Eden and Zion

When you picture radical creationists, what do you think of? As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, it’s all too easy to fall into misleading stereotypes. Instead of asking about “creationism,” we need to get into the habit of talking about “creationisms.” After all, creationism in the USA and in the world is not one thing, but many. A new survey of LDS (Mormon) beliefs about creation and evolution gives us yet another reminder of this diversity.

Benjamin Knoll and Jana Reiss asked a sample of LDS members two questions about evolution. Here is a breakdown of their results:

God created Adam and Eve sometime in the last 10,000 years and humans did not evolve from other life forms.”

  • 53% “I am confident and know this is true.”
  • 21% “I believe and have faith that this is probably true.”
  • 13% “I believe this might be true, but I have my doubts.”
  • 7% “I believe this is probably NOT true.”
  • 6% “I am confident and know this is NOT true.”

“Evolution is the best explanation for how God brought about the emergence and development of life on Earth.”

  • 24% “I am confident and know this is true.”
  • 25% “I believe and have faith that this is probably true.”
  • 17% “I believe this might be true, but I have my doubts.”
  • 13% “I believe this is probably NOT true.”
  • 20% “I am confident and know this is NOT true.”

As always, the poll numbers leave us hankering for more. Some of the most contentious issues among American creationists were left out. We see that huge majorities of LDS members think our species was created as the Bible describes. But what do LDS members think about the age of the earth and universe? Do they think there might have been a long “gap” between creations? Or maybe that the “days” of creation were really long “ages?”

This survey just doesn’t say. However, it does give us some very helpful insights into LDS thinking on these questions. Not surprisingly, a large majority of LDS respondents agrees that humanity was created specially and recently. Also not surprisingly, the notion of God-guided evolution seems very divisive among LDS members.gallup creationism poll may 2017

Though the questions and possible responses don’t match up perfectly, it seems from this survey that LDS members are more likely than Americans as a whole to embrace a recent, special creation of our species. As Gallup has reported for the last few decades, the number of Americans in general who choose a recent special creation of humanity has fluctuated between 38 and 47%.

LDS respondents also seem a little less likely than Americans as a whole to take God out of the process. The Gallup numbers suggest that more and more respondents choose a God-free explanation. Among LDS respondents, only 13% didn’t think a recent special creation was likely.

Though they represent only 1.5% of all Americans, LDS members have unique clout in Utah. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that evolution remains a contested topic in Utah’s public schools.

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Mormonism and the Paradox of Modern Homosexuality

There is a deep paradox at the heart of American culture when it comes to homosexuality.  On one hand, Americans seem more accepting than ever.  We have openly gay couples at high school proms, gay characters on primetime sitcoms, and plenty of pop songs insisting that homosexuals are “Born This Way.”

Yet on the other hand, many Americans–not just conservatives or Fundamentalists–display a new anxiety about being perceived as gay.  Male behaviors that might not have raised eyebrows in pre-Stonewall days–think Honest Abe sharing a bed with a male pal–now seem obviously “gay.”

If we outsiders hope to understand Fundamentalist America’s hostility to homosexuality, we need to chip away at this seeming paradox.  In a fascinating essay this morning on Religion & Politics, Kristine Haglund explores the way this modern dilemma plays out in LDS (Mormon) communities.  For male LDS members, Haglund argues, an intensely masculine identity is balanced with a soft gentleness.  Male church members have an intense patriarchal privilege.  Yet they are also tied to a sexual chastity that forbids homosexual sexual conquest as a way to establish hetero bona fides.  Men are required to spend their late-teen years in an intimate partnership with another young missionary male.  And in community, men are encouraged to display stereotypically feminine gentleness and emotionality.  These things lead, Haglund writes, to an exaggerated display of masculinity, in traditions such as “church ball.”  Yet LDS members such as Haglund herself are accustomed to seeing men act in gentle, emotional ways in public.  Haglund notes,

“Paradoxically, these behaviors, which might be pejoratively coded ‘gay’ or effeminate in other contexts, are key components of Mormon masculinity. A look at this fraught masculinity may offer a glimpse into what drives the LDS Church, and Mormon politicians like Mitt Romney, to insist on the defense of traditional gender roles in the family. The unique contours of Mormon masculinity can also help answer the question: Why are (many) Mormons so vehemently opposed to gay marriage and any other overt expression of homosexuality?

