An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

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Why Don’t They Like Us?

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, closed his interview on PBS’s Religion and Ethics   by stating  that Christians have an obligation to convert non-Christians—specifically Muslims, Jews, and Mormons. He repeated the often-heard assertion that “Mormonism is at the very least another religion. It’s not the Christian faith.”

I suppose any group is free to define its terms and decide who does and who does not belong. Certainly, mainstream Mormons bristle when polygamous splinter groups are referred to as Mormon, although these groups accept Joseph Smith, the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants—at least through the 132nd section.

I do think Land is right that the church Joseph Smith founded was different enough from mainstream Christianity to be considered an entirely new religion. Joseph Smith introduced some radically new doctrines to American religion. His First Vision account of seeing the Father and Son as individual personages conflicted with the Christian notion of the trinity. Identifying Missouri as the location of the Garden of Eden and of Adam-Ondi-Ahman—the place where Adam shall return to bless his people—was certainly an innovation with no biblical source . Eternal progression, via plural marriage, enabling men to become as gods through obeying the principles and ordinances of the restored gospel was also extra-biblical. Even the emphasis on knowledge as a key to salvation was closer to ancient Gnosticism than to Christianity.

Current Church rhetoric avoids most of these non-mainstream topics. I haven’t heard a conference address or a Gospel Doctrine lesson about Adam and Eve residing in Missouri for many years. Likewise, polygamy has been officially repudiated—although temple sealings to more than one woman still occur if a previous wife has died. Eternal progression is no longer a standard part of Mormon rhetoric. And like most Christian faiths, Mormonism now emphasizes faith and obedience to gospel principles and ordinances rather than knowledge as key requirements for salvation.

Except for the concept of God as three individuals working as one rather than three aspects of one being, few Mormon doctrines now differ radically from those of mainstream Christianity. So, why do evangelicals refuse to regard Mormons as fellow Christians? Possibly, since the Church hasn’t officially renounced any prior teachings other than polygamy, some may believe LDS leaders plan to reinstate some of these previous teachings.

I suspect, however, that it is not Mormon doctrine that troubles evangelical leaders so much as Mormon proselytizing. Most Christian faiths restrict their missionary work to those outside the Christian fold. Mormons overstep that boundary and frequently draw members away from their previous Christian faith. Because Mormon and evangelical cultures have common elements, they are likely competing for the same group of people. It’s not easy to love a competitor.

Feed My Soul

See today’s post here.

Reading the Book of Mormon

Runto’s Rincon posts an honest experience when acting on the words of Moroni “and God shall show unto you that which I have written is true (Moro 10:29).

Find it here.

End Goal of Religion

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi’s essay, “The Message of the Gita,”  gives me new insight into Christianity. A devout Hindu, Gandhi opens his essay by stating that he’s never believed the sacred Bhagavad Gita  is an historical account. For him, the story is an allegory, written to teach humans how to perfect themselves.

I like Gandhi’s refusal to let other people interpret scripture for him. He takes from the Gita what makes sense for him and ignores the passages about reincarnation and caste.

Gandhi sees the central theme of the Gita as, “renunciation of the fruits of action.”

 

You have a right to your actions,

But never to your actions’ fruits.

Act for the action’s sake

And do not be attached to inaction.”

                      (Gita 2:47—Stephen Mitchell translation)

I like the idea of right action for its own sake. Gandhi says this is possible only by overcoming attachment. Freedom from ego and from cravings for material possessions free a person to act without desire for reward.

 This idea differs quite radically from Middle-Eastern religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are based on rewards and punishments. God commands. He blesses those who obey. He punishes those who don’t.

  In these religions, blessings in this life and salvation in the next are a simple matter of cause and effect. The problem for me is that the world doesn’t work this way. Jesus taught this in the Sermon on the Mount: “. . . He (God) sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” That’s not a scripture I’ve heard quoted often in church.

 Probably most Christian religions teach the doctrine of original sin—that humans are born in a depraved condition and must be guided to civilized behavior. The Book of Mormon scripture, “the natural man is an enemy to God,” (Mosiah 3:19) supports this idea.

 Much observable human behavior in the world today tends to prove that many people will not behave in a civilized manner unless forced to do so. Religions that emphasize rewards and punishments no doubt help create stable societies. And yes, I know that people go to war with each other over religious beliefs. Still, I suspect the good done by religion outweighs the bad, although I don’t know of any research supporting that theory. The problem with delving into the effects of religion is that human motives are often mixed.

Rewards and punishments motivate many people. I don’t see churches that emphasize this kind of motivation giving it up anytime soon. But I do think church leaders need to keep in mind that the end goal is not doctrinal orthodoxy. The end goal should be helping people understand themselves and act in responsible ways to promote well being for themselves and others.

I Liked Teaching Prison Inmates, but ….

Wally, a husky Ute student, blossomed when I worked with him individually in a lockdown building. He mourned when I was assigned to the regular school in minimum security. Two years later, he was moved to minimum security and placed in my U.S. History class.

I didn’t realize that Wally might feel overwhelmed in a classroom with 15 or 16 other students. On his first test day, I didn’t see him leave class without turning in his test. He offered it to me the next day after class. Since our students were all criminals, the school had strict policies about cheating. The secretary informed all students of school policies when they enrolled, and they signed an agreement to abide. I repeated the rule that no tests could be taken from the classroom and showed Wally the bold type on top of the page: “Do Not Take This Test Outside The Classroom: NO CREDIT.”

“I can’t accept a test which you took home.”

“Can I get credit for this chapter?”         

“No, but we’re starting on the next chapter. You can do that work, take the test, and get credit for it.” 

Wally’s eyes narrowed and his voice rose. “Then I did all the work on this chapter for nothing?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t accept your test. That’s school policy.”

Wally pleaded. “I read slow. I needed more time to finish, so I took it to my house.”

“You didn’t tell me you needed more time to finish. I could have given you a few extra minutes.”

“Just take my test this time.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t.”

By now everyone else had exited the school for lunch.  Wally took a step toward me. His jaw tightened. His voice rasped as if he were fighting to hold back tears. “You’re saying I cheated!”

 “I didn’t say you cheated. Taking a test out of the school is against the rules. I can’t accept it.”

Wally’s black eyes sent me a look of pure hatred as he wadded up his test, threw it in my face, and stomped from the room. I was shocked. He had been such an amiable lockdown student. I didn’t intend to drop him from school over the issue and dismissed it from my mind. The next day Martin, the school psychologist, came into my room. Wally had asked Martin to keep him from being dropped from school. Wally said I’d called him a liar and a cheater.  He told Martin he’d been so mad, it was all he could do to keep from picking up a desk and hitting me on the head.

My knees quivered as I heard of Wally’s rage. Martin put his arm around my shoulder. “Are you okay?” Martin reassured me until I quit trembling, but I was left knowing I had let my guard down. I had gotten too comfortable. I should not have stayed alone in the school with a student, angry or not. Wally could have killed me.

Why had I been unaware of Wally’s rage? I think now it was because I expected him to react as I would have. I had not accused him of cheating. I could understand disappointment, but not fury at having a rule enforced. I had briefly forgotten I was dealing with a person who sees the world entirely differently from the way I do.

 Did Wally take the test with the intent to find the answers in the book or from a friend outside of class? Probably. Wally was dropped from school—possibly he was sent to another facility. I never saw him again.

This event caused me to qualify the statement, “I like my students” by adding “in prison” to the phrase. Inmates can be agreeable, even fun, within the confines of prison walls, but that doesn’t mean they can function outside a strictly controlled environment.

Social Animals

In his new book, The Social Animal, David Brooks creates fictional charactaers to synthesize the latest research on human behavior and brain development into a format understandable to those of us lacking Ph.D.’s in psychology or sociology.A great read for parents seeking to understand their infants’ and young children’s development and to couples working on relationships.

Brooks delves into the social patterns of family stability and educational opportunity as well as the huge role our subconscious plays in what we generally think of as conscious choices. Following the fictional couple he creates is poignant as Harold and Erica meet, marry, go through career upheavals, marriage crisis, and end of life.

In his day job, Brooks is a columnist for the New York Times. Naturally, he doesn’t leave government and politics untouched as he applies research to how humans behave. In his opinion, government programs fail, not because of lack of money or wrong ideology, but because policy makers believe people are mostly rational beings. Unaware of the emotional factors underlying behavior, programs to address poverty not only don’t succeed, they often make things worse.

Brooks is a witty writer. His book is fun as well as informative. You can find a film synopsis at the following link.

On Being a Good Samaritan

At the Pilgrimage Retreat last week, Debbie Humphries, a
Quaker speaker, presented her interpretation of Bible stories. My favorite was
the Good Samaritan. Traditionally, this story induces more guilt than polishing
off half a box of chocolates and hiding the wrappers. Do many days go by when
we don’t see one or more people figuratively in the ditch? How can we rescue
them all?

Debbie’s interpretation is that the story’s purpose is not
to make us feel we must pick up everybody from the ditch— which is, of course,
impossible. The purpose of the story is to move us to pity for the less
fortunate—and to recognize those whom God has called us to help.

Twenty years ago I was wrestling with a large family, a full
time job, and responsible church callings. The sound of the phone ringing made
me want to lock myself in the bathroom and wait until people quit asking me to
do things–or the millennium—whichever came first.

I walked around singing the first line of the Michael McLean
song, “I Can’t Do Everything.” Nobody listened. Spouses, kids, employers, and
church leaders will allow—even expect a person to give until the fuel tank runs
dry—and the demands don’t stop then. Not until a person takes charge of her or
his own life.

Doctrine & Covenants 10:4 tells us not to run faster nor
labor more than our strength allows. Debbie’s interpretation of the Good
Samaritan frees me to set my own priorities and liberates me from guilt over my
human limitations of time and energy.

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