My secret prayers have been answered. Again. A while ago I was contacted via phone by my Mormon acquaintances from the other day. They had my phone-number from our first meeting, which, if you still remember, happened more than two months ago (see one of my first posts). So we started talking. The polite brother invited me to visit his sect. “Hell, yeah. No need to ask me twice.”, I thought to myself. “Free of charge Entertainment with religious fanatics. Could there be anything better than that? No way, No How! That was exactly what I wanted.” So we made a date. As you know (and if you don’t, you should), I am quite open-minded towards religious and other weird folks. In fact, in a strange, bizarre and somewhat perverse way I find them very entertaining , even funny to an extent (unfortunately they rarely realize it for themselves). The very thought of speaking with someone who knows the Truth with a capital T behind the curtains – like how the world really works, what is the real purpose in life, or how to live, to be merry and happy etc.- increases my oxytocin levels way beyond normal. So, I had high hopes and I was looking forward to the great circus ahead. And, if I may run a little ahead of the story, I was not disappointed. Far from that. I had a great time and I enjoyed a truly magnificent show, in which I played the pivotal role. First class entertainment. What’s even better, it didn’t cost me a penny. The show was free for grabs. I seized and relished the moment. But let’s not get carried away. Back to the nitty gritties.
It was Friday, around 2. P.M and I was already on my way to the holy place – the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I crossed the doorstep of the church, at the entrance I was greeted by five smiling Mormon lads. Royal reception? Or was it all just plain Mormon style? They all were dressed up in black suits. We shook hands and exchanged polities. I made a compliment about their black suits. “Men in black,” I said with a posed look. They giggled. So did I. Then I noticed a curious thing. Most of them went by the name “Elder”. Like, Elder Smith. Elder Maissy. Elder Johnson. Elder that and Elder this. I was puzzled at first at the sight of so many Elders in one room, but my puzzlement soon evaporated as I was informed that the name actually refers to a title that is given to the holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Whallaaa! This explains it. Don’t you think? Melchizedek Priesthood….Let the show begin!
After sharing a couple of crazy laughs, we quickly got down to the business – the conversion of my stubborn mind and rebellious heart. I was instructed to take a seat around the table. So I did. Everyone else soon followed my lead. There were five Mormons in the room, all armed with their sacred texts and the helpless little me, a blank slate, a poor sheep among a pack of hungry wolves, who were sharpening their claws just to save my soul from the everlasting damnation. I am exaggerating a little, of course. But I felt good. The ecstasy was near. The Elders Smith and Maissy were the vocal leaders of the gang. Smith, besides being a legitimate holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood, was a 20 years old chap from Toronto, Canada with an inclination to study business after his missionary adventures. Maissy, one year his senior, planed to study history. Both were “born” into their faith. Their families were committed members of the Mormon church even before their worthy and respectable Darwinian selves appeared under the sun. Johnson (or was it Johanson?) and the other two Elders were conspicuously silent during the meeting, this is probably why I don’t recall their names and their individual stories.
Now, before the word of God could be invoked in vane (presumably by me), I was invited to join in a prayer, that went along these lines: “Our heavenly father, we thank you for this day. We ask you to bless Magnus Formica (that’s not my real name, in case you wonder!), and answer his doubts and questions. Bless his family. Give him peace, health and happiness….. This we pray in Jesus name. Amen!”
Very moving, indeed. I was entirely possessed by the experience and together with the wolves in suits (or were they really sheep in suits? But then, who was the wolf?) exclaimed loudly: Amen!
The ground was set. We started with the fundamentals.
“Do you believe in God?”, Elder Smith began to question my beliefs.
I wasn’t going to give in that easily! I didn’t wanted to shut down multiple potential avenues of conversation by simply throwing a clear and definite in your face type of Molotov cocktail – like: “No. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” or “No. I’m not an idiot.” or “God is for lunatics.” I wanted to prolong and intensify the experience as long as I could. I was there to be entertained and there was no need at this stage of the event to pull out my intellectual ammunition. If you value good entertainment, honesty is a mistake. So I went for the ambiguous line: “Well, I don’t know.”
“But do you want to believe in God?”, Elder Smith pressed on. “Well…”, I thought for a second, “I don’t know. Perhaps. But I don’t have faith.” I was clearly going for the Academy Awards nominee there. The Mormons were delighted. My “perhaps” was enough to convince them that I was a conversion-material. “You would not be here if you had no wish to believe in God, wouldn’t you?”, retorted Elder Smith, “You are here because you want to believe in God and we are here to help you”, said Elder Maissy. It was becoming obvious – at least to them – I was there, because I wanted to join their band of spiritual nutcrackers. I didn’t object. The spotlight was brighter than I thought and they were clearly insane. I was enjoying the moment and having a blast. The entertainment had just begun and I was already in my cozy, spiritual mood. Perhaps I was insane too, but in a slightly different kind of way… I find a pleasant source of inner comfort in the fact that at least I don’t believe in spiwits as Pontius Pilate from Monty Python‘s “Life of Brian” would say. Anyway, enough self-reflection. Let’s continue with the stowy (Pilate, again!), my dear reader.
“But what are the benefits if one believes in God?”, I was eager to master the spiritual calculus.
“Good fruits. You bear the good fruits.”, Maissy responded and was quickly followed up by Elder Smith with a counter move: “What did you felt in your heart when you first came in our church and saw us?”
I thought for a while and sensed what he was aiming at and replied to match his argument: “Peace, good atmosphere, sure convictions and self-confidence.”
“You see, these are the good fruits the sacred scriptures tells you about.”, Elder Smith was delighted.
