In a recent interview, Greg Prince uses the term “New Mormonism” to describe how faith and belief need to be understood in the church in order for the church to survive in our internet age. Adam Miller makes a similar diagnosis in his book Future Mormon. Both conclude that the days of black-and-white dogmatic Mormonism are numbered if the church is to remain relevant.
What they are describing is not the same as “New Order Mormonism” which seems to mean simply leaving the church or participating as a non-believer. Conversely, they are arguing for a more universalist approach, one that respects faith as the fundamental reason to engage with religion, but that suborns religion and church to one’s experience with the divine. Let’s explore what this discussion is about.
This was an article highlighting several of the key snippets from the interview with Greg Prince. Here are a few of the snippets:
The difference between faith and a belief system:
“If you want to see what faith really is look East, he says. The Eastern religions imbue intense faith in their community of believers, but they don’t have a belief system. You don’t have to sign off on articles of faith or a catechism, if you’re Buddhist. And yet Buddhists often have enormous faith. So he says, what is faith? And he said it has nothing to do with a belief system, it has to do with, one synonym would be surrender. Your willingness to acknowledge the existence of a higher power and willingness to surrender your life course to whatever that power is.”
“Separate faith and belief. Because you just confused the two of them again. Faith is not adherence to a script of statements. It’s acknowledgment of a higher power to which you can relate and in essence, a willingness to surrender your life to that higher power to whatever extent that means.”
On the problem with literal belief:
“Even those who stay in but stay in at the cost of trying to convince everybody else that there’s only one way to understand all of this and it’s extreme orthodoxy. That to me is as damaging as people who leave.”
“The class average among Mormons is it’s all literal and that’s only going to get you into a mess, that you never get out of. It’s time to grow up.”
On exclusivity claims:
“I have interacted with enough other churches at a fairly sophisticated level… I’m not about to point fingers at them and say there is not truth there. Who’s got the most truth? I don’t know. It becomes a question of: show me the walk.”
On the necessity of moving away from the black and white viewpoint that prevails at church today:
“The problem is that people get hung up on this model, and when it caves in, they don’t have anything left. What you have to realize is that scientists make their living by constructing paradigms and then moving to new paradigms when the old ones don’t work. It doesn’t mean that there was deceit in the old paradigm and maybe, usually, it means that it’s the best we could do given the data that we had. But it’s time to move on to a new paradigm.”
The real reason people leave over historicity issues:
“The history is not damaging the church. It’s the realization that there was a betrayal of confidence that is causing the…You saw. This is the bottom line message of the survey. It wasn’t a single statement here that took them out. It was a realization that one led to another and then my Church has not trusted me with the truth. That’s what took them out. It wasn’t a simple statement of ‘the Book of Mormon is fill in the blank,’ it was the betrayal of trust. And where that betrayal has happened, yeah, it has damaged the Church and it’s a self inflicted wound.”
I really enjoyed the write up, and Greg Prince is one of my personal favorites. I tend to agree that this is the future of Mormonism, although that’s not the same as saying that the church will necessarily embrace this type of believer or foster this type of faith. To me, it’s really about shifting our dogma to allow for individuals to experience meaning. But that shouldn’t be “new,” right?
Let’s take a quick look at what is meant in these discussions by what I’ll short-hand to “Old Mormonism.” Traditionally, there are a few hallmarks of this traditional approach to belief that have a short shelf life according to proponents of “New Mormonism”:
- Polemics. In life, there are shades of gray. Not everything is either “right” or “wrong.” Similarly, not everything church leaders talk about is “the gospel.” Literal black-and-white belief systems have usually seemed to me like seeking for a sign or relying on others’ words rather than experiencing something spiritual directly. It’s too tied up in “I’m right; you’re wrong.” Telling people who ever make a complaint that they should just leave the church if they don’t like something is not very Christian and also not smart if we want to grow both individually and collectively. Polemics prevail when people fear that the alternative is “moral relativity.” Just because some things are more complex than binary doesn’t mean that there’s no moral center, just that solutions are a mixed bag.
- Loyalt-arians. The “all in or all out” approach casts doubt as evidence of disloyalty. This might work for those who strongly rely on authority, but it doesn’t work for those who don’t find authority sufficiently compelling on its own merits or who downright distrust authority because of a belief that power corrupts. For those who believe faith is akin to trust in leadership, this one hits too close to home to abandon.
- Elitism. Trashing other religions as inferior, either morally or authoritatively, is a time-honored tradition, but it relies on two things: 1) lack of exposure to believers of other faiths, and 2) a quantity of mean-spiritedness. The first may be tenable because a lot of people aren’t that curious about other faiths if they get what they need from their own, but the second isn’t something we should cultivate. Provincialism flourishes when you don’t travel outside your comfort zone, and for many, religion is there to comfort.
