If I Didn’t Believe, Part III: Living a Non-Latter-day Saint Life


Word of Wisdom

I accidentally drank beer once, and found it gross. I’ve been told that it’s kind of an acquired taste, so given the harms it does I probably just wouldn’t acquire it even if I didn’t have any religious scruples about doing so. 

However, I like new experiences, so I’d probably try everything short of really hard drugs (heroin, crystal meth, etc.) at least once. Given the data on mental health issues and marijuana or psychedelics, I haven’t been convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs for routine use, so I’d probably more or less follow the Word of Wisdom. 


I don’t understand tattoos. I have a hard time seeing why tattoos have become so fashionable, and the idea is kind of queesy to me with or without the Church. Occasionally I’ll see people who get tattoos of the names of their children on them; if I’m going to carve something into my flesh for all eternity it would have to be something almost existential along those lines (flesh of my flesh?). Similarly, I kind of get it if I was Maori and it had some traditional, genealogical significance.


To paraphrase and modify Carl Sagan, “extraordinary demands on people require extraordinary justifications.” Occasionally secularists want to reconstruct some kind of boundaries and norms for sexuality beyond just consent, but given how powerful those forces are for most people, I just don’t see it happening without the God of Israel/Buddha/Allah telling you so if doing so goes against your disposition. More to the point, the justificatory onus for restricting a sexual practice that isn’t directly hurting anybody is quite high, and outside of a faith I don’t think I’d see anything that would meet that requirement. 

Religious Practice

I mentioned in the last post in the series that if I wasn’t a member I doubt I’d be able to settle enough in a faith to really practice it, and this also extends to Mormonism. I’m surprised at how many prominent Latter-day Saint intellectuals seem to think that the Church could downplay its truth claims while still retaining its vibrancy and activity, but I think this perspective is patently absurd (“Bishops, we all know this is all based on a fabrication, but we’d like you to get your sacrament meeting attendance up”). 

Life Philosophy

My guiding life philosophy would probably be something along the lines of “have fun while not hurting others.” The justification for this deals with fundamental questions about meaning, purpose, and morality in a Godless and/or Church-less existence, which I’ll address more in-depth next time.


13 comments for “If I Didn’t Believe, Part III: Living a Non-Latter-day Saint Life

  1. The “sexuality” question requires a little hindsight–or foresight as the case may be. We may not be able to see the immediate damage that “hooking up” may cause. But when that kind of promiscuity is pervasive across multiple generations then it can cause catastrophic problems.

    On the other hand, if we take a moment and try to imagine what the world would look like if we all lived the Law of Chastity what we get is a picture that looks a lot like paradise–IMO.

  2. “My guiding life philosophy would probably be something along the lines of ‘have fun while not hurting others.'”

    Sounds kind of like the proposition that two particular great gentlemen were dedicated to, which was just as true in Lincoln’s time, as it was in 1988, or as it is today. Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!

  3. There is a lot I agree with in this post.
    Jack – I think there is a big difference between hook up culture and people finding connection and not doing harm.
    Reeder – Those two dudes were on to something profound.

  4. Stephen, with regard to sexuality, it seems like the norm of faithfulness within committed relationships is strong enough to add an additional boundary beyond consent. Certainly there are people who think (and/or act) otherwise, but deception comes close enough to hurting another person that it seems like a pretty durable boundary.

  5. Jason: “I think there is a big difference between hook up culture and people finding connection and not doing harm.”

    I agree. In talking about “hooking up” I was suggesting that even the most extreme forms of sex (out of wedlock) may seem harmless in the moment. And so the only way to really judge our culture with respect to sexuality — regardless of where one may draw the line on promiscuity — is to give it time. And, IMO, the accumulated effects are borderline catastrophic.

  6. @Reeder: Lol, I just saw that for the first time a few months ago.

    @Jonathan: If one has agreed with someone to be monogamous, then I agree that would violate the “do no harm” condition to break that.

    @Jack: I agree that various forms of law of chastity violations and “hook-up culture” have some harms from a secular perspective, I just don’t think the harms are clear enough to meet the justificatory onus by themselves, divorced from religion, in a world where it’s atoms all the way down.

  7. I find it fascinating that our society has rediscovered or at least revitalized marriage, without any increase in religious faith driving it. In fact, the institution of marriage is now stronger in some secular subcultures than some religious subcultures. Divorce rates are way down, and rather than being viewed as an outdated institution of patriarchal oppression, marriage is a state to be aspired to.

    I think some of the renaissance is due to social science researchers finding and disseminating overwhelming evidence that marriage is, on average, good for everyone involved–something people who think the academy is always opposed to the family should keep in mind. Ironically, the LGBT community demanding the right to marry helped cement the idea that marriage is a good thing. But I think a lot of it is just individuals from Gen X and younger saying “I don’t want my parents’ marriage, but I do want the good parts of it.”

    The result has some significant differences from “traditional” (1950s) marriage. It comes later in life and produces fewer children. It’s a partnership between two similar people with similar roles rather than a joining of two very different people with very different roles. That’s why it can so easily accommodate same sex marriage. That’s also why it’s much more “assortive” and thus contributes to increasing economic inequality: a successful businessman is looking to marry a successful businesswoman, not a secretary. Some of these are not positive changes–though after Elder Soares’s last general conference talk, I’m not sure just how committed we are to men and women doing substantially different things in marriage.

    Of course, another big difference is that marriage is no longer viewed as the state that legitimizes sexuality. As Jonathan Green pointed out, infidelity is viewed as harming the other partner (though advocates of “ethical nonmonogamy” are trying to chip away at that). But the secular world has no problem with premarital sex–as long as birth control is used–and marrying without first finding out if you’re “sexually compatible” is considered madness.

