Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How the denominations see each other

Got this indirectly from Thomas the Doubter's blog,  Think it is a great example of a picture is worth 1000 words.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Amanda Knox is free

Wonderful wonderful news, Amanda Knox is free.  I feel fantastic being able to have a purely positive post.  This was an example where a popular pressure was able to create effective political change.

We've been hearing for years how we should ignore the evidence, ignore police misconduct, ignore the fabrication of evidence.  But thankfully large groups of people said "no" and justice won out. Its very nice to see the good guys win for a change and I hope Amanda all the best and happiness.

I don't know if she will ever again be the joyful girl we saw pictured but the tears of joy or relief show her coming back to life.  We can hope and wish it for her.  To everyone I met involved in this case, you saved a life, you did good!  And for Italy we can wish and hope that they use this as an opportunity to overhaul their judiciary.  To make sure that judges do not again fill in holes in cases with wild conjecture and the words, "it is probable".

The court ruled today that the "crime" of the staged break in never happened.  Which is clear evidence of how truly silly the original verdict was, a theory based on a minor crime whose very existence is now disproven. In Italy there are 2 levels of not guilty: reasonable doubt and proven innocent, "per non aver commesso il fatto"; and as a result of the court looking at the evidence and not speculating she met the higher burden of proven innocent on the murder charge.  I'm hoping that comes from using the autopsy, the medical examiner's timeline that the first court casually dismissed because it didn't agree with Mignini's theory. The people of Italy should not have to live under a law where judges freely fabricate evidence because they can't fill in the wholes with the evidence they have.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Christian Origins

This post is for historical reasons only.  Please go to Sects to the Reformation, for an expanded and updated chart.

This image is large and may not be laying out clearly on your browser.  Try clicking on the image to see it better, and magnify if you need to.  Or click and download.    I'm about to enter into a debate on Christian origins, the "one true church" debate.  I put together this little diagram, which still has some definite flaws, breaking down how various groups merged to form ancient Christianities.

Arrows are for strong influence or descent, these sects are interacting with one another and passing ideas between them just as religions today do.  Where possible I've tried to include a sample work in parenthesis for each sect making it clear how I'm using the term, and also letting the chart do double duty explicating the origins of the bible.

In terms of colors:
Yellow are full blown alternate Christianities.
Light Blue are proto-Christianities
Salmon is for groups that are Jewish sects.  They may have Christian aspects but they are not yet meaningfully Christian and are in some sense fundamentally Jewish or Samaritan.
Purple I'm using for groups that I can meaningfully call Catholic.
Pink I'm using for groups that broke away Catholicism. Sects that I would agree are "schismatic".
Dark Olive Green I'm using for non Christian religions.
Yellow Green I'm using for non-Christian groups with strong Christian influence.


The core argument for the Catholic apologetic is:
  1. There was a unique historical church that had a clear hierarchy with other local churches and sects in the Early Christian world (say 30-150 CE)
  2. The church from (A) is contiguous with the current day Catholic church (I'm being ambiguous here with respect to Wester or Eastern for flexibility).
  3. Continuity is the key determining factor for what church one should join now.
Classically Protestants have disputed (2). That debate generally comes down to the Catholic arguing the "gates of Hell shall not prevail..." doctrine vs. the Protestant citing lots of bad stuff the Catholic did or believes.  Unlike Protestant, I will grant (2).  I see no evidence for a sharp breaks anytime after the early church.  As this diagram implies.

(1) is very tricky to prove. I would argue the evidence we have is that pieces of proto-Christianity formed around 200 BCE and from 200 BCE-200 CE these diverse sects merged. The 2nd century debates over Montanism show most clearly that it there was a great deal of ambiguity about which churches were or were not associated with other churches; totally inconsistent with the notion of a universally accepted hierarchy

Going back further to the first century we see debates among equals. Paul is arguing in his letters against Judaizers and proto-gnostics based on scripture (the LXX) because he doesn't have access to an authoritative hierarchy.

From a Protestant perspective this diagram is to some extent supportive of the theory in Landmarkism, of Baptist perpetuity.  The idea that the Baptists have always existed.  Certainly for example the Sabians are a baptist sect: believers baptism, salvation by faith...    Though I'm actually putting it several centuries earlier and disagreeing that they have rolled back nearly enough.  Renowned English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon described Baptist perpetuity as:

We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents.

As for point (3) I see the affirmative primarily rests on sacramental authority. That is apostolic succession is mostly demanded in a situation where sacraments (in particular the eucharist / mass) need a laying on of hands (sacramental) to be valid.

I'd argue for any Protestant which has a theory of ordinances rather than sacraments (3) falls apart and this is mainly a begging the question argument for most Protestants. For those like Anglicans or Lutherans that do have a sacramental theology the question becomes is there any reason to believe other than assertion in the claim that the chain is completely unbroken for the first 1500 years but shattered in the last 500?

As an aside the diagram above was a lot of work and is still has errors, I'm reserving the right to update and make improvements; though the basic structure will remain intact.


See also:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The concept of choice

This is a discussion of choice and and causality.

Context is a debate and a conversation that you can read (here). Essentially I'm arguing for positivism and the existence of freewill, my opponent strict determinism with no free will.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Data on anti-Mormonism

So I ran into some interesting data on anti-Mormonism from How Americans View Mormonism.  They asked the question of why people didn't trust or support Mormons in positions of leadership 45% of Americans were able to answer that question.  And there answers basically amounted to: I don't know enough about the religion and what I know I don't like, but it was all about the religion:

25% Ignorance -- Don't know enough about Mormons to trust them
9% Different Beliefs -- Non biblical beliefs.
8% Polygamy -- Belief that this practice is still widespread though secret.
6% Non Christian -- Openly don't like non Christians and don't consider Mormons Christian.
5% Fear of unknown -- People don't know enough about Mormons and thus fear them.
5% Book of Mormon -- Disapprove of making your own bible
4% Joseph Smith -- Believe he is a false prophet
4% History -- racism, polygamy....

Conversely I did an article a few years back with corresponding numbers for Evangelicals relative to people under 30s (includes Christians) and you can see the stark differences:
  • antihomosexual 91%
  • judgmental 87%
  • hypocritical 85%
  • old-fashioned 78%
  • too political 75%
  • out of touch with reality 72%
  • insensitive to others 70%
  • boring 68%
There was no complaints what-so-ever that people didn't know what Evangelicals stood for.  The Mormon list is primarily defined by knowing Mormons and elsewhere on the site they comment quickly on how knowing any Mormons drops the antagonism of these issues down.  Their religions doctrines seem to create opposition, and some level of fear.  But other than polygamy and history there is a complete lack of stuff Mormons have done that irritates people.  I was actually shocked proposition 8, or the anti-ERA position didn't show up.  I think in both cases the LDS took a strong political stand and then backed off when they started picking up enemies on the left faster than they were making friends from their activism.

This contrasts strongly with evangelicals where depending how you could only a single issue of doctrine is on the list, antihomosexual.  Rather everything else comes down to some variant of obnoxiousness.  And the percentages are much much higher.  Which is something I'd also point out to Mormons who seem intent on joining evangelicals.  This looks like a perfect case of out of the frying pan into the fire.

