Author: Stephen C

Stephen Cranney is a Washington DC-based data scientist and Non-Resident Fellow at Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion. He has produced seven children and almost 30 peer-reviewed articles. His research interests center on fertility intentions, sexuality, and the social psychology of religion.

The Church Now Owns the Kirtland Temple

As I’m sure everybody is now aware, the Church now owns the Kirtland temple. A few drive-by-thoughts. I looked at the Community of Christ’s financials and posted about what I saw as the inevitable result of their situation (selling off additional properties, perhaps including the Kirtland temple) back in September of 2021, and that was shortly followed by a Salt Lake Tribune piece on the issue. Unbeknownst to either of us, apparently negotiations had started several months earlier in June of 2021.     I questioned whether they were going to rededicate it as a functioning temple or dedicate it as a historical site, seeing it as a sticky issue. It appears they have chosen the latter, which I think is a smart move. The fact is that the temple ceremony was not completely revealed at that point, and architecturally it was not designed as a functioning Nauvoo-era temple. In order to make it one, it would require gutting a lot of historically significant elements.   Besides the basic revisions, keeping it as a historical site and not a temple will help assure that the 19th century workmanship won’t be gutted later down the line (cough, Logan and Salt Lake, cough).   Besides, the Cleveland Temple is nearby, so I doubt there’s a geographic need for a temple in that location.   Anecdotally in the past it seems like the CoC sites were struggling with manpower, and you had to hit them…

My Religious-Themed Required Reading List, Part III

The Price We Paid, by Andrew Olsen For how legendary (in both a good and bad sense) the Willy and Martin handcart companies are in our collective consciousness, it was good to read a scholarly work on the subject.  Oxford Translation of the Bible Everybody should read a solid non-KJV translation (and one that doesn’t lean towards word-for-word literalism like the KJV). Passage by Faith. Exploring the Inspirational Art of James Christensen Maybe my tastes are kitschy and lowbrow, but I find James Christensen’s art to be some of the most straightforwardly inspiring out there.  Gospel Principles I know we don’t have a gospel principles class anymore, but when you’re raising your own kids it’s easy to just think that gospel basics will just be absorbed via osmosis. Embarrassing but fun personal anecdote, despite having been born of goodly parents and having a solid religious upbringing I somehow got to junior high without knowing that Jesus was the literal biological son of God and not just the spiritual son from Joseph and Mary; I wasn’t informed about this fact until my brother started talking about how schmaltzy the conceived-by-the-power-of-the-force Christian reference was in Star Wars, Episode I.  It’s surprising what random holes some people have in their religious education. It’s useful to literally have a list of the basics published by the Church to teach your kids to make sure nothing gets missed.   Life After Death: The Evidence, by…

My Religious-Themed Required Reading List, Part II

A Celestial Library One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you have the bandwidth to fine-tune your children’s reading and media diet on a level that would be very difficult to pull off if they were gone for half the day.  I’ve read quite a bit in my day (although I’m not currently reading as much as I used to), and whenever I come across a book that I want to make sure my children read I put it on a particular “shelf” in my Goodreads account. Below is part two (of three parts) of my list of “required reading” books that are religious themed or at least have a strong spiritual/existential message.  Columbia Sourcebook of Mormons in the United States, by Terryl Givens and Reid Neilson At the end of the day secondary analyses can only get you so far, which is why primary sources should form a core of any religious education, and this particular collection is as good as any for compiling the essential documents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in one location.  The Road, by Cormac McCarthy Again, not explicitly religious, but one of the darkest books you’ll ever read (set in post-Apocalyptic hellscape with a father and his son doing what they need to to survive) acts paradoxically as a hymn to hope and light in the darkness that could almost be described as subtly spiritual.  How Wide the Divide?…

