Zelophehad’s Daughters

Is Mormonism Anti-Catholic?

Posted by Kiskilili

Here’s how I see the situation (and I’ll admit at the outset that I haven’t entirely been able to make sense of it or read all the relevant history).

In a sense, Mormonism is anti-everything. In the ideal Mormon realm no other religions would exist, since their understanding of truth is partial and corrupt; other people would ultimately be better off as Mormons. A robust emphasis on proselytism indicates as much. Mormon theology makes universal truth claims that by their very nature are bound to impinge on others’ religious truth claims, as well as universal claims to authority that are bound to impinge on others’ claims to authority. Note: I’m not necessarily persuaded this a bad thing. I’m simply observing that Mormon theology sets itself in opposition to all other faith traditions. We’re right; they’re wrong. There is no salvation outside the Church.

But of course “anti-” sentiments exist along a spectrum, from innocuous assertions that everyone else is misguided (which we’re bound in this theological system to encounter) to vituperative denunciations of others’ motives. Are Mormons waving pitchforks and busting down people’s doors? Absolutely not. Do Mormons often show respect to other traditions? For sure. Let’s look at some of the murky terrain between these two poles.

Because they share with us important history, scripture, and tradition (besides the fact that they’re important to the cultural incubator in which Mormonism developed), Jews and other Christians serve as Mormons’ primary foils, and our discourse about them functions as a significant site both of boundary maintenance and the construction of our own self-understanding in the salvation-narrative of our history. Regular denigration of other Christian groups (and I have serious doubts I’m the only one who’s heard these comments in Sunday School) play an important role in reaffirming the community’s exclusive claims to legitimacy. But are Roman Catholics singled out for more intense castigation than Protestants or Jews? (I’m setting the Eastern Orthodox Church aside as my impression is they’re off the radar.)

Jews

Our relationship to Judaism is enormously complicated, and I’ve never yet encountered an adequate explanation for it. On the one hand, we identify very closely with Jews. We like to compare our practices to Jewish practices under the assumption that locating parallels between the two traditions will confer legitimacy on us. Jews have dietary codes; so do Mormons. Jews wear sacred clothing; so do Mormons. In each case, this is said to redound to Mormonism’s validity.  (To anticipate my later argument: Have you ever heard a Mormon make the case that since Catholics also have a hierarchical structure and put emphasis on sacraments, this is evidence Mormonism is legitimate?) I even know Mormons who regularly celebrate Passover or participate in other Jewish community events in the explicit belief that Judaism is quite literally a part of their Mormon heritage.

At the same time, we seem oblivious to how offensive this expropriative behavior is to many Jews, who have their own boundary maintenance to think of. (Recall that Mormons celebrate not a biblical Passover as outlined either in Exodus 12 or Deuteronomy 16, or even a Passover based on the Last Supper; rather, what’s celebrated is a Seder as developed by early rabbis and set forth in the Mishnah. Is it possible we think Christians were blinded by apostasy at this point but Jews who had explicitly rejected Jesus as the Messiah were not? Such a position is hardly theologically coherent within Mormon claims.)

Not only are we unabashed in our supersessionism–we are the new, true Israel–we do basically nothing to mitigate the anti-Jewish sentiment in our holy writ. However problematic the New Testament may be, the Book of Mormon goes shockingly further:

“For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations.” (2 Nephi 25:2)

“Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ . . . should come among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they should crucify him–for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God.” (2 Nephi 10:3)

That stings. There’s no group more wicked than the Jews. What’s the special evidence for it? They knowingly, deliberately rejected and tortured Jesus. (No mention of Roman involvement here, or of the fact that basically all of Jesus’ followers during his lifetime were Jews. To say nothing of the possibility this passage seems to foreclose: that one can reject Jesus innocently.)

