In his 2011 FAIR Conference presentation, Professor Daniel C. Peterson of Brigham Young University presented a paper on “Mormonism, Islam, and the Question of Other Religions”. Professor Peterson is well qualified to speak on this subject, as he is a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies. A cursory glance of one biographical sketch online will quickly remind the reader that Professor Peterson is not only an authority on Islam, but religious studies in general.
A few months before his presentation at the FAIR Conference, Professor Peterson published an article with the Mormon Times entitled “God’s sheep recognize his voice”. It is something of a reader’s digest version of his FAIR presentation. In both the article and his FAIR Conference Presentation, Professor Peterson essentially argued that regardless of religious or cultural background, “God’s sheep recognize his voice, even when it’s in a different language or imperfectly heard. They follow him as best they can and will not lose their reward.” Thus, we as Latter-day Saints should follow the noble heritage of our predecessors (including Joseph Smith, Orson Hyde, and B. H. Roberts, to name only three) and extend tolerance and understanding towards those of other religious backgrounds in both word and deed. Our world is much too divisive, and religious strife only adds fuel to the fire. Although we should not compromise our uniquely cherished Latter-day Saints beliefs, we should not fall prey to religious dogmatism that can create contention amongst people of differing religious persuasions. Dr. Peterson’s ideas are noble and edifying, and I felt myself strengthened after listening to his presentation at the FAIR Conference.
However, not everybody is as taken with Professor Peterson’s ideas as I am. One particularly vocal anti-Mormon named Rocky Hulse has made it clear that Daniel C. Peterson is preaching nothing but rank blasphemy.
Right off the bat Hulse makes it clear that “the first four paragraphs of this article set the stage of falsehood”. What are the shocking paragraphs which Mr. Hulse has in mind?
Trying to make their view seem merely a minor logical extension of my own, several atheistic acquaintances have assured me that there is little difference between us: They just happen to disbelieve in one more god than I do.
They seem to imagine that being a Latter-day Saint entails rejecting all non-Mormon religious experiences and disbelieving every doctrine of every other faith. This, however, is not true.
When Joseph Smith learned that the then-existing Christian churches were corrupt, that didn’t mean that they were totally wrong. To say that something is “corrupt” means that it has been damaged. We speak of “corrupted texts” or “corrupted files,” intending to say that they have been infected or tainted — not that their original content has been replaced by something completely different.
In fact, many mainstream Christian doctrines were and are substantially correct. There is indeed a God. He has a divine Son who came to earth, atoned for our sins, rose again on the third day and now sits at the right hand of his Father. Those who taught prayer, preached of the Savior and translated the New Testament during the centuries between the early apostles and the Restoration preserved and transmitted many central gospel truths.
Hulse continues to blast away at this heresy by asserting that “this attempt at revising the “First Vision” of Joseph Smith is grossly deceptive”. According to Hulse, Joseph Smith’s details of his First Vision disqualify Mormonism from any pretension to inter-faith ecumenicalism.
Here in the “First Vision,” Joseph Smith says the “Personage” who addressed him (later identified as Jesus) told him all churches were wrong and all of their creeds were an “abomination.” The Christian Creeds are Christian doctrine. The word “abomination” is defined as follows: “1: something abominable 2: extreme disgust and hatred: LOATHING.” It is quite clear from the text that, according to Joseph Smith, Jesus has “extreme disgust, hatred and loathing” of the Christian creeds and specifically defines all churches as wrong and teaching the doctrines of men. Yet, in the first four paragraphs of this article, Daniel Peterson very deceptively tries to gloss over Mormonism’s absolute attack against all churches, all Christian doctrine and all who profess Christianity.
Hulse then quote-mines the Journal of Discourses for a statement as equally un-ecumenical as Joseph Smith’s brazen assault on Christianity. Notwithstanding, Husle’s arguments in this regard have been thoroughly refuted by Michael Ash, in his article “Does Mormonism Attack Christianity?”. Furthermore, Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks have addressed this charge in their book Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints.
I mention this only in passing, since I wish to address the more egregiously erroneous claims made by Hulse. He is totally beside himself because of the fact that “this BYU professor and Mormon Apologist goes on in this article teaching that the Allah of Islam is the God of the Bible”. Here is the quote from Dr. Peterson provided by Hulse:
But what about non-Christians? Do they worship false gods?
