World of Warcraft vs. Mormonism

Peggy Fletcher Stack, who always has something to say, included the following quote in a recent article:

“Mormonism is maturing into a robust world religion capable of sustaining a diversity of perspectives and viewpoints.”

Parts are true and untrue. I’d say Mormonism as a cultural movement is capable of handling diversity, but the LDS Church is rather more brittle. There will be considerable struggle between the two, and likely some degree of separation between them over time. More interesting to me is the claim that Mormonism is a robust world religion. Most people in the world know very little about Mormonism, and only about .2% of the global population can be claimed as “Mormon” to some degree, including baseball baptisms, lapsed members and closeted apostates. (If you factor in only active members, that percentage drops to .06%) Terms like “robust” are a matter of perspective, but I can’t help but think of LDS growth as rather anaemic when I compare it to a much younger community like World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft

  • Founded: 2004
  • Number of Members: 11.5 million+ paying subscribers
  • Number of active members: nearly 11.5 million
  • Hours per day per user: 3.5, or 25 hours per week (reference)

LDS Church

  • Founded: 1830
  • Number of Members: 13 million claimed
  • Number of active members: approx. 4 million (reference)
  • Hours per day per user: Varies. Depending on the calling, an active LDS member can spend as little as 5 hours per week (Sunday activity plus occasional midweek activity) or as many as 40+. An active LDS teenager will spend a comparable amount of time on church as a Warcraft user does on the game: 5 hours a week in seminary, 2 or three hours for a weekly youth activity, 3 hours for Sunday meetings, a few hours for Family Home Evening and family prayers, a few more hours for weekend activities and service projects, and a few more hours for personal scripture study and prayer.

I was not able to find direct stats from Blizzard Entertainment, but most sites I found analysing Warcraft usage estimate that 90% of Warcraft users play daily, and almost all of them play weekly. (If only Mormonism had that kind of activity rate.) This means that there are nearly ten million very active Warcraft players in the world. There are only around four million active Mormons. To put that in perspective, Mormonism has a global marketshare comparable to that of Puerto Rico and Lebanon. Countries like Ireland (4.5 million) and Denmark (5.5 million) have populations significantly larger than the LDS Church. With somewhere around four million actively participating members globally, Mormonism does not look robust compared to Christianity (2 billion+) or Islam (1 billion+). It’s just another subculture, one that has fewer active members than a single video game.

Christianity would have remained a subculture of Judaism had the Roman Empire not given it a marketshare boost by mandating it as the state religion. Islam would have been just another stone-worshipping folk faith had it not aggressively set out to create an empire. Hinduism, which has enjoyed some degree of state sponsorship, has done decently but never grew much beyond its own borders because it is not imperialistic in nature the way Christianity and Islam are. (source) Every religion that did not embrace imperialism and forced conversions has a very small marketshare. Nice religions finish last.

Size isn’t necessarily indicative of relevance or social impact. Jews outnumber Mormons almost five to one but are still a very tiny slice of the global population. However, the impact of Jewish people on every sphere of first world culture is immeasurable. The modern world would not be what it is without Jews. Mormons haven’t had many years to make similar contributions, and there is no cultural emphasis on scholarship and science the way there is in many schools of Jewish thought. All Mormons have invented so far are television parts and the department store. The only Mormon ever to win a Nobel Prize was an atheist. Jews, by contrast, are highly represented with Nobel honours. Politically, Mormons haven’t learned how to do much more than make a bloody great mess of things on social issues. They haven’t learned to participate in politics with a big-picture view of things that really matter, like AIDS, nuclear weapons, and the environment.

Mormons need more time to figure out exactly what they will be to the world. With the rise of the Internet the religion seems to be starting puberty, and what the religion ends up being may be drastically different from what started out as and what it is now. But I am sceptical that it will ever qualify as a “robust world religion.” I agree with Eliza Snitch’s prophecy that “small, persistent populations of Mormons will continue to exist throughout the world.” It won’t go away and will have its own way of shaping the world, but I don’t believe that Mormonism will ever be better known or understood than Zoroastrianism or Jainism.

The LDS Church is going to have to decide what it is going to do about the growing trend toward Mormon pluralism and the declining importance that the President of the Corporation of the President plays in dictating the will of God. The LDS Church will either adapt or it will shatter as the ground shifts beneath it. As Mormonism grows up, it will realise that it has a similar role to play in the world as a small European nation does. Or, for that matter, World of Warcraft. It’s going to have to be humble about that or it will lose friends and members. But no matter what the fate of the LDS Church, Mormonism in some sense will continue and survive.

18 thoughts on “World of Warcraft vs. Mormonism

  1. 1. It was the Jews who kicked the (then known as) Jesus followers out of mainstream Orthodox Judaism. The internecine squabbles are what led, in part, to the polemical character of the Book of John. The first three gospels were written while Christianity was still a sect of Judaism. Christianity split off from Judaism between 114 and 121 CE, depending on who you talk to; it didn’t become the state religion of the Roman Empire until many centuries later.