Whatever our scriptures say and in spite of our tendency to lambast the Pharisees, we tend to be unswervingly enthusiastic about today’s Jews, sometimes in problematic ways. There’s little theological consistency here, and I suspect we’re not interacting with Jews enough in religious environments to have become sensitized to issues in Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Protestants

Of course from the Mormon perspective Protestants are as wrong as anyone, and for people who wear symbols of our own we express a surprisingly hostile attitude to the cross. But this is mitigated to some degree by the praise we lavish on the Reformers. Paeans to Luther, Tyndale, and company proliferate in official Church publications; when was the last time you heard Ignatius of Loyola or Francis of Assisi selected as the subject of fulsome eulogizing?

President Hinckley’s summary of the course of Western history in April General Conference 2004 is, I think, representative:

“Ignorance and evil enveloped the world, resulting in what is known as the Dark Ages. Isaiah had predicted: ‘Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people’ (Isaiah 60:2). For centuries, disease was rampant and poverty reigned. The Black Death killed some 50 million people during the 14th century. Was not this a season of terrible peril? I wonder how humanity survived.

“But somehow, in that long season of darkness, a candle was lighted. The age of Renaissance brought with it a flowering of learning, art and science. There came a movement of bold and courageous men and women who looked heavenward in acknowledgment of God and his divine Son. We speak of it as the Reformation.”

Did Thomas Aquinas and Hildegard of Bingen not look heavenward in acknowledgment of God? While the Bubonic Plague wreaked havoc in Europe, did the Reformation not do the same–why do we hear nothing of the millions who were slaughtered through human agency in the wake of Luther’s actions? This is a fundamentally Protestant reading of history that associates Protestantism’s origins with sweetness and light and periods of Catholic dominance with ignorance, wretchedness, and iniquity.

I’m not arguing that anti-Catholicism is unique to Mormonism; I’m quite aware we’re the heirs of a long-standing Protestant bias in this nation and that anti-Catholic sentiment basically originates in Protestant circles (hence the name “Protestant”). We’ve clearly absorbed basic Protestant assumptions evident in everything from how we number the commandments in the Decalogue to how we build our churches.

But for a tradition that also “protests Protestantism,” this is hardly theologically grounded. The Great Apostasy (i.e. the illegitimacy of the Catholic Church) is undeniably an important tenet of our faith–but then so, implicitly, is the belief that the churches the Reformers founded were corrupt, although we rarely to never articulate it this way. We share barely a thread with Luther’s theological tapestry (do we accept justification by faith alone, a priesthood of all believers, or Sola Scriptura?), yet we laud him adoringly. What exactly did he do that’s so praiseworthy from the Mormon perspective? I submit that it’s exactly this: He thought the Catholic Church was wrong. The point that we think the church he founded is arguably more wrong hardly seems to matter to us.

At the same time, on the Protestant front we’re currently competing with conservative Christians for our social niche, and this has resulted in a lot of jostling and skirmishes. But it’s resulted in something else too: dialogue. As far as I can tell, we’re dialoguing more with Evangelicals than with any other group. (Can anyone point me to a book on how wide the divide is between Rome and Salt Lake?)

Roman Catholics

Because our claims to exclusive authority are arguably more central than our claims to truth, there are good theological reasons to view Catholicism as our primary threat and rival. But what’s often striking to me is that in discussing Reformers like Calvin we seem unaware how far his ideas are from Mormonism, where in discussing Catholicism we often seem oblivious to how close they are.

To take just one example: Not too long ago I listened to an Institute teacher fulminate against the obvious corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Because they believe the efficacy of a sacrament is not contingent on the worthiness of the priest performing it–even disreputable priests are able to perform valid baptisms or give last rites. When did Mormons become Donatists? I wondered. We believe the exact same thing.

That brings us to that magisterial, well-worn tome laying out in florid prose our doctrines on the Messiah, a book that has never gone out of print and never lost the Church’s official imprimatur: Talmage’s Jesus the Christ, in whose pages we find statements like this about Catholicism:

“[The Roman Catholic] church, reeking with the stench of worldly ambition and lust of dominance, audaciously claimed to be the Church established by Him who affirmed: ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’”

Is that really so audacious? After all, we’re making the same claim.

“The arrogant assumptions of the Church of Rome were not less extravagant in spiritual than in secular administration. In her loudly asserted control over the spiritual destinies of the souls of men, she blasphemously pretended to forgive or retain individual sins, and to inflict or remit penalties both on earth and beyond the grave.”

