Something that I’ve become quite interested in lately are the Mormons, culture, their theology, and the history. I don’t believe a word of it and I am agnostic, but there’s something I find very fascinating about the whole Mormon package.
Despite the fact that I don’t believe in any particular religion or faith, I do like to study theology from time to time because I find it to be a reasonably interesting subject. Mormon theology is certainly an interesting twist on traditional Christian ideas, and is actually far more imaginative. In fact the book of Mormon, and what they believe, are actually very fantastical, and would make a great fantasy saga, like Lord of the rings, or something similar.
The history of the church is also quite fascinating. The imagination and audacity of Joseph Smith to come up with the book of Mormon, and then to have loudly proclaimed it as a new revelation from God, and then to have turned it into a religious movement, with its own resulting incredibly complex and interesting history of intrigue, violence, boom and bust, politics and ultimate survival in Utah- all of this is really quite an amazing saga.
Joseph Smith himself is quite an interesting character, and he lived during a period which was modern enough to have documented quite extensively what went on. This has left an extensive paper trail of evidence, which can quite clearly show-at least to me-but the man was quite a charlatan and opportunist, and certainly someone who was boldly making it up as he went along.
If you really start to delve into the historical evidence of Joseph Smith, the book of Mormon and the theology, it rapidly becomes apparent that there are massive inconsistencies, peculiarities, injustices and things that just don’t make sense. In fact it looks like what would happen if a bunch of ambitious and not overly ethical men decided to start their own religion.
All of this has left the Mormon Church for the big problem. With the Internet today and the availability of numerous books, the Mormons can very easily get their hands on an abundance of documentary evidence to undeniably show that the Mormon Church in the theology and history is far from holy. Of course many Mormons simply prefer to turn a blind eye to these realities, or if necessary to engage in fanciful apologetics to try to rationalize away every problem that comes up. They do this simply because facing reality would be too devastating to have to deal with. The Mormon Church is purposely set up so that those who decide to leave often break with their friends, and even their family. For many people this is simply too difficult a trauma to face, and they simply decided to go along and get along because it is all they know. They conveniently live the lie so that they don’t have to have their world torn apart.
Humans are curious creatures. I have been talking extensively with some Mormon missionaries. What strikes me is that they are normally very nice people and highly sincere. They absolutely believe in what they’re doing, and they don’t strike me as being stupid per se. In fact they strike me as being relatively smart, but when I bring up all the difficult issues with the Mormon past, such as Joseph Smith’s sexual predation, they always have a rationalization that it’s all part of God’s plan. They also believe that their leaders are pretty close to infallible. In other words, these smart nice earnest young man had been so brainwashed that their mind is utterly closed to any ideas that do not conform with what they have been taught her whole life.
I see parallels between this and the religion of political correctness. As you know universities are full of very intelligent people, who profess to believe in the most absurd things around (like the idea that races don’t exist). Some of this, like in the Mormon church, is just playing politics and getting along. But there are many academics and intellectuals who fervently believe in the PC nonsense. They use their considerable brainpower not to be honest and arrive at truth, but to rationalize their preconceived ideologies. In other words, they use their brains to justify what they already believe to be true. The Mormon missionaries tend to be the same. I recently found out that the Jews have a 65% approval rating of Obama, which simply goes to show that being smart is not a guarantee of being right.
Anyway, not to criticize the Mormon missionaries too much. There really are very nice people, and I respect and like them a lot, but am continually surprised at the degree of their brainwashing. Actually not all Mormon missionaries are this absolute, but the pair that I’m talking to now were both raised in Utah old-line Mormon families, so they come from a deep family and community tradition of Mormon brainwashing.
This leads me to another point about the Mormon church. Despite the fact that they have been aggressively proselytizing with missionaries for well over 150 years, the reality is that the Mormons are almost entirely concentrated in Utah and the surrounding areas. There are few Mormons in the eastern states, and very few in Europe, or most of the world for that matter. There are certain number of Mormons in Latin America, the Philippines, and a few other places, but Mormon missionary efforts haven’t borne much fruit considering the decades and incredible investment of time and resources into trying to convert people. The missionaries have had some success in baptizing people, but their retention rates are extremely low. Approximately 80 to 90% of those who are baptized do not last more than a year. Also few people pay their tithing payments outside of the US. In other words the core of dedicated, dues paying members is located in Utah and the surrounding states. The rest of the Mormons around the world are either too poor or unwilling to contribute much financially to the church, and tend to be much more Mormon light.
