Pew Mormon Retention

I wanted to touch on one more thing in the recent Pew data. Retention. Now the 2007 Pew survey  found that Mormons had a retention rate for those raised Mormon of 70% with 15% converting to an other religion and 14% going to the Nones. The recent Pew survey found that the rate was 64%. How much of this is due to sampling (Mormons made up only 1.6% of the sample and thus were around 500 people) and how much is an actual retention drop isn’t clear. The rate joining the Nones is higher too rising from 14% to 21%.

The Mormon retention rate roughly matches Evangelicalism (where they mean still self-identifying as Evangelical and not a switch to an other Christian group). Black protestants are higher at 70%. Non-Christian groups had the highest retention with Jews at 75%, Muslims at 77% and Hindus at 80%. All those groups primarily lose member to the Nones.

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Phenomenology of Religion

Over on a thread at T&S we had a tangent on the discussion of myth and the Book of Mormon. John Lundwall mentioned a forthcoming book on myth. I noted some parallels to early 20th century structuralist forms of myth. While he differentiated himself from that the underlying context is probably worth discussing. It touches on a lot of phenomenological topics that I discuss here a lot. I tend to be rather skeptical of phenomenology of religion due to the problems of structuralism. I’m much more sympathetic to Ricouer than Eliade. That said I also think a few of Eliade’s books should be required reading for anyone planning on going to an LDS temple. They would do far more to prepare people than the typically temple prep class taught at Church. Eliade comes out of that general phenomenology of religion movement. 

Without delving too deep into the topic I found a fantastic little introduction to the topic that goes over the issues and the main figures. It’s well worth reading and gets at the relationship to Husserl. (It doesn’t really address much the later movements such as Ricouer or Derrida’s deconstruction)

Atonement Theories Part 1

Ronan had up a couple of good posts about the substitutionary atonement theory. (Here and here) I think the key point is this:

That is the problem with the substitutionary atonement model. We moderns don’t believe in it in principle. This is why the various parables out there that try to explain the atonement are so poor.

His posts belong to my favorite class of blog post. You may not agree with it but it forces you to rethink through things. So I’ve really been thinking through my suppositions in all this the past few week. As such it’s been amazingly fruitful.

I think Ronan is onto something. The way we conceive of the world is radically different from what it once was. Most of the underlying metaphors used by the scriptures don’t make a lot of sense to us. When we do understand it, it tends to be through a series of symbolic moves. We don’t “get it” at a gut level. The discussions fit into a kind of political world that no longer holds. Worse, the political environment where they made sense seems unarguably bad.1 We no longer think someone’s child should pay for their mistakes, for instance. We don’t think we should have slaves. And on and on. So trying to explain our relationship with God in terms of these metaphors is pretty problematic if only because it tends to require pushing a political economy to God that is inherently unjust thereby making God unjust.

The most common example of the unjust or weak view of God entailed by these theories is the typical view of atonement. Often the atonement seems created to deal with a Kafkaesque complexity of laws where mercy can’t rob justice, but justice is arbitrary and perverse. In order to cut the gordian knot of this nearly Monty Python entrapment from sin, God sends his son in such a way that all these perverse laws are satisfied. The problem is that if God is God, surely he can cut the gordian knot the simple way – much like Alexander did the real knot. The problem with these views, is that law becomes a rube goldberg machine that lost its designer under which God is as much a victim as any of Kafka’s protagonists.2

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  1. I emphasize seems. I think our assumptions about the ancient world often are wrong. Sometimes we overly romanticize the primitive world and sometimes we unduly castigate it as unredeemable brutal and unsalvageable. I think reality often is more complex than those competitive moves. Both these moves owe a lot to Hobbe’s Leviathan where the state of nature was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In reaction to Hobbes, often tied to romanticism, rose the myth of the nobel savage. Now somehow primitive people were more authentic and closer in an ethical way to nature. Both views clearly are distorting.
  2. This conception of God in a confusing mess where everything does its part actually can be seen in the climax to Time Bandits where God and the devil literally are in a confusing Monty Python mess.

Religious Equilibrium

I promise to ease up a bit on the demographics posts. Still they are quite interesting though with lots of new data coming out. Today was no exception with an interesting analysis of religious equilibrium at Five Thirty Eight. It basically looks a churn of religions (inflow and outflow) combined with birth rate information to get an idea of what the future equilibrium of religion will be. 

Now as a model this is a little problematic if only because I think the rise of the Nones demonstrates some broader social changes at play. So it’s almost certain that this equilibrium is a bit misleading. Still it shows a bit of what given current conditions is going on.

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