Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Oct/11

27

“Are Mormons Christians?”

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Andrew Sullivan looks at the issue of whether Mormons are Christians here.

For my part, I don’t much care one way or the other, but I don’t think there can be a great deal of doubt about it. In the course of two thousand years Christianity has long since come to mean much more than those texts that some of its early leaders chose to regard as definitive. Naturally, there are many outgrowths of this now wildly varied religion that some Christians will find wanting. And they are perfectly entitled to do so. Those, however, are issues best left to the sectarians. To an outsider, at least, Mormonism is clearly a part of the greater Christian family.

14 comments

  • Meng Bomin · October 27, 2011 at 5:56 am

    I don’t have a dog in this fight either, but if I were forced to choose, I’d say that Mormonism is a separate outgrowth of Christianity, if for no other reason than Joseph Smith’s claim to prophesy and introduction of the Book of Mormon. That said, it doesn’t seem to be as radical outgrowth from its parent culture (American Protestantism) as the other 19th century Abrahamic prophetic religion, Bahá’í, is from its (Persian Twelver Islam).

  • TStockmann · October 27, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Not to go all linguistic, but collective and abstract nouns are NEVER about establishing some falsely transparent Platonic categories, but conditioned on why we are talking about them at all, a rhetorical question of motive. It’s not even worth making this point when we’re talking about a political campaign.

  • Susan · October 27, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    It’s immaterial to me, but apparently vitally important to some others. Remember the woman at the Iowa caucuses in 2008 who said that she couldn’t vote for either Romney or Giuliani because she was a Christian and they weren’t? For her, the heretic/pagans/idolators/whatever weren’t just Mormons but Roman Catholics as well.

  • Polichinello · October 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    To an outsider, at least, Mormonism is clearly a part of the greater Christian family.

    You could also say the same thing about Islam, as it accepts the virgin birth of Christ and believes he’ll be the guy making the call on Judgement day. In fact, the Byzantines viewed Islam as something of a form of hyperactive Arianism. Mormonism goes the other, being a form of hyper-Americanized gnosticism.

  • fairlyoldguy · October 27, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    From my point of view as a secular Jew, of course Mormonism is part of Christianity. It’s not the Church of Murray of Latter Day Saints is it?

  • Jonathan Campbell · October 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I don’t see how people think that questions of the form “Should we use the word X to refer to phenomenon Y” have any substance at all. The word “Christianity” can mean whatever we as as English speakers want it to mean. The substantive question relates to the *facts* about Mormonism and how they relate to those of Christianity.

    Confusing the linguistic question with the substantive one is also what gets us so tangled up when we discuss whether one act or another constitutes “torture” – clearly the interesting questions are about how much suffering we are inflicting on these supposed terrorists (and whether that amount of suffering is worth the potential gain from inflicting it, and whether we have the right to inflict it in the first place), not about the dictionary definition of a particular word.

    Perhaps it is tribal impulses that make us so bent on deciding whether one person’s beliefs qualify him as having belonging to the same broad religious quality as someone else.

  • Wm Jas · October 27, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    I would say that Mormonism is to Christianity as Christianity is to Judaism — clearly an outgrowth of that tradition, but not really the same thing.

  • CJColucci · October 27, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    There is no fact of the matter about whether Mormons are Christians, so there is no argument one can make about it. There is a fact of the matter about what various groups and sub-groups that call themselves Christians think, and there might be a fact of the matter about general usage, but this is best determined by asking people what they think or say and toting up the numbers. This statistical information might be of value. One might also be able to canvas and systematize the reasons people give for what they think. This information, too, might be of value. But none of this information can tell us what is really true because there isn’t any real truth.

  • Narr · October 27, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Susan’s comment reminds me of another memory from ’08. Romney is glad-handing in some diner and goes up to an old guy and introduces himself. Old guy says “I’ll never vote for a Mormon,” and Romney says “Well, can I at least shake your hand?” And the o.g grimaces and says, “No.”

    This was run quite a bit as I recall, and almost made me feel sorry for Mitt.

  • John · October 27, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Although on a philosophical level I agree that the question of whether or not Mormonism is a part of Christianity is merely a semantic question, on a practical level, it does matter. Plenty of people have a great deal of interest in whether or not others are Christian, so it is worth trying to come up with an agreed upon definition of the word. I would define a Christian as someone who believes that:

    1) The Bible is the divinely inspired word of God.
    2) Jesus was God incarnate.
    3) The teachings of Jesus and the Bible should be generally followed.

    By this definition, Mormons are Christians.

  • Marco · October 28, 2011 at 3:12 am

    Another outsider opinion, as I’ve never formally belonged to any religion, but John’s definition above is about how I see it. For a non-Christian, it still may be of academic interest to consider how we should define Christianity, just as it’s of academic interest to learn what makes a person a Jain or a Buddhist. There may not be an absolute fact of the matter, but there can be reasonable opinions based on the evidence of what people claim to believe, and how close the beliefs of different sects are to each other.

    It’s a shame, though, that disagreements among Christians about which of them are “true” Christians, may affect the election.

  • Polichinello · October 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    From what I understand, John, Mormons don’t accept the Nicene understanding of consubstantiality. They say Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are one in purpose, but not one in substance. In truth, you’ll find a lot of lay Christians who’ll agree with that formulation, too. Thomas Fleming gives a first pass distinction on a number of other differing issues.
    http://fleming.dailymail.co.uk/2011/10/christians-andor-mormons.html

    Fairlyoldguy, many Christians have made the same claim vis-a-vis Judaism and Christianity. I don’t think you would accept that, nor should you.

  • Acilius · October 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I think that James P. Carse, who was for many years a professor of religious studies at NYU, has some interesting things to say.

    In his book The Religious Case against Belief, Carse argues that the great thing about religions is that they last a long time and so can bind generation to generation over many centuries. On the other hand, belief systems, including belief systems associated with particular religions, never last for more than a few generations. People may use the same labels, recite the same creeds, tell the same stories, observe the same calendar, enact the same rituals, and go to the same places that others did hundreds or thousands of years ago. If you ask those people why they do those things, however, and what it all means in the grand scheme of the universe, you’ll get answers that are not only different from the answers you would have heard if you’d put the same questions to their predecessors at any earlier period, but that are in direct opposition to those older answers. The only way to keep a belief system going for more than a small fraction of the time that a religion can last is to organize people in ever-more insular groups that are ever-more militant in their ignorance of the how their contemporaries see the world.

    Such groups do not bridge the gap between generations as religious practices can do; quite the contrary, they are a force for rupture in relationships as their members try to prove their own orthodoxy by attacking and disowning others for heresy. Whatever relationships persist in spite of these groups are poisoned by the authoritarianism and dishonesty inherent in them. That’s why Carse says that he’s made a religious case against belief. Attach a belief system too tightly to a religious identity, and you make it impossible for that identity to do the work that properly belongs to religion.

    So, is Mormonism a form of Christianity? If we measured it by comparison with the beliefs Christians have traditionally professed, we would have to say no. It wouldn’t be hard to make a case that Mormon doctrines are further from the beliefs the saints of East and West held than are the tenets of traditional Islam. However, if we ask how their practices situate them with regard to other people in the world, that sort of case would not only fail to convince, but might collapse altogether. Mormons simply do not operate as a separate tradition, independent from Christianity.

  • CHUCK DAVIS · October 28, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    FASCINATING POSTS –
    IT SEEMS “CHRISTIAN” HAS JOINED LOVE, BEAUTY, OBSCENITY, AND IMPEACHABLE OFFENSES, IN THE “I CAN’T DEFINE IT, BUT I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT” CATEGORY !

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