Wednesday, October 14, 2009

LDS Lesson #3

So this evening, I managed to arrive at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about 5-10 minutes early. After a quick stop at the second-story bathroom, I descended to the first floor, from which I could hear “How Great Thou Art” being played on a piano. When I entered the room, I saw Creon talking to another Latter-day Saint whom I hadn't yet met, and Daedalos was the one on the piano. As we were leaving, I got into a conversation with the third Latter-day Saint, who had the same last name as mine. He was from Utah, and I remarked that it was interesting that of the three of them, only one was from there, considering the reputation of Utah. Creon remarked that he's heard that, while the proportion is just 2% of the general population, California has a larger total population of Latter-day Saints than does Utah. Hopefully I'll get a chance to chat with this other elder again sometime.

And it came to pass that, while Daedalos had to take care of something quickly, Creon took me up to the third floor, which is where on Saturday evenings they hold fun nights open to pretty much anyone who wants to come. It was a very comfy space. One of the rooms had a pool table, and I think there might've been some foosball tables as well. One room had a fantastic view of the Acropolis, while the other had a great view of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Excellent, excellent vantage point. After Daedalos had returned, we were joined by a third party, whom I'll name “Admetus” for these purposes. Admetus, an older fellow from Colorado who'd just arrived in Greece about 2.5 weeks previously, is a CES Institute Teacher, and Creon and Daedalos decided to bring him in to help deal with my questions about pre-mortality. Admetus made a good first impression, too; he brought some homemade cinnamon rolls that his wife made. Delicious! I hadn't realized how much I'd been craving those. He said at one point that he wouldn't eat well without his wife's cooking; I responded that one of the best things about LDS doctrine is getting to enjoy one's wife's cooking in the next life, too. That got a laugh and a, “Oh [JB], you're so theological.” We talked for a bit about how Admetus and I are progressing in Greek, about Cypriot food (specifically cheese), and a few other things.

And it came to pass that, after Admetus led us in an opening prayer, we got started on pre-mortality. Now, to remind the reader, Latter-day Saints believe very firmly that each and every person existed as pure spirit for a great length of time prior to being born into an earthly body. Admetus and I pulled out our Bibles, and we turned to Jeremiah 1:4-5 (“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations”). Admetus commented on that passage that God knew Jeremiah before forming him in the womb, which is obviously what the text says, though the implicit assumption Latter-day Saint readers bring to this is that this requires Jeremiah to have existed at those pre-conception times at which God knew him. He remarked that not many churches talk about where we were before here. The next verse was Hebrews 12:9 (“Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?”), to which Admetus said that we clearly must have existed with God before this earthly life. To quote his precise words, “So if he [God] is the Father of our spirits, then we must have known him, been with him, seen him, existed with him before this earth life.” I actually found this to be a non sequitur as pertains to this verse, but no matter. I'll introduce some critiques later. Admetus said at this point that it isn't a “quantum leap” to deduce from these passages together some sort of pre-mortal existence. As he said, though, most of his friends in Colorado think that all things came into being at roughly the same time, and so pre-existence is a concept that they don't seem to be able to get their minds around.

These were the only two passages that I would've ordinarily gotten, but I asked if there were others, and so the first one was Acts 17:28-29 (“'For in him we live, and move, and have our being'; as certain also of your own poets have said, 'For we also are his offspring.' Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device”), which Creon read. Since we are God's offspring, Admetus reasoned, we came from Heavenly Father as his children, which thereby means that we must look like him and be similar to him. (This was another utter non sequitur, it seems.) Creon then turned us to John 9:1-2 (“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, 'Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?'”), which is one of his favorite passages on the topic. He said that the question here simply assumed that there must be a pre-mortal life, and so the Jews at the time must have believed in it. The doctrine, thus, is something lost in the apostasy.

And it came to pass that, when given the option to ask a question, I asked what details have been revealed about the nature of the pre-mortal life. Admetus, after checking with Daedalos and Creon that they'd already taught me the lesson about the Plan of Salvation, explained simply that the pre-mortal life was when the Father devised his great plan for us, and that the pre-mortal existence is that from whence he sent us forth into earthly life. Not exactly the level of detail I'd been hoping, since this was hardly anything new. Creon also took the chance to explain that the LDS belief in a pre-mortal existence helps to ground their church's opposition to abortion, since we need to keep the birth rate up to accommodate spirits entering mortality. (I don't think he quite stated it explicitly like that, but that's more or less the gist.) Creon is fond of describing the Plan of Salvation as a three-act play, with the first act being pre-mortality, the second being mortality, and the third being the kingdoms of glory after the general resurrection. It reminds me somewhat of N. T. Wright's description of the saga of redemption as a five-act play in his excellent book The Last Word, which I highly recommend, as I do any book by N. T. Wright.

And it came to pass that around this point – well, after Daedalos talked for a while about the importance of the Plan of Salvation – Admetus decided to ask me for my own thoughts about where we come from. Heh... that's generally a bad move, no? Well, I asked him first about his level of familiarity with the range of opinions in Christianity in general about the origin of the soul. He looked almost a little perplexed; I suppose that perhaps he hadn't ever really encountered non-LDS Christians who ever gave any thought to the matter at all. So I launched into a fairly brief explanation of three major views. The first, often termed 'creationism' (though with respect to the soul, and not in any way inconsistent with evolutionary theory) is, essentially, the view that at the moment of conception, God immediately creates a new human soul that is, either at that moment or shortly thereafter, joined to the fertilized human ovum, resulting in a newly ensouled human person. This view, which essentially emphasizes the timing of it, doesn't really leave room for any sort of pre-existence. The second view is, basically, what the Latter-day Saints have proposed: that human spirits are created by God en masse (or, alternatively, at different intervals) at some time in the past, and exist for a while without bodies before descending to the earth to become fully human in the embodied sense. However, there are many strains in LDS thought in which our spirits are in some sense material and have definite form; are literally begotten by the Heavenly Father; and may or may not have had an even earlier existence as 'intelligences' that were co-eternal with God, whatever that might entail. In orthodox circles, even those who propose pre-existence will not go so far. Since Admetus hadn't brought up any of these LDS beliefs, however, I didn't bother to expound on those contrasts. The third view is called 'traducianism', and in this view, the spirit is created indirectly by God through the mediation of the parents, in the same way in which the body is created indirectly by God through the mediation of the parents. What goes for how the body comes into being, largely goes for how the soul comes into being: both derive from the union of spermatozoon and ovum and have an organic connection to those respective components in the parents. In short, in this view the human soul is, more or less, begotten by the souls of the parents. This can obviously still be described as the soul being created by God; after all, God is the creator of each individual human body, yet the obvious role of the parent is not excluded. This third one, as I told Admetus, is my own current viewpoint on the matter. (By the way, it's hardly novel; Tertullian of Carthage, a third-century church father, was widely known for his traducianism, although he held some other peculiar beliefs with respect to the soul.)

He seemed to have been thrown for a bit of a loop. He asked if that meant that we hadn't existed for a long time with the Father before our birth. As I explained, if our spirits come into being according to the traducian account, then there was no pre-mortal existence. The first moment of a human spirit's existence as such is at the moment of conception, which is part of mortal, earthly life. Admetus queried, then, what I do with the case of Jeremiah. I explained – though not nearly as well as I hope to put it now in text – that most churches read this passage in terms of God's foreknowledge. Because we believe God to have perfect omniscience, he can be said to know any given person before they exist. Thus, we reject the premise that God can only have knowledge of another party at times at which they are contemporaries. My explanation was much more convoluted and garbled than that, but that's basically what I meant to say. He asked, then, what about God ordaining and sanctifying Jeremiah before conception. I explained that, on my view, this can be perfectly explained within the context of God's eternal decree. As part of God's eternal decision to create the world – not just a world, but our particular world, with all that it entails – he chose to create a person who would be named Jeremiah, and God decreed that Jeremiah would be set apart by him as a prophet. Thus, one can speak of God's ordaining Jeremiah before conception, even if Jeremiah did not exist outside of God's thoughts at any such time. (I should also note that, in retrospect, the passage doesn't even require one to say this; the ordination as a prophet is said to be before birth, not before conception. Only God's knowledge of Jeremiah is specified precisely to be before conception. Nonetheless, as a Molinist, I believe firmly in a comprehensive and eternal divine decree by God to create the world, in all its specificity.) Admetus said that it sounds like they take the passage more “literally” than I do. I essentially agreed, though I actually should've taken the time to discuss how Latter-day Saints seem to plot things on a 'literal/metaphorical' spectrum that I, personally, would use other ways to describe. But I'm sure I'll talk about that later.

