Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Category: Missionary chats

Telling Mormons about Mormonism

It was O-Day at UWA, and I like to help out with the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society. Would you believe: our booth was right next to the Mormons.

I learned something rather surprising: faithful active Mormons seem to be completely unaware of the new essays on church topics. Could it be that there was a purpose in releasing them in the dead of night with zero fanfare?
So I took it upon myself to tell them about these wonderful resources put out by the church.

Is he gone yet?

Orientation Day has come around again at my university, which means religious groups are canvassing. And that includes a huge group of Mormon elders and sisters. They’re nice, but it doesn’t seem honest that they form an ad hoc campus club (the LDSSA) that never does anything during the semester. It’s almost like it’s — gosh — a front for getting missionaries onto campus. Oh well, Mormons gotta morm.

I was chatting with one of them, and then this happened.

Why are atheists so rude?

It was Orientation Day on campus. People can sign up for clubs (including the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society), and there are always tons of church groups doing their schtick. So I like to see what’s out there.

Here’s a conversation I had. It went pretty much just like this.

A chat with the Witnesses

Some Jehovah’s Witnesses came around this morning. I decided to go all Socratic on them, and just ask them questions. It didn’t last very long.

Missionary chats: What finally did it?

I was talking to one of the Elders. Smart guy. He was aware of the difficulty of trying to believe something that doesn’t mesh. I think lots of missionaries feel that way.

Let’s say your faith is like a building, and you find a problem with the doctrine. You don’t want to trash the whole building, so you build around the problem. But after doing this for a long while, the structure begins to look rather byzantine and arcane. And haphazard. He called it ‘Spiritual Jenga’, which I quite liked.

He asked me, “So what was it that finally did it for you?”

I explained that it was a cumulative process. I became aware of cracks in the plaster, then more and more structural problems until the whole thing came down, despite my best efforts.

“But was there one thing?” he asked.

Well, there was, but it was going to sound stupid.

“Go ahead,” he said.

It was the Tower of Babel.

I’m a linguist, and the idea that all human language diversity came about in the last X-thousand years is not really plausible. The Babel story is clearly a legend to explain the diversity of languages. Lots of cultures have these myths.

But if you’re a Latter-day Saint, you can’t excuse it by saying it’s figurative. According to the Book of Mormon, the Brother of Jared was a real person who was there at the time, and got his family and friends out. The Book of Ether follows their exploits to the New World. You can’t dismiss it. You have to take it as literally as anything in the Book of Mormon.

Well, that pushed the by-now-rickety Spiritual Jenga tower over like a big clumsy housecat. It was a clear and irreconcilable case of Something Not Fitting. It was wrong, and I could see that it was wrong, and there was no way around it.

And even if you’re not a Mormon, you’re not off the hook. Is the Tower of Babel literal or figurative? If it’s literal, where’s the evidence? If it’s figurative, how do you know that? After all, it’s presented as factually as anything in the Bible. What else is figurative? Moses and the Red Sea? Walking on water? The resurrection? If you don’t believe in those things literally, then you have a lot in common with this atheist.

So that was it.

How about you?

Missionary chat: Paleontology

Every once in a while, the LDS missionaries find me, and every time it’s a revelation. The contents of a missionary’s mind are basically everything they remember from church, plus anything that gets them out of a scrape with some competing doctrine. Which means that I hear them saying mostly the same crap I used to say when I was a missionary. Not verbatim; the doctrine has evolved since I wore the badge. Think of it as Mormonism’s Greatest Hits, but with bonus remixes. And so it was this Sunday.

The opening move was mine: I explained that I was an RM and now a vocal atheist. I think this threw them off a bit; they were expecting to visit a member.

They responded with the crafty “Look Outside” defense. It goes like this: Just look outside. If there’s no god, than how did all those trees and plants get here?

My riposte, of course: Evolution is a very well-supported theory that answers many questions about the complexity of life on earth, and it doesn’t require you to believe that goddidit.

I suppose to the senior companion, ‘evolution’ meant ‘dinosaur bones’, so he decided to impart. “You know that the Lord can make things seem older than they are,” he said. “When he changed water to wine at the wedding in Cana, he was making something that was ‘older’ than water.” I made a mental note that water is just as old as wine, but I let it slide. “In the same way,” he continued, “he can make dinosaur bones that seem older than they are.”

I promise you I never would have said anything like that.

“Why on earth would he bother to implant fake dinosaur bones just to fool us?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“Well,” mused the elder, “when God made the world, he made it out of other planets. Some of those planets had the bones of animals already embedded in them, and those are our dinosaur bones.”

The Stupid was strong in the room that day. I hardly knew where to start. Explain about the from earth forming, not from being smooshed together, but by a coalescing cloud of matter pulled together by gravity? Point out the absurdity of layers of fossils being preserved in chronological order despite the smoosh? Ask what orifice he pulled that answer from? Demand evidence for the claim?

The cognitive overload was too much. All my tools of scientific sophistry were helpless. I was paralysed before the sheer magnitude of Stupid presented to me. Well played, elder. Well played.

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