LITERAL BELIEF- NON-LITERAL BELIEF- NON-BELIEF in Mormonism
This site is dedicated to my family members and anyone else who may be interested in my thoughts surrounding literal belief, non-literal belief, and non-belief in Mormonism.
There is much to love within the Mormon culture: a strong sense of community, a culture of service and sacrifice for others, and teachings of love and compassion. I do believe, however, there are teachings and practices within Mormonism that do not accurately reflect reality, and can cause tremendous pain and anguish to individuals and families. As a believing member, I viewed membership in the LDS church in very black and white terms. For me, anyone that “fell away” from the church was one of four things:
- Too weak to live the standards.
- Had a desire to “sin.”
- They were offended.
- They never had a true testimony to begin with.
Why else would they “fall away” from the one and only true religion with access to the only institution that provides the information and ordinances needed to return to God?
Even the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states:
Latter-day Saints who have seriously contravened or ignored cardinal Church teachings (publicly or privately) are considered apostates, whether or not they have officially left the Church or affiliated with another religion. By not participating in Church meetings one is not considered apostate…The most frequent causes of apostasy are failure to maintain strict standards of morality, taking personal offense (real or perceived), marrying someone who is of another faith or who is irreligious, neglecting to pray and maintain spirituality, or misunderstanding of the teachings of the Church…Apostasy may be accelerated by a faulty assumption that scripture or Church leaders are infallible. Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such” (HC 5:265). He also declared he “was but a man, and [people] must not expect me to be perfect” (HC 5:181). Neither the Church nor its leaders and members claim infallibility…Apostates sometimes become enemies of the Church. Leaving the Church, which claims to be God’s official church, containing the fulness of the gospel, often results in feelings of guilt. While many return, others develop a need to defend their actions, “disprove” the Church, or become hostile enemies. The fruits of apostasy are generally bitter.
Since I disagree with a majority of the cardinal Church teachings, I guess by this definition, I could be called an apostate. As to the causes outlined above for apostasy and my prior conceptions, I think they largely miss the mark. I’m not saying that apostasy never occurs due to any of these reasons, just that they were not a factor in my personal experience (However, I’m sure many think I have simply misunderstood church teachings) or for dozens and dozens of other similarly defined “apostates” I have come into contact with. My unorthodox beliefs began with a sincere quest for truth, hundreds of hours of fasting, prayer and scripture study, and weekly temple service for a year (I have written in detail about this and can share it with you, if you like). Speaking for myself, “apostasy” did not bring guilt but it did bring some anger, anger at basing my testimony on a certain church narrative that was largely inaccurate. For a time, I was pre-occupied with trying to get others to “see the light” and prove the “truth” to them. I think those feelings are completely natural after one uncovers the real history of the church and experiences the harm disbelief can cause to relationships. What I’ve come to understand is that everyone needs to mark their own path and trying to change someone’s beliefs, before they are ready, can sometimes be more harmful than helpful.
I want to make it clear that I identify as Mormon. It is my culture and my heritage, regardless of whether my name appears on membership roles or not (which it does currently).
Interestingly, I have become acquainted with, online and in person, an incredibly diverse population of Mormons who love their religion, who by the above definition would be considered apostates, or enemies of the church. I know Mormons who ardently defend their religion and love being a Mormon but do not believe the Book of Mormon is actual, literal history but find value in the message it contains. I know others who believe there is no reason women should not be ordained to the Priesthood, or that the Prophets, Seers, and Revelators are completely wrong on the issue of homosexuality, or that they were completely wrong for 130 years on the issue of blacks and the denial of priesthood and temple blessings. Some have a completely nuanced view of God/The Divine which is very different than the Mormon concept of a Heavenly Father. Others still, who love Mormonism, do not believe in a personal God overseeing this universe and this earth, while many others simply profess a lack of knowledge (agnosticism) or understanding of who/what God is and don’t believe Mormonism completely answers that question.
I think that all paths should be honored whether an individual considers themself a literal believing Mormon, a non-literal believing Mormon, or a non-believing Mormon. In case these terms are still confusing, let me give some examples to clarify, using the Book of Mormon.
Literal Belief=The Book of Mormon is an ancient record, translated from actual golden plates, that contains the inspired word of God, and is the most correct book on the face of the earth.
Non-Literal Belief=The Book of Mormon may not be an ancient record, there may not be actual golden plates, but it contains the inspired word of God.
Non-Belief=The Book of Mormon is very likely the creation of Joseph Smith and is a modern literary work. There are no actual golden plates. The Book of Mormon does not contain God’s will but is Joseph Smith’s attempt to explain the divine.
The 11th Article of Faith states:
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may”
This all sounds good in theory, but in our modern-day church practice we are taught to align ourselves with the Brethren, to follow strictly correlated beliefs, and that obedience (to current church leaders who represent God) is the first law of heaven. If a voice is raised in opposition or contrary beliefs expressed publicly, there is always a risk of church discipline, including loss of membership, and disapproval of the rank and file who view any question or expression of doubt with mistrust and far too often, animosity.
Pelatiah Brown was a member of the early church. In April 1843, he had stretched and twisted the meaning of some passages from the book of Revelation and was publicly preaching these concepts. After Brother Brown had been called before the High Council to be disciplined for his errors, Joseph Smith said:
“I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter-day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be trammelled. It dont prove that a man is not a good man, because he errs in doctrine.”
We are taught in the Mormon Church that there is a one and only true path, and that path is straight and narrow. There is little room to profess un-correlated beliefs or ideas, in most wards (however there are some wards that are rather progressive in this regard). There is little room for someone to walk a different belief path by taking a less literal view of the doctrine or scriptures, or for that matter, a lack of belief entirely. Strict orthodoxy is typically demanded, allowing no room for individual interpretation or nuance.
I hope this blog can help you navigate and find acceptance for these varying levels of belief. And I must be completely honest, as you read these blog posts which explore topics from each of these points of view, it is my hope that in some areas, you may move from literal belief to more non-literal/metaphorical belief and even non-belief if it is more satisfying to you. The difficulty with literal belief, is that when it is contradicted by facts, science, archaeology, etc, it can be devastating to your world view.
On Aug 16, 1985 , Apostle (and former Utah Supreme Court Justice) Dallin Oaks instructs educators and administrators of LDS Church Educational System: “Balance is telling both sides. This is not the mission of official Church literature or avowedly anti-Mormon literature. Neither has any responsibility to present both sides.” It is my goal to try and do just that, to tell both sides. I hope this will bring more understanding, especially to those who find themselves on opposite ends of the belief spectrum.
Whatever level of belief you end up adopting (and you may adopt different levels for different topics), it is my hope that you find joy and happiness and allow others to do the same.