Exploring some of the ultimate questions that confront humanity, and responding imaginatively to them;
The ups, downs and meaning(s) of life’s journey.
Religious experience for members of the LDS includes an important component of individual spiritual connection with and witness from God. Life is led as a quest for perfection (though unattainable as mortals) and a continued progression after life to become as God, and thus achieve eternal life. Members aim to cultivate an interpersonal relationship with God. This unfolds in everyday life; there is no fundamental difference between the temporal and spiritual for Mormons. They base their attitudes and behaviour on LDS doctrine. Action is emphasised as much as, or more than, contemplation. Knowledge results from study, thought and beliefs that are acted upon. Experience confirms the truthfulness of belief. Religious experience comes from doing good works, such as charity, both in service to the Church and to humanity in general.
Answers to Ultimate Questions
The answer to the ultimate questions for members of the LDS Church is that God has a plan, and it is up to them to choose to follow it if they want to maximise their chances for happiness, here and in eternity. This means keeping their covenant promises, getting married, if possible, and living a good life. Through these choices, they demonstrate faithfulness to God. They seek guidance from the Holy Ghost; however, they must choose to consult it and follow it for themselves; they are responsible for their own commitments. Their revelation is the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which it is their responsibility to spread throughout the world. Many Mormons see their Church as preparing the world for Christ to someday reign in power. It will bring about Zion through Church organisations and programmes and, even more importantly, individual dedication.
World events are often interpreted as direct fulfilment of Mormon interpretations of scripture and prophecy. Secular jobs and vocations may be used to spread the influence of Christian principles. America is seen as created for a special and specific purpose by the Lord; it is the place of Gospel restoration and where the millennial reign of Christ will begin. However, suggestions that this means Mormons are working towards achieving LDS control of the United States government are ludicrous to almost all Mormons everywhere and is definitely not taught by the institutional Church. Some critics see the Mormon Church as on a quest for religious and political supremacy but most Mormons find this absurd (though they do believe their convictions will stand them in good stead during difficult historical periods).
Religion and Science
Scientific knowledge is revered in the LDS Church and a number of prominent apostles and Church leaders have been scientists. However Mormonism also acknowledges revelation as a reliable source of knowledge and where science and the LDS religion may appear to conflict, Mormons work for a reconciliation in their understanding. The Church has few official doctrines that directly contradict scientific consensus and Mormons find ways to rationalise apparent contradictions. Use of pharmaceutical drugs by members is accepted so long as use is medicinal not recreational. There is no official Church teaching on how the Earth was made, members can be evolutionist or creationist; most are probably in between. An LDS member can be a scientist with few conflicts. However, some earlier Church leaders have taught against evolution and some older LDS members will be against evolution. In short, official Church teaching is neutral about evolution; evolution is taught at Brigham Young University; there is no real conflict between science and religion; all the data are not yet known and eventually both will harmonise.
Mormonism claims to be a rational faith; for example, DNA work has called into question old LDS ideas that Native Americans are generally descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel, so Mormon theologians look for ways that the Book of Mormon and DNA can both be true instead of rejecting scientific evidence out of hand. The historical claims of the Book of Mormon have been subjected to academic scrutiny, especially in archaeology and anthropology, which has led to some Mormons pursuing alternative theories of Book of Mormon geography or seeking more naturalistic and less literal interpretations. Scholarly work at BYU tends to uphold and reaffirm Mormon historical interpretations and the Book of Mormon as a work of literal ancient history, but Mormon scholars are constantly examining new ways to confront their past. At times, however, the Church has distanced itself from some historians and theologians who have provided alternative interpretations of Church history to what is in the Book of Mormon, these being seen by some as too ‘liberal’. Occasionally past leaders have warned against ‘alternate voices’ that would undermine key aspects of the faith, and issued reminders that intellectual and spiritual seeking should complement one another. The Church hierarchy to some extent tries to keep official sermons and writings, or writings that could be construed as official, in line with Church policy and teaching. For example, the Church requires pre-approval of members’ writings before publication if they are using archival materials of the Church. Some see this as attempting to control scholars’ depictions of Mormon history. In general, however, and apparently in response to criticisms that this control has been too strong in the past, the Church is moving towards much greater openness in providing access to its archives and scholarly resources.