An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Mormonism’

What’s the Least I Can Believe (and Do) and Still Be a Mormon

Martin Thielen has authored a book called What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?  While I haven’t read Thielen’s book, I am interested in applying his “least” idea to Mormonism—but, since Mormonism is an action-centered religion, I will include “do” as well as “believe.”

Temple recommend interviews begin with key Mormon doctrine: Believing in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, acknowledging Joseph Smith and Thomas Monson as prophets, and accepting the Book of Mormon as scripture. A negative answer on any of those puts a person on the gentile side of the ledger. Answering “no” to the Word of Wisdom question won’t get you a recommend, but neither will it jeopardize membership—unless the drinking involves other transgressions.

Obvious violations of the moral (and criminal) code such as spouse abuse, child molesting, and  bilking thy neighbor are definite grounds for being ousted from membership. Unfortunately, many perpetrators are able to hide these behaviors for years before being caught.

But back to doctrinal issues. Besides recommend questions I think it would be tough to be considered a good Mormon, at least by fellow Saints, without a belief in the efficacy of priesthood ordinances, the celestial kingdom, and eternal families.

Cultural measurements of orthodoxy is a longer list which includes:

  • Meeting attendance—it’s easy to get away with skipping Stake Conference and not listening to General Conference, but consistently missing Sunday services will cause ward members to question your commitment. Spending part of the 3-hour block in the hall or foyer, while not condoned, is not totally condemned.
  • Sabbath day observance—No shopping, movies, or sports on Sunday. TV is okay.
  • Callings—It’s okay to turn down something you’d really hate doing, such as Cub Scouts, but refusing to do anything at all makes you look like a slacker at best.
  • Home teaching and visiting teaching—Refusing to participate is grounds for having Priesthood or Relief Society leaders snub you.
  • Not taking the Lord’s name in vain—Eccentrics like J. Golden Kimball can get away with “damn” or “hell,” but any phrases referring to deity should only be uttered with bowed head and folded arms.
  • Garments—Sports exempt you, but lawn mowing in a swim suit is suspect.
  • Supporting Church leaders and policies—there is no such thing as constructive criticism of any decision made by the leadership—ward, stake, or general.

Closet Buddhist

My sister-in-law, a Zen-Buddhist, is the most spiritual person I know. Loving, kind, and generous, Passiko  radiates peace and love. She moved forward after the death of her only son, establishing a scholarship at his university to benefit other students. Her personal goodness stirred my interest in her philosophy at a time when my LDS faith was not meeting my spiritual needs.

The repetition of the same lessons, the same answers to every question started bothering me about 15 years ago. During the three-hour block each Sunday, I nearly wore my left wrist out checking my watch. General Conference lulled me to sleep within the first twenty minutes. Trying to be the best wife, mother, daughter, and teacher possible, to magnify my Church callings and to be a good friend and neighbor wound me up like a tether ball on a post. Frustrated instead of fulfilled, I felt as out of place at church as a closet gay at a Utah Republican family values meeting.

I tried yoga and while the stretches relaxed my body, the Oriental philosophy teased my Occidental mind. “The present moment is really the only one we have.” Wasn’t earth life only a tiny fraction of eternity? “You are not your thoughts.” Well, what else was I? “Clear your mind.” Wasn’t my mind supposed to be actively engaged all the time?

 Passiko recommended Sharon Salzburg’s Loving-Kindness when I quizzed her about Buddhism. A truly pivotal book. I read slowly, trying out the suggested exercises. I found the divine spark within myself. It didn’t withdraw when I wasn’t worthy. Stopping and looking within through meditation helped me clear away delusions like fear and attachment that sometimes hide my true nature.

Todd, a three-time cancer survivor, led a meditation group I joined. Buddhism helped him learn to live in the present and to accept what he can’t change. “It just is,” was a favorite saying. Todd said he left Mormonism because, “I could never be good enough.”

Guilt often drives Mormons who have a list of hundreds of commandments and admonitions to keep. Buddhism is non-judgmental. Behavior is defined as skilled and unskilled actions rather than good and bad. Unskilled actions bring natural consequences rather than divine disapproval. In Buddhism, the practice is what is important, not the expectation of achieving enlightenment or other reward. I find this more selfless than doing good to gain a higher spot in the celestial kingdom.

A fundamental precept of Buddhism is transience—everything changes. Mormonism emphasizes permanence—our intelligence has always existed, our reunited spirits and physical bodies will last for eternity, family relationships will last forever. While I like the idea of permanence, experience shows me that all things change, even family relationships. Children grow up and move on, parents age, roles reverse.

The Buddha taught his followers to avoid blind faith. He recommended testing each teaching by applying it to one’s own life. If it brings peace and happiness, it is a true principle for you. If it fails to do that, it is not true for you at this time no matter who said it or where it is written.

I maintain my LDS affiliation, accepting the best of both religions. More traditional Mormons can incorporate Buddhist principles they like within the framework of LDS faith. Many Buddhist teachings actually complement LDS doctrine.   As Joseph Smith said, “We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons.’”

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