Mormonism: The Everything Religion

November 23, 2011 | 11 comments
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I’m impressed at how frequently I hear parallels drawn between our church and the many other religions out there. Apparently, we are similar to…

  • the Catholics, due to our shared focus on a formally ordained lineage-based priesthood, strong church hierarchical organization, conservative moral politics, family focus with traditional gender roles, the need for works in addition to faith, and the role of priesthood ordinances in obtaining salvation.
  • the Evangelicals, with our conservative moral politics, family focus with traditional gender roles, claim to spiritual gifts, 19th-century scriptural interpretations, and renewed focus on salvation only being available through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Islam, since we both have post-biblical prophetic foundings, accept additional scripture that adds to the Bible, prohibit alcohol consumption, and share conservative moral politics, family focus with traditional gender roles,and marginalized American social status.
  • Biblical Judaism, due to our establishment of ritual temple worship, engaging in covenants with God, formally ordained lineage-based priesthood, and our self-identification with the tribes of Israel.
  • Modern Paganism, from our various hagiographa supporting a feminine divine, a plurality of gods, and the earth as an ensouled being.
  • Buddhism, specifically with regards to ancestor veneration (sealing the human family from generation to generation, baptism for the dead, that sort of thing).
  • the Protestants, due to…hmm…I’ll have to come back to that one. Other than both being Christian religions, maybe we really don’t have too much in common.

I’ve also heard comparisons made with Taoism, Hinduism, and Native American religions. So what I’m curious about is, is this a distinctly Mormon thing? Do we have a particularly wide-ranging, eclectic set of doctrines? Or, could I find just as many parallels between any other two religions?

11 Responses to Mormonism: The Everything Religion

  1. James Olsen on November 23, 2011 at 3:26 am

    See my just posted post for my response: the Restoration was established as a specific response to the major historical theological battles (whether divinely or humanly established makes no difference here), and the response was such as to maintain a commitment to both sides. I think that’s the specific reason why we see the massive parallels you note.

    On the other hand, religions have a lot in common when you abstract generally.

    And on the third hand, lots of our comparisons actually cover up significant difference. Democrats and Republicans have a LOT in common and depending on how you describe them, one might wonder why it is they have such a hard time jointly ruling. Sometimes the distinctions are much more relevant than the commonalities.

  2. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 23, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Don’t forget Eastern Orthodox churches, which preserved the ancient doctrine of theosis.

  3. Tatiana on November 23, 2011 at 7:08 am

    I’m reading liberation theology lately, and though it’s written from a Catholic perspective, it’s striking me how very Mormon it is, with its emphasis on praxis first (if ye would know of the doctrine…), with how we follow Christ in a practical way in our ordinary lives, with a requirement that we do something, act differently in some way as a result of the conversion which we feel. I’m working up a post about it as I read. There’s more. But suffice it to say that liberation theology sounds like it comes straight out of the Book of Mormon, and I think we should convert Father Gutierrez and some of the other proponents. (The Pope seems to view them as a huge thorn in his side, anyway, so I totally think we should reach out to them and make them ours.)

    LDS practice in the poor world is more and more about attacking poverty at its roots, these days. People experiencing the brutality of poverty, the injustice, exploitation, loss of agency, childhood malnutrition, sickness, disease, early death can’t fulfill the measure of their creation. To give people scope for advancing their spirituality, you have to first allow them simply to live. They have to have the opportunity for clean water, decent food, basic medical care, education, and so on. It seems pretty clear that we’re all charged with giving our time, effort, concern, and surplus to helping the world’s poor help themselves until there are no more poor among us. Liberation theology with its preferential option for the poor, and with the idea of accompaniment, fits right in with this. It’s really exciting to me. It’s blowing my mind and expanding my heart.

  4. Jeremy Orbe-Smith on November 23, 2011 at 7:34 am

    I think this is one of Mormonism’s greatest (and strangely undervalued) strengths. I’m frankly really excited about the possibilities for comparative mythology from an LDS perspective – Nibley, for all his detractors, was brilliant about breaking down the walls between supposedly “separate” religious traditions and instead focusing on the diffusionist aspect of the Gospel. A thorough reading of his work and that of, say, Eliade, goes a long way towards reconciling disparate religious traditions and allowing the testimonies of [many] nations to flow together.

    While there are of course often immense philosophical differences between different sects, one of the main issues I see is the tendency towards abstracting and “spiritualizing” from what were originally physically real historical events. You can see this process at work everywhere: Hesiod’s physically-embodied deities are forgotten in favor of Neoplatonic abstractions. The gods of the Hindu hymns are relegated to metaphors. The anthropomorphic gods like El and Asherah of the Canaanite/Hebrew pantheon are swallowed up in philosophical monotheism. Egypt’s Ma’at and Lady Wisdom come to be seen as mere personifications of abstract values. The conquistadors and missionaries, spreading the “true culture” of philosophical monotheism, condemn the Mother and Father progenitor-gods of the native americans and pacific islanders as pagan blasphemy. Etc.

    The trend is almost always towards treating “myth” as a synonym for “fiction”, and the “primitive” stories and genealogies as being sheer fantasy, since (of course) we lowly male and female humans could have nothing in common with the ontologically-unique First Cause god of Aristotle.

    I strongly agree with Joseph Smith’s view that the “great secret” is an anthropomorphic, physically-embodied God elected by the common consent of a multi-gendered Divine Council who are in some way our spiritual ancestors. If we take the plurality of the Gods from the King Follett Discourse and the Sermon in the Grove (etc) to heart, we can tie up practically every religion out there and bring it all back to the old Genesis picture, in which we’re all part of a single human family.

    It means we are no longer obligated to look at the old myths through the lens of patronizing Victorian condescension (significantly influenced by western Creedal Christianity’s belief that a disembodied species-unique abstraction of a God was the only Being worthy of being called as such) but rather through a diffusionist perspective in which we should *expect* to find more similarities than differences the further back in time we go.

    I think that’s a significant part of what our Temple work is for, and what the Book of Mormon calls us to do – to bind all the histories, all the sacred writings, all the branches of the scattered divine Family into one which is unified in purpose yet separate in body, taking part in the At-one-ment of all Uncreated Intelligences, whose work is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of mankind in bodies engendered to produce sympathy for one another that they might have joy.

    We really *are* the everything religion – we don’t ask others to throw away what good they already have; we just want to *add* to it! Really exciting stuff.

  5. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 23, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Jeremy, you have pointed out the mind-blowing vision of Mormonism. Tatiana, I think you have pointed out another example of a trend that was highlightedin a BYU Studies article a couple if years ago. The thesis of the article was that trends in philosophy and theology have been pushing closer and closer toward the teachings of Joseph Smith on specific concepts within the Restored Gospel.

    One example are the Open God theologians in Protestantism. Their study of the Bible has led them to reject the impassive, unitary God of the creeds, and argue that creedal Christianity has betrayed Christians by denying them the example of love between the separate but united members of the Social Trinity and the reassurance that God truly does feel their pain and love them precisely as a parent loves his child. Some of them have argued that love and other emotions can only exist in an embodied being, though not necessarily physical–which we agree with since Jehovah certainly loved us before his birth into mortality.

    Another example I would cite is the argument made by N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham and prolific writer, in his book Surprised by Hope, that the Bible teaches explicitly that the Resurrection will be physical and that the earth will be transformed into heaven as the eternal home of the redeemed. He has been criticized for adopting Mormon theology, though henever mentions Mormonism in the book. His answer to the critics, in a letter to First Things, was that the Mormons read the Bible more carefully than most Christians.

    Teryll Givens has written a book on how others have sought out the concept of a premortal existence as an answer to life’s conundrums, including the problem of evil.

    Mormons have noted how C.S. Lewis was led by the Bible to embrace the Orthodox teaching of theosis.

    Many Catholics and Protestants have been groping toward some new solution to the problem of the billions of unsaved people who were never given the opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ, and are therefore eternally condemned to hell through no fault of their own. One faction has rediscovered the testimony of Peter about Christ’s journey to liberate the captive spirits before his resurrection as evidence for post mortal evangelization of our lost ancestors. Led to this by logic and the love and justice of God and the words of the Bible, it is also a belief that appeals to vast majorities of Protestants and Catholics, as evidenced in the national surveys conducted by the authors of American Grace. One of the most fascinating chapters includes their confronting ministers of a conservative denomination, who said they had completely failed to persuade their membership that the lost dead are uniformly condemned to hell, along with the recalcitrant humanity who is not saved acvording to their own catechism.

    One member of the Seventy expressed the thought that other churches were imitating Mormonism’s solutions to the injustices of traditional Christian doctrines, such as salvation for unbaptized infants, in order to counter the inherent attractiveness of our unique teachings. I prefer to think that the Light of Christ which all are born with not only leads people to Christ through the Restored Church, but also toward individual true and good doctrines, especially as they are freed from the coercion of religious establishments enforced by governments.

  6. Frank Pellett on November 23, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    This is an area that has always interested me. The hard part is how to go about proving it. It often gets into the chicken & egg type of argument – which came first?

    For example, In Norse mythology, we have the all-father God (Odin) who has two sons, one good (Thor, the heir, who is a lot like the father), and one evil (Loki, who wants to usurp the place of the father). Its very similar to our understanding of the Father, Jesus, and Lucifer. The Greek trio of Gods (Zeus, Posiedon, and Hades) are also similar to this trio.

    Most religions have a “tree of life”, a creation of two people, and a flood story. Were all of these based on the same distant and forgotten stories, or did they come about independantly?

    Really good questions, which unfortunately I have no non-biased answers for. I know what I believe, but can’t objectively convince others without them having the same beliefs.

  7. Al on November 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Its because multidimensional objects always have projections that look like lesser dimensional objects.

  8. Adam Greenwood on November 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    4.Jeremy Orbe-Smith

    Add in to this the idea of dispensations and continuing revelation–that there isn’t just one gospel but a series of deposits of the gospel with their distinctive themes and purposes, moving in an orderly (might one even say ritualistic or liturgical?) progression–and you certainly have the tools to circumscribe a wide variety of religious practice into one great whole.

  9. E.A. Jarred on November 29, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Calvinistic ( especially) Protestants listen to lengthy sermons. Prot.s don’t use the apocrypha yet do give full canonical status to the Apocalypse of John. Jews traditionally believe in justification through the covenant of abraham for those of the covenant and justification through the covenant of Noah, of some sort, for Gentiles: a sort of quasi universal “salvation.” Such possible lists go on and on.

    Indiv. Quakers stand up and speak in their meetings when they feel so inspired. … :-)

  10. E.A. Jarred on November 29, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Side factoid. Googling universal salv., I just skimmed a review of “Paul Was Not a Christian,” by Pamela wise Baum. She argues that Paul’s teaching of salvation through Christ was geared toward his Gentile audience since observant Jews are already justified through the Covenant. (As you were. Don’t mind me; continue on!— )

  11. Scott on November 30, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    This is probably way too late to the discussion to get read, but Buddhism doesn’t emphasize ancestor veneration. That’s Confucianism. Buddhism (particularly Mahayana)largely eschews familial ties.