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Of all of the many hurdles that stood between the LDS church & myself, one was particularly difficult to overcome.

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 my interpretation of 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.

Originally posted to Spencer Troxell on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 06:32 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A nice essay (6+ / 0-)

    about your philosophical inspection of an unfamiliar creed.  

    But if one can swallow angels and miracles, what's a little arbitrary restriction on modern motion picture ratings?

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 06:47:32 AM PST

    •  Oddly enough (8+ / 0-)

      I grew up in that church (as I said below), and I used to watch R-rated movies... although as a kid we weren't allowed to.

      We did dance, though (the church held dances, in fact).  But I hadn't heard of the "R" restriction.

      But then, it's like anything else.  You ask any two Mormons (or two people from any other religion) what the strictures and beliefs are, and you're going to get two different answers.  I don't think any two people anywhere believe exactly the same things.  Ever.

      •  They restrict viewing of R ratings. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        As a consequence there is a cottage industry based on taking out all the "nasty bits" of popular films. That caused a court case involving Titanic, IIRC and I think the Mormons eventually won, but I'm not sure about that.

        "Take it back, take it back. Oh no you can't say that. All of my friends are not dead or in jail." John Prine

        by high uintas on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 08:08:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I was raised in the Mormon church (9+ / 0-)

    Never really converted, but grew up there.  Over the years, the things I was taught slowly seeped away from me, because they just didn't make sense.  An old white man with a beard is "God"?  People who never heard of Jesus wouldn't be able to make it to the "Celestial Kingdom" unless they were baptized into the church?  

    Some of what they teach makes sense, like the Word of Wisdom - not too much red meat, no caffeine, no alcohol... the caring for the community as a whole touched my compassionate side... but too much of it seemed like a fairy tale to me, and I'm an adult now.

    There are a lot of good Mormon people out there.  My mother is one of them.  But I'm no longer a member, especially since a long talk I had here in Florida with a couple of the men from the local church.  This was about a year before Prop 8... I told them that when it came to civil rights, I was absolutely unbending.  If they wanted to excommunicate me for believing that gay marriage was a basic human right, that was up to them.  They didn't, but they kept trying to change me, and told me that I needed to re-read my book of Mormon and the Bible, and "let God change (my) mind".  I very politely told them that there was no way that my mind would be changed - ever.

    And now that they've come down on the wrong side of Prop 8... I'm glad I left when I did.

    Like I said, there are a lot of good people in that church (I grew up in Washington State, with a lot of Democratic Mormons) but the church hierarchy has taken such a hard right shift that I have no interest in being a member ever again.  

    Besides, I'd rather read fairy tales and dismiss them, than have someone try to convince me that they're true.  No offense to those who are religious - that's just how I feel.

    •  There's a lot I appreciate (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      high uintas, Lujane, Mayfly, Diogenes2008

      about the Mormom church in terms of the family aspect, even if the theology is as foreign and problematic to me as my Catholicism (waning) has been for others.  Having a teenager who is finding his way in the world and having to make choices about things like drinking, sex, and drugs, he's found good friends in a couple of Mormon guys. He has common cause with them in not bowing to peer pressures of partying etc. and focusing on academics and community service.  

      And many of my papercraft hobbies seem to lead back to Mormon roots. ie scrapbooking, card making, papercrafts and the interest in genealogy. A number of the companies whose products I use are based in Utah, almost to the point where it's unavoidable even if I were trying to avoid that!

      Sarah Palin: Never met a fact she ever checked

      by Vita Brevis on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 07:07:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Scrapbooking is big here (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Diogenes2008, Vita Brevis

        Daughter is into it big time, but she belongs to a party kind of group. They reserve a hotel conference room once a month, have their pina coladas (or whatever) and really have a good time away from hubby and kids.

        "Take it back, take it back. Oh no you can't say that. All of my friends are not dead or in jail." John Prine

        by high uintas on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 08:13:37 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm an anti-social crafter! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          high uintas, Diogenes2008

          Don't do the scrapbooking or stamping clubs, parties, or Tupperware like orgs... I don't fit the mold because a lot of the blogs that feature ideas I like are also pretty preachy about God.

          Sarah Palin: Never met a fact she ever checked

          by Vita Brevis on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 08:16:40 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm more like that (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            homogenius, Vita Brevis

            Daughter is more of a social person. She's into the PTA for example, but her family is (like her father and I) atheist.

            They had to sit my grandchildren down and explain the whole holiday thing because the kids were confused about crosses and bunnies and Santa and all that stuff.

            She was trying to tie Xmas and Easter to the larger picture and oldest grandson freaked because they killed a baby in a manger with a cross. It get's complicated, his best friend thought a picture of Jesus was Obi Wan Kenobi.

