How Often Do Members Pray?

  Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates 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. How often do members pray? This is one of those standard questions that are in most religion surveys and many generalist surveys. Still, the problem with virtually all such surveys is that the Latter-day Saint sample is too small to derive reliable estimates from. However, the Cooperative Election Study is one of the few surveys that has both a prayer question, an affiliation question, and a large enough sample overall that even the Latter-day Saint subset is pretty big (relatively speaking, N=706). This sample was used in this piece for the Deseret News on how people who don’t go to Church much also don’t pray much.  By comparing our results with the CES’ we can be even more sure of our estimates since it’s essentially a “in the mouths of two or three surveys” situation. So what do the numbers say?  First, the questions are worded somewhat differently, and this can be important:  CES: People practice their religion in different ways. Outside of attending religious services, how often do you pray? 2023CFLDS: About how often do you pray alone?  Also, as seen below, the response options are different, and some of the categories that sort of fit together…

The Going-Back-On-The-Mission Dream

Anecdotally, a common recurring dream among members (and a lot of ex-members) is the classic “return-to-the-mission,” where somebody is called to be a missionary again in middle age.  Dream interpretation can be irresistible to conjecture about, but any particular interpretation is ultimately non-falsifiable. While it makes sense that that particular dream is manifesting some Freudian, deep-seated anxiety our current psychometric tools are way too blunt to test anything. It’s so widespread I suspect the return-to-the-mission dream means something psychologically, but I don’t know what.   In my own version, the primary feeling is one of inconvenience and anxiety. I’m in the middle of life and I’m told I have to drop everything to go back to my old field of Eastern Spain. While in my non-dream, real world mission I did in fact serve the full 24 months (not that I would be ashamed if I didn’t), in the dream the rationale is often so that I can finish a complete 2 year term that I terminated early, and I’m thrown back into the field with a bunch of 19-year olds for a few transfers. Another feeling is one of moroseness; I was super excited to leave the mission and move on with the next steps in life, and returning to the field felt like a step backward.  Makes me think about what it would be like if it was like the old days and I was companions with Bob from…

“La Voz de Jesucristo”

As mentioned previously, Edmund Richardson seems to have had a particular interest in linking indigenous Mexican peoples to the Book of Mormon narrative and “La Voz de Jesucristo” is the third example of this. For some relevant historical analysis, see the following posts:

My Atheist Conversion, Part 2: Spiritual Experiences

In part one, I talked about coming to the conclusion of deciding to both be an atheist and also remain as bishop a year or so into my time as bishop. Part of the conundrum that I was working through was how I felt about my spiritual experiences. I mentioned in my last post that I was not feeling very content with where those experiences seemed to have led me. Furthermore, my PhD education had introduced me to some basics of cognitive science as my adviser had shifted her focus to that field. I talked about this in these posts at JI from a few years back, but had felt strongly prompted to work with Ann Taves, whose work had been in religious history, but was then shifting to cognitive science and its uses in studying religion. Again, I’d felt very prompted to work with her but kind of wanted to do more standard religious history and I had no training at all in this brain science stuff.

¡Oh gente afligida!

Edmund Richardson seems to have had a particular interest in linking indigenous Mexican peoples to the Book of Mormon narrative. In many ways, however, his approach was a colonizing narrative in which the indigenous peoples were ignorant, benighted peoples in need of civilizing through the efforts of Euro-American Latter-day Saints. “¡Oh gente afligida!” is just one example of Richardson’s poetry on the subject, with “La Obra Ya Empieza” and “La Voz de Jesucristo” being two other examples. For some relevant historical analysis, see the following posts:

“Stop Crying and Get Up”

Many years ago I retreated to Rock Canyon just above the Provo temple to pray about something I was stressed out about that, in my adolescent universe, was a big screaming deal. I retired to the beautiful night-time scenery of the Utah Valley lights twinkling below in the twilight fully expecting some kind of comforting spiritual atta-boy shoulder rub, and if all responses to prayers are really just psychological wish fulfillment as some say, that is probably exactly what I would have gotten with enough time and energy.  Instead I got something along the lines of “stop crying, and get up,” and felt a clear rebuke. Not at all what I was expecting.   There is a strand of academic research that looks at what is called “God imagery,” or how we perceive and view God, whether he is, for example, a judge, or a friend, or a father figure. The answer, of course, is all of the above. One of my favorite Joseph Smith quotes is that  Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be. He can thread that needle in ways that are very difficult…

Golden Plates

Richard Lyman Bushman’s most recent book focuses on presenting a cultural history of the gold plates. I’ve reviewed Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates in the past, but Dr. Bushman did an interview that was recently published on the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk that had some interesting tidbits. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

