This post began as a comment to a post of Bruce Charlton’s titled “The traditional Christian concept of marriage is too weak“.
One of Bruce’s main points in the post is that the traditional Christian concept of marriage denigrates marriage, since it considers celibacy to be a higher state. In a comment Bruce also wrote, “Is it … surprising that Mormons are doing so much better a job of speaking out in defence of marriage, getting married, getting married young, staying married and having children, and having more than two children – than are Catholics?”
In response to which I wrote, in substance, the following:
In asserting that the traditional Christian view of marriage denigrates marriage, you are assuming the truth and validity of the LDS view.
If the default view of marriage were that it was for eternity, and then someone came along and said it should only be for this life, then you might be “denigrating” it by taking something that is properly eternal and making it merely temporal. But if it’s properly temporal, then calling it temporal is just calling it what it is, which does not denigrate it. You might say that calling it eternal magnifies or exalts it, but not-exalting something is not the same as denigrating it.
(Of course, even the LDS Church allows for merely temporal marriages, as well as temporal divorce. Temple-sealed marriages are held up as the ideal, but not as essential to marriage as far as I can tell (I welcome correction if I’m wrong of course). See, e.g., the article titled “Divorce” from the Mormon Encyclopedia, posted on the BYU library website.)
In the Catholic view, celibacy is a higher state because it requires giving up natural human goods in order to devote oneself entirely to God. This makes perfect sense within the whole Catholic context. Yet this doesn’t denigrate marriage. In the same way, giving away one’s money is a higher state than keeping it, yet that doesn’t denigrate keeping your money, as if you should be ashamed of yourself for having a checking account. And again, turning the other cheek is a higher state than fighting to defend yourself or your property; yet fighting in self-defense is by no means considered a bad thing.
As far as why the LDS Church does a better job at getting Mormons to obey Church teaching (granting for the sake of argument that that’s true), I don’t think that can be ascribed so simply to its teaching being superior. As discussed before, we’re comparing apples and oranges: The Catholic Church and the LDS Church are too different in too many ways to make direct statistical comparisons. There may be more Mormons, proportionately, who obey their Church’s teachings, but I contend that Catholics who obey their Church’s teachings find them just as fulfilling and derive as much benefit from doing so.
Asking why more Catholics don’t do it, is like asking why more people don’t stop sinning when living virtuously makes you so much happier. There are a lot of reasons why people don’t obey the Church, and a lot of reasons why the Church doesn’t do a better job of conveying its teachings effectively. But neither of these leads necessarily to the conclusion that the teachings themselves are wrong or inferior.
Bruce, in this post and elsewhere on his blog, seems to judge LDS teaching on marriage superior to the Catholic understanding (and that of other Christians), based on things like the divorce rate and how many children the average Mormon couple has, compared with Catholics. But all that tells us is that the LDSC is better at getting Mormons to obey its teaching on marriage (if even that). The efficaciousness of a church’s teaching has to be judged, not by the overall rate of compliance with the teaching, but by the effect the teaching has on those who obey it. It’s fallacious to compare a group with (to pick numbers out of my head) 70% compliance, to a group with 25% compliance, because then you’re comparing a bunch of people who obey their church’s teachings, on the one hand, with people who disobey their church’s teachings on the other. Your conclusion then amounts to something like, “Mormon teaching is better because obedient Mormons steal less than disobedient Catholics.”
When you find large numbers of Catholics getting divorced or having one or no children due to using birth control, what you have are large numbers of disobedient Catholics. Whereas it’s been my observation that Catholics who obey those teachings have just as stable, happy and fruitful marriages as any Mormon.
You may ask the question whether Mormon teachings are more conducive to being obeyed than Catholic teachings, and why (because easier? more inspiring?), and those are legitimate questions. But they can’t be answered by comparing divorce statistics and birth rates of a 2,000-year-old church with over a billion members spread throughout the world, with a 180-year-old church with around 14 million members, nearly half of whom live in the United States, and a sixth of whom live in a single state (Utah of course). Correlation doesn’t equal causation.
 Bruce edited my comment before posting it, allowing only about half of it to appear. I don’t know why he felt it needed redacting. Maybe it was just too darned long.
 If you dispute that the Catholic Church is 2,000 years old, as undoubtedly many Mormons would, I think one can say without fear of reasonable contradiction that it has existed continuously for at least 1,500 years.