Michael Tracey Responds To Your Comments

This is a guest post by Michael Tracey. He is a journalist in Brooklyn, New York.


My previous post seems to have whipped up a bit of consternation among the commenters, so I thought I would reply to a few objections raised.

Why does Michael Tracey get to decide who qualifies as Christian?

I don’t get to decide that, nor does anybody else. Theoretically, a UFO-worshiping Satanist could call herself a Christian, so she would, in some sense, be a Christian. But that outlandish example illustrates why we must employ criteria other than mere self-description in assessing whether one might rightly or wrongly be considered a Christian. Given that the Church of Latter-Day Saints affirms a view of the Trinity — a core precept of Christianity — which is radically contrary to any straight-forward biblical reading of what the Trinity means, then I think it is fair to use this fact as a piece of evidence against the idea that Mormonism is just another sect of Christianity. This wiki page is a good primer on the the nontrinitarianism of Mormon belief.

By the way, the aforementioned standard would equally apply to many liberal/New Age Christians, whose conception of the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus, etc. are often so hazy as to be unintelligible. I have spoken with self-described “Christians” who contend that Jesus Christ is not actually the one true savior. To me, this makes absolutely no sense, and they ought not be considered Christians.

Are their [Mormons'] fake angels any less fake than the angels in mainstream Christianity?

I don’t personally believe in the truth of either Mormonism or Christianity, but that does not preclude me from recognizing the profound doctrinal impasses between the two religions. And yes, I do think — as Sam Harris pointed out in a link provided by another commenter — that the unique features of Mormonism make it a few notches more implausible than mainstream Christianity. Namely that Joseph Smith was a prophetic figure who roamed upstate New York in the early 19th century. (Joseph Smith was actually an obvious huckster) There is less good evidence to discredit mainstream Christianity, simply by virtue of its major events having taken place so much longer ago.

There are plenty of reasons not to be a Mormon, but I also know Mormons who’ve done good things in public office.

Me too. This argument has no bearing on whether there exist in America Mormons who’ve done good things in public office.

I am having a difficult time getting past finding “fact” and “Bryan Fischer” in the same sentence.

I mentioned my interview with Bryan Fischer because he, like other committed Evangelicals, are among the few who’ve been honest enough to identify Mormonism as a straightforwardly non-Christian religion. Granted, Fischer is motivated to do so because one of his theological goals is to spread the word of Jesus as he perceives it, and Mormonism contravenes that goal. So for him, it’s not entirely about intellectual rigor. Still, he provides a good prism through which to consider these issues. Also see Rick Warren‘s comments on the “fundamental” differences between Mormonism and Christianity.

Mormons are Christian. Like all Christians, they believe that they must accept Jesus in order to be saved. Like all Christianity, everything else is just fluff.

The Trinity is “just fluff”? Interesting.

As an atheist who believes firmly in the separation of church and state, I would say that Romney’s mormonism is none of your business, Michael Tracey.

Our modern understanding of the separation of church and state bars the government from imposing a religious test on candidates for higher office. It takes no position on whether citizens ought to factor in a candidate’s religious beliefs in determining whether or not to vote for said candidate.

President Obama’s church is pretty wacky, too.

Asserting that Christianity and Mormonism are in doctrinal conflict indicates nothing about my view of President Obama’s church, which I could certainly discuss in a future blog post.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

    which is radically contrary to any straight-forward biblical reading of what the Trinity means

    This guy thinks that the Trinity is biblical?

  • asonge

    What are unitarians through history, chopped liver? The Quakers wouldn’t be Christians by the Trinity criteria, and neither would the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Oneness Pentecostals, among many other denominations, not counting the Christian heretics that attend trinitarian churches. I think some kind of belief about the nature of Christ is required to be a Christian, and the *type* of Christian, you could say orthodox (rather than Orthodox) Christianity is trinitarian in nature, but your criteria of the Trinity is just going to be too narrow.

  • asonge

    In order to be helpful, I may try to suggest an evolutionary point of view in describing who can identify as Christian in a sane way instead of something more essentialist. Just look at the schisms and creation of new denominations in the church over the years so that you end up with a tree. Mormonism wouldn’t be a Christianity here because of the amount of new scripture and new doctrine that were created at founding…it just shares too little with mainline Christianity. It looks more like the way Islam resembled Syrian Christianities contemporary to Mohammed. But we can definitely look at JW’s and Quakers as something borderline new, but still some part of Christianity. The Reunification Church would also look Christian here as well.

  • asonge

    Yeah, I didn’t even notice that. The Trinity is not a Biblical concept, no matter how much the SBC’ers like their proof-texts  Now, I believe it is a natural reading of trying to read the different theological ideas in the Bible, but trinitarianism has specific metaphysics attached that are much more specific than anything in the Bible is on these kinds of matters.

  • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

    There’s a scene in Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit—Will Travel where two unrelated Earth children have been taken to a planet in orbit around Vega.  One of them, Kip, arrived in serious need of medical attention.  When he awakens, he is informed that permission to provide medical attention has been granted by Peewee as his designated “next of kin.”  When he protests that they aren’t kin, she replies that from 40 light years away, everyone on Earth looks like kin.

    From an atheist’s point of view, Mormonism and what you are willing to identify as Christianity don’t look all that different either.  I’m a huge fan of Chick comics.  From them I know that there are a lot of Christians who would say that Catholics aren’t Christian, for the same trinity-related reasons that you deny that label to Mormons.  The Pope would insist that they are in fact the true church, the one founded by St. Peter, but there are those who would point out that they have to an extent deified both Mary and the saints.  After all, Christians believe that one can approach God only through his Son, don’t they?  And Catholics believe that Mary sits beside her Son, and through her tears can intercede with him on behalf of those who pray to her.  (And let’s not forget that Pope and Patriarch Theodore II, Pope Shenouda III, and Pope Gregory XVIII would all claim to lead the true Church.)

    Yes, I’m afraid that Romney thinks he’s going to be the fulfillment of the Whitehorse Prophecy.  (To me, it looks much more like another Heinlein “prophecy,” If This Goes On….)  But is that really so different from a fundamentalist Christian who thinks that Armageddon is going to start with war in the middle east, and that this war, despite meaning the end of life as we know it, is the precursor to the Second Coming of Christ, so it should be heralded rather than prevented?  Is that worse than Bachmann and Perry, Dominionists who believe that the reigns of government belong only in the hands of True Christians™?

    I’m not going to vote for Obama because he’s not the scary kind of religionist that Mitt Romney is.  I’m going to vote for him because I believe that he thinks with his brain instead of his pastor.

  • http://twitter.com/ErnestValdemar Ernest Valdemar

    Trinitarianism? Really? That’s your standard? /*boggles*/.

    Do you really expect anyone to respond in a blog comment to your assertions about Trinitarianism?

    How about maybe you read a book, instead?

  • Edmond

    I think it’s amusing that, in general, atheists will look at the various Christian/religious sects and say “I’ll take them at their word and call them the label they want to be called”, while many of those same Christians/theists will consider atheists and say “You’re not really an atheist unless you adhere to this narrow dictionary definition that I found”.

  • Rkhboettger

    Why can’t we all agree to call people who believe that someone was dead for three days, came back to life and ascended physically to heaven…deluded?  I really don’t care what they call themselves.

  • Anna

    Hey, I got quoted! :o)

    I don’t get to decide that, nor does anybody else.

    You’re contradicting yourself, Michael. You say you shouldn’t get to decide, nor should anyone else, and then you go on to give reasons (your reasons) why Mormons shouldn’t be considered Christian. 

    But that outlandish example illustrates why we must employ criteria other than mere self-description in assessing whether one might rightly or wrongly be considered a Christian. Given that the Church of Latter-Day Saints affirms a view of the Trinity — a core precept of Christianity — which is radically contrary to any straight-forward biblical reading of what the Trinity means..

    Who cares? Why is “straight-forward biblical reading” the only way to be Christian? Because you say so? 

    By the way, the aforementioned standard would equally apply to many liberal/New Age Christians, whose conception of the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus, etc. are often so hazy as to be unintelligible. I have spoken with self-described “Christians” who contend that Jesus Christ is not actually the one true savior. To me, this makes absolutely no sense, and they ought not be considered Christians.

    So you have appointed yourself arbiter of who makes it into the club. I’m curious to know your religious affiliation. You sound so much like a disgruntled evangelical I’d be rather surprised if you didn’t have something invested in trying to sort the “real” Christians from the “fake” ones.

  • Dan

    Michael Tracey,

    Unfortunately for your thesis the idea of the Trinity is not taught clearly anywhere in the Bible (the clearest verse, 1 John 5:7, wasn’t in the original and was added later) and the word is never even used, so to say Mormons hold a view of the Trinity “radically contrary to any straight-forward biblical reading of what the Trinity means” is a pretty bizarre claim. (To be clear, I’m an atheist, and I’m not trying to defend Mormon doctrines as true, just point out some errors in your post).

    Bart Ehrman writes a lot about how there were lots of different ideas among early Christians about the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity, but according to you many of the earliest Christians weren’t ‘real’ Christians. There are many other people who most historians consider Christians who didn’t have a modern orthodox view of the Trinity (like Isaac Newton, John Adams, Tillich, maybe Spong). Your definition also excludes most of the early Christian Unitarians, who didn’t believe in a traditional view of the Trinity, but did think Jesus became divine after his death and resurrection.

