Salvation Shmalvation

I haven’t heard it quite as much in the last couple years, but at least as recently as a 2000, President Hinckley often said things like “I say to those of other faiths: ‘You bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.'” (here’s one instance, about a third of the way down.) He may still say it for all I know, but whether he does or not I have no reason to believe that it doesn’t fairly accurately portray his views, and I’ve been thinking about the idea lately.

What “good” do you think Prez H means? What good do we add to that of other faiths? Maybe the answer is that we have the “truth” and that we can offer salvation. If so, my reply is: Salvation shmalvation.

Pithy attention-grabbers aside, I admit that salvation is, of course, wonderful. Still, I find it unsatisfying as a justification for the idea that we can add to the good of other faiths. For the purposes of this post I’d like to focus on more temporal measures, and it’s not obvious to me that we add to the good in other churches by those measures in every case. I know we provide a great deal of humanitarian aid, but I’m not convinced that we do more than, say, the Catholic Church. As far as facilitating spirituality and finding inner peace go, we’re way behind many Eastern religions. We’re dwarfed in how comfortable we are with questioning our faith by the chutzpah of Rabbis that say, in essence, Go, look wherever you want for the ‘truth’ — you’ll be back. (I admit this is a second-hand anecdote from a Jewish friend of mine, but I think it’s safe to say that our Church is less open than many others regarding the questioning of its tenets.)

Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places for “good.” But to me, saying that we can add to the good found in other religions suggests that we mean to increase the insight into the complexities of life and its struggles that people may have. Instead, it is my experience that we offer a whole bunch of largely arbitrary dos and don’ts.

An oversimplification? Enh, maybe. But if so, indulge me: what “good” do we offer people who join the Church?

Comments

  1. I think the community our Church community provides is one good thing – i.e. in t hat one is supported in trying to lead a good, clean and spiritually uplifting life.
    And I would agree that , yes, our Church as an institution, governed from the Church head offices in SLC is far less open tnah, say the Roman catholic Church. For example – do you think that the General Authorities would ever allow something along the lines of say, a “Liberal Theology” type of movement within the church, without being excommunicated? Or for that matetr, would people in individual Wards countenance any questioning of what is handed down from SLC? In our Stake, I know a bunch of faculty members at the local Univ, who are inactive now, and are still semi-ostracised for their having written letters in support of the September Six!!!!!

  2. I guess I’m one of those who joined the Church after seeing the good that it had to offer above and beyond the good I already believed. For me, it was largely as you suggested, “to increase the insight into the complexities of life and its struggles that people may have.” At its heart, I believe, LDS theology is a liberal theology in the sense that it affirms the inner desire that people, regardless of their religion, have to do good and, in essence, become like God.

    But you’re also right that in practice much of the church is arbritrary, judgmental and arrogant. (You didn’t say that, but it is at least suggested by your statement that the Church offers “a whole bunch of largely arbitrary dos and don’ts.”) Actually, I agree with most of the dos and don’t that are taught; the problem is that in the minds of many they have become a substitute for the real thing of living the Gospel. We can laugh sometimes at the way that Jesus pokes fun of the way the Pharisees lived, but in many ways we have become like them.

  3. Bob Caswell says:

    Well, all I can think of are “good” things that have helped me. But I was raised in the Church, so I might not fit the profile. The Book of Mormon, the restoration, and my mission are all examples, for myself at least, of things that “increase the insight into the complexities of life.” Though, admittedly, these things can be overshadowed by the overly emphasized dos and donts. In fact, the idea that you “have to” read the BOM regularly and that all young men “should” go on missions can really dillute the value therein. I think insights into complexities are more likely to come when you don’t do things because you “have to” or “should.”

    Leaving that aside, my beef is more with the idea of “adding.” I think we “replace” waaaaay more than we “add.” For example, when we teach someone how to pray, we teach him/her the “right” way. We don’t say, “Now you have two ways to pray.” I’d like to see examples of additions rather than replacements (the BOM might be a good example, that is assuming, of course, you already believe in the Bible. If you believe in any other scripture, we’d like to replace it, not really add to it).

  4. I take it you’re not a convert, Logan. I can’t imagine anyone who’s lived without the gospel asking this question.

  5. I say this as a new convert (my whole family-self, wife, and two children were baptized last month), but the truth and salvation are good enough for me…

  6. What about pre-mortal existence and eternal families? That kind of knowledge was an “addition” for me, as a former Catholic.

