The Bleaker History/Future of Correlation

A series rejected for publication at a well-known religion site, due to ‘tone’.

I.  Pre-Correlations

Though under its sign Mormonism was dramatically reshaped, Correlation remains an altogether mysterious thing to most Latter-day Saints.  Like religion, it is a term whose referent is constantly shifting. 

 Let us try to pin it down, and then, full of history and hollow hubris, follow its pinned-down trajectory far into the flying-car future. 

 Industrialization of the American West rewarded Capital to many groups, Mormons no less than farmers, rail road barons, mining companies, and, of course, banks.  By 1923 Mormons surrendered personal capital to be aggregated, counted, and put to work as “tithes” by administrators at LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City.  These funds financed the new corporations that emerged hydra-like after the U.S. smote from the “Mormon Octopus” the heads of polygamy, communal economics, and theocracy. 

Modern accounting methods made the counting of tithing efficient, centralized under the eyes of a few men, and thus they created diagrams from which Church reviewers could assess past donations from particular areas in the Mormon region.  And then, perhaps, they might project future income, careful to match it closely to planned expenditures, building their kingdom one chapel at a time.  Yet often the speculations missed the mark, and by 1959 the corporations that now comprised the entity called the Mormon Church were deeply in debt. 

Despite the decades of failure, such spanning of time on the wings of financial statements would become the principal speculative practice that governed the new Mormonism of Correlation.  In the 1960s a few ambitious churchmen saw the future – twelve million members, a majority outside the U.S. – and argued that this future demanded certain changes in the organization, curriculum, cost, and administrative structures of the religion.  First, manuals were revised and made to fit a nine-page list of phrases, terms, and other “essential concepts” which were to be the backbone of the posture of the future’s education.  Organizationally, a new “Priesthood Executive Committee,” and a “Correlation Committee,” were formed.  Charged with ensuring the implementation of local correlation – in “priesthood welfare,” “priesthood home teaching,” and a few other new programs – these committees planned to restore “the priesthood” to the head of the Church, at the head of the congregation, and even the home (now regarded as a “unit” of the Church).  With such a head, it was said, the mythical City of Enoch would soon, inevitably, descend.  Correlation was the answer to economic, social, political, and religious upheaval, even to the temptations of sex, drugs and rock and roll.  Correlation was the word, the banner any answer would fly if it hoped to build a future inside the church headquarters.

There remained a concern over words.


II. Words

An obsession over ritual precision in sacred spaces like temples and chapels has long characterized Mormons.  Yet in the early 1960s apostle Harold B. Lee, with the insights of other churchmen recently returned from educational service among Native Americans, converted the ritual concerns into administrative obsession.  With large charts and organizational diagrams at hand, Lee constructed a list of “concepts” which would be taught to Mormons throughout their sojourns in mortality.  In effect a list of words, phrases, and valued vocabulary, his “concepts” were used to revise church curriculum.  In addition, he formalized the corporate hierarchy that had informally developed around the model of GM.  This new hierarchization of corporate power came to be called “The Priesthood,” and “Priesthood” would be applied like a trademark to every newly authorized curricula, project, congregational obligation, and personal expectation.

Lee’s concern over words had three interrelated elements:

First, that learning “true principles” would follow repetition of words, in church-owned spaces, as read from church curriculum.  The readers would begin with the “highest” in authority, namely apostles, and then trickle down through quotation and recitation among the rank-and-file meeting in ward-level Sunday Schools or similar “auxiliary” groups.  Churchmen were concerned that teenagers, in particular, and adults in general would abandon their religion if not “indoctrinated” to the Mormon gospel.  This concerned coincided with a fixation to cut costs, costs associated with running the now indebted religion: curriculum being the primary recipient of Lee’s attention.  Other apostles offered plans to finance the growth of the religion through a new strategy of deficit spending, wherein massive financing of missionary efforts would result, it was thought, in lifetime converts soon able to pay the real debts incurred in those efforts, and also to finance future proselytizing schemes.

Second, that curriculum must be more efficiently produced if the Church is to meet its end-of-century goal of twelve million members.  New markets in Latin America would supply the majority share, and Lee and others surmised that these new converts would need a religion much reduced in complexity, theology, and history.  (Let’s call its “ethnic-ready” doctrine.)  Lee’s aim to reduce curriculum, both in raw pages produced and in the “quality” or “complexity” of the content thus created, dovetailed nicely with more nuts-and-bolts concerns among the money managers (in the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop).  A single word, say, “faith,” could be made to carry the hopes and dreams of many a department in the Corporate headquarters.

Third, authorized curriculum distributed through authorized channels would create, according to men charged with instituting Correlation across all levels of LDS Mormonism, an efficient flow of “priesthood power” that ran from the mouth of the president of the Church to the minds of fathers charged with presiding over their homes; homes now regarded as a “unit of the Church,” no less.  The overall effect of administrative, financial, and discursive Correlation would be the descent of the mythical City of Enoch and the culmination of history with the opening of the Millennial epoch.


Mormon pioneers flee the United States for Mexican Territory, and yet, only a year later, again find their flag of the Kingdom of Deseret planted somehow in the dirt of the U.S.  Conflict follows for fifty years.


Mormons from what one might now call the “Utah-branch” have rejected plural marriage (while others embraced it with new zeal), and incorporated their agrarian-communal religion into the image of the modern American corporation.  GM was the model for this new body of Mormonism.  Correlation would follow.


As a Post-Correlation Mormon, I face the problem of scrying the future of Correlation through the eyeball whose trajectory (perhaps after an open-eyed sneeze) and gaze I hope to chart here.  Let me see…Just as it polished a new lens for eyeing the past, Correlation creates its own future in the image of a sort of speculation conducted since the 1960s.  The future was peeped in statistical figures: twelve million international figures cried from the dust of computer terminals.  In 1960 they demanded their needs, by the year 2000, be met, and efficiently.  Which needs?  Simplified curriculum, with reduced shipping rates, enabled concept-delivery around the world; also to one’s mind, all with a modicum of expense (call these “Cost Correlation” and “Concept Correlation,” respectively).  Also, we need absolute clarity regarding to whom one ought to show deference, locally and imaginatively (“Priesthood Correlation”).  A new vertical imaging of social relations was born, and the hierarchical diagram industry boomed.  Last?  Ritualistic care for repetition by quotation or, sometimes, cliché; and cost-effective re-reading of Pre-Correlated materials (“Discursive Correlation”).   Needs realized, what does the future betide for these four oarsmen of Mormon entelechy? 

 In answer, let us draw from that well of tired metaphor and easily correlated drama: the Pioneer Story.  


III.  Pioneers

Imagine four Pioneers of Correlation: Brother Content, Sister Cost, Brother Priesthood, and, of course, Sister Discursive.  Who will change, and who falter on trek to the Promised Land, and who fail to greet, at last, the Enochians?  (Descent of the mystical City of Enoch was said, in 1960s manuals given to ward leaders, to commence only after congregations were square with all four Correlations). 

 Words won’t fail us so soon, though perhaps meaning or sense has tired somewhat.  Onward Sister Discursive.  Brother Priesthood is sure to stand at the helm of the wagons of our hierarchical religion.  Brother Content, it seems, requires only a steady diet of copy-and-paste.  So, let us attend first to Sister Cost.  The expense, necessary or needless, of the vast corporate machinery forged and geared since the 1960s cannot hope for clockwork economic growth; and thus, for attendant growth in stock portfolio value, real property value, and, most importantly, ever rising tithes to lift their titanic boats. 

 What does Sister Cost hear in her journey?  Slower conversion rates leads to decreased investments outside the U.S.  Donations continue to fall.  Chapels fall into disrepair.  Temples suffer “dated” interiors.  Political entities muscle the upper-middle class for more money to fund a global empire.  Payment of “tithes” soon opposes payment of taxes.  Church revenue steams vaporize in an arid economy.  What trickles down is polluted, irrigated, or otherwise damned long before meeting at the reservoir of the Corporate Account.  What to do?  (For the question of finances is now the same as the question of how to run a religion.) 

