Are Mormons Anti-Modernists?

As the Ammon Bundy headlines continue to dominate the news cycle, many have been wondering whether these views are inherently Mormon as the Bundy clan claims or if Mormonism encourages these types of attitudes.  While this episode has a libertarian theme, which may or may not relate to the question of anti-modernism, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2013 about the anti-modernist streak that seems to be emerging in various faith traditions, including Mormonism.

There are many stories that could easily vie for the title of scariest story in the Bible, but I’d like to make a case for the story of the Tower of Babel, a story that is not particularly gory or violent, but that creates some philosophical problems.  In this story, the people on earth desire to build a tower tall enough to go straight into heaven.  They band together in teamwork and industry, engineering in unprecedented and creative ways.  The tower climbs higher and higher.  What happens next is found in Genesis 11: 5-9:

5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their alanguage, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the acity.

9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there aconfound the blanguage of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord cscatter them dabroad upon the face of all the earth.

A Petty God.  As a child, this story always bothered me for several reasons.  First of all, I saw no way that this enterprise would succeed anyway.  You can’t even escape the atmosphere in a really tall building.  Even when we successfully landed on the moon, we didn’t bump into God on the way.  The story puts God in the position of a cruel boy with an ant farm, deliberately and capriciously thwarting man’s puny illusory progress.  Furthermore, it was easy to see that confounding the languages would create all the wars and human divisions that followed as people misunderstood one another and formed tribes to protect their own linguistic groups.  Why would God deliberately want to play games like a grandiose contest of Survivor, forcing alliances and divisions?  It didn’t cast God in a very benevolent light, making him seem jealous of his own creations’ achievements, like a petty dictator.

An Unknowable God.  Many churches use this story to keep their flock’s upstart pretensions in line. It’s blasphemy to imagine oneself as being the same type of creature as God.  Their view of divinity is not that we are literal sons and daughters of heavenly parents, but that God is completely separate and different from us–always has been, always will be.  Clearly that’s not our view as Latter-day Saints.  We believe in a glorified man as God, right down to his fingernails and eardrums.

Can you be both anti-modern and a global warming skeptic?

Anti-Modernism.  As I reflect on this story as an adult, I see it as a diatribe against progress, one likely made by anti-modernist scribes rather than a petty but superior divine being.  The story pits God against man’s growth, causing divisions among people, and desiring to keep men from achievement and also from attaining his presence.  It is a fable about the perils of modernity, one that makes innovation an enemy to God.  This is a position held firmly by terrorists, extremists and fundamentalists in our own current day.  It is hinted at by a few crotchety old folks and FoxNews pundits who think the world is somehow going to hell in a hand basket.  Basically the kind of folks that wrote the Bible.  I have a hard time believing modernism is antithesis to God’s will if God wants us to learn to become like Him.  Progress is progress.  Knowledge is power.  This makes the Tower of Babel equivalent to the story of Prometheus, punished eternally for giving fire to man.

Are Mormons Anti-Modernists?

Growing up in the church, particularly living in a strongly Amish area of the country, I would have said Mormons embraced the future, including progressive things like science, education and technology.  The Amish by contrast wanted to live a simple lifestyle, one bereft of technological and scientific progress, an increasingly isolated way of life.  The skills for Amish life did not require education beyond the 8th grade.  Certainly, compared to the Amish, we were practically cutting edge in our embrace of science, technology and change.

The older I get, the more I hear church members freely expressing opinions that are right-wing anti-progress dogma.  Just last Sunday a teacher asked for a show of hands of anyone who did not see the world slipping into an oblivion of moral peril at an alarming rate.  I was too shocked by the question to respond, although I couldn’t imagine that we were all ferreting away our gold bars under our mattresses as he seemed to think we should be.  It seemed to me to be a truly bizarre comment, distinctly anti-modern.  But these types of comments are becoming more frequent.

Economist Matt Ridley, in his book The Rational Optimist said:

“Anti-modern movements represent a wide range of critiques, including appeals to tradition, religion, spirituality, environmentalism, aesthetics, pacifism, Marxism or agrarian virtues. They may reject technologies, or their use, social organizations, such as corporations, or some combination of the above.”

Antimodernism is a philosophical orientation that is somewhat difficult to define, but in essence constitutes a rejection of modernist ideals and behaviours in favour of what is perceived as a purer historical or even prehistorical way of life and consciousness of mind. As such, antimodernism is neither a single, definable movement nor a unified set of beliefs, but a vaguely-defined gist of thought.”

When we idealize the 1950s or the Victorian era, we are being anti-modernist, reaching back into a fictitious nostalgic past that was not nearly as rosy as we remember or imagine.  Mortality rates were higher, people had fewer rights, and conveniences we take for granted hadn’t even been thought up yet.  I was once in a Sunday School lesson in which the teacher opined for the days when schoolteachers were allowed to use corporal punishment on the students.  And people didn’t sputter in disbelief.  Several nodded or murmured in assent!

Like Reservoir Dogs, only Amish.

Likewise, those who love the idea of a United Order sometimes pine for an agrarian self-sufficient community, like a hippie commune but with Mormonism rather than drugs and free love as the foundation. [1]  This is another form of anti-modernism.

As we all know, many Islamic clerics who are extremists also use anti-modern rhetoric to fight against the modernism they see that would give women rights to divorce philandering and abusive husbands or would allow people the freedom to leave their religion without being stoned to death.  They view any modernism as moral decay, a slippery slope into the western value system they oppose.  Anti-modernists are often not in the best company.

Why Is Anyone Anti-Modern?

Typically those who oppose change are those who believe they have the most to lose, those most invested in the status quo:  the elite (including the clerical elite), the elderly, and the wealthy. All humans are prone to oppose change they dislike or fear.  That fear is usually associated with loss of status.

Ridley hastens to point out that neither political party (in the US anyway) is immune to this tendency to stall in the face of progress:

“ . . . [The Rational Optimist] is a book about the benefits of change.  I find that my disagreement is mostly with reactionaries of all political colors: blue ones who dislike cultural change, red ones who dislike economic change and green ones who dislike technological change.”

No wonder we messed up. These directions are in Japanese!

Ridley talks about the irrepressible nature of human progress.  What differentiates man from chimpanzees is collaboration:

“At some point, human intelligence became collective and cumulative in a way that happened to no other animal.”

In the fable of the Tower of Babel, this is the moment of human evolution when people began to come together to share ideas; because they can communicate, they can innovate and share a vision as a group.  But sharing ideas is insufficient as Ridley explains:

“If culture consisted simply of learning habits from others, it would soon stagnate.  For culture to turn cumulative, ideas need to meet and mate.  The ‘cross-fertilization of ideas’ is a cliché, but one with unintentional fecundity.”

In the ancient world, many people only became wealthy by taking someone else’s wealth.  This model was based on scarcity:

“ . . . one way to raise your standard of living would be to lower somebody else’s:  buy a slave.  That was indeed how people got rich for thousands of years.”

There are two enemies to progress as outlined by economist Ridley:  small communities and self-sufficiency.  Yet, these are the hallmarks of the united order and our push for provident living and the very byproducts of the confounding of languages in the Tower of Babel story:

“This is the diagnostic feature of modern life, the very definition of a high standard of living:  diverse consumption, simplified production.  Make one thing, use lots.  The self-sufficient gardener, or his self-sufficient peasant or hunter-gatherer predecessor (who is, I shall argue, partly a myth in any case), is in contrast defined by his multiple production and simple consumption.  He makes not just one thing, but many—his food, his shelter, his clothing, his entertainment.  Because he only consumes what he produces, he cannot consume very much.”