- Simplistic History. While Prince refers to an oversimplification of history in our manuals and teachings as a betrayal of trust, at least to those who feel the rug was pulled out from under them, it seems to me that it is usually the result of a combination of lazy scholarship (as well as some information not being readily accessible until recent decades) and moralizing. That’s how you get simplistic tales about the past that don’t bear scrutiny. It’s not just bad history, but also bad moralizing, since it starts with the moral and then fits the history to tell the story that bolsters whatever message it wants to prop up. That’s propaganda, not history. But all history has bias, and any version of it can be propaganda. Not everyone has the time or inclination to dig deeper, and history is largely unknowable. We always apply our modern filters to understanding it.
- The Bubble. Correlation as a starting point is perhaps a necessary step. Our manuals should probably bear some commonality from ward to ward throughout the church. The real issue is when outside sources are seen as an innate threat that must be suppressed, and when those who are aware of “outside” information are seen as heretics. How can we experience the divine without curiosity? You simply cannot build a testimony without first asking questions. And if we raise a generation of people who feel they can’t ask questions that aren’t on the approved list or that their answers can only be whatever they are told they can be or that their questions alone make them suspect – they will (and do) leave this church in droves. Any doctrine that relies on keeping people in a bubble is destined to fail. This is the internet age. There is no sustainable bubble anymore. And yet, we want to create a safe haven for our families and ourselves. To some extent, we like being surrounded by people who share, not challenge, our values and beliefs.
- Scriptural Literalism. Every religion has this issue, and maybe there’s room for both literalists and allegorists to flourish side-by-side in the same congregation, but I don’t think so today. Our sticking point seems to be the Book of Mormon which adds a pre-Christ Christology by which to reinterpret the Bible. It leads to a lack of respect for the evolution of religion by casting everything as if it has always been exactly the same in the church: temple worship, garments, the priesthood, etc. This is not remotely supported by either the text of the Bible or by the historical record. And yet that doesn’t mean that these things aren’t divine or inspired just because forms change over time.
- Leader Worship. This one’s bolstered by our calling leaders “prophets, seers, revelators,” but at the same time we claim they are not infallible (and yet nobody is willing to point to a single time they’ve been significantly wrong). Pride goeth before a fall, and so does relying on the arm of flesh. We have to quit mistaking the finger that points to the moon for the moon itself. Sometimes it seems we are more comfortable quoting church leaders than quoting Jesus. Richard Bushman had this to say:
I don’t think you can ever abandon your conscience. Ultimately you have to be responsible for your own lives, you have to decide for yourself what is right. President Uchtdorf has told us the brethren make mistakes, so we can’t expect perfect, unmitigated, exact truths of every kind come from the brethren. It’s coming from their minds, we have to decide how it applies to us, there’s no escaping that responsibility. But what I’m pleading for is respect for those opinions. Recognize that they come from very strong, good, very experienced men. And take what they say very, very seriously. In the end you may come down slightly different, but if your spirit is right and you really are trying to do what’s right, you’ll be ok.
- Family-olatry. Elevating the culture wars to the level of revelation or doctrine is confusing bathwater for the baby. Jesus didn’t harp on endlessly about gender roles despite the most recent Visiting Teaching message’s claims. The gospel doesn’t only exist in the nuclear family. But of course, family is often at the heart of our religious views and can make it easier to transfer religion from one generation to another.
I’m not sure how we go from “Old” to “New,” though, if that is even possible. The “Old Mormonism” is not sustainable for people like me–I never embraced most of that version in the first place–but it works as is for plenty of other people. What I think is a bug, they think is a feature. I suppose that’s why Jesus said you can’t put new wine in old bottles. We’ve got a lot of old bottles in this church. Telling them to ditch what they like or what works for them, particularly when they have history and precedent on their side, seems destined to fail. Dan Wotherspoon made this comment against labeling it “New Mormonism” that really resonates for me:
The church has been evolving since Day 1, and it’s evolving now. Why try to place some who . . . are standing up for good values and calling attention to places where the tradition isn’t living up to its highest ideals yet doing it as insiders, as lovers of the tradition and community foremost–and whose critiques ARE actually having a chance to be “heard,” and are changing the culture person by person, ward by ward, online community by online community? . . . What is gained by calling these people something other than Mormons?
And as Maxine Hanks adds about Mormonism in general:
We may agree on some points but we diverge on others. You can’t lump people together, as if we have a hive mind.
And as I’ve been known to say here and there:
They can correlate the manuals, but they can’t correlate the contents of my mind.
It doesn’t bother me for others to embrace their version of Mormonism, even if I don’t find it compelling or even find it repulsive, so long as there is freedom for me to believe according to the dictates of my own conscience. This is what Paul was talking about when he said we are all the body of Christ. There’s plenty of commonality between all types of believers; the most important one is not that we share the same worldview or politics or even on some level our values, but that we use our Mormonism to experience the divine. We pray to the same God. We seek and find personal revelation. We serve side by side in our Mormon wards. We find what we need in our Mormon scriptures. We live according to the dictates of our own conscience. Maybe that’s a least common denominator viewpoint. Maybe that’s not enough commonality to some. As Joseph Smith put it:
It feels so good not to be trammeled.
