Saturday, September 10, 2016

Answering My Critics : A Response to Dennis Walker and Robert Boylan

On September 6th, 2016, I celebrated 7 years of membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These seven years have not been easy for me, there has been anguish, frustration, pain, desperation, and thoughts of suicide at times. However, as the prophet Nephi said thousands of years ago "I know in whom I have trusted": the Lord Jesus Christ. He has allowed me to suffer pain and agony so that I can feel his healing power and loving kindness. While I have had difficulty as a member of the Church (and may have more in the future), I am thankful for the sustaining influence of the Lord in my life and would not trade my testimony of him and of his restored gospel for anything.

That being said, two weeks ago I published a post titled Are Mormon Christian? Not really..... and received different levels of response. Just this morning my mission president Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (who is a New Testament scholar at Brigham Young University) sent me an e-mail and said that while he considered my arguments good, he also said that it might be best to classify Mormons as "pre-creedal Christians." In addition to President Holzapfel, my friends Dennis Walker and theologian and apologist Robert Boylan responded to my post on their respective blogs, which can be read here and here. I will spend most of this blog responding to them, but before I do I would like to say that both of these gentlemen are my friends, are good people, and I will address the arguments they made rather than them as individuals.

Before I respond to them, a point deserves to be made in reference to President Holzapfel's point. Central to the truth claims of Mormonism is that soon after the death of Jesus of Nazareth the doctrines and church he established were lost, and remained lost until the time of Joseph Smith, Jr. So, by definition Mormons do not regard the creeds of Christendom (Nicene, Apostles, Athanasian, etc) as being reflective of true New Testament Christianity. However, this still makes my point rather than refutes it. If you say that you are not pre-creedal Christians, you are still admitting that you do not in fact worship the same God because these creeds define God and Christ as Christians define them today. If you do not worship the same God, you are not of the same faith, even if you use the same vocabulary. You are merely involved in what Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein called a "language game", and we need to move past that game in order to have a true interfaith dialogue. Christians and Mormons both believe in God, but there meaning of that word is fundamentally different enough that both Mormons and Christians cannot claim to be on the same side.

On to the points made by Dennis Walker. His fundamental argument against me was a straw-man; attacking what I didn't say instead of what I did say. His blog focused on the fact the Latter-day Saints accept Jesus as their Savior and live according to his teachings. I agree with this, and that was not the argument of my blog, which was never addressed by Dennis in his blog. My thesis was as follows:
"There is no greater question than knowing who God is." That is particularly true of the Mormon-Christian dialogue because neither Mormons or Christians are questioning (at least not as a whole) whether or not God exists; that question is already presupposed to be that he does in fact exist. The real question is what are the attributes and nature of this being. All other questions, such as the nature of the Church, priesthood, scriptural interpretation, ethics, etc, flow out of who and what God is.
So, my argument was not about whether or not Mormons believe in Jesus Christ; they have his name in the official name of their Church, it would be very strange for them to not believe in him. The argument was whether the nature and attributes of the being that we call God is shared with other Christians, and it is not. You cannot reconcile the idea of a materialistic, naturalistic God with the idea of the Platonic/Aristotelian God that is worshiped by Christians. That was the point of the discussion, and had nothing to do with how Mormons and Christians view Jesus of Nazareth, although that too is very different.

Dennis also engaged in ad hominem attack when he said:
"Tarik Lacour’s assumption that we must say we are the only Christian church and his call for us to separate ourselves and essential renounce our Christianity, or his other solution  contrast that with the claim that we are the only Christian Church, is absurd and heretical. His call is ironically accompanied by a statement that implies that the Church and its Saints are not honest.

Such actions with either appease the masses and discredit the entire work of the Lord, quite the opposite of Tarik’s assumption that it would accelerate and assist in the legitimacy of the work. He states that “In order to be honest, you must clearly state what you believe, and honesty is the best avenue to have fruitful interfaith dialogue. In order for this to happen, Mormons will need to be honest and say that they are a separate religion from Christians, be straightforward about their materialistic and polytheistic beliefs, and honest that they alone are the vehicle of salvation and exaltation, even if other faiths do much good. We cannot move forward unless we are strictly honest.”

Such a statement would make it clear that he feels there is no legitimacy to the work of the Lord in current time."

Close quote. First, as to whether or not we are the only Christian Church. If anyone can define what a Christian is and what Church is correct, it would be Jesus himself. In section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, he states that the LDS Church is "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased." That is very absolutist language, but I believe it to be true, and I affirmed that in the closing points in my blog. So, Dennis should take his problem to Jesus or Joseph Smith, Jr., but not to me for pointing that out.

As far as having a conversation with other Christians, keep in mind that since we do not always recognize that we are playing a language game, many Christians think that Mormons believe pretty much what they believe, and many Mormons think that they are not very different from Christians. So, what I am suggesting is that when we use a word that is shared between us (such as God) we clearly define at the beginning what we mean by the term. As a convert I know this first hand; it wasn't until I read Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie that I discovered that Mormons and Christians have radically different conceptions of the divine. To avoid confusion, lets be clear and honest about what we believe so that no one can misunderstand what we are talking about, that is all I am suggesting.

On the last point, that I do not feel that the Lord's work is legitimate is as astonishing as it is false. I have joined the Church in spite of familial resistance, served a mission, accepted callings, paid tithing, and am an employee of the Church. If I am a dissenter, the evidence begs to differ. Also, Dennis mentioned in his blog that my approach was academic; of course that is the case. I am an academic philosopher, what other approach would I take? This done not mean in the slightest that I believe that discipleship is mere academic assent, it is a lifestyle approach and a commitment. I have shown my commitment to the Church many times, and I plan to continue to do so.

On to Robert Boylan and his concerns. First, I go by the name Tarik; David is my fathers name. Second, I am a philosopher who happens to have a blog and LDS theology and doctrine is not what my blog is dedicated to, so I am not an "LDS blogger". Third, to call a believing member of the Church as being in line with the likes of Sandra Tanner is both insulting and false; I have a strong commitment and testimony of the Restored Gospel and to attack a fellow servant in the vineyard is disgusting and contemptible.

Something else that disturbed me was his linking me with Thomas Aquinas, which caught me by surprise. First, I am not a Thomist, I am a Humean. Second, I mentioned Aquinas only once in my post and said that Mormon's conception of God was far different than his. While I do revere Aquinas and he has had an influence on me, his ideas are not central to the philosophy I defend.

Boylan's argument, like Dennis', results in being a straw-man because he is making the point the LDS version of Christianity is more in line with the New Testament than other Christians. That was not the point of my blog, so whether it is correct or not is irrelevant, although I agree with much of what Boylan said, in particular his reference of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. As pointed out earlier, the point of my blog was to discuss the conflicting natures of God in Mormonism and Christianity; not Thomas Aquinas' philosophy, the Ante-Nicene Fathers, or even which version of Christianity is right.

I would like to close by saying that I am thankful to these gentlemen for taking the time to read my blog, and further time to respond to it. But perhaps it would be best to understand what I was saying before issuing a response. I rest my case.

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