Wednesday, November 11, 2009

LDS Lesson #5

As soon as class ended at 5.30 μμ, I rushed as quickly as I could to the area near the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As I said, their church there is virtually just across from Hadrian's Arch, behind which are the massive ruins of a temple to Zeus; just to the west of their church is the long road – Dionysiou Areopagitou, named for Paul's famed Athenian convert – that leads to the Acropolis. Getting to the church quickly, I paused for a small dish of gelatto at one of the many shops at the end of Dionysiou Areopagitou, in lieu of anything more substantial for my daily meal. A few minutes before my appointment, I entered the church.

I found Creon, Orestes, Admetus, and Alcestis hanging out on the third floor. And it came to pass that as Creon continued to shoot the breeze with them a bit, Orestes and I took seats in the comfy chairs in the middle of the room, with a view of the television screen, as they said they had a clip they'd like to show me later. I made chitchat with Orestes for a while, and eventually Creon joined us. I finally had a chance to ask Orestes about whether he was raised in the church, which he was. Seems that, while I've run across quite a few converts so far, most of the missionaries, etc., whom I've met have been raised in the church. Creon did tell the story of a friend of his who was cut off by his family for converting to the church, though. The conversation somehow turned from there to the persecution of the early Latter-day Saints, even in a land like America, and so I in turn told them about the origins of my denomination. I'm a member of the Evangelical Congregational Church, which is among the few descendants of the early Evangelical Association that never merged into what is now the United Methodist Church. (The Evangelical Church is another.) And so I spoke of the story of Jacob Albright. After several of Albright's children died, the preacher at one of the funerals really impacted Albright with the need for personal conversion and living faith. I didn't recall that preacher's name, but there's a fine anecdote regarding him. It was said that after preaching for over a month straight about repentance and sin, a congregant approached him and asked him if he'd preach about something else for a change. The reply? Along the lines of, 'Certainly, as soon as you repent of your sins!' Albright became very dissatisfied with the prevailing religious spirit among his people, and so began to preach very powerfully about the need to be truly converted. He also preached in German to reach out to the many German-speakers in the area, which the Methodists who ordained him frowned upon. Albright and his associates received some rather regrettable persecution, even being beaten, chased out of towns, etc.

And it came to pass after Admetus joined us, having had to take a phone call, that we shared some brief reflections on Elder Wondra's talk at the fireside chat, and then I offered up an opening prayer for our lesson, which went as follows:
Dear Heavenly Father, we gather before you today hoping to all learn something from the word that you've given us. We thank you humbly for the freedom to do this, the freedom to gather together like this, and we ask that your Spirit would be with us, with each of us, guiding us in all truth. We thank you for the many blessings that you've poured out in our lives; we ask that you might see to our welfare and to the welfare of our families, wherever they might be in the world, that you would watch over them and keep them near to us in our hearts and us in theirs, and knit us all together in the bonds of holy love in a reflection of your love for each of us. Thank you for all the wonderful things you've given all of us. In Christ's name, Amen.
Orestes asked me what I'd thought of LeGrand Richards' A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, and after giving some nice thoughts on it, they asked if I had any questions. Naturally, the answer was a resounding yes. Now, I should make clear, as I did to them, that I attempted to write down my questions in order of ascending difficulty, so as to start them off easy this time. How did that turn out? You be the judge.

And it came to pass that I began to question them, and yea, my first question pertained to ordinances, such as sealings for time and eternity, which is a work done in Latter-day Saint temples. I asked whether the New Testament showed that the apostolic church either used the Jewish temple for the same ordinances or else wished to build their own temple for that purpose. The attempt to actually extract an answer from them was... slow going. And it came to pass that Admetus first said that when Christ cleansed the temple in the first year of his ministry, he referred to the temple as “my Father's house”, but when he did the same in the third year of his ministry, he referred to the temple as “my house”. (Of course, given that many Latter-day Saints believe that Christ is the God of the Old Testament, not the Father, one wonders how Christ could have possibly thought that the temple was dedicated to the Father at all.) Admetus added that the Jewish temple was built under the Mosaic Law, but that Christ came to fulfill this law. I'm not exactly sure how this was meant to address the question, unless to built a foundation by showing the obsoleteness of the Jewish temple.

