Is Mormonism a cult? Is Mormonism like Christianity? Are Mormons Christians?

I’m seeing a lot of ignorance in the mainstream media, including in the conservative media, and even from some Republican politicians. So it’s time to set the record straight on what Mormons and Christians really believe.

Do Mormons and Christians have the same beliefs?

First, let’s take a look at what the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, believes about the origin of the universe:

“The elements are eternal. That which had a beggining will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beggining or end – cut it for a beggining place and at the same time you have an ending place.” (“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 205)

“Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existance from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beggining, and can have no end.”
(“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 395)

A Mormon scholar named Blake Ostler summarizes the Mormon view in a Mormon theological journal:

“In contrast to the self-sufficient and solitary absolute who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), the Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos — neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.” (Blake Ostler, “The Mormon Concept of God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984):65-93)

So, Mormons believe in an eternally existing universe, such that matter was never created out of nothing, and will never be destroyed.

What do the best Christian theologians believe about the origin of the universe?

“By what means did you make heaven and earth?  What tool did you use for this vast work? You did not work as a human craftsman does, making one thing out of something else as his mind directs… Nor did you have in your hand any matter from which you could make heaven and earth, for where could you have obtained matter which you had not yet created, in order to use it as material for making something else?  It must therefore be that you spoke and they were made.  In your Word you created them.” (Augustine, Confessions 11.5.7.)

“As said above (Question 44, Article 2), we must consider not only the emanation of a particular being from a particular agent, but also the emanation of all being from the universal cause, which is God; and this emanation we designate by the name of creation. Now what proceeds by particular emanation, is not presupposed to that emanation; as when a man is generated, he was not before, but man is made from “not-man,” and white from “not-white.” Hence if the emanation of the whole universal being from the first principle be considered, it is impossible that any being should be presupposed before this emanation. For nothing is the same as no being. Therefore as the generation of a man is from the “not-being” which is “not-man,” so creation, which is the emanation of all being, is from the “not-being” which is “nothing”.” (Summa Theologica, part 1, question 45)

“Let this, then, be maintained in the first place, that the world is not eternal, but was created by God.” (John Calvin, Genesis)

“We firmly believe and simply confess that there is only one true God … the Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporeal; who from the very beginning of time by His omnipotent power created out of nothing both the spiritual beings and the corporeal.” (The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215)

So who is right? Has the universe always existed or did it come into being out of nothing?

Breaking the tie

To break the tie, we must use the ordinary tools of investigation – logic, science, historical methods, and so on. Let’s use science this time.

The Big Bang cosmology is the most widely accepted cosmology of the day. It is based on several lines of evidence, and is broadly compatible with Genesis. It denies the past eternality of the universe. This peer-reviewed paper in an astrophysics journal explains. (full text here)

Excerpt:

The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover,–and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.

[…]On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.

Christian cosmology requires such a creation out of nothing, but this is clearly incompatible with what Mormons believe about the universe. The claims about the universe made by the two religions are in disagreement, and we can test empirically to see who is right, using science.

Taking religion seriously

You can find other disagreements between Christianity and Mormonism, if you are not so busy putting on make-up like politicians and journalists are. For example, Christianity is monotheistic (one God) and Mormonism is polytheistic (many gods). That means Mormonism is more like Hinduism than it is like Christianity – Mormonism and Hinduism even agree on the eternally oscillating universe. You can read all about it, with citations from Mormon scholars, in this article, authored by Baylor University professor Francis J. Beckwith. Or you could take a look at the history of Mormonism, and see if the claims made in the religious texts of Mormonism are historical. Or you could take a look at the prophetic claims of the founder of Mormonism and see if they were accurate.

Here’s an examination of the historical basis for the Mormon Scriptures, for example:

This is how responsible people evaluate religions to see whether they are all the same as the others, and, more importantly, if one is true. The point of religion is not to make people feel good, or to make them have a sense of community. The point of religion is to know how we got here, where we are going, and what we are supposed to be doing – as matters of fact.

