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Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

So, at this point I am identifying as some kind of a quasi-transcendentalist vaguely-Hinduish esoterically-inclined green Christian. How I got there from paganism is not really the topic of this post, but I promise to post about it someday. Maybe.

The topic of this post if the trouble with finding a church home for my family, and the disappointment of modern liberal Mainline Christianity.

We have been going to a Presbyterian (PC(USA)) church for a couple of weeks, and I am increasingly feeling like it’s probably not going to work out. I haven’t passed a verdict yet, but so far I am seeing a lot of things that lead me to conclude that this church, like many other liberal Protestant churches, emphasizes social justice to the near-total exclusion of theology, personal righteousness, and spirituality.

And that is the heart of my conundrum. There simply appear to not be a lot of churches out there that are able to be theologically liberal without it reducing to merely politically liberal (and theologically nothing at all). I’m sure my more theologically conservative friends are going to insist that such a reduction is inevitable, that theological liberalism invariably leads to no theology at all. I dunno; they may be right, but I kind of think that’s a false dichotomy. I think that the reduction of theologically liberal churches to mere social justice clubs has a lot more to do with American culture wars and political polarization than it does about anything inherent about liberal theology. But either way, it’s immensely frustrating.

My notions of spirituality and theology may be offbeat, but they’re what I am focused on and interested in, not social justice. Make no mistake, I believe that Christianity can and should give rise to social gospel concerns and the desire to address the evils of our society. But if that’s all that’s going on at your church, I would suggest that you are putting the cart before the horse, and I suspect that if I look hard, I will see that your social gospel is motivated almost purely by political and cultural considerations, not by spiritual or theological ones. And thus I am not interested in going to your church at all, because it has nothing that interests me.

In many ways, I think I would be happier being a quiet heretic in an orthodox, theologically conservative church. Except that I don’t necessarily want my kids indoctrinated that way. And I’m not sure how well being a quiet heretic really works out in practice.

A related issue is the fact that right now we live in a large northern metropolitan area: most of my neighbors are Catholics, Jews, or nonreligious. There’s not the massive smorgasbord of Protestant churches to pick from that I grew up with in my Appalachian-upper-South hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. And while I would dearly love to move back to the South (sooner rather than later), this is where I am at the moment.

Going to church is important to me and to my family (for a lot of reasons–maybe a topic for another post that I can promise to write and then never deliver on?), so I’m not okay with just being religious-at-home. So that’s out, too.

One thing I am considering is whether I will find more satisfaction in a communion/eucharist-centered liturgical tradition. The homily may be about something ridiculously politically liberal, but the service is centered on the eucharist, the eucharist is the real message. Isn’t it? Or am I just cruising for more disappointment? Of course, this line of thinking points me once again in an Anglican direction, which is somewhat comforting. I wouldn’t mind finding a nice Episcopal parish to belong to.

On the other hand, I know that a thought-provoking sermon is essential for my beautiful and sexy wife–it’s basically what she wants to go to church for. And she’s not wild about lots of liturgy. so, Episcopalianism may not be the way to go after all. Where we would really like most to be is back at Cedar Ridge Community Church, but that’s a long drive for a Sunday morning. Cedar Ridge was far from my personally perfect, ideal church, but it was a pretty good place for us as a family. But that’s moot, because there doesn’t seem to be anything comparable around here. I’ve looked.

So there you go. I’m not really sure what to do. I feel like I and my family have pressing spiritual needs, but I am growing increasingly concerned that the right church for meeting those needs doesn’t exist anywhere nearby.

PS, here’s a good recent editorial about (sigh) the state of the Episcopal Church that addresses a lot of these issues.

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1. Are you a Christian?

In the sense that most people probably mean when they ask that question, my answer has to be no. I like Jesus just fine, but I do not believe that Jesus is the only-begotten son of the One True God, or the One True God uniquely made flesh. I believe in good and evil but I don’t believe that I am guilty of sinning against the One True God, and I don’t believe that I am in need of salvation that only God can provide. I don’t believe that a contemporarily obscure greco-Jewish messianic figure was the central pivot point in the spiritual history of the cosmos (not that there’s a specific reason he couldn’t be; just that I don’t believe he is). I don’t believe that the Jews are the chosen people of the One True God. There are many parts of the Bible that I do not believe are scriptural or inspired writing. I am not personally committed to the person of Jesus in any way.

2. Why not?

I’m just not. I don’t think it makes sense for me to have to affirmatively have a reason to disbelieve Christianity. Quite the opposite: I am not Christian because I don’t have enough sufficiently compelling reasons to be Christian. The burden of persuastion is squarely on the religion, and in my case, the burden just has not been met. I am unpersuaded. I find Jesus compelling, but not necessarily uniquely compelling. I find Christianity compelling, but not necessarily uniquely compelling.

