Over the past ten years, my approach to the doctrines of the church has shifted dramatically. I’m Mormon now in a very different way than I was then. With the various discussions attempting to define what it means to be Mormon, I thought I’d share what it means to me (well, what it means to me at this time — check back in ten more years and we’ll see where things are at).
- I believe that the religion that does nothing for people in this life isn’t likely to do much for them in the next. The church is true to the extent that it is useful. (Yes, that makes me a philosophical utilitarian.)
- I believe that exposure to a variety of information and experiences (including those that are disagreeable, challenging, or foreign) is the foundation of discovering truth. It is our responsibility to seek out and understand positions that conflict with our own so that we can obtain perspective.
- However, I believe that even a perfect knowledge of truth wouldn’t give us the power to convey that knowledge perfectly to others. Language is limited, and the interpretation of language depends heavily on the context of the listener. Two individuals can hear the same principle taught and understand it in two very different ways — even to the extent that truth taught to one person can become falsehood by that person’s understanding of it.
- I believe that worship is the act of instantiating God and heaven. To the extent that we live as gods and build heavens, we are engaged in worship, whether that is through traditional methods like prayer, church attendance, and service, or more mundane activities like housework, secular study, creative projects, walking in nature, or spending time with friends and family.
- I believe that guilt is not an appropriate form of motivation.
- “There’s no accounting for tastes.” I believe that just because something makes you happy doesn’t mean it will make your neighbor happy.
- “Saying doesn’t make it so.” I believe that truth is determined not by authority, but by reality.
- I believe that one central purpose of life is to learn to choose and then achieve joy over pain, and to help others do the same. The chief virtue is sustainable happiness.
- I believe that to worship a god who would cast his own children into suffering without end is to worship Satan.
- Celebrate excellence.
Well, at least you believe in Satan. That’s the one aspect of your ‘Mormon’ beliefs that an atheist couldn’t have written.
I really like them. I haven’t thought too much of worship as you describe it since I am an ethusiast of highly liturgical type of worship, thus I prefer worship to have specific elements (not completely necessary of course) and I don’t necessarily want to think of worship when I am doing yard work or running in the morning, but I can see how it can work.
Adam, an atheist can say “I like chocolate.” Does that make anyone who likes chocolate an atheist?
Manuel, I like ritual myself. I enjoy the temple ordinances. I just think that worship has many forms beyond the immediately liturgical.
I get where you’re going with this, but articles of faith seems to be a bit much of a term, don’t you think?
If someone where to ask you what you believe as a Mormon and you gave those answers, it may reflect some of those pearls that you’ve tried to distill into basic principles, but it misses a lot.
To see what I mean, compare your articles or faith, with Joseph Smith, then return and report ;)
I think what Adam is saying is that there is nothing uniquely “Mormon” or even particularly religious about this list of beliefs other than the fact that you believe Satan exists. He’s not saying you’re an atheist because you believe these things. He’s saying that hardly anything you say above differentiates you from a non-believer.
Although I would add #4 to the list of things that probably wouldn’t pass an atheist’s lips.
You’re SO NOT a company man!
Number 1 is a very Mormon thing. Indeed, there are similar statements all over Brigham Young’s Journal of Discourses sermons. Building Zion in the current world is very much at the core of Mormonism, and was at the heart of the Gathering. One can argue it is the point of the parable of sheep and goats in Matthew 25. It is certainly a theme of King Benjamin’s sermon, which connects a prophecy of a future miraculous embodiment of God with the imperative to care for the needy.
People criticize Mormonism for being a “this worldly” religion. Our belief in a physical resurrection and that Heaven will be on a transformed Earth is cited as one of these heresies, even though it is clearly the Bible’s view (per N.T. Wright, “Surprised by Hope”).
the #1 major problem with your “articles of faith” is that you have no mention of what your beliefs are of God or Jesus Christ. That’s kinda important, methinks.
chris — in the church we use the term “article of faith” almost exclusively to refer to the Articles of Faith in the Pearl of Great Price. However, it is also a generic term for something a person believes. The articles of a person’s faith consist of their attempt to articulate fuzzy concepts into concrete words. “Article” and “articulate” come from the same root, meaning “divided into parts”. These are some of articles of my faith. They’re neither perfect nor comprehensive, nor are they intended to serve as the articles of anyone else’s faith.
MC — to me these are very Mormon (as Raymond observes in his #7). I don’t think I could state them as a Catholic or Evangelical. They might fly in some forms of Protestantism, but I think they’re pretty distinctly Mormon.
Dan (#6) — ummm, I’m not sure what being a “company man” would mean here.
Raymond — I agree 100%.
Dan (#8) — Problematic in what way?
I can see some Mormon angle in all of these, but when you emphasize these as your central principles, they convey to me an impression of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (especially nos. 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10):
The “Articles of Faith” of the church each in turn differentiate us from other religions. So I expected something similar from the title, but after reading them assumed they were meant as an addendum to the original 13. The original 13 differentiate someone as a Mormon, and these differentiate Dane from the rest the rest of Mormons.
That was my take.
My first reaction to this post is similar to that expressed by MC (#10) above, but the thing that struck me about your ten articles was a lack of any evidence of convictions that typically are considered to be core to the shared Mormon experience. I kept waiting to get to the point where you conveyed some evidence of belief in, or subscription to, many of the things that are generally core beliefs, such as those topics generally conveyed by the words atonement, restoration, exaltation, etc., but perhaps these items should have been taken as a given, and that you were merely pointing out the ways in which you feel you differ from typical, run of the mill members of the church.
I would normally have chalked this up to an oversight, but I got to thinking about your points 4 and 9 in particular. Typically I seen the word “instantiation” (and its derivatives) used in the context of taking an abstract topic and using some concrete or tangible tools to demonstrate that topic. This rubs the wrong way in that most Latter-day Saints would not view God and Heaven as abstract topics. In fact, one of the things that sets LDS doctrine apart from other mainstream belief systems is that God and Heaven are more concrete and less abstract than that found in other belief systems. The actions, or the patterns of actions necessary to live the Gospel, of most Latter-day Saints aren’t to “live as gods and build heavens,” but to prepare to so do once we’ve grown and progressed to the point where those descriptors could be properly used.
As to your point number 9, I suspect that you have some difficulty with certain portions of the scriptures, including but not limited to D&C 76:25-38 or so. Essentially, a third of the hosts of heaven (sons and daughters of God all), as well as an undefined number of those that kept their first estate, are and will be consigned to “suffering without end” as set forth in a fairly compelling collection of references from the standard works. Is it your position that a belief in the war in heaven, as it is conventionally understood in the Church, is equivalent to worshiping Satan? (Or have I misunderstood …)
I’m guessing we’re to assume you already adhere to the original 13 articles of faith, as Jax supposes, thus you didn’t feel a need to restate that you obviously believe in Jesus Christ and that is one of your articles of faith. If I am going to describe my own articles of faith that entail all that I believe in, I would start with the same first article as Joseph Smith started with and then add my own, many of which will be similar in nature to yours.
As for company man, yeah, you’re not a company man. Neither am I. I think for myself, which will run at odds at times with “the company” and how the company wants me to think about things.
MC — I don’t think that overlap with MTD is necessarily a bad thing. I see Moralist Therapeutic Deism as a reaction to the often absurd and arbitrary restrictions of traditional Christianity. I’m reminded of Bro. Brigham’s statement,
“When I was young, I was kept within very strict bounds, and was not allowed to walk more than half-an-hour on Sunday for exercise. … I had not a chance to dance when I was young, and never heard the enchanting tones of the violin, until I was eleven years of age; and then I thought I was on the highway to hell, if I suffered myself to linger and listen to it. I shall not subject my little children to such a course of unnatural training, but they shall go to the dance, study music, read novels, and do anything else that will tend to expand their frames, add fire to their spirits, improve their minds, and make them feel free and untrammeled in body and mind.”
To me, this sentiment beautifully expresses the overlap between MTD and Mormonism — an appreciation for beauty and joy in life, and a rejection of unnecessary self-deprivation for piety’s sake.
Jax & chris — I actually didn’t put that much thought into them. These articles of faith aren’t the result of months or even weeks of critical analysis. They’re the output of a couple hours of sitting down and asking myself, “What do I believe, and what is important to me?” I’m sure I missed some very core concepts, just because they didn’t come to mind as I wrote them. I imagine the same could be said for Joseph’s Articles of Faith. He didn’t write them as scripture; he wrote them in response to a newspaperman’s inquiry. They aren’t designed to be exhaustive either (they don’t mention anything about temples or eternal families or missionary work or church organization or any number of other central church tenets).
Mike D. — To address your third paragraph first, LDS scripture leaves the door open for the salvation of even those spirits: “And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows.” We don’t know what will happen to them. What I’m condemning is the presumption that we do know what God will do with His children, and that what He will do is cast them into suffering without end. That’s a very traditionally Christian doctrine, but I don’t believe it is a very Mormon doctrine.
As to your first paragraph, for me it’s not so much a matter of whether they are “given” as whether they are relevant. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not at all moved by the way we conceive of the atonement or, by extension, the godhead. So I focus on the things that matter to me.
And in response to your second paragraph, I think I just understand the gospel differently from you. To me, the resonating message of the Restoration is that the work of becoming like God and building heaven starts here, now. The idea that we’re just here to pass time until God gives us, present-like, a Christmas gift of exaltation is destructive. It’s Marx’s religious opium.
Dan — I hope my response to Mike D. provides some clarity in response to your question as well, ‘cuz I’m too tired to write any more in this comment :)
I respectfully disagree with 5 and 7. The spirit showing me things ‘as they really are’ is one of the best ways for me to improve.
For 7, I don’t necessarily disagree, but this is kind of ambiguous. We know that truth applies to the sphere in which it resides. God has organized our existence, and by doing so, authoritatively defined truth for it. So, I think they’re kind of the same thing, if that makes sense.
I guess I should qualify my stance on guilt. It is rarely a good motivator unless confirmed by the Spirit. That’s different somehow.
Guilt is an inferior motivation, but it often has the virtue of being the ONLY clear motivation to do the right thing in a given context.
This atheist couldn’t find much to disagree with in the OP’s list. That said, if I still believed in Beelzebub, I probably would’ve applied a Mormonish tweak to #9: I believe that to worship a god who would separate families in the afterlife is to worship a slightly less menacing Mini Me version of Satan.
I agree with all of your articles of faith listed here. I see #10 as excellence in an Aristotelian sense, and I would add an element of philosophical communitarianism to #1. I really hope that we can work together to build Zion in our lives and communities.
I like #7. Reminds me of Pres. Hugh B. Brown’s counsel to “dig down below the surface soil of authority…” It’s going to make certain people very unhappy, however.
I read your articles of faith, but what is the name of your church?
Nice, Dane. I think these are right on the money.
Cameron N — Tell me more about truth residing in spheres. What’s an example of truth residing in one sphere that doesn’t apply in another sphere?
Chino — I think that’s more or less in line with my #9.
Rachel — You’re right about Aristotelian excellence (I think — I’m not actually sure what that means). I wrote it in the spirit of Nietzsche’s distinction between master and slave morality. While religion is traditionally the realm of slave morality, my point is that master morality should still apply.
Aaron — I guess it might.
Jared — I think I will call it…The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Adam — Thanks.
Dane – the best temporal example I have off the top of my head would be in professional fields. The same word can mean different things and have different connotations between different fields. I don’t have time to elaborate, as I just got to work. I’ll try to do so later.
I love it! All of it! Very well done!
Couldn’t you just entitle the post “The Manner in which I am”? I get that you’re talking about your personal creed, which is fine, but you don’t mention any connectio to Mormon scripture, teachings, traditions, or other Mormons.
Frank, yours is a sentiment that a couple of others have expressed on this thread, and I admit that I’m kind of confused by it. Say that I had included a few of the Pearl of Great Price Articles of Faith in my list. Would that make it “Mormon” to you? If so, why? I mean, those Articles of Faith are, with a couple of exceptions, less Mormon and more generically Christian than what I’ve written above. My articles on the purpose of religion (#1), the search for truth (#2, #3, #7), the role we play in imitating God (#4), the central role of happiness in our purpose (#6, #8, #10), and the possibility of God’s redemption extending to all His children (#9) are much more distinctly Mormon than most of the Articles of Faith in the Pearl of Great Price.
***Adam, an atheist can say “I like chocolate.” Does that make anyone who likes chocolate an atheist?***
Anyone whose profession of faith is their love of chocolate, perhaps. One does not imagine St. Stephen under the stones lifting his eyes to heaven and crying out that he sees a Hershey’s Kiss seated at the right hand of Switzerland.
Of course not. A Hershey’s kiss is one of the most vulgar forms of chocolate, better suited to hell than heaven. And what’s with the “St. Stephen” anyway? Isn’t it just “Stephen”? Sounds like Catholic-talk to me.
Brother Brigham’s got loads of good quotes like the one you give above Dane. Another that fits your general theme is “The only heaven we shall ever has is the one we make for ourselves.” I’ve got a list of them I’ve been compiling lately, I’ll have to send them.
That said, I’ll confess that there’s nothing on your list that I can unreservedly endorse – including the act of the post itself. I suspect that in the wake of one of our hours long conversations we wouldn’t be too off (I’m especially confident that I could get you to forsake that nasty word ‘utilitarian’). But as you’ve laid them down, every one of them make me squirm to one degree or another (in part because my views on language are dramatically different than what your #3 claims).
Let me threadjack, momentarily, and ask you: why make such a profession? I suspect that your allusion to “everyone else is doing it” is mere facade.
Regardless, here’s to the health of your continued journey.
Tim – are you saying that Stephen isn’t a saint? And thank heaven (and the saints) for Catholic-talk. My it help keep us from the corrosiveness of Protestant-talk.
James, that’s certainly a fair question. I originally wrote this up a couple months ago, debated whether to post it (mostly centered around whether #9 was too incendiary), and then shelved it to come back to later. As I went to bed on Tuesday night this week, I realized that I hadn’t written up anything to post for Wednesday (I try to post on Wednesdays). So I looked at my drafts, and decided to put this one up.
Now that I’ve had the chance to discuss and defend it, I’m glad that I posted it. The conversation hasn’t gone at all the way I expected. Instead it’s given me a chance to defend what I view to be a perfectly valid (and distinctly Mormon) take on what it mean to be Mormon.
Well done Dane.
As to guilt, Elder Ballard agrees with you:
“Fourth, eliminate guilt. I hope it goes without saying that guilt is not a proper motivational technique for leaders and teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must always motivate through love and sincere appreciation, not by creating guilt. I like the thought “Catch others doing something right.”
James — also, I’d love your help in forsaking “utilitarianism”. I’ve fought for a long time against identifying myself as a utilitarian. It’s just so…vulgar…a philosophy. I just haven’t been able to find any more compelling ultimate virtue than joy (or happiness or peace or comfort or whatever term is in vogue). But I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.
DavidH — that’s a great catch. Thanks for sharing it here!
James Olsen (#30) has summed up my own thoughts quite nicely.
As for #9 and Chino’s tasty addition (that you agreed with), honestly I don’t even get it. You think having specific consequences is Satanic?
We know that those consequences can be mediated by the atonement, but we also know that repentance is a matter of agency. So either you’re going to remove consequences for choices or you aren’t going to allow choices (where have we heard that before?) at all. Which is it?
Since we’re ALL, obviously, connected as family, your statement that separating families (meaning separating ANYONE) is “mini-satanic” is beyond surprising. No matter what people choose to do, no matter whether they reject God, no matter whether they want to destroy all that is good, no matter their behavior or intentions, no matter at all. We want them all to come to my happy place!
Dane, I have a challenge for you. Since you are building your perfect non-segregated happy commune here on earth, take your family and move to the most crime-ridden city on earth. And don’t take any weapons and don’t put locks on your doors. And make sure your kids go out to play every day. Because you don’t want to be Satanic and all that.
P.S. I think it should be clarified that Ballard hasn’t prescribed the abolition of guilt, rather he doesn’t want LEADERS to USE guilt as a means to lead. God gives real guilt, and it’s completely appropriate. And good.
Ballard makes that clear in the same, linked talk (if it isn’t clear otherwise):
Repentance relieves real guilt. Not some wave of the hand or claims that we can simply ignore bad stuff we do, because feeling guilty hurts our self-esteem. Or something.
AMS — I just have time for a quick response. I’m not opposed to consequences. I’m opposed to extremely disproportionate consequences. I don’t believe there is any act we can commit as human beings that deserves never-ending suffering in hell. We lock up criminals for decades at the most, and there are certainly acts that merit that. I’m not sure that there are acts that merit being locked up, not for merely decades or millenia or even millions of years, but infinitely — longer than millions of billions or trillions of years.
I’m sure you’ve heard — again and again — that the “Mormon definition” of endless pumishment is a bit different than what one might assume. Heck (haha), we don’t even have a “hell,” do we?
Still, why do you find it hard to believe that those who hate God and want to destroy all that is good might be kept away — forever — from people who are trying to follow him?
Do you imagine eternal wars and strife and infighting between the different factions, because it would be mean to keep them apart?
Or do you believe that every soul will become celestial and godlike and have no need for protective separation?
Or do you believe that, maybe, since resurrected beings can’t die, they can’t really hurt each other anyway, so it’s not big deal to put them all in a room together?
Could you adopt virtue theory as instead of utilitarianism? Or do you feel it doesn’t apply to institutions?
I have no idea, I’ve never heard of virtue theory. Let me do some googling and I’ll get back to you and Alison both :)
Alison — You’re first paragraph captures my point perfectly. I didn’t write these as, “I’m Mormon in spite of these beliefs,” but rather, “I believe that being Mormon supports me in these beliefs.” To answer your question in the second paragraph, forever is a long time. I have hope that even the slowest of us might get with the program, given a few million billion trillion years.
Rachel — Okay, I’ve at least read the Wikipedia article on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue_ethics . According to the article, there are three major approaches to ethics today: rule based, consequence based, and virtue based. As I understand it, rule-based ethics is about making decisions based on laws/commandments. Consequence-based ethics is about making decisions based on the outcomes those decisions will have. Virtue-based ethics says that, rather than thinking about laws or outcomes, we should just try and develop good character (virtue), and the rest will take care of itself. Let me think and read some more, and I’ll let you know where I think I fall.
Dane, I’m not sure what you were referring to with the first couple of sentences of #40. ??
As for the second part, are you saying that you think, given (enough) time, everyone will “convert”? I don’t really have an strong opinion on that — although I think given the diversity of human nature, it seems rather unlikely — but wouldn’t you agree that anyone who DID convert would no longer qualify as someone who “hate(s) God and want(s) to destroy all that is good” anyway?
So would you be OK with separating people (which would, obviously, separate families) who DID hate God — as long as those people continued to hate God — from people who didn’t? In which case, you don’t really think separating families is “mini-satan,” right?
That’s all correct. There are good reasons to separate people, even family members. There’s a difference between CPS separating a family and Brian David Mitchell separating a family. My concern is with the Mitchell-variety.
I’m not really an ethicist (though I occasionally play one on TV), but in my experience Mormons (and Catholics) tend to be far more comfortable with virtue ethics than the other major normative theories you’ve pointed at (neurotic pickiness: you conflate deontology with theological voluntarism). Dane, I recommend Hursthouse’s On Virtue Ethics (though perhaps there are better introductions, including books like “Jesus and Virtue Ethics” and “Paul and Virtue Ethics” for those of you who are interested in that sort of stuff).
And for what it’s worth, while as it statement I think people are perhaps right to push you a bit more on the “Mormonness” of your articles and also call for clarification, I do think you’re right that much of what you say (or at least, what I gather you mean) is both straight up Mormon, and, even if shared with others, quite conspicuous within our tradition.
Dane, beautifully written! I actually particularly identify with your #9, I remember as a primary student not being able to get on board with the idea of Satan never repenting and joining us all in the CK.
This may be off topic, but in light of your #2, I wonder if you ever took that tour of religions you had posted about some time ago? (I believe it was you, speaking about a desire to visit other places of worship).
Yes Enna, thanks for following up on that :) It’s been good. I’ve been to eight or so meetings of various faiths since then. They’ve mostly been Christian churches in the area, but a Muslim coworker invited me to his mosque’s end-of-Ramadan festival, and I’ve found a Baha’i group nearby. It’s been good.
Um, yeah, Dane, I’m with those who are puzzled as to why you would identify these ideas as a way of being Mormon. It isn’t that these things, with some minor quibbles, can’t fit comfortably within Mormonism; it’s that we feel that certain principles must be included in any definition of being Mormon, and those principles (we could debate exactly which they are, but I suspect we all have a general sense of them) aren’t listed. It’s not enough that something fills the empty spaces — it must also include the elements that define the space itself.
Huge disclaimer. My only source right now for what follows is http://missionaryleaders.org/content/mem_miss/teaching_mm_principles_wk3.html
The church supposedly did a survey of new converts from 1975-1993 to find out what initially interested them in the church – the top three responses were NOT “The Book of Mormon,” “modern revelation,” or any of those obviously ‘unique’ things about the church. They were: 1. The feeling of closeness to God that they wanted to experience, because they could see this closeness in the lives of Mormons they knew. 2. Happiness and a sense of peace, which they wanted and which they saw in the lives of Mormons they knew. and 3. They wanted a better sense of purposefulness and direction in their lives. They tended to see this in Mormons they knew.
Really, that’s why I’m a member. What I like about Dane’s post is that it gets to what’s practical, what really matters. Sure Joseph said that the Book of Mormon was the keystone of our religion – but why is it? Because of what it offers.
Ardis — I’d be interested to get a survey of what should be included in a Mormon’s declaration of belief. I’d guess the list might include
– The priesthood
– Eternal families/Temples
– Missionary work/Home teaching/other church programs (?)
– Tithing/Fasting/Chastity/other commandments (?)
As you point out, my statements don’t touch on those. Which leads to…
…brian larsen — That’s a fascinating anecdote about the survey. You’re right, those are the parts of the church that speak to me. I don’t really care precisely how many kingdoms heaven is divided into, or the various other doctrinal expositions of the unseen world. No, that’s not true. I actually care quite a bit, but the pieces that have been revealed to us are vague enough to not be useful, at least to me. So I don’t worry about it much, and instead focus on the parts that impact my life — the way I am a father, husband, friend, and neighbor.
Dane, I think you’re overstating it. You were more on track when you said “No, that’s not true,” but then you went on to dismiss it with the skeptical “vague enough to not be useful, at least to me.” That’s the part I don’t believe. As in, I don’t believe that it’s not useful – in general – and by extension, to you. And what’s more, I don’t believe that you think that it’s not useful to you. I believe that it both makes a difference in your practical life (e.g., what kind of father and husband you are) AND that you think it does. Since you are the ultimate authority here, you can of course correct me. But I think that there’s clearly something else going on in this post, which thing is somehow supported by the rhetoric of your #48; all of which I’m still puzzled by.
I love how everyone’s criticisms of your essay are “It’s not orthodox” rather than “It’s not good / true.” Maybe you should take them as compliments. >.>;
I appreciate this post.
In my present place in my journey in Mormonism, I am presently experiencing a lot of cognitive dissonance, which apparently is a common occurrence with members of the church.
Your first point is very interesting, because I decided to become inactive for a year after asking myself what I was getting out of being a member of the church, and frankly I still am not able to understand what it is that I am getting.
To your fifth point, I feel that much of what I have gotten out of my church membership is a lot of guilt. I feel as though I’ve been given a set of confining, albeit many legitimate rules for clean living.
Obviously our sacrifice is nothing compared to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but I’ve come to recognize that many church practices run counter to my deeply held libertine sensibilities.
I am trying to reconcile these issues. I appreciate much of the support and information I’ve received on the internet.
“I believe that guilt is not an appropriate form of motivation.”
I suggest that you’re conflating guilt (pain over behavior) and shame (pain over identity).
When I commit sin, I feel pain – guilt – over my behavior. This is entirely justified and appropriate. It’s a healthy, natural outcome of my actions. Guilt is good, or at least it can be if it goads me into change via repentance. In fact, consider that there are people who don’t feel guilt over their behavior: they’re known as psychopaths, and an entire body of psychology has grown out of the study of such individuals.
In contrast with guilt, shame is feeling pain over who I am. Unlike guilt, shame can be enormously destructive. I can shame myself into believing I’m worthless, God hates me, I can’t do anything right, nobody really loves me, et cetera ad nauseum add your preferred flavor of self-hatred here.