Is it really so outrageous to suppose Church leaders have been deputized by God to assess whether forgiveness has been granted or penalties incurred, or to suggest our behavior on Earth can directly influence the dispensation of grace beyond the grave?

“In her unrestrained abandon to the license of arrogated authority, the Church of Rome hesitated not to transgress the law of God, change the ordinances essential to salvation, and ruthlessly break the everlasting covenant, thereby defiling the earth even as Isaiah had foretold. She altered the ordinance of baptism, destroying its symbolism and associating with it imitations of pagan rites; she corrupted the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and befouled the doctrine thereof by the vagary of transubstantiation; she assumed to apply the merits of the righteous to the forgiveness of the sinner in the unscriptural and wholly repellent dogma of supererogation; she promoted idolatry in most seductive and pernicious forms; she penalized the study of the holy scriptures by the people at large; she enjoined an unnatural state of celibacy upon her clergy; she revelled in unholy union with the theories and sophistries of men, and so adulterated the simple doctrines of the gospel of Christ as to produce a creed rank with superstition and heresy; she promulgated such perverted doctrines regarding the human body as to make the divinely formed tabernacle of flesh appear as a thing fit only to be tortured and contemned; she proclaimed it an act of virture insuring rich reward to lie and deceive if thereby her own interests might be subserved; and she so thoroughly departed from the original plan of Church organization as to make of herself a spectacle of ornate display, fabricated by the caprice of man. . . . Under the tyrannous repression incident to usurped and unrighteous domination by the Roman church, civilization was retarded and for centuries was practically halted in its course. The period of retrogression is known in history as the Dark Ages.”

There’s a lot one could say about this passage, but I’ll say this: it sounds chillingly similar to a medieval Christian anti-Jewish screed. Other religions know they’re wrong. They know we’re right. The reason they don’t share our beliefs is not that they came innocently and genuinely to different conclusions; it’s that they’re contumaciously, deliberately rebelling against God’s will so they can revel in rank wickedness and sordid devilry. Here again, there is no room for honest disagreement.

Maybe it was nothing more than social context that led those missionaries in San Luis to desecrate a Catholic church, specifically (that is, Catholic churches were what was available). But I’m not persuaded it’s insignificant (or even uncommon). While anti-Catholic sentiment is undeniably on the wane, I’m not convinced we’ve completely eradicated that impulse that reached its apogee with Bruce R. McConkie’s famous statement, later retracted, that the Catholic Church was in effect founded by the devil.

There are ways in which we identify with both Protestants and Jews; I see no evidence we identify similarly with Catholics. We sometimes look to Gnostic texts or those of other early “heretics” to buttress particular claims; where do we look to patristic authors? We quote Reformers, but when do we quote Counter-reformers? We adulate C. S. Lewis; is there a single Catholic thinker from any period who has received so much attention?

Have Church leaders in high office ever targeted any other religious tradition with this level of animus in our history as an organization (aside from the anti-Jewish passages in scripture discussed above)?

30 Responses to “Is Mormonism Anti-Catholic?”

  1. 1.

    Another interesting data point can be found in the oft-quoted 1978 First Presidency Statement on “God’s Love for all Mankind”:

    The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.

    The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel.

    Note which religious group isn’t there. It does go on to say stuff about God communicating with all people, but I still think it’s telling that Catholics don’t get a mention.

  2. 2.

    When I was in seminary, we did an exercise in which the teacher broke up a candy bar and handed out the pieces. Then he went back and collected them again and attempted to put them back together. He asked whether we’d prefer the re-assembled one, or a new one altogether. The point was that the Reformation was like the former; it was an attempt to put things right, but what was needed was a Restoration. The Reformers were going in the right direction; they just didn’t have the ability to restore the bar whole. But that does raise the question–who broke the candy bar in the first place (and doesn’t even seem to realize that it’s broken)?