  7. Bob has a good point:

    We do tend to replace, rather than add. No-one says, “sure, you can keep chanting ‘om’, lighting candles in church, praying to the Virgin Mary, fasting during Ramadan, wearing a cross etc. etc.; just be sure to do the LDS x, y, z too.”

    The “good” we want people to bring, to which we “add” are more basic things: a belief in God (the truth about whom we claim to have more of); a sense of morals (which we will reinforce); oh, and if not schmalvation, then exaltation.

  8. Bob Caswell says:

    Thanks, Ronan. And Susan, I think you are being grossly unfair in your answer to Logan. You pulled the classic Mormon fasty of using “gospel” to replace Church. Logan’s question specifically stated “join the Church” which you replaced with “live with the gospel.” The fact is that most of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ applicable to Logan’s search for what is needed to “increase the insight into the complexities of life” are fairly accessible without membership in the Church.

    In other words, you can be a good, kind, Christlike person in this life without being a Mormon. Logan, I think, was asking how Mormonism necessarily helps this along because it sure as heck isn’t through refraining from coffee.

  9. Susan, you’re right that I’m not a convert. But I take it that you haven’t lived in a ward that baptizes 30+ people a year yet has a flat Sacrament Meeting attendance growth rate.

    (Sorry — I don’t mean to be snippy. But I mean this as a real question, not just a complaint. Tell me, what good has been added in your life?)

  10. Bob, it’s nice to have a bulldog doing my dirty work, so I can get all my gripes out there but still seem like a nice guy. ;)

    Tony and Crystal, I’m really glad that salvation and pre/post-earth life doctrines satisfy you. I should probably learn to be more content with what we have. But sometimes I wish we had more to go on that concerns our lives right now. More reasoning, judgment, and principles taught than lists of dos and don’ts — even if I, like Eric, largely agree with them as good ideas myself.

  11. Not sure how to answer that. The knee jerk reaction would be to say “The joy that the plan of salvation gives and eternal families”.

    But a real list of A to Z goods that the church gives are harder to define.

    Most of the individual good parts of the church can be found in parts of most other churches. That’s the honest truth. I’m not a very good Mormon but I do know that there is some good in all churches and I simply do not prescribe to the nation that the other churches are churches of Satan. So the good they give is just like the good of the church.

  12. How about the sense of community that many people feel? Knowing that if I need help moving or the occassional casserole or just a place where I can befriend people with similar values is more than many denominations offer.

    You’re right in that, aside from ordinances and authority, nothing is completely unique to Mormonism (except its history), but I’d say it gives people a sense of community better than the average church. Obviously, I’m not saying that EVERY Mormon ward accomplishes this better than EVERY other congregation in the world. But, in my experience, we’re pretty good at it.

    By the way, I’m not sure it’s fair to give a quote by Gordon B Hinckley that most likely had a spiritual meaning and then ask, “but what does the church do for me temporally?” Seems a little unclassy.

  13. APJ: First — and Ronin mentioned it earlier — you may have something about the sense of community. As a church we do often seem to pull that one off relatively well. (I sometimes have my own issues with the sort of community feeling that it engenders, but that’s another conversation. . .)

    Second, I feel the need to defend myself a little, having been accused of being “unclassy.” What I mean by ‘temporal’ is mostly just ‘something that affects me right now’ as opposed to ‘salvation’, which happens later. I consider spirituality an extremely important component of the “good” I’m looking for. In case it wasn’t clear, I’m looking for spiritual good the Church offers as much as or more than anything else.

  14. In that case, I have always admired the Saints’ work ethic and perseverance in the face of persecution. Although a work ethic and perseverance are not unique to the Saints (indeed, nothing but some of our doctrines and ordinances are unique), our history has developed them very well.

    I guess I can’t think of a single good trait that is unique to Mormonism, but I don’t think that’s what Pres. Hinckley meant. I don’t think his statement meant unequivocally that our church is the only, or even best, church to learn any certain skill or value for any type of person. I think he just meant generally, that our church helps people become better, spiritually and temporally. Of course, there are people that seem to be exceptions to that, but can you imagine if he’d said, “Now, our church doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for a lot of us, and it might work for you,” or “If you want to live long, we have a great health code called the word of wisdom, but if you’re more concerned with having all things in common, well, we ditched that idea a while ago; try the Amish or Quakers.”?

    In other words, he was speaking subjectively about life, not about any particular character trait or habit; and generally, he’s right: the Church is a good place to live an upright life dedicated to spiritual progression.

