[The following is the third of a five-part essay offered by Mormon Coffee guest contributor Joshua Valentine (aka spartacus).]
The LDS Church’s super-exclusive claims do not directly lead to atheism, but they do disqualify other theistic options. Christianity claims to be the truth to the exclusion of other candidates, like any other religious movement. Mormonism, however, is even more exclusive, claiming to be the only true version of Christianity.
Mormonism teaches against any traditional form of Christianity with every unique teaching and claim it presents as superior to Christian teachings and claims. LDS authority, teachings, ordinances, organization, gospel, and Holy Spirit are, at best, supplemental to Christian ignorance or, worse, restoration of things lost in traditional Christianity. Or, worse still, the LDS Church is the only truth among corrupted Christianity. Christianity claims its teachings are true and other religions are false. However, Mormonism does not just claim that it is true and Christianity is false, but that, as it is the restoration of Christianity, Christianity is not just false but corrupted. LDS members have actually said that if the LDS Church is not true, then nothing else is. It is this mindset, cultivated by the LDS Church, that exemplifies the thesis that LDS teachings lead their members closer to atheism.
There are two subtle dynamics in Mormonism that are related to the undermining of other theist options. First, the LDS Church does not give any reasons to believe in God outside of Mormonism. There is some passing mention of nature showing that God exists, always in reference to the Bible’s verses saying so, but nothing else. This comes about from the fideistic dependence on the prayer experience and the LDS Church’s continual focus on itself being the one and only true church. Since the prayer experience is taught to be the only way to “know” anything about God, other reasons are not emphasized, if not ignored completely. The LDS Church also focuses so much on its own legitimacy as the only true church of God that little to nothing is taught about the legitimacy of God’s existence. In practice, then, Mormons are effectively taught to only believe in God by their prayer experience and continuing experiences in the LDS Church such as “feeling the spirit” and claims of priesthood power manifested; things Mormons are taught to recognize as true spiritual experiences.
Second, the prayer experience epistemology of Mormonism, its fideist basis for belief, like all fideism, implicitly denies that there is any good enough reason to believe in God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints incessantly teaches its members that the prayer experience is the only way to “know” and thus implicitly teaches that all other evidence or rational means of seeking Truth is insufficient. By focusing on and relying fideistically on the prayer, the LDS Church makes its members into believers who are only a few spiritual impressions and a prayer from being agnostics. Agnosticism is the position that the evidence and the rational arguments for and against the existence of God are inconclusive. Because the teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints insists that prayer is the only real way to determine anything about ultimate truth, it trains its members to view all physical evidence and rational argument to be insufficient and even suspect. The members of the LDS Church are taught and trained by their own church to be agnostic about God’s existence in respect to all evidence, except their prayer experience. When the member realizes that the evidence against the authenticity of the LDS Church is insurmountable and that their prayer experience was mistaken, then they become certain about the falsehood of the church and, subconsciously, may remain biased against all other evidence and argument for God.
Some atheists quip that as Christians deny the existence of other gods, atheists go one step further, denying just one more god. Whatever the merits of this point, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes that one step even easier to take. If all that exists is matter and laws, if God is a glorified human, if the glory of God is the eternal life and happiness of his eternal increase of posterity, if God evolved to godhood by being worthy and we can too, then the step from Mormon “theism” to atheism shrinks smaller and smaller. If Ultimate Truth can only be known by receiving an answer to your sincere prayer, if feeling the Spirit is always a good feeling, if feeling the Spirit can be experienced while watching heart-warming church-produced videos and other movies, then the “step” is on a steeper and steeper slope. If there is no reason good enough to believe in God or Jesus, if prayer is the only way to know and it is beyond any “anti-Mormon” argument, then there’s no place to catch your balance, no possibility of another paradigm in which rational and evidential argument and more complex forms of faith can coincide as an alternative to the step down to atheism. The descent into atheism is almost inevitable.
Perhaps you believe that “God” means the Ultimate, the Source from which everything that exists came to be, and thus is the One that is independent of all and has always been. If this is your perspective, then as soon as Mormons embrace the god of Mormonism, who is not ultimate but contingent, just another part of what exists, who is subject to the laws of the universe, and depends on other gods and humans for his existence, they no longer believe in a “God” already. The Romans saw the first Christians as atheists just because they denied the Roman gods for their One Ultimate God. Latter-day Saints may be seen as already being atheists by those with a different idea of what any “God” ought to be, versus the deified supermen of Mormonism.