Tag Archives: belief

Converts versus Members

My brother, who recently came back from a mission full of fascinating observations, remarked on this difference he saw in the Church:

When you meet a convert and ask them what it means to be Mormon, they usually talk about belief or doctrine. They talk about how they have a prophet on the Earth today. They talk about Joseph Smith’s personal encounter with the divine and then their own personal encounter with the divine. They talk about new scripture. They talk about the Godhead.

When you meet a “member” and ask them what it means to be Mormon, they usually talk about commandments. They talk about the law of chastity, or the word of wisdom, or tithing. They talk about what you must do to become Mormon.

Not all members who are “born in the Church” are members. Not all “converts” are converts.


Edit: My brother wrote back, “I think what would clarify this is I meant when another Christian asks a Mormon “How are you guys different from us?” gets the response I was talking about.”



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Belief, Faith, and Knowledge

In our church culture, we tend to value knowledge over faith. In our testimonies, we assert that we know the Church is true, for example. People, when they hear that you merely believe that the Church is true, or have faith that the Church is true, will pat you on the back, tell you to pray harder, and someday, you will know.

I’ve been working on The Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage for the Mormon Texts Project, and I thought this was an interesting thought by Brother Talmage:

We frequently hear it said that faith is imperfect knowledge; that the first disappears as the second takes its place; that now we walk by faith but some day we will walk by the sure light of knowledge. In a sense this is true; yet it must be remembered that knowledge may be as dead and unproductive in good works as is faithless belief. Those confessions of the devils, that Christ was the Son of God, were founded on knowledge; yet the great truth which they knew did not change their evil natures. How different was their acknowledgment of the Savior from that of Peter, who, to the Master’s question “Whom say ye that I am?” replied in practically the words used by the unclean spirits before cited, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s faith had already shown its vital power; it had caused him to forsake much that had been dear, to follow his Lord through persecution and suffering, and to put away worldliness with all its fascinations, for the sacrificing godliness which his faith made so desirable. His knowledge of God as the Father, and of the Son as the Redeemer, was perhaps no greater than that of the unclean spirits; but while to them that knowledge was but an added cause of condemnation, to him it was a means of salvation.

It strikes me funny that for Talmage, faith, not knowledge, is what saves. For Talmage, saying “I know that the Church is true” is a good start; however, Talmage would probably respond, “That’s great that you know that the Church is true. Now, what are you going to do about it?”

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Believe all things

I have never heard of a man being damned for believing too much.

– Joseph Smith

In the 13th Article of Faith, Joseph Smith writes that as Latter-day Saints, we believe that “we believe all things.”

What exactly does that mean?

Our religion is governed by rigid orthodoxy. Not only do many of the higher blessings involved require a consistent belief in Mormon orthodoxy (per the temple recommend interview), the very possibility of entrance into our Church necessitates a desire to live Mormon cultural standards for a period of time before they even integrate into the community through the rite of baptism. Just as much as we emphasize a need to do the right things, we also firmly insist that we must also believe the right things (and conversely, we must also reject a belief in the wrong things).

Elder Robert C. Oaks, in the July 2005 Ensign article titled Believe All Things, not surprisingly writes a very orthodox interpretation of the phrase “believe all things”:

For us, to “believe all things” means to believe the doctrine of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the words of the Latter-day prophets. It means to successfully erase our doubts and reservations. It means that in making spiritual commitments, we are prepared to hold nothing back. It means we are ready to consecrate our lives to the work of the kingdom.

I find the answer less than satisfactory, however. This is not to say that Elder Oaks’ definition is wrong; the desire to consecrate our lives to God, to eventually defeat doubt and grow faith into knowledge makes up a large part of our daily lives. However, in light of the context of the 13th Article of Faith, however, I do find Elder Oaks’ definition incomplete.

The 13th Article of Faith reads in its entirety:

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things (Emphasis added).

Joseph Smith seems to imply that there is little distinction between “good” things and “Mormon” things. If something is good (or as Joseph puts it more succinctly, virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy), then it automatically falls under the auspices of Mormon theology, thought, and culture.

So is this what it means, to believe all things? We are supposed to spend our lives seeking for that which is good – but what does it mean to be good? We are supposed to spend our lives seeking to improve and influence the world for good – but what does it mean to do good? I have no doubt that a strong connection between thought and action exists, but what does it mean to have good thoughts and good actions? As a Church, we acknowledge that there lies many a good thing beyond our cultural borders – so how do we acquire it? And perhaps most importantly, could it be possible that what is good for one person is not good for another? How do we go about believing all things?


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Pinwheels, Lotuses, and Mormonism

My friend remarked, tongue-in-cheek, that with the recent trend of my blog posts people will start to think I’m a Really Bad Mormon. And so, to assure anyone out there who may believe that Brother Ted has gone apostate or has become some kind of anti-Mormon wolf in sheep’s clothing, I want to write briefly about why I believe in the Church.

Some of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had are the intellectual kinds. I’m not a fuzzy feeling, burning in the bosom kind of a guy. Most of the time, when the Spirit communicates to me, it’s a sudden shock of clarity and for one brief, exalting moment, it’s almost as if I can comprehend the grandeur and beauty of Zion and I know – I know – there’s something special about this religion.

The first time I experienced this spiritual clarity was in the Missionary Training Center. My parents performed excellently in making sure I knew my stuff – I had read the Book of Mormon several times, I had memorized the Articles of Faith as a child, I had an over 90% early morning seminary attendance record. But during personal study time, while struggling with Alma 42, an especially verbose and weighty chapter in the Book of Mormon, I experienced The Event.

Suddenly, all of the cloudy, confusing thoughts in my mind coalesced into the image of…a pinwheel. Each blade of the pinwheel I instinctively knew represented some aspect of what Alma was talking about – justice, mercy, redemption, the law, eternal life, forgiveness, repentance, obedience, commandments – all of these seemingly random concepts suddenly began to come into shape as the most beautiful pinwheel I had ever seen in my life, with Jesus Christ as the lynchpin holding everything together in the center. The complexity of the gospel spun before me, blending into one single whole, but the center, the Savior, remained unmoving, holding all of the pieces together.

Complexity in parts, simplicity in design.

Complexity in parts, simplicity in design.

This brief vision literally took my breath away. It’s hard for me to explain what exactly happened, and as someone who firmly believes in being rooted in the empirical evidence of science and reasoning, it still bothers me to this day why exactly I had this experience the way I did. Perhaps all of the neurons in my brain aligned for a split second to give me some kind of euphoric super-computer capacity. I have always loved learning, and so I am accustomed to the heady ecstasy of learning something new; this Event was something much more. I have later come to accept that while this experience can be explained by science, this does not lessen the spiritual impact I felt. Perhaps it is within neurons, biochemicals, and the beautiful, constant undulation of ions flooding and receding within the synapses of the brain that God can be found.

Either way, from that point on, I was convinced that I had stumbled onto Something Big.

I’ve experienced more of these Events in my life, always accompanied by days, sometimes even weeks or months, of hard, confusing, clouded thinking and study, straining every capacity of my feeble, mortal mind to comprehend something that seemed to forever elude my grasp. And then, the flash of insight as the heavens open for a split second and I comprehend with a sudden fervor that soon fades and once again becomes ever elusive. But for that single moment, I know. Sometimes, I even forget what I learned and knew almost immediately (silly, yes), while others became the bedrock of my faith and testimony of the gospel, but every single time what startles me the most is that for all of my post-modern intellectualism, for that split second, I knew something confidently, and that feeling refreshes me. Sometimes, the stereotypical Mormon tears accompany these Events, but always I am left in awe, slightly shaken by the brilliance of it all.

Because of this, I love the prophets of all religions, both today and yesterday. The good ones always seem to question (and sometimes get in trouble with God for their impetuousness). They don’t accept the status quo; Abraham was already a possessor of great knowledge and truth, but he always wanted greater knowledge and truth. It didn’t suffice him to wallow in the muddy waters of the world with simple tidbits, the pastiche lessons and faith-promoting rumors that circulate amongst our membership and sometimes replace real understanding of basic, critical doctrines. They became my heroes and I wanted to emulate them all – the curiosity and questioning, as well as the serenity they developed in their later lives because of the knowledge they secured.

The lotus - an important symbol of Asian theology, and an important symbol of my personal theology.

The lotus - an important symbol of Asian theology, and an important symbol of my personal theology.

I have replaced now my image of the pinwheel with the image of the lotus. This symbol is incredibly important to Eastern religion and thought (and as my heritage traces back to such lands, I feel it only appropriate). Not only does the lotus resemble the pinwheel in concept and shape, but the lotus especially holds importance in Asian religions because though it grows in muddy waters, yet it blossoms as if untouched by the dirt surrounding it.

And since then, I have endeavored to become like the lotus – blossoming brightly and cleanly, even if it seems the dirt and muck of the world surrounds me. And to achieve this, I climb greater heights of thought, philosophy, and theology, always seeking that next insight. I can feel the Holy Spirit encouraging me, promising me that the next Event might wait just around the corner, and if I continue to seek that which is good and true, if I continue to ask questions with passion, someday, I will receive those answers that I seek, and my Savior will transform me into a lotus, bathed forever in the brilliant light of His pure knowledge.

This, I believe.

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