    On a side note, I don’t thing you’re unclassy; I just thought it was an unclassy thing to do to use a quote by the prophet and your disagreement of it to set up a conversation about temporal benefits of the church, especially since he was speaking subjectively. (It’s not like he claimed that little men live on the moon)

  15. Bob Caswell says:

    APJ-

    I think “unclassy” is kind of a weird description for what Logan “did.” You seem to be hiding behind subjectivity as the reason for which Logan shouldn’t have asked for clarification on the topic at hand (notice my word choice… Logan didn’t, in fact, state any sort of “disagreement” with the prophet like you claimed). I think subjectivity is invovled in the majority of what GAs say, so as to make it nearly impossible to ever comment on what they might mean, especially when someone is lurking in the shadows with a reply of “…but that was a subjective statement.”

    The fact is that we don’t really know what President Hinckley meant by his statement here. Your assumption of “…most likely had a spiritual meaning” could be true perhaps, but honestly I think it’s just as likely that President Hinckley could have actually been talking about temporal things. We just don’t know. So to call someone’s action “unclassy” when you think it unusual for him to seek for meaning from a quote in a different way than your initial interpretation of said quote… I’m going to use the word “inappropriate.”

  16. “what ‘good’ do we offer people who join the Church?”

    Truth. Basically all truth that has been revealed for public consumption. We not only have additional truth, in addition to the Bible, but we have the correct interpretation of the Bible.

    Information: About the nature of God, the meaning of life, the plan of happiness, forgiveness of sins.

    The Gift of the Holy Ghost, and all that that brings: comfort, unspeakable joy, revelations, understanding of scripture, pure intelligence, guidance, sanctification from sin, spiritual gifts, miracles.

    Priesthood authority, and it’s attending order.

    Are not all those things beneficial in the here-and-now, and not just for some pie-in-the-sky future? If you’re not benefiting from those good things in the here-and-now, you’re missing out.

    And a question: What are you calling “arbitrary do’s and don’ts? Either you have a different set of rules in your area, or I don’t see them as arbitrary.

  17. Logan: indulge me: what “good” do we offer people who join the Church?

    My answer: Revelation.

    As members of the true church we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost by one that has authority to bestow it. That really does mean something. I’m not a “whatever Bruce said” kind of guy but I think he was absolutely right with this comment as quoted in the D&C Sunday School manual:

    Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve compared the manifestations of the Holy Ghost that a person can receive before baptism to flashes of lightning that “[blaze] forth in a dark and stormy night.” He compared the gift of the Holy Ghost that a person receives after baptism to “the continuing blaze of the sun at noonday, shedding its rays on the path of life and on all that surrounds it” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 262).

    In other words, Mormonism opens the door for us to receive more personal revelation and light and truth from God than any other people on the planet.

    In Givens’ By the Hand of Mormon he also emphasized at the end of the book that perhaps the primary lesson the Book of Mormon teaches us is about how constant dialogic revelation ought to work in the lives of the saints. We ought to always have the Spirit with us as saints and that will lead to constant dialogic communication with God himself. I believe that is the primary additional good that being a member of the restored church offers. If direct dialogue with God doesn’t “increase the insight into the complexities of life and its struggles that people may have” then nothing will.

    As I said in a post on this overall subject a few months ago (that actually overlaps yours on several levels) — I believe that if we are not regularly receiving revelation from God we are wasting our Mormonism.

  18. GreenEggz and Geoff, thanks for your answers. I promise I’m not trying to say that there is nothing our church offers, but I am asking what it is in a way that goes beyond what we sometimes think. And I appreciate what you’ve both said.

    Geoff, I’m sorry I missed your earlier post. I enjoyed reading it just now. I have to admit, I’m going to have to think about the revelation thing before I decide that we necessarily get more revelation than others, but you may be on to something.

  19. I skipped down because I have to go get dressed and go to somebody’s house and beat them up on T & S, but I’ve been to a lot of different churches, I love many people of other religions, but they really don’t get it. I think we could add the plan of salvation to their lives, their scriptures are incomplete, many of them leave out entire parts of the bible. Just a few examples.

    Want to take bets who wins in our fight? I’m pretty short, but I’m mean when I’m mad.

  20. I haven’t made it through all the comments yet, but I think there’s a passage in Acts that embodies what President Hinckley was trying to express.