My Religious-Themed Required Reading List, Part I

Depiction of an LDS temple/library combination. One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you have the bandwidth to fine-tune your children’s reading and media diet on a level that would be very difficult to pull off if they were gone for half the day.  I’ve read quite a bit in my day (although I’m not currently reading as much as I used to), and whenever I come across a book that I want to make sure my children read I put it on a particular “shelf” in my Goodreads account. Below is my list of “required reading” books that are religious themed or at least have a strong spiritual/existential message.  The Plague, by Albert Camus  The famous French absurdist’s landmark work is interlaced with religious and existential themes as a town struggles against a deadly plague. Unlike many secular or secular-adjacent authors, Camus is rather bold in confronting the implications of naturalistic, non-religious worldview, and my personal experience with this book was powerful enough that I actually published an article in the Journal of Camus Studies on religious symbolism in The Plague.  The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky This was the book that inspired my wife to go on her mission (in particular, Alyosha’s and the monks’ examples of dedicated holiness). It’s quite long (as Russian novels are), but (IMHO) you can get a lot of the spiritual benefit by reading certain sections. “The Grand Inquisitor” chapter is of…

The Doomsday Equation and the Second Coming

The Book of Zachariah has a prophecy about the Lord splitting the Mount of Olives in two in the last days to save Israel at the last battle. I don’t know if that is how it is going to go down, but I like the symbolism of Christ as the second Moses dividing the land to save Israel from its enemies like Moses divided the water to save Israel of old from its enemies.  The Second Coming and the nastiness preceding it is a somewhat passe topic for more intellectual types (although certainly not for the proverbial high priests in conservative small-town branches), I suspect largely because there has been a long history of crying wolf on the subject. Ever since the early Christians people believed that the Second Coming was nigh (although, if we really appreciate deep history of our species and planet and how incredibly long it is, “coming quickly” could be a relatively long time when measured against our lifespans). We certainly have not been immune to this in our own tradition, including with Joseph Smith, who I have the sense personally thought that the Second Coming was coming sooner rather than later (although others who know more can probably chapter and verse that belief in a primary source somewhere). Outside our tradition, it seems like every couple of years somebody figures out a clever, unique way to recalculate the numbers in Revelations that shows that the…

What do Members and Former Members Believe About God? Insights from the B.H. Roberts Foundation’s Current and Former Latter-day Saint Survey

A guest post from Josh Coates and Stephen Cranney This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here.  In the 2023 CFLDSS we asked the standard question about belief in God that is also asked in the General Social Survey, an omnibus survey of Americans asked just about every year that has asked a question about belief in God since the late 1980s. “Which statement comes closest to expressing what you believe about God.” I don’t believe in God I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a Higher Power of some kind  I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it The graph below has the result for our three current member samples, the two former member samples, the 2022 General Social Survey sample of respondents who are “Nones,” and indicated no religious affiliation, and the 2022 General Social Surveys sample of respondents who indicated a religious faith. (And yes, we know that there are agnostics that don’t fit into…

In Defense of Missionary Numbers

There’s a fun thing people do with Dalle where they have it create an image with a certain descriptor, then continually ask it to make it “even more X.” In this case I asked it to create a righteous-looking missionary, then asked it to be even more righteous, then even more righteous, etc. After six iterations “The image now portrays the ultimate embodiment of righteousness in a Mormon missionary, reaching a celestial level of virtue and spiritual enlightenment.” It has become fashionable to deride the use of missionary numbers, ministering metrics, or other quantitative indicators in Church work. An overemphasis on numeric indicators bothered me as much as the next missionary, and nobody can accuse me of being a “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” type member who thinks that Zion will be achieved with some second-coming-of-Mitt Romney MBA clone to whom is revealed God’s chosen seven step program for managerial success. Still, there are people who swing too far the other way, and think that if nothing but a burning testimony of the Savior was good enough for Paul it should be good enough for our missionaries.  Except it’s really not. Our missionaries are essentially late-teenagers, and as annoying as it is to admit it, it was clear in the mission that having some kind of quantitative standard that we were expected to hit did in fact lead to more proselytizing overall. Were the motives absolutely pure? No, but…

Latter-day Saint Book Review: A Life of Jesus, by Shusaku Endo

A Life of Jesus is an introduction to the life of Christ by renowned Catholic Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo, the author of Silence, a book set during the early persecutions of Christians in Japan. Much of Endo’s work revolves around the tensions of being a Catholic in a very non-Christian country, and this book was written as a guide to the life of Christ specifically for people with a Japanese religious disposition who are less receptive to harsh, jealous, father-figure Gods. 

