Am I Mormon Just Because I Was Born Into it?

From a question asked by John on 10 May, 2010 here:

You and I were both born into the church to LDS families. If Mormonism is the one true church, wow…..we really hit the jackpot. Extremely lucky, right? Out of the billions and billions of humans that have come and gone over the last 50,000 years, and the tens of thousands of organized religions, not to mention the other tribal/pagan/animist beliefs, we were so unimaginably fortunate to have been born into the Creator of the Universe’s own special organization on earth.

We could have been born into any other circumstance where we were taught to believe in the existence of various deities. We could have grown up in Northern Europe a thousand years ago believing in Odin or many thousands of years ago in Egypt believing in Min. After being taught those beliefs by our parents and surrounding culture, wouldn’t we have been believers? I think so.

So, what is more likely? That you and I were unimaginably lucky, or that everyone else feels the same way about the faith of their family/culture?

I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I don’t think I have any definitive answers I can point to, but I do have a few personal opinions. But to answer the question that I made the title of the post, I don’t know. That is, if I had been born a Muslim, would I be as faithful to the Muslim faith as I am to the Mormon faith? What if I had been born a Catholic? I really don’t know how to answer that question for myself, but if we were to look at broader statistical data, I’d be willing to bet that many, if not most, people remain faithful to the religion into which they were born. However, there are obviously a lot of people who change from the religion into which they were born, and most people who are Mormon today weren’t born into Mormon families, so who knows.

Now, to say the chances of someone being born into a Mormon family are small is true, if you believe you’re born wherever you are strictly by chance. But even if we follow that line of thinking, the fact remains that somebody has to be born into Mormon families. The chance of it being you or me, specifically, may be small, but the chance of it being someone is pretty close to 100%.

But I don’t believe we’re born into our families by chance. I think it’s all well-planned out and we’re born exactly when and where God wants us to be born.

Onto that last question, of course I can’t say whether everyone feels the same way about their faith as I do, because I’ve spoken to precious few people of other faiths on such a level as to be able to make any such judgment, but based on that small sampling I’m inclined to extrapolate, perhaps in error, and say that no, they don’t think the same way I do about their religion. However, I’d extend that to many other Mormons, not just members of other faiths. Hopefully that doesn’t come across and terribly arrogant and superior, because I don’t mean it that way, I just think it’s a fact that some people think, question, and reason more than other people do, and if I think more deeply about things than somebody else then there’s someone else that thinks more deeply about things than I do. I believe that most people, of all religions, don’t think very deeply about life, the universe, and everything. I think most people are occupied with day to day tasks like working, eating, and sleeping, and “being a good person” and relatively few of us wax philosophical.

But that doesn’t really answer the question, I suppose. I suppose the question is whether or not I think there could be someone who feels about their religion just as I do about mine. My answer to that is “no”, but with some caveats. Perhaps I can best express my thoughts by responding to one of your follow up questions:

By what criteria do you discount the truth claims of the other 10,000 organized religions in the world?

I don’t discount other religions, per se. I think every religion has some measure of truth, some more, and some less, and I don’t believe that membership in any particular religion during this life guarantees or disqualifies one for all the blessings of exaltation. I’m inclined to believe that Islam is a true religion that was founded by God. According to Islam, their religion was given to Mohammad by the angel Gabriel, and I don’t see any reason why that couldn’t be true. Whether what is practiced today in Islam is exactly what Gabriel taught Mohammad is another question, but I have no reason to question the roots of the religion as coming from God. Likewise I believe most other religions sprang up as the result of communication with God or his messengers or through what you could call “inspiration”. These religions have blessed the lives of billions of people. I think it’s quite interesting to think about how things would be different for the people of the Middle East and surrounding areas if Islam had never been founded. There are many, due to Islamic terrorism, who think we’d all be better off if Islam had never existed, but I think that’s rather short-sighted because we don’t know what would have existed in its place. I think there’s a good chance the world would be much, much worse off today if Islam had never existed, and I think it would certainly be worse for the people of the Middle East. I think Islam was established by God to serve his own purposes, which in the short-term are quite different than the purposes for which he established the Mormon faith, although in the long-term they are the same, which is to bring his children closer to him in terms of their thoughts and deeds.

But if another religion says “We’re the only true religion and all others are false and impostors” well, yes, I disagree with that. I think there are many “true” religions in that they teach primarily true principles and serve the function of bringing people closer to God, but what sets the LDS Church apart is that it’s the only church with the Priesthood, or God’s authority to act in his name. No other baptism is valid, no other sacrament is valid, and there is no other church I know of that even claims to be able to perform marriages that last beyond this life.

I think the natural follow-up question to this is “If the LDS Church is the only true church, why didn’t God make it to be the church with a billion members instead of Islam?” At least part of the answer is that it doesn’t matter, in the long-term scheme of things. God’s purpose is to help his children become like him. His children don’t all have to be members of his church in this life for that to happen. But it is important that his church exist during the history of this world in order for that to happen. It does exist and will continue to exist, and so everything will work out for everyone, regardless of what religion they belong to, as long as they are developing those characteristics that make them more like God.

One more opinion of mine–I am of the opinion that somebody else can receive revelation from God that they are supposed to join another religion. That is, I think someone could pray and feel that they are supposed to join the Baptist church, or the Lutherans, or Islam, or Buddhism, etc. I don’t believe this would happen if they were comparing those religions to Mormonism and trying to decide between the two, but I think someone, in isolation from Mormonism, could receive revelation telling them to join another religion. I think this could happen because I think God will “take whatever he can get”, and if someone is going to come closer to him by joining a religion as opposed to not joining it, then he would want them to join it. “Damned” is just another word for “stopped”, and we’re only stopped in our progress, or damned, when we reject truth. As long as joining another religion is an improvement upon the prior condition of the individual, why would it be a bad thing?

Comments

  1. To clarify a bit, the first question is more about the criteria that you would use to determine the truth claims of a religion.

    For example, say you were trying to determine if religion x was true or not. (anything not LDS) And you looked into their history and saw that their founder liked to marry the wives of his male followers, pretended to translate Egyptian and believed one could find buried treasure using magic sticks and rocks. I'm guessing that would be enough for you and you would move on to investigating religions y and z. Am I right?

    So, how can you be sure that you're able to look at your religion objectively?

  2. So, to finally answer…

    Just about anything can be made to look ridiculous depending on context and/or experience. That is, a person's experience determines what appears "sensible" or "ridiculous" to them. Today, we judge just about everything based on our knowledge of science and the scientific method. This causes us to look at anything that appears to have no root in science as suspect. This is perfectly reasonable, since we all must come to conclusions and make assumptions based on the information available to us that appears to be most reliable, and that's what science provides for us. But it doesn't necessarily follow that this will always lead us to correct conclusions.

    I guess that's my way of saying that just because something seems ridiculous or highly improbable doesn't mean it's not true or correct. The trouble with using a mental construct such as Occam's Razor is that it is only useful to the extent that we possess complete and correct information, and of course there is a wealth of information we still do not possess.

    That said, if I weren't Mormon, and I was early in the stages of researching the Mormon faith and read all the controversial and "weird" stuff about Joseph Smith, I might be turned off from investigating further. Or I might be turned on to investigating further, but perhaps out of curiosity rather than as a serious attempt to determine its validity.

    I'm 100% certain I don't look at my religion objectively, since I'm human and none of us is capable of looking at anything in a truly objective way. I guess the real question is whether I see things clearly enough to make decisions that lead to the results that meet my long-term needs. I do believe Mormonism meets my long-term (i.e. eternal) needs, as well as short-term needs. But most of the evidence for that comes from my experience as a Mormon, while the rest is mental conjecture. For someone outside the religion looking in, they would need to exercise a bit of faith to make it past the weird stuff, I'm sure.

    Not sure that answers your question, but let me know.

  3. Short answer: probably. Parents sold you on Nephi back when you were still Santa eligible. Hard to think critically through early childhood indoctrination.

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