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What if Mormonism is wrong?

June 25, 2009

What if Mormonism (or any other religion) is wrong? This has been a question asked by bloggers and others throughout time…and a question I hope every religious person asks several times throughout their lives. It is a question anti-mormons (or anti-any religion people) want to change from a “What if” to a decided statement. And I believe it is a question many atheists want to ask theists, in the hopes of getting them to admit a rather shocking conclusion. (or, to be equitable, a question theists want to ask atheists, in the same hopes.)

Yet I think the shocking conclusion is not the one most people would originally think of. Most people think that if their religion were found wrong, then it would make an eternity of matter. I think the conclusion, however, is something different. Something that Jeff at Mormon Matters already touched upon: it doesn’t matter.

It gets back to my one of my previous posts: Who needs a fool-proof proof of God?

The question has to be set up in a particular way. For example, how fool-proof is fool-proof? And does such a proof suggest a personal impact on life? My arguments have been that we can’t really get a true fool-proof proof — fools are just too darn clever for cleverness. Similarly, should one find such a proof, this is utterly not indicative of personal impact. My point, in the end, has been that the holy grail for any side is to show supreme positive impact from their espoused beliefs and actions.

And this is why it does not matter if any religion, even Mormonism, is wrong. Because we may not be able to definitively know if we’re right or wrong, despite our feelings (which can be grossly inaccurate)…because we may not even be able to know if we can know…and finally because this shocking nest of ignorance within ignorance appears not to affect our mortal lives (at least, not enough to stop us from blogging and proselytizing incessantly), it does not matter.

I cannot find who said the quote or where it comes from, but I distinctly remember reading a scenario, which I have paraphrased:

“Higher-ups in the church feared that news about the Egyptologist discoveries about the Pearl of Great Price facsimiles would cause massive apostasy; anti-Mormon critics rejoiced the spread of such news for precisely the same reason. But both groups were wrong, as relatively no mass migration or exist occurred. Relatively no one seemed affected by such seemingly decisive proof, because true believers continued to hold to arguments of faith. Meanwhile, the cultural Mormons never believed in the literal authenticity of such works.”

I keep trying to find the speaker and source of this quotation, because when I originally read it, it resonated so strongly within. It was the first time I had heard the mental process — even second-hand — of the cultural Mormon, from someone other than myself.

Regardless, as I’ve moved forward, these kinds of comments seem to make more sense. Regardless of the rightness or wrongness, authenticity or fabrication, or many objective traits, religion will and does stand. Rather, religions, and especially Mormonism, depend on subjective and pragmatic traits.

So what if Mormonism is wrong? It doesn’t matter if the Book of Mormon is an authentic document…it matters if someone can read the Book of Mormon and take its challenge and receive a testimony that irradiates belief and faith into the soul. It matters if one can take a step and begin practicing the Mormon lifestyle and find it to be a good life. And this is true of all things: of any other religion, of nonreligious ideas, of anything.

But if one can’t do these things, then rightness will not matter. And this is what several groups do not realize. Counter-cult ministries are tilting at windmills by showing how Mormonism is “wrong” or “unbiblical.” Rather, they must focus their effort on showing how their own ministries are irradiescient (OK, I admit I made that one up, because I NEEDED the majestic concepts “iridescent,” “irradiating,” and “omniscient” ALL in one) of goodness and peace. We are not geared so much for truth, but to shiny things that make us feel joyful…we’re a bit more prepared.

This is deep stuff, and tough stuff. I had to make up a word for it, after all. The problem is…I don’t think any one group has found a way to project that to all people of all times. And this is why you have the disgruntled and disaffected, ex-mormons or ex-anything.

So, while I cringe at implication it raises, I would want people to answer my article’s titular question with, “So what? I’d aspire to live in the same way because it is good.” More frequently than they should ask, “Is it right?” I would want them to evaluate, however subjectively it is, “Is what I’m doing good?” “Am I progressing?” Every day. And if affirmation that rings true to their core isn’t the first response…then it’s time to look for changes.

…I’m certain I will be summarily thrashed for wishywashiness, or for this kind of philosophy’s naive acquiescence of the most egregious things.

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  1. Very little has changed in the day-to-day way that I lead my life since concluding for myself that Mormonism is false. I still love my family and hate reality TV. Yet the question of whether Mormonism is true may have been the most profoundly transformative moment of my life because of the way it changed my judgment of what is good.