“The bigger the connected population, the more skilled the teacher, and the bigger the probability of a productive mistake.  Conversely, the smaller the connected population, the greater the steady deterioration of the skill as it was passed on.”

He likewise cautions against . . . caution:

“The precautionary principle—better safe than sorry—condemns itself: in a sorry world there is no safety to be found in standing still.”

Change, primarily as sparked by the exchange of ideas that leads to innovation, is the surest way to sustainable wealth for all, raising the standard of living and the human condition.

When Progress is Lost

How did we get here again?

There are times in history when innovation has actually been forgotten.  It’s like the myth of Atlantis.  Having served a mission in the Canary Islands, I became aware of the history of the Guanche people, seafarers from Northern Africa who settled in the Canaries and became goat herders spread out through the seven islands.  In the process, they became isolated into small mountainous communities, and despite being able to see the other islands from where they were, they “forgot” how to build boats and sail.  They became isolated and land-locked.  When the Spaniards showed up in the 1600s, the Guanche were easily massacred and conquered by their seafaring oppressors.

Describing a similar culture, Ridley said:

“They fell steadily and gradually back into a simpler toolkit and lifestyle, purely because they lacked the numbers [of people] to sustain their existing technology.”

Along similar lines, I have done a mental experiment of what the world would be like [say, in the wake of a zombie apocalypse or Stephen King-like deadly virus] if the population were suddenly reduced to only a handful of people.  In my mental experiment, there’s a lot of looting of shopping malls initially, but then the food begins to spoil and I realize I don’t know how to fix the refrigeration systems or grow various types of fresh food, etc.  The fact that those things are currently available to me today is only a byproduct of specialization and a large, fully interdependent society.  If the millenium is going to be like my apocalyptic fantasy, no thanks!

Ah, yes, the good old days. If you were the rich ones, that is.

As expats living in Singapore, we were frequently inconvenienced by a lack of the self-servicing options that abound in the US.  If we wanted to buy groceries, we had to wait in line.  We couldn’t pump our own gas and pay at the pump because someone pumped it for us, but then we had to go inside to pay.  When a culture is based on raising the standard of living for all, as the US is, we conspire to create more options and self-service solutions.  In a culture like Singapore that depends on an underclass of servants, the overall standard of living is not quite as high and egalitarian.  It is much higher for an elite populace, and lower for the supporting class.  Innovations don’t seek to create convenience.  Instead, low paid labor will do the work that is inconvenient.

When American friends became aware that we had a live-in domestic helper there, they sometimes expressed jealousy.  However, it was I who was jealous of the conveniences they took for granted.

“The cornucopia that greets you as you enter the supermarket dwarfs anything that Louis XIV ever experienced (and it is probably less likely to contain salmonella).  You can buy a fresh, frozen, tinned, smoked or pre-prepared meal made with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, prawns, scallops, eggs, potatoes, beans, carrots, cabbage, aubergine, kumquats, celeriac, okra, seven kinds of lettuce, cooked in olive, walnut, sunflower or peanut oil, and flavoured with cilantro, turmeric, basil or rosemary . . . You may have no chefs, but you can decide on a whim to choose between scores of nearby bistros, or Italian, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian restaurants, in each of which a team of skilled chefs is waiting to serve your family at less than an hour’s notice.  This of this:  never before this generation has the average person been able to afford to have somebody else prepare his meals.

“You employ no tailor, but you can browse the internet and instantly order from an almost infinite range of excellent, affordable clothes of cotton, silk, linen, wool and nylon made up for you in factories all over Asia. . . . You have no runner to send messages, but even now a repairman is climbing a mobile-phone mast somewhere in the world to make sure it is working properly just in case you need to call that cell. You have no private apothecary, but your local pharmacy supplies you with the handiwork of many thousands of chemists, engineers and logistics experts.”

Costco is the American’s domestic helper.  Amazon is our Thai tailor.  Now that I’m back in the US, I’m struck by how easy it is to do the laundry (which was done for me in Singapore down to the pressed socks and underwear), and how quickly I can get the shopping done, and all in one place!  In Singapore I had to shop in a store that was roughly the size of two side-by-side 7-11s.  Often, we’d find (after stopping at seven stores) that every single store in the country was out of a special item we wanted such as vanilla frosting. [2]


“Get off my lawn, damn kids!”

One argument people make to fight against ecological change or technology is that it comes with unforeseen consequences or saps unrenewable resources.  Often the rally cry is “If things continue as they are going . . . ”  As Ridley points out, things don’t continue as they are going.  They change through the ongoing exchange of ideas, through innovation and information sharing.  We will solve the problems we face today through additional progress.  Since we know from experience that this is true in the technological realm, it seems obvious that it would be true in the sociological realm as well.

For those who believe society’s morals are in free fall, remember that doomsayers always cherry pick the negative to make their case.  As Socrates said:  “Our youth now love luxury.  They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in places of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

  • Is the church anti-modern or is it just a few cranks with a microphone?
  • Is the world in a state of moral decay or are we deluded about the rosiness of the past?
  • Is the story of the Tower of Babel disturbing?  Do you interpret it differently?  If so, how?
  • Do you see progress as a threat to morality?  Do you yearn to live off the land by the sweat of your brow, in blessed communion with your fellow saints?
  • Is the attitude of the Bundy clan typical of anti-modernist views?  Is anti-modernism embraced in your ward?  Do you think it’s more or less common than it used to be?


[1] Mormonism or drugs and free love?  You decide!

[2] This was before Amazon Prime became available in Singapore.  While I was there, shipping into the country was very restricted, regulated and expensive to scuttle competition.


  1. Clark Goble says:

    Following Nephi, I’m always distrustful of reading too much into the Old Testament given that it was compiled from unknown sources by uninspired scribes with political aims. Given that when something is justified primarily on the OT I tend to give it a very skeptical eye.

    All that said I think the way you’ve set up anti-modernism is inherently problematic. After all if pining after things people did well in the past or their ideals is anti-modernist then we’re really in trouble. I think the attempt to label things as anti-modern that simply point out the good in the past is an attempt to simply efface the past in a way to dominate the discourse in more limited terms.

    For instance the united order might be old, but that doesn’t make it bad. Some things in the past are bad. Some things are good. What counts ought be the justifications we give for them.

    That said certainly there are some who say things are good just because of who said them. So a lot of appeals to say the Founders are blind appeals to authority. Worse, they usually are ignorant of the debates about the Founders or the fact that often the Founders wanted something more than what they agreed upon.

    Regarding morals being in free fall. I’m actually sympathetic to that view although we have to recognize it applies to a fairly small subgroup. In the past there were many more people far less moral for whatever reasons. You’d be taking your life in your hands frequently when you traveled. Say what you will about technology, but I think medicine, plentiful food, sewers, and so forth have made it so the social norms are much higher today than say before WWII. I think technology has affected the morality of social norms much more for the better. But as those norms have changed so have some immorality – especially sexual immorality. But but it’s undeniable that a lot of expectations especially in terms of racism and sexism are astronomically better. (If still not where they should be) So I think it fair to say that if more people are less violent and thieving because they don’t have to be, not everything is better.

  2. The Other Clark says:


    Of course we are. Everything about modern-day Mormonism, from cultural norms (stay at home moms, modesty, pater familia) to worship style (organ, traditional hymns, preaching style) is firmly tied back to the Heber J Grant era or earlier.

    Off-hand, I can’t think of a single innovation that strikes me as distinctly 20th (or 21st) Century that the Church hasn’t been dragged to kicking and screaming. (view on gays, view on blacks, view on women; missionary dress and grooming. BYU dress and grooming.)

