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On the front page of today’s print edition of the New York Times, Laurie Goodstein has an article titled “Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt.” Ms. Goodstein’s article is about how the Internet is facilitating deep doubt about Mormon faith/truth claims among some Mormons who find research on the Internet that questions their religious tradition. This seems to me to possibly be a story about what is known in academic theology as “deconversion,” or the process whereby people detach from the form and content of religious affiliation that used to be secure in their lives. Deconversion is a widespread phenomenon today across religious traditions, and has hit Roman Catholicism particularly hard, which is one reason that I and a colleague at Fordham, Dr. Patrick Hornbeck, have been studying deconversions from Catholicism for the past several years.

Ms. Goodstein describes crises of belief and conscience among Mormons who find that the religious claims that have been presented to them as normative, or binding, may be false or at least considerably “otherwise” than they have learned. Interestingly, the article twice quotes Mormon leaders who compare the drama of this (apparently widespread) Mormon situation with Roman Catholicism, which is imagined in these quotations as more secure in the public presentation of its basic faith story.

This comparison makes sense as a rhetorical contrast between a “young religion” and an “old religion”, but it does not jive with the facts, as a substantial number of baptized Catholics no longer trust or believe many basic faith/truth claims that they are taught as binding on Catholics. That is one reason (but not the only reason) that Catholicism has experienced such substantial attrition in recent decades. (The fact that there are few public deconverts among Catholic pastoral leaders or theologians says more about the pressure to (and rewards for) stay(ing) in line than anything else.)

One difference, however, is that, as Ms. Goodstein observes, Mormon founding documents are more readily accessible and subject to critical examination than Catholicism’s founding documents. Still, many baptized Catholics understand that the claim that Jesus intended to found the Roman Catholic Church, or for that matter any church, and to found it as the one true church, is historically dubious at best. For some, that puts their Catholicism in crisis and they decide to change course. For others, their Catholicism remains intact because they remain Catholic for reasons that are not dependent on such claims. I would guess that a similar dynamic will happen with Mormons, but we will have to wait and see.

The article made me wonder about music that nurses religious doubt. For a long time in USA society, anyway, it was quite difficult and often impossible for people to imagine that they might loosen their consent to normative religion and go their own way. But that is happening today in an increasingly rapid/widespread manner. As far as I know, there are no studies, theological or otherwise, about how music plays into that process. But given how important popular music is generally, it must play some role. I wonder what songs, musicians, or forms of music hold or facilitate deep religious doubt or deconversion.

No doubt the answer to that question is always to some degree highly personal, but some songs seem good candidates, like “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac…

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or “Can Do” by Journey…

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Are there others you might recommend, or do you have a different take on this whole matter?

Tommy Beaudoin, at an Undisclosed Location

3 Comments »

  1. Great post, Tom! Two songs that spring to mind are “Dear God” by XTC (which actively questions theism while being structured as a conversation with a divine being – pretty fascinating) off the album Skylarking and “Prayer to God” by Shellac (which reads as a sort of satire – so believing that God will be responsive to prayer that even the demand to “f**king kill” a romantic rival will be honored).

    Comment by Dault — July 22, 2013 @ 8:37 am

  2. Very interesting, Tom. I would add John Lennon’s 1971 song “Imagine” to the list. It begins with the lyric “Imagine there’s no heaven,” and then the second verse says: “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too.” The song points out how attachments to religion and nationalism can cause immense divisiveness and destruction. Another one is Dylan’s 1964 “With God on Our Side” which questions the absurd notion many people/nations have that God actually takes sides with them over their opposition thereby circumventing any questions about the morality of what they and their governments are doing.

    Comment by Mary McDonough — July 22, 2013 @ 10:07 am

  3. I think Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” fits the deconstructionist category.

    Comment by David Lindmeier — July 23, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

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