Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Spengler and the "Cult of the Book"

Spengler is always good. I found his article "Yes Romney, there is a Sanity Clause" on a recent visit to his site. This may seem like old news, in light of Romney's withdrawal from the presidential race today. But that is not the real story Spengler is telling. On his way to reaching his main point, Spengler doesn't pussy-foot around with Mormon history or doctrine, to wit:

Voters may reject a candidate whose religious views are crazy, for example, someone who thinks he talks to God. Does Romney believe that he himself will become God, as Mormon doctrine teaches?

Americans express disquiet about Romney's religion; 27% of respondents to the 2007 Pew Center poll held an unfavorable view of Mormons, about the same as of American Muslims (29%), against only 9% for Jews and 14% for Catholics. These numbers suggest that Americans are not as dumb as they look.

Joseph Smith...the Sorcerer's Apprentice of American religion.

Belief in the Book of Mormon is one of the strangest collective delusions in history. The circumstances of its forgery are transparent and exhaustively documented.

According to a recent survey, 99% of the students at the church's Brigham Young University believe that Smith was a prophet, despite overwhelming and authoritative evidence that he was a con man.

But the main point Spengler is raising is not the falsehoods upon which the Mormon edifice rest, but rather, this:

To understand the Mormons we must look below the surface of belief. Why we believe something cannot be separated from what we believe. Judaism and Christianity are founded on an event - the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, and the spiritual Exodus, namely Christ's Resurrection. Mormonism offers quite a different sort of revelation: a book purportedly translated through Smith's top hat. In that respect, Mormonism resembles Islam more than Christianity. As Franz Rosenzweig said of Islam and the Koran, "The book sent down from Heaven - can there be a more complete renunciation of the concept that God Himself descends, and gives Himself to humankind, to reveal Himself? He sits enthroned in His highest heaven and sends humankind - a book."

And then Spengler asks "what attracts people to the cult of the book?" That is a question that has been on my mind of late. I am curious as to why it is so. For the cult of the book is not confined to Mormonism or Islam. As Spengler noted, "why we believe something cannot be separated from what we believe."

I spent a quarter century deep in evangelical American Protestantism. From that perspective, I could never see just how close we came to bibliolatry ourselves. Scripture, or rather our interpretation of it, was the ultimate Authority. From this, we deduced a concept of Christ, a plan of salvation, and fashioned an ideology. But really, it was always all about the book. I remember comments made in bible class about how much more fortunate we were than those First Century Christians, because we had "the Word," meaning of course, the leather-bound variety. It sounded odd, even then. Now, it is almost laughable, if it wasn't so sad. We didn't use words like Incarnation, but it was almost as if Christ's role in giving himself to mankind was really just to bring us the New Testament.

A bit harsh? Perhaps. I don't want to be one to throw stones back at "from whence I came," but this situation intrigues me, particularly when I look at the current state of religion in America. I would be curious to hear the experience/observations of others.


Anonymous said...

No, John, you are not being mean spirited in your assessment of your former tradition. I taught that stuff myself (with a mental choke often). In a sense the goal was admirable, as it is with all rigid, book people: eliminate the power of "personal experience" to direct the human being. (I lived through the splits in the churches of Christ over the charismatic movement, Pat Boone was an embarrassment or hero). The issue is that they replace the human intellect which they apparently do not believe is subject to the consequences of the fall in the same manner as the "heart" or "emotions". It is the attempt to objectify SOMETHING that can guide the errant human being. That was the impetus for Joseph Smith's finding of the tablets... he was distressed over all the denominations' various teachings all taken from the same Bible. Now I look at it all and just marvel at what people will give up in order to have their universe neat and tidy and orderly.

Anonymous said...

Your thoughts (Spengler's thoughts too) are spot on. The desire of Protestants to be people of the book is admirable, however so often lacking in honesty. Not that people are attempting to be dishonest, but more so that the exploration of honest questions about how the first church lived out faith are lacking. How the first church incorporated the reality of the incarnation and resurrection as real life and current, is quite different from making the Holy Scriptires the central focus. Perhaps nothing so demonstrates this reality as the sermon replacing the Eucharist.
I say this as a "used to be" Mennonite pastor on his way to orthodoxy.



Magotty Man said...

Interesting post, John. Much food for thought.

I think though that we need to be fair to the origins of (at least some of) protestantism - namely the situation in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Western Christianity, where the church had nigh devolved to a personality cult, and abuses were rife. Grasping back to Scripture as a Real authority was a lifeline to the Reformers - not that they weren't steeped in the fathers as well. But especially in Anglophile Christianity, things seem to have gone downward at a pace subsequently. It seems that the Calvinists (for one) have been reading Calvin through a set of lenses which have very little to do with Calvin - and this is not unique. What the future holds is anybody's guess, but one needs only to look at the recent bust-up in the PCA over the "Federal Vison controversy" to realise how far things have slid. May God have mercy...

Anonymous said...

I'm a member of a big PCA church that is very successful by most counts, but the failure of bibliolotry is evident if you pay attention.

Last year a well known pastor from one of our sister churches preached at our church and commented that he didn't understand why all PCA churches failed to celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday. He also remarked that he's never understood the oft-quoted excuse that having communion every week would diminish it.

Well, just a couple of weeks before our pastor (who was sitting there listening to this) had used that precise excuse when we were having our monthly communion service.

The guest pastor is someone who's obviously come under the influence of a small but growing group in the PCA with a high view of the sacraments.

Of course both churches, and both pastors justify their positions on their interpretations of the Bible.

And this is within a denomination known for its theological soundness.

Nicodemus said...

John, the New Testament itself seems to perpetuate the 'cult of the book' in that the Bereans searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true. On the other hand, Jesus says that you search the Scriptures thinking they will bring you eternal life, when in reality, it is Christ they are pointing to.

This is a big hurdle for Protestants checking out the Orthodox faith. But, the Orthodox do nothing not in agreement with Scripture, it is just that not everyone agrees with the Orthodox interpretation of the Scripture. It is difficult for a Protestant to hear that the Orthodox intepretation is the original one - all others came after and should therefore be considered questionable.

The Bible is good. The Bible is holy. I love the Bible! But, to replace it with Christ himself, the Bible then becomes as you said: an idol.

Steve Hayes said...

I recall an encounter with some fanatically anti-charismatic Baptists. They denounced then-popular signs that saaid "Smaile -- God loves you." "God doesn't love you, he's very angry with you. You are a sinner." they said.

They objected to hymns and songs about the resurrection. I got the impression that they didn't really believe in the resurrection. It was in the Bible, so they had to admit that it was a fact. But for them it was not a significant fact.