I watched Lyndonâ€™s you tube presentation to the Red Mountain Community Church near Phoenix, and thoroughly enjoyed it. SeeÂ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECjddl…. He is an eloquent spokesman for the post-Mormon movement. His personal style is folksy, and pleasant. He is the kind of guy that most people would probably love to spend an evening chatting with. I certainly fall into that category. I “felt the spirit” while listening to him.
I was also particularly interested in the way in which Lyndon described his current beliefs. I am not sure whether he was pulling some punches in order to avoid discomfiting his hosts too much. I doubt that. I remember many of my beliefs being similar to his during the first short while after I bolted from the Mormon cloister.
Overall, I found Lyndonâ€™s presentation thought-provoking enough that I decided to make some notes will listening to it, and then dictated the following stream of consciousness set of comments. While I don’t always agree with what Lyndon had to say, I want to make it clear that this is not an attempt to criticize him. On the contrary, I applaud what he has done, his courage, and the style with which he conducts himself. I also think that discussing different perspectives with regard to important issues is helpful, and I therefore offer what follows. Given the way Lyndon explained his approach, I am confident that he will not feel threatened by this and hope that he will be inclined to provide additional insight into the process as he is following. The more different examples we have of how people have dealt with the challenges related to crossing a major personal and social boundary, such as that between Mormonism and the rest of social reality, the better served all who come behind us up this interesting pathwill be.
I use voice dictation software, and do not have the time to proofread this carefully. Please forgive the plethora of typos that no doubt follows.
I was particularly pleased to hear Lyndonâ€™s description of the way in which his wife reacted to his change of belief. She is an unusual woman. They are fortunate to have each other. As he put it, their relationship is far more important than any set of religious beliefs. His wife and son continue to attend Mormon meetings, and they are all comfortable with that.
I love the fact that he continues to get along well with all of his brothers. I think he called them a “tribe”. He also indicated that within 20 years, most of them will have probably left Mormonism, and all of them at present are well informed with regard to the issues related to Mormonism. However, in some cases his brothers may face the loss of a marriage and/or family in the event they openly disavow Mormonism. This makes the decision difficult. He therefore indicates that we should be respectful of the decisions people make with regard to how they will continue to associate with Mormonism.
I could not agree more. This is particularly the case where people are well informed. I have much less respect for those who cannot bear to inform themselves, than those who go to that point and then make the difficult decision Lyndon identified. I don’t believe that anyone other than the individual involved can make the crucial cost-benefit call that must be made when determining how to recalibrate, or completely change, one’s relationship to an inherited religious tradition, family and community. I believe that it is somewhere between unwise and the immoral for anyone to attempt to make someone else’s decision in that regard or to be unduly critical once it has been made.
I was glad that Lyndon was able to report that for the most part, his Mormon friends and family are treating him well. This indicates the Mormonism has matured beyond the vicious shunning evidenced in the fundamentalist Mormon community, certain aspects of the Muslim community, and the most archaic and tribal of other parts of the religious world. Explaining this to evangelical Christians helps them to understand that Mormons are not so different from them in this regard.
Were I Lyndon, I might have dealt with the questions along these lines by asking what the Evangelicals would do with a family member who converted to Islam, Mormonism, or became an atheist, and showed up on youtube describing how crazy the evangelical Christian belief system was. The way in which Mormons deal with Lyndon might be usefully placed in context against how the Evangelicals deal with that kind of situation. They would likely indicate that there would be a range of responses. The more “Christlike” and mature members of the community would probably deal with the situation better than some of the hard-liners. The same thing occurs within Mormonism.
Over and over again, I will come back to the concept that Mormonism and evangelical Christianity are extremely similar in terms of their social dynamics, belief structures, and other attributes when considered from the perspective of social organisms competing for resources within an evolutionary landscape.
Lyndon indicated that he is “once bitten, twice shy” when it comes to institutional religion. He is going to study carefully before making any other commitments. He believes that spirituality, for the most part, transcends institutional religion.