            "Take it back, take it back. Oh no you can't say that. All of my friends are not dead or in jail." John Prine

            by high uintas on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 08:32:41 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Sounds a lot like my Catholic experience. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      high uintas, Diogenes2008
  •  You're lucky you got them to leave at some (7+ / 0-)

    point!  When I lived in Elmira, NY years ago, we were a practice area for the missionaries flooding out of Palmyra, NY.  Their thing then was to get in the door and STAY THERE!  They simply would not leave until someone pushed them out.  

    I would read up on there founder, Joseph Smith if you were really interested in what makes them tick.  He and his followers were driven out of NY, OH, Ms and IL and headed west.  People in NY knew him as a con artist.  Always digging for gold and convincing people that he had found it, preying on his neighbors in one way or another.  He was eventually assassinated for his looney ideas and for his polygamy.  He was trying to found a theocracy and people didn't like it.  His followers moved to Utah, founded their theocracy and practiced their polygamy, they massacred a a group of people passing through their territory.

    I try to be tolerant of religion, but this is one that is founded in complete hypocracy, murder and the exploitation of women. They have only modified their "beliefs" as has been necessary to avoid too much publicity.  They "officially" don't condone polygamy with usually involves young, teenage girls, they have modified their stance on blacks-they don't say they carry "the mark of the devil" anymore.  They are presently trying to reposition a little on LGBT's because they want to run Romney again for president.  You do know, of course, that a Mormon president will save the United States from downfall?  They don't tell you about that.  

    •  Great great grandpa joined up w/Joe (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      importer, Diogenes2008

      in New York. He went from a pilgram background to Mormon, great grandpa Moroni was a child when they came here with Brigham. The religion gene fell off by the time I got here.

      "Take it back, take it back. Oh no you can't say that. All of my friends are not dead or in jail." John Prine

      by high uintas on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 08:16:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Reading the Book of Mormon (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    high uintas, ExStr8, Lujane, Mayfly

    I'm impressed that you read significant portions of the Book Of Mormon. I tried to read it years ago, and was unable to make any sense of it whatsoever.

    I prefer popular histories anyway. I recommend the biography of Joseph Smith by Fawn Brodie. It was first published back in the 1950s (I think) but is a serious piece of historical writing that holds up well today.

    Brodie, by the way, is more famous for her book on Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress Sally Hemings. More than anyone else, she turned historical thinking around on this illuminating episode in America history.

  •  Any Trekkies here? If so, do you remember (3+ / 0-)

    the Deep Space 9 episode where Jake is trying to get a rare baseball card to cheer up his father, Capt. Sisko?

    Jake's friend Nog, a Farengi (sp?) is doing a lot of wheeling, dealing, and swapping to get the card.  

    At one point Nog explains the Farengi religion to Jake along these lines (I paraphrase from memory) "There is a great river of prosperity running through all the universe.  And if you navigate that river skillfully everything you ever need will come to you."

    I thought, "Damn! Any religion whatever can be presented in a good light."

    Resist corporate serfdom.

    by Mayfly on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 07:36:45 AM PST

  •  Thanks for your diary. Excellent. (4+ / 0-)

    Stonewall was a RIOT!

    by ExStr8 on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 07:43:24 AM PST

  •  Small minded people (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    high uintas, Lujane

    Prefer a God in their own image.

    The petty, vindictive, anti-intellectual God of fundamentalist of every stripe, is not an appealing picture to me.

    I guess it is kinda like Palin supporters, wanting someone they can relate to rather than an actual omniscient universal entity great enough to encompass the universe.

    They can imagine talking to or having a beer with a vengeful patriarch. It's kinda like when their grandfather gets drunk.

    The biggest threat to America is not communism, it's moving America toward a fascist theocracy... -- Frank Zappa

    by NCrefugee on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 08:15:05 AM PST

    •  In all honesty that is one of the charms of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Mormonism. They really don't place a lot of weight on petty or vindictive Gods. The problem is with the Word of Wisdom, another book by Smith that gives advice on a healthy lifestyle.

      It advises people to not drink, smoke, consume caffiene, or be promiscuous. It's a guide but now people are so wedded to it that they believe they HAVE to follow it. My grandparents generation had their coffee and tea and booze.

      Brigham produced alcohol, IIRC. At least I'm sure the Orrin Porter Rockwell (the Avenging Angel) did, he ran a watering hole along the pony express trail.

      "Take it back, take it back. Oh no you can't say that. All of my friends are not dead or in jail." John Prine

      by high uintas on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 08:25:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I too enjoy offering drinks (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    high uintas, homogenius

    to door to door evangelists.

    Sadly, I usually end up drinking alone . . . (well, it's actually not that sad - there's more for me!)

    •  Answer the door nekkid. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roadbed Guy

      I used to know a guy who had an early warning system with a neighbor so they knew when the missionaries were coming. He would answer the door starkers, or in a jock strap, or wearing only a leather harness. Great fun!!!

      "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." --Mohandas Gandhi

      by homogenius on Thu Nov 19, 2009 at 10:28:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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