On March 27 (3-5 p.m.) at the University of Utah, I am giving a presentation at the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology, entitled “Toward a Latter-day Saint Theology of Possibilities.” Information about the conference can be found here.
In this presentation I will talk about how “folk beliefs” are unavoidable among Latter-day Saints. Because we do not have an exhaustive theological system or creed, we out of necessity maintain certain beliefs and possibilities that are not the Church’s official position (this is not to say, of course, that they might not be true). I do not see this is a bad thing at all; however, a problem occurs when we see our folk beliefs as “closed” or definitive (meaning all good Latter-day Saints must believe them) rather than “open” (it is possible for a good Latter-day Saint to believe otherwise). There is a problem in the Church, in the sense that many folk beliefs masquerade around as definitive Church doctrines (I hear at least one every Sunday School class). The purpose of my presentation is not to give a list of closed or open folk beliefs; however, I thought it would be fun to do so in this post, focusing on what I consider to be the most pervasive and destructive closed folk beliefs (that is, they are destructive when they are seen to be closed and definitive).
I am speaking here simply as a member of the Church; I do not pretend to be a definitive authority. I think I could, however, defend all of these beliefs to be simply folk beliefs, at least without further clarification or revelation on behalf of the First Presidency. However, I am limiting this to a mere list, along with some links, without giving much of a rationale for why they are folk beliefs. I could write an entire treatise on any one of them, and I might do so here and there in the future. I really encourage some of the other blog authors to consider doing so as well, if you’re looking for ideas. I also encourage anyone and everyone to comment on your thoughts about these folk beliefs, as well as offer any others that come to mind.
Again, remember some of these beliefs might be true, it simply is not correct to say that it is the official position of the Church and that all Latter-day Saints in good standing must or should believe them.
Category 1: God and Godhood
- God is bound to follow “absolute laws.” (More here from this blog.)
- God has exhaustive definitive foreknowledge of individual actions. (See Encyclopedia of Mormonism entries from James Faulconer and David Paulsen.)
- God knows things “absolutely” (in a way that is non-perspectival). (More here from this blog.)
- God was a human being in the exact same way we are, who worshiped a God (his Father) in the same way that we now worship Him (our Father). (I understand this is commonly believed in the Church, but it is not official Church doctrine, nor does it make a lot of sense to even talk about, in my opinion. Failure to understand this has led to criticisms of President Hinckley’s appropriate reluctance to take a clear doctrinal stand on the matter — as well as reactionary defenses of the doctrine by Church members who apparently mistake this folk theology as a closed, definitive one. There is a fairly good conversation about this belief, however, at the By Common Consent blog. Also, see Comment 73 on this Times and Season post.)
- Pretty much anything (specific) about Heavenly Mother(s), especially regarding any kind of worshipful relationship with mortals.
Category 2: Pre-mortal Existence (AKA the Saturday’s Warrior category)
- Individuals choose their families (spouses, children, parents) before coming to Earth.
- Individuals make specific pre-mortal covenants or promises with other individuals (other than God).
- Spirits enter their mother’s wombs at x point (conception, third trimester, birth, etc). (There is an interesting post on Segullah about this, which is an excellent example of an open folk theology, rather than a closed one.)
- In the pre-mortal existence each of us looked the way we look now, as far as individual resemblances are concerned.
- There is a direct correspondence between a person’s pre-mortal righteousness and their race, socioeconomic status, nationality, Church membership status, etc.
- Today’s Church members were “generals in the war in heaven.” (More here.)
Category 3: Creation, the Earth, and the Fall
- The creation is incompatible with evolution.
- The creation is compatible with evolution.
- God used the principles of physics, chemistry, etc. to create the world. (Funny post here about this, on this blog.)
- Adam and Eve’s bodies were created from x (insert whatever process or materials you want here).
- Animals, plants, and the earth have neither spirits nor agency.
- There was no other way for Adam and Eve to progress in the Garden of Eden without heeding Satan’s temptation. (More here from Times and Seasons).
- Eve heeded to the temptation because of her innate female and motherly attributes (and she should be praised for this). (More here; see Comment 21)
- Information obtained from science will always be compatible with revealed truth — if not now, in the future.
- The (insert specific contemporary “natural disaster” here) occurred because of the wickedness of (insert specific group of people here).
