Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chatting with a Mormon Missionary: Take 6

So I've been absent the past week. I figured the best way to jump back into these conversations on religin, cults, and the weird things people say is through Part 6 of our series Chatting with a Mormon. I'm posing once again as a man, "Aaron" today. Aaron's topic of questioning is the great mystery: Death.

You are speaking live with Ben, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.

Ben: hello

Me: Hi Ben. A friend of mine is very ill. I'm starting to wonder what happens to us when we die.

Ben: that is a great question
here is a page that is a good place to start learning
there are tabs on the left hand side that you can click through and read more
let me know when you are finished

Me: Okay, I've finished.

Ben: what did you learn from it?

Me: So you believe we have spirits that go on after our bodies die, but that they get reunited with our spirits?

Ben: yes, at the resurrection our spirits will be reunited with our bodies.

Me: what's the resurrection? I thought that already happened 2000 years ago on Easter

Ben: it is defined on the page i sent you

Me: Well, it just says that it's a reuniting of body and spirit, but I've never heard of such a thing before

Ben: if you click on he word it gives you a little bit more
(No, it doesn't. It just says the same thing in a little pop-out box.)

Me: why do you need or want a physical body in the afterlife?

Ben: one of the main purposes of coming to this earth was to receive a body
we need our spirit and body to be whole
here is another page you can read

Me: So we're whole right now, but when we die we won't be?

Ben: we are mortal right now, when we are resurrected we will be immortal
(See? It's totally worth these little chats just to find out what's so different between Christianity as a whole and that special little faith known as Mormonism.)

Me: It says Jesus was the first to be resurrected, but he raised people from the dead during his ministry on earth
like Lazarus and the centurion's daughter

Ben: their bodies were not glorified, perfected, or immortal

Me: well everything that's physical changes and deteriorates over time, even non-living things
(I love caves.)

Ben: you know the stories about lazaurs and the centurion's daughter but don't know about the resurrection?
are bodies wont following the resurrection

Me: I know about christ's resurrection but I've never heard about us having physical bodies after we're dead, no

Ben: it is a very common theme of the bible, why don't you tell me more about your religious background
I would like to better understand where you are coming from.

Me: Christian from the time I got saved when I was 3 but now I'm not so sure what to believe. (True.) I mean, if all those miracles were happening for 2000 years, why did they suddenly stop?
Here's a link

Ben: have you stopped going to church?

Me: years ago

Ben: as to your question i would like you read a chapter in the Book of Mormon
(Only for holy texts will he find the Shift Key.)
Here it is

Me: It seems to be saying that miracles do still happen
but you have to admit that the stories of the bible are pretty fantastic, and nothing like that is actually happening right now.

Ben: they happen everyday

Me: I mean the sun doesn't stop in the sky and there aren't rains of frogs or antyhing happening. It'd be on the evening news if they were.
What kind of miracles happen everyday?

Ben: you have to remember the bible and the book of mormon are condensed histories so the stories in them are going to be the big ones

Me: Well yes, but what kind of big stories like that happen now? You said miracles happen everyday

Ben: link
This article answers your question exactly

Me: The things he describes as "true miracles" or "macro miracles" don't seem very miraculous.
He cites things like people paying their tithe or working in missions. (Seriously dude? Half the stuff he claims is "unexplainable" I personally can explain - the rest can be explained by other humans of non-religious persuasion. WEAK!)
That happens in all kinds of religions - are they miracles when non-mormons choose to pay for their church or mosque's work?

Ben: there are miracles in all religions

Me: But not miracles in the Biblical sense - big, noticeable, large-scale things like the sun stopping in the sky, or all the bodies in the graves of Jerusalem rising up as one
What happened to the big miracles?

(My son and I have a good natured debate on the merits of ice cream for breakfast. We compromise on an empty ice cream cone and some fruity oatmeal.)

Ben: i don't know
maybe we don't have enough faith
or there is no purpose for them at this time

Me: It just seems a shame to me that all the big miracles happened at a time when communication and science were so primitive that miracles couldn't be told to all instantly and obviously, the way such a thing could now
with 24 hour news cycles, advanced technology, science, and the internet
Did you read the article I sent?

