Sep 10, 2008

Is God A Mormon?

Or is He non-denominational?

Sounds like a stupid question coming from an active, practicing Mormon like me. If God isn't a Mormon, then what the heck am I doing here?

But in all seriousness, is God a true-blue Mormon?

Let me first examine my reasons for being Mormon in the first place. Here's a brief summary:
  • I was born into the Church.
  • Although much about God is still a mystery to me, I have felt His presence in my life and this makes me want to stick around in the Church.
  • A lot of things about Mormonism make perfect sense to me. (On the other hand, there are a lot of things about it that make no sense to me.)
  • I believe that living the Gospel and following the example of Christ makes me a better person. Without it, I think I would be more selfish and less compassionate.
  • I believe that Mormonism is an excellent road-map to lead me to God and Eternal Life. I haven't investigated all of the world's religions, but I've yet to find anything better.
  • To be 100% honest, my activity in the Church is partially fear-motivated. If I leave it or start doing things that I've been taught are wrong, I'm afraid of the consequences that may follow -- not so much from the Church, but from God.
  • Although I don't proclaim to know, I do believe very strongly.
This post is a sort an expansion of a discussion we had earlier about Mother Teresa and whether God was really speaking to her or whether she was deluded. You can read that here.

As religion has evolved and split off into countless denominations, many consider themselves to be non-denominational or even agnostic. I used to kind of scoff at agnosticism. I think I looked at it as a fear of commitment to live by any principles, or a watered-down version of religion. Now, although I haven't abandoned my Mormon denomination for agnosticism, I think I'm starting to understand what motivates people to go that route. I sometimes feel very sad, disillusioned, and confused by Mormonism and religion in general. My eyes have been opened to the realities of hypocrisy, pride, persecution, feelings of superiority, ignorance, judgment, and lack of compassion -- all among the members within my own Church. I am not guiltless of all these ugly traits either and sometimes I feel like I'm losing the war with myself and all the other Mormons who proclaim that God is on their side. Sometimes I wish that I could escape to a sort of "spiritual Woodstock," where everyone respects and validates everyone, everything is good, and love is all you need. No judging, no hypocrisy, where no one is any better than anyone else, and everyone is just getting high on God's love for us all.

Everyone wants to claim God as their own. Whether we're Mormon, Baptist, Catholic, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim, we all believe that God is on our side and that we are doing His will. Could it be that God really is on all our sides, as long as we are doing what is "good" and "praiseworthy?" For the Catholic nun who is visited by The Virgin Mary; for the Buddhist who reaches Nirvana; for the atheist who one day has a spiritual epiphany and becomes a born again Christian; if God is a Mormon, then why doesn't He lead all who He is talking to, to the Mormons? With the Church being worldwide and so many meetinghouses and missionaries spread throughout the globe, the Mormons are only a few steps away for many.

I was recently having an online debate with a Mormon who found it presumptuous of me to say that God had never told Mother Teresa to become a Mormon. How did I know He hadn't? I replied that I was confident in my assumption because I knew that Mother Teresa had never denied God anything that He asked of her. As a young nun, she made a vow to never hold back anything that He required of her. I also believe that she had a closer and more personal relationship to Christ than most of us. Perhaps all of us, for that matter. If God had said to her, "Find the Mormons and become one of them," then I'm confident she would have done so.

So, to answer my own question: is God a Mormon? I don't know. But I do believe that Mormonism is the path that He's directed me to for one reason or another and I don't intend on giving it up. On the other hand, I don't believe that Mormons have a monopoly on real, true, meaningful spiritual experiences. By believing that other religions don't have "the fullness of the Gospel," even if this is true, we tend to make it sound as if non-Mormons are not getting "the full spiritual experience." Some people of other faiths will convert to Mormonism if they feel that it gives them something that their old religion wasn't. That's a reality and it's the main reason why missionaries have success. But others are so strong and satisfied in their respective faiths, who am I to say that they are missing something? None of us will ever have the time to try on the different hats of all the world's religions. We have to remember that when we proclaim our Church to be the only true Church of God, it's based on our individual faith and spiritual experiences -- not because we've been able to eliminate all the others through trial and error.

If God is a Mormon, then perhaps we should follow His example and start validating the spiritual experiences and paths along which He seems to be leading all his non-Mormon children who ask in sincerity -- even if these paths He leads them down are just detours to the ultimate One and Only True Gospel that we believe in; detours that may last a lifetime and look very different from Mormonism, but will lead them home to God in the end. I think that the Mormon religion makes more allowance for this than most others, especially because of the temple ordinances we do by proxy, but many of us seem to have a hard time remembering it.

"For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." (Matthew 7:8)

Not just for the Mormons.

8 comments:

pb said...

