Foundation and preservation

Commenter Andrew, in a comment to the post “The Benedict Option: the Brotherhood of the Way” on Junior Ganymede (the main thrust of which I agree with), writes, “It is only in these latter days that the CJCLDS’ [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints] unique theology can be seen as providing an ultimate and metaphysical defense against our present corruption.”

Not wanting to appear to stir up contention as a guest on that fine blog, I am posting this reply to Andrew’s comments here:

Andrew:

The CJCLDS has done a good job of preserving the marital and reproductive values and practices that were prevalent during the 19th century, when it was founded. But to put things in perspective, one should consider where those 19th century values came from in the first place. They didn’t just fall from the sky; nor were they secular in origin, nor Roman, nor barbarian, but Christian. Granted that they’ve been eroded with the rise of secularism, which has infested even the Catholic Church. But my point is that the fertile soil in which the CJCLDS was planted in the first place, including the values that it now preserves, was prepared by century upon century of Catholicism.

Catholicism has proven its mettle. It has proven to be a foundation upon which an entire civilization can be built and endure. The CJCLDS, if it preserves anything, is only preserving what was built by others. Whether it may, itself, serve as the foundation for an entire Christian civilization, has yet to be proven, since thus far it has only ever been a small part of a larger Christian culture.

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18 thoughts on “Foundation and preservation

  1. Agellius

    Your response speaks only to the “marital and reproductive values” of the LDS church, while Andrew was addressing the wider range of “unique theology” that the LDS church has. Those things that you mention could, arguably, not be included in Andrew’s answer because they are not all that unique.
    I think you will find that Andrew was talking about doctrines such as the pre-existance, salvation for the dead, eternal marriage and families. These things were not preserved by the Catholic church, and yet I would agree with Andrew that they provide some of the greatest defense against corruption (when understood properly).

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  2. Hi Shem, nice to hear from you again.

    The original post giving rise to Andrew’s comments concerned the attendance of LDS Church leaders at a colloquium on marriage and the family in Rome. Elder Perry’s summation of his experience at the colloquium, which constituted the bulk of the post, focused on the fact that people of various faiths had come together and were “united on marriage and family” and “also united on the values and loyalty and commitment which are naturally associated with family units”. Elder Perry then went on to explain what distinguishes LDS views on marriage and the family from those of other faiths.

    As a consequence, when Andrew talked about unique LDS theology providing “an ultimate and metaphysical defense against our present corruption”, I assumed he was referring primarily to corruption in the areas of marriage and the family, since he never introduced any other topic. And when he talked about “corruption”, I assumed that he was talking about corruption in civil society, i.e. the prevalance of divorce and birth control, out of wedlock births and the legality of gay marriage. My point being that LDS theology has not shown itself capable of stopping or reversing the corruption of marriage and the family within civil society, any more than the Catholic Church has; whereas you can at least say this for the Catholic Church, that it established the very baseline by which our present corruption is measured.

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    • “it established the very baseline by which our present corruption is measured.”

      I would again disagree. It was God that established the baseline, not any church. The Catholic church, while claiming ties to the early Christian era, did not exist as an entity until the fifth or sixth century, and thus its baseline was taken from previous leaders. More specifically, from Jesus Christ who taught the absolute morals of God’s law to the Apostles, who then taught them to the faithful.

      As to the rest, the three doctrines I mention did not diverge from the topic of corruption in marriage and civil society. The Pre-existence, Salvation for the Dead, and Eternal Marriages are all very much a part of our doctrine regarding families and marriage. A full understanding of these, and a life lived with this doctrines in mind, bring about a great protection against corruption in civil society. The problem is that there are too many people, even in the LDS church, who do not truly understand them or live their lives accordingly.
      It is like saying Kevlar provides great protection against bullets, with the understanding that it will only work if used properly.

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  3. Shem:

    You write, “The Catholic church, while claiming ties to the early Christian era, did not exist as an entity until the fifth or sixth century…”

    I don’t intend to debate the truth or falsity of the LDS or the Catholic Church’s claims or their origins. My post was a defense against Andrew’s apparent implication that LDS theology was superior to Catholic theology in preventing the moral corruption of society. I didn’t post the entirety of Andrew’s comment, but he said something to the effect that Catholic theology was fine back when everyone took traditional family values for granted, but now that they’re under attack, only LDS theology provides an adequate defense against corruption (click the link to see his comments in his own words). That is what prompted this post.