    Time froze for the Amish in the early 1800s, for the FLDS in the early 1900s. At what point do we become so different from mainstream society that we effectively isolate ourselves?

  3. “Is the attitude of the Bundy clan typical of anti-modernist views? Is anti-modernism embraced in your ward? Do you think it’s more or less common than it used to be?”

    A few months ago I finished a fascinating book called “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America” by Colin Woodard. I think one of the bloggers here has referred to it before. In it, Woodard describes the various cultures that exist in North America, and how they came to be, based on the background and circumstances of how the different regions were settled. Though he does make some generalizations, I don’t think he’s too far off base, especially with the history of the region he calls the “Far West”, which encompasses most of the prairie and intermountain West. This area was settled largely by corporations (trains, mines, then corporate farms, e.g.) who had a vested interest in the government staying out of their business and regulating the way things were done, both in the companies and the towns they ran. I think the Bundy incident and the right wing/anti-government culture that one unfortunately encounters in the church in the Western US is more of an artifact of the culture of the Far West that Woodard refers to in his book, and that the Church has the misfortune of being located in. It would be really interesting to see how LDS culture would have evolved if the Church had remained in New England. I would be interested to hear comments by Ronan and others on the other side of the pond regarding how reactionary/anti-modern church members are there, outside the western US bubble.

  4. I generally have found that people who are fond of declarations that the world is going to hell in a handbasket notably lack knowledge of the actual state of the world. Not coincidentally, they tend to be consumers of conservative media and suffer from severe epistemic closure; they also tend to be suckers for financial scams and snake oil “medicine,” both of which infest the Church like cockroaches.

    Not coincidentally, this is why I usually spend second hour in the hallway.

  5. The Other Clark says:

    MattG, Church culture in the Zion Curtain region has an anti-government bend because of the polygamy raids, not railroads or mining. I suspect that as one moves out of the “pioneer ancestor” region, that trend becomes less pronounced.

    I can’t even speculate on how church culture would have evolved if it had stayed in Nauvoo, or Missouri, or Kirtland. It’s like speculating on how the Church would be different if Joseph Smith had lived to a ripe old age and died of natural causes.

  6. At what point does a culture have to say “that was in the past” and move forward?

  7. Thanks for this, Angela.

    Ridley’s arguments in “The Rational Optimist” are quite persuasive. And he expands on some of those themes in his new book “The Evolution of Everything.” There he contends that “the world is to a remarkable extent a self-organizing, self-changing place”—a proposition that is difficult for highly structured, hierarchal organizations to accept. Those organizations, and their most devout members, look for a Designer behind every event. (“There are no coincidences in the gospel.” “Everything happens for a reason.”) And when unsettling changes occur, they expect the Designers to intervene, to restore order, to bring back the good old days and to punish the architects of change.

    President Hinckley, in an April 2004 conference talk, responded to the idea that our day and age is somehow worse than those that have come before by saying: “Perilous times? Yes. These are perilous times. But the human race has lived in peril from the time before the earth was created.” His not-so subtle message was: our circumstances, in most respects, are not unique or special. But this message is completely lost on so many Mormons, who generally have no sense of history and really do believe that it’s all about them, that they are the ones saved for the last days because they are special. To quote Colonel Potter: “horse hockey”!

  8. Has anyone already quoted Nibley about the tower being a false temple? The reaching for heaven is metaphorical and the whole scattering of the people a later overlay that recounts the effects of cyclical droughts. Languages naturally change when people are separated by geography. The story is mostly etiological, and whatever really happened is obscured by the agenda of the storyteller(s). Its location in the Bible with all the other wacky inconsistent stories is a big signal about how seriously we should take it.

  9. FarSide: Thanks for the tip on Ridley’s next tome.

    Owen: I haven’t read that from Nibley before. Interesting idea. Many of our readings of the OT are about those who are unworthy trying to bypass the authoritative channel to get God’s authority. I wonder how much of that is Mormon and how much is borrowed feathers from Protestantism. Of course, that’s the same tree that bore the fruit of justified racism by claiming that Ham was restricted from Priesthood for viewing his father’s priesthood garments.

  10. Ryan Mullen says:

    When we covered the Tower of Babel this year in seminary, I took the opportunity to discuss rural vs urban communities and political views. The agrarian Israelite community resented the urban Babylonians and their advanced building technology. We also discussed the cognitive dissonance that comes from growing up in urban communities but inheriting cultural and political views from rural Utah.

    Have you read David Bokovoy’s Authoring the Old Testament? He discusses ancient Israelite views on the boundary between gods and humans, and the many places YHWH is depicted as reinforcing and maintaining those boundaries.

  11. Jared vdH says:

    There are major problems with your whole section describing the “self-service” economy being better. Arguably, it’s exactly the same as before, you just don’t end up seeing the “servants” you’re employing. Your beloved Amazon Prime is fueled by poor warehouse workers working long hours at below poverty level wages and delivery drivers who aren’t much better. Just because the servants underclass isn’t living with you doesn’t mean it’s gone away. It’s just better hidden.

    “Instead, low paid labor will do the work that is inconvenient.” This is Amazon Prime and Costco in a nutshell.

  12. I agree with MattG that local culture has a huge impact on the views of church members in that area. Thus I am always uncomfortable with any general statements about “Mormons” as a culture.

    And in my experience, our church is not the only organization to have regional impacts. I am very involved in The League of Women Voters, having served as a voting Board member for about five years. There are some national policies that bind us all together, but there is also great local variation. In my state, the League has been actively involved in issues that might be deemed as “progressive” or “liberal” such as gun violence and lobbying against legislative proposals to allow carrying handguns on college campuses, and the unintended consequences of mandatory minimum sentences. But in other states, there are different priorities. A friend is planning on retiring to a Southeast US state, I was going to recommend the League to him as a possible activity during retirement…but first I looked at the website in his state, which was disappointing given his (and my!) interests.

    Also, I am not sure that societal change is always progress or more modern. A mother who is forced to work at a paid job in order to afford her family’s lifestyle or fulfill her self-image is just as trapped as any 1950s housewife. The recent rise of frugalista and simplicity movements actually has a lot in common with RS homemaking meetings of the 1970s, but don’t tell them that or they would be offended.

  13. Interesting conversation. I wonder at ‘valuing tradition’ and how that relates to anti-modernism. When the two are not in conflict, it seems members and the church absolutely value modernism. (err… modern marketing practices anyone?) When they clash, there is a knee-jerk response toward traditionalism.

    Which is how I rather see the current hell-in-a-handbag discourses. It’s a defense mechanism for traditionalism where there is no other defense. I can usually shut such arguments down by talking about all the positives of the world we live in (using an upbeat tone of voice). No one wants to argue about having a positive outlook.

    P.S. I also served in the Canary Islands (92-93) and can I just tell you how happy that map made me? I did a total double-take.

  14. I think that things are getting worse in the world. However, it’s not getting worse in the ways that we’ve previously learned to measure. It’s also getting better in measurable and immeasurable ways. Difficulty is in figuring out the maths of what ranks where overall and coming up with some concrete answer. Everyone seems to have their own formula.

    As societies change, so also change what constitute as “good” or “bad”. That’s part of why some have the tendency to look backward, so say “at least we didn’t have X problem”, fully ignoring the other problems we’d left behind. It probably has to do with some confluence of culture, experience, and knowledge.