And it came to pass that Creon read Matthew 16:13-20 (“When Jesus came to the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am? And they said, some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 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 Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I also say 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. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.”) and explained that the keys referred to are the keys for the ordinances, and so it seems certain that the apostles did, in fact, receive that authority. In connection with this, Orestes noted that no one could pull this meaning from the biblical text itself. The Bible, he said, isn't sufficient to realize the truth of it, because the Bible is a high-context document and, in the apostasy, the requisite background information for understanding it was lost. Of course, he said it in different words, but that's the gist of it. He spoke of it as a lost foundation and a surviving second layer. The alternative that apparently didn't occur to any of them was that this meaning couldn't be exegeted from the biblical text precisely because it was never the intent of the text; rather, it has to be eisegeted into the text through the pretext of 'latter-day revelation'. In fact, the keys in question and the associated 'binding' and 'loosing' are most likely Jewish language referring to the authority to make halakhic decisions – that is, rulings on proper practice, proper halakhah.

I didn't see it fit to point that out there, since it was extraneous to my question, and so I allowed Creon to jump in with a few more Scripture passages equally irrelevant to what I'd actually asked. These were Malachi 4:5-6 (“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”) and Doctrine and Covenants 110:13-16 (“After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi--testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come--to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse--therefore the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.”). He explained that the keys of sealing, lost to the apostasy, were restored to the church on 3 April 1836, just a few days after the completion of the Kirtland Temple. He also told the familiar story of contemporary Jewish practice of leaving a spot at the table for Elijah at Passover, and Creon asserted that, unbeknownst to Joseph Smith at the time, the day of that revelation was Passover, and thus Elijah fulfilled the expectation, as well as the prophecy of Malachi. (The Latter-day Saints interpret the first prophecy in particular to indicate the genealogical research of the last days for the purpose of connecting ourselves to our ancestors via various ordinances.)

But, as I said, none of this actually pertains to my question. And so I reiterated it, attempting to stress what I was asking. I asked first if the sealing today has to happen in the temple, and he answered that sealing happens in the temple because of the endowment, which requires a temple recommend. Admetus suggested that Creon explain more about that to me, and so Creon pulled out his temple recommend card and handed it to me to see while he explained that it required interviews with both his bishop and his stake president in order to get approved to access the temple. The recommend card had his full name on the front and, on the back, a number of barely legible signatures, circled/checked boxes, etc.