I find value in culture and tradition, and I recognize that Christianity has played a pivotal role in my culture’s history, but it’s not the only spiritual tradition in the mix (look at our great art and literature and see for yourself: classical mythology may be out of favor on Sunday mornings, but it has stayed the course pretty fucking powerfully in our cultural consciousness). And given my own personal religious background–born and raised Mormon but gone apostate–it’s hard for me to claim “Christianity, generally” as my own personal cultural tradition, especially given the pluralism of the society I live in now. As great as I think it would be to identify with a particular tradition and to feel like my spirituality was connected to firm cultural roots, I just don’t, and I never really have.

3. Have you read the Bible?

Yes. I’ve read the Old Testament all the way through once, and different parts of it a number of other times. I’ve read the New Testament at least twice all the way through, and individual parts of it many times. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I know my way around the book really well. I have mixed feelings about the Bible, as indicated above, partly because I think it’s sometimes a mistake to think of the Bible as one work. It’s not one work; it’s an anthology of works by different people at different times and in widely different cultural circumstances. Parts of the Bible have the character of scripture to me: they resonate mythologically (Genesis, 1 & 2 Samuel) or they are profoundly mystical (the Psalms, the gospel of John, Revelations, many of the Prophets). Other parts just don’t feel holy to me. The epistles may be complex, masterful and fundamental works of theological wordsmithy, but that doesn’t make them have spiritual weight. I’m basically familiar with the process of selecting what went into the canon, and I conclude that the canoneers were simply evaluating the books with different criteria in mind from what I am using. I’m comfortable with that.

I think there’s wisdom and relevance in the Bible. Maybe not uniquely so in an inherent sense, but certainly given the Bible’s place in western civilization for the last 2,000 years, it has a preeminent or at least prominent place in our cultural, philosophical, and spiritual history. The Bible is beautiful, resonant, and generally has a lot to offer, and I don’t think that being a non-Christian changes that. It may change the way I approach the text, but it doesn’t dissuade me from approaching it in the first place.

4. Do You Go To Church?

Absolutely. I like going to Church. I like going to Church with my wife, and I intend to keep on going for the rest of my life. And though I’m not much of a believer, I find value in community, and I intend to be active and involved. I don’t feel the need to attract attention and be the center of attention because I’m a non-Christian going to a Christian church. I’m happier to just be quietly heretical. But like I said, I like Jesus, I like the Bible, I like Church. I don’t agree with everything that gets said, but nobody should, about anything, ever. So I’m comfortable with that.

We don’t have a church we go to right now, but that’s a temporary state of affairs. When we find a church we like, we’ll go to it. And it will most definitely be a Christian church.

My kids will be raised Christian. I’m comfortable with that. They’ll know I’m not, and they’ll know that not being a Christian–or that being various shades of Christian–is a live option for reasonable people. I want them to be able to make up their own minds, but I’d also like to give them a decent tradition to be raised in and to be able to fall back on when they need to without feeling that they are forced to conform to it. And I’d like them to grow up seeing that vast differences in approaches to faith are ultimately reconcilable and mutually compatible.

I don’t really attend any other kind of non-Christian spiritual gathering, either. I’m tangentially affiliated with a group of revival Druids in Chicagoland, but I have never actually met with them in person. And revival Druidry isn’t necessarily incompatible with Christianity anyway.

5. What do you think about Christians?

I like ’em just fine. I’m married to one. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be Christian. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to commit to a faith or a tradition. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take a stand and decide what you do and don’t believe. I understand completely that someone could find Jesus uniquely and supremely compelling, even though I don’t necessarily. I understand completely that someone could believe in One True God: sometimes I kind of do, too.

What I think is arrogant, though, is to pretend that you can be absolutely certain about any of it. There’s just no way. There is no way to know something without the possibility that you are wrong. We’re nervous systems floating in a dark jar, and we put a lot of faith in the data our senses feed us and the way our brains process that data. We could be wrong. We could be misled. We could be in the Matrix, and we would not know it or have any way of knowing it. The whole world could be a convincing illusion (some Hindus certainly think it is). Not only is it a possibility, but its a possibility that we can’t even judge how likely it is, because we have no frame of reference.

