A postmodern defense of Mormonism

Over at the Peculiar People blog, Patrick Mason offers this response to my recent blog about the baseless claim of a Great Apostasy that undergirds the entire Mormon claim:

(Shea’s broader point regards the falsity of the Mormon historical narrative about ancient Christian apostasy, which then renders the entire religion categorically “unnecessary.” This is a red herring: faith in either the Roman Catholic or Latter-day Saint construction of history is ultimately subjective—one narrative is not objectively more plausible than the other, despite what apologists or detractors on either side may say.)

This, as near as I can tell, is a concession that there is no basis whatsoever for the Mormon claim of a Great Apostasy. And yes, in fact, the Catholic claim is objectively more plausible because the history of the Church can be traced and there is no evidence whatever of some break in apostolic tradition. Is there evidence of sin? Sure. But so what?

Conversely, there is no evidence–none whatsoever–for the historical claims of Mormonism. So the attempt appears to be to take the whole discussion out of the realm of verifiable historical data and evacuate it to the realm of subjective “narratives”. This is, frankly, of a piece with the Mormon tendency to appeal to “burning in the breast” and other such subjective phenomena as “evidence” for the “truth” of Mormon claims. It’s a curiously post-modern way of arguing. A sort of hyper-fideism that seems to me to despair the use of the intellect in evaluating any historical claim.

One of the many schisms of our time is the schism between faith and reason. Fideism such as the sample above (and a lot of Mormon apologetics) cancels reason and demands faith alone, while a lot of atheist agitprop cancels faith and worships reason (though it seldom uses it).

Meanwhile, here is Fr. Robert Barron on the proper relationship of faith and reason:

  • B.E. Ward

    The quote from Mason was so teeth-clenchingly familiar to me. With my parents still die-hard Mormons, any argument about the faith inevitably turns into some postmodern “Well, this is true for us and that’s true for you.” My dad even went so far as to say “there’s more than one truth.”

    I recognize this as some twisted sort of acknowledgement of defeat, but it’s really irritating as it essentially gives themselves permission to continue living in the sham world of secret names, secret handshakes, and “one day I’ll be a God, too!”

  • Thomas R

    That response is weird, and I agree Mormonism is historically off-kilter, but the Mormons I’ve dealt with online aren’t quite so post-modern. Many of them just don’t talk about the “Great Apostasy” part of their beliefs, but other things I’ve found odd they’ll actually defend. Not “every narrative is true as others narrative” but point out some Indigenous American people who are of such-and-such blood group which can be found in Semitic people, etc.

    I’m not saying I buy it, at all, I’m just saying I’m not sure which is more typical or fair to say of Mormons. Many I think probably just don’t know early Christian history, and in fairness something like a “Great Apostasy” was at least partially in early Protestantism, so might say we just don’t know and God told Joseph Smith XYZ or something so who are you to argue? This post-modern Mormonism you’re dealing with may be common now, but I still wonder if maybe you’re making it seem more standard than it is.

  • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

    “one narrative is not objectively more plausible than the other”

    I suppose, if you don’t actually check which narrative corresponds to the known facts of history, this is true…..ROFL

  • Dan F

    “This is, frankly, of a piece with the Mormon tendency to appeal to “burning in the breast” and other such subjective phenomena as “evidence” for the “truth” of Mormon claims.”

    This reminded me of the recent atheist billboard campaign: “You *know* it’s a myth.” “Know,” in that context, really sounds more like the “burning in the breast” than the result of any kind of reasoning. Worshipping reason without using it, and all that.

    • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

      Hey now, Dan F. – that’s my handle. ;)

      Although I agree with you.

  • Ben the Atheist

    come on. a first century christian wouldnt recognize anything in a modern american mass.

    • Jason C.

      Is that something I’d have to go to a “modern american mass” to find persuasive? As Mark said, “the Catholic claim is objectively more plausible because the history of the Church can be traced and there is no evidence whatever of some break in apostolic tradition. Is there evidence of sin? Sure. But so what?” Don’t judge the historic claims of Catholics based on the sinfulness of modern liturgical fads.

      Find and attend a traditional Catholic rite, Eastern or Western, and you’ll be worshiping in a manner most recognizable by the ancients. In fact, it could just as easily be said that “a [twenty-]first century christian woudnt recognize anything in a [traditional] mass.” So? Whose argument is advanced by such a statement? No one’s. Your statement is, therefore, unpersuasive.

    • Telemachus

      BtA,

      Step #1 –> Read about St. Justin Martyr: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08580c.htm. Please note that he was writing in the early 2nd Century.
      Step #2 –> Read Chapters 65 & 66: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm.
      Step #3 –> Go to a Catholic Mass.
      Step #4 –> ???
      Step #5 –> PROFIT!

      I’m sorry that I told people not to interact with you. That wasn’t kind. Keep writing comments like this. Eventually you will learn something, but you need to be more humble. I’m also starting to find you fairly entertaining.

      God bless,
      Tele

      PS: Don’t bother saying “But he’s a 2nd Century Christian, not a 1st Century Christian.” If you really think this is a good argument, I suggest you meditate on the nature of human history. 100 years is not a long time.

    • Mark Shea

      Sure he would. He would recognize the gesture of the consecration of the Eucharist.

  • Telemachus

    Are Mormons really getting so desperate that they would rather lock themselves up in a bubble of subjectivity and relativism than start grappling with the history of Christianity? I find this remarkable.


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