Why Mormonism is only for those who desire it, and why it matters.

In our discussion about the LDS temple ritual.  I mentioned that I do not believe the endowment is for everyone, nor was it meant to be.  It is only for those who desire it.

While this seems to be a somewhat technical/semantic point. I think it is important in the context of the “Mormonism-seems-to-be-a-cult-because-it-has-secret-Rituals” discussion. By saying that endowment is ONLY for those that really want it, I underscore how different this position is from any sort of cult-like view of the ritual. Mormons are not forcing people to do weird things against their will. This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them. It makes no sense in context of Mormon thought and doctrine. It seems that among the pervasive misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations regarding the religion are that Mormons are a cult that pushes people or brainwashes them into making crazy commitments and weird secret rituals against their will.  This is unsupportable by the doctrine or the scriptures.

Within Mormonism salvation is offered to everyone–the only people that are not saved are those who desire not to be. (see Alma 41:5.) But the church is on a mission to gather the “elect.” The elect are those that hear the voice of God and want to follow it.  Desire is absolutely critical, it is what “qualifies you for the work”, i.e. qualifies you for exaltation (Doctrine & Covenants (“D&C”) 4.)  If you don’t want to do it, you are not qualified, and the endowment or baptism will be ineffective, whether you are alive or dead when it is offered. Desire is an extremely important theme within Mormonism that is generally left out in order to paint them as a cult. But if you leave it out you buy in to a fundamental distortion.  I think this element is often deliberately left out to perpetuate the distortion.

The church leadership will encourage everyone to be faithful and to go to the temple, but temple attendance is never forced. Mormons cannot, while assuming the authority of their own scriptures, compel or cajole people into taking serious covenants like the endowment or baptism. There really is no place for coercion because it is ineffective in the end. (see D&C 121 .)

Of course coercion and undue pressure happens, and there are those in the leadership that endorse these views, but the scriptures do not support this behavior. Just as the scriptures do not support all kinds of Protestant methods of gaining converts and saving people [TBN anyone?]. Mormons are more perhaps more worldly these days, just like Evangelicals are, and they compromise certain values for the sake of boosting baptism and endowment numbers. They engage in PR campaigns, advertising, and engage in defensive public discussions, they hide unpleasant history. Much of this is to boost numbers and it is done with the “noble purpose” of bringing the Gospel to more lives, but lines are crossed because the ends seem to justify the means. But that is not a hit on Mormonism specifically–that ends/means disconnect is endemic to nearly all institutions who think that they have the truth and have something ultimately good to offer.

Mormons, like other Christians, inevitably fall short of their own principles when zealously prosecuting or defending what they think is the good.  It is a part of a condition of worldliness and a lack of faith that Jesus obviously did not have.  If God is on your side you why would you seek to protect against failure in your mission by using un-godly means.  However getting Mormons to come to terms with their own lack of faith in their mission is generally irrelevant to any solid criticism of Mormonism vis-a-vis other forms of Christianity.

[Disclaimer/note: as I have mentioned earlier, I can no longer be reasonably described as a believing Mormon. Although I was raised a Mormon and was a practicing Mormon through my early 30s, I have essentially left the church. I am not trying to promote the Church or gain converts for it, but I respect the Church and think those interested in it should see it clearly. My agenda, if I have one, is not aligned with Tim's, who owns this blog.]

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13 thoughts on “Why Mormonism is only for those who desire it, and why it matters.

  1. The problem is that desire is viewed as something that anyone can have or get, and that a lack of desire is a moral failing that should be corrected. Generally, the way to fix this moral failing is by “living into” a desire (e.g., a testimony is gained in the bearing of it…one has to wait until the end of their trial of faith, etc.,)

    to put it in another way, Mormonism may be only for those who desire it, but the thing that goes along with it is that everyone should desire it. This isn’t Calvinism, for example, where vast swaths of the population (the reprobate) are incapable of getting with the program.

  2. The idea that weird rituals imply a cult is bigotry plain and simple. Again though the reason this is effective is because Mormons have a wedge between traditionalists and neo-evangelicals for evangelicals to exploit.

    This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them.

    As an aside I’ve always thought this argument was fallacious. Unfortunately by the LDS church agreeing to ban the practice they gave the anti argument teeth. They should have asserted that the means for the dead to achieve salvation is one of the great latter day revelations and made the debate about something unprovable, whether dead people did or did not choose to seek exalted status.

  3. Andrew, I agree, I think that is a problem amongst Mormons. Mormon conventional thinking is that if you don’t get the spirit of it, you are at fault for not being open, or the devil is that is at fault for deceiving you. Many Mormons would find me at fault for leaving the church, they cannot accept the thought that “the Church is just not for him”. In the parable of the sower, the question of why some of us are stoney grounds vs. road vs. soil, is not fully dealt with or resolved.

    I don’t know if this problem is ultimately solvable. Mormons will always believe that the only true path to truth is through Jesus and the Spirit, and that the Church has the authority to act in his name. Those that are stoney ground are always going to be seen as somehow deficient.

  4. CD- Mormons are pretty pragmatic about these things. They will bend, hide, or de-emphasize what seems to get in the way of the mission of the Church. I suppose some of this makes sense politically–and hardly a strong basis for finding fault–but it doesn’t show a lot of faith.

  5. and hardly a strong basis for finding fault

    I honestly do find it a strong basis for finding fault. There are the 6 big ones for any religion:

    myth — Mormon myths are very different from Protestant myth. By failing to emphasize their own Mormons are both losing and failing to develop their very rich potential here.

    ritual — Well this is what we are discussing

    doctrine — Rapidly becoming a black hole where lots of things are semi taught. By openly stating doctrine and working through to create a theology I think Mormonism would advance a ton.

    morality — Mormons have a real problem in their public deceptions (to each other) about their own moral failings. Katie talks about this one a lot. I think the Mormon doctrine on sin and redemption is excellent, a huge improvement over Protestantism. The practice on the other hand needs some work.

    personal experience, and community — They kick butt on these two aspects. Problems yes, but they clearly do have a strong experience and a strong vibrant community of belief that works intergenerationally.

    but it doesn’t show a lot of faith.

    Did you mean what you wrote or but it doesn’t show a lack of faith.

  6. I don’t think trying to make the message more palatable or inviting by hiding, denying or de-emphasizing important doctrine or history shows faith in the power of the message.

    I don’t disagree with you that Mormons have a lot of really good reasons not to engage in that sort of behavior. It is sacrificing long term truth for short term security–and I think it probably should be judged by the magnitude of the harm that it seeks to avoid. But Mormons are only human–after all–and I don’t expect them to be perfect in the way they present what they believe is true. The uninitiated have a lot of prejudices regarding supernatural claims. And there are a lot of easy pitfalls in trying to present a positive public image in today’s youtube/soundbite world. There are a lot of pitfalls in presenting a public image in a very hostile environment. I think there is a lot of room for improvement by the Church, but don’t think Mormon excess or mistakes are much outside of “normal limits”. I could be wrong, but nearly all large institutions fall into some degree of deception or selective disclosure when trying to put their best foot forward.

  7. I don’t think Mormonism is a cult simply because it has secret rituals. I’ve heard few refer to Free Masonry as a cult because of that. Weird or creepy, perhaps but not a cult.

    I emphatically agree that the LDS church should not back away from its theologically mandated practice of baptism for the dead because it has the potential to offend. It should instead educate all that a choice is still required of all deceased persons, this simply makes way for the choice.

    I do think that Mormonism uses every bit of its own social pressure to encourage/coerce Mormons to attend the temple. There is clearly a secondary class for those who have never or can not attend the temple. It has no means to physically force anyone into the temple but that is hardly evidence that it doesn’t use other means of strongly directing adherents into temple attendance.

    I’m still curious if you think the temple is in fact intended for everyone in that the endowment is preformed for the dead just as baptism is. How can any enter into salvation (which is a word tied to exaltation) without the endowment?

  8. Yeah, the bit about how the Church doesn’t “force” anyone into the endowment is a red herring. The Church doesn’t have the means to force people into the endowment even if it wanted to.

  9. I think there is uneven social pressure to be endowed. For men it is pushed in the same way that missions are pushed, but the church recognizes that missions are not for everyone. Women are generally not pushed to become endowed until they are married. I don’t think there have been “baseball endowments”.

    I’m still curious if you think the temple is in fact intended for everyone in that the endowment is performed for the dead just as baptism is. How can any enter into salvation (which is a word tied to exaltation) without the endowment?

    In my reading of the LDS scriptures, good people that aren’t endowed fair as well as most of the people that are endowed in the afterlife. Plenty will enjoy Heaven without an endowment. Mormons believe that faithful Christians will generally go to the heaven that they expect, eternal joy and communion with Christ, even without accepting endowment.

    Everyone gets the chance to accept the endowment (or baptism) but– clearly — not everyone will, even when they have a full knowledge of what it entails. I have heard this as an explanation for high levels of inactivity in the church.

    I also think there is a disjunct between principle and practice. I agree that Mormons have no problem with effective ostracism for those that are not willing to make commitments or behave in a temple worthy way. I simply don’t think this is in keeping with their own principles.

  10. I also think that the “endowment is not for everyone” is perhaps some of the explanation behind making the word of wisdom a requirement for temple worthiness. It was an effort to put in an “easy” indicator of commitment to the faith before allowing people to engage in sacred rituals.

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