What good is Mormonism?

Critics like me spend a lot of time talking about what doesn’t work in the LDS church and what isn’t true, but I suspect that most of us find a lot to admire in Mormonism. Here’s my list. What do you find that is positive in the LDS church?

– Focus on education. I grew up knowing I was expected to go to college, and I was taught in church and at home that learning is its own end. I’m grateful for that.

– Opportunities for speaking. I received a promotion back in Texas because I was the only person in my department who wasn’t afraid to speak in public. That comes from years of speaking and teaching in church, as well as missionary work.

– Work ethic. I was taught to work hard, and two years in Bolivia taught me how to do it consistently.

– Community. I always felt (and still do) part of a community of people who all wanted to serve God the best way we could.

– Appreciation for ancestors. I know a lot more about my ancestors and their lives because of the church’s emphasis on family history. It’s still one of my passions in life.

-Charity. I have been in so many people’s homes giving service, and I have had a lot of opportunities to make a real difference, such as in cleaning up after two hurricanes.

– The worth of souls. The church’s teaching that every person is a valued child of God has helped me try to treat others with kindness and compassion, no matter who they are.

– Commitment to truth. Mormonism taught me that finding and following truth is paramount in life.

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37 Responses to What good is Mormonism?

  1. aerin says:

    Thanks Runtu for this list.

    My only disagreement is on the point about charity. There are many organizations and religions that appear (to me) to be much more charity focused. Their charitable giving and record of service is public for people who want to find it. I’ll give a couple of examples. Growing up, the churches in our area ran homeless shelters and provided meals. They coordinated so each night of the week, a different church provided the shelter. I asked my dad why our church didn’t participate. It was due to liability issues (that’s what he said, not sure if there was another reason).
    2 – I know it’s a matter of perspective. You mention your mission, what if for two years, instead of going door to door, LDS missionaries built sewers, taught English, built homes, provided medical care? What’s really better for a country like Haiti? An LDS missionary or a doctor? Some churches send doctors….

    I certainly agree with you about the value of education and public speaking. The focus on truth and living what you preached was a strong influence when I was growing up. No longer mormon, I see so many instances where charity could be better provided given limited resources (does this make sense)? This could have changed since I was younger, but I don’t think so.

  2. runtu says:

    Yes, I know what you mean. Sure, there is a disparity between what the church could do and what it does charitably. Think of it this way: $2 billion and counting for the City Creek project, but I have never heard of the church building low-income housing.

    So, yes, it’s a question of priorities, but the church did teach me to be charitable and giving and provided opportunities for me to do so. And for that I’m grateful.

  3. jr says:

    To echo aerin with regards to charity: I’ve always thought that if the missionaries were required to spend 50% of their time towards providing charitable service in the local community, they would probably have more success in gaining converts. It would certainly be more successful than knocking on doors at random.

  4. SillyNut says:

    You’re a bigger person than I am, Runtu. I’m still just pissed. And the LDS church isn’t just “not true” for me, for me it’s toxic. It led and fostered an unhealthy attitude and life that has caused severe damage.

    However, I agree with some of your list. I had thought about the public speaking part myself, just last night. And I can see where a lot of other points you had would be true for you. Unfortunately, I was a girl. They weren’t near as true for me because of that (thinking education.)

  5. runtu says:

    I shouldn’t have to say this, but yes, there is a lot that is “toxic” in Mormonism. Sometimes I feel like I will never recover from the damage 40 years in Mormonism did to me. But this morning I was just thinking that maybe I need to see the positive, and thus was born this post.

  6. Teddy Garcia says:

    Hola!!
    Estoy seguro que me puedes entender, yo tambien fui misionero en Bolivia

    Todo lo que escribes es verdad, a mi tambien me ayudo mucho

    Thank you for write

    Saludos de Lima Peru.

    http://elequilibrioperfecto.wordpress.com/

  7. runtu says:

    Gracias por haberme escrito, Teddy. Me alegra que te ayudó lo que escribí.

  8. ditchu says:

    I think the idea is not to help people into low income situations but use it as a temporary starting point and work on getting people into educated situations where they can get good paying jobs. Low income housing tends to prepetuate the low income of its users. less than half of the people who enter low income housing get out of their low income situation.
    -D

  9. K*tty says:

    Can’t say enough about the benefits of speaking in church.