Cut revenue-draining programs.  Replace paid labor with volunteer “missionaries,” and automate or digitize every possible aspect of the religion.  Invest more in high return, low risk educational loans.  Yet that is not enough cost correlation.  So perhaps the Corporation of the President will turn, at last with full fidelity, to the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop.  The “spiritual” will find a home in the “temporal” thusly, as the Church relies increasingly on for-profit schemes to fund its religious priorities.  Sister Cost will lose some soft tissue, some grey matter and perhaps suffer a thickening of blood, but will likely survive the future austerities imposed on religion (tax-exemption can’t last forever, I think).  [A practical reorientation of accountability for programs and materials entirely to questions from the bottom-line, one half-a-century already in the turning no less, will finally conclude.]  Faced, however, with the maintenance and upkeep of real properties, Sister Cost will be forced to demand her children spend more of their religious energy in cost-effective virtual spaces.  And that’s no meager shift.  So the Corporation of the President turns to for-profit endeavors; off to market to gather capital to nurture a religion with.  Sister Cost is sure to survive the hot dry plains of the future economy (for without her support, which others could now continue?).  Which Correlation Pioneer will be invited out of the wagon, and tread the dust? 


IV. Priesthood Correlation

An administrative department eventually was formed in the 1970s, and the Correlation Department became the corridor through which every text, website, image, DVD, film, commercial – everything produced at Church headquarters – was made to run.  Here volunteers would check for historical accuracy, whether the material met certain needs, and whether it espoused only true doctrines.  Though originally designed in the 1960s as a cost-cutting measure, Correlation has become a vast department in the corporate functions of the Church.  Initially it was but a small committee charged with eliminating redundancy, content repetition, and organizational overlap in the creation of curriculum.  This charge was to ensure that authorized materials could be printed and delivered at a minimum of cost, to expected converts in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.  Those twelve million imagined converts justified a vast expenditure and consolidation of creative power at the church headquarters.  The future once shaped the present of the 1960s; what of the present’s shaping of the future?

The Correlation Department sits at the apex of power in the Church Office Building (COB).  Everything that comes from “producing departments” (e.g., Audiovisual, Curriculum) at the request of “sponsoring departments” (e.g., Missionary, Priesthood, CES)  must receive a stamp of approval from someone in Correlation.  What inquiry does a Correlated item undergo?  Whether the material teaches only the Truth, doctrinally and historically; whether it violates copyright and other intellectual property rights; whether it furthers the “three-fold” mission of the Church; whether it brings souls “unto Christ,” around the world and in Utah as well.  Practically speaking, the department enjoys such a place in the production cycles at the Office Building that no challenge to its power can be expected.  All other departments are subject to its whims.  In the future the Correlation Department will do just what it does right now.   Why?  Correlation claims to accomplish that which cannot, practically speaking, ever be verified.  Could one know whether their approved DVD really brought souls to Christ, or taught only Truth, or furthered the mission of the Church?  Could one really be sure that it was because someone in Correlation Department reviewed the piece, that it thus accomplished these noble ends?  Given its position of power over every creation at the COB – and that employees are evaluated on how much material they produce – the only serious challenge to Correlation Department could come from two fronts.  First, that it doesn’t really achieve what it sets as its objectives.  But the said purposes of Correlation are a combination of the utterly practical (Is this image copyrighted? Is that date in this essay accurate?) and the intangibly vague (Does this radio spot brings souls to Christ?  Will the City of Enoch descend because of this DVD?).  There’s really no chance of any collection of departments mounting this challenge.  The other possibility?  Cost.

What is the cost of Correlation (not the “spiritual” or “cultural” cost, of course)?  In the future it is entirely possible, if not totally probably, that the revenue of the Church will suffer dramatic declines.  Conversion rates fall, economies shrink, taxes increase, investments falter.  Questions of cost-benefit will be asked, as they are now, but serious answers will at last be demanded. 