Now, Admetus never asked me about any of the other passages. And since I've more or less committed myself to only giving critical responses when they solicit them, I didn't launch into an attack on their interpretations. But I might as well say, more or less, what I probably would've said if given the opportunity. As for Hebrews 12:9, the phrase “Father of spirits” doesn't imply any sort of pre-mortal existence. After all, this phrase would be equally compatible with the view that God miraculously, individually, and directly creates each spirit at the moment of conception. It seems obvious to me that the phrase doesn't favor 'pre-existence' over 'creationism'. (I might also add that, contrary to the view that God is our “literal Father” – assuming that to mean that our spirits originated through begetting by God rather than through creation by God, as I'd use the terms – the phrase “Father of spirits” no more states this than it makes God the biological father of each of us if we were to call him, e.g., the Father of all flesh, or the Father of all mankind, or our Father in general.) As to Acts 17:28-29, much the same applies. It should first be noted, however, that Paul doesn't even need to accept the view that we are God's offspring. Paul was initially quoting a pagan poet to that effect. His entire argument could be construed as a reductio ad absurdum, a reduction to absurdity. Let me roughly schematize it:

  1. If idolatry is acceptable, God must be comparable to things like wood and stone.
  2. According to pagan authorities, we are God's offspring.
  3. We could never be the offspring of anything comparable to wood and stone.
  4. So, if we are God's offspring, God is not comparable to wood and stone.
  5. Therefore, if we are God's offspring, idolatry is unacceptable.
  6. ince pagan authority establishes that we are God's offspring, that same authority establishes the unacceptability of idolatry.
That, I think, is a fair account of Paul's general line of argument, though it could obviously be expressed more tightly and more rigorously than I just did. Note that nowhere in here does Paul need to agree with those pagan authorities. He's perfectly free to deny that we are God's offspring and still use that passage from the poet in his argument, to basically the same effect. In other words, instead of saying, 'We are God's offspring, so idolatry is unacceptable', he could just be stating that, since (5) is true (he just made a case for this) and a pagan authority has affirmed the antecedent (that is, said that we are God's offspring), logical consistency demands that his audience either reject that authority entirely (which is not something Paul envisions them doing) or else accept the conclusion that idolatry is unacceptable. He never needs to agree with the statement that we are God's offspring. But even if he accepts something like it, that statement could be seen as compatible with any of the main schools of thought ('creationism, 'pre-existence', 'traducianism'). So it doesn't really help their case.

Finally, with John 9:1-2, it isn't at all clear that the question assumes a pre-mortal life. The question could equally well be raising the possibility of pre-natal sin. That is, was the man born blind because his parents sinned during their earthly lives, or was the man born blind because he already sinned during what is, thus far, his very short term of an earthly life? This is at least an equally fair way to understand the question. I don't have Craig S. Keener's commentary on Matthew with me (or any other one, for that matter; this is just the one that comes most immediately to mind), but I've heard that there were, in fact, debates in the rabbinical world about that possibility. Now, we might be free to reject the idea of sinning in the womb as ridiculous, but what matters here is what those asking the question thought. However, let's suppose that they did ask the question assuming a pre-mortal existence to at least be a possible option. Jesus' response never affirms that at all. His answer, after all, is that the blindness does not result from particularly egregious sin on the part of either party. Whether or not his questioners believed pre-mortal life to be possible is practically irrelevant, because Jesus never affirms that their assumption is right. Quite a contrast to one old Latter-day Saint view that those who were less valiant in standing against Satan's rebellion in pre-mortality were thereafter punished by being sent into bodies that had the mark of Cain – i.e., dark skin. (I can just imagine it: 'Teacher, who sinned that this man should be born dark-skinned, himself or his parents?' 'Oh, definitely him. He wasn't valiant enough in his pre-mortal existence.') So this doesn't seem to give good reason for believing in a pre-mortal life, either.

Anyway, let us return to the actual flow of the narrative once more. It came to pass that Creon decided to turn us to Genesis 1:26-27 (“And God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth on the earth.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them”), which Daedalos read aloud. He emphasized that the verse uses the word “our”, thus requiring that God be talking to somebody. Creon suggested that it be all the hosts of heaven, and he explained that Latter-day Saints believe that God has a tangible body of flesh and bones, and that the spirit resembles the physical body in form. Thus, he sees in this verse an intimation of our pre-mortal life; to him it “confirms the pre-mortal existence”. Now, they didn't ask me my opinion on this passage, but if they had, I would've explained that I do not believe that we were created in the image of all the hosts of heaven; I believe we were created in the image of God, and God alone. I believe – as do many Christian readers of this passage – that the Father is here speaking to the Son and the Spirit. This has been held since the days of the church fathers. If the Father is addressing the Son and the Spirit, then we don't need to be included in “our”, and so nothing in the passage indicates that our spirits existed in heaven with God before our bodies were created.

And it came to pass that Creon asked, however, if I had any further questions, and so I chose to ask Admetus if it has been revealed how long we existed before the earth's creation. After all, I was eager to test the waters a bit more to see whether or not this particular group of Latter-day Saints believes that we are, in some sense, co-eternal with God. From the answer given, if they believe that, they weren't very forthcoming with it. I was told by Admetus that God's time and man's time are of course very different, and that while we know that we existed with God for “a long time” before the earth's creation, we don't have anything remotely approaching a timetable for it, since we don't need to know that for this life to gain salvation.

And it came to pass, however, that Creon made the tactical mistake of trying to support his view in a pre-mortal existence through appeal to the Scriptures. Specifically, he said:
One of the things that always stuck out to my mind too is that, while reading the Scriptures, it always says that we need to 'return' to live with our Heavenly Father, and we need to make it through this life and 'return' to his presence. And I think about this term “return”, and if we're returning to live with God, then obviously we must have lived with him before.
Why a tactical mistake? Because it gave me the chance to ask for a verse that uses the term “return” to describe our going to be with the Father in the future when we die, or in the resurrection. He admitted that he couldn't quote any such passage off the top of his head, but said that he “think[s] that's just what [he's] always heard, that we're going to return to live in his presence”. He said he should do more research on it and get back to me. Since before Admetus showed up, Creon and Daedalos had mentioned how in awe they always were of his ability to cite references for anything, I asked him if he knew. There was a bit of hemming and hawing (not literally, of course; that would've just been bizarre), and he said that it seems obvious to him that if we did have a pre-mortal existence with the Heavenly Father, then going to be with him would have to constitute a return. And that's all quite true. But it doesn't remotely answer my question, which was about where the Scriptures explicitly describe that as a “return”. After all, we're trying to make a case here from the notion of return to the notion of pre-mortality, not the other way around. To use the idea of pre-mortality as evidence for a future 'return' to God here would be circular logic. So after I asked him more specifically about explicitly using the term “return” or some equivalent, he eventually conceded that, to his knowledge, the Scriptures never speak that way. It took a while to actually get it out of him, though. He kept wanting to make the appeal the other way around.

And it came to pass that Daedalos started what appeared to be a consideration of Bible translation, perhaps so as to escape the force of my catching Creon in a bungle as to the word “return”. I sort of hoped at this point that Daedalos would turn the discussion to how, in the LDS Articles of Faith, they say that the Bible is the Word of God only “in so far as it is correctly translated”; of course, in practice this will often result in lowering the Bible beneath later revelation like, e.g., the Book of Mormon. I've observed this before, as you may recall. Instead, Daedalos never went there, but instead got around to talking about how what's far more important than issues of the precise wording of the text is having a testimony, which is “something that you just feel”. As he once said, “I don't know about the wording, but I do know that this is true.” Rather typical for Latter-day Saints, alas. (He did, however, admit that he doesn't know whether the word “return” is in the Bible in that context or not.) This testimony, he said, received by prayer, is far more important than all scholarly investigation into what the Bible actually says (although he didn't put it quite so bluntly as that). He also intimated that, when it comes to receiving a spiritual confirmation, the experiential phenomenon probably differs from person to person; that is, the exact feeling that Daedalos received from God (allegedly) in confirmation of his faith in the Book of Mormon is probably not the exact same feeling that Creon or Admetus received for the same purpose. Interesting. Wholly irrelevant to what we'd been discussing, but interesting.

And it came to pass that Creon had, meanwhilem found the index in the back of his Bible in hopes that it'd help him out of this little scrape. He said that while he didn't get around to checking the literary context of each verse, he did find some references to “return[ing] to the Lord thy God” in Deuteronomy. I didn't bother calling him out on it, but these aren't talking about returning to God after this mortal life; they're talking about turning back to God in faithfulness after having rebelled against him. It isn't so much a spatial movement of the spirit between phases of the Plan of Salvation, as a moral 'return' within the context of this earthly life. So this didn't actually help him at all. It would've been more interesting if he'd stumbled across Ecclesiastes 12:7 (“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it”), which does talk about the spirit 'returning' to God. This at least seems at first glance (and perhaps even second or third) to support their view, and I think they would've been overjoyed to find a new favorite prooftext. My answer to that use of that verse, by the way, is that it isn't talking about returning to God's presence so much as to his possession. In other words, the spirit was a gift (or, rather, a loan) from God that now reverts to his full ownership at death. If he immediately created each spirit upon conception, this is still a gift and the reversion to his full possession could be described appropriately as 'returning' without implying that there was a time before it was given at which it co-existed apart from the body with him. But, as I said, this verse never came up.

