I don’t have any statistics for you, just a hunch that we now usually say “the world” where twenty or more years ago we would have said “Satan” or “the devil.” I can’t remember the last time I heard a reference to Satan in my ward, but I hear criticism of “the world” on a more-or-less weekly basis in statements such as “the world would have us turn our backs on God” or “the world wants us to ignore the prophet.” A quick (not scientific) perusal of lds.org suggests that President Faust was the last person to make frequent reference to Satan.
I suppose we might speculate as to the reasons for this change (if, indeed, there really is one). I think there is a general discomfort, for a variety of reasons, in thinking about and talking about Satan. Is that a good thing or a bad thing, I wonder?
I can see some advantages in pinning evil on “the world.” Most of us might intellectually accede to a belief in Satan, but might nonetheless not really believe that a cartoonish figure in red support hose with a trident has any real impact on our lives. The world, of course, does impact our lives. To the extent that talking about the world instead of Satan helps people realize and then avoid evil, that’s a good thing.
But I can think of disadvantages as well. The world is, after all, God’s good creation and not evil. The people in the world may be ignorant or mislead or basically good but without the gospel, but they are not evil in general. To the extent that saying “the world” when we mean “Satan” encourages people to think that the world is satanic, I suppose that is a problem.
I’ve been thinking about this usage shift for a few weeks and it seems related to one of the changes made to President Packer’s talk. Despite the firestorm over President Packer’s talk and its redaction last week, I haven’t seen any commentary on the change from
“The holders of the priesthood have authority and should employ it to cast out these influences.”
“The holders of the priesthood have that authority and should employ it to combat evil influences.”
I suppose people might interpret that change differently, but to me it suggests removal of language associated with exorcism and is perhaps related to moving away from talking about evil directly.
I suspect a shift has occurred in how many LDS think about and talk about evil.