long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be

I'm an optimist, but I try to temper optimism with realism. As readers here know, I think it is important to revisit fundamentals regarding the Book of Mormon and Church history. In the 1980s, there was a tipping point toward intellectualism that persists to this day that is contributing to a loss of faith.

Andy Kessler wrote a great piece for the Wall St. Journal titled "The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be."
Here's the link, but there's a paywall:

Kessler starts his article with this anecdote:

Founded in 1867, the Keuffel & Esser Co. commissioned a study of the future for its 100th anniversary [in 1967]. If you’re of a certain vintage, you might have used a K&E slide rule. Their “visionary” study was a huge dud, missing completely the electronic-calculator boom that came a few years later. They shut down their slide-rule engravers in 1976. 

As Mark Twain said, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” Or was it Niels Bohr? Maybe Yogi Berra?

I bring it up because I was thinking of Rodney Stark's forecast that by 2020, there would be 23 million members of the Church, with 52 million in 2040 and 267 million in 2080. Back in the 1980s, those were the numbers we all anticipated.

[Those estimates were actually the high side of Stark's projections, but those are the numbers everyone talked about back then. His article is here: https://rsc.byu.edu/es/archived/latter-day-saint-social-life-social-research-lds-church-and-its-members/1-rise-new-world.]

To modify Kessler's quotation, "It's difficult to make accurate predictions, especially about the future."

Instead of 23 million members, of course, Church membership is around 17 million, of whom about 5 million are active. See the pie chart. Click on it for the link.

Occasionally I've written about my visits to various Church units around the world. Recently I heard about another unit in which the MLS missionaries are visiting the names on the ward list, only to find out most are not there and no one knows where they are.

That's a very common experience throughout the Church, as we all know.

An updated forecast expects about a 20-million member peak in 2045 or so, based on a 2015 study that used logistic instead of exponential growth.

The blue area shows total membership, while the red line shows the growth rate.

So far, as of 2019, that model looks spot on.

A lot of Church members are rationalizing that this is about right. They read 1 Nephi 14:12 and reason that the Church's "numbers were few" because of wickedness and abominations.

Maybe they're right.

Maybe all is well in Zion.

But maybe not.

From my perspective, it is increasingly difficult for the youth in the Church, for investigators (friends), and for less active members to develop faith because of certain modern narratives in Church history and how they relate to the Book of Mormon.

Start with the BYU/CES fantasy map inspired by M2C.

The map explicitly teaches two things:

1. The descriptions in the text do not fit any real-world setting.

2. The prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.

How many youth who grow up with this image of the Book of Mormon in their minds are going to believe it is an actual history of real people?

Already, we've seen that BYU professors, including some in the BYU Religion Department, don't believe the Book of Mormon is a real history. 50% of Millennials in the Church don't believe it is a real history.

I expect the number of members who don't believe the Book of Mormon is a real history to continue to rise. How could it not?

Especially when we have the Church History Department deliberately censoring the New York Cumorah from the record.

We have leading intellectuals in the Church pushing M2C in the hope that, by convincing people the prophets are wrong about Cumorah, they will persuade everyone that the Book of Mormon is a real history, set in Mesoamerica. They don't see the irony that by undermining faith in the prophets, M2C undermines faith in the Book of Mormon, too.

These same intellectuals are raising millions of dollars from Church members and then hiring fine young scholars to push these narratives out through social media.

The future is definitely not what it used to be.

Who knows? Maybe once the intellectuals manage to persuade everyone that the Book of Mormon is "pious fiction" the Church will grow faster than ever.

I find that unlikely, but the future is by its nature unpredictable.

Except there was that one prophet who warned that M2C would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon...

There is an alternative path.

Members of the Church can learn what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah and how those teachings are supported by plenty of evidence. They can learn how events in Church history make sense and corroborate the scriptures.

We'll discuss this a little more this week.

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