Kishkumen wrote:So, there are still a lot of Christians around, regardless of the perceived background you and I think is there or not. I would say that still lends Mormonism some cultural advantage over thetans and Xenu. But that’s my opinion, and I am not finding the arguments to the contrary on this thread very persuasive.
There are four issues, it seems to me:
1. Would a reasonable person attempting to be objective conclude that Mormonism's similarities to Christianity are greater and more significant than those between Scientology and Christianity? Almost certainly yes.
2. Do those similarities make Mormonism's narrative more plausible than Scientology's narrative? Probably in the abstract, but "plausibility" in terms of religious conversion depends on the person. For those who aren't converts, both are obviously implausible.
3. Did a Protestant Christian background make Mormonism more plausible in the past than some other background would have? Almost certainly yes.
4. Does such a background make Mormonism inherently more plausible than Scientology in 2019? Doubtful.
Talking about now and talking about our impressions of how people react to Mormonism and not about Mormonism as an abstracted system, my impression is that people react a lot more like Physics Guy than like than your ancestors. Just yesterday I was listening to a politics/culture podcast wherein Mormons were referenced as really nice people and an example of how religion provides strong social cohesion that can weather broader economic and political shifts, but the host felt the need to say "even though, oh my god, they believe some very weird ____—have you actually read what Joseph Smith wrote and the kinds of things he was seeing at 14?" A Catholic community in Chevy Chase, MD and some Dutch Reformed Church in Iowa was also discussed, but without any such editorial comment. Even Christians perceive Mormonism as deeply different.
It seems to me that, as you did while a believer, you are imagining Mormonism already as a Christian variant—most non-Mormons do not naturally do that—seeing its points of continuity with traditional Christianity, and then concluding that other people with a Christian background would more easily latch on to those points of similarity, thus increasing Mormonism's plausibility and supporting the claim that the general Christian cultural background noise makes Mormonism generally more plausible. That's certainly what the self-styled "Church of Jesus Christ" assumes—or at least hopes—and someone with a Christian background who already wants to join Mormonism for whatever reason has a lot more material to work with in Mormonism than Scientology if they want to build those connections. As an abstract system compared side-to-side, I would agree, but it doesn't seem to me that that is how people in the United States generally approach Mormonism.
I'm sure that it works that way with some people, but in my (admittedly subjective) impression, it's actually the points of difference that most strike people, especially those with a Christian background. Mormons set themselves as different, whether they want to not, simply by forbidding coffee and beer, so already that primes even sincerely curious people to react to Mormonism as a different entity from other kinds of Christianity. The fact that the Church has to amplify their Jesus-ness with name changes is indication that most people don't see that Jesus-ness; the fact that the Church wildly misunderstands the kind of Christianity most people are coming from and what little effect their cosmetic changes have on those people also tells just how differently Mormonism is perceived. And you can gauge the popular image of Mormonism relatively easily. When, for example, Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens trots out the absurdities of Mormonism to the guffaws of the audience, they use it as a mic-dropping foil: "now, tell me how the virgin birth is more logical!" In short, the otherness of Mormonism can safely be taken for granted. Scientology similarly is perceived as weird if not as a contrast to Christianity in the same way. In short, the similarities that you think make Mormonism more plausible are generally ignored by most people and exploited by some only to infect some other kind of Christianity with some of Mormonism's apparent strangeness. All I have ever heard when non-Mormons talk about Mormon beliefs as they perceive them is just how weird they are, as if it were like Scientology. I have never heard anyone say, "yeah but it's like Methodism [or what have you] in this respect or that respect." I have heard Mormonism discussed as if it were like Scientology, but I've only ever heard it discussed as similar to Christianity when a polemicist wants to make a point against Christianity.
I also think Scientology functions differently; they don't attempt sell you a plausible story. They give you that later on, after you already have gone through their self-help regimen to the point that you accept its validity and the authority of the people administering it. But when we're talking about plausibility in the abstract, we are talking about people doing Google searches out of some curiosity, not individuals who are feeling their way into a new lifestyle and a new worldview. In that latter case, it is impossible to know what makes something plausible in a general sense, and we can only talk about abstract intelligibility as a potential factor that might
make a religious narrative plausible, but there's a lot that happens before that. Individual contexts and needs ultimately determine that. In the former case, the Google searchers, I think it is hard to say that people find Mormonism any more plausible or any less weird than Mormonism, at least judging from the reactions I see in the media and in my own interactions with people who are not Mormon and don't know that I was one as a child and teenager.
If we are talking about how weird either is to people in the present day who aren't interested already in converting, then I'd say there's not much difference in the perception of the general population, at least in the observation of someone who hasn't been around Mormons for nearly 15 years.
I'm not trying to use my subjective impressions in this discussion as a club with which to hit Mormon belief or to demean the sincerity or religious feeling that believers have, and I do not think the Church is anywhere near Scientology in terms of institutional abuse of its members (although admittedly I only get what I know about that from Leah Remini and some Youtube videos of an ex-Scientology PR guy). I just don't see in my experience or in what few statistics there are examples of Christianity serving as a feeder for Mormonism. I see a lot more of what Physics Guy is saying, and I think that kind of sentiment is only amplified by a cultural environment in which Christianity and religion in general are declining as institutions and as social forces. I don't think even a lot of Christians (at least outside the south and rural areas) put that much stock in their religious myths and will admit that, say, the Virgin Birth is weird and that they think miracles are just stories. I imagine (and that is all I can do) that the only kind of Christian who fully buys into the "weirdness" in Christianity is the one least likely to join Mormonism.
Sufficiently to go from no church to millions of adherents, which is a helluva lot better that the 20,000 or so Scientologists.
The numbers I see with a Google search—must be true!—range up to 55,000, so they are doing about as well as Mormons were after 50 years but in a considerably more difficult religious environment than Mormons faced.
LOL. Hilarious. I feel as though MormonDiscussions.com must be one of the worst places to conduct anything approaching a functional discussion. Yes, I KNOW that they attack JWs and Catholics. I remember that quite well. In fact, I mentioned the JWs above as being even closer and hence more threatening to Christians than Mormons. But this really supports my point, I think. And I am sorry, but if you take the full panoply of anti-cult ministry outlets, they are spending much more time on Christian-like sects, including Mormonism, than Hinduism and Scientology.
Martin’s book is just one book. To take it as representative of all anti-cult ministry activity is classic cherry picking. I would feel rightly charged with the same had I not already acknowledged mea sponte the JW situation.
What book or other resources do you think is more representative? Cherry picking would be taking one or a few facts in support of a conclusion in the face of an overwhelming amount of other facts that undermine that conclusion. Martin's is not just one random book. It's the counter-cultist bible (uh, well, the other one). It's been in print for a four decades, endorsed by prominent evangelicals, edition after edition, for a reason. And I don't see a host of other facts undermining what I'm saying, though it is my subjective impression on this side and yours on that side. Since that's all we have, I also deduce my impression from that fact, at my local Christian bookstore anyway, there is almost nothing about Mormonism. Or Books-A-Million, obviously owned by evangelicals: you can get a lot of "Problems with Islam, written by an Anti-Cult Christian" stuff but nothing on Mormonism beyond "One Under Gods." Or even look at Barnes and Noble, where the Islam section is often spiked with that kind of stuff. Islam is a big topic of concern. You dismiss that as racism, which it might be (though that's not the word I would use myself), but that's kind of my point: their activities aren't just or even largely about perceived theological difference.
In any case, I just don't see how they are a useful metric for the views of anybody but fundamentalist or evangelical Christians, few to none of whom are converting to Mormonism anyway.
"As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."
—B. Redd McConkie