And it came to pass that Orestes chose this time to ask me for my thoughts on the temple work they do for the dead. My initial answer, hoping to put that issue aside to focus on my questions, was that I wasn't yet convinced that it's what Paul meant when he spoke of 'baptism for the dead' in 1 Corinthians 15:29 (“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”), but that anything that aided genealogical research so strongly was something that made me happy. (That's quite true, by the way. Although I disagree with their theology and practice, genealogy is one of my biggest hobby, and so their church's work in that field is one of my favorite things about them.) Orestes, unfortunately, decided that it was a good time to press me on it, asking basically how God can justly treat those who haven't received baptism in this life. I said that I'm quite confident that God will ensure that all who've ever lived will have had a fair shot at being saved, and Orestes then said, “So there would have to be some way that they could have that baptism done.” I answered, weakly, that I consider it to be possible that they could be correct, but also that I think it wholly possible that those who have died without baptism can be saved apart from water baptism. I decided to toss out a speculation that the act of physical death and subsequent resurrection itself might constitute a sufficient identification with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. They basically dismissed this, and Creon stressed how happy he is that their church has an answer to this issue (even though, I think, the puzzle is largely one of their own making anyway), and that he's had the chance to undergo proxy baptism for some of his own ancestors. Orestes called my answer pure speculation, countering with John 3:5 (“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”), which I countered by noting a strong history of interpretation that understands the “water” in that verse as being the 'water' of childbirth rather than the 'water' of baptism. Orestes suggested that because baptism is utterly necessary and critical, God's true church would have that answer. I finally countered that my answer to this would be of the same sort as many of their answers to my questions previously: that
There are some things that I believe we will find out someday. I think that the exact mechanics on how God makes sure that everything is fair for those who have died before baptism – I think that's one of those things that we might find out in the future. Of course, it's entirely possible that some group already knows. That's quite possible. But what I do believe is that, however it comes about, those who have died will be treated perfectly fairly. They will not be denied a chance to enter the kingdom simply because they did not have an opportunity to undergo... Geography, chronology – those things will not ultimately be an obstacle to God's calling for them.
And it came to pass that Orestes said amen to that, and after adding some final thoughts on the necessity of baptism, asked if I had any other questions; I pointed out that I hadn't finished my first one. I repeated my question exactly, and Creon said that the temple today is very sacred, as is the work done in it. Thus, since the New Testament consists of public documents, they would not be inclined to report on the nature of these sacred rituals in the New Testament. I asked if the consensus was that the apostles probably did sealings, but that because of the sacred nature of the work, details like the location are utterly unknown to us today. The basic answer was yes, which put my question to rest. Not because it actually answered it, per se; the ultimate answer here was a plea of ignorance. See, if the apostles did do sealings, it was just as sacred then as now, presumably; and today, the location of the rituals, if not the details, is entirely public knowledge. Latter-day Saints have no problem with people knowing the 'where', just not the 'what'. And temples are conspicuous buildings. It stands to reason that, if temples are necessary now, they were necessary then. And if they were not necessary then, for special circumstances relating to persecution, surely a similar consideration should have applied to Latter-day Saints in lands of persecution. Yet Elder Wondra's talk gave the impression that there is no such concession to need; the importance of the temple is absolute. Thus, it seems that either the apostolic church had a temple, or else did not perform these ordinances. We can be quite sure from church history, archaeology, etc., that the first is not the case, and indeed no literary evidence shows any inkling of a desire to build such a temple. Quite the contrary. For the early Christians, as for orthodox Christians today, the people of God are a living temple, and no building of stone or brick can possibly compare to that. Thus, it seems quite clear to me that the apostolic church cannot have performed the ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which appears to falsify the notion of the restoration.

Moving on, however, I decided to spare them those thoughts and instead get to my second question. However, it occurred to me that if that's what happened with my easiest question, everything else might be dreadful! My second question was whether the Old or New Testaments at any point explicitly indicate that the Melchizedek priesthood is held by any figure apart from Jesus or Melchizedek. (This is one major difference between orthodox Christians and Latter-day Saints. Latter-day Saints claim that male members of their church can be initiated, not only into the Aaronic Priesthood, but also into the Melchizedek Priesthood, which orthodox Christians claim is the role of Jesus alone.)

And it came to pass that they pondered it a bit at first, and while Creon searched around in his Bible, Orestes thought out loud that he knows Melchizedek and Jesus were mentioned together in Hebrews, but he didn't recall anyone else being mentioned. Admetus asked if I meant the priesthood authority. If I'd said yes to that, it'd given them an out to just assume that any sort of apostolic authority was the Melchizedek Priesthood, and thereby skirt the issue, so I made sure to specify that I was looking for explicit references to the Melchizedek Priesthood. And when Admetus seemed to want to turn the question merely to the existence of a “higher priesthood”, I clarified that I wanted to see evidence of that priesthood including more than just two people. So Admetus went off to simply say fairly Scriptural things about the priesthood: that Melchizedek had it and that Abraham paid tithes to him, that Jesus is the holder of the high priesthood in the New Testament, that Melchizedek isn't mentioned much in the New Testament. Admetus then veered off into saying that this priesthood authority left the earth with the death of Christ and his apostles.

And it came to pass that Creon quoted Psalm 110:4 (“The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”), but basically acknowledged that it didn't really answer the question. There were actually quite a few confused silences in this part of the meeting. Orestes ventured to suggest that the keys of authority given to the apostles, which sanctioned them to do works surpassing Christ's own, constituted the Melchizedek Priesthood authority; of course, since that's an assumption brought to the text, it doesn't actually answer the question. Admetus went on to fill some time in a rather stream-of-consciousness manner about the levitical priesthood being Law-driven, and about the tabernacle and the pillar of fire pertaining to the Old Covenant, and about the Melchizedek Priesthood supplanting the levitical priesthood in the New Covenant. The vast majority of what he said had basically no bearing on the question, and in retrospect it really does give me the impression of them being stumped for a real answer and trying to fish around until hopefully stumbling into something.

