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QUESTION:

Religion features prominently in many of your books, certainly more so than in the books of most SF authors. You write with understanding and you seem to suggest that no one religion has a monopoly on truth. From reading your work, I would guess that you do not consider one religion to be the only path to Heaven/salvation/Nirvana etc.

My question is this: How do you reconcile this view with your own religious beliefs? Do you subscribe to the view that all paths lead to God, or do you believe Mormonism to be right but wish to cause no offense?

-- Submitted Anonymously

OSC REPLIES: - September 4, 2000

There is a middle ground. I do believe that Mormonism has a uniquely authoritative position, but it is one of our core beliefs that we do not have anything close to "all" the answers and we're not sure which of our current beliefs will be superseded by better understanding in the future. So it makes for a certain degree of humility about our "monopoly on truth."

We also believe that God has earnestly endeavored to give truth to all his children in every era and every area, and that insofar as people try to live up to whatever model of "righteousness" they have been taught, they are judged by God as having been good. Moreover, when people pray to the god they have been taught to believe in, then that prayer is heard by the God who actually exists -- and since no one has a perfect understanding of God, we're all virtually in the same boat. Another reason for humility.

However, this does not mean that all beliefs are equal in the eyes of God. First, not all beliefs are equal in the eyes of nature -- there are laws which, if obeyed, will lead to the destruction of the community that believes in them, and there are laws which, if obeyed, will help a community endure through many trials and across many generations. There are laws that lead to happiness and laws that lead to misery. And we Mormons believe that all human beings, before being born into this world, made a clear choice to adhere to good and truthful laws. We have no conscious memory of our experiences before birth, but we do have an innate ability to sense that some laws are better than others, and that some things are downright wrong.

We cannot know what is in others' hearts, however. That is why it is God who judges which people lived up to their understanding of right and wrong, and not human beings. Nevertheless, when someone behaves in a way that is contrary to the generally understood norms of his society, and his behavior is more rather than less selfish than the norm, societies must, in order to protect themselves and their members, act to correct or eliminate the behavior. But that gets us into a forest of ethical principles that is beyond the scope of your question.

And it's worth pointing out that even where we Mormons are flat-out correct in our beliefs, that's no guarantee that we'll be particularly virtuous in our actions -- so any Mormon who gets smug about having "the truth" needs to slap himself silly and get things back in perspective.

When I satirize various religions in my work, I am satirizing those who misuse religion for their private gain or in order to get control over other people, or those who in ignorance become vain about the superiority of their beliefs. Such people are present, in larger or lesser proportion, in every community of belief -- whether that community believes in God or a god or no god at all.

In summary, I believe that the church I belong to is uniquely authoritative in speaking for God on earth today, but that in terms of correctness of belief, we have no exclusive franchise and no guarantee that our current understanding is right. We learn from everyone who has good things to teach. We believe that God respects the faith of all faithful people, and the goodness of all who try to do good, and judges all humans according to the degree of understanding we had at the time of our actions. We offer our current understanding of God's will and nature to any who will listen, in the belief that following what God has asked us to do will make us happier people and better communities. But we continue to respect all who do their best to live up to their own conception of right and wrong, even though we do not regard them as having an equal or equivalent authority in speaking for the God-who-is rather than a God-as-understood.

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