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Why is Mormonism Successful?

Posted by nebula0 on September 3, 2008


Very few new religions succeed though they are started every day.  People getting revelations, visits from angels, visits from God himself are not exactly uncommon events so not surprisingly one of the favorite questions that religion scholars ask is: what makes for a successful new religion?  Why Christianity and not one of the other many Jews claiming Messiahship during that turbulent time of Christ?  Why Mormonism out of that fervent time of the Second Great Awakening out of all of the other revival movements?  The faithful will answer: because it’s true, because God ensures the success of his religion and so on, but what if we put aside the question of truth for a second and look at things as if God weren’t involved.  What does Mormonism have to offer?

For many Mormonism may not look like an attractive offer.  Joining the LDS church requires a time and money commitment (three hours on Sunday plus time doing callings, 10% tithing), obeying the law of chastity (no sex outside of marriage, including masturbation), obeying the Word of Wisdom (no coffee, tea, alcohol or tobacco, though many Mormons substitute Coke or Mountain Dew), not working on Sundays and if you become temple endowed the wearing of undergarments which for women means no sleeveless clothing.  Besides this, the truth claims of the religion are rather unusual when compared to majority of other successful religions– sure, claiming that God incarnate died and was resurrected is rather strange, but that was supposed to happen thousands of years ago and people are used to the idea by now.  There are other things to add to the list but this is a good place to start.  So why in the world would anyone want to do this?  Many people stop there and assume that the only reason anyone would be interested is if they were brainwashed because it seems so unreasonable, no rational person would subject themselves to it.  The faithful might look at this as evidence of divine intervention; no one would want to make these sacrifices unless the spirit told them the whole thing is true.  But, what if their are worldly benefits to these restrictions?  I argue that there are.

One thing that Mormonism offers in abundance is identity.  These restrictions make Mormons stand out like a sore thumb in certain circumstances (think of going drinking with your buddies after work, think about trying to find an attractive evening gown, and so on).  There are innumerable opportunities for Mormons to feel, well, Mormon.  Think about this for a second, how exciting this can be.  It gives people a sense of purpose and mission in the world that is reiterated day after day every time a Mormon turns down a cup of coffee or dons garments or attends the temple.  They are a part of a real people, set apart, a peculiar  people.  I think of this attraction akin to the attraction that role playing games have over people- Mormonism posits the existence of an alternative universe in which there are elaborate rules and secret knowledge.  Mormons know that they alone have the ‘fullness of the gospel’ that they alone are a part of the church with the full authority of Christ, that in the last days they will be the ones to say ‘aha, told you we were right, now let us help you’.  Mormons aren’t the only ones touting this appeal, but they make it concrete in the daily lives of members with rules to organize everyday life.  Mormonism is great at making mundane life meaningful and significant.

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