Sunday, September 16, 2007

A few days ago I received a gift from two very smartly and conservatively dressed young men – my very own Book of Mormon. The Mormons, for some reason, seem to have quite a presence here in the Czech Republic and they take their business very seriously, studying the language intensively up to an impressive standard before going out and spreading the word. In my case I suppose it might have felt like light relief for them to enlighten me in their own language, but they were no less committed for all that.

I have to say I have a certain amount of respect for the Mormons, not only for their commitment but also for their tactics. Unlike the bothersome, half-witted Jehova’s Witnesses they don’t try and force themselves upon you, unlike those foul, creepy hypocrites the Hare Krishnas they don’t tell you they’d like to “give” you books and then try and emotionally blackmail you into making a donation once you’re in possession of a load of naff, rambling tosh you didnt want to read anyway. My Book of Mormon was given to me completely free of charge, no questions asked. Indeed, very often when I’ve ended up speaking to them in town they haven’t even mentioned their religion at all, merely making polite conversation, us all being fellow ex-pats and all that.

This time, however, it was a full, sit-down chat of well over an hour long and we did talk about religion, not only theirs but also some of their potential rivals. Pretty interesting it was too. It was me, rather than them, who was asking most of the questions. I knew virtually nothing of their religion before, and so was surprised to find that there is a prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, alive and well on this earth today. Previous to our conversation I was also unaware of their theory that the native Americans are actually descended from a Jewish tribe who travelled to the Americas before the birth of Christ. I promised to read some (though probably not all) of the book they’d given me, and they need not fear that I wont keep my promise, since the history of it all at least is far-out enough to be genuinely fascinating. Since they have always been very polite and respectful towards me I tried to return the compliment, which meant being entirely honest with them that I was essentially an atheist, as diplomatically as I could (not one of my strongest points I grant you) elaborating on why I found the Middle Eastern religions in particular problematic. I joked with them, though I meant it entirely seriously, that if I am on the road to salvation whatsoever, then I’m on the long road.

One of the questions they did ask me was if I’d ever tried praying. Well, yes, was my response – not only did we pray at primary school assemblies, but when I was very young I was forced to go to church with my mother and for a few years didn’t question Christian teaching (very few in fact, I became an atheist at the age of 8 as I remember). On the other hand I distinctly remember questioning my mum about praying even back then, and have asked her and other religious people about it since. Invariably I’ve found their answers deeply unsatisfying. I admitted to the Mormons that when I had tried to pray all those years ago it had left me utterly cold and I’d felt rather confused and a little silly about what I was actually doing. Again I turned the question on them – what is praying? They explained (I didn’t tell them this, but it really did sound silly to me), and told me what they felt during prayer – either a kind of voice or warm glow which confirmed to them that what they were doing, what they believed, and above all their Book, were indeed right. I told them that on the occasions I had tried praying I had felt nothing of the sort, which I conceded might well be my fault, since God was unable to make contact with me due to my lack of genuine faith.

Well, since then I have read a couple of passages from the Book of Mormon, before its diverting oddness wore off and dissipated into tedium. I haven’t been converted yet. However, this is naturally not the only thing I’ve read over the last few days – believer in redemption that I am, I have also checked out a few passages from Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything”, including one on the Mormons. Maybe a little repentance is due on my part – although I still feel exasperated at his position on US foreign policy in Iraq, I must acknowledge that he remains a superb writer and formidable debater, despite what lapses or blind spots I might feel he has. Thanks to Hitchens – my Mormon pals didn’t tell me this – I now know that a couple of years before his great revelation the prophet Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was convicted of fraud, claiming to possess “necromantic” powers. This didnt exactly help cure my scepticism regarding Mormonism, nevertheless reading further into Hitchens’s attack on religion in general, as well as watching him debate with the foolish looking Al Sharpton, I received an intimation of what the Mormons meant when they told me about praying. As a witness to this savaging of religion and even the very concept of God, I genuinely did feel a kind of warm glow, a sense of exultation even, that this was indeed right, here was something I could truly identify with.

Keep praying for me boys by all means, but that road’s looking mighty long.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do they pay you something to be a
mormon, i mean professionaly, like
priest, you know ?
If the money is good i think i want
to apply for the job....i feel pretty
mormonic anyway.

9:49 PM  
Blogger ASHDAV said...

I'm sure there's got to be loads of cash to be earned in that game, after all there is in other religions. Even at the lowest levels you get to travel a lot and meet "interesting" people (like me, in fact), though no doubt there are sacrifices to be made in terms of sex life, dress code etc., at least outwardly. And with good presentation skills the sky's the limit - cash bonanza! One of them's even standing for the Republican nomination for president. I can genuinely say I hope he wins (the nomination, that is).

12:58 AM  

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