Followers of Christ – fans or fanatics?

I just finished reading a very interesting book by John Krakauer. Krakauer wrote one of my favorite books, “Into Thin Air,” a true story about a group of climbers who got caught in a storm at the top of Mt. Everest. The book is a gripping narrative and sparked in me a strong curiosity about Mt. Everest (although I would never want to try and climb it myself!). Krakauer has a way of highlighting the dramatic elements in a story that makes it feel like well-crafted fiction.

This last book is called, “Under the Banner of Heaven.” It starts with the account of a double-homicide carried out by religious fanatics, and launches from there into an examination of Mormonism and some of its fundamentalist spinoffs. While the book focuses a lot on the history of Mormonism (I never knew it was so violent!), it also looks at home splinter groups have broken off from the main church, often over the issue of polygamy. I didn’t find the book to be anti-Mormon at all, but it certainly is biased (and understandably so) against the fundamentalist sects that have broken off from the Mormon church.

I found the book to be a fascinating read that raised a lot of spiritual questions for me. At one point, when Krakauer is discussing the men on trial for the murders, he makes the point that he believes at least one of the men committed the crimes because he truly believed it was the will of God. There was an argument about whether or not the defendant should use the insanity defense. If he did so, and was found guilty, would it imply that anyone who claimed to be following the will of God could be considered insane?

Another question the book raised for me had to do with God’s revelations. The Mormon faith is founded on the work of Joseph Smith, who claimed to receive direct revelations from God (including one about “spiritual marriage” or polygamy). His revelations were so influential that they have spawned a worldwide religion. While I don’t doubt the authenticity of Smiths’ revelations, unfortunately, I’ve never had God speak directly to me in such a blunt way, so it’s hard for me to understand how this process works.

How do we measure whether a direct revelation is authentic or not? We could measure it against the standard of the Bible, but as you know you can use the Bible to prove or disprove almost anything (including polygamy). Do we then measure it against what makes sense? Or against our own innate understanding of right and wrong? As Krakauer’s book so vividly points out, just because someone says God told them something doesn’t mean it was actually God speaking.

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2 Comments

Filed under Church/spirituality

2 responses to “Followers of Christ – fans or fanatics?

  1. Hey buddy, congrats on the Blog! I’ve had the opportunity of knowing many wonderful Mormon (LDS) people over the past decade or so, and recently I’ve had more and more LDS students in my classes, which has sparked me to further study on their history and beliefs (just as I have with my Sikh students and I already teach a course on Islam). Just like in any other religion, the people who belong range from wonderful to okay to kind of nutty, but I wanted to know more about Jo Smith and the Book of Mormon, and whether the LDS truly qualitfies as a denomination of Christianity (as many claim) or a cult (not Occult!) of Christianity or just a stand-alone cult. I stumbled across a fascinating book that you would probably enjoy. It’s called:
    Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon, and it’s by Wayne L. Cowdry, Howard A. Davis and Arthur Vanick, from Concordia Publishing House.
    It addresses an old theory known as the “Spalding Enigma”, that claims that the larger historical part of the B.o.M. was plagiarized from a work of historical fiction. The argument was laid to rest for over 50 years by Mormon historians, but new information has come to light that again raises the question. They begin by confronting head-on the original arguments put forth by the LDS historians regarding this theory, and make a (at times excruciatingly) detailed study of the enigma.
    The LDS itself claims that the BoM was a divine revelation, yet there are inconsistencies in the revelation itself, as well as in the life of Jo Smith.
    The majority of Mormons are wonderful, giving people who believe in what they see as truth, and this doesn’t change their characters. But it doesn present an intriguing insight into the question of how we know to trust someone’s purported revelation, whether it be starting a new religion or someone being ‘guided by the spirit’ in a simple action.
    Anyway, check it out, my friend (I promise it won’t make you like me!)
    -Erik

  2. Hey Big E! Like you, I know many wonderful folks who are faithful and devout Mormons. And I know some really nasty Christians, as well. As you put it, every strain of belief has its share of fruits and nuts. My interest was piqued by the fact that this was a religion founded after the invention of the printing press, making Mormonism much more vulnerable to scrutiny and examination. After all, it’s founder is only a relatively few generations removed from our current reality. There are a lot of things I admire about Mormonism, but obviously some serious concerns as well. I’d love to have this conversation with a knowledgeable Mormon; I’m sure they’d have just as many questions about my beliefs, as well!

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