    So, definitely not ideal. But it is interesting to see secular society find its way back to a sacred institution, at least partially. I don’t expect human wisdom to ever “rediscover” all of God’s commandments. But it does reinforce to me that God’s commandments are based on what he, in his perfect wisdom, knows is good for us.

  8. Stephen, Yes–that’s why I think the only way to see the harm from a secular perspective is across generations–at least in the West, that is. Now that we have, among other things, a 40% fatherless rate (in the U.S.) we’re actually beginning to believe — in some quarters — that not all of the liberating philosophies of the sexual revolution are healthy.

    RLD, I agree–there does seem to be a resurgence of the idea that “marriage is cool.” I love it! Even so, I think we also need to keep in mind that fewer people are getting married–and that may account, in some measure, for lower divorce rates.

  9. Marriage is dying:



    While people in surveys still say that they want to eventually get married, it’s fallen pretty low in the list of rank ordered life priorities, whereas religious people are consistently much more likely to get married and have kids, so yes, I think the secularization of society does lead to more non-white picket fence living arrangements. I suspect that the lower divorce rate is a selection effect as more and more the people getting married are the ones for whom the conventional marriage situation is a natural fit.

  10. People marrying later means they’re single longer, and thus there are more single people. There’s a nice visualization down the page a bit at:


    (Apologies if that doesn’t turn into a link–not sure how to do that here.)

    It shows the percent married at least once by age. In 1962 80% of 25-year-olds had been married; in 2019 it’s not 80% until over 40. But by age 60 the percentages are pretty close to the same. People are spending a smaller proportion of their lives married, which is tragic, but the proportion that gets married eventually is still very high.

    Of course there’s no guarantee that 80% of 2019’s 25-year-olds will have been married by a little past 40–there are definitely cohort effects as well as life cycle effects here. But the life cycle effects are big and explain a lot of the trends Stephen C posted.

  11. Stephen, Interesting that you are contemplating this situation. I have trouble not feeling limited/influenced by my years in the church, and how I approach these subjects.

    W of W. I think I might replace the sarsaparilla I have in the evening with a wine, and be able to join with others on social occasions. And replace hot cocolate with tea or coffee.

    Re tatoos. My wifes family have a genetic condition called malignant hyperthermia. Where an anesthetic will kill them. My wife wears a bracelet, but the daughters that have it have a warning tattooed on their wrists. I do not find most visible tattoos atractive, but?

    Sexuality. I think fidelity within relationships, and consent are important, but am less convinced about pre marital sex. I have a daughter in her 40s who, as far as I am aware has not experienced the joy of sex, and I feel a bit sorry about that. Another daughter was telling us that her late 20s son said he was going out with his steady girlfriend, and next morning when she got up for breakfast the son and girlfriend asked if they could use the mothers double shower. The grandson and girlfriend are more open and informed sexually than I was, and that is probably good.

    Religion. Has not done its self, and reputation much good, and I would be more impressed by morality.

    Philosophy, Like you enjoy life and do no harm. But in this age I think there are a couple of other social responsibilities; we need to unite to fight climate change, and redistribute wealth, and provide healthcare etc, so there are no poor among us.

    Another social responsibility is https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352827321001154
    “substantial disparities in life expectancy as a function of geographic location are well documented within the U.S., and growing evidence highlights the relationship between conservative state policies and reductions in life expectancy” So if I live 6 years longer than you because of my politics/policies (universal healthcare), do you have a responsibility to fix that?

  12. WOW – If I was not a member I would still refrain from booze as I have an addictive personality. I would eat chicken in the summer tho. ;) No drugs for the same reason as no booze. No desire for coffee or tea either. Tabaco is a no-go because of the smell for me.

    Tats – No way no how.

    Sex – I was pretty “sexual” as a member in my dating years and knew there was a line not to cross so that worked for me. I could do polygamy if that was ever a thing. Some porn and masturbation in moderation I think is fine.

    Religion – It would be my personal relationship with God mostly and if I wanted to be a part of a org/church/tribe I would find one that was the most focused on Jesus and being like Him and helping me be like Him.

    Philosophy – Be kind – Do good – help others be this way too if they want.

    Some I would add…

    Sabbath Day – Start sat night and end sun down Sunday night like in the old days. I would home church most sundays and occasionally go to a service. Easter and Christmas. :)

    Tithe – I would still give 10% but probably to organizations doing good for humanity. If I did attend a religious org, I would donate to that too. Got to pay to play IMO.

    Modesty – I would be less modest in dress but not too much less. No temple coverage needed.

  13. “But when that kind of promiscuity is pervasive across multiple generations then it can cause catastrophic problems.”

    Interestingly, I think this is true for many of the applications of principles that the church teaches. When caring for the poor and needy is neglected across multiple generations…. when families aren’t built around a committed mother and father across multiple generations…when peace and turning the other check is neglected across multiple generations….when loving your neighbor as yourself is neglected across multiple generations…You can go on with virtually every principle. That should be a trite point to observe that important principles if neglected for a hundred years or more can cause catastrophe, but it seems our society doesn’t really think much about this. Each generation seems to wish to undo the last and do it their own way.

    One of the truths that I’ve come to recognize, in part because of the book of Mormon is the impact of the gospel across generations. We get a very clear picture of that from the Book of Mormon, and we are without a doubt in various stages of that catastrophe.

    That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of good and there’s not reason to have hope. But we are creating one hell of a foundation – literally it seems.

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