Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Where The Mormons Lost Me
[I'm going to be pretty busy with a couple of other projects until around July 5th, so I'll be posting a few re-runs until then. Thanks to everyone for reading! I hope to have some new content for you in early July.]
Much to my wife’s frequent dismay, I have a habit of inviting door to door evangelists into our house. I invite them to sit on our furniture, and I offer them drinks. Sometimes, our conversations will span frequent sessions, culminating in the inevitable question:
“So, would you like to buy our product?”
Obviously, because I am an incorrigible heretic, the answer has—so far—been ‘No, thank you. But thanks for the conversation’.
I really do enjoy the conversation. I’m interested in evangelism as a person who is interested in finding out things about God (if there are things to be found out about God), but also as a psychology major who is very interested in human relationships, and the mechanisms through which we choose one belief over another, or no belief at all.
One of my longest recurring conversations was with a pair of Mormon disciples. At the time, I didn’t know very much about Mormonism. One of my supervisors at work was a Mormon, and she was very nice. She had given me a copy of The Book of Mormon on lunch one day, and I hadn’t read it. It seemed really contrived to me. She told me about it, told me I should read the whole book, pray sincerely for God to give me a sign that it was true, and to submerge myself in Mormon culture in the meantime.
‘What kind of sign will God send me?’ I asked.
‘Oh, I don’t know. It could be a warm feeling in your heart, a prickly feeling on the back of your neck, a simple feeling of confidence in the document.’
‘What does the feeling of confidence feel like?’
‘You’ll see.’ She said, very confidently, very self assuredly.
Of course, plunging into a well of specific religious literature and isolating yourself for long periods of time within a community that ascribes to that literature, is an act that is probably only like to be performed by a few types of people, with only a few possible motives. Type one would be the person who wants the claims made by the religion to appear to be true, so that they can accept the dogma (for whatever reason) and enter into the philosophy, lifestyle, and community promoted by that system. Another type is probably someone who was brought up inside that system, and seeks to come to some kind of personal understanding of that which has been handed down to them, so that they may either embrace it, or reject it, based on their own understanding. The third kind of person would probably be someone making a documentary film, or writing a book.
Since I fit none of these bills, I didn’t see the necessity of reading the entire Book of Mormon, or undergoing the very clear self-propagandizing regimen that was suggested to me*. I would rather skim through the book, talk to some sales representatives about their product, and do some critical analysis by reading oppositional writings, and doing some of my own thinking. I wasn’t sure I could be as straightforward with my supervisor as I might’ve wished, so I was glad when the two young men who came to my door were so eager to answer my questions.
I’m sure we went over all of the basic stuff that everyone goes over when they run into Mormon evangelists. I was pretty fascinated by the idea that our God may not be the first God, and that he has kind of learned how to be a Good God via on the job training. I thought that could go ways to explain a lot of the weird stuff in the Old Testament. Of course, my new friends didn’t like that view, and of course, I didn’t like that these young men had absolutely zero evidence to support any of these strange claims about the nature of things. Eventually, they asked me to pray for the tingly feeling, and I said, no, I would prefer some evidence, and they said, fine, thank you for your time, please reconsider. Then they said a prayer with me and left.
Maybe it’s a surprise to you that I did in fact end up reading large portions of the Book of Mormon. I watched a few documentaries on the subject, and read some other material too. I was fascinated by some of their ideas. That man could earn Godhood was interesting. That you could think of God in the way I had just explained was also pretty neat. That Jesus was my brother (because God is my father!) was a new twist. There are all kinds of unusual and interesting things embedded in Mormon philosophy and history. It seemed totally crazy at first, but—as with all instances of habituation—it became more familiar and even more reasonable to me the further I dove in. That is one of the functions of self-propagandizing.
I started talking to my supervisor about it, and she was very eager to answer my questions. She invited me to functions, and let me borrow books and movies.
One day, I told her I had seen a movie that I thought was really good. It didn’t have anything to do with Mormonism, but it was about belief, and God, and all of that stuff, in kind of a meta-poetic way. It was called ‘Photographing Fairies’. She said it sounded interesting, so I brought it in for her to borrow.
The next time we worked together, I asked her if she had seen it. She kind of scrunched up her face and said,
‘Oh, sorry. I can’t watch this movie. It’s rated R’.
‘What do you mean?’ I said.
‘Mormons aren’t allowed to watch R rated movies.’
‘It was a message delivered to one of our elders.’
‘But the rating system is so subjective!’
‘But this is a good, thoughtful, philosophical movie! It’s beautiful! It got the R rating because it shows a pair of breasts for like, two minutes! And the sex scene is very tame, and it’s between a married couple!’
She shrugged her shoulders, and I relented.
I was probably never going to convert to Mormonism, but if there ever was even a remote chance of my joining up, it was squashed at that moment. I can’t make any claims about God, but I’m fairly certain that if there is a God, he wouldn’t be the kind of philistine the church of Latter Day Saints paints him to be.
I am a person of little faith, but I have more faith than that.