Hello all, and thanks for Jim’s warm introduction and Lyle’s and Gordon’s welcomes.
To get started, let me summarize some recent research I’ve done on current trends in the sociology of religion, and then pose some questions.
(The complete write-up is part of an essay, “Religious Experience in the Age of Digital Reproduction,” a link to which appears at my BYU faculty profile page at http://www.law2.byu.edu/Law_School/faculty_profiles/fp_frameset.htm.)
One trend in the character of religious belief in the United States is a move from transcendence to immanence, a search for spirituality and religious meaning that is much more focused on one’s own personal needs than it is on whether religion reveals “reality.” This trend has manifested itself in (at least) three ways. First, a significant number of people now describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”–that is, they care about God and spiritual matters but are a- and sometimes anti-denominational. A second manifestation, closely related to the first, is the growing phenomenon of “grocery cart religion”–that is, people who construct their own, idiosyncratic faith by assembling diverse and even inconsistent doctrines by which they live their lives. “Christian Buddhists” might be an example
A third manifestation is “cafeteria” religion–that is, believers who consider themselves active members in good standing of a denomination, but who reject one or more central doctrines or tenets of the denominations. Many Roman Catholics, for example, consider their affiliation with the Church important in their lives, and are active in their parish, but reject the Church’s teachings on birth control and abortion, or on the ordination of women to the priesthood.
A reaction to the trend towards spirituality, a-denominationalism, grocery cart and cafeteria religion, and immanence generally–or perhaps better, an opposition to them, since it predates them–is fundamentalism, understood as a religion guided by scriptural literalism and unchanging, uncompromising doctrines that reveal truth and reality, understood as “objective” in the Cartesian sense.
1. Is the trend towards spirituality evident among the membership of the LDS church? Can one discern a growing tendency among members to evaluate the church and its teachings and practices according to how they serve one’s perception of his or her personal needs, rather than whether those teachings and practices are true in the classical Cartesian sense? Or, instead, do members relate to the church pretty much as they have for the last half century?
2. Is the LDS church spiritual or fundamentalist? Does an answer depend on whether one focuses on culture, theology, membership, or leadership?
3. Can a fundamentalist church, one that insists on unchanging and uncompromising truths, and scriptural literalism, retain mass appeal in contemporary US society? Is belonging to a spiritual church worth the trouble? To what extent is the truth of the LDS church linked with what was, until recently, remarkable growth in the US and internationally?