The Review of Religions [English], July 1923
The following article by the correspondent of the Review of Religions in North America (1923) explores the teachings of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint (LDS) movement, regarding the “eternal nature of elements” in light of the Holy Quran and the Bible. This piece was initially published as a response to an address by Brigham Henry Roberts (1857–1933), a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was featured in the Liahona, the Elders’ Journal of 8 May 1923.
LDS was founded in the early 19th century by Joseph Smith. Mormons consider Joseph Smith to be a “prophet of God”. However, many of the prophecies of Joseph Smith did not come to pass, and he was also unsuccessful in his mission of establishing the “Kingdom of God” and building Zion City in Jackson County, Missouri, USA. Joseph Smith was murdered on 27 June 1844.
Mormons believe in the eternal nature of the elements. In their view, matter and other elements are uncreated, have always existed, and will always exist in different forms. According to Mormons, God only created or organised the pre-existing elements. Our readers can also study a detailed discussion on soul and matter, whether they are uncreated and eternal or created by God Almighty, in the books of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, Surmah Chashm-e-Aryah (Guidance for the Aryas) and Purani Tahrirein (Early Writings) among others. — Editor, Al Hakam
In the Liahona, the Elders’ Journal, under the date of 8 May 1923, there is an address by Elder Brigham H Roberts. I admire his sincerity of tone and courage of conviction. And I believe there is much truth and force in what he says. I feel proud to declare that here in his address I find another instance of the illustration of the truth that I have been taught by my own religion, which is that there is no system or faith that is all devoid of truth; it is only the degree of unfoldment that distinguishes one system from the other. But there is one thing in that otherwise admirable address that has prompted me to write these few lines. It is the challenge that the Elder has thrown down to all to match his point of view. Had it not been for that challenge, I would not have cared to say anything. But in the present case, there is a grave danger of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, as well as a sheer disservice to the cause of truth. So here I am.
I must say, however, at the very outset that I am neither a Mormon, nor a Christian, nor a Jew. I am a Muslim; I do not accept the so-called scriptures as the very truth; nor do I regard Jesusas as God, though I take him as a good man and a righteous servant of God. It would not be advisable for me to enter into the details here, but my position is clear.
For the sake of easy reference, I take the address subject-wise. We are to see whether Joseph Smith’s teachings are in accord with the general teachings of the Bible; secondly, whether they are original; and thirdly, whether they are reasonable. I shall try to be brief, confining myself only to what Elder Brigham H Roberts has said in his address.
(1) Is he consistent with the Bible?
According to our Elder, Joseph Smith says that the “elements are eternal” and uncreated, while the Bible says that they are created (vide Genesis and St. John). Again, according to the Book of Mormon, “Adam fell that Man might be; and men are that they might have joy”; yet if the Bible account is to be relied upon, we know that Man fell “to die,” and it troubled God to make Man a creator of mischief, and to undo this creation, God had to die himself to expiate for his own mistake committed unwittingly and unintentionally. It is true, again, that blessings from God can be obtained by obedience to the Law: yet this is opposed to the Pauline doctrine of salvation through grace alone without the necessity of works and the accursedness of the Law. That is by way of specimen only.
(2) Are they original?
I do not mean to be misunderstood here. It has happened many a time, that thinkers living poles apart have arrived at similar conclusions quite independently of each other. I shall only indicate here that there were teachers who taught the same things long centuries before Joseph Smith was born. Elder Brigham says that one of the Mormon “revelations” is that “the elements are eternal” and that the things acting and the things re-acting have always existed without being created. He calls it the special announcement of Joseph Smith. Without offering any criticism of the doctrine itself, I would say that some of the advanced thinkers of the past, such as Pythagoras and the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain thinkers all living in the centuries antedating Jesus hundreds of years, have been teaching the same. Let the Elder take up any Indian book of philosophy and study it for himself. Some of these men have been propounding that God, matter, and the soul are co-eternal, co-existing, and uncreated.
As to the doctrine that “the glory of God is intelligence and that Man cannot be saved through ignorance”, my Elder would please note that all the Indian Schools of thought together with Islam have been teaching the same long centuries ahead of Mormon “revelation”. Confucius taught it about one thousand years before the birth of Jesus. Sa‘di, a great Muslim teacher, teaches to the same effect in his well-known quatrains, which have become the stock phrases of the East.