Jews certainly don’t. Believing Jews accept the Old Testament, venerating the God who brought Israel out of Egypt, spoke through the prophet Isaiah and was proclaimed by Jesus (a Palestinian Jew).
But what of Islam? Isn’t “Allah” a false god? No. According to the Qur’an, Allah created the earth in six days, placed Adam and Eve in Eden and then inspired prophets like Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Sound familiar?
To this incredible blasphemy Hulse replies with certitude:
To draw the conclusion that “Allah” is the God of the Bible because a fictional book of scripture, the Qur’an, plagiarizes the characters and stories of the Bible is ludicrous, however, not without precedent. Mormonism does the same thing in our time. Mormonism draws from its fictional book of scripture, the Pearl of Great Price, claiming in creation that all human beings were born into a pre-existent world, having been sired by God the Father, who has a body of flesh and bones, and that Jesus was the first offspring of this Deity and that Lucifer was the second. This being foundational Mormon doctrine, Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, and these two procreated beings are our older brothers in this non-Biblical doctrine.
But that isn’t the worst of it. What does Hulse consider to be the premiere blasphemy of Daniel Peterson? The fact that he is equating the false Muslim God Allah with the Word of John 1:1. As Dr. Peterson maliciously slurs in the Mormon Times article:
“Allah” is simply the Arabic equivalent of English “God,” related to the Hebrew “Elohim.” Moreover, Allah is the God not only of Muslims but of all Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews. “In the beginning, (Allah) created the heavens and the earth,” reads Arabic Genesis. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with (Allah), and the Word was (Allah),” says the Arabic version of John 1:1. “We believe in (Allah), the Eternal Father,” says the first Article of Faith in Arabic, “and in his Son, Jesus Christ.”
Hulse is incensed at this heresy. Hulse screams: “Jesus was the Word that became flesh and then “dwelt among us” (John 1:14), not Allah!” Unfortunately, though, the facts are not on his side. Perhaps Hulse is confused about how languages work, and how translations from one language to another works. Allow me a few moments to explain.
Here is the Greek text of John 1:1.
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
The Greek word for “God” is θεόν or θεὸς (theos).
What follows are three different translation of the Greek text in English, German, and French. Note the word used to translate the Greek θεὸς:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (New Revised Standard Version).
Im Anfang war das Wort, und das Wort war bei Gott, und das Wort war Gott. (Die Bibel: Einheitsübersetzung)
Au commencement était celui qui est la Parole de Dieu. Il était avec Dieu, il était lui-même Dieu. (La Bible du Semeur)
In these instances the Greek word θεὸς is translated into the English “God”, the German “Gott”, and the French “Dieu”. These are not differing unique English, German, and French deities but rather just the generic word in the respective language to express the Greek word. So it is with the Arabic word الله (Allāh). Recall that Arabic is a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. It therefore should not come as a surprise to anyone that the Hebrew word for God אֱלהִים (elohim), is closely related to the Arabic الله. That is not to even mention the Aramaic (the spoken language of Jesus) word for God (ʼĔlāhā), which is even more closely related to the Arabic. It is no different than the fact that the English word “God” is closely related to the German “Gott”. They are just two different words in two different languages being used to express the same idea.
Thus, in spite of Hulse’s protestations to the contrary, Professor Peterson is strictly correct. It is entirely appropriate to use the word Allah when translating the Bible into Arabic since Allah is the word in Arabic to denote “God”. Who would have ever guessed that Arabic speaking Muslims, Jews and Christians use the same Arabic word (Allah) to name the God they are worshiping? To illustrate by way of personal experience, when my family and I traveled to Israel in 2006 we sat in on a Roman Catholic mass attended by Palestinian Christians. Does anyone want to guess what word in Arabic we repeatedly and distinctly heard throughout this beautiful Christian liturgy?
Moving on. Hulse takes a swing at Professor Peterson, this time on the grounds that Dr. Peterson has grossly misrepresented Paul in Acts 17. Says Hulse: “In another grand deception, Daniel Peterson attempts to make the claim that Paul is actually equating the God of Israel with the Greek god Zeus.” Here is the relevant quote from Professor Peterson:
When the apostle Paul, preaching on Mars Hill, sought to connect with the pagan Athenians (Acts 17:24-28), he identified Zeus with Israel’s God: “For in him we live and move and have our being,” he taught, quoting the words about Zeus of a sixth-century B.C. Cretan philosopher. “As some of your own poets have said,” he continued, citing a third-century B.C. philosopher’s verse about Zeus, “‘we are his offspring.’”