He and I seem to be on much the same page in that regard. I decided that it was important that I stand apart from all institutional religions for a period of time. Mormonism and other authoritarian religious groups tend to breed an unhealthy dependence on authority and institutional structures. Various schools related to “attachment theory” within psychology described how this works in our most important nurturing relationships as individuals. These patterns appear to extend into adult intimate relationships, and also to our relationships with important authority figures and institutions. As a result, people within religious communities like Mormonism do not tend to individuate in a healthy fashion. Their personal boundaries are more porous than tends to be the normal case within Western society, and they are therefore more prone than usual to unhealthy co-dependent relationships. In many ways that is how I characterize my former relationship to Mormonism — as an unhealthy co-dependency. Mormonism exploitedthis by causing me to make many unhealthy choices in terms of how I used my time, how hard I was on myself and otherwise how I lived my life. Ironically, the more faithful and committed a Mormon is, the more unhealthy choices of this type tend to be made. The more casual Mormon, the less Mormonism tends to interfere with a healthy lifestyle.
As an aside, I see precisely the same pattern with the Evangelical community.
Having spent a period of time after leaving Mormonism in my mid-40s to individuate as I probably should have should have in my late teens or early adulthood, I now would be comfortable associating with a religious institution. However, I feel no need to do so. I have identified a wide variety of religious groups within the Christian and other traditions that are orientated toward helping individuals come to understand themselves, and to make the most of who they are as they choose to do so. I think that the environmental movement is going to evolve into, among other things, various quasi-religious manifestations, and believe that I could find the same sort of benefits that would be provided by many religious institutions in that, or other similar, social contexts. I am not actively seeking associations of this kind, but if I bump into something that makes sense I would not be shy about pursuing it.
Whether to continue attending Mormon meetings?
I started out thinking that I would perhaps become a force for change within the Mormon institution. I was familiar with what Lavina Fielding Anderson and others have attempted to do in that regard, and believed that that might be the way to go. As I come to better understand the dynamics of change within social institutions, I decided against this. Social change is caused by both insiders and outsiders. Where one falls in that regard is largely a matter of personality and circumstance. I am most comfortable as an outsider, just as some people are more comfortable emigrating from difficult homelands, while others could not consider it. I am reading Michael Ignatieffâ€™s biography of Isaiah Berlin at the moment, which contains some fascinating material in this regard. Hence it is on my mind.
In addition, my thinking was influenced by one of the ideas that Lyndon pointed toward. That is, anyone who attends Mormon meetings and abides by the requirement that Mormonism not be criticized will be for the most part viewed as endorsing the Mormon way. The better I came to understand what Mormonism stood for, the less comfortable I was with lending my reputation to it in any way.
Even more importantly, I came to appreciate the crucial role our associations with other human beings in social contexts, within the epistemic and other rules that define those contexts, has on our personal evolution. Human beings coevolve as a function of the nature of their closest associates, and their social context. In a very real sense, we make each other. Some of the best research with regard to what causes changes in religious belief indicates that it is the belief of our six or so closest associates that is the most reliable predictive factor with regard to what we will believe. And believe creates behavior. The social science statistics coming out of Utah speak eloquently to the downside of Mormon belief in that regard.
As I thought about these concepts relative to my children, it became crystal clear to me that I did not want to have them come to maturity within the social context defined by Mormonism, having most of their closest associations being within the Mormon community. This is the issue that nailed shut my decision to exit the Mormon community, and to do everything I could to have my children come with me. As a result of the fact that Lyndon appears to be comfortable with his son continuing along the Mormon path, I believe that he and I see things differently on this issue.
While I realize that one off examples are not good guides to life, and that we should seek the broadest possible empirical evidence to support or disprove our theories, let me share a story the underlying principles of which I believe can be substantiated by the academic research.
A friend of mine left are relatively small, close-knit Mormon community at age 18 because she wanted to get as far away from it as possible. She became a professional, married a fine non-LDS man, and raised a successful family. She left her name on the membership rolls, and allowed each of her children to be blessed and named in a Mormon meeting with her father performing the ordinances. This helped her to remain connected to her family, and she did not see any harm in this.
Because her children were â€œof recordâ€ in Mormon Church, and because her parents kept the church up to date with regard to her location, she was from time to time contacted by well-meaning Mormons as her children grew up, and they occasionally attended primary and youth meetings within the Mormon community. The city where they lived had a reasonably sized Mormon population, and her children became acquainted with the Mormon kids in that community as a result of what I just indicated. When her children went away the university, they sought out the Mormon Institutes of Religion because of the ready-made community of friends they knew they would find there.
I note as an aside that this is much of what Mormonism offers these days. At a time when communities of many types are breaking down, Mormons are going out of their way to build cohesive, strong communities that can be easily found in virtually every major city across North America. They love bomb potential new converts. They provide things to do within the community for most participants, which the social psychologists tell us will tend to provide a feeling of meaning, security and connectedness to something larger, each of which is important to human feelings of happiness and satisfaction. In short, the Mormon institution follows the social science textbooks very closely in terms of how to build human groups that will satisfy basic human needs. This is why it is successful. It is successful in spite of its weird history, and our beliefs. The price for admission is, among other things, at least the willingness not to be critical of odd beliefs and to play the social game as Mormons define it. This is similarto the requirement for social membership in smokers group at the office, or the runners group at the gym. Do what they do. It is pretty simple at this level of analysis.
I do not suggest that Mormon leaders pour over the textbooks, and then decide how to do things. Rather, evolutionary forces are present within our social strata, and accordingly the social groups that survive tend to behave in a somewhat predictable fashion. Mormonism is simply another religiously oriented social group in that regard — man-made from the ground up. The same can be said of evangelical Christians. But it is difficult for any of us to see this with regard to our own social group, but very easy for us to see it with regard to all others. Hence, the evangelical Christians are intellectually hamstrung in almost precisely the same manner in which our Mormons.
Back to my friend’s story. Two of her children married very faithful Mormons as a result of associating with the Mormon university crowd, and are now temple attending Mormons who are raising their families in a traditional, conservative Mormon fashion. It is not coincidence, by the way, that Mormons invest heavily in resources located at the crucial life juncture that is young adult and university life. People are malleable at this point, and social connections do most of the moulding.
Anyways, Grandpa and Grandma are somewhat suspect in that context. Their access to their grandchildren and children is much more limited that they would like. This is a source of great pain for my friend. She deeply regrets permitting the tentacles of Mormonism to remain in her life. I have cut those off to the extent I can. They are like creeping vines, and regularly attempt to get back into the house. I therefore regularly patrol the perimeter, cut off the vines that are continually attempting to get in and rip out the roots whenever I can.
Mormonism’s crazy beliefs and irrational treatment of those who leave their group
Lyndon was not going out of his way to dwell on these points, but they came up naturally as he answered questions and talked about his experience. He talked about Smith’s polyandry, nutty beliefs with regard to the book of Mormon, et cetera. He noted that Mormons seem to need to believe that he had done something terrible, and that this was his real reason for leaving Mormonism. He noted the Mormon belief that since he had left Mormonism, he would probably become an alcoholic, porn addict, immoral person, since it is not possible to expect otherwise if you have left Mormonism. He mentioned that people within his congregation asked his wife when she was going to divorce him. Note that the question was not whether she would divorce him, but when.
My experience was close to identical in this regard. Note the correlation between publicity, and the need within the Mormon community to tear a person apart. People who leave quietly are not treated in this fashion, generally speaking. This is consistent with the hypothesis that religious groups like the Mormon Church are social institutions engaged in an evolutionary struggle for survival. Publicity with regard to a person leaving amounts to a threat against the institution. The institution, through its members, responds to that threat.
Lyndon noted in particular that he had been told that his excommunication was going to be announced from the pulpit. He went to the meeting on the appointed Sunday so that he could witness this. The announcement was not made. The stake president who wrote him a letter indicating that the announcement would be made was at the meeting. Lyndon asked him what was going on, and was told that he had not really made up his mind, and so the announcement would not be made. Lyndon inferred, I suspect correctly, that the stake president had been advised by his superiors not to make the announcement because of the defamation action that might follow from Lyndon. Accordingly, yet again we see the way in which the rights given to individuals within democratic society restrain the actions of a religious institution. Rather than pillorying Lyndon in an explicit fashion, the institution must rely upon rumor and innuendo of the type described above instigated by the membership independently so as to excise troublesome former members from the Mormon body, and neuter their ability to exert influence. Hence, the more publicity a person’s departure receives, the more vicious we can expect the rumors and innuendo to be. In my case, the rumors included that I was having an affair with my assistant at the office, and that one of my sons and I have become addicted to pornography. There was no substance to either of these rumors. They were fabricated out of thin air. My wife was also encouraged to divorce me.
Lyndon did not go on to note how common each of the characteristics described above is within human groups, and how these characteristics tend to be stronger in those groups that are more tightly knit. Authoritarian religious groups are among the tightest on the planet, and therefore we should expect to see these characteristics strongly manifested within those groups. For example, virtually all religious beliefs seem crazy to those who do not hold them. Try talking to people outside the Christian tradition with regard to the idea of the virgin birth and the resurrection.
The more conservative, primitive and tribal a group, the more likely it is that the group will differ so radically from the rest of society that its members will have a high probability of failure if they leave their own group and try to make their way in other societies. Think of a 45-year-old African tribesmen who moves to North America. His or her prospects are slim. The prospects of a fundamentalist Mormon, old order Amish or Hutterite who leaves his social group at midlife are similarly constrained. In the case of the African tribesmen, poor prospects in a radically different culture are a simple function of social physics. He doesn’t know the language; he doesn’t know the cultural customs; he doesn’t have a good social network; he does not have social credentials; et cetera. He is therefore going to have a very hard time getting things done.
Cases involving close-knit, nonmainstream social groups that are embedded within a broader culture are quite different in some ways. The social physics noted above are purposefully manufactured. These social organisms are in competition with those surrounding them for the resources that allow social organisms to thrive. Those resources are primarily the human beings that make up social organisms. Those human beings dedicate energy to the social organisms to which they belong. This energy can come in the form of time, or money which is really just a stored form of time and other kinds of human energy. Accordingly, social organisms that are embedded in a broad landscape with many other social organisms are in competition with regard to human resources. They try to hang on to the resources that they have in virtually all cases, and in many cases try to attract new resources by way of conversion of one kind or another. At a minimum they will have developed various means to discourage dissent, mutiny and disengagement. Social isolation, and the threat of divorce, work well in this regard.
This brings us back to the example above. If the education, socialization, etc. within the small group differs radically enough from the larger culture within which it is embedded, it will be more difficult for people to leave. And many of those who do leave will fail. They will drift to the bottom of mainstream society, and become cautionary tales that reinforce the beliefs within their small group. That is, God will punish those who leave. The “world” is an evil and harsh place, ill-suited for the chosen who should remain within the community of the chosen. Et cetera.
Only a few generations ago, Mormonism was what the FLDS are now. Since then the Mormons have moved toward the mainstream of North American society with a vengeance, and the differences between Mormonism in mainstream society are therefore much smaller. However, vestiges of the old system remain, and Mormons are to an extent hamstrung if they attempt to leave their own relatively simple social group, and make their way in a much more complex mainstream society. This problem is greater for Mormon women than for men, since they do not tend to have as much to do with the “world”. Mormon men are required to earn their livelihood in the world, and therefore move more comfortably within that environment. They are therefore less afraid of it. They have social networks in it. They are credentialed in a way that facilitates their movement in it. This, in my view, explains most of what we see in terms of many more men than women moving across the Mormon boundary into mainstream culture and completely rejecting Mormonismas they do so. However, those men are still hampered by their Mormon beginnings. This digression is already so long but I will leave that there.
The social statistics coming out of Utah bear this out. Without telling that long story, Utahans on average suffer for more depression, are in their naÃ¯vetÃ© more preyed upon by financial fraud artists, and participate more in multilevel marketing organizations than do people in any other state. I believe that this is a reflection of the Mormon culture within Utah. One of the first objections Mormons make to this kind of analysis is that Utah is only 70% Mormon, and therefore the Utah statistics are not a good proxy for Mormonism. I think they’re probably right. I would love to see a study that limited these statistics to temple recommend holding Mormons. The Mormon Church could do such a study. I would be surprised if it had not done such a study already. I would be astonished if the results of this kind of study were favourable to Mormonism that they have not already been made public. The Mormons are too good at marketing to have missed this trick were it there for the taking.
The fact that the results have not been released suggests that, as I believe would be the case, the statistics with regard to temple recommend holding Mormons are even worse than the statistics with regard to Utahans as a whole.
