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Hindus and Mormons: What does it mean to reject creeds?

July 16, 2009

Today, Mormon Soprano wrote about a mother (herself?) who had a daughter who was considering Hinduism. And as I read, I wondered…what this mother would be doing if her daughter were atheist instead?

The article was rather fair, and MoSop was rather calm and collected…She raised Proverbs 22:6 (a perennial favorite) and commented about the agony of what happens if a child does depart from what parents have taught her, but then she seemed to be contented by finding similarities between Mormonism and Hinduism. One such particularly caught my eye.

“What counts is not creed but conduct. By their fruits ye shall know them and not by their beliefs. Religion is righteous living. The Hindu view that every method of spiritual growth, every path to the Truth is worthy of reverence has much to commend itself.” –  The Hindu View of Life. Radhakrishnan – philosopher President of India (1962-67)

And MoSop weighs this with some words from Joseph Smith:

“While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard…He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India.” (History of the Church, 4:595–96.)

(By the way, MoSop later concludes with, “…We have the reponsibility to respect His judgement, which allows each soul the process of taking an individual spiritual journey. Through personal prayer and meditation we can discover our own faith in God…” so I guess that gives us our answer on what might happen if a daughter came out as atheist.)

But that got me thinking about the Hindu quote and Joseph Smith’s as well…We all know what certain Christians, ex-Mormons and anti-Mormons think of “by their fruits ye shall know them” — they point to all the mistakes Mormons or their leaders have made and smugly say, “So there, obviously, it is a wrong church.” But here, we see a different interpretation — a call to focus on the fruits and not the beliefs. So what counts is not creeds but conduct.

And hey, Mormons reject creeds too! Or so we say.

This made me realize that the same ideas are interpreted in drastically different ways. Even when I’d like to say Mormon “orthodoxy” views the words in the same ways, I can’t say it with a straight face. In fact, when I really dig deeply inside, I ask…how is it that Mormons do not have creeds? As John writes, we have rather creed-like Articles of Faith. We can note what beliefs the religion hinges on regarding Jesus, his death, resurrection, and Atonement. And we can muse about what is official doctrine.

And as MoSop alludes to earlier in her article, we have an odd sense of universalism. After all, even though we search for good in all things, there is a “superiority factor” — Mormons are the “true and living church.” The Mormon idea of heaven is substantially more expansive, but at the same time, is there not a perceived race for the Celestial Kingdom?

It seems to me there are some creeds in Mormonism…even if we may not be able to nail them and if they can change. But certainly, if given some proposition, we could evaluate whether it sounds “right” to our Mormon ears or if it sounds fuzzy, wrong, or downright foreign.

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  1. John Welch gave a good talk on this subject which I incorporated into a sacrament talk one time. I don’t know the exact definition of creed but Bro Welch was referring to those creeds which depicted a view of the Godhead which was not according to revealed truth and which perpetuated a misunderstanding among His children.

  2. Oh, I see…so rejecting creeds for LDS refers simply to specific historical creeds (probably Athanasian because of its trinity, but also perhaps Nicene) but not to the idea of creeds in general for the modern era…

  3. That is a great quote from J.S. I’m framing it, lol. In my view, that “deeds over creeds” idea totally applies to atheists as well. My only issue with a son or daughter who became an atheist would be that they not become a rejectionist, but rather a constructionist. Some atheists, just like many believers, can be quite aggressive and that in itself is an evil deed imho.

  4. mormonsoprano permalink

    Andrew, Thanks for sharing a ping to my recent post. You have built an interesting converstation around it. – MoSop

  5. heynow permalink


    Come now, your child would not “become an atheist” for all are born atheists. Indoctrination is postnatal. 😛

  6. People, regardless of upbringing, can independently come to believe in deities and higher powers. So it isn’t necessarily the case that all are born atheists or, for that matter, that if all parents somehow shielded a child from anything religious, that theism would be extinguished from the earth.

    Perhaps people wouldn’t derive the complex kinds of religions we have today, but there would always be people who hope for some higher power or some afterlife.

  7. heynow permalink

    True, one _becomes to believe_ in the supernatural, but from the start she is sans belief. A child is a clean slate with regards to a belief system; without the belief in a deity is the definition of “atheist”.

  8. careful…tabula rasa has been denounced by most scientists. So, most now believe that even from young, we are prejudiced in unusual ways. There is a part of our personality that isn’t just from upbringing, but is how we view the world from before we can even utter words about it.

    again, I’m not arguing with you that people are not born with incredibly specific ideas, but definitely, all are not alike.

  9. heynow permalink

    A predisposition for the human brain to seek out knowledge and understanding, as well as the ability to experience awe, does not equal theism. A child will view her parent as a god before any other supernatural being, but that belief is not often lumped into the idea of theism.

  10. A predisposition to believe that the world and nature was created with design and designer, a predisposition to believe in higher forces and creators, etc., are not quite “seeking out knowledge and understanding” but ok. ( )

    You shouldn’t be so defensive about this. After all, this doesn’t say anything about religion or theism’s truth claims. Rather, it simply points out what we already knew: that humans are biased and predisposed to believe in many things that are unempirical (e.g., humans are predisposed to believe in an afterlife as well [ ], but these things can equally be explained by the evolutionary processes from which they arose — for example, because we view the world through our consciousnesses, we are biased to regard it as persistent for our own sakes. )

  11. adamf permalink

    Too late, heynow, he’s already praying at dinner more regularly than I do. Perhaps my next child will have a chance at atheism. 😉

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