And it came to pass that, getting off the subject of pre-mortality at last – I think I gave them a bit of a run for their money, despite taking it very easy on them – Creon asked if I had any other questions or anything before we turned to the lesson itself. The first thing I did wasn't a question; rather, I said I was ready to return the book they'd let me borrow last week (New Evidences of Christ in Ancient America). They seemed rather stunned, almost incredulous, that I'd finished it already. I laughed and quipped that for me, this book constituted light reading, compared to a lot of the other stuff I work through. I then explained that I keep a running tally of how many books I read each year, and that at this point in 2009 I was up to 127, that book included. Creon asked if I found the book interesting, and I said that I did and that there were some things in it (I didn't go into specifics) that I'd like to think about and research a bit more. I decided to let it go at that. In fact, I found myself profoundly underwhelmed by the book. Let me explain a bit. First of all, the book is clearly written to a Latter-day Saint audience; or, if it isn't, then the authors have no clue how to write to a more skeptical audience. The book essentially assumes that the Book of Mormon is an accurate historical record and then proceeds to try to use Mesoamerican archaeology to illuminate it a bit. This, however, was not the professed goal of the book. Furthermore, a large number of entries in the bibliography are Latter-day Saint works, or else are outdated or virtually irrelevant. The twelfth chapter was interesting because it was basically sermonizing about the “shamanistic”, worldly outlook of contemporary society. But totally irrelevant to the purpose of the book. They identified the Jaredites of the Book of Mormon with the Olmec civilization, but didn't propose anything specific for the Nephites, Lamanites, or Mulekites. Well, I do think they suggested that one particular city – can't recall if it was Teotihuacan or another one – was the Nephite capital. But they never explicitly said, 'Such-and-such a Mesoamerican civilization were Nephites', or anything of the sort. Also, they used sources very uncritically. Many sources for pre-Columbian Mesoamerica are, in fact, sources written after the beginning of colonization. However, these are notorious for Christianizing indigenous beliefs and practices, and the authors did nothing to control for this (and even LDS reviews have criticized them for that). At one point, they quoted a source that identified some Mesoamerican term with the Father – and then throughout the rest of the book, they used that term for the Son without any explanation! I had to do a double-take on that one! The list of 'significant' parallels between Mesoamerican society and Near Eastern cultures was pretty laughable, for the most part. Many of the alleged similarities were with pagan Near Eastern cultures, and they made no effort to square this with pious Israelite colonists. They made use of Izapa Stele 5 (a purported representation of the Tree of Life, with Book of Mormon characters), which is widely known in LDS circles to be bad apologetics (a la Josh McDowell or Ray Comfort for orthodox Christians), and they strained to identify Quetzalcoatl (a Mesoamerican feathered serpent god) with Jesus' visit to the Americas in the Book of Mormon. (By the way, they assumed throughout the book that Book of Mormon geography must be restricted to Mesoamerica, but never once tried to explain how the Hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon, where Moroni deposited the golden plates, could be there, whereas the Hill Cumorah where the angel-ified Moroni helped Joseph Smith uncover the exact same golden plates could be in New York. To say nothing of Smith's famous 'discoveries' of skeletal remains of Lamanite warriors in the northern United States.) Oh, and they attempted to argue that Jesus was born in 1 BC, contrary to a basically unanimous scholarly consensus that it had to have been 6-4 BC, since Herod the Great died in 4 BC. Their answer? Um, well, Josephus must just have gotten the date of Herod's death totally wrong, that's all. Hardly a valid answer. No interaction with Josephan scholarship, for that matter. While a couple things in the book were at least potentially interesting – for example, their treatment of how Mayan calender systems allegedly square up perfectly with the Book of Mormon – most of the book was very, very weak. So that's my basic impression of the book; perhaps someday when I've done a bit more studying, I'll find a copy of the book, work through it again, and then draft a more detailed review.

And it came to pass that, after I returned the book and talked about how much I read, Admetus became curious about my major, so I explained that I'm a religion and philosophy major, and that theology is moreso my passion than my major. He asked if I'd studied much about the Greek Orthodox Church, and I said that I hadn't done as much study on that as I'd like to, and that I attended a Divine Liturgy one Sunday here that... well, let's just say that it was the least friendly place I've ever been. After describing that service to an Orthodox friend of mine, he said that that church apparently is doing just about everything wrong. Admetus then asked me for my opinion on the idea of a restoration of the church. As he put the question:
How does the idea of a restoration impact you? It's a little bit different theology than what you've probably studied. It seems like either the Protestants broke away from a certain line of reasoning, or there's a continual line of reasoning, and the third option seems to be a restoration.
I think I understood what he was at least getting at, even if it was expressed oddly – and I may very well have just plain transcribed what he said wrong. So it came to pass that I began to discuss what I'll venture to call my evangelical ecclesiology a bit. (In other words, my view of the church.) I said that I personally believe that many aspects of the church – particularly the hierarchical, institutional outward form of the church – did eventually become corrupt in certain ways. At times in church history, ecclesiastical offices were sold for money. At times, incorrect doctrines were taught (though, in my opinion, seldom did the church as a whole preach anything that denied the essential doctrines of the faith). At times, religion was used as an excuse for warfare, violence, and bloodshed in ways that would have absolutely horrified the apostles. All of this, I can hardly deny. Still, I maintain that there was no 'Great Apostasy', as Latter-day Saints understand it. Corruption, yes, but not apostasy. And so there was no need for a restoration. Rather, God could raise up people who would nudge his church back onto the right track. They wouldn't have to be prophets, per se, although they certainly could be if God so chose. Reformers would be just as good. (Although I did make clear that I disagree quite strongly with Luther and Calvin on certain points, just as I do with official Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox teaching where I believe that they add to the faith beyond the essential doctrinal core.)

And it camee to pass that, when Creon asked whether I think it matters which church it goes to, I first said that I prefer to speak of denominations rather than churches, because there's only one church: the people whom Christ purchased out of this age by means of his atonement made on the cross. That can be the only true church, because that church consists of all of God's people in all times and in all places. I went on to say that I believe that this church, this people, can be found across all sorts of denominations. I believe that there are Baptists who are part of that true church, and Lutherans who are part of that true church, and Methodists, and Catholics, and Orthodox, and many others. (I did not mention it there, but I also believe that there are plenty of Latter-day Saints and perhaps even Jehovah's Witnesses who are likewise part of that one true church, despite the heretical teachings found within each of those groups. This is where I frequently part ways with many evangelical 'countercult' apologists, who take a more strongly negative stance towards the possibility that members of heretical sects might be true Christians even within those groups.) I said that I do not think that any denomination has a monopoly on being the one true church to the exclusion to all the others; rather, all can be said to be the true church, even if one denomination might, in some given respect, adhere more faithfully to the correct doctrine than another.

That being said, it came to pass that Creon decided to ask if I had any other questions, and since I didn't just yet, it was finally time to move on to the lesson itself. Creon asked if I'd had a chance to read the passages from the Book of Mormon that had been 'assigned', as it were, at our previous meeting. I had, of course, and I proceeded to list from memory the references from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, which impressed them. I mentioned that my memory works in weird ways; I can memorize all that by sheer accident, and yet sometimes forget my own name or age. (I hadn't bothered to re-read the biblical passages they'd given me, since I'm already sufficiently familiar with all of them.) The key chapter for this time around was 3 Nephi 27, in which Jesus is portrayed as laying out his gospel, and Creon asked me what I'd gotten from it as to what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. Here's what I said, verbatim except for the occasional “um” and “ah” (and keep in mind that this is me presenting their view moreso than my own):
Well, the gospel of Jesus Christ concerns what one needs to do in order to find alvation, to return to the Heavenly Father. The gospel of Jesus Christ is of course founded upon the incomparable work that Christ accomplished through his sufferings at the time of the crucifixion – and, as Latter-day Saints believe, also in the Garden of Gethsemane, beginning with his sweating of blood there. As related in 3 Nephi 27, the gospel requirements are for a person to have complete faith in Christ's atonement in order to take care of one's sins, so of course acknowledging that one has sinned is a prerequisite for that. It's also required that one repent of one's sins, you know, turn utterly away from them and spurn them for good. The next thing one must do is fulfill God's commandments, and the first commandment is of course becoming baptized into Christ's death and resurrection and thus becoming a part of his chosen people. There are of course other commandments that one must then also fulfill in order to have Christ plead for oneself on the day of judgment, when the Heavenly Father will judge the world, and so one must fulfill these other commandments, and the other point after that is simply to do this while enduring to the end through all manner of trial and tribulation, that one may be presented blameless to the Father on the last day.
And it came to pass that the first words out of Creon's mouth were along the lines of, “Wow, you understood that a lot better than any of the other investigators we've come to talk to. No one has ever read that chapter and gotten as much out of it as you have.” Heh, I'm used to hearing things like that from Jehovah's Witnesses as well. Creon then said that he generally charts it in eight points from that chapter, which include things like the birth and life of Christ. I did, however, miss one element in the progression, but eventually with some prodding I remembered that after baptism for them must come the separate act of receiving the Holy Ghost. So after agreeing with me and taking some time to elaborate on the need to be cleansed from sin, Creon asked me what I understand faith to be. What follows is, verbatim, my reply:
Faith is fundamentally trust and loyalty. So to have faith in God is to trust that he is good; it is to put all that I have in his hands and simply believe and accept that he will do with them what is best, because he is far, far wiser than I can ever imagine. It also entails, of course, believing certain propositions, various doctrines, because there is simply no way to coherently trust in God if you don't believe that he exists, for example. There's no way to have faith in the atonement if you don't believe that Christ did in fact go through all these things for you, or [if you believe that] he was not who he said he was. So those are all included in there. Faith also entails loyalty. It's not simply about belief, it's not simply about trust, the third plank is loyalty. One must commit oneself to acknowledging God as the absolute king whose word is law, and therefore loving and obeying him.
Creon really liked the way I laid that out, and I have a feeling that this analysis of faith will serve as a sort of touchstone for future discussions of the topic. After Creon talked a bit about how important each of those factors is, and cited James 2:17-18 (“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, 'Thou hast faith, and I have works'; shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works”), he also referenced the parable in Alma 32 about faith as a little seed. (Can't imagine where Joseph Smith could've possibly heard that before...) After this, Daedalos talked for a while about what is entailed in repentance. The first step, he said, is recognition of our own mistakes. This must be followed by the experience of godly sorrow and contrition. Third, there must come a desire for change; after all, the Greek word for “repentance” is metanoia, “change of mind” and of heart as well, Daedalos said. He had a hard time finding the right word for the next step (Admetus finally came to the rescue), but it involves making restitution, seeking to make right what had been damaged before. The next step after that is confession and asking for forgiveness from the wronged party or parties. For more serious sins, he said, we need a guide, typically an ecclesiastical leader such as a bishop or a branch president. After seeking forgiveness, we must release ourselves from guilt and pledge to never repeat the same mistakes. And it came to pass that, when Daedalos had finished, Creon talked about the testimony he has of repentance. By this I mean, not a personal story about how he repented or anything like that, but rather the wonderful feeling he gets and the positive impact on his life from understanding what repentance is.