    My point was that if society, particularly with regard to marriage and the family, is now corrupt in ways that it wasn’t corrupt 100 years ago or more, then the previous state of non-corruption in Western society is more attributable to Catholicism than to Mormonism, since Catholicism was the foundation of Western civilization for a good thousand years, if not more.

    Of course the standards of marriage and the family come from God, through Jesus and the Apostles. Naturally a Catholic would agree with this. But again, we were discussing the state of marriage and the family in society generally, and it is the Catholic Chuch and its theology which propagated and reinforced those standards in our society for centuries, so that by the time the LDS Church came along, they had long since become firmly entrenched. It was only later that they began to unravel, well after the LDS Church itself had become established. In other words, the presence of the LDS Church on the earth apparently did no more to prevent it than the presence of the Catholic Church (though the Catholic Church certainly helped to establish what we now know as “traditional family values” in the first place).

    I agree completely that a religion and its moral standards can only preserve people from corruption if they are followed. When Catholicism was widely followed, the family was in much better shape than it is today. The further society moves away from Catholic moral standards, the more the family suffers. Naturally I would expect you to say the same about LDS doctrine and moral standards.

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  4. Agellius – I agree with both you and shematwater!

    Your summary of my argument is correct, though as shematwater points out we can’t isolate a specific teaching as the source of the CJCLDS’ hardiness in the face of present circumstances.

    I think you are also correct in crediting the Catholic church as instrumental in preserving and forging western civilization and its morals. I think some Mormons are incorrect in being overly dismissive of the Catholic church, or seeing it mostly as having been wrong, etc. Without the Pope’s specific and unique historical role there would have been no western civilization or Christian Europe as such (only touching the tip of the iceberg).

    The conclusion to me is that Mormonism was part of God’s plan, and that it was founded specifically when it was, with its unique doctrines, to be prepared and strong in part to face our present circumstances.

    A couple examples:

    1. Understanding our purpose in life is theosis and sub-creation means that having large happy families is the highest goal for an individual (the way to become closest to God) *and* the raising/management of that family is actually the sort of thing we’ll do in heaven (though perfected). Compare that to Catholicism and you will see a stark contrast, where the highest ideal involves a celibate life. For most of history fertility was never a question or problem. Even know the Holy Father, instead of reinforcing and backing traditional Catholics with the highest fertility, makes an insulting off-hand comment and releases an encyclical which reinforces the secular arguments on global warming (and the corollary of smaller families, etc. is inevitable).

    2. In Mormonism, the male and female gender are essential to the fabric of reality itself. Even Heavenly Father is male (which necessitates Heavenly Mother), but because of this, many of the specific attacks we’ve seen lately are sort of theologically impossible to accept under Mormonism. Catholics are holding the line because of obedience to God, but liberal Catholics have been pushing hard for referring to God as “her” and female priests, etc. because the main argument against those things is tradition (which liberals hate) and its not fleshed out doctrinally in quite the same unique way as in Mormonism.

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  5. Andrew:

    You write, “Compare that to Catholicism and you will see a stark contrast, where the highest ideal involves a celibate life. For most of history fertility was never a question or problem.”

    Right. And the highest ideal being celibacy, has never hindered fertility among Catholics. In fact it’s Catholics who for a long time had the reputation of having the largest families. To put it another way, the time when celibacy was held in the highest regard, was also the time when Catholics were known for having lots of kids. It’s only now that celibacy is being scorned, that the Catholic birth rate has fallen. Both are due to a general disregard of traditional Church teachings. When those teachings are held in high regard, Catholic families are (still) quite fertile, which I can attest to from personal acquaintance. Among the families at my kids’ school — a conservative, traditionalist (though not schismatic) school — families with 9, 10 or even 13 children are not uncommon. Whereas in liberal crowds where celibacy is denigrated, large families are virtually nonexistent. Thus, no positive correlation between upholding celibacy and low birth rates; in fact, the opposite. (I think what both have in common is a high regard for the sacredness of sex.)

    Therefore it seems to me that the best remedy for the modern disease of divorce, birth control and abortion, is the vigorous promotion of traditional Catholic teachings.

    “Even know the Holy Father, instead of reinforcing and backing traditional Catholics with the highest fertility, makes an insulting off-hand comment ….”

    I know some people took the Pope’s comment as an insult, but to be charitable and give it the best possible construction, I don’t believe it was intended that way. It appears to me that his point was simply that although birth control and abortion are grave sins, nonetheless married couples need not feel obliged to conceive large numbers of offspring as a matter of moral necessity — which, of course, is true (though it is a matter of moral necessity to not artificially thwart the natural results of sexual intercourse). After all, during the same trip to the Philippines, he defended Humanae vitae and the Church’s traditional condemnation of artificial birth control. (See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/20/catholics-dont-have-to-breed-like-rabbits-says-pope-francis )

    You write, “liberal Catholics have been pushing hard for referring to God as “her” and female priests, etc.”

    Yes, and liberal Mormons have been pushing hard for their Church to change its teachings on sexual morality as well. I’m not sure what this argument is supposed to prove.

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  6. Andrew:

    You write, “The conclusion to me is that Mormonism was part of God’s plan, and that it was founded specifically when it was, with its unique doctrines, to be prepared and strong in part to face our present circumstances.”

    It’s not clear to me what you mean by this. Do you mean that God founded the CJCLDS when he did, in order that the CJCLDS might be prepared to face our present circumstances? or so that our society as a whole might be prepared to face our present circumstances?

    If the latter, it’s hard to see how the LDS Church’s doctrines have helped matters in the society as a whole. Are you saying that if the LDS Church didn’t exist, then we might have slid into no-fault divorce, birth control and gay marriage even faster than we did? It’s hard to imagine it happening any faster, frankly. In other words, no insult intended, but I don’t see how the LDS Church’s doctrines have helped slow the slide into degeneracy which we have witnessed in the past 50 years or so.

    But maybe your point was something different.

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  7. Having seen Andrews latest comments I think I misunderstood him just a little. If the question is in regards to society as a whole I have to agree with Agellius. There is no reason to hold one doctrine as superior to the other for the purpose of protecting society from the corruption of the modern day.
    However, if one is speaking of the individual, than one may have an argument. At this time I would agree with neither. Though I will always hold the LDS doctrine to be superior in its truth, I would have to see the statistics regarding various troubles of the modern day and how the individual members of each church are handling them to determine an answer to the question. Even with this one would have to ask how diligently the members are following the doctrine of their church, and how clearly and directly the leaders are teaching it.

    For instance, the issue of female priests and referring to God as a she was brought up. It is true that there are those in each church that hold to these liberal ideas, but the question is what percentage of the membership holds to them. That figure would be a descent indicator of how well the doctrines and practices of that church are protecting its members from that particular form of corruption.

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  8. The Book of Mormon details situations where those who obeyed God’s word were often at odds with the world, even in a minority, yet still acted to serve as an example of obedience for the rest of the world, conduct missionary work, etc. I think that’s the sort of situation we have, with the Mormon theology working as a special safeguard against the specific types of attacks against Christianity that secular society is currently engaged it.

    The Mormon situation is difficult to compare/contrast with history, as you both realize, because at one time *everyone* was Catholic and there was no real separation between government and religion. I think that’s actually a more ideal situation, and I hope there will be truly Catholic countries again someday – while Mormonism seems better adapted to our present type of circumstances.

    Agellius makes a very good point, here and elsewhere, with regards to actual numbers of devout religious. Perhaps there are more devout Catholics, despite our present circumstances, who remain faithful than there are devout Mormons. It’s hard to judge all Catholics in the same way that all Mormons are judged, because the the self-selecting elite argument. If there are just as many, or more devout, faithful Catholics, that is indeed a wonderful thing.

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  9. Shem:

    You write, “Even with this one would have to ask how diligently the members are following the doctrine of their church, and how clearly and directly the leaders are teaching it.”

    It seems to me that if the doctrine is being preached clearly and directly, and furthermore, people are being checked-up on to ensure compliance, then a certain amount of the credit for the compliance of the people has to go not merely to the doctrine per se, but also to the efforts of the leadership to inculcate it and spur compliance. Whereas if the doctrines are not being preached clearly and directly by the leadership, yet significant numbers are seeking it out and conforming their lives to it nevertheless, that’s all the more reason to give credit to the doctrine itself, for having the power to inspire and spur people to seek it out and embrace it and live it. And how much more power might such doctrine have, were it preached clearly and directly and constantly?

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    • Agellius

      You have a point, but you miss one important point. If the leaders are not teaching the doctrine directly and clearly than how do you know the members are following it. If it is left to the members to find the doctrine than you have no guarantee that they will find the right doctrine. You may have a lot of people withstanding corruption, but they may be following twenty different sets of doctrine, and none of them may be the doctrine of the church.

      Let us take the doctrine of keeping the Sabbath day holy as an example (from the LDS perspective). Many people who have looked into the doctrine have concluded that as long as they are spending time with their families they are keeping the spirit of this doctrine. Thus they engage in video games, even extremely violent ones, on the sabbath. They attend sporting events or watch movies. Others conclude that as long as they are not engaged in work or recreation they are keeping the sabbath, and so they use the day to lounge about and do nothing. Many come up with long lists of does and don’ts that they believe help them keep the sabbath.
      Yet, the leaders have taught directly and clearly on this point. There should be no lists; lounging is not keeping the sabbath; and just because our families grow closer does not mean we are keeping the sabbath. Keeping the sabbath means doing those things that bring us closer to God. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/the-sabbath-is-a-delight?lang=eng)

      So, without this direct and clear teaching how could we judge which of those philosophies that individuals have come up with is the right doctrine (or if any are) and how would we know that it was the actual doctrine of the church that was protecting against the corruption?

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  10. I know the doctrine of the Church by reading the writings of the Magisterium of the Church, both past and present. The writings of popes and councils are readily available to anyone who’s interested. When I speak of the doctrine not being taught directly and clearly in many places, I’m speaking in terms of the preaching at weekly worship services. This doesn’t mean that authentic teaching is not available to those who are willing to look for it. It just means that in many places, it’s being inadequately imparted to the faithful on a regular basis. Many people who adhere to strict orthodoxy in doctrine and morals don’t receive much encouragement in their parishes or from their bishops. But it doesn’t follow that they can’t know what true orthodoxy consists of.

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    • Have you spent anytime looking at the LDS teachings? My impression is that they tend to be clearer and easier to understand. A good contrast is looking at Francis’ recent encyclical (where I feel it’s not clear at all what is expected) versus the LDS “proclamation on the family”

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    • I also mean that the church itself doesn’t put out the sort of clear, concise literature the CJCLDS does. I purchased “My Catholic Faith” from Angellus press, which does a great job similar to what the CJCLDS puts out, but it is 65 years old and unavailable except as reprinted through a relatively small group that is considered invalid by most Catholics. I am happy to finally find a clear and easy traditional catechism though.

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    • I never said it was impossible to learn the doctrine on ones own, only that it is no guarantee that you will be able to. Now, I don’t know how it is with the Catholic church, but in the LDS church you will find many people who are well read in words of church leaders, both past and present, and yet they come to very different conclusions about what is the actual doctrine. Yes, the truth is there, but like the Ethiopian Eunuch said to Philip “How can [we find it], except some man should guide [us]?”

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  11. You write, “Have you spent anytime looking at the LDS teachings? My impression is that they tend to be clearer and easier to understand. A good contrast is looking at Francis’ recent encyclical (where I feel it’s not clear at all what is expected) versus the LDS ‘proclamation on the family’.”

    Yes, I’ve spent years looking at LDS teachings. They can be clear at times, nevertheless I have come across a lot of disagreement between LDS members on various doctrines; disagreements as to which doctrines are true, as well as disagreements about whether this or that doctrine is binding or a mere matter of speculation.

    I have also been told repeatedly that the LDS Church doesn’t “do” theology (defined as “the systematic and rational study of concepts of God and of the nature of religious ideas”), which, if it were done, might go a long way towards letting people know which teachings are binding and which aren’t.

    Further, I have been told by LDS members (though others have said the opposite) that LDS teachings can change from one time to another, through new revelation, even to the point of contradicting prior teachings.

    I myself had the experience of studying Mormonism for a couple of years, from LDS sources almost exclusively, as well as taking the missionary lessons three times, only to find out years later that what I thought were the clear and definite teachings of the LDS Church were, in many cases, mere “speculation” of this or that Prophet or Apostle, and not “official” doctrine.

    In light of all this, I can’t help thinking that it would be somewhat harder for someone to figure out specifically what LDS “orthodoxy” consists of, in the absence of clear and direct teaching from church leadership — that is, merely by studying the writings of past and present LDS Church leaders — than it is to figure out Catholic orthodoxy to a high degree of certainty by studying the writings of the past and present Magisterium of the Church, which I think are generally more internally consistent.

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    • Sorry, I did read your posts before on your Mormon experience and forgot it was from this blog – but they have definitely stuck in my head and influenced my thoughts. I came to the conclusion that even if Mormonism is true (or mostly so) there may be some people for whom God knows it is better for them to be or remain Catholic, etc.

      That’s my own experience, and I’m leaning towards being confirmed in the church.

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