ForwardA note to my LDS friends: Please understand that the purpose of this post is not to disprove or discredit your belief system or you personally. I have a deep respect for each one of you and only desire that the lines of communication that exists between myself and you continue to stay open. I only wish that the rest of Christendom were as open to discussion and as kind in doing so as you have always been to me. Even during the times when I made a fool of myself as a self-righteous Christian and if I have done so now as an atheist. Please allow this post to represent my care for mankind and not a hate for god or religious people. If something here is offensive it was not my intent, but I challenge anyone and everyone that does read this to consider the purpose behind it and the logic behind my own doubt. ———————–
About two months ago I was browsing through my normal routine of atheist sites and blogs when I happened upon an advertisement for Mormon.org’s chat service which allows anyone to log onto the website and chat with a missionary from the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter Day Saints (also known as Mormons or LDS). I decided to log on and chat with the kind folks there to see why they believed what they did and so on, being an individual that is not entirely unfamiliar with LDS beliefs I came in with a foreknowledge of the basic LDS doctrine and simply wanted to challenge these kind people to think about the origin of their belief – something I had to do for myself once upon a time.
Missionary One: Initial encounter
The first missionary I talked to was a very kind young man, if I remember correctly he was 19 and in training to go to South America to present their version of the gospel to the people there, you see, the chat center is located in Provo, UT at the Missionary Training Academy where all the LDS missionaries go for a time prior to being sent out. (Most LDS members go on mission at some point in their life usually in their early 20’s, the mission generally lasts two years and is part of being a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood). I explained to him that I was an atheist and that I was at one time a Christian, he spoke to me about his “relationship with god” and how he knew god was real because he felt him so strongly in his life and because he had seen god’s many blessings on him and his family. I explained to him a little about my past and how I too had a relationship with my own deity and that at one point I came to realize that this deity was merely my own mental and emotional interpretation of the god of the Bible and the god that I most wanted to serve. (aka, an imaginary friend that I molded after my own view of god). Eventually I gave this missionary my phone number and he and I talked about this subject on two different nights, he would also give me some verses from the Book of Mormon to read. I read what he asked each time that he did. During our last conversation he let me know that he was leaving to go on his mission and would therefore be unable to call again and asked permission to give my number to another missionary named Stephen, I agreed and issued one final challenge to him: I simply asked that he ask himself if he would be comfortable with even the idea of there not being a god and that if he could find a way to cope with that if he would then begin to challenge the idea of god that he had. He agreed.
Missionary two: Stephen
About a week or so later I received a call from Stephen, we essentially picked up where I had left off with the first missionary. We discussed at length on the mind’s ability to create psychosomatic reactions to stimuli that are often attributed to god which easily explains why LDS doctrine teaches that if you study the Book of Mormon and pray asking God if it is true there will often be a sensation in the chest (often referred to as the Burning Bosom). This sensation is nearly universal when it comes to religion, it is very similar to what I have felt while in worship or prayer to my former deity – this feeling is a psychosomatic effect of my subconscious desire to worship or experience the truth of god, it falsely confirms that “my god” is “the god” for almost anyone that needs it to. Stephen had no trouble understanding my viewpoint, but for some reason was unable to grasp that this could just as easily be the effect of Buddhist chanting as it is of praying to the Christian god – especially his god.
I can easily understand Stephen’s issue here, I was once the very same way, in fact it was my own time spent considering psychosomatic effects in religious conversion that assisted me in the painful destruction of my own god more than anything. Initially of course the Bible itself proved to be a study in contradictions, but the emotional aspects of my faith had to be more well explained and understood in order for me to fully reject their implied source. It seems to me that the best method by which we can encourage doubt among believers is less about disproving their theology, but more about proving the capabilities of their own mind…this was ultimately my goal in my discussion with Stephen.
Stephen consistently made it a point to ask me to pray that god would show me that what he said was true, I consistently made it a point to explain to him that I didn’t think that prayer was an appropriate method of discerning truth because it can be so incredibly temperamental. I’ll never understand why an individual can know that other religions experience the same exact feelings of god yet somehow they think that their experience is somehow more genuine than that of others…I was unable to get him to accept this hard truth despite his concession that I was not incorrect about that.
After our last conversation he asked me if I was OK with the local missionaries stopping by one day, I let him know that I didn’t think it was necessary but that I was more than open to it.
About a week after my last conversation with Stephen the sister missionaries from the LDS church came by. They came about 7 o’clock at night because I had to work late that night and they actually were driven to my house by a new member of the local congregation. The two sister missionaries were very cordial, both 24 or younger and quite intelligent. The driver was 26 and had only been a member of the LDS church for 2 months.
