Project Conversion

Project Conversion


Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

posted by abowen

The slander began about two weeks into June once people found out I would be an LDS member in July.

  • “You know Mormon is only one letter away from ‘moron’?”
  • “So you’re going to be a Mor-man…does that mean your wife will be a Mor-maid?”
  • “Plan to get a few more wives?”
  • “Why would you give those heretics the time of day?”

There are more, trust me, I just tuned them out after a certain point. On the other hand, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community tells me:

  • “We are normal people just like them. Why can’t they see that?”
  • “LDS believe in Jesus Christ and the Atonement just as other Christians do.”
  • “I’m so glad that you [Andrew] are willing to see for yourself what we are about.”
  • “Thank you for all you’re doing.”

On one side, I have popular culture and mainstream Christianity spewing judgement and casting jokes at my interaction with the LDS church. The other side is full of LDS members who eagerly (and some, desperately) want me to see their faith on their terms and without bias.

Courtesy of an artist friend who wishes to stay anonymous.

Looks like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place all month. No other month thus far has demanded so much of me. I’ve defended the LDS church on several occasions against Christian and secular friends alike and, while uncomfortable, it is almost instinctual.

But why? Why among all the other Christian sects does the LDS church get a bad wrap?

One of my best Christian pals gave me three reasons:

  1. The early leaders of the LDS church have a less-than-admirable record and questionable motives.
  2. The Christology of the faith is a far cry from any orthodoxy.
  3. Heavy proselytization makes them a great target for ridicule.

I will explore some of these areas in more detail later.

Joseph Smith himself foreshadowed the outside view of the Church after sharing his revelation with those around him:

I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.” Joseph Smith–History 1: 22

I admit that I struggle with some of LDS doctrine, but is it because these ideals do not mesh with me personally, or because of my past with Christianity? As the Buddha taught, we are beings conditioned by our past and only when we relinquish this conditioning do we free ourselves to see reality in its purity. I don’t want a month where I must constantly react to both internal and external criticism. Every time I jot down an idea for a post I think to myself “Am I writing this as a religious explorer, or as an apologist for the faith?”

Sports philosophy dictates that a good offense is the best defence, but why do I feel as if I need to defend the LDS church? Perhaps that early judgement slipped in and reset my subconsciousness for defense mode. The truth is, I feel like a veritable Paul of Tarsus: once a persecutor of the LDS church, now I am a representative for 31 days.

But this is what Project Conversion is all about! I am now in the shoes of those Elders I chased down and chastised in high school. I am now on the receiving end of the Mormon jokes. And now I must face my own reservations, my own inner critic, and shut the voices down for the sake of everyone entrusting me with their religion these 31 days. No, there is nothing wrong with constructive debate in religion, but I’m not here for the comparative religion debate. I am here to listen, to show, and to tell.

Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them.” Alma, from the Book of Mormon, 1: 25

So I can claim my abode between a rock and a hard place with pride. It’s not too cozy, but home is where the heart is, after all.

Jesus taught that we should judge not, lest we be judged (Matthew 7: 1). He also taught us not to cast stones in glass houses. For those who criticize the LDS church, when was the last time your church was perfect? Funny how a religion persecuted for so long for their own heterodoxy against Judaism and the Roman theology is so quick to treat others so coldly. We are all the underdog at some point. We are all carriers of heresy at some point. LDS members are just like you in that, they do not claim perfection, they simply claim belief.

 



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Anonymous

posted July 20, 2011 at 8:50 pm


What I love about humanity is that we will always find new words and ways to express ourselves and our experiences.



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Lowellisaac

posted July 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm


I might say it shouldn’t matter, or that it wouldn’t matter if the concept of “god” was comparable to “muse” in the public imagination. People used to believe that a “muse” was a real thing, but now it’s merely a colorful metaphor. I hope someday this will apply to “god” as well!

But the fact is, if we use the term “god” metaphorically in the context of here and now, it might be called irresponsible– because almost no one is in on the joke. Maybe an analogy would be if you decided to show enjoyment by screaming ”FIRE” at the top of your lungs, and proceeded to do so in crowded movie theaters. Until this use of the term became ubiquitous, this is probably a bad idea.



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Lowellisaac

posted July 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm


I might say it shouldn’t matter, or that it wouldn’t matter if the concept of “god” was comparable to “muse” in the public imagination. People used to believe that a “muse” was a real thing, but now it’s merely a colorful metaphor. I hope someday this will apply to “god” as well!

But the fact is, if we use the term “god” metaphorically in the context of here and now, it might be called irresponsible– because almost no one is in on the joke. Maybe an analogy would be if you decided to show enjoyment by screaming ”FIRE” at the top of your lungs, and proceeded to do so in crowded movie theaters. Until this use of the term became ubiquitous, this is probably a bad idea.



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Anonymous

posted July 16, 2011 at 12:44 am


Always good to hear from one of my favorite anti-theists. Thanks for joining in Lowell.

