© Anthony E. Larson, 2002
The Great and Abominable Church
Many surprises await the serious student of scripture and ancient history-revelations about our past and the true nature of the world we live in. Most surprising, however, is the revelation that all is not as it seems in our culture and its most fundamental institutions.
For example, in the Book of Mormon we read about “a great and abominable church” seen by Nephi in his great revelation to emerge after the time of the original apostles and continue on up into the time of the Gentiles. (Nephi 13:26.) This vile institution is named disparagingly in both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants. The natural conclusion is that Latter-day Saints should be able to identify it and thus avoid its dastardly influence.
However, as it turns out, the exact identity of this “church” is a matter of some conjecture and confusion among Latter-day Saints. Most interpret Nephi’s statements to refer to the Catholic church. However, that assessment may not be accurate since the great and abominable church was said by him to have “dominion over all the earth,” something well beyond the dominance of the Catholic church. Others have argued that governments in general fill the bill of the “great and abominable church” for reasons that will become clear further on.
On the one hand, a careful reading of these scriptures indicates that Nephi simply spoke is general terms with the intent of depicting the division between good and evil in the world as churches. “Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil …”-a point well made and easily understood. (1 Nephi 14:10.)
On the other hand, it appears that Nephi also intended to warn us of a specific institution in the world that would have a recognizable history and agenda. He indicated that it would evolve as a religion. Hence, it would be in a position to do considerable spiritual damage so that it would “blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.” (See Nephi 13:26.) Seemingly, any institution with such a history, sweeping influence and a despicable agenda should be easy to spot. But the confusion among Latter-day Saints regarding this “church” indicates that this is simply not the case.
This begs the following questions: How are we to guard against the wicked influence of an institution we cannot readily identify? Is it possible, even likely, that this “church” is working its vile influence among the Saints today? Does Nephi’s warning to us, the Gentiles, that we should avoid the trap, “that great pit,” that this institution might present to us goes unheeded since we do not seem to know which institution and ideas to defend ourselves against?
Clearly, a more careful analysis is in order so as to determine what this “church” might be and what harmful doctrines it may be imposing upon us.
To begin with, we must go back in history to see if we might thereby learn the nature and origin of this “church” and how it manages to “blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men” in order to understand how it might insinuate its distorted ideas and values into our lives.
Additionally, what the Book of Mormon prophet foresaw as a “church” may appear to be an entirely different institution in our eyes. Thus, the organization we seek may not appear to us to be a church at all, judging by a reading of all references to it, even though that word used by Nephi to designate it might also be appropriate, given its historical development from the true church.
Let’s look at history to possibly learn more about this “great and abominable church.”
It is well understood by Latter-day Saints how the primitive church ceased to function in its purity when revelation ceased after the death of the early apostles. History indicates that what was once the true church metamorphosed into the Catholic church, still preaching some tenets of the true church, but having denied much that is “plain and most precious.” Hence, many have sought to show that the Catholic is the “great and abominable church,” but that may be an oversimplified, partial truth, as we shall see.
Moving forward in time, we see that the Catholic church grew to dominate Western cultures. It came to be the universal church that largely governed the Holy Roman Empire. Thus, it can be correctly argued that the church also became a form of shadow government, ruling all the empires of the West for centuries thru the Papacy.
This condition endured for centuries until a handful of reformers decided to challenge the precepts and practices of the mother church. The Reformation, as this confrontation and religious schism came to be known, gave rise to numerous protesting groups or churches in Christianity, hence the term Protestant. These new churches, even when taken together with the Catholic, fall short of the malevolent church we seek since they still fall short of a worldwide institution.
Yet, there was one institution born during the Reformation that deserves our special attention, one that declined to call itself a church yet has all the earmarks of a religion. The tactic employed by this group was to denounce religion as anathema to logical, rational thinking and investigation. This group proclaimed that all religion was misguided, that it was a blight on the quest for knowledge since religion employed faith rather than intellect. Their group, they proclaimed, would avoid any such stigma by distancing itself from religion altogether.
