Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chatting with a Mormon Missionary: Take 9

It's that special time again - time for Angie to pull out the dumb blonde agnostic routine and chat with a Mormon.

I went with the gender neutral name Terry today, so we'll see how that results. Once again, I have a female missionary. (The first five were all guys. I didn't even know women worked at that BYU computer bank.)

You are speaking live with Bonnie, 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.

Bonnie: Hi! How can I help you?

Me: Hi Bonnie, I'm interested in learning more about LDS.

Bonnie: That's great. What is your religious background?
(Let's quickly steer the conversation elsewhere. I don't want this to be a referendum on my atheism, but an exploration of why SHE believes something without good reason. Watch how I move.)

Me: Christian.

How about you - were your parents Mormon or did you convert?

Bonnie: My parents were both Mormon, but then they were divorced and my mom stopped practicing. It was my choice. (Don't ya know mom would be fascinating to talk to, but the Church of LDS doesn't exactly keep apostates as missionaries.)

Me: Oh. Sorry about your parents' divorce (genuine). So did you attend when you were little, and then started going back later on in life?

Bonnie: Yes. I always kind of went but didn't start going faithfully until I was about 18.

Me: So what made you go back to it, or commit to it more?

Bonnie: I read the Book of Mormon and that changed my life. I gained a testimony/relationship with my Savior. I realized what is most important in life.

Me: And what is more important in life to you?

Bonnie: God, Jesus Christ, family. That is where true happiness is found. Serving and loving others. (There are parts of these phrases I whole-heartedly agree with. I get a lot of satisfaction out of working on this blog, and part of that comes from knowing it helps others. But part of it is totally self-centered and vain - all autobiography blogs surely must be a little conceited. Right?)

Me: So you like being a Mormon because it gives you happiness

Bonnie: Yes and because this is where the truth is found.

Me: Did you look at other religions, to see which one you liked best, or did you always just know that LDS was right for you?

Truth is something I'm very interested in.

Bonnie: I knew it was true after I read the Book of Mormon.

Me: Was that before or after you were 18 and recommitted yourself to your faith?

Bonnie: After. (I was not expecting this answer. Did she never read BoM as a child in LDS church? That seems doubtful. And also, if it was after she recommitted herself - what made her do that in the first place?)

I know you can know truth as well as you study and pray about these things.

Me: So you didn't look at any other faiths, just Mormonism?

Bonnie: I have been exposed to other faiths since my step-dad is not a member of this Church. I have been to a few different churches with His family.

Me: But you haven't looked into the tenants or truth of Islam or Hindu or Sikh, right?

Bonnie: I have not

They were mostly protestant and christian denominations.
(Ah, so still God, Jesus, etc. that she listed as being the benefits of Mormonism.)

Me: So you don't really know how other religions with other gods compare. Okay. (Summary statements are wonderful.)

So, if you didn't pick LDS because it was better than other religions, why did you?

Bonnie: Because I know it is true.

Me: What are you basing that on? I mean, you didn't rule out the other ones because they were false or something was wrong with their scripture, right? You just "know" that the one you grew up with is true. How?

Bonnie: I prayed about it and asked God. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. If there is only one God there has to be only one true church. All churches have truth, but one must contain the fulness of the truth.

(This has the taste of rote recitation. I can almost hear the droning voices saying that en masse in a high-cielinged room each week. I don't know if Mormons actually have some kind of "statement of the faith" that they reaffirm each week like Catholics and Episcopalians, but I'm guessing if they did, it would sound like THIS. So let's deconstruct it - premise by premise. Seeds of doubt, baby. That's my goal in these. (And boosting readership. I think more people must do searches for "mormon lol" than anything, because I always get a ton of new readers for the Chatting with Mormon series. Hi new readers!))

Me: Let me make sure I understand what you're saying.

You grew up Mormon, but not very religious about it. At 18 you read the Book of Mormon and prayed about it. You didn't look at or try out any other religions in the meantime.

Bonnie: I guess not

Me: When you prayed it felt like God confirmed that everything you'd been taught was true, right?

Why do you suppose that there is exactly one god? What led you to conclude that there's one instead of zero or three or a hundred?

Bonnie: Because it makes sense that there would be only one God. That's the scriptures and prophets teach. (Definition: "makes sense" - "doesn't cause cognitive dissonance with the beliefs I already accept as true.)

Me: In LDS religion, sure.

But in a lot of religions there are more than one god. So why does "one god" make more sense?

Bonnie: It would be too confusing if there were multiple Gods. (Somehow the Hindus and Catholics manage it.)

