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Friday, July 22, 2011

Is Mormonism a cult? Academically speaking, yes...

Michael Otterson, Head of Public Relations for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote an editorial for The Washington Post's "On Faith" section. One would imagine that this topic comes up with more frequency as more members of the LDS faith become involved in politics. For some reason, people throw around the word "cult" as a perjorative, but in the strictly academic sense, the early Christian Church was considered a cult for more than 100 years after it formed. Why should the latter-day restoration of it be treated any differently?
1617, "worship," also "a particular form of worship," from Fr. culte, from L. cultus "care, cultivation, worship," originally "tended, cultivated," pp. of colere "to till" (see colony). Rare after 17c.; revived mid-19c. with reference to ancient or primitive rituals. Meaning "devotion to a person or thing" is from 1829.
American Psychological Association (APA): cult. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cult
At the end of the op-ed, Otterson challenges us to have a more intellectually honest conversation about public perception of Mormonism vs. reality.
For those who are interested in that kind of conversation, here are some topics that I’ll be addressing in future columns:
  • Why Latter-day Saints consider themselves New Testament Christians, rather than creedal Christians whose doctrines were formalized in the centuries following the foundation of Christianity. It is perfectly true that Mormons do not embrace many of the orthodoxies of mainstream Christianity, including the nature of the Trinity. It is not true that Mormons do not draw their beliefs from the same Bible.

  • What we mean by additional revelation. The Book of Mormon is described on its title page as a book intended for “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.”

  • The nature of God: Latter-day Saints see God as a physical being in whose image we are made. That is one reason why it is so comfortable for Mormons to refer to God as their Father in Heaven – that’s how they see the personal relationship.

  • How Latter-day Saints regard “biblical inerrancy,” and what they mean when they accept the Bible as the word of God, “as far as it is translated correctly.”