There are two classes of atheists in this world.

I really enjoyed reading "Wresting the Scriptures" on the blog, A Bird's Eye View. In it the author makes the point that traditional Christians do not believe that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God. Because of their false belief that God is incorporeal and does not have a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's, when a traditional Christian says that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, he means this in a figurative or literary sense rather than in the literal sense taught by true Christians in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the perspective of the Restoration, believing the Savior to be God's Son only in some figurative or literary sense is a denial of his divinity. In a sense, this belief makes traditional Christians anti-Christ because they deny the divine Sonship of Jesus of Nazareth.

And although it is not politically correct to point it out, traditional Christianity is a form of atheism for much the same reason. If they do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God literally, they also do not believe that God exists literally. Rather he is an incorporeal God.

This point was driven home to me by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost when I was first investigating the Mormon faith during my junior year of high school in 1962. I was profoundly enlightened while reading The Articles of Faith, by James E. Talmage, when I came across this teaching of Orson Pratt in the footnotes to the chapter on the nature of the God-head. To this day, it is one of the most important paragraphs of written English I have ever read:

9. Immaterialists and Atheists—"There are two classes of atheists in the world. One class denies the existence of God in the most positive language; the other denies his existence in duration or space. One says 'There is no God;' the other says 'God is not here or there, any more than he exists now and then.' The infidel says 'God does not exist anywhere.' The immaterialist says 'He exists nowhere.' The infidel says 'There is no such substance as God.' The immaterialist says 'There is such a substance as God, but it is without parts.' The athiest says, 'There is no such substance as spirit.'  The immaterialist says 'A spirit, though he lives and acts, occupies no room, and fills no space in the same way and in the same manner as matter, not even so much as does the minutest grain of sand.' The atheist does not seek to hide his infidelity; but the immaterialist, whose declared belief amounts to the same things as the atheist's, endeavors to hide his infidelity under the shallow covering of a few words. * * * The immaterialist is a religious atheist; he only differs from the other class of atheists by clothing an indivisible unextending nothing with the powers of a God. One class believes in no God; the other believes that Nothing is god and worships it as such."—Orson Pratt, in pamphlet Absurdities of Immaterialism, p. 11.

Of course, there is little difference between believing there is no God, and believing in a God that is nothing. Do traditional Christians really believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Well… not really. They believe it only in a figurative or poetic sense. Do they really believe that there is a God? Well… not really. They believe in an incorporeal God, or in other words, a God that does not really exist in any meaningful sense of that word. They believe that Jesus is the Son of God only in literary or poetic sense. And they believe in the existence of God only in a mystical, incomprehensible sense.

No wonder miracles have ceased among them. No wonder they no longer receive revelation from heaven as they did anciently. Faith must be terribly difficult to achieve when the object of your faith only exists in some mystical, figurative or poetic sense. And of course, where there is no faith or very little faith, there can be no miracles.

When Satan first persuaded men to believe that God was some incorporeal essence that fills the immensity of space, that He is everywhere but nowhere in particular present, he accomplished a truly great work of evil. He destroyed the very foundation upon which all faith in God must be based, an understanding of and belief in his actual existence in the real universe. In accomlishing this great deception, the devil laid the foundation for the great rise to supremacy of secularism in the modern world, a secularism that threatens to sweep most of mankind away at the Second Coming, an event very similar to what occurred anciently in the Great Flood.

Secularism is caused by the almost universal loss of faith that God is an actual man that exists in the real universe. And that loss of faith is the result of this false doctrine that God does not have a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's. It is a false doctrine taught by and believed by virtually all of mankind with the sole exception of believing Latter-day Saints.

How thankful I am to my Heavenly Father that he brought me out of darkness into light when he shared this wonderful "mystery" with me so many years ago. If it were not for Joseph Smith, and the wonderful truths that he revealed to the world, I would not know anything about Jesus Christ. At least I would not know anything about him that is correct. I would not even understand that he really is God's literal, actual Son, his Only Begotten. But for Joseph Smith, I would be an atheist or an agnostic.

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14 Responses to There are two classes of atheists in this world.

  1. Well, it’s new to me to hear about these facts. I believe in God so much, I love him so much and I will be offended if someone says that God does not exists, because I feel so offended because I know He exists, and it’s like somebody insults you saying bad words. It’s little hard to forgive but I should have, anyway.

  2. Kurt says:

    John, you are imputing a position onto Smith, Pratt and Talmage that they would not have necessarily forwarded in the manner you are forwarding and then aligning yourself with this purported position. All of these people whom you are lumping into a bin of atheism by saying they believe “God is nothing” is a wildly innacurate characterization. Most non-LDS Christians will say they do not know, that it is a mystery. None will say that God does not exist as an atheist would say.