Me: So you think one god is less confusing. Why do you think that would mean there was only one true church? How do you know that all paths, or many paths, don't lead to god?

Bonnie: Because God has set up one plan. That is how we return to God.

Me: What made you conclude that? What was your thought process like?

Bonnie: I studied and prayed and asked God. (That is not a thought process, sweetheart.)

Me: Do you believe that god is angry with people who follow the wrong religion?

Bonnie:I think he knows the thoughts and intents of their hearts. I don't think He is made but He knows they can be happier with the fulness of truth.

Me: Well, I know the Bible says that God is jealous. So does the Koran. What does the Book of Mormon say?

Bonnie: Same thing.

Me: Okay. So if there is one god, and only one path to him, how do you know that Mormonism is right, instead of Catholicism or Islam or Judaism or something?

Bonnie: I have studied, prayed, asked God, and received an answer.

Me: But you only studied the one religion.


Bonnie: True. (You're damn right it's true. It's also the *point*.)

Me: Okay. Do you believe that people can be deceived by false teachers or false gods?

Bonnie: I do. That is why it is so important to pray and ask God. He knows everything.
(The claw is our master! The claw chooses who will go and who will stay. The claw!)


Me: That's a comforting thought :)
(When you can't say something nice, say something condescending that *sounds* nice!)

Do you believe that demons or the devil can talk to us and tempt us?

Bonnie: I think we can be tempted. Everything that is good comes from God, that which is not good does not come from God.

Me: So we only make good choices if we have god in our lives?

Because Bill Gates is an atheist, and he's really successful, and he's also a good person. He gives a huge portion of his income to charity and does a lot of good. He doesn't have god. So do you mean something different, and I'm just missing the point? :)

(I love Bill Gates as an atheist example. I use Brad and Angelina a lot too, but I'm guessing the liberal "in sin" Hollywood aspects might lose her.)

Bonnie: You were asking if the devil can tempt us, my answer is yes. When we follow those bad choices we are not following God.
(Notice the dodge around my question - what about people who do good without god?)

Me; Okay. So when you prayed about the Book of Mormon, how are you certain that it was God who told you that it was the truth, and not the devil, or just your own thoughts?

Bonnie: Because it made sense and because I felt the Spirit.
("Made sense" can be thought of as "did not cause cognitive dissonance with already held beliefs".)

Me: What did the Spirit feel like?

Bonnie: In Galations 5:22-23 states; But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance
(So not what I was asking. *facepalm*)

Me: So you felt all those things when you were praying and asking if LDS was the right one true church?

Bonnie: Yes

Me: Well, I've felt all those things before too, but I've never asked God if the Book of Mormon was true.

How do you *know* that God/Holy Spirit actually led you to LDS instead of just your own thoughts and feelings?

Most people, all over the world, end up following as adults the religion they were raised in as little kids. So I wonder if that's the real reason people end up in a religion, and not because one of them is true. (Especially not one of the *tiniest* ones.)

Bonnie: Because it made sense and I know that it was the Spirit.
(I know because I know because I don't know what "know" means.)

I actually served on a mission and had the wonderful opportunity to teach people about the church who grew up in other faiths

Me: That sounds like a lot of fun :)
(Well, it's not like she's allowed to go have sex or anything. And besides, religious debate IS fun.)

Bonnie: After they searched it out, prayed, and asked God, they received the same answer.

Me: Well, yes, every religion has some conversion and deconversion. You said your mom doesn't practice anymore, for example.

And your stepdad doesn't think it's true either.

What do you know that they don't?

Bonnie: Right.

He doesn't go to any church.

The reason people fall away, like my mom, is guilt. They make a mistake and forget tht they can be forgiven.

(Scratch! Wow. This is why I hope my kid never gets religion. What an awful way for her to feel about her mom. Of course, I'm assuming that her mom's "mistake" was a sin against god, rather than an actual harm. That would change things. Still, a rather condescending and mean attitude to have towards one's mother at the wise old age of BYU attendance.)

Me: Hmmm. That might be a reason for some people. That isn't why I left Christianity, though.

(Yes, *now* I'm ready to talk about my religious background. I've done the prep work for the bombshell.)

Bonnie: They forget their relationship with God.

Me: Again, that isn't why I left. Have you ever been an apostate?
Is that why you left the church?

Bonnie: I have never been one. (Then shut up about us!) I never really left. I just didn't practice it completely. (So going back to my original question? Yes, you have always been a Mormon.)

Me: Okay. Well, there are a lot of reasons people step away from their faith, but I don't think I've ever heard someone say they left because of guilt about their own actions.

