Does Religion Need Evolution?

by Stella

In reading a book by Osho the other day, I came across a passage I wanted to share. Osho is a revolutionary in the science of inner transformation; he’s also a man who has been called “the most dangerous man since Jesus Christ.” He’s big in Europe. Very big. In a country where religion isn’t embraced at all, it’s interesting what people seek out in terms of spirituality.

Since distancing myself the church, I’ve taken to reading more and varied philosophy books, modern and ancient. I like reading the ones that people in my community recommend. I feel it helps me understand my new home and the people around me. However, I do so skeptically. One thing that leaving church has taught me is that I will never fully put all my faith in any one person, even if he is called a Prophet or an Apostle. I probably won’t put into practice hymns about praising a man or following a prophet. Not that I can’t admire then greatly and learn from them, because I do. But knowing that I get to make the choices (and have double earrings without feeling guilty) has been liberating to me. It’s allowed me to find my own inner voice. Not the still small voice of the Spirit…of a member of the Godhead…but MY voice. And in finding that, I’ve learned how to trust myself and make my own decisions.

The following quote on parenting seems like it could spark an interesting discussion here:

“The first expression of love you should show to a child is to leave the first seven years of life absolutely innocent and unconditioned. The child should not be converted to Hinduism, to Mohammedanism, to Christianity. Anybody who is trying to convert a child to some religion is not compassionate, but rather cruel. They are contaminating the very soul of a new, fresh, arrival. Before the child has even asked questions he has been answered with ready-made-philosophies, dogmas, ideologies. This is a very strange situation. The child has not asked about God, and you go on teaching the child about God. Why so much impatience?

“When the child starts asking about God, put before the child all the ideas of God that have been presented to different people by different ages by different religions, cultures, civilizations. Put before the child all the ideas about God, and let the child choose what they like, or express what they don’t like.

“There should be no inner necessity that the son should agree with the father. In fact, it seems far better that children should not agree with the parents. That’s how evolution happens. If every child agrees with the father then there will be no evolution, because each new father will agree with his own father, and everybody will be where God left Adam and Eve—naked, outside the gate of the Garden of Eden. Everybody will be stuck there.

Because sons and daughters have disagreed with their fathers and mothers, with their whole tradition, human beings have evolved. This whole evolution is a tremendous disagreement with the past. And the more intelligent you are, the more you are going to disagree. But parents appreciate the child who agrees and they condemn the child who disagrees.”

What do you think: Does religion need this kind of evolution—the evolution of disagreeing with those who raised (or taught, or influenced) you? It seems like all great heroes have followed this path somehow, that they have needed to make a giant leap of going a different/new direction.

In fact, isn’t this what Joseph Smith did? Without evolution in religion, Mormonism wouldn’t exist. That’s begs the question…is there something better than Mormonism as we know…just waiting to evolve?

I'm an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.


  1. Hmmm, very interesting. I certainly agree that religion needs evolution. I am really glad that there were people who disagreed with the traditions of their fathers and opened the priesthood and temple ordinances to black members of the church. What I have a harder time getting behind is to withhold any information about God or religion from kids until they are seven. This seems logistically problematic for those of us who have chosen a religion because what do we do with the kids for the seven years? Ignore our own spiritual needs? I also disagree that it is cruel to teach children about God. I actually think the concept of God is really comforting to little souls who are trying to navigate and understand a sometimes very frightening mortal experience. And the argument that we shouldn’t teach children about God because they don’t ask about God doesn’t hold water for me. There are plenty of things we make kids learn that they don’t ask about, like the alphabet. So I agree with some of this quote, I do think it is damaging to be dogmatic with young children. But I don’t agree that teaching our children about a loving, Divine power is cruel. Thanks for the provocative post, Stella.

  2. mraynes, I came to some of those same conclusions, when reading it. The idea of not teaching kids about God for the first seven years is VERY problematic for those who attend church and just, well, like God in their lives. I wonder if there has been any kids who have been brought up this way and what they are like.

