In a conversation with Adam recently, he noted that the difference between a religion and a cult is (among others) that a religion will tell you honestly what their most bizarre beliefs are. A cult will not. Religions like to take their craziness and put it on the front porch, as it were -- make a holiday of it. Cults conceal their craziness and lure folks in with deception.
And I found this interesting.
We were talking about this because Adam recently had a lengthy conversation with some Mormons, two young, trained missionaries and two retirees who'd been in the church a long time. Adam listened patiently to their spiel without interrupting, and then had a few simple questions for them.
I wonder if Mormons try to anticipate which questions will get thrown at them. Will they ask about the holy underwear? Or Will they ask about polygamy? Or Will they ask why we believe the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri? Yeah, Mormonism has some big craziness. Only ... they never talk about that stuff. Like, um, that Joseph Smith was 14 when he first started having his revelations from his god.
We can have a one upmanship contest with the Mormons all day long about beliefs. You want to know what sounds really crazy? That a being who is a spirit, and is the Divine Creator of the universe, would decide to be a baby, born in a filthy sheep pen to a poor, underaged mother. I'm sure that plan of eternal salvation wasn't on Satan's radar screen! But really, have you ever hear anything more ridiculous? Well yes, in fact, there is one more ridiculous notion: that a man would be murdered, and himself predict that he would come back to life, zombie-fashion, three days later, and that millions of people actually believe sincerely that this did happen, and will stake their lives on it. Over and over. Martyr-like.
We Christians aren't ashamed of our crazy beliefs. Instead, we make our two greatest celebratory holy days about them -- Christmas and Easter! I'm speaking here of orthodox Christians, not of those who've jettisoned the church's traditional theology. Do I believe God created the world in 7 days? Yes! Do I believe He flooded the whole earth? Yes! Do I believe in miracles? Yes! Do we hide these beliefs? No, we plaster them in stained glass all over the massive walls of our massive churches!
Adam could have smacked those Mormons with their own silly craziness, but he didn't. He's so gentle. Instead, he asked them two very ordinary questions: 1) Do you believe that God the Father was ever a man like we are? And 2) Do you believe that Jesus is eternal, or do you believe that he had a celestial father and a celestial mother, who conceived him as a baby in some sort of celestial relationship, i.e., that he didn't exist, and then after that, he did exist?
To the second question, the young missionaries hemmed and hawed, not wanting to address it, but the older couple (who didn't know to conceal their craziness) exclaimed, "Yes! He had a celestial mother!" (By this, they do not mean Mary, who was his earthly mother.) The elderly couple were excited to proclaim their beliefs to a stranger. The two missionaries, on the other hand, had been trained to conceal and soft-pedal such things.
The first question, even the missionaries could not evade, it was so simple and straight-forward. Yes, they believed that God the Father was once a plain old man, just like us. Period.
What was Adam's point? To note that if you become a Mormon, they will love you and affirm you and draw you into their very caring community. They will provide for you and make you feel wonderful. And you'll worship with them. But you should know up front (because they really, really won't tell you this!) that you're not worshiping God when you worship with them. You're worshiping a creation of the Mormon church who does not bear any resemblance to the God of the Bible, of the Christian church. They've attached the same names, and they use the same words, but you have to dig a little, and force them to answer, not the crazy questions, but the hard questions. They won't want to. They'd rather you ask about the holy underwear.
And, for your enjoyment, here's Bill Maher interviewing an ex-Mormon. Ignore Maher's usual annoying traits, and listen to the content: