Last week was especially hectic for me since I had an extra work that
needed to be done by a fast-approaching deadline. I stayed up late into
the night with it and spent a lot of time in a zombic state with nothing
in my head but a whole lot of math work. That was such a case on Thursday evening. I was bent over a notebook, so intent on working out the equations on the computer screen that I barely registered the strange giggling sound waffling in through the window from the terrace below.
|Lord Voldemort kept his soul in a locket, a book, a cup and other things. I keep my brain in a hippo...|
Quick! What is the sum of the interior angles of an octagon? Scattered scratches on the window. More giggles. Impish neighborhood kids! Got the angles sum, now have to subtract from it the known angles to find the unknown one. More pebbles skipping off window followed by more giggling. Is somebody shushing out my name from outside? What the heck??? I'm supposed to be a curious cat after all. Got up and peeked out through the blind. Lo and behold! The Mormon missionary ladies were downstairs, all bent over waving and giggling in the dark!
Sisters Sanftmütig and Begeistert are the names I had bestowed upon the merry twosome without their consent (though I suspect that they would be much less thrilled if their real names were used instead). Neither were the original missionaries
who approached me as I walked the roommate's dog nearly 2 months ago. The nimble Sister Wendig was shipped off elsewhere after just one meeting and replaced by the quietly mild-mannered Sisters Sanftmütig. I'm afraid Wendig is not quite a right name for her. I ran into her at the Mormon Battalion on the 1st of October and now think that N
ächstenliebe would be a more fitting moniker for the good lass.
After a few weeks steady Sister Stetig also got moved to another part of town. In her place now is the exceedingly enthusiastic Sister Begeistert. As much as I liked Sister Stetig, I must say that Sister Begeistert is quite more fascinating and easier a person to hang out with -- especially for her rather strange habit talking to me in dreams. And so, for the past month or so it has been the pairing of Sisters Sanftmütig and Begeistert who drop in to see me once a week, twice if we have church date. (Mormon missionaries always travel in pair. Their rules dictate that they never let their Siamese twin companion out of sight except when either is using the restroom, in which case the other is expected to stand guard at the restroom door).
The LDS Mission seems to break up the missionary pairs every 2 months or so, so I guess I'm expecting Sister Sanftmütig to be replaced soon. That would be quite sad... I really like the lass. For a theatrical artist that she is in real life, she has been so restrained and respectable as a missionary. Not that artists aren't respectable, of course, but they don't usually voluntarily confine themselves into set rules and convention either. From what I've seen and inferred so far, the Mormon church is nothing if not rules-fanatic. The detailed rules may vary a bit in various LDS (Latter-Day Saints) missions, but the general ones seem the same.
('Mission call' is another of the many curious Mormon mislabeling of things. They talk about being 'called to serve a mission', but the fact is that they themselves had to send in a mission application asking to serve. So in reality it is they that called themselves and not the church. This is the same sort of thing as the notion that Brigham Young's god connection protected the Mormon Battalion
from having to fight the Mexican-American War when in fact it was the battalion's lateness that made them miss all the fighting).
Even though I'm not a Mormon, having hung out with them for a few months has made it clear to me that obeying rules and commandments
is a big part of the Mormon lifestyle in general. With the missionaries, though, they go the extra marathon with it.
Many of the missionary rules
seem sensible enough (including safety-oriented ones like obeying the laws or tactful ones like respecting other religions), but many more are confoundingly tedious to the point where they betray explicit mistrust of the missionaries' judgment. So the LDS church trusts these young men and women to know the 'gospel' and be able to accurately communicate it to others, but it doesn't trust them to be able to maintain their devotion and church commitment without being nearly completely cut off from all non-church-based communication (no tv, radio, newspaper or any non church reading material, no call home except for Christmas and Mother's Day, can only write to immediate family once a week and nobody else, etc), or to know what to eat and when to go to bed? That is a strange message to send to investigators...
