"Reversal of fortune? No way. Reversal of skill." -Uffish Thought
Question #56813 posted on 04/05/2010 3:01 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

What does the Board think about other religions? An essay will be welcome :) I am just wondering what LDS members think about other religions..

I am assuming most if not all the board is LDS..?

- My name is not here

A: Dear my name,

Good assumption.

Now then, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 million LDS people in the world, and there are just as many Latter-day Saints' opinions on other religions. You aren't going to get that many in this answer. If you're looking for official Church opinions, you should check out the 11th Article of Faith and this article from the Newsroom on lds.org. Actually, even if you aren't looking for official Church opinions, you should read that article, because I enjoyed it. From an academic (non-official) standpoint, you might be interested in Religions of the World: A Latter-day Saint View, which is the textbook BYU teaches its world religions classes from. It's a great, great textbook, and each chapter on a new religion features a "Latter-day Saint Reflections" section that gives perspective on the religion's basic tenets from an LDS perspective. There's also a chapter at the end that focuses on common threads that run through many or all of the religions in the book. It's one of the the few books I won't lend out, though, so you'll have to get your own copy.

So, what you're getting from here on out, for better or for worse, is what I think about a ton of different religions. If you're bored already, just know that I love them all. Even and especially when I was a completely active Latter-day Saint, I had no problem with the idea that Muhammad saw and spoke to God or that the Buddha reached spiritual enlightenment. I had this picture in my brain borrowed from Dr. Roger Keller of Guru Nanak and Mahavira and Lao Tzu (yeah, I'm going to talk about Taoism and Confucianism as religions) meeting people on the other side of the veil going, "You did such a great job with what I was able to teach you, but just you wait until you hear the rest of it!" I find great beauty in people, and there's nothing more beautiful than their religions.

Christianity, Mormons included - LDS people generally believe that reformers like Luther and Calvin were inspired, and they share a lot culturally with Roman Catholics and identify with their claim to authority. Personally, out of the non-LDS Christian religions, I always felt the most camaraderie with adherents to Eastern Orthodoxy because of how the religion was described to me. I think Christianity is a beautiful religion, especially when it comes to topics like grace and charity, and I will always revere Jesus as the very best the world has ever seen. Because of various musical pursuits I took up while in high school, I spent a lot of time in worship services with Protestants (particularly Lutherans and Methodists), and they've got to be some of the friendliest people God created. There's no one better to teach you about being devout than a Catholic. While Mormons have beliefs that differ by quite a bit from traditional Christian beliefs (things like the nature of God's being), I've always thought that Mormons and other Christians agree far more often than they disagree, if they could just calm down and take a couple of deep breaths. In general, I wish Christians would focus more on the gospel and less on topics like abortion and homosexuality, which are important but shouldn't be the focus. I hope your question didn't really mean "What do you think about other Christian sects?" because in the interest of time and space I'm going to move on.

Judaism - If there's one religion that I think a lot of LDS people identify with, even more than most if not all Christian sects, it's Judaism. There are some really huge differences (like that whole Jesus-is-the-Messiah detail), but if you forget about those for a second, it's remarkable how much Mormonism and Judaism share. Mormons feel a common heritage with the Jews through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, and LDS people are similarly focused on Israel's tribes to an extent that is perhaps unique among Christians. Latter-day Saints and Orthodox Jews are pretty similar when it comes to the importance of families and women's role in that unit. Also, the relatively recent persecution of LDS people helps Mormons identify with God's original peculiar people who also set themselves apart with their moral and dietary standards. I think that Judaism holds some of the richest and most beautiful religious tradition out there, and there's absolutely nothing cooler than a feisty 80-year-old Reform Jewess. This might sound weird to religious people, but I appreciate the reverence for tradition and history that keeps Jews aware of their heritage and makes them still identify as Jews even when there is a lack of belief. Until recently, I was really drawn to the extremes when it came to religious observance, so I harbored a secret, whimsical ambition to become an Orthodox Jew should I ever leave Mormonism. Obviously that isn't going to happen, but I love Judaism nonetheless.