As an aside the authors give an example of where Mormonism becomes non-understandable , which I found interesting. The claim to be the only restored church is viewed very negatively.  Quite simply the vast majority of people are unable to even understand the claim that Mormons are making. Slightly rephrasing to this triple:
  1. Christ organized a church.
  2. Men changed it.
  3. It has been brought back.
Brings to light the vast majority of Christians are not rejecting #3 but rather have never considered #1 before.  Once the position is understand 48% agree immediately with point #1.  Of that 48%, 74% agree with point #2 immediately.  And that probably corresponds to a all but a few percent of non-Catholics,  And then from there 1/2 the people that agree to points #1 and #2 are willing to consider the Mormon claim for #3.  Once this is understood as 3 separate claims:
  • 17% -- Maybe Mormons are right
  • 36% -- Mormons are probably wrong
  • 29% -- Mormons are definitely wrong
  • 18% -- No opinion
Without the need for anything more than a 3 paragraph explanation.


See also

  • Poll on American attitudes towards Mormons from 2011 (link)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Orson Pratt and alternative organizations of matter

One of the things about Mormonism that is quite interesting is that it tries to address the issue of how spirit and body interact in a meaningful way.  That is what is the soul.  This is a key theme in Hellenism, on what basis would God communicate with man?  Cessationist Evangelical Christianity has essentially abandoned this question, God communicated through people in a book and now doesn't meaningfully talk.  Further in terms of soul, it officially takes the orthodox position of a bodily resurrection, while the membership more and more takes the position that such a thing is impossible and believes in a non-corporeal soul.  Which immediately raises the question in light of our modern understanding of the brain: what does the soul do that the body does not do?  Contemporary evangelical Christianity simply doesn't have an adequate answer to this question.

Mormonism conversely has a very different answer.  It essentially adopts hylozoism, "life generates form" that spirit is another form of matter that interacts with standard matter providing an organization.  God is thus expressed in laws of interaction and man's spirit is a participant component of the Godhead.  Spinoza was a well known advocate of this idea with Kant having been a well known opponent.  Martin Buber is probably the most recent prominent advocate.  This idea fit well within Deism, which is probably where Pratt encountered it.  Because of the Pantheistic overtones, most religions reject this theory and even in Mormonism it seems somewhat under developed in terms of specifics.

In modern usage there are 3 main schools of understanding regarding matter and determinism:
  • hylostatism The belief that the universe is deterministic, thus “static” in a four-dimensional sense,  classical mechanics, which was a view Orson Pratt was attacking at the time.  
  • hylostochastism The belief that the universe contains a fundamentally random or stochastic component, which has been proven by quantum mechanics.  
  • hylozoism The belief that the universe contains a fundamentally alive aspect, which is was discussed above.  That the structures have in some sense intent, a drive or an intelligence behind them.  
For Orson Pratt addresses the key argument was the mechanism for the organization of matter. He believed that matter was capable of different types of organizations and these types of matter would have different relationships to one another.   The first type of matter we know of baryon matter.  These are stable hadrons, quarks bound together,  organized in the way we typically think of matter organized.  This is the structure you heard all your life, protons and neutrons forming a nucleus with a negative charged electrons bound to them, forming molecular bonds via. chemical reactions.  This idea was just becoming understood during the period Pratt wrote on materialism.  Since he's died he have a bunch of examples of differently organized matter that we know of.

Of course in theory, we could imagine a situation with a negative charged nucleus and positive charged particles bound.  This is called antimatter, or anti-baryons.  This is exactly the same as traditional matter but with quarks who have reverse "spin".    This can be created in low energy situations because, certain types of traditional matter radioactive isotopes produce anti-matter (anti-baryon) emission during radioactive decay,  which is how a PETscan works.

Additionally we have found a virtual zoo of short lived hadrons. These are combinations of quarks that are fundamentally unstable. A far far greater number of organizations of matter then we had previous thought possible. In a dimension or an environment where certain physical constants were altered our traditional forms of matter (baryons) protons, neutrons, electrons...would be unstable and these other hadrons would be stable.

More recently we have discovered dark matter. This is a type of matter that we are able to detect by gravitational lensing and other effects but doesn't seem to exhibit any chemical or nuclear properties. Because of this it;s rather difficult to study but we can construct on paper a possible candidate the neutralino, but so far mostly haven't been able to prove or disprove this model.  What is interesting from Orson's perspective is if true dark matter only lightly interacts with traditional matter proving that matter can exist, can interact and can be virtually undetectable.

Another organization that is still rather speculative is dark energy. This is still theoretical and we don't have widely accepted models but it appears that dark energy exhibits a collective effect in large quantities and makes up most of the mass/energy of the universe.

So in short Orson Pratt proposed a type of organization of matter, he called spirit which is capable of some sort of reaction with baryons but isn't itself baryon.  The existence of such types of organizations of matter is now proven, and it appears there are plethora of examples.

Now to end on an apologetic note, there is frequently a claim that Mormons believe God lives with his spirit children on a planet called Kolob. Dark matter passes right through planets, as does dark energy.  Further a planet effects you because you have mass, and spirit matter doesn't have mass or at least not much mass, thus no gravitational effects.  If it did dead bodies would weigh less than living ones.   That is most of these different organizations or matter have vastly different properties a "planet" in the conventional sense would mean nothing to them, they wouldn't even "know it was there".   They would be stabilized / organized by entirely different sorts of structures.   So I think Mormons are absolutely correct to object.

What is interesting though is that Joseph Smith seems to have hinted at a solution in Abraham 3 where he does describe Kolob.   He describes it as exhibiting properties both of a star and a planet.   He also mentions one other curious property that time passes on Kolob at a rate of 1 day for every 1000 years on earth.  Taking this far more literally than Joseph Smith intended gives us some intriguing possibilities:
  1. Doing the math, sqrt(1-1/365250)  yields that Kolob moves at 99.99986% of the speed of light relative to earth.  Galaxies move faster from us the further away they are.  If that held up we could imagine Kolob as extremely far away.  But we have no evidence anything that far away exists and our theories about the size of the universe would be contradicted if it did.  Though, many Mormons do believe in an inflationary multiverse and this sort of speed is fully consistent with that view.
  2. If it were an object in the known universe just moving that fast it would have all sorts of weird properties whenever it came in contact with anything from our universe moving in sync with known galaxies.  At those sorts of high energies relativistic masses are enormous for even extremely lite objects.  That still wouldn't allow for unusual organizations of matter, but it would allow for what would highly unusual during "slow down".    
  3. The second possibility is this slowdown is caused by relativistic gravity, and the only place there would that much gravity is inside the event horizon of a black hole.  And of course black holes are one of the areas where the rules of quantum mechanics overwhelm classical constant and all sorts of bizarre organizations of matter are possible.  If we assume that Abraham really was a vision I could imagine someone in the 1840s being at a loss for how to describe events within the confines of a blackhole, somewhere between a planet and a star.  If we imagine spirits to be interacting with things near the event horizon that can escape, again we get unusual organization of matter there are immense amounts of heat energy available, billions of times what's available in the core of a normal star, which produce all sorts of quantum effects this is the theory of Hawking radiation.  In many ways that would meet all the criteria that Orson Pratt described. 
  4. Of course there are things like other dimensions. via super strings which have a different organization of matter, because there would be different physics constant and have the possibility of affecting baryon matter.  Assuming Orson Pratt were right, this is likely the most promising.  
In short the theory has held up rather well, and the idea that Mormons believe in a "planet" in the traditional sense is just unsupportable.  The term is being used in the sense of the book of Abraham not in the sense of a large rock circling a sun.


