Gnosticism and the LDS

There seems to be a lot of literature, particularly from within the apologetic repertoire for orthodox Catholic and Protestant theology, that levels the accusation that the LDS (Mormons) are essentially a Gnostic sect and therefore- in the minds of most people- Gnosticism is essentially the same error as the LDS.

Now, I’m sure both Mormons and Gnostics are shaking their heads at this, but someone who has heard plausible cases for this presented by comparing Gnostic and LDS doctrine such as this post may find themselves doubting that a good case can be made for the two strains to be much different.

It is true that many things about the LDS have been appropriated from Gnosticism, and the LDS certainly wears certain trappings of the Gnostic, sometimes literally.  The now infamous temple garments- sometimes referred to as “magic underwear”- are marked with symbols borrowed from Freemasonry which itself appropriated symbols and themes from Hermeticism.

However, I have a few fundamental problems with the assertion that Gnostics and LDS are cut from the same cloth that I think are hard to dismiss:

*Morality- While many Gnostic sects such as the Cathars have had rather strict moral codes, it is pretty much unheard of for a Gnostic sect to pressure members not only into marriage but into having large families.  In fact, the Cathars actually forbade procreation for their parfaits (ascetic clergy) and greatly discouraged it for their credentes (ordinary believers).  Many strains of Gnosticism, furthermore, believe that the only true sin is ignorance whereas the LDS seem to be far more orthodox on the idea of sin.

*Reincarnation- Most (but not all) Gnostics either believe in reincarnation or are open to the idea, and typically see the physical body as unimportant; however (and I had to look this up), the LDS are quite explicit that salvation must be achieved in one lifetime, and that the physical body is of paramount importance.

*Salvation- For the Gnostic, salvation comes through Gnosis, through knowing one’s own condition and living as one accountable for that knowledge (much like Buddhism).  For the LDS, as for many mainline Christian denominations, salvation comes through a combination of faith and good works including missionary work and clean living.

*Gender relations- Gnostics tend to be highly egalitarian about gender, in a tradition going back to the dawn of Gnostic teaching.  Gnostics have often allowed women to serve important roles in ritual and teaching.  LDS, on the other hand, enforce gender norms that are more in line with orthodox mores.

*Sacred Vestments- I know of no Gnostic sect that requires any sacred garment be worn at all times; the Temple Garments of the LDS are something alien to Gnosticism in their design and application.

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