Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mormon Encounters: Part 6 - A Talk Among Friends

Entire Mormon Encounters series
Part 1: First meeting       Aside 1, Aside 2 
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon
Part 3: Going to Mormon Church
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam & Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries

I had a bunch of visitors yesterday. My Mormon missionary friends Sisters Begeistert & Sanftmütig came over for a late lunch visit. Since all of us were a bit sick with something or the other we had fried rice with a hot and spicy bowl of tom yum chicken soup which cleared our sinuses out like a super-concentrated tub of Drano.

The Sisters have really became good friends in such a short time. Last week when I was sick with the flu (well, if felt very much like a flu then, but has since moved down to settle somewhere down my throat, so I guess it should now be called a bronchitis) they turned up in the rain -- and one of them didn't even have a rainproof coat or umbrella on -- on Friday evening just to bring me a big and very yummy bowl of chicken soup! 

In case any senior Mormon missionary supervisor come across this, as much fun as we three have during these visits, the sisters aren't neglecting their proselytizing duty any. Any lack of progress should be attributed solely to devious me. I keep distracting them with jokes left, right and center, and once all the laughing is done there just isn't much time for them to concentrate on what they were planning to say.

To illustrate to you what a poor communicator I've been, the last time they were here Sister Begeistert asked me again to explain exactly why I fell out of Christianity and why I am finding it so difficult to accept the Mormon truth. I told them about resolving to read the Bible without the mindset to will everything to fit to the church dogma, and finding that the only fitting explanation of all my troubles with dogma was that it (the dogma) was wrong. The sisters had a hard time understanding that, though, so I told them of one of the problems I ran into once I've had that paradigm shift: the problem of Abraham obeying god's command to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. 

Christians are taught to admire Abraham's faith in that episode; it is supposed to be an inspirational thing, something we all should aspire to emulate, that when god commands one to do something, even something as hard to do as killing our own innocent son, Abraham resolved to carry out the commandment without brooding any question. In this Biblical episode god intervenes just as Abraham's knife is about to come down on Isaac; the latter is allowed to live and Abraham is rewarded for his 'faith'. There is a similar story in the Book of Mormon, however, and it is an often cited one that is supposed to be taken in the same spirit that the Christians take the Abraham-Isaac version, it is the story of how Nephi (the first one as there are three different Nephis in the BoM) was commanded by god to kill the abusive Laban, as the latter laid unarmed and unconscious on the floor. Unlike Isaac, Laban is not spared and the killing is justified as sacrificing one to save many.

The sisters were well familiar with those stories, though they were rather shocked to hear what I told them next: "I read the story of Abraham and Isaac again, and paused to ask myself; if god turns up in my living room right now, indisputably god, and commands me to kill someone, would I do it?"
Rembrandt's The Sacrifice of Isaac
After a few uncomfortable minutes I broke the impromptu bout of silence with the only moral answer that I could think of; "I'd just tell god to go to hell." 

Sister Begeistert was too stunned by such a thought to say anything, though Sister Sanftmütig had a go; "You wouldn't, even if circumstances arise where the choice is either for one man to die or for whole nation to perish? (that is the justification that the supposed holy ghost presents to Nephi #1 as he tries to evade having to carry out such a godly commandment)." 

But what was the justification for killing Isaac? Considering that Abraham wasn't given any reason, and had no foreknowledge that god would stop him at the last minute. What if 'god' commands the sister to kill her own innocent brother? The Christians -- me included when I was one -- applauded and admired Abraham precisely for having the 'faith' necessary to follow god's command regardless of its atrocity and mercilessly irrational nature. And the Mormons do the same whenever the story of Nephi #1 and Laban turns up in ward meetings and lessons (Sunday church services). And even if the 'justification' of 'better one man than a whole lot more' be valid, I'm sure a god that had created everything in the universe from the smallest pebbles to the thinking human beings is competent enough to do the deed itself if it so chooses. I have more respect for murderers than I do the people who order others to murder for them. 

Many of the religious folks like to claim that atheists like me are immoral precisely because we don't believe in god (as the religions define it), and yet here is The God commanding an immoral commandment. (By the way, does god ever tempt people or not? In the Abraham-Isaac episode it sure did; god did, and not the devil... or so says the Bible).
Just imagining myself praising a sadistic god while suffering for my morality.
For me it comes down to three possibilities: there is no god; or there may be a god, but it doesn't have anything at all to do with what is said about it in religious texts like the Bible or the BoM; or there indeed is an immoral god who do order such things as this, in which case I say it can just make me drink the Kool Aid or throw me into its bubbling cauldron for the rest of eternity but there is no way I'll subordinate myself to a sh*tty murderous lump of cosmic bully like that. If I have to believe in a god, I wish for the former, though various Christians and Mormon missionaries keep trying to wish the latter on me.

