I’ve pretty much exhausted my energy and time on my first, philosophical response, so I’m going to keep this short. Hopefully the balance will be a bit more even tomorrow.
For now, let me leave you with a provocative suggestion . . .
Much of modern thought has been concerned about the problem of the “disenchantment of the world,” and it’s possible to say that the continued restless vitality of religion in America points to our collective longing for an enchantment that appears always on the verge of winking out of existence under modern conditions (in Europe they appear content to let it vanish).
Viewed in this context, Mormonism is remarkable for how radically it posits an enchanted world — doing, as it were, an end-run around other, less radical strategies for responding to modern disenchantment. After all, all orthodox Catholics and Protestants can say to modern men and women is: “Return to the old truths that still exist, preserved in the Church! Turn away from your false, secular assumptions and go back to the Tradition!” Even the many “new” Christian denominations in American history have usually been pretty tame and thin in their proposals to return some earlier form of worship.
But Mormonism posits something else entirely: that nearly the whole thing (indeed, if Siebach and Graham are right, all the way back to the first century; though I share Russell’s concerns in this regard) is a sham — and the age of prophesy has been restored in modern times. In other words, God is acting directly in the world right now, and He is speaking to living, breathing prophets at this very moment (roughly speaking). The world, in other words, is shot through with enchantment. Yet unlike evangelicals or Pentecostals, this enchantment is channeled (and thus moderated, tamed, and given concrete form) through an institutional structure claiming to have roots all the way back to a prior age of enchantment, as a direct link to divinity.
Leaving aside the question of whether JS’s revelations (and those of his successors) were and are true, this is a stunning accomplishment: an uncommonly potent effort at re-enchantment.