Friday 20 May 2011

Learning from Mormons


I am very interested by, and sympathetic to, Mormons.

(I will use the term 'Mormon' as being that with the widest circulation over the longest timespan.)


It was back in (I think) 2007 or so that I began to realize that Mormons were the only group in 'modern' society which had solved the basic problems and contradictions: first and foremost to reproduce at above-replacement rates, with the most successful (most devout, wealthy, highly educated) Mormons having the most children - and this in a context where almost all Mormons use contraception and family planning. 

Furthermore, Mormons as a group are extremely well-behaved in almost every way, and Utah is an outlier at the positive end of most social statistics comparing American states.

Mormons have grown from nothing to about 16 million worldwide since 1830 (exponentially - doubling about every 15-20 years partly by conversion but substantially by having many children and retaining them within the faith), and 8 million in the US; and are disproportionately represented among the wealthy and powerful

I also find Mormon theology to be very beautiful and am moved by the heroism of their foundation story - I agree with Harold Bloom that Joseph Smith was an inspired religious genius of the front rank.


I should point out that my interest is almost entirely theoretical - I have some Mormon (and ex-Mormon) penfriends; and have read several dozen books on the subject in many aspects (history, sociology, theology, scriptures); have read numerous online newspapers, magazines and blogs; and watched videos of several types; and I have even done two internet surveys of the psychological basis of Mormon fertility - but I have never properly met a practising Mormon, at least not to sit down and talk with.


But I feel that my efforts to explore the Mormon world have been very rewarding and enlightening; and I would encourage others to do the same.

The fact is that if a Martian social scientist was to land on the earth and look at humans with an objective eye, there is no doubt that he would regard Mormons as the best adapted of all human communities.


Regular reader will know that I regard Eastern Orthodox Christianity to be the Truth; but that does not block my admiration and sympathy for Mormons.


I would go so far as to predict that if the US survives in anything resembling its present form, it will (realistically) only happen if Mormons come to dominate the ruling elite - and indeed the trend is strongly in that direction.

(If the US population is about 300 million, and the ruling elite numbers about 25 million; then Mormons already have about 2 million in this group. Each generation will at-least halve the number of the current elite - who are virtually sterile - while doubling-plus the number of elite Mormons. 'Do the math'.)

And if, as seems more likely, the US breaks-up into smaller units, the one which I would prefer to live-in would be the mountain West, centred-on and dominated-by the Mormons of Utah.



dearieme said...

Every human institution becomes corrupt.

Brett Stevens said...

Mormons have solved the one question that dogs conservatives perpetually: how to construct a positive identity that seems more important than the broader social identity.

The broader social identity is permissiveness, "freedom" and "fun"; it's hard to compete with.

The Mormons offer a tight-knit community with tangible social advantages, in part because they control fixed territory and aren't "distributed" like other conservative groups.

This article offers plenty of food for thought.

ajb said...

Knowing very little about the subject, what are the long-term prospects for Mormonism? Is it later to the PC party because of its relative insulation from broader society, and therefore succumbing to PC a little behind the times, such that it is likely that Mormon birth-rates will approach that of the general population soon, and so on? Or are there structural elements within the Mormon Church that have a plausible chance of resisting this?

Rich said...

I was just reading the first book of the Sherlock Holmes series, "A Study in Scarlet". It struck me that to write such a scathing tale about the Mormons Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must have had no interaction with the people. As it turns out, he later admitted he had been misinformed and apologized to the group.

It is easy for the modern world to demonize, mock, and mistrust a religious group with values and morals radically different from theirs. I think the cultish negativity falsely attributed to the Mormons will prove to be a major hurdle in their success.

JP said...

Is the assumption that Mormons are not PC even in their "elite" form? I am not sure this is true. Or doesn't it matter so long as they keep breeding?

Max said...

The absolute number of births in Utah fell for the first time last year... What makes you think Mormon fertility rates won't fall in line with the rest of the country's?

The only religious group I would argue is capable of sustaining exponential natural growth in the US would be the Amish.

Bruce Charlton said...

Leaving aside specifically religious aspects for a moment...

Naturally, the past does not predict the future (or else there would be no such thing as political correctness).

Mormons can be corrupted, can change, can be destroyed. Naturally.

And obviously (from the general trend of this blog) I do not think that modernity can be saved or will be saved.

But if it was, it would take something like Mormons to do it.

However, assuming that modernity is doomed, the choice confronting the Mormons, as I preceive it, is whether to return to their earlier strategy of creating an independent, viable, defensible Mormon state.

Early Mormon missionaries would encourage converts to migrate to Salt Lake City.

