Fake Religion: Thoughts Inspired by Fake Work

One of the best new business books on the market comes from a BYU professor and his colleague. Maybe you’ve heard about Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder Than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem by Brent D. Peterson and Gaylan D. Nielson (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009). As I mentioned on my InnovationFatigue blog, Fake Work strikes a chord in most anybody working in Corporate America. Dr. Brent Peterson from the Marriott School of Engineering (Brigham Young University) and Gaylan Nielson, CEO of The Work Itself Group, have estimated that over half of all the work people do is meaningless. It is “fake work”–-work that is not related to the objectives of the business and does not help a business to survive.

Religion, even when based on truth and reality, can be “fake” for the same reasons. I and most of my fellow Latter-day Saints truly believe that Christ is Lord, the Son of the Father, a glorious resurrected Being who is the Author of our salvation and the source of revelation in the Bible and the rest of the LDS scriptures. We also believe that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored upon the earth with the same priesthood authority that Christ gave the leaders of the early Church, and with the offices of prophets and apostles to receive revelation and guide His Church. That’s all very exciting and wonderful stuff, and if it’s true, if it’s real, how could anyone call our religious efforts “fake”? How could anyone call our busy Church service and sacrifices for the Kingdom of God fake?

As with fake work, I suggest that religious activity, even well-intended, faithful service, is fake if it does not align with the core objectives and goals of the religion. For us, those objectives can be condensed in this short mission statement: to bring people unto Christ. Our purpose is to bring people unto Christ, including ourselves, our families, our loved ones, and others all over the world. A related secondary purpose is to bless people’s lives in this world–to help them be healthier, happier, have stronger families, be more independent–with the understanding that these temporal blessings, while worthy and justified in their own right, may often lead to even greater eternal blessings as people are more able to recognize the joy that comes from Christ. These objectives, centered around blessing the lives of others, can be achieved in many ways, and many programs ranging from Sunday and Temple worship and religious instruction to food storage and cultural activities or sports can fulfill our mission by blessing the lives of people in various ways. Nevertheless, too much of what we do can be fake.

Religious activity becomes fake when it is not directly aligned with the real objectives of our faith. Teaching and sermons become fake when the purpose is to entertain for entertainment’s sake, to impress others, to call attention to ourselves, or even just to fill the allotted time in some way so we “fulfill” our speaking assignment. When someone begins a talk with the words, “I’m not sure how I’m going to fill the time,” that’s when I’m tempted to head for the doors because the next 20 or so minutes will be “fake.” I’ve given plenty of fake talks and lessons myself, I realize now, in which I went too deep or got “too fancy” without having given careful consideration to what the Lord wanted to be said. Ouch. Hmm, how many fake blog posts do I have here at Mormanity? Don’t think I want to count. I’m giving a pass to blogging: it’s OK to be fake, isn’t it? Oh, and Twitter – no, never mind. Sorry to scratch at that scab.

Home teaching is fake when its purpose is to generate a statistic. An elder’s quorum president once called on the last day of the month to tell me that his home teaching goal was in jeopardy because my home teacher hadn’t visited me, and wanted to know if he could come over at 10 pm that night just for a minute or two so they could count me as home taught. I balked at the idea–and am glad to know that he’s become a much wiser and more Christ-centered leader since then. That wasn’t really his fault as much as it was the unintended “fake” version of our religion that had come down from local leaders above him who forgot that the statistics are meant as measures of progress in serving Christ, not as the true ends of our religion.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us perspectives that oppose anything fake in religion. The story of the widow’s mite shows that the truly important thing was not the amount given, but the level of commitment and intent of the giver. In the Book of Mormon, Moroni in Moroni 7 explains to believers that giving a gift does us no good unless it is done with real intent. In other words, our sacrifices of time, money, or whatever must be aligned with the real purpose of our religion if that act is to do any good for our souls. If a gift is given or sacrifice made for the wrong purpose or done grudgingly, it is fake and has no lasting value.