  3. Also, I think it’s culturally interesting for me to be living in the least religious country in the world. I think their may be many Swiss people who don’t believe in God and perhaps never mention it to their children, but I find that many of them just don’t talk that much in general. I don’t know. I think, with everything, a balance is good. I just felt like my own childhood was really one sided. I’m glad that I’ve taught my nieces and nephews about Buddha and the like and they understand it a little.

  4. Osho seems to believe that when parents teach about God they are trying to convert or convince. Perhaps some parents have such agendas. But I think vast numbers of parents are simply trying to impart knowledge that they have found to be helpful and good along with the other helpful and good knowledge such as how to read, basic ethics, honesty, patience, not playing with matches, listening, how to work, basic sanitation, etc. etc.

    I would object to Osho’s determination that religious teaching is in itself aimed at indoctrination and therefore unpalatable whereas all other teaching may be legitimate, acceptable education.

    His assumption that parents condemn the child who disagrees leads me to believe that he may have experienced or witnessed parental condemnation. But to label all teaching of the subject as convert-motivated simply because some teachers/parents stupidly used condemnatory tactics, is short-sighted.

    Also, evolution is not ex-nihilo. It is built on the foundation of what came before. If you do not have a clear understanding of what came before you cannot build upon it.

    Joseph Smith’s parents certainly taught him their understanding of God when he was a child. It was that understanding that led him to ask the questions and find answers that are the basis of the religious faith he founded.

    It is interesting that his parents did not condemn him and his new understanding but rather embraced him and it. Which leads me to believe that their teaching him of God at a young age was not the kind of teaching Osho fears, but rather was the open, loving, trusting teaching about God that empowers children to grow and evolve in their understanding.

  5. Also, what about his statement “the more intelligent you are the more you are going to disagree”? That is a loaded sentence aimed at complimenting the reader who disagrees with his parents. But it is not logical.

    It is only true if what you are being taught is false. It is not intelligent to disagree with what is true. The child who maintains that the world is flat because it looks so to her, in spite of her parents and teachers’ careful explanations and demonstrations to the contrary, may be demonstrating a strong will and a faith in her own experience, but she is not demonstrating intelligence.

    That particular sentence in the excerpt you quote smacks of enticement to the elitism of intelligentsia to me. It makes me wary of his agenda.

  6. And you’re right, Joseph Smith’s parents were completely on board, just not a whole lot of other people in his community. I wonder though, at this idea of evolution and if the church will evolve in ways that it doesn’t yet realize. What’s in store? That’s an exciting point for me to think about.

  7. yes, this is interesting. I’m sympathetic to the caution against ‘brainwashing’ children about religious beliefs. (that seems to be his concern.) But as a parent myself, I certainly think that there is a place for teaching children about a loving God. I think we can help our children grow up to be the thoughtful kind people we would like them to be by emphasizing the expansiveness of God’s love for every person, despite race, sex, class. By talking about God’s desire for us to show mercy to and seek justice for other people. by talking about the importance of loving others as we love self. These all seem like positive principles that can be taught to children in a religious context.

    As for needing evolution. Yes, absolutely. I think that’s one nice thing about Mormonism actually. It is always open to the idea of evolution, that we need further knowledge or to trend away from past ways of doing/thinking.

    The problem, of course, for Mormons as well is that those men rise to power in the church who largely affirm the ideas of those who came before. So getting that evolution is difficult. As my husband said, it’s like turning a huge ocean liner. It takes a long long time within the institution. On an individual level, however, it’s a bit different. Ideas of personal revelation give space, I think, for Mormons to evolve and grasp on to new ideas while rejecting the ones that violate a person’s core principles.

  8. I love those thoughts Caroline. How do you think children can learn those things without God in the picture? I’m so curious as to people who were raised with all of those same qualities, but without the concept of God that I have. I know several families in NYC, when I worked there, who were atheist/agnostic and were still very successful in teaching their children the core values that most religions centered around. I think they used more modern examples in place of God/Jesus.