    I do agree with aerin about the church service.
    When I worked with the young women, I used that chance to be of service in the community. Remember the good old “service project.” When I began to see how lame most of the service was: baking cookies for the bishop; babysitting for the mother of a kajillion kids; cleaning some house of a ward member, when we should have called CPS instead and bringing in dinner for someone who cut their finger are a few that stand out. (stressing that in each of these cases, these people had almost as much money as Santa) I was sure we could do better than that. Why was our service limited to the members of the ward? I just started reading the newspaper and believe me, there was plenty to do. But soon, I was taken aside and I had to clear all my projects with the Bishop.

    A friend in my area, leads the ward in a service project that is held at a Catholic church clear across town. Once a month, she organizes a Lasagna dinner for the homeless. (this is her main calling) I asked once, “What do they eat the rest of the month?”

    The Mormons are known for many good things, but I don’t think it is their service to the rest of mankind. And it certainly is not when you compare the money the church takes in and the slim percentage, that is used to help others.

  10. bull says:

    Honestly, the further I get away from it the less positive I see. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that everything good is really only suffered in as far as it serves the church. Everything positive about the church can be taught much more effectively in a secular environment without the encumbrances unnecessarily imposed by the church. Yes, there is a silver lining to the years of involvement, but when I left it was with relief because I felt like the church got much, much more out of the exchange than I ever did.

  11. Ray A says:

    I think the Church has many positives. A few.

    1. The emphasis on families.

    2. Honesty. (Not talking about “sanitised history” here, but this encouragement to be honest, at the lay level, “in all your dealings”)

    3. Most Mormons are not aggressive or antagonistic, IRL. They are prepared to listen, and respectfully disagree. Again, not talking about forums.

    4. The regenerative power of Mormonism for many. I’ve seen alcoholics become teetotallers literally overnight.

    5. The emphasis on genealogy, and gaining a greater appreciation of your ancestors, even if for the purpose of “dunking”. The Church has spawned some of the most comprehensive genealogical databases in the world.

    6. The strong sense of community, and belonging.

    7. The encouragement to study and learn more, as per D&C 88, not just about religion, but everything under the sun.

    8. Mormons never hassle cab drivers 🙂 They are for the most part decent citizens, and that to me is what it means to be Mormon, and the valuable contribution they make to society in this regard.

    In my opinion almost all of these have downsides, however, and that’s what has somewhat bothered me for a time now. I’ve constantly asked myself, more and more, whether it’s really right to “create good people” based on what I call the paradox of “believing six impossible things before breakfast”. Would they be this good were it not for those beliefs? (Still, overall it benefits society on the whole.) I could similarly list positive attributes of JWs, SDAs, and Christians. Out of all of this good also comes some narrow-minded ideas and socially isolating prejudices. As K*tty mentioned:

    Why was our service limited to the members of the ward? I just started reading the newspaper and believe me, there was plenty to do. But soon, I was taken aside and I had to clear all my projects with the Bishop.

    An all too familiar statement to me. The bureaucracy just kills the spirit of good intentions which seek no other reward than helping others. Ditto for benign things even like independent study groups formed in the 1980s, which generated almost Inquisition-like responses.

    Some of my children have expressed to me that they liked their Mormon upbringing, and the good values it taught them, but not one of them would have wanted to continue with it into adulthood. They all respect the Church, but they don’t believe in it now any more than they believe in Santa Claus. Their mother, in spite of her own disbelief, also encouraged them to look at it positively. And on this point I have to agree with Runtu:

    – Commitment to truth. Mormonism taught me that finding and following truth is paramount in life.

    This more than anything else is the most positive benefit Mormonism gave me. It made me scrutinise myself and my world inside out, upside down, and to leave no stone unturned in the search for truth. I believe Mormonism survives because it attracts goodness and instills virtues that are compatible with human survival, but at the same time if taken to extremes can have the opposite effect. Catholicism hasn’t imploded, because it was tamed by 500 hundred years of criticism, beginning with the Reformation, to leave the Inquisition, witch-drowning and stake-burning mentality. Now it even apologises to those it once killed. All part, I think, of our evolution on this planet. We simply could not have gone on with the Medieval attitudes, while at the same time trying to retain the best that religion offers.

  12. erlybird says:

    Your points are well taken. I think, however, that these honorable positives (and I agree with some) ought not to be co-opted as the possessions of religious communities of any kind. I am determined to make a stand where it comes to my two sons and pass along to them any of the good things from my Mormon upbringing without the accompanying aura/stigma of it being done in order to obey some commandment.

