The Peculiar Splendors of Mormonism

Near the middle of September (2012) The New York Times posted an online commentary titled, “Why I Love Mormonism.” In it, author and professor Simon Critchley chronicled his experience with Mormonism (as a non-Mormon) that has spanned about 30 years (so far).

Dr. Critchley said very nice things about the Mormon people and chastised what he referred to as “anti-Mormonism” that he encounters in the form of uneducated comments offered at dinner parties (and elsewhere). He calls this a “casual prejudice” born of ignorance regarding “the peculiar splendors of Mormon theology.”

While Dr. Critchley loves Mormonism, Mormons seemed to have loved Dr. Critchley’s commentary. Deseret News ran a couple of articles that generally praised “Why I Love Mormonism” and Dr. Critchley’s “defense of Latter-day Saints.” The New York Times article, one said, “deserves thanks for its kindness.” Also,

“Critchley’s blog made an important point: The gospel as taught by Latter-day Saints from Joseph Smith on down is filled with beauty and rigorous intellectual challenge and joy. The most philosophical of minds can find things to grapple with and the least interested in intellectual things can also be enriched by profound, faithful teachings.”

Frankly, I was a bit surprised that Dr. Critchley’s discussion of Mormon theology was so well-received by the Mormon community. Not every Mormon comment about “Why I Love Mormonism” was positive, but generally, the attitude seemed to be one of praise and applause for Dr. Critchley’s kind and affirming words. After seeing a number of these gratified Mormon articles and blogs, I actually wondered (tongue-in-cheek) if anyone had read the entire Times piece.

“Why I Love Mormonism” focused on Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse and his teachings on the plurality of Gods. While apparently not a Christian himself, Dr. Critchley made it very clear that, from a Christian perspective, Mormonism’s theology is, in many ways, “heretical.”

What follows here are some excerpts from “Why I Love Mormonism.” While these are just snippets of Dr. Critchley’s carefully crafted and entertaining presentation of Mormon theology, they may provide an unexpected perspective on Dr. Critchley’s love of – or “fascination” with – Mormonism.

“Christianity is premised on the fact of the incarnation. There was a God-man rabbi in occupied Palestine a couple of millenniums ago. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can go around claiming divinity, like Joachim of Fiore in the 12th century or the recently deceased and much missed Rev. Sun Myung Moon. There was only one incarnation. God became man, was crucified and resurrected and we’re still waiting for him to come back. The New Testament, especially the Book of Revelation, is very clear that he is coming soon.”

“In order to explain the consubstantiality of God and man in the person of Christ, third and fourth century Christian Fathers, including Saint Augustine, built up the wonderful theological edifice of the Trinity. The three persons of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, are distinct but participate in the same substance. Three in one is one in three. It is a heretical act of arrogance to arrogate divinity for oneself or to claim multiple incarnations. God is indeed unitary and infinite.”

“Not only is the Mormon God not as big as the Christian God, there are any number of Gods within Mormonism. In the late sermons, Smith repeatedly talks about a council of the Gods that was meant to take place sometime before the Book of Genesis begins. This is based on a rather windy interpretation of various Hebrew words…”

“Smith accepts that Jesus Christ had a father, namely God, but goes on, ‘You may suppose that He had a Father,’ adding, ‘Was there ever a son without a father?’ Common sense would answer no, but Christians must answer ‘Yes, there was.’ Namely that God created all creatures, but was himself uncreated.”

“There is an endless regress of Gods which beget one another, but which do not beget the universe. That is, creation is not ex nihilo, as it is in Christianity, where God created heaven and earth, as it says at the beginning of the Bible. Rather, matter precedes creation. This makes the Mormon God like the Demiurge in Plato’s pagan creation myth in the Timeaus. The Mormon God does not create matter. He simply organizes it.”

“For Christians, incarnation is a one-time, long distance ski jump from the divine to the human. But for Joseph Smith, incarnation is more of a two-way street, and potentially a rather congested thoroughfare.”

“The heretical vistas of Mormonism, particularly the idea of something uncreated within the human being, excited the self-described Gnostic Jew, Harold Bloom.”

“The new revelation given to Joseph Smith in his visions and the annual visits of the angel Moroni from 1820 onward, is a new gospel for the new world. Mormonism is an American religion, which beautifully, if fallaciously, understands the native inhabitants of the New World as ancient descendants of inhabitants of the Old World, the scattered tribes of Israel.”

“Mormonism is properly and powerfully post-Christian, as Islam is post-Christian. Where Islam, which also has a prophet, claims the transcendence of God, Mormonism makes God radically immanent. Where Islam unifies all creatures under one mighty God to whom we must submit, Mormonism pluralizes divinity, making it an immanent, corporeal matter and making God a more fragile, hemmed-in and finite being.”