    Labeling someone who considers themselves a “Christian” an “atheist” is not something anyone who considers themselves a Christian would appreciate, any more than Mormons appreciate being labeled “non-christian” for failing to toe the line on so-called historical Christianity.

  3. I’m not speaking ill of anyone by calling him an atheist. Some of my best friends are atheists. My dear departed father was an atheist. An atheist is about as likely to be a good, “christian” fellow as any Protestant or Catholic. That doesn’t say anything about the correctness of his doctrine or the ability to have faith in a God that doesn’t really exist because he is an immaterial “essense” that fills the immensity of space.

    I guess Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt, and James E. Talmage were religious bigots for considering the doctrine of an immaterial God akin to atheism. The Savior himself referred to that particular heresy as an “abomination.” To believe in a God that is nothing, is very close to believing that there is no God. That should be obvious to any Latter-day Saint. Of course, many Latter-day Saints don’t believe the doctrines taught by their prophets anyway, so it figures. Before a false doctrine can offend someone, he has to believe the true doctrines. That is more unusual in the Savior’s church than many would suppose.

  4. Jeff G says:

    I think that this is the only time that I have ever wanted to shout AMEN to a comment from Kurt. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. 😉

  5. Kurt says:

    John, this matter has nothing to do with being popular or unpopular, it has to do with being wrong. It is simply wrong, and unchristian, to accuse someone who is trying to lead a Christian life and repent and maintain a godly walk of being an atheist simply because of some obscure, esoteric point of doctrine that has no real bearing on your daily walk.

    Jesus taught plainly that by their fruit ye shall know them and that if anyone wants to know the doctrine of the Father then they must do the works of the Father. He did not teach that points of doctrine save, as though obtaining knowledge that God the Father has a resurrected body is some esoteric principle that grants you something special.

    The doctrine-based arguments about who is a Christian and who isnt, is precisely the nonsense that anti-mormons use against us to accuse us of being non-chrisitan, which is absurd. We do not adhere to the Nicean Creed, so we are not Christian. Whatever. And, now, you are doing precisely the same thing. They do not accept some obscure point of doctrine, so they are atheists. Whatever.

  6. Well, I knew when I made this post that I would find a lot of disagreement. But the point I am making is that Orson Pratt agreed with me, and apparently so did James E. Talmage or he wouldn’t have included this material in his book, The Articles of Faith. With all due respect to all of you wonderful readers of my blog, I take more pleasure in finding myself in agreement with Talmage and Pratt than I do in being in agreement with you.

    While I suppose there is a sense in which a person can believe in a “God” without believing in his corporeal existence as the Mormons do, there is also a very real sense in which a belief in an incorporeal God is a form of atheism. This virtually universal belief that God is an incorporeal “spirit” taught by the rest of the world accounts for a lot in my opinion. It is the best evidence that we have that the cycle of apostasy and restoration has been going on since the Fall. And it accounts for the fact that so few people have any faith to speak of. The rise of deism, agnosticism, humanism, secularism, and atheism in the modern world can all be directly traced to this heresy in my opinion. Without a corporeal God, there really isn’t much for men to believe in, especially not men who think.

    It may be an unpopular opinion, but it is mine… and Orson Pratt’s… and Jame E. Talmage’s

  7. Jettboy says:

    Although I think its a rhetorical device (as any and all usages of language are simply rhetorical devices), I also think its true. They may believe in the concept of God where atheists just don’t believe in God of any kind. However, Joseph Smith (and I would even say Lehi) had almost from the start thought the God of the Creeds was no God. As for the contention that early LDS not believing in the corporality of God, I think they understood that from the beginning. Regardless of what kinds of interpretations Joseph Smith might have come to think about the experience later, the very first Revelation of the First Vision taught the “existance” of God and Jesus Christ as substance.

    In other words, I second the inflamitory rhetoric, because it is the truth. Like you said, believing this leaves us in good company. I would rather be like Joseph Smith than the near apostate Sterling McMurrin. Bring on the accusations of a different Jesus. Its true enough to a point. If we also didn’t believe in his Atonement and Resurrection I would say they would have a better argument. The ONLY difference in concept between athiests and most monotheists is that one believes in God and the other doesn’t. Otherwise, they both technically don’t believe in anything, although one says it as if nothing is something.

    As for gravity, electricity, etc. we CAN see them. They DO have observable traits. It isn’t about self-contradictory; its about the ability to exist. Something that has nothing can be nothing. Even the powers of gravity, electricity, magnatism, etc. work in a material world of time and space. The God of the Creeds is said to not even have those. God ends up as a mere idea; the very essense of the wrong headed philosophers’ ultimate thought on perfection. Mormons need to be more outspoken about their differences or we will lose the light we have been given.