And it came to pass that, when I reiterated my question to make sure they couldn't escape it, Creon went on to agree with Orestes in identifying apostolic authority with the Melchizedek Priesthood, and Orestes pontificated that a priestly order needs to include more than just one or two figures, and so the Melchizedek Priesthood must surely encompass more than just Melchizedek and/or Jesus. (This argument is, quite self-evidently I think, patently insufficient.) I didn't really press them further, but it seemed clear from the way they were answering that, whether they'd agree out loud or not, they knew deep down that they couldn't find a clear biblical warrant for their belief in the Melchizedek Priesthood being held by such vast numbers of people.

And it came to pass that Orestes said that they could take one more question before the video clip, which caught me off-guard. Since my third question looked to be a rather tangled one – it deals with religious epistemology and evangelism – I decided to skip down to the fourth question awhile and let them dance with that for a bit. While reading James Talmage's Jesus the Christ: A Study of the Messiah and His Mission, I found a phrase on page 77 to the effect that the Son in his mortal body was “begotten of the Father in the flesh”, and so I asked for an explanation of what the phrase means and what it entails. Orestes' answer?
That Jesus Christ was the only Son in the flesh that God the Father had, he was the only-begotten. The only person that... ever lived or ever will live on the earth that could say that he was from the Father.
Does that clarify the matter for anybody? Because it certainly didn't for me, so I asked for clarification, particularly as to what it means to be begotten by the Father, particularly in the flesh. They were confused, but Creon said that Christ had “two sets of DNA”, one from his mother giving him humanity and another from the Heavenly Father from which he regained/retained his divinity. Thus, “he looks like his Father; just like I look like my father and my mother, he looks like his mother and his Father.... It's not that he only has Mary's DNA, but rather that he has the physical traits of his Father as well.”

I pondered how to best press further without phrasing the question too indelicately, because this is one point of controversy between Latter-day Saints and orthodox Christians, and an issue that gets raised to high prominence in 'countercult' literature. I wanted to deal with it as delicately as I could while still getting to the bottom of it, though I'd find that being fairly blunt was the only way to actually hammer my question through. First, though, I asked if it would be accurate to say that the Heavenly Father is the literal Father of Jesus' physical body; when I got a yes and brought the question to Admetus, I chose to replace “literal” with “biological”, since I think one problem in LDS-Evangelical dialogue is the tendency of Latter-day Saints to plot everything on a literal-metaphorical spectrum. But anyway, they agreed that this would be an accurate statement.

And it came to pass that, when I asked what we know regarding the means of that conception, Creon referenced Luke 1:35 (“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”), which certainly says nothing at all of God the Father being the biological father of Christ's body, at least in the way I meant it. (Also, he and Admetus continually referenced it as Luke 2.) Admetus also talked for a bit about LDS belief in the “separation of the Godhead”, and that Elohim (the Father) is not the Son, and that the Son was sired on a mortal mother by God as an immortal Father. When he said that Roman Catholic teaching applies the term “immaculate conception” to this, I made sure to quickly correct him, since it's a slight pet peeve of mine; the phrase “immaculate conception” technically refers to the conception of Mary by her parents (Joachim and Anna, in Roman Catholic tradition) apart from the stain of original sin. Admetus smiled and said that most Roman Catholics he knows don't know the difference, either.

Finally, tired of beating around the bush, I decided to try a more direct route. I said, “I know that one common rumor circulated by – at least by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” – at this point Creon mentioned the phrase “anti-Mormon literature”, which I let pass – “yeah, one common rumor that's circulated, and I'm trying to probe at that here to get a more accurate understanding, is – to put it simply – that the Heavenly Father had physical relations, a physical relationship with Mary, and that that's how Christ was conceived, because it seems like that would be one way of interpreting the phrase, the statement that the Heavenly Father is the biological father of Christ in his mortality.”

