Monday, September 26, 2011

Myths about Mormons – Introduction

I am currently enrolled in the Survey of World Religion class at BYU. Through lectures, videos, and visits to local worship centers, I am being exposed more fully to the beliefs and practices of religions I knew little about – sometimes just the name.

As I study and learn, I almost constantly discover misconceptions I had about religions. I thought the Hindu idea of reincarnation meant you would be forever re-born. Progression in this life was the goal, but I never had any idea that release from rebirth and the illusion of individualism, maya, was the driving desire of Hinduism. I didn’t know Buddhism came from Hinduism. And I’m sure as we study more religions that I will find and correct even more and worse misconceptions.

Thinking about this makes me wonder more about the misconceptions people have about Mormons: what they think, where the idea came from, and how it affects our relationship with those outside our religious culture. I grew up around non-members. I didn’t have any close friends – very few friends of any sort, for that matter – within our church for most of my adolescence. Through this experience, I’ve been exposed to some of the misconceptions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Friends have told me about other ones. And I’ve seen some on the internet. Other things I have not been asked about or personally noticed, but I can just guess from looking at our culture that it wouldn’t be hard to be confused – and rightly so.

Many times members of the church respond to these misconceptions with offense, derision, or shock. I know I have done so at times. Perhaps a blog would be a safer and easier way to clarify my beliefs. It removes the danger of a reactive statement that isn’t quite accurate or kind. And it gives us all a chance to come back and review – you to re-read my statement, and me to correct it if I discover that I was also unclear.

As I hope is clear, I am anything but an expert on my own religion. I have lots of experience, faith, and understanding, but I do not know all the finer details. I am not a church historian who has studied the teachings of our prophets in detail. I have studied more or less depending on my stage in life but these studies have always focused on where I need greater understanding for my own personal growth. Therefore, all my knowledge is colored and balanced to suit my individual needs. But that does not discount the knowledge I do have – it simply explains why I will not cover some topics.

This will be a challenge and a learning experience for me, and I hope it will be a learning experience for many others out there. To help make these posts make sense, I want to define a few things in how I think about my beliefs.

1.    The Gospel: This is the “good news” that Christ taught when He lived on earth. It is most especially focused on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, that “great and last sacrifice” that was offered to save all men from temporal and spiritual death.

2.    Doctrines: The actual teachings that direct my life. Doctrines explain how this life works, why I am here, where I will be going, and what I need to do to return to my Father in Heaven. For my part, I consider it doctrine if it was taught as a law in the scriptures or through modern revelation. Some doctrines are less so laws as we think of them in daily life and more laws as in “laws of nature;” the doctrine explains the way creation and life is.

3.    Instructions: Guidelines for living my life, given through modern revelation and scripture. Most doctrines are also instructions, but not all instructions are doctrine. For this second instance, I follow the instruction not because it in itself is determinate in my salvation, but because I believe obedience to the prophet is a doctrine that is part of my salvation.

4.    Culture: Aspects of being Mormon that may be based in doctrine or instruction but have really been created by the members through the way they interpret and live the doctrines. I’ve noticed these create a large amount of the confusions over Mormonism, not to mention small debates (or sometimes major arguments) within Mormonism.

Thanks for reading along. I pray that this blog will help me to better understand my own beliefs as I strive to share and explain them. I also pray that those reading will be helped in better understanding my religion and my personal beliefs.
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