The Mormon Experience

The Mormons have a bad wrap. Every few weeks one of their cyclist missionaries make an effort to spread their gospel around a certain area, and they are bound to step on a few toes. The past two weekends I spent some time talking to them, along with a friend of mine, in an effort to hear about their reasons for the golden question…

What do you believe and why?

Saturday, February 5th, Elder Curtis – probably 19, and Elder Jackson – 17 or 18, came to my door. I will be referring to them by their last names and omitting the “Elder,” or “Brother” from this point on for brevities sake, not out of disrespect.

After the casual greetings and introductions were exchanged I took note of their seeming discomfort. Mormons typically have a two year mission, where they leave all that they know and appreciate, in order to go to a foreign land to spread the word. I imagine it could be a very taxing experience and in light of later events I am fairly certain that it is. Curtis began by telling us about their purpose and why they came and we began talking about their beliefs.

Over the next two hours the following things were clear to me:

  • Sending 18 year olds to evangelize ones religious views is more about solidifying their own views than conversion or recruitment.
  • Emotions are very strong within the evangelical youth.
  • Baptisms after the fact are magical
  • While jesus may be a composite character, no one seems to care

I’ll pause for a moment and share some of our discussion on Baptisms.

Baptisms, Post facto

The topic came up, almost in passing, after discussing what happens to people who have not had the opportunity to hear the good word – be that because they had died before the founding of the Mormon church or being born in a land the Mormons had not  yet reached. The answer was – baptisms can be conducted after the fact and their souls would be saved that way.

As you might have imagined, I had my reservations with that answer. It feels a bit too easy, of course but its also a ridiculous, possibly offensive and bizarre statement. The mormon church has already baptized figureheads and famous figures like Barack Obama’s mother, Pope John Paul II, Bing Crosby, George Carlin and a number of others, clearly after their deaths. more than that, many (possibly most) of those involved were not Mormons when they were alive, nor have I been able to find any reason to believe they converted immediately before dying, or after for that matter. Carlin, for one is a well known atheist figure and the chances of him having a death bed conversion is absurd.

There are sites that list figures like Babe Ruth having been baptized 13 times between 1956 and 1994, but he died in 1948. Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK Jr. and so on down into the rabbit hole. It is quite likely that these baptisms and confirmations are controversial, and I imagine there would be quite a bit of upheaval within certain sects of the world.

“the short answer is that we are able to do baptisms for those that have passed on. The acceptance of that baptism is up to the person and is their choice – the concept is that we just give them the option.”

David Lee, Brother within the Mormon church

Continuing on

This past weekend we joined our friends and David Lee on the grounds of the Sunnyvale LDS Church, to try to gain some further enlightenment. Unfortunately, our discussions really didn’t lead anywhere.

I staked my grounds well – Science, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Logic, Reason and evidence were my interest, and I received none of this. After our nearly 2 hour meeting the outcome was – You need to read the book and pray, and god will tell you whether it is true or not and no matter how you spin that response, its not reasonable.

The highlights of our second session were more interesting, but I still left the church quite frustrated and disappointed, as most religious people leave me.

  • Mormons are all great people
  • Questioning ones belief is a privilege that some of us do not have
  • God will give you the answer, if you ask and wait long enough
  • The Mormons do not have a monopoly on gods will or word
  • Mormons have no more to go on than other belief systems
  • The hand of god is a warmth in ones tummy

After being told that the way to know about the factual nature of the book of Mormon is to ask God and he will let you know. According to both Curtis and Jackson, the books are true because they knew the books were true, but at least Jackson was willing to admit that he has not received his signs. Lee and Curtis insisted that they had simply been touched by the hand of God, and that confuses the hell out of me.

What do I get?

I got an email a while back, trying to clarify what it is I get for the time I spend with people of this caliber. The reasoning for discussing religion with these believers is less about conversion or indoctrination, and more about understanding the origins of beliefs and views, being exposed to and exposing my own arguments regarding religious views. Being involved in these discussions forces me to question the things I hold as true, and whenever possible to slough off anything extraneous.

Suffice to say, the Mormons are no better at answering my questions than any of the other characters of the world.

I am continuing discussions with Brother David Lee.