Islam - I've always appreciated being counted among the "People of the Book" by Muslims and when I read the Qur'an a couple of years ago I was struck by the amount of the book I identified with and believed was absolute truth. Allah is a god of justice and mercy who is concerned with and engaged in humanity who has set out a plan which, if followed, will provide peace in this life and a blessed existence in the life to come. Mormons and Muslims believe in prophets in every time and place throughout history (ending with Muhammad for Muslims) and have "modern" scripture (the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon) as well as accepting ancient records as long as they are congruent with their orthodox traditions. Mormons and Muslims both highly value religious acts like fasting, prayer, charitable giving, and various rituals and they both observe special dietary codes. Mormons and Muslims also emphasize families, strict moral conduct, and abstinence from substances like alcohol and tobacco. All of this and much more about the religion always seemed to me to be worth seeking after. Reading about the intricacies of the Hajj or watching Muslim friends celebrate Ramadan really moves me. I'm going to say this delicately, but I'm going to say it anyway: while I know that Islam is a peaceful religion if practiced the way that Muhammad set it out, the fact that Islamic extremism can exist with such strength worries me for the same reason that extremism exists among some Christians or that historic Christianity featured such acts of cruelty or even that Mormon culture really stinks sometimes. Please don't misunderstand me. Islamic extremists are in the vast, vast minority and they are evil and they are not following Muhammad, but something should be addressed within the religion or culture if this can exist at all.

Hinduism - Right up front, the religions that were born in India (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism) are my very favorites. Asceticism, which you find in all of these religions to varying degrees and which I'll talk about more in Buddhism and Jainism, really appeals to me. On top of that, there's something comforting about the Eastern doctrine of karma, that something out there is tabulating all of the good and all of the bad that I've done and that what I have now is exactly what I deserve based upon eons of births and rebirths, and that someday maybe I'll reach enlightenment completely under my own steam. Of course, this idea is vastly different than what Mormon doctrine teaches (there is, for example, no Savior, no coming to earth to gain one specific body, and no room for God's will to try good people or seemingly reward bad people when they don't deserve it), but some of it does resonate with what I was taught growing up (that the ultimate goal is to become perfect so that I can rejoin and therefore become God). At least the most traditional version of karma (no Way of Devotion stuff) is all works and no grace, and I think that most LDS people are more comfortable thinking in terms of works than grace right now. I don't find the idea of Hinduism's hundreds of millions of gods abrasive, as they are really all part of the one god anyway. I also really like the idea of dharma, that each of us has a defined purpose in this life, and if we do that well then the next life holds better for us. I especially like this idea if, like the Hare Krishnas, you interpret human dharma to mean service. And, while we're on the subject of the Hare Krishnas, participating with them in worship is the most connected I've felt to God or Krishna or the universe or whatever you want to call it in a really long time. As long as Hinduism is informed by the kind of thought Gandhi ascribed to (that there are no Untouchables, and that the doctrine of karma should be used to judge yourself and not others), I think I could find great peace in Hinduism.

Buddhism - Almost everything about Buddhism really resonates with me. I absolutely believe that life's suffering is caused by attachment and selfish desire, and Jesus taught that, too. This principle is one of the Four Noble Truths, and it's the cornerstone of the Buddha's enlightenment and Buddhism as a whole. LDS people are encouraged to see with spiritual eyes and to focus on the eternal truths that make life important; Buddhists seek to rid themselves of attachments born of the physical senses in order to focus on reaching nirvana. For me, it isn't a huge leap, and the Eightfold Path seems like a pretty fantastic place to start. In Buddhism, for those seriously seeking nirvana in this life, this severing of attachment often includes family ties, which is very foreign to people accustomed to LDS theology. However, all you need is one day in rehab to see that sometimes family attachments turn unhealthy and cease to be a blessing to anyone, and from there it becomes easier to see how people could view family ties as just one more attachment. They are definitely not equal to evil desires and lusts, but they are something that keep you here in this one insignificant life and further away from nirvana. Though Buddhists are not to practice individual love, if they practice their religion correctly their benevolence would be very similar to Christian love for all. Some teachings of the Buddha and Christ are very similar (for example, these verses in Luke compared to verse 394 from the Dhammapada [three translations provided]). And, while it's true that I was born wishing I could be an ascetic, there is something beautiful about denying yourself in order to focus your energy on what is true.