How Many Members Support Same-Sex Sealings? Insights from the B.H. Roberts Foundation’s Current and Former Latter-day Saint Survey

Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates 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.  Polling data shows that a majority of Utahns support same-sex marriage (although, and we hope this goes without saying at this point, that does not mean that a majority of members do). Occasionally people grab onto these datum to suggest that a sea change is afoot on LGBTQ issues in the Church; some versions of this narrative imply that young people are less heteronormative, so that cohort replacement will eventually lead to the Church shifting. (Although, anecdotally, we see less of that argument now than, say, 10 years ago).  However, support for government recognitions of same-sex marriage is distinct from religious recognition of same-sex marriage. As noted in this article from the Deseret News, the number of people who attend non-heteronormative churches is quite small. While some may see LGBTQ issues as a dichotomy between allies and bigots, that neglects a lot of variation on the continuum of heteronormativity.  So as part of the 2023 Current and Former Latter-day Saint Survey we asked members what they think about religious solemnization of same-sex marriages. Ultimately, the Church being fully non-heternormative would entail same-sex marital sealings in temples. So we asked: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church)…

My Atheist Conversion, Part 1

This post got a little long so I decided to break it in two. The title is a little bit click bait as I am not an atheist, but I do want to tell a story of what I call (in my head) “my atheist conversion.” Real atheists may find this disingenuous as my atheism lasted a very short period of time (half a day), but nonetheless it had a significant impact on me and I don’t know what else to call it. The impact was in a “pro-church direction,” and allow me to explain as such an experience frames a lot of my thinking on things I’d like to share on the blog. All of us can have challenges to our beliefs and perhaps mine are a bit unusual. Back around 2010, I shared at “Mormon Scholars Testify” about dealing with getting into scholarship and getting comfortable with the unknown. As I shared in a recent post at the JI, I’ve also worked to make adjustments to faith assumptions along the way.

Joseph White Musser

Mormon Fundamentalism is a well known collective term for groups of Latter-day Saints who attempt to replicate the doctrines and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840 – 1890 era, most notably plural marriage. Less well-known, perhaps, are the figures who initially organized and developed the Fundamentalist Mormon movement, such as Joseph White Musser. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Cristina Rosetti discussed some of who Joseph Musser was and what his lasting legacies have been. What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

We’ve Become Boring

I was playing around with Google Ngram viewer, a tool that allows you to see the relative frequency of words across time in books, and came across the fact that we’re actually much less interesting in the year 2024 than we used to be. While it seems like the gentiles have this prurient preoccupation with our housewives, swingers, soaking (not a thing, for the umpteenth time), and baptisms for the dead, this probably doesn’t hold a candle to the old days when we were committing murders that Sherlock Holmes had to solve, or kidnapping the fair maidens of Britannia for our Intermountain West seraglios. We’re probably not as click-baitey as we used to be, and It’s good to keep things in perspective.

The Heart of the Matter: A Review

The Heart of the Matter, by President Russell M. Nelson, is a book to live by. It serves as a collection and presentation of his core messages as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and provides guidance for both belief and living as a member of that church.

The House of the Lord in Kirtland

The House of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio has been a major topic in the news as of late, thanks to the recent transfer of ownership between Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the very same day that the transfer was announced, the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk shared a post discussing the history of the Kirtland Temple. What follows here is a co-post to that discussion.

AI and Gospel Music, and a Public Service Announcement

Note: None of this is an April Fool’s Joke, it just happens to be the day we had a spot available in the queue. So far the three main AI use cases that have achieved liftoff are Large Language Models, text-to-image, and translation (Supposedly OpenAI has achieved text-to-video that is so good that multimillion dollar movie production investments are being cancelled. Still, for some reason Open AI has not actually released “Sora” to the public, so until we can play around with it it’s hard to know what to make of the hype).  However, text-to-music has just had its breakout moment. Previous AI-generated music was short and consisted of a series of extremely formulaic pastiches, but this latest model by Suno has achieved breakout, and AI junkies have spent the better part of this week making Viking saga songs about their cats.  Being a non-music junkie, I feel like 90% of the music content put out by stars basically sounds the same, with 10% of them being the mind worm hits that we all know. My take is that Suno is pretty good at generating the 90% in the style you want. In principle it’s not supposed to let you replicate styles based on particular musicians, but evidently it’s pretty easy to get past the safeguards.  So what does this mean vis-a-vis the Church? The people I’ve seen trying it out in Latter-day Saint land haven’t had the greatest luck…

Atonement in the Book of Mormon

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is central to our faith and also central to the message of the Book of Mormon. What exactly, however, does the Book of Mormon say about the Atonement of Jesus Christ? In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Nick Frederick discussed Atonement in the Book of Mormon. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

A “Secular” Case for the Church

A little bit more about my own story relating to developing some alternative views of the church and coming to gain a as I said testimony of what I see as an “imperfect” church. The series I’m working on at the JI gives come context for ways in which historical research has influenced me, and over time I’ve seen myself becoming increasingly different. Spiritual experiences, however, have  helped me to be okay with that, though the journey has been a struggle at times. I’ve felt a sense of calling to find ways to make my research helpful to others, but, again, that’s often seemed a little confusing how to do so. I felt this confusion much more acutely in my first months as bishop. I felt like I had a lot to sort out, but during the process I did feel like I gained a number of insights helpful to me.