If Everybody is a Leader No One is a Leader

“Followers of God” Anecdotally it seems that 21st century society is obsessed with “leadership.” Students are encouraged to be leaders, we are raising a generation of leaders, and leadership is considered a virtue up there with honesty and hard work. This sentiment has always struck me as being a little Ponzi-scheme-ish. Quite simply, by definition not everybody can be a leader, and emphasizing leadership not so implicitly degrades the followers, when in actuality the leaders are nothing without the followers. If anything, I think there are too many people trying to be leaders, and that aspiring to be a leader is not necessarily a virtue, with a surplus of people wanting to be leaders without a willingness to be a follower. The phrase “overproduction of elites” comes to mind (I got the term from Ross Douthat at the NY Times, but I’m not sure if it’s original to him). We have raised a generation  or two that they will all be presidents, A-list actors, public intellectuals, great civil rights leaders, and yes, General Authorities, and not with the idea that having a typical 9-5 job, family life, and secretarial calling is a fulfilling and worthy existence. As a result, we’re left with a bunch of disgruntled middle agers who didn’t “make it” because the number of slots available is drastically less than the number of people aspiring for them. (As an aside, a common critique of this point is that…

The Curious Role of the Book of Mormon Witnesses in Evangelical Debates about the Resurrection

While we Latter-day Saints have our apologists and reason-based arguments for faith and defenses against attacks on the faith, those are, by our own admission, to help create a place for faith or respond to criticisms that attack that faith, we are careful to formally base our religious epistemology in the numinous, personal spiritual experience.  In contrast, there is a line of thinking in some Christian circles that the resurrection’s eyewitness accounts are compelling enough to force any reasonable person to accept the reality of the resurrection based on sound historical evidence alone. I’ve heard these arguments a number of times from a number of sources, and while I (rather conventionally and boringly) ultimately don’t find them compelling from a historiographical point of view, they are interesting.  Where Mormonism comes into these debates is that a common skeptical rejoinder has become “well, if we are forced into believing in the resurrection because of these eyewitness accounts, what about the Book of Mormon witnesses?” And then the response often tends to devolve into distorting what the witnesses were or did, because ultimately the point is a good one. (One of the Protestants making this argument is renowned apologist William Lane Craig, and Stephen Smoot has already done a more thorough analysis of Craig’s views on the Church.) Protestants aren’t the only ones whose truth claims have eyewitnesses, and once you step outside of their theological world there are other examples of…

“In his own tongue, and in his own language”: Or, all Church leaders now speak 27 languages

“Hearing the gospel in their own tongue” A January 2024 report on advances in AI and what they mean for the Church New Unicorn-startup-on-the-block Elevens Labs has rolled out a more refined dubbing/translation service. Now one can simply upload any video under 45 minutes long and hear it in one of 27 different languages in the voice of the speaker. (Somebody should “back translate” Elder Uchtdorf speaking in German back into English to see how close it gets). Word on the street is that it is pretty accurate.  Implications for the Church:  A lot of the more esoteric debates about things in the Church like Egyptian papyrology, how Elder so-and-so’s remark might be interpreted by this or that group, and ancient Mesoamerican population growth rates were the purview of the sociocultural elite in the Church in English-speaking countries. Google Translate solved some of this, but increasingly even more popular content such as podcasts or YouTube channels from Church and Church-adjacent (or anti-Church) influencers is going to be widely available to the international Church. I suspect Church influencer culture going international will be a net bad thing, but I might be wrong. Obviously, this could make General Conference translations much, much more efficient, although if it’s still not 100% equivalent I suspect the Church will continue with traditional translation (and even if it is institutional inertia and internal incentives will probably keep the translation department there for the time being). Still,…

Pioneer Utah and Gender Inequality in Education

Back in the day, the census would record the literacy of respondents (in any language), so I used the IPUMS data (that I have used in several posts before) to access the complete censuses of pioneer Utah and look at literacy across time by gender. The complete US census data across all the years literacy was asked was big enough that it would have taken hours for my computer to crunch the numbers, so I selected Texas and Vermont (the two states on either side of Utah in terms of FIPS codes).The jump in illiteracy in 1870 is an artifact of the fact that that was the year when they began asking the question to anybody 10+ instead of 20+. As seen, Utah actually had relatively high literacy, higher than Vermont during the same time. Additionally, the gender gap in literacy was negligible, while in Vermont men were more literate, while in Texas women were more literate. Code is here.

