Liberal Mormons and Scientologists?

All this talk about liberal Christianity got me wondering. Does anyone think the Book of Mormon or Scientology books (when found not to accord with observation or science) are still “true” and just a metaphor for greater truths? Or are they just wrong, in a normal wrong sort of way?

If not, why the special treatment for the Bible? For example did Moses display any special wisdom, that Joseph Smith didn’t have?

The Book of Mormon has more of a “reality” problem then The Bible, simply because the former takes place in a setting that’s almost completely fictional. Most of the places and political units in the Bible really existed, and from Kings on most of the characters are probably based on historical personages as well. In the Book of Mormon, on the other hand, almost nothing in the description of pre-Colombian America matches up with the archaeological record or linguistic/DNA evidence. As a result, you can’t just handwave bits and pieces away as metaphor, as liberal Christians do with Genesis, you’d have to basically take it or leave it as a whole.

As a result, there isn’t as much of a liberal Mormon tradition as there is a Liberal Christian or liberal Jewish one.

I know quite a few liberal Mormons, and they are fairly common in international relations work. I think it’s mostly people who grew up culturally Mormon and would like to retain that, while admitting that what works for them may not make much sense for anyone else.

Seems that would still be no problem for those with a mindset not to care about the literal truth but only the spiritual truth. So I’m wondering if any dopers do that, or if they just think Joseph Smith was a fraud who made up a bunch of stories to get a following.

I know a couple few Mormon’s and it seems they don’t seem to eager to talk about anything in their book, but rather just say “it works for me” or “it does a lot of good in my life.”

I was hoping to see some ecumenical liberal Christians defend the Book of Mormon with the same appeal to allegory, but it seems they think that would be ridiculous.

Each has a liberal denomination operating in parallel to better-known ones.

The Mormons have the Community of Christ.

Scientology has the Free Zone, which is less a doctrinally-liberalized denomination, as it is an association of Scientologists who have disaffiliated from the Church of Scientology. The beliefs represented by those in this Free Zone do not necessarily cohere into a united front. More of a “Reformation,” if you will, than a denomination.

See Jack Mormon.

But I’ve never heard of a Jack Scientologist.

“Jack Mormon” seems to refer to someone who retains Mormon culture but rejects the belief system. The types I am thinking of are active in the church and adhere to church behavior (avoiding alcohol and caffeine, not cussing, marrying early), but view that as a personal choice, have no interest in evangelism, and generally have socially liberal beliefs. I’ve never really engaged one of them on the nitty-gritty of theology, but I would guess it would boil down to “this is what works for me, and I’m not too worked up about what anyone else is doing.”

Interesting timing of the question. While the rest of the Internet goes on unnoticed, there is a rancorous online debate of an unprecedented scale between faithful Mormon and ex- and liberal members.

A couple of days ago, the New York Times ran ["]an article on Hans Mattsson](Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt - The New York Times[), a former an “Area Authority,” in Europe, roughly the Mormon equivalent to a cardinal, and the highest level for lay leaders, just short of the very top General Authorities. Mattson came public with the doubts he has concerning the gospel and the church history.

This is following a frank acknowledgement from LDS Church Historian Elder Marlin Jensen that church leaders were aware that Mormons were “leaving in droves” over these issue. He elaborated that “maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now.”

The Mormon church has staked its raison d’etre on the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the leadership and guidance of prophets who speak with divine authority and receive direct revelation from God, the “truth” of the gospel which no other sect has and its claims to the sole possession of the authentic priesthood, without which none of the saving ordinances are valid. Along with this, there has been a near deification of the founder, Joseph Smith and a strong message of unquestioning faith and obedience to the leaders.

Like other religions, there was a period of flux in the doctrine until an orthodox version was fixed. A problem, perhaps unique to Mormonism among the larger denominations, is that the changes to the dogma were claimed as direct modern revelation from God, while at the same time there is an insistence on “unchanging truths.” Consequently, there is a maze of conflicting teachings and scripture. Many, many former and disbelieving members talk about the resulting cognitive dissonance.

The Bible is famously (or infamously) known for its ability to be interpreted as the reader wishes. This is even further magnified within the Mormon faith by the claim of divine revelation. I argue that there is a material difference between individuals arguing their positions and prophets who release new scripture to support their changing beliefs. One example would be the evolving belief in the godhead, from a view which encompassed parts from both Trinitarianism and modalism to a plurality of gods. As Smith’s concept of the godhead changed, so did the doctrine included in his translations of various claimed ancient scriptures, such as the Book of Abraham.

The second prophet, Brigham Young, continued this theological evolution and taught that Adam was a god of this earth and a father to our spirits in the preexistence. The church later disavowed this doctrine. Again, this is nothing which didn’t happen in the early Christian church, except for the claim of direct divine inspiration for the changes and the LDS church’s actions to sanitize, misrepresent and hide its history.

The atmosphere within the church strongly curtails any frank discussions of serious questions. Mormon scholars have been excommunicated for printing truthful, but inconvenient history. In a recent survey of disillusioned members, among those who remained active, 92% said that they withheld all doubts from fellow members of their congregation.

Modern science and scholarship, including history, archeology, anthropology, historical theology, linguistics, DNA analysis proving that Indians are not descendants of ancient Israelis, among others point to the early 19th century origins of the Book of Mormon as well as dispelling other claimed revelations.

