Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mormon Encounters: Part 1 - Well Met, It Seems

A chance meeting with a couple of very clean cut religious young lasses from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormon) a month or so ago has turned into a series of alternately fascinating and alarming experience for me. As of today we have had 5 discussions and 2 church dates so far. I don't think they have made much progress in terms of convincing me of the veracity of their dogma, but I think we have learned quite a bit about each others and our ways of thinking, and that makes it all quite worthwhile for me. 

We first met near my current apartment one evening as I was taking my roommate's dog (Indi the tenacious non-Rottweiler) out for a walk. Two rather conservatively dressed 20 something lasses had just gotten out of their car in the parking lot and crossed our path as they headed for a neighboring condo, one spotted Indi and zoomed right over in the hope of petting her - a simultaneously brave and foolhardy move considering that Indi is the temperamental terror of the neighborhood. Luckily Indi was in a good mood and tolerated the petting for a bit before starting to cringe her nose - the first step in her rapid-grumpying-sequence that usually ends in a very unsanitary attempt excision of her fondling admirer's nose. Recognizing the change, I pulled her out of striking distance, of course, and made to head out toward the park nearby.

Not missing any beat, the brave lass looked up at me and asked if she and the other lass could come over to share some 'good news'. Being an ex-Evangelical Christian I pretty much knew exactly what the nature of this 'good news' would be. These gals were Mormon missionaries, however, and that was something I'm not terribly familiar with. Not being one to wave well-wishers off without giving them due audience, I said yes.


I expected them to come knocking on my door later that evening after they were done visiting the neighbor, but they didn't turn up until a few days later when I was out of town. So we kept missing each other for a while (since I haven't got a telephone... No, I really don't!). Once they've caught me at home, though, they have been dropping in at my pad once a week or so ever since, 'teaching' me their 'discussions' about their church and belief, and I have tagged along with them to the nearby ward church a couple of times. It's been an interesting experience!

By the end of the first appointment, I must admit, I pretty much knew that our 'discussions' wouldn't progress toward my being converted into the LDS church. Don't get me wrong, the ladies are delightful company and have impeccable manner, even if rather very formal by Southern California standard. Sisters Stetig and Wendig (they call each other Sister + surname and insist that others do the same when addressing them. Apparently the male missionaries are called Elder + surname) always dress conservatively (skirts and heels, never pants or casual tee), stick together like Siamese twins, and are endlessly polite. They even listen and try very hard to relate their dogma to me in terms that they think I would relate to. It is just that the doctrine they espouse doesn't make any sense to me, and there were something about what they said that bugged me to no end. 

First off, they claim to be 'Christians', but dogmatically they clearly are not... And they don't seem to realize this. Their notion of the Christian creed seems weirdly askew (and I'm trying to type this with a straight face since Christianity, to me, is already quite well twisted to begin with). Sure, they use a lot of the same words the Christians use, but they use them to mean different things. And I have yet to find anything in the Christian dogma that claims that there was a pre-existence where everyone - god the father, Jesus, Satan, you and I all included - are all familial relations; that god the father, Jesus, and the holy ghost are three separate gods rather than a weird singular trinity; or that man can become god; or that 'salvation' doesn't hinge on spiritual repentance (what the evangelical Christians would call 'being symbolically born again in spirit', but in repentance AND being obedient (with no emphasis on 'what' one is to be obedient to), etc.

Secondly, they claimed that their church is the only true church, the only one with complete information/instruction from god even though they know nothing of the dogma of Deism or Hinduism or Islam or Buddhism. How can one claim to have the only truth when one has yet to examine if not all then most of the different truth claims out there? And, like pretty much all the religious folks I've had the opportunity to chat with, there is a distinct blind spot when it comes to distinguishing their faith in what they themselves understood as 'god' from their faith in what other humans (in this case, the LDS prophets and the Book of Mormon) say 'god' says or wants.

