Thursday, February 3, 2011

Is there such a thing as a good Mormon teaching?

A commenter here on black/green-bikini sparked an interesting topic in a recent thread. Here is what they wrote:

 "Many people are raised in the church to expect, or come to the church looking for, rules and certainty - answers from God   that they don't have to think about. And those looking for rules will find them. Some pretty good ones, which we'd all be better off following. But eventually, if one is to grow, one will find that God asks us to live principles, not follow rules."

As you can imagine I disagree. I can't think of a single rule or principle that Mormonism has offered to humankind that would improve a persons life. Sure they say "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" but what religion/philosophy (bar Satanism etc) doesn't say that?

BUT, I may be forgetting something. I'd love to be reminded. I don't want to only hate on Mormonism. So, the challenge has been set. Teach me a principle/rule that Mormonism has uniquely offered to humankind to improve ones life. 


  1. common technique to claim normal, innate, human behaviours come from their religion/god.

  2. (Warning - I am going to be sickeningly nice and butter people up... it's a weakness I have. )

    I really appreciate the commenter who I quoted in the above post, I really do! BUT it really does reek of arrogance doesn't it TGIAA?! (I know the commented didn't mean it that way but it does come off like that). IF we would follow the Mormon way then our lives would be better. Um, not in my experience. I think that some people feel they are better off in than out but I certainly prefer out than in and it does irk me to hear someone say that I'd be better off following the principles laid out by a piece of shit like J-smith!

  3. comment(er) not comment(ed) and I'm getting all abusive again towards J-smith so I'd better go to bed before I say something worse. Recovering Mormons really ought to get free therapy :P

  4. I vote for the free therapy.

  5. I think everyone should have free therapy.

    Now back to your topic. I have to admit that when I wrote that we can find rules in the church that will make the world better I was thinking mostly of things that are not unique to Mormons. Love your neighbor, be grateful, or whatsoever you have done unto the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me are principles that make the world better. At least in my opinion. I certainly wouldn't suggest that kindness is unique to Mormons. Kindness is an innate human behavior, sure. So is unkindness. Some of us need rules to remind us to be kind. Rather, some of us seem to need that reminder all the time, but all of us, I think, need reminders sometimes. I don't claim kindness as a prerogative of my religion, but I do claim that my religion values kindness and, to the extent that members take it seriously, they can become more kind by practicing it. We can also gain wider experience that will wake us up to our potential condescension and make us better at caring for people rather than "being kind" for ourselves. True religion and undefiled is to visit the widows and the fatherless - is not a uniquely mormon principle but it is a principle of Mormonism.

    Break so I can post this without Blogger choking on it.

  6. Part 2 since I eventually realized I was hitting Bloggers' length limit.

    I was always under the impression that "every soul is of equal worth, always" is also a principle of Mormonism. Are we not all prodigals?

    We're all God's Chillun is hardly a uniquely mormon principle. But following the logic to teach that we can therefor grow up to become like Him is less common. If we are embryonic gods and goddesses that can give us a different perspective on learning to love as He loves and to appreciate everyone's worth.

    The last principle I'll mention in this already too long comment is the one you appear to reject in that other thread, relating to agency. It is not uniquely Mormon either (Engles, in Anti-Duhring has a great encapsulation in his bit about freedom and necessity.) but we certainly do emphasize it. That is, we are entirely free to choose what to think and do, but every choice has consequences of at least two kinds. There are consequences in our choices' effects on our personalities and souls, and, of course, our choices' effects on others and the world. Ain't no such thing as choosing an action without also choosing its effects. We choose, and we own our choices, and eventually those choices accumulate into who we are. It's not unique to Mormonism but it is the central core of Mormonism.

    Really last note: Calling ourselves the true church doesn't mean Mormonism has a monopoly on truth or has all the truth there is. The articles of faith explicitly say the opposite. It means Mormons have been authorized to perform certain ordinances in an orderly manner and been given some clarification of some bits of doctrine.

  7. I can think of a couple of rather nice ideas that seem to be unique to Mormonism, but because they aren't based in reality, they can go seriously awry.

    1. Everyone on earth lived as brothers and sisters in the pre-mortal life. Isn't that something? It used to get me right there when I'd walk into Hay Street Mall and see all these strangers -- but they were actually my brothers and sisters and we had somehow forgotten each other! We were all related! Wow! Transcendent!

    Except that it also gives you a justification for treating them worse, since they must have been less-valiant in the pre-mortal life to have been born under such adverse circumstances.

    And the idea that we're all related isn't just a religious notion, it's a fact. So I still get the transcendence without the judgment. Yay, science!

    2. Mentally retarded people must have been very righteous in the pre-mortal life, because all they need is to get a body and then go straight to heaven. They've already proven themselves!

    Except then your spiritual role-models are the intellectually handicapped. And -- if you revere prophets -- the insane.

    You know, maybe every religion made some good innovations when they were formed. But then, because religions are resistant to change, they got stuck. Now we're stuck with them.

  8. @Retief - If people need something to remind them to be kind then I sort of see this as a parent-child type relationship with the religion teaching the believer how to behave. It then also makes me think that if some people do need this reminder to be good/kind then ought there not be some point further on in their lives where they can remember to do good all on their own? when is the student ready for real life? It sort of sets religion up to look like some kind of tool to help the less capable.