    My impression is that while some anti-Catholicism lingers in popular Mormon culture, on the insitutional level, things are pretty cordial these days. LDS leaders cooperate with Catholic leaders on a variety of issues (like something I don’t want to get into, but it rhymes with “drop fate”). However, as you note, our sense of ourselves and our place in history is still grounded in the kind of 19th century anti-Catholic Protestant narratives picked up by Talmage. And I wonder whether, given the fact that LDS identity is based on the notion of a Restoration (and thus an apostasy which preceded it), there’s a way in which we need Catholics to be wrong in a way that we don’t need Jews or Protestants to be. There’s also the idea I’ve heard occasionally that Catholics are the only real threat, in that either they’re right or we are, based on the fact that we both claim to have some kind of unbroken priesthood line.

    We do seem to like Mother Teresa, though.

  3. 3.

    Kiskilili, we must be related! When I read your title, my first thought was, “Well, Mormonism is anti-everything. Where’s the argument?” So I was so pleased to find you saying

    In a sense, Mormonism is anti-everything

    although of course I appreciate that you analyzed the question in a little more depth than I did. :)

  4. 4.

    Kiskilili,
    Thanks for this. It’s thoughtful, although I wanted to put in a couple quibbles.

    On our relationship with Judaism: I think this, especially, is regionally dependent. Church members in New York are (in general) very familiar with several contemporary strains and practices within Judaism–I went to school with Orthodox, Conservative, Liberal, and secular Jews. Growing up in Southern California, though, most of those I knew who were Jewish were secular.

    I think that (at least some) members take the Nephi’s anti-Jerusalem Judaism fairly literally. Frankly, I think it’s a lamentable misreading of scripture to believe that, because Nephi said Jews were the most wicked people on earth, they are. But I’ll grant you that a portion–maybe the majority–of members don’t read the BoM the same way I do. I’ll also assert that they’re wrong, but to flesh that out would make this a far longer comment than I’d be willing to read.

    As for the anti-Catholicism, I readily grant that there is historic anti-Catholic sentiment in the Church. It came out of a U.S. that seems to have really freaked out about Catholics. But, in spite of Jesus the Christ still being in print, I don’t recall these passages from the last time I read it (admittedly probably almost 15 years ago at this point), and I don’t think they have any relationship with the Mormonism I’ve grown up in.

    The two Colorado missionaries are a sad case, but I would argue that (a) they were dumb and (b) they were outliers. On my mission (in spite of being in Brazil), we were fairly anti-Congregacao Cristao do Brasil and Assembly of God, because members of those churches seemed to really hate us. The Catholics we came across rarely got baptized, but were always friendly and helpful. On my mission, the big P-day activity was to go to the Cathedral in the middle of Sao Paulo, and I never heard anything disparaging about the cathedral or Catholics in general and have never heard anything like what the Institute teacher said. (Of course, again, I have very little regard for the opinion of CES–or whatever it’s called now–employees.) (In fact, this whole comment makes me sound pretty egotistical and full of myself. So it’s probably overall a good representation of me.)

    In church, I’ve definitely heard passive-aggressive putdowns of other religions, although generally not by name. And I cringe when it happens. But the only religion I ever heard attacked as evil was Islam. And the guy who did it was probably borderline crazy. (In fact, in that ward, several of us went to a Muslim-Mormon Ramadan thing. It was interesting and entirely another story,)

  5. 5.

    Thanks for responding with some fleshing out of your thoughts on this. I still don’t think anti-catholicism is significant among the general membership of the church, although I do see how some of our ideas about the “great apostacy” could be interpreted as anti-catholic. To me, when I think of some of the historical sins of the Catholic church I don’t really identify them with the Catholic church today. I think of them more in the category of general European and christian history.

    I also disagree with your idea that Mormons consider people of other faiths “misguided”. In general, I wouldn’t characterize them that way, and I don’t know that most LDS people would say that. I may be wrong, I tend to think of myself as being a very typical mormon. I believe there are billions of people in this world not of our faith who are following God’s plan for their lives. I am a big fan of missionary work, but that doesn’t mean that I think joining the LDS church is God’s plan for everyone.

  6. 6.