I’m not saying you have to waver or be wishy-washy. Practical existence means that, despite the possibility that it’s all an illusion, you have to act like it’s not. There’s virtue in taking a stand, and value in making sacrifices for what you believe. But at the same time you have to keep in mind that it’s possible you’re wrong, and find a way to weigh that against your convictions. In my mind, that’s faith. Unwavering certainty is just foolishness and self-deception. Going forward despite the possibility of being wrong is faith. What’s more, unwavering certainty makes people make bad decisions. The possibility of error allows us to act in faith but temper our actions with the consequences of error. It doesn’t mean paralysis. It just means our decisions, even the ones made on the basis of faith, are better decisions, because they are decisions we have weighed and considered properly.

6. Will you ever change your mind?

Maybe. Who’s to say? I change my mind about a lot of things, all the time. I try to live an authentic life, and sometimes that means backtracking and taking things back. I can live with that.

7. What would it take to make you change your mind?

Anything that would make Christianity and/or Jesus somehow uniquely or superlatively compelling. I don’t think it’s possible for Christianity to be objectively proven, and even if it’s theoretically possible, I think that Christianity has managed not to do it for two millennia, and I’m not optimistic about it’s chances of being objectively proven anytime soon.

So it would take something personal and subjective to make me into a Christian. A powerful mystical experience? A spiritual need uniquely filled? Something to make Christianity stand out and above everything else that I find just as compelling or more compelling. It’s a kind of spiritual economics. The value of being exclusively Christian would have to outweigh the costs, including the opportunity costs of the rich extra-Christian spiritual landscape that I would have to forego.

8. Haven’t you already had powerful spiritual experiences confirming the unique truth of Christianity?

Yes but no. At one point in my life I said I did, because it was important in my faith tradition to be able to say that, to be able to testify publicly that you had received a personal spiritual witness of the truth of Jesus Christ. So I went looking for this witness I was supposed to have, and the first powerful emotional experience I had that was Jesus-related, I labeled personal revelation. It was not intentionally dishonest. The cornerstone experience I had was an emotional breakdown in a set of circumstances effectively designed to be a lab for spiritual/emotional breakdowns. It is suspect because of the setting, and because of the effort and desire I put into getting a specific result that I believed I would get.

The point is, no emotional experience is objective proof of anything. At best, it’s proof that you’re having an emotional experience, that’s all. Spiritually emotional experiences are relevant, but how we weigh them, the creedence we give them, and the conclusions we draw from them are not necessarily straightforward. An experience that was compelling to me under one set of circumstances may simply no longer be compelling to me, for any reason.

I had an emotional experience, but I no longer find it sufficiently compelling to believe in the unique truth and exclusive divinity of Jesus.

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Think about it.

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Mary Lefkowitz wrote an excellent article for the LA Times a little more than a year ago about the Greek gods that’s well worth reading.

Bring back the Greek gods

Mere mortals had a better life when more than one ruler presided from on high.

By Mary Lefkowitz
October 23, 2007 in print edition A-27

Prominent secular and atheist commentators have argued lately that religion “poisons” human life and causes endless violence and suffering. But the poison isn’t religion; it’s monotheism. The polytheistic Greeks didn’t advocate killing those who worshiped different gods, and they did not pretend that their religion provided the right answers. Their religion made the ancient Greeks aware of their ignorance and weakness, letting them recognize multiple points of view.

There is much we still can learn from these ancient notions of divinity, even if we can agree that the practices of animal sacrifice, deification of leaders and divining the future through animal entrails and bird flights are well lost.

My Hindu students could always see something many scholars miss: The Greek gods weren’t mere representations of forces in nature but independent beings with transcendent powers who controlled the world and everything in it. Some of the gods were strictly local, such as the deities of rivers and forests. Others were universal, such as Zeus, his siblings and his children.

Zeus did not communicate directly with humankind. But his children — Athena, Apollo and Dionysus — played active roles in human life. Athena was the closest to Zeus of all the gods; without her aid, none of the great heroes could accomplish anything extraordinary. Apollo could tell mortals what the future had in store for them. Dionysus could alter human perception to make people see what’s not really there. He was worshiped in antiquity as the god of the theater and of wine. Today, he would be the god of psychology.

Zeus, the ruler of the gods, retained his power by using his intelligence along with superior force. Unlike his father (whom he deposed), he did not keep all the power for himself but granted rights and privileges to other gods. He was not an autocratic ruler but listened to, and was often persuaded by, the other gods.

Openness to discussion and inquiry is a distinguishing feature of Greek theology. It suggests that collective decisions often lead to a better outcome. Respect for a diversity of viewpoints informs the cooperative system of government the Athenians called democracy.

