This is some stuff I wrote this summer, when I was first trying to figure out how I felt about the Church, and first coming to terms with the fact that my testimony might not be all I had assumed it was. I’ve edited it a little bit for clarity. Don’t necessarily assume that I still agree with all of it, but by and large it still reflects my thinking.
My first problem is with theology. As in, we don’t have any. Ask any two Mormons what we believe about salvation through Jesus Christ and you’ll get different answers. Statements issued by the First Presidency notwithstanding, we are not by any means united in our beliefs about Jesus Christ. The thing is, individually we don’t know what we believe collectively, as a Church, about Jesus. And that’s fishy to me. And I think it’s a problem with lack of theology.
In the name of restoration, we’ve lightly tossed out the work and thought of some brilliant minds who were absolutely dedicated to God and Jesus Christ. Saint Augustine, Martin Luther, whatever. Lots of people. And we say the word “theologian” like it we say “whore.” It doesn’t feel right to me.
Theology is an academic subject that is thousands of years old, and over time it has developed a specialized vocabulary. Specialized vocabularies are important because they let you talk about a subject with precision and say what you really mean so that the hearer understands it. We can’t talk about Jesus Christ and say what we mean in the Church because we don’t have the vocabulary to do so. The vocabulary exists, but we have systematically rejected it from day one (or maybe we systematically rejected it over time, I don’t know- it’s irrelevant to this point). Even better, we actually make light of the theology of the past twenty centuries, and the only time we ever hear an established theological term is when James E. Talmadge is refuting it.
For example,when it comes to justification (the process by which our sins are justified, or made okay), do we believe in infusion or imputation? Infusion means that Christ’s atonement pours a measure of his righteousness into us in order to make up the slack, to cover the distance we need to hit the right level of righteousness or holiness in order to qualify for sanctification or salvation. Imputation means that Christ’s atonement actually switches out his righteousness for ours, and ours suffers and dies with him, while his righteousness substitutes for ours totally, in order to qualify us for sanctification/salvation.
Which do Mormons believe?
Many Mormons would tell you infusion, but they wouldn’t use the word. They’d quote that “after all we can do” scripture. At least two Mormons (me and the guy that wrote Beleiving Christ) believe in imputation, agan although we wouldn’t use the word. Is it important? Maybe not. I’ll tell you this: Protestants believe in imputation and Catholics believe in infusion, and the Protestant/Catholic schism is pretty big. I know it’s not the only dividing issue, but it seems a fundamental one.
But Mormons don’t know which one they believe (or rather, they all think they know which one they believe, but it turns out it isn’t the same one). If we ever talk about it, it winds up a mess of semantics because we’re trying to pick it apart without using a common vocabulary. In the meantime, we haven’t actually developed our own vocabulary for talking about theology, as far as I know.
Why not? That sort of brings me to my second point. No debate. We do not debate in this Church. We do not disagree. Debate and disagreement are inappropriate and discouraged. That means we all sit around pretending we believe the same things (even being smug because “aren’t we lucky that we have revelation to clear up all the confusion we see in other Churches!”) when we don’t! We don’t believe the same things, not when it comes to the most important thing, Jesus Christ!
There’s this idea in the Church that all questions have been answered (at least all of the important ones, maybe not stuff about Kolob and things “not necessary for our salvation”), and we all agree about everything, so let’s strengthen each other. In theory I guess it doesn’t sound bad, but in practice I don’t see it, and instead I see Mormons being some of the shakiest Christians about what they actually believe about Jesus Christ.
In any case it’s frustrating because in a sense I feel like too many questions have been answered, and in doing so they’ve only opened up weirder questions. And we congratulate ourselves on how logical it all is because we have the answers that everyone else lacks, when the fact is that our answers sometimes lead to further conclusions that are, well, weird. I wish I could come up with an example. Usually it’s stuff about the creation or the Fall or God in the eternities. And you can say that those aren’t important to our salvation, fine. So why do we have so many answers about things “not important” but we still not only don’t know about the atonement, but we don’t even know that we don’t know about the atonement.
Anyway, that’s kind of a tangent. My point is that I think we are poorer for the lack of debate. Heated argument may not be the most spiritually uplifting thing, but debate and discussion is how we figure it all out. Why don’t we debate, define our terms, discuss at length, and then pray about it to see which side is right? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Study it out in our minds and then ask God?
The whole method for discovering truth in the Church sidesteps critical thinking, and people will actually tell you that critical thinking is the devil’s tool. They won’t say it in so many words, but they’ll say that intelligence and wisdom are only worth a damn if they lead you to the same conclusions as the teachings of the Church. Aren’t intelligence and wisdom gifts from God? Shouldn’t they go hand in hand with inspiration? Why does inspiration only count if it leads you to the same conclusions as the Church, but otherwise it’s the devil misleading you?
It winds up being like this: “Study it out in your mind but only insofar as you reach the appropriate doctrinal conclusion (because otherwise you’re being misled by the devil), then pray to find out if that conclusion is true, and if you get a ‘yes,’ it was from God and if you get a ‘no’ it was from the devil, or just from your own emotions.” Isn’t that sort of an a priori thing? I mean, that method is guaranteed to lead you to conclude the Church is true. It would lead you to believe anything is true that you applied it to, wouldn’t it? I don’t think that’s a good way to get to the truth at all.