    Now it is true that Mormons don’t hold to a view of the Trinity that most modern, theologically conservative Christians do. But I think it would be better to say they they don’t have an Orthodox view of the Trinity. Instead you use such a restrictive definition of Christianity that you exclude all Unitarians, many Episcopalians, some Quakers, modalists, Oneness Pentecostalism, and a huge number of the earliest followers of Jesus.

    I’d really encourage you to see what the Bible says about the idea of the Trinity (I think you’ll be surprised how muddled the issue is), research other non-orthodox groups, and read some of Ehrman’s work on the diversity of early Christians beliefs before making such sweeping generalities.

  • Marella

    Historically the only thing you need in order to call yourself a Christian is the belief that Jesus is the ‘son of god’ and that his death has saved us all from eternal death. You don’t even have to believe that he was an actual earthly personage, you can believe it all  happened in the heavens if you like. You also need to believe in the holy spirit because that’s where all St Paul’s information came from. A belief in the trinity as conjured up by the Catholic church is certainly not necessary, this doctrine took hundreds of years to form and many early Christians did not subscribe to it because they’d never heard of it. Having read the Wiki page about Mormons I do not see anything that precludes them from calling themselves Christians. Gnostic christians had beliefs which were far more bizarre than Mormons’ beliefs. I agree that Mormonism is even more improbable than regular Christianity because it has an added layer of crazy but it’s still Christianity in my book.

  • ortcutt

    The accurate thing to say is that Mormonism doesn’t belong to Nicene Christianity.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are another group that rejects the tenets of Nicene Christianity.


  • C Peterson

    The Trinity is “just fluff”? Interesting.

    Indeed it is fluff. It isn’t fundamental to all of Christianity, but is stuff made up largely outside of biblical text, and adopted or not by different Christian sects.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Re: “… to any straight-forward biblical reading of what the Trinity means …”

    Uh, I almost hate to point this out, but there is nothing “biblical” about the Trinity. This word — which comes to English from the Latin trinitas; in Greek it would be τριας (tries) — does not appear in any New Testament document. It is absolutely not “biblical” in any way. A strictly “straight-faced” reading of the Bible, would force one to conclude that there is no Trinity.

    Yeah, one could extract the Trinity from the Bible via interpretation. A commonly-cited verse along these lines is John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Yes, indeed, if this were the only relevant Bible verse, one might have a point. But cherry-picking the occasional supporting verse is not good enough … not when there are other verses that very clearly contradict it, e.g. John 14:28, which concludes, “the Father is greater than I.” (Curious that Jesus manages to contradict himself inside of the very same gospel. As Arsenio Hall used to say, “Things that make you go, ‘Hmmmmm’.”)

    The Trinity doctrine does not exist because people read the Bible and from it concluded that the Godhead was a three-in-one co-existent so-substantial being. No, it exists because people disliked some “heretical” notions that came along, and they cooked it up as a response to them, because they ended up having no substantive basis for refuting them. Really, its origins are far more juvenile than “biblical”; it was created and promoted by fiercely petulant and hateful characters like Athanasius of Alexandria.

    Having said all this, I’m well aware there are Christians out there who will refuse to accept what I just typed … even though it’s factual. They will remain convinced the Trinity is “biblical,” in spite of the fact that it’s not, because they’ve been told all their lives that it is, and they don’t want to think they’ve been lied to. I’m sure the people who brought them up in Christianity also thought it’s “biblical,” and those before them, etc. hence one can’t say they were “lied to.” The lie goes back to the 4th and 5th centuries and the christological conflicts that generated the Trinity response. This false belief has simply been erroneously propounded through the centuries by Christians who, quite simply, did not know any better. Most of them couldn’t read and had no idea what the Bible really says about anything.

    But Christians living in the Information Age have no viable excuse for not knowing better. They can read. They can examine the Bible and see for themselves that no “Trinity” is mentioned in it, at all. If they had any integrity and courage, they’d acknowledge that it’s the case, and ditch that laughable and irrational notion immediately. But in my experience most Christians don’t have enough integrity or courage to do this.

  • Randomfactor

    “which is radically contrary to any straight-forward biblical reading of what the Trinity”

    In which verse does the term “trinity” appear?  TIA.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    As well as refusing to take us at our word if we tell them we were once Christians. lolz.