This leads me to believe that Mormonism is strongest when people are steeped in the Mormon culture which is effective at enforcing a kind of conformity. This is what often happens in Utah were so much of the community and family are Mormon, constantly reinforcing the churches message.. Once Mormons go off into areas where they are small minorities, it appears that it’s harder for them to maintain the traditional hard-line.
Despite the claims of the Mormon church that they are so international and worldwide, the fact is that 85% of the Mormon missionaries that I talk with in Spain are the traditional usually- blond haired- squeaky clean white kids from Utah and the surrounding Western states. In other words they compose the traditional American Mormon community. Only about 10 to 15% of the Mormon missionaries that I’ve seen, are from other countries and cultures, which undermines the message put forth that the Mormons are conquering the world and they’re so international. Despite 150 years of earnest proselytizing the Mormon church continues to be concentrated primarily in his traditional heartland of Utah and the surrounding Western states.
Furthermore, throughout most of its history the Mormon church grew rapidly. A lot of this was simply through high birth rates in the Western states, but, fair amount of that was also due to conversions. Now, however, the Internet is really undermining their missionary efforts. The fact is in places that have access to the Internet, it has become very difficult to convert people, because all potential converts have to do is go on the Internet, and after a little bit of research a not very pretty or convincing picture quickly begins to emerge. In the past it was much harder to find out what was really going on, and to see beyond the very beautiful image that the missionaries put forth. The Mormon churches have a little but more success in places like Latin America, where people tend to be desperate, and they don’t have Internet connections, education is poor, and a lot of people subconsciously idealize everything that comes from the United States. In those places it’s a little bit easier to convince people with all the pretty talk at the missionaries put forth. However, once the new converts realize that being a real Mormon is not a bed of roses, the vast majority of them stop attending.
I think that the Mormon missionary efforts have a lot of weaknesses that ultimately undermine their objective of getting converts, who will turn into serious devout members of the church. The Mormon church places far too much emphasis on trying to present an airbrushed picture of what being a Mormon is all about, and about scoring a quick baptism. This often leads to people getting carried along by the pretty message, and getting baptized, but then quickly giving up when they realize it’s much harder than they imagined. I think he would be better to be a little bit more honest about what being a real Mormon entails, and have people understand what they’re really getting into, because I think that would create members who would give up less quickly.
Furthermore, the Mormon missionaries tend to very likable, so may certain number of people convert just to please their missionary friends. But, the missionary soon leave, the personal connection is broken, and they quickly drift away from the church. Actually, I think that the practice of rotating the missionaries every three months seriously undermines any ability to form lasting relationships with potential converts. People feel they’re beginning to develop a real friendship and relationship with the missionaries, but inevitably they are replaced with someone new, and the cycle begins all over again. I have formed good relationships and friendships with Mormon missionaries, and then they leave. I think that if the missionaries really want to convince people, it would be much more useful if they hung around long enough to develop trusting relationships that would convince people to take the plunge to convert. Maybe the Mormon church believes that the missionaries can come in and convince people so quickly, that forming long-term relationships is not really important. Or, they believe that the missionaries are so interchangeable that they can come and go without affecting relations with potential converts. I do not believe that is so. All other churches that I know of that proselytize, the missionaries tend to stay in one place for years and years-if possible-and develop longer-lasting relationships with those around them.
The real reason that I believe that the missionaries are rotated every three months is because I suspect that the Mormon authorities do not trust a bunch of relatively unsupervised 19-year-old missionaries to not goof off and get into trouble. So, they rotate them frequently so that the two missionaries do not develop a deep enough friendship between them so that they will have the confidence to decide to collectively defy the orders they have been given. This may be effective at preventing mischief, but it seriously undermines the missionary effort.
I will write more about the Mormons in the future because it is a fascinating topic, but it is late and I have to go to bed.