Mormon Belief Regarding Jesus and Satan

Mike Huckabee is getting plenty of buzz lately, but not all of it is good. There have been many stories hitting the airwaves suggesting that Huckabee suffers from deficiencies in ethics, crime, foreign policy, and a God-complex (here’s one small summary). This kind of negative vetting is to be expected for a surging candidate, and need not be an insurmountable challenge for Huckabee. However, Huckabee himself has added a new label to the above list: Anti-Mormon.

As reported in a story to be published on Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, Huckabee had the following exchange with a reporter on the issue of Mitt Romney’s faith:

Huckabee is, indeed, a discreet fellow, but he has no trouble making his feelings known. He mentioned how much he respected his fellow candidates John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani. The name of his principal rival in Iowa, Mitt Romney, went unmentioned. Romney, a Mormon, had promised that he would be addressing the subject of his religion a few days later. I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. ‘‘I think it’s a religion,’’ he said. ‘‘I really don’t know much about it.’’

I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: ‘‘Don’t Mormons,’’ he asked in an innocent voice, ‘‘believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?’’

People are jumping all over this quote as evidence of Huckabee’s willingness to let religion enter the contest. Frankly, I don’t think any more evidence was needed, given some of his recent quotes attributing his success in the polls to God. As for this particular quote, it’s a mixed bag. We shouldn’t pass over his answer to the first question, which has Huckabee finally choosing a side on the “cult or religion” debate, and passing up the chance to label Mormonism a cult. That’s something.

The problem is that he kept talking. He could easily have stopped, but the Times piece makes it look as if he saw an opportunity there, and wanted to exploit it. He did so by resurrecting one of the oldest and most absurd tropes in the anti-Mormon arsenal: Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers!!! Given how well-worn this old chestnut is in Huckabee’s circles (and yes, we know he does run in those circles), Huckabee might be forgiven for believing it. But for repeating it to a reporter, as if he hopes it will get passed around and laid before Iowa voters? Pretty sad.

But let’s get down to the truth of the matter: Do Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers? You can answer that with another question: Do evangelicals believe that Mike Huckabee and Hitler are brothers? (say it with an ominous tone preferably with dark strings playing in the background). The answer to both is the same: if you insist on making a few logical leaps and completely ignore what each group actually teaches, sure.

Mormons have never taught this strange notion. It has never been a tenet of Mormonism, and the first time any Mormon hears the idea is always from an anti-Mormon characterizing Mormon beliefs. In other words, there’s no sense in which this idea has any impact within the LDS Church. The truth of the matter is that the Mormon Church teaches that God created everyone and everything. That means he created Jesus (one of the few areas where Mormon understanding of Jesus differs from that of traditional Christianity), and yes, it also means he created Satan, and also created you and me.

Thus the scandal of Jesus and Satan being brothers is one based entirely on extrapolation and syllogism. Yes, because both Jesus and Satan were created as part of the offspring of God, you could say they’re related, or even brothers. To say so would sound very foreign to Mormon ears, most of whom have never even considered such a relationship. But why would you? If it’s not something Mormons believe or teach or think about, what’s the point? Answer: just to make Mormons look bad.

Here’s LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah on the issue:

“We believe, as other Christians believe and as Paul wrote, that God is the father of all. That means that all beings were created by God and are his spirit children. Christ, on the other hand, was the only begotten in the flesh and we worship him as the son of God and the savior of mankind. Satan is the exact opposite of who Christ is and what he stands for.”

The same twisted argument can be made with lots of beliefs. Imagine someone comes up to you and starts the following line of questioning: Do you believe Jesus had a human body? Do you believe he sweated? Do you believe he spent lots of time in the hot sun? Do you believe he showered daily? Hah! Then you believe Jesus had body odor! You believe your Savior was stinky!

Would Christians be right to be offended by this attack? It is based on their true belief in a sense, in that you can come to that conclusion by cobbling together other ideas about Jesus. But it would be patently unfair because it’s not something anyone actually thinks about, teaches, or relies on. It’s made up by extrapolating other facets of belief. It is sensationalistic, it sounds weird, and it actually says nothing about the real beliefs of Christians. The Huckabee line about Jesus being the brother of Satan is exactly the same kind of argument.

To renew the point about Hitler above: Did you know that evangelicals believe that Hitler is the brother of the apostle Peter? And that Judas is the brother of James Dobson? Isn’t that sick and twisted? Well, no evangelical has ever taught such a thing, but you can certainly extrapolate the point from their belief that all of mankind are the children of God. You can do it, but why would you? Only if you want to smear them for no good reason.