    I tried to indoctrinate my children to believe as I did without questioning because I thought Mormonism was true. I sent money to the corporation of the LDS church to do who really knows what because I thought Mormonism was true. I used to work against equal marriage rights because I thought Mormonism was true. Etc.

    I’m not alone. Our most recent former President sent us to war in Iraq because he believed that God told him to. He also used his first veto to block one of the most promising areas of medical research because he thought that his religion was true. The 9/11 hijackers killed thousands because they thought their religion was true.

    All of us thought we were doing the right thing. If asked if what we were doing was good, we would all have said “yes” because we believed in our religion.

    Religious belief has real world consequences, not all of them positive or innocuous. While I don’t imagine that the world will become irreligious tomorrow if everyone asked themselves if their religions were not true, I hope that having a little humility and doubt about their beliefs would give them pause. I’m much more comfortable with anyone who will admit to some level of doubt about their beliefs, even if I don’t share them. I don’t trust someone who is absolutely sure about their beliefs.

    Extremism depends on those who cannot or will not imagine the possibility that their worldview is not true. Doubt is the antidote to extremism, a virtue that should be praised.

    So yes, in some ways the question of whether a religion is true matters a great deal.

  2. What if Mormonism is wrong about what?

  3. about why kids love cinnamon toast crunch, of course.

  4. re Jonathan

    whoops; I missed your huge comment in getting to Seth’s…

    Yours is an interesting account…because I would’ve imagined that even if you believed the church to be true, this still couldn’t have made the cognitive dissonance of doing certain actions or supporting certain causes which you *felt* and *intuited* to be incorrect or wrong any less. Instead, it might’ve gotten you to ignore your feelings and submit to leaders, authorities, and scriptures, but I dunno…I can’t say I was in your shoes.

    Again, though, extremism in believing one’s religion is true is subjective. It tells us about how a person FEELS about their religion — in this case, they feel it is the maximal good, the maximal right. It doesn’t tell us anything about the rightness or wrongness. We would do better than to chip away at the feeling of maximal rightness/maximal goodness than to try to make proofs for the falsity of a religion (which would bounce off true believers anyway)

  5. It’s not that I had qualms but ignored them. I truly thought I was doing the right thing. I was no more conflicted then than I am now, which is to say very little. If I had allowed myself to doubt the truth claims a little more, my conscience may have had more reason to come to a different conclusion.

    One thing I learned in leaving Mormonism is that my conscience isn’t a channel to a single morality for everyone. Rather it reflects my beliefs back at me. So asking people whether what they’re doing is good will only reflect their beliefs back at them, not convince them to change their beliefs. It may get them to act more in accordance with their worldview, but usually not much more.

    So yeah, I’d love it of more people would spend some time wondering if they might be wrong about things.

  6. While I have my beliefs which I hold sacred, the only truth I can honestly say “I know” is the fact that I may be wrong. If God’s existence is untestable and unprovable outside of one’s own personal spirtual experience–let’s face it, folks get different results that way–then determining God’s true church can only be a matter of faith based on another leap of faith. I am not denigrating faith. I’m merely suggesting that we all need to be humble enough to admit that while we may believe strongly, we just might have it all wrong. The consequences of that depend on the nature of the God you believe in. I think I’ll be just fine either way.

  7. I completely agree with Jonathan’s comments. I also feel less conflicted now that I have rejected Mormonism. I allowed myself to make grown up decisions for my self. I don’t have to look to the “brethren” to see how I should vote, or what to watch, or think etc.

    I was taught in my younger days the frame work of virtue and goodness. Now I can act upon that frame work and draw conclusions for myself. Often times my conclusions are the opposite of what the church believes. That being said, I’m still the same person attempting to be as virtuous as possible. In fact the question “What if Mormonism is wrong?” helped me to see things that I thought were opposed to my ideals of virtue ( and that of many others for that matter).

  8. Jonathan

    so is what you’re saying….if you found (or began to believe) that cannibalism was “true” and “right,”…would you find it to be “good”?

    I’m having a hard time with this equation.

    I completely agree that conscience isn’t a channel to a single morality…because morality is subjective. However, I wouldn’t have interpreted it in the same way as you. Yes, asking people to view their conscience is going to reflect their beliefs back at them…but I would’ve guessed this is exactly where you can catch the doubters and nonbelievers. even though people are taught to believe certain things are true, if it’s not in their conscience — if it doesn’t ring as good — then all teaching will just produce conflict.