Naturally the sisters were rather distraught. If I didn't seem a lost cause for them before I sure was looking, sounding, and smelling like one. Sister Begeistert was especially down (and probably more than a bit confused). She really wants to give this happiness she feels -and attributes to her faith- to me, and I was rather nonplussed at myself for somehow not managing to be obviously happy enough to not need such a thing. I know my atheist friends will give me hell for this, but I told her that she could just keep trying with her proselytizing attempts. The lass is such fun and pleasant to hang around with that that extra baggage of always having to talk about religion doesn't bother me that much... yet.


kuri said...

The Nephi story never bothered me that much. I guess I figured that God kills everyone eventually anyway, so he can hurry it up if he wants. But it always gave me good ammunition when conservative Mormons would decry "moral relativism." I'd say, "If you're against moral relativism, then do you think it's always wrong to murder a helpless man and take his property? Well what about Nephi and Laman?!"

But the Abraham story is nuts. Or I should say that God is nuts in the Abraham story. A human who treated his kid like that would be considered a twisted sadistic freak, not a loving benevolent father, as I tried to demonstrate once in a rather heavy-handed parable that I wrote a while back.

Smorg said...

Hiya Kuri: And a good parable you wrote! A lot of times we don't appreciate what a story like this implies if we don't try to apply it to ourselves, I suppose. It passed through my mind (as she was protesting with the Nephi justification) to suggest to Sister Sanfmuetig to ponder on what she would do if god or Moroni suddenly turns up, gives her a knife and tells her to dissect her companion... but that seemed to cruel a thought experiment just then. :P

Georg said...

Hello Smorgy,

Just posted a comment but the system went awry and it was gone to hell.

Just let me tell you that I greatly enjoyed reading this.

And your photo showing the Pacific Free Flight Zone reminds me what I am missing for the time being. We have here those Automn high winds.

Is there a Paradise for "good behavior" atheists where they can dwell in the afterlife?


Anonymous said...

tomyum sup! i'd like one! with schrimps please.
i'm again enjoying reading this greatly. impressed with your readings and patience too. i always think the right way to reason with religious people is to read through the whole thing then ask them questions that force them to think. but even you surprise me with "I'd just tell god to go to hell." i can only imagine the shock on the sisters' face!
just a peeve, i hope u're not really respecting murderers :-), but it's true there's nothing more hypocritical than putting on a nice face while ordering sh*tty acts in the background. love the ending "Naturally the sisters were rather distraught"... though, hopefully this is not the end yet. You know they will track your new address and send more girls over right?

Smorg said...

Hallo Georgy: Heh, sorry about that! Blogger does that to me sometimes, too. Sometimes the comment even looks like it had gone through, but then it doesn't show up anywhere. :oP Guess the system is haunted by a temperamental ghost. ;o)

Hope you'll be able to fly again soon! I know you're into flight simulating stuff, but nothing beats really being up there on the paraglider, ay? :o) This past weekend wasn't a good one for flying since it rained something tropical here (what weird weather for this area). It's cleared up nicely since, though.

Considering that the likes of Einstein or Feynman or Sagan wouldn't be going to any religious heaven/paradise after they died, I guess I'd rather go where they'd be... Better sweating out the Hades sauna with interesting people than be bored to tears by perfectly well-behaved bores for all eternity, I say. ;o)

Hiya Dr T: The next time we get to hang out I'll make it a point of making you a pot... even if it's the middle of St. Louis' 110F with 98% humidity day! ;oD

The sisters took it quite well, I think, considering that I said those exact words. Nah, I don't respect murderers, though I still think them a bit better than the hypocrites who can't or won't do such dirty jobs themselves indeed. :o)

Er... they (the church) probably would like to try to track me, though I'm not giving out the info so they'll have to work for it. I might give Sister Begeistert my new addy, though, if she promises not to give it to anyone with church connection. She has independent enough a head on her shoulders, I think... though I would wait until she's done with the mission thingy. Wouldn't want her to have to deal with the conflict of interest stuff. :oP

Girls... sigh... Gotta admire the LDS church for such strategy... I'm surprised the Jehovah's Witnesses hadn't started to emulate that yet. The only JWs I've ran into are old women who would actually leave you alone when you say no. :oP What's with that, ay?

Anonymous said...

part 7 makes a proper series. Let's have another!

Paul D

Smorg said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks! I'm working on it... a recap, so to speak. ;o)

Anonymous said...

Tell god to go to hell.

O the irony! Thanx for good chuckles. I'll borrow that, too, if I may.


Anonymous said...

The embedded video doesn't work, I think. Interesting discussion, however. I never asked that question about why should we worship a god that orders evil things.


Anonymous said...

That imagining yourself praising a sadistic god while suffering for morality is quite priceless!

Bill Goertze