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)
- 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.