    For Babel, I wonder if it wasn’t so much a lack of speaking the same language as a breakdown of understanding one another. Everyone in a fairly large area was getting together to define exactly what each person must do to get to “Heaven”, building a tower of items to check off. Growing hostilities about what should or should not be there leading to greater breakdowns of communication leads God to tell anyone who would listen to “get out of dodge”. Hostilities overflow, eventually dispersing the people of different understandings. Blame rests on God for being so ineffable that God must not want anyone to try to work out the super combination that automatically provides heaven.

  15. Ryan Mullen – throw another book onto my reading list! Thanks for the tip.

    Jared vdH – I think you are (generally speaking) quite right about the underclass being somewhat hidden in the US, although even our “poor” are better off than the upper class in many emerging economies in Asia. Our helper in Singapore was still top 20% of earners world-wide, so while she was “underclass” for Singapore, she was a top earner for the Philippines. That’s the problem with all our strategies to shift work overseas. Ultimately, these economies emerge, and we have to continue the elusive search for the next poor working class who will work for low wages.

    Amazon warehouse workers are still miles above the working conditions of their Chinese counterparts, although they definitely represent an underclass in the US. As a small business owner now, I have had my eyes opened–unpleasantly–to the reality that many Americans really do expect illegals and the poor to do a whole lot of work for very little money, work that they often can’t afford to pay more to have done, work that they really have no business hiring for given their inability or unwillingness to pay for it.

    RT – I was 89-90. Great to hear from a fellow Chicharrero (assuming you served in Lanzarote).

  16. David Elliott says:

    “Your beloved Amazon Prime is fueled by poor warehouse workers working long hours at below poverty level wages and delivery drivers who aren’t much better.”

    I don’t know about the warehouse workers, but most of my Amazon orders are delivered by UPS drivers who have a strong union and are very well compensated. I personally know a few whose wages alone regularly exceed $100K annually.

  17. Clark Goble says:

    Warehouse workers are being automated as fast as possible by Amazon. The amount of robots they’ve added just the past two years is amazing. So the low wages and poor working conditions will soon be replaced with unemployment for the many already replaced by machines.

  18. Jared vdH says:

    I guess that’s my biggest problem with this post – yes, being anti-modernist has lots of problems and many of them pointed out here are real. However the post also seems to come from the perspective that “modern” always equals “progress” and that “progress” is always an unqualified good.

    We’ve made lots of progress in ways of killing each other and exploiting each other. I don’t think those things are necessarily good though. Guns, nuclear weapons, and “outsourcing” are all examples of progress that haven’t really had great moral outcomes.

    In fact if you were to ask most gun control advocates or black lives matter activists, I don’t think they’d say that the world is actually morally “better” than it was before. It’s just a different kind of bad.

  19. the swami with the salami says:

    Here’s a rule of thumb for whomever is reading this: it only takes a few sentences to make a point. Anything longer than that is just nonsense.

  20. Any church that has it’s own “app”on multiple platforms can’t possibly be said to be opposed to modernity in principle.

    Are there aspects of modernity, that the church is and should be opposed to? Sure, but in one way or another, many of those activities or philosophies we’ve been opposed to in the past.

  21. Clark Goble says:

    ISIS is remarkably sophisticated in terms of internet use and recruiting via the internet. However it’s trying to recreate a medieval caliphate.

  22. Martin James says:

    I like the question but think it makes much more sense with “progressive” substituted for “modern”. One way that I would say that the LDS church is very modern is that it has a bureaucratic fear of charisma and forms of social organization based on charismatic leadership. There is almost no LDS people that reject the corporate nature of the church which is a thoroughly modern form of organization.
    To me the core issue with modernism is that it became post-modernism by not being able to produce a purpose or meaning for life. The liberal institutions styled themselves as neutral toward meaning and theoretically passed that back to individuals but in practice all of our corporate institutions from governments, to businesses to universities rely on certain notions of the acceptable purposes of human beings.
    This is most obvious in relations among nations where different moral standards reign in different places. Personally, I think a coherent morality is impossible which means that modernity is only possible if we choose to ignore moral questions that extend beyond our immediate sphere in a way that is very unsatisfying and intellectually and morally suspect. In the wealthier and more powerful countries we typically take no note of injustice in less powerful countries. Yes, this is nothing new in the world, but the founding scriptures of mormonism show that by and large the world is unrighteous and God has a right to bring destruction to it at any time.
    We must admit that the conveniences we experience in modern life were not only built on a regime of self-interest but do relatively little to make us more righteous.
    Another key measure to me is whether people are more concerned with the unrighteousness of others or of their own unrighteousness. Be it right wing or left wing, most of the conversation tends to be about what others are doing wrong rather than what they are doing wrong themselves.
    For purposes of my own morality then, I would like to find more people thinking about what it means to adapt LDS principles to a modern circumstance. This seems to me to be an exceedingly difficult thing to do, which may be why there is a temptation to retreat to a worldview from the past.
    Some simple examples of the complexity. What drugs are morally useful – including performance enhancing drugs and what are not useful. How much time spent on entertainment is morally appropriate? What obligations does one have as a local vs national vs. global citizen in terms of civic participation? Are some occupations more conducive to a righteous lifestyle than others? I think we have retreated as a people to a “thin core” of morality where we don’t ask these hard questions. While I don’t think the extremists are coming to the right conclusions, I also think that it is quite likely that most of us non-extremists are deluding ourselves about the morally suspect nature of our own lives.
    Who are the visionaries and what are they doing?

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    I understand the Tower of Babel story as an aetiological (or origin) myth. That is, people observed that different peoples had different languages and customs, and wondered why that is. The purpose of the myth is to explain the observed reality: why do cultural differences exist among different groups of people? There’s your answer.

  24. Stargazer says:

    Is anyone familiar with the world of Dune? It really makes an interesting cultural commentary on how advanced technologies (genetics) can co-exist with medieval structures (Landed Houses) and unexpected “rabble.” Not sure what my point is, but this article and the discussion mademe think of it, andit certainly is a whole story about the struggle between traditional and modern, mythos and fact, religion and “magic”, also traditional ideas and where jihad can fit, all set conveniently in a galaxy far, far away. Or at least this galaxy in a time far, far away.

  25. jstricklan says:

    Institutions, after their revolutionary phase, often become traditionalist (or conservative or anti-change) to preserve the gains they have achieved. This should be surprising to no one, and is the perpetual bane of companies that want to maintain their status as “market disrupters.” Revolutionary movements do the same thing as soon as they get in power. It is harder than it sounds to not become anti-change when you’ve won a great deal..

    The Church has a lot of conservatives, and a lot of conservatives are anti-modern. So the Church is often anti-modern.

    The restoration is at its foundation anti-modern, but less in the sense of “against” as much as “not-Nephite-but-Lehite”: it’s Christianity from an alternate universe, one that espouses eternal progression and expects a great deal of further light and knowledge.

    Our lower class includes the Asian lower class. We have decided that our lower classes cost too much and so we bought new ones, leaving a lot of Americans cut out even of the benefits of getting the offal of the American middle class. Life’s pretty good for me, American middle class white male, but it seems short sighted to be patting myself on the back about it. Lots of fixing left to do.

    And a toss-off, because I haven’t read the book: Ridley’s lumping in of “anti-modern” movements (everything from pacifism to communism) is a little disturbing because it obscures the question of what kind of modernism we are building. We need not reject modernity to see it has problems, and there was nothing more cutting-edge in the 1930s than fascism and eugenics. Ridley seems to believe that all modernisms are going to work out because The Market (TM). Hoo boy, good luck with that.

  26. Technology is certainly progressing, and the Church has embraced it, from steamships and railroads to the jet travel and computers.