I think you are right. I’ve always found it interesting–especially this month–when folks from the mainstream side of Christianity start pointing out “strange doctrine” in the LDS faith, yet refuse to look into their own tradition in the same light. I use the term “divine inspiration” with the same ease and paralleled to “hearing from the muse.” As a fellow artist, Lowell, you know what I’m saying there.

As I stated about my experience Monday night, it could have been the divine, or it could have been my consciousness settling into clarity, either way, if we get the same result, does it matter what noun we use?



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Anonymous

posted July 16, 2011 at 12:44 am


Always good to hear from one of my favorite anti-theists. Thanks for joining in Lowell.

I think you are right. I’ve always found it interesting–especially this month–when folks from the mainstream side of Christianity start pointing out “strange doctrine” in the LDS faith, yet refuse to look into their own tradition in the same light. I use the term “divine inspiration” with the same ease and paralleled to “hearing from the muse.” As a fellow artist, Lowell, you know what I’m saying there.

As I stated about my experience Monday night, it could have been the divine, or it could have been my consciousness settling into clarity, either way, if we get the same result, does it matter what noun we use?



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Anonymous

posted July 16, 2011 at 12:36 am


To me, these issues are hair-splitting, but of course people are very defensive about their faiths. I try to help people understand one another through this project, but to be sure, there may always be a line between us spiritually. My hope and mission is that this line will one day dissolve.



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Anonymous

posted July 16, 2011 at 12:36 am


To me, these issues are hair-splitting, but of course people are very defensive about their faiths. I try to help people understand one another through this project, but to be sure, there may always be a line between us spiritually. My hope and mission is that this line will one day dissolve.



report abuse
 

Lowellisaac

posted July 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm


I haven’t read all the comments– but maybe I have something to add. As a firm anti-theist, I definitely think Mormonism is ripe for ridicule– as is any other belief system not based on logic and evidence. Some religions are more destructive than others, which is an important distinction to make– but in my view the key issue is the concept of absolute truth and divine inspiration, which I find intrinsically degrading to human culture– and in this respect I’d say all religions are equal. 

So, I have to admit that it does bother me when certain religions like Mormonism and Scientology are singled out as particularly absurd– in other words I’m not comfortable locking arms with people who believe in talking snakes and flying horses to take part in the jeers.

I think what might make the two belief systems I mentioned above such easy targets is simply their novelty– they were created within recent memory. As an atheist, this brings into sharp focus how all religions must be similarly created– and more are probably on the way– which I see as a point that can be made with sophisticated satire. It seems other religions enjoy undeserved respect and immunity from open laughter simply for being old; their claims are no more feasable. Maybe it’s easier (for some) to imagine incredible things happening long ago and far away, or at that beliefs somehow become less crazy and more respectable with age alone. This is the only reason I can see for other theists feeling safe enough to call the kettle black, and poke fun at Mormoninism and the like. 



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Lowellisaac

posted July 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm


I haven’t read all the comments– but maybe I have something to add. As a firm anti-theist, I definitely think Mormonism is ripe for ridicule– as is any other belief system not based on logic and evidence. Some religions are more destructive than others, which is an important distinction to make– but in my view the key issue is the concept of absolute truth and divine inspiration, which I find intrinsically degrading to human culture– and in this respect I’d say all religions are equal. 

So, I have to admit that it does bother me when certain religions like Mormonism and Scientology are singled out as particularly absurd– in other words I’m not comfortable locking arms with people who believe in talking snakes and flying horses to take part in the jeers.

I think what might make the two belief systems I mentioned above such easy targets is simply their novelty– they were created within recent memory. As an atheist, this brings into sharp focus how all religions must be similarly created– and more are probably on the way– which I see as a point that can be made with sophisticated satire. It seems other religions enjoy undeserved respect and immunity from open laughter simply for being old; their claims are no more feasable. Maybe it’s easier (for some) to imagine incredible things happening long ago and far away, or at that beliefs somehow become less crazy and more respectable with age alone. This is the only reason I can see for other theists feeling safe enough to call the kettle black, and poke fun at Mormoninism and the like. 



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Jenni

posted July 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm


I would agree that the main thing that leads mainstream christians to object to mormonism is that we have some pretty key doctrinal differences, starting with our different perception of the Trinity. Also, inherent in our “restored fulness of Christ’s gospel” teaching, we pretty much have the subtext that everybody else is wrong–and I TOTALLY get why that is offensive!!
I think that, as a general rule, if you’ve met a few mormons, you find that they are nice people. But doctrinal differences can be disconcerting at least. I have observed that the church (as an organization) has tried to speak more and more loudly about the things that we have in common with other christian groups, and to sortof hush up many of the things that make us different. Personally, I find some of those differences to be beautiful things (and why I stay with mormonism–things like the teaching of Heavenly Mother as the wife/goddess married to Heavenly Father, and also the doctrine of theosis). I suppose it’s a fine line, and no matter where one tries to stand there are bound to be people who will feel offended or say rude things. I appreciate your being genuine as you explore all these faiths. I think you are doing a great deal of good in the world with this project–just bringing awareness and friendliness across this diversity of spirituality. I hope you find some resolution for your own life in whichever path, but I thank you for sharing this project with us all. :)



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