Living in Post Christian World

Stephen MarshMormon 15 Comments

Greece is a wonderful country.  Athens is a great city.  In many ways it is the archetype of a polis.  At the center is a hill, at the top of the hill a temple that remains the heart of the city and the soul of Athen’s history.  The citizens take immense pride in the Parthenon and millions come each year in tribute to it.

But no one worships there.  No one has for over a thousand years.  Athena’s day is long past.  The same effect is slowly overtaking many great cathedrals in Europe.  The flood of tourists often seems to wash everything else away.

Lest anyone miss the point, Salt Lake City is less than 40% LDS.  The Tabernacle is subsumed into a tourist stop.  How long before Temple Square goes the way of the Acropolis?

We are increasingly living in a post-Christian world.  While the Christian Churches are actually gaining strength in many third world countries and (to some extent) in the ex-soviet block, first world countries more and more seem to think they have no need of God or Christ.

Religion to many is a cultural heritage, like Stonehenge or cave drawings or petroglyphs, to many it is not seen as having any meaning or place in their lives.

What are the message sof Athens and Rome, England and France, for us in our lives?  Will we, like the Anglican communions, find ourselves split in an American-centric liberal fringe and a massive core of traditionalist third world believers?  Or, will the Salt Lake Temple fade to nothing more than a tourist destination?  How do we escape the fate of other Christian fellowships in the post-Christian first world?

Discuss?  Extra points for references to Brigham Young’s comments on this point.

Comments 15

  1. #1 – Yes, the majority of those in SLC proper now are not LDS – and the percent in the entire Salt Lake valley has been dropping steadily.

    Interesting questions, Stephen. I’ll have to think about it, since my immediate reactions need some synthesizing to be coherent.

  2. My immediate response is that the Church needs to decentralize its leadership to stay connected.

    Now, there will always be one prophet and the twelve apostles. However, the calling of the new quorums of the seventy and the associated bureaucracy are a step towards trying to deal with the growth of an international church with a local leadership crisis. But we are going to have to get away from, first, the Utahcentricity, and second, the Americanocentricity of the church. That’s going to be a really painful step, and I think it will do a lot to strip away what is not the gospel from the Church’s message.

  3. Stephen, I am not sure if I know what to say to your post. I hope you don’t mind but I was really just stopping by to say hello and thanks. I was thinking of you earlier today when I was feeling more bitter than I have for a time and how a lot of people never responded to the pain that I shared with them. And I was thinking and rehearsing things and wondering if I should email somebody, which would probably open up old wounds that I think I have progressed a lot from. Then, I remembered that you were so nice and said my comments were always welcome at your blog. I’m past all that venting and don’t have a google acout. I guess I probably have a word press account but I haven’t activated it to post at other sites. Don’t worry, I don’t like posting on group blogs so I won’t make it a habit. I don’t have your email or anything so I just wanted to say “hi.” Things must be going pretty good right now as none of my family or sick or anyting and my condition is not bring me down into the depts of humility at the moment. When family is sick or in danger or my ocd makes me really worried that something bad might happen because of me, I don’t feel that I can afford to think on these bitter thoughts. Take care! I do think of you and your family. Love, Barb

  4. Post

    Barb, I’m glad you are doing well. My e-mail is and your comments are always welcome.

    My youngest has Tourette’s and both the common ADD and OCD issues that go with it. We try to focus on the positives with her, but I sympathize with you about how hard it is for you to deal with the way others deal with your condition.

    Take care and God Speed.

    aileen — most people don’t realize that LDS are a minority in Salt Lake. That is how youall got that mayor who protected the whorehouse until the news crew showed up (they had the house next door to the one my non-member brother-in-law bought … from an LDS realtor who owned the house he bought and who did not disclose the neighbors, which I would have thought significant. Anyway, the neighbor bragged about how he was never going to get shut down. Amazing the difference a news show televising your business makes when it is illegal). Lots of changes are going on in Utah, a lot.

    Hawkgrrrl — the Hellenic influence in the area is a different story. A large group, but not large enough to hit 60% 😉 My maternal grandparents were both Greek, from Asia Minor.

    Neal “the calling of the new quorums of the seventy” is starting to work the way through the cycle. There is a way to flatten leadership with quorums of 70 spinning out and interacting with the twelve as a traveling quorum that interacts with the various quorums of 70 and the first quorum of 70. You can get a leadership model that projects well and flat for over 70 million members. I think that is coming, but don’t know. Leadership is a real issue in the Church, it is a limit on growth.

    With the Church you have to choose between bringing people in and leaving them with inadequate leaders or not sharing the gospel with those who would be glad to receive it. I have no answers for that problem.

