When you grow up steeped in everything Mormon you assume that it's the only valid world view. That everything revolves around Mormonism and Salt Lake City. You think the trajectory of world history is simple and clear-cut, and moving inexorably to a well-known end. You're most likely taught that you were saved for "the last days" to be part of that end. You see the world through Mormon-colored glasses.
Then after breaking out of the shell, things are really disorienting for a while. They have been for me. But I'm gradually starting to get my bearings again. And one thing I'm continuously struck by is the increasingly comical view which Mormons have of their own church's importance in the world.
Even when I was a good faithful Mormon boy, I remember reading about early leaders' proclamations to the world, addressed to basically everybody worldwide, kings, emperors, presidents, leaders and populace alike, everywhere. And printed in some local newspaper that probably never saw circulation beyond a few counties on the western frontier edge of the United States. It seemed laughably presumptuous. Like a little kindergarten boy indignantly marching outside to lecture a raincloud for spoiling his playtime and demanding that the cloud go away. And just as effective.
But also getting just about as much notice. And even today, with its massive wealth and media muscle, the Mormon church is still only about 4 million actual participating people worldwide. Four million out of six billion? With growth stalled to near zero in all developed countries?
And yet those inside it persist in their tendency to think their organization is the fulcrum on which the world pivots. There's such seriousness, even self-importance, within the cocoon. Recall my previous example about apostle Russell Ballard being incredulous on learning that most Americans still had a dim view of Mormons even after decades of missionary work and untold millions spent on PR.
And this is where it gets funny. Outside, hardly anybody even notices the cocoon's existence. Those who do notice now have the Internet, which has stripped the church of its ability to control its own history and message, and I'm convinced that's one reason why baptismal rates have been dropping since . . . well, isn't that interesting. Since right around the time the Internet became widely available. Hmmm. Coincidence?
The Book of Mormon Musical and the campaigns of Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Romney have focused some temporary media attention on the church. But much of it isn't the kind the church wants. And when the musical finishes its run, and next year's presidential campaign is over with, the media and the world will turn their attention to something else. And I have no doubt the view from inside the cocoon, with its self-importance and its latent persecution complex, will remain unchanged. As will the fact that most of the world goes on quite happily without any notice of that quirky little group out there in the Utah desert whose growth is clearly stalling out and whose social relevance is fading.