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The Argument That Led Me Out of Mormonism

Audio only:

Jeremy Christiansen, author of From the Susquehanna to the Tiber: A Memoir of Conversion from Mormonism to the Roman Catholic Church, joins us for a conversation about arguments against Mormonism. Which will work and why?


Cy Kellett:

Hello, and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. We’ll talk a bit about defending your Catholic faith this time, because among those who are interested in defending the Catholic faith there’s probably three people they’d most like to try out their defense on. That is the atheists, Jehovah’s Witness and the Mormon, and the Jehovah’s Witness and the Mormon, they’ll come to your door, and you’d like to be prepared, you’d like to know what to say.

So we’ll cover a bit of that, but we’re going to do a much broader conversation as well with our guest, Jeremy Christiansen, this time, because he has a wonderful new book out from Ignatius Press called From the Susquehanna to the Tiber: A Memoir of Conversion from Mormonism to the Roman Catholic Church.

As I say, it’s much broader than just a defense of the Catholic Church. It’s really an expression of love for the Catholic Church. Jeremy Christiansen, thank you for being here with us.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.

Cy Kellett:

So you grew up a Mormon, you married a Mormon… I mean you married out of the Mormon, and then you raised your family in the Mormon Church, and then you became Catholic. What happened?

Jeremy Christiansen:

A lot happened. I think one important point, as you noted, is we were very Mormon, to put it very simply. We were very, very Mormon. My parents are very active Mormon, my in-laws are very active Mormon, and for the most part all of my siblings and my wife’s siblings have remained in the Mormon Church. Faith was just a part of the way we were raised.

We went to church every Sunday. We prayed every morning and every night as a family. We read from the Book of Mormon every day as a family. We went to church activities throughout the week and sort of programs for young men and woman. These kinds of things were really integral to our life.

My wife and I were both very active. At the time that we got married I had just returned from being a missionary in Argentina, so I was one of those people knocking on folks’ door. My wife, she’s a few years older than me. She had been a missionary in Honduras, so we both certainly had a zeal for sharing our faith.

The sort of short version of it is that around the time I was in law school through kind of a series of events I started to do a lot more serious investigation of the historical claims and the early history of the Mormon Church, its founding, the origin of a number of distinctive LDS beliefs, and that led to it kind of unwinding, of having a moment of sort of seeing things that it just felt like I couldn’t see anymore, and a really disconcerting situation.

To have your faith that forms kind of the bedrock of the way you think about the universe and the way you think about right and wrong, to have that kind of pulled away from you is a really difficult, challenging experience, and I try to communicate that in the book, although I think it probably comes up short.

Cy Kellett:

I guess when you say it probably comes up short, because this is your identity really.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

So now you’ve come to a identity crisis. If you’re going to surrender Mormonism you’re going to surrender the thing that has given you your identity your whole life.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Very much so, and I think just the particularities of how the Mormon faith works. I continue to believe in God after I had stopped believing in Mormonism, and I can only say that’s by God’s grace. I don’t have a great explanation for that, because Mormonism, and we can get into this later if you want to, doesn’t have natural theology like Catholicism does.

The conception of God that Mormonism claims and defends is not the conception of God of classical theism of Aquinas, or even of Jewish and Islamic tradition, the sort of philosophical defense of what we mean by God. So belief in God is very much wrapped up in your belief and the claims of the LDS Church.

I don’t have data on it, but just anecdotally there is a large contingency of people my age or younger leaving the LDS Church right now. It’s suffering. Its exodus of members is not unlike lots of religions in the west right now. A lot of people are landing in sort of an internet atheism style kind of belief.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, I know quite a few of those.

Jeremy Christiansen:

And a lot of it is as soon as you are like I’m done, I think Mormonism is wrong, you kind of throw the baby out with the bathwater as it were.

Cy Kellett:

And you can understand that, because many express a sense of hurt, a sense of this whole thing is a scam, meaning religion in general, so you can see why… And it seems reasonable in a certain way, this thing where the veil kind of comes off and you go it’s not rooted in philosophy or history in the way that I thought it was. It’s not rooted in reason the way that I thought, or connected to reason in the way I thought it was, throw the whole thing out, and that’s very sad.

But you didn’t… Well let me ask you this. To what degree did the kind of shattering of Mormonism in you… I guess the way that I’d say it is how deep did it go? Did it go all the way to atheism, or where did it go?

