Bruce Charlton abruptly deleted our entire conversation from the comment thread of this post. As I’ve written several times before, I oppose blog censorship on principle. Of course I also dislike it because I usually feel like I’ve been treated rudely. Could pride perhaps enter into it? It could.
Nevertheless I think that as a matter of principle, it’s wrong to open up a post for comments and begin a discussion, and then up and delete someone’s comments because you don’t like the way the conversation is going. So when that happens my practice is to post the deleted matter (to the extent it’s available) on my own blog, to get it back up for public view as well as to make known what occurred, and let people make their own judgment as to whether the censorship was warranted.
I’m not saying that any and all matter must be allowed in blog comments. I agree with deleting or editing comments for reasons of obscenity or rank incivility, as well as spam obviously. But I don’t think my comments fell into any of those categories. However again, I leave that to the reader to judge.
Here are the deleted comments to the extent I had preserved them. I believe there were a couple others that I wasn’t able to save. DISCLAIMER: These may not be exactly as they originally appeared on Bruce’s blog. What I did was copy Bruce’s comments, in whole or in part, into my word processing software for ease of drafting my replies. I’m posting what I managed to save of both his and mine. I think for the most part they are as they originally appeared, though they may differ in some details. If Bruce finds that some information is missing or altered, he knows where to find the originals and is welcome to put them back up.
Anyway, here they are:
OK, but where’s this getting us? All it proves is that you can accuse just about anyone of polytheism if you’re willing to use just about any definition of the term. The trick is to agree on one definition and then see how it applies in the context of different beliefs.
We have three definitions before us:
1. Ostler’s definition, which requires two components: (a) belief in plural gods; and (b) belief that the additional gods are “worthy of worship”.
2. The definition of Protestants who accuse Catholics of polytheism, which is based on practice only: It requires only that people appear to treat certain entities besides God as if they were gods — even though the most ignorant Catholic, if pressed, would admit that Mary and the saints were created by God and not the other way around, and therefore can’t be equal to or above God.
3. My definition, which requires only component (a) above.
Using definition 1, Mormon belief as described by Ostler would not be polytheism; although Mormon belief as Adam understands it might be. Catholic veneration of saints would not.
Using definition 2, Catholic veneration of saints would be polytheism, and Mormon belief and practice would not.
Using definition 3, Catholic veneration of saints would not be polytheism; Mormon belief as described by Ostler might or might not, depending on whether he believes we are of the same nature as God; Mormon belief as I think Adam understands it, might be.
So you’re right, various people can be accused of polytheism if you’re willing to equivocate on the definition of the word. I would hope that reasonable people would refrain from throwing the word around until after they have agreed on a single definition to be applied in all cases.
But in the last analysis, the problem that traditional/orthodox Christians have with the Mormon belief (I should say the belief of a certain proportion of Mormons — of what size the proportion is I don’t know) that we and God are of the same nature, is that it disagrees with the traditional Christian doctrine that there is only one being with the nature of God. This is true whether you want to label the Mormon belief polytheism or not. We can argue which belief is more in line with the Bible, but whatever the outcome of that debate, there’s no question that the two beliefs are incompatible.
@A Where is this getting us indeed!
My point is that flinging accusations of polytheism is a pointless and destructive exercise from a Christian – and one for which there seems no scriptural basis.
Another point is that Mainstream Christians seem so eager to attack Mormonism that they use against it arguments which can be and are used against themselves.
For example “depending on whether he believes we are of the same nature as God” – now we have already disputed over this, but anyone who was not a Christian and surveyed the Bible and also the implications of Son of Godship would say that we must be of the same nature as God or else this is all nonsense or obscure – and indeed, I think many Christians find it very hard to understand. How can we be deified or sanctified without becoming gods? The answer is not obvious, and the correct answer is probably that we can’t – we start out as gods in the sense of having god-natures.
However, Mormon theology is indeed radical – much more so than I realized for the first few years I was reading it. But its radicalism is at the level of metaphysical assumptions, and the differences from Mainstream can be understood as working-out of those assumptions.
