Thursday, 26 April 2012

Blind Faith (My Encounter With A Mormon)

I live in an apartment, so one thing I don't get is doorknockers. It's not like doorknockers have been a problem for me in the past, but however sporadic it feels somewhat intrusive. Instead, intrusion comes in the form of flyers and having to dodge people who for some reason want to talk to me in the street.

Of course, I should have seen the signs today. To be fair, two days ago, someone stopped to ask directions and it was near a bus interchange. But a man in a suit coming up to introduce himself? I had my mind on getting back to work. So the conversation starts with "I'm from the church." I ask "which church?" as my mind starts to comprehend the situation. As if taken aback at how preposterous that there could be more than one church, the reply comes "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." And good news, they wanted to help me with my happiness and family relationships! I was asked if I was familiar at all with their teachings, and I said I was.

And from there, the conversation took an odd turn, instead of being told of the no doubt wonderful account of who Joseph Smith was and how the Book Of Mormon was God's final testament to humanity, I was asked if I had any questions. And with this offer to learn from the master, all I could think to ask was one of those irritating reflexive questions that highlight the spiritually tone-deaf approach so characteristic of new atheists: "Do you really believe that the Garden of Eden is in Jackson county, Missouri?"

At first he blamed his lack of argument on poor communication skills and that it was because English wasn't his first language (fair enough). Then later, after I had given a scientific argument against the existence of Adam & Eve, all he could do was say "Well, I believe it." Any ground for the validity of the position is conceded right there, as my second spiritually tone-deaf utterance saying that belief in Santa doesn't make Santa true, and that the way to assess whether or not Santa is real is to look at the evidence. By that stage, I needed to get back to work, so I in as polite a way as possible declined the offer of a Mormon business card and left.

As I was walking back to work, the thing that bothered me about the exchange was how unaware he seemed of his own position. Perhaps it was the pressure of speaking a second language, or being challenged in a way that wouldn't normally happened, but he didn't do much of a job at all in giving any indication he knew what he was talking about. That last comment of "I believe it" summed up the problem for me. Here's someone who didn't really know what they were talking about, nor could offer any defence of what they were trying to convince others about, yet they were happy to stop a stranger in the street to have that conversation.

It's fair enough to an extent that we have beliefs that we can't properly articulate, and that we hold things to be true largely on the basis of the authority they have come from. Given the question at the very beginning, I was wondering if this person really cared much at all about the nuances of Mormon theology and instead had devoted part of his life to preaching to strangers on the basis of what the church had done for him personally. If that's the case, and it's purely speculation on my part, then what chance did I have to expect a reasoned defence of theism?

But to stand out on the street and try to convert strangers to a system of belief that you don't yourself properly understand is problematic. If he doesn't know what he's talking about, and manages to convince someone else on the matter, then that's now two people who believe without really knowing why. It's ignorance propagating ignorance, and nothing good can come of it.


EastwoodDC said...

All young Mormon men (and now some women) do a 2 year mission, working to gain more followers to the church. The surprising part of this is that you only encountered one - they usually work in pairs.

Kel said...

The second was walking around nearby, and for whatever reason didn't come over.

Richard T said...

Having done stuff of a similar nature it is somewhat hard to have a good answer to everything. I would assume with most religions there is a core of belief that must be known with a bunch of other things around it that aren't super required but should be known eventually.

Kel said...

I can understand that, I did put him on the spot so I am trying to be as sympathetic as possible to that situation. That said, "it's my belief" shouldn't ever get a free pass, and even if it's someone being put on the spot it's no excuse. If you're the one preaching, you have an obligation to do better.

Richard T said...

Yep, my fallback is always to say I don't know but I can find out and speak to you later. That kind of works better if you know the person you are speaking to. Speaking nothing > speaking crap.

Intelligent Designer said...

This person is in what Scott Peck would describe as Stage II of Spiritual Development