    2. Islam is not “just another stone worshipping folk faith”. It’s not cool to denigrate others’ religions, just ’cause you think they’re stupid. However jokingly you may have meant it, others’ faith shouldn’t be fodder for jokes. I presume that you don’t like people attacking you/shunning you for being an ex-Mormon. In fact, you state in your short bio that this is something you worry about. So why are you serving up what you don’t want dished out?

      • @ Molly, but that’s my point: it’s not funny.

        @ J.J., I’m curious what you see a “harsh criticism of people who piss me off” in. It’s all the rage now, to gather around and pat each other on the back and talk about how “our side”–whatever side that is–is right, and awesome, and great. It’s a lot easier to attack me than listen to what I have to say, because nobody likes someone who challenges their views. Honestly, I’m beginning to wonder why I bother.

        Commenting on this blog is certainly a pointless exercise; all I do is annoy people for failing to conform to the “right” answers. I’m beginning to wonder why I bother. I must be a masochist.

        And, yes, people are made fun of all the time for their religions. My point was merely that that’s wrong. The mere fact of something happening “all the time” doesn’t make it OK. That, and to create an historical inaccuracy. Inclusion shouldn’t be a matter of “luck”; laws, and social values, that only include people “lucky” enough to be in the majority aren’t really worth much, are they?

  2. i’d say the same to you. just had a look at your blog and you bounce back and forth between all-inclusive invitations to peaceful discussion and harsh criticism of people who piss you off.

    i didn’t read her statement on Islam as anything offensive. religions that were not lucky enough to become popular are made fun of all the time. people laugh at wiccans for using wands, and if it weren’t for the fact that there are a billion muslims, people would certainly think worshiping a meteorite was quaint or flat out stupid.

    • Oh, and one more point, J.J.–getting mad at people for daring to be different than you isn’t actually the same thing as calling people out on their failure to treat other human beings as human beings. I’m quite good at peaceful discussion; it’s impossible to actually *have* peaceful discussion with people whose only interest is “educating” people to think like them and, failing that, ridiculing them.

  3. ” …but that’s my point: it’s not funny.”

    Actually yeah, it was.

    “And, yes, people are made fun of all the time for their religions. My point was merely that that’s wrong.”

    Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, motherfucking bullshit.

    All religion, worldwide, is, at its core, substantiated on unprovable beliefs. Sometimes these beliefs are silly, harmless, quaint, and even interesting. But all too often these beliefs inspire segregation and massive social inequality at best; murder, genocide, torture, rape, and all sorts of abuse at worst. Yes these things might happen despite religion, but the war religion wages against rationality, science, and evidence-based ideas is inexcusable. Every religion is guilty of pushing an anti-science agenda on at least some front. A belief that cannot be substantiated and/or is opposed by evidence is a bad, dangerous belief. It begets other bad, reality-free beliefs, and a bad, reality-free worldview.

    It is never, ever wrong to criticise, and yes, even mock and bad belief, an unsubstantiated, and unsupportable belief.

    “it’s impossible to actually *have* peaceful discussion with people whose only interest is “educating” people to think like them and, failing that, ridiculing them.”

    You are so blinded by your religious belief and loyalty to a hierarchy that deserves nothing from you that you cannot see reality. I for one an not in the business of getting people to believe the exact same way I do. Rather, I want people to actually live in reality. I want people to care about what is true, real, provable. Far too few people actually do care about reality, and it’s destroying us. We cannot afford to allow people to stay comfortable in their religious delusions. We need to challenge those delusions and ridicule them until they go away. Those delusions are destroying our planet and every species that lives on it. While there is much room for debate, one thing is painfully obvious, religion is a bad idea based on lies, manipulations, patriarchies, and millennia of ignorance.

    We’ve the potential to be so much smarter than this. We don’t need religion anymore. We don’t need comforting lies. Let’s live in reality. It might be somewhat harsh, but it’ll be around a lot longer than any religion will. Whether we’re around to experience reality is another matter entirely.

    So yeah, CJ, I’m glad you support equal rights for gays, but it’s bigger than that. The eradication of faith is far more pressing and important. Faith, belief without evidence, is humanity’s greatest vice.

    I don’t pretend to speak for Molly or anyone else. But I will defend not only her right to criticise religion, but will also defend that it is also right to do so.

  4. @ Craig, two questions:

    1. What do you (feel you) know about my religious belief, or allegiance to any organization?

    2. Why is it OK for you to mock people for being religious, ’cause it’s wrong, but not OK for people to mock you for being gay, ’cause they think it’s wrong? I may be brain dead, but even I can see that “wrong” is, to some extent, a subjective term; the fact that others often disagree with us doesn’t mean that we are, therefore, wrong.

    • 1) I know you defend religion, believe in some version of Christianity, and that you don’t believe criticising religion is justifiable. Those are the ideas I’m speaking out against.

      2) Because of reality. I mock religion because of all the demonstrable harm it creates and perpetuates. It’s wrong to be mocked for being gay because being LGBT doesn’t harm anyone. Also it’s a totally natural occurrence.

      I am open to all sorts of disagreement about my views. When there’s actually room for interpretation. Yes, wrong/right is subjective. I freely admit that. I believe harm is wrong, and that truth is right. I believe that the pursuit of truth and reduction of harm are more important than anything else.