Category 4: Gender
- Women are inherently more spiritual than men.
- Women don’t need to hold the priesthood because they are already (inherently) more spiritual than men.
- Polygamy will be the standard (or a requirement) in the Celestial Kingdom (perhaps because there will be so many more women — they are more spiritual, after all).
- Women are inherently more nurturing / relational / emotional than men (“inherently” being the operative word).
- Same-gender attraction is a choice unrelated to biological or environmental influences.
- Same-gender attraction is biologically determined.
- Men are inherently more lustful, competitive, or abstract reasoners than women (again, “inherently” is the key term here).
- Women should dressing modestly because otherwise men can’t control themselves.
Category 5: The Mortal Christ
- Jesus was omniscient throughout His mortal life (even as a young boy).
- Jesus married in mortality and had children.
- Jesus looks like the figure in Del Parson’s painting. (More here.)
- Jesus did not drink alcohol (it was grape juice!), or if he did, he was never the tiniest bit “drunken.”
- Jesus did not really have the choice to commit sin (he was completely shielded from even the possibility because of his righteous character).
- The reason Christ sacrificed Himself was to ensure His own salvation.
Category 6: The Gospel of Jesus Christ
- Mormons don’t believe in “being saved.”
- Only after we have done all that we can do (chronologically speaking) , Christ steps in and saves us.
- Repentance always occurs in a sequential step-by-step process (e.g., recognition, remorse, confession, restitution, and abstinence).
- Christ cannot intercede for us until after we have completed the repentance process.
- In terms of forgiveness, Christ might be able to remove the nails we pound in, but the holes always remain.
- Sin consists of the violation of timeless, universal laws (see this BYU Studies article from Brent Slife which talks about this problem).
Category 7: Priesthood Authority
- Anything a general authority (past or present) says is official Church doctrine (and so, therefore, all I need to do to debunk anything in this post is to dig up a “general authority quote”).
- General authorities (past and present) always agree on doctrinal matters. (See this Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on Church doctrine).
- General authorities are the most righteous men on Earth (and next are regional authorities, stake authorities, bishops, etc.).
- The President of the Church’s pre-presidential statements receive proto-presidential status (as in Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation and Spencer W. Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness, each written when the author was an apostle).
- An apostle’s pre-apostolic statements receive proto-apostolic status (as in Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, written when McConkie was an assistant to the Twelve).
- There is a fundamental difference between the way prophets and apostles receive revelation and the way other Church members receive revelation.
- The apostolic “special witness” consists of physically seeing the Savior.
- Even if a priesthood authority is wrong, a person will be always be blessed by being obedient to him.
- If you don’t sustain a certain person in their calling (or directly oppose), or if you turn down a calling, it is because of a lack of faith in the presiding authorities. (More here from Times and Seasons)
- Any statement that rests on the authority of a general authority, mission president, stake president, patriarch, etc., at a regional, local, or private meeting or setting.
Category 8: Self and Others
- In order to love others, you need to first love yourself.
- In order to thrive spiritually or help others, individuals first need to have their physical needs met (a sort of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs perspective).
- There is nothing that a person can do, ultimately, that will make a difference in terms of another person’s salvation and exaltation (therefore our choices only affect ourselves, ultimately).
- The primary reason for you to serve others is for you to become more Christlike.
Category 9: Eternal Progression
- Upon entry to the Celestial Kingdom, individuals will be individually “perfect.”
- The Celestial Kingdom will be a blissful state where we will never have any sorrow because of others’ choices.
- It is possible for humans to become Gods (capital G), in the same way that God is a God (including giving spiritual birth to a Redeemer).
- There is no possible progression between kingdoms of glory.
- Those in the Telestial and Terrestial Kingdoms will be in a constant state of agonizing torment.
- There is no possible way that a fallen angel could be forgiven.
Category 10: Bible and Book of Mormon
- The Bible does not contain the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible essentially consists of making changes that correspond with actual early Biblical manuscripts.
- The Lamanites in the Book of Mormon are the principal ancestors of today’s Native Americans (the Church recently clarified this issue).
- Any specific statement regarding the correspondence of Book of Mormon events and today’s geography.
Category 11: Word of Wisdom / Health
- No caffeinated sodas.
