Points of agreement between atheists and Mormons

In my last SiOB, I highlighted a list of “things that both atheists and Mormons can largely affirm together” by Aaron Shafovaloff. Then Andrew S picked up the discussion and even attracted Aaron Shafovaloff himself to attempt to explain it.

I had highlighted the list mostly because many of the items were so hilariously off. In an attempt to account for the phenomenon of people choosing to “stay LDS” after a loss of belief, Shafovaloff had tried to come up with a list of beliefs that are common among the three groups: atheist exmos, agnostic NOMs, and believing Mormons. That’s a reasonable approach, but the key problem is that Shafovaloff didn’t make a serious attempt to understand any of these positions or what they have in common. His list seems to be more an exercise in trying to discredit the three categories by lumping them together.

Then it hit me that it actually is an interesting question! Are there points where atheist exmos, agnostic NOMs, and believing Mormons are more likely to agree among themselves than to agree with non-Mormon Christians? Absolutely!

Here’s my first attempt at such a list:

  • The unique beliefs and doctrines of Mormonism are no crazier than the beliefs of Christianity — they simply seem more outlandish because they’re less familiar to most people.
  • Some of the unique beliefs and doctrines of Mormonism are more appealing and/or make more sense than their mainstream Christian counterparts.
  • Although they are related, the question of whether the CoJCoL-dS is true and whether it is a net force for good are two separate questions.
  • There are many reasons why people might want to continue to practice Mormonism and/or identify as Mormon even after a loss of belief.
  • Mormonism encourages a number of worthwhile pursuits such as journal-writing, genealogy, setting goals, self-reliance, and growing your talents.
  • Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best musicals ever!
  • The text of the Bible alone does not conclusively point to a specific set of beliefs about God. The particular doctrines of modern Christianity are more a product of millennia of traditional interpretations building on one another than a product of directly reading the text.
  • It doesn’t matter if you can find some Bible passages that seem to contradict Mormon beliefs. The Bible contradicts itself. It doesn’t need Mormonism’s help. If you believe that a benevolent God wrote the Bible, then it is reasonable to imagine He’d provide some additional guidance to explain it.
  • Calling Mormonism a “cult” is problematic since it implies that older religions are somehow wholly different in character.
  • The principal arguments against Mormonism also apply to Christianity.


What do you think? Which points would you add, subtract, or alter?

Maybe once it’s honed, we can pass it along to a faithful Mormon blog for their feedback!

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18 Comments

  1. 1
    Holly says:

    following up on the Fiddler on the Roof thing (though most Mormons I know would opt for The Sound of Music as the best musical–after all, it shows that marriage really is superior to celibacy or any kind of popish nonsense), Mormons and atheists both often have Jewish envy and think Jewish intellectuals are uber cool. There’s one addition. I’ll try to think of more–because you’re right, it’s a great project.

       1 likes

  2. 2
    Holly says:

    Have to add another now because I forgot to sign up for followup comments. So–

    Mormons claim to see more value in sex than much of christianity. I’m not saying they’re actually any less prudish or repressed than anyone else–if anything, they might be more so–but like atheists, they make no claim that sex in and of itself is inherently bad by decree of some supernatural agent. Instead, they just have really big problems with certain kinds of sex.

       0 likes

  3. 3
    Andrew S. says:

    This is a really good starting set, chanson!

    Also agree with Holly’s addition in comment 2.

    I’m not so great at thinking up things like this on the spot, but I’ll keep this in the back of my mind in case anything pops up.

       0 likes

  4. 4
    chanson says:

    Thanks! So how would you phrase your additions as list items? Perhaps:

    * Mormons would do well to emulate the Jews as a fellow tribe
    * Sex does not need to be “for reproduction only” to be positive and healthy.

       0 likes

  5. 5
    Holly says:

    More like

    *Jewishness is cool
    *Intellectualism borne of suffering (a la the Jews) is intensely admirable

    I mean, are Jewish atheists/agnostics the model for Mormon atheists/agnostics? I remember going to the synagogue in Iowa City around 1998 because I wanted to ask about Hebrew lessons. They had me wait in the library, where I discovered that the synagogue had a subscription to Atheism Today. You would never find such a magazine in the library of an orthodox congregation, but in a liberal one? Fit right in, because it’s not about belief–it’s about community, and loyalty to the tribe because of its history–that “I can’t leave the church because my ancestors suffered so much crossing the plains and so that I could be Mormon” business.