That’s a feeling that it would be nice to feel more often at church.
Thanks for this post. I feel that this type of discussion will continue on for some time as the church (slowly) changes.
However, I started to feel like throwing my iPad out the window as I was listening to the last section on Mormon Stories. His version of the Church seemed so removed from almost everyone I know, it seemed like a different religion.
I ended up feeling like he was saying that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, faith is the only key. I felt like it got to a point where religious belief and dogma were almost pointless and a block to ones journey. Book of Mormon, doctrines – not really an issue, just believe.
If that works for you, I guess that’s OK. But the church actually requires a degree of literal belief. The only way this can work in practice is if the Church itself allows for such disparity in its policy, culture and understanding of its history. I can’t see that happening in my lifetime.
Very refreshing! This philosophy should become the Liahona navigation system for the (new) church. But…don’t hold your breath.
“But the church actually requires a degree of literal belief.”
Why does a church require literal belief? In the first place, how does the church you attend actually know what you believe? Nobody in any church I’ve attended has asked me what I believe, and that’s just fine with me. Also, I’ve never heard of any religion, Mormonism included, where the set of beliefs are set in stone. If nobody can really say what the beliefs are, it’s not possible to require literal belief. What really happens is that *humans* interpret the tenets of a religion according to their own ideas and then backfill from scripture to support their interpretations as being divinely inspired. I see no problem with attending the church of your choice, gaining whatever benefits you can from it, and discarding the rest. What you personally believe is between you and your Maker.
I like all these ideas, and I think it would be wonderful if church culture adopted them. However, I think there is a fundamental problem with this phrase which you used to describe Prince’s and Miller’s beliefs:
“Both conclude that the days of black-and-white dogmatic Mormonism are numbered if the church is to remain relevant. ”
This phrase casts Prince and Miller as prophets for the church, warning that unless the church becomes more liberal, it will loose its relevance. I agree that unless the church changes, it will continue to loose more liberal-minded members. But what does it mean to lose relevance? Fundamentalism is an enduring dimension of nearly all religious traditions, and in many ways fundamentalism’s prevalence has only grown along side the increasing secularisation of society. There is nothing more fundamentalist than the LDS conception of truth, and as long as the church remains fundamentalist, it taps into this enduring human condition.
I think the great change or challenge of the church will be for liberal members to find a way to endure within a fundamentalist framework, to embrace it as a dimension of their public faith, even as they hold more nuanced private beliefs. And it will also be the challenge of the leadership to try to create space for the liberal arm of the church, without abandoning it’s innate fundamentalist heritage.
LDS Liberals are of two minds: on the one hand, they hold the same myopic views towards the universality of the LDS path that conservative Mormons have. They can’t endure a conservative church, because they think that the “true” church should reflect a universal, absolute truth, and that truth, for them, is more liberal. Likewise conservative members could never endure liberal truths infecting Mormonism, because to them, absolute truth is conservative. But both liberals and conservatives have absolutist beliefs.
But on the other hand, liberals are supposed to believe in pluralism, a diverse society where all voices are valued, including conservative voices. If LDS liberals can abandon the universalist views they have about the “only true church” and instead embrace it as one particular religion and spiritual perspective within a plurality of philosophies in a broader society, then they can stop feeling so anxious about the fact that the LDS church is conservative, and that it is going to stay conservative. It is conservative, but it exists within a wider, pluralistic context. To try and change it’s conservatism to liberalism, would be to diminish the diversity of voices in the broader cultural context.
Anon, “Why does a church require literal belief? In the first place, how does the church you attend actually know what you believe? Nobody in any church I’ve attended has asked me what I believe, and that’s just fine with me.” This is where Mormonism differs a bit from other churches. While you can attend Sunday services without sharing what you believe, if you want to participate in temple ordinances you are interviewed by a church leader who specifically asks whether or not you believe in key church claims.
“… if you want to participate in temple ordinances you are interviewed by a church leader who specifically asks whether or not you believe in key church claims.”
That is interesting. I am not sure what a “temple ordinance” is. What’s the gist of it? Also, just out of curiosity, what are the key church claims you have to declare belief in so you can participate in a temple ordinance? Also, as a practical matter, is there any difference between just showing up and attending the services as opposed to having an interview and declaring certain beliefs?
Elder Holland quoted Joseph Smith in a talk titled The Grandeur of God.
“Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive. … God does not look on sin with [the least degree of] allowance, but … the nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.”
So, apparently, God is liberal but his church is conservative. Hmmm.
The Protestant denominations that began adopting approaches similar to what Prince outlines a century ago are now all in pretty serious demographic nosedives. Just saying.