Unlike the monotheistic traditions, Greco-Roman polytheism was multicultural. The Greeks and Romans did not share the narrow view of the ancient Hebrews that a divinity could only be masculine. Like many other ancient peoples in the eastern Mediterranean, the Greeks recognized female divinities, and they attributed to goddesses almost all of the powers held by the male gods.

The world, as the Greek philosopher Thales wrote, is full of gods, and all deserve respect and honor. Such a generous understanding of the nature of divinity allowed the ancient Greeks and Romans to accept and respect other people’s gods and to admire (rather than despise) other nations for their own notions of piety. If the Greeks were in close contact with a particular nation, they gave the foreign gods names of their own gods: the Egyptian goddess Isis was Demeter, Horus was Apollo, and so on. Thus they incorporated other people’s gods into their pantheon.

What they did not approve of was atheism, by which they meant refusal to believe in the existence of any gods at all. One reason many Athenians resented Socrates was that he claimed a divinity spoke with him privately, but he could not name it. Similarly, when Christians denied the existence of any gods other than their own, the Romans suspected political or seditious motives and persecuted them as enemies of the state.

The existence of many different gods also offers a more plausible account than monotheism of the presence of evil and confusion in the world. A mortal may have had the support of one god but incur the enmity of another, who could attack when the patron god was away. The goddess Hera hated the hero Heracles and sent the goddess Madness to make him kill his wife and children. Heracles’ father, Zeus, did nothing to stop her, although he did in the end make Heracles immortal.

But in the monotheistic traditions, in which God is omnipresent and always good, mortals must take the blame for whatever goes wrong, even though God permits evil to exist in the world he created. In the Old Testament, God takes away Job’s family and his wealth but restores him to prosperity after Job acknowledges God’s power.

The god of the Hebrews created the Earth for the benefit of humankind. But as the Greeks saw it, the gods made life hard for humans, didn’t seek to improve the human condition and allowed people to suffer and die. As a palliative, the gods could offer only to see that great achievement was memorialized. There was no hope of redemption, no promise of a happy life or rewards after death. If things did go wrong, as they inevitably did, humans had to seek comfort not from the gods but from other humans.

The separation between humankind and the gods made it possible for humans to complain to the gods without the guilt or fear of reprisal the deity of the Old Testament inspired. Mortals were free to speculate about the character and intentions of the gods. By allowing mortals to ask hard questions, Greek theology encouraged them to learn, to seek all the possible causes of events. Philosophy — that characteristically Greek invention — had its roots in such theological inquiry. As did science.

Paradoxically, the main advantage of ancient Greek religion lies in this ability to recognize and accept human fallibility. Mortals cannot suppose that they have all the answers. The people most likely to know what to do are prophets directly inspired by a god. Yet prophets inevitably meet resistance, because people hear only what they wish to hear, whether or not it is true. Mortals are particularly prone to error at the moments when they think they know what they are doing. The gods are fully aware of this human weakness. If they choose to communicate with mortals, they tend to do so only indirectly, by signs and portents, which mortals often misinterpret.

Ancient Greek religion gives an account of the world that in many respects is more plausible than that offered by the monotheistic traditions. Greek theology openly discourages blind confidence based on unrealistic hopes that everything will work out in the end. Such healthy skepticism about human intelligence and achievements has never been needed more than it is today.

I’m not going to claim that the article is flawless: a quick Google search for “Hindu nationalist violence” will demonstrate pretty easily that polytheists are just as capable of violence in the name of their gods as monotheists are. However, I think you can make the case that Hindu religious violence is a primarily cultural rather than specifically religious affair–they’re not lashing out because people refuse to accept the truth of Vishnu, but because they perceive their culture as one that is under siege by a long history of encroachment by Muslims and Christians into India.

At the same time, I think editorials like Lefkowitz’s are important, if for nothing else than to make us think about the plausibility and, well, the utility of polytheism. In modern civilization, polytheism gets a bad rap, honestly. Most people would discard it as completely implausible, even ridiculous, but the only reason they think that is because monotheistic religions–religions that have had a privileged place in western culture and society for over a thousand years–ridicule them.

Even atheists who discard polytheism out of hand do so not because they have dealt with polytheism on its own terms. Instead they’re rejecting a monotheist caricature of polytheism. Polytheism is frankly not treated fairly.

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Like I said in my last post, I’m extremely hesitant to just come out and say that I flat-out don’t believe in God in the typical atheist sense.  This isn’t hedging my bet; I absolutely don’t believe in hell, I’m skeptical about an afterlife anyway (and even if there is one, I doubt very strongly that the particulars can be known), and a quick scan of the state of the world tells me that it doesn’t look like people who believe in God are getting all the breaks.  Part of it is an agnostic approach to epistemology: I don’t see how humans can know anything for sure at all.  All our sensory input is filtered through the double-filter of sensation and perception, and there’s no particular reason to trust that either one of those filters feeds us objective data.  We can’t really be sure that we’re not in The Matrix, so we certainly can’t be sure of something as attenuated from our direct empirical experience as the existence or nonexistence of God.