My question actually went further than that, but I asked what we can say about the mechanism of the act, so far as we know. Their basic answer was that no Scripture gives a list of details as to how it happened, and that the account in Luke is too vague on which to base speculation. Admetus said that there's an old statement by Brigham Young that gets ripped out of context, but that “we believe in the Luke scripture, and that's about all the detail we know”. Creon, as usual, gave the closest I'd actually get to an answer:, we're not gonna say that that's the case [i.e., that God the Father had sexual intercourse with Mary to conceive Jesus], or... say that that is not the case, because to say that that's not the case would be restricting God... so, he can do whatever he wants, but, as far as what we do believe, we believe what the Scriptures say, that Mary was filled with the Holy Ghost.
So, once again, the final answer to my question was, basically, 'We don't know.' It still astounds me, in light of all this, that Creon and Orestes can say so regularly that one of the best things about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that it has the answers to the hard questions. What answers? Where? Certainly, I'll grant that on particular issues, it evades certain questions altogether by working outside of the standard framework, and it provides answers to others that fit quite nicely, but there are so many other holes that the typical missionary, at least, doesn't even consider trying to fill! Within my own tradition, there are plenty of things that are up for debate, but at least the more theologically minded of us try to bat ideas around and reason it out as best we can, all the while accepting our fallibility as an inevitable caveat on any solution we might produce. The point is, we try, and we don't boast in having all the answers. Neither of these seems to fit the experience here.

More to the point, it seems as though the issue of Christ's conception should be a bit of a bigger issue. Now, I'll be perfectly honest. If I were otherwise inclined to believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was what it claims to be, this issue would hardly be something I'd want to work out beforehand. I could live with either answer, if I were prepared to accept the package as a whole. But, let's think about this for a moment. At least a possibility is being held open that God the Father had a sexual relationship with Mary, and keep in mind that Mary is held to be among the spirit-children of the Heavenly Father in pre-mortality. Thus, this doesn't just completely compromise the virginity of Mary, which is the first problem with the supposition; it also, quite literally, implicates God the Father in an incestuous sexual relationship. Now, I don't want to blow this out of proportion, or make it sound as though this is something that Latter-day Saints typically believe, or that it's one of the main dividing lines between orthodox Christians and Latter-day Saints. It's neither of those. Most Latter-day Saints these days, if asked, would either be agnostic with respect to the issue or else would reject the notion. But, there's hardly any unanimity on some of these questions, as my friend Aaron has amply illustrated with respect to the question of whether the Father may have been a sinner in his own supposed mortal life. Still, a framework within which that is a viable possibility is at least mildly troubling, from this outsider's perspective. (I will note that I've seen some more intellectually minded Latter-day Saints make the valuable point that the biological fatherhood of God to Christ's mortal body need not imply a sexual relationship; if 20th and 21st-century humans can figure out artificial insemination, something analogous to that would have certainly been available to God. Whether or not that greatly lessens the problems with the teaching is a matter for debate.)

And it came to pass at this point that we watched a rather long video clip entitled The Restoration, which was a well-done dramatization of the Joseph Smith story, taking the voice-over narration from Smith's own account. It went up from Joseph Smith's quest for truth to the First Vision, then through the aftermath and his rejection by the religious authorities of his time, and then concluded with the discovery, translation, and distribution of the Book of Mormon. Several things struck me in the movie. First, the Christian preachers were represented in a very negative light. They were wildly sectarian, preaching non-stop sermons on fine dogmatic details but seldom on the gospel itself. One preacher who was featured preached that even slight doctrinal error is the pathway to hell, and so the obligation of every Christian is to find the right denomination, the one true church, and cling to it. Another preacher dismissed the power of prayer and frankly seemed to be espousing a thoroughly deistic perspective. The first preacher confronted the young Joseph after the latter withdrew from regular attendance at his church; when Joseph said that he was only following the preacher's advice to seek the truth, the preacher gave a phony smile and said, “I see! Well, beware of pride, boy. Your eternal soul is at stake.” Altogether a negative view of Christian ministers. Also, in the First Vision account, they shrewdly omitted some of the harsher language; in Smith's original account, Christ is representing as referring to the basic creeds of Christianity as an “abomination”. This is highly inflammatory language, and in the climate of those days it's little wonder he and his followers were confronted; he started it! (Of course, they'd say that Christ said it, but I'm disinclined to take Smith's word for that.) And third, in Smith's story of finding the Book of Mormon, he's guided there by an angel (the resurrected Moroni, in the official version) and recovers, not just the golden plates, but also the ancient Urim and Thummim, with which he translated the otherwise indecipherable text. If I recall correctly, one account said that he kept them in a hat and peered into it to see the words translated before his very eyes. In the movie, however, Moroni is nowhere to be seen, and Smith translates, seemingly by his own skill, directly from the golden plates themselves.