You carried on a fine Mormon tradition by prooftexting words completely out of historical context. Nicely done. 🙂
This has been more or less my own approach after having been a member for a few years. When I first joined, I marveled at what appeared to be a very homogeneous society with a well defined set of beliefs that everyone bought into. I came to find that not to be so true, but mostly true. What I also came to find was a small, but hardcore set of members who were 100% bought into anything they read, heard from Church HQ and Church Leaders. It was the ” once the Prophet speaks, the thinking is over” crowd. Even though I never thought Sister Cannon meant what that quote has come to mean in a less than positive way.
Anyway, this small hardcore group really defied the admonition to “study it out in their minds” because, after all, the thinking was over. but, worse than that, was the insistence that everyone else should “do I’m doing, follow, follow me” as if their own agency was moot. This is where the story began for me.
I came to understand that our agency is the most precious gift that God has given us save it be the Savior and His Atonement. And, He expects us to us it and use it wisely. Some might say that if we use our Agency properly and “study it out in our minds, and then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” that that means we will all come to the same exact conclusion. This is not right. All our circumstances are unique to us and our families and we are expected to apply Gospel Principles as they apply to us personally.
Now that does not mean one can ignore the basic commandments as if they don’t apply, but it does mean the principles, programs and application need to be adapted to our own circumstances. In the end, I think the judgement will be more about what we did to serve others and less about how many meetings we attended, talks we listened to and drive-by home and visiting teaching we did. And while “if you Love me, keep my commandments” is important, is it any more important than “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” I think not,.
I think Nate’s views are spot on to what I think about this. While I may not find fundamentalism appealing, that doesn’t mean it’s not useful or valuable to a church to have it. It is and always has been relevant to a strain of church-goer. It’s up to the rest of us to figure out how to live around these people because they sure aren’t very skilled at figuring out how to live with everyone else.
Jeff’s views as a convert are also interesting in this vein.
anon: temple attendance is only permitted with a paper recommend that is shown at the entry point. If you don’t have one, you can’t enter. Obtaining a recommend requires an ecclesiastic interview that includes some questions that are about your actions and others that are about your beliefs. A copy of these questions can be found here: http://lds4u.com/lesson5/templequestions.htm
Thanks for calling me out on the context of the quote Holland used. I’ve looked more closely at it, and it’s disturbing.
Jeff, there are people for whom the spirit tells them under no uncertain terms to break even what the church calls “basic commandments”. As in, they are literally choosing between depression and suicide on the one hand, and disobeying the commandment on the other. Certainly we should take the commandments very seriously, but I’m not convinced that the commandments passed down by the Q15 are all necessarily correct and applicable to everyone.
If the prophets, seers, and revelatory start to see things in this light…there is no “new” mormonism. Just mormonism.
If they don’t, these ideas are outside mormonism and are philosophies of individuals mingled with scripture. And there is no “old” mormonism. Just mormonism.
I would love to see some of these changes take place. I do think the Church is already losing some of its relevance as we speak because of the literalism and fundamentalist nature it has evolved into. In order for it to happen, the change would have to start at the top. This is not going to happen. The men at top have a cultural mindset that each other reinforces and they are not conducive to change.
Heber13: All religion is the philosophies of individuals mingled with scripture, even Mormonism. Every interpreter has a viewpoint. There’s no such thing as an unbiased filter.
Pete & RAH: I tend to think that God is more universalist and less elitist than most church members. But that’s not the same as saying we should be free-for-all hedonists, either. It just means he’s not a jerk like most humans are.
I appreciate the post and agree with most of it’s points, but I also think that without any literalism, the church will have no relevance at all. I think Joseph’s claims of having seen God, seen an angel, received revelation and priesthood authority must be believed literally, at least to an extent, or else the church would clearly lose relevance in the lives of it’s members. It would certainly become irrelevant to me. The Christians whose faith is truly relevant to their lives are those who literally believe in Jesus as the Son of God, and believe in His literal resurrection. If it’s all reduced to allegory, the church’s relevance disappears rapidly. So the question isn’t whether things should be believed literally, but what, if anything, can be believed literally. If there is some literal foundation, then the allegorical parts (which may have been believed literally earlier) can add depth of understanding.
When I read “Sometimes it seems we are more comfortable quoting church leaders than quoting Jesus”, the first thing I thought was “What? Nobody can quote Jesus.” All you’ve got are paraphrased accounts written years after the fact (in the Bible), or quotes given by modern prophets. You’ve gotten nothing first hand, and nothing even claimed to have been written by Him. So, you do have to have trust in one church/religious leader, ancient or modern, or you’ve got no Jesus quotes.
Martin: Too true about the Jesus quotes! I’ve actually thought that same thing myself on many occasions, although I still prize the hearsay of Jesus above a lot of the political and common-sense-of-a-certain-era discourse we hear in Gen Conf.
I also tend to agree (although I’m not sure Prince would agree to the extent I do) that we need to have some type of literalism, but I think it can be as simple as “Joseph Smith had a divine experience that led to the formation of the church and the restoration of many great things,” but doesn’t have to include (or these could be optional and still be a Mormon): the BOM is a historical document portraying facts in an accurate manner, the Church Handbook of Instructions is completely inspired, polygamy is and was the will of God for celestial marriage, and everything in the D&C and POGP is scripture to an equal degree. I think we can have (privately at least) different definitions and thresholds for revelation, scripture, priesthood authority, and the roles of grace and works and still be valid people of faith. It seems like it’s too tough to hold to both Mormonism and the idea that JS was a pious fraud. So there’s a threshold there somewhere. Fallen prophet might be an acceptable version to still be a faithful Mormon seeker, at least in my book. It worked for Oliver Cowdery anyway–he was admitted back into the fold.
“If the prophets, seers, and revelatory start to see things in this light…there is no “new” mormonism. Just mormonism. … . And there is no “old” mormonism. Just mormonism.”
The third possibility is “no Mormonism”.
“So, you do have to have trust in one church/religious leader, ancient or modern, or you’ve got no Jesus quotes.”
That’s pretty dang funny. 🙂
“although I still prize the hearsay of Jesus above a lot of the political and common-sense-of-a-certain-era discourse we hear in Gen Conf”
I do to, but I can’t help but think that’s because there’s so little of it. And what there is, is open to a lot of interpretation. Maybe even more importantly, the Jesus quotes in the bible don’t get the same sort of critical treatment that Gen Conf speakers do. No outrage about how his advice is bad for battered wives ( to turn the other cheek), or about how He intentionally made His stories confusing so only His disciples, not outsiders, would understand (where’s big tent Jesus?), or about how He alluded to an ethnic minority (Samaritans) being dogs. It’s almost like people either ignore Jesus entirely or give Him the benefit of the doubt and try to understand his point. OR, maybe He did receive such treatment, which is why we have so little of what He was supposed to have said. Maybe He actually did give sermons that lasted more than a few verses and shared doctrine in detail, but somewhere it got trimmed out because somebody either didn’t like it or because they didn’t want others using it to misrepresent Him.
Kind of tangential to your post, but relevant to evaluating the words of church leaders. The church clearly made following our leaders a dominant theme from even the very earliest days, and even back then it seems to me it was a little overboard. But again, if we don’t truly feel like these leaders are called of God or have some sort of authority, then they’re just another set of talking heads.
Chalk one up for me on the side of people arguing the church needs literalism to survive. I think most movements do, especially when there’s a lot of weight to be carried.
At the same time, as “mixed faith” families become more widespread and/or more people find literalism impossible to embrace, the church needs to reserve a welcome spot for those of us who want to play a role in Mormonism but insist on doing so on our own terms, according to the dictates of our own conscience, and in ways at odds with literalism.
“there are people for whom the spirit tells them under no uncertain terms to break even what the church calls “basic commandments”. ”
Yes and there are people who hear voices telling them to kill others….. Seems to me breaking a basic commandment handed down by God ( if you even believe that. If not, disregard) would never be condoned.
I am not sure what you mean by a commandment from the Q15?
anon, I was going to giving you a link to explain temple ordinances, but I went to Mormon.org and couldn’t find a good one (just gives random members answers). In short, temple ordinances are additional ordinance beyond baptism and confirmation that involve making covenants with God and being promised blessings both on earth and in the eternities (such as being family relationships being eternal). In order to make those covenants, or enter the temple, you have to have a temple recommend issued by your church leaders. To get one, you need to answer questions, and the faith questions are whether or not you have a testimony of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, whether you have a testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer, and whether or not you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel (ie., Joseph Smith as a prophet, Book of Mormon, etc.). You should answer in the affirmative to get a recommend, though each member may have different interpretations of the questions and a different degree of testimony. Regardless what you say, if the church leader doesn’t feel that you have adequate faith or commitment, he can still deny the recommend.
Great post and comments.
I think the insistence that we must have faith (because we don’t/can’t “know”, despite the language we hear every testimony meeting) in that which is literal seems both paradoxical and absurd to me. That insistence, IMHO, leads to the section of members who insist, “either it’s all true or all false,” which seems to me to be an unhelpful and inflexible binary. I don’t know that I buy everything that Prince is selling, but he’s calling for a more nuanced kind of faith than I think most Mormons are prepared to embrace/accept.