See also

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mormonism as Hermetic Christianity (part 3)

This is 3rd part where I finally address Mormonism more directly for background on Hermetic Christianity: Part1 Part2.  The idea that early Mormonism was Hermetic is not original to me.   The best known sources on this are (and they wrote in this order):
In fact it is so blatantly obvious as to be almost indisputable: Divining Rods, Treasure Digging, and Seer Stones; Ritual Magic, Astrology, Talismans (Jupiter talisman); Magic Parchments and Occult Mentors, magic dagger (Mars dagger)....

The King Follet Discourse itself presents a thoroughly Hermetic Christianity.
  • The eternal nature of man
  • The Doctrine of heavenly councils
  • The Plurality of Gods
  • Deification of Saints (theopoiesis or theosis)
  • Temple ordinances 
  • The Celestial Kingdom
Mormons often bristle at the mention of magic, "occult" and "magick" are loaded terms.  Magick is used in a Christian context to be supernatural activities that the religion either doesn't believe in or doesn't support; which tautologically wouldn't apply here. Occult is generally used to mean non-Christian religious activity / form of worship, which again wouldn't apply.   "Religious rite" would be a positive term.  If one believes the Eucharistic celebration, baptism, efficiency of prayer, reconciliation by confession, marriage, laying of hands / conferring of holy orders, anointing the sick are all magick actives.  They all rely on "as above, so below", they all assert that via. material manipulations supernatural events can be induced.   Without this core belief religion is reduced to a gathering of an ethical society, so really what distinguished the Mormon church was that it was re-introducing older rites back into a mainstream faith, that is doing precisely what it had always claimed to be doing restoring the church.

It is worth pointing out that Evangelical Christianity, rejects completely the notion of sacraments instead often asserting that there rituals are merely "ordinances",  demonstrations of faith that have no supernatural effects what-so-ever.  They can often be quite inconsistent in this view, but not withstanding Protestantism has been moving away from even the sacramental theology of Catholicism for its entire history.  Such an ideology is needless to say hostile to introductions of more religious rites, and especially claims that such rites are claimed to be efficacious.   There is no getting around this core disagreement between the Mormon church and Evangelical churches, but it is worth pointing out the core disagreement would be equally strong with the Catholic church.  Phillip Lee's Against the Protestant Gnostics, points out that generation by generation modern Protestants adopt point after point after point of the Gnostic positions on where they disagreed with the Orthodox.  There is no question that Gnosticism and Hermeticism looked at the world in fundamentally different ways, and still do today.

The 2nd generation of Mormons extended these ideas.  Orson Pratt argued that all life, including vegetable life was infused with celestial spirit.  Brigham Young asserted the divinity of Adam.  God himself was viewed as interacting with the universe Hermetically:
Universal Matter Is Indestructible. Matter is eternal, that is, everlasting. Whether the various forms of matter may be converted one into the other, is not definitely known. Any such conversion would, however, leave the total quantity of matter unchanged. God, the supreme Power, can not conceivably originate matter; he can only organize matter. Neither can he destroy matter. God is the Master, who, because of his great knowledge, knows how to use the elements, already existing, for the building of whatever he may have in mind. The doctrine that God made the earth or man from nothing becomes, therefore, an absurdity. The doctrine of the indestructibility of matter makes possible much theological reasoning that would be impossible without this doctrine. John Andreas Widtsoe, Rational theology as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints 
and from this comes the a Hermetic doctrine of salvation:
Self-effort, the conscious operation of will, has moved man onward to his present high degree. However, while all progress is due to self-effort, other beings of power may contribute largely to the ease of man's growth. God, standing alone, cannot conceivably possess the power that may come to him if the hosts of other advancing and increasing workers labor in harmony with him. Therefore, because of his love for his children and his desire to continue in the way of   even greater growth, he proceeded to aid others in their onward progress. John Andreas Widtsoe, Rational theology as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints
So the 2nd generation was continuing the themes of Joseph Smith's work, divinity of Adam is implied in Doctrine and Covenants 27:11; 116:1; 138:38, but made explicit in 1852.  Now its interesting this is the same time that polygamy becomes institutionalized.   That is, if we look at the Joseph Smith, Joseph and possibly a small number of leaders practice plural marriage, and often this involves little more than having sex with multiple woman as they continue to reside with their previous husbands.  Sect leaders acting as "alpha males" and having sex with multiple female members is not out of the ordinary.  Other leaders like Brigham Young are marrying widows who would be unlikely to find new husbands, essentially he seems to be primary funding and modeling a social security program.

What is out of the ordinary is the polygamy that starts in 1852, here you have 20-33% of the men in the church having 2 and quite often more wives.  Humans produce male and female children in roughly equal numbers, polygamous households would create a massive shortage of marriageable women.    I can see only 4 possibilities for how this would play out in practice:

  1. There is a wide age discrepancy men and their wives, men marry late women early.  The problem with this scenario is that it creates a large number of middle aged widows, who naturally do not wish to remain chaste for life and a large number of men who until their 30s are getting their sexual activity elsewhere.  This is basically the situation in the high middle ages, which I described in a defense against patriarchy part 5.  We see no signs of this, in fact the whole reason Joseph is marrying women is because the church is so firmly opposed to extra marital sex.    
  2. Same sort of age discrepancy as the first situation but with a small number of women with a large number of male lovers, essentially a prostitution culture.  Again, given the opposition to extra marital sex this is unlikely.  We have no record of anything like this.
  3. Effective polyandry.  That would be a situation where the head of household marries a woman and shares him with his sons until they are old enough to establish their own households.   This is not an uncommon human sexual arrangement, for example it is the norm still in Tibet (though in this case brothers share).    But, there is 0 evidence for it being the norm in 1850s Utah.  
  4. There was an over abundance of women.  Given the Mormons were actively engaging in missions, if say 70+% of the recruits were female and they were losing even a small number of missionaries to apostasy, this would create a huge imbalance.  
So if for a moment we assume (4) is what actually was the case, we see immediately the problem.  The women recruits need to be fed and housed.  One could have large numbers of women living in sort of convent setup, or amply opportunity for women to work and live alone.  But given a gender imbalance new recruits might not have an opportunity to marry, and whether they did or didn't without widespread polygamy the culture would have had a large number of sexually available women, creating lots of extra marital sex.  So an ethical way to handle that would by polygamy.   And if you ask what sorts of women would have been attracted to a Hermetic faith, the budding Spiritualist movement comes immediately to mind.  Young women from conservative backgrounds unhappy with their strict lifeless churches, would easily be drawn into the affirming Mormon faith of the 1850s.  Moreover polygamy effectively creates a situation of a male head of household and a large number of women in a relationship of sisterhood, and a desire for female bonding and not the isolation of 1850s middle class America drew in a lot of the Spiritualists and drew them away from Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Anglican... churches.

