A Simple Thought Experiment

I’m convinced religious pluralism is a good thing. When institutionalized religion has a monopoly on the faith, beliefs and practices of people in a society, unjust laws are often put into place and human rights are often curtailed. Religious ideology is sometimes unfairly marginalizing to those outside the status quo (please note the overuse of qualifiers—this isn’t a swipe at religion). As a member of a proselytizing faith, a religious tradition that I think is needed in the world, I often ponder the need for proselytizing (and indeed the commandment to proselytize) against the necessity of religious pluralism for a good and just society. I am convinced embracing and encouraging religious pluralism will not only will bring about the best outcomes for the future of our world, but will also help believers grow nearer to God as they  learn from those outside of their own religious tradition and grow in understanding of who God is, how he works, and who we are as His children. So indulge me for a moment and consider the following.

What would happen if the entire world adhered to the Mormon faith? What if we were all Mormons? Let’s assume this happened the old-fashioned-listened-to-the-discussions-and-got-baptized way, admitting social pressure/social capital was a factor for much of the world population. What laws would change? Drinking Laws? Porn laws? Would essential freedoms be curtailed? Or is there enough diversity within any religious group that not much would change? Could there be any good outcome(s)?

Consider this:

[Bummer! Youtube clip involving Gary Lawrence, Richard Bushman and another guy removed for violation of copyright.  I won’t attempt to misquote or mis-paraphrase their words. The main idea I found intriguing was that when Jesus speaks to his followers about being the salt of the earth in Matthew and elsewhere—the analogy of salt comes with implications. A little salt goes along way. We wouldn’t want too much salt—too much salt doesn’t taste good, but instead ruins the whole dish. There is much good in the world and lots of good people. Hopefully those of us who self-identify as the salt of the earth or the leaven, etc will recognize in part our opportunity to magnify the good in others, and in other faiths, not homogenize the globe. ]

(While one obvious example of law and policy if the world was Mormon would be that of same-sex marriage, and of course it is apropos to this discussion, it would be regrettable if the entire discussion devolved into a discuttion about SSM. So let’s just get that out of the way and say that this is an obvious example and move on.)


  1. usually the response to this question is, “What would the world look like, if mormons actually practiced their religion?”
    activity rates are like 20%

  2. Any really small town in Utah is probably a guide (where there are 4000 people and yet there’s a stake)…

  3. I suppose the issue would come down to the adherents. Is their conversion a real conversion, or just a social/peer pressure conversion? Are the numbers of active as they now are in the Church (about 50% or less)?

    If all the members were truly converted and active, etc,. then there would be no need to enact laws, because the members would already be living the commandments, such as chastity, WoW, honesty, etc.

    And I think this is why there are three major kingdoms of heaven (with levels perhaps in each). For those who do not agree with the law of the Celestial Kingdom, there is a lesser kingdom and laws for them to abide by. IOW, there is a form of pluralism in heaven, as well. Now, how that deals with issues such as WoW, chastity, etc, we do not know. Are telestial beings allowed to fool around or drink until they pass out? Or are they compelled to conform in order to stay in a certain level of heaven?

  4. Last Lemming says:

    I often ponder the need for proselytizing (and indeed the commandment to proselytize) against the necessity of religious pluralism for a good and just society.

    There is nothing about proselytizing that is inconsistent with religious pluralism. In fact, I think it is vital to it. Many religions (including ours) have achieved local monopolies, which has often led to corruption, tyranny, and/or atrophy. Proselytizing keeps everybody relatively honest and gives people appealing choices. (Kind of like the free enterprise system is supposed to work.)

    The thought experiment is interesting, but potentially misleading. We are not trying to convert everybody, despite some of the rhetoric you might have heard in zone conference. Even during the millenium, we will not hold a monopoly on religion. We are seeking out the “blood of Israel,” which is, however you define it, only a subset of the human population. If everybody became a Mormon in the short or medium term, that means something has gone wrong.

  5. A few blocks from my house in southern Utah County there’s a stake center with an almost identical ward house right next to it. I don’t mean near, I mean they share a parking lot. Both buildings have the same profile and general design, their steeples are the same height. The buildings differ only in some cosmetic architectural details.

    I find it frankly depressing.