As long as you don’t assume, before doing any research, that all religions are the same, and that all of their claims are equally untestable, then you can actually investigate things and come to some conclusions. Investigating is good, but watching debates with different views that feature public, testable evidence is also a good idea. The important thing is that you are serious about evaluating the testable claims of different religions, and that you don’t assume that choosing a religion is just like taste in clothes or taste in food, which varies by time and place and is really not making objective propositional claims about reality, instead of subjective claims about individual tastes and preferences. Just because you were born into a country that believed that the Earth was flat (or round) that wouldn’t take away the obligation on you to test those views and go looking at other views using the tools of logic, science and historical analysis.

19 thoughts on “Is Mormonism a cult? Is Mormonism like Christianity? Are Mormons Christians?”

  1. Glenn, I need you to tell me a SLAM DUNK case where Mormonism is falsified by a piece of history that NO ONE DISPUTES. Think of how Islam is falsified by the crucifixion of Jesus, because no credentialed historian denies the crucifixion. I need you to give me a clear, undeniable historical fact that disproves Mormonism. I want to add it to my cosmological disproof. I just need one, so pick the best one you can.

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  2. The problem with your need is that Mormons will not accept any fact disproving their church as indisputable. Everyone outside the church accepts them, but not those inside.

    It is an indisputable fact that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction and not from God. The book plagiarizes the 1611 KJV, is full of anachronisms, has no historical, geographical or archaeological evidence behind it, has had over 4000 changes made to it (which would not happen if it was translated by direct revelation as claimed), and a raft of other problems which prove it is not of God. I give a lot of evidence on my blog against the BOM being true.

    It is an indisputable fact that Joseph Smith had dozens of false prophecies – prophecies which never came to pass. On my blog I list 40 of them.

    It is an indisputable fact that the BOM contradicts very often the Doctrine & Covenants. It is an indisputable fact that the BOM contradicts the Bible (but they just say the Bible is incorrectly translated)

    Things like these do indeed falsify Mormonism to everyone but Mormons, who marginalize all the evidence with myriads of excuses.

    Mormonism can be defended against by good theology.

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    1. I need to stay away from doctrines and covenants and stick to a historical claim that is false. Something like the crucifixion, where Islam denies and no historian agrees with them on that.

      However, I do think the prophetic claim is useful, as well. Is there a really bad Harold Camping/Jehovah’s Witness kind of claim that is indisputably false?

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  3. Wintery, I think this is pretty much a slam dunk… To make a long story short, Joseph bought some legitimate Egyptian manuscripts from a man traveling around showing off mummies from Egypt. Since no one at the time in America knew the Egyptian language, there was no one to translate them. BUT Joseph proceeded to give a translation of them which is now part of the Mormon scriptures titled, The Book of Abraham . Joseph claimed his translation was with the aid of God. So either God made a mistake, or Joseph was being deceptive.

    To make a long story short, the manuscript was thought to be lost in the Great Chicago fire, but in the 1950’s it was found in a museum in New York, along with a note from Joseph’s wife, Emma. The manuscript is the exact one drawn out in Josephs journal with his own translation in the journal as well.

    Once it was discovered that the lost book of Abraham was rediscovered, the enthusiastic Mormon church invited egyptologists to come and verify what they expected to be a match between Joseph’s translation, and the manuscript.

    The manuscript, instead of being a story of Abraham, was found to be an Egyptian funerary text, thus proving Joseph lied, and made up his translation.

    Here is an excellent documentary on it:

    was found http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6418671664626483056

    Sadly, almost all Mormons don’t even realize they have the original document, let alone its a fraud.

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    1. It alarms me that so few people examine their religion to see if it is true. I know Christianity and I have blogged on troubling passages (the Matthew 27 earthquake) and troubling variants (the pericope adulterae in John 7). I know where our weaknesses are, because I have to DEBATE it. I watch debates with people on these issues. What’s wrong with these other Mormon people? Do they just not care about truth at all?