So the 2nd generation of Mormon leaders had a membership that was primarily composed of either the the children of the religious radicals that had followed Joseph in Kirtland, in Zion in Nauvoo or Spiritualist female converts.  Every step Brigham Young took towards Hermetic Christianity would have been met with strong approval.  The goal was integration and maintaining them within the church authority, "ministrations for the salvation and exaltation of the world can only be obtained  by one holding the keys of the oracles of God, as a medium  through  which  the  living  can  hear  from  the  dead." (Journal of Discourses, , 1:36, 1855).  Brigham Young said:
"You are right," say I. Yes, we belong to that higher order of Spiritualism; our revelations are from above, yours from beneath. This is the difference. We receive revelation from Heaven, you receive your revelations from every foul spirit that has departed this life, and gone out of bodies of robbers, murderers, highwaymen, drunkards, thieves, liars and every kind of debauched character, whose spirits are floating a round here, and searching and seeking whom they can destroy; for they are the servants of the devil, and they are permitted to come now to reveal to the people. . . . That is the difference between the two spiritual systems—yes, this is the higher order of spiritualism, to be led, governed and controlled by law, and that, too, the law of heaven that governs and controls the Gods and the angels. (Brigham Young,  "The  Word  of Wisdom—Spiritualism,"  JD 13:274-83, 281)

But in the 3rd generation this completely shifts.  We can see this immediate by looking at the temples.  First generation temples like Nauvoo are loaded with Hermetic symbolism, the image on the left is a "sunstone" known to occultists as the symbol for Ba'al.

Second generation temples are simlarly Hermetic, Salt Lake City for examples has: Earthstones, Moonstones, Sunstones, Cloudstones, Starstones, a representation of the big dipper,  clasping hands, all-seeing eye (the most fameous Hermetic symbol derived from the eye of Horus, from eye of Ra and before that the eye hieroglyph of the goddess Wadjet).

Third generation temples feature geometric shapes in a sort of toned down art deco style.  The art is so de-personel except for a few details like the baptistry could be mosques.

Religiously a neo-orthodoxy starts which emphasizes the atonement of Jesus rather than traditional Mormon teachings.  And moreover there is almost no progression towards Hermeticism.  Mormons stop in this generation and from the 1950s outright reverse course.  I suspect there are 3 reasons for this:
  1. The church is no longer being led by religious radicals, but rather conservatives.  The leaders the 1880 church are not the sort of men who would have joined with a wild young prophet in Kirtland, even missionary efforts start to fall off.   
  2. The membership is 4th generation and Mormons don't want the struggles of being outside the mainstream.
  3. The changes in Spiritualism have made Spiritualist bad recruits and at the same time Mainline Christianity is amenable to restoration.  So the church needs to emphasize its similarities with mainline Christianity.   
  4. The Spiritualism inside the church is becoming more threatening to the Mormon faith.  

(1) and (2) are frequently discussed.  And its important to understand the the 3rd generation of leadership was acting broadly in line with these goals:

  • The abolition of Christian Socialism.  Mormons would no longer have a closed economy but engage the larder American economy. 
  • A generation later Mormons would abandon the People's Party (the Mormon party in Utah) and instead become Republicans and Democrats.
  • Polygamy was abandoned.
  • Rather than wanting distance from the American government the Mormon church worked hard to address the issues preventing Utah from becoming a state. 

But (3) and (4) have not been raised, and I think it gives insight into why the Mormon church is becoming more mainstream.   In 1877  Helena Petrovna Blavatsky bursts onto the religious scene with the immensely popular and influential Isis Unveiled.   Isis Unveiled, transformed Hermetic Christianity and the spiritual movement.  Up until then the movement had seen itself as restoring a better form of Christianity, peeling off layer after layer of dead traditions that pulled one away from the simple pure message of Jesus.    Blavatsky threw down the gauntlet, the picture you see to the right is not Jesus, its Dionysus from hundreds of years before Christianity emerged.  As we talked about briefly in the first part, Jesus emerged from dying reborn gods: Hermes Trismegistus and Sophia.  Behind them stand: Adonis, Tammuz, Amun-Mir, Attis and back another layer Horus, the son of Isis, Isis unveiled as the mother of all faiths.

The problem for restorationist Christianity is the layers are the onion.  Everything is pagan if you go back far enough, religious debates are more than anything else about which pagan gods to follow in their modern forms.  I suspect the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, like all Hermitic Christians, were shook by Blavatsky.  I think the 3rd generation of church leaders, saw where their fellow travelers a few steps ahead had gone and lost their nerve, they began to doubt in a truly profound way Joseph Smith's vision in 1820 and where it led, and froze in their tracks.  And from there started to regress slowly back to the Evangelical mainstream.

Moreover just as the dynamics of missionary activity and membership had encouraged the 2nd generation in building towards Joseph's vision the dynamics of the Isis Unveiled moved things in the opposite direction.  The new Spiritualists stopped being Hermetic and became Gnostic with groups like  Theosophy and Christian Science being the mainstream.  Gnosticism, with its deep suspicion of any temporal leadership especially religious leadership and its profound individualism would have run counter to everything the church would desire in recruits.  Spiritualists from the late 1870s on, would have been terrible missionary candidates, very difficult to integrate after their baptism.  Finally, because the church had recruited heavily among Spiritualists it had deep problems in preventing this new anti-authoritarian Spiritualism from infecting the church.   Quite simply the bridge no longer served its purpose.

At the same time, mainstream Christianity was itself going through a quest for Christian primitivism.  What would become Liberal Christianity was fermenting in every mainstream denomination.  The idea that the creeds were an artificial barrier to understanding the scriptures, was no longer a radical idea.  Moreover, a critique that the bible was not the inerrant word of God, but rather an inaccurately transmitted creation of church was becoming more mainstream.  Why go after a niche when the broader public was available?

The next hundred years would be a time of the LDS more and more and more integrating into the mainstream of America and trying to make the Mormon faith seem absolutely mainstream.  But the membership appears to not share that goal and has held on to the revelations of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  When McConkie's Mormon Doctrine was pulled Sandra Tanner commented on the radio (link)
I believe the main reason McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” was taken out of print was due to its candid discussion of LDS doctrines that the church is now trying to hide. Such teachings as God once being a man, his wife–Heavenly Mother, and Jesus being the literal, physical son of God are just a few of the doctrines that are being minimized in current manuals. If the LDS Church felt “Mormon Doctrine” presented a faulty compilation of their doctrines, why haven’t they issued an authorized compendium of their beliefs? Mormons often say to me, “That’s not official doctrine” as though there was some place to look up the official teachings. Where is the official systematic theology of Mormonism?
And that leads us to where we are today.  A church leadership intent on mainstreaming a radical form of Christianity.  A constant tug of war between the goals of restoration of the primitive church, and a desire to acceptance.  Arguably repeating the very mistakes that led to the great apostasy (see part 2 on the orignal death of Hermetic Christianity).

I hope this argument proves for both Evangelicals and Mormons that Hermetic Christian offers a compromise meeting the goals I set out in the first part of this essay.   Now I'd like to comment on why its something Mormons should enthusiastically embrace:

Lady Gaga, the number one entertainer in the world, has built an empire on the emotional and intellectual draw of Hermetic imagery.  Its not just her presentation its her content.  The video for Bad Romance is a phenomenal exposition of what Mormons would call the estates of progression and atonement.  Like Song of Songs it uses sex as a metaphor, for the relationship with God, which generally makes conservatives uncomfortable, though Mormons I suspect less so given a theology in which God is a father in a more literal sense.  I'd challenge any Mormon to watch the video, which opens with the scratched star (link to this symbol from the DC temple), moves right on to birth in spirit vs. birth in flesh, talking in the mirror reflecting the relationship between spirit and flesh in prayer, birth in water (Eve) in innocence...her flashing the all-seeing eye  and not see obvious material for a dozen sermons?  What other church with millions of members and a missionary culture has a symbology tied to their theology that incorporates this symbolism?  Who else can explain in a Christian context what those visuals mean?  This is a slow-ball they should have been able to hit out of the park.