“But if I don’t have the faith, how can I believe?”, I asked naively.
“Faith is a gift from God. If you don’t have faith, seek it wholeheartedly. Pray for it and read the book of Mormon.”, I was instructed by the Elder Smith. Simultaneously Elder Maissy began writing a note with a few reminders of the important chapters from the Book of Mormon, whose contents apparently somehow applied to my complicated case and handed it to me together with a fresh copy of the great sacred book itself like a doctor who is prescribing medicine. I was delighted and showed my appreciation by saying how lucky I was to have met them. I was actually eager to feast on the book of Mormon at the very spot I received it, nevertheless I expressed my concerns about the limited “free reading time” at my disposal. After all, I was a student of medicine. “Start only with five minutes of reading a day. You can find five minutes, right?”, Elder Smith recommended.
“But what If God still doesn’t bestow faith upon me? What if praying and reading the book of Mormon doesn’t lead me to him?”, I persisted in my naivete.
“Then act as if you had faith and eventually it will come.”, Elder Smith was quick and razor-sharp in his answer. Blissful logic. For a second I thought, that perhaps they were a bunch of atheists like me, who were just pretending to have received the gift of faith and now were here – in the middle of nowhere – doing their missionary service not to convert others to join their sect, but to convince themselves of the rightfulness of their choice and to strengthen their internalized beliefs. It is well known, that preaching to the crowd and giving testimony to others reinforces your beliefs and shapes your psychological makeup as well as fixates the neuro-plasticity of your brain as if the only cooked nonsense in town were the one you happen to believe in.
“But how can I pray to God if I don’t know that he exists? what evidence do you have?” I begun to apply my skeptical ax. Elder Smith, who was the main talker of the day, rose up to the challenge. “Let me give you an illustration. Have you ever been in India?”
“No”, I said and eagerly awaited his next move.
“Now, how do you know that there is such a country called India?”, Elder Smith asked earnestly.
“Well, because I have read about it and talked to the native Indians, who actually have lived there. Not to mention all the other media voices who comprise an enormous body of evidence of its existence.”
“But you have never visited it for yourself? You have never seen it with your own eyes?”
“Yes and I don’t have to. I don’t have to visit the moon to know that it exists. I don’t have to drink pure hydrofluoric acid to know that it is damaging to my health. Similarly, I can be pretty sure of the existence of India without ever visiting the place or even without taking a swim in the Ganges river.”
“But how can you be so sure? Perhaps they all are lying. Perhaps you are misinformed or brainwashed.”
“Well, then what’s the point of their lies? Is that some sort of global conspiracy?”
“My point is that you can never be so sure about it.”
“Ok. I got your point. But how this is related to the existence of God?
“This is similar. You can know the existence of God only if you believe in him and read the book of Mormon.”
“Frankly, I don’t see how this makes any sense at all. If my memory serves me right, you said a while ago that faith is a gift of God. If this is so, then how can it be used as a proof of his existence? It’s a wholly circular argument.”
“Look at me. I know that God exists, even though I cannot prove it to you with purely rational means. I have experienced God in my life. He has changed my life completely. Before I experienced God, I was struggling just like you, having my doubts and disbelief. Sometimes one needs to humble oneself before God. Then he appears. Believe me. I know that. He will make great things in your life too. Just let him in your heart and a beautiful life will follow.”, Elder Smith’s face went apologetic. I started to get bored with these trivial dogmatic lessons and wanted to escalate things a little bit. So I switched to my critical mode.
“But how can you be so convinced of God’s existence and the truth of your religion? Most of the people I know would argue just the opposite of what you have said. Billions of people are having their ways without any reference either to your God or your religion. Doesn’t it make you wonder or question your premises? For all I know, Mormonism might be just another hoax among the thousands of similar cults established in the history of mankind. But what interests me, is what would you do, if you discovered that God, or for that matter, any divine being does not exist, and hence, by inference, your religion is a big phony lie?”
“If I discovered that the Mormon faith is false or that it is a hoax, I would still choose this lie over the truth of the world. My faith gives me strength and it helps me to live and to overcome all the difficult situations of my life, which the truth of the world does not. And I am not afraid to live in a world without a God, if that is what you mean. But I know that God exists. So I am not worried.” Elder Smith responded firmly and without hesitation.
At this point, having received a heavy dose of religious fanaticism, I was impressed with Elder Smith’s firm views and his self-confidence, despite, what seemed to me, the obvious flaws in his logic and rationale. I almost wanted to congratulate him by saying: “Man, what an act! How did you managed to hypnotize yourself so completely?” But I didn’t said a word. We were talking already for an hour and Elder Maissy was signaling to Elder Smith by looking at his arm-watch that the time had come to end this farce.
“Let’s pray”, suddenly Elder Johnson erupted. Then he turned to me and said:“Would you like to pray?”
I thought for a second. Why not end this theater fittingly? I was entirely entertained and enjoyed the flow of the moment. I’ll give it a shot. “Have you prayed before?”, Elder Smith was curious. “Yes. I have.” I closed my eyes and begun the prayer in a solemn and low voice: “Our Heavenly Father, thank you for this wonderful day and the opportunity to seek light in the midst of darkness. Guide us to the wisdom, discernment and knowledge that comes with questioning and doubting everything you have said or done. Strengthen our passions and love of the world, which is the only one we will ever see. I ask this in Jesus name. Amen.”
So that was it. The entertainment had come to an end. I stood up and put the book of Mormon in my rucksack, thanked them again for the wonderful time and experience I had with them. We quickly shook hands and went our separate ways. Perhaps ours paths will cross again some day. It would be nothing short of a miracle, indeed.