The Goods of Religious Dogmatism: The Mormon Dilemma

In posting the obituary of the late President Monson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the New York Times tweeted, “Thomas Monson, the president of the Mormon church who rebuffed demands to ordain women as priests and refused to alter church opposition to same-sex marriage, died at 90.” The obituary did mention some other less controversial humanitarian work of President Monson such as his visitation of widows. However, the problem was that in publicating the obituary, instead of celebrating the life of a good, religious leader, the New York Times used his death to promote their own progressive-liberationist agenda.

  On social media, there were two general reactions to the obituary from members of the Church. The first group was offended and angry. A petition, calling for change to the obituary, was posted and re-posted by members and friends of the Church expressing their frustration. The second group had a “turn the other cheek” sort of reaction. In response to the petitioners, they argued that President Monson would smile, hug the man who wrote the obituary, and love him anyway. Neither reaction adequately demonstrated Christian love or adequately defended the faith.

The purpose of this article is to propose a third reaction that members of the Church should take in such circumstances, and that members of other religious faiths can take in similar circumstances.

        All societies develop dogmatic beliefs: cultural, political, and religious moral habits, or “opinions men receive on trust without discussing them.” Societies cannot function without them; they are the principal ideas that motivate citizens to cooperate with one another. Religion is the greatest source of dogmatic beliefs. Tocqueville writes:

“There is almost no human action, however particular one supposes it, that does not arise from a very general idea that men have conceived of God, of His relations with the human race, of the nature of their souls, and of their duties towards those like them. One cannot keep these ideas from being the common source from which all the rest flow.”

Human action naturally orients itself towards higher powers and purposes. Interestingly, this principle takes many forms, but holds true across beliefs: Hindus and Sikhs hope for Nirvana, Buddhists pursue enlightenment, Zoroastrians union with Ahura Mazda, and Muslims union with Allah. Christians seek heaven, and Mormons aim for the Celestial Kingdom. Whether each society is conscious of it or not, such beliefs influence culture and law. Indeed, all religions are naturally political: concerned with the good of self, of others, and of society.

        For too long it has been assumed that faith and reason are foreign to one another, that “private morality” must not interfere with “public morality” (as if moral truth were something relative), and that politics should be unhampered by any sort of religious dogmatism. In fact, the vigorous separation of church and state has become its own political dogmatism, resulting firstly in intolerance of religious reasoning (such phrasing is scoffed at: can religion reason?) and secondly, hesitance among the believers to defend religious morality in the public sphere.

        Unsurprisingly, although unnatural to society, it is these political habits towards religion that justify some of the relentless criticism of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints that we see today. If recognition of religious dogma is denied and undefended, then political dogma will continue to dictate to the religious. For Latter-day Saints, that means if Church members refuse to influence society, then society will continue to dictate to the Church. The uncompromising criticism of the Church comes from both the political left and the political right. For example, on the right, Steve Bannon reproached Mitt Romney and his sons for putting mission service above military service; Mike Pence implored Mormons to “come home” despite moral disapproval of President Trump. From the left, the New York Times was unapologetic of their shameful obituary of the beloved President Monson, and the media heads continue to treat the Ordain Women movement like it’s bigger movement than it really is. Criticism from both the political left and the right will never fully cease. However, political dogma will only take religious dogma seriously if religious people defend faith as reasonable, actively demonstrate the universality of morality, and reevaluate the spheres of church and state.  

        It is unnatural for religious dogma to be in conflict with political dogma. Neither should be placed above the other as it results in either theocracy or progressive-liberationalism. Instead, members of religious faiths should respond in kindness, but strive to show how religion is reasonable, and can be legitimized and unified with political dogma in the public sphere. The natural tendencies of the human soul will be uninhibited and society will be in greater harmony, oriented towards its ultimate purpose.

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