Ben: i didn't get one

Me: Here it is (link)

Ben: ok
(Several minutes pass.)

Me: Let me know when you're done

Ben: im done
(Now my son wants to play Mr. Potato Head with me. I'm gonna have to wrap this up soon.)

Me: well how can you believe in prayer when there's not proof it works?
and no miracles?

Ben: God has answered my prayers many times

Me: People of all faiths claim that, but none can prove it
And they claim to worship different gods
(Dora the Explorer to the rescue - my son is well settled and may let me continue chatting.)

Ben: I guess you will never know for yourself until you exercise faith and pray for yourself

Me: Well I tried that for 20 some years and it was a bust. Besides, how do you explain "answered prayers" from people who don't pray to your god? Are there other gods capable of answering prayer?
It seems to me that if God wanted people to know he could work miracles, or answer prayer, he'd do it in an indisputable way, like back in the Bible

Ben: I think God still hears and answers their prayers
it isn't their fault, they have just been misguided.

Me: Even if they're praying to Vishnu or Shiva or Allah? I thought the 10 Commandments were pretty clear on the penalty for praying to false gods.

Me: How do you know you're not the one who's been misguided? (The question that eventually led to my non-belief. How do you know your god is the right one? Can X million Muslims really be wrong? What proof do I have?)

Ben: i guess we will find out in the next life

Me: If God answers prayers or people of all faiths, what is the benefit of being Mormon instead of something else? (I ask this same question of liberal Christian friends who think atheists/other faiths don't necessarily go to hell. It's awfully sweet of them, but not backed up by their doctrine or texts.)

(Loooong pause. Finally, I've found my "stump" question. Time to watch old Atheist Experience clips on YouTube!)

Ben: one for me is having the gift of the holy ghost to be constantly with me.

Me: What is that gift like in your daily life? (Technically, that's not a Mormon-specific "benefit".)

Ben: i find it serves as a source of inspiration, comfort, peace...

Me: Inspiration, comfort and peace are all fine things. People who aren't mormon or even christians or even religious experience those things
What is UNIQUE to Mormonism?

(Stepping away from the computer to deal with the smelliest diaper EVER. What did that boy eat?)

Ben: I guess the best thing for you is to experience it
come to an lds service, read the book of mormon, live all the commandments
and if you still have questions about miracles and blessings then we can talk
im not here to make a sales pitch to you. It sounds like you have already made up your mind on many issues, so the best thing for you is going to be practicing what we teach

Me: So you can't answer it
(By the time they're ready to get off the line anyway, I go whole hog and just push them.)

Ben: then you will know if it is true or not
i just did answer it.
it might not be the answer YOU are looking for

Me: There isn't any unique benefit you can come up with

Ben: but it is an answer.

Me: Okay, so the answer is "There is no reason to be Mormon instead of Muslim or atheist." Right?
So why are you Mormon, if there isn't anything special about it?
(Watched this video while waiting for his response.)

(I don't think he's coming back. This one has had more honest "I don't knows" than most.)
(I've also watched this video.)

Me: Ben?

(My personal trainer, aka, son, has put me through one mile on the treadmill, 150 reps of free weights, and squats - which are much harder, as he rides on my back while I do them. I'm pretty sure Ben ain't coming back.)

So what have I learned? Not much. This morning's chat was really just an excuse to dive back into the habit of religious dialogue. I did learn that Mormons believe we get physical bodies after we die, and that we are mortal now but will be immortal later. In protestant Christianity, I'd learned that we were immortal souls living in mortal bodies, and that once our bodies died we wouldn't need them anymore. If I'd stayed on topic I would have asked him if heaven was a physical place, and if hell was also. I don't know much at all yet about the LDS view of hell and think I'll probably cast that as my next conversation question. It's hard to keep myself on task, learning, when what I really want to do is get these kids to start asking questions of their own. You can't teach critical thinking in one single conversation, but I sure wish I could. Better, more thought out posts coming very soon.


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