  • Edmond

    Well, to be fair, they do THAT to other people who claim to be Christian NOW.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    …what’s with the denial that the trinity is in the Bible? Sure, the word is never used, but the concept is pretty well established. They just use “trinity” to give a name to it. The father and son are pretty well established. Father is Yahweh that you get to know pretty well in the Old Testament that watches over and controls everything and makes up petty rules. It’s pretty clear that Jesus is the son (John 3:16) and he also says that he is God. The Holy Spirit is the part of God that supposedly dwells inside Christians. Romans 8:11 “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.”

    I’m not saying this is set in stone, but most things Christians believe in aren’t. That’s why there are so many branches of Christianity; because the Bible says quite a lot of different things. But it was very, very easy for me to find these verses and I didn’t even have to go back to the original Greek like many Christian do to pretend it makes sense.
    They believe that God comes to us in three forms: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, all of which are mentioned in the Bible.

    Personally, I see the best definition of Christianity being the acceptance of Jesus as savior. I don’t see the trinity as being the defining point.
    I think the reason Mormonism is harder to classify as Christianity is because it doesn’t quite fit with the branching of other denominations. Most other denominations split off because of differences in interpretation. Mormonism was mostly made up by some guy who really just wanted to start his own religion. I doubt it would have taken off at all if he didn’t include Jesus. No one cares if you tell them that you have a message from a god they don’t believe in, but they might listen if you say it’s from their god.

    If I was talking to a Mormon, I would never claim they weren’t a Christian. It doesn’t matter that much to me. But if someone’s talking to me and says they’re a Christian, I have very different ideas of what that means than if they say they’re a Mormon.
    Very interesting discussion…

  • Baby_Raptor

    Did you have anything to actually add to the conversation, or did you just want to provide us with laughs at your hypocritical idiocy? 

  • Manoj Joseph


    By your criteria, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists and other non Nontrinitarian denominations would be non-Christian.

    As others noted, the doctrine of Trinity emerged long after the New Testament books were written. It is not based on a “biblical reading”.

    What you have done is picked one doctrine and decided that it is the deciding criteria.


  • Manoj Joseph

    “the unique features of Mormonism make it a few notches more implausible than mainstream Christianity.”

    “There is less good evidence to discredit mainstream Christianity, simply
    by virtue of its major events having taken place so much longer ago.”

    Yes, Joseph Smith lived not too long ago. But how is “mainstream” Christianity any more plausible? Is it the virgin birth, the miracles, the crucifixion, the 3 hour long ‘eclipse’, the zombies walking around, the resurrection, the angels etc that make it more plausible?

    While our insight into the origins of Christianity may be far from clear, we do have a very good understanding of the mainstream theology. This theology is no more plausible than any seer stones that the LDS church can throw at us.

  • Amakudari

    Since many focus on the bizarre, trinitarian litmus test in his response, this one deserves a mention:

    I do think that the unique features of Mormonism make it a few notches more implausible than mainstream Christianity.

    They’re both so ridiculous as to be completely implausible. The fact that Mormons also believe Yahweh lives in a castle near the star Kolob where you need secret handshakes to enter doesn’t make it any worse, because we’re already so far removed from what makes a lick of sense.

    I’m not talking about the extraordinary and factually unsupported claim that an itinerant rabbi was actually the son of god birthed by a virgin and, to make his father more comfortable with his own creations, had to be sent up in a blood sacrifice, with the records of his life all written decades later. There are a host of demons (presumed responsible for now well-understood diseases), angels, contradictions, dubious moral points, scientifically unsound claims, etc. that it really confuses me how someone would consider it remotely plausible.

  • TheBlackCat

     Exactly.  And it is not like trinitarianism was even universal amongst members of the early church.  It is hard to be sure whether it was even the dominant position, since the trinitarians were the ones who got to right the history on the matter, but it is certainly known that there were a lot of other popular concepts besides trinitarianism in the early church.

  • TheBlackCat

     There is a lot more to the concept of trinitarianism than that.  It implies things about the equality, origin, and nature of the three beings.  You can think that Jesus is the son of God and think that Jesus is God and still not be a trininitarian.  For example if you think the Holy Spirit is not a distinct being, then you are not a trinitarian.  If you think God is superior to Jesus then you are not a trinitarian.  If you think Jesus came into existence at some point then you are not a trinitarian.  If you think Jesus was not fully human and fully god then you are not a trinitarian.  If you think the trinity are not, at the same time, the same being and wholly separate beings, you are not a trinitarian.  None of those concepts have much basis in the Bible, and what little basis there is appears to have been added later.

    Heck, if I recall correctly there was even disagreement whether the gospels ever claimed Jesus was the literal son of God, or whether he was using it metaphorically (i.e. we are all God’s children).  The one place that explicitly says that may have been added later.

