Mormon apocalypticism

Apocalypticism has become virtually synonymous with the disreputable side of religion, the stall in the religious marketplace where respectable people don’t want to be seen rummaging through the close-out racks. This is unfortunate, as you can’t understand the New Testament without reference to apocalypticism, and (to get to the point of this post) apocalypticism is an inextricable part of the inner logic of Mormonism. Apocalypticism is often understood too narrowly, even in scholarly literature, as the conviction that the world’s violent end is imminent. Apocalypse is simply the Greek word for “uncovering” or “unveiling,” so that any revelation of knowledge is at least potentially apocalyptic. Apocalypticism is usually more specifically understood, of course, as something more specific: the “unveiling of a collapsing reality” (a definition attributed to Jacques Ellul), the revelation that the current order is coming to an end. There are at least three more senses of apocalypticism that are relevant. First, writing in the style of John’s Apocalypse; second, elements of the end-time narrative elaborated within Christianity on the basis of Revelation and other apocalypses; and finally, discussion of the Last Things—establishing the Kingdom of God, the Second Coming, the Resurrection, the Millennium, and the Last Judgment—in a sense that is concrete rather than metaphorical, historical and this-worldly rather than out of time, collective rather than individual, part of the world’s future rather than a personal afterlife. It should be clear that nearly all of these are involved with basic elements of Mormon doctrine, practice, and lived experience. Aspects of apocalypticism are apparent in the following areas of Mormonism, among many others:

  • The name of the Church
  • The Tenth Article of Faith
  • The Book of Mormon (Mormon 8:26-32)
  • Modern revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 1:12 and too many other passages to list)
  • Weekly curriculum
  • Hymns, including such popular standards as “Israel, Israel God is Calling,” “Now Let Us Rejoice,” “The Spirit of God,” “Redeemer of Israel,” and, among the sacrament hymns, “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth”
  • Proselytizing and missionary service (as a necessary step prior to the Second Coming)
  • Temple marriage (and thus, with missions, two of the central life events for many Mormons, and the culmination of our temple liturgy)
  • Recent conference addresses by apostles
  • The Mormon structure of salvation history (Creation, Atonement, Apostasy – Restoration, Second Coming)
  • The Mormon origin narrative (including the First Vision, subsequent revelations, and other visitations by heavenly messengers to restore authority or doctrine)
  • Auxiliary and outreach programs (including food storage and disaster relief)
  • Public pageants, monuments, and commemorations (Hill Cumorah, Adam-ondi-Ahman)
  • Popular writing and artwork
  • Building Zion as a stated goal of the Restoration, both directly and in commemorative acts (such as pioneer treks)

There is, in other words, no non-apocalyptic form of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apocalypticism is like your skeleton: sometimes feared for its associations, often unseen because it is pervasive, but the Church can’t function without it, and attempts to remove it would be foolhardy. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that apocalypticism does not require

  • belief in the end of the world this year, this decade, or this century;
  • strict separation from the world;
  • expectation of continual decline and catastrophic collapse; or
  • black and white, us-versus-them thinking.