Ironically, this newly born institution, which refused to call itself a church, took on many characteristics of a religion, or church, as we shall see. As its adherents went about organizing this new institution, it evolved much as the other protesting religions with its own dogma, catechism and priesthood.
This institution is orthodox science.
Naturally, the implication that science might be part of Nephi’s “great and abominable church” might be shocking and outrageous to some. Nevertheless, as we shall see, such may well be the case. Normative science, as an institution, fits Nephi’s description in that it pervades all societies and cultures worldwide and it contradicts and disparages all the basic tenets of the true religion, all the while making it difficult for the faithful to understand vital parts of the restored gospel. And while the search for knowledge is noble and proper, what passes as science, in too many instances, is actually institutionalized ignorance.
More analysis is necessary to establish the case in point.
History reveals that science began in the Renaissance as an alternative philosophy to religion, a reactionary rebellion opposed to the intellectual repression of the dominant orthodox church. Galileo’s struggle with ecclesiastical authorities to prove that the Earth was not the center of the universe is a quintessential example. In effect, it can be said that science was simply one of several Protestant movements, born in the Reformation, all of them giving rise to modern religious institutions.
Science, however, sought to convince the world that it was not a religion but a philosophy. However, in practice, as an institution, science began to operate much like a church. When one looks closely at science as a belief system and at its satellite institutions, it looks remarkably like a religion. Hence, Nephi’s decision to call this new institution a “church” was accurate.
The similarities between the science church and normative religion are striking. Consider, for example, that this new movement ultimately copied the organization it diverged from when it established its education and training arm: universities. Education had formerly been the responsibility of the church clergy. One had to be educated to become a clergyman and vice versa. Today’s universities, the incubators for our young scientists and scholars, began life in the Renaissance as the educational arm of the church-seminaries, in effect-and they still carry remnants of those religious trappings. Indeed, seen from this perspective, the role of the university is to indoctrinate or inculcate the precepts of the science church.
As the result of its origins in arcane religious orders, the terminology used in modern universities still hearkens back to its roots. For example, graduates don the robes, caps and gowns that can be traced back to ancient monastic and sacerdotal orders. It is for this reason that Dr. Hugh Nibley, a former BYU religion instructor once asked in his opening prayer in a convocation exercise that God might forgive those attending for wearing “the robes of false priesthood.” Additionally, upon graduation, universities bestow ‘degrees,’ a term still used in many religious orders today, such as Masonry, to designate the rank or status of practitioners.
We call those who teach in these institutions of higher education ‘professors’ rather than teachers because they originally did far more than teach; they professed a belief and faith in things metaphysical or spiritual to the initiates or students. Those who enroll in universities are said to ‘matriculate,’ the word coming from the Latin ‘mater’ or mother, meaning that initiates had enrolled in the ‘mother’ church.
The science church established its own dogma or doctrine, which it promulgates through the universities. It found its ‘catechism’ in Uniformity or Gradualism as well as Natural Selection or Evolution. Its sacrament is Rationalism and Empiricism; the tenets of the Newtonian universe became its articles of faith.
Latter-day Saints should readily recognize that all of the above named theories stand in direct contradiction to many tenets of the restored gospel.
As a further example of science as a church, those who fail to adopt or contradict the science church dogma find themselves shunned or excommunicated from the scientific community, just as in religion, no matter how inspired or workable their theories. The example of Halton Arp, a Nobel Prize winning astronomer, demonstrates the process. In spite of his elevated status in the scientific community, when Arp brought forth evidence that contradicted some of the fundamental tenets of astronomy he was systematically denied telescope time and barred from teaching his views in any effective forum.
Oddly, since science rejected the Catastrophism of religion, it had no eschatology until the nuclear age dawned. The atomic bomb and the nuclear holocaust it foreshadowed became science’s eschatological vision of a world-ending cataclysm and nuclear winter brought on by mankind’s super technology.
Still more odd, the religionists immediately agreed, thus abandoning their historic Catastrophist views, rooted in Holy Scripture, wherein God was said to be the agent of latter-day destructions.
The “Big Bang” hypothesis is simply the science church’s version of creation. The Unified Field Theory is science’s Holy Grail, which is just as elusive and ephemeral a prize as the religious/mythical grail.
An objective examination of history thus reveals that the religion of science, having spread its influence world-wide, crossing every cultural and ethnic boundary, is clearly a candidate for the scriptural “great and abominable church.” But the primary reason it qualifies is because it contravenes and contradicts the precepts of the restored gospel at almost every turn-much more so than the tenets of any other religious denomination. Additionally, as we have seen, it emerged from the Reformation along with most of the other Christian sects.
As alluded to earlier, the basic doctrines of science are badly flawed. Past Eschatus issues have delved somewhat into these faulty theories. Catastrophism teaches us that gravity is not a constant, that the sun is not a thermonuclear engine, that there was no ‘big bang’ to start creation, that the galaxy and the universe are organized and powered by electrically charged plasmas, that our solar system did not coalesce out of raw matter circling the sun, that geologic history did not occur over “billions and billions” of years, as we have been taught, and that the world and its heavens have changed dramatically in historic times, just to name a few precepts. Any Latter-day Saint who fully embraces the fundamental doctrine of the restored gospel knows that Evolution or Natural Selection is a flawed concept. Thus we see, in summary, that on almost every count the fundamental doctrines of the science church are false.
By holding on like grim death to baldy flawed axioms in the face of mounting evidence against them, orthodox science does great harm to all mankind. As in Galileo’s case where the Catholic church opposed a truly enlightened view of the evidence, holding on instead to its flawed dogma, now it is orthodox science that impedes progress by creating vacuous, ad hoc theories to explain phenomena that do not fit its doctrine while either utterly ignoring evidence that contravenes its doctrine or summarily dismissing it without consideration. It is the science church that now stands in the way of progress. Thus, the science church fulfills the scriptural prediction that it would “pervert the right ways of the Lord” and “blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men,” fully qualifying it as the great and abominable church of which Nephi wrote.
Sadly, modern Mormons have been largely reconciled to science, generally accepting the doctrines of the science church as fact-something that would have horrified early Saints. Mormons have accommodated the apparent conflict between science and revealed religion by living with a glaring dichotomy to which most turn a blind eye-a clear case of doctrinal denial. On the one hand Latter-day Saints profess a belief in the gospel while at the same time accepting as fact the dogma of the science church that contradict those beliefs, leaving modern Saints with a kind of intellectual and spiritual schizophrenia that blinds their eyes and hardens their hearts, just as Nephi said it would. No wonder he warned us so stridently about this “church.” It has done precisely what he warned us it would do, corrupting the Saints’ understanding of the gospel, causing them to disregard, to one degree or another, the revelations from God.
Make no mistake. This is not a diatribe against learning or discovery, nor is it a condemnation of the restored gospel and the religion that champions it. It is a denunciation of Saints who allow themselves to fall into the trap laid by the science church. This is a harangue against science as an institution, an obdurate organization that enshrines tenure and the status quo which that practice promotes, that uses a peer review system that stifles new approaches to problems and new ideas. Not only does it not promote the dispassionate inquiry it so mightily proclaims, it works diligently against it by suppressing anything beyond its established, but flawed, paradigm.
That is not the way to enlightenment.
True science can have no conflict with revealed religion, as so many latter-day prophets and apostles have declared. Yet, orthodox science continues to wage war with the Saints, demeaning and contravening gospel precepts at every turn. The science church has become as intractable and detrimental as the church from which it disengaged. It certainly qualifies as Nephi’s “great and abominable church” in every respect. Clearly it is a fraud perpetrated on the entire world.
So, Nephi was right.
As “children of the light,” Latter-day Saints would do well to heed Nephi’s warning, to oppose the “great and abominable church” now that we have identified it. We may oppose it by not letting it mould and shape our paradigm, by opposing its dogma and criticism of us. Rather, we should test all theorems by the standard of the revealed gospel.