An article came out today on thedailybeast.com that demonstrates once again that you can rarely believe what you read about Mormons, and that purported explanations of Mormon doctrine are to intellectual honesty what Twinkies are to nutrition.
The article is written by Jay Michaelson and is entitled “The Core Mormon Teaching the LDS Church Didn’t Jettison.” It can be found at http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/07/the-core-mormon-teaching-the-lds-church-didn-t-jettison.html. (My hyperlinks appear to be broken today…cut and paste and quit your griping). The gist of the article is that the LDS has backpedaled on a “core” doctrine, but has “doubled down” on an even more bizarre doctrine. Unfortunately, in his efforts to create a controversy, Michaelson demonstrates either a fundamental misunderstanding of Mormon theology, or a deliberate intent to mislead his readers. After reading the article, I thought it was worth a bit of attention, as it exemplifies the manipulative nature of some critics of the Church.
Here are some examples:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently backpedaled on a key tenet of Mormon theology: that after death, righteous Mormons will become gods, with the capacity to create planets of their own.”
Well, at least the punctuation was pretty decent. Michaelson is referring to a recent article released by the Church called “Mormonism 101,” which contains a FAQ section that includes the following:
Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will “get their own planet”?
No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine. Mormons believe that we are all sons and daughters of God and that all of us have the potential to grow during and after this life to become like our Heavenly Father (see Romans 8:16-17). The Church does not and has never purported to fully understand the specifics of Christ’s statement that “in my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2).
Michaelson refers to this as a “key tenet of Mormon theology.” His basis for that? Apparently, his own say-so. Sure, having been in the Church for 40 years, I’ve heard this idea expressed, but usually in terms of a joke (“When I get my own planet, corn dogs will be calorie-free!”). Nothing in LDS scriptures contains this teaching; rather, we talk about our belief that Paul meant what he said when he taught that we could be “joint heirs with Christ.” We unashamedly believe that Christ’s atonement can permit us, over the course of eternity, to become like our Father in Heaven. What that precisely means, however, we do not know. Certainly many members of the Church and even leaders of the Church have speculated about it. But you can go for YEARS attending LDS services every Sunday and never hear “boo” said about this “key tenet.” I think that in order to conclude that something is a central doctrine, you would have to be able to demonstrate that it is consistently and regularly taught by the general authorities of the Church. This notion doesn’t pass that test.
“Indeed, the Church has doubled down on the core Mormon teaching that God had a physical/human body, and that, in turn, we will have spiritual/divine ones. In other words, that we are just like God and will later be “exalted” to God’s divine state. This despite a half-century of attempting to become more and more Christian, and less and less weird.”
News flash: Every General Conference talk is available publicly, online, from the Church itself. As is every manual for every class taught anywhere in the Church. Feel free to browse on lds.org and search for this “core teaching” that we are doubling down on. We spend little if any time talking about the origins of God, because not enough has been revealed for us to say anything intelligent about it.
What is more interesting here is the offhanded dismissal of our doctrine of deity as “weird.” What exactly is so “weird?” The notion that God has a body? Christ is divine, isn’t he? We fairly refer to Him as God, and having a body is so important to Him that He insisted that His disciples reach out and feel the reality of His flesh, and the wounds that flesh bore. Was He just being weird?
Is it weird that Mormons teach that we have the hope of someday, through the grace of Christ, becoming like our Father in Heaven? Christ prayed that His disciples would be one with Him, as He was one with the Father. Paul taught that we would inherit all that Christ did. What exactly are we supposed to be doing in eternity? I’m telling you now, if traditional notions of Heaven are accurate, all of that harp music would make me crazy.
Is it any less weird to believe that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost mystically all are separate entities, but share the same substance,and are both three and one at the same time? Or that the tokens of the Holy Communion are transformed into the literal blood and flesh of Christ? The doctrines of the Holy Trinity and transubstantiation might have eventually become mainstream Christian doctrines several hundred years after Christ’s ministry, but if we are taking weirdness as our standard….
And, seriously, don’t you think that non-Christians look at the story of the virgin birth, the idea that a God came to Earth in a physical body, and that by being hung on a cross somehow paid the price for our sins and they don’t think that all of us Christians are a couple of beans short of a chalupa? Religion requires a belief in the supernatural. Faith is a belief in what is not seen, but is true. Christian discipleship is as weird as it is wonderful.
Four paragraphs in, Michaelson then takes the obligatory swipe at polygamy and the 1978 revelation on priesthood. Yawn. He perpetuates the fraudulent claim that LDS scripture “still…has the teaching that people with black skin are “stained” that way because of skin, a characterization that plays fast and loose with one specific story in the Book of Mormon that has zilch to do with African Americans. Critics of the Church at least have the virtue of blowing their credibility early on in their writings, just so we know where we stand.
Next comes the vague comparison to Scientology. Because, you know, all of these “weird religions” are just alike.
Finally he comes to his real point. Michaelson’s conclusion is that the Church has changed its doctrine in response to a Broadway play. “Indeed some [some what?] believe the latest “Well, Not Really'” letter from the LDS leadership is in response to the song “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon.” Aside from the fact that he is attacking a web posting from the Church’s PR department, not a letter from First Presidency (which would be read from the pulpit throughout the Church), this assertion doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Keep in mind, the Church is so worried about the doctrinal damage done by the Broadway play that it regularly advertises in the play’s handbill. After nearly 200 years of persecution, the murder of Joseph Smith and other early Mormons, and being driven across North America on foot to escape religious harassment, it’s the writers of South Park that finally pushed us over the edge?
Michaelson ultimately comes around to contending that no matter what the Church tells you, we really, really believe we are going to get our own planets, and he attempts to seal the argument with an unsourced quote from Brigham Young in which President Young stated that “All those who are counted worthy to be exalted and to become Gods, even the sons of God, will go forth and have earths and worlds like those who framed this and millions on millions of others.”
There are at least two problems with Michaelson’s use of this quote. The first, which is that this isn’t something you won’t find taught in this manner in Church classes or the pulpit, will fall on deaf ears, since critics of the Church consistently tell folks to pay no attention to what we actually teach. Rumor has it that Brigham Young also had his hair burned because he thought it would bleed if it was cut, but I still went to the barber this morning. He even said “hell” and “damn” a lot, and I catch hell if I use those words at Church.
The second problem is that if you look at what President Young apparently said, he is talking about being like “those who framed this” world. An interesting aspect of Mormon doctrine (you can call it “weird” if you want; I’ll still sleep just fine) is that God and Christ were assisted in the Creation by other worthy premortal spirits (remember in Genesis God talks about “us” creating stuff). We don’t know how many such spirits participated in the Creation (or “framed,” the earth, using the terminology of a carpenter like Brigham Young). But guess who Mormon’s view as “the Creator?” Christ. This isn’t the personal planet of anyone else. The focus and glory is fixed firmly on Christ. If that is what Brigham Young was talking about, it doesn’t really support the personal planet theory.
Like I said, I’m not denying that some have made statements more explicit than this in speculating as to what it means to be “like God.” I’ve got my own ideas, but I also have the good sense to shut up about them. Not everyone has been so careful. But that is a far cry from what Michaelson is trying to do as he attempts to re-cast speculation as “core” doctrine. He even later refers to this as “radical” doctrine, in what I cannot help but see as raising the suggestion that Mormonism, like “radical Islam,” is a dangerous religion.
It’s sensationalism. It’s a mischaracterization of our faith. It’s fundamentally dishonest.
And, unfortunately, it’s typical.