As a prelude to the third of the five steps in the gospel, Creon turned me to three Scripture passages. It took me a little while to realize exactly where this was going. The first passage was Matthew 7:29 (“For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes”), in which the people note that Jesus taught with authority. Next came Matthew 16:15-19 (“He saith unto them, 'But whom say ye that I am?' And Simon Peter answered and said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven'”), wherein all the authority of Christ will be given to Peter. Vaguely criticizing the Roman Catholic use of verse 18 in support of papal primacy, Creon explained that latter-day revelation shows this authority to consist in the keys of sealing, which are used for establishing the family unit as eternal. I suppose I can see why a Latter-day Saint reader would approach verse 19 and see this there; in fact, binding and loosing refers to halakhic decisions – binding apostolic decrees as to practice. But, I can understand why the typical LDS reader would misunderstand that passage. The third verse was Luke 9:1 (“Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases”). Creon explained that a very special sort of authority had been given to the apostles in general, but that it had been lost by the church in the apostasy. Only three contemporary churches, he said, claim to have this authority, without which no valid baptisms can be performed: the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So, he said, surely one of these must be the one true church, or else all is lost. His exact words, you ask? But of course:
Now this authority that Jesus Christ had that allowed him to cast out the devils, to perform these miracles, he gave to his twelve apostles. Now when we talk about an apostasy, this is what we're talking about. This authority that was given to the apostles was lost. And there's only on the earth today three churches that claim this authority: the two of which we've talked about already, and one you're sitting in right now. The first one being the Orthodox Church, the second one being the Catholic Church, and the third one being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those are the only churches that claim authority. Interesting to note is, Martin Luther, when he split off from, I believe it was the Catholic Church, he never claimed that he had the authority to do so. He only knew that there was something wrong in the things that he was doing. But this authority is something that really matters, because if you don't have the authority, what does that mean? Okay, you can't cause miracles to happen, you can't cast out devils, you can't preach the word of God just as these people did when they received that authority, that's when they were able to do that, and they can't perform baptisms. [. . .] But this baptism, this is why we go back to the importance of authority, this is why say that there was a need for restoration, because either the Orthodox Church has the keys to baptize and they've been having the keys since the time of 300 AD, or the Catholic Church that split off, or those keys that were given to the apostles weren't handed down, and they were lost. And that's why we need the restoration....
Now, I wasn't asked at this point for a reaction, but if I had been, I would've reiterated that the one true church is spread out among many denominations, and that I see no reason for supposing that the authority to perform baptisms, for instance, has been lost. It seems to me that all of them have that particular authority; the particular notion of priesthood authority held by Latter-day Saints is peculiar to them. (And I'll note that I do not hold to Catholic or Orthodox forms of belief in apostolic succession, insofar as I believe that the apostles had a position of authority that can never be rivaled by their successors in any bishopric, and that the successor of the apostles in certain capacities is not a person at all, but rather the Scriptures themselves.)

And it came to pass that Creon went on to talk about baptism as the completion of repentance, citing Romans 4-5, which is completed further through the later ordinance of receiving the Holy Ghost. This was the fourth step. Daedalos explained that the Holy Ghost provides protection, gives nudges (answers of God), gives comfort in times of need, is always there “so long as we are worthy”, and acts as a “still, small voice” from God to us. Creon next made two Scripture references with the point that a convert receives the Holy Ghost only at some point after baptism. The first citation was Acts 2:37-40 (“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said unto them, 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.' And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, 'Save yourselves from this untoward generation'”), the story of Pentecost, which allegedly has Peter represent the gift of the Holy Ghost as a third step in the process, distinct in time from baptism for the remission of sins. The second citation was Acts 8:15-16 (“Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: for as yet he was fallen on none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”), which would appear to substantiate their point only if generalized to a rule. But this is hardly the place to dive into that thorny issue. He said that the power to confer this gift requires special authority, just like baptism, and that the reason why we don't need to be re-baptized each time we sin is that the sacrament (i.e., communion) takes its place in cleansing us from sin.

As a fifth point, a Christian must endure to the end in order to be saved. This, Creon explained, includes temple ordinances (a peculiarly LDS thing), such as being sealed for time and all eternity, as well as various covenants, or promises between man and God. The baptismal covenants are the crowning example of these, and are renewed and re-affirmed each Sunday at sacrament meeting. Creon then went on to celebrate his happiness in the gospel. He mentioned that his mother was a convert, whereas he grew up in the church, and that their family has grown stronger through Family Home Evenings. His little mini-monologue concluded with this:
I know that this is the true church with all my heart. I know that the Scriptures are true, and I know that as we study them, we gain a better understanding. It's these Scriptures that help us, okay, clue in to what we need to be doing and how it all fits together. And I know that I don't know everything. And I really wish that I did, I really wish that I could just open up the Scriptures and just expound verse by verse what it says. But unfortunately I can't. But I do know that without a living prophet, there would be tons of mysteries in this book [the Bible] that I wouldn't understand. Without modern-day revelation, without being able to receive revelation myself, I would be very confused. That's why I'm so thankful for this greater light and knowledge of the gospel.
And it came to pass that, after that, Daedalos took up with a quite well-phrased plea about receiving a testimony that, while I can't quote it wholly verbatim, involved just going home and setting books aside for an evening. What I can recall is here, perhaps slightly paraphrased at points:
I'd like for you actually to go home and.... you know, usually we give you something to read [. . .] and of course you read them all, but this time I'm gonna ask you to do the exact opposite. I want you to go home tonight and just put your books on the side and kneel down after really thinking about these things, after really pondering everything that we've told you so far, and to take some time before you pray just to think about all these things, what exactly do they mean, and what they could mean to you, and why we feel so strongly about this, why we leave our families for two years and come and do this. [. . .] I know that these things will help you as well. I know you to be a very logical person – these things need to make sense in your head – but now I ask you to go home, think about them, pray, listen clearly, and listen to your heart. To... like you said when you described faith, and you said there were two things: trust and loyalty. Trust in God and Jesus Christ that they will never lead you astray, and be loyal to the things that they tell you. Tonight when you go home and you pray, keep those two things in mind. Keep in mind that you do trust, you do have faith. That's undeniable. No one here or on the face of this earth could deny that you have faith. Everybody knows you have faith. You do trust and you are loyal to things that he [God] tells you; you are loyal to the faith. Now, when you pray, we ask you to again ask if these things are true. You'll find that this is the most important thing that we'll ever ask you to do. More important than reading any books, more important than finding references, more important than listening to scholars who have spent their lives teaching [these things]. The most important thing that you could do is to pray – to pray, and then to listen, to be loyal, to trust the things that God will tell you. Because he will speak to you, in his own way and in his own time. Trust that he loves you enough, just like he loves all of his children, to take a little bit of time out of his busy schedule to speak to you first, and I promise you, you will feel it, you will feel it in your heart and you will feel this confirmation we talked about. Everything you've learned, your knowledge of the gospel, your knowledge of the life of Jesus Christ, your knowledge of church history – church histories – is more than sufficient for God to work with. I'm pretty sure that you know way more about the Scriptures, about all these things, than I do. Yet God took some time out of his busy schedule to confirm them to me. And I know that he will do the same for you. This – if you do this thing, you will receive an answer, either yes or no. And that is all we ask, that you try with a sincere and open heart to know whether these things are true. [. . .] And then again, after your prayer, take a little bit of time – God will take some time out of his busy schedule, you can take some time out of yours, after your prayer, just to stay on your knees and think about the things that you've said. And when you pray it, pray out loud, and you will see.
That is, at least, more than the main gist of it. And it came to pass that I learned at this point that it's common practice every two months for some missionaries to get transfer calls, so they often have new partners, and as a result, either Daedalos or Creon (probably the former) might be replaced by the next time I see them. I hope, of course, that both of them get to stick together, since it seems that they get along quite well. The next lesson will deal with the commandments, and because Creon knows I can handle it, he has no fear in laying out for me even the things considered most “weird” by outsiders. After we scheduled our next meeting date – the evening of November 4th at the same time and location – Admetus chimed in with some closing thoughts about how much fun he'd had sitting in on the meeting tonight. He said at one point, “First of all, these guys told me what a fun guy you are, and how you just push them to the limits on questions”, and he said that it's clear that from his observations just that one night, it's clear that I've had more training in philosophy and theology than any of them have. He also gave the usual talk about how he knows that I'll know things if I ask God in prayer, and that he can tell I have a “simple, powerful faith” deep in my heart; and he shared that his mother, like Creon's, was a convert to the church, but his father had already been a member, so he was raised in the faith.