Jeremy Christiansen:

No, it didn’t go all the way to atheism. I, again for whatever reason, held onto a very vague notion of God, I think pretty akin to the moralistic, therapeutic deism that might be one of kind of the fastest growing religions in a sense in America. God is this very difficult thing for me to understand. I certainly couldn’t claim any supremacy for the particular tradition I grew up in, but it is the way that I got a sense, the religious sense, the sense of God in my life.

I don’t believe the actual kind of claims of my religion, but there is still some vague notion of God. He probably is like a nice old grandpa and isn’t maybe particularly involved in my life, certainly I ought not to make strong claims about the lives of other people, and I’m sure it’ll all just work out honky-dory in the end.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Yeah. I guess it’s the child of what used to be called civil religion in a certain way, but it’s more robust I guess than civil religion, because it has a kind of philosophy of, like you said, I may be a Lutheran, I might be a Methodist, I might be Jewish, I might be… But it’s all kind of this same general God that we don’t know that much about, so this just happens to be where I pray. This happens to be where I do what I do.

I think that makes Catholicism particular strange in some ways. Probably orthodox Judaism in some ways, and in some ways Islam as well, that they don’t actually go along with that. No, God is exactly like we say God is, and that’s a little harder.

So I want to ask you about… Well, for people to accept. I want to ask you about this. So you’re a young Mormon man, you go on mission, you do all this stuff. To that person, as you remember that person, what does Catholicism look like? Because as a Catholic, trying to imagine what Catholicism looks like to a Mormon, it looks like a lot of rituals, a lot of pictures and actions and all that, but very archaic, very old. How does it actually look to that person?

Jeremy Christiansen:

That’s a great question. When I sit back and I try and wind back the clock and put myself where I was, I think growing up, and not… I don’t mean to blame this on my parents or something. My parents are both very sort of tolerant people, very tolerant of other religions. But in Mormonism, particularly kind of just the way Mormonism was presented in the ’80s and ’90s, had a particular view of Roman Catholicism, and the views of certain LDS leaders like the late Bruce R. McConkie, prevailed throughout the church, which picked up on pretty standard Protestant tropes, the Whore of Babylon.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, yeah.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Mormonism relies on a great apostacy narrative, and that’s traditionally been most of the blame centered on the Catholic Church. I remember when I went to Argentina I probably had a much more aggressive, antagonistic view toward Catholicism. By the time I left, and it’s not that I had a whole lot of interaction with Catholics, practicing Catholics that is, in Argentina, but by the time I came back I had a much more benign view of this is a really superstitious religion for kind of benighted people.

It’s a religion that relied on coercion and control for kind of the simpletons to go along with, and they believe manifestly silly things like the real presence. So there’s a lot of enlightenment and sort of rationalism that interestingly enough is cooked into the way Mormons kind of traditionally think about religion.

Cy Kellett:

Well, that actually makes sense to me, because I have a theory about Mormonism that I’d like to run by you. Part of the reason that Mormons are such nice people and good people and why Catholics often in social issues find themselves so aligned with Mormons is it’s a religion that is rooted in 19th century American rural goodness. I mean the virtues come from that, and they haven’t changed. They’ve been pretty consistently 19th century American rural values, which were good values.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah. I think that’s a fairly… I would caveat that a little.

Cy Kellett:

Okay.

Jeremy Christiansen:

I would tend to say that it’s rooted more in post-war bourgeois kind of American values.

Cy Kellett:

Really? Okay.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah. And I would say that because an interesting thing when you start to peel back the layers of Mormonism is there’s a good argument that there isn’t a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There have been many Churches of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It kind of depends what time period you’re thinking about, because the heavily polygamy focused religion of the 1840s through the turn of the 20th century doesn’t exactly line up with that kind of 19th century values.

Certainly there was a huge cultural conflict between the rest of American and the Mormon Church. At the time it was we must rid the twin pillars of barbarism, slavery and polygamy. That was sort of the ethos in America. But once that kind of was triumphant, of suppressing polygamy among the Mormons, and the church capitulated and declared that God had revealed they wouldn’t practice it anymore in the early 20th century, there was this sort of need to reinvent itself, this need to say what are we, what do we stand for, and how are we different, because we can’t just be like everybody else.

