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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 (more…)