    “Acts 18:24-28 a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, **though he knew only the baptism of John.*** 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. 27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”

    Here we have a guy doing good work, on the right side of things, but he clearly has an incomplete knowledge of the gospel. So, they add to what he knows.

  21. annegb,
    I’m scared to death of you.

  22. The meme of Mormonism having a superior sense of community raises its problematic head earlier in this thread without much examination. It seems that this assertion of superiority could be true–or untrue–in two different senses. First, does Mormonism “take care of its own” better than other religions? Perhaps, but that would be difficult to actually prove. Other churches, after all, help their members move, give their members financial assistance, bring in food when people are sick, etc. Is the Mormon church somehow better at this kind of temporal assistance than, say, the Evangelical Lutheran Church? Second, we could consider community as the sense of belonging felt by people who actually attend church. While the appaling retention numbers the Mormon church currently posts would belie any claim of superiority here, we should also consider the hard-right political skew–in the United States, anyway–of Mormons and the consequent impact on the small number of liberal or leftist Mormons. Do they feel comfortable driving their Volvos to church in a car with a “Somewhere in Texas there’s a village missing its idiot” bumper sticker and parking next to the pickup trucks with the (now fading) “Charlton Heston is my President” sticker?

  23. Forgot to delete “in a car” from the last sentance when I decided to be fair and balanced with the automotive stereotypes. Please forgive me.

  24. Logan,
    Though all members have the “_Gift_ of the Holy Ghost”, not all members have actually _received_ the Holy Ghost as we were commanded/admonished to when we were confirmed.

    Even when we do _receive_ the Holy Ghost, the continued companionship of the Holy Ghost is conditional upon improving and advancing (pressing forward), therefore the actual degree of communion we have with the Holy Ghost can wax and wane with our daily walk, though hopefully the overall trend is that of increasing.

    To paraphrase what Moses and Brigham Young said, we could, or should, _all_ be prophets.

    The Apostle Paul said to covet, or seek, the best gifts. And I think he said the best spiritual gift was prophecy. There’s a lot more to prophecy than prediction, though other churches tend to limit prophecy to only that.

    But what we call revelation, even in little things, is a form of prophecy. Such as the “driving directions” from the Spirit that someone in the ‘nacle mentioned recently. (Slow down, take a different route. Follow those directions and you’re okay; disobey, and something bad happens.)

    Although the Gift of the Holy Ghost, receiving the Holy Ghost, listening to the Holy Ghost, etc., are taught, my observations are that only a minority of people who grow up in the church actually learn and implement or activate those concepts in their lives. Perhaps we focus so much on the “do’s and don’ts” that we become pharisitical (pharisee like), and lose focus that they are _gifts_ not really rewards. I sometimes lose focus and forget that regardless of how well I think I’m obeying the commandments, I still don’t deserve the gifts.

    Paul said to the believers to seek or covet gifts, but I don’t think that should be one’s primary motivation for joining the church in the first place. Faith in God the Father, Jesus, the Atonement, the whole plan of salvation, the divine calling of modern day prophets, etc., those should be the things upon which the committment of baptism should be based.

    I think of the early missionaries (the Q of 12 mainly) in Britain in the 1840’s. What did they _offer_ to people when they preached? What temporal here-and-now benefit did they offer? There was no organization in place. There was no “church” or outward thing to invite them to.

    I think they preached two things:
    1) Christ, and Him crucified, IE, the plan of salvation and the atonement.
    2) The restoration of divine authority, IE, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith.

    In this year’s RS/Priesthood study manual, the Teachings of David O. McKay, lesson 10 has a story about his father’s mission in England and how he lost the Spirit when he stopped bearing testimony of the restoration through Joseph Smith.

    I think that after the existence of God the Father, the Son, the plan of salvation, and the Atonement, that it is the restoration through Joseph Smith that is or should be pre-eminent.

    Look at the “Preach My Gospel” manual. Section 3 has the lessons of what is taught. “The Restoration” lesson is #1, and “The Plan of Salvation” is lesson #2. But lesson #1 does start off with a brief section on Heavenly Father, and of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

    I have not read the entire “Preach My Gospel” yet, but I love what I have read. I think this manual should answer your question. This is what the Brethren want the church’s official representatives to preach and teach and “offer.”

  25. Bob,

    Logan made it clear that he disagreed with Pres. Hinckley when he said that we offer a whole bunch of arbitrary do’s and don’ts, at least in his experience, as opposed to insights into the complexities of life. So, I don’t think it was a stretch for me to say that he disagreed with what Hinckley said. He stated as much.