So the differences are a pluralism instead of monism, the exclusive use of serial sequential time as bottom line, instead of the Timeless eternity of Platonism – and most radically that God is within and organizes the universe of natural laws and matter, as contrasted with a being that contains everything and created everything except Himself from nothing.
(Given its coherence and comprehensiveness, the scope and originality of Mormon theology is therefore extraordinary; and as an intellectual achievement it is work of the first rank – and clearly far beyond the human capability of farm-boy Joseph Smith – which I take as evidence that he was indeed divinely inspired and a real prophet.)
In other words, Mormonism is a continuation of the Old Testament world view as if Classical Philosophy had not existed and become dominant – in this sense it justly terms itself a Restoration.
But Mormonism is certainly Christian in all core Christian aspects; and to dispute this *nowadays* (and to single out Mormonism for rejection) is mostly ignorant, sometimes silly and increasingly verging on wicked – wicked because it is putting the metaphysics of Classical Philosophy above the revelations of Christianity.
“My point is that flinging accusations of polytheism is a pointless and destructive exercise from a Christian – and one for which there seems no scriptural basis.”
And my point is that I agree with you if we assume Ostler is right and represents the official position of the LDS Church. However as Adam (a Mormon) pointed out, not all Mormons agree with Ostler. Some do believe that many gods exist of the same nature as our God, and are worshipped, and that we ourselves may one day become gods who are worshipped.
We can haggle over whether this technically constitutes polytheism. But Ostler apparently thinks it does, which seems to be why he’s making the case that these are not “official” Mormon beliefs.
In short, it’s not beyond the bounds of reason to characterize the beliefs of a fair number (again I don’t know the proportion) of Mormons, past and present, as polytheism. People should be allowed to use the definition of “polytheism” that seems to them most reasonable, and apply it where it seems to fit, without being accused of ill will.
What I think we agree on, is that it’s plain slander to call Mormons “polytheists” with the intention of lumping them together with the idolaters of the Old Testament or of pagan Greece or Rome. I would agree that this is evil in the sense of being at best careless and ignorant, and at worst lying and malicious.
“wicked because it is putting the metaphysics of Classical Philosophy above the revelations of Christianity”. Come. I understand that this is the opinion you have reached as a result of your studies, but to accuse those who think otherwise of wickedness is a bit much.
@A – I am accusing people of ill will because they display ill will – for instance, you are here taking metaphysical explanations to something like the third or fourth level of explanation here in order to find some reason to criticize and reject Mormonism – yet you don’t do this for Protestantism, nor for your own denomination.
You are, in other words, asking for an explanation of an explanation of an explanation – and for pluralist explanations this will intrinsically lead back to ‘more of the same’ – just as for monists it will lead back to an unexplained static unity.
” Come. I understand that this is the opinion you have reached as a result of your studies, but to accuse those who think otherwise of wickedness is a bit much.”
Actually, the causality went the other way – I was pushed further and further into Mormonism by the hostile and unreasonable attitude of mainstream Christians to Mormonism (an attitude which is NOT reciprocated).
I wasn’t aware that I was criticizing Mormonism at all, let alone “taking metaphysical explanations to the third or fourth level of explanation” in order to criticize it. I talk about Mormonism once in a while on my own blog, and usually get positive comments from Mormons in response, due to the care I take not to be unduly hostile or critical even when disagreeing (not that I have even expressed disagreement with Mormonism in this thread).
Look, I get that people are often unreasonably hostile to Mormonism. But not every disagreement is a hateful attack. If people are not allowed to disagree politely without being accused of evil and irrational hostility, then constructive discussion between Mormons and non-Mormons will be impossible. Indeed maybe you should just ban non-Mormons from commenting on Mormon-related posts.
Maybe Bruce took my suggestion and decided to ban non-Mormons from commenting on Mormon-related posts? Only he knows. He is welcome to explain his reasoning here if he wishes.