I would be offended if the media were to say that he was a Jew. I would have no objection to voting for the man if I thought he was a good candidate. All the best.

Well those missionaries must just not be very good, because I know that John Calvin is mentioned in their teaching guide, so they need to do reading. They gave us two hours in the morning to study but like school some take more advantage of it than others. I must admit though that we have in some way been trying to address some of your concerns. About 3 years ago they changed some of the training that missionaries receive to include more history. So although I think Augustine and Aquinas are a stretch, at least in theory they should know more. In fact the new teaching manual has information of non-Christian religions as well like Buddhism and Islam. I would agree though that ignorance about religion in general is high. Today asked my class about the story of Moses. One of our readings had made a passing reference to him. I got a bunch of blank stares and had to explain in detail his escape from Egypt in order for them to understand the reference. It was quite ridiculous. Oh well. I guess that’s why they have people like us teaching in University.

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