“From the standpoint of Christianity, both Islam and Mormonism are heresies and — if one is genuine about one’s theology, and religion is not reduced to a set of banal moral platitudes — should be treated as such.”

“Like Bloom, I see Joseph Smith’s apostasy as strong poetry, a gloriously presumptive and delusional creation from the same climate as Whitman, if not enjoying quite the same air quality.”

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse, Nature of God and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Peculiar Splendors of Mormonism

  1. spartacus says:

    “Delusional” was particularly striking.

  2. spartacus says:

    I actually agree with him when he says, “Perhaps Mormonism is not so far from romanticism after all. To claim that it is simply Christian is to fail to grasp its theological, poetic and political audacity. It is much more than mere Christianity. Why are Mormons so keen to conceal their pearl of the greatest price?”

    If this is the truth from God, why hold back? Because of fear of people thinking you weird? That doesn’t work for a number of reasons: 1) you should never act or not act from fear, 2) fear of “weird” and pride as “a peculiar people” are contradictory stances.

    So if it is true, it should be shared.
    If it is true, it should be celebrated.
    If it brings scorn, then act in faith and not fear.
    If it brings scorn, just more “persecution” to lament with pride and “prove” it’s truth.
    If it puts people off? And they don’t become members?…


  3. Kenneth says:

    …Mormons really praised this article?

  4. falcon says:

    Yea, I’d have to say “ditto” to Ken’s short post above.
    The author is “nice” but he isn’t supportive of the Mormon notion of the nature of God; as it compares to Christianity. Rather he exposes, in sweet tones, what Joseph Smith actually taught.
    My hobby horse is that while Mormonism claims to be a restoration of first century Christianity, there is no evidence that Salt Lake City Mormonism, as practiced today, ever existed prior to Joseph Smith getting his full mo-jo on. That’s not to mention the “development” of Mormonism by any of the many sects of the religion.
    For Christians, it gets more than a little frustrating that Mormons don’t get it. For Mormons, their hope is that folks will be seduced by the wonderment of the Joseph Smith tale, feel good about it, and join the clan. Smith didn’t have his gospel fully revealed to him when he created his religion. It took some time for him to get his full steam ahead creative juices flowing. It doesn’t seem to bother Mormons that the concept of plurality of gods didn’t exist within Mormonism when Smith received the restored gospel.
    Smith, and subsequent Mormon prophets, just kept painting over the picture.
    From the article and how it was praised by many Mormons, I can see that what someone says in exposing Mormonism isn’t as important to them as long as it is said nicely.

  5. falcon says:

    The author of the above cited article gets it! In fact I’d say he pretty much nails it. We’re constantly told that we misrepresent Mormonism. When asked how it is that we misrepresent the religion, the Mormons go strangely silent. What they can’t see is that there’s a big difference between “understanding” something and “believing” it.
    In Mormonism what is doubly important is “feeling” it. Feelings are truth in Mormonism. The author isn’t feeling it in terms of believing Mormonism.
    Here are a couple favorite lines.
    “The new revelation given to Joseph Smith in his visions and the annual visits of the angel Moroni from 1820 onward, is a new gospel for the new world. Mormonism is an American religion, which beautifully, if fallaciously, understands the native inhabitants of the New World as ancient descendants of inhabitants of the Old World, the scattered tribes of Israel.”
    Now doesn’t that sound nice? One word sums it all up; “fallaciously”. My bet is Mormons just sort of run right past that because of the preceding word; “beautifully”.
    Another favorite.
    “Like Bloom, I see Joseph Smith’s apostasy as strong poetry, a gloriously presumptive and delusional creation from the same climate as Whitman, if not enjoying quite the same air quality.”
    WHEW, what a sentence. I wish I had written that one. The author has a very tactful and articulate way of saying, “It’s all fantasy folks”. He doesn’t call Smith a con man or a huckster. He has, in an odd way, a sort of admiration of Smith something along the lines of P.T. Barnum.
    While the author writes in a disarming and kind way about Mormonism, the down side of course is all of the people that are trapped in Smith’s fantasy. We can only pray that the Holy Spirit continues to lead people from Smith to Jesus.

  6. Mike R says:

    Dr. Critchley’s statement about new revelation given to Joseph Smith , his visits with an
    angel and a new gospel for this land , reminds me of what has been happening in this
    country in the last few generations . We notice Paul’s warning about imitation gospels
    and also the warning about false prophets and apostles . It seems these warnings are ever so
    relevant for us now . We have numerous prophets vying for our attention , many of these
    have received visitations from angels or claimed God has spoken to them and appointed them
    to relay His truths , truths that have’nt been available until now and which are essential for
    our salvation . Recently we have one such person , Christopher Nemelka , he worked as a
    sincere LDS in the Temple , he claimed to be visited by Joseph Smith and thus has a message .
    Then there was Rev.Moon , he claimed to be visited by Jesus and given authority to teach
    His truths . These are examples of men with a message they believe everyone needs ,
    and together with the prophets of Mormonism they all claim to offer new truth ,something
    needed for a right relationship with God that will allow one to receive the fullest spiritual
    blessings He has to offer etc. But in these days the wise thing to do is to be advised of the
    warnings by Jesus’ apostles about messengers that would come to mislead .
    The Holy Spirit can give one a settled heart that the N.T. apostles teachings are a
    invaluable guide which is efficient to detect these type of messengers .