I also note that when the Utah as a whole statistics work for the Mormon Church, they use them. This happened recently on the official Mormon church website in response to a Los Angeles Times article that was critical of Mormonism in a number of ways. One of the criticisms was that Mormons continue to “bleed like cattle” or something like that, at a time when it is environmentally immoral to do so. The response from the official Mormon church website was that the rate of live births in Utah was not much more than the national average. Again, I would love to see the live birth statistics with regard to temple recommend holding Mormons. I know that those statistics are available to the Mormon church. As a Mormon bishop, I used to help compile them, and they would show a birthrate far above the Utah average.
Accordingly, the response provided by the Mormon Church to the Los Angeles Times article is at best disingenuous, and is more actually described as misleading. There is nothing new in this. The territory between disingenuous and misleading his home turf to those who lead the Mormon church. While saying that, I agree with Lyndon’s assessment that these men and women (though women) are probably well intended. They are classic philosopher kings, who believe that lying in order to protect the reputation and prospects of the Mormon Church is morally justifiable as a “lesser evil”. The worst evil would be the decline and prospects of the Mormon church. People who hold this kind worldview are dangerous. I believe that many evangelical Christians have a similar mentality with regard to their own faith.
I would say that Mormonism has evolved to pretty much the point now where the evangelical Christians had been for some time. But right now, there is not much difference between these two groups in terms of how they socialize their people, and the difficulty with which these people move into secular culture. I think it would be helpful for the evangelicals to become more accustomed to thinking of Mormonism as a mirror in which they can better see some of their (the evangelicals) less attractive features. Mirrors of this type are extremely useful, readily available to most of us, and habitually ignored.
Differences in belief between Mormons and evangelical Christians
I thought that Lyndon did a good job for the most part in illustrating that the differences between Mormons and evangelical Christian beliefs are not that great. He pointed out that the concept of Christ within the Mormon faith is different in some ways than it is within the evangelical Christianity. I think that he might explain more with regard to the similarities. The sparring between Mormon and evangelical Christian academics with regard to these differences illustrates that the deeper one goes, the more similarities one finds. And I note that the moderatorâ€™s concluding comments after Lyndonâ€™s presentation came back to this issue, and reemphasized it. He wanted make a clear that there is a huge difference between the Mormons and the evangelicals when it comes to their belief in Christ, and God.
This issue, and the way in which the moderator framed it, is in my view a red herring. The evangelical Christians are attempting to maintain their tribal boundaries, and will continue to do so as long as Mormons continue to proselytize on the basis that they are the one true church thus appropriating evangelical resources. As soon as the Mormons stop doing that, and begin to play the Christian game on the basis of more or less the same rulebook that the evangelical Christians use, the doctrinal differences will be put aside.
This brings us back to the social organism competing for resources within an evolutionary landscape. The evangelical Christians and the Mormons are at the moment competing. This leads to the adversarial interaction of which Lyndon’s presentation to the evangelical church was part. Lyndon was being used to reinforce the organism boundary around the evangelical Christians, and to marshal resources to the defense of that organism against the threat of Mormon missionary work. Lyndon did some good things in terms of breaking down the organizational boundary by refusing to play all of the role they wanted him to play in terms of reinforcing beliefs with regard to how odd and different Mormons are. For example, one of the questioners indicated that in the highest, secret teachings within Mormonism require Satan worship. Instead of dismissing that as ridiculous, Lyndon indicated that he had no knowledge of that kind of thing, and doubted the accuracy of the idea.
It might have been better to point out that this is precisely the kind of belief that circulates within the Mormon community with regard to Catholicism and other non-Mormon groups, in order to strengthen the resolve of Mormons to do their missionary work, and to make sure that none of their loved ones drift into the grasps of the “horrible the earth”, for example. This is how Muslims dehumanize Americans, Americans Muslims, etc.
In that question, and in many other aspects of other questions as well as the very format of the meeting itself, including the opening prayer and the moderatorâ€™s closing comments, we see the evangelical Christian organism marshaling its resources in defense of its own perimeter.
Consider in this regard what we have seen happen with regard to differences between the Lutheran perspective that emphasizes grace over works, as opposed to the Calvinist and other Christian perspectives that put a greater emphasis on works. Once the fight over resources (converts, along with the time and energy they bring) is put aside, doctrinal differences become less important. This is also a sign of a maturing social organism. Through interaction with other organisms, its rough edges of being knocked off and it has begun to play a cooperative instead of a competitive game. Within economics, this is the natural drift toward oligopoly. Dominant market players can make out far better if they agree to cooperate instead of competing head-to-head. Mormonism, within North America, is knocking on the door of the evangelical Christian oligopoly.
