Today’s guest post is from Simon C.
It’s 2830! We finally made it. Mormonism has reached its 1000 year anniversary! To celebrate, church President M. David R. Nelson-McConkie-Fielding Kris Kristofferson XXIII has announced a program of celebrations and commemorations throughout the year, including a special conference which will be broadcast directly into everyone’s brain and which promises to be not just “memorable” but “unforgettable” (largely because it will be broadcast into everyone’s brain). This isn’t just historic; it’s will be “pure historic”. What can we expect from the future now that Mormonism is a whole millennium old? President M.D.R.N.M.F.K. Kristofferson XXIII explains:
“So many wonderful things are ahead. In coming days, we will see the greatest manifestations of the Savior’s power that the world has ever seen. Between now and the time He returns ‘with power and great glory’, He will bestow countless privileges, blessings and miracles upon the faithful…”
And Red Dust City on Mars will also get its 11th temple. Wow! Better take our oxygen pills.
Mormonism is a mere baby compared to many other world religions. Christianity as a whole has celebrated not one but two millennia. Judaism has been around for a few centuries more; Islam a few centuries less. As we look back across the long sweep of history, we can see how religions have grappled with sectarianism, fragmentation, reformation, and counter-reformation. They have tackled questions regarding institutional orthodoxy and orthopraxy, power struggles and the notion of authority, canonicity in their sacred texts, and the place of charismatic leaders and movements. As religions grow they have had to encounter and respond to different societies and cultures, figure out how they live when in the minority and how they live when in the majority, and how they act when they find themselves wielding political power. And above all, what do they do in the face of secularism and secular knowledge?
Mormonism is coming up to being (or has turned) 200 years old, depending on how you count. And although we have seemingly packed in a lot of history in these two centuries, it is nothing compared to the long historical processes that have played out elsewhere. What would these look like in Mormonsim if we wind the clock forward? What will Mormonism and the Church look like in 100 years’ time? 500? 1000?
After 200 years, Christianity itself was in the long process of moving from its charismatic roots to a more settled institutional model. As notions of power and authority began to coalesce around geographical centres, individual leaders, and certain texts, ideas of orthodoxy and heresy were forming as a counter to charismatic and gnostic movements. Narratives were forming. Winners and losers, saints and sinners identified. After 200 years Christianity got its first great theologian in Origen. But we are still a few decades away from the embrace of imperial might, when Christianity saw what political power could do. The great councils that attempted to create settled doctrine for the established church wouldn’t begin to happen for another century; the Reformation and Counter-Reformation for another millennium or more. And all along the way disagreement, persecution, violence, and fragmentation.
Mormonism of course won’t necessarily follow this trajectory. It wasn’t created in a vacuum. Just as Christianity inherited the historical DNA of centuries-old Judaism, so Mormonism inherited the DNA and historical legacy of millennia-old Christianity. Christianity developed in its own context and timeframe; Mormonism, as a very late branch of Christianity, could hit the ground running in many ways and continues to develop along its own (covenant) path.Mormonism may not fight some battles because those battles were already fought a long time ago; on the other hand, there are some upheavals it has gone through and will almost certainly go through in due course because many religions seem to go through the same at some point. What will they be?
- Mormonism moved from charisma to institution very quickly; it was in essence ‘institution-born’. Charisma stills plays a central role in our narrative with the idea of ‘continuous revelation’, and weirdly, charisma has surfaced once again in the form of our cult of personality surrounding the prophet. But let’s face it: ‘revelation’ in 2023 looks a lot different from revelation in 1823 or 1833 or 1843. And the cult of personality seems now to be attached to people with not much personality. What on earth is revelation in the church going to look like in 500 years’ time? How will we revere the prophet then?
- Now that we are turning 200, are we just a few years away from our first great Mormon theologian? Having more or less snubbed it for the last century or so, will the church embrace the world of the seminary and the divinity school, as early Christianity embraced Greek philosophy? Maybe in the next century we will see the Council of Salt Puddle City to finally settle on Articles of Faith II. Perhaps this will be followed in the years after by the Council of Mexico City or the Council of Lagos. And what about the Mormon Reformation of 2682?
- Our great moment of fracturing came in the 19th century. But are there more or even bigger to come in the centuries ahead? Should we anticipate the Great Mormon Schism of 2350 where the church of the global south finally splits from the church of the global north over some contested social issue? Will charismatic movements or popular movements be involved in how this all plays out?