So you have this interesting time of both assimilation into a lot of broader Protestant values in America, and other doctrines that developed to try and maintain Mormon distinctiveness. Like for instance the Word of Wisdom, the prohibition on, say, using tobacco or alcohol was not a requirement prior to the Temperance Movement in the early 20th century.

The LDS Church banded arms with the Temperance Movement and started to say we are now going to make this thing that we have that was actually just kind of recommendatory, we’re going to make it mandatory now. You have things like that of sort forming Mormon distinctiveness, and then you get at this time their most charismatic leader, who is David O. McKay, and he would wear these white suits, and he had no beard this big shock of white hair, and he’s not a weirdo bigamist polygamist living in the desert.

Cy Kellett:

I got that. Yeah.

Jeremy Christiansen:

He is quite this guy who looks… And now all the leaders of the LDS Church look like they should just belong in corporate boardrooms or on Madison Avenue, and are very identifiable with kind of the post-war values of the 1950s.

Cy Kellett:

How interesting. Okay. So now I guess what I’m trying to get at with you is to one point, because I think this will be helpful to our listeners very much, is what’s actually happening in that moment of encounter when you open the door and there’s a couple of Mormons standing there? What are they seeing in you as a Catholic, and what might be helpful responses from you to them as a Catholic? Do you see what I’m saying?

Jeremy Christiansen:

For sure. The way that the church I think for probably the last 10 or more years, and certainly now, approaches its relationship to Catholicism, or really any other church, is much less harsh and is more along the following lines. We recognize you have truths. Everybody’s got some truths. There’s good things all over in all the religions of the world, but we have the fullness of truth, and it was restored through Joseph Smith, and we want to invite you to pray and ask God… And their sort of approach is God is going to tell you through a manifestation of the Holy Spirit that Mormonism is true and that all these claims that Mormonism is making are the restoration of things that were taught during the time of Jesus but were lost.

They’re not going to be as harsh of the Catholic Church intentionally did this or that bad thing, changed the scriptures, sort of like they used to. It’s much more well, they were good people back then, but after the death of the last of the apostles legitimate authority was taken from the earth and over time the teachings just corrupted. So that’s the way that they are going to approach a Catholic, is I have something more to offer you than what-

Cy Kellett:

Well, I imagine that might be more effective approach in any case. So you did this, you were in a Catholic country doing this, and you saw this as kind of a superstitious religion of benighted people, as you said. So you came back to America and you said I got to be one of them. What happened?

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah. So as I said, by the time I was in law school we had four children at this time, and law school is an intellectually driven environment and I’m a practicing attorney, the law is an intellectually heavy field. There was a lot going on at the time, so this would have been around 2011 to 2014-15, when these series of events occur.

Part of it is something in the air. So something happened at this time, and it’s quite identifiable within Mormonism. The internet just got really out ahead of the LDS Church. It used to be that if you wanted to know about what neutral historians, the very small number of them who actually studied early Mormon history, if you wanted to know what they thought about Joseph Smith or the founding of Mormonism you’d have to find a book in a library somewhere.

Cy Kellett:

Right, and who’s going to do that?

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah. Who’s going to do that? There’s not that much time, and they’re like really I don’t care. But what starts to happen with the internet is that these primary historical documents, and then secondary articles and these sorts of things start to proliferate and are just not… It’s very difficult for the LDS Church to say don’t go look at this stuff when it’s everywhere.

And there started to be in the news actually a lot of reports, even in major news publications, of defections of younger and sometimes even older people from the LDS Church based on historical issues, that they were starting to sort of suffer these large numbers of sort of people voluntarily removing themselves from the church’s records, resigning.

There were also some really high profile excommunications that were documented in The New York Times. One of them was John Dehlin of the podcast Mormon Stories and the other was of a woman named Kate Kelly, who was part of a movement, a sort of progressive movement pushing for women’s ordination in the LDS Church.

John Dehlin, on his podcast he had people sort of just being a little more honest about historical issues, and it was sort of a space for people trying to figure out how can we make Mormonism work if we accept it on its real historical terms, and he was excommunicated in a very public and not very good looking way.

So this stuff is in the air, and the LDS Church took a move to try and deal with it, and they did it by publishing a number of essays on their website that they had written. The authors were not attributed, but it’s pretty well known it’s a group of historians and other people employed by BYU, by the church’s university, Brigham Young University, to kind of rewrite a more nuanced narrative that conceded a lot of things that when you grew you heard were not true.