“The short answer to that question is that the unique mix of ritualized homosociality and patriarchal authority—the bedrocks of Mormon masculinity—means that many Mormon men are nervous about permitting even the idea that there might be more than a platonic ‘bromance’ in the post-Church Ball game sweaty hug.”

What is true for LDS men might be extended to American men as a whole.  As the notion of homosexuality becomes more of an everyday reality in American culture, some males struggle to establish their heterosexuality beyond reproach.  Does this fuel the hostility in Fundamentalist America to the notion of homosexuality as simply another way to be a sexual person?  In other words, as men become more keenly aware of homosexuality as a real phenomenon, does it push them to a sterner insistence on heterosexual supremacy and traditional family norms?

I’m nervous about the dangers of psychologizing such a broad cultural tendency.  It is a tried-and-true culture-war tactic to dismiss any opposition as somehow psychologically maladjusted.  We don’t want to insist that traditionalist opposition to homosexuality can only come from ignorance, fear, and Freudian neuroses.  But Haglund’s observations about the  “performance of Mormon masculinity [as] a difficult balancing act, a tightrope walk between poles established by a brutish, hyper-masculine ‘natural man’ and an effeminate gay man” seem equally applicable outside the LDS temple walls.  For many American men, increasing awareness that homosexuality is everywhere may lead to a desire to project a more firmly anti-homosexual identity.

In the News: Paul Ryan and a WASP-free White House

Governor Romney’s announcement of Paul Ryan as his Vice-Presidential running mate has been heralded by some conservatives as a triumph.  Ryan is known for his commitment to restricting abortion and defending traditional families.  He is also the GOP’s leading voice for budget-cutting, even to the point of earning some censure from Catholic leaders.   But the pick has been seen as a play to conservatives, or, as we say here at ILYBYGTH, to voters from Fundamentalist America.

One unusual aspect of Romney’s decision is that it guarantees a WASP-free White House for at least four more years.  Of course, there’s nothing new about a WASP-free White House.  Barack Obama is African American Protestant, while Joe Biden is Catholic.  But no matter who wins in November, with LDS (Morman) Romney and staunchly Catholic Ryan, there will be no White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant in this race.

This matters for a couple of reasons.  First, it shows the way Fundamentalist America is changing.  Sixty years ago, asking conservatives to line up behind a non-Protestant candidate was political suicide.  In 1928 and nearly in 1960, it was tricky even for the Democrats to run a Catholic candidate.  These days, many different types of conservatives celebrate the Romney-Ryan ticket.  Ryan is seen as the “conservative” choice, not the “Catholic” choice.  Just as with the Protestant-free US Supreme Court, the fact that conservatives don’t seem to care about the non-WASPiness of this election tells us something about the changing nature of American culture.

It would be easy to be cynical about this.  We could attack Fundamentalist America for being hypocritical.  Here is how this argument would go: conservatives demand respect for “traditional values,” but they don’t ever clarify what those values are.  Since such things change within even one lifetime, the defense of “traditional values” is meaningless.  What last year’s traditionalist defends as a necessary part of American life, next year’s traditionalist insists was never part of traditionalist thinking.  In this case, traditionalist conservatives could be taken to task for shifting their “traditional values” without ever admitting it.  Sixty years ago, Catholics and LDS members were seen by many as outsiders, owing loyalty to a foreign potentate, in the case of Catholics.

A more sympathetic interpretation, however, is that this change from WASP to a more big-tent conservatism shows the healthy ways Fundamentalist America can change.  Fundamentalist America, in this line of thinking, is not the dinosaur it is made out to be.  It is a dynamic, thoughtful, fully contemporary way to be American.  As American culture broadens to welcome former outsiders such as Catholics and African Americans, so too does Fundamentalist America.