Liberty Library: Catholic and Mormon, by Webb and Gaskill

When there is so much misunderstanding between people, beliefs, cultures, and faiths, there is bound to be contention. As part of the new LDS Liberty project to find inroads, bridges, and common grounds to all faiths, denominations, creeds, and beliefs around the world, we recommend Catholic and Mormon as a good starting point for an interfaith dialogue between Catholics and Mormons.

Written by Dr. Alonzo Gaskill, a well-loved professor of religion and Mormon teaching at Brigham Young University, and Dr. Stephen H. Webb, emeritus professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College and active Catholic (and also author of “Mormonism Obsessed with Christ”), Catholic and Mormon is a great exploration of the intersection of Mormonism and Catholicism.

In their work, Webb and Gaskill tackle difficult doctrinal differences and topics such as authority, grace, Mary the mother of Jesus, revelation, ritual, matter, Jesus, heaven, and the difficulties of resolving religious history.

Written from a separate Q&A about the book, Dr. Webb commented about Mormons that

They [Mormons] are incredibly literate about their own beliefs and, since they are a minority religion, they are very articulate in showing the relevance and coherence of those beliefs

 

Mormons are theologically curious and intellectually bold in their faith. But Mormons often do not know how their beliefs fit into the rest of the Christian tradition.

Addressing of the doctrines of the soul, Dr. Gaskill observed of Mormon belief that,

In addition to believing that our origins did not begin with our earthly conception, Mormons also believe that our creation was not ex nihilo but, instead, ex materia. Thus, though Latter-day Saints acknowledge that there was a time when God “created” or “organized each of us, ultimately we are eternal beings, as we were organized by Him ex materia. That from which we were created or organized preexisted our beginnings as spirits. For some, this is an unattractive position, as it somehow suggests that we are co-eternal with God. Mormons, however, do not see this as somehow harming or lessening God’s divinity or omnipotence. While it may suggest that you and I have a spark of divinity within each of us, ultimately it still places God as the great cause of our existence and the source of all that is alive and good.

Dr. Webb responds on the topic of the soul that,

There is great spiritual wisdom to be found in the idea that we did not begin our lives on the earth but with Jesus in heaven. It gives our narratives a cosmic arc that is satisfying and inspiring. The pre-mortal life was not, after all, random or chaotic. It was ordered to Christ. This is actually as strong a case as can be made for the eternal validity of Christian truth claims! Theology never changes — only our limited grasp of it changes. For Mormons, the more we understand the truth of Christianity, the more we will understand the truth of everything.

Speaking to religious freedom and the time in American history when Mormonism first appeared, Dr. Webb observes a unique aspect of Mormonism that is more like Catholicism than American Protestantism:

Many Europeans came to America for religious freedom, which meant freedom from the restrictions of Old World traditions and institutions, but Mormonism was born out of the dream for more, not less religious authority. Scholars have long observed that the disestablishment of religion in America subjected Christianity to powerful democratizing forces. Without government regulation, a theological free market, if not a spiritual free-for-all, ensued, and Protestant churches were forced to compete for members. During an era when America’s democratic sensibility and egalitarian ethos set Protestantism free to splinter into hundreds if not thousands of ecclesial fragments, Mormons wanted to turn back the clock to a time when religion and culture were united in a hierarchical order and social concord.