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Commentary —  6 July 2012

Mormon and Modern

Salt Lake City — 

Increasingly, religion is having to prove itself relevant in what some have called a secular age. Many seek proof of relevancy through empirical evidence. Since faith and spiritually based experience are foreign to a secular mindset, they are frequently dismissed. As a new religion that grew up in full public view less than 200 years ago, Mormonism and its miraculous origins are, for some, a particularly easy target.

But making sense of encounters between faith and reason — no matter the religious tradition — is part of the human religious experience. Latter-day Saints believe that men and women bear the divine gifts of intellectual reasoning and moral intuition. Devoted followers of many of the world’s faith traditions cultivate both. Mormon doctrine stresses the need and responsibility to engage both head and heart in decision making, in learning, in relationships and in worship.[1]

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For Mormons, there need not be a conflict between devotion to one’s faith and meaningful participation in modern society. Faithful Latter-day Saints are currently engaged in education, science, business, the arts and political life. In a pluralistic world, modern sensibilities tend to compartmentalize spheres of human activity. But Mormon thought encourages integration. Individual character, for example, should not be divorced from public character. Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled: “Avoid compartmentalizing your life into segments that apply to profession, to Church, and to family, using different standards in each segment. Your life is a continuum where the same standards of integrity and hard work apply to every aspect of your life.”[2]

While it was once an integral part of the landscape of society, the place of religious belief in public space is now frequently contested by polarized ideological camps. But the categories of faith and reason, scripture and science, religious and secular do not have to be mutually exclusive. These spheres overlap and can benefit from one another when approached with fair-mindedness, humility and wisdom. Mormons welcome truth from whatever source and take the pragmatic view that where religion and science seem to clash, it is simply because there are insufficient data to reconcile the two. Latter-day Saints approach such tensions as challenges to learn, not contradictions to avoid.

This productive tension can enrich both mind and heart. All understanding, whether spiritual or rational, is worked out in constant questioning and discovery. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.”[3] Latter-day Saints do not expect God to simply hand down information. He expects us to wrestle with the complications of life through prayerful searching and sound thinking. “You must study it out in your mind,” Mormon scripture teaches, and then answers will come. This pattern of inquiry opens Mormons to expanding spiritual possibilities.[4]

While the ultimate aims of religious and secular life do not always align, Mormons “follow the admonition of Paul” by seeking after anything that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,” whatever the source may be.[5] Embracing a world full of truth and meaning, Latter-day Saints aspire to heed the call of Joseph Smith to “gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up.”[6] President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has encouraged “a harmonious combining of both the intellect and the spirit.”[7] Mormons, therefore, do not compartmentalize one truth from another.

The Latter-day Saint belief in continuing revelation reinforces the process of learning and integration. The windows of heaven are not closed. According to Mormon scripture, learning has lasting significance because “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life” will follow us in the hereafter.[8] Indeed, Mormons believe that God “will yet reveal many great and important things”[9] to His children.



[1] See Doctrine and Covenants 8:2.

[2] “Latter-day Counsel,” Ensign, June 2001, 74.

[3] In History of the Church, 6:248.

[4] Doctrine and Covenants 9:8.

[5] Articles of Faith 1:13.

[6] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (1976), 316.

[7] “Reverence Invites Revelation,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 21.

[8] Doctrine and Covenants 130:18.

[9] Articles of Faith 1:9.

 

Style Guide Note: When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online style guide.

 
 
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