Correlation is a surveillance agency in the corporate headquarters, to put it crassly.  It exists because church employees are not entirely trusted to come up with true, accurate, non-infringing creations.  Though the department expenses might be minimal compared to, say, Audiovisual (which budgets hundreds of millions of dollars per year for its labors), Correlation “gums up” the production cycles, and causes every department to expand its budget.  These are costs “carried” on the balance sheets of departments other than Correlation, but at some point it is possible that these expenses – for surveillance because employees are not trusted – will be tallied; and the hundreds of millions of dollars demanded by Correlation will finally be accounted for.  Perhaps in the future employees will be allowed to produce materials without extra-departmental oversight, if only to reduce the cost of running the corporate headquarters.

Priesthood Correlation merely names, in the future, the coordination of scheduling software and surveillance apps among agents of the Church who hold keys to its real and virtual properties (How long until “hearing confession” is a Facebook status for LDS bishops?).  This streamlined referentiality trimmed some of the congregational fat from the present-day term Priesthood, as “ward functions” like moving families in and out of homes, holiday parties, visiting the lonely, healing the sick, and Sacrament meetings, are deemed outsourceable. 

The Sunday meetings occur online, as heavy investment in digital technologies rendered maintenance and upkeep of chapels unviable strategies once their full costs were calculated against the entirely unexpected and very real devaluation of real property.  Podcast GeneralConference airs weekly in its place, and Saints are asked to supply their own bread and water for sacrament services conducted by online priests (and a few hold-out neighborhood High Priests).  Digital bread and water are also available for digital avatars.  So to the ether of the digital realm Mormons will flock, as the avatar of the Prophet sets its IM status on “prophesying”, and also correlates its Facebook status to the same.  The vicarious rites conducted at the LDS temples continue, but in order to increase efficiency one body is made to carry hundreds, and then thousands, of “names”, until each attendee is simply named for a ward, and then a stake, where congregate thousands of the dead. Direct deposit of tithes all but eliminates the remaining functions of ward bishops.  They remain, however, as volunteer administrators whose job-description is the referral of Mormons to various for-profit social service-providers (e.g., psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors, depending on one’s income), thus converting the ancient category of “sin” into the modern “illness.” 

 Yes, Priesthood Correlation has become so natural to the religion, even by the turn of the recent century, that few more-active LDS would consider a non-Priesthood Correlated Mormonism any Mormonism at all.  He is assured of a dusty seat, but one yet under the wagon’s canvas.  And far from the ground, too: in the airs of the digital, most likely, he draws breath, for local and global blend well online, and new spatial and temporal relations fulfill the old Sixties aims of Priesthood Correlation: to summon the general authority of priesthood at every locality.

That leaves Sister Discursive and Brother Content to walk, and walk, and walk.    


V. Content 

Content: here is matter to Correlate.  Long ago, perhaps, “content” was a category for texts which housed our sensibilities, hopes, histories, gods, and so on.  No longer: “Content” is a category for what remains to be Correlated; every day, every media product, talk, webpage, curriculum text, and mission statement.  How is Brother Content Correlated?  Three ways:  Self-Correlation – that is, self-surveillance by self-constraint to some, most often imagined, standard – has pumped the heart of Correlation since the 1980s.  Even so, a Correlation Department took on the perhaps weighty responsibility of ensuring that only true doctrines be found in Church-produced materials.  (Correlation Department, twin to the Priesthood Department, is feed by capillaries that stretch across every aspect of the corporate headquarters.  No austerity measures will disentangle it.)  Third, informal “Correlation” also can be read in the size of a work’s presumed audience, since Correlation Department, in truth, makes truth and fact out of two or three witnesses.  Millions of watchers is, then, collectively speaking, instant Correlation (in the future).  And so the cost-efficient logic of self-correlation blossoms into complete repetition of popularly Correlated materials.   Aside from scripture, bound paper texts disappear (see above: “Cost”).  Mass-circulated talks mass repeated instead occupy the front-of-room and rear, in every congregation’s digital Sunday School.  So old talks (that is, post-1971) will be cut-and-pasted, edited, voiced through digital persona and recirculated across YouTubia.  But these offer no real challenge to the unlocked treasure houses of historical texts daily released and read by Mormons able to “Google” the word “Mormon”.