Fake Work warns against the wastefulness of many meetings, excessive paperwork, and trivia that wastes time and energy without delivering on core objectives. We need to scrutinize our own religious efforts to make sure that what we are doing is aligned with the divine intent behind the Church. There are details to be carried out, paperwork that must be done, meetings that must be held–but when we apply the lens of Christ-centered service and eternal objectives, we may find that some things can be cut out or require a complete re-orientation to deliver on the Lord’s purpose for this Church.

My favorite statement on true, not fake, religion is from James 1:27:

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

This is beautifully aligned with the path that blesses others and our own lives. We must stay close to the Lord, in personal purity and strident efforts to avoid the sins of the world, that we may have the companionship of the Spirit and thus be constantly aligned with His eternal purposes. We must serve and bless others to help them in this life, while we also have their eternal welfare in mind. Activities that aren’t based on fulfilling such divine objectives may to be reconsidered: they may be just another wasteful diversion on the broad and crooked path of fake religion.

Caveat: In religion and especially in service, “fake” doesn’t always mean completely worthless. Helping at a service project, donating to help the poor, or even showing up for Sunday worship can all be valuable even if you have the wrong attitude and are giving grudgingly. It can still help others and may even help you, and it may be better to do it than not at all. But the impact is far less than if you’re doing it with “real intent,” as the Book of Mormon calls for. Doing good for the wrong reason is better than doing evil for any reason or not doing good at all. But to be truly meaningful, the intent needs to be sincere and the effort aligned with a genuine desire to follow Christ and bless others. That’s when the real blessings and even miracles occur.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

29 thoughts on “Fake Religion: Thoughts Inspired by Fake Work

  1. Wow. The Spirit really hit me on this one. I can tell you that this is one blog post that is nowhere close to 'fake.' It is very real.
    Thank you!

  2. First time visiting this blog in a long while, but I must say that the spirit hit me as well.

    Dang, Jeff…good post.

  3. GREAT post and something that a lot of us should give very serious thought to (sigh, raise hand).

  4. I have been in my share of "fake" meetings and agree that we need to be more diligent in making our worship worthwhile. But something that I have learned from working with the youth is that opportunities for them to learn and feel the Spirit often come in the middle of all the other fun and often "fake" activities that they plan or are planned for them. We want them to just be there. If they are, they have at least a chance of feeling the Spirit in those spontaneous spiritual moments that happen. If they are not there, they obviously will not have that particular chance to be touched by the Spirit.

  5. "Home teaching is fake when its purpose is to generate a statistic. An elder's quorum president once called on the last day of the month to tell me that his home teaching goal was in jeopardy because my home teacher hadn't visited me, and wanted to know if he could come over at 10 pm that night just for a minute or two so they could count me as home taught."

    How much better if he had called and said, "I see that your home teacher missed visiting you this month. I just wanted, as your quorum leaader, to check on you and your family. How are you doing? Is there anything we can do to help you? As you point out, the purpose of home teaching is service, not statistics.

  6. Thank you for this excellent post, for reminding me of things that I need to work on. It brings to life the need to keep an eye single to the glory of God. I think it was Boyd K. Packer who said doing that was like our vision being one half of the binoculars and the Lord's vision being the other half, and when they come together, you can SEE, you are doing what you should be.

  7. Great post.

    Dave d,

    I agree with you about the youth. I have just recently been called as Young Men's president, and I have found already that it's really hard to avoid too many "fake" activities. In some ways, the Boy Scouts contribute to the fakeness.

    I was reading a pamphlet for training leaders and there was a study that found that the second most contributing factor that helped lead youth to missions was that they knew the leaders loved them. First was home life, but second was leaders. It never mentioned what sort of activities were had, but that leaders were there for them.

    So, I think we should avoid many fake things, but we should also realize that, sometimes those fake things can translate into real things. If you catch my meaning.

  8. Wonderful Post. As a new member to the church I really will strive to take these lessons to heart as I do my home teaching and other activities.

  9. Ian, as a youth I agree. One of the most important things to me is that I have felt the love and Spirit of those who teach me and the others and who lead. I know that I can rely on them whatever the case, and it is one of the biggest things that has strengthened me in the Church, besides my own testimony.