Anyhow! I had forgotten that the sisters said they would come back to see me after their evening
appointments to give me the answer to a question I had asked earlier.
It was well after 8PM, though, so I sprinted right downstairs to see them
because I knew that they were supposed to be back at their living quarters by
9PM at night. It could be considered almost rebellious that these gals stopped by to see a gentile
(what the Mormons call all non-Mormons, even if they are Christians) so late in the day with their curfew looming in less than 25 minutes. I told them they had better scoot and not get in trouble on my account, but they replied that they would only be in trouble with themselves if they break the curfew... So it seems many of the rules are self-enforced. Discipline is a good quality to me, as long as it is voluntarily self-imposed and not a cultural imposition upon individuality. I was very glad to hear that the sisters still retain enough spiritual independence to not follow rules just for the sake of following them.
|Taken from Mormon.org... what is written on and between the line? Why must intelligence be guided by 'faith'? (It makes as much sense to me as to say that the hen coop must be watched over by a fox).|
When meetings started back in September the sisters would show up with a preplanned 'lesson'. I don't know if those first few lessons were anomalies or if they were the standard operational model for them, but if they were they were quite thrown off track by my many unorthodox questions. I suppose they would have been quite well prepared to defend their dogma against the usual problems that Christians have against their religion (all the while maintaining that their religions were the same, but with improvement, so to speak). But I was asking them to define what they meant when they referred to a 'god', and why such a god would have need of using certain humans as 'prophets' instead of communicating directly to everyone. Invariably their answers would be 'God is our Heavenly Father, and he loves all of us including you,
' and that 'the prophets are tools for God to communicate church-wide messages that aren't meant for individuals.
It doesn't matter if it is Sister Stetig or Wendig or Sanftmütig or Begeistert or even Sister Garten (the Elina Garanca-look-alike sister trainer
who accompanies the usual pair of sisters once a month or so) I asked the questions to, they always
answer the same way, in near verbatim, every time.
I should say, though, that I really like my current pair of missionary sisters. Both being artistic in real life, they are quite more tolerant of my rules-lessness than some others. After a couple of meetings with these two our 'discussions' have become decidedly informal. Not only do they insist on helping me wash the dishes after our lunch, a few weeks ago they actually cooked the lunch for me when they turned up on time for our appointment for the first time ever (I had taken it for granted by then that the Mormon missionary clock perpetually runs 20-30 minutes late except for church services). Sister Sanftmütig took command of the stove and churned out her first ever oriental lunch, a beautiful wok of fried rice, while Sister Begeistert helped with the garnish and most of the after lunch clean up.
If you are expecting a pair of Mormon missionaries for lunch or dinner, there are a few dietary requirements they feel they have to comply to. They won't drink coffee, tea, alcohol, or any other beverage that has caffeine in it. Surprisingly hot cocoa is allowed -- I suspect because they don't realize that the theobromine in cocoa beans
is a close relative of caffeine and has similar though milder stimulative effects (narcotics and tobacco are also banned by the LDS church). When the sisters visit with me they drink mostly water or lemonade or clear caffeine-free lemony soda.
At any rate, both sisters are in their early to mid 20's and very idealistic. Sister Begeistert told me she was born into Mormonism, though 'didn't really have a testimony' (she had doubts about the Mormon faith) until she decided to serve a mission after spending some time doing volunteer works in a remote part of Africa. I really love it when she talks about her experience there. I've had fascinations about British East Africa ever since I read Beryl Markham's West With the Night
(it is one of my all time favorite books), and would love to visit the place one day myself. Like the other sisters when they are about to talk their way out of their dogma, though, her sense of theological rationalization would kick in and she would try to tie whatever she is saying into something testimony/faith-strengthening. In this particular case, she blurted out that helping teaching English to the African kids made her realize that she should serve a mission because 'teaching them the gospel is the best thing I can do to help them, better than teaching them how to read or write, even
Naturally I was alarmed by the sentiment. I greatly admire her selfless goodwill toward others, but teaching the kids how to read and write would enable them to read for themselves the Book of Mormon, along with other mind-stimulating books which would free them from having to always take other people's words for things.
