Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mohammed and the Mormons

As Elders M and J and I wandered through various topics, they told me (again) about the uniqueness of Joseph Smith's angelic visitations and the receiving of the Book of Mormon. We talked a little bit about the faith necessary to believe this, since there's really no physical evidence for any of this having happened.

Me: So, how do you deal with this with other people who claim to have seen similar things. For instance, I find the enormous similarities between the birth of Islam and the birth of Mormonism somewhat troubling.

Elder J: I'm not really familiar with Islam.

Me: Well, you have Mohammed, a pretty religious guy off in a cave, whereas Joseph Smith was in, what, the wilderness or something?

Elder J: A grove of trees.

Me: Right. And an angel appears with a vision of a purified religion, just like Joseph Smith. Then Mohammed dictates the new scripture, he was actually illiterate I think, and Joseph Smith -- okay, I know he's meant to be translating but he dictates the translation of the new scripture. And then both the Koran and the Book of Mormon are taken up to heaven.

Elder J: I see what you're saying. And we would say, yes, Mohammed is a prophet, too.

Me: !!!!

Elder J: We see this pattern that after Christ, about every 600 years God sends a prophet. Mohammed was one of those. Joseph Smith also came at the end of one of those 600 years.

Me: I am amazed that you would say this. What do you mean when you say he was a prophet?

Elder J: The he was a sort of spiritual genius, given insight by the Holy Ghost about spiritual things.

Me: I... uh. Hmmm. I have a real problem with this. I think this makes God seem a bit schizophrenic. I mean every six hundred years he's giving humanity an entirely different system for interacting with him? The theology of Mormonism and Islam are vastly different, and I don't see how you can claim they are both prophets.

Elder M: In the end we are all backed up against the wall of faith. What you need to do is pray and ask the Holy Ghost whether the Book of Mormon is true.


  1. I don't know that I would agree with the Elder that Mormons consider Muhammad to be a prophet in the the same vein as Joseph Smith or Moses or Peter. I would say the historical understanding of the coming forth of the Koran and Muhammad's life is limited simply due to the limited number of historical records that have survived. If we look at the wealth of documents and witnesses we have surrounding Joseph Smith's life and yet we still see the whole spectrum of interpretations of his life, it should make us be cautious about the level of confidence in which we detail the life of Muhammad as it has now been solidified through tradition and writings hundreds of years after his death.

    The LDS church does not make specific commentary on the issue but Muhammad has been mentioned in church publications alongside Buddha, Confucius, and others as being inspired of God to bring portions of light to mankind.

    A common comparison cited by Mormons is Moses first coming down off of the mountain with the higher law but finding the children of Israel in the state they were in, he smashes the tablets and later comes back with a lesser law, the Law of Moses, a law of codes and behavior. This unique LDS reading is based on revelations recorded by Joseph Smith as he studied the writings of Moses.

    My personal thinking is that God has had his hand in things all around the world and across time. I think men like Muhammad and Buddha were indeed inspired of God and called to bring a portion of light, a portion that was both known and agreed upon and sufficient for the testing experience of mortality, also knowing that ways had been prepared for everyone to hear the full message and understanding even after death and even receive the necessary ordinances, primarily baptism. I think the forms in which their teachings now exist whether Islam or Buddhism or whatever is not a pure or unaltered state of the message delivered from God to that person. This is all just my personal belief.

    I will say a theology that cannot answer questions such as-"what about the 90% of earth's population that has lived and died without the knowledge of Jesus or Muhammad or Joseph Smith?" -falls short of being a universal theology which we should expect if there were indeed one God for all of mankind. I personally have found the answers delivered by or through Joseph Smith to be of the greatest enlightenment.

  2. so I guess we have another 400 more years before another dispensation... I pity the poor souls who will be around 2450 or so and will not know whether to follow the tenets of Mormonism or the next dimension of truth whether you have to have worn magic underwear, baptize the dead and a lot of homely wives. Oh wait a minute, that's the same one.

  3. I don't know if I would take that elder's comment as official church doctrine, but I personally think he may be on to something.

    It's very possible that Muhammad was visited by the angel Gabriel and was given some direction to preach the message of repentance to his people, although I don't believe there was any transmittance of priesthood power.

    In any case, if it did happen, his teachings have since been manipulated and the religion is in apostasy. The very idea that there would be a 'final' prophet is contrary to the core of LDS faith, and is more likely an idea promoted by Mohammed's followers than by Mohammed himself.

    You can read more 'official' views here.

    What Do Mormons Believe?

  4. i second the !!!

  5. @ David-- First of all, welcome. Always glad to have new contributions to the conversation. Here's a follow up question (Thaddeus, feel free to jump in here): It seems to me that there is reluctance on the part of many LDS I run across to attribute strange or false doctrines to demonic intervention (or invention). For instance, when Thaddeus says maybe the angel Gabriel appeared to Mohammed, I might say that maybe it wasn't an angel at all, but it was a demon masquerading as a messenger of God... so that the reason there is only a "portion of light" is not that human beings were not ready for full revelation, but rather that it's an infernal device that has been mixed with some truth to give it some staying power, or the appearance of truth.