And Martin, I really like your comments and ideas, though I don’t quite align with them. I tend to, indeed, think of most of our leaders as talking heads, in part because they just keep saying the same things over and over. It seems to me that a faith that is more flexible/expansive and gets away from the trap of literalism (does anyone really believe that the Noah’s ark story is literal given what we know about genetic viability?) would tend to emphasize a more subjective religious experience that doesn’t necessarily plug back into the rather authoritarian, top-down hierarchical thing we seem to have in today’s Mormon Church. And perhaps THAT is the real issue: the more nuanced kind of faith is more difficult to control. Literalism does create a kind of community, I suppose, but it strikes me that that’s a rather ossified paradigm that, given our rapidly shifting culture, doesn’t seem terribly adaptable, or adept or living/organic. Maybe that’s just not important to some folks, I don’t know. I do like how you’re addressing what I’d call the problem of literalism. Again, it seems counterintuitive to me that we insist on the importance of faith (NOT knowledge), yet we also simultaneously insist on the kind of literalism that you mention. Confusing times.
” Again, it seems counterintuitive to me that we insist on the importance of faith (NOT knowledge), yet we also simultaneously insist on the kind of literalism that you mention. Confusing times.”
I hope I’m not misinterpretation the terms “literalism” and “faith” in what I’m about to say, but it’s an observation I’ve been thinking about. We’ve recently had posts that got into Mormon cosmology (e.g. how do Mormons imagine heaven) and then some comments on temple recommend interviews here. Here’s where I’m going with this: In mainstream denominations you can pretty much believe anything you like. Nobody really cares. When I was a child coming up in the Presbyterian church, I certainly didn’t believe the Noah’s ark story literally. Same with Jonah and the whale. Same with Jesus turning water into wine. Same with the miracle of the fishes. And so on. I figured these were just stories that went along with good stuff like the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Plus, my parents raised me to be a good person and, as an adult, I’ve never felt like I needed to look to any authority to tell me how to behave myself. It’s pretty much intrinsic. I do enjoy attending church services, but it’s pretty much one hour of worship a week that re-energizes me and re-centers me, but otherwise doesn’t follow me home.
When I compare Mormonism, here’s what I see: First, all the physical interpretations of things cause logical problems. I mean things like God actually still has a physical body, people in heaven will have physical bodies, physical sex, and give birth to spirit babies, heaven is a physical place… maybe on some other planet, and so forth. In mainstream denominations, these concepts are a bunch of woo woo stuff… all very vague. That makes it a heck of a lot easier to avoid paradoxes and difficult questions like you have in the Mormon belief system. Secondly, I notice that the temple recommend questions involve a lot of literal/physical/behavioral stuff, not just beliefs. By that, I mean declaring that one wears certain garments, abstains from coffee, pays tithing, upholds (or “sustains”) church leadership, and so forth. Mainstream churches, in contrast, generally recite the Nicene Creed which is a pretty generic statement of beliefs *only* and nobody really asks you whether you accept everything in the creed literally (though, to be fair, it starts out “We believe…”).
In summary, I see the physical aspects of Mormon cosmology and the intrusiveness of Mormonism outside the church sanctuary as problematic for somebody who just wants to attend church and keep their own personal beliefs to themselves. I see Mormonism as more “in your face” and that kind of rubs me the wrong way. I want the church sanctuary to be just that–a sanctuary from the burdens of daily life. I don’t want church to add anything else to my burden and I don’t want it following me home and telling me what to wear, what to eat, who to follow, and how to behave.
Angela: “All religion is the philosophies of individuals mingled with scripture, even Mormonism. Every interpreter has a viewpoint. There’s no such thing as an unbiased filter.”
That may be true, but that is not mormonism. And if leaders start teaching that, then it becomes part of mormonism. Not a new mormomism. Just new revelation to mormonism. There is not new and old, there is only in or out of the things taught by the authorized prophets. Once SWK received revelation for all worthy males to hold the priesthood, there was not a new mormonism that was created. It was just mormonism that adapts and is lead by revelation. Philosophies of men mingled with scripture is not mormonism teaching for how prophets work. Not now, anyway. Mormonism is in constant change (not fast enough for me, but changing yes.). They just try to make it orderly change, not mutiny.
Anon: “The third possibility is “no Mormonism”.”
I did not think we were discussing all possibilities. There are more than three. Yes, “no mormonism” is a possibility, and so is Presbyterian and Buddhism and atheism and on and on.
But the OP is suggesting for mormonism to succeed it either retrenchment to “old” or opens to “new”. Not all other possible things.
I’m just saying I think within the mormonism discussion that is not what I see.
I see it based on authority. Mormonism is what the prophets teach. If they change it, it is still mormonism.
All other options are captured in the non-mormonism option. It is either mormon or not mormon, in or out, not new vs old.
Anon, good thoughts. The physicality aspect goes back to the beginnings of Mormonism, though: tangible heavenly beings, tangible gold plates, physical seer stones, full-body immersion. Early Mormons saw it as an improvement over the more ethereal concepts of other Christian religions. Where other churches had mysteries, Mormons felt they could finally deliver solid answers. Even now, it’s not unusual to find a Mormon poke fun at the idea of an “unknowable” God.
The high investment in the lived religion is also a carryover from the beginning. Mormons gathered together in cities, and increasing persecution made the idea of giving your life for the church a stark reality. In fact, one of those promises members still make in temple ceremonies is to commit their time, talents, and energy to the kingdom of God. Leaders often tell stories of how people they meet are amazed at how much time and work members voluntarily devote to the church – it’s considered a feature rather than a bug.
“I see the physical aspects of Mormon cosmology and the intrusiveness of Mormonism outside the church sanctuary as problematic for somebody who just wants to attend church and keep their own personal beliefs to themselves.” Yes, quite problematic. As an introvert, it sounds nice.
Welcome to the Community of Christ. It seems that what Prince is advocating is the essence of what has happened the former RLDS church.
Quote “Both conclude that the days of black-and-white dogmatic Mormonism are numbered if the church is to remain relevant.”
I would ask, relevant to what? The only relevance that is needed is that which is relevant to God. The argument that belief and faith are different are actually correct. Belief in God versus Faith in God. But they are about the same things. Different levels.
I fully expect to see the “Church” stay on the same course as it is currently. And I actually expect that many more people will walk away from it for one reason or another. However, there is only one reason that is actually pertinent.The question of “is the church true” as in is it the restored church of Jesus Christ, was Joseph Smith called of God. Many disciples walked away from Jesus also. They exercised their agency. When Jesus asked his apostles if they were going to leave also, “Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
Jesus Christ established His church to provide the framework, the principles and ordinances for people to attain eternal life. When a person looks elsewhere to find something more “relevant” they are looking away from the path to eternal life.
I expect that the church may actually have more members outside the U.S. eventually than inside. God’s laws and commandments have never won any popularity contests. But I do not recall that to be one of the requirements for being true.
I agree with Wotherspoon and Heber13, there’s not much point in calling it new or old Mormonism. The pioneers in many ways would be surprised at how we practice Mormonism today. We will be surprised at how it would be practiced in 100 years, but with a belief in continuing revelation comes an *expectation* of change.
The combination of different thinkers in Mormonism makes it a better religion. We learn in scripture that everyone gets unique spiritual gifts in order to benefit the whole. We may not always like it, but being with those who see our same beliefs differently forces us to reexamine our own perception. That’s the benefit of discussions on Sunday – each (ideally) getting uplifted by hearing the viewpoints and beliefs of those they worship with. Not saying it always happens…
With the new wine in old bottles – that was about entire belief systems (Christianity versus Judaism). With individuals, conversion is all about giving up or modifying old beliefs in order to get closer to God’s way of thinking.
” It is either mormon or not mormon, in or out, not new vs old.”
It is entirely possible that Mormonism will simply disappear and become a defunct denomination. That is why I said “no Mormonism” is the third option and that’s why I gave a link to a long list of defunct denominations. I personally think this is a very real possibility if Mormonism is unable to adapt as society changes around it.
“Where other churches had mysteries, Mormons felt they could finally deliver solid answers.”
Trivia: in the catholic church I attend, the priest kept throwing that word “mysteries” around, but it didn’t make sense in context. I asked the priest about it, and he said an approximate meaning of “a mystery” as he was uses it is “a truth”(!). I looked it up, and there are additional definitions for mystery beyond “a puzzle” or “something unknown” in the context of religion–something like “esoteric knowledge”. I learn something new every day. 🙂
“The physicality aspect goes back to the beginnings of Mormonism, though: tangible heavenly beings, tangible gold plates, physical seer stones, full-body immersion. Early Mormons saw it as an improvement over the more ethereal concepts of other Christian religions. Where other churches had mysteries, Mormons felt they could finally deliver solid answers. Even now, it’s not unusual to find a Mormon poke fun at the idea of an “unknowable” God.”
Mary Ann, that’s such hilarious nonsense that I don’t even know where to begin picking it apart.
Kullervoo, what can I say? I’m flattered.
Anon, didn’t really phrase it well. Mormons felt they could deliver on that esoteric knowledge that’s referred to as “mysteries of godliness” in the scriptures. The *true* nature of God, what *really* happens when we leave this realm (heaven/hell binary is too simplistic!). Having the priesthood meant that Mormons had a step up in uncovering the “secret” rites and knowledge that had been lost through the ages. Hawk was completely correct when she says that a strain of Mormon thought is our current knowledge and distinctive temple rites/ceremonies are identical to those of Book of Mormon and Biblical times. Early Mormons took the “restoration” claim literally. That literalist belief makes it very difficult for members who find out from historical scholars that no, the rituals in the first and second Jewish temples did not have very many similarities to what we do today, even when putting aside the obvious animal sacrifice element. It’s also why people get confused when the similarities to relatively modern Masonic ceremonies are pointed out.