It is true that one can find propagators of all of these within Mormonism, but Mormon apocalypticism has always been a big tent in which paradox abounds. One will hear that the world is speeding towards its imminent demise at the same time that Church members are urged to work for the world’s renewal. The New Jerusalem will descend from above, and it will be built on Earth by human hands. Lingering in the halls of BYU Education Week or Especially for Youth, you are liable to hear end-time scenarios reminiscent of both the Social Gospel and Hal Lindsey (although Mormon apocalypticism has no rapture and no Antichrist, despite the trinity of antichrists in the Book of Mormon). As with other parts of Mormonism, once you recognize that apocalypticism is a critical structural component of Mormonism, you still have a choice in how to respond, especially if apocalypticism strikes you as embarrassing and liable to misuse. You can, if you choose, heighten the contradictions by understanding apocalypticism in only its narrowest and bleakest sense and hanging this catastrophic form of future expectation on the Church as a whole, thereby maximizing your own alienation from the Church and your fellow believers while helping to maintain your Sabbath worship as a weekly exercise in spiritual agony. Alternatively, you can recognize Mormon apocalypticism as an important plank of Mormonism that grounds the Church’s critique of society while inspiring the Church’s engagement with society in numerous positive ways. As a life of self-imposed spiritual agony seems counter-productive for everyone, I recommend embracing what can’t be changed and making something positive out of it. One can hold to an apocalyptic meliorism, respect the value of hands practiced in the operation of chainsaws the next time a hurricane passes through, and recognize the temptation to be caught up in apocalyptic speculation as a reason to stay focused on the here and now. Even if the world were to end tomorrow, I would still help my neighbor saw up the remains of his cherry tree if a tornado passes through today. Gotta keep in practice for when the big one comes, you know.

33 comments for “Mormon apocalypticism

  1. A good and important post, Jonathan, Though, reader of Luther that I am, I find myself dissenting slightly from your claim that “a life of self-imposed spiritual agony seems counter-productive for everyone.” Speaking only for myself, knowing that I am damned (as is everyone else) has been, I think, a mostly helpful spiritual perspective and aid. Perhaps it’s just a matter of what kind of agony we’re talking about? It’s quite possible, I think, that one’s willingness to help out a neighbor with the remains of their cherry tree might actually, in some ways, depend upon a consciousness of the transitory nature of all cherry trees, and everything else, for that matter.

  2. Great post Jonathan. I’d add that it’s hard if not impossible to separate out apocalypticism from eschatology. You mention this with the Ellul quote. But I think there’s a positive psychological function to eschatology in that seeing that things have an end allows us to encounter the everyday items in a new way. Effectively you get this in certain types of phenomenology, such as Heidegger’s focus on the role death can have for us. I’d touched on that both in Nibley and in Zen Koans.

    One way of putting it, especially in our secular culture, is that we tend to get so caught up in the transitory and superficial elements of the present that we can’t see them for what they are. Apocalyptiicsm, for all its problems as a broad genre, shakes us out of the everyday encounter with things. The idea there’s a hidden economy behind what is going on means we don’t see things in quite the same way anymore. Of course ideally we should see them in the right way rather than the all too common move to the paranoid and conspiratorial mindset that’s besetting far too many people today.

  3. I like how Neal A. Maxwell portrays the mature saint (in so many words) as one who can stop and smell the roses without failing to notice the new buds on the fig tree.

  4. I find this post to be deeply depressing. Since apocalypticism has absolutely nothing to do with my personal religion, evidence indicating that Mormonism and apocalypticism are inextricably intertwined brings up all kinds of issues. For example, since the end is near, then there is no need to be concerned about the earth and it’s environment. I would rather deal with contemporary problems in a real world setting. And forget about the Apocalypse. I see no value in apocalypticism.

  5. Roger, why do you think that logically follows? If a child knows their parent is dying does that mean they don’t need be concerned about them or does it mean they ought be more concerned about them?

    More significantly I think some people take apocalypticism in a romantic way where it’s not really the end but just a kind of Mad Max oriented theme park. Yes many people will die but they won’t die. I confess that is pretty disturbing. We should instead I think treat apocalyptic thinking as being prepared for our end. If you knew you were dying again would that lead to less appreciation of the world or more? That’s the heart of Nibley’s thought experiment I mentioned.

    Perhaps an other implication of Jonathan’s post is that we learn a lot about ourselves in terms of how we react to the apocalyptic message. (Not you – I think you’re more reacting like me to how many romanticize the end as a way to escape responsibility) If thinking through it makes us take up responsibility then I think the apocalyptic message has done its job. If instead we use it to flee our responsibility to a kind of cheap grace utopia then fundamentally I think we’ve revealed a certain weakness of our soul.

