Well, a recent commenter isn't buying any of it. Mormons are an oppressive corporate cult, this anonymous individual informs me, and we are on "the wrong side of history."
I'm sort of bored, quite frankly, with the "legitimate religion or oppressive corporate cult?" debate, so I'm going to accept the sad truth that I have to live my life without an anonymous internet commenter's approval. But I am still interested enough to spend a post on the "wrong side of history" debate, because I'm intrigued by the way it combines social studies with geometry. Does history have a shape? Is there a right side of history to be on?
The Dominant View
Click on the illustration below to see how I think many people imagine history and our place in it:
This view of history is based on the assumption that as time passes, the world inevitably gets better. History=Progress. The right side, where the future (and Pacman?) live, is good. The other side, where humankind left the cruel and benighted past to die, is mostly useful to provide contrast.
Being a Latter-day Saint has never looked great in this picture.
In the early days of the Church, we were backward for believing in prophets and miracles and temples and all that primitive Israelite garbage decent Protestants had long since progressed past. Later, an intelligentsia that had progressed right out of Protestantism and into enlightened secular rationality found even our faith in God vestigial at best, and more likely a tell-tale relic of barely-concealed barbarism.
Currently, it seems most common to see Mormons as backward on our principles of community building. Surely respect for authority should have gone the way of Nixon--or did we sleep through the '70s somehow? What's our obsession with meddling in personal choices: don't we know that it's systems, not people, that are moral or immoral these days? And seriously--who can believe in gender after glam rock?
On a left-to-right map of history, we are a stubborn, perplexing, willfully primitive Church.
An LDS View
But to the best of my knowledge, nothing in the scriptures suggests that human beings are fundamentally better for having largely switched from cooking fires to microwaves. Better off, sure, but is that truly better in any important sense? While most of us feel blessed to live in these latter-days, we also understand that each time period has had its own blessings and burdens.
Maybe the best way to draw an LDS view of history relies more on the Book of Mormon than on the European Enlightenment, as shown when you click on the illustration below:
This view of history reserves no special disdain for people who look "backwards" or "forwards." No, we save our worry for those who are "lifted up in pride"--and if we're smart, we remember there's a good chance they'll be hanging out in our mirrors.
Some progress, in this view, may be genuinely good and even righteous. But some things society labels as "progress" now might be castles in the clouds that are set into stark perspective by the next honest-to-goodness crash.
So let's be backward for now. Why not? And if we live to experience the next big crash, maybe we'll get the chance to teach former anonymous internet commenters how to plant gardens, listen to prophets, and make it through history's storms.