The Purifying Power of Gethsemane

As we are in Easter season, it is appropriate to ponder on the life, teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ. One of the best talks given by Latter-day Saint leaders on the subject is “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”, Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony. The talk was discussed in a recent post at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to the full discussion.

Does Humanity Deserve Hell?

Scene from Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” I’m not much of a theologian. Some of this is part Joseph Smith saying that if you stared into heaven for five minutes you would know more than has ever been said on the subject, and some of it is Aquinas’ cryptic comment near the end of his life after some sort of numinous experience that all of his work was straw. It also just seems very convenient for intellectual types that God’s system lends itself to the kind of puzzles and mind games that they find interesting. But I can speak from my gut, and sometimes what makes sense intuitively is at variance with what theologians say, with a prime case of this being Julian of Eclanum’s response to Augustine (that I discuss in another post) that his conclusion that unbaptized babies are burning in hell “is beneath argument.” He doesn’t try to systematically challenge Augustine’s arguments based on shared premises or scriptures, but simply points out that the idea of ridiculous on the face of it regardless of his reasons. Similarly, another notion that never sat well with me is the idea that our default as humanity without the divinity of the atonement and God’s grace is hell, that we’re inherently so depraved that we all “deserve” to be tortured for eternity, consigned to outer darkness, or what have you. It reminds me of a famous/infamous…

Latter-day Saint AI Art Group

I’m going to take advantage of blogger privilege to announce a Facebook group I’m starting for Latter-day Saint AI artists creating gospel-themed content to coordinate, showcase their work, and collaborate. I follow a number of AI art groups on Facebook that serious artists and graphic designers frequent, and people with an artist’s training and eye, combined with AI, have the potential to produce genuinely good art at scale that makes my amateur hour pieces I sometimes drop here pale in comparison. Of course, as these are secular groups, a lot of the subject-matter revolves around superheroes and other silliness (no offense), and some of them are outright softcore porn, but the same skills and technology have the potential to revolutionize the creation of moving, gospel-oriented pieces. Because it democratizes and expedites the art production process, AI has the potential to drastically expand the variety and volume of quality gospel art. Whereas before we had the same several dozen or so scenes, themes, and styles; now, in the right hands we can produce exponentially more variation across virtually any Church history, gospel, doctrinal, or scriptural theme. In my experience as a lurker in this world, the people that have the artistic know-how to know the difference between, say, a 1970s camera style and a 1980s camera style, or what an alcoholic paint looks like, for example, are typically the ones who, combined with some promptology, can produce masterpieces. Of course, beginners…

How I taught the Proclamation on the Family

As the Sunday School president at the time (December 2021), I told the teachers in advance that I wanted them to do two things. First, I wanted them to teach the doctrine. Second, I wanted them to teach it so that whoever their students were and whatever their situation, they would feel welcome and accepted. Then as the teacher of a youth Sunday School class, this is what I said.

The White Horse Prophecy

There are a few high-profile apocalyptic prophecies in Latter-day Saint history that have pretty shaky provenances. Perhaps foremost among them is the White Horse Prophecy. This complicated document was recently discussed at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full discussion.

“A Little Hippyish”

I got M and J’s permission to share this on the blog and M read it before I published it though she made me take out the best line. :( “So are they pretty straight arrows, all good with them?” SP2 asked me when he called a little less than a year before my released to get some info on the J&M who he was thinking of asking to perform a musical number at the adult session of stake conference. He’d called to ask about their musical aptitude, but included the above question as well. To me J&M, a late 20s couple, were all good, but I felt that they didn’t really fit SP2’s definition of “straight arrow”/orthodox member and thus saying yes to that question felt a touch misleading. M (wife) had ruffled feathers from the get go, calling out people in casual settings for uncharitable speech in woke ways, her husband J has shoulder length hair and a beard, and both had given the WILDEST talks I’d ever heard in church when we had them speak after moving to the ward. M talked about how the church had been a good place for her, but had struggled since the pandemic, had lots of LGBT+ friends and those sympatric who had struggled with and left the church. M said something like, “while the church has been a good place for me, I also acknowledge those whom I love that…