In a world of increasing religious tension, it appears that most people are not as devout as they claim to be, according to the results of a poll recently published by the Public Religion Research Institute. Essentially, they polled two similar representative samples, one group online and one group over the phone. The results suggest a myriad of changes in religious devotion, but the two most striking are the overall reduction of church attendance and a discrepancy regarding church attendance between those polled on the phone versus those polled online. Apparently, if one talks to an actual person, one is more likely to exaggerate the frequency of church attendance, whereas those who answer online appear to respond more truthfully. I have heard far too many political pundits and conservative news outlets decry the “war on religion” they see sweeping the country, but it appears that fewer and fewer people care.
I wonder why anyone feels the need to exaggerate or even outright lie about her or his involvement in a church. I know agnostics, atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and members of a host of other religions, and regardless of their beliefs, regardless of their faith, regardless of their devotion or church attendance, they are all sincere and honest about their faith or lack thereof. Of course, I cannot help but reflect on the religious culture in which I was raised. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), I often feel burdened with the idea that the Church and its general membership believe it is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (see Mormon Scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 1:30) Don’t misunderstand me. While I have some problems with church policies and with some of the way the church is governed, I accept that some of those issues are the fault of men (literally) (See Mormon 8:17 in The Book of Mormon). As far as what I believe to be the true gospel, I believe that one can find it in the Mormon Church.
But here’s the problem. If the predominant culture in your life believes that only complete righteousness can lead one to salvation, then missing just one day of church can have negative consequences, so imagine the reaction one’s staunchly religious family is likely to have upon hearing their son or daughter or sibling or even close friend does not attend church regularly. I think a large part of the problem is that, obviously, most religions operate to a degree on guilt. How else do they motivate people to repentance? I shed the guilt years ago, not just about church attendance but my overall level of righteousness. I couldn’t care less what people think about my church attendance or devotion and how that pertains to whether I find salvation or exaltation. I wish more people felt this way because it would remove a huge burden from their shoulders. The scriptures say it best, both the Bible and The Book of Mormon: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” and “O then despise not, and wonder not, but hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him” (Philippians 2:12 and Mormon 9:27, respectively).