Friday, April 3, 2009

The Doctrine of Exaltation, Part 2: Why This Doctrine Will Come Up in Future Public Discussion

(For the preceding post in this series, see link at end of this post.)

This series, "The Doctrine of Exaltation," concerns the distinctly LDS doctrine that, under the right circumstances, in the next life, righteous men and women may become gods. As I promised at the end of Part 1, today I shall consider why I think the doctrine of exaltation will come up with increasing frequency in future public discussions of the LDS faith. This has important practical implications: Latter-day Saints need to thoughtfully consider how they shall discuss this doctrine with their neighbors (a matter that I shall consider further in a future post).

As I see it, there are several reasons why the doctrine of exaltation will likely come up more frequently in public and private discussions of the LDS faith in the future:
  • the growth of the LDS Church

  • the growth of opposition to the LDS Church

  • the rise of the Internet

I consider each of these below.

The Growth of the LDS Church

The growth of the LDS Church has been nothing short of phenomenal. When I was baptized as a college sophomore in the Fall of 1975, the Church had about 4 million members worldwide--a smaller population than my home town (NYC), by a large margin--and I was regularly mocked about our ambitions to grow throughout the world. Today, the Church has over 13.5 million members, and is rapidly growing. With this growth, it is only natural that more people would know someone who is LDS, and that they would be curious about LDS beliefs.

One can estimate the degree of interest in and curiosity about the LDS Church, in a rough and indirect way, by looking at the degree to which there are depictions of Latter-day Saints in popular culture. I do not recall a single mention of the LDS church on the television comedies and dramas that I watched, the movies that I viewed, or the plays that I saw on Broadway, during the years when I was growing up in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s. However, during the 1990s and subsequently, Latter-day Saints and their faith were portrayed--albeit in a highly distorted, often insulting manner--on such television shows as Frasier (in the episode "The Zoo Story"), South Park (in the episodes "Probably" and "All About the Mormons?", the latter pictured above), the series House (where an LDS character is a regular), and of course the series Big Love (which I have discussed in a previous post), as well as on the stage in Angels in America (Parts I and II). The public does not get us, yet, but they do know that we exist, in a way that they did not, only a generation ago--and they are curious about us.

With a net LDS growth rate of about 5% or more annually, more and more people are going to know some Latter-day Saint, and hence more people will be curious about our beliefs. When people have questions about us, they want to know what makes us different, and few things are more distinctive about us than the doctrine of exaltation.

The Growth in Opposition to the LDS Church

Perhaps because of the growth of the LDS Church, which draws converts from the membership of other Christian churches, the opposition to the LDS Church has grown as well. Anti-Mormonism is a complex phenomenon that I hope to treat in detail in later posts on this blog. However, one aspect worth mentioning here is that one strategy of anti-Mormonism is to focus on distinctive aspects of the LDS faith in the hope of making these aspects seem "strange." The doctrine of exaltation has received a lot of attention from anti-Mormon authors over the years, and as the volume of anti-Mormon voices rises, we shall certainly hear more about this doctrine from the anti-Mormon perspective.

The Rise of the Internet

The Internet also has a role in making more frequent discussion of the doctrine of deification almost inevitable. Pre-1993 or so, those who wished to cast aspersions on the LDS Church had certain inherent limitations on the extent to which their views could be spread. Anti-Mormonism was a really narrow niche market, with narrow channels of propagation. Anti-Mormon writings were done up on typewriters and photocopied, or were published otherwise with relatively low production values, distributed through certain Christian bookstores. With these limitations, the distorted claims of the anti-Mormon community regarding the doctrine of exaltation would only reach so many people.

Enter the Internet. Now, any claim--no matter how distorted or inaccurate--can reach a large proportion of humankind, in the garb of a nicely designed website. The Internet has made it easy to propagate anti-Mormon views, and anti-Mormonism focuses on the doctrine of exaltation as a distinctly LDS doctrine.

Next: The basis for stating that the doctrine of exaltation is authentic LDS doctrine.

Previous Post in This Series

"The Doctrine of Exaltation, Part 1: Its Content and Controversy"

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