    When I talked about this sort of thing with my Elder friends, we've had a conversation that went (somewhat like) this (pretty serious paraphrasing here, this was a couple of months ago):

    Me: It seems to me that there are three options when we look at what happened to Joseph Smith. One, what he said happened actually happened. Two, he made it all up. Three, it actually happened, but he was deceived (i.e. the spirits that appeared were not angels and God but rather demons presenting themselves as such).

    Elder: Either it really happened or it didn't. There's no chance he was deceived. A demon wouldn't have told him to do good works. "By their fruits you shall know them."

    Me: Ah, but "Satan appears as an angel of light." He certainly could have deceived someone in that way. And why not tell them to do good works? So long as he keeps them away from true relationship with God, what does it matter if they do some good stuff.

    Elder: Demons don't encourage people to do good things.

    Me: What about Gandhi? I think all three of us could agree that he wasn't a follower of Christ in any sense, and yet he probably did more good things in his life than any one of us have. I think we would have to agree, though, that his theology wasn't Christian.

    Elder: After Gandhi dies he'll be given a chance to (can't remember the exact wording here... but the basic idea was that he'd have a chance to become "right" theologically).

    Long prelude, short question: Why say theology (like in Islam) was originally from God and then corrupted rather than assuming it was corrupt to begin with and came from a human or demonic source?

    P.S. I think that mainstream christianity has a very clear answer to the "90%" question. Did you mean to imply that it doesn't? I wasn't sure from your comment.

    @thaddeus: I agree that there's no need for a "final" prophet, at least not yet. I also think that when prophecies are at odds with one another, then one of them by definition is a false prophecy. meaning that the source is not God, one way or another. So if the President of the LDS church makes a prophecy that is in conflict with the prophecies of the Bible, that's a problem... one of them must be false (I suppose that the LDS church would say that the Bible is corrupted. I disagree on that point, obviously). Same goes for Joseph Smith vs. the Bible.

    What really interests me in this dialogue is that it appears that the Mormon take on revelation and prophecy is a lot more closely aligned with the Baha'i thoughts about prophecy and revelation than the Christian thoughts on the same topics. Of course, the Baha'i would reject Mormonism because it came too late to fall under their all-inclusive "religions are increasing revelations leading us to God" because Bahau'llah said (or maybe it was the Bab, I forget) there wouldn't be another revelation for 1,000 years. So only religions started since the 1890's are out in the cold from the Baha'i perspective. So where did the Baha'i revelation come from? Was it a portion of light? And don't tell me that we don't have historical documents about what precisely Bahau'lah actual taught, we have tons. Way too many in my opinion.

  6. Matt, your point is valid. How can we know if it was a visitation sent by God or a deception of Satan? I haven't come to a final decision here, but when you brought it up yesterday, I took a spoonful of my own medicine:

    I asked God in prayer if he sent Gabriel to visit Muhammad. The answer hasn't come yet, but I know it will, especially if I show Him my desire for truth by looking into it further.

    The only reason I've never done this is for the apostasy issue I mentioned earlier. Extracting Muhammad's true teachings from the false will be a difficult chore. If there is truth to be learned, sure, I want it. But why try reconstituting powdered milk if I've got a couple of fresh gallons in the fridge?

    As for Baha'i, that's one I haven't studied much. Perhaps I need to.

    What Do Mormons Believe?

  7. Matt- (side note-I wasn't the last david comment). yeah, it's nice to chime in a dignified conversation.

    re: demonic influence. I think we have been given a couple tools to discern light from darkness. The short answer is that we must be prophets ourselves in terms of the testimony of Jesus and receiving knowledge from God through the Holy Spirit. There is a famous verse in LDS scripture that talks about light cleaving unto light, virtue to virtue and intelligence to intelligence, the point being that being filled with the love and light of God makes it so that one can recognize other light and goodness, a kind of resonating.

    Some specific reasons Mormons are quick to assume good and then corruption is the stories they grow up on in the mormon understanding of the outcome of the first century christian church. Mormons also have a particular understanding of goodness and corruption from the Book of Mormon. A strong theme in that book is fallen societies. There is also a extensive allegory that talks about trees in a vineyard and good and bad fruit and good fruit changing to bad and bad to good. Mormons also grow up with statements such as 'mormonism embraces all truth and goodness' that we should approach others with 'bring what you have that is good and true and let us share more goodness with you." There is also the minority and even persecuted history that Mormons inherit so that they are more prone to defend others, even if they don't agree with their doctrines. So there are a couple things in the mormon worldview that lead to that general reaction.

    Back to the question at hand, would demonic sources be responsible for various claimed visits or visitations? Obviously possible. I think the Savior gave us one measuring rod and that is-by their fruits ye shall know them." In the case of a mormon, what is the outcome of a mormon who lives their religion? who has spent a lifetime in Mormon temple? I would say some of the kindest, most charitable people on earth, good fathers and mothers, honest sincere followers of Christ. People can think Joseph Smith was out in left field but is it hard to argue with the type of people Mormonism produces in the end.

    Do I think there are or have been devils appearing as angels of light? Yes and Mormonism has stories within the Book of Mormon and D&C which illustrate instances. I think the devil has a very hard time with goodness even for the sake of deception, he can't maintain the facade.

    Bottom line- we must have a way of knowing ourselves. It must come down to a personal connection with the Divine to recognize light from darkness and knowing that your life decisions are in-line with his will. That's the quest. But the promise is that He will not leave us comfortless, timeline rarely detailed in advance.