  • TheBlackCat

     Exactly, the problem isn’t that one was created by a huckster and one wasn’t, the problem is that one was created recently enough that we remember the huckster, while the other wasn’t.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    Mormonism is a religion that claims certain prophets in common (at least by name) with Judaism and Christianity.
    Just as Islam isn’t Christianity, Mormonism isn’t either. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

    ” Like all Christians, they believe that they must accept Jesus in order to be saved”Another evangelically driven mythCatholics do not adhere to that at all. Neither do Anglicans. Their “faith” is defined by the Nicean Credo, or Nicean Declaration of Faith. “I believe…..blah blah blah”.The defining part of Catholicism is a total belief in Transubstantiation and acceptance of the Vatican Magisterium.”Accepting Jesus” is simply another way of saying “born again”. The happy clappy credo.See further the generic use of the false flag political term “Christian” as in this article and common usage in the USA. Political “Big Tent” terms used to glue together otherwise very different variations of faith.

  • asonge

    As was said earlier, the Trinity is a very specific doctrine concerning the relationship between The Son, Father, and Spirit. The fact that these are individually mentioned doesn’t mean the Bible contains the concept of the Trinity. Let’s go through the prooftext:

    1 John 5:7-8 (note: not the Gospel of John, but 1 John) “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three are one.”

    Now, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus is The Word and The Word was known as co-eternal with God. In any event, this verse is only in the KJV’s later Latin sources. In other translations based on more and on older (but still complete) manuscripts, for instance the NASB and NIV respectively, the text reads quite differently:

    For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

    For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

    Notice how the three in agreement aren’t even the members of the trinity, but appear to be sacrements. There’s a large part of Christianity that’s taken in at a cultural level and read into the Bible that’s not directly Biblical. Take, for instance, the doctrine of an eternal punishment in hell. The only things sentenced to eternity in hell are Satan and his demons who aren’t there already (10% of the 1/3rd of angels who betrayed God + Satan are not yet in Hell when God gave Satan dominion over the earth). Other than that, what’s actually in the Bible concerning hell is very little. Maybe 30 references in the New Testament, in the Old Testament only Sheol is mentioned and that means “the pit” which can be read naturalistically (worm food) or spiritually (as something like Greece’s Hades, a shadow-world full of zombie spirits…a kind of cosmic never-ending line at WalMart when your iPhone is out of batteries). Jews have very little doctrine concerning the afterlife. Where does the current doctrine of Hell come from? Christian myth passed through tradition. Dante just drew upon myths that were actually found in a recently rediscovered apocryphal book called the Apocalypse of Peter, something that was never part of canonical Christianity but somehow was retained via culture. The trinity is similarly culturally transmitted.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I’m not saying they didn’t add onto it. I know there are lots of things in the Bible that they took and came up with a whole theology about. I just think it’s dishonest to say that it’s not biblical when there’s a lot more in there about the three forms of God than there is about other stuff they believe.
    The three forms are plainly there. along with more confusing references to their connection. But the connection is there and it’s not at all hard to see how people might have decided that they are the same, but separated. “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus] and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” That’s pretty plainly saying that they were together and they were the same.

    On a different thread, I’m arguing with someone about whether or not the perpetual virginity of Mary is a biblical concept. He argues that it is because in the original Greek when the angel comes to her, she says, “How can this be since I know no man?” They take the present tense and decide based on this one verse that she planned to remain a virgin all her life. It’s stuff like that that’s not biblical. Things like the rapture and eternal punishment and Mary staying a virgin are not biblical. When we tell Christians this, they insist it is and find the only verse on the topic in the Bible and they try to pretend it means way more than it does. It’s likely that someone found the verse and made up a bunch of crazy concepts to go along with that one verse and start their own church. With the trinity, it is based on many confusing verses where I find it much more likely that people saw these and couldn’t understand what they meant, so they used the trinity to try and organize it and put it in simple terms. Sure, they expanded on it, but they do that all the time. Christians would not have a hard time finding verses to support their argument and would not even have to twist words around, like with Mary, hell, or the rapture.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I think that the more easy it is to prove a belief wrong, the more crazy the belief is.

    However, if you’re brought up being brainwashed into Christianity or Mormonism, both are equally valid.

  • Don Gwinn

    –President Obama’s church is pretty wacky, too.–
    Asserting that Christianity and Mormonism are in doctrinal conflict indicates nothing about my view of President Obama’s church, which I could certainly discuss in a future blog post.
    I look forward to reading that one, too.  I think it’s fair to note, though, that I wasn’t claiming that you were indicating support for Trinity United in Chicago or for Jeremiah Wright.  I was asserting that, whether you intended it that way or not, your post joins a tall pile of media pieces attacking Mormonism, alongside a mouldering pile of pieces attacking Trinity United, most of them dating back to 2008 and clearly marked as coming from partisan right-wing sources.
    In short, I think there’s a clear bias at work here, and whether you intended to participate in it or not, your piece has that effect.  I’ll wait with interest for your pieces exploring President Obama’s history at Trinity United, his history of acclaiming and then denying Jeremiah Wright, and his ties to Father Michael Pfleger and Louis Farrakhan.  
    You aren’t being singled out, here.  My friends wear me out with criticism of Obama’s church while defending the Mormons no matter what, and I point out the same imbalance to them.