  6. The cherry tree at the end was evocative of the cherry trees that it is said that Wilford Woodruff said he would plant while living as if the Second Coming were to be tomorrow.

  7. Roger D., did you read the post? All the way to the end? Because it says pretty much the opposite of what you think it means. Does Joseph Smith have anything to do with your personal religion? Because apocalypticism is implicated in nearly everything he did. Around 40% of the hymns in the hymnbook touch on some aspect of apocalypticism somewhere in their texts. Belief in a physical resurrection belongs to apocalypticism. You can’t understand your own religion – or the New Testament – without acknowledging its basis in apocalytpcism. Apocalypticism is not the same thing as belief that the end is near, however. If you insist on looking at things that way, you’re choosing to be depressed. It’s your choice, but I’m puzzled why you would pick that one when there are other options available.

    John M., thanks for noticing that.

  8. Roger D.,
    Apocalypticism or an eschatological perspective can have serious environmental and pacifist components. For a Latter-day Saint, animals have souls. So does the planet. Our current social system is flawed and we yearn for a better world. I can’t envision a Mormonism without an eschatological soul.

  9. Mormonism can have an eschatologocal soul, without apocalypticism. I wish I hadn’t said “the end is near.” (But Church leaders seem to imply it quite frequently. As did Christ apostles, Parley P. Pratt, etc.) I don’t personally think that speculating about our post-death future is particularly productive. What is to be gained? To try and imply that apocalypticism is a core belief in Mormonism overstates its importance. Sure we will die, sure we will be resurrected, after that what do we need? We need to live our lives in an honorable fashion. Not because we want to be celestial, but because it’s the right thing to do. Christ message was fairly simple. Love God, love your fellow man. Speculation about the Apocalypse seems like counting the angels dancing on the head of a pin. What is to gained by apocalypticism?

  10. Great post. The world is ending. It has always been ending. The end is near. It has always been near, from the beginning. A belief in the fall, including not just the mortality and depravity of humanity, but also the fallenness of the world, seems to me to require a belief in apocalypticism, in a broad sense. It doesn’t need to come along with end-times fetishism (I like Clark’s description above of a Mad Max theme park), it’s just a recognition that our lives, our world, our righteousness, and our salvation, are balanced on the edge of a knife and the only reason that they haven’t fallen into the abyss on either side is that they are sustained by grace.

    But it’s not cheap grace, and we do have to work to build a better world here and now, even knowing that it will not last–because we don’t build it because it will last, we build it because that’s what we’re called to do. The gods battle the monsters not because they will win–the monsters will win in the end, and the gods know it. The gods battle the monsters because they’re the gods and that’s what the gods do. To despair and give up is just not what gods do. Sure, they might despair, but they despair and fight on and win some glory while they can. Mormon apocalypticism is not that different, we hope in a grace that is greater than the monsters and will beat them at the last, but in the meantime, we fight them even though we know that we can’t win, because that’s what saints do. Our better world is transitory, broken, and out of joint, but we build our better mortal, transitory world in the image of the hope of our better immortal world–even though we know that the monsters can devour it in a moment, and at any moment. To stop building a better world, planting cherry trees, relieving suffering, administering justice, caring for and bettering the world that is, is contrary to what it means to be a saint. Sure, we might despair (and how could we not?) but we don’t stop building while we can.

  11. Early Mormonism engaged in what we might call a strong apocalypticism, complete with projected dates for when the end would come or assurances that some of those listening would live to see the day. After enough of these false projections, though, our leaders now engage in what we might call a weak apocalypticism. They now just hint that the end is near through such institutional programs as the recent “hastening the work.” (We need to hasten the work because the end is near.) But these tend to turn into fads that fade quickly. When the sudden surge in missionaries through the age changes ended, and, more importantly, when it resulted in a predictable decrease in baptisms per missionary, leaders stopped referring to the program as “hastening the work.” And now they have new issues to deal with, since, from reports I’ve heard, the decrease in age for young men from 19 to 18 has produced a predictable increase in mental health and behavior problems, and many mission presidents spend much of their time “babysitting” missionaries who either aren’t ready for the challenges of mission life or would have been weeded out in the first year of college. I wonder if, in a few years, the age change for men will be reversed. I doubt we’ll see a change in the age for women, since it appears that more and better sister missionaries are now serving.

