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A Mormon Scholarís Journey to Catholic Faith
First Things ^ | August 30, 2012 | Richard Sherlock

Posted on 09/01/2012 2:23:41 AM PDT by iowamark

Early in the evening of May 28, 2010, I am attending Mass in the majestic Basilica di Sant’Apollinare next to the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce in Rome. From Utah I have come as a scholar to deliver a paper at an international conference on the work of the great Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, and I have come as a tourist to see the Eternal City for the first time. Mass is being celebrated in the basilica for those attending the conference.

I am not Catholic—in fact, I was raised a Mormon, though I have had serious doubts about the Latter-day Saint faith for decades. Yet my journey of the heart—which ultimately ended in the Catholic Church—came long after I had intellectually departed—so I cannot receive Holy Communion. But when Archbishop Raymond Burke places his hand on my head in a blessing, the extraordinary presence of Jesus Christ moves my soul to tears. I now know, in my head and in my heart, that I have come to Rome as a pilgrim. I have finally heard his voice, and I will not turn away.

Of course, I was awestruck by the beauty of Rome. The conference was wonderful, and I made important contacts and great friends. But infinitely more important, I found a priceless gift: the God of truth I had ignored for decades. I found my soul, which had been lost in the fog of my pride and stubbornness. Thus began a journey that took me to the waters of Catholic baptism, the anointing of confirmation, and first Communion at the Easter Vigil of 2012. You do not need to travel thousands of miles to have a real encounter with Christ. But your soul does need to be open in a way mine had not been for years.

Mormon friends ask how I could leave the LDS Church. Catholic friends ask why the pilgrimage to Rome took me so long. My brother, a rabbi, was the first person I told I was converting. When we talked, he said simply, “You were a Catholic thinker when you were a graduate student at Harvard in the 1970s.”

Intellectually, there are two beliefs at the core of the LDS faith that I eventually realized I could not accept. The first is the doctrine of a “great apostasy” afflicting the church. Mormons do not deny that Peter led the church after Jesus’ Ascension. They deny that the Holy Spirit continued to guide it. Mormons believe that after Peter the patristic church lost its way.

And by “losing its way,” Mormons do not mean that the church suffered from human sinfulness or became too wedded to secular power. Christianity supposedly strayed so far that it was no longer Christianity. It did not merely require renewal, as St. Francis preached. It did not merely require a new vocabulary to express timeless truths, as Vatican II proclaimed. Mormons believe that the church—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant visions alike—completely died and that Christianity required a “restoration” by God himself.

My intellectual journey was inspired in large part by my study of patristics. Reading the Church Fathers in my first year at Harvard in 1970–71, I realized that this story was false. Even my meager study of the Fathers allowed me to see what Newman had seen—that there was a development of Christian thought, a deepening of our understanding of such truths as the Incarnation and the Trinity. There simply was no evidence of a fundamental break from the church Jesus established. As one of Mormonism’s most brilliant minds of the last half century, Edwin Firmage, wrote after he left the LDS Church: “The idea that God was sort of snoozing until 1820 now seems to me absurd.”

Two passages from the Gospel of Matthew are particularly difficult to reconcile with the Mormon doctrine of the great apostasy. Jesus promised Peter that “the gates of the netherworld” would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16) and he promised the Apostles that he would be with the Church until the end of the age (Matthew 28).

The other fundamental Mormon teaching that I cannot accept is the absence of an existential distinction between God and man. In an 1844 sermon, Joseph Smith made a claim that profoundly shapes the way Mormons see the world: “God himself was once as we are now and is an exalted man.” Parse this out and God himself becomes a finite, physical being. How, I wondered, can we have absolute confidence in a God whose power and knowledge are limited, not just by the rules of logic, as St. Thomas would have said, but by unknown barriers? A limited God cannot be our anchor in the face of extreme horrors or profound personal loss. In the face of terrible, inexplicable loss, Job did not place his trust in an “exalted man.” The God who spoke to Job did not start out on a world like ours. This God, who comforted Job and comforts millions of others every day, to whom we can truly pray “not my will but yours be done,” cannot be the limited being Mormons call “god.”