  • Foster

    Do not misrepresent me, Julie.  I admitted in the thread you mentioned that the Bible does not explicitly teach Mary’s perpetual virginity.  I said we have a biblical reason to think that Mary was a virgin.  Inference does not require the same level of proof as deduction.  We may infer that the most logical reason she said what the Bible says she did was that she was intending to remain a virgin, but this does not deductively make it so.  You also neglected to mention (as I mentioned on that occasion) that as a Catholic, I have no problem believing things not found in Scripture, because Scripture itself asks Christians to believe things not found in Scripture, but that were orally transmitted (2 Thess. 2:15).  This is one of the fundamental inconsistencies of *sola scriptura* Protestantism, because the Bible itself contradicts *sola scriptura*.  The chief reason I believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity is that the Church teaches it to be so, and has passed on this belief through oral tradition since as far back as we have evidence.  If you don’t like atheists misrepresenting the Trinity (above), do not commit the similar error of misrepresenting me.

  • http://twitter.com/darwins66 Dave Shores

    Who the h*ll is this guy, anyway?  Note to self – next time ‘Michael Tracey’ appears in the byline  I’ll know not to waste my time.  

  • C Peterson

    the unique features of Mormonism make it a few notches more implausible than mainstream Christianity.

    You mean in the way that the Easter Bunny is a few notches more implausible than Santa Claus? Or wait… is it the other way around?

  • Philo Vaihinger

    Mormons hold that the Trinity and others of the “core doctrines” of what you think of as “historic Christianity” are imports and corruptions based on Greek ideas of the ancient world.

    They – the Mormons – have their own ideas of what are the core doctrines of “actual” Christianity.

    And who can say their distinctive beliefs take them further from the Abrahamic root of ancient Judaism than all that Greek stuff – or Zoroastrian stuff, if you prefer other critics – you find in Catholicism and Protestantism?

    The Protestants have their own ideas of what belongs to Christianity and what does not, come to that, too; as do the Catholics and the Orthodox and the Copts and other varieties of folk who claim to be Christian and are indeed historic branches of that tree, so to speak.

    Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses also reject the Trinity, it now occurs to me.

    And the Radical Reformation wasn’t that hot on that “core,” either.

    Seems to me you are letting Magisterial Protestantism define Christianity for you.

    Sort of a giveaway, is it not, that you cite Rick Warren to tell you what Christianity is?

  • Stev84

    There were early Christian sects (in the first and second centuries) who didn’t even believe in Jesus’s divinity. Some of the earliest great disputes were about just that.

  • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

    ” I don’t get to decide that, nor does anybody else. Theoretically, a
    UFO-worshiping Satanist could call herself a Christian, so she would, in
    some sense, be a Christian. But that outlandish example illustrates why
    we must employ criteria other than mere self-description in assessing
    whether one might rightly or wrongly be considered a Christian.”

    Here’s the thing though. If your UFO-worshiping Satanist claimed that her conviction of her Christianity comes to her though supernatural revelation, her claim to the term is just as valid as anyone else.
    The fact is that not even Christians agree to who are Christians. I was shocked to discover that some Evangelicals don’t count Catholics as Christians (Although they seem to include them in the fold when they want to count nameless heads).

    What you’re doing is making the correct claim that “this thing over here, its not like that thing over there”, but then adding the implicit assumption that one of the two things has a more legitimate claim to a term than others, due to historical reasons, tradition or just plain numbers, or some unstated reason.

    I accept that Mormonism is quite different from other Christianities. I dare say so different as to be mutually exclusive from most of them. I contend that that is not my problem, and that I refuse to allow religious adherents to ignore the problems their embrace of supernaturalism and ‘subjective ways of knowing’ causes them. If any of the various Christian sects want to claim legitimacy over the term, they need to earn it. Doing otherwise is giving them another unearned privilege.

  • http://profiles.google.com/conticreative Marco Conti

    Thank you, I was going to post something alng the same lines, but once I read your post, mine would have been inferior and repetitive.
    Good job.

  • Deven Kale


    Historically the only thing you need in order to call yourself a
    Christian is the belief that Jesus is the ‘son of god’ and that his
    death has saved us all from eternal death. You don’t even have to
    believe that he was an actual earthly personage, you can believe it all 
    happened in the heavens if you like.

