The Mormon moment and others

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RNS ARCHAEOLOGY BIBLE
By MARTIN E. MARTY   August 1, 2016
The “Mormon Moment” has passed. I learned this from a book reviewer in The Christian Century, who criticized and dismissed a new book with a Mormon theme, and from a New York Times article which dated “the end of the Mormon Moment” before July, 2014. Why had there been a Mormon Moment a few years ago and what had happened? Reviewer Blum pointed to the silence after the Mitt Romney presidential campaign and the closing of the Broadway play The Book of Mormon (though it is back again). “The Mormon Girl” was a celebrity, joined by others back then. “Four years ago, it seemed that anything and everything related to Mormonism was ripe for public picking. How the times have changed.”

Blum’s review occasioned this column, which is not on Mormonism, but on how scholars, critics, newspeople, opinionators, and Sightings-writers measure time and the pace of its passing and then as noted also among other “public pickers” and the public.

Let’s look back, way back, for precedents, before “Moments” ruled. Try the Pleistocene “Epoch,” which, we are told, lasted 1.8 billion years, which means 1,800 million years, more than a few “moments.” Of course, we live with the environmental legacy of its presence, and the “Ice Age” which lasted quite a while. Ages used to be the way to measure time-length, ages ago.

Back then, when people had time to be relaxed and leisurely about time passages, they were moved to observe new paces and so we find new terms. Long gone were Epochs, but “Eras” were in vogue. Most of them passed, but we also still live with their legacies. “The Greco-Roman Era” has to stand out among them. It is still with us, like glacial moraine in the physical world. But pity the planners and programmers who wanted to treat that era as current, to be experienced in the “now.’ They would be, to use a too-convenient term, “dated.”

In the world of Sightings we live with the legacy of the Christian era, but we chop it up into Episodes, referring to events which are more comprehensible in the world of media–what would television programs do without ‘episodes?–chopped-up temporal chunks of that Era. Christianity and other historical faiths are often defined by how they related to complex episodes. Here the term “Age” works again, as in “The Age of the Crusades” or “The Age of Reason,” in which we are not, but off which we live in what Charles Taylor properly calls The Secular Age. Why should this be the first measured time-chunk not to pass some day, and then lose status?

We might bid seniors to reflect on the waxing, thriving, waning, and obsolescence of episodes in the past half-century or so. Non-seniors can easily access them through media. Think of a few that come to mind: Remember, or learn about, The New Age, now old, or “Spirituality” as the be-all and end-all “spiritual” source and norm and goal. It is now old-stuff, well institutionalized. Recall the presumed permanence of the Death of God Movement, which had its moment for ‘public pickers” Oldsters can recall what was signaled in a Paul Tillich title, The Protestant Era? which lasted more than a ‘moment.”

The purpose of this exercise in time-measurement terminology is not to sneer at inhabitants of those Epochs, Ages, Eras, and Moments, but to suggest that people may profitably invest in some of those in their own era, age, and moment, and gain perspective for what is before them. Thus we may read articles about the post-Mormon Moment, but the Mormon community, though changing, is not disappearing. The Secular Age may not be the new thing to notice, but it still merits analysis, and, if it passes, like the Mormon Moment is said to have passed, creative people are likely to find meaning and mission in the next Moment available to them. Will they be less likely than some of their ancestors and our contemporaries to advertise it as the – at last! – permanent and fulfilling step in the human mix? They will regard each day as their opportunity, no matter how long whatever they will achieve and witness will last.

Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at  www.memarty.com.