Do We Really Have a Fullness of Truth? : Dealing with Difference Part III

If you know any Latter-day Saint that has an understanding of religions other than Mormonism (or more often ‘Christianity’ broadly conceived), one of the first questions they are usually asked by other members of the Church, are what “parallels” there are between the other religion and Mormonism.

I have to admit, I’m somewhat bothered by this question. Personally I know I need to accept that for the most part this question is conceived with little ill intent on the part of the questioner; but I can’t help but interpret the question in this respect, “I’m only interested in other religions in as much as they can support what I already believe to be true, could you please tell me how [insert religion here] does that?”

On the bright side, at least the questioner implies that this “other” religion has something resembling the “truth” within it. However, even this admission seems to be tied to the other religion having “fallen away” in some pre-Modern past, yet fortunately holding on to some small vestige of truth while acquiring other “false doctrines”.

I am wrong to feel this way?

  • Doc

    Diahman, I guess my question to you would be, In what sense is the gospel true. What do we have in your opinion that makes this church worth staying in as opposed to going anywhere else. I guess I don’t see the problem in elucidating a greater understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ through truth that has been revealed to other religions. This isn’t so much what do they believe that I already believe as much as what truth do they have that can deepen my understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what I think taking the truth others possess and adding unto it is all about IMO. I understand your point about maintaining that “they” have fallen away” is off putting in an open attitude. I feel it is equally important for us to periodically reexamine our own beliefs for traditions that may have crept in. We are in danger of the same issues left to ourselves. Once we realize that we are in more danger than any other people of drifting into phariseeism and self righteousness than the pride you describe becomes less of a danger to us.

  • diahman

    Doc,I hold to claims of unique authority to provide the ordinances necessary for salvation. I think at the same time however, we also have a responsibility to make the truths of the “other” a part of our own. However, IMO this gets convoluted in our “truth talk”.I substitute taught an institute class a little while ago where the class was entitled some thing like “Texts of Early Civilization”. They were going through some of the Near Eastern myths. To start the class I posed the question, “Why study these texts?” For the most part the reasons they gave were that these other texts could help us gain new perspectives of our own religion.Now, the problem I have with this position is that the best thing another religion can do is to more or less give us a new perspective of the truth we already have. To put it another way, the other does not provide anything ontologically new. I would say in this regard, there is a lesser significance attached to studying these religions. This mentality is usually explicitly or implicitly captured by statements such as, “Well, it’s fine to say that that they have truth as long as we understand that we have the fullness of truth.” Or by looking for “parallels”—things that they believe that can support what we already know to be true. The “other” in this scenario is a “light shiner” and not a “light bearer”. This is to say that they provide a new way for seeing an old thing and do not contribute to the old thing except for perhaps illuminating some part of it that has not been seen in a long time.This is not to say that all Mormons think like this. There is another position that could claim that other religions actually do provide unique truths that we currently do not possess. They have an ontological significance as light bearers whom contribute to our light. This would be the position that I take. The problem of course is now reinterpreting what a “fullness of truth” means.

  • Doc

    So would it be fair to say that in your mind study of other religions is as important as study of your own? Anything less is bigoted? I guess that strikes me as a little extreme, almost paradoxically closed off to your own religion. That is not to say I don’t understand the sentiment. If we use the truth of our religion to value ourselves over another we have crossed a line that makes us vs. them. This is unhealthy and leads only to pride and apostasy. I agree with you that the fullness of the gospel refers reallly to a narrow set of slvific core beliefs in relation to Jesus Christ. Truth on the other hand covers a much larger and more vast conglomerate and to think we have the market cornered is definitely folly.

  • diahman

    So would it be fair to say that in your mind study of other religions is as important as study of your own? Anything less is bigoted? I guess that strikes me as a little extreme, almost paradoxically closed off to your own religion. I don’t think I would take it to that extent. Otherwise what use would it be to identify oneself as a Mormon as opposed to any other believer in another tradition? It would be “rootless” in many respects; and furthermore equivocates on the issue of exclusive claims. In other words I don’t think it’s wrong to call another religion’s position “incorrect” provided that I understand the actual position and can articulate a reason why I believe such to be the case. A problem for me is the rather unsympathetic reading we tend to give on other traditions. Our discourse is so “truth” centered rather than “understanding” centered, that we have a tendency to dismiss things without even grasping the complications of so doing.Fundamentally I feel the correct Mormon position is one of a responsibility to seek out the truths of the “other” and incorporate them as part of our own. The foundation of this is predicated on an understanding of what other religions are actually saying. I think we’ve made some in-roads with the evangelicals (Millet and his dialogue in mind here), and as a result have come to appreciate notions of grace that have had a smaller role in the past. But there’s a long way to go. Would you’d more or less agree with this position?On related issue, how do you feel about Multiple Religious Identity? Do you think it possible to be belong to more than one tradition?

  • Doc

    I think it is possible. Jews for Jesus immediately comes to mind. I think one can carry much of another tradition into a new one. As much as I’ve lately heard grousing about the old missionary discussions, one thing they did right was building on common beliefs. The truth is one doesn’t need to leave the backbone of their faith when converting to Mormonism. I do appreciate the emphasis this has received from the Church the past few decades. I can also agree with your statement of purpose in exploring other religions. There is much to be learned and understood by changing points of view. I feel the two things really hold us back in the regard. Fear, coming from a lack of faith in our own convictions and forcing a Pollyanna type insularity and pride, as my previous comments have indicated.

  • diahman

    As much as I’ve lately heard grousing about the old missionary discussions, one thing they did right was building on common beliefs. The truth is one doesn’t need to leave the backbone of their faith when converting to Mormonism. I do appreciate the emphasis this has received from the Church the past few decades. At the same time, though, I don’t think the building on common beliefs is usually done as we’ve expressed in this post. The missionary context I’m actually less bothered by, because I can see the purpose of going out to grow the Church. But generally speaking the attitude of building on common beliefs is one of “look at concept x you have in your system of beliefs. In our system we call it y.” In other words, it is a self-reaffirming process and not really a matter of anything that they are “adding” to our system. It’s one-sided and reciprocal. As a matter of fact, I would suppose that many Mormons feel that nothing in fact could be added to our system. And that many people that convert to the church feel that it is a process of giving up their cultural roots to accept a new culture as well as a religion.


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