    But I guess I’m the odd one out, since here you’re saying that you didn’t have that kind of conflict. This is interesting.

  9. JW, I agree, except even I am not so convinced.

    I can’t even know that I may be wrong. After all, (nearly every) religion will say, “if you sincerely seek, you will find the truth…” and as you point out (and I do too), “But many people do sincerely seek, but they find contradictory answers,”…the various religions will answer something like, “But some people are deceived, blah blah blah.”

    This doesn’t convince me. It sounds like a lame patchwork. But it *could* be true. It could be that they are right. We don’t even have the luxury of knowing the fact they may be wrong…we only have the luxury of doubting that they are in fact right. Am I making any sense?

    But I agree about the conclusion. Humility is key. Unfortunately, humanity isn’t all that geared toward it.

  10. marcus:

    I guess I can identify with the last sentence, and that helps me understand: In fact the question “What if Mormonism is wrong?” helped me to see things that I thought were opposed to my ideals of virtue ( and that of many others for that matter).

    I guess I had always had that kind of question in the back of my mind then, but I’ve forgotten its value in “shaking the status quo” up.

  11. if you found (or began to believe) that cannibalism was “true” and “right,”…would you find it to be “good”?

    Basically, though there are limits, I think.

    I see what you’re saying about how the question of whether someone thinks their actions are good can bring out hidden doubts, but I wonder how to engender enough humility for someone to begin to doubt. If someone can’t even admit to themselves that their worldview may be wrong, can they admit to themselves that their actions may not be good?

    It seems to me that the judgment of good/bad is based in the worldview. I guess I’m saying that doubting your worldview (including your deep seated psychological squicks) is a necessary condition to doubting the morality of your actions.

  12. I’m saying somewhat of the opposite.

    The judgment of good/bad is based in the individual. It may or may not agree with the culture they are. Having an personal disagreement of good/bad (what you intuit to be good/bad vs. what the culture around you says) is the necessity to begin doubting the culture you were raised in.

    So that’s why your personal story troubles me. Because I just assumed that most ex-members were like me growing up…following these commandments because that is how we were raised, but internally having doubts, disagreements, anguish, struggles, because we intuited that these things didn’t make sense, or did not benefit us or others. And yet you’re saying you didn’t have these struggles.

  13. Yeah, my break with the culture came through my doubt about its truth claims and as a consequence my moral sense changed, not the other way around. Interesting.

  14. now I kinda want to do a quiz of all exmormons

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      “I just assumed that most ex-members were like me growing up…following these commandments because that is how we were raised, but internally having doubts, disagreements, anguish, struggles, because we intuited that these things didn’t make sense, or did not benefit us or others. And yet you’re saying you didn’t have these struggles.”

      That was me. Alright, 1 ExMormon down, hundreds of thousands to go.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Clarification. I was the type with internal struggles. The last sentence does not apply to me.

  15. It matters. It matters because Mormons “know beyond a shadow of a doubt” that their faith IS fool proof. It’s nice for a handful a people to say that it doesn’t matter but to the vast majority of Mormons, it’s the only thing that matters.

  16. Bud, that would mean it precisely doesn’t matter, because their faith overrides everything else.

    “Here; we have 100% proof mormonism is wrong.”

    “My faith is fool-proof. Your anti-mormon rhetoric bounces off me.”

    and so on.

  17. Well I guess if we’re going there you’re right. I thought the hypothetical was that if someone proves to a Mormon that they’re wrong, the Mormon should have no need to worry, it doesn’t matter so much to them whether it’s actually true or not.

    It is a big deal to Mormons. Every thought, every action, every second of being is invested in the idea that the church IS in fact true.

  18. I guess I was unclear. The hypothetical is the facts (whether they are that the church is right or wrong) are uncertain and unavailable. “Fool-proof” proofs (either for or against) end up being not so fool-proof, and we end up being in a nest of ignorance. So what is REALLY true or not (e.g., if the church is right or wrong) is not important. Rather, what is important is having the testimony, the feeling, the intuition that the church is true.

    So, no matter how unlikely, how objectively wrong, etc., etc., etc., if someone feels it’s right and good, then that is that.

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