Translating Mormonism
(Day of Pentecost painted by Jean II Restout 1732)

"we do hear them speak in our tongues" (Acts 2:11)


I’ve spent most of my career working with emerging technology. Working closely with others at this frontier has blessed me with many wonderful conversations about the outlook on life many technologists have. Perhaps due to the very challenge of demystifying the mystical that technology presents, a large percentage of technologists are agnostic or atheist (or is it the other way around?). I count this as a great opportunity and blessing as I’ve learned from my colleagues.

Recently, on a business trip with a colleague at Disney World in Orlando, we decided to spend the afternoon in Epcot. As we went from rides, to the lands celebrating the diversity of humanity, and to Spaceship Earth’s vision of humanity we talked about our lives, families, books we’ve read, and thoughts on science and technology. In this context, our thoughts on religion and futurism came up. He mentioned that he is agnostic and used to be atheist. I mentioned that I am a post-secular Mormon. He was intrigued what a post-secular Mormon might believe.

This was hardly the first time I’ve translated my Mormon beliefs to someone who is agnostic or atheist. I’m happy to talk to my colleagues about the foundation of my faith when there is interest in an appropriate setting. I believe that much of effectively communicating beliefs involves translating our assumptions into the language of the other: to assume their assumptions then find a way to translate our worldview in relation to it. Learning the intellectual and spiritual dialect of others is key.

In translating my beliefs to someone who may be agnostic or atheist, I’ve found it can be helpful to discuss beliefs in terms of “at leasts”:

  1. God is at least a human projection of our best aspirations.
  2. Satan is at least a human projection of our worst flaws.
  3. The Atonement is at least the power within us to heal and respond to pain and suffering.
  4. Jesus is at least a person who tapped into the power of the atonement & God to face Satan in much needed ways.
  5. Salvation is at least our best effort to attain Godhood and a Christ-like life.
  6. The restoration is at least a collective effort of mankind to renew and re-invigorate faith, trust, and knowledge in light of expanding truth gained about the world and each other. And Joseph Smith, and Mormonism, at least contributes to this to the extent that Mormonism can participate in this renewal and invigoration of faith, trust, and knowledge.

With this base translation focused on finding common ground I can then translate hopes, beliefs, and trust which I choose to extend beyond these “at leasts”:

  1. I have faith that the universe has been around long enough for God(s) to emerge (similar to how we have – I’m Mormon after all) and that the charity required for them to wield the power they do without destroying themselves makes them benevolent Gods.
  2. I believe that in an existence with moral freedom that some will oppose God and God will grant them the space to do so — I’m okay calling that force “Satan”.
  3. I trust that the atonement is more than just self-realization and that in it we form a real connection with God.
  4. I have faith that Jesus was more than just a person and was/is a manifestation of God’s love, empathy, humility, and charity in more than just metaphorical ways.
  5. I trust that salvation is physical and that as we act in ways that invite the atonement into our tools, technologies, lives, and societies that we can overcome death and sin.
  6. I have faith that God worked through Joseph Smith as well as many others in the past, that God works now in the present, and will in the future with mankind in the unending work of restoration.

Pointing out the choices we all make in the faith, trust, and belief we translate our views into is important. Honest, informed people can reasonably disagree with these and my holding that faith, trust, and belief is, at root, a choice from many possible alternatives.

But regardless of the details of “how?”s, whether truth lies merely at “at leasts”, or somewhere above with faith, I hope that we can all become Christs as we seek to tap into that same spiritual energy Jesus did and become manifestations of God’s love, empathy, humility, and charity to one another. This trust and charity that we can extend to one another will take humanity far as we explore the universe.

And I find the above most robustly articulated in Mormonism.