The crucial issues, as far as I’m concerned, relative to both evangelical Christianity and Mormonism relate to epistemology. Lyndon gave Evangelicals a pass in that regard. That is, he did not apply the same epistemic and social standards to the evangelicals as he did to Mormons. Mormonism is crazy, he said, but Evangelical Christianity might be okay.
Would it not have been better to illustrate that precisely the same dynamics within social psychology are responsible for both of these highly similar types of organizations? The primary difference is that Mormonismâ€™s foundational tenets are more susceptible to disproof than are evangelical Christianity’s. However, magical thinking underlies both.
It is in some ways better that magical thinking be based on this provable premises. That makes it easier to get rid of. The evangelical Christian system is in some ways worse than the Mormon because its premises are more difficult to disprove. As Lyndon indicated, he is grateful for some of Joseph Smith’s most egregious errors, because that made the Mormon system susceptible to disprove in his case. That having been said, once one digs into the literature with regard to Christian foundations, it is easy to find evidence that more than passes muster from my perspective it least with regard the illegitimacy of Christian foundations.
As noted above, Lyndon illustrated the similarities between Christian belief and Mormon belief. This helped to bridge a gap — breakdown of tribal boundary. I thought that was great. Another useful way to deal with this topic is to use the history of Mormon belief to illustrate the way in which Mormonism started out as a radical innovation with regard to Christianity, and as it has become larger and getting along with the rest of mainstream North American society has become more important, it has moved back toward the mainstream.
Consider, for example, the theocratic and polygamists foundations of Mormonism during its early Utah phase. Or how about the doctrine of blood atonement in general, the blood oath that used to be sworn during the temple ceremony with regard to the people who murdered Joseph and Hiram, the Adam-God doctrine, J. Smith ordaining himself King of the Earth after using his stature of Godâ€™s representative on Earth to bed many young teenage girls and the wives of other men, et cetera. The Mormon religion, as is the case with many religions, has truly bizarre origins. It purposefully defined itself as a group apart, created cities like Nauvoo and Salt Lake City in order to establish itself in a position where it could grow to social critical mass (nothing new here by the way — anthropologists say that in order for a new religion to survive long term, it must have a social growth phase of this kind). Then, having achieved critical mass, it found it increasingly useful if not necessary to interface with mainstream society. After shedding polygamy in order to become a state, the pendulum swung in the other direction and Mormonism became an uber American religion. It’s continuing tilt toward mainstream evangelical Christianity is therefore extremely probable.
Mitt Romney’s run for the US presidency is only the most recent symptom of this trend. Mormonism as an institution, and the vast majority of individual Mormons, desperately want the approval of both of the worlds they inhabit â€“ the Mormon and the mainstream American. They unwittingly set out to serve two masters who can be predicted to become more similar to each other. This means that the once radically different values within Mormonism are gravitating toward mainstream, evangelical Christian, North American values. This defines spirituality to a large extent in terms of financial success, and the materialist, consumerist ethos that dominates the North American evangelical community.
If you want the Christian analogy to what I just indicated, think about the Puritans and other similar religious groups coming to North America. This analogy does not work completely, but I think there is a lot to it. Social evolution can certainly be seen in both cases, as well as the initial distancing in a radical state, followed by maturation and a reconnection to be mainstream culture.
While this kind of analysis does not make friends within the evangelical community, this is the way in which I approach dialogue across the evangelical boundary. I believe that it is helpful to break down tribal barriers. This is how to do it — to illustrate common foundations and similarities between groups.
Perhaps more to the point, I refuse to be used as a tool in the hands of the evangelicals to perpetuate cultural war. When I was invited to speak at a evangelical Bible college last year, I made this an explicit condition of my appearance. The pastor who asked me to come agreed to it, and I delivered a lecture that was a significant test of the faith of the young future pastors who attended. They were friendly, and our dialogue was I thought productive. One might say that I was still perhaps used as a form of inoculation. I could be viewed as a germ that was allowed to infect the body in a relatively safe place. After I left, many other resources could be used to shore up the damage I might’ve caused to the budding faith of these pastors and training. If that is the case, that is fine. That is the way the evolutionary game is played. Given the e-mails I exchanged with the instructor who invited me to come and speak, I know that least in his case I’ve caused a lot of deep thinking. I doubt that he will leave his ministry, and I also doubt that he will ever look at Mormonism and other similar religious groups in the same way. He now knows much more about the overlapping foundations between his group, and countless others.