Moral Luck and Homosexuality in the Church

Most of us have at some point checked our phone while driving. However, for a small minority of cases somebody walks in front of us and gets killed. We then (somewhat rightfully) blame the distracted driver for the death, even though most of us have inadvisedly checked our phone while driving, and it’s just the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time that led to it being much more serious than a peccadillo of checking our phone when we know we shouldn’t. This principle is known in philosophy as “moral luck.” We often blame people for things that they do not in fact have control over. In this case, we have control over checking the phone, but not in somebody being in the wrong place and the wrong time and interacting with the phone checking leading to an accident. A while ago I had a conversation with a friend where the issue came up whether we would prefer if our child was “Actually Gay”™ or “Fashionably Queer”™. (As I’ve mentioned before here, this discussion is less theoretical for me, since given what we know about fraternal birth order effect on male homosexuality, and my own family structure, I have about an even chance that at least one of my sons will be gay.) After thinking it over, I decided the former. If I had a son that was biologically gay, I’d assume that the moral…

“As the Gods”: Pre-Sapiens Hominids and God’s Plan

When it comes to human evolution or deep human history, there’s a sort of begrudging acceptance in Church culture of its possibility, or it’s used as some cudgel in a broader debate about biblical errancy or how symbolic Adam and Eve were, but very few have taken it any further and really sat down and thought through its theological implications and extensions on its own terms.  The fact is that for much if not most of our time on earth we lived alongside, and had children with, entire other species that looked like us and could have also been religious and spoken to God as well. One of the few attempts to really think through the implications of pre-Sapiens hominids is Hugh Nibley’s excellent “Before Adam” (note: saying that I think it’s excellent does not mean that I agree with everything in it), where he points out  Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God’s affection or even a right to exaltation—for our scriptures allow them such. Of course, the first question that is typically raised is how these creatures relate to our own existence. At what point did we become “as the Gods”? As Nibley points out, for large swaths of humankind’s existence we only see the most rudimentary tools and very slow technological innovation and dispersion, on the order of thousands of years. He argues that…

Bayes’ Theorem and Testimony

  Where I actually am while writing this as a Boltzmann Brain When I was younger there was a chain of thought I had regarding my testimony that hinged on Bayesian logic (although I didn’t know the term at the time).  Bayesian statistics and logic is a field that incorporates prior probabilities into current probabilities. For example, I heard (I don’t know if this is true) that most positive HIV tests are false positives, even though the false positive rate is low, say 5%. This is because, while the false positive rate is low, the chance that somebody actually has undetected HIV is quite a bit lower. Therefore, while the chance of you getting a positive HIV test when you don’t have HIV is low, the chance of you getting a positive HIV test when you don’t have HIV conditional on you already having a positive HIV test is high.   In terms of testimony. For me personally I haven’t had one huge Moroni’s promise experience, but rather a lot of accumulated ones and the occasional big one (usually when things are hitting the fan). Of course, motivated reasoning and feeling is a thing, so there is always the possibility that since I have been raised to believe that I would feel spiritual confirmations of the truth claims of the Church, then in some subconscious level I produced such confirmations.  (Of course, if that were the case my testimonial route would…

The Vatican’s Same-Sex Blessings: Latter-day Saint Translations and Lessons

Catholic priest giving a blessing to Latter-day Saint/Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o (Source: Juvenile Instructor, who got it from the WSJ) The Catholic world has been abuzz about a recent directive from the Vatican condoning blessings (but not marriages, and not liturgical blessings, kind of) of same-sex couples. The document has engendered a lot of confusion, hair splitting, and myriad interpretations by people who are much more knowledgeable about Catholic thought than I, so I will refrain from claiming to know the One True interpretation of it, but a few high-level thoughts from a Latter-day Saint perspective.  The African bishops’ very negative responses to the Vatican, in clear defiance of the Pope, is another data point (the revolt against the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion and the tensions between United Methodist Church and its African contingent over gay ordination being others) for the argument that, erstwhile conventional wisdom to the contrary, moving in a more liberal direction in regards to LGBTQ issues comes at a significant cost, especially in regards to affiliated congregations in the Global South. In the Latter-day Saint context, any move towards same-sex sealings would almost certainly be very costly in terms of Church growth in Africa, which in all likelihood will become the primary engine of Church growth this century. I’ve made this point before, but when people talk about how a certain change in Church policy would make the Church more popular, they…

