William James' passage at the top of Gordon D. Kaufman's essay, "Religious Diversity and Religious Truth"
is both profound and poignant (187). Kaufman quotes James as saying "... The whole notion of the truth is an abstraction from the fact of truths in the plural ... " James also writes that "Truth grafts itself on previous truth, modifying it in the process
In the case of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon Church, their "truth" has most certainly been "grafted" on previous truth, and the various "truths" that they build their religion upon -- plus, the "new truths" they seek to promote all over the globe -- make an interesting study for purposes of this paper.
The thesis of the paper is as follows: the doctrines, beliefs, basis of origin / foundation -- and the social strategies of the LDS church -- while not always directly in contrast (or conflict) with other Christian faiths, appears to set the LDS church on a pedestal, apart from and above other theologies embraced by those faiths that believe in Jesus Christ. In other words, the LDS represents the truth, and all other Christian denominations are perpetrating lies.
The beliefs and pronouncements of the LDS faith will be compared and contrasted with passages from the readings on pluralism and on the status of tradition.
Where is the Truth to be found? Kaufman's view of Religion & Truth
Gordon Kaufman (on the same page, literally and figuratively, as James' quote) writes that there is a problem today of "enormous diversity in religious claims about truth." He goes on to point out that claims of truth in historical and scientific fields can be assessed and often proved or disproved, by being "placed in the light of public criteria" -- and yet, religious claims of truth are elusive. It is worth mentioning that Kaufman writes in terms of the claims of "truth" between Buddhists, Moslems, Hindus and Christians; for purposes of this paper, for the most part the comparisons will be made between LDS viewpoints and other members of the Christian community of faith.
Kaufman (188) goes to some lengths to set the stage for his arguments that the question of religions truth(s) is a difficult subject because truth in religions "can be approached from many different angles," and the very fact of diversity in religion poses "special problems" with reference to our attempts to "conceptualize religious truth today."
Among the problems in this discussion of truth in religion, Kaufman points out, is that thinkers representing religions "seem satisfied to live out of, and hold themselves responsible to," just those materials and resources of their own traditions. And their problem is compounded, as they pay "little attention to the fact that other equally thoughtful and sincere folk in other traditions hold quite different views." When there is an attempt at dialogue between leaders of religions, it is not necessarily designed to open doors of understanding; rather, "it is largely more for purposes of gaining information about another way of life," Kaufman writes. Or, the dialogue is launched " ... with the intention of converting those who differ from one's own way of thinking ... "
If Kaufman seems a little cynical in his view of religions holding fast and hard to their feet-in-cement viewpoints on theology, he probably is; he asks, also on 188, whether "the various claims made in the different religious traditions [could be] all true?" Or, alternatively, "are they all false -- religious claims about truth being in fact a sham?" Or is a third possibility worth considering: is each religious claim "a partial and inadequate version of some ultimate truth toward which it reaches but which no religious tradition has succeeded in articulating adequately?"
The LDS version of "truth" in their religion
In the Web site page http://www.Mormon.org
("Apostasy"), the LDS Church stakes out a position on "truth" that appears to be an attempt to justify their particular brand of Christianity. The LDS makes claims on that Web page, that there was a "general falling away from the truth" after Christ's Apostles died: "this is called the Apostasy," the LDS states. After Christ's ascension into heaven, and after the Apostles were killed, the "Lord took the priesthood and authority and His Church from the earth."
With no Christian Church functioning as "Christ had established it," the LDS story continues, and only "some truth" remaining, the original Church "was lost." But, the LDS "Apostasy" explanation asserts, the Apostles had "prophesied the falling away" of the Church, so it was all part of the plan.
The next link in the story put forward by the LDS is "Restoration," which states that the Apostle Peter had prophesied "the restitution of all things" prior to the "Second Coming" of Christ; and because the Church had basically been "lost," the prophesy was that the Church would be restored on Earth, and God's "authority" would therefore also be restored. Once this restoration of the Church on earth was complete, all people could "once again" enjoy the "blessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Joseph Smith now enters into the LDS story ("truth") in "The First Vision" page of the LDS Web site. Smith, whose "first vision marked the beginning of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth," according to the LDS, is the official "truth" from the LDS point-of-view that their religion is the "true" Christian religion.
In the spring of 1820, young Smith was said to be confused as to which church he should join, and so he "went to a grove of trees" near his New York State home, and there, visions of God and Jesus Christ "appeared to him." Allegedly, Jesus Christ told Smith not to join any of the churches that were competing for his interest, but rather, to start the Mormon Church. "In subsequent years, Christ restored His priesthood and reorganized His Church," the LDS story asserts. "He has continued to reveal truths to his prophets and to restore the blessings that were taken from the earth for a time."
And so, if the LDS version of how the Christian faith works is the "truth" about God's plan for the Christian Church on earth, then all other Christian denominations' contentions are false. If it is true that God's church was taken away from humans, and then returned only after Joseph Smith saw visions and later found gold tablets in New York State, then all other tenets of Christian theology are lies. That is the unstated -- but heavily implied -- reality of how the LDS church recruits new members.
The LDS regarding the "truth" -- the Literature
Kaufman (201) writes that "all too often" in history, religious knowledge has taken "authoritarian forms," and the truth was believed to be "accessible only to special elite groups who could interpret sacred texts and explain obscure ideas." Given these circumstances, the road to understanding and "truth" was a "more or less direct movement towards those (texts and personages) regarded as ultimate authorities in these matters, with little open discussion and criticism along the way," Kaufman continues.
Given that description of "authoritarian forms" of religious knowledge, the LDS dogma would certainly seem to fit in. "Sacred texts" and "obscure ideas" seems to be close to what the LDS want potential members to believe -- that there were golden tablets buried in Upstate New York carrying the "truth" about Christianity, and that there was divine intervention the day Joseph Smith "saw" God and Christ in a vision. And when Kaufman writes that the "hierarchical social patterns were fostered" by "authoritarian" religious sects, he warns that those social patterns "are easily subject to abuse," and that the "masses of ordinary people were expected simply to believe what they were told and to obey."
The LDS congregation is told to believe the Joseph Smith story, and to obey church rules. Thus, Mormons are, perhaps, "easily subject to abuse," and the LDS ideas could easily be seen as "obscure ideas," given the way most Christians believe: Christ came to earth, the son of God, established His Church, was crucified and rose from the dead for the sins of His followers; his Church was never taken away with the promise that it would return, according to traditional Christian theology, and therefore, the LDS version is untrue, and their aggressive world-wide promotional campaign is an abuse of the truth as most Christians know it.
This paper began with William James writing that "Truth grafts itself on previous truth, modifying it in the process ... " And this certainly could be the case with the LDS "truth" -- which has "grafted itself" on the story of the coming (and crucifixion) of Jesus Christ, but dramatically modified the "truth" along the way.
Another example of the LDS Church taking something from believable "truth" and "grafting" their additional and questionable material to it, is the notion that "today's Native…