An article in Slate today reminds me of how mormons are often perceived as fanatical because we strongly belief in a strict system of rules and practices. However, as the article points out, strict belief systems are themselves a source of strength for religions: "economist Laurence Iannacone makes the counterintuitive case that people choose to be strictly religious because of the quantifiable benefits their piety affords them, not just in the afterlife but in the here and now."
Is that counterintuitive? Is that assertion applicable to Mormonism?
First I think we’d need to isolate the quantifiable benefits piety awards Mormons in the here and now. There aren’t many that are easily quantifiable (besides the blessing of paying tithing). But we could list social interaction, temple attendance, health benefits and a few others. Iannacone lists a few more that could be applicable to mormons. Fair enough — there are some out there.
But do Mormons toe the line because of benefits received in the here and now? Are we pious because of the quality of our religious product, and the community we receive? That’s impossible to say for certain, but I would guess that mormons by and large don’t factor in the here-and-now on a conscious level to the extent suggested by the article. Ideally, we don’t try and distinguish between future and present rewards: the same society that exists in Zion now will have power to carry forward into the next life. Likewise, our sealed relationships are here as they will be going forward. As for salvation, we assert that sinners can come unto Christ and taste of his salvation immediately, if they choose — no waiting for the afterlife to see if you turn out saved (assuming you endure to the end).
And yet, and yet…. there is an undeniable element of truth in what this article asserts. When I go to church, it’s not just out of some pie-in-the-sky ideal, it’s in large measure to be with my fellow saints and to soak in the spirit of our religion. Perhaps Mormons aren’t so different after all — although I’d like to think we are.