In case you didn’t figure it out, the last blog post was on April 1, 2010. I’m not going to become a Jesuit, nor do I have any intentions of leaving Mormonism. April Fools!
However, I did want to write up a blog post on this subject after a few incidents last week.
First Incident: At lunch with some of my fellow CUA grad students, my friend Josh asks me “what do Mormons do to celebrate Easter?” My response is: pretty much nothing, at least not relative to other denominations. Sure, there might be a program during the sacrament portion of our worship service, but the lessons in Sunday school and priesthood/relief society continue on like there was nothing special about that day. This year, of course, we have our world-wide church meeting of general conference, which trumps Easter. Oh sure, the Sunday morning session will probably be very Easter-centric, but not entirely. (I was right about the Sunday morning session.)
Second Incident: I share this conversation with my friend Melanie, and she says “way to sell it, Carl.”
Third Incident: Talking with my girlfriend’s Dad also about this idea that Mormons aren’t big on ceremony he says that he is grateful that we don’t have all that pomp and circumstance in our worship services, littered with symbolism. I ask him what he feels about the temple, and the look on his face indicated to me that he had never considered the endowment in terms of a liturgy before. And this man is a temple worker and has a PhD from Yale.
Edit (5/10): I've talked with Brother Mikkelsen and he apparently meant that he really appreciates the content of the temple ceremony more than the content of the other religious ceremonies he's attended. So my impression of his facial expression was a bit off. I still think that too many LDS don't consider similarities between other religious ceremonies and our own.
Fourth Incident: My friend from Yale, Devan, was down randomly visiting DC and I had a nice long talk with him and my other friend of a similar persuasion, David. During the conversation we were talking about the Book of Mormon and Devan looked at me and asked something along the lines of “you can’t seriously believe it’s historical?” I looked at him with what was probably my stare of death hopefully tempered with wistfulness and sadness, “yes, I do.” He smiled. I didn’t smile back. He laughed a little. I continued to stare, deadpan. His smile turned a little into a smirk. “You can’t tell me with all your training that if you came to the Book of Mormon without prejudice you wouldn’t think it was the product of a 19th century author.” “No, Devan, I think the evidence is more than it’s an ancient book.” His smirk turned condescending, and we continued our conversation as I wanted to reach out and wipe it off of his face.
Fifth Incident: Watching Brother Eggett, my former neighbor and institute instructor, lead the institute choir during the Saturday afternoon session of conference. I remember singing in a Orem High School Seminary choir with him as the director. I don’t think we ever even performed, but we sang together and felt the Spirit. I remembered one day he just asked us to sing hymns for an hour straight, because he was feeling down. We did so, and he broke down in tears at the presence of the Holy Spirit by the end of the practice.
Sixth Incident: Sustaining Thomas S. Monson as a prophet of God, along with his counselors and the Quorum of the 12 as prophets, seers, and revelators, while sitting next to my girlfriend this past Saturday.
Seventh Incident: Attending Good Friday Mass and kissing the feet of the crucifix Jesus, reminding me a lot of 3 Nephi when the people all get to meet Jesus one on one.
Eight Incident: Attending Easter Mass with several friends of mine. I only messed up once, when I accidentally folded my arms instead of holding hands with those around me. The entire Basilica holding hands while reciting the Lord's Prayer and there are these 4 Mormons, arms folded, following my (inadvertent) example. Oops.
Honorable Mention Incident (last year): After seeing the Watchmen movie, talking with my friend Larry about Mormonism in the Gallery Place-Chinatown for about an hour. A the end of the conversation he concludes with last year’s most insightful quote: “I used to think that Mormonism had only the weaknesses of atheism, but now I realize that it also has the strengths of atheism, and those are considerable.”
Truman Madsen, a man I consider an intellectual father of mine, once talked about a concept of Holy Envy. As I remember it, it is to remember that we are the true church, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate things that other denominations or religions do that they do better than us. So, why do I have Holy Envy for the Catholics?
Their buildings are awesome. Seriously. They have these edifices designed and built around the sacramental table wherein the body and blood of Christ sits. We have gymns that we convert once a week into overflows for the chapels. And the sacrament table is always pushed off to the side.