  6. I suppose in many places, things wouldn’t change much, and that’s because with so many people – even adhering to a single religious ideology – there’s still quite a lot of room for variation in how we view topics like abortion, same-sex marriage, racial discrimination, gun control, etc. I suppose it’s just that in most instances debates around these issues would become even more morally-charged and potentially vitriolic if all parties were operating under the assumption that because everyone else was of the same religion, they should “obviously” come to the same conclusions about the various issues. If everyone is supposed to believe the same things, then differences in opinion on hot-button topics would seem to rely upon more ad hominem attacks and attempts to discredit the other person by saying that they aren’t a true convert or sincere believer in the Gospel (the good old No True Scotsman fallacy).

    But I do agree with Ramepumptom @3: if everyone was truly in-tune with the Spirit, and not just a Latter-Day Saint on paper, then most of these things wouldn’t require additional legislating. Doesn’t mean that more invasive laws wouldn’t come into practice, though, I just think it wouldn’t be as many as one might first assume.

    (I like thinking about this since I have to teach my YW about having a change of heart next week and want to avoid the misconception that anyone who falls away “clearly” didn’t have a real testimony.)

  7. Even if not everyone was “active” in the church, if there were no other options, wouldn’t it change politics. A good example is South America, lots of Catholics that aren’t too active, yet abortion laws and contraception policies are still very affected by the guidelines of the Catholic church.

    Have you been to Logan?

    Last Lemming,
    “There is nothing about proselytizing that is inconsistent with religious pluralism.”
    I never said there was. But sometimes I think we erroneously think our job it convert the whole world. I’m a fan of proselytizing. It has its place.

  8. Look at much of Utah (or many communities in the Deep South) and some generalizable tendencies with a religiously homogenous population, then look at an area like where I live, without a religously homogenous population. Um, yeah, much would change – and the good and bad would be split about 50/50, if my own experiences are even close to typical.

    Fwiw, I believe strongly that Zion isn’t at all like many members envision it – and those who envision it as everyone thinking, believing and acting exactly alike (playing the same melody on the same instrument in perfect unison) tend to be the ones who aren’t opposed to unrighteous dominion when it comes to lawmaking and adherence through pressure. In the case of alcohol and tobacco laws, for example, I easily can see many people advocating laws outlawing their sale (or even consumption) completely if all people were members of the LDS Church. At the very least, I think the liquor laws would resemble Utah’s more than NYC’s.

  9. Ray,
    Can you give examples of what would be in the 50/50 split?

  10. I would expect there to be some legislative efforts to curb things generally found morally objectionable by members of the church. Outside of that, I’m not all that sure there would be much of a change. People will still be people, and a lot of individual preferences and choices would not be affected. Pluralism would persist in many ways. For a political example, we would see a balancing of Democrats and Republicans, along with a smattering of socialists, communists, libertarians, anarchists, and others. Choices in entertainment would not change all that much; p0rn, if you listen to addresses by church leaders, would likely still be a problem, but perhaps somewhat less so, and we would still have plenty of R-rated movies. Just because someone joins the church, doesn’t mean they are instantly going to increase their jello consumption, or become avid BYU fans. However, their would be less angst over having a Mormon president, and Harry Reid would be much less of an anomaly.

  11. You wouldn’t be able to find colored dress shirts in Wal-Mart. I assume there would be tougher punishments for sex crimes (even though we already have tough punishments in comparison to the rest of the world); and since everyone would be majoring in law/business/dental/medical: the wealthiest would be those that didn’t go to school for an over-saturated market.

    As for actual laws: the system would become more like church discipline in which as long as you don’t confess no one knows about it. So even if porn was illegal, it would still be a multi-billion dollar industry. Not much would change other than the quality of alcohol and coffee would go down the tube.

  12. Coffee quality might go down the tube, but coffee replacement products like Postum would make a serious comeback.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    Marintha, perhaps you could summarize the contents of the video?

  14. Oh man! Bummer. Yes, I’ll do that and add it to the post shortly.

  15. Chris Gordon says:

    I think you’d probably see the largest amount of legislation as the church gained supermajority status and also probably when you’d see the most amount of outrage over said legislation. That’s probably also when you’d see the least amount of justice done to the dwindling minority. After the church itself became the status quo, I think things would then calm down legally followed by a heck of a black market for caffeinated sodas, R rated movies, and blue dress shirts.

