There are a lot of tables in the Student Union of my community college, especially at the beginning of a new year. To the left of the door is a gentleman in fatigues, attempting to recruit me to the Army; to the right of the door is a lady in fatigues, trying to recruit me to the National Guard; by the back door is a woman in a crisp suit attempting to recruit me to the Bank of America. I have learned that it is best not to make eye contact with any of these people, lest they lavish you with gifts of free key chains, pencils, and checking accounts, all while asking you penetrating questions along the lines of, “Would you like to take a test to determine your eligibility to join our bank/army?”, (oddly, everyone seems to pass) and “Would you like our bank/army to pay for your college education? All we’d need is your soul!”
But never, in all my days, have I seen Mormons recruiting in the Student Union. Nor do I recall ever seeing a Mormon sitting still, usually they are best described in verbs: riding their bicycles, hassling me in the parking lot, etc.
But today, there they were.
I recall writing the other day that I try to know as much about the world’s religions as possible. In fact, to quote myself:
“…..my lack of any definitive religion makes it possible for me to see all religions without the filter of dogma. I take my irreligiousness not as a free ride to ignore the faith of those around me; on the contrary, I try to know as much about their doctrines and cultures as possible. I think that’s just being responsible.”
So, with that in mind, seeing the two sweet little blue-eyed-well-scrubbed Mormon girls sitting there, I decided to jump in headfirst.
I really got very excited (“Yes! Mormons!”), hung up on my mom, who I was talking to at the time, with what must have sounded like, to her, the phrase “gottagonowiseemormonsbye.”
As far as entertainment value and interesting belief systems go, I’m actually a huge fan of Mormons as they are portrayed on the HBO series Big Love, but I’m smart enough to know that this image probably isn’t very accurate. So, with some time to kill and some handy Mormons right there, I thought, why not ask?
I think I surprised them with my direct approach.
“So, would y’all like to tell me about Mormonism?”
They looked flustered for a second, as if thinking, wait, isn’t that our question? But they recovered well, and asked me what I wanted to know.
“Well, I just don’t know very much about it, and I was hoping you could tell me a bit.”
I did not mention that I was an atheist.
“Well, pretty much, we believe in the Prophets,” one of the girls began to explain. “We believe that there were prophets all throughout the Bible, and we believe that Joseph Smith was the Prophet in the flesh. We believe that there is a prophet alive today.”
I stopped myself from asking who that supposedly was. What I offered instead was the Alien Pod Person response: “Well, that makes sense.” Even as the girl nodded enthusiastically, my brain (which always has to have the last word) pointed out to me snarkily that no, it actually didn’t. But when you think about it, it amended; it makes as much sense as mainstream Christianity. “We go by both the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon, they go hand in hand,” the other girl told me. “We believe that the book of Mormon is God’s Word to Ancient America. God wants all His children to have His Word, not just in Jerusalem.”
While I pondered if any legitimate historian, theologian, or cartographer had ever used the term “Ancient America”, which sounded pretty bogus to me – seems like God could have talked to the Native American Indians as easily as anyone else, and that they could have written it down as easily as anyone else – she hit me with a whammy.
“So, you see, with two Witness accounts, there really isn’t any room for disagreement.”
While, on the outside, my eyes lit up, my face contorted into a smile, and I said, again, “That makes sense,” on the inside it was a different story. Holy shit, these people are good, was my thought process.
While the Southern Baptists and Catholics have, for hundreds and hundreds of years, maintained a rigid, no-nonsense view of scripture in the face of illogic (“That doesn’t make any sense,” “It doesn’t have to, God said it, and therefore it does make sense. Clearly you don’t understand.”), these people are using the concept of triangulation. They’re taking a principle of logic, namely, verification from more than one source, and applying it to an illogical idea, namely, that an illiterate man named Joseph Smith found some golden tablets buried in his backyard left there by God that conveniently no one had ever found before. (Okay, so I know a little bit about Mormonism after all)
The girls plied me with pamphlets, the address of their church, and what I can’t help thinking of as Jesus Flashcards, pictures of Jesus with information about Mormonism on the back.
“This is a short list of what we believe,” one of the girls told me, handing me a flashcard with thirteen basic principles on it.
I stopped myself just in time from responding, “Oh, like a catechism!”
But as I said before, while the Mormon religion is based in illogic, it isn’t anymore illogical than any other religion out there. Check out articles 11 and 12 of the Jesus Flashcard of the Principles of Mormonism:
“11: We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
12: We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”
That sounds pretty tolerant to me. In fact, compared with the crusades, the current problems in Israel, and all the other bloody crimes perpetuated by religion, the Mormons come off sounding downright cuddly.
I believe that it takes all kinds to make this country and this world work, as long as none of those kinds are infringing upon the basic rights of anyone else.
I have a dream that one day, all religions, including Mormonism, so often the butt of jokes, can take hands, agree to disagree, and join together in making fun of say, Scientology. Because – Aliens? Really?