  9. But there has to be a lot more…do you think, sometimes, we use God as a crutch in our teachings? A failsafe fallback, instead of expanding the virtues to take on more than that?

  10. God as a crutch. Interesting question, Stella. I must admit that the first phrase that came to mind when I read that was “opiate of the masses”, an idea that’s been around for awhile, but I’m not sure if you are referring to that same particular notion. Can you give us examples of what you would consider such?

    As to your question about whether or not there is something better than currently understood Mormonism, my answer would be certainly. I think that’s even part of the theology. Think “line upon line”. Or Paul’s comments about milk and meat. Or Bruce McConkie’s retraction of his comments in 1978. It’s always ongoing. It’s not just adding to what we have, it is also includes stripping away the errors and expanding the horizons.

    That said, there is also the possibility of something worse than current Mormonism waiting to evolve. I think we see that possibility in places as well. Evolution can go more than one way. Thankfully, we can choose. And I have a great deal of belief that in the teaching that if those who love truth and their fellow men do not give up, that which is good and true will ultimately prevail, in spite of how dark things get during the process.

    Caroline, I like your contrast between the ocean liner and the individual. I think that’s a good point.

  11. stella, I think parents can teach those values without God. I guess that’s what we would call moral philosphy or ethics. I’m guessing those parents must dwell very much upon the golden rule, as well, perhaps, on ideas about social justice.

    I do wonder if bringing God into it does make the teachings more powerful for kids. (Perhaps this is what you mean by God being a crutch – that it might have more of an impact on a kid to say ‘God wants/doesn’t want you to do this’ than to say ‘the right thing for you is to do/not do this.’)

    thanks, mb. You make a good point as well about the problematic nature of that comment ‘the more intelligent you are…’

  12. one day i had a conversation with my boss about raising children w/o religion. he was raised lutheran but when he went to college he decided he couldn’t believe if he was going to major in science. so he stopped believing. when kids came along, he raised his children w/o religion or any belief in god. his children are now grown and they have no respect for religion or others spiritual beliefs…and they haven’t developed any of their own. my boss said raising his children w/o any religion was the biggest mistake he made. he said as he’s gotten older he’s realized he can have religion and science. he feels his children would be more respectful of others had they been raised with a religious and/or spiritual upbringing. this is coming from a very kind man. he and his wife raised two great human beings. they taught their kids to have high morals and be good people….without religion. yet, here he is feeling like there’s still something missing in their lives. i just thought it was interesting and related to your question in the discussion thread.

  13. Some of you might be interested in the Parenting Beyond Belief blog. It’s meant to be helpful for atheist and agnostic parents wondering how to frame discussions of morality for their children. I’ve found it to be very thoughtful.

  14. Sorry! Bad internet, I haven’t been able to respond. I think Caroline and MB make really excellent points and I have really appreciated every one’s comments. I think, at least for the person I am, it would be impossible not to teach my kids about God. I guess that’s the huge responsibility of raising kids, it’s up to two people to decide what to teach them.

  15. “‘Begs the question’ does NOT mean ‘invites the obvious question.'” (“Pleasing the Court,” Judith D. Fisher, p. 61) “Begging the question” is a common form of circular reasoning. It is basing a conclusion on a principle that needs to be proven as much as the conclusion itself. Example: “Democracy must be the best form of government because the majority is always right.” (The conclusion is that democracy is the best government form; while the premise is that the majority is always right. Both elements circle back on each other and leads to a circular fallacy of reasoning.)

  16. Stella, I like Mormonism’s notion of evolution in that we all need to learn and do more to become better. I like the idea that things can change too.

    Thanks for your provocative post. The thought of teaching my (future) kids about God scares me when I don’t understand everything myself.

    On Sunday, my 4 year old nephew recited to me two articles of faith over the phone. He has got a good mind but he is really only learning to see God the very traditional way my sister sees religion and that scares me.

