As of 2010, just under 14 million people in the world were adherents of the Mormon faith. That may sound like a hefty number, but it’s just a drop in the proverbial bucket when compared to Christianity, which touts more than two billion adherents. The number of people who practice Mormonism is actually quite close to the number of those who practice Judaism, and there are plenty of popular misconceptions about both faiths.
In a country like America, where Christianity is the most widespread religion, the beliefs of those who adhere to less popular religions can seem very bizarre. When you really think about it, though, they’re only bizarre because they’re not well known. Still, it’s interesting to learn about the less-than-mainstream beliefs that go along with Mormonism. There are plenty to choose from, but these are 10 major standouts:
10. Priesthood is “Easy” to Achieve
Becoming a priest in many religions means dedicating your entire life to the calling. That’s not the case with Mormonism. Any healthy male can achieve priesthood. Upon doing so, he is given specific duties and must fulfill them. Women cannot achieve priesthood. Until 1978, African Americans couldn’t either.
Clearly, the concept of priesthood is different among Mormons than it is among adherents of many other religions. It means that a person has been given the power and authority of God. Acts performed by priesthood holders, as they are called, are considered to be recognized by God and valid in the afterlife, on earth and in heaven. A man must experience a calling to the priesthood. He must also be given it by someone who already holds it. Still, achieving priesthood as a Mormon is considerably easier than it is in many other religions.
Even those who know very little about Mormonism are usually aware of the fact that Mormons typically abstain from alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. This rule is outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 89. It is based on a revelation that was experienced by Joseph Smith, the prophet of the church. The revelation itself is officially known as Words of Wisdom. Smith reportedly experienced the revelation after giving long, serious thought to the use of tobacco by his peers.
Mormons take the commands in Words of Wisdom very seriously. It is an important part of their faith, albeit a characteristic that makes the religion stand out like something of a sore thumb.
8. Forgiveness is Given Freely
Like many religions, Mormonism has a lot to say about forgiveness. It is understood that people sin. In some religions, people have to jump through a lot of hoops in order to be granted forgiveness. That’s not how it works with Mormonism. For the most part, adherents can be forgiven for anything. The two exceptions are murder and denying the Holy Spirit.
Those who want to be forgiven need to do so while they can. According to the Mormon faith, God is willing to forgive all transgressions – minus the two mentioned above – up until the time of the second coming. At that point, people are on their own, and no second chances are given.
7. Magic Underwear
One of the most pervasive and misunderstood myths concerning the Mormon religion revolves around the special undergarments that are worn by the devout. The fact that adherents wear special underclothes tends to give people a good chuckle, but believers compare these undergarments to the turbans that are worn by Sikhs, the yarmulkes that are worn by Jews and even the communion dresses that are word by Catholic children.
Officially, the special clothes that Mormons wear are referred to simply as “garments.” Unofficially, though, they are called magic underwear. That’s because there are many faith-promoting stories that revolve around the clothes, which are probably largely created to make people feel good about having to do so. There’s no official story that proclaims that those who wear their garments will be impervious to harm or enjoy other special benefits.
6. Tithing is Mandatory
When it comes to most religions, tithing is something that is encouraged but not required. In the Mormon Church, everyone is expected to tithe. At least, those who want to get to the highest kingdom of heaven must do so. There are three levels of heaven, and those who fail to tithe can basically forget about getting into the best one, which is where God is. Followers find this requirement to be unremarkable, but those who adhere to other faiths think it seems pretty extreme.
5. Baptism of the Dead
Mormons tend to be very preoccupied about where they will end up in the afterlife. With three heavens, they are typically concerned about making sure that all of their loved ones will be in the same place. While some Mormons come from families that have practiced the faith for generations, some have deceased loved ones who weren’t devout and were never baptized. Those who aren’t baptized cannot join their loved ones in heaven. Mormons get around this issue by permitting the baptism of the dead.
Baptizing a deceased loved one doesn’t automatically mean that he or she will wind up in heaven. The baptized person still gets to make the call and does so in the afterlife. Any Mormon who holds a temple recommend can act as a proxy for a deceased loved one to ensure that he or she is baptized. From there, though, there’s no telling whether the deceased person will opt to accept the baptism or not.
4. Jesus Spent Time in the Americas
Most popular religions hold that Jesus spent his life and afterlife near Jerusalem. In the Book of Mormon, however, Jesus made it over to the Americas in the afterlife. This is remarkable because the events in the Book of Mormon are supposed to take place at the same time as the events in the Bible. The Book of Mormon states that Jesus came to the Americas after his resurrection. This is one of the major ways in which Mormonism stands out from most Christian faiths. There are locations in the U.S. that have great significance for Mormons because they are where important events in the Book of Mormon occurred.
3. Spirits in Pre-Existence
The belief that people’s spirits linger after they die is fairly common. In Mormonism, though, it is believed that each person has a spirit that exists before he or she is born. When a person dies, his spirit separates from his body once more. Where it goes from there depends on how he has lived his life. If he was good, his spirit will proceed to Spirit Paradise. If he was bad, his spirit will go to Spirit Prison. In either case, his spirit will remain where it ends up until the second coming. This belief is another reason that Mormons are very concerned about leading good lives. Doing so means that your spirit will get to lounge around in paradise while waiting for the second coming.
2. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are Separate Entities
In many popular religions – particularly Catholicism – God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are all different sides of the same coin, so to speak. In Mormonism, they are actually three distinct beings. What’s even more interesting is that God, Jesus and resurrected beings aren’t just intangible spirits, but they are actually made of flesh and bone. This flies in the face of what is believed by adherents of many popular religions.
In the Mormon faith, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Holy Ghost. It is a member of what is known as the Godhead, which also consists of God and his son, Jesus Christ. All three beings share the same purpose, but they are all distinct entities. The Holy Ghost doesn’t have flesh and bone because it dwells inside those who are devout to the Mormon faith.
1. There’s More than One Heaven
In the Mormon faith, everyone goes to heaven. That sounds like a good deal, but there’s a catch: There are three levels of heaven, and everyone really wants to end up in the Celestial Kingdom, which is the highest and best one. It’s where God lives. The next step down is the Terrestrial Kingdom, which is occupied by people who follow the Law of Moses. The “lowest” kingdom, the Telestial Kingdom, is occupied by those who follow carnal law. What this all boils down to is that there is no Hell in the Mormon faith. As long as adherents are as good as they can be, they will end up in one of the three heavens.
As bizarre as these Mormon beliefs may seem, the truth is that they aren’t really any quirkier than the beliefs of those who follow many popular religions. The key difference is that Mormonism is something that is shrouded in mystery to many people while the beliefs of many mainstream religions are familiar to believers and non-believers alike. Scoffing at Mormon beliefs is pretty silly when you consider similarly implausible concepts like the burning bush and Noah’s Ark. The followers of all religions have at least a few “bizarre” beliefs, and believing in them is precisely why religion is also known as faith.