Bonnie: I know a lot of people that forgot they could be forgiven and so they left.
(Somehow I'm guessing that's not the interpretation they'd put on it themselves.)

Me: Well, would you like to hear a bit about my religious background?

Bonnie: Sure.

Me: I was raised Christian. I read my Bible, taught Sunday School, and went to church at least once a week. I paid my tithe.

As I got older, I made friends with people who weren't my religion. I was really sad to think they wouldn't be in heave with me after we died.

Bonnie: They will.

Me: Not in the tenants of the religion I grew up in

I used to read my Bible, and pray, and ask God to tell me what was true and what to do, and I tried to lead a good life and honor Him. (most of the time.)

Bonnie: We believe they will.

Me: Okay. I know Mormons and Christians have very different afterlife beliefs, but I think even Mormons have separate levels of heaven, so my friends who were following the "wrong religion" might not have ended up on the same level that I did, right?

(Bonnie: But before we get to that we are in a placed called Spirit World. (Ooh!) This is where we will wait till the Savior comes again. This is where every one of God's children will have the opportunity to accept His truth. It wouldn't be fair for them to be judged on something that they were never taught.

(Look, if I can go to your crappy heaven without believing your crappy religion, then the cost-benefit analysis of Pascal's Wager doesn't really work out well for Mormons.)

Me: I really love learning, so I started to read and learn more about a lot of things - science, and history, and religion. In college a lot of my friends were Muslim.

I felt like I just *knew* that their religions was wrong, and that they were good people but deceived.

Bonnie: It's true. (*snort* Confidence much?)

Me: But I started to ask myself what evidence I had for my beliefs that my Muslim friends didn't have. And you know what? There's not even any evidence that any god even exists! I was totally blown away

Bonnie: What kind of evidence are you looking for?

Me: So I started to look into it further, and I looked at the founding of various religions. I looked at the history of Islam, Christianity, and LDS

Evidence - something that shows WHY religion X is better than religion Y. Or why what religion X claims to be true actually *is* true.

I mean, from an outsider's perspective, you telling me that you read the scripture and prayed and felt like god told you LDS was right, sounds exactly the same as my Muslim friends who read the Koran and prayed and felt like god told them Islam was right.

How do you KNOW you're right?

Bonnie: I can understand how that might seem confusing. (Or batshit.)

Me: Good :)

Bonnie: I guess that's where study and meditation comes in.

Me: Yes, but like I said - other religions have that. People of other faiths list the exact same reasons for why they believe their scriptures are right that you did.

Jews study and meditate on the Torah. Muslims study and meditate on the Koran. Christians study and meditate on the Bible.

Are they all praying to god and just being deceived??

Bonnie: There is a great talk by one of our apostles about acquiring spiritual knowledge that came to mind. Would you take a minute to read it?

Me: Absolutely, Bonnie.

Bonnie: Thanks (link)

Me: You're welcome. I'll write back as soon as I'm done reading. :)

Bonnie: Perfect.

Me: Okay. I have a question about this quote from Joseph Smith. "The greatest achievement mankind can make in this world is to familiarize themselves with divine truth, so thoroughly, so perfectly, that the example or conduct of no creature living in the world can ever turn them away from the knowledge that they have obtained."

Bonnie: Okay. What's your question?

Me: If the most important thing you can do on this earth is learn divine truth (gag me with a harpsichord if *that's* true), aren't you severely limiting yourself by only looking at one religion? Joseph Smith was a man. What if he was deceived?

Bonnie: If there is only one true religion then you would not be limiting yourself.

Me: Yes, but you don't know for certain that it IS the right one. You could be missing the right one because you never even looked past the one you were born into.

(Reeeeealllly loooooong pause. I hope she hasn't scampered like a fluffy bunny!)

Are you still there Bonnie?

Bonnie: I'm here. (Wow, after I called Joseph Smith "just a man" and everything, she's still here!)

Me: What do you know, what reason to believe do you have, that people of other faiths don't have?

Bonnie: It is hard to know what they are feeling. The Spirit will testify differently to me than to you. (Crappy Spirit.) But I know that you can know truth by study and prayer. That is how we acquire scriptual truth. (Point of order, "scriptural truth" has not been shown to, ya know, actually BE true.)

Me: Bonnie, what I'm asking is very simple. What evidence do you have that what you believe is true? What logical reason could you give someone else to explain why your scripture is right, and the other ones that you haven't read or studied are all wrong?

That seems like it should be easy for a missionary to explain. Why is your religion any better than the thousands of other ones that have existed?

Bonnie: I have the Book of Mormon. I have the knowledge of a modern-day prophet. (And I have days of the week underpants*. Neither one tells me why LDS is better than Christian Science. I asked for evidence and you give me scripture?)

