Sunday 29 July 2012

Mormons and the family


It is distinctive of the Mormon religion that among modern people in modern societies they have above-replacement fertility and larger families among the more educated and more prosperous.

How is this done?

My feeling is that it is an outcome of the religious emphasis on the family.


For Mormons, the married couple (whose marriage has been sealed in a Temple) is the unit of the highest form of eternal salvation, and their family remain with them in the afterlife and through eternity.

This is, I think, an unique emphasis among world religions. And from it many things follow:

Marriage and family become the focus of life - early marriage is encouraged (and institutional arrangements are made to enable this).

The basic social arrangements (including the family) are patriarchal; which history tells us is stable and viable.

Families will want to have as many children as they can afford to raise decently since they are future companions in the afterlife - and spiritual guidance concerning this will be available to them through prayer and fasting. 

Since the family is the primary social unit, the family needs to be economically autonomous (as a general rule or aspiration) - so families need to live within their means, without borrowing or doles (since sustained cross-subsidy would damage other families).

And since Mormons control fertility by the use of contraception, consequently the largest families are among the wealthiest.


In sum, most of the distinctive features of Mormon fertility seem to derive from the distinctive theological emphasis on the family.

That this distinctive fertility pattern is indeed an aspect of the Mormon church seems to be confirmed by the fact that fit seems to be the same both in the US and the UK.



Anonymous said...

Do you think it is possible for one to follow a religion because of the outcome while doubting the original prophesy? The historical background to their religion appears dubious (even highly heretical?).

Bruce Charlton said...

The outcome is certainly relevant to determining the truth - Mormonism has been going for seven or eight generations and clearly yielded net good thus far.

By contrast, communism and fascism showed their evil within just few years - while most (damaging) heresies showed their dark side within just a couple of generations.

I conclude that Mormonism is correct about the most important things, and those areas about which it is mistaken are apparently not very important.

Anonymous said...

Excellent reply - perhaps my thought basis in "look where it comes from" is a modern logical fallacy. We do seem to consider ideology more important than results in the modern environment. If instead we look at what provides healthy results we may find truth.

prospero said...

Bruce, when you say that the areas where Mormonism is mistaken are unimportant, what do you refer to? Areas unimportant to material success, or are they also unimportant in the most important accounting of things (salvation)?

Islam, which was accounted as a Christian heresy for several centuries at least, showed just as much material success and moral invigoration in its first generations and beyond. Just how far should we be willing to go in using results over teachings in discerning?

I'm honestly a little confused by where this post stands, and hope there's no personal offense in this comment.

Bruce Charlton said...

By their fruits ye shall know them - if you contrast the first 180 years of Mormonism with Islam there is a difference.

The sufficient necessity for salvation is, according to some Biblical texts, that you acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord - that is another difference.

If the core teaching is correct, and the results are good for several generations, that should be enough, I believe (in a world of imperfect understanding all round) - enough at least to suspend judgment, and allow things to unfold further.