The Mormon Philosophical Perspective…?

Editor’s note: This blog post asks tough questions on two very esoteric subjects. Please forgive the author.

Today in class, our philosophy teacher explained that Catholics tend to have a very Aristotelian world view, mostly because one of the founding fathers of fundamental Catholic thought, Thomas Aquinas, discovered the works of Aristotle in a once mostly Platonic world and immediately fell in love with his ideas. He published an incredible body of literature that influenced Catholic thought for centuries to come. Protestantism, however, deals mostly with a Platonic lens for viewing the world, partly because of Martin Luther, who belonged to a monastic order influenced by Platonic philosophy. And thus, you can see the dueling views between those participating in that great Christian schism.

This is not to say that Catholics subscribe to everything Aristotle says, or that Protestants quote Plato’s Republic regularly. Simply, their world views mirror that of the those two great philosophers, and a study of any of their theologies simply cannot do without a study of those two giants.

This got my wheels a-turning: The LDS faith prides itself in the fact that our religion cannot categorize itself as either Catholic or Protestant. We are, our chests a-puffin’, at best, a Restorationist church. To many members, we are the Church, the original Church comprised of people like Peter, Elijah, Moses, yes, even Adam. But surely there is a philosophical school out there mirroring our world view? I am a firm believer that our doctrines are sound, but certainly our culture and world view has been influenced by, dare I say, the teachings and philosophizing of men? If you had to choose a philosophical school that mirrors our world view, what would it be? Do we take closely after either the Catholic or Protestant philosophical view, or are we a completely different animal?

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17 responses to “The Mormon Philosophical Perspective…?

  1. David

    Your professor is wrong. Catholics tend to have a very Christ-centered worldview, while Protestants tend to have a more earth-bound worldview. I don’t know enough about Mormons, other than that they are non-Christian. I might be wrong about that, and it’s not a criticism. I like LDS family values a lot.

    • Ted

      I can attest that as a Mormon, many, many Mormons would argue that we are definitely Christian. Our doctrine centralizes and crystallizes around Jesus Christ. I mean, our official title has the name of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hard to not believe in Christ when his name is in the church name. The major dispute between Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, and Restorationist sects involves the specific doctrines of Jesus Christ. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, Protestants for the most part do not. This does not mean one doesn’t believe in Christ or the other, and this applies to the LDS church as well. Though we differ in opinions on the nature of Christ and the various doctrines surrounding Him, I hope we can all agree that fundamentally, we all believe in the same basic doctrine that Christ was God in the flesh, He performed an atonement for mankind to save it from a fallen state, and died on the cross only to be resurrected in full glory.

      Either way, I don’t quite understand your assessment of Catholic and Protestant mentalities, mostly because of your statement’s brevity along with the wide range of possible interpretation. Could you elaborate? While I’ve only been in this professor’s class for a short while, it’s obvious he knows his stuff. As more unfolds, I will most likely report back and give you a more detailed response to your assertion that my professor is wrong.

  2. Mormons not Christian??? Surely you jest.

    But anyways, if I were to pick a philosophy for Mormons, I would say that we are Transcendentalists. They were all about using intuition to reach a new plane of spirituality.

  3. David

    Belief in Jesus is not sufficient to call you Christian. It’s what you believe about Jesus. The devil believes that Jesus is God, but he’s not Christian. I know that Mormons have a different way of viewing Jesus. Again, this is not condemnation, we just don’t see things the same way.

    There is also dispute between Protestants and Catholics whether baptism does what Catholics say it does (which is what Jesus says it does), and dispute about the sacraments in general.

    Read the book of 1 John, this will explain best the Catholic view. We are to live in the world, but not hold to things of the world. Catholics believe we can do nothing without God’s grace. Protestantism is an offshoot of humanism, which seems to think that we are solely responsible for ourselves; that God created us but after that we’re on our own. This is why you have so many flavors of Protestantism.

    • Just wanted to point out:

      So what does make one a Christian, if not belief in Christ? Your post didn’t say.

      Mormons believe in the divinity of Christ, in the virgin birth, and in the atonement. Surely that is enough to be called Christian?

      • David

        Well, I’ve looked, and I cannot find anything in writing that says that. Top that off, I asked (see below) if you (Mormons) believe that Jesus is God, and haven’t seen a direct answer.

        But I’ve also known Mormons and Mormons. Some are Mormon right down to their underwear, and some are Mormon in name only, and don’t hold to all the Mormon disciplines.

        So maybe, by your broad definition, you consider yourselves Christians. (You don’t define it the way mainstream Christians do) But Christianity is more than just divinity, virgin birth and atonement. Plus it looks to my eyes like you believe in three separate Gods. You also don’t believe that God was always God? If He wasn’t always God, who was God before him? I’ll leave it at that.

  4. I exist and thus I am. I believe in Jesus Christ and the Son of God and therefore I am a Christian. We can “no you aren’t” and “Yes I am” for eternity. In the end, however, I am Christian because I SAY I am and you hold no authority over what me or my Church define me as. The best you can do believe Mormon aren’t Christians. You can’t force that belief on others.

    As to the topic of this post? I like the transcendentalist idea, but Mormons are much more materialistic in theology than them. The same problem with Jewish and Christian Gnosticism influence claims. It would have to be something that rejects classic dualism. Swedenborgian has been mentioned.

    • David

      Do you believe that Jesus is God?

      • Ted

        To answer your question in the most gross, simplistic terms, yes, Mormons do believe Jesus is God.

        Now, as your response above also signifies, there are very serious disagreements as far as the nature of Jesus as God, and not just among Mormons and what one would call “mainstream” Christianity. All Christian sects will, when you boil it down to its essences, disagree vehemently on the very nature of God.