    E, I’d agree that most Mormons (at least in my experience) would share the sentiment there are lots and lots of good people outside of the church, who are living morally admirable lives. But I don’t see how it’s possible to make any kind of universal truth claims and not consider those who think differently to be misguided in their beliefs. Like you, I’m not persuaded that joining the LDS church is God’s plan for everyone. But if I believe (for example) in a corporeal God, that means that I think those who don’t have that belief are mistaken. It doesn’t mean we can’t respect or learn from each other–but we’re both going to see the other as misguided on that point. And it seems to me that the idea that other faiths are misguided is pretty core to Mormon identity.

  7. 7.

    well i think we are not anti anything because just like everyone elses religions we believe sertain things that other people may find rediculous but unlike every one else we dont talk bad about other churches and well to me it was never a problem to be mormon because they dont tell me what to believe they just teach me iand tell me to pray about it and god will answer my question and trust me when i say its the truth cause not only can you feel it but u can see it thru out your lifee so my opinion is no mormons are not anti anything =)

  8. 8.

    These days, I think we are more neglectful of Catholic history than against it. There is a lot of good stuff there. It is *particularly* ironic that the Protestant Reformation by and large involved a change away from doctrines we hold to be correct in favor of ones we strongly dispute.

    Martin Luther and John Calvin we may disagree with, but Jacobus Arminius was the man. He and his successors, in the form of John Wesley in particular, are the true precursors to Mormonism. And it is worth mentioning that on a number of points Arminianism (and the Mormonism that followed it) is much closer to Catholic orthodoxy than the doctrines of Luther and Calvin, which the Catholic Church regarded as theological extremism.

    Other than the passage of time, I think learning the theological history of the past millennium or so is probably the best cure for unjustified anti-Catholic sentiment, unfortunately theological history which almost no one seems to know, and very few care to find out. The secular history that many know running on top of that is almost irrelevant by comparison, wars, revolutions, intrigues and all.

  9. 9.

    On Jews, are you familiar with Steven Epperson’s Mormons and Jews (published by Signature and based on his dissertation)? He saw two very different traditions that swirled within the Church simlutaneously in different ways. First, as with so many things, the earliest Mormons (and even most Mormon converts today) were Protestants, and so there was a natural absorption of Protestant thinking into the Church. But Joseph Smith also over time crafted a radical phil-Judaism. So these two influences have continued to have influence and effect throughout the history of the Church. So J. Reuben Clark Jr. had a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his desk drawer, but Mormons are it seems to me the most phil-Semtic of all (arguably) Christian groups.

  10. 10.

    Lynette,
    May on a formal level, believing in universal truth claims is incompatible with considering those outside of a tradition misguided, but as a people, we’re not bounded by formal logic in our views. It’s perfectly possible to hold two clearly opposing views.

    That said, why the binary view? If I believe in the universal truth claim of the Church, but I also believe that I have to have personal revelatory confirmation to accept the universal truth claim, it is perfectly plausible that someone else hasn’t received that revelatory confirmation. If so, that person is clearly not misguided; rather, she may be operating in the most logical and consistent manner available.

    That said, I have no problem believing that others are seriously misguided. If everybody were enlightened, for example, no grocery store would sell canned apple pie filling.

  11. 11.

    This post brought to mind a couple of things. First is Joseph Smith’s intriguing comment near the end of his life that “the old Catholic Church is worth more than all.”

    Eric Dursteler, professor of medieval history at BYU, has a great article on the history of Mormon ideas of apostasy, which necessarily overlaps with Mormon views of Catholicism. See “Inheriting the ‘Great Apostasy’: Medieval and Renaissance in Mormon Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 28 (Fall 2002): 23-59.

    Also, Matt Grow’s article on Mormon and Catholic views of one another in the nineteenth century is quite informative. See “The Whore of Babylon and the Abomination of Abominations: Nineteenth-Century Catholic and Mormon Mutual Perceptions and Religious Identity,” Church History, 73 (March 2004), 139–68.

    Finally, this brought to mind Lynette’s post from a couple of years ago on “Romanticizing the Reformation.”

  12. 12.

    Great topic and discussion. I’m a lurker, but I just wanted to comment briefly that it really bugs me that the female pronoun is so often used for churches that are supposed to be the pinnacle of wickedness (Talmage and the BOM chime together on this).

