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More Thoughts on Mormonism’s Success

Posted by nebula0 on September 4, 2008


In my last post about this topic, “Why is Mormonism Successful,” I suggested that one major reason for Mormonism’s success can be attributed to its ability to generate meaning through concertizing identity.  Hence, the sacrifices that Mormonism asks of its adherents serves not as a deterrent to growth, but rather increases its appeal to those hunger for real meaning in their lives.

What are some other reasons for Mormonism’s success?  One thing that is a great stabilizer for Mormons is their social network.  I mean that in the sense that even if an individual Mormon goes through a period of great doubt, the single most important thing that will keep him in is his Mormon friends and family.  This is the greatest predictor, by the way, of whether or not a new member will remain in the church- do they have Mormon friends?  The LDS church realizes this by the way, which is why it put policies in effect to try to ensure that every new member meets plenty of Mormons on a regular basis through Home and Visiting teachers, ward missionaries and so forth.  Because Mormon identity tends to set them apart socially, excluding them from coffee drinking and after work beer, excluding them from rated R movies (at least some Mormons), and also because Mormonism requires so much time from any individual active Mormons, Mormons tend to befriend other Mormons primarily.  That makes it that much more difficult to sever those ties to leave the LDS church, but also makes it that much more rewarding to be a Mormon in a mobile and disconnected society.

Anything else?

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28 Responses to “More Thoughts on Mormonism’s Success”

  1. Seth R. said

    Well, I’ve always said that being a Mormon is, in some ways, more of an ethnicity than a religion. At least it was for me, being born into it.

  2. nebula0 said

    That certainly used to be more true than it is today. Recall that it was understood that people became Mormons because they literally had believing blood, they were Israelites. If they converted but truly were gentiles, their blood would literally change with baptism (and that would be known because they’ve convulse as if a physical process were occuring). Mormons used to have a physical kingdom of Zion, their Mormonism was about participation in the larger community more than showing up on church on Sunday.

    Things have changed a great deal in order to ‘sell’ Mormonism across the globe, but elements of the earlier, more concrete sense of peoplehood certainly remain.

  3. nrajeff said

    A comment on your “Realization” :

    You say “As a Mormon, I rejected the idea of absolute truth. I constantly argued that it’s all about our personal opinions and experiences, and that since we couldn’t prove our points of view with complete and utter certainty that all that we had were subjective experiences… from every Mormon I’ve gotten into a discussion with.”

    —If you studied epistemology a bit more, you might find that it’s fallacious to claim to absolutely, objectively KNOW certain things to be true. Take, for instance, your claim to “know” that you are saved. Is that really something that is possible to KNOW? Or is it really a case of relying on FEELINGS, and of HOPING that it’s true, because the alternative–that you might NOT be saved–scares you? Or, perhaps the mere prospect that you really DON’T yet KNOW that you are saved, that scares you?

    You say “It’s as if in their hearts of hearts they know it’s not true, but want it to be true so badly, for the sake of belonging, for the sake of convenience, for the sake of their positions and respect, for their pride, they convince themselves it’s alright.”

    –That sounds like the Evangelical predicament, regarding the infallibility of the Bible, and the fake knowledge that you are saved: It’s more likely that DON’T know it, but you WANT to BELIEVE it’s true, you HOPE it’s true, and there is pressure on you to claim that you KNOW it’s true, so you submerge the cog dis and publicly state knowledge of something that you don’t know.

    “Well, part of coming to know that God really does exist, was coming to really believe that there is an absolute truth out there, regardless of my opinions of it.”

    —The LDS have never denied that. The LDS AGREE with the above, 100%, and if you thought they didn’t, then you got defective teachings while you were LDS.

    “That there is an actual Reality that cannot be swayed by my point of view. There is a real Truth and that is God.”

    —-The LDS don’t deny ANY of that. Indeed, I daresay that you exactly right: Who and what God really is is not swayed by what YOU BELIEVE about God. You can be the most devoutly-believing Calvinistic Trinitarian in the entire world, and it won’t make God be that.

  4. nebula0 said

    jeff, why are you posting this here?

    You didn’t read my post very well. I never claimed absolute certainty in anything and in fact htat is my point. Just because you cannot be 100% certain of a proposition doesn’t mean that you can’t have some evidence of its truth or falsehood. Mormonism has given up on the whole thing altogether leading it straight to the absurdity of relativism.

    I’m not a calvinist or evangelical so you can quit caricaturizing me. I don’t think of the world as divided into ‘saved’ and ‘not saved’ camps, that is an evangelical worldview.

    If you look at the rest of my blog you’ll see that I already have a couple of posts whose very purpose is to establish the reasonableness of the existence of the monotheistic God as posited by orthodox Christianity.