The Mormon “god,” who came from a world like ours, cannot be the creator of all worlds, as Scripture and reason tell us he is. The physical god of the Mormons cannot have been present at creation, when there was no matter. Furthermore, if all of us can become “gods,” then Mormonism is incompatible with Christian Trinitarianism and Jewish monotheism. It is polytheism.

Compounding all this, in my experience, is the fact that Mormons generally do not seek for serious answers. In fact, Mormon authorities actively discourage the marriage of faith and reason that we Catholics celebrate. I now profess openly what I always too silently believed: If a faith cannot be sustained in the face of serious questions, it is not a faith worth having.

If these reasons to reject Mormonism were sound for me over forty years ago, why did I stay? I could say it was culture, friendship, or inertia, and those reasons are accurate in a certain sense. But the full truth is found in Psalm 95: “Today if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.” I now know that at least four times in those forty years I specifically heard God calling me to his Church, but I turned away. My oldest and closest friend since 1970 told me twice directly that, like him, I should be a Catholic. I knew he was right. Yet I did nothing.

In one instance, the turning was literal. I had invited a Catholic theologian to speak at Utah State on religion and science, and I arranged a lunch for him with the Newman Club. After lunch, the parish priest and I talked for a long time. As our conversation wound down, I felt strongly that I should go with him to his office and talk about my faith. Yet I turned away and walked back to my office.

In the past two years, my journey towards the Catholic Church has brought me to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ than I have ever had. I have not “given up my faith.” Leaving Mormonism for Catholicism is a journey many others are making, and it has allowed me to experience God’s love in a profoundly richer way.


TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Ecumenism; Other Christian
KEYWORDS: catholic; lds
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Richard Sherlock is a professor of philosophy at Utah State University. He has taught philosophy at Northeastern University and the University of Tennessee and moral theology at Fordham University.

No, this thread has nothing to do with Mitt Romney.

1 posted on 09/01/2012 2:23:54 AM PDT by iowamark
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To: iowamark

Welcome home, Mr. Sherlock.


2 posted on 09/01/2012 3:26:39 AM PDT by sayuncledave (et Verbum caro factum est (And the Word was made flesh))
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To: iowamark

I have never understood how Mormons can keep a straight face when talking about Mormon beliefs. They range from the crackpot ( the 12 tribes in their cork submarines and how Momon men get their own planets after they die) to the offensive (their beliefs about the nature of God).

I think that there are a lot of Mormons who would really just like to be Evangelical Christians, only with a bit more structure. Smith was a sort of quack who dabbled in get rich quick schemes and looked for gold through a crystal in his “magic hat,” but he had been brought up in what was called the Burnt Over District, an area of Upstate New York and bordering states that had had so many wandering preachers and ecstatic revivals that there was nobody left to revive anymore. The nature of Evangelical Christianity is anti-institutional, so there was no way to make the results of the revivals last; people had no church to join, so it would all wear off.

Joseph Smith, who saw himself as a “second Mohammed,” essentially took a combination of formless emotional Arianized Christianity (where Jesus is not the Son of God, but essentially a very important prophet, just as in Islam), his own totally nutty cosmology and some self-serving beliefs, such as his right to several wives, and adopted a structure for them - one that was also present in his 19th century rural world, that of Masonry. Mormon rituals and even a lot of their internal structures are based on Masonry and the secret society model (lodges and secret societies were very popular in the unrooted, isolated world of 19th century and frontier America). Brigham Young, who was even more organizationally minded, consolidated all this.

Eventually, I guess they’ll have to make a choice. It will be either to go whole hog with their nuttiness (the reason they can’t really reject the “primitive” Mormons who practice polygamy and live on welfare in the desert is that these people actually are following pure Mormon beliefs) or their “Presiding Bishop” will have a dream and announce that God sent Joseph Smith just to shake people up and put them on the right footing, and that now the time for his beliefs are over and the Mormon church will make a profession of faith in the Nicene Creed.