  16. Well, we could use the Book of Mormon as an example. Essentially “everyone was Mormon” after Christ’s visitation. It started out nice… then ended not so nice.

  17. Even though everyone would be the same religion, there would still be a diversity of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, so it would be unlike anything we’ve seen before in a Mormon-dominated community. I don’t know how it would change laws and stuff, but I’d feel a whole lot less special. :(

  18. Bro. Jones says:

    #15 We could drink our Cokes and watch our R-rated movies in private, but what would we do with our contraband blue dress shirts? We couldn’t really wear them out. Maybe if we took a girl out for a date, we’d show our wild side by whipping off our overcoat to reveal a blue shirt?

  19. Are we saying that if everyone became Mormon, there would still be an Ohio St.?
    Or would we have BYU-Ohio, with all BYU rules?

  20. I’m inclined to think that if everyone were LDS, there would be less micromanaging from Salt Lake. Maybe I’m just being naive, but I’m just thinking practically, there’s no way they could maintain the current level.

  21. Love the analogy to salt. I don’t know what to say. I’d be so sad if everyone was Mormon. I love Mormons but I relish a world of diverse views and opinions. Plus Mormonism doesn’t have all truth or have a monopoly on it. Mormonism has its shortcomings…at least in my spiritual life.

  22. Ironically, the following posted on my personal blog yesterday:

    (“Seeing the Beauty in Other Religions and Denominations”)

    I’ll try to get to the 50/50 split question when I have more time.

  23. If everyone in the world were LDS, would there still be individual nations with their current forms of government? Would countries like Saudi Arabia still have a monarchy, would China still have its current form of government or would all countries have some sort of democracy? I think that would be bigger question. Would LDS nations go to war with each other, be it a conventional war or economic war? If all nations were LDS and had some sort of democracy, would there be armed conflict? A world wide church basketball contest could get ugly I suppose.

  24. Kent-
    Ha! Looking at worldwide geopolitics you raise interesting questions. Religion does not play the big role in international conflict we pretend it does.

  25. -“Religion does not play the big role in international conflict we pretend it does” Thats my point. Would there still be armed conflict if all the world’s leaders and governments were LDS? (assuming that they were some what active)

  26. #24: mmiles,
    “Religion does not play the big role in international conflict we pretend it does”.
    So are you saying we are not at war with “Radical Islam”?

  27. To preface my comment, let me share what I grew up thinking–which I am sure mirrors some of your experiences. As a child, my parents taught me that the LDS church is the one true church. I firmly believed it. I felt that it was my goal to bring as many people into the Church as I could, thus preparing the world for the Millennium when Christ would rule. I didn’t think about what would happen if people didn’t accept the Church based on doctrinal issues. I mean, it’s true so why would the Spirit tell a person otherwise?

    Fast forward 10 or so years. I am at BYU completing a project for a freshman humanities course. My friend agrees to come with me on an outing to SLC to visit the Catholic Cathedral housed there. As we are entering the city, she tells me just how much she prefers Salt Lake to Provo because there is so much more religious diversity. While I didn’t agree or disagree out loud, inside I thought she was clearly still figuring out Church doctrine because the Church explicitly states they are God’s restored church–the only true church around; therefore, a diversity of religions is not a good thing. Everyone should–and eventually will–be Mormons.

    As I’ve matured, and drifted away from the Mormon orthodoxy, I realize just how much I agree with my friend’s assessment. Religious pluralism, in my opinion, is the idea that various forms of spirituality exist and that people need to find their own form without being told what they should think or how they should feel. I think religious pluralism, as you stated Mmiles, is ideal for maintaining peace in a community. Much like moral relativism–another hated philosophy in the church–people need the space to shape and build their own spiritual beings. When a church tries to monopolize that, it does breed conflict and enforces homogeneity of thought rather than recognizing the importance of heterogeneity. It is through diversity that good change happens. That is something I now firmly believe. : )

  28. Will everyone in the Celestial Kingdom be Mormon? If so, then this thought experiment is very apt.

    But I don’t think everyone in the Celestial Kingdom will be Mormon. I don’t think Mormons will be Mormons. All things will pass away, and all things will be new. Mystics of the world unite! You have nothing to loose but your theologians.

