The idea that God demands worship is central to nearly every monotheistic religion. In fact, most religious gatherings are referred to as “worship services.” From the majestic organ music and choral accompaniment found in traditional Christian services to modern “Guitar Masses” and Protestant “Praises Services” to the Islamic practice of falling on the ground in the direction of Mecca--the necessity and supposed virtue of worshipping Deity is never questioned by the faithful.
From where did the idea that God demanded human worship come? First we should ask the question, “What exactly is worship?”
The dictionary defines worship as showing “homage or veneration,” as expressing “intense admiration,” to “idolize” someone or something.
Ancient cultures tended to be tribal. Individuals were under subjugation to chiefs, warlords and kings--people who used brute force and strength to establish their dominance. These rulers decided what the laws would be, established taboos based on their own limited knowledge, their beliefs or whims. The will of the ruler was paramount, and those who lived under his absolute rule (who lived “under his protection”) had to continually show deference and respect to avoid being the object of his wrath.
Traditional Western monotheism’s concept of God came from such cultures. For instance, it is obvious from reading Genesis that Abraham is presented as a tribal warlord, along the lines of those one might find in modern day Afghanistan. The Book of Genesis presents Abraham as the leader of an large “household” of slaves and wives, who go to battle with certain kings when they declare war on the cities of Sodom and Gomorah.
Likewise, the Torah depicts Moses enforcing the commandments of God by virtue of the sword and brute force. The Children of Israel who worship the golden calf are put to the sword. A reading of the Torah will show that under Moses the penalty for breaking the commandments regarding observance of the Sabbath, taking the Lord’s name in vain and not honoring one’s father and mother was public execution.
Modern Biblical archeologists are coming to the conclusion that Biblical figures such as King Saul and King David were probably, in fact, warlords over tribes who lived in the Judean hills three thousand years ago.
It is reasonable then that these cultures, which produced the Bible, would envision God as a sort of heavenly warlord; that they would, in fact, refer to God as THE LORD, as one who (like their earthly rulers) demanded that His earthly “subjects” (those who have been brought into subjugation to His power) honor Him with the proper amount of adoration, praise and homage. After all, the Bible itself states that the LORD God “is a jealous God” who blesses only those who properly venerate Him, while destroying those who do not.
Anciently God was envisioned in terms of brute power and might, and this has come down to us in modern times in the act of worship. When modern day Evangelicals sing “Our God is a Mighty God!” they are merely carrying on idea that what born in an age and culture that, were they able to magically visit it for one day, they would probably decry as barbaric.
This barbarism echoes through our TV screens every time a Tele-Evangelist states with a straight face that terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center because God was angry that our society tolerates feminists and homosexuals; that the flooding of New Orleans was God’s retribution against that city for sexual promiscuity; that the Prime Minister of Israel suffered a stroke because his national policies were not in harmony with an ancient text written 2,500 years ago; that God sends fires on the Western United States because a lesbian comedian was chosen to host a TV award show.
Most people of faith probably don’t see a connection to such ridiculous claims and their own traditions of worshipping God, but, in fact, both are rooted in the ancient concept of God as a powerful lord who punishes those subjects who don’t show proper respect and blesses those subjects who do.
What is the Reform Mormon position on worshipping God?
Joseph Smith taught: “While one portion of the human race is judging the other without mercy [because they disagree on the practice of religion], the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole human family with a fatherly care and a parental regard; He views them as his offspring…without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men…” (“Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”)
While envisioning God as a Heavenly Father or Mother, let us ask ourselves what we would make of an earthly father who became angry with his children, punishing them or trying to invoke guilt in them because they failed to praise him enough, failed pay enough attention to him or failed to constantly tell him how grateful they are for all he had done for them? In short what would we think of the earthly father and mother who demanded that their children not only live in a continual state of dependence upon them, but also demanded that their children constantly compliment them and make declarations of how happy they are to be completely dependent upon them?
We would more than likely label such parents as abusive, as “sick” or “twisted,” and in need of therapy. We might encourage the children to severe ties with such immature, emotionally abusive parents.
One could say that to envision a God who demands our adoration and worship is to elevate such a parent to the level of a deity.
Reform Mormonism holds that God does not demand, need or even ask for our worship. Our Heavenly Father and Mother love us, and any love feel toward Them is not given in obedience to a commandment requiring us to love Them. Instead love for God is the natural result of envisioning Gods as having first loved us, as having had our best interests and happiness at heart.
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