  13. 13.

    “I also believe that I have to have personal revelatory confirmation to accept the universal truth claim, it is perfectly plausible that someone else hasn’t received that revelatory confirmation. If so, that person is clearly not misguided; rather, she may be operating in the most logical and consistent manner available.”

    I am open to the possibility that God has confirmed the truth of other world views to other people. Of course, I do not know what God may have said to other individuals. I do know that I have never had a revelation or confirmation that those who follow other faith (or non-faith) systems are wrong or deceived or not following God’s guidance. My own opinion is that God cares just as much, and is just as active in inspiring, guiding, and influencing the lives of His children outside of my faith as He is within it.

  14. 14.

    I am open to the possibility that God has confirmed the truth of other world views to other people

    Does it have to be a binary proposition?

  15. 15.

    Although the Book of Mormon was harsh on the Jews, the topic cannot be mentioned without its warning to the Gentiles:

    ” 4 But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?

    5 O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.”

    It does have mention of missionary work that is offensive to modern Jews, but it also warns against disrespect. Those with anti-Jewish attitudes will be cursed. As for not mentioning Romans, I think that is again because of the prayer Jesus made to forgive them for they know not what they do. The New Testament seems to insist that the Romans were the weapon that the Jewish leadership used to kill Jesus, wanting to make both a religious and political statement.

  16. 16.

    Nicely done, Kiskilili. There really is anti-Catholic sentiment among at least some rank-and-file Mormons; more than once, I’ve seen Mormons shudder or say something about feeling a dark spirit on entering (as tourists) one or another cathedral in South America. I sometimes wonder how Mormonism would have developed had the idea-world of Catholicism been at all accessible to Joseph Smith…

  17. 17.

    I served a mission in Italy (IIRC Eve did as well?). I had the opportunity to meet with Catholics across the spectrum of “activity” and I believe those that were firmly dedicated to their faith were living lives upon which God would smile.

    My boss right now is a devout Catholic and I marvel at the similar experiences and conversations we have. For example, they were concerned when their high school son began dating a non-Catholic. When she converted, they were somewhat skeptical, etc. We are more similar to other religions, including Catholicism, than many members will admit/recognize.

    On the topic of Jews, one Jewish friend of mine finds it humorous that to Mormons, Jews are “gentiles”.

  18. 18.

    “On the topic of Jews, one Jewish friend of mine finds it humorous that to Mormons, Jews are ‘gentiles.’”

    Except they aren’t to those who understand Mormon theology ont he subject.

  19. 19.

    Thanks for the comments.

    JNS, we had the same experience in the National Cathedral–tourists can sign a guest book and leave comments according to the state they came from. The comments from the Utahns were pretty much all along the lines of “I felt nothing but darkness and emptiness in this building.” It seems we’re more than a little suspicious of other people’s forms of worship! (Maybe high churches in paricular.)

    Eddie, I love reading memoirs by people who had religious upbringings. I think there are all sorts of things we can relate to.

    Jettboy, you’re right that the Book of Mormon is a mixed bag on the Jews for sure.

    HMS, thanks for delurking! The same thing has bothered me for a long time. And it goes beyond the fact that churches/countries are often construed as feminine; the pronoun for the church of the Lamb of God is “its” (see 1 Nephi 14:12, for example); it’s only the church of the devil that is understood as feminine (see 1 Nephi 14:10, etc.). Sigh.

    Thanks for the recommended reading, Christoper!

    Mark, as I read David he’s not proposing an opposition between God’s involvement in our church and in others; he’s accepting both. However, contra what others in the thread have implied, I would suggest that this position (which I personally like) is hardly orthodox.

    Are other faiths “misguided” from the perspective of orthodox Mormonism? Without making a statement as to whether they’re morally in the wrong–that can’t be assessed without understanding their level of knowledge, as Sam has pointed out–I don’t see how we can avoid saying they’re doctrinally misguided when we say we have more truth than they do.