    However, I find it hard to argue that the West has made net social progress as measured by self-reported levels of happiness. Some things are much better, some things are much worse.

    Lowest murder rate in the last 50 years in the U.S. was 1957. In the fifties there was less overall income inequality, less unemployment, less debt. The number of people saying they were very happy peaked between 1955 and 1960, the highest its ever been in the U.S. This not just true of the U.S. Britain, for example is less happy than in the fifties, despite being three times richer. See

    Divorce, broken homes, and children of divorce are more common now. STD’s are now at epidemic levels. Abortion is common. Fertility rates are below replacement levels in much of the Western world. Violent crime is higher. Rape is more common, particularly in the military and on campus. Pornography is common Drug abuse is common.

    In the U.S. middle-aged white men are living shorter and unhealthier lives with drugs, alcohol, and suicide being implicated. It’s hard to overstate how alarming scientists find this jump in the mortality rate. Half a million people are dead who should not be dead. See This is getting up there is HIV/AIDS, another problem we didn’t have in 1950.

    An astounding 72% of black babies are now born out of wedlock. There is a strong correlation between out of wedlock births and crime and poverty. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s warnings about the devastating social consequences of the collapse of the black family have proven prophetic.

    All this despite the fact that we are monetarily richer and technologically more advanced. One might reasonably conclude that the West, as a society, has lost an astonishing amount of wisdom in the space of just a generation or two.

  27. In the 1950s segregation was the law (in the US) and institutionalized racism the norm (pretty much everywhere). That alone makes it a worse time to live than now. Women were not considered legal and moral agents in their own right; coverture had not been abolished yet in many jurisdictions. One consequence of this state of affairs related to divorce. The lack of no fault divorce laws meant that a woman in an abusive relationship or married to a philandering husband had to prove abuse or infidelity to a jury of white men. A nearly impossible task given the evidentiary requirements involved and the bias of the jury. And if she ended up single, the law was on the side of the wrongdoing husband for custody purposes, because he was the employed one. Just one example.

    It’s hard to overstate how immoral those two issues alone were in the 1950s. And there were many more. Leaving those behind indicates a major advance in wisdom from the 1955 Golden Age that never was.

  28. Josh Smith says:

    Is Mormonism anti modernist? Anti progressive?

    These were major themes in Mormonism in 2015:

    –Extreme deference to authority (“Follow the brethren”)

    –Extreme deference to the values of loyalty and obedience over other values.

    –Warnings against use of the Internet (“Don’t research church issues on the Internet”)

    –Distrust of non-Mormon ideas about gender, race, sexuality, family structure

    –Mystical knowledge or spiritual knowledge (maybe even magic????) should be trusted over one’s intellect

    –The concept of “worthiness” as usually refraining from doing or saying something

    –The concept of uniqueness as a source of truth in the world, one and only truthiness

    –The concept of an in-group of believers (“Us”) verses an imagined out-group (“The World”)

    –Unwillingness to disclose financial decisions while demanding 10% of each member

    These are not ideas that lend themselves to the 21st century. I think any sincere person who engages the world on a regular basis would have to conclude that Mormonism is inward looking, backward looking at this point in time. It’s concerned with preserving itself, maintaining itself. I don’t think it has to be that way

  29. Clark Goble says:

    Leo, crime statistics from before the 60’s are pretty dubious just because there were huge swaths – especially of minorities – not included. As John notes racism and sexism were so ubiquitous that rape and murder tended to be viewed through a very narrow lens.

    It’s true people can say things are worse for their communities. However the treatment in particular of blacks was so horrific there’s simply no way we can say it was better. That said clearly some things have gotten worse while more importantly things have gotten better. In some ways though measuring all this is very difficult for a slew of reasons.

    One problem in this whole approach, btw, is that I think the term “modernism” is too vague a term and too apt to be used equivocatively. When communism, for instance, is seen as anti-modern then I think we’ve got a pretty problematic category.

  30. Josh Smith says:

    It’s maybe worth saying again, I can imagine Mormonism otherwise, but I have very, very low expectations that it’s structure will allow it to adapt. I would love to be wrong on this.

  31. Clark Goble says:

    I think Mormonism’s structure enable very flexible adaptation. However the bigger issue is when and where it should adapt. Often people who like progressive politics assumes it itself is a kind of transcendent truth to which religion should adapt. But that’s often debatable even if some elements are seen as advances.

  32. Rickard Zambon says:

    It wasn’t that long ago when someone knew where they could go to get frozen cantaloupes and freeze-dried mushrooms. Nowadays the prospect of gathering reindeer in snowy basins is second only to the hour before reflection; albeit seasoned despite reservations. Where is the properly positioned underfoot moon as suggested by providence and required by circumstance? How long can we endure the trifle in the wrinkle? Suspense and effeminacy are not substitutes for resolve. When will the washed-out westerners wake to justifiable bootstraps in sobriety’s secret soliloquy? And what does Jerusalem have to do with it?

  33. Josh Smith says:

    “I think Mormonism’s structure enable very flexible adaptation.” –Clark

    Bull. Mormonism’s ability to adapt hinges on the life expectancy of 15 men. Life expectancy is getting longer. For example, just as a hypothetical, it’s now possible for someone to stay alive for many years even while encased in dementia. Hypothetically.

    The 15 choose their replacements.

    And who even knows what goes on in correlation.

    This is not a nimble structure, Clark. This is a structure that preserves itself. It is conservative in nature.

  34. The Book Of Songs says:

    The unicorn’s hoofs! The unicorn’s hoofs!
    The duke’s sons throng, the duke’s sons throng.
    Alas for the unicorn! Alas for the unicorn!
    The unicorn’s brow! The unicorn’s brow!
    The duke’s kinsmen throng.
    The duke’s kinsmen throng.
    Alas for the unicorn! Alas for the unicorn!
    The unicorn’s horn! The unicorn’s horn!
    The unicorn’s horn!
    The duke’s clansmen throng.
    The duke’s clansmen throng.
    Alas for the unicorn!

  35. In the Josh Smith vs. Clark smackdown, I think both points have some basis. Ongoing revelation is supposed to work as Clark describes, creating a very flexible structure and allowing for major changes to come in through revelation. However, in practice, Josh’s description seems to be what actually happens.

    The Book of Songs: whiskey tango foxtrot?

  36. Josh Smith says:

    I’m comfortable with that conclusion, Angela.

    Re: Book of Songs and the other wacky comment above. It looks like y’all may have a bot submitting comments. Your moderator may want to take a look at that.

  37. Ditto for Rickard Zambon. ???

  38. Angela, I think in practice the church has demonstrated remarkable flexibility, if you take account of its entire history. At the end of the 19th century Mormonism was essentially demolished, its core belief and structure outlawed, and it reinvented itself, going from the cultural fringe relic of barbarism to the mainstream by post WWII. How is that not flexibility? The real question is, can it or will it do that again in order to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing 21st century?

  39. The real question is, can it or will it do that again in order to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing 21st century?

    I hope and pray that this will be the case.

  40. Clark Goble says:

    Josh, one I think you underestimate the ability of older men to change their minds on topics. Your assumption is that change happens merely by people dying and the replacements having different views. I think at a minimum Wilford Woodruff is a big exception to that. That’s not to say people might not have difficulty looking beyond their cultural expectations. But we can definitely exaggerate that a great deal.

  41. Josh Smith says:

    “I think you underestimate the ability of older men to change their minds on topics.”

    Probably not.

    “Your assumption is that change happens merely by people dying and the replacements having different views.”