    To wit…

    Education for education’s sake…how does THAT get to be a religious thing? No need for a Church to be in on that one.

    Public speaking. Sure…that’s cool. But when I look back on it 9 out of 10 speakers made Church excruciatingly AWFUL for me. Once in a while when I pass across the BYU channel on cable TV and listen to a Devotional for a few seconds I almost want to PUKE it is so bad. But, like you said…it DID help me.

    Hard work? Community? Genealogy? An Attitude of Giving? Hot useless days on welfare farms weeding beets? The members of my branch never leaving after Church was held at our HOUSE every week? Hours and hours each week spent by my mom doing extraction work to baptize dead people? Freaking Boy Scouts? Sure, hard work is important but it’s always the same three families that does it all.

    Every soul is valued…except people with dark skin…or those gay people who have CHOSEN to be fruity…or those Democrats…

    As far as truth goes…really…don’t make me laugh. SAYING you have the “truth” or SAYING you seek the “truth” does not insure that you HAVE it or are really, honestly looking for it. Mormons don’t look for it. Southern Baptists don’t look for it. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or any other kind of believers don’t look for it. The very FIRST thing that you have to do while looking for the “truth” is to admit that you don’t have much of it at all.

  13. SillyNut says:

    >>>>4. The regenerative power of Mormonism for many. I’ve seen alcoholics become teetotallers literally overnight. <<<<

    Regenerative, my ass.

    I’m sorry. I’m married to an addict and Mormonism is a big part of the whole crappy addictive cycle. You have 2 sides of addiction, the acting out side where they drink, do drugs, game excessively, whatever the addiction is, and the other side where they are so rigid, so controlled that it’s called “acting in.” My H acted in for years and Mormonism is the perfect place to do that. In his 12 step group almost all of them were raised in a repressive, conservative religion.

    It’s not regenerative. It just provides the context to act on the opposite end of the spectrum from total acting out. Which is not healthy. It’s just as dangerous, if not moreso, because it’s so hard to identify it as a problem.

    Runtu,

    I’m glad you have positives you can see. I agree that I need to see them too, lol. I’m just not there yet.

  14. bull says:

    SillyNut, in reading about addiction I was amazed at how Mormonism seemed to create the perfect recipe for all the ingredients that foster addiction. My father, for example, has no substance abuse problems but is addicted to church activity. He is compelled to attend all of his church meetings no matter what else is going on and has been known to leave family events early so that he could drive home and make sure to attend his Sunday meetings and he was only attending, not teaching or anything.

  15. US Fan says:

    Interesting. I grew up in a conservative, cult like in its leagalism Church of Christ. I am 38 and still peeling the brainwashing away. I can relate to this group!

  16. ditchu says:

    Addiction is fostered in the self not some ambiguos outside influence. As we push off the reason for our addictions upon other sources we do little to defeat and overcome it. You can blame anyone and anything you want but in truth the addiction rests within oneself, and that is where the battle ground is.

    -D

  17. K*tty says:

    I agree with SillyNut. It has only been the last few years that the church has even acknowledge that some members suffer from addiction. In a class I took years ago, the professor gave some statistics that were mind boggling to me at the time. He said for every two Mormons who drink, one will become an alcoholic. He also said that the stricter the mores of the group were, the higher the percentage went up, when members went against their taught beliefs. Now I know that ditchu would say off the bat, that they should not drink to begin with, but that is discussion for another day.

    As far as blaming the self, where do we begin, if life, teachings and experiences are, in fact, part of the self? I always tell my kids, the good thing about having parents, is you have someone to blame. Right back at that for the church, too. Partly kidding, because ditchu, you do make a good point, but not every part of addiction is that black and white.

  18. ditchu says:

    The problem is not that people drink or not drink. The problem is not who is to blame, but it is blame in the first place. If we take on the responsibility to stay our addictions and keep from giving into them then we can recover from these plagues on our life. Do we need to blame others or some outside influence? No. But then do we need to blame ourselves? Again, No. You may ask me, “Who is to blame?” The point is we should not blame but find the root of our problems and fix it in ourselves.
    -D

  19. SillyNut says:

    Yes, and part of getting to the root of the problem IS to examine life experiences and what not that led us in that direction. Ie, the church.

