Here is a second post (see No. 1) drawn from Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One (HarperOne, 2010). In Chapter 7, titled Judaism: The Way of Exile and Return, Prothero comments on how ritual and ethics receive greater emphasis in Judaism and doctrine receives less emphasis than in, for example, Christianity. I wonder to what extent this is also true of Mormonism.
Noting how narrative Exodus is followed immediately by the detailed legal and ethical recitations in Leviticus, Prothero notes that Judaism is “about both story and law,” and that Judaism stresses “doing over believing, orthopraxy over orthodoxy.” The word “orthopraxy” should set off your Bloggernacle word alert (see discussions here, here, here, and here, for example). If Prothero thinks Jews emphasize orthopraxy over orthodoxy, he is saying that correct practice or action is more important to Jews than correct opinion. He summarizes this by saying, “So Jews are knit together more by ritual and ethics than by doctrine.”
Is this true of Latter-day Saints as well? Do we define our LDS community more by ritual and ethics than by agreed-upon doctrine? Obviously I’m not the first one to make the suggestion. In an earlier post I suggested that ritual is “largely absent from LDS public life and worship,” but I don’t think that’s true if we’re thinking of general practices or informal rituals. There is definitely a Mormon way of doing religion.
Prothero brings up a related idea when discussing the 613 mitzvot or commandments identified by Jewish rabbis. Prothero contrasts ritual commandments with ethical commandments. Ritual commandment regulate relations between humans and God; ethical commandments regulate realtions between humans and other humans.
Is there a similar distinction in LDS commandments? Perhaps, although I might use the terms institutional commandments and moral commandments. Attending meetings on Sunday and wearing a white shirt are institutional, regulating relations between members and the Church perhaps more than between members and God. Other commandments (the “thou shalt nots”) reflect a moral component relating to how we treat others.
In the context of Prothero’s discussion, it seems natural to situtate Mormonism somethere between Christianity and Judaism in that we draw from both traditions but not to the full extent of either. We downgrade doctrine compared to the standard Christian approach with its emphasis on creeds and doctrine; we downgrade ritual and ethics compared to Judaism with its strucured ritual seder meal and its enumerated lists of commandments. Hopefully we draw the best from both traditions.