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Truth or Loyalty in Religion

March 31, 2010

I was reading this essay on Zarahemla City Limits today (after being linked from a post on Mormon Matters about Dr. Laura, of all people), and I was intrigued by the stark difference of two positions relating to religion and its impact for cultural Mormons and ex-Mormons.

This part of the essay captures the first:

Several months ago I found myself chatting with a Jew. I mentioned to him that I had left the church of my youth; I believe the specific word I used was “renounced”. He was in shock that I would renounce the faith of my family. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t believe it was true. His reaction surprised me a bit; he asked me what that had to do with it. He didn’t believe Judaism was true either–he didn’t believe that Moses really parted the Red Sea or that Elijah was going to return or anything else. In fact, he said that nobody believes those things. But he felt it was his duty, honor, and privilege to pass on the cultural heritage that had been passed on to him. Doing so was such a sacred duty he couldn’t imagine somebody doing otherwise.

How can we argue with that? Especially,  those of us who are inclined to believe that Mormonism is a cultural heritage and cultural upbringing.

Well, the author poignantly drives home the second belief, which I’ll post after the break

The church itself isn’t a culture that was passed on to us that we pass on to others. It is an expression of what we believe is the fundamental nature of truth and reality. We value the truth so much that one of the main missions of the church to proclaim the gospel to anybody who will listen. We make huge sacrifices to convince the world that we have a better way.

In a sentence, Mormons believe more than anything else that the truth matters. It matters so much that we have to be willing to leave economic well being, friends, family, and even our religious heritage to embrace it. It matters so much that we must leave the comfort of keeping our beliefs private and proclaim them to those who see things differently.

We see then that people who leave the church but don’t leave it alone aren’t fighting against the culture and ideals in which they were raised. Rather, they are embracing it–they are honoring the integrity of the true believers of the church throughout its history by actively living and preaching the truth that they see.

When I put each position to evaluate, I can’t help but like both. After all, with the first, who can deny the value of unwavering loyalty and connection to kin. If Mormonism is a substantial part of our lives (which, for many of us, it is), then our wards and stakes become our extended families. We may not like our Brothers and Sisters, but we should keep in mind that we wouldn’t abandon our blood siblings, so why should we be so careless with those who are our religious brothers and sisters?

…at the same time, the second position rings true as well. Religion isn’t just culture. In fact, probably first and foremost, it is about truth. And especially, if family gets in the way, then family gets left behind.

But what I found intriguing was the synthesis. Since Mormonism so highly values truth-seeking (and then the sharing/preaching of the truth found with others), rather than opposing Mormonism, people who disaffect from the church who speak out actually fulfill and live out their Mormon values.

This synthesis actually makes a pointed accusation for New order Mormons, liberal Mormons, and others of that kind.  Many of these individuals stick in the church precisely because they want to maintain ties — familial or community. After all, most people don’t want a divorce or family split up.

But is hiding one’s beliefs — or perhaps even lying — consistent with a church begun from people who were willing to leave everything — their old faiths, communities, families — to pursue what they believed to be the truth?


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  1. Great points! I agree about liking both. 😉

  2. I like both too…

    Though I would say that saying Mormonism is committed to a search for truth doesn’t say enough about the nature of that search. The Mormon search for truth encompasses a commitment to seeking and preparing oneself to receive revelation from God; and truth-seeking that rules out the possibility or validity of revelation, no matter how authentic in its own way, isn’t really true to Mormon values.

  3. I don’t think, however, that most people are “ruling out the possibility or validity of revelation.” (OK, so maybe they are narrowing down what counts for “validity.”) They just expect more than they’ve currently gotten.

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