  5. nrajeff said

    I am posting here because I could not find anywhere else where I could reach you.

    Maybe I misread your attack on LDS claims, but it sure seemed that your premise for attacking the LDS was YOUR position re knowing truth, and their reluctance to admit that absolute truth exists–which is a false accusation. If you feel my appraisal of your remarks was mistaken, feel free to point out your REAL position.

  6. nebula0 said

    It’s not a false accusation. It’s the point of that post and a result of my conversation with dozens of Mormons. It always comes back to “well I’ve had my subjective personal experience, and if others have had others with contradictory results, well, I don’t know what to say.” Hence, even though these Mormons don’t think about things in terms of denying the existence of real reality that is the end effect.

    If you got banned, no need to take it out on me here. YOu’ve shown a willfull reluctance to find out what my position on matters is. I’ve stated more than once I’m not a calvinist and not even an evangelical but that has not phased you.

  7. Anonymous said

    But it sure seems like your accusation was that LDS people reject the idea that there is objective truth about God. That accusation is of course a false one, which is why I pointed it out. Go back and read your initial essay–you quite clearly are accusing LDS of believing that all truth is merely subjective and therefore relative. If you get caught mischaracterizing what LDS people believe, don’t take it out on ME. 🙂

  8. nrajeff said

    That was me above, BTW, in case you couldn’t tell by the rhetoric. 🙂

  9. nebula0 said

    jeff,

    I stand by what I said. Mormonism constantly retreats into relativism. I see it again and again in multiple conversations.

    “How do you know Mormonism is true?”

    “Because I have a testimony from the Spirit.”

    “How do you know it’s the spirit, because you know, other people have similar experiences but come to contradictory conclusions.”

    “Well I can’t speak to their experiences, only mine.”

    “So you have no standard of discerning truth from falsehood, really.”

    And so it goes. Nope, I stand by it, I’ve seen it as a constant standard Mormon epistemology from my very first encounter with a Mormon missionary till today.

  10. nrajeff said

    Neut, how do you know you are saved?

  11. nebula0 said

    Jeff,

    Why are you asking that question? If you want to know why I believe God exists it’s combination of two things:

    1. God has revealed Himself to me, in the limited way my finite mind can comprehend anyway

    2. That revelation is made reasonable through enlightening my mind with reason and evidence (which I have discussed here on this site and elsewhere). Living faith is one that can be embraced by the whole person, mind, body and spirit, not through simply trying to pull emotional strings from time to time. If God wanted that, He would not have given us minds that reason.

    MOrmons, in large part, ignore part 2 of the equation and thus deny the way that we are made in the image of God- we are reasoning creatures. We have a remarkable ability to reflect on our existence and question, to find patterns, we are imbued with curiosity. A religion that does not fully engage that part of us made in God’s image is a limping, blind one.

  12. nrajeff said

    It should be obvious why I asked that question: It shows your double standard. You accuse LDS of being subjective when someone asks them how they know their doctrines are legit. Yet when someone asks YOU how you know you are SAVED, how can YOUR answer NOT be subjective? Do you really think your “knowledge” that God has irrevocably saved you from hell, does not fall into the realm of subjectivism?

  13. nebula0 said

    No, I asked you why you asked me that because you continue to betray a bias against me that isn’t true. I told you I wasn’t an evangelical and that is a question that makes sense really only to evangelicals so try again. Do you get it now?

    Read the rest of my post jeff concerning the existence of God and you’ll see why I’m not erecting a double standard.

    You know, when I was 16 years old I finally gave into an immense pressure, a physical pressure to pray, and I ended up weeping on the ground begging for forgiveness. I felt as though I were light as a feather, as though I were floating three feet in the air, as though the hand of God Himself were around me. The next day I vowed I wouldn’t pray again. Why? Because I have no reasonable basis to believe He even existed, let alone that He could talk to me, and I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite. That experience among other things launched a huge investigation on my part, which diverged into Mormonism but has finally found its rightful way back into melding together subjective experience WITH, not against, not without, my mind and reason. God has used what I’ve learned to reveal Himself to me in ways that wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t try and gave up with “well I had this experience… ” because I wouldn’t even have the concepts and words to express it.

    THat is my message here. Mormonism ends up handicapping the reason because at the end of the day it’s truly untenable. The only solution is to hide your head in the sand and imagine that everyone else in the world who believes in God in any measure is doing the same thing. TOo bad. I won’t afford you that luxury.