I should also mention, though, that even though both sisters are in the midst of a very unnaturally church-oriented period of their lives, I find it remarkable that they remain receptive of the concept of following their conscience above all else. They have not tried to pressure me into making more commitment or to say any prayer with them ever since I made my protest
on ground of personal integrity. They respect my sense of spiritual integrity even though I'm reasonably sure that their trainer/mission senior wouldn't be thrilled with that sort of courtesy.
In the constant atmosphere of passive-aggressive social pressure to toe-the-prophet/church-leaders'-line that definitely exists in their church (certain things are more easily perceived when viewed from the outside), I hope that they would be able to keep exercising their 'free agency' (Mormonese
for 'free will') even when pushed to do or say things that don't sit well with their conscience.
If you would like to know how the Mormon missionaries think, don't take my words for it. Many active missionaries actually keep blogs! Proselytizing missionaries (the young pairs that go out trying to teach people their gospel rather than the older ones who man the Mormon churches and historical sites) work six days a week. The one free day (they call it 'prep-day' or 'p-day' for preparation) they have each week is reserved for cleaning, shopping, and writing to their immediate family (they aren't allowed to write any other aside from their mission seniors. And they are only allowed to use their church email and can only access church sites). A few
of these guys
email their family
, who then post the missive
on their blog
My missionary sisters wouldn't approve, but I've had much fun reading through many missionary blogs -- the ones serving in the area and others serving elsewhere. Like it or not, the thoughts they dispatch home help me to better understand where they are coming from (along with the strategies they are apt to use, of course)... along with driving home for me what Karl Marx must have thought of when he wrote that 'religion is opium for the people
' (Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes
I am liking the Mormons a lot, but the more I look into it, the more Mormonism repulses me. Even these nice and obviously well-meaning missionaries are showing signs of a serious case of mis-prioritization when the well-being and/or spiritual integrity of the people they are trying to convert runs up against church practice. Have a look at Sister Christensen's description of a baptism she recently witnessed. (Sister missionaries aren't holder of the Mormon priesthood, and though they were the ones who successfully converted you, they have to step aside to let the boys do the actual rituals like baptism as they watch).
"she was baptized. to say the least, it was one of the most uncomfortable
baptisms i've ever had to watch, and i was reeeeeeeally nervous she was
going to back out because she just COULDN'T GET ALL THE WAY UNDER.. but
she didn't. she finally got all the way down. ................... huge
sigh of relief from EVERYONE present. but seriously. (she's way afraid
of water... and to add to that she can't lean back because of a surgery
she had... so she was literally ON HER KNEES and president was literally
trying to push her under the water and she was blowing bubbles and
almost crying...oh my gosh. BUT!!!! SHE DID IT!!!! hahha. and afterwards
she shared her testimony (i did'nt think she'd do that either!) and it
was more like a prayer, but it was so sweet! and she said that she just
felt sooo different and so happy and she couldn't stop crying." (christensen missionaries blog)
The end justifies the means? The lady has hydrophobia and a seriously bad back, and yet these people were so bent on baptizing her with water that they nearly ended up waterboarding the gal... I'm sure the good sister and her colleagues present justified the act to themselves with the thought that water baptism is absolutely necessary in 'saving' someone's soul. But what would that really say about a religion that values literal application of rituals over someone's inner spirituality? I can get baptized 10 times tomorrow, but if I still don't believe, then what of it all??? It's the same deal as when I was pushed to say prayers in order for the praying habit to somehow grow into faith. If a doctrine is not worth believing in, then there is no virtue in trying to force a square idea into a round reality!
"Martha and Jacob dropped us. =( We were both kind of crying. She did it
over phone so we made one final appointment and went in with our guns
blazing. We told her exactly what we're offering, and she knows it. She
said she would go to church one more time, and that she likes the Book
of Mormon. The reason she dropped us was her husband and his anti-Mormon
family. It’s not over yet, we're not going to give up on her, just give
her some time to see her life without the Gospel."