      I have to verify that manuscript story, but it sounds like what I was looking for, if it’s true.

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      1. It is 100% true and you can find info here:
        http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/fallofbookabraham.htm
        http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/changech11a.htm
        http://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no113.htm

        Utah Lighthouse has more info besides these. Also, I recommend the book, “…by his own hand upon papyrus” by Charles M. Larson.

        The Mormons now just claim that he used the papyrus as an instrument, that God gave him the information through the tool of the papyrus. They can’t admit it was false!

        As for false prophecies, I did a few posts to get together all I have in my immediate files. Here are the links to my lists:
        http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2011/01/joseph-smith-prophet-part-1.html (this one sets the stage)

        http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2011/01/joseph-smith-prophet-part-2.html
        http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2011/01/joseph-smith-prophet-part-3.html
        http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2011/01/joseph-smith-prophet-part-4.html
        http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2011/01/joseph-smith-prophet-part-5.html

        With each prophecy I explain why they didn’t happen.

        The Mormon apologists will have all sorts of excuses why these didn’t come to pass because to them there is no such thing as a “slam dunk” proof. But the proof of the pudding is that none of these prophecies came true, which is 100% proof that Smith was a false prophet!

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        1. Glenn look what someone on Facebook just sent me:

          Here are some examples for you from Dr. Mike Licona’s booklet at the link below:

          1) There is no archaeological confirmation of the Book of Mormon. While the spade of the archaeologist has confirmed many places and peoples mentioned in the Bible, it has not been at all favorable to the Book of Mormon. Although Mormons will confidently assert that archaeology has confirmed the Book of Mormon’s accuracy time and time again, professional archaeologists have arrived at quite a different conclusion. You will find out more about this problem in Chapter 3.

          2) The Book of Abraham is a fraud. The Book of Abraham is one of the books in the Pearl of Great Price, one of Mormonism’s Scriptures. Joseph Smith purchased some ancient Egyptian papyri and claimed it was an original book penned by Abraham himself while in Egypt. He translated it allegedly by the same gift which God had given him to translate the Book of Mormon. Professional Egyptologists have translated the papyri since their rediscovery in 1967. Their translations bear no resemblance to Smith’s translation, exposing him as a charlatan. You will find out about this subject of which few Mormons are even aware in Chapter 4.

          Click to access Behold.pdf

          This is from Mike Licona, so it’s bulletproof.

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          1. Wintery, You’ll have to watch that documentary I sent you on the Lost Book of Abraham…it really presents and open and shut case.

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          2. Watching it!

            I see lots of tenured professors. This is a good sign, but I still need a peer-reviewed paper to seal the deal.

            I watched the whole thing, and I give it my stamp of approval. It makes me sad that so many people believe in Mormonism… and then when they find out, they get jaded about religion in general.

            And then you have the Jehovah’s Witnesses believing in a religion after multiple failed end-of-the-world predictions… Sad.

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          3. Well, the links I gave you to the Utah Lighthouse Ministry’s articles on the Book of Abraham are also bullet-proof. They detail the investigation of the Egyptian papyrus. The book I mentioned is all about that Book of Abraham papyrus, and even has a complete foldout photo of the original.

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  4. There is no architectural, manuscript, or archeological evidence to support any of Joseph Smith’s claims. Mormons are following blindly. No credible scholar supports any claim of Mormonism.

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  5. It’s hard to find scholarly disputations against Mormonism in particular, because it’s either largely lumped in with Christianity by secular scholars, or it’s viewed as a bizarre minority cult which it’s not even worth spending the time refuting.

    Of course there is lots of evidence and even proofs against Mormonism, but finding something that’s not sectarian may be difficult. If you do find anything, though, I’d be really keen to find about about it too.

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    1. In the post, I listed the Big Bang cosmology and the documentary featuring the testimony of Egyptology professors and major universities concerning the Book of Abraham papyri. I can’t be any more non-sectarian than that.

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