  29. Amber,
    Great comment. However I think moral relativism and religious diversity are like apples and oranges.

    I was just backing you up.

    I highly recommend this book.

  30. #29: mmiles,
    Thanks for the tip. But Graham E. Fuller is not IMO, a reliable source. (CIA, Rand, deals with Iran, etc.).
    But, I am open to any book that is helpful in my understanding of the Middle East Vs The Western World. (Or Asia Vs The West).

  31. John Roberts says:

    These are the results of my thought experiment so far:

    * Israel would not exist as a Jewish state, because there would be no Jews
    * For doctrinal consistency, the headquarters of the Church would need to be moved to Jackson County, Missouri
    * Even with only 1/4 of the Church paying a monthly fast offering- an now- there would be upwards of a hundred billion dollars a year dedicated to the direct relief of the poor worldwide- in all probability, more. This does not include Worldwide LDS Social Services, the Perpetual Education Fund, the microloan program, etc.
    * The Church would probably stop building temples after reaching 50,000 or so.
    * The administration of the Church would require on the order of 700 General Authority Quorums of Seventy- probably rendering the Quorum of the Twelve less important in administration.
    * Each of these General Authority Seventies, and their families would be living the United Order / Law of Consecration. That would be hundreds of thousands of individuals!
    * Worthy priesthood holders, including Bishops and Stake Presidents, would still wear skirts in Samoa, and kaftans in West Africa. Only there would be more of them.
    * Only 5% of the Church would be living in the United States. A vanishingly small percentage would be living in Utah, as many would have emigrated to Missouri.

  32. Bob,
    The idea is that geopolitical conflicts like the one we face now very well likely would exist without Islam. That isn’t to say radical religious views (not necessarily inherent to Islam) aren’t a factor, because they are–but that perhaps they are less of a factor than some might think.

    It is interesting to note that when Milosevic was committing genocide against Muslim Kosovars, Bosnians and non-ethnic Serbs no one was shouting that Serbian Orthodoxy or being non-Muslim was extreme, dangerous, or threatened a way of life.

  33. #32:mmiles,
    Yes, there would be geopolitical conflicts without “Radical Isam”. But that does not mean “Radical Islam” does not create geopolitical conflicts, and maybe today, a great many of them.
    Maybe you have examples of religious pluralism stopping war instead of starting then__I can’t think of too many.

  34. Bob,
    You bring up a really important question, a topic for another post I want to write. However I disagree completely that “Radical Islam” (a very poorly defined term) in of itself creates such conflicts.

  35. #34: mmiles,
    I am open to a different term that “Radical Islam”__what would that be? If not, then I would guess “Mormon” is also a poorly defined term. But I will continue to use both.
    I do agree, we need someway to define who is killling who.

  36. “I do agree, we need someway to define who is killling who.”
    I hope I didn’t imply it in those terms. Finding ways to create and define the other in ways other than those equal with ourselves only allows us to kill easier. Describing people on different fighting sides in merely religious terms is silly. Back to the original discussion.

  37. #36:mmiles,
    I am sorry if I took your post in a direction you did not want to go. Maybe I was getting too real and you are only looking at how to make a better world(?)
    But, if you don’t want to define the Middle East wars as religious at their base, then it’s about oil. Since it is they who have the oil, not us, then that make us the aggressor for wanting their oil, and I don’t want to look at it that way.

  38. newcomer says:

    I’m a little concerned by the premise of this argument. I’ll address the salt analogy specifically. By taking the metaphor a little further, the implication is that too much “salt” ruins the dish; therefore, Jesus didn’t necessarily want the whole world to convert to the church. But if Christ’s mission, and the mission of the church, was to bring as many souls a possible to salvation and the church claims some sort of exclusive hold on the gateway to that salvation, then did Christ not necessarily want salvation for as many as possible? Would he be pleased with an outcome that meant that many would not partake of the true gospel during their mortal lives simply because it made for a well-rounded religious “dish”? That seems inconsistent, to say the least. If we really believe that this is God’s one true church (and therefore the conduit for “[his] work and [his] glory), doesn’t it make sense that God would prefer that everyone be Mormon?

