LDS community dynamics in the U.S. (and also in certain other places in the world) have shifted greatly in the past two decades, as someone’s politics have largely overshadowed their religious identity. As our guest this episode, Stephen Carter, argues, we now likely know more about someone who identifies themselves as a political conservative (or a liberal or a progressive) than from their being a Latter-day Saint. This has led to many fascinating changes.
Among the largest of these, we are now seeing more and more church members who have been radicalized politically beginning to doubt the inspiration of the prophet and other leaders, whereas it was generally those more politically liberal who were the wrestlers with that question. Stephen also suggests that it is now political conservatism that is driving Mormonism than Mormonism as influencing members’ political leanings. And this is true not only in the LDS church but many others as well. Where can we find escape from politics these days?
Stephen argues that the current trend is toward “short-form” religions rather than traditional ones with large, sweeping, mythic arcs that suggest answers for where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going (or, at least, what is the highest form of human flourishing. Drawing on work by scholar Amanda Montell, he notes that it seems that folks leaving traditional worship spaces and communities are gravitating toward fitness groups, such as SoulCycle and CrossFit, and to internet influencers, gurus, etc, that don’t require giving ascent to a full religious/mythic worldview so much as gaining “results now.” The jolt once recognized as Spirit is now the positive feelings we gain as we note our self-improvement, and when in communities that have formed among those who “gather” in these ways, in person or online, and are not “high-cost” groups.
Tying back to the today’s politics and religion intermingling, Stephen proposes that now more than ever, we need spaces and community ties that are free from political cultishness and that look forward to future generations and provide them. He believes religions and religious participation might need to be what saves the future by working on “hearts knit in love” and that have a sense of what the big-picture world is and true peace and joy.
Ultimately, he proposes that it is worthwhile (to us and to the future) to continue to engage with others in religious spaces, even if we sometimes don’t like it at all and fail to receive spiritual uplift. It is the continuation of the religious space and community that is vital. And, of course, at each point in the conversation, LDF host Dan Wotherspoon argues that it is still very possible to experience joy and life- and people-affirming love while at church and in settings dominated by a religious worldview.
Please enjoy this fascinating tour through several topics woven together masterfully! And don’t let the argument for “Why We Should Attend Church Even If We Might Not Like It” scare you off!
“Do You Doubt Deeply Enough?” Sunstone Podcast, August 17, 2021
Amanda Montell, Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism (Harper Wave, 2021)
“A Loving Community,” LDF Virtual Fireside, October 21st and/or 24th (pick one)
Retreat: “Spiritual Surviving/Thriving as a Latter-day Saint,” December 3 – 5, 2021
Dan, Dinner, and Birdtalker, Concert October 26, 2021
Latter-day Lunches, Every Monday from noon to 1:30 Mountain. Stop by for as much of it as you can!