Thomas F. O’Dea’s The Mormons (1957) is a classic text in Mormon studies. So much that the Mormon Social Science Association is currently putting together an edited volume of essays that retrospectively assess O’Dea’s analysis (see Part II) that is to come out next year in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Oâ€™Deaâ€™s book.
Sociologist O’Dea is amazingly insightful for a non-LDS, and his text is still recommended reading for social scientists who study Mormonism. In 1966, Leonard Arrington stated that O’Deaâ€™s works “offer unquestionably the best ‘outside’ view of Mormon thought and practice now available.”
But instead of reviewing his book here, I want us to engage his analysis. (See Michaelson, Dialogue, 1978, for an earlier assessment.) In particular, the last substantive chapter of his book lists ten potential sources of strain and conflict that the LDS Church could face in the then near future. I will list them below with some corresponding quotes (Iâ€™ve tried to be as representative as possible given space constraints) of Oâ€™Deaâ€™s analysis. I’ll add my own comments later.
My questions to you:
Q1 Of what he identified, which do you think have turned out to be sources of strain and conflict since 1957? Which didnâ€™t?
Q2 What did he leave off the list?
Q3 Of the sources he identified, which do you think still are sources of strain and conflict in the Church today?
Q4 Overall, how would you rate O’Dea’s list and assessments?
(1) THE MORMON ENCOUNTER WITH SECULAR THOUGHT. “Mormonism, which a hundred years ago began with such high hopes for education as a solution to the problems of mankind, finds itself today with uneasy intellectuals in Zion itself. They have followed the admonition of their prophet and sought wisdom, but the result of their quest has placed them in opposition to many of his most important doctrines.” (240)
(2) RATIONALITY VS. CHARISMA. “[T]he emphasis upon charismatic phenomena in popular Mormonism is considerable. Such an attitude offers obstacles to the beliefs and loyalties of the more rationalistic…” (242)
(3) AUTHORITY AND OBEDIENCE VS. DEMOCRACY AND INDIVIDUALISM. “In terms of church government, there has resulted a democracy of participation within the context of hierarchical organization and authoritarian operation. â€¦ [I]t remains a potential source of strain…” (243)
(4) CONSENT VS. COERCION. “Government and leadership have been a source of strain in Mormon history, as shown by the apostasy and grumbling that accompanied all Mormon efforts.” (245)
(5) PLURAL MARRIAGE AND CHANGE OF DOCTRINE. “The continuation of this proscribed tradition is a considerable embarrassment to the church and to those middle-class Mormons who desire respectability…” (249)
(6) FAMILY IDEALS VS. EQUALITY OF WOMEN. “This apparent contradiction in doctrinal emphasis [patriarchal family and equality of women and men] has been a source of strain in the past, but, since the abandonment of polygamy, it has become unimportant.” (250)
(7) PROGRESS VS. AGRARIANISM. “The carry-over of agrarianism from country to city conditions resulted in a conflict between the orientation to progress accepted by the Mormons, but hardly possible today without industry, and the preference for agriculture and agrarian ideology that has come to characterize the Mormon outlook.” (253)
(8) POLITICAL CONSERVATISM VS. SOCIAL IDEALISM. “Mormon social values play but little part in aiding the church in its confrontation with the gentile world today. The conflict between social idealism born of Mormon beliefs and political conservatism remains a real one.” (255)
(9) PATRIOTISM VS. PARTICULARISM. “The Mormon will engage in cooperative enterprises within the Church while he pursues laissez faire methods in the secular sphere. … [O]ne wonders whether or not it will divide the Mormon psyche.” (255)
(10) BELIEF VS. ENVIRONMENT. “Since many Mormons do not like to leave the Mormon region, this necessity to move is a source of dissatisfaction. … There is some indication that migration can lead to apostasy and thereby create further problems for the Church.” (257)