    I think the appeal of religious plurality is that it encourages people to recognize that there are people with differing cultural backgrounds and to be sensitive to that. It helps you be nice to a wider group of people. But religion isn’t necessary for that–the kindest, most generous people I know are almost all atheists or agnostics. I think we should stop using religion as an excuse for why we should be nice to each other or contribute to society. That implies that humans are naturally mean-spirited and cruel and need a belief that there’s someone watching them and planning on rewarding or punishing them based on what they do in order to be decent to other humans–something I can’t really agree with.

  39. I think newcomer and madhousewife bring up a good point about cultural diversity. While I wouldn’t want a world full of Utah Mormons, or any one type of Mormons, I don’t know that I’d mind so much if we had a world full of Uzbek Mormons and Zulu Mormons and Thai Mormons (and everyone else) in addition to all the American and European Mormons. There’s lots of different flavors out there- we don’t all have to be salty.

    And even if everyone in, say, Turkmenistan, suddenly were able to join the Church and did, you wouldn’t end up with anything like the same governmental system, family expectations, or moral expectations that you’d get if everyone in Sweden joined the Church.

  40. #39: Amira,
    Are you saying__even in Utah__ it would be possible to have two different kinds of Mormons that didn’t have the same ” governmental system, family expectations, or moral expectations” as each other__and they would still get along?

  41. Newcomer,
    I’m not sure that is the appeal of religious diversity-but that’s another post. I left out in the summary of the deleted clip that the reality is the we aren’t going to live in world where we there is one faith, and I don’t think the whole world being of one faith was ever part of the God’s plan.

    Condescending much? That wasn’t a switch in direction but a complete dive into another topic.

  42. “But if . . . the church claims some sort of exclusive hold on the gateway to that salvation”

    #38 – newcomer, if we are talking about what occurs during this mortal life, the LDS Church doesn’t claim an exclusive hold on the gateway to salvation – no matter how “salvation” is defined. Denominational affiliation, in and of itself, pretty much has no impact whatsoever on salvation according to Mormon theology.

    That might seem like a bit of nit-picking at first, but I don’t believe it is.

    Mormon theology explictly leaves the door wide open for people to believe different things and attend different churches (or none at all) in this life and still be saved AND exalted in the end. Thus, literally converting the whole world doesn’t have to occur (or even be a relevant measure of success) in order for the purpose of Jesus’ work and the LDS Church’s creation to be accomplished. Converting the world might be the grandest imagery to use for the here and now – and converting all who ever have lived might be the best expression of our deepest hope and desire eternally, but it doesn’t have to occur literally (or even be desired literally) during mortality to be just as powerful. In fact, I would argue that taking it literally in relation to mortality robs it of the very heart of what makes Mormon theology so amazing.

    I apologize if I mis-read what you meant, but I think it’s important to be precise when talking about something like this.

  43. Well said Ray.

  44. #41: mmiles,
    Read again your #24 and see who took this post in another direction. My first comment was not until #26.

  45. I wonder if our brains would “reconfigure” the new data in this hypothetical all-mormon world. I wonder if we would perceive the relatively slight diversity that would exist amongst this “homogenous” group to be just as extreme as what we now perceive. I mean, to an alien we probably all humans look and act exactly alike right now. It is only in our subjective world that we feel so pluralistic. So perhaps in this hypothetical all-mormon world, we would subjectively feel like we were equally pluralistic.

    So an all-mormon world would only be homogenous if the citizens of that world could compare it to what we experience now. Just thinking…kind of a fun thought experiment….may be wrong.

  46. Not quite what you asked but I’m just as convinced you could not raise children in a perfectly righteous society because they’d have no opposition and if everyone was choosing good they’d have no ability to grow through making mistakes. In such a society it would seem you’d have to create some kind of system where your kids were sent away for a time so they could actually learn by their own successes and failures. Sounds like life…

  47. John Roberts says:

    46. rupert:

    I think a prescription for an all-Mormon Earth is very, very far from a “perfectly righteous society”. When the Saviour comes, the wicked will be destroyed– but religous pluralism will still exist.

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