Lots of people believe lots of different things. There are many different religions. How do we cope with this issue?
There are a couple of different strategies. One way is to simply retreat from religion all together. The pluralism of belief, so the argument goes, suggests that no one belief can be justified. Much better to simply let the mystery be or deny that there is any mystery at all. Another alternative is to treat all religions as really being about the same thing. Rather than being “religious” we become “spiritual.” Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong are examples of this approach. Closely related to this is a religious holism that suggests that all religions are really leading to the same place and the particular path is not especially important. (This is an approach that Hindus and Buddhist frequently articulate.) Another possibility is simply to declare that all other religions are false, and the issue of pluralism is nothing more than a simple choice between truth and error. I suspect that to one extent or another Mormons have adopted all of these strategies. I have to confess to toying with all of them. At present, however, I am opting for envy and regret.
As it happens, I really get a kick out of being a Mormon. It is a grand spiritual, intellectual, and social adventure for me. However, there are aspects of other religions that I envy, and I can honestly say that there are moments when – despite my delighted Mormonism – I envy other faiths.
I envy Islam their jurists. The usul al-fiqh (Islamic legal theory) is an awesome intellectual achievement. The laborious attention to weight of authority, textual detail, categorization etc. appeals to my lawyer’s brain. I want something like that.
I regret not being Jewish when I am confronted with the endless interpretive imagination of the rabbis. I love the image of the sage jokingly arguing with God. The Talmud and the Mishnah are undeniably cool.
I envy Catholicism its theology. The Summa Theologica is incredible. I confess that I am envious of a pope with multiple doctorates in philosophy, and a magesterium that regularly produces encyclicals with great philosophical and ethical subtlety.
I envy Anglicans their liturgy. The Book of Common prayer is beautiful, and the music and choirs of King’s College or Westminster are truly wonderful. I assume that the choirs in heaven will be mainly Episcopalian.
I envy Evangelicals their preachers. Frankly, I get tired with church “talks” that partake of an easy conversationalism or a teleprompter-induced monotone. A while ago, someone at BCC suggested that it would be cool if they had a sort of seminar format at general conference. No! No! No! I go to church to be preached at. I want someone to deliver a real sermon in which I am called to repentance, dangled over the fires of hell, and invited home to Jesus. I envy congregations that feel comfortable shouting “Amen brother” during the sermon and have sermons – not “talks” – that invoke that kind of response.
None of this envy or regret means that I am going to abandon Mormonism. I find the delights of the Restoration too enticing, and the story of saints and the rolling forth of the kingdom is the plot that I have chosen to live in. Still, I think that there is virtue in envy and regret.
Anyone else with envies or regrets?