As far as we know, there is a God who is simply cleverly making the universe look to us like there is no God (I call this “Fossil-Hiding God”).  How would we know?  If an omnipotent or even mostly-potent supernatural being with more or less total control over the universe wanted to cover his tracks completely, I imagine he could do it pretty well.  Either way, like I said in my last post, I’m not actually convinced by the logical arguments of atheists for the nonexistence of God.  Despite all out efforts to reason him out of existence, I think it possible that he nevertheless exists–C. S. Lewis’s fantastic novel, Till We Have Faces, had a proufound the way I thought about the existence of deity and made me extremely reluctant to flat-out deny that the divine exists, even if it is totally unlike the traditional Judeo-Christian conetption of Yahweh.

So in terms of the existence versus nonexistence of God, I’m really more of an agnostic with a theoretically rebuttable presumption God’s nonexistence, at least inasmuch as we’re talking about God as a distinct transcendant supernatural personal entity, with or without a flowing white beard.

That’s not the end of the story, though.  the word “God” can be stretched to fit an amazing diversity of theistic and quasi-theistic concepts, many of which aren’t anything at all like the traditional Judeo-Christian conception of the supreme being, and it turns out that I actually do believe in something that if pressed, I could call God (although I would be reluctant to do so because the label “God” would confuse most people by implying that there’s a beard in there somewhere).  I think it’s worth explaining what I mean by all of this, especially since I’m actually trying to get to a point eventually, but I’m not going to make this post more confusing than it already is.  So hold your horses a bit and wait for the next post.

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I have major doubts, but I feel like I’m moving into an area where I want to start seriously considering religion, and specifically Christianity.  I talked about it at length in my last post, so go back and read it if you haven’t already.

Anyway, I’m possibly prepared to accept Christianity in a sort of provisional sense, as the most meaningful mechanism by which I can access the Divine Mystery of Unknowable Universal Truth and Miscellaneous Etcetera.

I even feel like I can turn to the Bible as something spiritually meaningful and religiously relevant.  I would do so with the caveat that the Bible is the record of one nation’s interactions with the Divine, but that it is heavily filtered through their cultural lens and their milieu.  Moreso than many other scriptures, the Bible is open in my opinion to this kind of interpretation.  People wrote the Bible, after all, and they were people who lived in a certain time and place, with certain limitations.  It aims toward ultimate truth even if it is not itself The ultimate truth.

As far as Jesus and his life, mission, and divinity go, I’m prepared to accept it conceptually without worrying whether it is literal fact or not.  I can accept Christianity as a spiritual scaffold without needing to muck around with apologetics and debate.

However, the biggest problem for me, the stumbling block, is Judaism.

Unlike the rest of the Bible, the Law of Moses is supposed to have been directly dictated by God and written down the way He said it.  Even the words of Jesus by comparison are removed enough from their original source to be a little bit shrouded in the mists of time, history, and myth.  But the Law is a full document straight from God’s mouth to the stone tablets, and I think the Law sucks.

Not in the Paul “the law killeth” sense.  I mean that the Law is simply not the kind of thing that could be given by any kind of God I could imagine, and unlike the rest of the stories in the Old Testament which may or may not be just stories, it’s kind of hard to say that the law is just a mythic interpretation of something.

It advocates death by stoning for all kinds of petty stuff.  It condones slavery.  It’s crap.  And the way I see it, it’s not the kind of thing that is Mythic at all.  Either God dictated it to Moses or Moses made it all up.  It doesn;t come down to us shrouded by oral tradition.  And the entire Old Testament from then on is fairly rooted in it.  So what’s the deal?  It’s kind of hard to separate Christianity from the Law.

I’m not talking about the no-brainers like “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not commit adultery.”  I’m talking about stuff like where if a man rapes a girl he just has to pay some money and get married.  I’m talking about where it says to kill your family if they believe differently than you.   I’m talking about the divine mandate to commit genocide.  Or how you’re supposed ot kill your children if they don’t obey you.

You want to see me deny the existence of God?  Convince me that the only possible God is the one that made those rules.  I just don’t buy it.  And that’s a problem, because it means there’s a whole section of the Bible that I can’t simply deal with in my wishy-washy liberal way, and that means I don’t know what to do other than junk the whole thing, other than as a piece of literature.