    Yup. And when the law threatens the organization’s existence. (And maybe, sometimes, by the grace of God, Jesus provides a David O. McKay.)

    Clark, Here’s your best argument: “Josh, the LDS faith is structurally conservative. It is built to preserve and maintain itself. It is not progressive. It’s not modern. And, Josh, that’s just the way we Mormons like it.”

    And then I’ll say, “Okay Clark. I agree.”

  42. Josh Smith says:

    I mean, I agree that Mormons like the structure of the church as conservative. Progressives tend to self select out. At least that’s my personal experience. My very personal experience.

  43. anonforthis says:

    Progressives may tend to self select out of the church in places like Eastern Idaho. In other places I’ve lived there’s enough diversity in wards and stakes that many of them stay.

  44. Josh Smith says:

    Genuine question.

    Do you find that progressives are carrying on in the faith in other parts of the U.S., even now? My feeling is that progressives everywhere are feeling pushed out by recent church actions. I readily accept that my perceptions are skewed by my locale.

    Again, not trying to score points. I’m genuinely interested if someone is having a different experience in 2016 than what I’m observing.

  45. anonforthis says:

    It depends on the ward. I lived in a politically diverse ward in a large city in the Midwest, and the progressives who still live there are still active. Those who’ve moved away to places like Utah and Eastern Idaho? More of a struggle, and much more likely to feel they’re being pushed out of the church.

  46. Jared vdH says:

    I’m in Austin, TX and will occasionally feel like the ward/Church is too conservative for me. Then someone will make a rather progressive statement in SS and I’ll be reminded that I’m in Austin, a pond of blue amidst the heavy red of Texas and I’m not the only progressive leaning type in the room.

  47. Jared vdH says:

    Then again, there are probably many “progressives” who think I’m not actually a “progressive” just by the fact that I’m still an active member of the church and haven’t left out of protest by this point. YMMV

  48. Josh Smith says:

    Fair enough. Thanks for your thoughts.

    I suspect all most of us have is anecdotal evidence and personal experience. I just don’t see much room for someone who leans toward progressive views.

    For example, if someone is gay, or loves someone who’s gay, or believes that homosexuality is yet another manifestation of the wonder that is God, or that homosexuality is a natural part of the world we live in … that person is going to have a tough time with the three-hour block.

    Or a person who believes women can and should make executive decisions … that’s a long three hours.

    Or a person who has every reason to doubt literal truth claims … three hours of church manuals? No way.

    Or a person who has values higher than loyalty and obedience.

    Or a person who just wants to know where her tithing money is spent.

    Dammit. I wasn’t going to rant and there I did it again. Deep breath. Whew. I just don’t see Mormonism as a happy life belief system for someone who tends toward the progressive side.

    Sorry. That all just came out. I’m sure there are happy progressives who are LDS. I suspect my wife is just such a person. This is my last comment, though I’ll continue reading.

  49. anonforthis says:

    Let’s just say that people in my SE Idaho ward are (and have been) scandalized when they found out I voted for President Obama. Twice. And then many of them openly start shunning me, and (complain complain complain). I would be very surprised if there was a single active member of the church here in my ward, other than myself, that voted the same way.

    My midwestern ward? Didn’t matter how I voted. I was EQP. Other ward leadership was openly liberal. I’d say at least 30% of the ward voted for President Obama.

    I’m still active–but it’s a struggle. It’s good to hear stuff from other SE Idaho people on the bloggernacle (all 4 of us, and one of us is Rob Osborn) that validates how hard it can be out here.

  50. Josh Smith says:


    I’m in Idaho Falls. If you know me personally, please feel free to reach out. I don’t attend anymore, but I’m always open to thoughtful discussions.

  51. anonforthis says:

    Thanks, Josh. Will do.

  52. Josh Smith, just a few thoughts on your self-proclaimed rant:
    “For example, if someone is gay, or loves someone who’s gay, or believes that homosexuality is yet another manifestation of the wonder that is God, or that homosexuality is a natural part of the world we live in … that person is going to have a tough time with the three-hour block.” This is difficult, but I consider it more difficult to be in church post-policy because of the policy itself and what it says about the institutional church than I do about my own ward. It’s difficult to hear people defending the indefensible, but I know these are good people, friends and neighbors, who are apparently unfazed by something that I think is a bad policy. That tells me they just aren’t personally or ideologically affected by it. I’m not sensitive to all issues they care about either, I’m sure.

    “Or a person who believes women can and should make executive decisions … that’s a long three hours.” Again, while the institutional church is pretty terrible at this, my local ward has many strong women who clearly take charge. We aren’t operating in a way that is structurally different, but I’m not hearing openly sexist comments at church on the whole.

    “Or a person who has every reason to doubt literal truth claims … three hours of church manuals? No way.” I suspect most who have literal views on scripture simply haven’t questioned it and don’t read scripture that closely. That’s no threat to me. I find it interesting that people are so different.

    “Or a person who has values higher than loyalty and obedience.” This is troubling to see, but just because someone else doesn’t have my same values doesn’t mean I can’t sit next to them and get different things out of the same thing they are listening to.

    “Or a person who just wants to know where her tithing money is spent.” 1) you don’t have to pay tithing to go to church, 2) some donations are more transparent than others (e.g. fast offerings), and 3) lots of things we donate to are less transparent than they seem on the surface.

  53. Josh Smith says:

    Angela, I suppose my concern is more that some of attitudes and teachings I listed (11:16 and 3:32) are actual core beliefs within Mormonism. Or at least they receive a tremendous amount of pulpit time. My personal feeling is that at some point a person just has to say, “This organization is proclaiming things fundamentally different than my personal experience as I’ve walked this earth. This organization doesn’t represent what I believe to be true and good at a fundamental level.”

    I understand completely how one could make compromises on the local level. It’s my experience that LDS people are some of the kindest most genuinely generous people on earth. Regardless of beliefs, a local ward can be a wonderful community. Who wouldn’t want to be involved with such wonderful people?

    I guess my concern is a concern with what is taught by the organization at its core. Is that SLC concern? I’m not sure what to call that. Disbelief?

  54. Josh, I hear you buddy, and I’ve often had those same thoughts, and I don’t know what to call it either. Just know that I empathize.

  55. @Clark Goble

    Why should we trust crime statistics circa 2015? 80% of campus sexual assaults are currently unreported. That is a pretty wide swath.
    And do you really think abortion hasn’t drastically increased since the fifties? We have merely decriminalized it.
    Do you really think hard drug use hasn’t increased?
    Pornography? Divorce? STD’s? Out of wedlock births?
    This is part of “modernity.” I for one am not prepared to label this decline in civilization as “progress.” We have increased per capita gross national product, but not per capita happiness or righteousness.

  56. Martin James says:

    It seems like modernism here means roughly “neoliberalism” in that moral and political change is assumed to be part of the same “progress” as technological and scientific innovations.

    As we’ve seen with things like North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons or Chinese censorship of the internet, politics and morals don’t move in identical ways to science and technology.

    I would say that authoritarians in the mormon tradition are just as likely to be neoconservative as anti-(neoliberalism). Some examples: very few mormons are against foreign missions. I don’t hear people complaining about sending missionaries to all the world. This is thoroughly modern, but it a neo-imperialist way rather than a neo-liberal NGO type of way.

    I don’t hear many mormons opposing innovations in most economic sectors that aren’t explicitly associated with liberal politics or government financing.

    The toughest calls for me to determine are the areas that involve human rights, equality and social programs. Are these really “modern” or are they just governmental innovations. Take transparency for example. Neoliberals hate Snowden as much or more than neoconservatives. Is Snowden “modern” because of his methods or “anti-modern” because of his opposition to the state using secret technology? It’s a toss-up.