Example, you might hear Joseph Smith was involved in treasure digging. You might hear yeah, he did it like once, but it wasn’t a big deal. Now the church officially recognizes this was a pretty significant part of his world, and the world of his family, and the world of his associates, and the belief of being able to look into seer stones and see hidden objects and buried treasures, and to do magical incantations to find them.

This was fairly common in the northeast United States at that time, and trying to kind of reframe it. But when you saw it it was a little bit shocking to see so many of these things being conceded that the church that I had grown up in for a long time definitely sent the message of those things aren’t true, or are really greatly exaggerated, or what not.

It was around that time I just started to really do my own digging and my own looking and to read from whatever sources I thought were offering a fair assessment of the history, and I came fairly soon after that to say whatever else the LDS Church is, it is not what it claims to be. So that’s sort of the step one of leaving.

So I didn’t convert to Catholicism immediately from Mormonism. I had an interim. My wife was LDS, my kids were. I still went to church pretty much every week to help, just to handle the kids and stuff. At the time the LDS Church was three hours. You went for a three hour block of meetings every Sunday. So I would go to help with my wife, but it bothered me, and I was trying to work through my own how can I make this work? Is there any version, my own eclectic version of Mormonism that might work for me?

In that process I really think Divine Providence was involved, like the intercession of Thomas Moore and John Henry Newman, but I came across the Church Fathers, which I had never heard of, I had never read. I was not looking to join another religion. I wasn’t exploring them for the purpose of anything like that. I had no interest in Catholicism, but I came across the Apostolic Fathers in particular and thought that would be interesting. I wondered what these folks believed and I literally thought I’m sure I could buffet style pick a few things that they believed in and add them to my own tool chest.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, I see. Yeah. So you’re building your own religion?

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah. Yeah. Very individualistic, eclectic. I’ll just be that guy in the back of the room who believes his own thing and I’m fine with that. You can see them right here. It’s this set.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, there they are, right above your head, the Fathers of the Church.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yes. A pretty standard translation. John Henry Newman did some of the translations of those. But I started reading the Fathers, and I was just really shocked. I wasn’t reading any commentaries or anybody’s spin. I just sat through and chronically tried to figure out where most people think most things fall right now, give or take, and started reading through them chronically, roughly in that order, and just became really shocked at… I expected a lot more ambiguity.

Maybe there is. I’m not a patristic expert. I don’t read Greek. I don’t read Latin. But as just a person reading them, I thought these people really seem Catholic. That’s what they seem to me. These people seem like Catholics. They believe things that are Catholic.

One of them that really struck me was the real presence. It was not difficult for me as an outsider with no dog in the race to just open them and say whether it’s true or not, whether I can come to believe this, it’s pretty clear that these people believed that this is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, that this is something… The way they talk about this, this is not just a symbol. They think they’re eating the body of our Lord and drinking his blood, and that shook me a little bit.

Cy Kellett:

Because you expected to find what? I guess at some point you would have been expecting an apostacy, but I’m gathering what you see, especially if you take the Father’s chronologically from say Polycarp to Augustine, what you would see is freakishly consistent. I mean it gets developed, but you don’t see oh, this is where they took that wrong turn. That doesn’t occur in any of it.

Jeremy Christiansen:

No. I certainly was surprised by the level of consistency that I found in the Church Fathers on a number of things, but I wasn’t expecting at that point, because I’m not going to… I mean why am I going to believe that there was an apostacy if I don’t believe the other things, the church teachings?

Cy Kellett:

Oh, I see. You had moved past that? Yeah.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah. I’m open to seeing just what does it look like here, and it seemed like there was a pretty good case for a steady succession of authority from the apostles to apostolic men into the bishops. When ever precisely those names start getting used I don’t know, but as I read the shorter versions of St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letters, he didn’t really strike me as saying something particularly new in urging people to [inaudible 00:25:19] to the bishop and to the bishop’s authority.

Clement of Rome’s letter also struck me… I remember just reading it the first time and thinking that is a little curious that Clement and the Church of Rome see it fit that they interfere in ecclesiastical dispute in Corinth, and to say to them you need to do what we’re telling you to do, which is not to [inaudible 00:25:48] your leaders. You can’t do that, and the reason you can’t do that for a number of reason, but one of the reasons is that this concept of succession was taught by the apostle, who received it from our Lord. So it was quite shocking to see that level of continuity and to just get a sense of this is very different.

