There is a lot of good in Mormonism. There are teachings of love and compassion, of service and productivity, of humility and integrity. Within its community, there is a sense of belonging and safety. And I see much sincerity in its people.
However, I’m concerned that too often, the ability for members to live by these good principles is handicapped by other teachings in the church that when believed, cause psychological harm to the individual, limit personal growth, freedom, and potential, and drive wedges in relationships. Not all members believe these harmful teachings, and I hope that if any members are reading this post, they will feel moved to help put a stop to these teachings when they see them, and spread a healthier gospel in their congregations and families. I believe this will not only make Mormonism a more loving and pleasant church, it will make the world a more peaceful place wherever Mormons touch it.
So, what are these teachings I’m referring to? Here is a short list. It’s not comprehensive, but I think it’s a good start. Following the pattern in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I’ll show a current (less helpful) teaching, followed by a more healthy teaching to replace it. Of course, these are only my suggestions. Each person must look inside themselves to see what resonates with them.
Old Teaching: The LDS church is the only true church on earth, and the only way to have eternal happiness.
New Teaching: The LDS church is one way that many find God/spirituality/happiness. Other paths may be more effective and helpful for others. Happiness is a choice we make in each moment, regardless of our circumstances or behavior.
Old Teaching: Prophets never lead people astray.
New Teaching: Prophets are humans just like you and me, and interpret their spiritual experiences through their own filters, as do we all, and therefore sometimes teach things that are untrue or detrimental.
Old Teaching: Spiritual feelings can prove something to be objectively true.
New Teaching: Spiritual feelings, experiences, and intuition can teach us about ourselves, our focus, and our desires. By quieting the mind, we can gain insight into new ideas. But spiritual feelings cannot in themselves teach us objective truth. These experiences can, however, be experimented with and interpreted in ways that help us learn about our reality to a degree.
Old Teaching: Doubt is dangerous, and negative things about the church or its leaders shouldn’t be read or believed.
New Teaching: It is important to look at all sides of an issue as fully as possible, and analyze all evidence with as little bias as possible, in order to make informed decisions and not deceive ourselves. Doubting our own beliefs is a welcome form of humility that can lead to further growth and learning.
Old Teaching: The scriptures are a literal history and/or a perfect instruction manual written by God.
New Teaching: The scriptures were written by human beings sharing their spiritual experiences, stories, and beliefs based on their incomplete knowledge, and varied biases. They contain both history and mythology, both truth and falsehood, both helpful and harmful stories and teachings, and can be interpreted and taught in both helpful and harmful ways. Like all books, they can be a tool for spiritual growth, but are not a reliable source of absolute truth or an infallible guide to morality and ethics.
Old Teaching: God wants everyone on earth to follow modern LDS commandments.
New Teaching: Modern LDS commandments are the guidelines put in place by the leaders of a modern church, and are not eternal, unchangeable laws set forth by God. (Obviously, since they keep changing.) While many of these guidelines are helpful for those who choose to follow them, other people have chosen guidelines that work better for them. These people are not necessarily living in sin or living a life less worthy of respect.
Old Teaching: People who leave the LDS church only do so because they’ve been deceived / wanted to sin / got offended.
New Teaching: People leave the LDS church for a variety of reasons, including that their integrity no longer allows them to support the truth claims of the church, or to belong to an organization that they see as spreading falsehoods and division, or that they found something outside of the church that is more helpful for their spirituality, relationships, and happiness.
Old Teaching: People who leave the church are to be avoided and not trusted, because they may diminish your faith.
New Teaching: People who leave the church are human beings who need love and understanding, just like you. Many of them have been deeply hurt by how members of the church (especially family and close friends) have treated them after they have left, as if they instantly became a threat or disappointment. You can show compassion by listening to their stories, seeking to understand, and empathizing without judgment, rather than rejecting or avoiding them, pitying them, or assuming ill intent.
Old Teaching: Families can live together in the eternities, but only if they are faithful members of the LDS church.
New Teaching: Families and friends should be cherished now, while we’re here, not mourned over or expected to change because of the future imagined loss of an eternal family for which no real evidence exists. Love is appreciating people as they are, with all their differences, not withholding acceptance unless they meet your expectation.
Old Teaching: Sexual urges should be completely suppressed until marriage, and partially suppressed afterward.
New Teaching: Sexual urges are a natural and healthy part of our biology and should be respected and cultivated safely and enjoyably, regardless of one’s marital status. Suppressing and shaming sexual desires leads to skewed perspectives about sexuality, and physical and emotional imbalances. By embracing, rather than rejecting, our sexual nature, we become empowered to make conscious choices about how and when to carry out our sexual desires in ways that match our values. There is no shame in being sexual.
Old Teaching: If you do not keep the LDS commandments, you are not worthy of God’s love, and cannot have the Spirit with you.
New Teaching: Nothing you do, feel, think, or believe can diminish your worth as a human being. Guilt is a natural emotion that arises when we do not keep our obligations, but can be overcome through living with integrity. People from all religious backgrounds and belief systems, including non-religious, have spiritual experiences, and these are not an indicator of divine worthiness. Everyone deserves love simply for being alive.
Some of these “Old Teachings”, while not necessarily core church doctrines, are regularly perpetuated in official church publications and conferences, and are arguably believed by the majority of faithful members. But I’ve met members who view their faith through the lens of these “New Teachings”, and from what I can see, they are enjoying much more peace both in their personal lives, and in their relationships (including their relationship with God).