  8. Jettboy says:

    Although I think its a rhetorical device (as any and all usages of language are simply rhetorical devices), I also think its true. They may believe in the concept of God where atheists just don’t believe in God of any kind. However, Joseph Smith (and I would even say Lehi) had almost from the start thought the God of the Creeds was no God. As for the contention that early LDS not believing in the corporality of God, I think they understood that from the beginning. That was, regardless of what kinds of interpretations Joseph Smith might have come to think about the experience, the very first Revelation of the First Vision.

    In other words, I second the inflamitory rhetoric, because it is the truth. Like you said, believing this leaves us in good company. I would rather be like Joseph Smith than the near apostate Sterling McMurrin. Bring on the accusations of a different Jesus. Its true enough.

  9. Jeff G says:

    John,

    I have to agree with Jared. By your reasoning NOBODY except faithful Mormon really believe in God because everybody else, strictly speaking, believes in a God which doesn’t exist. If person A believes in a God which is black and person B believes in a God which is white does this necessarily mean that at least one of them is an atheist? What about those who believe in Gods which don’t exist? Strictly speaking they believe in nothing, for their use of the word ‘god’ doesn’t refer to anything at all.

    I know that these questions are largely missing the point which Pratt was trying to make, but my point is that a person’s believing that the God which exists in some way has some characteristics doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in God at all. The use of the label “atheist” here really does seem like a cheap rhetorical trick; the use of an overly inflammatory word which kind of applies, but not really, to make a belief with which you disagree look as distasteful as possible. I don’t care who else has used this argument, it’s a bad one which should be avoided.

  10. Jared says:

    But Jared, I am afraid, is correct to say that it is a mere rhetorical trick to claim (as Pratt did in uncanonized writings) that the idea of an incorporeal being is logically incoherent.

    More specifically, that the idea of an incorporeal being is atheism.

    Others say that Mormons believe X, Y, and Z about Jesus, therefore Mormons worship a different Jesus. Since there is only one Jesus, Mormons are not Christian.

    Your line of reasoning is similar–equating their conception of God and Christ (or at least yours or Pratt’s understanding of it) to atheism. Not only is it unnecessarily inflammatory toward other Christians, but it backfires to some degree because you would have to say that every major figure of the restoration was an atheist until the corporeal nature of God was spelled out.

    Did Joseph enter the woods to pray as an atheist?

  11. Kurt says:

    John,

    Saying all non-LDS Christians are atheists because they do not accept Him as corporeal in the sense we do is simply unfair. Under the same rules, all pre-King Follett Sermon (or pick whatever early Church artificial doctrinal benchmark you like) LDS members were atheists as well, as was the Brother of Jared before he saw the premortal Christ. Most Christians see God’s corporeal state as a mystery, that He is a spirit, and they really dont give it much thought. Would you cast Jews as athesits as well because they refuse to conform to our doctrinal views, especially when they dont even think the resurrection has occurred yet?

    There are no doctrinal or philosophical or theosophical or educational requirements for being a Christian disciple. The only requirement is to follow and do Jesus’ teachings in your daily life and, obviously, repent when you fail, cf. John 8:31. The minimal set of doctrines, as taught in the BofM (cf. 3 Ne. 11:30-40), say nothing of esoteric doctrinal requirements about the corporeal nature of God.

    Come on, John.

  12. Sterling McMurrin points out that the argument in this post is actually fallacious. In effect, you’re relying on the claim that the idea of immaterial substance is logically contradictory. Now, as a matter of fact, LDS theology asserts that there is no such thing, but that’s quite different from showing that — on logical principle — the concept of immaterial substance is self-contradictory. In fact, that concept is not self-contradictory; it is logically possible to believe in the existence of things that are not material. (Consider how many people think of gravity, electricity, or magnetism. Those conceptions may be incorrect as a matter of fact, but they are not self-contradictory.)

    I understand that you find it difficult to believe in an “incorporeal” being, and I am inclined to agree with your claim that the truth is that God has a body. But Jared, I am afraid, is correct to say that it is a mere rhetorical trick to claim (as Pratt did in uncanonized writings) that the idea of an incorporeal being is logically incoherent.

  13. Yep, me, Joseph Smith, James Talmage and Orson Pratt.

    The truth is God has a resurrected, physical body and it is essential to understand that. Otherwise, it is very hard to believe that he really exists. It is very hard to believe in an “incorporeal” being. Just where do you think that teaching comes from in the first place?

    How can the truth be a “rhetorical trick?”

  14. Jared says:

    I appreciate your enthusiasm for the restoration, but it seems to me that you are using the same kind of rhetorical tricks that others use to disqualify us as Christians.

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