Well, I wonder about some of the assertions in this post. I'm not sure we all want to claim God as our own, for instance. Unitarian Universalists believe that god -- however conceived -- is universal and accessible to all. Buddha refused to engage about god at all. When pressed by one student about god, the hereafter, etc., he said: "You're like a man who has been shot with a poison arrow and refuses to have the arrow removed until he knows first who shot it, from which tribe it came, who made it, etc." Buddha urged instead that the focus remain on removing the poison arrow, i.e., alleviating suffering in the here and now. This is done by clearing the mind of chatter and distraction, which then allows us to actually access god's peace or the eternal or our higher consciousness -- whatever you want to call it. Religious doctrine, mental constructions, beliefs -- these are all just part of the mental chatter that keeps us from experiencing the shift in consciousness whereby we are one with god now. Being one with god means we are one with the creation, which mean we are one with all beings, of whatever denomination, species, or predilections. So for me, I am ATTEMPTING to bring this consciousness into my present life. What label is placed onto it makes no difference, for it is what it is. It's my guess that god, if god were a human male that spoke english, would answer, if queried about his religion: "I am that I am."

The Faithful Dissident said...

"Religious doctrine, mental constructions, beliefs -- these are all just part of the mental chatter that keeps us from experiencing the shift in consciousness whereby we are one with god now."

PB,

But don't you think that to some people, such mental constructions, doctrines and beliefs are what help them stay focused? I'm not saying that there's no value in your approach, or in the example of Buddha that you gave. I think that we all have too much "mental chatter" in our lives that distracts us. I agree that a lot of people get hung up on dogma, doctrine, rituals, rules, etc. That in itself can definitely be a distraction from actually building a personal relationship with God. On the other hand, a lot of people need more direction, instructions, a "recipe" of sorts, in order to stay on track. Doctrine and rituals can become an obsession for some, but for others it's what brings them closer to God and helps them establish that personal relationship.

I'm not a very ritualistic person. While some have wonderful, inspirational spiritual experiences in the temple, I never did. I don't "get" the symbolism and therefore the rituals can seem kind of meaningless to me. But at the same time, I can understand why the rituals "speak" to certain people.

Perhaps some people like a structured roadmap (i.e. doctrine, rules, rituals, etc.) while others like more freedom to explore, find, and develop their own path to God.

I think I'm somewhere in between. I admit, I don't like rules or rituals, but if I don't have any, then I tend to get distracted and wander.

pb said...

Yes, I think it's natural to want and need direction. Great spiritual teachers are great because they are able to give that direction by speaking of spiritual truths in a way that helps the listener to grasp them on a deep level, not just with the mind. If rituals and doctrine are helpful and provide direction, then it seems like that's a good thing. What sometimes happens though is that doctrine and ritual, which are merely tools, are held to be of significance in and of themselves. Like mistaking the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.

What has been liberating for me is to recognize that it doesn't matter what I "believe," i.e., how I cognitively understand the way things are in my limited way, but rather what my state of consciousness is. If I am exposed to a truth and I am in a heightened state of consciousness, then I will understand it and grasp it and experience it in a way that I could not if I were in an unconscious state. And my actions will flow naturally and be "right" without thought or effort. But in a poor state of consciousness, I need to struggle with right and wrong not only in myself, but in everyone else, and I have to constantly make judgments and distinctions, which tends to result in conflict and then even worse states of consciousness. This is where doctrine can be just another something to fight about, and I would say completely unnecessarily. If someone, through whatever doctrine, has truly brought god into their presence, that presence does not manifest by making right or wrong or by clinging to the means by which you got there, but rather by a deep, still, knowing. And since that knowing is beyond words, it need not be defended in words. Buddha used to try to get his disciples to remember this by saying to them, if you use a raft to cross a river, do you then carry the raft with you on your back once you've gotten across? No. The raft has served its purpose once you've reached the other side. Now let it go.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"What sometimes happens though is that doctrine and ritual, which are merely tools, are held to be of significance in and of themselves."

I agree. It's not the ritual itself that is significant, but the reason behind it.

I'm curious. What do you do/not do to achieve this "state of consciousness?" Also, do you consider yourself to be a follower of any particular religion or philosophy?

pb said...

I attend the unitarian church but I haven't signed on as a member. I don't consider myself Buddhist because I do not participate in any Buddhist sangha or community, though as you can probably tell I do appreciate many of the teachings. What has given me the most inspiration recently has been Eckhart Tolle's book, "A new Earth, awakening to your life's purpose." The book contains a great deal of wisdom that has helped me to understand better and appreciate the teachings of both Buddha and Christ, as well as to take practical steps to deepen my connection with god, though Tolle doesn't really use that term in the book. He does use the term in the 10-week webcast that he did with Oprah, who is Christian. This may sound very new agey, but all I can say is that it's made a profound difference for me in my life and I do feel -- for the first time really -- that I can wholeheartedly embrace "god," or the source of all creation, and take real, everyday, steps toward alignment with that source. So I guess I'm no religion, but many of the people who participated in the webcast are religious, mostly Christian. Many of them reported that it helped them to appreciate their religion more and to actually practice christ's teaching as opposed to just pronounce a belief in the teachings.