  12. Franklin (12) Women usually mature faster than males. I suspect we’ll see a reversal of the 18 age as the problems were pretty predictable even though I know there are some benefits for earlier missions. Maturity really is the biggest problem. It’s made worse by the fact many people are socially delayed and thus have a maturity a few years earlier than peers.

    The tie of missionary work to apocalyptism is an interesting point though. I remember when I was young and the Church hadn’t been truly international long how the missionaries would show filmstrips (hello late 70s) about how sending missionaries into all the world was tied to these prophecies. Now that we’re used to them we don’t emphasize that in quite the same way.

    JKC (11) The earliest creation accounts have God in the midsts of always existing material – the waters of chaos. Creation is not creating out of nothing but holding back the waters of chaos through organization. (Levenson’s Creation and the Persistence of Evil is a must read book on this although he’s Jewish not Mormon but what he outlines as earlier Judaism will sound very familiar to Mormons) When combined with apocalypticism we end up with the idea of destruction always almost happening but God organizing. Of course while God often holds it back it will erupt forth at various times. Obviously historically the Babylonian exile, the Hellenistic conquest and defilement of the temple, the Roman occupation and then exile, and the German holocaust are examples of that eruption)

    Mark 13, which I mentioned earlier is quite relevant here since it’s one of the apocalyptic writings from Jesus. There we have an apocalypse likely embellished with the actual history of the first destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. However what’s interesting ignoring how the text developed is the repeated emphasis that no one knows when this will take place. (There is in verse 30 the idea that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” somewhat akin to what Franklin mentioned about strong apocalyptism even though the second coming never happened then)

    Even many of Jesus’ parables are apocalyptic such as those in Mark 4. This idea of being aware of and preparing for the end times seems a rather essential aspect of Christianity but also very wrapped up with God’s acting of creation.

  13. Franklin (12), re: decrease in missionary age. At a recent dinner meeting in connection with an area council meeting one of the general authority 70s present mentioned Church leadership being at least significantly disappointed [my word] with the developing cultural expectation that young men would go on missions at age 18 and young women at 19. He said the lowering of the permissible age was meant to accommodate those who are ready at the lower age and was not intended to establish such a cultural norm. There have been reports of young people being criticized as faithless or uncommitted if they do not plan on going as soon as they are age-eligible. That expectation is socially-driven, not policy-driven. If such a culture of judgmental expectation and the maturity, mental health and behavioral problems continue to grow, an eventual reversal would not be surprising. Years ago I went at 19 1/2 with 3 months in the Language Training Mission before arriving in the mission field and I still would summarize my mission experience as being a baby-sitter who needed one!

  14. #14 JR

    “He said the lowering of the permissible age was meant to accommodate those who are ready at the lower age and was not intended to establish such a cultural norm.”

    But how are we supposed to know this? Like the so-called SSM exclusion policy, the roll-out was absolutely abominable. This is a recipe for trouble.

  15. Communication of policy has not been done well the past few years. Not sure why that would be although clearly Pres. Monson’s health is part of it. But it’s almost as if the rollout and communication isn’t part of the policy planning when clearly it needs to be. They really are missing someone like Pres. Hinkley who understood all those issues and had the authority to ensure they were focused upon.

  16. Is the problem with local church members or general church leaders? I remember very well that the announcement lowering age for men to 18 was accompanied with statements from general church leaders that 19 was the expectation but that 18 is available where it fits.

    It was members who created the cultural expectation. Even so, general church leaders seem to have done little to correct the understanding.

