The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Why Study Mormonism?

LeGrand Richard says in his classic, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, "If heavenly messengers (prophets who have lived upon this earth) have visited this earth in this dispensation, bringing messages from God, as claimed by the Prophet Joseph Smith, then we have the most important message that can go out to the world today, which invites investigation. If such messengers really came, they must have contributed that which is worthy of a divine messenger and which was not already in the possession of mortal man."

I agree with this. However, the invitation that this claim invites is faint, diluted by similar claims of messages from countless religions, churches, societies, cults, evangelists, fortune tellers, nut cases, and frauds with which our society is cluttered. If any of their messages is really from God, then that particular message is the most important message that can go out to the world today.

Should the honest seeker of truth investigate in depth each of these potential most-important-messages? Obviously, he canít. There are too many alleged messages and too little time. We have to figure out some general rules to eliminate large groups of claims from consideration. Dave Barry suggested

If there really is a God who created the entire universe with all of its glories, and He decides to deliver a message to humanity, He will not use, as His messenger, a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle.

That sounds like a reasonable guideline to start with. Perhaps we could add to the list of people we will disregard out of hand everybody who is wearing a sandwich board, everybody who gets their messages with the aid of hallucinatory drugs, everybody with a neon sign over their door, everybody who makes a lot of money from their messages, everybody with an 800 number, everybody that began their career as a professional treasure digger, and everybody who dresses like used car salesman or lawyer.

But even if we could limit the list of potential most-important-messages to only those messages that merit serious consideration, we still arenít likely to investigate many new ideas. That is because the vast majority of us are already convinced that our own particular understanding of the universe is the correct one, and that any message out there that contradicts our current beliefs is necessarily false. As Dave Barry said, "People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them."

So why investigate Mormonism?

One reason might be because it is the religion of your family. You find yourself being promised at a very young age that "this church is true" (whatever that means). As you grow up, you quickly learn that you are supposed to be very excited to be "called on a mission" when you are older (whatever that means). You eventually learn that being called on a mission is somewhat like being drafted into a war. Some people are handed a gun and told to go kill the people who their fathers say are enemies. Others are handed a book and told to go convert the people who their fathers say are infidels. Tremendous pressure is placed on the youth to leave home with bravery, fight for the cause with honor, and return home a hero. Indeed, the Spartan pledge of death before dishonor is applied to missionaries just as it is to soldiers.

Many is the faithful Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or a daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction: ĎI would rather have you come back in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it.í (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine p. 124)

Before you pledge yourself to go fight the war of your parents, it is prudent to seriously investigate the validity of the message you are asked to preach.

What if you donít have pressure from family to fight for Mormonism? Why should you study it? Perhaps you sense that something is missing from your life. What exactly it is that's missing you arenít sure. You look around and see somebody who seems to have it. This person you see is happy, virtuous, and successful. He or she seems to have a deeper purposeóa greater understanding. In every regard, this person appears is worthy of emulation. What does he or she have that you donít? You find out that he or she is a Mormon. Perhaps the answer to why you find this person so attractive is to be found within Mormonism.

Or perhaps you are going through a particularly difficult period of life. It might be a serious illness or injury, a setback in your career, or a death in your family. Life isnít working out the way you planned, and you ask yourself why. What did you do to deserve this? Just as you are looking for answers, the Mormons knock on your doors. It might be the missionaries making a cold call, or a Mormon friend reaching out to share his or her faith with you, or even an infomercial on TV. Regardless of what it is, you find yourself re-examining the big questions in life right when somebody approaches you and says that Mormonism has the answers.

Personally, I think the best reason to study Mormonism is because it is fun! The Mormons raise some very interesting questions regarding the ultimate nature of existence, and they present fascinating answers to them. In the churchís short history, the doctrine has grown, retreated, mutated, and evolved. The cast of characters that make up the history are simply fascinating. They were brilliant, uneducated, creative, and superstitious idealists. It was an inspiring surge of faith running against the flow of the enlightenment. While philosophers were saying that man was entirely capable of inferring the truth of the universe through empiricism, suddenly God in person as well as numerous angels are appearing to tell the world through prophets what God wants them to know.

I wonder if it being fun is the only reason for studying Mormonism that is ultimately valid. After all, if it isnít a course of study that you find engaging, fulfilling and fun, why not drop it and find something to do with your time that is?

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If you have a question or would like to discuss these topics, I suggest that you go to a Mormon-related bulletin board (here are some recommendations). If you'd like to contact me with comments or feedback, you may send an email to