  20. It is laughable that people look at the visible charitable works of the church and suggest there just isn’t enough. The church doesn’t have soup kitchens of their own; however, many soup kitchens are supported by significant financial and goods donations from the Bishop’s Store House. There are multiple kinds of missions. Most young men embark on proselyting missions but there are humanitarian missions as well. These less publicized forms of service aren’t supposed to bring wide recognition. Constant shipments of humanitarian aid ship worldwide from the church, again, not for recognition’s sake.

    As for education for the sake of education: As the father of three daughters, I am impressed with the desire each has expressed to seek higher education and the support they are given in the church to seek after that education. No, it is not a religious value, per se. It is, however, taught in church as one of our core values. Self-sufficiency is a core value. Self-sufficiency is far easier to gain if you have the knowledge necessary to fulfill your own personal needs.

    Addiction: I am an addict. I don’t know that my ability to step away from the addiction can be attributed to my faith. I’d dare say that I have been blessed in my efforts, though. As for an addiction to church based on leaving family functions to attend church, if a man has faith and he follows that faith while others in his family do not, when is it appropriate to act on that faith? Every family activity for a part of my family takes place on Sunday and is in direct conflict with church meetings. If I were to place greater priority on family, I would never be able to attend. I miss some meetings. I attend most. Does this mean I have moved my addiction from substances to faith? I do not think so.

    There is plenty about the Church – the leadership, its members or the organization – that we could criticize. I am impressed that some are able to look beyond their hurts, disbelief or other concerns to recognize some of those things they found edifying about the church.

  21. Ray A says:

    Sillynut:

    Regenerative, my ass.

    I’m sorry. I’m married to an addict and Mormonism is a big part of the whole crappy addictive cycle. You have 2 sides of addiction, the acting out side where they drink, do drugs, game excessively, whatever the addiction is, and the other side where they are so rigid, so controlled that it’s called “acting in.” My H acted in for years and Mormonism is the perfect place to do that. In his 12 step group almost all of them were raised in a repressive, conservative religion.

    It’s not regenerative. It just provides the context to act on the opposite end of the spectrum from total acting out. Which is not healthy. It’s just as dangerous, if not moreso, because it’s so hard to identify it as a problem.

    Your (personal) experience and mine are different. I’m talking about people who have a real change in lifestyle. Mormonism kept me off alcohol for 13 years (and as I said I know numerous other members for whom it did exactly the same, and they never lapsed, as I did, in spite of previously being traditional “pub-crawlers”). That’s not to say that some kind of Christian conversion would not have done the same, but in this regard, I think any objective person would agree that the Church is a positive influence here.

    I do acknowledge that today there’s a far greater problem with alcohol and members, especially in Utah. But that is in line with increasing worldwide drug and alcohol consumption, and the associated problems. This isn’t necessarily a “Mormon problem”, and if Mormonism “fosters this” (pardon the pun), it does so no more than any other religion.

  22. Eric Nielson says:

    Well Runtu, you tried.

  23. K*tty says:

    Runtu, I am wondering about a post I saw on Mormon Curtain and again on Mormon Coffee. It was a letter from the first presidency about the use of scriptures in sacrament meeting. First off, there is a small mistake in the letter and I can’t see that getting by a proof reader. Since I don’t attend, was this letter actually read in Sacrament? I asked my home teacher about it and of course, I came across like, “Oh, boy! What is she reading now?”
    But then he and his wife have been out of the country for a few weeks.
    What do you think?

    As read to all Mormons the past few Sundays:
    Dear Brethren and Sisters:

    Use of Scriptures and Visual Aids in Sacrament Meeting and Stake Conference

    We are encouraged by the number of Church members who are actively studying the revealed word of the Lord as found in the scriptures. We note with appreciation that many are also bringing their scriptures to Church meetings and using them as the basis for speaking and teaching.

    In order to maintain an atmosphere of reverent worship in our sacrament and stake conference meetings, when speakers use scriptures as part of their talks they should not ask the congregation to open their own books to the scriptural reference. Also, members should not use visual aids [and] their sacrament meeting or stake conference talks. Such teaching methods are more effective in classroom settings and leadership meetings.