    I do have friends whose parents took them to a variety of churches growing up so they could understand different philosophies and choose for themselves. However, as a little kid, most of them had one religious or secular entity. To try to cram philosophical diversity into a little kid seems difficult.

    I do think it is important for kids to choose what they believe and to know that people see God differently.

    If I ever have kids, I hope they will know what I believe and don’t believe as well as know they are free to believe and not believe whatever they like. I worry more about instilling moral character. But then again the whole idea of parenting scares me to death.

  17. I thought this was a site for LDS Feminist thought, not anti-LDS thought. Stella, by her own admission, whether official or not, has left the Church. The intent of her post is more to tear down faith in Jesus Christ, His gospel and His living prophets, rather than to build it up. I found nothing uplifting whatsoever about this post. I’m not slinging mud here, folks, just STRONGLY disagreeing.

    If Stella no longer wants to seek after the Spirit but follow her own voice, then that is her choice. But it is the Exponent’s choice as to whether to publish articles of this nature on this website. I personally found it rather disturbing that this website is promoting articles of this nature.

    I’m sure Stella has contributed some fine articles in the past, but this article draws people away from Christ and His Church. it does not strengthen our testimonies.

    Of course Stella should follow after Osho if she so chooses, but I question the decision to publish this article on this website. If she were just to post this as a comment, that’s something else. I’m not trying to offend or hurt anyone’s feelings, but this is dangerous stuff, folks, not at all in the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Is this the kind of material the Exponent really intends to promote?

  18. Mr. Two of Three,
    Thanks for your comment. I have always enjoyed your wife’s comments, so I’m glad to see you stop by.

    I’m sorry that you feel this post is tearing down your faith. I don’t believe that was the author’s intent. Although you may not have seen it, the mission of The Exponent is to “provide a forum for Mormon women to share their life experiences in an atmosphere of trust and acceptance.” In my opinion, Stella’s post does this by discussing evolution in religion, even pointing to Joseph Smith as an example. I’m sure you can understand why we don’t censor bloggers or commenters (aside from the points within our comment policy) based on their level of faithfulness, which is hard to measure at best.

    As a blogger at The Exponent, my goal here is to validate Stella’s experiences (and the experiences of other commenters) and engage in conversation about the topic on it’s own merit, not it’s potential to increase or decrease faith.

  19. Mr. Two of Three,
    I think Jessawhy nicely explained Exponent’s goal. Our goal is not to increase testimony; it’s to provide a forum to share Mormon women’s stories, faith journeys, insights and thoughts in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. And of course, there’s a broad range of women, from inactive to highly active, who self-identify as Mormon, so you’ll find a variety of ideas and stories expressed on this blog.

    We welcome your thoughts and comments, and we particularly appreciate it when people speak to their own experience and insights when they comment, rather than criticizing others’.

  20. Dear Mr. Two of Three

    My aim is never to tear down faith–only seeking to better understand the root of it. In all of my travels and in engaging with each of God’s children–I have found a wealth of faith-based ideas that do not center on typical LDS thought. I thought that engaging in discussion of understanding our brothers and sisters could be something that would benefit each of us as children of God. And, ultimately, for us to each understand one another better. Sometimes we become so focused in our own religion, that we can’t branch out to see the world around us.

    If you read the post carefully, I never actually claimed to believe the spiritual theory presented (and even if I did, I do not think I would 1. Need to defend it or 2. Tear down your faith by declaring my own). You have made many assumptions about my personal beliefs that I do not feel the need to validate or defend.

    I find that your comment simply judges me (saying that I have chosen not to live by the “spirit” when you do not even know me) instead of engaging in the conversation I was hoping to have. I would never tear down another’s faith–however, I will question all faiths and I will strive to understand all faiths. That is what I was trying to do here. If you read all the comments, you will see that thoughtful reflection was used, a discussion had, and no one’s faith was shattered.

  21. Amen Stella….

    I think religion needs to evolve to less guilt, less judging, more love…..

    I love reading these posts!

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