  7. falcon says:

    We could be kept very busy listing and commenting on all of the people who have claimed visitations, messages, and a “new” revelation from God. It’s standard fare and typically will follow a pattern. The revelation must be “new” and therefore replace the “old” message.
    The new message generally denies the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. This would include the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the inspiration of the Bible, Jesus’ deity, and salvation by grace.
    In Mormonism, for example, Jesus isn’t God but He’s a created being the offspring of one of the Mormon gods and one of his wives. The Bible is corrupted and can’t be trusted. This gives the prophet full freedom to create new scripture and new revelations. If people can be convinced that their “works” have a considerable part to play in their salvation, they can be enlisted as virtual slaves to the new prophet and his movement. It also denigrates Jesus atoning work on the cross and elevates man’s own efforts to save himself.
    There are people who get enthralled with anything that is new and has a story attached to it that stirs their emotions.
    Leaving the sect is said to result in the lost of a person’s salvation. The ugly side of these groups is that they lead people away from the Living God.

  8. Stanley2 says:

    “Smith accepts that Jesus Christ had a father, namely God, but goes on, ‘You may suppose that He had a Father,’ adding, ‘Was there ever a son without a father?’ …”

    If God had a father who had a father who had a father (moving backwards in time)….as they proceed backwards there are fewer and fewer Gods so my question to Mormons is where did the FIRST man who became a God come from?

    The concept of Eternal Progression must also have Eternal Regression which collapses under it’s own logic.

  9. shematwater says:

    Speaking of the article itself, it was praised because it was not written in malice of mocking. It was a presentation of his beliefs in a friendly and honest manner. It is not what he said that is praised, but how he said it.


    I have to disagree. The concept of Eternal Regression is the only logical explanation of anything.
    To answer your question “where did the FIRST man who became a God come from?”
    He didn’t. There have always been gods as well as spirits and mortals. There was never a time when either the egg or the chicken did not exist, but both have always existed. I agree that such an explanation sounds confusing, but then we only know our own experience or beginnings and ends, and as such we cannot comprehend the idea of no beginning and no end.


    I am perfectly willing to tell you what you misunderstand, if you would be willing to listen. The problem is that, in general, you prefer to tell me that I don’t understand rather than actually listen and learn.
    However, I will point out a huge misunderstanding that Dr. Critchley has.
    “And the word “man” has to be understood literally here. Women cannot be priests or prophets or aspire to an exclusively masculine divinity, which seems petty, a pity and rather silly to me. But there we are.”
    He does not understand this doctrine. Women can become gods just as men do. In fact neither can becomes a god without the other also becoming a god. While it is true that in this life women do not hold the priesthood, they are promised that just as men will become priests and kings to God, they will become Priestesses and Queens to God.

  10. Stanley2 says:

    ” There have always been gods as well as spirits and mortals.”
    ….ALWAYS been mortals? How can a created being not have a beginning?

  11. shematwater says:


    You are not understanding this. I am not saying that we have always existed as mortals, but that there has always been mortal life in existence.

    Think of it this way: just because I build a house today does not mean that no houses were built before, or that more will not be built later.
    I may make a true statement in saying that there never was a time in which mortals did not exist, and yet another mortal is born tomorrow. Thus we see that each individual mortal life has its beginning, but that mortal lives have still always existed.

  12. Stanley2 says:

    I understand completely… are trying to present some illogical diatribe that mortals always existed. By the very definition of “mortal”, someone has a beginning and an end to their mortal existance. Frankly, your argument a contradiction.

  13. shematwater says:


    You obviously don’t understand as there is no contradiction.

    “By the very definition of “mortal”, someone has a beginning and an end to their mortal existence.”

    I have never denied this, have I? I have never denied that mortality consists of beginnings and ends. My point, which you are failing to grasp, or just ignoring, is that just because one mortality is starting now does not mean that others did not start at a previous time; or that one ending now does not necessitate that one cannot end at a later date.

    By your reasoning there can be no history, as when one person’s mortal life ends all people mortal life has to end. Thus it is your reasoning that is illogical and contradictory of common experience.
    Moses was born several thousand years ago, and died several thousand years ago. This obviously does not mean that I was not born only three decades ago, or that I will die a few decades from now.
    In the eternities the same is true. Our mortality started with the Fall of Adam, and will end with the millennium. However, this does not mean that another mortality did not start and end before ours, or that other mortalities will not start and end after ours.

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