        If you are referring to the Apostles’ Creed, designed to combat Docetism and the Gnostic movements, Mormons have no disagreement with it. We fully believe in the divinity and humanity of the Christ. If you are referring to the Nicene Creed, many Mormons will assert that Christ, God, and the Holy Ghost are independent bodies, though their relationship is very similar to the Nicene Creed – co-dependent upon each other, working in unity and concert, to the point where each can speak for the other in full authority, toward the shared goal of immortality and eternal life for man, God’s creation.

        If this is enough to divorce us from mainstream Christianity, so be it. But in this humble servant’s eyes, this distinction of belief is no stronger than the very serious and historically violent disagreements between Catholics and Protestants concerning the nature of God directly related to how to return back to Him, and they are both considered mainstream Christianity.

        At the very least, I am happy to agree that we disagree and thank you for your politeness in discourse.

  5. Ted

    Swedenborgianism is a pretty close comparison, actually. Except we’re a bit more elitist. I would consider it more of a religious movement than an actual school of philosophical thought, but it’s still a spot-on comparison (and a sweet new word I learned).

    Later on, I was thinking of stoicism, since Mormons have a tendency to obsess from time to time about self-mastery and perfection, but we’re too emotional, I think, for stoicism.

    • The stoicism comparison reminds me of something that really disturbs me a specific Mormon attitude. I often feel like we are encouraged to avoid negative emotions. Take Mormon funerals. I can’t cite this, but I know we’ve been counseled to avoid overly-depressing funerals. Funerals should be happy events, focusing on the atonement. (I know this could be something that one GA said once that has gotten out of hand, but it is a pervasive attitude in LDS culture.) I saw a news story once where a woman whose sister was just killed was being interviewed. She was obviously LDS, and disturbingly chipper about the whole thing. I know it’s not my place to criticize another person’s grieving process, but it really bothered me. Her sister was young, the death was sudden. But in the interview, she was smiling and talking about how she was happy and comforted. Her sister had died THE DAY BEFORE. Either that woman was the most faithful person I’ve ever seen, or she is not allowing herself to feel grief. And I feel that the church encourages that. That being overly emotional about someone’s death is almost a sign that you don’t really have a testimony.

      There are also plenty of quotes that discourage feeling any doubt, but I strongly feel this is contradicted by the scriptures. I feel that doubt is key to true faith, but I have heard many times that doubt comes from Satan and we should try not to feel it at all. We allow ourselves to get over emotional with happy “good” feelings, but I think we are much more stoic with the “bad” emotions.

  6. In many different places, I’ve seen Mormonism listed as a “protestant” religion. Things like surveys where they ask for religious information, Mormonism is sometimes categorized under “Protestant.” I don’t know enough about the difference to have an informed opinion, but I’ve always assumed that Mormonism was much closer to Protestantism than Catholicism.

    There are Mormons who honestly believe that the Catholic church is the “great and abominable church” from the Book of Mormon. I highly doubt this is backed by doctrine, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Mormon that considers themselves similar to Catholics. Other than having tons of kids. 😉

    I love transcendentalism, but I don’t feel like it matches with the attitudes I associate with the LDS church. I know there’s a religious idea that equates wealth with blessings, and as a sign that you are favored by God. I can’t remember the actual term, but I see that attitude a lot in Mormonism. Again, I know this isn’t actual doctrine, just culture. Actually, I think that “Mormon doctrine” and “Mormon culture” would be surprisingly far apart, if you were placing the two on some sort of philosophical spectrum.

  7. Ted

    Gospel of prosperity, or gospel of wealth is the term I’ve heard bandied about.

    While I agree with the whole some Mormons don’t like Catholics thing, as a whole, I think culturally we are closer to Catholics than Protestants. Catholics tend to, because of their specific emphases on various doctrines over others, focus greatly on things that you do – you go to confession, you say your prayers, you got to mass, you get baptized, you get married, and the various other sacraments that they have. We, as well, have the same type of “stepping ladder” of ordinances to heaven – Baptism, confirmation, priesthood, temple.

    Along with the focus on ordinances comes the guilt. Mormons are notoriously guilty, which Catholics are also stereotypically notoriously guilty all the time. Protestants, with their massive emphasis on grace (rumor has it Martin Luther once called the Epistle of James an epistle of straw because he emphasized works in contrast to grace), don’t usually feel the guilt.

    Also, Catholic culture, from my observations, are generally very loyal to their local church leadership and to the general church leadership as a whole. Mormons also have a strong hierarchical structure. The only difference is that, as the joke goes, the Catholics say the pope is infaliable but nobody believes it, and the Mormons say the prophet is faliable, but nobody believes it.

    So some of the more older, curmudgeon-y Mormons might grumble about the Catholic church, but they are closer to it in structure, doctrinal emphasis, and culture than they could possibly imagine.

    • David

      That joke belies what infallibility actually is…if it was what a lot of people think it is, the pope could tell us who will win the Superbowl. What it really is, is that the pope cannot misguide the faithful in matters of faith and morals. So no pope in Christian history has ever made a mistake when teaching faith and morals. We believe they are guided by the Holy Spirit.

  8. Ted

    Culturally, I feel like too much of Utah Mormonism embraces Ann Rand’s Objectivism. Bleah, I say. Bleah!

    • Sidney Carton

      I would agree, there are too many Mormons have embraced objectivism, even if they don’t understand that in large part it is a repudiation of our doctrine.

      I claim to be a “Teyvan” as my world view seems strangely similar to Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

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