“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?
Obviously I am, like yourself, coming from a Mormon perspective and that might color my choices. I would prefer above all else Catholicism. They have a wonderfully rich religious life (when they live it) and astonishing (both good and bad) history. Most of all I believe that if G-d exists that the Divine would have an organization or there wouldn’t be any reason to join any Church. Many years ago I would have picked Islam as second. They had an admirable quality about them in their struggle against “the world” that made me impressed with their independence and morality. Sadly, that innocent respect was crushed by the cruelty and violence witnessed over the years coming from the Muslim world. I would become an Atheist before ever becoming a Unitarian Universalist because I believe religion should have a profound purpose or strict structure. My brand of Atheism, however, would be more stoic (think Spock from “Star Trek”) than militarism like Carl Sagan.
I honestly doubt this. Maybe one could sit in a catholic church and go through the motions for a while but then deep down there is something different something deep in our consciousness which makes us look for God and his spirit.
And in assuming this (what is in this post) we are practically agreeing with all those critics who claim that we are only LDS because we are born into the church or we joined because we have some life changing event which sends us out looking for a consoling message etc. I realize that its only a game here but the implications can go deep.
Because of all the confusion about the different brands of Christianity, I would probably be agnostic of some sort. I would likely go along with whatever religion my family was for a while, though. I’ve never believed that there was no order, no purpose to existence. But my experience with other churches feels incomplete (though that may be in light of my experience with Mormonism). I agree with Carlos that there is something deep that, in people who are honest with themselves, makes us look for the truth about God. The confession aspect of Catholicism has also appealed to me at times. Having an actual person there to confide in about your sins and receive guidance from sounds great. Of course we have bishops in our church who kind of serve the same purpose, but since they have lives outside of being bishops, I feel bad using their limited time unless it’s serious. But I don’t think I could deal well with the rest of Catholicism, probably because I’ve known so many “holiday Catholics” who were insincere about their religion. I would like a belief system where I could practice whatever beliefs I had with dedication and sincerity. Agnosticism seems to fit for me.
#2 – Carlos, then change the question to:
I love much of Buddhism. I would remain Christian, and I would continue to pursue becoming like Jesus, but there is much within Buddhism that I truly do love.
I also believe in a community of fellowship – so I probably would seek out a non-denominational church where I could continue to share my journey with others.
Having said that, I have no doubts that I will die a member of the LDS Church. It and its teachings simply mean too much to me, and the life I love so much is intertwined too much within it to have any desire to let it go.
Being LDS satisfies my mind, body, and spirit. The thing I like most about it is the gift of the Holy Ghost, the fact that I can live my life in partnership and close companionship with God. I’ve been Catholic. I was raised Catholic as a child and I too love the stained glass and especially the holy cards, with their opulent and gilded religious art of a certain style. Also, I used to attend a Pentecostal church which was mostly African-Americans for about a year. I loved how they worshiped, and I felt electrified by it. The music was overwhelmingly wonderful. I felt the presence of God powerfully there.
But in the Catholic Church, the dogma is authoritarian, and very violating. How can the Pope tell married couples not to use birth control? How can he say my brother can’t marry his fiancee because she’s been married before… oh but then they find out her first husband was married before her then suddenly it’s okay. How can something my brother’s fiancee’s first husband did years ago control my brother’s entire life and happiness?
And in the Pentecostal church, they gave a sermon about how it’s important not to learn too much, or else you will lose your faith and be worse off. Learning is a bad thing for that reason, they said. And despite all that power of God that they had in the service, they would 15 minutes later be making a snide remark about someone’s dress showing cleavage. The small-mindedness that showed really bothered me.
But the LDS church teaches us to learn as much as we possibly can about every subject. It teaches us that the glory of God is intelligence, that everything true is part of our religion. The LDS church teaches us to serve one another, to give without asking for return. The LDS church teaches us who we are, that we’re divine beings with the power, through Christ’s atonement, to grow up to be gods. It teaches us about eternal progression. We have an open canon. All knowledge isn’t held in the hierarchy, who dictate to us. Instead we each receive knowledge directly from the source.
In many ways, I think the LDS church is superior to any other that I’ve found. In any world in which I was exposed to it, I would be Mormon.
However, if I were not LDS I would probably become Hindu and sit at the feet of the guru. I enjoy reading the writings of Sri Prabhupada, the fellow who founded the krishna movement in the U.S. His system is devotional Hinduism (Vaisnava), very widespread in India. It is a sort of grad school among religions. And if I were Indian, and Joseph Smith had not yet restored the gospel of Jesus Christ, that’s what I would be.
My friend Susie says she is a Newcastle United fan and worships on the terraces.No envy there.
I think it can be dangerous to assume that others want a relationship with God-so many people expend a great deal of energy in avoiding this issue.I think I’d like to be like them.’Beautiful and stupid at the same time'(beau et con al la fois) as Jacques Brel so wonderfully described.Still,I have always felt myself to be in relationship with a loving Heavenly Father,so I guess the grass always looks greener.Maybe it’s time for me to stop kicking against the pricks.Hmm.Thanks for the post.