And this video isn't uniquely rich.   Judas presents salvation where the Lady Gaga character rejects Jesus choosing Judas instead fails to be saved and becomes the Whore of Babylon in Revelations.  Just about any Christian could present the theology in those verses but only the Mormon and Catholic churches have a semiotics rich enough to explore the accompanying visuals, and the Catholic church lacks a missionary culture.  I'm not suggesting a theology book based on Lady Gaga for Mormons, I suspect the amount skin shown makes her a problematic source, but rather the fact that the number one musical act to come along in a long time is preaching their message and they won't take advantage is depressing.

Mormons are gong to have a culture conflict with any modern Hermetic Christianity.  But putting the problems aside, we live in a a time when youth are losing all interest in churches and retention is terrible, there is one major church in the United States and possibly the world with the resources, missionary culture, understanding and theology to fill this gap, a desire to relate to God expressed Hermetically.  The Mormon church has the ace of trump for the millennial generation. But as we discussed above over the last 100 years rather than embrace their Hermetic aspects the Mormon church has been losing their distinctives:  these videos are the temple imagery acted out.

The Mormon church was founded by a man with no official station who used divination to arrive at new revelations and understandings of the scriptures.   Was that a legitimate activity?     The church still claims prophetic powers, though rarely uses them. Judaism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity all claim the time of revelation is over and now all we can do is study the existing revelations and draw meanings. Christian mysticism allows for personal insights but argues that drawing doctrinal conclusions is illegitimate.  In the 21st century does the Mormon church want to be the sort of place it was in the 19th century or the sort of place the 19th century Mormons were fleeing?

Back in the 1950s there was a move within the Seventh Day Adventist church to eliminate the few remaining distinctives that prevented them from being seen as orthodox, to join the Evangelical mainstream.  The book Questions on Doctrine, was a series of answers to questions that toned down Adventist beliefs, getting them to just barely qualify.   In their case it was being driven by their academics who wanted to be able to speak and not just attend Evangelical conferences.  The Adventist membership reacted strongly, in their mind if they had wanted to join an Evangelical church they would have.   And today I still don't see 7th Day Adventists invited to Evangelical conferences as speakers, Evangelicals still detest Ellen White.

For the Mormons, they could throw out 90% of their distinctives and still not be where the Adventists were in the 1950s.   Ellen White wrote commentaries about the bible, Joseph Smith wrote (translated) his own bible.   Ellen White shifted the theological focus of salvation from Romans to Hebrews with its heavenly sanctuary, Brigham Young redefined heaven.    The unique characteristics of the Mormon church are what make it so special.  The Mormon church should play to its plentiful strengths, it should happily identify as Hermetic Christians.


See also:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

C. J. Mahaney stepping down

I've posted twice before regarding SGM Sovereign Grace Ministries which was a look at structural problems in their discipline process and Sovereign Grace Ministries' use of demotivational methods which was a particular abusive technique they made heavy use of which was a distinctive. The leader of SGM C. J. Mahaney is stepping down. Note on his blog, note from the board, leaked documents regarding the dispute.  C.J. heads up Together for the Gospel, and is bringing in his friends from that organization to guide him during his stepping down.

I'd like to congratulate the people at the various SGM blogs: SGM Survivors, SGM Refuge, Spiritual Tyranny, Wartburg Watch, SGM Uncensored .  Mahaney has been a major leader in the whole New Calvinism movement.  So far the issues being discussed are internal problems regarding Mahaney creating problems with other pastors, rather than the more widespread  longstanding pattern of abuse of membership.  Its the authoritarian culture that's the problem, Mahaney, as dictators go is not unusually bad.  Part of being a dictator is terrorizing or at least intimidating those around you, that's the job.  If you don't like the behavior don't create authoritarian structures that necessitate it.

So the doctrinal and structural problems remain.  But what has changed is the problems are being widely talked about on the web.  When Joshua Harris rereleased Boy meets Girl the fact that 2 of the couples in his previous edition were getting divorced was public knowledge.  Stories about church facilitated sexual abuses have leaked.  Stories about embezzlement have leaked.  Stories about wrongful terminations, ruined marriages, and how miserable so many women are in SGM have leaked.   SGM is not able to act in secrecy anymore and the blogs above, and several others that were active over the last few years are responsible.

I don't have much to say other than this was an important step in people banding together to try and prevent the sorts of rampant abuses in authoritarian churches.  And the offer I made to Josh Harris 3 years ago remains open.  If SGM wants to start trying to build structures to stop abuses rather than to facilitate them I'd love to engage in constructive conversation.


Post Script (Feb 2, 2012)

It appears that way these allegations were handled was to create a biased board that investigated it and exonerate C.J. Mahaney.  The results are still not published, but the underlying facts to present Mahaney as having threatened someone to keep them silent years ago.   I'm not sure what is going to ever get published but I'll update here as more information becomes available:

See also:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mormonism as Hermetic Christianity (part 2)

We take up our story where part 1 ended in the middle of the 2nd century with a spectrum between Hermetic Christianity and Gnostic Christianity with Orthodox Christianity choosing between them.    Gnosticism and (proto-)Catholicism fought throughout the 2nd and 3rd centuries for control of the Christian narrative.  Hermetic Christianity conversely submitted to the discipline of the Church.  The Church didn't persecute Hermetics within its body, the study of magick and science while mostly discouraged was not seen as a major threat. Even additional religious rites weren't seen as a major threat  since the people performing them and the people receiving them identified them as part of Catholic church and submitted to the discipline of the Church on the issue of rites.  That is 2nd and 3rd century Hermetic Christianity was mostly a movement within the Catholic Church, while 2nd and 3rd century Gnostic Christianity was mostly a movement alongside it.

And this friendly relationship meant that on the key points of debate in 3rd century Christianity the Catholics adopted many of the Hermetic viewpoint.  Sacraments are, in keeping with Hermetic Christianity, not representations of supernatural events but rather earthly processes by which supernatural events occur, "as above so below".  For a Catholic, the Eucharistic celebration involves a magick transformation of the host and eating the actual physical cracker in and of itself induces a supernatural change, "the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us." (see Mysterium Fidei, for the official doctrines).     And one sees the same thing in the LDS, ordinances, their word more-or-less for sacraments, are actual requirements for exaltation (the good thing you are aiming for in the Mormon faith).  And this contrasts completely with the Protestant notion that the Eucharist is an act of prayer and nothing more than a symbolic reenactment, the host/cracker does not in and of itself possess supernatural powers.  Philip Lee's Against the Protestant Gnostics, has an excellent discussion of the drift in Protestant thought into essentially agreeing with Gnosticism on almost every point of dispute between Catholics and Gnostics (about 1/3rd of the book is available via. the link).

