Before I graduated from BYU, I worked for a summer with a born-again Christian girl. I was astounded to learn that she prayed and received answers to her prayers. Me too! [Please remember, I was a sheltered little BYU student at the time. Even though up to that point I'd had several non-Mormon friends, few of them had been very religious.]
When we had discussions about spiritual things, I was continually impressed by her genuine belief and seeming closeness to god. I came away from that summer with just a little less ethnocentricity. So did she. By the time we parted, we both believed that the other would probably be going to "heaven." But I was still confused at how she could accept the Bible and deny that baptism was necessary for salvation or justify premarital sex.
7.5 years and an apostasy later, I am still intrigued by modern christianity (not as a potential believer, of course, but as an observer). So, I took advantage of my recent vacation to ask my good friend and traveling companion (also a very faithful christian) what she thought about baptism and premarital sex.
And as she began to talk about her beliefs and her religious experience it just sounded SO. INCREDIBLY. FAMILIAR.
In her words I could hear myself. My old self. Explaining and rationalizing the evolution of my religion. Her justification was grace. My justification had been the omniscience of god (+ modern-day revelation).
But all I could think, over and over, was...it's all the same, the same, the SAME!!! The words are different, but the same thing is taking place. The world changes, and our cultures adapt, and we use different reasoning to explain the adaptations, failing to see what's really going on. How did I not recognize this before????
For example. My friend chooses abstinence before marriage, but seemed to suggest that while that is the ideal, it's perhaps not realistic or necessary for everyone (saved by grace). At first glance this (optional abstinence) sounds like a much more flexible approach than in mormonism. Yet - just because the LDS church has a highly structured disciplinary process doesn't mean that premarital sexuality isn't becoming more and more common/acceptable (in deed, if not in word).
My friend also chose to be baptized, but similarly does not consider this ultimately necessary for believers. Even though the "textbook" says LDS baptism is necessary for salvation, I know plenty of mormons who believe that things will be "worked out" for really good people (including those who refuse baptism in this life).
Anyway, I know I'm just using a couple examples here, but it reminds me of Urban Koda's discussion of the "difference" between tithing in the LDS church and indulgences.