    But the post-Christian nature of much of Europe is something that really got my attention a while back and that remains something I think about. Especially as it seems to move into the United States.

    The same thing is true of the negative population growth of first world countries. If you remove immigration, England, France, Germany, Italy, etc. all have serious negative population growth, as do a number of States in the United States.

  5. Some points,

    1: Is % of population in Salt Lake really the correct measurement? After all, the Salt Lake temple is limited in size, so you’d expect that the actual number of members would be a better measurement. Has the number of Salt Lake members decreased, or have the number of non-members merely increased at a faster rate? Howabout movement to the suburbs? Does that really count as a decrease in religious faith if the faithful have just moved a few miles outside the city limits?

    2: Church membership is growing, hence you would expect the religious centers (such as temples) of Mormons to increase in numbers and attendance.

    3: America has shown itself to be quite different from Europe in religious matters. As a whole America’s birth rate is 2.1 or so, and Americans are still very religious. Some areas of America have seen a significant decrease in church attendance, but it’s nothing like Europe.

    4: America, unlike Europe (or historical Greece) has a large number of different religious sects, and as some decrease, other’s increase in numbers.

    5: Religious people have a much higher birth rate then the secular population, this is particularly true for Mormons. So it seems to me that the main concern is retention of the youth, which will ensure our continued viability as a faith.

    So while I would not say that all is well in Zion, I am not sure where this doom and gloom comes from. The gospel will continue on in it’s spread across the world, and is not going to be stopped by something as weak and pitiful as secularism.

  6. I look forward to a less amerocentric church-I’ve been waiting 30 years.somewhere i got the idea that it took Enoch 300 years to establish Zion,in which case we’re about half way through.i find it comforting to consider that i am part of a process,that my imperfections don’t ruin everything,that my children can learn from me,that the church is true in spite of our inability to perceive God’s intent.What will the church be like when the leadership is largely non caucasion?I hope i live to see it.Wonderful times,brothers and sisters.

  7. Post

    So while I would not say that all is well in Zion, I am not sure where this doom and gloom comes from.

    I hope no one got doom and gloom from this. The real question is: “what lessons should we learn from the past?”

    There are no foregone conclusions, beyond that eventually, Christ will come when all seems darkest.

  8. #5–I do think the actual number of members in Salt Lake City proper has decreased. This mostly so because young families do not find it the most advantageous place to live. It is very much an urban atmosphere with small lots and (mostly) smaller homes than one could buy for a comparable price in the suburbs. Public transportaion is really very good from many parts of the valley and getting better. However, even in the suburb where I live I will have to admit there is a higher percentage of non-members in our neighborhood than at any time since we moved here (over 45 years ago). Nevertheless there are still many more Latter-day Saints in the valley by actual numbers. Chapels seem to be springing up like weeds in the southwest part of the valley and even so it is not unheard of to have four wards in a single building. The Jordan River Temple, where my husband is an ordinance worker is usually unreasonably busy and parking is often virtually impossible. Two new temples are in construction in the south end of SL Valley and they will almost certianly “be full” right from the start. In fact when these two temples are finished we will have 8 temples within one hour of our home (four of them less than a half hour away)and all of them are/likely to be busy. Forty five years ago there was one temple (SL) and it wasn’t usually as busy as most of these temples are now on a regular basis. Post Mormon indeed?

  9. Somehow Greek mythology survived for thousands of years and was later adopted into Roman mythology (one might even hypothesize that some of it was synthesized into RC christianity). We’re at 178 years and counting. The early church (by our LDS reckoning) didn’t last long either.

  10. Err Hawkgrrrl, the IndoEuropean gods of the Greeks and Romans were pretty much the same, which is why the Greeks and Romans concluded that everyone worshiped the same gods, just by different names.

    What I was actually hoping for was to get some discussion of how John Taylor and Brigham Young both foresaw that prosperity would cause people to lose faith in things besides themselves and result in a culture that had religious flavor without the spiritual and religious commitment so important to both of them and how that is effected by and countered by the missionary work and calls to dedication that we have.

    What do we do to make religion meaningful to people who are raised without it and who see it only as a cultural artifact? How do we keep that from overtaking ourselves? How important is a focus on missionary work, which brings with it spiritual experiences and strength for both the converted and the missionary?

    How great of an opportunity is the influx vs. being a threat of cultural dilution, and is the cultural dilution a bad thing?

    Hmm, I’m trying to keep posts shorter as suggested, maybe I should have broken this one up into more than one post in order to get more to the points.

    Hope everyone is ok there in Houston now.

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