The Threat 2/3/11
Recent surveys show that Americans are less inclined now than in the past to believe that only one religion leads to eternal life. On a recent news program, an author promoting his book on contemporary American religious beliefs attributed this trend to almost every American having an Aunt Sally—a kind, generous, compassionate person who does not belong to their church. Knowing an Aunt Sally makes it difficult to believe good people won’t go to heaven just because they don’t belong to the right church.
Relatives of a different faith were uncommon in the Utah culture of my childhood. In our small town people were either Mormons or hell-raisers. Since then, the Mormon Corridor has opened to more diversity. In many Utah neighborhoods, gentiles now outnumber the Saints. Mormons in and out of Utah are consistently exposed to happy, respectable people of different faiths or no faith. Associating on a daily basis with good non-LDS people makes it more difficult to believe they are neither as happy nor as righteous as Mormons.
Even more subversive than non-members for damaging this myth, are formerly active members who have “apostatized”—i.e. no longer attend church. Some, like George and me, maintain social contact—attend ward parties, even help with service projects, but regularly skip meetings. I suspect we unwittingly sabotage devout believers by being happy, decent people with no needs that greater church involvement could fulfill.
For years Mormons have worried that “the world” or Satan that might undermine Church growth and authority. Perhaps the real threat is the example of good people living happy, productive lives outside the bounds of Mormon beliefs.