Moreover Hermeticism, Hermetic Paganism, was also on friendly terms with Catholic Christianity.   Catholics began to view Hermes Trismegistus as a great Egyptian King who had lived in the time of Moses and his wisdom as important and key insights.  The Hermetics preached that a proper religion should moderate between pure rationality and pure dogma, that the truth lay in-between those two extremes, was essentially an apologetic for Catholic Christianity as opposed to many of the then contemporary forms of paganism which fell on one side or the other.    And so by the end of the 3rd century of any kind of distinct Hermetic Christianity was gone.   Hermetic Christians had either become Hermetic leaning Catholics or Hermetic Pagans. Hermeticism itself began absorbing Christian thought because of the friendly dialogue and an offshoot form of 1/2 pagan, 1/2 Christian sect developed, Hermes Christianus which was quite often a way point between conversaion away from paganism to Christianity, a bridge religion.  Hermeticism died in the 5th century, along with the rest of paganism. And if we identify Hermetic Christianity as the true Christianity, then this death and absorption of Hermetic Christianity, becomes a plausible historical defensible version of the great apostasy that matches the traditional Mormon timelines.  And while it was a peaceful death one wonders if Hermetic Christianity had fought, had beaten Orthodoxy, and become the mainstream faith we would be looking at a Christianity of:
  • Sacramental theology especially expressed via. church / temple rituals with a magical flavor.
  • Legalism.
  • Diffuse ambiguous theology drawn from a multiplicity of conflicting sources and open acknowledgement of that rather than hiding behind dogmatic assertions.
  • Monotheism with an underlying polytheism. 
  • Syncretism, an openness to multiple forms of revelation.  In particular an open canon.      
  • A desire to engage creation, to improve it, not to escape from it.
  • A desire to improve and develop one's self.  In particular the doctrine of metempsychosis, that human soul is perfected during a series of earthly lives; essentially purgatory on earth. 
  • The idea that salvation is not binary but a degree.  
Does that not sound like Mormonism?

Between the 6th and 10th centuries there is almost no hint of Hermetic activity in any existant literature.    In the early 11th century Hermeticism has a revival in the European monasteries.  And in this revival we see many of the themes that will come to dominate the Enlightenment.    These monks believed that because God is the author of the universe, God's makes his will known through his actions on the material universe.  Because we have such clear access our primary source of revelation should be natural.  In keeping with that belief that God is not silent they felt that today just as in the ancient world we can establish supernatural contact with the spirit realm and achieve revelation (prophecy in Mormonism).   Dogma / revelation is a source of knowledge it is not the definition of all that is to be learned.  Knowledge of science and magick grants to men new powers and thus new temptations, but these powers even if they appear intrinsically evil can be used for the good.   The legend of Faust (link to plot summary), which originated around the same time, is an exploration of exactly these themes in myth.  Faust takes knowledge and power from the devil, falls into temptation, but mostly tries and succeeds in doing good with the devil's assistance, and in the end is saved and the devil defeated.

These monks created a new Latin body of literature from the Greek, Coptic and Aramaic originals making a Corpus of works and collecting them.  During the Renaissance collections of Hermetic works began to circulate.   Before moving on to to the Renaissance and the Reformation its worth commenting that, Hermetic Christianity as the term is "officially used" does not include the folk religions, even those magical aspects, that existed alongside this rebirth in the Monasteries.  Hermetic Christianity, is Egyptian and incorporates  Egyptian / Hellenistic notions of magick not the kinds of Germanic magic one sees on the continent. However it would be fair to say that this folk magick was Hermetic in spirit, and perhaps Hermeticism of the highly educated monks was inspired by the folk magick coming from the last remnants of European paganism.

Hermetica is the term for any Hermetic books.  A particular set of translated collections of works, called the Corpus Hermeticum, circulated widely by the end the 15th century.  Alexandrian Christianity, with its mixture of ideas from Orthodox Christianity, Egyptian Paganism, Neo-Platonism, Judaism freely drawing from, contrasting and exploring these things fit with the mood of the Renaissance.   All of Europe was trying to figure how to intermix their culture with ancient wisdom and here was a model.

Potentially we could have had a Hermetic reformation, but the Hermetic revival was killed off by two main things.  First  Isaac Casaubon showed that the Corpus Hermeticum could not possible date to the time of Moses (i.e. the still believed Christian dating for Hermes Trismegistus) but rather to 3rd century Egypt.  Secondly the success of science in so many areas caused magick to go out of fashion.  And by the early 17th century the Corpus as an inspiration in the mainstream was dead, the Corpus Hermeticum stopped circulating widely and became of interest primarily to scholars.

However, the Corpus was the only definitive guide to magick that existed in Europe at the time.  So while no longer mainstream among European intellectuals the Corpus did remain active starting from the mid 18th century among European occultists.  Those people in alchemy (supernatural transformation of materials) and theurgy (union with supernatural forces to gain, powers or insights). This existed side by side with 18th century sexual radicals who were interested in sex magick, as John Wilkes put it, "to celebrate woman in wine and adding ideas from the ancients just to make the experience more decadent".   And when we talk about Christian Hermeticism today what we generally mean groups that are continuous with the 18th century occultists, and from this arises the cultural problem I alluded to the in first part of this essay.   These European occultists, and from the 19th century on their American and Canadian cousins, continued to advance our knowledge of Hermetic literature and have conducted innumerable quality research projects, so today a modern student, even one not interested in magick but just history, is in their debt.

In the 19th century though the situation was quite different.  Occultist studies became popular again with the middle class in Europe in 1845.  And the scholarly translations began to recirculate along with a pletora of new materials that had been researched over the preceding century by the occultists.  This movement exploded on the American scene as the American spiritualist movement in 1848.  The Spiritualist movement was middle class in its orientation and while drawing inspiration from the literature wouldn't associate socially with libertine upper class variety.    American Spiritualism in this first generation definitely identified as Christian.  They saw themselves as practicing a form of the Christian faith that used supernatural means to gain revelations form the spiritual realm.   The defining beliefs were:
  • Communication with spirits.
  • The ability for the soul to improve after death.
  • Legalism and a strong belief in personal responsibility.  
  • Christian language though quite often over various non Orthodox theologies like Pantheism or Gnostic Christianity,   
  • A rejection of a view of God as harsh, sending unbaptized infants to hell.  
  • Political support for abolition and woman's rights. This often led to a rejection of traditional churches that were opposed or ambivalent on these issues.  
Again, 1850s Christian Spiritualism were less radical than the 1880- variety most people are familiar with.  Christian Spiritualism sought to enhance Christianity, not repudiate it.   Their argument was with the Christian churches, not the Christian God.  While Christian Science is a bit radical for what existed at the time it is right sort of model.   But like Christian Science today, from a cultural standpoint it was a religion for Protestant woman, women mostly growing up in a Reformed tradition that were unwilling to accept a traditional role of submission and cultural isolation.  This massively popular social movement lasted for 3 generations and by the time it was done had transformed every church in America. It is my contention that its influence was particularly felt by the Mormon church,  that a huge number of these women in the 1850s joined the Mormon church, a church was already amenable to the ideas of Hermetic Christianity and in doing so moved the Mormon church outside the realm of Charismatic Christianity into a new distinctive form of Hermetic Christianity.

In the next section we are going to have to back two decades to the 1830s and talk about the development of the Mormon church prior to the arrival of American spiritualism.  That the Mormon church was even during the Joseph Smith years leaning heavily in a Hermetic direction, that it already had most of the aspects of Hermetic Christianity already in place.  And thus the Mormon church would have been amenable to the theology and attractive as a religious option for American Spiritualists.  It's my contention that most of truly distinctive doctrines of the Mormon church that developed under Brigham Young, including the normalization of polygamy and the infinite regression of Gods, can be explained by this wave of converts reinforcing an already existing motif.    Between 1850 and 1870 American churches were not in a growth phase in general (link) but the Mormon church grew from around 20,000 to 80,000 persons, even while experiencing persecution. So our 3rd part will concern itself with the history of the Mormon church.