All of this depends on the wider social, cultural and political contexts and forces at play, as the world marches on into the next few centuries. I have a hunch (just a small one) that climate change will have role to play in all this. Maybe even space exploration. Will we be seeing Inter-Galactic Seventies? Christ of course may return soon enough to put us all out of our misery. But then Christ has been knocking at the door for 2000 years now. And there’s no reason it couldn’t be another 1000 years. What will the narrative be then, I wonder…
So let’s look forward in order to look back over the longue durée of Mormon history. What do you think will happen? Whether serious, satirical or silly, all predictions are welcome!
Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay
Simon, love it!
I think we’ve entered an age in which all religions will have to throw out their playbooks if they haven’t already. If the invention of the printing press was a grenade tossed into St. Peter’s Square, the internet is a hydrogen bomb. Any institution whose business model depends on informational insularity is in trouble. It was interesting watching tech companies like Microsoft pay for their short-sightedness as they first ignored the burgeoning web, and then thrive as they learned to ride the wave. Our church was very slow to react to this new world, and it’s still trying to figure out how to stuff its old wine into new bottles. Whether it survives as a major world religion into 2830 or withers into an irrelevant fringe oddity may well depend on how well it turns this corner.
There will be a schism in the Church, but it won’t take 1,000 years. It is beginning right now.
There will be a group who returns to the essence of Mormon culture. A group of people who care about each other enough to be with each other. They will return to regular ward activities that involve being together as friends. They will enjoy wholesome recreation and service in which they act together as one United group.
And then there will be those who operate as individuals. Those who watch zoom church alone in the basement. Those whose only “social” activities consist of playing violent video games online and sharing links of Dua Lipa videos with someone they met briefly at 7-Eleven.
For these two schools of thought cannot coexist as one body. Each person will be faced with the choice: join together with the society of Mormons, or disappear alone into the world of online separateness.
Cool post. I frequently think about the next ten or twenty years of Mormonism—how many more of my friends and family will leave, what will change when DHO dies, when are they gonna see the light on sexual diversity, etc—but thinking 1,000 years ahead is an interesting challenge.
With the continued warming of the planet and the gestation of A.I., there are changes coming that we likely can’t anticipate or even fathom. Right now it’s debatable whether God exists, but with the advent of AI we very well might create some sort of god in the near future. Advertising and streaming algorithms already know our thoughts and desires based on our browsing history. Imagine if a sentient AI decides to reward or punish us based on some arbitrary standard of righteousness.
I agree with the OP that the biggest hurdle all religions face right now is secularism propagated by the Internet. It’s increasingly easy to see the skeletons in the church’s closet as well as the ossification of its ability to adapt. To me, the calculus is easy: The world receives revelation faster than the church and the difference in momentum is increasingly exponentially. Without some sort of big shakeup (emeritus apostles, for example), this is unlikely to reverse. The church is headed full steam for deepening obscurity.
JCS – that sounds like a split before extroverts and introverts…
The internet is a great game changer and a great test for the church. But I don’t see it’s challenges in the simple way JCS presents them.
My interactions on the internet are deeply entwined with my interactions with my ward, family, friends and community. It isn’t a choice of in person or internet for me. I do both.
Zoom has widened my world. I attend regular meetings of various kinds with people that live so far away we could never meet more than a time or two in person. Of course I have participated in friendships by phone all my life. But text widens and changes that for me as well.
In addition to all the many incredible real friendships I have through technology, I also attend and enjoy church meetings (I miss 3 hour church a bit). But I have found technology a valuable way to interact with members of my ward. It’s also a great way to connect with supportive like minded members you could never meet at home.
I think the church is doing well with this part of the equation. You might observe how missionaries are trained to use FB to connect with others. You can follow our leaders and they are posting many good things themselves. There are often vibrant conversations in the comments. The church also effectively uses the internet to provide education. BYU Pathways is an amazing effective program.
Gaming can be used negatively and addictively like any other medium. It also can be used in a positive way to connect with friends and family in your community. Like anything else, it’s all in how you choose to use it.
The internet is also a great connection tool for people who are homebound for any reason. Poor health and physical limitations can make attending church much more difficult. The internet and Zoom can offer a connection to people that have no other way.
The internet does present an existential threat to the church in that correlation can no longer control the narrative. The church has been wise to become more transparent. But they haven’t managed this well. How this turns out remains to be seen.