And it came to pass that, after Creon offered a closing prayer, I got to meet Admetus' wife – wouldn't be appropriate to nickname her anything but Alcestis – who sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for seven years. I spent quite a while chatting with Admetus and Alcestis as they started to pack up. Found out what LDS seminary and institutes are like – seminary is for high-schoolers and basically spends a year on the OT, a year on the NT, a year on the Book of Mormon, and a year on church history (I presume this to mostly be LDS church history); and the difference with CES Institute is that they get to go more in depth. (Somewhere in here, I got to eat the last cinnamon roll, too... Mmmm.....) I'm also getting to borrow a large hardcover copy of James E. Talmage's Jesus the Christ until the next meeting. (Admetus said that I'd enjoy it because I'm “on a par with James E. Talmage”, which is pretty high praise from a Latter-day Saint, haha!) Creon is currently working his way through it (he's 200-some pages in, which means he's less than a third of the way), and he suspects I'll finish before he does. I have the same suspicion. Admetus is going to try to sit in on my next lesson with the missionaries; Alcestis encouraged me to be tough on him.

Eventually I left the church building, and since it occurred to me that I seldom have private space to pray aloud back in my apartment, I prayed under my breath virtually the entire walk back, in accordance to Daedalos' directions.

Friday, October 9, 2009

LDS Lesson #2

Today was my second lesson with the Latter-day Saint missionaries. I was almost late to the meeting because an elderly Greek man wanted to make friends, but after a few minutes of pleasant conversation, I excused myself and made it to the church in the nick of time. After some brief chit-chat – I explained why my day had worn me out tremendously by that point, which is a matter that need not concern us here – and an opening prayer lead by Daedalos, they inquired as to whether I'd thought up any questions since our last meeting. I'd scribbled a few notes on a sheet of paper, and so my first query respected the phrase “fullness of the gospel”, which – according to the Latter-day Saints – was lost in the apostasy. As Creon explained it, the fullness of the gospel consists in five steps: (1) faith, (2) repentance, (3) baptism, (4) the gift of the Holy Ghost, and (5) enduring to the end. These, for them, are the deeds we need to accomplish in order to secure Christ's advocacy for ourselves on the day of judgment. While the missionaries had to concede that these five things can themselves be found in some form even in the allegedly apostate churches, they contended that various details were lost in the apostasy. The Bible discusses all of these things but is needlessly perplexing on many counts, which is why the Book of Mormon is vitally necessary.

And it came to pass that I asked about some of the doctrines purportedly lost in the apostasy. On the whiteboard, Creon listed a few things. The Plan of Salvation as a whole, he said, had been lost – more on this later. Also lost were the priesthood, with the authority to perform necessary ordinances; the temple; work on behalf of the dead; and a better understanding of Christ's Second Coming. The same goes for teaching about eternal families and some basic ideas regarding the atonement. While some of these things are details regarding the “fullness of the gospel”, as mentioned before, others are merely “appendages” to the fullness of the gospel.

My next query was how Joseph Smith had (purportedly) translated the Book of Mormon. Creon referred me to the introduction included in the Book of Mormon, which relates that along with the golden plates, Smith had uncovered stones in silver bows, which were the Urim and Thummim used in ancient Israel for receiving messages from God. These he used to decipher the writing on the golden plates, which he then translated and dictated to a scribe. The script resembled 'reformed' Egyptian characters, which Smith allegedly confirmed by copying some and taking them to a college professor for verification. The professor later retracted his alleged statements, supposedly after discovering that Smith was claiming to be a prophet. The reason why the plates were written in this script is that it's much shorter than Hebrew, and thus was necessary for keeping the account on as few plates as possible. (Not, of course, that the quest for brevity kept the Book of Mormon for being ridiculously repetitive...) Furthermore, Creon and Daedalos affirmed that Egyptian was one of the languages current in Jerusalem during Lehi's time, prior to the Babylonian Captivity.

And it came to pass that I asked about the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses, whose testimony is all we have – other than Smith's own words – as regards the existence of the golden plates at all. Of the Three Witnesses, Martin Harris was Smith's earlier scribe, but was removed from that role after disobeying God's command and allowing portions of the manuscript to be lost. (In fact, the story is much more complex than that: Harris' wife Lucy came up with a brilliant way to falsify Smith's 'translation', by swiping portions of the manuscript and waiting for him to 'retranslate' them differently. He instead decided not to translate those parts anew.) Oliver Cowdery was Harris' replacement, while David Whitmer was a lawyer and friend of Smith. The Eight Witnesses consist predominantly of Smith's family and Whitmer's family, since Smith was staying with Whitmer at the time. Of all of these, Creon was adamant that none had ever retracted their testimony about the golden plates, even though he admitted that several from each group had left Smith's church.

And it came to pass that my next question regarded the nature of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. These are the two other 'Standard Works' accepted by Latter-day Saints as scripture in addition to the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The Doctrine and Covenants consists of prophetic revelations given to Smith throughout his ministry, on the model of one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. Pearl of Great Price is more complex and contains several components. One, “Joseph Smith – History”, is essentially Smith's own accounts of things like the First Vision, which is allegedly when Smith, as a young man, was visited by both the Father and the Son in bodily form, in which they condemned all Christians of the day and insisted that Smith restore the One True Church. Other elements of the Pearl of Great Price are excerpts from Joseph Smith's “inspired translation” of the Bible, which he never finished due to his “martyrdom”. This “inspired translation”, Creon said, isn't meant to introduce any doctrinal changes but rather to clarify what just doesn't make enough sense in the Bible as it was. The Book of Moses, part of the Pearl of Great Price, did basically the same for Genesis; the other selection in the Pearl of Great Price is Matthew. When I asked what relationship the inspired translation had to the original manuscripts, Creon said that in some cases the inspired translation is more faithful to the original manuscripts than the translations we have of the received text; in other cases, however, Smith is shedding new light on the narrative in question, light not available from the original manuscripts. ...Think about that for a moment. This is basically an admission that Smith saw it as his divinely ordained quest to improve the Bible, because God botched it up the first time around. One can nuance it however one likes, but I think that that's the bottom line. Creon and Daedalos repeatedly said that the Bible is too confusing and subject to many interpretations, which is why both the Book of Mormon and the inspired translation are necessary. Of course, it wouldn't be fair to omit Creon's assurance that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't actually use the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) as their official version of the Bible, but rather references it in footnotes in their KJV Bibles.

Also, the Pearl of Great Price contains the Book of Abraham. Creon told me how Joseph Smith succeeded in obtaining some Egyptian papyri that were, allegedly, written by Abraham himself while the patriarch was in Egypt. The book contains some facsimiles of what the fragments looked like. No mention, of course, was made of the fundamentally indisputable fact that some of these fragments were later recovered, and as it turns out, the fragments from which Smith 'translated' the Book of Abraham are in fact a thoroughly pagan document, the Book of Breathings if I recall correctly, that simply could not have been written by Abraham. So much, in my opinion, for Smith's calling as a prophetic translator of lost sacred texts.

And it came to pass that I asked for some information about how we can be sure, historically speaking, that the 'Great Apostasy' actually took place. This brought Creon to take me on a ride through church history and biblical studies, and I can't fathom how I kept a straight face through all of the inaccuracies. He started by stating how, at one point, there was the so-called 'Orthodox Church', which was led by six or seven head bishops from places like Greece, Armenia, and Rome – in fact, the number of patriarchs was five (Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople). The Roman bishop was considered their head and had all power and authority, yet was equal to the others. (This, I repeat, is Creon's account, not mine.) As early as 500 AD, tensions arose between Rome and the others. Creon then backtracked to 300 AD and the Emperor Constantine, who brought about the forcible uniting of paganism and Christianity. (This is patently untrue.) Constantine introduced the use of the cross as a symbol, which had not be so used before. (I think even this is perhaps inaccurate.) Constantine was also responsible for the production of the Bible, which until then had not existed, and of course Constantine fouled it up and put it in the wrong order because John intervenes between Luke and Acts, and Paul's epistles are not arranged chronologically as they were surely meant to be, and the book of Revelations [sic—should be Revelation without the final “s”] predates John's Gospel and so should be before it. Of course, none of this is remotely sensible. The Gospels go first because of their subject matter, being biographies of Jesus. Obviously, this requires that John's Gospel goes before both Acts of the Apostles and Revelation, which have later subject matter, regardless of their order of composition. As for Paul's letters, chronological ordering should not be privileged above other concerns, and there's a good chance that the earliest collections of them come from Paul himself, as per E. Randolph Richards' excellent book on Paul and first-century letter writing (Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection). Creon also asserted that the Council of Nicea was held in three days, and that most participants left in utter frustration after the first day; those who remained forced their doctrines on the whole of the apostate church. (Also not even close...)