    Of course individuals hold all sorts of illogical positions; but rather than commending them (/us) for it, I think we should take contradiction as an invitation to think through the implications of our beliefs more carefully. We make absolute truth claims: we claim our God is the God of the whole world, even of Buddhists; we claim temple ordinances are necessary, even, ultimately, for people who lived in central Africa in 200 BCE. Our claims impinge on the religious claims of everyone else. We’re not wishy-washy pluralists who find truth in every path, and we may as well own up to that aspect of our faith. (Of course, individuals might choose a heretical position on this issue and doubt that we have more truth or inspiration than other faiths, but that’s not the same as having one’s cake and eating it too–insisting on absolute truth claims but denying that people who don’t accept them are wrong, or advocating proselytism without thinking there’s any need for people to convert. Such positions simply aren’t coherent.)

  20. 20.

    It seems to me we may be on the verge of springing into a paradox here. Postcolonialism and other recent intellectual trends have left us suspicious of claims to cultural superiority; it’s simply not respectable in today’s climate to claim one’s culture (such as one’s faith) is better than other people’s and they’d be better off abandoning theirs for yours. Perhaps we suppose that one evidence that the Church is true is that it’s respectable; by definition, then, if it’s true, it can’t be true, since respectable churches aren’t any truer than any other religions.

    But it doesn’t work that way. If we’re interested in becoming pluralists, we’re going to have to seriously rethink some of our doctrine.

  21. 21.

    Mark is right that it’s ironic we celebrate the Reformation even as it was in many ways a move away from doctrines we consider true. At the same time, this makes a certain sense–as Lynnette points out, it’s the very similarities between us and Catholics that make Catholicism, in some ways, our biggest threat theologically. That may be one of the reasons for our suspicion. But as Lynnette also points out, relations today seem to be fairly cordial; I’m honestly not sure whether Mormons on the ground are more likely to express anti-Catholic sentiment than anything else, in spite of the reflexive (and historically prominent) Protestant bias in our discourse. Someone should do a study on this.

    Sam,

    I appreciate your enthusiasm for the topic! I can’t help but wonder, if you didn’t notice the anti-Catholicism in Jesus the Christ, for example, whether you were the best barometer of anti-Catholic sentiment in your mission? ;) Of course it’s perfectly possible missionaries in your area were entirely respectful of their Catholic neighbors (I don’t mean this snarkily). On the issue of canned apple pie filling, however, we’re in complete agreement. Actually, anything to do with apple pie is disgusting in my view; give me pumpkin pie any day.

  22. 22.

    I’d like to read Epperson’s book, Kevin; thanks for the recommendation and the observations.

    On the question of Mormon attitudes to Jews generally: I see trends going in very different directions. On the one hand, we state fairly regularly that the “Jews” were too obtuse to recognize their Messiah; on the other hand we have the passage in 2 Nephi as quoted above indicating the “Jews” did recognize their Messiah and killed him specifically because of it. (I’m putting “Jews” in quotes since, as I stated in the post, Jesus was a Jew and so were virtually all his followers in his lifetime, and many in the years afterward.)

    (This latter view especially presents some difficult theological problems–did God basically set the Jews up to fail? Why did God allegedly reveal a religion pointing the Jews to Christ in the full knowledge that, having recognized him, they would kill him, all in accordance with God’s will, and then God would punish them for it? Are the Jews just a bunch of poor schnooks?)

    Similarly, we claim to be the true house of Israel and assert there’s no salvation outside acceptance of Christ (every knee will bow). But we also seem not to have given up on the idea that the Jews are still the Chosen People. Does this mean they can be saved without accepting Christ because of their special status with God? What does it mean to our theology if they can or can’t?

    As far as our relationship with Jews goes, from the Mormon side it’s clearly very positive. But I wonder whether this feeling is mutual. As I see it, we love Jews not as the Other but as the Self. In a sense, we think we’re honorary Jews, and this leads to some very enthusiastic, but also some problematic behaviors. Baptizing their murdered relatives might seem “loving” and pro-Jewish from our perspective, for example, but from the Jewish perspective it’s obviously offensive. When it comes to genuine differences between Mormons and Jews, we have difficulty showing respect–on the question of whether Jesus is the Messiah, for example.