And it came to pass after the clip ended that Creon said that he had a testimony about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – yes, here we go again with the testimony bit – and of the prophet, and said that Joseph Smith never explained or interpreted Scripture, but rather fulfilled it. I, on the other hand, think that he couldn't be more wrong on all three grounds. The only Scriptures that Smith could validly be said to fit are on the order of Deuteronomy 18:20-22. On the other hand, he spent a great deal of time interpreting and explaining Scripture. Not well, in my opinion; but he certainly did so. Just look at his treatment of Genesis 1:1 in the infamous King Follett Discourse (in which, of course, he thoroughly botched elementary Hebrew). Orestes said that he was especially grateful for the gospel's simplicity in contrast to the empty 'traditionalism' of the Greek Orthodox Church, to use his example, and also spoke of how we can grow by application of both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. There was quite a bit more in here about how it makes sense for God to send a prophet because if God is consistent, then since he sent prophets in the past, there's no reason why he shouldn't send a prophet today. Now, I have no problem in principle with God calling a modern-day prophet; however, I don't think that he will, because it seems to be somewhat discounted by Hebrews 1:1-2 (“GOD, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds”).

And it came to pass at this point that Creon returned to the idea of a testimony, and said some things through which I can't believe I kept a straight face. He said that we can judge things we read by how we feel when we read them. Positive feelings, he said, are the product of the Holy Spirit; negative feelings, however, are produced by Satan. He related an anecdote in which a friend of his read some alleged 'anti-Mormon literature' and felt almost ill. This, he at least implied, was reason for rejecting it as satanic spiritual poison. Here are Creon's actual words, as best as I can reconstruct them:
And, you know, it's a spiritual war too. The Spirit's involved, but Satan is also there. And... you can feel that. You know when you feel that... because it's peace and it's comfort and it's happiness. So then there's feelings that come from Satan. Especially when... in my opinion, is that your soul is at stake, as frightening as that sounds, but the Holy Ghost is fighting over your soul as well as Satan. And the tools that Satan uses are the ones that give us not-so-good feelings, the ones that, we don't feel good, we kind of feel ashamed sometimes. Those feelings come from Satan, and those are the feelings that come from anti-Mormon literature, to tell you the truth. It's not a surprise that lots of people look into anti-Mormon literature, but I haven't run across anybody that said that they feel good when they read anti-Mormon literature. It's always – my one friend said he just, he was reading it and 'it just didn't feel right, it was just like, like it could have been true, the things that they were saying, but maybe, I dunno, I just didn't feel good about it, I just knew that what I was doing, the Spirit wasn't in.' And so, we have to be so keen on those two sides, the side of the Spirit and the side of Satan, and make sure that we differentiate between those.
Now, I was being nice, so I decided to let this slide. If I'd had limitless time and didn't need to worry about maintaining some modicum of social graces, however, I would've had quite a few things to say here. First of all, feelings are not a reliable barometer for... well, for most things! As the Bible points out, "the heart is deceitful above all things" (Jeremiah 17:9). Feelings should never be put above truth. And what Creon described his friend doing was precisely that. Creon's friend conceded that the alleged “anti-Mormon literature” could have been making good points, but he didn't even consider them because he didn't feel warm and fuzzy inside while reading it. Is that a good approach to reality? No. A thousand times, no!

I'd also like to point out that “anti-Mormonism” is, to a great degree, a constructed phenomenon. Now, I'm not denying that true 'anti-Mormons' exist, or that many falsehoods about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been circulated, and I'll grant that my sympathies do not always lie with the 'countercult' movement. But note that these missionaries have, implicitly or explicitly, glossed “critics of the church” as “anti-Mormons”. Note that well. No distinction between the categories has been permitted by that identification, but surely the latter is a proper subset of the former. There are critics of the church who are not 'anti-Mormon' by any means, unless one wishes to make 'anti-Mormon' mean just any critic – in which case, all Latter-day Saint missionaries are 'anti-evangelical', 'anti-Catholic', 'anti-Protestant', 'anti-Orthodox', and their literature is filled with dangerous poison that produces bad feelings, etc., etc. Feel free to mentally fill in the rest of the rant there.

