Friday, May 11, 2007

Unsatisfactory Mormon Documentary

I watched the first part of the PBS documentary on the Mormons last night and found it somewhat lacking. Sure, the attempt to provide balance was laudable, but certain aspects of Mormon theology were simply not mentioned, and may even have been covered up. While it did note that Mormons view God and Jesus as bodily creatures, we got no further indications of Mormon cosmology, its strongly Gnostic undertones, and its great difference with Christianity.

It is crucial to note that Mormons believe that human spirits existed with God before the creation of the world, and that man and God are co-eternal. All spirits, including Jesus and Satan, are seen as spirit children of heavenly parents. God's plan involved sending these spirits to earth in bodily form behind a veil of forgetfulness to obscure humanity's divine origin. Humans had free will, and those who obeyed God's commandments could return. Jesus, identified as the God Jehovah in the Old Testament, volunteers to go to earth to help humanity on its return journey to God, by overcoming sin and death. Lucifer objected to this plan, arguing that free will should be taken away, so that salvation could be assured. The rejection of his argument led to a war in heaven and Lucifer's expulsion.

Upon death, humans enter the spirit world, awaiting final judgement, after which they are sent to one of three heavens or kingdoms. Ultimately, humans can achieve their destiny of becoming Gods, just as God was once mortal. As the well-known Mormon dictum goes: "as man is, God once was; God is, man may become". And God is viewed as living on or near a planet called Kolob, and pious Mormons (those in the highest heaven, or celestal kingdom) can follow similar paths, becoming Gods, ruling their own planets, and bearing spirit children.

These tenets adhere closely to classical Gnosticism. Gnosticism believes that within every human being is a "spark of the divine" that is itching to escape the confines of the world (sometimes seen as evil, the creation of a lesser God) to be re-united with a greater God, from whence it came. As with Mormonism, what underpins Gnosticism is the idea that the difference between "God" and creation is one of degree, not of kind, and the view that humanity is returning to some kind of equality with "God". And yet, PBS opted not to explore this fascinating but somewhat bizarre cosmology.

One further quibble, relating to the discussion of the infamous Mountain Meadows massacre, in which Mormon settlers brutally murdered a group of migrants from Arkansas-- up to 140 men, women, and children. The documentary went to great length to provide extenuating circumstances, detailing the oppression against Mormons and the pervading sense of persecution. One commenter argued that Brigham Young simply went too far. The next time PBS or anybody else does a documentary about the Catholic church and mentions the inquisition, the crusades, or Galileo, I expect a similarly sympathetic portrayal of extenuating circumstances. I won't hold my breath.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Morning's Minion,

I had the opporunity to view both segments of the "The Mormons," and found them to be adeqaute, but somehwat apologetic. As a non-member, but one who has studied (extensively) the LDS Church, I thought Ms. Helen Whitney did a passable job, though if people are interested in solid view of the LDS Church they should read "Mormon America" by Ricahrd and Joan K. Ostling, quite good. Ms. Whitney did leave out vast aspects of the theology of the church, many of the items you mentioned, but I am not sure she could have inclucded them in her piece without the term "absurb" coming into play. The LDS Church is, on the surface a very appealing "religion," devoted to family and providing wonderful programs for their youth...something the Catholic Church is struggling with, especially in America. You are spot-on with your view that Mormonism is gnostic; it would have been nice for Frontline/American Experience to have noted/discussed these items, but I am not sure people would have grasped it, similiar I think to a piece on Catholicism dealing with transubstation, I don't think many of the people (Catholics) at mass with me grasp this. When is the last time one viewed a program such as Frontline/American Experience and heard this discussed, it doesn't happen? I am appreaciatve of your opinion, but, sadly the American news consumer can only tolerate sound-bites, let's face it when Americans are getting their news from Fox, we are all doomed. FYI - Peter Steinfels last editorial in the NYTimes ties nicely into my point.

Cynical Casaubon