Forecasting the Church for 2023: How I Did

“Future of Mormonism” per Dalle-3 It’s common for pundits to make all sorts of predictions far enough in the future that people don’t really hold them accountable if they don’t pan out, so in the spirit of accountability I thought I would revisit some predictions I made last year for the Church in 2023 and see how well I did.  The Church’s membership, on-the-books growth rate will be below 1% as reported in the April 2023 Conference.  My probability: 80% WRONG The growth rate was 1.17%. I misjudged the impact of the post-COVID bump.  There will be another scandal involving local level Church leadership and sexual abuse, either perpetrated by or confessed to the local leader.  My probability: 80% CORRECT Michael Rezendes of “Spotlight” fame has continued to write on this topic in the Latter-day Saint context. There will be a major, sex- or sexuality-related Latter-day Saint story carried by more than one major news outlet (excluding Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, and excluding sexual abuse addressed in the category above).  My probability: 70% KIND OF CORRECT This one was probably too vague to be demonstrably falsifiable or confirmable, but the Tim Ballard and Housewives of SLC sagas arguably fit into this.  There will be a significant policy change. Here “significant” means that it is addressed or referenced in more than one general conference talk.   My probability: 50% (so both CORRECT and WRONG) There have certainly been policy changes…

Why My Children Will Be Reading Jesus the Christ

  It has become popular in some circles to disparage Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage because it’s too simplistic when it comes to its gospel harmonization approach, and the scholarship is very out of date. These things may be true, but it still holds up in ways that matter. Synthesizing the devotional with the intellectual can be difficult, and I do feel like a lot of the material in the Latter-day Saint market lands either on the side of being purely devotional or primarily intellectual with a patina of devotion. This isn’t surprising, as the latter are written by people who have received training in being objective academic writers, and all of sudden they have to get into touch with their internal seminary teacher. Consequently, it feels like a lot of the more academic Latter-day Saint biblical commentary that gets published isn’t that different from standard biblical commentary, but with a few Book of Mormon references thrown in for good measure. (One relatively unknown gem of an exception I have enjoyed, at the risk of being syncopathic, is President Holland’s book on the Psalms).  Of course there is a place for both of these genres. None of this is to say that I’m opposed to reading non-devotional scholarship like Bart Ehrman or Alter. We love them; we have their books at our house. Still, before my children deconstruct scriptures I want them to read them with commentary that…

Sabbath Day Media and Touched by An Angel

I have fond memories of Sunday evenings spent watching Voyager and Deep Space Nine with the family growing up. My wife’s home was more restrictive in regards to Sabbath day media, but that paradigm has been adopted by our own home as I’m gradually realizing the benefits of being more intentional and explicitly devotional for Sunday night movie night in terms of helping set the mood of the sabbath as the day dedicated to God.  Lately we’ve been going through Touched by an Angel which is now free on Amazon Prime. TBAA can err on the side of being a little saccharine at times, but I’m willing to put up with a little syrup for media that at least takes a chance at trying to create something profound and moving even if they slightly miss, as opposed to just giving into the nihilistic cynicism that has become ubiquitous in any film that tries to be more artistic than a Marvel superhero reboot. Additionally, TBAA threaded the partisan needle in a way that is hard to pull off nowadays. It had obvious appeal to conservative Christian types, while being ecumenical enough to incorporate non-Christian religious perspectives, and having highly diverse casting and narratives back before diversity was just another parameter to adjust in pursuit of an Emmy.   I churned through the different episodes while cleaning (there are lot), and was able to select the particularly moving and profound ones for…

Are Latter-day Saints More Republican Because of Where We Live?