    This really caught my attention. I’ve always had the impression that Christians believed Jesus was not only the son of Jay but also Jay incarnate. Is there something authoritative I can read where it says that it is as you say? Because if so, then I would have to assume that Mormons are also Christian, and with my disdain for Mormonism I would hate to allow them even that level of legitimacy without good reason.

  • GeorgeLocke

    But how is “mainstream” Christianity any more plausible?

    Mormonism is less plausible because it includes essentially all the absurd claims of traditional Christiniaty and adds many new absurd claims.  Neither Mormonism nor Christianity is remotely plausible, but Mormonism is less plausible because it is more specified.  (This is basically the same logic as in the statement “there are more 5 letter words starting with “le” than “lea”.  The former includes the latter.)

  • Dan

    Bart Ehrman’s books talk about the diversity of early Christian thought a lot, and there is a good (free) lecture series by Dale Martin at Yale available on iTunes University, and you might want to study Christian Unitarianism and some Liberal Episcopalian writings for a more modern look at Christians who don’t think Jesus was Jehovah incarnate.

    Many large sects of early Christians did not believe Jesus was equal with Jehovah, and it is unclear even from the Bible if Jesus is described as God incarnate. If you want a really quick overview you can read the Wikipedia article ‘Diversity in early Christian theology’ and follow the links to learn more about the individual sects of early Christians.Why do you think it would ‘legitimize’ Mormonism to describe them as Christians? As diverse as Christian thought is (Liberal, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, Messianic Judaism, Prosperity Gospel, Catholic, Quaker, Christian Unitarianism, Pentecostal, etc) I don’ see how calling Mormons Christians legitimizes their doctrines at all, since those groups have wildly different, and often mutually incompatible, views.

  • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

    Of course this would mean that Mormonism is actually a subset of Christianity, which Tracey isn’t accepting.

    ‘Mainstream’ Christianity is itself a misnomer; different flavors of Christianity are popular in different locations around the world. In my Greek upbringing, Greek Orthodox Christianity was the mainstream..

  • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

     To defend Michael, if what you’re saying is in fact the case, he would not be alone in doing so. It’s easy to mistake what we’re familiar with an objective baseline. It still seems to me that Greek Orthodox Christianity, that I grew up in, is the purest form of Christianity, with others straying further and further from the True Path since the Catholics bailed in 1054 CE. On inspection, this is of course absurd, but the feeling still remains.

  • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

     Islam doesn’t claim to be Christianity though, Mormonism does. 

    There is no dispute about there being greater differences between Mormons and other Christians. The issue is that declaring Mormonism ‘not true’ Christianity implies there is such a thing as authentic Christianity, which is not a point I am willing to concede without evidence.

  • GeorgeLocke

    Heh.  My comment was certainly a quibble, and I just can’t stop myself from further quibbling.  One could argue that Christianity takes everything from Judaism and adds more nonsense, but xtianity is nevertheless a distinct religion and not a subset of Judaism.  I have no idea if Tracey would use this line or not, but it doesn’t really matter.   Islam also holds that Jesus was a holy prophet but not that he was the son of God, etc., so the trinity is also one of the things that differentiates Islam from Christianity.
    I’m sure most people here know that many Christians, many of them evangelicals, do not consider LDS a sect of Christianity, while others do. In any case, there are arguments on either side, and most Christians probably don’t care.  Whether Mormonism is a “Christian” sect or not, many people think it is much weirder than other sects, and that’s the only thing that matters here.  I will also say that if Tracey wanted to defend himself, he might have adduced more evidence than just the Trinity.  In his defense, he says it’s just one piece of evidence and didn’t take it to be a knock-down argument, but still, I don’t quite see the point of writing this long defense of the “mormons not christian” position with only one piece of evidence to back it up.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    As others have pointed out in their comments, once you move away from “a person is  a Christian if they say they are,” and you claim that an objective criteria in their theology is what determines if they are truly Christian or not, you immediately collide with the fact that you are subjectively deciding which criteria will be the objective standard.

    Okay, I’ll offer my own “objective” litmus test for true Christianity that is just as silly and just as valid as any other:

    A true Christian is a person who agrees with Bill O’Reilly that there is a War On Christmas, and the more indignant they are in that stance, the more pious and devout a True Christian ® they are. Blessed be the Fox, for it is Fair and Balanced.

    Listening to anyone trying to differentiate between “true” and derived, imitation, or counterfeit Christianity leads toward the conclusion that if there are two billion people who call themselves “Christian,” then there are either two billion versions of true Christianity, or there are no true versions at all.

  • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

     I do disagree with the idea that the later religions took “everything” from their ‘progenitors’ and then added more stuff. It reminds me of the silliness in the creationist staple “If humans evolved from monkees, why are there still monkees”. In actuality, outside of the aspects taken from one religion as it branches out, all religions have more beliefs and dogmas, as all of them continue to produce new ideas to go with the times.

    The issue is not that Mormonism seems weirder than other sects. It’s about what standard do we hold something in order to call it ‘authentically’ Christian. As an atheist, I have no reason to claim Mormons are less ‘authentic’ Christians than the RCC, Calvinists or the slew of Christian black magic witch-burners spreading like a rash in Africa.

    I don’t know what Tracey believes, but this is something religionists do all the time and have normalized it to the extent that even atheists fall prey to it.
    I won’t allow religionists to claim subjective experience as justification of their own outlandish claims, only to retreat to empirical investigation when they have to deal with competing subjective claims, without calling them out on their bull.

  • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

    A tangent: Isn’t this the same problem Christians find themselves in with declaring an ‘objective’ standard for morality? They take the time to define morality as an absolute standard, one that is true even if everybody disagrees with it, and then when asked to give examples, they reply with positions manufactured specifically to appeal to the majority (“is it moral to torture and kill babies for fun?” is a popular one). But according to their original claim, I could posit that it could be objectively moral, and that everyone, including them and myself, who finds it wrong is objectively immoral and they have no real way to counter that other than to appeal to their god again.

  • 3lemenope

    While it is an easy mistake to make, it is also an easily avoidable one. A significant cornerstone of gaining expertise is the ability to challenge one’s own prejudices and preconceptions in service to a fuller understanding of whatever subject one wishes to master. A prerequisite for opining in a persuasive way upon a topic of scholarly research is *some measure* of familiarity with the facts and claims of the discipline beyond common knowledge, as common knowledge is all too often replete with unexamined error.

    I don’t think anyone who grows up in a Western Christian-dominated society could be blamed for assuming that the Trinity is an explicitly Biblical doctrine. I do think it isn’t much to ask, however, that if a person actually wants to offer a persuasive opinion on Trinitarianism and its relationship to Christianity that they learn that their culturally-gifted assumption is in error.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I’m sorry if you think I misrepresented you. That was not my intent. My main point was to show the difference between ideas in Christianity that are in the Bible and ones that aren’t. I figured that mentioning the perpetual virginity of Mary would make it clear that you were either Catholic or Orthodox, so no, you wouldn’t have a problem with it even if it wasn’t in the Bible. I was just contrasting beliefs that are not supported by the Bible with beliefs that– however vague or confusing– have a lot of verses that point to it. That one immediately jumped to mind because we were talking about it and you were trying to support it with one vague verse from the Bible. But I’m sure if I challenged you on the trinity, you could come up with much more support. That’s my main point. I’m sure you can understand why I don’t agree that Mary’s perpetual virginity is in the Bible, but you’d be more confused why people would question whether the trinity is in there. All three parts of God are mentioned, it says Jesus is God’s son, Jesus calls God his father, Jesus says he and the father are one, John says Jesus was with God and was God, and it talks about God’s spirit dwelling in you which is also Jesus’ spirit, etc. That’s a lot more support than we’ve got for other concepts.

  • TheBlackCat

     But there is an objective litmus test.  It is right there in the Bible:

    Mark 16:17-18 “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

  • thebigJ_A

    It’s not remotely plausible. He’s not *saying* it’s remotely plausible. It is, however, objectively, logically LESS plausible that both all the older bonkers crazy christian claims are true AS WELL AS the extra bonkers crazy claims the Mormons piled on top. 

    If I say I know a flying pig, that is extremely implausible, yes? Now, if I say I know a flying pig from the planet Venus who rules over all the hoofed animals of the Earth from a golden sty, that is objectively even less plausible.

  • Anna

    That’s true. Now I’m even more curious to know Tracey’s religious affiliation. He says “I don’t personally believe in the truth of either Mormonism or Christianity” but perhaps he was raised in an evangelical home and still holds those familiar standards for who qualifies as Christian.

  • freemage

     I was hoping someone else would lay this one out.  Yeah, “Christianity” is usually verbal shorthand for “Nicene Christianity”.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Isn’t this discussion sort of moot? If we’ve learnt anything from last year’s Harold Camping fiasco, it’s that the difference between various sects of Christianity is one of degree, not of kind. They all believe kooky things. When Harold Camping put a date to the end of the world, Christians of every stripe were coming out of the woodwork to tell him that he had the wrong of it, that no man knows the day or the hour save the Father. That’s when I realized that all Christians are insane; the difference is the intensity of their insanity.