    I feel that having shed religion I can now more freely give to others because I am no longer doing it with a side of hope for an eternal reward. Plus I feel so much better about myself that I now have so much more to give. Win-win!

    Re: prodigals. Exactly! We are told that we are all sinners/fallen/prodigals and that we must pay/pray and obey to be forgiven. I find this aspect of religion to be particularly damaging to self-esteem/worth. There are degrees of glory in the Mormon heaven. Mormons believe everyone will be judged at the last day. Take away religion and you take away judgement (well a whole heap of it anyway) and then humankind could really give 'equality for all' a good go.

    I think the LGBT community would have something to say about religions view on 'every soul being of equal worth'. The Mormon church also does not have a good reputation regarding racism and sexism.

    Becoming Gods. I think this is another area of vast inequality. Do women get the same opportunities here? My understanding is that Mormon women continue to be mothers for eternity while the men create worlds.
    Can a woman really hope to become like God? or like his wife?

    Free Agency is something that now really irks me. There's nothing free about it. You are 'free' to choose your actions but the consequences are laid down by God (a God who is a bit messed up himself if you ask me, killing masses of people for their sins, promoting his 'chosen' people). Outside of religion there are of course still 'consequences'/reactions to actions but they have nothing to do with racking up points to get into heaven. I don't feel at all guilty about drinking vodka. I choose how much I drink. I have a great time. I suffer the consequences in the morning. Sometimes it's nothing, sometimes its yuk. I prefer to drink so that I won't feel sick the next day but this is totally up to me and I don't feel like a bad human being if I choose to 'overdo' it.

    I think I'd better start a new comment too ;)

  9. @Daniel - Hmmm, yes the human race being one big happy family could have been such a big draw card for religion. Too bad they had to spoil it all by buying into skin colour, gender and sexuality meaning some are less than others!

    I'll pay the explanation that mentally ill people were super righteous in the pre-existence as a Mormon teaching that improves lives. Even though it is a made up teaching I can't see any harm in it and it possibly makes people feel better about their lot in life. Nice work Daniel. Yeah, it makes little sense and prevents the 'most righteous' from helping out us less righteous people but since it is made up I think the net effect might just be positive. Oh, except they probably then believe in religion... hmmm. Undecided.

  10. Regarding kindness: You are exactly right. First we practice kindness by rote and then, if we are alert to the possibility, we develop kindness in ourselves. First we act kind then we become kind.

    Regarding being a sinner: My understanding of forgiveness and the need for it is a bit different. I think it is glorious that each day or each moment we can remake ourselves and the Lord doesn't care what we were, only what we are becoming. For me the possibility of forgiveness erases guilt rather than inducing it.

    Regarding The Judgement: When we stand to be judged, we are simply acknowledging what we have made of ourselves and our souls. We won't be toting up the sum of good and bad, but considering who we have become because of the choices we've made.

    Regarding Becoming gods: Of course women get the same deal men do. Are we not explicitly told that men and women can only gain the highest degree of glory together? (Thus creating the major complications with regard to homosexuality's place in the scheme of things.) I imagine that becoming mothers and fathers of spirit children is not very like doing it here is, and is more akin to the organizing that is described in the creation story. But nobody knows. My wife is quite sure that Heavenly Mother is the driving force behind the plan of salvation and sends God out to do the talking. Her rationale being that if men were, in fact, in charge we'd still be waiting for the animals to get done. Should I believe her when she says she means other men?

    Regarding Agency: God doesn't generally lay down the consequences, rather he reveals them. We are as free to choose between two doors whether we are ignorant of what is behind them or we know one hides a tiger and the other hides our lover. Understanding consequences doesn't make us less free. Not all consequences are equally serious, of course. Drinking for example isn't a mortal peril for everyone. Not drinking alcohol is a temporary law for us today. Jesus drank wine after all. And we get to eat bacon. I don't know the mind of God but I assume that addiction and drink-impaired-judgement are bigger problems now than the risk of dysentery. So we have different rules than previous times have had. If you chose to overdo it every day, would that eventually make you a bad human?

    Again, I am so glad to see you online again.

  11. Wow, I really neglected this thread!

    Regarding forgiveness and guilt. My American mom (I spent 6 months living w/a Mormon family in Utah when I was 14) impressed me with the notion that I could be forgiven instantaneously. There was no need for endless self-punishment. This was a great break-through for me. I still struggled with forgiving myself but I would often remember her words about letting go of the guilt. My husband was very good at forgiving himself and feeling god's forgiveness.

    My problem with god's forgiveness is of course tied to the fact that I no longer believe in god, so I resent the idea that there are people who teach that there is some being judging them. I feel so much more free of guilt and shame since leaving the church. There's so much less black and white, right and wrong. When I say/do/think something it just IS, there's no judgement there. I live and learn minus religious guilt and it feels great.

    I like your idea of the judgement day. It sounds very casual and natural. "considering who we have become". I hope such a day does occur and that there is something after this life :)

    Hehe, I think that you have a very nice view on 'becoming gods'... and your wife is absolutely telling you the truth as she sees it ;D ... I find it hard to get such a reading from the material about godhood. Especially in the temple! It did appear to me to be very Patriarchal. I like your version better!

    Agency: I find that I much prefer to learn about consequences through research. Rather than listen to a 'prophet' I feel much better protected reading about things for myself.

    And I am glad to be back and to read your regular comments :)