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, it was impossible to obtain any historical information outside of the sanitized party line. The internet now has a wealth of resources for doubting members, with popular podcasts, blogs and forums for liberal or former members. A more factual history is now much easier to find.

For many, if not the vast majority of disillusioned members, there is a sense of betrayal, that they feel they were taught things which were not candid as well as the insistence on the orthodox views which cannot be supported by science or reasoning.

While a great number do leave (see the quote about the apostasy above) there are a growing number of more liberal members who have a more nuanced beliefs. So far, though it seems difficult to be too open for many. There are a number of vocal liberals, however, and it’s not difficult to find liberal voices on the internet.

The church is being forced to become more open. It will interesting to see how open and how much discussion is allowed. The lesson of glasnost leading to dissolution will certainly not be ignored. Liberal Mormons openly discuss this issue and point to the drastic decline in the membership of the rival sect, the Community of Christ after it moved away from teaching the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. The top leadership are ultra conservative in nature, but there are also moments of pragmatism.

I’m pretty sure the OP wasn’t asking about “liberal” in the political or social sense, but specifically about people that explain the overtly supernatural elements of their holy books as being metaphors instead of having happened literally. I’ve met plenty of Mormons who were liberal in the former sense, but I don’t think I’ve ever met one who was liberal in the latter. As I said in my previous post, its a much heavier lift to explain away the places where the Book of Mormon contradicts reality then is the case with the Bible.

There are a number of reasons for this and it’s a case of comparing apples and oranges.

The most “problematic” parts of the Bible come from the prehistoric period, the creation, the flood, the tower of Babel and such and then the Exodus. The fact that the ancient Israelites existed as early as the ninth or tenth centuries BDE is not in question.

There have been people from thousands of years ago who recognized the early events may not be literal history, so it’s easier to accept the Old Testament as allegorical. There can be and is a separation between the question if the cities or people lived and the spiritual message.

OTOH, the Book of Mormon cannot be separated so easily partly because the church has stakes so much of its legitimacy on its historicity. However, it makes specific claims which not only cannot be proved but are INHO conclusively shown to be impossible or so highly unlikely that any possible historicity has been rejected by all legitimate anthropologists. Even the most ardent apologists rely on discussing the book in “spiritual” rather than historical terms.

Even Mormon scholars are acknowledging Joseph Smith’s influence on the book. The only question remaining is if there is any historical basis at not. More and more, people are saying no.

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the magic/magical underpants yet!

My opinion, ever since I became an adult (about 30 yo or so), is that very few adults believe in the literal teachings of their religion. This is true even of those adults who hold those beliefs loudly and publicly (perhaps especially for those people). Children, of course, do believe, and it is for their benefit that adults look them straight in their eyes and tell them what is true. They do this for three basic reasons;

  1. It is good business. The loudest of the believers are in the business of religion, and doubt does not bring in the money.
  2. They believe, very sincerely, that the moral framework of their religion offers a better way to live. They further believe in the essential truth of their religion (there is a God, and God has rules). They hope that by indoctrinating their children in the literal truth of their religion that when their children reach the age of disbelief, they will come to the same conclusion.
  3. There is no greater antidote to doubt than convincing others, and other people are never convinced by doubt, only by certainty.

For Scientology, of course, only the first reason applies.

As I have told you before, you need to draw conclusions only where you have information.

Yes, a liberal Christian can affirm that the Book of Mormon (and other sacred texts in the Mormon tradition) can be, like the bible, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” And like the Bible, it will only be useful in this way given an appropriately receptive and critical audience and teacher.

A good friend of mine is a liberal Mormon, and his approach to Mormon scriptures is similar to the way I approach the Bible. He doesn’t believe a word of it, and is rightly skeptical of its very origins. But when read in a critical context, with issues of authorship and audience fully in mind alongside questions about what the words literally say, he finds the book useful for formulating valuable wisdom.

There’s a whole denomination of theological liberal mormons, btw: The Community of Christ.

This is a good point.

There is secular archaeological research looking in to what extent King David, the Jewish Exodus, or the First Temple were real and where there might or might not have had their stories embellished over the centuries and to what extent they are stories made of whole cloth. I seem to recall reading that there is some archaeological evidence from outside of Israel and the Jewish milieu indicating that the local government had negotiated a treaty with a foreign king with a name spelled in such a way that it could arguably represent a foreign pronunciation of King David’s Hebrew name. Not proof of Biblical miracles in any way but could indicate that King David was a real person and that at least some of the stories about him in the Bible might rationally be true or mostly true.

As for the Book of Mormon, there isn’t much. At least we know where Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and a few other Biblical places were. Have any of the new world cities in the Book of Mormon been accepted by non-Mormon scholars as descriptions of any specific places, like maybe Tenochtitlan or Tiahuanaco?

Internet? Heck, one South Park episode should have sufficed for that! :wink:

You can read about all of that, including the last bit, in The Bible Unearthed.

So you wouldn’t be comfortable just calling Joseph Smith a fraud?

I’m afraid that, one day, a pair of young Mormon evangelists knocked on my door, when I was in a foul mood, and I did so. But I’m not proud of that, and wouldn’t do it if they hadn’t been pushing.

If Smith was a fraud, he paid such a disproportionately high price for it that I don’t like the idea of throwing around such an insult.