But this was later changed, and instead there was a policy of 'plantation' so converts abroad were encouraged to stay put and built new nuclei of Mormonism. Now half of Mormons are living away from the USA in such groupings.

But these plantations are not viable in a hostile world, nor are they able to influence national policy.

And the world is increasingly hostile to Mormons: they are loathed by the politically correct Left, and by those religions or ideologies most likely to rplace PC.

So there are, I think, tough times ahead for Mormons - as for all of us. But I *suspect* that the cohesiveness of Mormons will more-than-counteract the greater specific hostility against them.

Mormons have - therefore? - gone along with a lot of PC, even while refusing to budge on certain key issues.

But Mormon have not (I think) decisively rejected PC. And to survive *as Mormons* they must do so.

Alex said...

"I have never properly met a practising Mormon, at least not to sit down and talk with."

I haven't encountered any Mormon missionaries for a long while. But I remember some years ago two amiable young men from Utah knocked on my door and gave me some leaflets explaining the mission of the Church of Latter Day Saints. I confess that I did not read the literature.

At my invitation, they spent a couple of hours in my garden drinking lemonade and talking about their homes and families in Salt Lake City.

I assume that Mormon missionary activity still continues, but they've given up trying to preach the gospel to the godless English.

a Finn said...

Mormons I have met in Finland have not been immigrants, but missionary workers. To me they looked liked ideal Americans, well behaved, well dressed and intelligent, and they kept their promises. There was specifically a feeling that they represented the best of traditional white America, now largely lost. They also looked very European, which is a good quality.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alex - in fact, Mormon missionaries are active in Newcastle - but I just happen not to have encountered them.

My understanding (from Rodney Stark's work, and from scattered evidence due to reading widely) is that it is unusual for missionaries to make converts (i.e actual Baptisms into the LDS church from 'cold calling' on strangers) - most converts some from personal contact and family relationships with existing Mormons - often drawn by their good example of behaviour, their close families, community work etc.

But the main role of missionaries is to be 'theological experts' for the local Mormon communities (bearing in mind there is almost no professional priesthood except for the Prophet and Apostles in Salt Lake City), to educate the potential converts from other sources, and to prepare them for Baptism.

Indirectly, the missionaries themselves often become much more knowledgeable and devout, as preparation for their future role as priests and patriarchs (quite often missionaries marry shortly after their mission).

My understanding is that about 1/3 of devout Mormon men serve a mission (e.g. some Mormons attend a 'church' and marry in 'church' but only a proportion in good standing attend the Temples to participate in the mysteries and may 'seal' their marriage there); and these ex-missionaries form a kind of elite within the LDS organization who may go on to become Bishops (a temporary, unpaid - indeed paying! - position in charge of a Ward - or specific church), Stake Presidents (in charge of several Wards) etc.

My point is that the Mormon mission is only partly 'missionary' in its role.

Anonymous said...

Mormons have a higher reproductive rate because Mormons are patriarchal.

Patriarchy is pretty much illegal, and the Mormon religion is suffering social pressure to retreat from patriarchy.

Patriarchal societies have higher marriage rates. This may be a matter of supply and demand. Marriage is maximized if the terms of marriage cause the supply of suitable women wishing to get married and bear children to equal the supply of suitable men wishing to get married and father children. Since western society is suffering from a massive shortage of fathers, and a large surplus of fatherless children, we can conclude that the terms are insufficiently favorable to men to equate supply and demand.

If men are to show up to father children, we cannot have rules that mean that if a man allows a woman into his house, he may be thrown out of it and lose his house to that woman, nor rules that may require him to support bastards spawned by that woman with random thugs.

Steve Setzer said...

As a practicing/devout Mormon living in Utah, I would like to share a few ramblings on the topic at hand.

We've never really gotten over the 1950s--the only decade in which Mormon culture and American culture coincided. We long for that sense of unity with our larger culture. For structural reasons, we are less prone to PC than most Protestant denominations -- but we are human.

America's Total Fertility Rate is 2.1 and the Mormon TFR is 3.1. We marry a bit later and have fewer children than we used to; the cost of college hurts. Too much college and too few children may negatively affect our unique culture as well.

One more oddball thought: Bruce notes that wealthier/more intelligent Mormons tend to be more active in church and to have more children. This may amount to an unintentional experiment in genetics, especially given the hyper-organized and rationalized nature of much of our church organization.

A Mormon friend of mine joked once that "all Mormons have OCD". Utah seems to have higher rates of autism than the national average. What will we look like in forty years if a significant proportion of our leadership has Asperger Syndrome? And if Bruce's projections are right, what will that mean for America?

Autism in Utah