Link to part3.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mormonism as Hermetic Christianity (part 1)

I have to admit to being remarkably ignorant about the Mormon religion prior to a few weeks ago.  I had always viewed Mormonism as a legalistic branch of Christianity combined with a ridiculous story about Jesus having come to America to preach to American Indians.   For all the exotic religions from the ancient world, from the middle ages, from the more recent past, I'd explored I never looked at a faith with 6 million modern day Americans with anything more than a passing glance because I assumed there would be nothing interesting to see.   And just recently with one of those passing glances I did a double take.  I ran into an internet discussion with a bunch of religious Mormons the kind that don't know what coffee tastes like and were married by 23, using authors from History of Religions in a religious debate, the sort of authors and more importantly concepts that usually only atheists or radical theologians would cite; and the Mormons showed clear signs of having read, understood and at least in some part approving of those books.

And so I was caught off guard, so I read more and more of the discussions on that board, and saw ideas from esoteric Christianity,  what looked to me like ideas from Rosicrucianism, being used casually.  A bunch of people who all think George W. Bush was a good president, citing religious ideas that Paul Tillich might think but would figure too radical to speak?  This warranted more investigation.  And after a few weeks I've come to the conclusion that Morminism is genuinely cool.   A truly new American religion, a blend of ingredients I've never seen before.  That would be worthy of discussion in and of itself but a month ago if you would have asked me, "what would happen if a Conservative version of Helena Blavatsky had set up a mainstream church that grew to millions and thinks it's part of Evangelical Christianity"? I would have considered the question an oxymoron, not even possible enough to warrant discussion,  until I looked at Brigham Young's church.  I must admit I'm still getting over the idea of KJVonlyists who are to the left of Elizabeth Johnson on re-imaging God with Holy Mother(s).   If you are someone who likes this blog, and haven't looked into Mormonism, I'll stop you right here and say this is religion worth looking at.  It is frankly amazing that such a thing even exists much less is a church with million and millions of members, who have been in the church for 5-7 generations plus new recruits.  It is shattering many of my assumptions about what is possible.

Mormons defines itself as a close cousin of Evangelical Christianity   Evangelical Christianity defines itself first and foremost in terms of adherence to Protestant doctrines.  Protestantism defines itself based on: its definition of scripture, faith defined by creeds, its understanding of grace within a narrow band between Luther and Calvin, a creedal understanding of Christ, and a rejection of sacramental theology. All 5 of which are contradicted by Mormon theology, and contradicted not by a little bit, either.  From an evangelical standpoint 7th day Adventists, sit on the border between Christianity and heresy; Jehovah's witnesses while Christian are preaching clear cut heresies and Mormons well is just another religion.The paradox that gets beaten to death on the web is "Is Mormon Christian?"  Now the average evangelical who understands something about Mormonism usually responds with some variation of, "What are you kidding?"

Ah but... Mormonism is a very theologically tolerant religion.   It takes an open view of relationship between theology and religion, we are not saved by our knowledge of biblical doctrine.  Catholicism fought against the ancient alternative forms of Christianity with a: one God, one creed, one Bishop slogan.  And while Protestant Christianity has rejected the "one Bishop" in their mind that requires they cling all the more tightly to "one creed".   So,  is it really fair to use a evangelical standard, or can we possibly come up with some sort of neutral standard?  There wouldn't even be a question if Mormonism didn't identify heavily with Evangelical Christianity, but it does, and further culturally and linguistically there are a lot of similarities.  It would be hard to imagine someone who didn't take the ties with Evangelical Christianity serious writing an argument or an article like the Apostle's creed and the book of Mormon.   Self identification is a key criteria, so we should treat it as respectfully as possible.  As an aside, the argument about the Apostle's creed IMHO ducks the key issue, most evangelicals are willing to grant that at the time the book of Mormon was authored Joseph Smith was still essentially Christian in his religious views, its the developments after that, the beliefs that are held over and beyond those which are of at this point the largest source of conflict.  And this is evidenced by the fact that a more mainstream group than the LDS, a group that rejects the later revelations, The Community of Christ, joined the NCC in 2010 (link), without the later revelations there simply is not nearly the same degree of theological hurdles.  

So I actually have something different to say about this never ending debate; a possible compromise on the "is Mormon Christian" debate which:
  1. Is historically accurate and is not an abuse of language.  
  2. Is supportive of Mormon theology regarding being a restored church.  It provides some genuine historical meat to what is otherwise a vague claim, making "we are the re-established, original Christian church" plausible in a genuine historical context, capable of holding up to scrutiny and scholarship.     
  3. Is respectful of the theological objections that Catholics and Protestants express towards Mormonism by openly acknowledging their "non-normative" theology.  
  4. Offers a plausible theory for how the distinctive aspects of the Mormon faith developed as quickly as they did, and why Mormonism diverged from "normative" Christianity as far as it did under Brigham Young.  
What I'm proposing is that we answer the question in the affirmative, Mormonism is a form of Hermetic Christianity, a form of Christianity that coexisted in the ancient world along with Catholic Christianity, and has continued to off and on exist throughout the next two millennia.    Before getting into my argument for that answer let me first qualify by saying there are a few problems with this solution.  
  1. The Mormon church is probably over ten-times the size of all the other Hermetic churches worldwide, put together.  Mainline or Evangelical Christianity are big enough that the Church of Later Day Saints could be "just another denomination" if grouped with Hermetic Christianity the Mormon church would redefine the entire group.
  2. Culturally they are not a fit.  Hermetic Christianity has a 1000 year history of having essentially always been associated with political and/or sexual radicalism.  Hermetic Christian churches further have a more limited ecclesiology,  they aim to be an activity their members engage in, they make no attempt to form an inter-generational relationship guiding their lives.     
  3. Because of (2) above, this doesn't address the core issue in terms of ecumenical dialogue, which is I suspect the main reason Mormons want to identify as Evangelical Christians.  The religions themselves travel in different circles.  Hermetic Christians groups in today's world along with Gnostic Christianity,   form a bridge between the left end of Liberal Christianity and Neopaganism, New Age movement, Spiritualism...  Its unlikely the people in those groups know who Al Mohler or John MacArthur even are, much less have a desire for their acceptance.  If evangelicals came in contact with Hermetic Churches, while the counter arguments would be different, the level of hostility would likely be almost equally high.  
So a fairly good case could be made that this article is irrelevant, I'm just ducking the issue.  But I think its worth a conversation as a possible compromise.   So lets start with a quick discussion about what is Hermeticism and Hermetic Christianity.  In the ancient world, Hermeticism was a branch of Egyptian paganism created after Alexander the Great, merging the cults of Hermes, the Greek messenger (writing) god, the source of hidden wisdom, and for later Greeks the Logos; and Thoth an Egyptian god, the only begotten son of Ra the high god, who was the teacher of man, the god of writing.
 The attraction for both sides was a well developed magick (we'll adopt the Hermetic convention of using magic for a form of stagecraft involving illusion and magick for ritual activities aimed at altering the material world through supernatural means) cult in each of the respective religions.   Hermeticism became an international religion, centered in Egypt, focused on creating a synthesis between Platonic philosophy and its religious offshoots with more traditional, religious forms.  To left you see pictured the Hermetic symbol, the symbol of Hermes Trismegistus,  their merged God which has the the Ankh of Thoth merged with the twin snakes  of Hermes.  For later Hellenists, Hermes Trismegistus was the Logos who had become incarnate to teach man hidden wisdoms of the high God, including the magick healing i.e. medicine.  You can see the obvious derivation with today's modern symbol for medicine, pictured to the right.  I'll won't focus on the obvious symbolism of the cross but will (link) and mention in the Coptic church even today you can see Ankh crosses, hybrids between the Ankh and the cross and these go back to the 1st century.

