Mormonism can sometimes be difficult to believe in. Not only does it have some iffy spots in its history, but it is quite easy to perceive it as sexist, homophobic, and socially regressive. To many, the Church is little more than a joke--a system of doctrines and institutions, that, while established by a fraud, has been re-purposed to oppose progress and maintain the conservative milieu.
However, the people who see the Church this way ignore the living reality that emanates from within it. While it is true that the LDS church seems hopelessly regressive by modern social standards, behind this tough exterior it contains it a brand of divine truth that I have not found anywhere else. This doctrinal take on reality is so powerful, so remarkably revolutionary that the fact more people don't know about it frustrates me beyond belief.
So I will try to share this truth with you. In the course of a single blog post, I hope to paint at least a brief sketch of what makes the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so powerful. Don't think of this post as a testimony--rather, it is my attempt to summarize what has already been said, to see the overarching truth in so many established truths. And I think that the best way to begin this project is to examine the following quotation:
"Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen." (Moroni 10:32-34)
This quotation comes from the very end of the Book of Mormon, and it is arguably the most powerful few verses in the entire book. Not only is it astoundingly well-written, but it immediately strikes to the heart of those who read it. But why? Why is this passage so powerful? The answer seems to be this: these verses, unlike anything in pre-Mormon scripture, directly address the reader. Though long dead, in this passage Moroni speaks directly to you, wherever and whenever you happen to read them. Think of that! Though you might deride yourself as insignificant, these verses (and with them, the whole Book of Mormon) indicate that you can have a personal connection to the long-dead men of God. They are not gone--when you read the Book of Mormon, these ancient prophets, generals, and scribes take on a new life, addressing you as though they were standing right next to you. And this is the key to the whole mystery.
You see, the divine reality behind all of Mormonism's unique truths seems to be this: that you are connected to every person, place, artifact, and event, and that it is our destiny and our duty to unearth these connections by the grace of God's atonement. This is the linchpin, the truth that binds together everything wonderful about Mormonism into a staggering, awe-inspiring whole. For just as Moroni can come across the impassable ages to address us directly, no boundary is so absolute that God cannot bridge it with his atonement.
You may not believe me at this point, so let me give some examples of how this principle manifests itself in Mormon doctrine:
- Our duty to do family history work is nothing less than an exhortation to commune with our ancestors across the boundaries of time and place. By doing saving ordinances in their place, we take time not only to remember our ancestors, but also to establish a connection with them. This causes the boundary between life and death to become thin. Just as Moroni spoke to us across so many years and miles, when we do these ordinances we can, in a sense, meet our ancestors. Though they may have lived centuries ago in a far off place, by doing their work we let them live again through us. By taking on their name, we let some of their identity become part of ours, just as some of our identity become a part of theirs.
- Nephi's exhortation to "liken the scriptures" unto yourself (1 Nephi 19:23) is more than mere moralizing. It is a metaphysical claim, saying that the author’s intended audience does not decide who the text is actually for. You see, artifacts are not dead--they are alive with meaning and interpretation. Though the work may have been composed millennia ago, and though anyone who wrote it may be long dead, there is absolutely nothing that prevents that text from being about you. This is not egotism; on the contrary, it is a profound affirmation of the idea that time and place do not put limits on meaning and connection. Meaning and connection are actually the primary facet of existence, and time and place only exist in a subservient relation to them. In any case, Mormonism's emphasis on searching for this personal application in scriptures and general conference talks is a profound manifestation of the principle that connection can be found anywhere and in anything.
- The Mormon idea that you should develop a personal relationship with God is not only stunningly unique, but it is also a magnificent manifestation of just the principle I have been discussing. Unlike the mainstream Christian notion that the age of revelation is over, Mormon belief states that anyone and everyone can receive truths from God through a personal relationship with Him. By developing this relationship we can unearth a connection that exists between us and God, by which we find ourselves in Him, and find Him in ourselves.
- Inherent to the Mormon belief system is the idea that truth is never final or complete. We believe in continuing revelation from God, declaring that we will always have more to learn from Him about the nature of the world. Whether these truths come from science or revelation, and whether they come through a prophet or just another person, we believe that all truth is welcome, for it all comes from God. Moreover, this belief is a stunning affirmation of the aforementioned principle that all things are connected, for it says that we can find God wherever we look. No matter what the truth happens to be, by the very fact of its being true we can be sure that it is a mask hiding a connection with God.
- The doctrine that men and women are destined to be married to each other for eternity is a deep affirmation of the interconnection of all things. The male and the female quite possibly constitute the biggest boundary which we face as human beings, whether you think of them as the actual biological sexes or as the mental attitudes that roughly (but not entirely) correspond to them. The fact that men and women are separate from each other—that men don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, and women don’t know what it’s like to be a man—indicates a vast chasm that divides humanity from itself. This is a problem, and many people (such as, say, those involved in the feminist movement) do the best that they can to deal with the fallout from this division. But to me, one of the biggest pieces of the gospel’s good news is that atonement can bridge this gap, too. You see, just as we are spiritually dead when we are cut off from God, we are dead in a way when we are cut off from the other gender. But the atonement defeats death. By uncovering the invisible ties that bind men and women together, eternal marriage can help us discover the glorious good news that the woman is in the man, and that the man is in the woman, forever onward to infinity.
- Though the idea that men and women can become as God strikes many people as odd, it is actually a superb example of the idea that all things are connected. You see, the doctrine that you have godly potential affirms the idea that you are important in the eternal scheme of things. Joseph Smith once said that the notion of man's creation from nothing "lessens man in [his] estimation". Think of that--Joseph Smith once found an idea offensive because it lessened man! Think of all the self-effacing Catholic and Protestant writers who thought that God could only deign to shed his mercy upon his wretched creations, and compare it to the notion of a God who loved His children so much that He let them become like He is! It will then become brilliantly clear that Mormonism has been about the importance of mankind all along, for it says that it is God's work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. What could be more glorious than this--to believe that God will give us the ability to exist as He does, to exist as truly all in all? Nothing really comes to mind.
Mormonism has taught me that I am connected to all things. The unique light that is my intelligence sheds its beams throughout the entirety of existence, dancing, refracting, and intermingling with other lights to create the masterpiece of an infinite spectrum. Or to use an old Buddhist metaphor, I am a drop of dew in an infinite spiderweb, and I reflect within myself the image of every other drop of dew, ad infinitum. Whether I find myself in my scriptures, in history, in seeming coincidences, in friends or family, or even in God, Mormonism has shown me again and again that the universe is not a system of insurmountable boundaries. It has taught and continues to teach me that God, through his atonement, binds everything together in a magnificent dance of light and truth. And that, dear reader, is why Mormonism is awesome.