And when it comes to Mormonism, I would add one of my points that I will make when I engage with people about the early church and Mormonism is I will say, “Let’s pretend the Catholic Church isn’t true for a minute. Let’s just say historically adopt whatever wild like German 19th century theories that you want, that the New Testament is a series of redactions, of warring factions by Peter and the more Jewish oriented Christians and Paul, whatever you want to do. There’s something that’s not there, and that is any reasonably identifiable group that you would say this is Mormon or Mormon adjacent.”

There are all kinds of groups. There are all kinds of groups, and even if you don’t want to say that the Catholic position was always right, you would just say there were Ebonites, there were Judaizers, there were any number of schools of gnostic thought. There were all kinds of things, but none of them not even remotely onto the core sort of unique identifiable claims of Mormonism.

You would say sometimes Mormon apologists will cherry pick, will say look, here is the gnostics. Think about their kind of plurality of God’s idea. These people claim for themselves the true teaching of Jesus that they believed in on multiplicity of God. But read [inaudible 00:28:01] heresies and that long slog of chapters about describing the different schools of gnostics, none of them map on… Okay, there’s a polytheism connection, but none of them map onto Mormonism. Mormonism doesn’t have the sort of hatred of the flesh. They just don’t map on. There’s just not a group, and if we’re saying you’re claiming that the teachings of Mormonism were taught in the first century and were lost, it would reasonably be suggested that I would see evidence of such a group that you could associate core Mormon beliefs with, and that proof is just not there.

Cy Kellett:

So you started to see that the Mormon telling of history is not actually what happened?

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

Whether it’s about what they were saying about Joseph Smith or what they were saying about early Christianity, it just wasn’t the actual story of what had happened?

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So this is a problem, but what’s drawing you towards the Catholic Church?

Jeremy Christiansen:

What draws me in is I think first the sort of sense of I kind of considered myself still Christian, but then I started to see look, there are all these things these people believe that I don’t believe, and particularly the real presence. That was a big one for me. How is it that I can claim this notion of me being a Christian if I don’t believe this?

That troubled me, and I decided to give a look at the Catholic tradition. Really what pulled me in in a large degree was the church’s intellectual tradition. So as I explained pretty extensively in the book, the epistemology of Mormonism is based on this idea of testimony, which to put it very shortly is boiling down to a feeling, you prayed and you felt like it was true. That’s a very powerful framework when you are born and raised in it, and that’s what you’re taught you’re looking for, that that feeling is God telling you that Joseph Smith was a prophet.

So I became very, very skeptical of what I felt about stuff. I might not feel great about all kinds of things in Catholicism, but I was at a point of like my feelings can lead me really, really astray, and I was intrigued by the Catholic intellectual tradition that says we’re made in the image of God not because the Father has fingers and toes and eyes and ears, as Mormonism teaches, and that we’re made to look like him, but rather we are made in the image of God because we possess an intellect and a will, but it is our rational nature that makes us made in the image of God.

Bishop Barron’s Catholicism series, he was Father Barron at the time when that series was put out, but I remember watching that and just being intrigued by-

Cy Kellett:

Oh, how wonder.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

That’s cool.

Jeremy Christiansen:

By Thomas Aquinas and the way that Bishop Barron speaks about the Catholic faith, the way that St. Thomas talks about the faith, and I eventually started reading John Henry Newman. I read his essay on the development of Christian doctrine, and I was just very blown away that you had people talking about religion in such sophisticated and nuanced ways intellectually, and that diving deeply into that tradition convinced me intellectually that the Catholic Church was probably right and offered a very beautiful, coherent understanding of reality and the intelligibility of everything around us.

Then with that, I studied on my own for over a year before I decided I should go see a Catholic mass. I had never been to mass before. I stumbled into… I was very naïve and didn’t quite understand what kind of statement one might be making by going to an extraordinary form traditional Latin mass. But in my mind, again, I was like I want to see the Catholicism of my imagination, the smells and bells, the medieval thing.

I just thought they kind of have an older version and a newer version, so I went to the Latin mass and was deeply, deeply moved and intrigued and sort of felt transported. I have similar feelings obviously in attending reverent liturgy, period, whether it’s the extraordinary form or the ordinary form.