  17. After reading the article, I wanted to argue with it the same way Roger did, but there were a lot of comments to read through which forced me to think.

    I think there are a lot of ways that all of the teachings about the second coming are abused. Roger pointed out one with the idea of taking care of our stewardship over our earth. A second one that bugs me is survivalism. And Clark pointed out one with his idea that people think of it as a Mad Max theme park. The idea that a lot of people will burn, while we saints sit and cheer the end of evil, is itself very evil. So people who think others will burn and are glad, they themselves will be burning. If you think it isn’t you, well, it is.

    Roger’s objection to apocolipticism is really an objection to one of the many ways end of time talk is abused by lazy, selfish people. His objection is that too often people who think Christ is coming really soon, are counting on Christ cleaning up after us. They ignore the pollution coal and oil use cause because Christ is coming and the earth will be renewed. So, they interpret “renewed” as Christ is going to fix the water and air and soil pollution, so we don’t need to got to the extra expense and hard work of cleaning up after ourselves. People act like small children, unconcerned by the mess they make of their bedroom because Mom is going to clean up after them.

    But we can never become gods by acting like small children.

    Instead we need to be more like Mom and hustle about cleaning house before our important visitor comes. Do we really want Jesus coming to the earth and not wanting to set foot on the dirty ground or breath the Utah Vally inversion. Imagine Christ hovering above the Salt Lake Temple just above the inversion layer and thinking to himself, “Ewwwwww, yuck, I can’t go down there into that crud.”

    Yes, the earth will be renewed….by us people. By our hard word and expense. Christ never said he was cleaning up after us and we are making a lot more work for ourselves in cleaning up than we need to.

    And finally, I get really frustrated with the way we as Mormons prepare. Instead of preparing our inner selves and our home to meet God, we hoard food and guns. We act as if our survival is more important than the quality of our soul. The preaching on preparedness is all about a hoard of food and not about how Christ is going to judge us. People talk about how your supply of food won’t help unless you have guns to defend it and brag about how they have stocked up on guns and amo. Then someone’s jokes about how you don’t needs to store food if you store guns and amo, because the guns will allow you to take the food of your good Mormon neighbor’s. The whole focus is too often on survival. So, just how will God judge us by what we do with all that stored food when our hungry neighbors come to us for help? Will we defend our food and water supply with the guns we stocked up on? or welcome our neighbor to share what we have? What would Jesus do?

  18. This is another area where local church members have changed a teaching from the general church leaders. The idea of a year’s supply, as taught by general church leaders, has nothing to do with a doomsday or apocalypse — it was taught simply as a matter providential living.

    It was members who created the doomsday expectation. Even so, general church leaders seem to have done little to correct the understanding.

  19. It’s regularly still taught as just be prepared for problems. When I was young the breaking of that dam up near Rickberg was the example for such preparation. When the lesson is taught in our ward it’s usually tied to unemployment or the like. But as you say that doesn’t stop those who are fixated on certain things from pushing it farther than is warranted. I think the usual term for that is Gospel Hobbyism.

  20. Our last 5th Sunday combined meeting involved the Bishop going on about Revelations and the Second Coming, as well as a section on food storage in order to prepare for the second coming. No mention whatsoever of other, more practical reasons to have food storage.

  21. Its not like planning for disasters is bad. Look at what happened after Katrina. I bet lots of people wished they had stores of water, food and the like. Our systems are far more fragile than most people imagine. It’s good to be prepared. I just kind of roll my eyes and doing it for the second coming. There’s lots of bad stuff short of that which matters.

  22. Anna, I quite agree with you (and with Roger, too) that apocalypticism can be easily abused. Since it nevertheless forms a central plank of Mormonism, though, I think the best approach is to be watchful against excess while looking for ways to make something positive out of it. Such as your thoughts on the environment: will the Lord be pleased on his return to find his servants have been wasteful and careless and have sullied his creations? It’s a pretty reasonable approach to working out a discourse for environmentalism within Mormonism rather than in opposition to it.