To return to Creon's story, the first big split in the church came in around 1100 AD (actually, the focal point was around 1054-ish, although the schism was actually a process extended over several centuries), when the Orthodox Church was declared apostate by Rome, and vice versa. The reality is more complex than that, but yes, it was an absolute mess. According to Creon, the Orthodox Church is now just tenuously united, with each national branch having wild differences than all the others; he couldn't really seem to think of anything to unite them but the name. (That's a howler!) With the split, the Catholic Church came into existence, followed by reformers who attempted to call out Catholic errors. Luther was fairly valiant, but lacked priesthood authority to justify his “93 points” (actually the 95 Theses). What followed was the beginning of translation of the Bible into common languages (actually, this began earlier, and had ample antecedents in Jerome's Vulgate). Creon elaborated the course of church history in England and America, with America being the world's first bastion of true religious freedom so as to provide a climate for Joseph Smith to arise in the 19th century. (Evidently, not enough to stop him from being ruthlessly persecuted and martyred, though...)

And it came to pass that, since Creon had earlier mentioned the confusion of the Nicene Creed – which he continually pronounced as something like “Niseeren”, despite the utter lack of an “r” – I asked him to elaborate on that point. He claimed that the Nicene Creed is so confusing because it says that there are three separate beings (“God the Father, Jesus Christ, and Holy Ghost”) who are all in each other, and who are “three in being, three in purpose, but one in purpose”. Creon said that he's read the creed and just can't understand it. This is where I really had to stop from laughing. For one, Creon had virtually just described the Latter-day Saint doctrine of the Godhead. Second, the Nicene Creed never says that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “three separate beings” or “three in being”, which is in fact diametrically opposite to Nicene orthodoxy – but which is, I remind my readers, precisely what Latter-day Saints believe! Third, nowhere does the Nicene Creed talk about them being either “three in purpose” or “one in purpose”; this is nowhere near the focus of the creed. In virtually every respect, Creon got it wrong. The Nicene Creed actually elaborates what would later be summarized in the Trinitarian formula that God is one in being/essence but three in person; the main contribution of the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) was to affirm that the Father and the Son are one in essence, which defended against suggestions that had started to arise that Christ was a relatively ignorant, secondary, created god of less worth than the eternal, uncreated God the Father. It was a later revision of the creed at the Council of Constantinople (AD 381) that emphasis was put on the Holy Spirit, since some had turned from attacking the Son to attacking the Holy Spirit. As for myself, I've read the Nicene Creed many times and have yet to found anything that doesn't make perfect sense.

And it came to pass that Creon said also that the Council of Nicaea was called to decide issues pertaining to whether Christ's resurrected body was physical or not, or whether he had one at all or not, and whether the God of the Old Testament was the same as the one of the New Testament. These were in fact some of the bizarre heresies that rose in the early church. The Docetists denied that Christ's resurrection was at all physical, because they disdained matter. Marcion and his followers, likewise hating matter, decided that the God of the Old Testament (who created matter) was unworthy of worship, and so Christ and his Father must be enemies of that lesser god, and so had come to redeem us from matter. But this was not the point of the Council of Nicaea. Rather, it dealt with several major issues. One of the (in my eyes) less important ones was the date of Easter; more importantly was the Arian heresy that was starting to gain more sway. Arius taught that Christ was divine in some sense, sure, but was heteroousios (“of a different essence”) with the Father, because the Son was created and the Father was uncreated. Arius went on to say that Christ couldn't understand the Father perfectly because the Father was too far above him, and that there's always the danger that Christ will do as Satan did and rebel against the Father. Needless to say, Arius presented quite a troubling view. Arius' heresy is what was condemned at the Council of Nicaea.

And it came to pass that Creon also said that after the Council of Nicaea, they had a good ol'-fashioned book burning of all the stuff that was to be excluded from the canon. He elaborated a bit on the Gospel of Thomas, which he thought was found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. (In fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls were Jewish writings not directly related to the early church; there were no gospels among them. The Gospel of Thomas was found as part of a library at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.) According to Creon, the Gospel of Thomas is a compilation of nice psalms, but contains nothing that adds to Christian doctrine, and so there's no real harm in leaving it out. (In fact, the Gospel of Thomas contains a sum total of zero psalms, but does contain 114 'sayings' attributed to Jesus, many of which are borrowed or adapted from the canonical gospels. Some of these sayings are patently unbiblical, such as the one in which Jesus says that women are unworthy of life and must become men, or various pantheistic exclamations about his presence in split logs, and others. So, no, the Gospel of Thomas is quite at odds with Christian doctrine, and is not a compilation of psalms.) He said that all of these many, many gospels – even those excluded – are all testifying about the same thing, just from slightly different points of view, with the underlying implication seeming to be that all are equally valid. Creon also tried his hand at describing what's known as the Synoptic Problem; he said that Matthew and Luke seem to be based on Mark, but scholars think that there's another common source, “Gospel X”. (In actuality, the scholarly term for this hypothetical literary entity is “Q”, from the German word Quelle, or “source”.)

The lesson? I pity anyone who actually tries learning about church history from Mormon missionaries. It's no wonder they think that church history shows the 'Great Apostasy'; they know next to nothing about actual church history! Now, I want to add that I don't intend to mock these guys here. Creon and Daedalos in particular are sincere, faithful, sharp-minded, well-meaning guys who have a burning passion to bring Christ's message as they understand it to the world. And everything about that should be honored and respected, even though I personally think that they're wrong in many respects and in fact spreading a heretical variant of the truth rather than the truth itself, pure and unvarnished. And, to be quite fair, the average Latter-day Saint missionary no doubt is more familiar with the broad contours of church history than is the typical evangelical Christian, even evangelical missionary. Still, the fact remains that Creon really surprised me here with how inaccurately he presented the subject. Now, there's little doubt in my mind that, if I had corrected him, he would have graciously accepted the correction on those points; but, my narrative would be incomplete without cataloguing these errors.

And it came to pass that at this point, I rested with my questions – I didn't bother trying to correct the missionaries on their factual errors this time around – and decided to let them get on with their lesson for the day, lest I be imprisoned there forever. I should also note that throughout these presentations, they continually warned me not to let the quest for understanding get in the way of having spiritual experiences. See, Latter-day Saints have a very experience-oriented epistemology. What I mean is, they think that a 'testimony', which is the sole way to be converted, can only arise from getting a special fuzzy feeling inside when you pray. Evidence? Might just be a hindrance. For them, you can't understand these things until you have that special experience and decide to accept it all uncritically. When I look at the Bible, the exact opposite it what I find most often. Paul never exhorts people to pray to see if these things are true; people get praised for searching the Scriptures (i.e., looking at the evidence) to see if these things are true.

Anyway, the lesson for the day was about the Plan of Salvation. And it came to pass that Creon explained that we're all literally sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father who were created in a “pre-mortal existance” [sic]. When I asked later for some clarification on that, Creon said that it meant that they were “created spiritually” and that since Adam and Eve were made in God's image, they must've looked like him. As Daedalos added, this means that he “doesn't have, like, ten arms or five legs...”, which no Christian believes. Latter-day Saints occasionally seem to identify being a personal being with having some kind of body, which absolutely does not follow. (The point about resembling God, by the way, is overwhelmingly falsified by knowing how the word “image” was used in the Near East. The phrase means that Adam and Eve were set up as God's representatives in authority over the earth.) When I asked for further clarification on the “created spiritually” phrase, Creon got confused, and when I asked whether he created our spirits out of nothing or out of some sort of material, he said that they have no idea but that it's inconsequential, and maybe we'll find out in heaven someday. (In fact, one of the most fundamental points of LDS doctrine is that God never creates anything out of nothing, but always out of pre-existing material.) At least he was aware that he was avoiding my question completely, and so I let it drop for now.

In their Plan of Salvation presentation, God creates an earth into which to send us, and we forget our pre-mortal existence when we pass beyond the veil into the mortal world. Adam and Eve fell, and whereas Eve was tempted and deceived, Adam ate the fruit so as to save the future of mankind, since otherwise he'd lose his wife. Interestingly, they glossed over the popular and controversial Mormon claim that the Fall was really a step up, since it was the only way to fulfill the command to be fruitful and multiply (so Latter-day Saints say). The result of the fall was physical death and spiritual death. The answer to this was the birth of Jesus Christ, who as the “literal Son of God” had God-like attributes as well as mortal attributes from being born of the Virgin Mary. In a diagram, Creon showed that Christ's resurrection is a bridge to let all get past physical death, since all will be resurrected; he showed the atonement as a stairway leading out of spiritual death, since we have to do “all that we can” to escape spiritual death, or else the atonement will avail us nothing. We must keep the commandments of God steadfastly and take all necessary steps to return to the Heavenly Father.