I would have stayed Jewish. The doctrine of the other Churches was too confusing to me and the folks I spoke with never had answers for some of their beliefs. In the LDS Church I found reasonable answers.
I think I would just combine beliefs from the different religions. I have a strong belief in God, so I guess agnosticism might be a good title for me, but I’d probably have more of a synthesis of beliefs.
I’d probably walk in my own way, after the image of my own god, whose substance is that of an idol.
I long felt certain that I could never become another brand of christian. There were simply too many major holes there, IMO. Sure enough, when I lost my faith in LDS-ism, I tossed christianity at the same time.
I remain uncommitted to any particular spiritual path, but I’m finding buddhism very appealing, and may well devote greater time and study there.
Welcome back, Nick. It’s been too long – for me, at least. I personally miss your contributions – or, at least, most of them. 🙂
I’d have to go evangelical. As a convert, I’ve been on both sides of this question. What really resonated with me was the sincerity of faith and how they didn’t care who you were or where you came from as long as you were trying to improve yourself.
I remember my youth pastor teaching us the “nut and bolts” of things. It was always real world and very personally applicable. We were taught to develop our personal relationship with God.
I’m with Ray- there are a lot of aspects of Buddhism that I love. Not that I wish to worship Buddha- I just love the way of life. I have been recently reading a lot about the practice of mindfulness. I found it easy to incorporate that into my life as a Mormon.
I would be a Buddhist Baptist. I, too, love the practice of mindfulness. It has brought me more peace than anything I have experienced and better helps me understand what it means to “be still and know and [He] is God.” I also am drawn to the fervor and faith of the more liberal Baptist groups. I would also include some of the Quaker tenets in my belief system.
If I were to join any religion I would definitely look into the Non Theist Unitarian. But in reality I would more likely just go down my own path.
Here are some Unitarian beliefs-
* Every person’s life involves developing a value-system by which she or he lives.
* People should enjoy individual liberty and private judgment in spiritual matters.
* Respect for integrity is preferable to the pressure to conform.
* Beliefs may change in the light of new understanding and insight.
* The final authority for your faith lies within your own conscience.
I became a secular humanist. You can’t settle if your going to be intellectually honest.
I have already replied on FD’s blog, but I thought I would post the bulk of my replies from there over here as well…
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I am a practicing Soto Zen Buddhist with a dash of Tibetan to add some color. Until a little over a year ago I was also a lifelong member of the LDS church.
I won’t go into my whole life story here, though I will say that, looking back, for most of my life I was pretty agnostic, or even a tad apathetic when it came to the existence of God, and I still am. I was always told God was real growing up, and so I just assumed that he/she must be then.
Long story short, I was never fulfilled spiritually in the LDS religion and I realized that for me, this path had no heart.
I always had a fascination with Buddhism, and even worked to blend my Zen practice with Mormonism. As PapaD mentioned, it is possible to practice Buddhism along side basically anything else, but for me Mormonism and Christianity have just felt like an anchor weighing down my heart and my mind.
My wife, who also left the church at the same time, still considers herself a Christian, and we are working to find a path that we can walk together, using our two vehicles (Christianity & Buddhism) to help us along. It’s been a bit of a rough start as I have little desire for Christianity. I love the teachings of Christ, and he was no doubt and inspired man…but the son of God? I just don’t know.
[quote]The Faithful Dissident said…
Scotty, that was interesting, thanks for your comment. It’s not often that we hear stories of people converting from Mormonism to another religion. I think sometimes many are under the false impression that it never really happens.[/quote]
My wife’s biggest fear is that I would/will become an atheist, which quite honestly happens quite frequently I’m finding. A man I know refers to himself as a “Militant Agnostic”. The word militant may come off a tad harsh to some, but I know that he means essentially that he’s firm in his being agnostic, and I would have to place myself there as well.
I’m not ready to say there is no God, because how can I possibly know that? However I do know that I don’t know and to be honest right now in my spiritual practice, it just doesn’t matter. Both my Zen teacher and my Tibetan Lama (teacher) all have similar opinions. They said that they just really have no clue, and that’s okay.
As my Zen teacher has said, incorporating an old zen saying: “If there IS a God, then I will chop wood and carry water. If there IS NOT a God, then I will chop wood and carry water”. Basically, there’s no reason to get hung up on the unknown. Drop all your concept and ideas about things you can’t possibly know and just live, right here, right now in this perfect moment.
Buddhism can be seen as a religion for sure, but in more of a broad sense of the word, and not how it is commonly know and used today. There are endless debates on Buddhism between it being a philosophy or a religion. I always got hung up on the “It’s not a religion” side of things until recently. Honestly, “religion” is just a label, and does not define the meaning and purpose of my personal practice. There are a lot of rituals and cultural baggage that have been accumulated over the centuries with Buddhism, which have made it appear as more of a religion, and that’s fine by me. My path has heart and purpose, and I’m a better person because of it and that’s all that matters.
Just because someone chooses a different path than your own doesn’t mean that they are lost. There are many paths up the mountain, and it is my wish that we all find our path to happiness and purpose.
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