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In order for the Mormon church to make any sense, there has to have been a Restoration. In order for there to need to be a Restoration, there has to have been a Great Apostasy. This is fundamental enough that the new Preach My Gospel manual that the missionaries use starts out with the Great Apostasy from the beginning. The main problem, in my opinion, is that there’s no good evidence that such a Great Apostasy occurred, at least to the extent that it would have needed to occur for Mormon theology to make sense.

From the standpoint of Mormonism, the Apostasy meant that 1) there were no more living prophets and/or apostles to continuously reveal the truth, 2) true doctrine became subverted by human ideas and was thus lost (and without living prophets, it was not re-discoverable), and 3) the priesthood authority was gone from the earth.

Each one of those points is incredibly problematic. The first point seems hard to argue with, because nobody was claiming to receive revelation, prophet-style, on behalf of all Christendom. To many Mormons, thats eals the deal. However, the sad truth is that the Latter-Day church doesn’t seem to get ay revelation, either. After Joseph Smith, there’s basically been a long line of prophets who don’t prohesy. Now, most Mormons will dispute this, and their evidence will be geenrally statements that they personally ascribe prophetic-revelation-status to (though the maker of the statement did not), or they appeal to the “probability” that the prophet gets these big revelations all the time, but doesn’t share them with the Church and the world for whatever reason. Or, barring those, they will shift their definition of revelation to include a moregeneral type of inspiration.

In any case, there’s not much evidence that the rate of contemporary revelation right now was any different than during the Great Apostasy. Nevertheless, there’s a differnence- the next two points (true doctrine and priesthood authority) make clear the difference between the Church during the Great Apostasy and the Latter-Day Church.

James E. Talmage, in pretty much any book he wrote, was quick to trot out shady, questionable doctrines and practices of the medieval Catholic church as evidence of its apostasy. What it basically comes down to is that doctrines were changed away from the “plain and precious truths” that were taught by Jesus Christ and his apostles. This is also problematic, for a couple of reasons.

First, despite what Mormons may learn in Primary and Sunday School, many doctrines and practices have also changed during the not-quite-two-hundred years of the latter-day church. I need only mention the big, contentious ones like polygamy, Blood Atonement, and the Adam-God theory. Sure, some of those doctrines have come and gone, but so did some of the questionable Catholic doctrines that Talmage loves to pick on. It’s not limited to the anti-Mormon fodder, either. Plenty of other doctrines and practices have changed or evolved over time and members don;t even bat an eye.

As an aside- a common Mormon metaphor for the Apostasy and Restoration is a broken glass. You can’t just put the pieces of a broken glass back together to make the cup good again; you have to actually make a new cup. The broken glass is the Christian church during the Apostasy and the new-blown glass is the Restored church. If the Apostasy was just a matter of inspired leadership and correct doctrine, then the metaphor is complete junk. Rediscovering old, correct doctrine, if such a thing exists, is merely a matter of going back to old texts and seeing what was taught before the change away from the truth. It is well within human capability, and it’s exactly what the Reformers were trying to do. If it was just a matter of inspiration/revelation and true doctrine, then the Reformation (and accompanying counter-reformation) should have done the trick. The Mormon Church even teaches that those men were inspired.

This is the point in the discussion where the Mormon falls back to the bunker of Priesthod authority, but I am afraid there is no cover to be found there either.

According to Mormon theology, the big evidence for the Apostasy and Restoration, the real clincher, was authority. God’s priesthood, the power and authority to act (and lead) in His name, was gone from the earth. It had to be fully restored in order for God to run things the right way, for the ordinances like baptism to have any effect, and for the Kingdom of God to be built on earth.

However, there’s no real indication that the Priesthood, assuming that it did indeed exist the way that Mormonism teaches that it once did, ever left the earth. In fact, I think it’s completely and utterly unreasonable to think that it did.

Mormonism believes in a lay priesthood- all worthy men can (and these days should and are) be ordained deacons, teachers, priests, and elders. This Priesthood existed in the time of the apostles, but it was lost, so only the apostles themselves could give the Priesthood back to us. Thus, first John the Baptist and then Peter James and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to give them this priesthood, so there would be an unbroken line of authority back to Jesus Christ (for the Melchizidek Priesthood) and to Aaron (for the Aaronic Priesthood).

But that means that this lay Priesthood existed in New Testament times, but it had disappeared by Joseph Smith’s time. The problem is that the Christian church didn’t disappear during that time. In order to have the Priesthood die out and fade away but the Church continue, you’d have to have an entire generation of Priesthood-holders simply not give the Priesthood to anyone else. Simultaneously, you’d have to have an entire generation of Church leadership come in and claim leadership positions without even holding the Priesthood (if you think about that in the framework of the modern Mormon Chruch, it doesn’t even make sense).

