This is a common misconception about religion. Mormons teach that each person is given agency to choose for himself how to live. Mormon beliefs begin the story of life prior to birth, when God created each of us as a spirit. We lived with Him, learning, developing our character and personality, and practicing making choices, until the time came to come to earth. At that time, we were, as always, given our agency. We could choose to come to earth with Jesus as our Savior. If we made this choice, we would continue to have agency and some would use it unwisely and be unable to return. God would send a Savior to do that part we couldn’t do for ourselves. This Savior, Jesus Christ, would take on the sins of the world and die for them.
The other choice was to follow Lucifer. Lucifer wanted to take away our agency and send us to earth as puppets, with himself as the puppet master. He would control our every thought and action, and we’d live perfect lives, but for no purpose. Some were uncomfortable with the idea of continued agency, and rejected it. They preferred to stay with Satan and allow him to do their thinking for them. Those who followed Lucifer elected to give up their agency and were denied a chance to come to earth. They could not live here without agency.
The Mormon religion allows us to maintain control over our lives. Mormons teach that each person is required to find out for himself if the Mormon religion is true. While a very young child might believe simply because his parents believe, the child is taught, before he is eight years old, to begin deciding for himself. At age eight, he can be baptized, and before this happens, he is to learn his religion and to pray to know if it’s true.
This process is often repeated several times, as the child grows up and gains a stronger ability to recognize the promptings of faith. The pattern was set for us by Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet of modern times. He wanted to know which church to join, and after reading in the Bible that God would tell him, he went into the woods to ask God. Both God and Jesus Christ came to him to answer His question.
Most of us won’t get that type of answer, but we can receive an answer to our prayers, just as Joseph Smith did.
Does joining a church force you to give up your right to think for yourself? Of course not. Because each member of the church is taught to find out for themselves if the church is true, they are making an informed decision. Even after making this overall choice, if they learn something they’re not sure about, they can pray about that specific doctrine as well.
If your mother taught you not to touch a hot stove, and you obey, have you given up your right to think for yourself? No, because you are still free to touch the stove, as long as you’re willing to accept the consequences. You’re simply choosing to do what you know is best for you. Mormons, and other who believe in God, are doing the same.
One example often given is that of the sonnet. The sonnet is a poem with a very strict structure. Within the strict structure, however, a great deal of originality is possible. There are millions of sonnets, all following the rules, but all unique.
Believing in God is comforting. It’s a safe and healthy comfort, unlike the artificial comfort brought about by alcohol, drugs, or other immoralities many people turn to when they are stressed or worried. People who believe in God know there is someone who loves them and knows them, who always has their best interests at heart, and who, while not taking away our personal agency, will help us if we ask for help.
A true religion asks a great deal of its members. The Mormon religion isn’t a passive one. Because it’s a lay church, each member works hard to help it function, serving as leaders, teachers, and givers of service. They are held to a high standard of behavior.
Giving up your right to think for yourself is seemingly easy (although in reality it isn’t.) People looking for an easy way through life aren’t interested in being Mormon. The moral standards are very high and, since Mormons live in the everyday world, not in a sheltered community, this means making sacrifices and fighting those who want them to lower their standards. They raise families, have jobs, do volunteer work, and are also taught to make the most of the talents they have been given. They must figure out how to do this on their own, given their unique circumstances.
Religion never promises to be easy. The Mormons expect people to work hard for their own happiness and well-being, using the gospel as a guideline, but making choices within those guidelines.