“Democrat Mormon” per Dalle-3 “Republican Mormon” per Dalle-3 I’ve always had this hypothesis in the back of my mind that Latter-day Saints actually aren’t as politically red as we might think, and that some of our Republican-ism is an artifact of the fact that we live in Republican areas. If Latter-day Saints all lived in, say, Manhattan they’d be liberal, if they all lived in Alabama they’d be conservative. I finally got around to running the numbers, and it looks like no, we actually are just very Republican. **Wonk start** I used the 2022 Comprehensive Election Study data to test the mediating effect of geography on the Latter-day Saint coefficient in a logit model for predicting whether somebody self-identified as a Republican. Below are the regression analyses. As seen, it barely moved the Latter-day Saint coefficient at all. Additionally, switching out Republican for Independent yields insignificant results (not shown), so we’re actually not any more likely to be Independents. So at least at this 30,000 foot view, there isn’t evidence for much of an anti-Trump, disgusted former-Republican Latter-day Saint effect. **Wonk end** So hypothesis rejected. We really are just Republican, and not just because we happen to largely live in the non-urban West. In this sample about 31% of the respondents identified as Republican when presented with the options of Republican, Democrat, Independent, and Other, whereas for Latter-day Saints it was 51%. ***Code df <- read_dta(“~/Desktop/CCES22_Common_OUTPUT_vv_topost.dta”) df$LDS<-ifelse(df$religpew==3, 1, 0) df$Republican<-ifelse(df$CC22_433a==2…

Why I Don’t Care About the Doctrine/Practice Distinction

Dalle-3 depiction of “Legalistic religion” One of those interminable discussions we members like to get into is whether a particular teaching is a “doctrine” or “practice.”  The issue behind the issue is what is changeable or not. Presumably if something is defined as core then stakes are placed in the ground and it is beyond discussion. At the same time if the “doctrine” label is used as conversation stopper for current teachings, the “practice” label is imputed to past teachings that did change, even if leaders at the time specifically said they wouldn’t change. At times it feels like it’s an attempt to have a cake and eat it too, to be able to dismiss past teachings that aren’t followed anymore, while granting privileged permanence to the current ones.  People occasionally claim there’s some system very clearly demarcating the two: if it’s presented to the Church as a sustaining vote as canon, if it has passed through the correlation committee, if it’s a revelation that says “thus saith the Lord,” if it’s in the quad, whether Joseph Smith taught it, etc., but taking a step back I’ve always gotten the sense that these are post-hoc parameters that are thrown up to try to turn the gospel into some sort of systematic, legal schematic. Besides, they beg the question of what those rules are based on, and in many cases you can find disconfirming counterexamples that checked a particular box but…

New Apostle

It’s not a terribly novel insight, but the recent calling of Elder Kearon to the Quorum of the 12 is another sign that the Church is breaking out of the relatively limited geographical Mountain West area in spirit as well as in raw numbers, and that the increased diversity of the Church is trickling upwards into the highest rungs of leadership. An adult convert from overseas was called to replace a multigenerational blue blood from pioneer leadership stock in a quorum that is increasingly made up less of multigenerational blue bloods from pioneer leadership stock. (Very pointed note: pointing out this fact is not in any way meant to disparage President Ballard). 

How Much Longer Will President Nelson Live?

President Nelson could very well become the first centenarian President of the Church. But what’s the chance of that? What about the chance of reaching 101?  For him to be the oldest General Authority of all time he would have to live to be over 106, the age that Patriarch Emeritus Eldred G. Smith reached. And of course, there is the chance that he could reach “supercentenarian” status at 110, and be the President of the Church when my grandchildren are born.  While many public life tables are “right censored” at the high end, e.g. they stop at a certain number and then just say “and above,” there is some data on year-by-year longevity at extreme ages. While the work below is not nearly as complex and sophisticated as, say, the excellent work done over at Zelephohad’s Daughters, it provides more detailed insight into a single individual.  A disclaimer: I firmly believe that President Nelson will pass on when God decides it is time for him to pass on, and I don’t mean to be macabre. Still, that is not to say that dynamics discussed here are irrelevant. God works through the natural world and natural trends.  So let’s get into it. The “Risk of dying during age X” column is taken directly from the Social Security Administration numbers linked above. I then chained the probabilities of survival from year to year to get the probability of living until age x…

