One of the reasons people reject religion is that it requires things of its adherents. Some of those requirements appear strenuous, especially when compared to contemporary popular cultures. They even seem strange, and to those immersed within those popular cultures, wrong and harmful. How you see the requirements of religious adherence depends on your worldview.
There are people within the Church who begin to convert to these contemporary worldviews, and because you ‘cannot serve God and mammon’, their growing conversion displaces and replaces their spiritual conversion to Christ and His gospel. Eventually, they also see the religion they are a part of as strange, wrong, and harmful. They now live on the other end of the worldview spectrum, and view their previous beliefs and membership as a stranger, and no longer as an adherent. Thus, their previous adherence becomes distasteful to them – something to be ashamed or shocked at.
Usually, people who’ve gone through this process try to convert others to their new path, perhaps seeing it as their duty – to save them from the danger and harshness of the requirements and beliefs of religion.
So why does religion, and originally God, make demands of us – demands which, to some perspectives, appear dangerous or burdensome; demands which restrict us from some activities and thoughts which the world outside the religion indulges in regularly and with abandon? Why is the perspective so different between these groups? I’m not going to try to give a complete answer to this, because there are a lot of points to consider, and lots of scholarship has been done on them, throughout history. I’m just going to address the basic, or main, points that I see as the most obvious.
God is our Creator
The first, legal sort of reason is that God is our Creator. As such, He has the right to demand anything He desires of us. Isaiah brings this up when he writes,
Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? Or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?(29:16)
Isaiah has a lot of other scriptures which demonstrate this principle. For example,
Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgement is passed over from my God?
Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no fathoming of his understanding.(40:27-28)
Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth/Have you never reflected upon the foundation of the earth?
It is he who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; [who] stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in….(40:21-22)
The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have [decided], so shall it come to pass: and as I have [resolved], so shall it stand….
For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall [oppose] it? His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?(14:24 & 27)
We also have this from Enoch:
Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name, also.
Wherefore, I can stretch forth my hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren.Moses 7:35-36
God has created both our spirits and our bodies, the planet on which we live, the Sun and the Moon and the stars which give it light, and all things within it. He gives us air to breathe and sends prophets to teach us how to live. Anything and everything He chooses to tell us, his creations, is the rule upon which we should live. And, in fact, every other thing that He has created does this; we, human beings, are the only one of His creations which do not; which rebel against His law.
God is good
This is my work and my glory; to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.Moses 1:39
The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them: and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood….
But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?Moses 7:32-33, 37
O how great the goodness of God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the hands of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
…. O how great the plan of our God!2 Nephi 9:10, 13
There are a lot of scriptures I could quote here, of course.
Not only are we obliged to follow God’s law, as his creations, but His laws are also good. They’re good because He is good – no goodness exists that doesn’t emanate from Him, and of which He is not the epitome.
He teaches us of those laws, and commands us (as our Creator) to abide by them, because it’s only by abiding these laws that we can experience fulfillment and joy, and fill the measure of our existence. God’s laws, disseminated through the prophets and His Church, aren’t given to make life difficult for us, create hardship, or force us to be something unnatural. They’re not given for the fulfillment of a contrary being’s whims, like the gods of Olympus in the Greek myths.
The order of things goes like this:
God saw the potential of that from which He formed us – the light of truth – and formed this into spirit bodies. His plan, from the beginning, has been to nurture us into beings capable of a fullness of joy. He has nurtured us in light and truth from this beginning, and continues to do so. Every law He transmits to us while we’re here is in the service of this plan.
The very reason that we can rebel against His law is that He gave us, in the beginning, agency. We have, at every point, had the power to act according to the knowledge we have. His condescension is shown, in part, in this freedom our Creator has given us. There’s no forcing here; no coercion; no hiding the facts (like Isaiah reported in the verses above). Any requirements that seem, or are, strenuous, are because we are creatures with wills of our own, who must bring those wills into alignment with God’s law – eternal realities.
The seeming freedom that people who remove themselves from these requirements experience is temporary and illusory. What’s really happening is that they’re ceasing to align themselves with eternal realities, transmitted through God’s law, and therefore no longer making progress towards the state in which a fullness of joy is possible. The consequences of that might not be felt immediately, buffered as we are from eternal consequences in this world (see Alma 12:21-27), and so it can appear that the choice is between excessive and burdensome requirements, and freedom to express oneself as one chooses – a loosening of constraints which bind and restrict us from experiencing these ‘good’ things.
And yet, what is really happening is the binding of one’s soul to the chaos of living outside God’s law; becoming enslaved, instead, to one’s own will, ignorant of the reality which religion makes us aware of and trains us in.
It’s like a parent teaching a child to be careful of fire, so that they can live a life free from the disfigurement of serious burns, or even death, but the child rebels at the restriction to what it perceives as freedom, and does what it wants, instead, not knowing the reality of fire yet. The parent might let the child burn itself, in order to learn, although the parent will feel pain at letting this happen. But the child quickly learns, and is saved from worse thereby – unless they completely reject the parent’s help and presence, and receive the worse consequences of serious burning or death.
The problem is that our lives aren’t often like that – or that the initial burns don’t register as burns to those who seek out this loosening of restrictions.
I don’t want to make it simplistic, because that becomes too easy to dismiss, and ridicules the intelligence of those who choose this path. (Inherent intelligence, not the intelligence of the choice).
It’s up to us
What do we do, then? The agency God has given us presents us with the choice: God or Satan; adherence to eternal laws or rejection of their existence; fullness of joy, a lesser joy, or eternal death (in the most serious of cases). But how do we know what we’re choosing? How do we know that what religion teaches us is actually true, and that it is the choice we should make?
- God continually tells us where that truth is. He has, from the beginning, sent angels, prophets, and the Holy Spirit to teach men and women what is real, and how to align their wills with His (eternal law). He ‘never ceases to call upon men’. (Moroni 7:16-26; Alma 12:28-35).
- We can’t know absolutely which one is correct. The above methods are extremely helpful, and give everything we need to make a considered and wise choice. But God stops short of making it completely obvious, in a way that can’t be denied at all. Doing that would counteract the agency He gave us in the beginning. We must act on faith. First, listening to the various arguments, then deciding for ourselves, based on these helps (prophets/scriptures and the Holy Spirit). In doing so, we must assess the evidence available to us: the earth itself, our lives, other people, history, and the intuitions of our conscience and the influence of the Holy Spirit. Then, we must choose, based on the best we can discern from this evidence, with the rest filled in by faith – the trust that what we are choosing is good, and the right choice – and then continue on the path we’ve chosen (faithfulness).
God shows us extreme respect by allowing us this agency. It’s one of the things that strongly proves His goodness. And yet, it costs Him heartache – like the parent letting their child be harmed by the fire they’ve warned them about – as noted by Enoch in the scriptures above.
The constraints and requirements of our religion are, as the Saviour taught, a burden that is light and a yoke that is easy, compared to the burden of exposing ourselves to a life ‘outside’ eternal law. (I put that in inverted commas, because no-one actually lives outside eternal law – but we can live as though it doesn’t exist; we just can’t escape the consequences). Those who chose the Gospel after life without it see that difference starkly. They know the comparative burdens.