Notes from the CESNUR Conference: Iain Irving, “Modernity, Postmodernity, and Mormonism”

By June 15, 2009

Ian Irving, “Modernity, Postmodernity, and Mormonism.” Ian was present, but feeling ill, so Armand Mauss read his paper. Irving argues, in essence, that the LDS Church has modernist and postmodernist elements that keep it relevant to people of both philosophical persuasions. Don’t miss notes from Massimo Introvigne on Mormonism and Twilight in Italy, Michael Homer on Oriana Fallaci and Anti-Mormonism, and Elder Robert S. Wood.

Why has the LDS Church retained appeal through the current cultural shift? By appealing to modernist and postmodernist groups.

We must first define modernity and postmodernity. Modernity was a product of the enlightenment, moving from the pre-modern model, knowledge to be passed down through authority structures. Post modernity is a further reactionary movement. That introduces subjectivity and ambiguity, truth not absolute but perceived. There is a rejection of absolutism in search of truth. This has been met with apprehension by churches, and perceived as an attack on religious truth claims.

It is clear that a postmodern worldview is not an attack on truth, but a further search for truth.

Individualism is a tenant of the postmodern perspective. The LDS church has touted personal revelation to search for truth. LDS missionaries are encouraged not to argue, but encourage students to pray for personal revelation of truth. This individualistic search would appeal to the postmodernist mindset. Each member is capable of obtaining revelation from God. Pres. James E. Faust, an LDS Church apostle, said every worthy member can receive revelation for themselves, their families and their stewardships…LDS understanding still to be perceived as modern. Not forced to accept truth, but finding truth defined as realizing an absolute truth. One must accept all truth dictated and interpreted by the leadership of the church, leaving little room for variety of doctrinal understanding. LDS Church does not remain static, it reanalyzes, adopts to culture. A prominent example is the introduction of blacks to the priesthood. With this, the LDS church moves forward and adapts rather than remain static. The constant search for truth is a prominent part of their identity. Article of Faith 9 says, we believe God will yet reveal many great and important things…

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, God will guide his children by bringing new additions to the canon of scriptures…

Church leadership. In the postmodernist culture there is strong resistance to propositional statements dropped from above. Coupled with mistrust for authority structures, compensated by belief in themselves. So rigid elitist structures that have arisen through modernity, may cause friction. From the president down to the Aaronic priesthood holder. The LDS model would hold no appeal to the postmodernist and would likely be a barrier to many.

Many elements that would appeal to a postmodern mindset. The LDS Church recognizes the value of the individual, personal and vicarious baptism and priesthood. The member is not in the fringe but directly involved. This would carry postmodern appeal. Emphasized this among its youth. Testimony meeting. LDS practices small groups study.

There are, however, rigid, clearly defined structures, but the structure does not isolate the postmodernists. Leadership which might put off postmodernist on the outside, would in fact serve the postmodernists within the community.

Rejection of traditional metanarratives defines postmodernity.

This would attack the church’s doctrinal teaching and narratives of scriptures and histories. Offers a different metanarrative. This reflects the teachings of Joseph Smith…

Smith stated that all men have the right to worship how where or what they may.

It must be reiterated, the Church is not a postmodern expression of church. In many ways it does not cater to postmodern structure, but the postmodern mindset is not isolated in these models. In some areas, tolerance of other religions, spirituality is postmodern. Why do tolerance and spirituality become the focus instead of a more traditional perspective? Mormonism’s founding was radical, but reactionary to the persecution they met. Persecution played a heavy role. Appeal to persecutors identifying the passive nature of the Church. Instead of arguing with a modernist model, Smith called on people to take his words on faith. We know that these practices today allow the church to gain strength. It is evident that the Church holds appeal to the postmodernist without rejecting its modernist model. The Church will need to react further. There have been moves toward that. In the years to come the church will make more moves to postmodern appeal. It remains strong and accessible in the dichotomous cultures of modernity and post modernity.


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