Anyway, the diagram showed that after death, our bodies go to the ground while our souls go to either spirit paradise or spirit prison; the latter will hear the gospel and hopefully accept it. Then, at the final judgment by the Heavenly Father, there are three heavenly kingdoms of decreasing glory to which we can go: the celestial, the terresterial [sic—should be “terrestrial”], and the telestial. The gate to the celestial kingdom is properly performed baptism, and those there get to enjoy the presence of the entire Godhead and to continue growing. The terrestrial kingdom is denied the presence of the Father, but they enjoy Christ's glory and that of the Holy Ghost; the telestial kingdom, worst of the three, has only the presence of the Holy Ghost. All three, however, are better than this life.

I'm cutting out descriptions of their repeated testimony-bearing ('I know this is true because of the way it impacted my life, and I love it so very, very much!'), as well as a few other digressions. I sometimes wonder if perhaps the whole purpose of testimony-bearing isn't to just solidifying it by repetition in the mind of the speaker, but also to so inundate the inquirer as to half-brainwash them into accepting it. Not that I think this to be a conscious purpose on the part of missionaries, of course. It's just a bit irritating. I'm also omitting the Scripture references for now because I'm too lazy to format them.

Before concluding the account, I should mention that they're letting me borrow a book on Book of Mormon archaeology entitled New Evidences of Christ in Ancient America, by three authors whose names are unnecessary to list. Our next meeting will be on October 14th at 6.30 μμ. I promised to do more reading in the Book of Mormon until then and to pray about it, and I also hope to start the aforementioned book.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

LDS Lesson #1

It's been quite some time since I've had anything to narrate. I've seen neither hide nor hair of any of Jehovah's Witnesses since I left America. Uriah couldn't make our last scheduled meeting because of a wedding he had to attend. However, several weeks ago – has it truly been so long already? – a friend of mine (who happens to be a theology student from Tübingen) and I were exploring the Areopagus, the famous hill at which Paul preached while in Athens – check Acts 17. While there, I heard her make a peculiar comment along the lines of, “Oh look, Mormons.” Needless to say, this caught my attention, and so we eventually made our way over to them for a brief chat. I spoke with two young missionaries, elders whose names I shall replace, as I do with Jehovah's Witnesses, with substitutes. Since I'm currently living in Greece, the names “Creon” (from California) and “Daedalos” (from Nevada) seem quite apropros. My friend and I both gave them our e-mail addresses, and after hearing from them, I set up a meeting for today at 5:30 PM (or, I should say, 5:30 μμ) at their church. And so begins a new story...

The address I had been given for the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was Vassilisis Amalias 52, Kentro (that is, central Athens). I live in Pagkrati, an very hilly (abominably hilly, I might say) Athenian neighborhood south of central Athens, and so the trek northward was not terribly arduous. Of course, I wasn't exactly sure where to find Vassilisis Amalias; my map did, however, show a street called Amalias. It took some searching, but while walking westward on Amalias, I came across a massive evangelical church at Amalias 50. Knowing that Creon and Daedalos had referred to their church as just next to a large evangelical church, I found myself in the right place. I'd realize later that the easiest way to direct someone to the church is to simply say, “Across the street from the Arch of Hadrian.” Would that have been so hard?

And it came to pass that I explored the building for a bit first. It was at least three stories tall and very clean. On my way down through again after a quick stop at the restroom, I paused to read some posters in English and Greek (the same one in both languages, side by side), and as I turned around, Daedalos was descending the stairs. I was almost half an hour early, but he nevertheless showed me to a quiet little room where Creon was... well, to be perfectly honest, Creon was sitting at the table taking a nap after a long day. Daedalos had to wake him.

And it came to pass that the meeting began with some relaxed chit-chat. I spoke for a while of my recent travels in Crete, about my progress in learning modern Greek, about weather, about food – all manner of things, really, I suppose. I mentioned my love for gyros; they agree they're delicious, but typically don't eat them because the spits on which the meat is cooked probably doesn't quite measure up to American health codes. They also told me a bit about what a mission is like. A young Latter-day Saint man will customarily go on a two-year mission in a foreign country, with relatively little contact with the world back home or the larger globe as a whole. It really sounds like quite a formative experience. At any rate, Creon described it as a “life within a life”, filled with plenty of structure – they get up at 6:30 AM every morning, for example – and with a senior adviser who serves almost as a father-figure. Creon is about halfway through his mission, whereas Daedalos will finish his in just 2.5 months; he'll depart for America near the end of December, whereas I'll be leaving on the sixth, hopefully just before the scheduled riot.

And it came to pass that Daedalos opened us in a word of prayer, and after that Creon explained that as missionaries, they teach five lessons explaining why their church differs from all the others: (1) the Restoration; (2) the Plan of Salvation; (3) the Gospel of Jesus Christ; (4) Commandments; and (5) Laws and Ordinances. To quote one of them – I think it was still Creon speaking:

It's those five things that, we believe, either convert or don't. It's the essentials of the gospel, you know? And as missionaries, we do promise that if you take the five lessons with an open heart and an open mind, and you do some of the things that we ask you to do – like read and things like that – you will find the answers that you've been looking for, not only in your life, but also in a Church. And if you search with an open heart and an open mind, you'll find that these are true doctrines.
And it came to pass that after this – I can't quite recall the few words that immediately followed – Daedalos asked me if I'd grown up in a religious home, and so I explained that while I initially did not, my family attended a gospel presentation at a church one night many years ago, and we realized that we needed Christ, and so we accepted salvation, and a few weeks after that came to our current church home. That is, more or less, the rough outline of the tale; in retrospect, the gospel presentation in question was very crude at best – I like to call it the 'baseball-bat-to-the-head method of evangelism', since it basically focused on the good results of being a Christian (go to heaven and be happy, yaay!) or the bad results of not being a Christian (be dragged off kicking and screaming by a laughing Satan into a blazing pit of hellfire while angels weep, boooo....). I didn't bother going into those particular details during the meeting, however.

And it came to pass that Daedalos and Creon talked for a while about the profound influence it has on a person to discover that God is real and to become genuinely involved with him. Creon then said, among other things:

We do believe that we are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father – that he is our literal, spiritual Heavenly Father. He created our spirits and because he is our father, he loves us very much. He loves everything about us, he wants to help us out so much, he wants to make sure that we do what we can to return to live with him – and that's what we are, we're a big, giant family, you know, and that's why we're on our mission. We come to a different foreign land, with foreign traditions and things, but really, we're all spirit children of our Heavenly Father, and we all share the same thing. We're all trying to get back in the end together.
I should note here, in case some are unfamiliar with some of the distinctive marks of 'Mormon' doctrine, several of them that appear here. Latter-day Saints have traditionally held that God and man are of the same fundamental species, which is why several of the LDS prophets have made proclamations that what God now is, man is becoming, and what man now is, God once was (there's a famed couplet by Lorenzo Snow, their fifth prophet, to this effect). This is essential background for understanding that our eternal spirits are universally held in LDS doctrine to have pre-existed. That is, just as death is not the end of us, so birth in these mortal bodies was not the beginning. Our souls, if you will, dwelled above with God long before they came here, and in fact are generally regarded as his literal offspring, whatever “literal” here means. It may or may not mean that the mode of their generation was analogous to the mode of our bodies being generated – and it shouldn't be difficult to see what that might potentially imply. Actually, there seem to be strains of LDS thought in which our spirits pre-date even that spirit birth as 'intelligences' that are as eternal as God himself is. So when one reads that Creon calls God “our literal, spiritual Heavenly Father”, recall that this is probably not simply fatherhood by creation, but fatherhood by begetting; and when Creon speaks of us “return[ing] to live with [God]”, or about “get[ting] back in the end together”, this reflects LDS belief in our heavenly pre-existence. While there are orthodox Christians who believe in some mitigated notion of pre-existence – I am not one of them, by the way, but rather am a traducian with respect to that issue – none go so far as do the Latter-day Saints.

And it came to pass that Daedalos and Creon began to explain the need for prophets. As is clear, God and humans need a suitable means of communication, since we reside in different realms. Thus, God periodically sends prophets as spokesmen to communicate his message. However, the people frequently reject these prophets and instead lapse into apostasy, a state of spiritual rebellion against God.

And it came to pass that there was also talk at some point thereafter about how faith-strengthening the Book of Mormon is, but it didn't really seem all that organically connected to what had come before it. Creon talked about how Christ is a Savior who knows all about what we're going through and what we will go through; the ubiquitous phrase “personal relationship” appeared once in here.

And it came to pass that he said that after Christ ascended, the apostles discovered that apostasy began creeping quickly into the small churches, hence the letters of Paul. And the apostles, comparable to twelve legs on which the faith of the church stood, were knocked out one-by-one until none were left and the church was unequivocally swept away into apostasy. The apostles couldn't appoint replacements for their dying members because the church was too spread out and martyrdoms occurred too quickly. (This, of course, is not historically accurate.)

