A Thought On Being “The One True Religion”

Way back when I used to be on Mormon Matters, one very common complaint from Practicing-but-Not-Believing Mormons was that the LDS Church was ‘arrogant’ or ‘hurtful’ because they believed they were the ‘one true’ (or at least ‘most true’) religion. (Specifically, the claim of being the only currently existing Church organization started by Jesus Christ via a prophet was a particular sticking point.)

So I wrote a short post asking for some additional dialogue on this point. But I never posted it, so here it is now a few years too late:

  1. Yes, the LDS Church believes it is the one true Church. And they do not apologize for that fact.
  2. Personally, I (and most Mormons) am willing to put that fact into any legitimate and truthful interpretation available. One common approach is to interpret it as not meaning other churches or bad or even ineffective. In fact, it’s common to see other Church as, for the most part, doing God’s will. In fact, most Mormons are quite comfortable with the idea that other religions are truly “saving people” in precisely the way they think they are. (i.e. Terrestrial kingdom seems rather like the Evangelical heaven.)
  3. However, even a ‘positive spin’ like this is probably cold comfort if you happen to believe in some other religion. Even if Mormons believe everything some one else believes is basically right yet they still claim that there is more available, their claims will likely rub you wrong. (Of course other religions claims will too… but I’m getting to that.)
  4. I have met many Practicing-But-Not-Believing Mormons (i.e. NOMs, Third Pathers, etc.) as well as many out right Disaffected Mormons (i.e. DAMUs) that feel this is arrogant and/or evil of the LDS Church to teach it has unique truth claims for the world.
  5. However, in making such a statement these Practicing-But-Not-Believing Mormons are, of course, taking everything near and dear to Believing Mormons and saying it’s meaningless. Thus they are doing to Mormons exactly what they are accusing the LDS Church of doing to others. And, yes, it is hurtful for many Mormons, I’d imagine. Who likes to be told that everything they live for if false and meaningless?
  6. And, just like out attempts to blunt the edges of our beliefs by putting on a positive spin, many (well, some anyhow) of them do the same by saying our beliefs. For examle, they might claim Mormon beliefs, though false, are still good and much good comes from it, etc.
  7. And of course this is cold comfort for Mormons.

So here is my questions for honest consideration:

Is it legitimate for a Praciting-But-Not-Believing Mormon (or DAMU) invalidsting all beliefs near and dear to my heart as a Mormon to be upset just because they feel Mormon beliefs invalidate theirs or other people’s beliefs? Or does this whole line of argument rationally self-destruct upon meeting itself?  

In other words, aren’t they just doing the same thing to Mormons that they dislike about Mormons? And doesn’t that in some sense legitimize the LDS Church having unique truth claims in the first place?

And, while we are at it, wouldn’t it make more sense to have all religions teach their adherents to stop getting their nickers in a wad just because there are competing religions out there? Shouldn’t those that feel hurt take responsiblity for themselves by not expecting those that disagree with them to convert or be declared ‘arrogant’? Wouldn’t that be a more obvious, and far easier, solution to the problem?

And here is a second problem worthy of discussion. Can religions exist accept upon the existence of some ‘fatal flaw’ of ‘missing truth’ of all other competing ways?

For example, could the LDS Church have existed on any principle other than a ‘missing piece(s)’ or ‘fatal flaw’ of all other religions? Why have a Restoration if there was nothing to restore? 

Come to think of it, could the desire to place oneself as a Mormon Reformer exist on any principle other than a fatal flaws in Mormonism that needs to be fixed/changed/corrected/restored? 

If the LDS Church gave up belief in their unique revelations, could they be a vibrant religion or would they simply become a non-factor?

And while we are at it, there is one other thing to consider: is it really true that LDS Doctrine invalidates all other religions? Do Mormons, for example, really claim that the most important beliefs of other Christian religions are all false? Do they for any religion? Might we not say that there is some legitimate sense in which Mormons more more accepting of other religions than other religions are accept of them?

10 thoughts on “A Thought On Being “The One True Religion”

  1. First of all, this article needs some serious editing. No offense to the author, but it is sloppy and full of errors.

    Second of all, I don’t think that our doctrine necessarily invalidates other religions (at least not in the minor aspects). There are plenty of things that other religions got right and Joseph Smith must have seen that in the restoration of the Church.

    That ‘missing piece’ theory is interesting, but it was more like the ‘missing pieces’ theory. The Church exists independently of other religions and organizations and began….well, technically, with Adam and Eve. All other religions ARE missing pieces, the most important being the actual power to act in God’s name and perform redeeming and saving ordinances.

    Great post.

  2. There are a lot of other religions that believe they are the only true religion. I could care less what they think because I am happy with my religion and I don’t really care what they think about me personally and my religion generally. There are two possible problems that DO merit consideration, and both of these have to do with the issue of how their churches affect me or my religion. 1)They believe their “trueness” allows them to use force against others or harm other people. 2)They are bigots against others, in which case I may point out their bigotry. Case in point, Huckabee and his anti-Mormonism during the 2008 campaign(and there is some evidence that Perry is guilty of the same thing now). But the *fact that evangelicals believe their religion is the only true religion as long as they don’t act in a bigoted way does not bother me at all.* I could really care less.

  3. I’ll have to disagree with Geoff about not caring if others think I’m going to hell. I personally am bothered by it. I desire to be understood, loved, accepted for who I am. I want to connect with others, to find shared meaning and insight with them. It is impossible to have that kind of intimacy with someone like Huckabee who insists all who don’t think like him will go to hell. And that is a real loss, because Huckabee is an intelligent, good person, and there could be great potential for friendship, understanding, and communion.