    Perhaps the reason Logan is having such a hard time finding examples of his ‘temporal’ interpretation of the quote is that the quote wasn’t meant to be taken that way. If one wants to impose alternative meanings to a quote, fine, if that works for you, but it seems ‘whiny’ to then be frustrated when you can’t justify your interpretation with examples.

  26. Bob Caswell says:

    APJ,

    I’m afraid I still think “disagree” is a stretch. The whole point of Logan’s post was to ask what he was missing to understand this quote. If he simply disagreed, then he wouldn’t really be interested in this discussion.

    And your conclusion that the quote “wasn’t meant to be taken that way” is interesting. First, I’m not sure what evidence you have to come to the conclusion that you have the “right” way to understand this quote. You seem very confident in what President Hinckley’s quote means, yet you haven’t provided any reason for your interpretation to be superior to any other. Second, Logan already stated “I’m looking for spiritual good the Church offers as much as or more than anything else.” In other words, Logan’s open to the idea that President Hinckley could mean “temporal” and/or “spiritual.”

    But spirituality is much more than doctrine. I believe he’s looking for more than the Sunday school answers on this one. The Church does offer salvation and all things associated with it. But day dreaming about the end of our probationary state with thoughts of salvation does not necessarily help us here and now.

  27. APJ, perhaps my rhetorical flourishes obscured my precise meanings in the post. But I think a careful reading of my post allows enough wiggle room for me to say that it’s a bit too strong to say that I “disagree” with President Hinckley. My position is more that I don’t understand the statement and I wonder what it means. Whether or not it was perfectly clear, I meant to allow room to be persuaded when I said “it’s not obvious to me that we do” and when I admitted the possibility that my quick and dirty analysis was an oversimplification. Either way, I don’t mean to impute unintended meanings into his statement, but my own personal interpretation is the one from which I’ll start the analysis.

    I promise I’m asking these questions with an honest intention to learn from others here, and I’ve enjoyed what’s been said.

  28. Bob,

    Again, I’m not disagreeing with the subject of this post. I agree with the entire last paragraph of your last comment (#26). My point isn’t that Logan is wrong to discuss this topic, but that, like I said, I think it is illogical to try to ignite the discussion by way of disagreeing with that quote by Pres. Hinckley (and I do think that saying most of what the church offers are an arbitrary bunch of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ qualifies as disagreeing).

    Also, just like everyone else participating in the bloggernacle, I of course have no ‘evidence’ as to what Hinckley meant to convey when he said that, and other similar things. I wasn’t claiming to have an insiders track or anything; I was just assuming that most people’s gut reaction when they read that quote, whether they agree or not with it, is that he probably means the ‘truth’ or ‘salvation,’ the things Logan said he didn’t want to discuss. Maybe that’s not the case. In any event, I never claimed to know definitively what Hinckley meant, and I never claimed that Hinckley’s quote was ‘meant to be taken that way.’ The statement that I made that you quoted began with ‘perhaps.’ In other words, I meant it as a possibility, not as a conclusion, which you claimed I had presented it as.

  29. Boris, I can tell you have the same questions I do about the sense of community in the Church. Personally, I feel like I’m the kind of person who’s always the butt of ‘unfaithful’ jokes (and I’m not even a Democrat!).

    GreenEggz, thanks for developing your thoughts more fully; I find what you’ve said fascinating. But I have a couple of things to say.

    First, your observation that only a minority of Church members seem to have developed the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a little disheartening for it being a main source of the “good” we offer people. My own observation is that the Church in practice is often even a stumbling block for people trying to develop the ability to fully experience the Gift.

    Also, I’m still trying to decide whether other traditions and Churches might be able to facilitate something very equivalent (if not officially called “the Gift of the Holy Ghost”) as well or better. As those who know me can attest, I’m very impressed with how Buddhists teach mindfulness, many of the nuances of which remind me extremely strongly of what we think of as listening to the Spirit. I, personally, have learned as much about the practical experience of communicating with God through the Spirit from that tradition as I have from ours. But that’s just me. As your comments imply, there are certainly those in the Church who have been able to develop the ability extremely well.