In many ways this was exactly the goal of Hellenistic Judaism, to create a merger between Jewish ritual and theology with Greek culture and philosophy.  This friendly alliance between Hermitics and Hellenistic Jews was strengthened with Julius Caesar's and Mark Anthony's conquest of Egypt.  Hermetics rejected Roman rule and got involved political resistance, Jews were fighting the occupation of Judea and Roman customs and laws like circumcision prohibitions; another great friendship forged based on "the enemy of my enemy".    This merger is evidence in both the literature and archeology of 1st century Judaism, its from this period that we find a wealth of Jewish magical amulets all over the ancient world using Hermetic incantations modified with Jewish / Babylonian angels rather than Egyptian / Greek names.   Jewish Hermeticism sought to reinterpret Hermes Trismegistus with the Logos, the divine word or message reinterpret as Torah (the first 5 books of the old testament), the Word of God in essentially modern usage.  Now if we consider the Gospel of Mark for a moment
  • A long Jewish midrash, a religious biography of a messianic character constructed from the Septuagint.
  • Miracles of healing including their wording a magical character (see for example Morton's Smith, Jesus the Magician for a long discussion of magick as a theme of Mark).  
  • An adoptionist view of Jesus, in particular a description, bird and all (Mark 1:9-11), of the Hermetic magick rite for gaining divine powers.
  • The idea that the God, has secrets (the Messianic secret) openly only to the select few, a motif that hadn't appeared in Judaism to this point but was common in Hermeticism.  
  • A focus on baptism, common for Jewish baptismal cults.
  • The Hermetic eating the god rite, eucharist, presented in a Jewish context (Mark 14:22-26).  
Hermetic Jews / proto-Christians are by far the community most likely to have authored Mark.    The same relationship that Mark has to Matthew and Luke (Mack the Knife, and biblical development) is founding underlying the Gospel of John, is a Signs Gospel which presents a list of earthly miracle worker in the Jewish community as a savior (see my post Bultmann's order for John for more on the construction of the Gospel of John).  A focused tie on the connection between magick and revelation of truth which could have emerged from a Hermetic Jewish / proto-Christian community.

In terms of the Epistles, we also run into some pretty clear evidence in Colossians 2:8-23:

  • Col 2:8, Col 2:20 manipulation of matter through spirits, secret magick rituals; 
  • Col 2:11 circumcision, the importance of earthly acts to control powers,  Hermeticism is not gnostic "as above is below" is the core idea of magick.  
  • Col 2:16-17 special ritual holidays
  • Col 2:18 angel worship, a truly distinctive part of Hermetic Judaism provides the strongest evidence for the identification
  • Col 2:21-23 legalism, a focus on ritual purity for the laity.  
The opponents in Galatians, the Judaizers, with their demand for an earthly circumcision could very easily have been Hermetic proto-Christians.  Interestingly enough, Paul's own methodology, of searching through scripture for mystical revelation has a Hermetic feel but then the lack of earthly action is Gnostic.  And can view Paul, a 2nd generation Christian trying to steer the church between the two extreme of Hermeticism and proto-Gnosticism.   Corinthians provides a wonderful example where he seems to be confronted with a congregation unable to decide whether material things are of no importance (Gnosticism) or what is bound on earth is bound in heaven (Hermeticism).  We can imagine the world of Paul, confronting a Hermetic i.e. messianic congregation which has seen its earthly expectations of redemption crushed under Roman might.  Jewish / Christian Gnosticism started as a reaction against what the Jews believes was their defeated god, fake god, a god who had promised that his faithful would be redeemed and then allowed them to be humiliated and defeated.  Paul's message that it was not an earthly redemption, and far from a defeat that the cross represented a heavenly triumph against the powers and principalities would have represented an appealing message.   When reading the epistles you can hear Paul viewing early Christianity caught between Scylla and Charybdis, Paul moving the congregation away from both magical thinking, believing they could change the course of human history through supernatural means;  and at the same time fighting the utter dispair in history and this world that Gnosticism represented.  In Paul's 7 authentic epistles we can view a second generation of Hermetic Jew, his Christianity which will uphold the power of the material sacraments, codes of morality while asserting that their effects are heavenly not earthly; in effect moving his congregation from proto-Christianity to Christianity.   Jude can be seen in the same light loaded with mystical references and obscure literature while still asserting the key importance of earthly events.

Revelations is traditional apocalyptic literature, that could have been written at almost anytime.    The theology is Hermetic with an interplay between levels of heaven.  For example giving birth to a heavenly savior with a dragon cast down to represent the beasts of the earth and land.     It could very easily have been an earlier work recast with the Christian community recasting Jesus as God's earthly redeemer.  

Hebrews presents a mythical savior as a new form of priest establishing a new type of mythical priesthood, based on a new heavenly sacrifice in his heavenly sanctuary where he acts as High Priest making ineffectual earthly sacrifices.  Nope not Hermetic Judaism.  Hermetic Judaism would have been an argument that earthly sacrifices are effectual because they mimic the heavenly sacrifices of the heavenly Christ in his heavenly temple, or that the earthly ones aren't close enough to actually work.   Hebrews is also unavoidably early, as it predates the destruction of the temple, so this theory of origins is going to require a belief in at least one other strand of early Christianity.    But in the Essenes we have obvious candidates for its original authors.  And we both sides of this for James, an early version from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the later "Christianized" version which is canonical James.  And that solution of the Essenes would work for Hebrews as well, an argument for community holiness and God's deliverance over what they saw as Herod's perverse temple.     So for the purpose of believing in a unique early church we could have the Hermetic Judaism influencing the Essenes and then literature passing between those communities.

The pastoral epistles with their obvious 2nd century references, as well as most of the catholic epistles belong to a later phase; a community done migrating from Judaism, that has concerns over governance.  The two main strands of Q: Greek cynical philosophy and Jewish apocalyptic traditions are not part of Hermetic Judaism.  Matthew's theology would not have come from this group, though again the Essenes would work.    Similarly Luke/Acts (and even the earlier form of Luke, The Gospel of the Lord) is not Hermetic Jewish either but I'd date this well in 2nd century.  The reworking Signs into John, is hard to date with confidence but we can be assured its later than most other works in the New Testament. Hence,  those remaining books present no contradiction to the theory.

Hermetic Judaism was even without any other influence already a fairly complete proto-Christianity.   It could very well have represented the original church, the church that authored most of the bible.  A plausible source for the sort of group a primitive Christianity could initially have emerged from.  This sort of naturalistic framework for viewing the bible is fully in accord with Mormon tradition:
“The Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible from which translations have been made, are evidently very much corrupted,…the learned are under the necessity of translating from such mutilated, imperfect, and, in very many instances, contradictory copies as still exist. This uncertainty, combined with the imperfections of uninspired translators, renders the Bibles of all languages, at the present day, emphatically the words of men, intead of the pure word of God.” (Pratt, Spiritual Gifts
We will stop here and take up the rest of the argument in the 2nd half.
  • What happened to pagan Hermeticism and its collapse into Catholic Christianity, Hermes Christianus.    
  • Hermetic Christianity, its disappearance from the ancient world and its rebirth as a religion of European aristocrats and religious radicals.  
  • How a religion of European aristocrats might have made contact, transformed and been reborn in a middle / lower class rural American sect run by Brigham Young.   

See also: