I occasionally spend a little time debating the fine folks at various anti-Mormon(1) sites. I have recently come to the conclusion that there are some advantages to believing certain popular but awful creedal Christian theologies. I am specifically thinking of the horrifying variety of Calvinism that one particularly well read critic of the church named Aaron described to me. Here are some highlights of what his theology looks like as far as I can tell:
1. Only God is self-sufficient and beginningless and uncreated
2. Everything that exists in the universe was created by that uncreated God out of nothing (aka creatio ex nihilo)
3. All people are filthy and evil and depraved by our very natures
4. God chooses to save some people by no effort of their own through his grace (aka “unconditional election”)
5. The saved are predestined to salvation and the damned are predestined to damnation
6. The way to get saved is by accepting Jesus in only the narrow way prescribed by Evangelical Christianity
7. Anyone and everyone who is not saved in this narrowly defined way will suffer an eternity burning in hell
Frankly, to me that is a hideous theology. It has a God who dooms the vast majority of his human creations to an everlasting hell with no chance whatsoever of avoiding it. Yep, according to this theology essentially every Muslim, Jew, Hindu, and Buddhist — men, women, and children — who ever lived will be burned in hell for all eternity for not becoming an evangelical Christian. I’m not kidding. Of course the list of the Frying Pan Club goes on. The vast majority of Mormons, Roman Catholics, secularists, along with gobs of Methodists, Eastern Orthodox Catholics and whatnot are gonna fry too.
I had trouble believing anyone would really adhere to such a theology in our discussion so I kept trying to give Aaron an out. But he came back with comments like this one:
If humanity is as bad as the Bible says, and sins against God are as serious as they seem to be, then it at least makes some sense (however emotionally hard it is for humans to swallow) that humans who donâ€™t receive the benefits of Christ (especially those who reject the Son and his promises) would â€œsuffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his mightâ€ (2 Thessalonians 1:9; cf. Matthew 25:46). It isnâ€™t cruel, but it is just.
Of course it doesn’t help much that he also believes in predestination. So all of us hell-bound folks not only deserve it but we can do nothing to avoid it. My impression is that Aaron doesn’t like to think about the implications of that aspect of his theology much though. When I asked him why God would even bother creating a poor little family of Buddhist peasants if he were just going to predestine them to rot eternally in hell anyway Aaron said this:
I think the same sort of question is asked of those who (like myself) believe in Godâ€™s definite foreknowledge. Why would God create a human that he knows will ultimately end up in hell for rejecting the worship of God? Iâ€™m not completely sure, but I think the best answer is found in Romans 9:21-23. Ultimately God does everything in a display of the panorama of his glory, including both justice and grace.
So there you have it. The kind of God this theology paints seems more like a cruel sadist than a being worthy of our worship to me. Seems nothing like the Jesus I read about in the New Testament — and if it were the same person, Jesus sure seems like a hypocrite in such a theology to me.
But apparently lots of people in this world disagree with my opinion on the matter.
So what are the advantages of believing such a theology? Well I can think of a couple:
A. Missionary motivation. As long as you can ignore the whole predestination thing (which I suspect most Calvinist Evangelicals do) you have all sorts of reasons to preach to hell-bound sinners around you — like them durn Mormons for instance. If you had any compassion at all you’d want to try to help save as many people as possible from eternal suffering after all.
So from that point of view I must admit that I actually sort of appreciate Aaron trying to save me from the everlasting torture he believes God has in store for me. The fact that I wouldn’t even want to spend eternity with a person as monstrous as he views God as being doesn’t help his marketing efforts, but I appreciate his concern for me at least.
B. The Zoramite High. There has to be a certain high that comes from believing you are among the few saved people on the earth while 95% or more of the rest of the people on the planet are destined for everlasting torture. The once-saved-always-saved thing must have a nice peace-inducing aspect to it too. Unfortunately that part of the theology is all very reminiscent of some aspects of the theology of the Zoramites to me. Remember their weekly recitation?
16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; … but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; …
17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, …
18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen. (Alma 31)
Near-Universalism vs. religious motivation
I must admit that the more I study God and humanity and theology and philosophy the more universalistic my theology seems to get. We Mormons have a near-universalistic theology to begin with when you consider D&C 76 and the notion of a temporary hell for even the wicked. But I tend to lean more universalistic than most Mormons these days as a result of my belief in eternal free will and the possibility of progression (or retrogression) between kingdoms. I just think that God never gives up on us and that the opportunity to freely choose to repent and come unto him will never cease throughout eternity. But while moving in that theological direction tastes right and true to me, universalism in general tends to be somewhat less religiously motivating than fearing a vengeful God and a relentlessly ticking clock. (I have talked about this a little before.) Part of me envies the passion that the awful theology Aaron believes evokes in him. Sort of like part of me misses the days before I became an entrepreneur and had a boss breathing down my neck as motivation to work, work, work. It is sometimes hard to be a self-starter. But even though believing a near-universalistic theology requires more self motivation of me, I can’t help but sense that it closer to the truth than the alternatives.
[Associated Radio Thang Song: Bad Religion - Sorrow]
(1)Apparently Evangelical anti-Mormons get grumpy when we call them anti-Mormons. Mormon blogger JDC offered to call them “The Fluffy Bunny Nice Nice Club” at one blog but none of them seemed to prefer that. They reportedly don’t mind being called part of the “anti-Mormonism” movement but don’t like being called anti-Mormons because apparently most of them think they are doing God and us a favor with their anti-Mormonism efforts…