  14. nrajeff said

    So, what you experienced at age 16 is what the LDS declare to the world: That people can get answers and evidence directly from God, even though it’s something that is personal and individual and is what scoffers would call “subjective.” And yet here you are today, trying to invalidate what God validated directly to you when you 16. The question is, “Why?”

  15. nebula0 said

    jeff,

    Here’s the problem. God revealed Himself to me as The God- pure, infinite Spirit. So no, that isn’t what Mormonism declares to the world but it is quite at odds with it. So here’s what really happened, God revealed Himself to me as I now believe in Him. Joining Mormonism was to deny the revelation I received.

    What can you say about that?

  16. nrajeff said

    Hmm, what can I say? If I were someone who needs empirical evidence to keep me from saying “You are relying on subjective feelings, and that’s an invalid thing” then I’d say that you only FEEL, in your HEART, that “God revealed Himself to you as The God- pure, infinite Spirit.” And then I’d denounce your theological beliefs as being “feeling-based” and I’d warn everyone I know, plus strangers I DON’T know, to avoid your theology like the plague.

    But then, I am not that kind of person. Are YOU?

  17. nebula0 said

    jeff,

    Go ahead, then I’d say that you’ve ignored everything I’ve said in this thread. We can’t both be right jeff, if one of us right, the other is therefore wrong. Don’t sit here and act like you’re mister tolerance incarnate– you belong to a religion which would convert me and convince me that I”m wrong in an instant if it could because it claims to have absolute truth and sends out tens of thousands of missionaries to prove that point. Mormons have no basis on which to cry about intolerance– when you stop trying to convert everyone else at least you won’t be a hypocrite.

    Have you heard what I said? I don’t believe in God solely based on feelings or revelation, I believe in God because of revelation AND because of reasoning. If I thought the proposition of God made no sense whatsoever, how could I sit here and say that I truly believed? Belief implies action of the mind, an understanding of the proposition I believe to be true, if I don’t even understand the proposition in question how can I really claim to believe?

    Get your head out of the sand. The time for childish things have passed. If God did not want us to use our heads to learn something of Him, what are you doing wasting your time going to church, listening to your leaders prattling on about the virtues of obedience, tithing and for the millionth time, stay away from that internet porn? Why not stay at home and bask in the warm glow of that serotonin release. Perhaps you could find drugs to help you on your spiritual journey, if it’s really all about recapturing that moment of revelation over and over again, screw what it is supposed to actually mean. Gosh, figuring out what meaning is .. it’s just so… sterile, right?

    If you are going to import any kind of revelation/feeling/experience into your life and have it be meaningful you have to take the time to understand what it actually means.

    Before you respond, please re-read. And if it is all about the ecstatic experiences, and that only, why are you wasting your time trying to ARGUE with me?

  18. nrajeff said

    I did re-read as you asked. I noticed the occasional tell-tale pejorative like “prattle” and “get your head out of the sand.” Anyway, you say that we both can’t be right–1 of us is wrong. Wrong about what? About the rules of epistemology? Seems you agree with me that just because a person had a spiritual manifestation, that’s not a good reason to doubt the person’s reasoning abilities. Yet you seem to be advocating Fr. JD’s and BrianH’s attack-tic that the reasoning abilities of LDS people are somehow non-existent because LDS people believe, as you apparently do, that God is able to speak to a person’s soul and that it’s not a sin to believe what God said. Seems to me that it’s really a case of YOU and the LDS on one side, and JD and Brian on the other, and one side is wrong.

  19. nebula0 said

    JEff,

    That’s because you keep avoiding the argument and it’s getting frustrating. What part of my argument, specifically, is faulty? All that you’ve given me back to me is the false notion that I completely discount ’emotion’ or experiential evidence. I made it crystal clear that I do NOT dismiss such evidence off hand. My argument is simply that experiential evidence should not be used alone to verify large metaphysical claims. There’s nothing radical about that whatsoever, and yet, as soon as I mention anything about presenting evidence you have such a strong knee jerk reaction to it that you keep responding to a strawman argument and not to what I keep saying.

    This is in fact what most people are arguing. Yes, God can speak directly to people’s souls, Mormonism is hardly alone in that claim (have you ever been to a pentecostal revival??). THe fact that it isn’t alone in that claim is partly where my argument is: many others, including myself, have had spiritual manifestations the results of which flatly contradict basic MOrmon theological claims. So, clearly, we cannot use subjective experiential evidence alone to build our theological system and have any sense of validity to our claims. So what should we do? Well, besides giving us experiences, God also gives us reasoning ability…

  20. Ralph said

    What an interesting question posed by this site. Why is LDS successful? Let’s leave “truth” out of it for now. (I married a mormon. I am a chritian and know enough about the Bible and mormon history to know that Joseph Smith was not truthful. Certainly not someone I want to stake MY eternity on. Nor my bank account.) But in my attempt to understand my temple-worthy wife and why she is a mormon, it has struck me that whether a mormon believes all or even most LDS teachings is almost irrelevent.