Cutting Edge Latter-day Saint Research, November 2023

Phillips, Tommy M., Jennifer R. Smith, Alice C. Long, Brandan E. Wheeler, Loren D. Marks, Michael Goodman, Trevan Hatch, and Sterling K. Wall. “Family Home Evening as a Model for Promoting Family Health.” International Journal of Latest Research in Humanities and Social Science (IJLRHSS) Volume 06 – Issue 11, 2023

The Future of Religion and Partnered Sexual Satisfaction

Midjourney’s interpretation of “Married Mormon couple.” It’s uncanny how well it visually taps into stereotype. Deseret News published another piece of mine, this time about evidence that shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, religious people report more satisfying sex lives. So now for my post-game, more casual, more speculative blogosphere analysis.  First off. Yes, I did check, and no, it doesn’t look like Latter-day Saints have better or worse sex lives on average, but this isn’t surprising since there were so few of them in the sample I was using that the effect would have to have been huge for me to pick it up.  I suspect some of the finding that religious people have better sex lives is because religious people have rose-colored glasses about things in general. I’m open to the possibility that highly sex-negative, religious upbringings could affect sexual functioning, especially in women, and I would not be surprised if some future research found that certain types of early-life religiosity are associated with aorgasmia, for example (but would also not be surprised if there was no such effect; a lot of people have sexual hang-ups, not just religious people).  However, I still suspect that a conservative Church upbringing is a net positive. For every person who can’t switch into marital sexy mode after a teenagerhood of chastity lessons, there’s another one whose religious upbringing helped them avoid highly negative early life sexual experiences, where the structure and…

Latter-day Saints’ Bigger Families and Church Growth

Midjourney: Descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, in the style of Van Gogh A recent piece of mine about how many more children US Latter-day Saints are having was recently published by the Deseret News. The TLDR is that we are still having more children than the average American, but here I will take advantage of the added flexibility of blogging to derive some estimates about what that means for Church growth in the US.   How many more children are we having? It’s hard to know for sure given sample size issues, but a rough, reasonable estimate is about twice as many. However, this isn’t as much as one might think given that the US’ fertility rate has tanked and is now solidly below replacement-level (1.64 children per woman). How does this translate into growth? One way of translating TFR into generation-by-generation growth is by converting it into what’s called the Net Reproductive Rate, which takes sex ratios at birth and mortality rates into account to derive an estimate for how many daughters each woman can be expected to have.  Why daughters and women? Basically, the math is simpler if you assume women reproduce asexually, and with a little intuition you can see that the NRR is equivalent to the proportion by which a population will grow from generation to generation. If the average woman has 1.1 daughters, then the…

Temple Architectural Heritages: Mexico City

The Mexico City temple is unique architecturally in that it draws on the Mayan Revival Style. From Wikipedia “Though the name of the style refers specifically to the Maya civilization of southern Mexico and Central America, in practice, this revivalist style frequently blends Maya architectural and artistic motifs ‘playful pilferings of the architectural and decorative elements’ with those of other Mesoamerican cultures, particularly the Central Mexican Aztec architecture styling from the pre-contact period as exhibited by the Mexica and other Nahua groups. Although there were mutual influences between these original and otherwise distinct and richly varied pre-Columbian artistic traditions, the syncretism of these modern reproductions is often an ahistorical one.” Evidently Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, drew on this style, but frankly when presented with examples of Mayan Revival Style I can’t really draw much of a common thread between them (probably due to my own lack of artistic sense), so to be more direct I just asked GPT-4 to list me some examples of Mesoamerican architecture that look like the building in the picture. It just give me the greatest hits of Mesoamerican architecture in general, but still the comparisons are elucidating. The LDS temple in the image is the Mexico City Mexico Temple, and it has been mentioned that its design is influenced by ancient Mesoamerican architecture. Here are a few Mesoamerican structures that share similarities with the architectural style of the Mexico City Mexico Temple: Teotihuacan: The ancient…