    How much of this is just a function of social class rather than religion? Is the opposition to innovation just a defensiveness of the “innovation elite” getting even more power. Again the real test seems to be the split in attitudes towards the military. I don’t see right wingers arguing that our military is too modern, they just seem to be ticked off when they do the fighting but don’t get to call the political shots.

    It seems to me that the church is caught up in the breakup of power between the merchant class, the intellectual class and the warrior class. The church represents a blend of these as of a certain period of time where there was an agreement over spheres of influence between these classes on what power you got. Now it is more of a free for all. The lack of recognition that the former balance is untenable is where I think the church is the most “anti-modern” but no more so that say, the journalism industry or big unions or the political parties. None of them want to face what Trump as made pretty obvious : you can’t take anything for granted anymore. There is a power struggle over modern technology: Putin wants it, Obama wants it, the clerics want it, the communists want it, heck everybody wants the power of modern technology. That is a very different modernism that transparency and equality. The future is futuristic.

  57. Martin James says:

    Clark, I agree with you about the declining aspects but that doesn’t justify a belief that the past is coming back because it ain’t coming back. That is why things like Ammon Bundy seem like play acting. You just can’t have a population of 320 million people with modern technology operating by cowboy justice. It is just a farce. I’m not saying that one should accede to liberalism and turn one’s back on religious principles. I’m saying that one can’t live one’s religion in a fantasy world if that religion is mormonism.
    I heard a person say that going to new testament Sunday School class was like a book group where people haven’t read the book in there is just no way you can get some of the conservative positions to be consistent with the New Testament and still be reading the dang book. Likewise, Angela has to admit that the LDS tradition does include a God that in her terms is petty and unknowable. That is the magic of religion: it is absurd. But if one adapts the religion to one’s political and social beliefs rather than seeing how it undermines all possible ways of being with an absurd transcendence, then one is missing out on what it is to be religious.

    Josh, you just aren’t morally masochistic enough yet. Life is just telling you that you aren’t God, but your conscience is giving you the consolation of knowing that no one else is God either. You’ve just got to man or woman up and be a frickin’ saint.

  58. This article has so many straw men its a fire hazard.

  59. Josh Smith says:

    Martin James, I don’t know what “morally masochistic” means, but it sounds unnecessarily painful. How ’bout I just help out in my community in ways I find meaningful, be a good husband and father, enjoy a good drip coffee every now and again, keep bees, and quietly exit the earth the earth when my time comes? … and build a kick-ass tree-house this spring?

    Maybe if I get really ambitious, someday I’ll read a wee bit on meditation and mindfulness.

  60. Martin James: “Angela has to admit that the LDS tradition does include a God that in her terms is petty and unknowable.” I wouldn’t go that far, and I didn’t. I was merely pointing out that some interpretations of the Tower of Babel story depend on a capricious and tyrannical God, jealous of his own creations. That’s not specifically an LDS view of the story. It’s actually not a Bible story that figures very prominently into Mormonism, IMO. By contrast to this interpretation, Mormons I know are much more inclined to talk about God as a friend, someone we can know well and with whom we can have a collegial relationship.

  61. Martin James says:

    There was one question mark in there and so I will take it as a question even though it probably wasn’t meant as a question because I happen to think it is an outstanding question that you posed and one that we aren’t honest enough about.
    First I will connect it to a question you posed earlier about disbelief. The reason that I think what you are looking to do is impossible is because it is a curious mixture of disbelief and belief. The disbelief I think is that absence of belief in for lack of a better term “the LDS God”. Fair enough, I have no complaint with that although it seems a little odd to be here in that case. Not crazy odd, just a bit odd.
    But the real trouble comes with the terms ‘my community”, and “good husband and father”. How do you determine who your community is in order to help them? Is it your neighbors, your school district, county, region, state, nation, hemisphere, planet, galaxy, universe? Does it include your bees, the flowers your bees visit, other animals, plants, bacteria, rocks, volcanoes, rivers, layers of the atmosphere? I know that you seem to have provided yourself a bit of an out with “I find meaningful” and so you could be satisfied with what ever you find meaningful but this is much easier said than done. We use words to express meaning and find meaning with others and we don’t have control over the way these words structure our reality. You don’t seem totally at peace with the way your community operates. Why? What do the bees care? Does is affect the taste of the coffee?
    That takes me to the next issue. What does it mean to be a “good father”? There are countless perplexities here also. How does a good father explain why some people believe in God and others not? Why people enjoy cruelty? Do you change the subject and retire to the Bee-loud glade? Do you convince them that the “good people of the world keep it simple and just do their best to be good husbands and fathers” with the pretense that they will know what you mean?
    The uncomfortable fact than almost no one wants to face is that values don’t “breed true”. Your values are not the product of your values, they are the product of the values of those that came before you and the values of your children will not be the same as those that you hold.
    So in what sense can you claim to be a “good father”? Whose notion of “good” are you referring to?
    You may not be interested in the war over what “good” means but that war is interested in you?
    The way that war is played right now is that ‘we” recognize those around us that agree with us about what good means into something of a community and then we declare the others as “uneducated”, “crazy” and “bad”.
    For example, we call (insert Trump or Sanders) followers naive or uneducated and then call (insert Trump or Sanders) “crazy or “bad” depending on the day of the week or degree of cynicism. It is more and more obvious that the number of communities with different meanings of good or bad is something like the 1.5 power of the population. Everybody has their own beliefs and those beliefs are conflicted.
    Now comes the real kicker. We can’t figure our how of if the world is working so well with this degree of diversity of the idea of good. Like Steven Pinker and the economists we can say, violence is down, income is up, the coffee is better, this is paradise? Or we can look at inequality, war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and say, sooner or later a “crazy” or a bad” is going to start a pretty nasty war that may get out of hand and shouldn’t we be doing more about it? if you had just stuck with bees and coffee and thinking “if it is my time” fine but when one brings “good father” into it, one needs to consider the horrors of radiation poisoning and incineration and potential economic dislocations, etc.
    How can a “good father” be serious about the absurdity of making individual choices as part of such a giant civilization? I just think it is impossible which is what i mean by moral masochism. To lose one’s belief in morality is bad and crazy but to ignore the our role in it is equally crazy. it is like voting, individually irrational but reliant on people not acting on that irrationality.
    That is why I think Angela’s post and your questions are such good ones even if you don’t believe them to be as problematic and as important as I do.

  62. Martin James says:

    “Mormons I know are much more inclined to talk about God as a friend, someone we can know well and with whom we can have a collegial relationship.”

    And Mormons who so talk have no good answer to their children when they ask why God was apparently so unconcerned with racism, sexism and sexual preference bias for so long. Aren’t they just projecting their own moral preferences on to God?

    I think this is the root of your question. The LDS religion is built on a notion of a chosen people that found polygamy, sexism and racism acceptable. If one finds those morally problematic, then one has a big problem to explain in a way that is not very satisfying to a broad segment of the membership.

  63. Josh Smith says:

    Martin, Those are excellent questions. I suspect every reflective person who has walked this earth has asked similar questions. To most of them, I suspect I would answer, “I don’t know.” It’s a peaceful resignation that I’ll work it out as I go.

    This makes me a bit nervous to write this next part. I don’t intend it as offensive.

    It’s been my experience over the last 15 years, that for me personally, the LDS faith has not been an effective source of answers to the very important questions you pose. The LDS world-view is not “working” for me, and has not been “working” for me for many years now.