      Based on those two premises, I oppose religion, and will constantly criticise the religious. I don’t expect to be liked for it. I don’t care about that. I believe that all humans should care about what is real and what is true. I believe we will be better off when that is the case. I welcome disagreement, but if your argument is weak, logically fallacious, and/or unconvincing, expect me to condemn your argument.

      • One more thing. You’re a tone troll. You care more about the tone in which an argument is made more than the actual argument.

        I see no good reason to be respectful of ideas which are absolute bollocks. No one deserves the right to have their beliefs respected or treated with deference. The right to have those beliefs should be, but when a belief is bad, it should be laughed at. Uproariously. This is what you seem not to understand.

        I don’t care about civility. Because of civility we have a Catholic church which routinely covers up centuries of child rape, and yet is still granted international diplomatic status around the world. Because of civility, we’re expected not expose that the LDS church is rotten to the core and has lied about its history and covered up unethical activities for nearly 2 centuries. Because of civility, I’m supposed to smile and be friendly to bigots who take away my equal human rights on the basis that they find who I am icky and unnatural.

        Fuck civility. I only want truth.

        • The shame, Craig, is that you make some good points–but they’re lost under a heap of incivility and personal attacks. I wish I could take you seriously, but your obvious inability to let go of your anger makes it hard. In my personal experience, logic and rage seldom go hand in hand. Those who are motivated by emotion are seldom the world’s great thinkers.

          And, yes, I call people out on being uncivil. I guess it’s OK for you to call people out on things you dislike, but unacceptable to do the same. You’re a righteous defender of the truth; I’m a troll.

          Instead of leveling personal attacks, why don’t you prove that you have something to say? What was it Dostoyevsky said about personal attacks being the last bastion of the ignorant…? If you want me to take you seriously, prove to me that I should.

  5. 1) You’re mistaken. I absolutely criticize religion, and think criticizing religion is important. As I’m fond of pointing out, no one entity is above criticism, as no one entity is perfect. However divinely inspired, no religion is divine. Religion is, ultimately, a tool of social control. What I have a problem with is confusing criticizing (good) with ridiculing, and personal attacks (bad). If you can criticize without sinking to the level of ridiculing and personal attacks, you obviously don’t have anything worthwhile to say.

    I don’t defend religion; I defend diversity, and the right of individuals to live their lives as they choose, without interference. It’s not because I’m brainwashed by religion, or think religion is so great. It’s because I’m a Libertarian, and a passionate defender of personal freedom. There are plenty of religions, and religious people, that I personally think are stupid. Intellectually moribund, in fact. But I’m humble enough to realize that I can’t substitute my personal judgment for “right” and “wrong”, and that just because I think something, doesn’t mean I’m necessarily right. Plenty of people think my way of life is idiotic, but I don’t think that they should, therefore, have the right to dictate how I live my life.

    2) Harm is subjective. Many people (wrongly) believe that allowing gay marriage will cause harm. I hope to disabuse them of this notion, but screaming, yelling, and telling them how stupid they are surely won’t convince them of anything, except that it’s OK not to take me seriously.

    It’s possible to oppose religion, and still be respectful of religious people. I live with an atheist. Trust me, I know.

    • So it’s ok to criticise religion, but only if we do it your way, eh? Fascinating.

      I’ve not personally attacked anyone. If you interpret my contempt of religion and religious apologism as a personal attack, that’s your problem.

  6. It’s not really “my way”, Craig. A lot of people are advocates of treating others with respect, regardless of their viewpoints. It’s called the golden rule; I believe it’s taught to most of us in kindergarten. My atheist husband is certainly a fan.

    I was really hoping you’d take me up on my challenge and actually say something constructive, but if you’d prefer to keep pointing out my personal shortcomings, that’s OK…

  7. Somebody recently made the point that the LDS Church is a “global” religion, not a “world” religion.

    Catholicism, for instance, is a world religion. It takes one world theological paradigm, and demonstrates an incredible variation and variety in its application around the world. For instance, Catholicism in France, is quite different than in Mexico, which is different from China, which is different from… you get the picture. It is this adaptability to different cultures, this variation, as well as it’s scope that makes Catholicism a “world religion.”

    Likewise with Judaism or Islam or Buddhism.

    The LDS Church however, is a “global religion.” It enjoys a similar global geographic spread to other “world religions”, but it does not show the same variance, and the same adaptability. At least, not yet. As far as population and scope, the LDS Church holds its own with the likes of Judaism at least. But it does not have the diversity and cultural spread to claim the title “world religion.” Thus “global.”

    At least, that was the argument from the person… wish I had a link for you. It seemed like a sound enough point to me.

    • “Global” instead of “world” is probably a better distinction. At this point, the LDS Church is an American religion with international franchises. It has yet to be properly localised anywhere. (An example would be that temples in non-English speaking parts of the world view the English-language film with their own language dubbed over the tape, rather than a production featuring people from their culture speaking their native language.)

      The comparison between Catholicism works too. Catholicism has had 1700 years to work its way into local cultures very, very slowly, which allowed for the adaptations you described.

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