I have two friends in particular, one Catholic and one Protestant, with whom I find it remarkably easy to have religious conversations. In terms of explicit doctrinal teachings, we’re often coming from quite different places. Yet somehow we seem to be on the same wavelength religiously. I’ve also met numerous Mormons whom I don’t seem to connect with at all, and in talking to such people I’m not always sure what exactly it means that we’re in the same religion, because we seem to be worlds apart in our religious views.
When it comes to religious diversity, I’ve often wondered–to what extent are people’s differering religious views a result of the teachings of particular traditions, and how much are they a function of other factors, perhaps even ones related to personality? With a variety of questions–how important is it to follow the rules to the letter? how closely is God involved in your day-to-day life? how do you balance faith and reason? how optimistic are you about human abilities?–someone’s denominational affiliation isn’t necessarily going to tell you how they think about the issue. Certainly there are general tendencies (e.g. Lutherans emphasize justification by faith, or liturgy is central for Episcopalians), but I suspect that often these broad differences are overshadowed by the individual variations within churches.
In the context of contemporary Christianity, many have made the case that the sharpest religious divides are no longer between Catholics and Protestants, but between conservatives and liberals within traditions. A liberal-leaning Lutheran, for example, is likely to have more in common with a liberal Baptist, Methodist, or even Catholic than with a conservative-leaning Lutheran. I’m curious–does this hold true for Mormons as well? Or are we distinct enough from other Christians that an Iron Rod, “when the prophet speaks, the debate is over” Latter-day Saint and a Sunstone-reading, “when the prophet speaks, the debate has just begun” Latter-day Saint still have more in common with each other than with other Christians of whatever denomination?
Interestingly, I find myself having more religious disagreements with my fellow Church members than with those of other faiths. I’m not sure that this is because I actually disagree more, or simply because I’m more likely to care about those disagreements and thus pay more attention to them. I suspect the latter plays a not insignificant role. Still, I notice that often the place in my life where I feel the most tentative about sharing my religious views is, ironically, church. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that.
- 15 October 2006