But there was just this sense of being transported out of time, of something really beautiful going on. I did a lot of thinking and meditating about the concept of beauty, that Catholicism teaches about the true, the good, and the beautiful as these transcendentals that point us to an immaterial reality that is real, that is a reality. The beauty of the Catholic Church and her liturgy really moved me deeply, deeply, into being willing to say Mormons really don’t have like rote or memorized prayer. They’re quite against that concept.

And me being open to saying maybe I just really didn’t understand what God is, none of us do at some level, but I really didn’t quite understand God, or our Lord, or prayer even. So I became very willing to just try this very different… Like just praying liturgically and not worrying so much about vocalizing a sort of ad hoc prayer, but praying the rosary and those kinds of things, and there just kind of came a moment in which I thought this is right. There’s no thunderbolt, there’s no kind of revelatory experience. It was just assessing, studying, thinking.

I definitely prodded through other traditions. I considered a lot of Protestant critiques and orthodox critiques of Catholicism, but I just came to a sense to the propositions of the Catholic Church the way I suppose I ascent to any other proposition about the world and decided to be baptized.

Cy Kellett:

Did you go through the RCIA process?

Jeremy Christiansen:

I did not. I had been going to mass every week for several weeks. The first time I approached a priest, the pastor there, the parish, which is the parish we are registered to now and go to. I introduced myself and said, “I think I want to become Catholic.” He said, “Let’s meet Saturday morning and talked.”

We talked for… I feel like we talked for a couple of hours and he said, “Well, there are some things I want to do with you before you get baptized, when you’re ready to do that, but I don’t think you need to go through RCIA. I don’t have to make you go through that,” so I didn’t.

I think by that point I had read most of the large Catechism and had done a lot of reading, and my concerns, my issues by that point were less doctrinal and theological as they were pastoral. I had a wife and four children who were very Mormon still, and that’s a difficult spot to be in, and trying to understand how I navigate that complicated relationship in a way that was going to preserve my marriage. It’s a big black box that you’re stepping into, so a lot of my… I met with the pastor and we went over the compendiums of the Catechism that Pope Benedict put together. That’s a great book.

He said, “I just want to make sure you’ve got all these things down for sure.” We would meet on Saturday mornings together for a few months, and then we would spend most of the time talking about how I’d proceed-

Cy Kellett:

As a father and a husband?

Jeremy Christiansen:

… as a father and a husband to children who are being raised in Mormonism, in the complicated scenario in which I was the one who reneged on the deal with my wife. It’s just a very complicated situation, and I’m eternally grateful to my pastor for being pastoral and having prudence and judgment about how to navigate that situation in a prudent way and not an imprudent way, which could have backfired.

Cy Kellett:

And you don’t have to give us any details, but is it proceeding satisfactorily, these family relationships?

Jeremy Christiansen:

Indeed, because they are all now Catholic. My wife-

Cy Kellett:

Praise God.

Jeremy Christiansen:

… and all of our children… Our seventh child was just born. He will be baptized in two weeks. It came along slowly. Once I became a Catholic we had another child. That was the direct result of me saying, “I want to live in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church, respect or marriage.” So my wife became pregnant and she agreed to let me baptize that child.

She also blessed that child in the Mormon Church first, and then I had her baptized I think maybe the next week. We sort of proceeded along there and during COVID was when things kind of moved and my four older children were baptized. Nobody was going to church of any kind there for a little while, and I started praying the rosary with my kids every day, and by August of that year, August of 2020, so on Assumption my older four children were baptized, and then my wife started to express that she had some concerns about Mormonism.

We didn’t talk about it very frequently. I talked about it with her what seems to me a couple times a year, but I would say, “You don’t even have to answer. I just want to tell you some things so you know how I feel about certain things.” She did a lot of thinking and she started… When everybody was just watching mass on TV there for a little while she asked if she could watch mass with me sometimes and I said, of course, yes.

They had come to mass on Christmas, because they wanted to sort of see what the Catholic Christmas mass was like. But she was watching with me and we… I sort of slowly started speaking to her more and more, and she decided… When our children were baptized she said, “I’m going to let you raise our children Catholic. I’m still not sure what I think.”

She started RCIA in the fall of 2020 and she was baptized along with our next child at time in June of 2021, so we are all now Catholic.