Fifthgen said...

Joseph Smith said that, "Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive."

I highly doubt that God is a "Mormon." I don't think those kinds of distinctions will mean much when in God's presence. God will find a way to recognize each person's search for Him, and to allow that person to progress and be happy to the extent they are true to that search.

Like FD, I find that I need some sort of structure to my search. Things like scriptures, rituals, ordinances, worship services, religious community, etc., are all ways for me to understand God's mercies and blessings - - but they are not the ends in themselves.

Mormonism's incredibly inclusive and expansive "Plan of Salvation" is one of its greatest strengths. How it will work (i.e., how God will recognize each person's search for Him) I do not presume to know. But I will not be surprised if our present, mortal understanding of priesthood ordinances and salvation seem like a faint shadow of the plan, once we really understand it.

The Faithful Dissident said...

PB,

I haven't read Tolle's book, but I did see that episode of him on Oprah just a couple of weeks ago (Oprah is delayed over here because they have to take the time to subtitle everything.) He seemed like an interesting guy, I read about him on Wikipedia, and that particular book is one that I have on my long list of books I want to read.

I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if I didn't follow any specific doctrines. I think that many mistakingly think that atheists, or people who aren't religious, can't be good, moral people. I disagree with that belief. In fact, I think that atheists, since they believe this life is all they have, are sometimes more concerned about ethics and making sure that the one life that everyone has is as good as possible.

On the other hand, without specific doctrines or rules, how can we know the difference between right and wrong? Is "The Light of Christ" (or one's conscience) always enough?

Take the polarizing issue of homosexuality. While many are against it because they feel it goes against God's teachings, many feel more at peace with themselves and God when they let love take precedence and know that homosexuals are able to have joy in their lives as they see fit, just as the rest of us do. I think that people on both sides can honestly feel in their hearts that it's the right thing. Both could claim to have "The Light of Christ," but only one side is in line with Mormon doctrine. That is to say, a Mormon can't really claim that homosexual relations aren't sinful and still claim to be right in the eyes of the Church. And yet, if everyone just has their own personal truth and is right, then that means there is no One Truth, which kind of goes against the idea of One God.

pb said...

Well there may well be one truth or one god or one source of all creation. But the good news to me is that I can only take responsibility for my own state of consciousness and alignment with that source. So whether homosexuality is "right" or "wrong" for other people is not something that needs to be decided by me.

As for my own morality, whether what I myself do is "right" or "wrong" would indeed, for me, be answered by "the light of christ" if that's the term you like. That doesn't make me nervous because I have a deep belief that "morality" is something that we can become tuned to, and that we do become tuned to as we become conscious. And, also, that one cannot successfully behave better than one's consciousness allows. So if I am completely benighted and out of touch, my behavior will be wrong and harmful, regardless of whether I'm attempting to follow a commandment or some other rule or not.

But I also tend to agree with the buddhist view on this, which is that morality and consciousness are intertwined. So one cannot hope to raise one's consciousness unless there is at least a baseline morality. Actions and awareness work together in an upward -- or downward -- spiral. The 5 precepts are the baseline morality in buddhism, and they can seem easy on their face, but in fact can be quite advanced. So for example one of the precepts, to refrain from false speech, would require a baseline of not lying. But ultimately, as one becomes more attuned, this precept would also include refraining from harsh words of any kind, refraining from idle chatter, refraining from gossip -- basically never speaking a word that is not right and appropriate, pleasing to others, and conducive of harmony. Also, not speaking at all when speech is unnecessary. Buddha often exercised what was called "a noble silence." I don't think I've lived a day yet that I have exercised this precept to its fullest.

The same would go for sexuality. The precept is to refrain from sexual misconduct. At a baseline that would mean that sexuality should never be expressed in a manner that increases one's own or another's suffering. So obviously no exploitation of other beings, no coercion, etc. But at the highest level, there would not be sexual interaction with other beings at all. So there is no prohibition against homosexuality per se, any more than heterosexuality, but simply that one's sexuality is to be expressed appropriately, and that will necessarily be a reflection of one's own state of consciousness. For buddha and those who devote themselves entirely to the spiritual path, there is no expression of sexuality that is appropriate. But that's not because there is a prohibition against it, but because at that level of consciousness, there is no desire for it.

So I don't see it as everyone has their own truth and that's just great, but rather that everyone is at a different level of consciousness and some are able to understand more of the truth than others. I'm not sure any one in human form is able to get the whole thing. I would agree with fifthgen on this that whatever we "get" in our human form is likely just a very faint shadow of what is. And also, like the elephant, if I'm getting the trunk, you may be getting the tail, but it's all just part of the elephant.