And yet another
"Sister Panga came out of her house holding the Book of Mormon and the
restoration pamphlet. She explained that she and her husband had been
fighting and that she wanted to work it out with him. She explained
that he did not approve of her listening anymore.
Our hearts just dropped. Our last visit she had been asking questions
and told us she had talked to her husband. He had met us on a pjeepney
before and said it was okay for us to visit. I just thought what had
changed in those few short days. She wanted to give back the Book of
Mormon. We testified. No change she insisted that we take the book
back, because her husband told her to. She was kind about it and asked
us to respect her decision. Sister Canoneo told her she could hide the
Book of Mormon. Sister Panga was afraid if she kept the book that her
husband would find it and be angry. We testified that one day her
husband's heart would change and if ever that happened not to be shy to
give us a call. Sister Panga did this in a very dignified manner and
we were not annoyed or mad that she gave us back the Book of Mormon, but
rather saddened and our hearts hurt. Walking away we just sang at the
same time "magpadayon ta!" (we will continue) and laughed. The storms
of the mission can either get you down or lift you up. I'ts a choice
and we decided to count our blessings rather look at the
(Apologies for the length of the quotes, but I wanted to make sure you can read them in their original context).
These aren't isolated incidents but illustrate a recurring theme which I hope sufficiently explains my perception of a relatively subtle strain of snobbiness amongst many Mormons (and Christians and other religious zealots, for that matter). They regard themselves as people who know 'the truth
', and gentiles as those who remain ignorant of it. Therefore they know better, and a gentile's decision to reject their dogma will not be received as credible. The church must be prioritized over everything, family included (note how one of the missionaries even tried to get the investigator (Sister Panga) to sneak the religious book into the house to read on the sly behind her husband's back. Suggestions like this makes it hard for me to dismiss the many stories I've heard from reading posts and articles by ex-Mormons who complain of the church's interferences in their family life.
When the missionaries say that they gave a 'testimony' or 'testified', that means that they made more assertions about them knowing the BoM and Joseph Smith and the LDS Church to be true. It is one of the most annoying things that they all do when they are trying to convert you and have ran out of any logically coherent thing to say. They will repeat the testimonies to you over and over as if their ability to be exceedingly repetitive constitutes positive and unquestionable empirical evidence of their religion's truthfulness.
The missionaries may lay off on you for a bit, but quitting on you altogether isn't quite likely... because they know 'the truth' and really want to save you regardless of what you think. This is one of the things that irritates me the most about religions -- it gives its zealots a free pass to disrespect other people's decision and space, and sometimes to do some really unholy stuff in the name of a god, a cause 'greater' than themselves. Granted the intention is good, but as a wise saying goes; 'the road to hell is often paved with good intention.'
And that brings another of my favorite quotes to mind;
"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it."
(As a side note, there really ought to be a study done on how many of the people who 'drop' their missionaries say that they are only dropping out because their spouse wouldn't allow further contact. What a convenient excuse! And the spouse is almost never there to confirm or deny it!).
Frankly I would really love it if Sisters Begeistert and Sanftmütig (and also Sister Garten, for that matter) will remain friends with me even after they are done with their mission and even though they fail to convert me to their religion. I know that there is a constant social pressure on them and other Mormons to not socialize much with non-Mormons who aren't likely to convert and with ex-Mormons (whom they call 'apostates'). To be sure, this sort of 'only associate with others who share your own belief
' mentality also exists in other religions. I had my fair share of such thing preached to me in Baptist and Evangelical Christian churches, though I never managed to follow it very well even when I was a strong believer. With the Mormons, though, it is quite much more heavily emphasized. As for me, my investigation (so to speak, since the Mormons refer to me as an 'investigator') into Mormonism ends when I relocate next month or when both of the current sisters get transferred elsewhere, whichever comes first.