“What if you weren’t a Mormon?” For some reason, this is something that I often wonder to myself. And this post is about how I would answer that question.
I suppose that we’ve all thought about what our lives would have been like if we weren’t LDS. Actually, whether you’re LDS or of another faith, perhaps you’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to convert to a different religion. Sometimes I wish I could just pick and choose different aspects of different religions and make them into my own, ideal religion. So here are just some of the things that I would like to snatch up from the buffet of world religions and philosophies:
Catholicism: First of all, I’m under no illusions about my ability to be a “good” Catholic and accept all the Catholic dogma. (Goodness knows I can’t do it with Mormon dogma either.) But I LOVE a lot of things about Catholicism. The obvious attractions are the history, traditions, and churches. I’ve visited countless Catholic churches and cathedrals throughout Europe and Mexico and have always felt something special inside of them. Aside from being awe-struck on a purely secular level by beautiful art and stunning architecture, it’s hard to not somehow feel closer to Deity in such an atmosphere — especially when you throw Gregorian chants into the mix. It commands reverence in a way that I probably haven’t experienced anywhere else. I felt it when I just happened to be in Notre Dame in Paris during an Easter Sunday mass a few years ago, as well as when I visited Palais des Papes in Avignon, France, or the stunning cathedral in Florence, Italy. I love the fact that many of the cathedrals are always open and you are free to walk in, light a candle, and just sit quietly and meditate in a place that is spiritually inspiring.
Another thing I love about Catholicism is intercessory prayers to patron saints and the Blessed Virgin. Many mistakingly believe that Catholics pray to Mary and the saints in order to worship them, which of course they don’t. As Mormons, we do something similar by petitioning each other to pray on behalf of ourselves or others. We do it in temples with the prayer roll and we do it in sacrament meeting when we ask the congregation to pray for someone in the ward. Catholics, however, have the option of petitioning departed saints to plead their case before God. I love this idea and would love to think that I could pray to Mary, or Heavenly Mother, or “saints,” Mormon or non-Mormon, and have them petition the Lord on my behalf for something that I need.
I used to always imagine Catholic confession to be a horribly embarrassing practice that I was glad we didn’t have in the LDS Church. However, after reading Catholicism for Dummies, I sort of changed my mind about it. In fact, I could almost see the appeal in being able to go to a priest, who has taken an oath of confidentiality (very important factor!), tell him everything I’m feeling guilty about and then hopefully receive penance for my sins. In some ways, I think it must be very therapeutic. As Mormons, we only go to the Bishop for major sins, but Catholics confess even their lesser sins to a priest. Pope John Paul II outlined three main reasons for confession:
- we are renewed in fervor
- strengthened in our resolutions
- supported by divine encouragement
Seventh-day Adventist: I knew nothing about Seventh-day Adventists until I noticed that a vegan friend of mine had it listed as her religious views on Facebook. I was curious and did a bit of research. It has certain similarities to Mormonism, both in doctrine and policy, and Adventists do a lot of humanitarian and community work. In fact, my husband’s uncle, who suffers from extreme back pain, recently stayed at a rehabilitation centre run by Seventh-day Adventists in Norway and after a 3-week stay, he looked like a new man. Being a heavy-drinking, chain-smoking meat eater, we were skeptical about how he would like this alcohol-free, smoke-free, meat-free environment, but he apparently enjoyed his time in the centre very much. He is even back to work on a part time basis, instead of having to rely 100% on a disability pension. Seeing what it did for him, I wish he could live there permanently.
What I like best about Seventh-day Adventism is its emphasis on a healthy vegetarian diet. Most avoid coffee and caffeinated drinks like Mormons, but I like the fact that they promote and practise a vegetarian lifestyle — something that very few Mormons do. Adventists are credited with the development of certain health and vegetarian products, and according to Wikipedia, research by the US National Institute of Health found that the average Adventist in California lives 4-10 years longer than the average Californian.
The Black Churches: Of course, there isn’t just one “black church.” But there is something special about the way of worship among African Americans. I’ve never personally been to a “black church,” but I’ve watched some services and sermons on TV. The minister giving the sermon is often quite animated, often backed up by an energetic choir and background music, and the congregation is lively. Mormons, by contrast, are pretty conservative in their style of worship. No standing, no clapping, no waving, no shouts of “amen.” I don’t think that either of these styles of worship are “right” or “wrong.” I see value and purpose to both and am perhaps most suited to a style of worship where I can sit quiet and do nothing, but can certainly see the appeal — and perhaps even need — for a more animated style of worship.