    My hunch is that I’m not alone. (For many years I felt alone. That is a very lonely place to be.) I don’t know what to label these folks for whom the LDS faith is not “working.” Maybe “apostates”? If that’s the case, then these are very thoughtful, very moral, very committed “apostates.” Maybe we could call them “progressives,” but I’m afraid that label will miss what’s going on.

    Let me see if I can lay out a few of the characteristics:

    –knowledge is shared and tested horizontally, not vertically. (“Follow the brethren” is actually a bad idea.)

    –more open to failure, an environment of experimentation. (“Worthiness” as refraining from doing things is generally a bad idea.)

    –rational argument is more persuasive than mystical knowledge (Literal truth claims should be doubted and tested.)

    –it is good to challenge authority (Punishment for deviance from authority is a sign that the authority figure is not worth following)

    –Less inclined to think about the world in terms of in-group/out-group (“Us” v. “The World” is an arbitrary construct that doesn’t make sense any more.)

    –More willing to accept differences, fewer demands for conformity, especially regarding biological differences like sexuality.

    –Organizations should have transparency (finances)

    These are just off the top of my head. People in the 21st century have needs for purpose and direction. I see a significant number of people who aren’t looking to the LDS faith (or organized religion generally) to meet those needs. Again, I’m trying to be antagonistic.

  64. Martin James says:

    Thanks for putting your concerns out there so systematically and forthrightly. My perspective is similar to yours but not identical because while I find the “progressive” perspective meaningful, I also find it just as problematic. For example, an Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes book discusses we have yet to develop a successful way to take morality beyond the in-group/out-group perspective. Also, it is often hard for progressives (like you and me) to recognize how much of our progressive attitude came from our LDS upbringing. Our disappointment and loneliness within the culture is partly caused by the disconnect we see between certain aspects of the culture (knowledge, care, prosperity, peace) and the trend in the everyday culture (denialism, magical thinking, hypocrisy, provincial prejudice, etc.)
    It is just an uncomfortable fact that progress leads to increasing income which leads to a demographic fall which leads to problems for progressives in a democratic society. There are rational paradoxes within every knowledge tradition (free will, cognitive bias, evolutionary psychology, etc.)
    i don’t know why you are here, but I’m here and also going to church, because at least at church people in the LDS religion have a theoretical religious obligation to reconcile truth (scientific, moral and historical) with meaning. As much as it might not seem like it at some times and places, if one isn’t totally satisfied with “eat, drink and be peacefully resigned” church should be as good a place as any to find more meaning.
    To me it comes down to how central love is in your worldview. Love seems to go beyond rationality in a useful way for meaning and it is still the cornerstone of the gospel. My own view is that you felt lonely at church because people were not being honest at church. If they were more honest they would share more of the ways they see the world like you do and you would feel more empathy and solidarity with the community. Call me crazy, but I love that you keep bees, which I find some kind of Freudian longing for Deseret as it should be at its most progressive.
    May the world be your apiary, brother Josh!

  65. Clark Goble says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that the church is a hospital run by the infirmed.

    A nice little thought experiment I like to do is think what it would have been like were I to go through a portal into 1st century Palestine and having that as my “ward.” They’d be primitive people with ingrained racism and sexism. It’s the same church in key ways. It’s true. But I’d almost certainly be an outsider and alienated from these people. Could I still fellowship with them? Could I love them the way Jesus clearly did? Despite their faults, limits and primitivism?

    If I can’t in that thought experiment fellowship with them, what does that say about me?

    I don’t mean this as a criticism of anyone here. This is literally a thought experiment I do fairly regularly to check myself. That is do I view Church as a responsibility the Lord has given me to serve or do I view Church as a kind of entitlement I have to get things.

    Don’t get me wrong. We should make Church a place where all feel welcome. We should look for places to improve it. Yet I think if we start to look at Church primarily in terms of what we get rather than primarily as a place we serve, I think we’ve inverted the gospel in a dangerous way.

  66. Josh Smith says:

    This has been a constructive conversation. Angela, Thank you for organizing this. I’ve learned new things and I’ve met a fellow “progressive” in my hometown. Great day.

    Martin, I’ll take a look at the Joshua Greene book. I definitely have much to learn regarding how individuals approach memberships in groups and how that is changing in the 21st century.

    Clark, I wish I could introduce you to some of the folks now leaving. It’s not a problem with interpersonal skills. It’s not about disagreeing with people or feeling lonely. It’s about a rift between what the church teaches as good and true and beautiful and the lived experience of many. It might be a fault line. Maybe “conscientious objector” is a better description. At any rate, it’s just my anecdotal observations.

  67. Clark Goble says:

    Again Josh if you lived around 50 AD or 1855 Utah do you think that would be more or less true?

  68. Josh Smith says:

    If I traveled in time? I disbelieve the literal truth claims of the LDS faith. I’m not sure if that’s what you’re getting at. If Josh version 2016 transported back in time …

    I suppose if I stumbled upon them, maybe it would go something like this:

    Helen Mar Kimble: And then he said something about an angel with a drawn sword.

    Josh Smith: Helen, you seem like a nice girl. You need to tell your parents that you had a dream and that Jesus told you to be celibate. Trust me on this one.

    Honestly, I don’t know if I would “get along” with 19th century folks. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t believe their faith-based truth claims.

    If I grew up in that time, I wouldn’t be “me” and I have no idea what I would do.

  69. Clark Goble says:

    Well if you think Mormonism is false why on earth would you want to belong? (Earnest question – it takes a lot of time, limits one under restrictions that without truth claims have no grounding, costs a lot of money)

    But of course the point my thought experiment really gets at is that what’s fundamental to belonging to Mormonism are the truth claims not the “lived experience.” The lived experience makes no sense of the face of it if the truth claims are false.

  70. Josh Smith says:

    “The lived experience makes no sense of the face of it if the truth claims are false.”

    Right now that’s true. Which is exactly my point.

    Intellectually, I’m willing to entertain the idea that the “lived experience” of Mormonism is more than literal veracity of its truth claims. That within it is a … I don’t know. That it speaks to something true, or points to something true, even if it’s not literally true. (That’s as close as I get to spiritual.)

    There is a certain percentage of the LDS faith in that spot. The “lived experience” of Mormonism is becoming less appealing, and no matter what they do, these folks simply cannot–as in physically cannot–believe the faith’s truth claims. So they’re leaving.

    I’m probably not adding anything to this conversation at this point.

  71. Martin James says:

    This is why I recommended a saintly masochism for Josh. You know seeking pleasure from less pain is so modern and so thoroughly boring. I mean anyone can be happy that way.

  72. I don’t know whether Mormons are antimodernist, but I am a Mormon and “antimodernist” is precisely the term I’m most likely to use when describing my general views on political and social affairs. I also live in rural places, so I suppose I would easy to stereotype.

    But I’m not opposed to technological change, and I see progress as hardwired into the story of earth and clearly visible in the Biblical narrative. I’m merely temperamentally and spiritually sympathetic to the reaction of T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden on gazing into the abyss of modernist thought. For both, the experience led to midlife conversion to Christianity. They did see, accurately I think, that it was a real choice: either modernity or Christianity. They saw an antithesis.

    It’s an antithesis that Solzhenitsyn examines in depth. He discusses it briefly in his Harvard address.

    In short, I would say that the ontology and the understanding of language (and its relationship to reality) displayed by, say, Aquinas is much nearer to the truth than that of Derrida.

    This doesn’t seem to have anything to do with your treatment of the word “modernist.” I admit that I don’t see very clearly what you do mean by it.

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