Their sense of liturgy helps build a community in a way that I don’t think that LDS have really tapped into. It was a powerful experience to attend the two masses this week. To stand, sit, pray, recite, praise, and sing all with each other—aside from singing hymns and a rote “amen,” at the end of the prayers in church, we LDS don’t have anything on par with Catholic mass and the sense of community it engenders.
Also, I think a better sense of liturgy would actually serve LDS better in other ways. As I understand it, despite being spiritually prepared many young LDS people find the endowment quite jarring. I know I did to a certain extent. We are a very “low church” denomination until you get to the temple, and then suddenly you are thrown an hour and a half of pure symbolism and are expected to get it? It’s like drinking out of a fire hose. I learned more about the endowment from reading an article by Hugh Nibley (“The Early Christian Prayer Circle,”) than I did by attending the temple for the first few years, teaching the temple recommend class, or even talking about it with my Dad, who is wonderful and was helpful when I had questions about this or that point—especially regarding the changes to the ceremony over the years.
Their solution to the question “why is there stuff” is more coherent than the LDS version. Running off of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas says that we cannot have a cause that caused another cause that caused another cause all the way into eternity. In short, I do not like the doctrine taught in “If You Could Hie to Kolob” that it is “gods all the way back” the same way some Hindus think that it’s “turtles all the way down.” There had to be some original cause, a self-existent one, and Catholics call that “God.” It makes more intellectual sense to me than the LDS version of “turtles all the way down,” which is why I read the King Follet discourse a little different, and if backed into a corner and forced to come down on this issue, would claim that God the Father was the first, self-existent, eternally divine God that is aiding us to become like Him. This is the weakness of atheism that Mormonism has. We can’t explain why there is stuff at all the same coherent way the Catholics do.
So, these are the reasons I have Holy Envy for the Catholics. Why should they have Holy Envy for me?
Well, first of all, there’s the Spirit. As awesome as Mass is, it’s not the same as sitting in the celestial room of the temple with your family or a set of good friends. We have our own way of building community, and that’s to bind ourselves to the spirit of God that we are sealed with a holy spirit of promise—yes I believe that even applies to friendships. This is not to say that you can’t have good, deep, meaningful friendships in other churches. That’s clearly not the case. I’m saying that what LDS have is a more pure version of that same spirit.
Second, living prophets. Yeah, we win. Sorry.
Third, a coherent cosmology that, while not answering the “why is their stuff?” question still answers the question “why is there evil?” which to me is a much more relevant and important question. This is where Mormonism has the strengths of atheism. Atheism doesn’t have to account for suffering and evil. Theism does. Why does an all-wise, powerful, and good God allow suffering? Especially if he’s creating the universe ex nihilo? I think if you’re a traditional monotheist, something has to go. Either God is not all-powerful, he doesn’t know everything and so something he didn’t anticipate screwed up his project, or he’s malicious. Or you can take the Mormon approach, that he isn’t responsible for everything in a brute way he is if he created everything ex nihilo. The denial of that traditional doctrine gets LDS out of so many tight spots, theologically. I’d rather worship a God that can explain why evil and suffering exist and can’t explain why stuff exists as well (however, I’m limited in my thinking to 3 dimensions and linear time, so I’m open to the possibility that I won’t even get the answer anyway to the "stuff" question anyway) than a God that can explain why stuff exists but not why there is evil and suffering. We have the strengths of atheism, and those are considerable.
Fourth, the priesthood. I remember my deacon advisor Tooie Leonard remarking to us that we had more authority to act in the name of God than the pope.
And finally, it’s true. All of it. The Book of Mormon (wipe that smirk off your face Devan, and read the actual research real trained Mormon scholars have done). Joseph Smith. Thomas S. Monson. Temples. Ordinances. Sealings. Salvation.
Jesus Christ, and His "only true and living church" (D&C 1:30).
So, while I have Holy Envy for some of the things Catholics have that I wish we Mormons did better, that in no way is to state that I’m ever going to abandon Mormonism for Catholicism, or Buddhism, or any other religion for which I have Holy Envy.
Here I stand. I can do no other.