Jainism - Jainism is, no holds barred, my favorite religion out there. (Caution: I always succeed in making Jainism sound a lot sillier than it actually is, so don't take my word for it. Jainism is a fantastic religion, and you should learn about it from someone who isn't me.) I love the value they place on ahimsa, which means non-violence to any living thing. This especially makes sense from their reincarnation-based point of view; if every living thing is on the cycle of births and rebirths, then every living thing needs the chance to fulfill its dharma so it can begin to rid itself of karma-matter and move upward in the universe toward enlightenment. Because of this, Jains are strict vegetarians and won't take up some common Indian professions like farming (what about the worms you hurt when you hoe, for example?). While I agree with westerners that this might be a bit much, I can't help but love their respect for life and its implications. (And it has the bonus of ensuring that Jains have to take up more profitable professions, so though there are only 5 million of them, they pay something like a quarter of India's taxes.) When it comes to people, it's sort of a Golden Rule on Steroids. They donate 50% of their income to the needy, for example, and completely support their clergy who are ascetics to the extreme. Here we are back to asceticism again, but in a world where so much pain comes from materialism, it seems like a great approach if your goal is to focus on the eternal. For Jains, the eternal is completely rid of attachments and is, in a word, nonexistence, at least in an individual sense. Jain laypeople practice a lesser law than the clergy do as a way of preparing themselves to be ready to take that path in a future life, but even for Jain laypeople the expectations of their asceticism are somewhat extreme. The rules include everything from chastity regulations to periods of self-denial to charity to dietary rules to not lying (lying can hurt others and therefore involves ahimsa, but even if it is just to make the liar look better than werf is, it involves a break in asceticism). This is becoming more of a summary of Jainism than what I feel about it, but I love everything about it. Of course it is not in line with LDS theology in many ways, but that doesn't stop me from loving every bit of it.

Sikhism - I like Sikhism because I like Sikhs. Though I haven't known an incredible number of them, I have never known one that was unfriendly or unhelpful. While they believe in one God who is intangible and formless, but their beliefs about the functions and attributes of God are very similar to the ones I believed in as a Latter-day Saint. Sikhs and Mormons also emphasize the brotherhood and sisterhood among those who belong to their faith and the importance of family. Both emphasize respect for the body, righteous behavior, a strong work ethic, service, and donating a tenth of one's income for the betterment of others. Both religions also emphasize the central importance of scripture, simple rituals and symbolism, and absolute determination to defend the faith. There are few cooler stories than the stories of their ten gurus, many of whom were martyred in the name of their faith. I also can't think of a more apt name than the one they use for God: True Name.

Confucianism - While Confucius did not deal with the issue of deities or spirits and his teachings are therefore sort of like ancient Chinese humanism, I still have found many similarities between it and LDS thought and many great things to latch on to. LDS people can appreciate the strong moral and family values emphasized by Confucianism, as well as the desire for a society that is organized for the well-being of all its citizens. Confucianism's jen has elements of Mormonism's and Christianity's "pure love of Christ," though it contains more self-interest. Latter-day Saints care a great deal about their ancestors, performing sacred ordinances for them in their temples. This concern for ancestors could be compared to the Confucian idea of filial piety. I think that most LDS people aspire to be the Mormon version of Confucius' chun tzu, and what's not to like about the idea of universal access to education and prestigious jobs? Of course, I'm not a fan of Confucian sexism, but one look at China can tell what benefits can come from living in a society with Confucian values.

Taoism - I also love Taoism. I love the holistic view, that everything contains both yin and yang. I also love the idea of wu-wei, which means action by inaction, or allowing the universe to take its course. This could be like the way that water goes around a rock, flowing past, not trying to go through. There's also the example that if a Confucian and a Taoist were trying to cross a river, the Taoist would float downriver until werf reached the other side, and would walk back in time to see the Confucian still panting on the shore, having swum straight across. I think it's a great principle, especially in our modern world. I love the Tao Te Ching and the way that it simply feels true, without logic or spiritual witness being strictly necessary. It just feels true.

Baha'i - Baha'i is a religion I'm drawn to, somewhat in spite of myself. There's a big difference between loving all of these religions and ascribing to them all, which is more or less what Baha'i does, and to me, that seems impossible. However, there is something wonderful about a religion that teaches that there is only one God and one people and one religion, and this one religion has simply gone through different phases in the progression. It's beautiful to believe that Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and all the rest were all divine messengers sent to bring people the truth, and Baha'u'llah is simply the most recent in that line. It's a fun, interesting take on the LDS and Christian idea of learning line upon line. That kind of unity is hard to come by and it is very appealing. And you know I appreciate all of the following, though not all of you do, from the official Baha'i website:
For a global society to flourish, Bahá’u’lláh said, it must be based on certain fundamental principles. They include the elimination of all forms of prejudice; full equality between the sexes; recognition of the essential oneness of the world’s great religions; the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth; universal education; the harmony of science and religion; a sustainable balance between nature and technology; and the establishment of a world federal system, based on collective security and the oneness of humanity.
My apologies to Shinto, Zoroastrianism, and many other religions, but I'm all tuckered out.

-Friendly Neighborhood Agnostic