Originally published at the USU SHAFT site.
By Common Consent, a popular Mormon blog, laments a recent phenomenon:
Our young people go off to college or leave home for work, and they promptly drop out of the Church. This seems to be happening at accelerated rates compared to the past, and the old assumption that many will eventually come back when they start families of their own seems to be holding less than it used to. In short, we’re losing our young people at an alarming rate.
This trend isn’t unique to Mormonism, of course. Indeed, relative to other Christian sects, Mormonism has fairly low attrition. But what is interesting about those who apostatize from the LDS Church is that they don’t leave to join other faiths. More often, they leave religion altogether. This blog and its readers are evidence of that.
I often hear the sentiment from my LDS friends that, “If Mormonism isn’t true, no religion is.” I think that’s a false dilemma, but I understand it. Mormons become victims of their own devoutness. Their expectations of the church and its leaders are unrealistically high, setting them up for disappointment. When you believe in something (in this case Mormonism) so strongly, and then discover that it’s untrue, you begin to doubt other beliefs you held as certainties—including god.
Perhaps in response to the aforementioned phenomenon, LDS leaders have taken aim at atheism in recent conference talks and public addresses. I find this ironic, though, because Mormonism arguably has more in common with atheism than it does other religions.
At first blush, this observation may sound absurd, even offensive. The most immediate and seemingly insurmountable difference between Mormons and atheists is that the former believe in gods. But the gods of Mormonism are actually compatible with the atheistic/naturalistic worldview. Unlike the traditional Abrahamic god, the gods of Mormonism do not transcend the physical universe; they instead reside within it. They also—with the notable exception of the Holy Ghost—have bodies of flesh and bone. And given the space technology, we could literally ‘hie to Kolob‘ and locate the Mormon god Elohim.
Because these gods are a part of the physical universe, they could not have created it ex nihilo. As Joseph Smith taught in the King Follett discourse, the gods merely ‘organized’ the universe from pre-existing ‘intelligences’ or matter. So Mormons and atheists (should) both reject cosmological arguments for gods.
Like atheists, Mormons are also skeptical of rigid theologies, creeds, and traditions. There are a number of reasons for this, but among them is that Joseph Smith felt these things were too restrictive and didn’t allow for continuing, progressive revelation. This emphasis on progress, for me, now manifests itself as an excitement about scientific advancement.
And one of the more salient similarities: Mormonism and atheism have a shared humanism. Put simply, Mormonism is more concerned with man than gods. 2 Nephi 2:25 reads: “…men are, that they might have joy.” And in the Pearl of Great Price, it explicitly says that God’s work and glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39)—a far more palatable to atheists than another Christian view that man was created to glorify god.