    Taking in the whole sweep of Christian history, the bar for Christians treating Jews well is pathetically, tragically low, and as we’re not making blatantly abusive statements or smashing people’s skulls in, we’ve probably cleared it quite handily. But that doesn’t mean many of our doctrines aren’t problematic on this score. The heart of anti-Judaism in Christianity is that Jews fail(ed) to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, (perhaps because they’re obdurately and willfully blind?). It’s an affront to Christians that Jews are reading (some of) the same scripture and not reaching the conclusions Christians have reached. How is this possible? Are they stupid, or are they wicked? Either way, we make statements to this effect all the time. That’s it. That’s the core of anti-Jewish sentiment in Christianity, and we’re by no means immune to it.

  23. 23.

    Great comments, Kiskilili. I particularly like your point about how Mormons consider ourselves “honorary Jews” and love Jews as self rather than other.

    Am I remembering right that early Mormons probably focused more on connections to Judaism than we do now? I thought that maybe I read that somewhere (how’s that for a reference) but maybe I’m just making it up. :)

  24. 24.

    I guess we’d better read Epperson’s book and find out! (Isn’t Douglas Davies supposedly writing something on this subject?)

  25. 25.

    Does being told that I’m a member of the church of the Devil count?

  26. 26.

    In addition to the Epperson book, there’s an older book by Rudolf Glanz that may be of interest:

    Glanz, Rudolf. Jew and Mormon: Historic Group Relations and Religious Outlook. New York: Waldon, 1963.

  27. 27.

    Hi, Galdralag! Thanks for the additional recommendation; it looks interesting.

  28. 28.

    Outside of MD I have never found LDS people to be that anti-catholic. I have lots of evangelical friends who are convinced that the Catholic church is not Christian though

  29. 29.

    When Pope John Paul died, Pres. Hinkley made statement during the General Conference of our church that year.

    I would assume the Pope in Rome did not make a statement regarding Hinkley’s passing.

    This is not to prove anything just to point out that the picture does clearly not look how you are trying to paint it.

    I’d spin your arguments a different direction. The strength of our position is precisely that we state that most, nearly all, other religions have some truth to them. Some have a lot of truth, some more than others, many also have a lot of philosophies of men mixed in, which is only natural (as we do it too) for people to do once they have some truth and try to extrapolate on it.

    But that is a strength of our position. We are not required to condemn nearly every other religion, like many/most mainstream religions do. We simply say they have some truth and we can add further understanding to it.

    It’s interesting to note that it’s difficult for a Protestant to say that about is. I can’t imagine the Pope saying, “Joseph Smith advanced the cause of Christ” but I can imagine an LDS prophet saying something similar of a Pope. That seems to completely toss your thesis on its head.

    Certainly you can find

  30. 30.

    I’m not convinced. When President Hinckley died, the Catholic bishop of SLC sent his condolences:

    On behalf of the Catholic people of Utah, I express condolences to the family, First Presidency and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the death of their beloved President Gordon B. Hinckley. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you at the loss of such a kind and faith-filled gentleman. Our esteem for President Hinckley is profound. While faithful to his religious beliefs, he respected believers of other denominations. He sought to find the common ground that all might work to strengthen the values that we share. His commitment to build a better world, with respect for diversity, fostered good will and community harmony.

    In meetings with President Hinckley we encountered his keen sense of humor and his personal humility. His was a wise perspective on the world that included interest in issues of common concern. The world and this community have been enriched by his life. It is our prayer that President Hinckley finds peace in the heavenly kingdom. We will certainly miss his presence among us. (John C. Wester)

    Why just the bishop of SLC and not the pope? I suggest that what you’ve mistaken for a positive attitude among Mormons toward Catholicism specifically which you find lacking in Catholicism toward Mormons is in fact a natural majority-minority dynamic–Hinckley was more aware of John Paul the II than John Paul the II was of Hinckley simply because the pope leads an organization with astronomically higher numbers of adherents and amount of influence on the world scene than the prophet. It’s the same reason that people living in Djibouti are probably more aware of Americans than Americans are of people in Djibouti.

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