My “Sacred Envy” List

“Sacred Envy” is the well-known idea (at least in Latter-day Saint circles) of having the humility to recognize some positive attributes of other faiths, so I thought I would make my “sacred envy” list. 

To be clear, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is my faith because I think it is the best and it is what it claims to be, to speak rather bluntly. It’s not my faith because of inertia or because I feel some kind of sociocultural connection. Still, I’m open to recognizing places where other faiths get it right, even if in recognizing these points I’m not necessarily saying that I think we should adapt the same.

Buddhism, Jainism, or other religions based around ahimsa or non-violence: While most Western faiths have some history of religious/ethnic entrepreneurs using religion as a justification for violence, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that that’s quite rare in faiths based on ahimsa, or non-violence towards living things. If you’re part of a faith that covers your drinking water in a cloth so that you don’t inadvertently hurt insects, or who doesn’t engage in farming because it might hurt some worms, you’re probably not going to be burning people alive in the name of your faith, no matter how creative the exegesis. They simply don’t have the seeds for religious violence in their theology. 

Of course, combined with other things (e.g. Buddhism in militaristic, World War II Japan) it’s not always a sufficient condition to prevent bad outcomes, but, and maybe I just don’t know my Asian history well-enough, I can’t think of a Jain tyrant slaughtering people in the name of ahimsa. The inability to leverage the faith to violent ends in turn affects its ability to be used as a political tool, so ahimsa-based faiths seem to have the lowest instances of people leveraging the faith for their own power. 

Jewish: The Jewish story is a miraculous one. Their history could be described as heroic, thriving in the face of constant, bloody, brutal persecution, with their country rising to be one of the most powerful militarily, and their diaspora one of the most accomplished in the world. 

I am also one of those annoying Christians who think that Israel as a state was ordained of God (indeed, with Orson Hyde’s mission to Palestine we were “those Christians” before it was a thing). Of course, that’s not to say I agree with genocidal Israeli Prime Ministers or every position that the current Israeli governing coalition takes. 

Catholics: There are a couple of traditions that give off “Mormon vibes,” and more traditional Catholics fit in this category. Catholic structure, liturgy, art, and music are beautiful things, and much of Western civilization, including basic norms about human rights, stem from the Catholic Church (Rodney Stark’s “Bearing False Witness” provides an excellent overview of all of this). Canon law is also eminently logical and reasonable given their premises. For example, the Vatican’s ruling on Latter-day Saint baptisms was a bit of a shock to me because it’s so rare to see a non-LDS religious organization analyze our theology in a systematic, rigorously evidence-based way (even if I obviously disagree with their conclusion that ours is not a Christian baptism).  

Catholics also have a keen sense of ritualistic permanence. While we Latter-day Saints tend to treat complete inactives as basically non-members, Catholics treat very seriously the idea that once a baptized Catholic you are seen as Catholic by God regardless. And my understanding is that, when Catholic Church buildings are sold off, there’s a huge process involved to make sure that the ground is not being used for sinful activities, because in some sense it is still a consecrated space, even if it is no longer actively used as a church.

Protestants: Protestants definitely have a much better preaching game than us or, say, the Catholics. The fact is that if they didn’t their congregation would die off, so competitive market mechanisms are at play, and Protestant services are typically more professionally produced. 

Islam: Islam has provided a unifying framework across a variety of cultures and peoples that can be inspiring. For example, it wasn’t until he took a pilgrimage to Mecca that Malcolm X saw that people from a wide variety of races and backgrounds could come together to worship God.  

Hindu: Literally every Hindu I’ve met is super nice and hardworking. Of course, a lot of this is a spurious correlation with immigrants. Since I’ve never been to India every Hindu I’ve met is 1st or 2nd generation who’s working their derriere off to make it in either America or Europe. Also, while I recognize that there are radical, nationalistic forms of Hinduism in the homeland  (see the current Indian government), the diaspora at least seems to be impeccably polite and eminently tolerant of other faiths and perspectives; as immigrants they seem to be stalwart citizens, and score quite high on measures of education, mobility, etc.  

Atheist/Agnostics: For some reason I really enjoy the rich tradition of atheist/agnostic comedians like George Carlin, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Louis C.K., Jimmy Carr, and Bill Maher. Their existential cynicism can lend itself to a sort of dark humor that I often find deeply funny. 

Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and other Minority Faiths: As a Latter-day Saint I feel a certain kinship with faiths that are big enough to form a clear community, but small enough in most places that they have to take their faith seriously and learn to stick together, despite in some cases (like with the Sikhs) being visibly distinctive.

11 comments for “My “Sacred Envy” List

  1. This is excellent. I would also add Taoism. Their commitment to a path (covenant?) that leads to self-cultivation and living a harmonious existence within and without is noteworthy. From Religion In China: “There are different formulations of Taoist ethics, but there is generally emphasis on virtues such as effortless action, naturalness or spontaneity, simplicity, and the three treasures of compassion, frugality, and humility.” I personally like all of that.

  2. ” Protestants definitely have a much better preaching game than us”

    I also really like this. Maybe if LDS’s weren’t confined to boundary worshipping and could go where they want on Sundays, wards would have to up their game in providing riveting Sacrament meeting speakers and class teachers to fill the pews and keep ward budgets allotments high. (grin)

  3. If you liked the Catholics’ analysis of the Latter-day Saints’ baptism, then you may also enjoy the Methodists’ “Sacramental Faithfulness: Guidelines for Receiving People from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” It seems to have been a topic “in the air” 25 years ago since both the Catholics and Methodists addressed it then. I wonder if any other bodies did as well.

  4. That’s really cool that the United Methodists invited a GA 70 to comment. I don’t know who the Vatican talked to, but you can clearly tell they talked to somebody in the know about what constitutes LDS theology (not a lot of “according to Orson Pratt’s ‘the Seer’…” that you sometimes get with the Chick Track people).

  5. My #1 sacred envy, by far, is the musical tradition of traditional Black churches. It’s not so much the music as the performance style and the way the congregation responds to it–which then carries over to the rest of the meeting. It brings feelings to the surface, and how we feel about the gospel and about our Savior is tremendously important. Our music can do that, but you have to make an effort.

    I also suspect some of our speakers would improve if they got an occasional “Amen!” to remind them they’re talking to people.

  6. Several years ago, when I swam the Tiber “holy envy” was a big factor in that decision. However, once in Rome and I began to study the Bible with my fellow Catholics the shadows and echoes of “Mormonism” were hard to ignore. Somewhere I read that what was divided in our faith “Baptism/Confirmation/ Sacrament Meeting”, then “Temple Ordinances and Worship” were united in the “Baptism/Confirmation/Mass” of the Catholic Church. The pull of my roots planted so deeply Zion’s soil called me from “there and back again”. My biggest problems were what to do with Mary, the rosary, the Saints, and some other sacramentals. A young missionary Elder wise beyond his years offered a solution there. Now safely back into the Gospel fold, I find myself grateful for that brief journey far, yet not so far, afield.

  7. Good post. Also consider seventh day adventists whose health code leads to better heath and longer life than ours.

    Also for atheists, I’m deeply impressed by those who give time and do good, all the while thinking their existence ends soon. When I give my time, it’s a small piece of eternity. When my athiest friends give their time, it’s profoundly more.

  8. Something I love about Protestants is Gospel music. I find it so lively, such a joyful way to express your faith in a joyful way and in community. I envy them

  9. What does this mean: “[T]he doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal…” I understand the Catholics know things about us that we don’t know (like that we have four gods), but I can’t even figure out what “infinite regression” is.

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