Getting back to Creon's statement, the overall epistemology of it is atrocious. As I said before, he has basically presented feelings as a test for, not just truth, but also spiritual origin. Whatever is of God must produce happy feelings, and vice versa; whatever is of Satan must produce negative feelings, and vice versa. Now, I wonder if Creon would really agree with that statement if presented that way. He'd certainly be unwise to. Because one of the happiest feelings I get is when I read the Nicene Creed. You know, one of the ones they consider to be a perplexing, apostate abomination? It feels me with great happiness, joy, and peace to read it. (The same goes for many of the Church Fathers, whom Latter-day Saints would deem apostate.) So by that logic, it must be of God after all. And to be perfectly honest, I usually have feelings of boredom when I read the Book of Mormon. That sounds negative to me, so obviously it must be of Satan, no? This is just not a valid test, and it touches on their approach to the Book of Mormon, too. They love to insinuate that any positive reaction to reading a section of the Book of Mormon means that it's from God; but could it not be the truth value of a particular passage that provokes a reaction, rather than the authority of the work as a whole? And that's to say nothing of the style, though the Book of Mormon will hardly win any prizes on that front.

And it came to pass that Admetus asked me what jumped out at me in The Restoration, so I mentioned first the Urim and Thummim bit. He suggested that perhaps it would have been too confusing for an introductory film like this, and so they might have taken creative licensing and removed them. He also seemed to imply that perhaps they weren't represented because we don't know what they would have looked like. Creon added that it's probably bizarre enough without the Urim and Thummim. As he said, “I'm sure you've realized this by now, either we're all loony, or we're so crazy that we're right.” Admetus asked me for other thoughts, and I brought up the portrayal of Christian ministers. We largely agreed that the portrayal may well be accurate for a 19th-century minister from the 'Burned-Over District', but would not be nearly so applicable to Christianity in America today. They were mostly thinking of the reaction to the First Vision, but I was mostly thinking of the way the pastors were portrayed even before then, with simply their approach to the faith as a whole. And Admetus mentioned that he has a friend from Denver who's an orthodox Christian minister who is, Admetus will gladly admit, a wonderful Christian man who often does better at living up to the gospel than Admetus himself does.

And it came to pass that, after Creon gave a customary friendly warning about 'anti-Mormon literature', referring to it as the sinister fruit of the dark side and something that I should avoid at all costs, and after we talked for a while about how the Greek Orthodox regularly treat Jehovah's Witnesses and Latter-day Saints (I told some of Uriah's stories from his own door-to-door ministry), Creon and Orestes recommended that I look into the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), Mosiah 10--13, and Doctrine and Covenants 89 (which is the 'Word of Wisdom' revelation) before our next meeting, which we scheduled for exactly one week after the present meeting – same time, same place. They asked me to tell them all about the Peloponnese when I return, since that's where I'll be from Saturday morning through Tuesday evening.

And it came to pass that, on my way out, I picked up a copy of Joseph Smith's Lectures on Faith from the library in the office – not to mention a few pieces of the hard candy that they delight in giving out – and headed down a floor with Creon and Orestes. They were getting ready to go to a fellow Latter-day Saint's birthday party, but we stopped for a while to shoot the breeze with some other missionaries for a while, and I in particular had a nice conversation with 'Ajax' from Utah, who actually has the same first name and last initial that I do. We had some good conversation, as I did with the others. It was, all in all, an enjoyable time. When I finally headed down with Creon and Orestes, they walked with me for a while before they had to turn off to head to a laiki (Greek street-market) of some sort to visit a shop. On the way, we chatted about all sorts of things. As we crossed Odos Amalias, Creon asked if the people I live with knew I was meeting with them. I said yes. Creon asked if they thought it was weird. I said that my friends felt bad for them, which got a laugh. Orestes talked for a bit about what he looks for in a future wife – intelligence and independent thought, mostly, and I'd like to shout a big “Amen” to that – and I finally asked how old they were. They're separated by about a month, with Orestes being older as I suspected, but both are around a year younger than I am. After we finally parted ways next to the National Gardens, I returned to Pagkrati, contemplating our meeting.

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