Mormonism's Doublethink


Courtesy of Catholic Answers

George Orwell, in his novel 1984, did Christian apologists a great favor by coining the term "doublethink," which he defined as "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them." It's the most succinct way of describing certain religious beliefs. For an illustration of double think one need look no further than the Mormon Church's doctrines about God.

Joseph Smith, Mormonism's founder, taught a plurality of gods—polytheism—as the bedrock of his church. He developed this doctrine over a period of years to reflect his belief that not only are there many gods, but they once were mortal men who had developed in righteousness until they learned enough and merited godhood. The Mormon Church uses the term "eternal progression" for this process, and it refers to godhood as "exaltation." Such euphemisms are used because the idea of men becoming gods is blasphemous to orthodox Christians. Smith encountered much hostility to these doctrines and thought it wise to disguise them.

Although he softened his terms, Smith minced no words in explaining his beliefs. "I will preach on the plurality of gods. I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see" ("King Follett Discourse").

Mormonism's founder concluded his flock didn't understand the nature of God. No mortal entirely does, of course, but this particular group was handicapped, not helped, by the strange theories expounded by Smith.

True to his word, Smith took away the veil of misunderstanding, only to replace it with a monolithic wall of doublethink. After all, to teach that the all-sovereign God, the infinite and supreme being, the creator and master of the universe, was merely an exalted man is a fine example of what Orwell must have had in mind.

Progressive Revelation to Smith

In 1844, shortly before his death at the hands of an enraged mob, Joseph Smith delivered a sermon at the funeral of a Mormon named King Follett. The "King Follett" Discourse has become a key source for the Mormon Church's beliefs on polytheism and eternal progression. It's short and can be purchased at any LDS bookstore for about a dollar. You can read it in half an hour.

To appreciate the extent of Smith's departure from traditional Christian thought, it's important to realize that his doctrines weren't "revealed" to his church all at once or in their present state. From his first vision in 1820 until his death in 1844, Joseph Smith crafted and modified his doctrines, often altering them so drastically that they became quite something else as years passed.

Early in his career as prophet, seer, and revelator of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, which he claimed to be the "fullness of the everlasting Gospel." In it are passages that proclaim there is only one God and that God can't change.

The next time you speak with Mormon missionaries, cite these verses: "I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity" (Moroni 8:18); "For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles" (Mormon 9:9-10).

It's hard to be more explicit than that. In his early years Smith did not believe in the "law of eternal progression." He had an orthodox understanding of God's immutable nature. But at some point in his theological odyssey he veered into the land of doublethink.

Contradictory Views

Remember, Smith maintained the inspiration and truth of the Book of Mormon at the same time he believed the following: "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another" ("King Follet Discourse").

This is one of Smith's more spectacular displays of doublethink. Fourteen years after penning the Book of Mormon, he contradicts his earlier writings with this sermon—but he doesn't throw aside his earlier teaching. Both are to be accepted.

The Missionary's "Testimony"

If you question a Mormon missionary, he'll be familiar with the "King Follett Discourse," and he'll have a "testimony" about the truth of the doctrine of eternal progression. If you have both the "Discourse" and the Book of Mormon on hand, read these passage to the missionary. Watch his reaction and press for an explanation. Ask him how it's possible to hold both positions. Mormons revere Joseph Smith as the highest authority in their church—what he said is scripture—and they're stuck when it comes to this topic.

These two teachings from the prophet obviously don't agree with each other. This is where doublethink kicks in. If Mormons couldn't believe two contradictory doctrines at once, they'd be forced to throw up their hands in bewilderment.

They can't believe that God is at once immutable and changing, that from all eternity he was as he now is yet he evolved from a mere man. To Mormons this theological oxymoron poses no problem because they don't lend their minds to it. Your job as an apologist is to show them there is a problem and then to offer a solution to it.

It's not enough to say God is eternal and to leave it at that. We need to take his infinite perfection into account. This is where the Mormons falter. They believe that although God is perfect now, he wasn't always so. Once he was imperfect, as a mortal, and he had to arrive at perfection through his own labor. (You might call it a super Pelagianism.)

Smith Was to Be a God

Joseph Smith, in the Discourse, said, "My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same. And when I get to my kingdom [godhood], I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself."

In any discussion with a Mormon about Mormonism's conflicting teachings on the nature of God, you have to cut away the camouflage. You have to get to the central facts. It's simple, really. Just show them how the Book of Mormon conflicts with Smith's later teachings. If he was right about God, when was he right? Take your pick, but you can't pick both, and neither can a Mormon—except if he uses doublethink. If a Mormon chooses either teaching as correct and admits the other must be wrong, Smith's credibility as a prophet collapses.

Be forewarned that your first discussion about the nature of God won't produce any visible change in your Mormon acquaintance. He's unlikely to admit the cogency and simplicity of your argument. He's working in good faith, and he's sincere in his beliefs, but psychologically you're at a disadvantage, since he wants to maintain his faith as he's known it. Be patient as you help him see these theological "black holes."

Don't Aim to Win an Argument

Keep in mind your ultimate goal isn't to win an argument, but to win a soul for Christ. What the Catholic apologist offers isn't just sound logic, or a preponderance of Bible quotations, or even the blunders Joseph Smith made. No, what he offers is the truth of the Catholic faith.

But you do need sound logic, buttressed by thorough homework, and you need patience that's sustained by charity. Above all you need prayer that God will use your efforts to prepare your acquaintance's soul for the gift of faith. Doublethink isn't invincible. It's just an intellectual impediment, and it can be overcome.

You need to do some homework first, of course. You need a solid understanding of God's nature. We recommend reading the appropriate passage in Fr. John Hardon's "Catholic Catechism" and Frank Sheed's "Theology and Sanity."

These books are available in inexpensive paperbacks, and they should be a part of every Catholic's library. You should also have on hand, naturally, a copy of the Book of Mormon and of the "King Follet Discourse." If you have your references already marked in these books, you'll be ready the next time a Mormon missionary comes to your door.

Copyright Catholic Answers