To accommodate the easy access to information available on the internet, as a church we need to expand our faith and learn to accept others with different ideas and different stages of faith. We need to treat others with the respect their agency and personal authority deserves. We need to be more honest and open about the less faith promoting aspects of our history.
I believe we have to accept that members, investigators, and children can find out any information we wish they didn’t have access to, and eventually they will.
Instead the church is still trying to control the information and narrative by telling members not to be on the internet and not to doubt. This can only backfire.
Once I had a friend over for the missionary discussions. He asked me some questions about polygamy which I promptly answered with both negative and positive stories from my own family history. It didn’t reduce his interest in the church or change his interest in it. My friend and I had an honest relationship. I couldn’t choose not to be honest with him and remain a good friend.
But the missionaries were angry with me and the bishop called me into his office for failing to respect their priesthood authority as missionaries. He said I shouldn’t have said anything in the discussion and let the missionaries do all the talking. Which was impossible because my friend was interested in the church because we talk about religion together freely all the time. It was a basic premise of our friendship and my sharing of the gospel.
Because I remain honest with my friend I told him about that meeting and after that neither of us were comfortable with meeting with the missionaries. They destroyed their chances to teach by trying to control us instead of honestly honoring our personal authority.
The church is like those missionaries, trying to control members’ interactions, trying to control the narrative, trying to control what members allow themselves to think and talk about and do. Trying to control the internet.
Our leaders would be wise to accept the reality that they cannot control the narrative or our actions. They need to accept our personal authority and support our decisions and offer up more honesty… most of all with themselves about the effectiveness and morality of trying to control information to maintain a faith promoting narrative.
The more they admit and put forward clearly that they as leaders are fallible, and that the history of our church is full of fallible leaders and poor choices, the more members can develop a flexible faith built on reality. As it stands right now many members have a brittle faith built on faith promoting stories. The likelihood that that faith will break as they encounter new information is high. They will encounter new information and we should plan on that. This is the ongoing challenge the internet presents to the church. The future of the church depends upon overcoming this challenge.
True Mormonism will become Perennial Platonic Christianity and gnosis will be the object of all righteously hearted.
Elder Neil L Andersen spoke at BYU this week and told the students to think about the next 50 years of life, “if the Savior has not returned yet.”
Can someone follow up and get him to clarify that?
Chet, I’m sure Elder Simon B. Jonah was telling the original Christians the same thing.
“Mormonism inherited the DNA and historical legacy of millennia-old Christianity” Indeed. Too bad the Book of Mormon’s characters don’t share the DNA of native Americans. (Sorry I couldn’t help it…seeing the name “Mormon” and the abbreviation “DNA” in the same sentence is going to set me off every single time).
I’m with Robert, the printing press and the advent of mass print media threw a bomb directly in the lap of the church at the time. And not just the church, but Europe, and eventually the world as a whole.
over time it radically changed how people perceived the world, themselves, and how they relate to other people, the Reformation and the 30 Year’s War we’rent just these religious conflicts, but moreso the fabric of social relations being torn asunder and reorganized, which meant a hella lot of violence.
The advent of the internet is doing the same thing, although perhaps on a larger order of magnitude. Our social fabric is once again being ripped apart and reorganized in a chaotic fashion and government and churches are not immune.
Assuming that there will even be humans 1000 years from now (or even 200) I’m pretty sure nothing will look it does today.
IMO, the best outcome for us collectively will be some kind of collapse of civilization and a return to low scale, low technology horticultural societies. Yes, it would suck to not have instantaneous communication, and supply chains that allow us to get toilet paper at any time, but I think it beats having our brains plugged into a system that constantly bombards our consciousness with advertisements.
Salt Puddle City. Still snickering.
Or, Salt Flats City? That has a bit more dignity.
I also think that Talmage qualifies as our first theologian. He defined the Mormon definition of God as Father, Jesus as Son, and the Holy Ghost as a third member of the God Head. Before that the concept was a bit fuzzy, with BY suggestion Adam as Father and other idea that Talmage stomped out.
I love JCS’s idea of how the church could split, but I don’t see it happening. Sadly, I just don’t.