Hulse bemoans this “truly deliberate deception” as “beyond the pale of deceit”. But, once again, Professor Peterson is correct. Paul is quoting two Greek poets, namely, Epimenides (or some would argue Posidonius) and Aratus. Here is the section from Aratus’ Phaenomena that Paul was quoting:
Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring…
That Paul was approvingly quoting Aratus (while at the same reapplying the meaning) is seen in Paul’s conclusion in the next verse of Acts 17, where the Apostle declares: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill” (New International Version). It makes little sense for Paul to quote a pagan Greek poet unless he was intending to reinforce his own theological point, viz., that we are God’s offspring (Greek, γένος, species, race, genus, etc.) and thus should not consider God as an idol made of man’s artifice.
At the end of his Mormon Times article, Professor Peterson concludes with the following offering:
In the final volume of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” a Calormene soldier named Emeth (= Hebrew “truth”) has been a sincere worshiper of the false god Tash all of his life. When, at the end, he meets Aslan and recognizes the true God, he expects severe punishment. But Aslan graciously reassures him that “all the service thou hast done to Tash, I accept as service done to me,” explaining that, although Emeth had been unaware of it, his honest devotion was actually to Aslan, rather than to Tash. “No service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.”
In a concluding rebuttal (I use that word loosely here), Hulse ends his screed thusly:
This teaching by BYU Professor Peterson is absolute blasphemy. Trying to use the “Chronicles of Narnia” as scripture to rationalize that any worship given to any god will be accounted by the God of the Bible as valid, is the epitome of reaching for straws; it’s pathetic really. God will not be mocked. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life! There is none other and any devotion offered to false gods will not be accepted by the God of the Bible as worship to him. The Old Testament is clear that God is a jealous God and will not tolerate worship given to false gods; however, since Mormonism has incorporated polytheism (many gods) into their doctrine, the god of this world has blinded their eyes (II Cor 4:4).
Where exactly does Professor Peterson equate C. S. Lewis with scripture? I took it as an appropriate concluding reference to a respected Christian philosopher and theologian. Likewise, contrary to what Hulse maintains, I did not read this so much as Daniel Peterson granting license to worship any god willy-nilly, but rather that even those who serve “false” gods can still do good in the world and receive blessings from the Savior.
It is my hope that Rocky Hulse will take some time to calm down and read Professor Peterson’s more fully documented and expanded paper presented at the FAIR Conference. Likewise, I wish that anyone reading this blog post will take time to read Dr. Peterson’s remarks. Those who do will learn of the importance of religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue, which, unfortunately, is bereft in any of Rocky Hulse’s comments.
We live in a divisive world. Religious differences are sometimes used as further justification for this divisiveness. Usually those who further drive the wedge between people of differing religious backgrounds do so out of ignorance and fear. I am afraid that Rocky Hulse has done such with his knee-jerk reaction to Dr. Peterson’s article.
: Available online: http://www.fairlds.org//FAIR_Conferences/2011_Mormonism_Islam_and_the_Question_of_Other_Religions.html
: See his bio entry on Mormon Scholars Testify: http://mormonscholarstestify.org/151/daniel-c-peterson-2
: Available at: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705387043/Gods-sheep-recognize-his-voice.html
: “Zeus, Allah, and Jesus in Mormonism, They’re One and the Same!”. Online at: http://www.mormonoutreach.org/topics/Zeus%20Allah%20and%20Jesus%20in%20Mormonism%20Theyre%20One%20and%20the%20Same.html. All subsequent quotations of Hulse are taken from this article.
: The statement quoted by Hulse is from Brigham Young. “Brother Taylor has just said that the religions of the day were hatched in hell. The eggs were laid in hell, hatched on its borders, and then kicked on to the earth.” Journal of Discourses, 6:176.
: Available online: http://www.fairlds.org/pubs/LDSattack.pdf
: Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992), 158-172.
: Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1971), xxii.
: Michael D. Coogan, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 219 [Acts 17:28f].