The Mormons claim that John, not Linus, was the second leader of the Church (since he got Revelation on Patmos after Peter’s death, and only the leader of the Church would get scriptural revelation like that), which means that the Catholic line of authority was broken from the beginning. The problem with that apologetic is that it confuses leadership with the Priesthood. Linus may not have been “the prophet,” but as a member of the Church, there’s no reason at allt ot hink he didn’t have the Priesthood. Past that, the Catholic church (and the Orthodox Church and even the Anglican Communion) can show an unbroken line of apostolic succession all the way down to the current set of bishops. What reason then is there to believe that all those bishops don’t have the Priesthood?

Sure, they may not use it right, and they may have their heads full of false doctrine, but Mormon theology is pretty clear that priesthood authority doesn’t go away despite personal apostasy. A wicked missionary’s baptism is still valid, because he had the authority, and it was the Priesthood (i.e., God) doing the job, not him. Look at Alma the Elder in the Book of Mormon- he was one of a whole crop of evil clergymen who were ordained by the equally wicked King Noah and were doing al kinds of wring things and teaching all kinds of wrong doctrines. Nevertheless, the line of authority that gave Alma his Priesthood was still a valid one, so he could baptize all of those people at the Waters of Mormon. If he had the Priesthood, then why don’t the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox clergy have the Priesthood?

In short, although there may have been a falling away from the truth over time, there’s no real reason to believe that The Great Apostasy ever happened in such a way as to necessitate the Restoration as it is taught in Mormonism.

Note- I have added this post to my Sailing Away From Mormonism page.

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As I’ve said before, I do not deny the existence of God, but there are some things that I do deny. Many of them actually assume that God exists, so what I mean then is that “if there is a God, I deny that he is like x.”

Anyway.

I deny the existence of hell. That an even marginally good god would damn people to eternal punishment and torture for finite sins committed in virtual ignorance is absolutely preposterous. That some people do believe this makes my mind boggle.

I deny the infallibility of the Bible (or any other religious text), of human religious leaders, of religions, and of philosophies. The claim of infallibility is unbelievably arrogant, and reality usually shows the truth.

I deny the existence of Fossil-Hiding God. What I mean by that is that I deny that God would create a world that looked like he didn’t create it as some kind of test of faith. I deny that God would say x, and then purposely hide all evidence of x and in fact plant all kinds of counterevidence against x. “Test us,” my eye.

I deny the existence of any one “chosen people.” I deny an ethnocentric God.

I deny that morality is based on God’s decree. I deny that the only line between moral and immoral is the whim of deity. I deny a moral system that is ultimately based on “because I said so.” That’s elementary school morality. God is certainly better than that, if he indeed exists. And we have the potential to be better than that, and I hardly believe that God simply wants us to behave according to the lowest common denominator. At the very least, it would make God an arbitrary and capricious God, and that takes me to two sub-denials:

I deny arbitrary commandments, i.e., things that are not inherently, intuitively immoral. This is of course a subset of the above denial, because the only thing that makes homosexuality immoral, for example, is “God said so.” Or tea and coffee in Mormonism. Being harmful to people doesn’t naturally equal immoral (otherwise getting in a car would be immoral), and the only thing that would make the Word of Wisdom a moral issue would be the fact that God said do. And I deny that God ever said such a thing.

I deny an arbitrary God. If God exists, he certainly doesn’t predestine some people for heaven and some for hell. That’s cruel capriciousness. Being the supreme being doesn’t mean he can just do whatever he wants, and if it does, then I deny the existence of a God who would just do whatever he wanted even if he could.

That’s all I can think of. There are more nit-picky things I deny, but those are specific religious doctrines that I reject, as opposed to these kinds of overarching universal denials.

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For a few days I’ve been thinking about the possibility that there is no God.  For my whole life, I have assumed there was one, but I’ve never experienced him or had any kind of spiritual relationship with him.  So I have no personal basis for claiming that I know or even suspect that there is a deity.  I mean, I’d like there to be one, but that’s not really enough for me.  I’m too skeptical to be satisfied with believing based solely on the desire to believe (sorry, Alma- it’s just not going to happen).

What if there is no God?  What then?  Is there morality without God?  Of course there is.  Morality, to me, is instinctive and universal.  True morality at least.  Every religion teaches respect and kindness towards fellow humans- we don’t need a god to tell us that.  The things that aren’t universal, like whether God forbids the eating of pork or beef, are in my opinion clearly manmade morality.  Arbitrary garbage that has to do with human institutions, not with what’s really right or wrong.

