One thing that strikes me as a key difference in how Mormons and Evangelicals view being “saved” is what they believe they are saved from. For Mormons, the flip-side of not feeling the joy of being COMPLETELY forgiven like Evangelicals do, is the comfort of never having to worry about hell in the least, for me or anybody else. I think this difference may shape how Mormons and Evangelicals differ in they way they see God, their purpose in life, and, to some degree, what life is about. I offer my own experience as a way for Evangelicals to gain some insight on how not believing in Hell can shape your thoughts and behavior.
To somebody raised in the LDS church in the late twentieth century, there is no hell. A fiery place where souls are sent by God to burn forever? As a Mormon growing up, I took that as seriously as the idea that the devil had horns and pitchfork. The only thing close to “hell” that I was taught about was not anywhere God would send me, It was merely the pain and disappointment of not being with our Father again, who wanted us to be there and provided a way for us to do it. I was taught that if we even got a glimpse of the Telestial kingdom, we would want to kill ourselves just to go their. The absolute worst part if it was that I couldn’t be with my family forever. This sounded crappy enough, so I couldn’t imagine my Father in Heaven, who loved me more than my real parents did, wanted any of us to go through anything worse.
Even though I very literally believed that God, an actual physical glorified man came to earth to speak to a farm boy, and fully believed that God would be so awesome as to let his children be glorified like Him, hell, as most fervent Christians have conceived of it, was just a silly myth. When I was a teenager, I simply could not take the traditional view seriously. My reaction to my first Evangelical literature I ever read, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Johnathan Edwards was an a chuckle and a head shake. I thought it was laughable that there were people who actually believed that God would send people to Hell for eternity. It was like believing that God would literally make the thunder by clapping his hands. Unsophisticated, childish, hyper literal reading of the text, nearly moronic. Of course this is ironic, because the God that I believed in would have been characterized the same way by traditional Christian theologians.
I never had the fear of hell and it shaped how I lived my religion and why. God was feared in the way I feared my parents, not the way I would fear a god. When I was a kid, I didn’t swear or drink or have sex because I thought it would be disappointing to my mom and I loved her so much, that I didn’t want her to feel sad. As I became more devout, I began to see God the same way. I loved him so much that I was more worried about the pain and disappointment I would cause Him, than what he would do to me for messing up. I would beat myself up a bit for my mistakes and weaknesses, because I thought that I could have done better. However, possibly because my parents never (effectively) used guilt as a parenting tool, I would quickly accept that He would forget what I did and still love me. I felt that no matter how bad I screwed up and rebelled against him, God loved me and would always take me back. I wanted to be worthy of that sort of love, so I tried to keep the rules. I idolized Jesus because he was perfect in following the Father, and the Father was well pleased with him, and He was allowing me gain the same sort of favor with God.
The absence of Hell affected how I saw missionary work. If I had actually believed that my friends and neighbors were going to HELL for not believing in the Church, I would have flipped. I think I would have become obsessively urgent about trying to save their souls. I would have been like those kids in Jesus Camp that walk around telling strangers about the Gospel.
Instead, I saw missionary work as an opportunity to experience the Spirit working in my life and in others at the same time. It was confirmation of my own beliefs to see others embrace the Gospel and feel the spirit. I wanted to be a part of changing people’s lives and Gods opening amazing spiritual possibilities for them in this life, but I never worried that people would end up in hell if they didn’t hear or rejected my message. Missionary work was about showing God that we loved him by bringing his children closer to him.
I am going out on a limb, but this may also explain why Mormons, when they fall away, are more likely than Evangelicals to be atheists. If you have ever believed in a fiery hell you might think more than twice in falling into disbelief and blasphemy. When I stopped being a “active” Mormon I did not have to get past a fear of fire and brimstone. Even as I have stopped believing that the Church was what it claimed to be, the Mormonism stuck in me prevents me from worrying about a terrible fate. Even if I am wrong in not believing in the Church, I will end up in a pretty damn good place despite my apostasy.
This difference may also explain why Mormons are not prone to jump and sing as much at church. It may also explain why Mormons may not be prone to accept traditional christian views. I have some more thoughts on this so I will put them in a Part 3.
I would be interested to know from you Evangelicals and other traditional christians out there how a belief in Hell may have shaped your life or belief. Do you see as big a difference as I do? Does your belief in Hell motivate or instruct your discipleship differently?