Cy Kellett:

That’s a beautiful story. I have just two questions I want to ask you before I let you go, because you’ve been very generous with your time with us. The first is one of the things about the Catholic faith is you can ask any historical question, the church is not afraid of any historical question, you can ask any philosophical question, the church is not afraid of any of those. As a matter of fact, the more you ask, the more likely you’re going to be surprised at how consistent the answers are.

My sense is that Mormonism, while it’s filled with reasonable people, is not in fact a reasonable religion and it’s rooted in something other than reason, and that’s why it proposes this emotional experience as the proof of Mormonism. Have I misunderstood that, or that generally a reasonable account of it?

Jeremy Christiansen:

I would agree with that. I would say, not meaning to make it as a slight, but that Mormonism is not rooted in reason, and that in very particular instances it directly tells it adherence to disregard that reason when it conflicts with this experience.

Now that is a very different thing, and we don’t really have the time to unpack the relationship between faith and reason I think in the Catholic tradition, but I do think that’s an accurate sort of summary of it is rooted in an emotional experience that is hard to overcome and that one is taught to set aside rational considerations of various kinds in favor of that.

When you begin to doubt as a Mormon, the first thing anyone is likely to tell you is, “Remember your testimony. Remember how you prayed.”

Cy Kellett:

Okay. Yeah.

Jeremy Christiansen:

“Remember how you felt when you prayed and God told you it was true,” rather than saying, “Let’s think through and rationalize about the problem that you’ve identified.”

Cy Kellett:

Okay. Then finally, so the Catholic person who encounters the Mormon person at the doorstep, or wherever it might be, what do you advise them as an approach? I wouldn’t imagine you’d say tell them that the Catholic faith is reasonable and-

Jeremy Christiansen:

Theirs isn’t.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Right. That can’t be the thing to say. The thing that one wants is for the truth to flourish, so not to win an argument, just everybody come to the truth. So what’s the thing that you, as a former Mormon missionary, would say this is a way to engage with Mormons when they come to the door?

Jeremy Christiansen:

I have one caveat with… One of the hopes in my book was that some good person out there will read about my experience and that they are a better evangelizer than me and they will figure out what to do based on sort of in depth knowledge of what it’s like to be Mormon.

Two, I think something that changed me and that I think is the identifier or the cue that someone is really ready to think about it was the question I asked myself, and I think it goes to what you said. We all care about truth. We all should care about the truth. That’s what we want. If it’s not true I don’t want it.

I had the moment of deciding to really investigate claims in Mormonism when I had a bit of honesty and I just said to myself what if it really weren’t true? Wouldn’t I want to know that? What if it’s not? It could be. It is possible that it’s not, and if you’re not willing to think that it’s possible that it’s not, I don’t think you’re in a position to really examine it.

But I do think one approach is just to say, “We all believe in truth and I want you to consider the possibility that your religion isn’t true. It teaches some true things, but at its heart your religion isn’t true, and wouldn’t you want to know that if it weren’t, and wouldn’t you want to know what was true?”

Cy Kellett:

Wow.

Jeremy Christiansen:

To me, that’s the best I can offer, to say, “If you’re willing to agree to that, then let’s have a conversation, and there’s all kinds of interesting things we can talk about and explore together, but I think it boils down to do you really want to know if it’s true or not.”

Cy Kellett:

The book is From the Susquehanna to the Tiber: A Memoir of Conversion from Mormonism to the Roman Catholic Church. The author is our guest, Jeremy Christiansen, and the publisher is Ignatius Press. Jeremy, I am so grateful for you taking the time with us. Thank you very, very much.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Thank you for having me on. It’s been a pleasure.

Cy Kellett:

And congratulations on the new baby.

Jeremy Christiansen:

Thank you so much.

Cy Kellett:

Thank you also to our listeners. We love it when you spend this time with us. If you’d like to comment, or maybe you have an idea for a future program, send it to [email protected] That’s our email address, [email protected] If you’d like to support us financially, it does take a few bucks to do this, you can always make a pledge over at givecatholic.com, givecatholic.com.

Wherever you watching this or listening to it, if you just give us that five star review, maybe a few nice words, only if you mean it, we’re rooted in truth here, you don’t have to exaggerate. But if you mean it, do it and it’ll help us grow the podcast. I’m Cy Kellett, your host, and we’ll see you next time God willing right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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