This week I had dinner with a senior executive in a well-known company in the United States. He holds a PhD, has worked for several name-brand firms, and is an intelligent, successful, well-read professional. After dinner he asked if he could ask me a personal question. Of course, I was happy to respond. He asked if I was a Mormon. I replied that I was. He indicated that he had always been fascinated with the belief systems that people held for themselves. He indicated that he could not understand how anyone could be a member of a religious organization, especially given the inhumane and unfortunate things that had been done throughout history in the name of religion. Furthermore, he suggested that most people belong to religious organizations because it is a matter of culture or family tradition rather than a firm commitment to a belief system. Religious organizations are not a prerequisite to holding firm beliefs or strong values, he maintained.
He wondered why, as a reasonably thoughtful person, I would be a committed member of the LDS community. He had known other Mormons, and they seemed reasonably intelligent, so he had always been puzzled about how such people could be members of an organized religion, especially one founded on such a fantastic, irrational premise as is claimed by Mormons.
I had not particularly prepared myself for such a question, particularly because my relationship with him was based primarily on my professorial role and my academic work, not on the basis of a personal belief system. Nevertheless, here is an abbreviated version of how I replied.
First, I said, Mormons believe that the spiritual side of life is real, as do most other thoughtful people. Consequently, Mormons believe that if a person studies and investigates, then sincerely prays about the truthfulness of the doctrine being examined, that person is entitled to a spiritual witness regarding the truthfulness of the information. The spiritual witness regarding the truth of Mormonism is an important foundation for the commitment experienced by thoughtful people.
I know, I said, that some people dismiss such experiences as self-delusion or psychological dependence, or as incapacity to explain some aspects of human experience. They claim that such spiritual experiences and confirming spiritual witnesses are products of a need for emotional security or psychological clarity. So, I said, let us dismiss this factor as a basis for commitment to Mormonism and rely on something else.
A second foundation is the Book of Mormon. Despite the fantastic way in which the Book of Mormon is described as having come about, it serves as a tangible witness of Jesus Christ’s mission and divinity, and as a witness of the truthfulness of the teachings of Mormonism. For example, the research [much of which has been sponsored by FARMS over the years] on the literary style, the word prints of multiple authors, the governmental systems described, the monetary systems, the cultural attributes of a civilization over a thousand year history, the weapons and strategies of war, and so on, all create a case that any reasonable person would have a difficult time ignoring or dismissing. Based merely on the empirical evidence and even without reading it, reasonable people have to take the Book of Mormon seriously. If it is what it claims to be, then the validity of the teachings of Mormonism also must be taken seriously. A person cannot accept the Book of Mormon as what it claims to be and, at the same time, reasonably dismiss LDS doctrine.
But, I said, some people might dismiss academic or empirical evidence as irrelevant or unrelated to a spiritual belief system. So, still another foundation exists for a commitment to and testimony regarding Mormonism. This foundation relates to sociological theory. Most social scientists claim that societal patterns that survive, or that are considered to be the “best,” are the ones that are most functional for human beings. They perpetuate life, societal organization, and well-being. Civilizations deteriorate when their social patterns cease to be functional. One might reasonably ask the question whether or not living after the manner taught by the LDS Church is more or less functional for society in general? Would the world be better off or worse off if everyone lived the teachings of Mormonism? Once again, reasonably thoughtful people would almost universally agree that the life style and values perpetuated by Mormonism are good for society—an emphasis on morality, virtuousness, family solidarity, interdependence, charity, loving kindness, and so forth. These values are selected by almost all of humankind as being better for society than the reverse. So, a Mormon lifestyle or belief system might be chosen by reasonable people even if the two previously-described foundations did not exist at all because it is better for society.
His response to my explanation was: “Well, it certainly seems as if you have thought about this. Your explanation is more complex than I’ve heard before.”
Given the circumstances of this conversation and what I estimated to be his level of preparation, I did not share with my senior executive friend some other more personal and sacred elements of my testimony of the truthfulness of the restored Gospel. I did not share with him the flow of divine revelation that accompanies my calling as a patriarch in the Church. I did not share with him my own sacred, personal experiences with the Spirit. I did not share with him the miracles associated with priesthood blessings and priesthood service. I did not share with him the insights and inspiration that are associated with personal scripture study. I did not share with him the daily miracles that are associated with a commitment to the Savior and to His plan. Over the course of my life, these, and other, elements of my testimony have helped build a foundation that is far richer and more spiritually sophisticated than the brief explanation that I provided in our conversation. On the other hand, I was cognizant, once again, that the Lord has provided skeptical but reasonable people—if they approach the Gospel sincerely and authentically—with all of the evidence they need to develop a testimony for themselves. I count my personal testimony of the restored Gospel to be a gift and a blessing for which I will be eternally grateful.
Kim S. Cameron (Ph.D., Yale University) is William Russell Kelley Professor of Management and Organization at the Ross School of Business and Professor of Higher Education in the School of Education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Dr. Cameron’s past research on organizational downsizing, organizational effectiveness, corporate quality culture, and the development of leadership excellence has been published in more than 120 academic articles and thirteen scholarly books, the latest of which are Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture (Jossey Bass), Positive Organizational Scholarship (Berrett-Koehler), Leading with Values (Cambridge University Press), Competing Values Leadership (Edward Elgar), Making the Impossible Possible (Berrett Koehler), and Positive Leadership (Berrett Koehler). His current research focuses on virtuousness in and of organizations—focusing on virtues such as forgiveness, gratitude, kindness, and compassion—and their relationship to performance. He is one of the co-founders of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan and has served as dean at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, associate dean in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, and department chair at the University of Michigan.
Posted December 2010