But onward:  that part, delivering the official lesson and ignoring everything else, is easy to orchestrate.  Yet, what of the members of these classes? 

What about the members, though?  Will they be any less or more correlated in the future?  To speak of “correlated” people is something of a misstatement, of course.  Materials produced at the COB are correlated; but the intended consequence is that a unified people, a Zion, will emerge after encountering correlated materials, and only correlated materials.  Thus, the common request that teachers in LDS Sunday schools and other educational spaces teach “only from the manual.”  But the manuals, as any attendee might admit, are rather thin on content (this was the result of pruning content in order to ship materials overseas, but also a consequence of “thinking globally”; that is, of attempting to write generic materials designed to be translated, and read, across all cultures).  But Mormons, apparently, read blogs, books, and watch films which have not been approved by Correlation.  They may ask the question, “Has this been Correlated?” and perhaps some ambitious web-designer will write the software, or app, which ensures that only correlated materials appear on one’s monitor.  But this brings up the question: What is it even to be “Correlated”? 

Functionally, material that is correlated has passed the scrutiny of employees and volunteers in said department.  What criteria are used for evaluation?  They use a special book filled with approved quotes, descriptions, summaries, definitions: much of this made its way into the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.  That is to say, the qualities of an exemplary, correlated text were drawn from Utah culture, and have been now recirculated into other spheres, all without the banner of Correlation draped across their bodies.  Much of what Correlation aimed to do in the 1960s has been “outsourced,” as it were, into the various productive agencies of Mormon culture.  To speak of Correlation now is to speak of authorized Mormonism, in short.  So, since it makes no sense to ask the question of curriculum, web content, or DVDS – which will always be correlated, even if the definitions of “Correlated” change, as they inevitably will – let us ask again, Will members be any more or less Correlated?  That is to say: Will members imagine a process whereby content is subjected to the scrutiny of The Prophet or of the Apostles, and suppose that what they read has the divine seal of approval, and attempt to read only that which they suppose has this seal?  As with the changing criteria of what is considered essential to Correlation, how members read, or discern, unofficial “correlation” will undoubtedly shift.  Certain phrases, terms, style, dramatic structure, prose – questions of genre, in large part – will become indicators of informal Correlation.  This might become a Mormon creative, perhaps even “artistic” genre.  Other signs, like the title of the person speaking or writing (e.g., General Authority, Seventy, CES Instructor), will allow for expansion and consolidation of the discursive signs of correlation.  And finally, the simplest sign of assuredly correlated materials, in the future, will be the supposed audience –  the market share, to be crass – enjoyed by some YouTube sermon, some DVD, some talk, or phrase, or term.  In short, Correlation even as a departmental function merely describes the authorization by a person who imagines other persons (e.g., prophets, apostles, Chileans) will not take offense at a text, DVD, or website.  In the future this is more cheaply done by a web counter or clicker, or overtly “viral” media campaign. 

 So, Will they be any more or less correlated than they are now?  Without the social contribution of a classroom, digital Sunday Schools will become Twitterized: a time and a season to meet and embrace are supplanted by digital timelessness and the seasonless meets of constant, limited-character realtime instruction.  Classroom feedback is limited to FAQs and Up-Or-Down Votes.  Self-Help text-messages might become significant sources of ad-revenue.  And so on.

Content Correlation, long ago intended to reduce repetition for the sake of mailing cheaply a box of manuals to Chile, will at last achieve absolute repetition.  Cost-effective and aligned with diagrams of authority, he’ll find a seat on the wagon of time.    Yea, Brother Content will arrive to the Right Place, if only an image of actual content.  And that image will seem surprisingly like a fluffy pastiche of generic nostrums and abstract vapidity, for actual texts are made to serve every You, no matter the time or place.  Thus, let us lament Dear Sister Discursive (for one must pass away in these stories).


