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A Poor Choice Of Words

But without digging into the theological nitty gritty here, the bottom line is that however different the theology may be, Mormon morality is very much the same manichean [bold mine-DL], good vs. evil outlook as traditional Christianity. ~Mark Hemingway

In fairness, Hemingway clarifies in an update that he doesn’t use manichean here in a way that actually refers to, well, Manichean beliefs, and he certainly isn’t the only person who uses manichean in a very loose and inaccurate way, but it is notable that he uses this word in a post that is trying to explain and contextualise a heterodox idea in Mormonism.  In the Mormons’ defense, they do not have a Manichean understanding of the universe, and neither do Christians.  Manichees believe the created order is a prison for human souls that was created by an evil principle, and understand morality as a war of spirit and matter that is significantly different from the moral theology of both Mormons and Christians.  Since Manichee is one of the most overused heresiological tropes in history, it was an unusually unfortunate choice for someone who wanted to deflect criticisms of Mormonism.

P.S.  Hemingway’s update is itself unfortunate when he refers to the “dualistic notion of good vs. evil” in Christianity.  Christianity doesn’t have a dualistic notion of good vs. evil.  In the classic patristic formulations, whether of Augustine or the Greek Fathers, evil is the negation and absence of good.  A dualistic notion of good vs. evil would be…the Manichean understanding.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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