    Boy scouts can be good if we are really learning things that can benefit us in years to come and if we can feel a sense of teamwork and inclusion. Not everyone can do everything, but each can do something. Just my thoughts.

    Concerning home teaching, I have been blessed to have an older teaching companion who has a love and devotion to his calling and serving others, though I believe that more time should be spent on the spiritual and less on talking about other aspects of life, though it is nice to chat for a reasonable bit to see what is going on.

  10. I appreciate your caveat. In my experience, sometimes just being and doing what you should be doing….even with the wrong attitude, can be beneficial. Then hopefully as you realize your attitude is wrong you can make adjustments.

    Great Post, I enjoyed it.

  11. This is why _goals_ are so important.

    From The Game of Work — How to Enjoy Work As Much As Play by Charles A. Coonradt:

    “In the absence of clearly defined goals, people are forced to concentrate on the activity and ultimately become enslaved by it."

    It goes on to say: "Most businesses pay for attendance when they need to be paying for performance and productivity … Most business people don’t keep score; they don’t measure performance as effectively as
    they do in recreation.”

  12. I haven't read such an honest post in a long time. So profound and true. As a ward leader, I often feel that I'm putting out fires and smoothing ruffled feathers instead of ministering to those who are in need.

    May we all learn to practice true religion.

  13. Very honest and true. I think we tend to trivilize what is and is not required of us. We view certain aspects of how we ought to conduct ourselves more as a laborious task than something we are committed in doing.

  14. Interesting view.

    I think that most organizations in life are composed of 60-80% fakery. Religion though ranks up near the top of the heap. It promotes being fake.

    Remember, the natural man is an enemy to God so it's better to be someone you are not rather than to incure the wrath of Jesus.

    Pascal's Wager is based on faking it till you make it.

    I'd much rather have a sincere life in which I'm honest with myself than to join a religion and be "seen of men".

  15. Awesome Jeff! Where are HEART lies is important. This may not be word for word, but a scripture is coming to mind: "They draw near unto me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me".

    Is there a way to link your post on Facebook or do I just cut and paste the link from my search engine?

  16. Oh, how I think we can all relatye to this: "When someone begins a talk with the words, 'I'm not sure how I'm going to fill the time,' that's when I'm tempted to head for the doors because the next 20 or so minutes will be 'fake.'"

    Somehow, we've missed the mark when our members don't understand that the purpose of a talk is to uplift and to edify. Surely with a little effort, the Lord will help us come up with material that will do that and not have to start with an apology. I hope nobody continues to folow that model that we have all seen too many times.

    BTW, I can relate to the intro about fake work in corporate America. But maybe that's a leadership failure – not getting the message of what really is the core business and what kind of work affects the bottom line all the way to the troops at the front.

  17. Fake Work is more than a leadership problem. Individuals throughout the corporation contribute to it or keep it alive by giving in to it, and strengthening the culture of fakeness by their own actions. Peterson and Nielson have a lot of advice to employees as well as leaders. WARNING: Some of the advice will get you fired. I'll clarify that in one of my next posts at InnovationFatigue.com.

  18. ROFLM*O! I've had my share of perfunctory home teaching visits by leadership and they stick with me as examples of how not to do it. I have tried to embrace the late Elder Helvecio Martins (sp?) doctrine of lifetime home teacher. I'm no Celestial role model in all things, but strive to do the right things for right reasons. I would hope that your insights here would find it's way to quorum lessons and conference talks.

  19. Jeff,

    As you all know I am no longer a member of the Church, don't believe in it, and often disagree with what you post here. But, I have to say that this post transcends faith differences and hits at the heart of the question: why we do what we do. This post is excellent from top to bottom, and you hit vital biblical principals that makes this post something that any faith group could benefit from. Thank you for the time you put into this post. I hope the result is that all of us go forth with the right motives to do what we do in the context of serving God. Blessings to you, Jeff.

    Peace and Grace!

  20. Can anyone relate working in business inside a corporation, to spreading the Gospel that we as Christians have been commissioned to do (without preaching to work colleagues, that will probably end up with a contractual dismissal)?