VI. Conclusion

Economies of scale work in favor of Correlation.  Indeed, Correlation had as its aim the construction of a generic Mormonism, one that could be circulated around the globe and speak the same words, give the same meanings, no matter the cultural or historical context.  Practically speaking this has certain limits: only a few select commodities, fashions, terms, logos, architectural styles, graphic designs, furniture, and so on can be mass produced and circulated around the globe under the banner of authorized Mormonism.  Church leaders are realizing that one cannot, however, generate a unified, faithful body of Christ (let alone prove, or know that such a thing exists) by specifying dress codes, vocabulary (“content”), right books, approved internet sites, proper beverages, film genres, sofas, pews, paint, fixtures, and chapel designs.  (Unless one simply redefines “faithful,” of course.)  This has all been the result of Correlation – that is, every change somehow was required to explain its subordination, organizationally, administratively, cultural, to that term.  And yet the loftiest goal of Correlation – the descent of Enoch shadowed on the horizon –  has no serious expected Arrival Time. 

The same lament for Good Sister Discursive.  Her post-mortem might look like this.  Once mighty, unfailing, and a sure channel to heaven, she began to fade when distinctions between speech, meaning, and content (i.e., authorized curriculum) likewise faded; religious discussion was overtaken by online posturing and posing.  (For what?  Invisible eyes, perhaps; Watchers; Twitters?).  Spontaneous talk among Mormons is replaced by “messaging” whose principal intent is to create insecurity: social measures, in short, team-making.  With so little variation in her diet, Sister Discursive contracts a spiritual scurvy, tongue malaise, and then, a full-blown case of cynicism is declared; finally aphemia reduces her to silence.  She dies before arriving at the Happy Valley of Numbers where a Church of Correlates collectively blather, mince, and repeat. 

 But there’s always the future, right?  One can always put off the serious investigation into the purposes, value, and good of some aspect of religion by relegating its accomplishments to the “spiritual,” to the “personal,” to the distant and ever-distant horizons of the future.  So long as this relegation of inquiry into the value of Correlation, and obvious delay of the day of its reckoning, is considered a matter of “faith”, well, Brethren and Sistren, there can be no serious changes to the course thus far plotted (if not actually run) by Correlation. 

But this is the most significant shift which future “historians” fail to diagnose in her condition: the realm of the public, the imagined mass, of the visible and countable and comparable – these places are regarded, futurely, as the authentic temple of the Spirit.  Individual spirits are rewritten as Mass Spirit, and the time-and-placelessness of the digital confers reality to this theology of the Mass. 

The private, the inner, the individual is left to the opinions of blogologians.  Some Twitter that these relics are residues of Fallen Man: corners where secrets hide from watchers, where individual qualities long ago called “accidents” (non-essential, not “general”) are now quarantined; where remnants of “old Mormonism,” such as speaking with embodied humans, moving their furniture, eating communal meals during holidays, initiative, risk, invention, testifying, crying – well, these like a scapegoat, or Adam, into the desolate waste are exiled.  All that is not visible to the algorithm, neither bowing the knee to the digital 0101, nor confessing the tongue that a mass-copied, Up-Voted pixel-Jesus be the Christ – all that is individual, local, embodied, unique and particularized will be at last lost to the Correlated Order. 

But Mormonism, or whatever continues to animate Saints incautious enough to pass their imaginations over the anti-soporific salts called Joseph Smith, will move to other venues and sights, other physicalities, letting the Correlationists live and let live, even if in the image of things.  A gay ending to an otherwise bleak vision?  Good Sister Discursive, revived, is welcomed beyond the veil by Saints who sing extempore dirges, who chant sonnets with their hands clasped about her neck, and soon all set about finding a new cave of textual treasures to unseal.  And perhaps even to publish, uncorrelated, even in the online ether.