    But in line with your call to be adults, not children, I can’t agree with your final paragraph. The attitudes and beliefs you describe are things I have never encountered in all the wards I’ve lived, including in some deep red, gun-toting places. Perhaps there were a few people who thought like that, but they never talked like that, and the people who talked always included spiritual preparation in the discussion. I’ve never heard even the least suggestion that firearms replace food supply. There is a lunatic fringe to everything, including Mormonism. What you’re describing is a very small part of the outer fringe. Don’t mistake that for actual Mormon beliefs as taught in our curriculum, preached by the apostles, popularized by Deseret Book and the like, commemorated by monuments and reenactments, incorporated into daily lived religious practice, celebrated in our ordinances, and all the other things that suggest something is part of the inner logic of Mormonism.

  23. It seems some have misunderstood my point. Not acting like children is part of being good stewards of ouu earth, not becoming gun toting survivalists. I consider those who talk about defending their food storage with guns as the brattiest of children.

    I thought I was very clear that I believe the things I mentioned were abuses of, or perversions of proper doctrine. Of course I have never heard survivalist crap taught from the top church leadership. They don’t teach it. But people on a local level in many places do.

    And anyone who has never heard the extreme survivalists, well I envy you. I grew up in Provo and we had several of these John Bircher nut cases in the ward. They would bare their “testimony” every month and talk about crap like this, how we were all going to need guns to protect ourselves on the long walk back to Misouri. Now I live in Southern Utah and know people who are of the same mentality as Cliven Bundy (in fact, I don’t live too far from the Bundy ranch) and people here still spout this survivalist stuff in church as if it is the gospel.

    I am VERY well aware that that kind of stuff is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is why I mentioned it as an abuse of the teachings on the apocalypse.

    It bothers me that people who believe this are allowed to stand up in church and teach this stuff as if it was gospel and they do not seem to ever be corrected by the leadership. People don’t want to offend the nut cases by telling them they are preaching false doctrine. When have you ever heard a GA specifically state that guns are not recommended for food storage, or that part of storing food in case of a disaster is so we will have some to share with friends, neighbors and strangers after the hurricane, earthquake, whatever. Of course I have never seen guns on the recommended list of things to store. The church does not teach that. But it fails to teach against it, perhaps because like some here, they have never heard it in a church meeting?

  24. Anna, I believe that there are Mormons who hold those views, but I’ve lived in redder places than Provo or Southern Utah, and had neighbors who liked to open carry. None of them ever preached their views from the pulpit, even on Fast Sunday, although maybe I just got sick on the wrong days. I know the people you describe exist.

    But the mistake you are making is taking them as representative of typical Mormon belief and practice. What you wrote (“Instead of preparing our inner selves and our home to meet God, we hoard food and guns. We act as if our survival is more important than the quality of our soul. The preaching on preparedness is all about a hoard of food and not about how Christ is going to judge us”) just isn’t at all an accurate representation of Mormon belief or practice. I don’t accept your use of “we” to describe a fringe as the whole. And I have certainly heard it taught that part of the reason for food storage is to help our neighbors. I though everybody knew that, actually.

    Of course there are things about gun culture in the western U.S. or at church to discuss, maybe even things about it that are indefensible. But that critique has to be founded in reality rather than in exaggeration or overgeneralization about what Mormons teach and do.

  25. OK, Jonathan, I see the objection to my wording. I included the right wing fringe Mormons as part of “us,” and called us all “we Mormons” and you don’t want *them* associated with “us” Mormons. As if all Mormons think that way, which I agree is quite incorrect and insulting.

    In the future, I will try to remember to word things more precisely. Or maybe include the following essay on why I include nut cases I violently disagree with as “us”.