I explained to them all about how I had gone from extreme Christian to Atheist and how difficult that time period was for me emotionally. One thing that impressed me the most is that they, along with Stephen seemed to really understand the emotion that I was trying to convey. They seemed to understand because they felt like it would be intensely difficult for them to go through as well. I also made a point to explain that although the initial deconversion process was incredibly painful and that it essentially felt as if everything I had ever known had been ripped away from me that the end result was worth it because I gained a sense of self and a joy in being me. I explained that although I felt happy as a believer, it couldn’t compare to the happiness I feel now as a result of realizing my own potential and living a life without god. (Back when I believed God got a lot more credit than he deserved.)
After we talked for a while I let them know that I had decided to ask the Atheist community of Reddit if they had any questions that they would like me to ask the missionaries and I was overwhelmed with the number of questions I actually got (See them all here). I only got to read through the multitude of questions about an hour prior to their coming to the house so I didn’t get to really dive deep into these, plus the missionaries were running close to their very strict curfew.
One of the top rated responses from reddit was from Kadjar:
I was a missionary at that training center in Provo. I was one of the guys on the other end of that conversation.
I’m now an atheist, and I’d be happy to give you any advice or answer any questions you might have before they come.
I read this directly to the missionaries and they seemed perplexed and saddened by it, but offered no other comment. I am incredibly glad for Kadjar though, that he/she was able to reject god despite being so bound to him.
Genetics, DNA, Israel connection
Another popular question came from disturbd:
Ask them if they understand genetics and how do they feel about the recent debunking of the Mormon belief that native Americans are descended from a tribe of Israel.
Also, ask them why God would give humans and chimps such similar DNA sequences, noting that human chromosome 2 appears to be the result of the fusion of the great ape chromosomes 12 and 13, complete with identical insertion points for ERVS in both sub-telomeric regions. Don’t forget to remind them that numerous experiments have shown that ERV insertion points are random, and that the chances of the 16 ERV insertion point “coincidences” we find in humans/chimp DNA are about 1 in 2.057 x 10^138. In other words, damn near impossible.
Unfortunately the missionaries refused the pages of evidence I offered to provide them on this, and since I am far from a geneticist I was unable to explain any further than the way the asker posed it. I do know that there is a group funded by the LDS church that claims to perform archaeological research in order to prove the claims made in the Book of Mormon. On that note, I could give this group no more credence than I could the Creation Museum or Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Pseudo-science that attempts to prove one point of view is not science at all.
Mountain Meadows Massacre
One point of contention that I was unaware of was an event called the Mountain Meadows Massacre, this was pointed out by multiple redditors. My research shows a few conflicting views but from what I gather it seems that at one point in September of 1857 in the Utah territory a militia group with ties to the LDS church and church elders massacred over 120 men, women, and children.
One of the sister missionaries had heard of this and said that all of the elders that were connected to this event were removed from their positions, excommunicated from the church, and many of them were imprisoned. The church has also officially stated that this event should never have occurred. This answer satisfies me, though it doesn’t bring back any lives, recognition of wrongs is something we have been begging the Catholic church to do for hundreds of years.
There were a few other subjects brought up by my fellow redditors but we ran out of time before we could cover them. Some of the other things I did mention the sisters had never heard of (nor had I) but regardless of that they refused to take the pages I printed out for further research if they were interested. This is really where the crux of this post lies: If you are a seeker for truth, whatever that may be, then I believe that regardless of your position or situation you owe it to yourself, your family, and to your “god” to dig deeply for it. It is inconceivable to me that any person of faith would reject pages of information simply because it may take their focus off of god or their mission. I should add, however, that the young convert that drove the two missionaries to my home did seem very interested in the things I was saying and was very eager to take the paperwork I had prepared. She said that she would definitely look through it and I hope that she did.
While the missionaries at the MTA and during their missions they were essentially not allowed to be involved with any sort of study that might be deemed secular. This is, above all things, my major gripe with the LDS church, missionaries are told not to use the internet for personal reasons, they are told that everything they do should be for the Kingdom during this time on mission. These instructions are ones that I find incredibly convenient when a young missionary may be confronted with reasonable doubt while talking to a prospect and be challenged to find resources, the systematic cut off from information that could be detrimental to one’s faith shows me that there is a possible lack of confidence in the gospel being presented and a fear that certain information may inspire doubt in the missionary – the seed of doubt that I attempt to plant may grow into a greater thing if only it is watered with a bit of research and critical thinking.
The only other major gripe I have with the LDS church is that it, along with many other organized Christian organizations has funneled millions upon millions of dollars into campaigns against gay marriage in both California and Maine through Political Action Committee. The LDS and Catholic church are almost solely responsible for both of these states rejecting propositions to allow for homosexuals to freely marry (and adopt). You see, I have always had a lot of respect for my LDS friends. They have always been among the nicest and most knowledgeable people I have known. I always chalked this kindness up to understanding what it was like to be persecuted and being told that they were going to hell. The LDS church and it’s members have experienced the struggle of being a minority and having their rights challenged left in right, to go out and actively campaign against another minority in their struggle for rights is disturbing, among other things.