  30. Logan, I’ll take you at your word that these questions you ask are with an honest intention. I guess I should get used to the sarcasm and ‘pithy attention grabbers’ of the bloggernacle. In that case, it’s a good post, with some good comments. I just had a point I wanted to make, and then felt a little defensive after the ‘hiding behind subjectivity’ and ‘lurking in the shadows’ statements of Bob (comment 15)

  31. Bob Caswell says:

    APJ,

    I too could be accussed of assuming that most people’s gut reaction would be similar to my own… I appreciate your clarification. Your “perhaps” seemed far away from your “the quote wasn’t meant to be taken that way” and I didn’t tie the two together like you had intended. I see your meaning now.

  32. Bob Caswell says:

    I apologize for making you feel defensive, as I was somewhat on the defensive from your “unclassy” use. But moving past the defensiveness here, it has been a decent discussion.

  33. APJ, I appreciate that. I’ll see if I can call off my attack dog. We snotty, finger-poking radicals (that’s Bob and me, as opposed to the more restrained “liberals” around here) tend to get defensive ourselves about these things.

  34. Logan,
    Be careful about studying or seeking spirituality outside of church channels (scriptures, general authority speeches, CES manuals, and other things published by the Church.) We are encouraged to seek out good books, and there is much overlap in the “good things” that other religions have.

    However, purveyors of spirituality outside of the church are all coming from imperfect (at best) and deceptive (at worst) sources.

    More importantly, why seek spiritual truth from diluted sources when we can get it direct from the pure sources? (scriptures, prayer, prophets and apostles, personal revelation)

    One G.A. recently said something like (this is a paraphrase) “The answers are most often found in the scriptures, and when not, reading the scriptures puts us in position to receive the answers by revelation.” I’ve experienced that.

    “The Enchiridion” by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, of Roman times, was of great help to me. He put into simple words some Christian concepts that I was having trouble with. Epictetus helped prepare me to come back to church. But he was not a Christian, as far as I know. And there is some pagan stuff in his philosophy too. I’d say his philosophy overlaps part of the true Gospel, and some of his philosophy is not in accordance with the Gospel. His works are one of the main foundation blocks of Western Civilization, so I would hope there is no big danger there, as long as you don’t take his works as “gospel.”

    Another work, sort of semi-philosophical, but geared towards salesmanship, is the book “Same Game New Rules” by Bill Caskey. That also helped me. That’s a good book on how to deal with customers and the public, and is big on how your “inner-game” and attitude affects your people skills.

    I forget where I read it, but someone said that Satan has a counterfeit for almost everything in the Gospel. Those counterfeits are spread out over every religion and worldly philosophy. Priesthood? Just attend a theological seminary, or get a mail-order ordination. (A local “New Age” store was offering “Melchizedek Priesthood” classes and ordinations for a few hundred bucks! Not kidding.) Unspeakable joy? Take a hit of “Ecstacy” or crack cocaine. Prophets? Jim Jones, Jim Bakker, the Pope, Timothy Leary, Mohammed, Buddha, … ad nauseum.

    But I’d have to say my favorite books after the Scriptures are:

    1. Gospel Principles. (The 47 chapter book taught in Gospel Essentials class.) If you don’t have the things in this book down pat, you’re not ready for anything else. The missionary discussions are a distillation of the lessons in this book. New members are expected to complete this book and the G.E. class within a year of baptism, right?

    2. Marvelous Work and Wonder. by LeGrande Richards. If you want to explain (“offer”) the restored gospel and the church to non-members, this is probably your best source outside of “Preach My Gospel”. A simplified version of this is now the book “Our Search for Happiness” by M. Russell Ballard. However, Ballard’s book doesn’t have the breadth, depth or Bible scriptural references that Richards’ book has. I’ve been buying up used copies of MWW on ebay. “Our Search for Happiness” is sort of an executive overview where MWW gets down to the nitty-gritty.
    3. Preach My Gospel. Get this book! I think every member needs it, and should study it after reading Gospel Principles. This is not merely what we believe, it’s what we actively promulgate through 51,000 official representatives. This is the absolute minimum one has to believe and commit to in order to get baptized.
    4. CES Manuals: Old Testament Part 1, O.T. Part 2, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants.
    5. CES Manuals: Doctines of the Gospel. Teachings of the Living Prophets.
    6. The semi-official church books that used to be called “The Rainbow Set”. Which include Jesus The Christ (Talmadge), Articles of Faith (Talmadge), Gospel Doctrine (Joseph F. Smith), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Joseph Fielding Smith).

    I wanted to give props to old Epictetus and (the still living) Bill Caskey. But now that my butt’s back in church, the above is a heck of a lot of reading material that I want to get done before I have time for prospecting for pearls in things like Kaballah or Buddhism.