It is no new thing to be told that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain to in this life, will rise with us in the resurrection.” It is taught by all the religions of the East, including those that hold to the theory of metempsychosis. It is a commonplace idea; maybe it is new to the West.
The Elder is right in maintaining that the Christian scriptures are silent on the purpose of creation, and I agree with him that the “pleasure of God” is the sole purpose of creation in so far as God created Man “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of Man, yet Islam anticipates Mormonism here too. Moreover, Islamic teachings on this point are more explicit, full, and free from ambiguity, and their ideal is higher. Islam says that Man has been created in the “best of forms,” and the purpose of creation is the worship of God and the fulfilling of His will, as evidenced in the work as well as the word of God.
(3) Are these Mormon teachings reasonable?
To say that the “elements are eternal” is tantamount to dealing a death blow to any system posing itself as religion or faith. If elements are eternal, their properties are eternal too. It is inconceivable to think of a property existing apart from the thing itself. Taking them as they are, why should it be impossible for them to mix together and create different forms? If not, we shall have to suppose that forms and properties as created out of nothing. Such a doctrine dispenses with the need of God, and with His elimination disappears all necessity of ministering to His will and “pleasure.” All talk of eternal progression is consigned to the limbo of oblivion, and there is nothing more to be said about gradual unfoldment and illimitable development. There can be nothing new, and therefore no progress at all. Moreover, if God is not our creator, why should we worship Him at all? To say that the elements are eternal and, in the same breath, to call God the Creator is a contradiction in terms. Such a creator would be no better than a potter, and here even the need for a potter vanishes.
Then again, to call “intelligence” the glory of God is opposed to the doctrine of the eternity of elements. If God is All-Intelligent and All-Powerful, why would He not be able to create elements? All knowledge of a thing implies creation. Man, with his limited knowledge and very imperfect intellect, can, after knowing a few of the properties of matter, invent new things. Does my Elder think that God’s intelligence is less than Man’s? If matter co-existed with God, it necessarily follows that God does not possess the quality of all-intelligence or that matter is all intelligent. Moreover, such a view is against the Unity of God, which predicates that there should be a time when there should be no plurality. How does he reconcile them? Then again, our daily experience shows that annihilation and new creation are going on side by side. My Elder Brigham is not what he was ten years ago. That is dead and gone. He is a changed man. That change is visible in all forms of matter. The old forms and combinations are broken up, never to be seen again.
I am grieved to find Elder Brigham associating himself with that long-exploded theory of the love of God manifesting itself through Jesus. The whole superstructure is built on sand: God is neither just, nor merciful, nor loving, nor all-knowing. He condemns the future generations of Man through no fault, but this, that Adam, his great progenitor, fell from the high pedestal of purity. He has neither love nor mercy for the intervening generations between Adam and Jesus, whom He unmercifully, unlovingly, and unjustly forces to undergo punishment for others for no fault of their own. The man prays and prays that the cup be turned away from him, but when he finds the Father inexorable, he resigns, though not very willingly, and finally gives up his ghost in despair, not knowing what he was saying. “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?” is indeed too much for any human heart.
It is really very unedifying for an otherwise very reasonable person like our Elder Brigham to admire this suicidal or homicidal act on the part of the Deity and to hold it up as a supreme instance of love. That a man should sometimes offer himself as a sacrifice for his son cannot at all be applicable to God since the man-father knows that, as Man, the son-man, has the potential of becoming greater than the father himself and therefore more useful to the world at large. Here, that motive is altogether missing. The son can never be greater than the father, nor can man be comparable to the son if he is the real son. And after all, what is the upshot of this whole affair? The world is none the better for it, and if we look closer, we find that the salvation of Man again veers back to the old doctrine of unqualified grace, which is more in consonance with divine wisdom, providence, and fatherhood. A religion that presents a twisted and distorted view of God can never claim the allegiance of a true soul, and its universality is foredoomed to failure. If you want me to accept your religion, give me a perfect God, or I will have nothing to do with Him.
“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord” is the test that I would apply to every system of faith.
(Transcribed and edited by Al Hakam from the original in The Review of Religions [English], July 1923)