Home/Daniel Larison/There’s Deification, And Then There’s Deification

There’s Deification, And Then There’s Deification

I have heard lots of traditional Christians discuss this issue and I have never heard anyone discuss polygamy. Maybe it’s the crowd I run with, people who’ve read a lot of religious history, but what I hear people talking about is the very nature of God in Mormon theology.

They are worried about a P word, but it’s not polygamy. It’s polytheism. (Click here for a flashback to my own interviews with top Mormon leaders on this topic.) The P word then leads to the big concept that the press is going to have to face — the E word.

That word is “exaltation,” and its concept that what man now is, the God of this creation once was. Thus, there are many worlds, creations or spheres that have their own gods (and the gods have many wives) who are humans who have evolved to divinity. ~Terry Mattingly, GetReligion

Now the fair-minded liberal, who probably has a Wiccan friend or two, will say, “So what?  Big deal!”  And there might be something to the argument that, just because you believe in a materialistic doctrine of God, hold that Jehovah was more or less a guy just like you once and accept that the lost tribes of Israel somehow made their way over to the Americas (that’s a long way from Assyria, brother), voters have no reason to think that you would be more or less competent in upholding and enforcing the laws of the land than any President at least nominally from a Christian church (note that I take it as axiomatic that Mormons are not Christians in the sense that all other prominent denominations are Christian).  They might regard your beliefs as fairly kooky, but you could at least claim that you follow an all-American religion, which might satisfy some people. 

Nonetheless, if Romney wants to play on his “values” and his “faith,” it becomes relevant and significant what his faith includes and what sort of doctrine the man holds.  When Mormons say that Jesus Christ is their Saviour, they don’t mean the same thing most everybody else does, because they don’t even have the same doctrine of God the Father.  When Mormons talk about deification, this is not a deification by grace through which you become God-like or gods by grace, but you really become a god, one among many, in a manner that seems to me fairly indistinguishable from the way ancient Greeks viewed some of their heroes as having ascended to Olympus.  If I am not mistaken, when deified you can nonetheless remain with your deified family–the family that prays together stays together…for eternity, I guess.  As I understand it, you then get to run your own planet–someone please correct me if I have this wrong.  Mormon attempts to find common ground with other Christians through the doctrine of theosis have been met with, shall we say, skepticism from the Orthodox side and bemusement from the Catholics.  Since the Protestants tend to look down their noses at any kind of deification talk, this line of argument has probably hardly improved the Mormons’ case.  

That is all very significant, and it matters to many Christian people, whether or not it “should” matter to them.  Some people believe that a candidate’s policy views, his credentials and his qualifications should be what determine support for him, and those are the only things that matter.  Maybe, though I’m not convinced.  If we were talking about a Scientologist, no one would hesitate for a second to disqualify him on the basis of his religious affiliation; if there were a chance of a Muslim becoming President, his religion would be the issue.  That is inevitable when a candidate comes from an extreme minority religion or an obscure, little-understood religion that has had, at best, mixed relations with some of the churches in America.  Maybe for wonks and political junkies policies and qualifications things will win out in the end over other considerations.  Certainly evangelicals, if they are honest, have to face up to the fact that getting “one of their own” elected has not exactly worked out terribly well for anyone, including them.  Maybe a far-out heretic would do better.  It is hard to think how he could do worse! 

But herein lies the problem: no matter what, Romney’s religion requires voters to adopt as their own someone who believes things they will never believe in a million years, and whose every reference to God will remind them that he does not believe in the same God that they worship, the One God in Trinity, uncreated, eternal and unoriginate, but a material deity imagined by a crackpot New York con man who has about as much claim to being a true prophet as Muhammad and suffers from the disadvantage of living in an age of much more copious documentation.  For the secularist who thinks every revelation is a lot of hot air, the disagreement over the finer points will seem perplexing, but for the average Christian it is a no-brainer that there is something fundamentally less rational and less credible about Mormon theology than is the case with any rival Christian confession.  

But on the question of policies and qualifications, Romney is not obviously a winner, either.  I have not heard very much from old Mitt that makes me want to run down to the Romney ’08 headquarters and sign up.  So far, I know that he signed into law an atrocious universal health-care bill in Massachusetts and he has engaged in megalomaniacal posturing over Khatami’s recent visit to Harvard; he has, I believe, used the hated word Islamofascist, which makes me regard him as less intelligent than I would have otherwise.  Oh, yes, he was in favour of permitting abortion before he was against it, which fills the average conservative’s heart with hope, I’m sure.  This is allegedly the theocons’ main guy?  For a vast conspiracy allegedly aimed at overthrowing the liberal order these guys really need to pick more electable candidates!

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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