       0 likes

  6. 6
    Aaron Shafovaloff says:

    > “Shafovaloff didn’t make a serious attempt…”

    Yyyyeahhh it happened to start with:

    > “The grand council of atheist Mormon bishops have met and codified the Creed of Practical Mormon Atheism, a list of things that both atheists and Mormons can largely affirm together…”

       0 likes

  7. 7
    chanson says:

    @6 So your point is that it should be obvious that it was meant as a joke…?

    That’s fine, but I think it’s also interesting as a serious question, so thanks for coming up with it! :D

       0 likes

  8. 8
    Aaron Shafovaloff says:

    The general idea of commonality between non-Mormon atheists, agnostics, Mormon atheists, and Mormon agnostics, and even TBM Mormons, etc. is serious, but the way I poked at the issue was packaged with satire.

    But I will try to articulate the commonalities with more seriousness in the future — the topic has struck a nerve and it is important.

    Also, it is ironic that people want the category of authentic “Christianity” so incredibly broad (some even want it to encompass those nice people who simply think positive things about Jesus), but when I start associating Mormonism with “atheism”, suddenly folks want the category of “atheism” to be strict and narrow.

       0 likes

  9. 9
    chanson says:

    when I start associating Mormonism with “atheism”, suddenly folks want the category of “atheism” to be strict and narrow.

    For my list, I intentionally restricted to “exmo atheists” precisely because atheism is such a broad category. I think atheists in general might be less likely to agree on some of my points.

       1 likes

  10. 10
    Andrew S. says:

    FWIW, I think the task of finding as many “commonalities” between different things is different than trying to broaden a category.

    So, like, I’d argue that when people want the category of authentic “Christianity” “so incredibly broad,” they aren’t trying to make an extensive list of commonalities between all the subsets of that category. It’s actually the opposite…they are limiting the commonalities necessary to define the superset.

       2 likes

  11. 11
    Andrew S. says:

    [forgot a piece...

    of course, there can still be disagreement on what the minimal number of commonalities must actually be to define the superset. Hence Christians can disagree on what the minimal requirements are to be "authentically Christian," and Mormons can disagree on what the minimal requirements are to be "authentically Mormon," and so on.]

       0 likes

  12. 12
    chanson says:

    Actually, speaking of narrowing the categories, that’s exactly why I’m a little leery of “Intellectualism borne of suffering (a la the Jews) is intensely admirable” @5. NOMs and exmo atheists will agree on that, but believing Mormons? I’m not so sure…

       0 likes

  13. 13
    Holly says:

    @12 Maybe you’re right. But there’s still this weird way Mormons go ritual shopping in other religions, and they’re especially pompous about the way they buy into Jewish ritual–we used to have seders at institute, for instance. And I’ve met more Mormons than Jews who are diehard Chaim Potok fans; I’ve lost track of the number of Mormon kids I know named Asher because of My Name is Asher Lev. And there’s this way in which 2 Nephi 9:28-29 doesn’t quite apply to contemporary Jews, because of how the 20th century treated them. It’s one of the passages thrown at Mormon atheists and agnostics who criticize their way out of the church, but anybody can understand how Dachau would destroy your faith.

       0 likes

  14. 14
    chanson says:

    @13 That is so true! And I totally agree that it works if we restrict the faithful category to “believing Mormon intellectuals.” Yet, perversely, I think it’s kind of interesting to find that there really are points of commonality between unreconstructed “chapel Mormons” and people like us.

       0 likes

  15. 15
    Holly says:

    Well, OK. Then I guess your ” Mormons would do well to emulate the Jews as a fellow tribe” covers what I was getting at pretty well.

       1 likes

  16. 16

    Big yes on 1,3, and 4 – it irks me sometimes hearing comments about the “weirdness” of various religious beliefs.

       0 likes

  17. 17
    Chased by an Elephant says:

    Atheism and Mormonism have more in common than most folks realize. I think one of the reasons so many ex-mormons become atheists is because they were already about halfway there when they were TBMs.

    Here’s an interesting post about the Mormon-atheist connection on a Catholic blog that deals with philosophy and science: http://www.catholicscience.com/deepsoftime/2011/02/06/reason-mormonism-and-atheism/

       0 likes

  18. 18

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