    See, from my perspective at the opposite far left end of the Mormon political spectrum, I suppose I look at most all Mormons as to the right of my position, and I still consider myself Mormon, so those nuts all the way to the right of the political spectrum are still *MY* tribe. Still “us” and “we”. I can see how you only want the orthodox considered as “we Mormons” because to imply that the nut cases are typical Mormons is an insult to the group. So, you won’t consider me Mormon either as most Mormons would be quite insulted to have me considered as Mormon.

    And, sadly, I don’t know whether to include myself among “Mormons” or decide I am a left wing nut case fringe and that it is really me that the tribe doesn’t want. See, I fear that if the right wing fringe of the church is emotionally kicked out by “us” intellectuals and disowned, then I as left wing fringe also am emotionally kicked out. (as the church has officially done to so many feminist, or gay rights supporting Mormons already) The church excommunicates the left fringe more often than it does the right fringe. So, according to that, the right fringe is much more “Mormon” than I am.

    So, as much as my right wing, Trump voting, gun toting, neighbors irritate me, I still want a church big enough to say “we Mormons” and consider them as part of “us.” I think “we” Mormons also make the mistake of making our tent too small or making a big difference between cultural beliefs or “official” correlated beliefs. Both cultural Mormon beliefs and correlated Mormon beliefs are Mormon beliefs and trying to make a clean line between them isn’t really possible. Sure, some of the cultural Mormon beliefs are a bit twisted up *in my opinion,* but in my Mormon neighbor’s opinions, I am on the road to hell for allowing a gay married couple to sleep in the same bed at my house and for thinking women should be ordained, or voting for H. They for certain see me as less “Mormon” than what they see themselves.

    By saying “we” for the mistakes “some” Mormons make, I hold all of us responsible for working to correct the errors. If I said, “those nut case people who call themselves Mormon” you would have understood one point but missed another. To say it as “them” then I make them “other” and not part of my tribe. I make them the only party responsible for correcting unChristlike attitudes. But as long as I call myself Mormon, then I need to work on all of us to make the whole Mormon tribe more Christlike. It is like if one person in my family is alcoholic, I can say “they” have a problem, or I can say we as a family have a problem and then do what I can to fix our problem. I was taught in my family counseling classes that whenever one member of the family has a problem, the whole family has a problem. It is the same for my tribe.

    We have a problem that apocoliptic teachings are abused. We enable that by not calling them out when they preach things we feel are not right, just as in a family, the nondrinkers enable the drinker.

    But I suppose it is easier to divide Mormons into righteous and unrighteous, fringe and center categories, correlated, cafeteria, and hobby categories than it is to explain with every comment I make that I want us all to be responsible for each other as if we are all the same tribe. So it should be my wording that changes, even if I have to speak a language that divides us into us and them. Ick.

  26. Anna, my intent is not to exclude, and I’m sorry for not making that clear. I do think a sketch of Mormonism’s inner logic needs to account for both John Birchers and leftists. The search for inclusive language is admirable and necessary – which is one of the reasons I don’t think your “We Mormons” formulation will work. My basic objection is still that it’s inaccurate: “Instead of preparing our inner selves and our home to meet God, we hoard food and guns….The preaching on preparedness is all about a hoard of food and not about how Christ is going to judge us” is indefensible as a statement about Mormon belief or practice simply because there is a vast amount of preaching about Christ judging us and how we should prepare ourselves. We can’t understand Mormonism if we start out with untrue statements about it. It opens the door to a bunch of pernicious consequences that we should avoid at the outset.

    My second objection is that it catastrophizes things: if we are truly hoarding food and guns instead of preparing to meet God, that seems like a case where dramatic correction is needed. We must immediately stop hoarding food and guns and start preparing to meet God instead. We must put vain material things out of our minds and focus on inner spiritual truth. And so on.

    But I don’t think it’s nearly so clear cut. Sometimes there really are ice storms, and when my yard was full of downed branches and I didn’t have an effective way to cook food, I was extremely grateful for the guys who knew how to work a chain saw and who brought over a spare gas cooker, and I was glad that they thought about material preparation, and I can’t guarantee that I would have agreed with their interpretation of the second amendment. My open-carry neighbor was a diligent home teacher. I can’t say that they weren’t preparing to meet God.

