Jul 21, 2011
Heather interviews David Campbell, co-author of the book:
American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us
Podcast: Play in new window
By Tom Perry
Tags: American Grace, belief, Cultural Mormon, David Campbell, Fundamentalist, Liberal, Prayer
Another great podcast hosted by Heather!! Great job! (Still listening, will post more when I finish.)
Been super busy since my last post, but wanted to update and say it was a terrific interview and Heather was obviously very well prepared. It helps a lot when the interviewer has done their homework and prepared questions and a flow for the discussion. I can see why John likes to do interviews like this solo. It worked out very well this time. I’m interested to hear more about his Mormon-specific polling, when that is completed.
I’m also interested to see what his Mormon-specific studies find.
Great interview – I really like how Campbell objectively views Mormonism through the context of American culture, and it really doesn’t seem like he came to the table with an agenda.
FYI, it’s available on Amazon.com in Kindle eBook format for $14.99. I’m sold. I’m pumped to read it this weekend on the beach!
Just an update to Campbell’s book – I downloaded it to my Kindle on Saturday, and I couldn’t put it down. The research is phenomenal. The graphs, the detail that they go to, and their methodology is really good stuff to view religion in America. I spent all day Saturday reading and I’m still barely though the introductory chapters.
Very highly recommended.
As far as secular giving . . .
I heard Nicholas Kristof (a liberal) point out that liberal givers tend to give to thing that service themselves just as much as conservative givers give to churches. For example, liberal givers are more likely to give to ballets, theaters and museums which ultimately serve their own needs. While conservative givers are indeed providing for their own churches they are more likely to give to causes outside their own sphere than liberals.
The book deliniates these types of giving. They specifically ask what kinds of charities people are donating to. If I remember correctly, services for the elderly and for children receive the most charity from religious givers, liberal or conservative.
Great interview! Heather asked fantastic questions and David Campbell was insightful. Thank you both.
Thanks for listening.
Comment and question (not in that order)
Question: When Dr Campbell was outlining how the researchers had defined ‘fundamentalist’ Christians, one of the questions asked was whether the respondent believed literally in the Bible. He noted that Mormons don’t score particularly high on this question – ie they do not believe overwhelmingly in a literal interpretation of an historic Bible*. Did the researchers ask those same Mormons whether they believe in a literal, historic Book of Mormon? Because it seems that Mormonism, by including a set of scriptures that are unique to their religion, add a bit of nuance to the concept of a fundamentalist. I don’t have a social science background so I don’t know whether that question would have been useful or not, but if a belief in a literal interpretation of scripture is a defining characteristic of a fundamentalist, surely it doesn’t matter what that scripture is – wouldn’t you ask a Muslim about the Koran, for example?
*Note: not going into how one can not believe in a literal, historic Bible when some pretty basic tenets of one’s faith depend on just such an interpretation – ie literal Garden of Eden, literal Adam and Eve, literal Tower of Babel etc.
Comment: While I like the optimist in Heather’s question about Mormons perhaps developing a greater acceptance of ‘fringe’ Mormons (post, ex-, NOM etc), and mentions that perhaps those people can come to be viewed as something other than ‘outer’, it ignores the fact that once you have been ‘inner’ – part of that tight, closely regarded circle, leaving puts you into a third category: not faithful, not never-Mormon, but the once-was. Because of the strong missionary drive for Mormons they are trained to see non-Mormons with tolerance, affection and interest as ‘those who will be some day’. In other words, in this world or the next when they get the chance to hear the truth they will too become One of Us. Fringe Mormons however serve as the terrifying example of what happens if you fall away. They are, by definition, lost sheep, wandering in the wilderness, sinning, thinking un-clean thoughts (un-correlated thoughts), and terribly contagious.
I do hope tolerance will increase as the number of vocal fringe Mormons increases (the ex-Mo Aunt Annie perhaps), but until the rhetoric about the fragility of testimony and the need to avoid ‘anti’ thought, discussion and literature is removed I don’t see it happening on a large, culture-wide scale.
Great interview Heather. And damnit Megan, u beat me to it. The single thing that stood out like a neon sign was the statement that Mormons didn’t score high on a literal interpretation of the Bible. How can that be??? They believe the garden of Eden is a real place in my county for crying out loud! The Book of Mormon can’t be literal history unless the Bible is. My suspicion is many Mormon respondents misunderstood the question and saw it in light of the 8th article of faith, “…as far as it is translated correctly…”. My experience is the average active TBM does not question the historicity of the global flood.
I wish what you and Megan have pointed out would have occurred to me during the interview. You’re completely right. I wonder if Dave has an explanation for this. Maybe I’ll see if I can get him to weigh in.
Good idea! I would like to see his viewpoint on that as well.