    Shouldn't the Gospel be oozing from our every pore through the influence of the Holy Spirit so that we are alive with it's message and making it contagious for everyone that we come into contact with ?

    So Jeff is correct (to a certain extent) in this post; what are we doing with our lives persuing personal careers, goals, dreams, holidays and ambitions placing the Gospel Commission of Christ way down on our daily / weekly / annual list of 'things that I must do' ? Are we really listening to the Spirit's call ?

  21. Perhaps we are working in different paradigms, but I don't understand this idea of authenticity. Wouldn't it be better to suffer through a good act rather than refrain from doing anything at all?

    Is a good spirit more important than the act itself? Perhaps you could explain this further to me.

  22. Great post…my first visit. I've thought a bit about this, and realize that much of my religious life consists of going through the motions. I strive to change, but in the meantime try to console myself that perfunctory service/worship is better than none, and that at least I'm putting myself in the right places. Hoping for more.


  23. I’ve had a few more thoughts on this topic of “fake religion,” especially since reading the comments, which has led me to study a little more on the process of mortal perfection.

    Anonymous @ 8:50 said, “I'd much rather have a sincere life in which I'm honest with myself than to join a religion and be ‘seen of men’.” For me, I don’t feel like the things I do from a religious standpoint are to be “seen of men” (i.e., “fake”), nor do I feel like in my imperfections I am being insincere, or even hypocritical. I’m as human as they come, dealing with challenges like everyone else. But, if I stop doing what I should be doing just because I don’t have the right attitude that day (or week or month), then I’m missing out. If I’m not pushing forward, then I’m sliding back; and — trust me — I’ve felt what it is to slide so far back that the snaggly surface of the slide nearly ripped the backside off of my britches. Yeeouch.

    Besides the thoughts and intents of our hearts, our Heavenly Father knows that we are imperfect, imperfectly striving to be perfect. Some things I do more perfectly than other things, but the point is that in that process, I am working out my own salvation. Somehow I have a hard time attributing “fakeness” to people who are trying, albeit imperfectly, to act on truths.
    The Savior didn’t say, “Ye are perfect,” he said, “[Ye are therefore commanded to be] perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (JST Matt. 4:48). However, Elder Russell M. Nelson says that we shouldn’t become depressed when faced with our daunting imperfections, “We all need to remember: men are that they might have joy—not guilt trips!” He then admonishes us, “Let us do the best we can and try to improve each day. When our imperfections appear, we can keep trying to correct them. We can be more forgiving of flaws in ourselves and among those we love. We can be comforted and forbearing” (“Perfection Pending,” Ensign, Nov. 1995). Notably, he does not say that we are being fake when we are imperfect in our duties; rather, we bear chastisement, we repent, we improve, we become closer to God and therefore closer to perfection. What a wonderful joy!

    Ooh, there’s so much stuff out there that is good and motivating! Thank you to Jeff for getting me thinking.

  24. Halibut, Your rhetorical question answers itself, although I can sense the frustration in the question. To take the question to the next level, what is our responsibility when others are being "fake." One of the hardest things to do is to not allow others' actions to affect the reasons for why we do what we do. Yes, members of the church screw up, and I have to continually remind myself how much I screw up. Remembering, and admitting to, my own shortcomings gives me a little more patience with other's shortcomings. I'm still responsible for me, no matter what. And the church is still true, no matter what.

    [As a quick side note, when I moved to Utah two years ago I expected to find nothing but fake, but have been happily surprised to find many members who are not.]

  25. This brings to mind the caveat Joseph Smith gave about seeking the plaudits of men or to gratify one's own vain ambition. Every time I turn around in the Church I come face to face with its simple yet profound truths.

  26. So…Where's Zarahemla again?
    The 3 Nephites?
    Where was the Spirit to tell the first Presidency they already had the Hoffman papers?
    Why did the Spirit mislead Joseph Smith when translating an ancient funerary text into the words of Abraham?
    Right. The Spirit will answer my prayers. Sure. Same way he's done to our Mormon Leaders.

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