By repeating this absurd anti-Mormon line, Mike Huckabee is doing exactly that, whether he knows it or not. But even if he doesn’t know it, you’d hope a presidential candidate would check around before slurring a religion, especially the religion of one of his fellow candidates. Makes you wonder what kind of unplanned slurs he might drop if he were our President. As an evangelical, it’s not possible that he holds a few misconceptions of Islam, too, is it? Hmmm.

Mormons, and Americans, deserve better from serious contenders for the presidency.

UPDATE: Huckabee has laudably apologized to Romney for his remarks.  Won’t undo the damage, but at least he’s sorry, and that’s not nothing.

The Trial of Christopher Hitchens

It’s here– the next big attack you’ll be reading about everywhere. This time it’s no less an intellect/polemicist than Slate’s Christopher Hitchens, whose intelligence and polymathy are matched only by the palpable rancor of his rants. (For those keeping score, this makes the fifth religious attack on Romney’s faith appearing in Slate’s pages in the last year, counting this, this, this, this, and the present article. Why is that, Slate?). Hitchens has already outed himself as no friend to Mormonism, or to religion in general, by way of his too cutely titled new book God is not Great. (You can read an excerpt on the “ridiculous cult” of Mormonism here. Note while you’re there that while the book purports to attack all religion, Slate only had the gumption to publish excerpts attacking Islam and Mormonism. No good picking on anyone that might be able to fight back in numbers, right?).

Hitchens picks up his current tirade where he left off in that last edition, making enormous assertions based on glaring mischaracterizations of Mormon history and belief. Not to fear, he’s writing in a very prominent online magazine, so Hitchens can rest assured that his readers will assume he’s been fact-checked and vetted, and will walk away from the article believing they’ve just heard all they need to know about Mitt Romney’s crazy religion. It’s one thing to go on a tear in some small evangelical magazine, and another to post a dirty, mendacious diatribe in a visible forum viewed by tens of thousands of intelligent Americans. Sadly, something below that number will view this response, so regardless of the actual truth of these matters, Hitchens has already won. If Hitchens can sanctimoniously concoct the trial of Henry Kissinger for alleged crimes against humanity, surely he ought to stand trial himself for these glaring crimes against decency and truthfulness.

But enough hand-wringing. Let’s pick up some of the worst of Hitchens’ claims and show the world how pitiful they are in the light of truth, shall we? As Hitch might say, do let’s. There’s so much here that we’ll dispense with our normal snappy segues and paragraph structures. It’s bullet point time.

  • Hitchens starts by discussing Romney’s video response to the recent push polls in Iowa and New Hampshire attempting to tie Romney to a number of controversial Mormon doctrines. To Hitchens, the video is model of “revolting sanctimony and self-pity,” and is also part of an affirmative strategy for Romney to gain politically by defending himself. I recommend viewing the video to judge the level of sanctimony and self-pity, because I don’t see it. In fact, if you’ve ever been attacked on the basis of your religion or another out-of-bounds characteristic, you’ve probably gotten a lot more exercised than Romney does here. But then, it’s possible Hitchens never watched the video, because he feigns ignorance about why Romney brings up the timing of Thanksgiving- even though Romney clearly explains that “this is a time when we’re preparing for Thanksgiving. A time when we get to celebrate the fact that this nation was founded in part to allow people to enjoy religious freedom.” See the connection yet, Hitchens? (more…)

They’re Heeeere . . .

The push pollers, anti-Mormons, and political opportunists, that is.

Politico’s crack ’08 blogger Jonathan Martin has the story. Apparently, a Utah-based market research company has been hired to call voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and ask question after question about each respondent’s opinions regarding Mormonism, its status as a “cult,” its adherence to the Book of Mormon, and the eligibility of a Mormon to hold political office. This would seem to be targeted at a specific Mormon candidate, if you can think of one that holds that profile.

While it’s an awful thing to see, pretty much everyone (including me) predicted this. And it’s coming at exactly the time you would expect it to. So far we have strong denials from the McCain and Giuliani camps. However, given the current legal climate of campaigning, it could be virtually anyone paying for these calls behind a 527 group. Someone see if there have been any papers filed to set up “Anti-Mormons for Truth.”

And by the way, following up on the new gloves-are-off mode we’re entering, here’s another nice piece of scurrilous anti-Mormonism. I had planned to respond to this today, but other duties have called. Hopefully we can have a real response up soon.

Finally, if you haven’t seen it already, this New York Times piece on Romney’s mission is decent. While the continuing, obsessive focus on Romney’s religious experience is unfortunate, at least the focus is on Romney’s religious experience– rather than on the abstract theological beliefs putatively held by his religion. Once you accept the topic of the piece, it’s a pretty fair treatment that continues the inevitable process of humanizing this candidate as the country pays more attention to him.