I think a lot of Mormons disavow literal belief in the Bible because of the 8th Article of Faith, failing to notice that we actually accept just about all of it as literal, factual history. (When we do this, I think we have a tendency to say something like, “Well, some of the less important historical accounts may be exaggerated here or there, and the historicity of random dudes like Job is not really a problem.” In other words, we look for details that the Bible might get wrong, as opposed to considering that the whole thing is just an incoherent mash-up collected over centuries by very different groups of story-tellers.) As a budding would-be apologist, I got caught in this trap. I believed that the Bible was not necessarily true history, so I thought it would be fine to study what academics with that same belief (ostensibly) had to say about biblical history. My “light” Mormon skepticism was eventually overwhelmed by the ocean of evidence that the Bible is just old folklore.
Joseph Smith existed right on the cusp of the modern religious scene, but he was not yet in it. He knew enough about innovative extra-biblical traditions (e.g. Masonry) to conclude that the Bible is not the last word (on anything), but not enough to realize how wrong it really was when treated as factual history. (Reading the Bible literally is akin to believing in the real power of peep-stones and divining rods, in my humble opinion, particularly since such things turn up in the Bible, viz. the Urim and Thummim and the Rod of Aaron. Obviously Joseph was reading it literally, more literally than most of us would today. There are still the few who carry that torch, but they sound increasingly crazy.) So he gave us LDS the freedom to doubt (even doubt radically), but then (like many people of his time, not necessarily the best or the best educated) he didn’t really doubt that much. The result is that today we pay lip-service to reading scripture non-literally and then freak out when we actually try the exercise. ”I though I would learn what really happened to Adam and Eve when the snake spoke to them: turns out, they were just a fairy tale. Uh-oh.”
“but until the rhetoric about the fragility of testimony and the need to
avoid ‘anti’ thought, discussion and literature is removed I don’t see
it happening on a large, culture-wide scale”
The “My Aunt Susan” principle shows that people are more likely to change their opinion about theology than they are to believe that their aunt is going to hell. The tie to their aunt and their own sense of moral justice trumps what their religion tells them.
In my opinion, when applied to Mormonism and apostates, that means is that people will at some point shift their thinking and begin to disagree with what they’re being told from the leadership. I’ve seen it play out in my own life. I have some very very devout friends who have said to me, “I think we’ll be surprised who ends up in the Celestial Kingdom, Heather. I’m sure you’ll be there.” This flies in the face of what the church tells them about people like me. But, they know me and they base their judgement on their own sense of who deserves salvation rather than what the church tells them. Seems to me to be a perfect example of the My Aunt Susan / My Pal Al principles.
Great interview. My takeaway is that more Mormons need to move out of Utah and mix it up with non-members around the country. As long as there is such a large concentration of us in Utah, millions of Americans will never meet an actual member of the church. We would see the church’s image improve, and we would also see active members tone down the “only true church” rhetoric a bit.
Heather! You are an amazing interviewer. I lived the discussion. Very insightful. I want this book!
What a great interview. I really like how Heather pointed out unexpected findings in the research and then they were able to discuss some possible reasons why. I think a lot of the surprises are just the nature of a missionary church which believes it is the one true church.
You are kind to every one else because they are potential converts. You want to be able to reach out to them. You think very highly of yourself because you believe you are the only one that has God’s full support. A lot of people don’t like you because you are so confident about being right, and you don’t conform to mainstream belief and behavior. You don’t seem to care about the non-conformity to the point that you sometimes delight in it.
Mormons have a tough line to tow, but they stick together to make it through.
Very nicely done heather. You r a natural.
I always try to complain about technical issues, though. You recorded this with the input levels too high, which is why you’ve got distortion on the voices. It’s a good idea to test levels beforehand to make sure you’re not going to overload the input.
That was only a problem for the first 12 minutes and it couldn’t be helped.
Oh no, it was still a great interview, thanks!
American Grace doesn’t focus solely on Mormonism. Mormonism is actually only a small part. There were several other very interesting findings. Some of them include:
-Despite what conservative religious leaders are saying, American is NOT secularizing in the same was as Europe. The rates of secularization are very low and it will take a very very long time to reach the levels Europe sees now.
-There are two major issues driving people in/out of religion right now: abortion and homosexuality.
-Young people are more accepting of homosexuality and less comfortable with abortion than the previous generation (Caveat on the abortion issue: while young people are uncomfortable with abortion on a personal level, they don’t support legislation against abortion.)
-People are more likely to pick their religion based upon their politics, rather than the other way around. (I personally find this interesting as I watch conservatives here in Utah who backed Prop 8 freak out about the church’s support of rather liberal / progressive illegal immigration legislation. During Prop 8 they claimed we must follow what our church leaders tell us. But do they say the same thing about backing immigration legislation? HAHA-no. I guess “follow the prophet” isn’t as vital as they thought.)
-Religious people are viewed as more trustworthy than secular people. (No surprise here… demonizing atheists is one of America’s favorite pastimes.) Along the same lines, religious people claim that secular people are selfish.