Whenever I asked for their definition of 'god', all I ever got back is this standard, 'God is your father and he loves you,' line. It's nice and cozy, but really tells next to nothing about god, not nearly enough to help me form any sort of expectation out of this 'god' so that I would be able to tell for myself what sort of action or revelation could be reasonably attributed to 'god' and not to the men who have a knack for pretending to be god's mouthpiece. The sisters' only suggested remedy to that is the assertion that I could always 'pray to god and ask if such and such commands are really from him.' That doesn't do it for me, since they hadn't defined what their 'god' is in the first place, and just about the only description of god that I could allow as possible is a naturalistic one of 'nature itself or the most fundamental physical law that makes nature work the way it does.' And how does one pray to something like that?

We had a good and pleasant first visit, nonetheless. They gave me a free copy of the Book of Mormon and asked that I read the introduction part of it by the time they come back for another visit a week later. As we said our good-bye, the sisters made it a point to tell me before they leave that if I decide to check their church out online, I should only confine myself to their official website (www.mormon.org) as all the others are false and misleading (and that the weird people - evidently those polygamist ones - that others think are Mormons aren't Mormons at all... even though they claim to be ones).

Now, if that doesn't raise all sort of alarm flags going haywire in your head, you should immediately check the flagging system's batteries or switch to a more effective model. Mine was doing all sorts of acrobatic flipping, but being an arrogant push-over that I am, I thought I'd humor them for a week and refrain from reading anything about Mormonism at all except from that nice little BoM that they gave me. After all, Thomas Paine didn't need anything other than the Bible itself to turn him away from Christianity. Any book that is presented as coming straight from god ought to be able to stand or sink on its own merits and failings, right?


Disclaimer: I won't publish the photos of my Mormon contacts, and all their names are pseudonyms fashioned by me to protect their identity.

15 comments:

thadieu said...

how *exciting*, can't wait for 2nd part! ;-)

eyesometric said...

Likewise!
This makes for compulsive reading.

Smorg said...

Hey An & Eyes: Be careful what you ask for, maties. This saga is already getting a lot longer than I had anticipated. :oD

By the way, do you gals have anything you'd like me to ask the missionaries about? They're coming over for lunch again tomorrow.

eyesometric said...

Yes, if it's not too late. Do they ever feel stifled, constrained, dominated?

berenice said...

ahh mister Smorg, you are so teasing the mormon ladies, what a joy to read, if it's not too late could you please ask them if the world is really going to end in 2012? i am about to engage on buying a little condo, and rather spend the mortgage $$$ if so... :) can't wait for the 2nd part too!

Smorg said...

Hiya Eyes: They had shuffled again! First there were Sisters Wendig and Stetig. Then the nimble Sister Wendig got moved and was replaced by mild-mannered Sister Sanftmütig. That was perhaps 4 weeks ago... I was just about getting used to being visited by Sisters Stetig and Sanftmütig when today Sister Sanftmütig turned up with an enthusiastic new 'companion' Sister Begeistert. She's really cute (but you know, they're practically nuns, so you can be sure that I'm behaving myself... Ahem!).

Anyhow, I did ask the hungry lasses for you. They claim that they do miss being free to do things like calling up friends or reading books that aren't church-approved sometimes, but they think this living condition is good for their soul. They want to prove to god and to themselves that they can be obedient in any condition...

I don't know what to say. These gals have been so conditioned to prioritize being obedient to what their prophet command (the same as god's command to them) over everything else I'm afraid the LDS church has practically turned them into masochists. :o(

I think it is different in the elders (male missionaries), though. Apparently Mormon boys are quite expected to become missionaries when they turn 19. It is a sort of a rite of passage for them. They feel they have to do it, and so probably feel the discomforts more acutely. The girls aren't pressured to do it, however, so the ones that do apply to become missionaries are really devout.

They left me a homework DVD for the weekend... apparently about the current prophet. I'm telling you... the way these gals get all reverential when they talk about their church 'apostles' and 'prophet' is really quite disturbing. I would really like to know if those guys actually believe themselves apostles and prophet... Can you imagine making such a claim?

thadieu said...

can you make a deal with them? citing that you've been very open to listening and watching what they give you, why don't they take a look at what you think is devine, such as *alcina* the dvd. Since you can't be sure if they would ever return your dvd ;-), tell them it's best that they see an except with you over lunch for example?