- Coffee and tea are prohibited because of their caffeine (or due to any other specific chemical reason).
- Alcohol and tobacco are prohibited because of x (any specific chemical reason).
- It is fundamentally wrong for anyone, past or present, to drink alcohol, coffee, tea, etc.
- Food (even junk food) needs to be blessed in order to “nourish and strengthen” one’s body. (More here, from Mormon Matters.)
- Physical scars that are intentionally afflicted (e.g., tattoos and piercings) will remain with the person in the resurrection, at least at first.
- No birth control.
- Mental illness is a biological/brain disorder.
- Mental illness is not at all related to one’s biology or circumstances. (If a person is depressed, it is because they are in sin.)
Category 12: Arts and Entertainment
- No R-rated movies. (A nice post from Orson Scott Card about this.)
- Violent entertainment is more acceptable than sexual or vulgar entertainment.
- Appropriate family entertainment is defined simply as the absence of violence, sexuality, and vulgar language (Disney is the best!), as opposed to the lack of broader corrosive messages, however subtle, the entertainment might convey (such as liberal individualism, consumerism, and racial/gender stereotypes).
- Any nude art is pornographic (or none is).
- No playing with face cards — they are Satanic.
Category 13: Serious Sins
- Murder is (always) unpardonable.
- Murder and sexual sin are the worst sins because you can’t give back what was taken away.
- Same-gender sexual sin is worse than other-gender sexual sin.
- You can count the number of sons of perdition on one hand.
Category 14: Political
- You can’t be a Democrat (or vote for one, especially if he/she is pro-choice). (Nice place for me to plug my post on why Mormons should consider backing Barack Obama.)
- Death penalties are fundamentally acceptable (especially in the U.S.).
- Overall, political conservativism (or liberalism or moderation) is most compatible with LDS doctrine.
- Latter-day Saints should support other Latter-day Saint candidates for political office (even if the Church tells you this is not the case, wink wink).
- It is fundamental to LDS doctrine to obey the “laws of the land” — in all circumstances. (More here, from this blog)
- Undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants are necessarily disobeying a commandment of God (and should not be baptized, given temple recommends, given leadership callings, etc.). (More here, from this blog.)
Category 15: Economics
- By paying tithing, you will have more money than you would have had otherwise (so it’s really simply a matter of being a wise investor and having faith in the economy of God).
- There is a correlation between wealth (or poverty) and righteousness.
- Other than the law of consecration, capitalism is the best earthly economic system.
- Outside of fast offerings and other donations to the Church, Latter-day Saints don’t have a responsibility towards the poor, hungry, imprisoned, etc.
Category 16: Common Statements with Problematic Rhetoric
- We need to “take advantage” of the Atonement (or anything else that portrays the Atonement in depersonalized, mechanistic terms).
- It’s all about the “Sunday School answers”: read your scriptures, say your prayers, and go to Church.
- The answers to all of life’s problems are found in the scriptures.
- You can “choose” to be “happy” if you really want to.
- The primary purpose of life is to “be happy.” (See this BYU Studies article from Brent Slife that talks about the problem with “hedonism” being the bottom line of religious believers.)
- We need to “save ourselves.”
- People who are selfish are poor economists — if only they recognized that it is in their best interest to be unselfish.
- Paying your tithing is an important “fire insurance.”
Also, see here for a list of Mormon “urban legends,” concerning commonly distributed stories that have been repudiated or cannot be substantiated in any way.
One final note. I recognize that there is a major problem with thinking of LDS doctrine as consisting as a bunch of propositional statements. Therefore, I am not suggesting that a proper approach to knowing the truth consists of having all the right propositional statements. In fact, that is one of the fundamental problems with thinking that an LDS theology or doctrinal system can even be set down in statements. Such is inconsistent with the fundamental relational being of man, as well as contextual situatedness and continuing revelation.
Update: Also, if anyone knows of any good blog posts about any of these topics, let me know, and I will add links. Also, I will be continually updating this list because I want it to be as exhaustive and polished as I can get it.
Filed under: Folk Theologies Tagged: | Folk Theologies, Gender, God, Gospel of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, LDS, Mormon Culture, Mormon Doctrine, Mormon theology, Mormons, Politics, Pre-Mortal Life, Priesthood Authority, Word of Wisdom