  35. To add to this discussion, I compare our Church and other churches and beliefs with the gospel of John, chapter 3, verses 3 and 5.

    Verse 3 seems to mention a preparatory spiritual rebirth – not in the kingdom but seeing it. I believe Gandhi, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, Socrates, Joan of Arc and others had this. They may not have known the institutional kingdom, but knew how the kingdom felt like. After reading the latest biography of John Adams (no direct descendant of mine), and seeing the great peace he felt in old age even after close family members died, I think he had this gift too. Many evangelicals and so-called ‘born agains’ have experienced this gift too, no doubt.

    I believe this experience is distinctly different from the blessings of John 3:5. One is far greater than the other, but both worth having.

  36. GreenEggz, I appreciate your recommendations for places to look in addition to the scriptures. I have, in fact, read many of them.

    I also appreciate your advice to be careful when looking for wisdom in sources outside the Church.

    However, I think you downplay and caricature the great wisdom traditions of the world a little too much, putting Buddha in the same breath as Jim Bakker.

    I also think you’re affirming the consequent a little bit when you put your last comment in the context of the larger discussion. The extreme shorthand of your point seems to be:

    One reason the Church is true is because we can add to the good of other religions. (You didn’t say this, but the idea is at least suggested, if not made completely necessary, I think, by the context of the post in general.) The good the Church adds is found in spirituality/the Gift of the Holy Ghost. We know the Church’s teachings on spirituality are better than others’ because the Church is true.

    Like I say, putting that first premise in there is a bit of a stretch, but I still think your last comment approaches a little circularity in its reasoning.

    Not to get my panties in a bunch over nothing here, but my point is that I’m not convinced that the Church’s teachings on spirituality are more advanced than some others. I could probably be be talked into it, but not so much by quotations from that one GA in, you know, that one conference.

  37. cadams, thanks for that insight. I must admit, that idea makes a lot of sense to me, too. We often seem to assume that that kind of wisdom and knowledge of the whole big plan — knowing what the kingdom feels like, as you say — isn’t available to people who aren’t members of the Church.

  38. Logan: I get your point on circular reasoning. I’m not sure how to get around it. And sorry about grouping Buddha with Jim Bakker. Lots of differences there, but I was focusing on the idea of “they’re both wrong about some important fundamentals, did some good, but also taught a lot of falsehoods.”

    Are you limiting “church’s teachings” to Gospel Doctrine class, or are you including the other books and publications I mentioned? I can understand why a lot of ‘nacclers get bored with Gospel Doctrine classes that basically repeat every 4 years. (I think there are ways around that, tho.)

    “Advanced spirituality” in other Christian religions, no matter how esoteric or supposedly spiritually uplifting, seems to me to be much like wrangling over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Or else it’s micro-managing their believers like laying out black cut-out footprints to teach someone to dance. “Step here, here, and here, cha-cha-cha, and shazzam! Total Spiritual Englightenment!” How much more I like Joseph’s practical teachings of how if you engage in fault-finding of leaders, you’ll apostatize if you don’t repent, or how if someone seeks a sign, that’s an indication that he’s an adulterer. Or the prophets who say to lose yourself in your work, and go home-teaching.

    The “advanced spirituality” of non-christian religions can be just plain dangerous. We risk becoming fascinated with it’s exoticness. Even when we find overlaps with the true doctrine, we risk losing our overall focus and balance. We’ve been advised to avoid “gospel hobbies”, and I’m afraid I’ve fallen into that trap more than once. My Book of Mormon placement project has turned into a gospel hobby, and I need to strike a better balance. (Is blogging and commenting in the Bloggernacle a “gospel hobby”? :-)

    The “advanced teachings” in the true church are not so obvious when they are verbalized or written, because they are spiritually taught by the Holy Ghost. We are all on different places on the path. There are things you know that I don’t, and maybe there are some things I know that you don’t. Hopefully, every time we read the scriptures we learn something new. Hopefully, everytime we go to the temple, we learn something new. Much of the endowment went over my head. I often asked myself “Why’s that in there?” But I remember one teaching from the endowment that I picked up on my first day at the temple, and was surprised that some other long time members didn’t “get” how to apply it in everyday church work.

    We get “advanced teachings” every general conference. They are hidden though. It may sound like the same things over and over, but it’s not. Those who listen with the Spirit pick up more than those who don’t. We get “advanced teachings” in every First Presidency article in the Ensign. We get “advanced teachings” every time we read the scriptures.