Thanks for depressing me Heather. I really hoped secularization was moving faster than that. This upcoming election will be an interesting indicator of this. If one of these Bible thumping Christians like Palin or Bauchmann gets into the White House, that will be a strong indicator religion is making a comeback. I pray to the FSM that this won’t happen. Ramen and ramen…
Then let me depress you further… their data shows that people who go to college are more likely to be Republican and attend church.
What?! That just doesn’t make any sense. What about people who graduate or have high levels of education?
Two thumbs up for a very enjoyable discussion.
First off, I’d like to express that I think you do a GREAT job on ME and you did a FAN TASTIC job as host!! You had some great questions and the pacing was very nice! You have a great “radio voice” with lots of energy.
That being said, if I may offer a critique…
You seem to have a bad habit of self depreciation when asking a question. A perfect example was at 8:00 in when you said,
“So something that I found interesting, and this might not be terribly surprising, and it might not lead to any interesting discussion or anything….”
I’ve heard you do this several times in the past too, and I find myself thinking 1) have some self confidence that you DO ask good questions and they ARE engaging and interesting and 2) get on with asking the damn question already!! Enough with the apologizing for asking the question! It takes you 3x longer to ask the question by prefacing it with apologies than if you just directly ask the question.
An excellent podcast! I hope John has you on more!
Interesting critique. I’ve never had anyone tell me I need confidence. Most people who know me think I’m arrogant. haha. When I have some time I’ll listen to this again and try to remember why I was approaching questions that way so I can be mindful of it in the future.
I imagine that you have to have a fair amount of confidence (even to the point of arrogance) to host a podcast like this! For the most part, you do come off as absolutely confident. Maybe that’s why I notice it, because it seems so strangely out of character. You speak with confidence, so to hear you pre-defending the asking of a question, it sounds off.
Thanks again for a great podcast!
I wholeheartedly agree with the others who praised your inteviewing skills! I thought it was your best interview yet, and you had obviously prepared very well for it beforehand. I too was somewhat surprized to learn that Mormons rated so low on the “fundamentalism scale.” Like the others who expressed surprize at this, I suspect that if belief in the BoM were taken into account, they would have rated higher on that scale.
I suspect that the reason why Mormons rated so low on the “fundamentalism scale” is that their low regard of the Bible due to Article of Faith #8 which leads ultimately to a rejection of it’s authority tends to make LdS Theology skew closer to liberal rather than conservative Christian Theology.
Just consider how the General Authorities will stack the deck of an event like the 2005 ”‘The Worlds of Joseph Smith’ Symposium” with Christian liberals like Margaret Barker, Randall H. Balmer, Douglas J. Davies, and Dr. Richard T. Hughes, throw a bone to moderates skewing to liberal Theology like Richard J. Mouw and Gerald R. McDermott and ignore all others. In my dealings with TBM Mormons it’s striking how close their view of the Bible as the low view of it’s authority that they give it is to liberal Christian Theologians like those named. Further, as I said in response to John Larsen’s blog on the question: “
Thank you Fred. That does indeed help, and (as usual) I am very impressed with your scholarship and insight. Yet, as has already been pointed out, it remains true that many TBMs (including, as far as I can tell, many General Authorities) hold to the belief in the literal truth of Biblical myths such as Noah’s Flood, the Tower of Babel, Adam and Eve, etc. as tenaciously as the most diehard, protestant fundamentalists.
On the other hand, however, I have not yet heard of anyone being actually being excommunicated, being denied a temple recommend or being subjected to Church disciplinary action merely for expressing doubts about or denying the literal truth of those biblical myths.
Gunnar, that’s always puzzled me too. I don’t understand how many TBMs take EVERYTHING so literally in the Bible when most modern Christians – even many Fundamentalist Christians – don’t.
Then the very same TBM will flip around and sound like they just came back from casting their vote on a particular passage at the latest Jesus Seminar session on the Historical Jesus (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Seminar )
It is a paradox wrapped in an enigma to me.
The only thing that seems to fit is the old “Cafeteria Mormonism” dynamic whereby Mormons pick and choose what to belief from what or whom to believe and what to toss away. Or put another way:
“As [Anthropologist and Mormon Studies Scholar ] Mark P. Leone commented in ‘Roots of Modern Mormonism’, in Mormonism truth is not absolute or fixed; it is interchangeable, flexible and additive.“ (Richard and Joan Ostling, “Mormon America”, p. 253; bolding added for emphasis)
I know that this doesn’t explain the dynamic in full but perhaps it hints the root cause.
I just listened to this and came to the comment section to tell you how great your interviewing was but it seems like I was beat to the punch, so I will instead tell you that you did a bad job. The worst interview imaginable. I joke! You did an excellent job interviewing and you clearly did your research. I hope you are able to conduct future interviews for Mormon Expressions.
I agree. I think that Heather should interview Mike Tannehill for 120-minutes on the doctrine of names and/or blood atonement next!
(I keed, I keed)
Careful. Maybe I will and what Mike says will be so convincing that all of us will have no choice but to return to the church as faithful members.
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