Oh sure. Throw old anon under the bus. 😀 Here’s what I was trying to get at in my awkward way: If the Sunday school teacher says “God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost”, I’m inclined to think “Whatever. Some theologian somewhere understands whatever the heck that means.” If a Mormon says “God is a physical human being living on another planet in the universe.” then my ears prick up and I think “Whoa! Cool. We are talking about physical laws here!” And then I start asking hard questions about it. If things are left all abstract and hand-wavey, I am more inclined to give it a pass. If things are brought into the physical realm, I’m more inclined to question it, because it’s in suddenly in the realm of *my* reality.
Anon, the problem is that’s idolatry.
Two things I am thinking. The first, does this mean Hawkgrrl will now be known as Angela. Is this a mere policy change or doctrine? The second involved the statement by Prince where he said the historical problems are not why people leave but the cover up. I think it is both. Even if the Apostles had not been caught in watergate, the problems would still loom large. That is why they were covered up. One example among many. The BOM has sooo many problems if the Church wants it to be a historical ancient record. The evidence says otherwise. The Community of Christ has taken a more grown up approach to these problems.
Mike, good points.
But…what if some people aren’t “grown up”? Is it still wise to take very literal approaches in the realm of religion, mythical stories, and spirituality?
Anon mentions an excitement or ears perking up with literal phsyical law applications. Should we deny that?
What if…the church reserves absolute statements, and calls things “mysteries of God”. Is there value to supporting Santa Claus…those who can believe in the idea of it and purpose of it while allowing those who want to believe in a literal story of it also?
Is not that a more “mature” or even a benevolent grown up approach? Accept there are people at different levels, and the allegories work on multiple levels. It is paradox, not certainty that there is only one way. Not trickery and lies, but allowance for mystical views.
Anon, I meant *I* didn’t phrase it well since you are correct that mysteries in Christendom refer to esoteric knowledge and not the colloquial use I’d meant.
As for the Mormon emphasis on physicality, you might be interested in this post from By Common Consent: https://bycommonconsent.com/2015/04/17/nineteenth-century-mormon-materialism-and-the-cold-bloodedness-of-science/
When I compare the Church’s policies and history to the teachings of the Savior, I can see that there is much leaders and members can do to better follow Him. For example:
• Polemics: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. [As a Church, we need to welcome those who struggle with sin—and admit and that we are all sinners. Our emphasis on perfection has created high levels of anxiety ,shame, and depression in many members who feel that they are never good enough or doing enough good.]
• Loyalt-arians: And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.
[Miracles are being performed by other Christians, including raising the dead, giving sight to the blind, and healing the sick. As a Church, we have no monopoly on goodness.]
• Elitism: The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. [As a Church, we cannot develop and support an elitist system and still claim that we follow the Savior.]
• Simplistic history: And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.” [When Church leaders discuss in a disingenuous manner, they fail to follow the example of our Savior, who is described as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”]
• The Bubble: There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?[Jesus taught both Pharisees and publicans. He is no respecter of persons and shows us that we can come to Him with our concerns and questions. He did not minimalize and marginalize others.]
• Leader worship: And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. [If Jehovah deflected flattery to His Father, surely our leaders can do a better job of giving God all the glory and not allowing themselves to be treated as idols.]
Mike, the Hawkgrrrl/Angela C issue is because of our recent switch to a different hosting site. Totally doctrine until new revelation comes and/or WordPress issues get resolved, then it will be considered a temporary policy.
I see the Hawkgrrrl/Angela C issue as a mystery. Perhaps we were not meant to understand. For now, I place my faith in the picture. Of a hawkgrrl.
I wonder if new revelation and policy changes are coming, if there is a possible correction in spelling of Hawkgrrrrrrl as well??? Or perhaps deeper meaning hidden in the mispelling of the name will come to light?
Thanks to everyone for the policy/doctrine clarification regarding the name change, My testimony regarding this website was shaken at first but has steadied itself since the clarification. It matters not one wit anyone has said regarding the name change before this date. This is a new day and new age. LOL.
Mike, doubt your doubts before you doubt this website. 🙂
The various screen names of Hawkgrrrl/Angela C tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual blogs in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the screen name and contain unique details. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the screen names is evidence of fabrication.
“each account will emphasize various aspects of the screen name and contain unique details.”
Don’t worry. There will soon be a church essay to explain it.
I don’t know where yo begin. Why are you placing the blame on the church? Why are you blaming LDS scholars for being lazy? Most of the information was available to critics. I have read what they have printed for more than forty years. Being curious I did my own research and many times came to the same conclusion. Never once did I think the church was false. If a person has a living testimony they will search and research the claim.
As for there being a new Mormonism to survive how foolish. The principles and doctrines are here for our obedience. Not here for convenience. If a person can not live them they are not forced to live them. It is their choice. But don’t expect the same blessings for those who do. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. What he does expect is doing our best. It is people who expect perfection from leaders. When a leader fails or makes a mistake we are the first to cast the first stone. Anyway I think your barking up the wrong tree.