Why do Mormons put their head in the sand with regard to the evidence is out there with regard to Mormonism?
Lyndon answered that the issue in this regard was more or less lack of awareness. He described how Mormons were warned against doing the kind of things he had done — questioning, reading, etc. — and therefore that they should remain unaware. He indicated that he believes the Internet is going to be a radical force for change within Mormonism, because it makes it so much easier for information to slip through Mormonism is organizational boundaries.
Lyndon did not point out that precisely the same issues apply to evangelical Christianity, subject to the greater difficulty of this proof as I noted above. He alluded to cognitive biases and other aspects of epistemology as the cause of Mormon problems. He used a great analogy in that regard. He referred to each Mormon carrying around with him or her a force field made of Kevlar, or something similar, that was designed to keep out all kinds of information that might cause problems for the Mormon testimony. He did not describe how cognitive biases create these in the religious and other contexts. This is precisely the case with regard to the evangelical Christians, and virtually every other dogmatic religious group. The same thing applies with regard to political beliefs, environmental beliefs, and any other set of beliefs that relates to difficult to assess, ambiguous data beliefs regarding which have for whatever reason become foundational to a religious group.
Many many many examples in this regard could be dredged up to illustrate how historical contingencies have caused certain beliefs to become foundational to a religious group. One of the oddest with which most of us would be familiar is the reorganized LDS Church, one of whose foundation planks was that Joseph Smith did not participate in polygamy. It took decades of scholarly research with regard something obvious (think of the young earth creationists in this regard) before this issue is finally accepted within that community, and simply because of the foundational nature of this single belief, discarding it caused the community to come close to collapse.
Lyndon described the RLDS saga just indicated, and used it as a cautionary tale with regard to Mormonism. He said that for this reason, Mormon leaders would not be able to acknowledge the errors in mainstream Mormon history, and make an overt move toward evangelical Christianity. While I agree with him that it’s extremely improbable that the Mormon leaders will come clean, I disagree with regard to his reasoning. The larger and older an institution, the less likely it is that it will undergo radical change. The RLDS group was relatively small, and is now smaller. Hence, discarding one crucial belief was much more probable to set in motion a chain of events that would radically restructure the community. The Mormon group is much larger, and therefore it would be able to handle a lot more ideological change. The study of religious groups indicates that it is praxis — the day-to-day way of living — that is most foundational. I believe that if Gordon Hinckley stood up tomorrow, and indicated that the Book of Mormon was a metaphor, inspired by God through mysterious means, and that much of what we had thought was true with regard to Joseph Smith perhaps is not true, that the Mormon church would continue ahead. In fact, I think it might be strategically wise for him to do that, and push Mormonism straight into the evangelical Christian fold. This is what the Mennonites have done, and they have been extremely successful in that regard. I think the RLDS example is probably inapplicable because of the massive difference between the size of the two institutions.
However, I agree with Lyndon that it is extremely unlikely the Mormon leaders will acknowledge the institution’s historical problems. Rather, they will allow the academic information to leak out and put themselves in a position where they can say that the information was always out there, but it is not important in any event because the “truth” is what is important, not the mysterious means through which God decided to deliver the truth to the Mormon people. If you feel it is true, is must be true (do the evangelicals differ in this regard?). Mormonism will eventually be regarded as evangelical Christianity with a somewhat odd history, and hence flavor. The same is now said with regard to the Mennonites.
By the way, did you know that Matt Groening, the creator of “The Simpsons”, is a lapsed Mennonite? Trey Parker is not quite a lapsed Mormon, but has a significant historical connection to Mormonism. These similar way in which religion is treated in these two shows is indicative, I would suggest, of a post-literalist religious sensibility that these two creative minds bring to their art.
Welcome to post-Mormondom Lyndon. You are off on a wonderful trajectory. I hope we have the chance to break bread at some point.