My own thoughts are that the church has to adapt to an internet world or die. It cannot keep denying the ugly parts of the history, or pretending that polygamy comes from God, but we just don’t practice it now, but will in the eternities. Too many women hate the idea of being eternally pregnant and part of a huge harem. Only we don’t use the word harem because yuck. The whole idea of eternal increase has to go. That has the additional benefit that changing that icky doctrine will allows gays to marry. And women will like the church a whole lot better. Gays will have a place, as in a real place not a “wait till you die and God will fix you whether you want to be fixed or not”. And women really really hate the “wait till you die and God will make you delighted to be one of 100 or more women in your husband’s harem and make you love being eternally pregnant.” No, I really do not even want to be changed that way. I would rather go to that other place thank you very much.
“This isn’t just historic; it’s will be ‘pure historic’.” Since no one else has mentioned this, I just have to say that I laughed out loud (but not too loudly lest I break my temple covenants, mind you) at this sentence. I assume this is a bit of snark directed at RMN’s penchant for adding “pure” in front of other adjectives that doesn’t really add any meaning (i.e., “pure truth”). That’s the way I took it anyway. In any case, I have definitely found the RMN’s superfluous usage of the word “pure” to be quite annoying, so I appreciate that someone else has picked up on this.
I also love how the prophet 1000 years from now is still promising, “In the coming days, the greatest manifestations of the Savior’s power that the world has ever seen.” Funny how each generation of Mormons is so special and better than all the previous generations. Yeah…well…after 2000 years of failed pronouncements of Christ’s imminent return, maybe we shouldn’t be taking this idea so literally. I’m no prophet, but I really don’t think that Christ is ever going to literally return in the way Mormons (and many other Christians) believe. I now “translate” (thanks Mormon apologists for allowing me to use this word in this way given your current ideas on the Book of Abraham translation) references to the 2nd Coming in terms of meeting Christ after death (everyone gets a 2nd coming with Christ in this way after death) or perhaps a second coming of Christ can possibly happen in one’s heart as they become converted to Christ’s teachings. Maybe by 2830, Mormons will stop looking for a literal 2nd coming? Probably not.
I like the prediction of having a great Mormon theologian, and then having the prophet say “We embrace all truth, and this woman (or man) has taught truth.”
I feel like in recent years I have been coming across minor Mormon theologians that have expanded my perspectives (Adam S. Miller, Elisa, Terryl and Fiona Givens, Janey, Patrick Mason, Hawkgrrl, etc….).
I like a future in which some of their ideas are embraced (since we embrace all truth) and are shared in general conference.
That could be the beginning of a new pattern where the Q15 don’t just ask God to give them revelation, but they listen to others perspectives, study it out in their minds, and then ask God if it is right. This might increase the amount of revelation they receive and help them receive revelation that is more relevant to members (more relevant than anything since 1978).
Oops, typo–“adding ‘pure’ in front of other adjectives” should have been “adding ‘pure’ as an adjective to modify certain *nouns*”
For an over-the-top example of this excessive usage of the word “pure” see https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2021/10/11nelson?lang=eng. What is the difference between “truth” and “pure truth”? Is there such thing as a truth that isn’t “pure”?
@mountainclimber- Just spit-balling here, but maybe he’s making a distinction between “pure truth” and some of the church’s “dirty truths” (e.g. polygamy, church history, sexist/racist policies, etc…” )
When President Nelson says, “I can assure you that what you will hear today and tomorrow constitutes pure truth.” The unspoken part is, “I can assure you that you won’t be hearing our dirty truths in this conference, those are only available on the internet.” 😉
This certainly takes the term latter-day saint to a whole new level.
At this point, I wonder if we will have effectively stopped death itself. What role will the divine play with no afterlife?
@aporetc1-That’s an interesting take. I hadn’t thought of that possibility. I personally had interpreted Nelson’s usage of “pure” to mean “true” or “correct”. In other words, when he says “pure doctrine” he means “true doctrine”, and when he says “pure revelation” he means “true revelation” (I think he is making a contrast with the partly true or outright false–“impure”–doctrines and revelations of “the World”). With my interpretation, “pure truth” would mean, “true truth” which is strange because the “pure” is superfluous (because what truth isn’t true?). That said, I think what he probably means by “pure truth” is that everything said in that GC is all 100% true–no one is teaching any falsehoods whatsoever. In short, I think what he is trying to say with all of these “pure” things is that everything taught at GC can be relied on to be 100% true doctrine and/or revelation. Unfortunately, the history of GC clearly demonstrates that many things taught at GC are false–because they are subsequently explicitly or implicitly (mostly by remaining silent) reversed. For example, homosexuality was taught to be a choice, and then a few years later, it was no longer taught to be a choice. One of those teachings by members of the Q15 in GC must have been false.