With the more divisive teachings rooted out and removed from the church curriculum (or at least not believed by the majority), members will be better able to focus on principles that serve to unite the world in a more loving and connected way, without sadness, condescension, fear, or pity for those who do not believe or live as they do (especially those who have left the faith). There will be fewer barriers to fully living principles like love, service, understanding, learning, acceptance, peace, and making the world a better place for all right now and in the future. Granted, many members (and non-members) might think this is already their focus, but it is so easy to be blind to the ways we subconsciously sabotage our efforts and relationships. And I don’t exclude myself there either — I’m blind, too, just less so than I used to be.
Whether you’re a member of the church or not, I’m curious about how this post resonated with you. How do you feel about the teachings on this list? Are there any you’d choose to change or reword? Any new ones you’d add to the list? How would you make Mormonism (or even religion in general) “more good”? And what can you do personally to help it become so? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Such great thoughts, and so beautifully expressed. I was certainly at least partially blind to these things for many years, but once I started seeing things from more of an outside perspective, they all began to come into focus very clearly. Such great guidelines to keep in mind relating to many similar situations and areas of life.
Very well said, and very comprehensive, particularly as it relates to the infallibility of church leaders, both past and present.
The only way I can see that religion in general could be “more good” would be to remove the concept of god from its practice. I know, pretty drastic and probably not at all practical, but I think religion hurts itself by focusing on what god wants or on god’s teaching. If religion could re-focus more towards those areas that would benefit humans, both as a race and individually, they would be “more good.” Instead of expending energies towards letting the world know (or trying to convince the world) that your god is the one true god, use those energies to feed the hungry, to encourage the down-trodden, just to help somebody somewhere. Instead of glorifying god, in whatever way they may be glorifying him, use those resources to uplift mankind. Even if they stayed in the spiritual realm, they would be “more good” if they would expend more efforts towards developing and helping human spirituality and less on god’s spirituality.
I’m not implying that religion doesn’t do good, but I am convinced that more often than not the good that a religion can do is diminished because of their expectations regarding what they believe their god wants. This concept is manifest in a variety of ways, including areas of expected conversion because this is the only way, or sometimes prejudiced attitudes towards anyone not favored by their god. These days it’s pretty easy to spot the mistreatment of gay people because there are gods that apparently don’t like gay people, and those gods are directing some pretty hurtful activities. How much good could be done if those energies were redirected towards improving how we treat people that think differently than we do? There is a great deal of suffering in the world, both societal and individual, because one religions god thinks differently than another religions god.
What’s the quote…”do it to the least of these…” or something to that effect? Religion could be “more good” if they’d do more for the least of these and less for “God, the greatest of all.”
Good points, Craig. Too often, what people think God wants is used to the detriment of individuals and humanity, or at least removes the focus from arguably more important and relevant things. I think leaving God in religion could still be helpful provided that this God doesn’t pick favorites based on who believes in which particular religions or doctrines, but cares more about uplifting humanity and making the world a better place for everyone now. Definitely a tall order… but I’m placing it anyway.
That was a good list. The last one seems a little too universal to me though. I question if everyone should be loved just for being alive. Love is something that is earned through time with a building of trust.
There are some that I would have a hard time loving that have done horrific things. Maybe they could regain the love after “repenting” of the horrific things they have done, like child molestation, murdering an innocent person, etc. I think some people can be redeemed but there are others with mental illnesses that would not be redeemable, unfortunately. Maybe, with time, we will be able to help such people, either through psychological treatment, maybe drugs, or a combination of different things. Who, knows. I can have sympathy or empathy for whatever led them to that situation, I don’t know if I could love them though.
It sounds like you might be equating love to trust. If someone has a history of child molestation, and you have empathy for what led them to act in these ways, and a desire to help them overcome their challenges and live a more healthy life, to me, that’s love. It doesn’t mean you’d trust them in a room alone with your kids. But it sounds like you can still appreciate them for who they are underneath the actions they’ve taken, or the suffering they’re experiencing or inflicting. If that’s not love, what is?
So well written. It takes a lot of courage to go public with your thoughts on the religion you were raised in, when those thoughts are not in agreement with all of the church’s teachings.
Beautiful. I wish that the church (or its members) would adopt some of these New Teachings. I can see how many of my family and friends would be able to strengthen nearly all of their relationships in their lives if they would change their way of thinking to these new ideas. This way of thinking seems much healthier to me. I love your brain. Thank you for sharing what is in it :)
Brandon, I was raised in a small church with a lot of rules that I could not follow. I left when I was 21 and went back at age 26 to leave again at age 30. I have finally come to peace that I can serve God my way and still reach heaven as I believe there is one.
The funny thing is my parents church have finally changed some of its rules and made things more allowable. They are agreeing that it is your heart, not what you wear and listen to that gets you to heaven.
I love how you put things into perspective and explain how and why on the new concepts. I have to agree with what your saying and thank God for making this world a more open, accepting, loving place. Keep writing and changing the world. Thanks for sharing your philosophies. :)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joy. I do think it’s interesting that some religions have so many rules that it is literally impossible to obey them all, especially since some of them contradict one another. (Here’s a list of Mormon commandments that is trying to be comprehensive: http://www.afterallwecando.com/). From Christianity’s perspective, perhaps the only rules that really matter are loving God and loving your neighbor. I hope more churches become willing to change like yours did. I think it helps both those within and without.
You have become an enlightened heretic…
Nicely put. It is interesting that when you state the old teaching, “If you do not keep the LDS commandments, you are not worthy of God’s love”, that you answer that in humanistic rather than theologic terms. While we cannot objectively “speak” for what “God”, whoever or whatever “God” in fact, ultimately is, the teaching I hold as true based on my experiential awareness of that conscious entity mirrors the statement, “There is nothing I can do or not do to have God love me more or less.” This is the message of many teachers of many religions, but I respect that you answer it simply as a human: Nothing you do, feel, think, or believe can diminish your worth as a human being.