Since disaffecting from Mormonism, I’ve taken the time to read not only progressive Mormon blogs (and wishing that the experience on those blogs was closer to what more wards were like!), but also to read more about the theologies of other Christian denominations.
In doing so, I’ve found fragments within the theologies of other denominations that have seemed more pleasing — at least aesthetically or experientially, if not in terms of what I actually believe — than the counterparts within Mormonism.
Mormonism teaches us to believe strongly in free will, and in the ability to freely choose what we believe or do not believe. For someone who was not able to choose to believe that Mormonism is true, this overriding theology of belief voluntarism was a large source of anxiety and self-doubt for me — the only answer from a Mormon point of view for why someone doesn’t believe in Mormonism is that they quite simply didn’t try hard enough.
Discovering reformed theology and Calvinism was a theological “eureka” moment for me. Although it is anathema to Mormonism, it makes more sense to me that some people have spiritual experiences and are drawn to their religious and spiritual paths (even if they may not always appreciate it — the call to a religious life may not be a call to perpetual bliss and happiness) while others aren’t, and this is probably more a factor of personality and inspiration than conscious, voluntary choice. When I read scriptural narratives of the conversion of Saul to Paul on the Road to Damascus of Alma the Younger’s dramatic conversion, I see scriptural tales of God choosing his elect as he will, offering his grace irresistibly to those people.
…but just as well, when I read the scriptures, it seems more accurate to say that God’s grace doesn’t touch everyone in the same way. In the same family, one son (Nephi) can believe easily, while other sons (Laman and Lemuel), despite sharing similar experiences as Nephi, fall into unbelieving ways time and time again.
I know a lot of people bristle against Calvinism for its implications that our destinies are not fully within conscious control. People bristle at the idea that some people just will never understand God, and they will go to Hell for it — indeed, that some people were created as “vessels of wrath” predestined for hell. It’s not a warm and fuzzy proposition.
And yet, to me, that seems to better fit my own experience. I named my personal blog “Irresistible (Dis)Grace” because that idea appealed to me.
As I mentioned before, I often wish that the experience on progressive Mormon blogs could be closer to what the lived experience of Mormonism was like. But, if I am candid, I am not sure if that’s what is meant to be the case.
The basic idea that we must confront is that God is so radically different from us that in some very big ways, His ways may not be our ways and His thoughts may not be our thoughts. Both under a theologies of free will and theologies of determinism, there is agreement on this point — that without assistance, we will be utterly unable to understand God, and we may find his commandments onerous and burdensome. For Mormons, the natural man is the enemy to God.
But the difference between a doctrine of free will (such as Mormonism and other Arminian denominations have) and a doctrine of total depravity such as is found in reformed theology is the question of whether we humans have the ability to choose to turn toward God on our own, or whether it is God that must reach out through our sinful natures and begin the process of our sanctification.
I see the critiques of progressive Mormons about sexism in Mormon culture or doctrine, or about homophobia, or about a number of concerns and considerations. I respect the ability of these Latter-day Saints to have faith in a God that is beyond these things.
…but, I cannot shake the possibility that perhaps, those things are not just errors or cultural carryovers from a prior era. I have to accept the possibility that perhaps God is — under our 21st century way of thinking — sexist, or homophobic, or racist, or anything else. This is not to say our labels or assessments or judgments on God are legitimate — just that…
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Thus, the choice for every individual is whether they will submit to God even though he may appear as a monster or fiend. Those who see God’s ways as just (regardless of what society may say at any particular time) are the elect. Those who will follow God despite their reservations are saved.
But for the rest of us, unable to reconcile or submit, we are damned by that.
And I’m OK with that.