Weeble (clockworksaint) wrote,

The Mormon meet-up

It seems like everybody wants to know all about my meeting with the Mormons. I can report that it went very well. They were extremely polite and friendly, and were never pushy. One, whom I shall call Elder Utah, was very talkative and confident. The other, let's call him Elder Idaho, was much quieter and didn't seem quite as relaxed. Both of them are nineteen, and I think they said they're somewhere in the first year of their two-year mission to Scotland.

It doesn't sound like they get much choice about where they go. When they apply to be missionaries, they get assigned to a mission - theirs was based in Scotland. Every six weeks the mission calls them and they might get shuffled around. As it turns out, the night I talked to them they were expecting the phone-call that would tell them if they were moving. It came while they were talking to me, ("we're, uh, in a park, talking to an investigator") so they had to take turns – one would talk to me while the other talked on the phone. Elder Utah found out he was to be re-assigned to Edinburgh, while Elder Idaho was to remain in Dundee.

As I mentioned before, I didn't want to invite them into our messy flat, so we arranged to meet up and go to a nearby park. Thankfully the weather stayed good – it had been miserably wet the day before. I think the funniest point for me was when some kids playing in the park shouted at us, "Oy! Jesus!" and one of Mormons said not to mind them, assuming that it was targetted at them. Of course, I said "Don't worry, I get it all the time: it's the beard and the hair," and they had a bit of a laugh.

If I were to go into that situation again, I think I would maybe spend more time thinking about what sort of questions I'd like to ask. They were always happy to answer my questions (well, it was mostly Elder Utah – Elder Idaho tended not to have much to say unless he had to) but they didn't really have all that many of their own, and left to their own devices they had a script to go through, and although it was of some interest, it wasn't really anything that I couldn't have found out on the Internet. It was quite clear how this part was rehearsed, because they would swap between each other, and it was only because of this that Elder Idaho said much. Sadly, Elder Idaho didn't seem to have quite the same talent as his partner. He didn't seem to know any of the Bible/Book of Mormon verses off by heart, and he stumbled over the words in nervousness as he tried to read them out. Elder Utah was much more of a natural.

Their spiel, in short (as far as we had time to get through) was this: history is divided into "dispensations" divided by "apostasies". During a dispensation, God's prophet walks on earth and talks to people in his name. Adam was the first prophet. During apostasies, people don't have proper guidance from God and bad stuff happens. After Jesus died and came back to life, the "Great Apostasy" began, because all the true apostles were killed and despite what some other supposed Christians might tell you, they did not pass on any proper priesthood. But don't worry, eighteen hundred years later, Joseph Smith prayed to God to ask which church he should join, and God and a collection of saints told him to start his own. We didn't actually get much further than that. They didn't go into the whole alternate history for North America.

Their attitude towards Joseph Smith is quite interesting. It's like he's somewhere between your favourite celebrity and Superman. They talked about how he had so much faith, in awe and excitement. They make him sound like this amazingly cool guy that they'd love to hang out with but would be too shy to talk to. Jesus gets worship and prayer, but I think Joseph Smith gets the fan-mail.

I said they didn't ask much about me, but one thing they did ask about was my religious background. I guess that's kind of important. I explained that I'm an atheist, and that I was formerly Catholic. I was careful to explain quite what I mean by "atheism", because it seems downright impossible to get two people to agree on what "atheism" and "agnosticism" are. I'm atheist in the sense that I do not believe in a god, I see no compelling evidence that any proposed gods exist, but that I make no claim to be able (and have no particular inclination) to disprove any particular god. I'm not sure I did a terribly good job of explaining this, though.

Later on as we walked back from the park, Elder Utah asked if there was a reason for why I became atheist. I think I answered quite clumsily, but not dishonestly. Basically I realised I had no faith, and I had no way to find faith that was distinguishable from lying to myself. Religions themselves say that you find faith by praying or looking inside yourself or something like that, but if you've done that and it's not there then they suddenly don't sound so convincing. If they start trying to convince you on the basis of evidence, they find themselves on substantially shakier ground. So I realised I didn't have faith, and shortly thereafter, that I didn't particularly want faith. I didn't really articulate it particularly well, and mostly focused on not being comfortable professing to believe things that I fundamentally knew I could not believe. I don't think they had a whole lot to say about this. I got the impression they might be a little bit disappointed, but they were still very nice and I tried to make it clear that I had really enjoyed our talk and I was very thankful to them. I wished Elder Utah good luck in his move to Edinburgh, but stopped short of commiserating Elder Idaho for being stuck in Dundee.

They left me with a Book of Mormon. They asked if I would A. pray and B. read the passages they had marked. I said I could not promise to pray, but I would certainly be interested to read whatever they gave to me. So now I have to read a chunk of the Book of Mormon. Sadly, from the little I've read, it's, um, well, judge for yourself:
3 And it came to pass that there came a voice again unto the people, and all the people did hear, and did witness of it, saying:
4 O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.
5 And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.
6 O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with the full purpose of heart.
—3 NEPHI 10:3-6

In conclusion: lovely people, I hope they enjoyed our chat and got as much out of it as I did. I'm not sure I can say the same of their holy book.
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