    My observations, below, are centered around the idea that certain personality types are attracted to the LDS way of doing things. Much less about believing its self-serving, contradictory history.

    (1) LDS is a great social support system, that allows you to move to a strange part of the country/world and be assured you will have a ready-made mormon “Family” nearby that will look after your needs. They rent rooms to each other. They find jobs for each other. They socialize with each other. To the extent that you had an unhappy family growing up or you are inept socially around non-mormon strangers, this LDS support network becomes even more important.

    (2) Being a family member today is hard work. Many families do not function well. We do not communicate honestly nor do we actually succeed in loving each other like we should. We bear resentments. We bear guilt. Mormon cosmology issues you a guaranteed cosmic DO-OVER card. “Families forever” gives inept family members an excuse for failing in this life and a reason to hope that they will be redeemed in the next DO-OVER. This hope is important to some people who have not had happy family lives.

    (3) LDS theology and sociology appeals to those who WANT to think that they are BETTER than everyone else. This is a theme that some personality types graviate toward. It attracts the self-righteous and the sanctimonious. Believe me, there are more hypocrites per capita in Utah than any other state.

    (4) Mormondom promotes disingenuousness. Don’t tell people — the public, or LDS members — the whole truth. It is the foundational principle of how the LDS gets new members and how it represents itself to the public. Some personalities aren’t bothered with this, particularly those who are not bothered by dishonesty.

    Summary: Its not about the truth. Its mostly utilitarian. For most LDS, particularly converts, particularly of a certain personality type, LDS simply WORKS. Its the best way they have found to get trough this world with their self-esteem intact.

  21. nebula0 said

    Ralph,

    To be fair, many of those things you just mentioned are equally said about evangelical Christians just the same. How many times have you heard an atheist say: those Christians are SO self righteous, and they’re total idiots too.

    I think you’re onto an important point with #1, I agree that’s a huge draw. It feels good to have a ready made community no matter where you go. I think there is unfortunate truth to #4 as well, which is why I have a complaint against the LDS church. If it were upfront about its teachings I’d have much more respect for it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  22. Seth R. said

    Gee Ralph,

    It must be hell on your wife for you to hold her in such contempt. You paint her like she’s a brainless idiot.

  23. nrajeff said

    “Gee Ralph,
    It must be hell on your wife for you to hold her in such contempt. You paint her like she’s a brainless idiot.”

    —-To the more extremist of the anti-LDS folks, isn’t that pretty much what ALL devout LDS people are? I have been repeatedly told that ALL LDS are INCAPABLE of rational thought.

  24. nebula0 said

    jeff,

    That’s part of the reason I have this site, to demonstrate that Mormons are not brainwashed/incapable of making rational choices. They simply have reasoning which I argue is insufficient and faulty either because they don’t have enough information (which is true much of the time) or because they make bad (here I mean insufficient at the end of the day, not that they don’t do a good job coming up with something thoughtful and thought provoking) arguments with the information they do have (which I argue is the case with apologists), or they are simply indifferent about matters and go with the flow of their friends and family (which is possibly the case for the majority of cases as it is for most religious groups).

  25. nrajeff said

    But then, after having stated those lofty reasons for your blog, you use the title “The MADNESS of Mormon Monotheism” and it kinda takes away some credibility from the “I’m here to show that LDS are sensible,rational people” claim. It’s almost as if you want to play for both teams–those who say we are insane, brainwashed idiots, and those who say we are no less rational than any other group of Christians–at the same time.

  26. nebula0 said

    jeff,

    I’m not interested in being on a team. I never have been. Most Mormons I know are rational people, but I still think they’re wrong and that Mormonism is a theological system based on a fraud. My point is that you can hold that opinion but still believe that those who disagree so fundamentally are rational people.

    Lighten up, you spend too much time with those ‘antis’. I was trying to play with words- they all start with ‘M’ and frankly it is crazy to claim that Mormonism is monotheistic so I don’t see what’s wrong with the title. Titles are supposed to be descriptive, right?

  27. nrajeff said

    Okay, points taken. I will lighten up. And I agree that LDS theology is hardly monotheistic, by any commonly accepted definition of the term. As you may have seen me state, LDS theology is basically monolatrism. Which is different from monotheism. Sorry I had my “fallacy radar” on a higher setting than it needed to be on.

  28. nebula0 said

    No problem jeff. I’m glad you come around to share your opinions.

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