    And, finally, I think the “we” formulation ends up being exclusionary, although that was not the intent behind it. When you write “we hoard food and guns,” it sounds very much like a definition. What is a non-gun-hoarding Mormon to make of it? One option is to accept one’s alienation from Mormonism (according to the “we hoard food and guns” definition). A second possibility is to reject the definition. Another option is to request a more precise definition.

  27. This post has divided into two topics. On the topic of the age of missionaries, I see one unforeseen problem. If instead of going to college for a year or two, male missionaries go on a mission and then go to college, this makes for an uncomfortable situation at LDS Universities. Twenty-year old males hot to get married thrown in with a bunch of females just out high school, too young to think about getting married. Young women are pretty much left to fraternize with older RMs. I don’t think is a healthy situation.

    On the subject of the Apocalypse, I don’t see any point in continuing to emphasize it. To me there are much better reasons to de-emphasize it than there are for continuing to obsess over it. Certain leaders of the Church have tried to force Mormonism into the conservative Christian camp, and Mormonism doesn’t fit well. A continued emphasis on the Apocalypse seems like an overt attempt to narrow the gap between us and conservative Christianity. Not a development that I find very appealing.

  28. Roger the problem is that apocalypticism is such a key facet of scriptures that I’m not sure we can do that. The millennialist aspects of our theology are pretty pronounced. I don’t think this is a side effect of certain moves towards conservative Christianity that developed in the 20th century. If anything I think these things became less pronounced in the 20th century as it became clear the second coming wasn’t just around the corner. Elements remain of course. Discourse to the youth about being the chosen generation are still around as they were when I was young. And rumors about Jackson and the Church buying up land still are a going thing.

    Of course I’m also of the opinion that these things are functionally useful as well.

  29. I actually agree with what Anna is saying pretty much entirely. I’ve heard a lot of the same sentiments she’s complaining about, and then I went on a mission to the deep south where EVERYONE is the gun-toting “come and take them!” riotous rednecks. It was a very common point of view, and like Anna I’d say that’s focusing entirely on the wrong things. I probably would have worded it the same way, seeing it as a large cultural problem- “We as a cultural entity believe X”. Sounds to me Jonathan like you just haven’t had the same experience and so the wording strikes you as wrong, but we all generalize based on our experience and I’m really not sure its worth taking exception to.

    I’m pretty sure everyone has little culture and “x-type-of-person” things in the church that irk them. I get frustrated with bowties passing the sacrament, for example. Or when people bless “by the power” rather than “by the authority”. But there’s just way too many of these little things for church leaders to spend all their time micro-managing all of them and correcting everyone. And usually when people get micro-managed they don’t take it very well anyway and get all uppity about the church leader not also micro-managing all of THEIR pet-gospel-peeves. It gets messy very fast and this is what happens when we don’t teach raw principles and let the people govern themselves. Particularly when its blurry whether what they’re doing is, strictly speaking, wrong. Preparing for doomsday seems fine to me as long as they do not leave the other undone?

    For the record, I have once heard an apostle teach directly that food storage doesn’t mean “guns to fight off starving people”, though I don’t remember where or who.

  30. I’ve heard Elder Eyring criticize the guns for food storage before. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover many have said the same sort of thing.

  31. Aren’t we encouraged to study books like Daniel and Revelation? These are very apocalyptic. And did not Jesus say he would return when we reached the stages (technological level?) of the times of Noah? Today we have biotchnology racing to repeat what was given in the Book of Jasher for the flood: We have nano-technology that offers the hope of immortality without accountability. We have transhumanists (once a fringe group of speculators but now increasingly mainstream) who say we will soon be able to trade our bodies for something far more durable as it will be synthetic. These are interesting times and if one reads the Bible within the context of these “latter days” it all makes sense.

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