    We believe these adjustments will enhance the spirit of our worship services,

    Sincerely yours,

    The First Presidency

  24. ditchu says:

    K*TTY,
    Was the and added? It should have read either “at” or “in” I think when I heard the letter read it said “at”.
    -D

  25. K*tty says:

    Ditchu, thanks for answering my question. I was wondering if, in fact, the letter was real and had actually been read in Sacrament. So I assume from your answer that it was. I’m sure that the blog that reported this typed in AND, when they meant to type in AT. Which believe me, is easy to do. The only reason that I mentioned that aspect of the letter was that misspellings and mistakes are often the first clue to scams on the Internet. I was sure that if this letter was, in fact, legitimate there would be no error.

  26. Ray A says:

    K*tty,

    Since I don’t attend, was this letter actually read in Sacrament? I asked my home teacher about it and of course, I came across like, “Oh, boy! What is she reading now?”

    I know the question was for Runtu, but I’ll throw in my 0.2 cents. This is actually a very old letter (probably being recycled). It was read when I was fully active, so it pretty much goes back to ancient times.

  27. K*tty says:

    Ray, I would have asked you first because you know I think you know everything. But, you and I do not go to church and so I knew that we wouldn’t have heard this letter. Infymus, at Mormon Curtain, is attributing this letter to the new prophet and said that is was read to Mormons the past few Sundays. In my experience, Infymus is a reliable source. And Ditchu made it sound like he had also heard it recently. Needless to say, I have been smiling all day because of how my home teacher reacted when I asked about the letter. Last night he was indignant that the church would even suggest that you weren’t to be looking up scriptures in a Sacrament talk. He gave a light hearted chuckle, but assured me this was not a letter from the prophet. Thanks for commenting.

  28. ditchu says:

    K-
    It was very clear that the letter does not say we are not to look up scriptures during any meeting. It states that when giving a talk please do not ASK people to look up the scriptures or use visual aids. This is better done in a class enviroment but when giving a talk in church one should keep it simple and not make people follow along. there is a time and place for this, But in that meeting it distrubers the flow and gets distracting for the person giving a talk to ask you to turn to that verse. If you feel inclined to do so, that’s great but the letter was so that you were not made to feel that you had to.

    Thank you,
    -D

  29. Ray A says:

    K*tty, John Larsen (exmo) noted the same thing on MADB; he recalls it going back some ten years. Memory might be failing me, but I think it goes back over 20 years. At the time I thought it was a good idea, because some speakers had the annoying habit of having people flipping through the scriptures almost for the whole talk. Speakers made specific requests for this, and it was irksome for many. The place for that was in classes, not Sacrament.

  30. K*tty says:

    Thanks, guys.

  31. tasithoughts says:

    You know I did take many positive things from my experience in the church that has shaped my life today.

  32. Dathon says:

    Thanks runtu. Balanced and fair observations and responses in my estimation, though I may be too optimistic and forgiving of organizational and individual error.

  33. Anonymous Literary Admirer says:

    Runtu:

    I see what you mean, but the Mormon cult is not the only where you could learn these virtues. They exist outside in the secular world. These values are not unique to Mormonism.

    It’s quite likely that you would have been drawn to them regardless of whether you had grown up in the cult or not. You seem like a decent person, I’m sure you would have developed the same qualities even if you had been an atheist.

    Kind regards,
    Literary Admirer

  34. Anonymous Literary Admirer says:

    “only PLACE where you could learn these virtues” I should have said…

    I really should read my posts before I click the “Submit Comment” button…(sigh)

  35. Odell says:

    This brings to mind a friend of mine who is a successful CPA in Oklahoma City. He is a lapsed Catholic and very much admires the LDS church. When I was a member of the Mormon church I spoke to him at the gym of the church, Joseph Smith, temples, etc. He was very interesting and spoke highly of the LDS church and its members.

    Later I left the church and about this same time I learned that my friend is gay. Yet, he is still interested in Mormonism and considers baptism. He has expressed dissappointment with me for leaving. And he doesn’t believe me when I tell him that we wouldn’t be approved for baptism and if so, would be excommunicated for joining.

    All those “good’ things you mention attract him to the LDS church and he finds it hard to believe there is a rotten unbelly to the church.

  36. […] LDS church DOES have a strong record of charitable giving. See the comments in Runtu’s post here. The comment I’d like to discuss […]

  37. aerin says:

    Hey – I posted something about this post and it’s comments (about service) at Main Street Plaza (http://www.latterdaymainstreet.com).

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