Smorg said...

Hey An: I wish! :oD Apparently viewing films/books/music that are not church-approved is against the missionary rules, however. :o( Though I did try... I made a custom CD for them with operatic prayers, and even printed out the libretto with translation for them to show their Big Sister/Censor/Supervisor. Don't know if they actually listen to it, though. It seems obedience is the biggest virtue in the Mormon community. I'm telling you, it almost creepy the way they are psychologically compelled to obey everything their church seniors say.

knotty said...

Female missionaries are not as common as male mishies are because women are encouraged to get married and start having babies ASAP. Last weekend was General Conference (held twice a year and shown on BYUTV). Apparently, much of what was said had to do with getting married and making more babies for the church. It doesn't matter if you have no money or are in college or are otherwise ill-equipped to procreate. The Lord will bless you if you start having kids early. Hang out on exmormon.org, though, and you'll read some stories of people who followed the prophet and regretted it.

Smorg said...

Hey Knotty: Thanks so much for pointing me toward exmormon.org It's a gold mine of good info indeed! :oD

You know, I'm almost wishing I had ran into some elders instead of sisters. They probably aren't as devoutly dogmatic and it'll be a lot easier dropping them. I have a feeling I'll get flooded with tears when I drop my mishies. :o( Then probably some extra unannounced visits... probably from the cute opera-star-lookalike zone leader/sister trainer (I really like that gal, and not because she looks like Elina Garanca but because she's the only one who has acknowledged the possibility of me finding the BoM to be false - albeit in a delightfully snappish manner ;oD ).

Thanks a bunch for stopping by! Hope your kids-in-law will come round to reason once they are grown and flew the nest!

Georg said...

Could be you'll have an active Morman next year as President. What a country.

I love the names you gave those girls. Much better than those I might have chosen like "Holzkopf", "Dickschädel" or "Gottseibeiuns". Or the French "Grenouilledebénitier"

Cheers
Georg

Smorg said...

Hallo Georgy: Could be! I don't know... I wouldn't normally think much about a presidential candidate's religion, but ever since I've gotten to know a few Mormons of late I'm quite alarmed by how much control the LDS Church seems to have of its active members. Even the evangelical Christians I hung with in the 90's weren't anywhere nearly this controlling... And even if they had wanted to, they didn't have the means to. There is something positively creepy about the way the LDS church uses peer and familial pressure to keep people in line. :oP

And... hey, you've just added a few interesting words to my French & German vocabulary there, my friend! ;oD I'd give the mishies a break in that they are still quite young and impressionable, though. And also quite unlucky. This particular religion seems a terrible one to get entangled with. It's easy to join and very hard to escape from, especially if the rest of the family belong to the church, too.

Anonymous said...

I watched the 'sister missionaries' video. As amusing as it is, there is so much wrong with it. There is no 'opposition'. The missionaries are selling bullshit and that's why they fail most of the time. If only they would allow themselves to realize that their product isn't good and that there's no boogie man sabotaging their mission (except for their church GA big brother boogie men, that is)! But they won't even entertain the thought of them being wrnog, would they?

Stev Garland

Smorg said...

Hello Stev: I concur. Conjuring up a bogeyman to be responsible for unfavorable things that happens is no way of dealing with problems (aside from negating from any notion of free will or free agency ). I'm afraid when faith enters a picture it does away with reasoning ability... and then everything really get skewed. :oP

I do think I've met a few missionaries who may be entertaining private doubts, though they can't air it (they're monitored 24/7... if they don't confess something their companion'll do it for them. Observing them is like seeing Orwell's 1984 played out in real life. A disturbing experience). I really hope they'll escape one of these days, hopefully before they get themselves netted in the Mormon family-making business...

Thanks for stopping by! :o)

Anonymous said...

I have Mormon acquaintances and thought their religion is just another Christian sect. Clicked on the links you posted about the weird Mormon notion of God that's different from Christians'. QUite some eye-openers! And all from the Mormon church website!

Personally I think it's quite dishonest that they're going around saying they believe in the same god Christians do. They clearly don't!

Zach Derham