3 posted on 09/01/2012 3:47:45 AM PDT by livius
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To: livius

LDS can keep their faces straight for two reasons. One is, they do not understand or care how their beliefs differ significantly from other beliefs, and they are taught from earliest childhood that their beliefs are ‘right’ while all others are ‘wrong’. When they discuss their religion with others outside the faith they are ‘sharing the Gospel’, or having a ‘first discussion’ with them.


4 posted on 09/01/2012 4:31:54 AM PDT by STYRO (Do not accept unconstitutional government as legitimate government.)
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To: iowamark
I'm an "other Christian," and see from his words and witness that Richard Sherlock has been a phony "professor" for many years. He has now made a step backward in time, forward in thinking, an advance toward a genuine faith, but he is not quite there.

He has yet to make one more saving step to make, beyond the "universal church" concept, and into the Company of the Committed (as suggested by Elton Trueblood. another philosopher and prolific writer) by the Blood of The Christ, through the Veil, and into the Most Holy Place to which Peter, and Paul, and John, and Silas, and Timothy, and Mark, and, yes Mary and her children Jacob (James, that is) and Jude, and Cleopas, and his wife Mary, and Cornelius, and Lydia, and Aquila, and Priscilla, and Stephen, and Ananius of Damascus, and many other true confreres of the 120 that gathered together in Jerusalem for the first Pentecost after His Resurrection/Ascension.

Until he makes that step of total committed persistent trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and in The Faith of Him of which He is the embodiment in the flesh, not leaning on reasonings, or traditions, or humanoid experiences, Sherlock is still poised for judgment at the final Great White Throne.

So far, all the so-titled Smithite "Elders" appearing on my doorstep have refused instruction regarding it and their culpability. They have insisted that they will stand in that judgment as to their works and final eternal disposition, and that it will be beneficial to themselves. They do not claim, as do I in faith, to have been judged on the Cross, freed of guilt, and of the penalty and power of Sin as a master. What a shame it will be for them.

Sherlock needs to step in faith back past the inception of what is termed catholic, past its Platonic-based philosophy, past its allegories, syllogisms, reasonings, and supererogatic works, and join the company of the humble and meek truly regenerated believer-disciple bondslave-followers of The Anointed One, into the kingdom of His priests, every one, whose assignment is glorifying Him forever.

Sherlock has, so far, missed the main point. He is still blinded. And set to perish. I pray God to save him yet,

IMVHO

5 posted on 09/01/2012 5:40:37 AM PDT by imardmd1 (Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them NOT!)
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To: imardmd1

You need to do some ocular logging.


6 posted on 09/01/2012 6:09:59 AM PDT by Houghton M.
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To: imardmd1
I think you've missed Sherlock's main point. Mormonism says every man can become a god. Protestantism says that every man can become his own Pope. Both of them say that the church Jesus founded on the apostles couldn't stand the test of time and needed "reformation" or "restoration" through some self-appointed human agency.

Only the Catholic vision is consistent with a church guided to "all truth" through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.

7 posted on 09/01/2012 6:10:07 AM PDT by Campion ("Social justice" begins in the womb)
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To: imardmd1

What’s wrong with syllogisms?

Can you answer the question without recourse to syllogisms?


8 posted on 09/01/2012 6:28:58 AM PDT by Mad Dawg (Depone serpentem et ab veneno gradere.)
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To: livius
Smith was a sort of quack who dabbled in get rich quick schemes and looked for gold through a crystal in his “magic hat,” but he had been brought up in what was called the Burnt Over District, an area of Upstate New York and bordering states that had had so many wandering preachers and ecstatic revivals that there was nobody left to revive anymore. The nature of Evangelical Christianity is anti-institutional, so there was no way to make the results of the revivals last; people had no church to join, so it would all wear off.