    I also sympathize with disaffected Mormons who feel a chilled intimacy from their family and friends in the church after abandoning the Celestial Kingdom. Its true, as Bruce says, that these disaffected members are often just as dogmatic in their open-mindedness, and their prejudice towards those who hold exclusive views.

    I personally chose to suspend judgement about matters of exclusive authority, trusting only in my own call from God to be a Mormon, but allowing others to follow their own path, and taking their own differing testimonies at face value.

    But the greatest intimacy of mind and heart I have found, comes when I am among those who listen to me with empathy, without prejudice, without an agenda. This makes me a bad missionary I know. But I do try to be open, if the spirit wants me to invite someone down the peculiar path of Mormonism, I will follow it.

  4. I enjoyed your thoughts Nate. Thank you for sharing.

    I think my personal opinion is that there are many different roles to be played and many different people to fill them.

  5. Nate,

    I will add one thing on the “going to hell question.”

    I guess my opinion of those that claim I’m going to hell that I probably owe them a sincere ‘thank you’ for having been brave enough to tell me the truth and to (from within their world view) warn me.

    I then feel that the right response is to ‘warn them back.’ Usually starting off with an explanation of why a God that sends almost everyone to hell forever — with no chance of repentance — just to prove his justice, while only saving a few for no reason at all other than to prove his mercy, isn’t a good God and that the real God is not like that because we know He is good.

    In short, comfortable or not, I can appreciate their sincerity, the chance for them to ‘be real’, and the opportunity it presents to offer my own beliefs in return.

    But I agree with Geoff that even telling someone that you believe they are going to burn in hellfire forever can be down tolerantly or intolerantly. If done intolerantly, it’s probably not worth a response at all.

  6. I read D&C 1 different than most members. The Lord does not state we are the only “true and living Church”, but the “only true and living Church with which, I the Lord, am well pleased.” HUGE difference, and we often take it out of context.

    There can be many “true and living churches”, just that he is most pleased with this one.

    In this way, other Traditional Christian churches are living, in that they lead people to Christ, faith, repentance, obedience, and good works. They lead people away from Outer Darkness, and the sins of the Telestial realm, and into a Terrestrial glory. D&C 76 notes that the Terrestrial are “honorable” people of the earth.

    Herein lies the difference between us and others. It also bothers me when I hear Christians say that all Mormons will go to hell. It denies the “true and living” concept of the Christian Church, and makes a mockery of the Atonement and Grace. They claim we are saved by grace, except for the Mormons. That kills the living Church, and makes them as Pharisees, trying to help people into hell or the Telestial realm, rather than lifting them up into the presence of Christ in the Terrestrial realm.

  7. Thanks Bruce for the insight about appreciating Evangelicals for their warning. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but actually you are right. It is a warning voice often sent out with genuine love and concern, and that love is a beautiful thing, and can sometimes open up dialogue and intimacy, when it is perceived for what it really is. These people are a little like Nephi of old, who said he stumbles in his anxiousness over our eternal souls of his brethren. Or like the sons of Mosiah, who could not bear to see anyone in eternal torment, who shook at the very thought of it. You are right, it is a beautiful thing on that level.

  8. Nate, regarding your number 3, I really think you need to reconsider what you are saying. I don’t think you care that much what other people think of you (nor should you). You can’t go around the world trying to please others and worrying about what they think of you. You can really only go around doing what you think is right. A missionary could never be a missionary and a prophet could never be a prophet if they worried about what other people thought of them all the time. So, I don’t think you really believe that you want to be “understood, loved, accepted.” I think you want to do what you think is right, and some people will recognize the great person you appear to be (and from what I have seen of your comments here, you are a really, really good person), and others will reject you for various reason. You can’t judge yourself based on their perceptions of you — you need to judge yourself based on your own perception of your self-worth.

    So, to return to the original point, I could give a fig if some evangelical or Muslim thinks I’m going to hell. I really could care less. If they are calling me names or acting in a bigoted fashion, I will call them out on it, and we may have a lively debate. But if some evangelical in his own church wants to say, “all those Mormons are going to hell,” I really could care less as long as it doesn’t affect government policy (if, for example, they say Mormons should not be elected to high office) and as long as he doesn’t directly harm me.

  9. Geoff, those are good points. One of my personality weaknesses is to crave attention and admiration. But of course it’s irrational to expect this from everyone, and freedom comes from being able to set aside the praise of men and live for God’s approval alone. So what you are saying is correct. But nevertheless, I feel there is always loss of potential friendship and understanding when one party refuses to listen and understand things from anothers point of view. It’s not a big deal, because it’s rare to find in the first place. But actually, I think that empathy is becoming increasingly common in the world today, which is a good thing.

  10. Bruce:

    You write, “Is it legitimate for a Praciting-But-Not-Believing Mormon (or DAMU) invalidsting all beliefs near and dear to my heart as a Mormon to be upset just because they feel Mormon beliefs invalidate theirs or other people’s beliefs? Or does this whole line of argument rationally self-destruct upon meeting itself?”

    Extremely well put. I will almost certainly use that at some point.

    You write, “Do Mormons, for example, really claim that the most important beliefs of other Christian religions are all false?”

    Well, they do claim that some of the “most important” — I would rather say “essential” — beliefs of the Catholic faith are false: The Trinity, the Eucharist and the Papacy. Not that I have a problem with that, I’m just answering the question.

    [I know I'm late but I hadn't been here in a while and was looking up some of your old posts.]

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