    I’ve picked up an “advanced teaching” in every Institute course I’ve taken. I picked up an “advanced teaching” (well, at least advanced compared to my previous understanding) when I went out of my way a couple times to follow a spiritual hunch (A “hunch” is less than a prompting.) I picked up an “advanced teaching” by keeping a journal, and while browsing past entries, I noticed a pattern that spiritual observation “X” indicates condition “Y”. I then tested it and found it to be true.

    1 Cor 2:14 is where Paul says spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Jesus said he taught in parables in order to hide the truth. Whereas other religions, Christian and non-Christian, can have hand-holding classes that lead students through various degrees of advancements, it’s all merely formulaic without true enlightenment from the Holy Ghost. At best they teach psychological understanding of human nature and needs. But if they teach people to be content with a goal that is less than the perfection of Christ, they lead people astray.

    One thing that strongly correlates to whether I get bored watching General Conference or in Sunday meetings or in Institute class is whether or not I have the Spirit. Absence of Holy Ghost = boredom. Presence of Holy Ghost = I pick up on some things I need to hear. Some of those 10 hours of General Conference weekend are intended for other people in the church, or consist of things that I’m not ready to understand yet, so I have to pay close attention to pick up those particular things the Lord wants _me_ to learn.

  39. Since “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy”, I would hope that the “good” being spoken of is more joy. If the gospel doesn’t lead us to more joy, then what good is it?

  40. river stone says:

    According to the 2 Nephi 29:12-14, we should add truth to what other religions have, and we should also be open to learning from other faiths(tribes). I love this scripture because it makes sense that God would not give all of his truth to one group. That he would give parts of it to each group and then ask us to come together in respect and love to learn from each other.
    I think our church has some amazing symbols and ritual, particularly in the temple ceremonies, which can help us understand God and the atonement. I know that the Book of Mormon can do the same. I love these and other parts of what I have gained from being Mormon, but there are other areas which I feel have detracted from my spirituality and left me wondering where I can find what is missing in my religion. For example, I think the church does a terrible job of valuing and rejoicing in individuality and diversity. One size, one path fits all seems to be the firm rule, but what about all of the exceptions? What about the people who love the gospel, but are uncomfortable with the one size offered? Maybe there is something we can learn from another group who loves people for who they are better than we do. I know I am going off on a tangent here, but I can’t see this question as one dimensional. Yes the church has much to add, but it also has much to learn.

  41. Bob Caswell says:

    Thank you, river stone, for your eloquent thoughts. This seems to be an area where the difference between the gospel and the Church becomes more obvious. The gospel seems available to all sizes and does rejoice in individuality and diversity whereas the Church seems to struggle in both categories.

  42. Salvation, itself, is a very personal matter. And many churches do provide good temporal blessings to their congregation and others. Some of the things I find unique potentially greater in our faith are things like education. The perpetual Education fund seems to reach far more people than similar projects of other faiths. Well respected universities under our care and the organization of the church itself is a great blessing.

    I believe humanitarian aid is more important in times of dire need, and while Catholic charities does equally so, I can only imagine the good that would come from our aid if we had a worldwide membership as that church, each paying their tithing. So much more good could be done I think.

    And then there is the matter that Christ taught in his sermon on the mount. The Children of God will be peacemakers. If we can provide a closer relationship to Christ and God through a better understanding of the atonement and other eternal principles then Salvation will become a byproduct as we recongize that we are children of God and take on those responsibilities. As we do so we will become peacemakers, and peace on earth would be a great temporal benefit that could be wrought by the establishment of Zion, one people, one heart, and one purpose.

  43. Yes, River Stone, I agree. One of my closest friends is a monk and he has taught me about a gentle, loving God, who accepts me as I am. I don’t say that to discount personal effort or works, but I think, like Robert Millett, too often, good people who are also Mormons just torture themselves with all the things they are NOT and do NOT do, rather than what good they are and what good they do.

    Steadfast and Immoveable is a very good book on this topic.

  44. I wouldn’t really beat anybody up. I always regret my fits of temper.

  45. Thank you GreenEggz for your comments. The type of comments he (or she) makes for me typifies the views and perspectives of one who is spiritually born of God.

    There’s always something empty in the Church without it. Even the so-called mysteries can feel like an empty shell without it.

    The key is to have felt God’s love to such a degree that all else in the Church becomes new and vivifying. Only when you are truly loved can you truly love others.

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