This is a very, very excellent and succinct summary of the heritage of the religious history of the area traversed by the Erie Canal. Its fervence was so stirred by the The Second Great Awakening and the likes of Charles Finney, as well as evangelists and religious sects coursing back and fothe between New England and the midwest, that people got very tired and numbed to the emotional levels and sin-socking preachers.

It was that area in which I was born and grew up, that is only now becoming approachable by sincere and warm Truth-bearers of New Testament Christianity.

9 posted on 09/01/2012 6:42:06 AM PDT by imardmd1 (Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them NOT!)
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To: imardmd1

It’s a very interesting area and this is a very interesting period in US religious history. I don’t think enough people know about it.


10 posted on 09/01/2012 7:08:15 AM PDT by livius
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To: Mad Dawg
What’s wrong with syllogisms?

Nothing. As a trained scientist, I use deductive reasoning all the time. It's the misuse that is troublesome:

"Major Premise: Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as quickly as one man.
Minor Premise: One man can dig a posthole in sixty seconds; therefore--
Conclusion: Sixty men can dig a posthole in one second. This may be called the syllogism arithmetical, in which, by combining logic and mathematics, we obtain a double certainty and are twice blessed."
(Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary)

Can you answer the question without recourse to syllogisms?

Yes.

11 posted on 09/01/2012 7:10:18 AM PDT by imardmd1 (Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them NOT!)
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To: Houghton M.
You need to do some ocular logging. You are being a bit Stygian here. What do you mean to say? That you are not blinded?
12 posted on 09/01/2012 7:16:52 AM PDT by imardmd1 (Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them NOT!)
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To: imardmd1

We agree that syllogisms themselves are okay. It’s their misuse that is the problem.

Bierce’s fencepost is hardly syllogism though ...


13 posted on 09/01/2012 7:38:58 AM PDT by Mad Dawg (Depone serpentem et ab veneno gradere.)
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To: imardmd1

this post can only have been written by someone who joins the Mormons in accusing the Universal Church of apostacy in the second century.

question for you, since you can judge whether someone is saved or not:

can you name three people who lived between 100ad and 1500ad who pass your test of being a Christian and therefore saved?


14 posted on 09/01/2012 8:27:39 AM PDT by one Lord one faith one baptism
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To: Vroomfondel

bflr


15 posted on 09/01/2012 9:40:22 AM PDT by Vroomfondel
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To: livius
It’s a very interesting area and this is a very interesting period in US religious history. I don’t think enough people know about it.

I agree. Though Finney was apparently the author of the phase "Burned Over District," he was certainly a part of bringing it to cinders. The area at the time was certainly frontier, full of freedom-lovers, free thinkers, individualism, danger, enterprise, and experimenters. Just reading through the biographies of people who influenced the life there is greatly educational. I used to wonder at the doings of Moses Van Campen and the bloody Iroquois, and Philip Church, son of Angelica Schuyler Church who was sister-in-law to Alexander Hamilton, and many other New York and Pennsylvania wild frontiersmen. Much of that spirit whem I lived in Rushford and Angelica, NY. Miss it now --

16 posted on 09/01/2012 9:49:40 AM PDT by imardmd1 (Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them NOT!)
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To: iowamark

Yes, do the math. For about every 500,000 Catholics who join the LDS Church, about one converts the other way, to Catholocism. The latter example really IS news!


17 posted on 09/01/2012 10:00:00 AM PDT by JustTheTruth
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To: JustTheTruth

Wow! According to that stat can’t be many Catholics left.


18 posted on 09/01/2012 10:00:57 AM PDT by morphing libertarian
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To: livius
“....the 12 tribes in their cork submarines ...”

That's a good one! I have never heard that one before, is it in their SciFi novel?

19 posted on 09/01/2012 10:17:48 AM PDT by Reily
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To: imardmd1
Those were strange times at the beginning of the “Great Awaking”. My Fathers family is LDS, early LDS, and I can't understand the attraction.

For example my Grandmother Grandfather, a successful businessman dropped every thing to be a missionary, beats the hell out of me.

20 posted on 09/01/2012 10:35:29 AM PDT by Little Bill
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