The result was, naturally, a great deal of schism, and it is because of this alleged apostasy that divergences in biblical interpretation and doctrine arose. Creon cited the faith vs. works controversy as an example. He explained that this happened because without a living apostle or prophet, there was no valid authority figure on earth who could keep the church on the straight and narrow. Thus, “lots of truths were lost”, even things like how to pray properly.

And it came to pass that Daedalos then jumped in to ask me why I love to study theology and what first interested me in it. I answered that after becoming a Christian, I pondered my gifts and how they could be used to serve God best. The resultant analysis was very weighted towards the intellectual side, and thus theology and biblical studies seemed to be a quite natural move. He later asked how theology has enriched my life, and I explained that it helps me to read the Bible more appropriately; it helps me to know God better; and it deepens my worship.

And it came to pass that Daedalos asked me also if, in my studies, I had ever come to wonder “why all this happened, why there are so many different churches.” I responded by refining the question: am I to be wondering why Christians have doctrinal disagreements, or why they have broken fellowship with one another? Daedalos had to think about that for a couple moments, but turned toward the first one. Now, I will say that my ability to speak well was apparently on vacation today. As was my ability to think quickly. I said first that Christians do tend to agree on the most essential doctrinal matters: things like who God is, and that Christ came to earth, preached, worked wonders, died for our sins, rose again, ascended, and will return, and so forth. In reality, the areas in which churches tend to disagree are usually minor in comparison, particularly when we aren't talking about the major branches. Other things, I said, were matters of practice moreso than doctrine. Still other matters were cases in which some historical controversy had led one group to deny something, or at least seem to deny something, important; and the other side overreacted and made the opposite error – and so the result is an unnecessary polarization. I'm inclined to think that, at least to some extent, the matter of faith and works has often been one of these cases. The two sides may well even be saying virtually the same thing, albeit with different emphasis. I went on to explain that I think that other differences arise because the questions they address were simply not being asked during the apostolic era, and so naturally we will differ on such things. Of course, I didn't say this nearly so well as I've just written it. This is where Creon stepped out to grab a Bible and where Daedalos asked the aforementioned question about theology affecting my life.

And it came to pass that Creon began to explain the story of Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a young man, Smith lived in the 'Burnt-Over District' of New York, where many denominations were having revivals, and there was generally a fair bit of anti-ecumenicalism there – that is, the denominations tended not to get along, or at least Smith perceived it that way. As Creon told it, one would think that the Baptists, the Methodists, the Anglicans, etc., were all claiming to be the one true church independently of each other – which I doubt was historically the case, since that is obviously false. Smith visited many of these churches but was left in confusion over which to join, since he perceived his salvation to hang in the balance of that particular decision. Smith, as the story was told, decided that it was impossible for anyone to rationally decide between them without direct divine guidance, particularly an uninformed country boy like himself. When Smith read James 1:5 (“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him”), however, he (mis)applied it to the situation at hand while praying in the woods. Creon read an excerpt from Smith's account of what happened next: a pillar of light, a manifestation of the Father and the Son in bodily form, the Father directing attention to the Son. Creon didn't quote exactly what the Son said; rather, Creon paraphrased it as indicating that while each church had some of the truth and had gone into error at certain points, the fullness of the gospel needed to be restored. It's probably wise to paraphrase there; after all, in Smith's version, he has Jesus attack all the churches by declaring their statements of faith to all be “abominations”.

And it came to pass that Creon explained that in the wake of this revelation, Joseph Smith was persecuted by his peers for claiming to have had such a vision. Creon also said:

Personally, from my personal experiences, I have come to know that that was a true event: that our Heavenly Father did appear to Joseph Smith and that he did call him to be a prophet, and that's what has brought so much happiness into my life.
And it came to pass that he continued to explain that what Smith brought was a restoration, not a mere reformation; and that God gave Smith the Book of Mormon in golden plates found at the Hill Cumorah. Daedalos then explained for a bit that the Book of Mormon is another testament for Jesus Christ and for the Bible; he got stuck for a while on a word until I filled in “complement” for him. Creon then explained the basic plot line of the Book of Mormon: Lehi was called to leave Jerusalem for the New World around the time of Jeremiah, and he and his family arrived on the American continent and became a numerous people with plenty of problems. They wrote Scriptures just as the Jews did, and these constitute a testament to Christ from the American continent, including appearances of the risen Christ, and ending with the prophet Mormon compiling the records (hence “Book of Mormon”) and the prophet Moroni depositing them in the Hill Cumorah.

And it came to pass that, when they asked about my familiarity with the Book of Mormon, I mentioned how I'd related to them at the Areopagus that I own nine copies back home, and that I've read it through cover to cover. After reading the promise in, I think, Moroni 10:4-5 (“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things”), Creon asked 'Medea', an Asian woman who'd entered the room earlier at a juncture I can't recall, what the Book of Mormon has done for her, and she went on about how much it strengthens her faith. Daedalos made some remarks along the same lines.

And it came to pass that Creon told a story about how, since he was raised in the church, some might say he's biased in favor of it, but everyone comes to a point in life where they have to face the question, and his was when he pondered the idea of a two-year mission in a foreign land. So he'd sat down, read the Book of Mormon all the way through (which took him a while), and prayed about it. The answer that came “was one that [he] had known”, telling him that it was all true and that he should proceed with his mission.

And it came to pass that Creon mentioned prophets after Joseph Smith, and he made a brief digression on the recent General Conference, when LDS faithful could hear the contemporary prophet and apostles speak. Daedalos said that they can give me a promise that, just as with them, if I pray to God with an open heart and open mind while reading the Book of Mormon, God will assure me of its truth, through “something you feel, confirming the things you think”. I agreed to read and pray, and I received both a Greek copy of the Book of Mormon (I requested that) and another English one, both hardcover.

And it came to pass that Creon turned the floor over to me to any questions I might possibly have, so I started off by inquiring for more information about the development of the church after the translation of the Book of Mormon. Creon answered with some standard material about the translation process, the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses, the new apostles, the waves of persecution, and then Joseph's 'martyrdom' in jail with his brother Hyrum. The next prophet, Brigham Young, pioneered the move to Utah to escape persecution for a while. After Daedalos took a bit to explain more about LDS notions of continuing revelation, Creon later remembered most of the LDS prophets with a little ditty that lists them all, like kids might use to recall the presidents of the USA. It was around then that I mentioned that Ezra Taft Benson, the fourteenth LDS prophet/president, is a distant cousin of mine, which I'd mentioned earlier at the Areopagus but which Daedalos had forgotten.

Returning to a more chronological account, Creon said at one point:
Either the Book of Mormon is true and is a record of ancient America, or Joseph Smith made it up, either way. And, you know, either the Book of Mormon is true or it is not. If the Book of Mormon is not true, then we're horrible liars and this is a fraud and we shouldn't be here. But the thing is that I've come to know that the Book of Mormon is true and so have so many other members throughout the world....
And it came to pass that he also said that, unlike the Bible, the Book of Mormon is directed particularly at today's reader; and that it's so easy to read that even a child can understand the Book of Mormon. (I should mention that this seems difficult to swallow, since the Book of Mormon mimics the King James Version of the Bible in its style in English. Daedalos continued for a while with the message about receiving confirmation via prayer. I asked, after a while, whether or not there was archaeological evidence regarding the Book of Mormon. Daedalos and Creon affirmed that there's actually quite a bit (which isn't true), but that – like archaeological evidence for biblical events, persons, and places, it's inconclusive because it's open to other interpretations. For them, the evidence serves as a faith-booster only for someone who already has faith, but doesn't suffice to lead to faith beforehand. (In reality, the opposite is the ideal; and many biblical sites, etc., are strongly supported by reasonably interpreted archaeological evidence, while there is no such thing as Book of Mormon archaeology.) They're going to try to find me some more information about that. But both of them insisted that the spiritual realization must precede the physical evidence. Daedalos at one point asked what I thought would've been the case if all my present knowledge were given to my pre-conversion self; my answer was that, after sorting through it, my decision to put faith in Christ would've been even more bold, firm, and enthusiastic than it was without that knowledge. I didn't spell out that the reason is that I think that a supported faith is, from the beginning, a very wonderful thing; the evidence, physical or otherwise, should precede the leap of faith.

And it came to pass that they asked me to read Mosiah 2--5 for the next meeting and to maybe try praying about the Book of Mormon, and also to start drawing up a list of questions to ask them. They're fairly sure they can deal with 98% of all possible questions that could be asked. Heh... we'll see. I received a Greek copy of the Book of Mormon and an English one, both hardcopy; and I may be able to get a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants (with, hopefully, the Pearl of Great Price) for a not-so-high price, maybe around €3. (There's an entertaining story that I'm omitting about how Creon had a friend who heard some ridiculous rumors about Mormons; during the course of telling it, I think Creon let his first name slip, which is somewhat uncustomary. LDS missionaries simply go by “Elder [Last Name Here]”.) Medea closed us in prayer, and I spent some time reviewing common LDS acronyms with Daedalos and Creon before leaving. We'll meet again tomorrow at 4:30.