Jainism: I first heard of this religion because of an Indian acquaintance of mine, who is a Jain. What I like about Jainism is its respect for all life. According to Wikipedia’s page on Jainism, “(B)ecause all living beings possess a soul, great care and awareness is essential in one’s actions in the incarnate world. Jainism emphasizes the equality of all life, advocating harmlessness towards all, whether these be creatures great or small. This policy extends even to microscopic organisms.”
A devout Jain will not only refuse meat, but even root vegetables such as onions and potatoes, in order to preserve the life of the plant. I encourage you all to read a bit about Jainism. It really is a beautiful religion, in my opinion.
Veganism: I know, it’s not really a religion, right? Well, no, not in the traditional sense, but I think that veganism holds, to many of its adherents, a spiritual aspect to it. I have a few friends who are vegan and although they’re not really “religious” per se, they consider veganism to be their spirituality and are probably among the most compassionate and loving people I know — towards both humans and animals. Veganism requires people to really think about how their dietary choices and actions affect animals, as well as their fellow human beings and the environment. Although I’m not vegan myself, I definitely have a bit of “vegan envy” of those who are able to avoid all animal products for ethical reasons.
Unitarian Universalist: UU’s believe in “complete but responsible freedom of speech, thought, belief, faith, and disposition. They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues, such as the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any heritage, have any sexual orientation or gender identity, and hold beliefs from a variety of cultures or religions.” That statement is something that I can wholeheartedly agree with, but there is a lot more to it. See more about what UU’s believe here.
Agnosticism: Simply put, agnosticism is “the philosophical view that the truth value of certain claims — particularly metaphysical claims regarding theology, afterlife or the existence of deities, ghosts, or even ultimate reality — is unknown or, depending on the form of agnosticism, inherently impossible to prove or disprove. It is often put forth as a middle ground between theism and atheism, though it is not a religious declaration in itself.” (Read here for more information.)
I have my days, but for the most part I don’t really doubt that God exists. I do doubt sometimes, however, whether we can ever really “know” that God exists. Wikipedia breaks down different types of agnosticism and I would say that I strongly identify with “Agnostic theism,” also called “religious” or “spiritual agnosticism:
“– the view of those who do not claim to know of the existence of any deity, but still believe in such an existence. Søren Kierkegaard believed that knowledge of any deity is impossible, and because of that people who want to be theists must believe: “If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe.”
So what would I be if I weren’t a Mormon? In terms of style of worship, I feel very drawn to Catholicism for the reasons that I mentioned above. In terms of ethics and morality, I absolutely love the message of Jainism, particularly the reasons behind its dietary code. It adds a more religious element to veganism and that’s something that I find very appealing, even though I’m not vegan. Although I abstain from meat for ethical reasons, I recognize my own personal hypocrisy since I still use eggs and dairy (organic when possible, but even that is no guarantee of ethical practices), as well as a bit of fish on occasion. I think that believing in the Jain doctrine would give me the motivation needed to go that extra mile and abstain from all unethical dietary practices (although I admit that I can’t imagine ever giving up root vegetables). 🙂 Still, though, I feel drawn to Christianity because of Jesus. But Christianity can be a maze of confusion, with all the different denominations, interpretations and disappointing feuding and hypocrisy. (Mormonism in itself can be a maze that can test one’s spiritual endurance.) Had I not been raised Mormon and found my own little niche in the Church, I think that I would have been drawn to something like Jainism, but would have perhaps still felt that something was missing. If I had found Mormonism later in life, I think I would have been drawn to the Plan of Salvation — which is my favourite part about Mormonism — but I think that I would have been scared off by certain elements of Mormonism and therefore would not have investigated it further.
So I think that if I weren’t a Mormon, I would have felt drawn to a combination of Christianity and Jainism, but would have most likely considered myself to be agnostic because I may not have been able to sincerely believe the doctrines of these other faiths in order to consider myself a true follower. I do consider myself a true follower of Mormonism, since I do believe in most of its doctines, but I don’t proclaim to know that Mormon doctrine is true, as many Mormons do.
After doing this post, I think I’ve finally figured out what I am at this stage in my life:
I’m a practising Mormon Agnostic Theist with Jain envy.
(Perhaps I’ll have to change the name of my blog.) 🙂
What about you? What would you be if you weren’t a Mormon? And are you “envious” of any other religions out there?