Me: And my Muslim friends have the Koran and the wisdom of their Imams. Catholics have the Holy Bible and the wisdom of their Pope. Tibetan Buddhists have their scripture and the Dalai Llama. (Do Buddhistst have scripture? I was banking on her not being able to correct me on that one if I was wrong.)

So what reason do you have for why anyone should pick LDS instead of one of the other religions, or no religion at all?

Bonnie: Because after the death of Christ and His apostles the earth fell into apostasy. God restored truth to the earth through a prophet again. That is why.

Me: But that's only believed by Mormons. No one else believes that, so it's not a verifiable fact you can point to. I mean, just because the Book of Mormon says it's true doesn't mean it is. The Koran says that it's divine truth too. All the scriptures do - that's what makes them scripture.

Bonnie: And anybody can know it is true as they study and read it.

Me: Do you agree that Muslims and Hindus are deceived, and that their religion is man made and not true?

Bonnie: Spiritual truth is available to everybody.

I believe that every church/religion has some truth in it, but not the whole truth. (And nothing but the truth, so help me god?)

Me: Yeah, most religions claim that they're the only right one and that anybody can be saved as soon a they convert.

Why is TRUE for LDS and not true of the others?

Bonnie: Because we believe that this is Jesus Christ's church once again restored to the earth in is fulness. We believe this is where the Priesthood authority, power given to man to act in God's name, is found that provides saving ordinances.

Me: I know what you believe. (Not deeply, but a little after all these chats.)

What I'm asking is: How do you know for certain that Mormons aren't deceived, too - just like Muslims and Buddhists and everybody else?

Bonnie: Because I believe the Lord has revealed truth to me. (Well, isn't that jut a succinct summary on the history of insanity: "I've got specially revealed knowledge!")

Me: I'm not asking about what you believe. I'm asking about what you know. Or WHY you believe it.

There must be some reason that you're a Mormon and not a Muslim. What is the reason?

Bonnie: I have already explained why I believe it I don't know how else to explain it.

Me: So there's no evidence that the things Joseph Smith wrote in the Book of Mormon are actually true. You just believe it because you've never looked at anything else, and you've been a Mormon you're entire life, not just since you were 18. You said you never really stopped being a Mormon.

You don't actually have a reason to believe. It's just what you've always done. Right?

Bonnie: Joseph Smith translated it by the power of God. There is no way he could have made up the Book of Mormon. (*spittake*) I know it is the word of God.

I have many reasons to believe, which I have explained. I just don't know how else to convey it. (You've explained far more than you realize.)

Me: It could easily have been made up. In fact, everyone who knows about the story and isn't a Mormon thinks that he DID make it up.

No, you just said that you felt like it was true, or you felt like god said it was so or you felt like it made sense. But none of those are unique to LDS. Every religious person has those "reasons" for their beliefs.

What you don't have is anything that actually points to it being TRUE. Don't you care if what you believe is true? I know I do. That's why I study so many religions, and so much history and everything else.

Bonnie: I hope that through your study you are able to find truth. (Translation: This is uncomfortable. I'm going to go bye-bye now.)

Me: You too. I think you'd have a much better shot at it if you studied something you hadn't been spoonfed since birth.

It's good to question your faith. If God is real, he'll honor that desire for truth. (And if he's real and won't, then he's a prick not worthy of worship.)

Bonnie: I respect your beleifs. I know these things are true and know that you can know them too as you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon. I have questioned my faith and I have received an answer. It was great talking with you. Have a wonderful day!

Me: Ask some of your friends why they left and really listen to their answers. I"m guess it's not because they forgot they could be forgiven.

Bonnie: Will do. Have a great day! (Exclamation marks mean it's polite for me to go away now!)

Me: You too :)

That was FUN. So what did we learn this time?

It is possible to have an hour long chat with a Mormon and not be sent to Moroni 10 or Nephi 7. And probably some other stuff, too. But this post took forever and it's nearly time to grab the Little Man from the bus stop. Rest assured, I did my best to plant seeds of doubt.

In the meantime, I have to share with you this delightful video my brother sent of Buffy kicking that pansy stalker Edward's ass.

Seriously - vampires that *glitter* in the sun? That's what happens when a MORMON writes a vampire story. The kick-ass-tacular Buffy is created by atheist and secular humanist Joss Whedon.

* It is still Tuesday, right?

** Why is Miss South Carolina considered an idiot for her inane comments, yet Miss My-Gay-Dads-Shouldn't-Marry California was on all the talk shows being toasted for her "bravery"?