Anti-Mormon Gloves Coming Off

Martin Frost, writing on FoxNews.com, made an invitation to his readers. He asked them to write him expressing their feelings regarding voting for a Mormon. Mr. Frost says the majority of his more than 400 respondents expressed a hope that people could get past that issue and vote for candidates on the merits. This is encouraging. But Mr. Frost, who purports to belong to that same camp, didn’t print any of those emails. Instead, he chose to publish thirteen of the most vitriolic pieces of bigotry you’re likely to ever see in a national news medium. This is pathetic.

Let’s review a few of these emails, and remember- the topic is not the truthfulness of the LDS Church, its theology or practice, the salutary effect it has on members’ lives, or any other such religious question. The topic is whether a person is comfortable voting for Mitt Romney in light of his Mormon faith. Here’s a rule of thumb: If someone asks you if you can vote for Hillary Clinton, and your response focuses more on “women” than “Hillary,” you’re a bigot. Keeping that same principle in mind, let’s look at a few of the cuddly reader responses: (more…)

Ken Woodward on Mormonism: Stating the Facts, Missing the Point

Katie Couric is curious about Mormons. So she brought in a religion-beat journalist to answer some questions. The answerer is Ken Woodward, whose name you might recall from the byline of this story, which has long served as an anchor of RomneyExperience’s “Attacks” page. Regardless of the man’s apparent dislike for members of Mitt Romney’s Church, our “expert” culture demands someone who has studied such things, instead of someone who has lived them. So, somehow, Ken Woodward is the man to tell us what Mormons believe, instead of, say, an actual Mormon.

Still, Mr. Woodward seems generally to know his stuff. One hates to argue with him because he gets his facts pretty right. Yet his descriptions combine the sound of authoritativeness with a tonal bent for painting Mormonism as cultish and backward. It’s no great thing to get your facts right but leave the reader with a completely wrong impression. (more…)

The Reverend Bill Keller: God’s Gift to Debunkers

When you spend your time watching for inaccurate information in order to debunk it, you sometimes dream about the “big one.” You know, that story that will come out with an untruth in every sentence, full from start to finish with lies, hysteria, and bad grammar. And though you sometimes lose hope, it’s often just at that point that someone like Bill Keller comes along and fulfills all your wildest fantasies.

That’s right, Bill Keller, of “A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan” fame, is at it again. This time, he’s got a press release out complaining that the Mormon Church gets closer to world domination every time someone looks at Mitt Romney without shielding their eyes and genuflecting. No, I don’t believe the guy needs more attention, so normally I’d pass on commenting, but I can’t help it on this one. After a few battles with some legitimately smart and credible people these past weeks, I’m ready for some low-hanging fruit. We’re talking low-hanging, like potatoes.

Where to begin? (more…)

Is Mormonism a Cult? Part II

See Part I here.

Despite the weaseliness of the “cult” label, the word does actually mean something. To most people, it implies a group of people lacking in independence or sophistication under the sway of a powerful doctrine or charismatic leader, which leads them away (often dangerously or objectionably) from mainstream society. It is only fair to ask whether the LDS Church exhibits tendencies that could place it in or near this definition.

First, do Mormons lack sophistication or independent will such that they can be brainwashed or unfairly manipulated? There is no way to objectively answer this question, but it is helpful to try to find such manipulation or brainwashing in the church’s practices. If such brainwashing exists, it must take place in church meetings or other church-related venues. And yet, every single meeting connected with the church involves only discussions of the gospel, organizational administration, or social activity. While it is true that Mormons would include in their view of “the gospel” topics not seen in other Christian churches (including unique perspectives on the Trinity, salvation, and Priesthood), roughly 70% of what is discussed in any church discussion would be very familiar to a visiting Christian. Lessons and talks on topics such as charity, repentance, Christ-like living, and faith abound. In other words, what Mormons are doing in their churches is almost identical to what those of other faiths are doing– discussing points of doctrine and coordinating efforts to serve each other. No pressure is applied, no coercive techniques are used, and everyone is free to come and go as they please. (more…)

Is Mormonism A Cult? Part I

Perhaps one of the most common, and most damaging accusations leveled at the LDS church is that it is a cult. You can find iterations of this attack in the political realm here, here, here, and here, for example. Which, of course, doesn’t scratch the surface of dialogue in the religious world, where the accusation is bandied about with alarming regularity. This topic deserves two separate treatments. Part I deals with the semantics of the word “cult” when used in the political realm. Part II will deal specifically with how well the term applies to Mormonism.

The first thing to note about the “cult” epithet is that it means nothing at all. I’m serious. (more…)