What’s “morally wrong” with coffee?  Nothing; the very idea is preposteroous to everyone but Mormons.  But to them, it’s a moral issue because they believe God commanded it.  This is the kind of thing that I gleefully abandon.  We need God to tell us to not drink coffee, to not eat pork, and to adhere to specific religious observances.  We don’t need God to tell us to not be jerks.  We know to not be jerks on our own, and we manage to do it regardless, even when we’re told to not do it by “God.”

Anyway, I digress.  I don’t feel like  I need God to have morality, and anyway, that’s beside the point.  If there’s no God there’s no God regardless of whether we “need” him for something or not.

So if there is no God, what is there?  I don’t believe that the science we have describes everything, and I don’t believe that the material is all that is.  Maybe that’s ignorant and superstitious of me, but it’s who I am.  Does that mean I believe in spirit, or in mind that is separate from body?  I’m not sure.  Does it mean I believe in magic? Unfortunately, no.  As cool as magic would be, I don’t think it exists (unless you define it so broadly that it can’t help but exist, and then you’re not saying anything useful).  Likewise, in believing that there is something more than the material, I suppose I could formulate what I do believe in and call it “God,” but that would actually only confuse and mislead, since I would be talking about something that is a far cry from what most people mean when they use the term.

I’m not so sure I believe in a distinct divine being  with consciousness and personalty.  I certainly don’t believe in a God with a physical form (of flesh and bone or otherwise).  The thing is, the more I think about it, the more I think I may be comfortable with the idea of no God.  Not because it gives me license to do whatever I want or anything, because like I said, I still believe in morality.

I certainly do not have all the answers, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else does, either, no matter how adamantly they claim to have them.  I believe in mystery.  I believe in the unexplained, and perhaps in the unexplainable.  I believe that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.  But I don’t know if I believe in God.

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The title is a reference to a sketch from the Seattle sketch comedy show Almost Live.  The particular sketch featured Bill Nye (long before he was nationally popular as “the science guy”), and it was unsurprisingly humoroud.  It was Bill Nye, after all.  The whole show was hilarious, and your life is poorer for not having seen it.

Anyway, that’s only tangentally related to this post.   The thing is, I’m skeptical about Jesus.

I’m not an atheist.  I can’t be.  I know there is some kind of divine reality out there, something transcendent, some source of spirit beyond our day-to-day perception.  There has to be.  But I just have a hard time buying that this spiritual reality is in fact Jesus Christ, who in fact died for my sins, and in fact can save me from hell or sin or death or whatever.  I mean, I like it- I like Christianity and Christian theology.  I think it’s the kind of thing that maybe could be real.  But for Christianity as presented to us now to work at all, it has to be literally true.  And there’s just this part of me that’s too skeptical to belive that it is.

Plus, then ancient Judaism also has to be literally true, and I’m not always sure that I buy the clean connection between Old and New Testaments.  An without that, I certanly don’t believe that Judaism is literally true (in which God gives a bunch of arbitrary comandments to one particular chosen people).

Maybe my problem is just a basic lack of faith, but it’s not as simple as just saying “well, I’ll believe anyway, and see what happens.”  For starters, I’m shy about jumping in the deep end as far as religion goes.  Second, don’t forget my little friend, Mister Mental Block.  Third, I’m afraid that in jumping in and simply living Christianity and telling myself that I believe in Jesus, that I will believe in Jesus but not because Jesus is really real.  Instead, I will believe because I have convinced myself to believe and then allowed myself to get swept up in a spiritual current.  That’s basically what I did with Mormonism.  Furthermore, I’m afraid that I will have a lingering nagging doubt about Jesus (much like I always had a lingering nagging doubt about Mormonism) which will eventiually come back and bite me- ultimately leaving me writhing in agnostic agony the way I am right now.

It’s very possible that I am overthinking it, but if I am, I can’t do otherwise.  I can’t just tell myself to stop thinking, nor would I ever, ever want to.

So I don’t know what to do.  I’m paralyzed spiritually because on the one hand I feel to skeptical about Jesus to really be a Christian, but I’m too afraid to not believe in Jesus (and at the same time, not being a Christian would make me kind of sad, since like I said, I find Christianity very appealing). I don’t know what to do.   for now, I’m mostly just thining about it.  Arguably I should do more studying and praying.  You could even make an argument to me that I do need ot just dive in despite my doubts, that being what faith is all about.  But it’s not as easy as that for me.

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