Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Mormons Are Clever

Have you ever had Mormon missionaries come to your door? Did someone you care about have a visit from the Latter Day Saints, and end up questioning their beliefs or yours? Here are a few things I have observed that may help you respond to the Mormons. I'm not saying this is what you should say to the Mormons themselves - my guess is, there's not much point in doing so. But it may help you or your loved ones to keep these things in mind, to safeguard your own faith.

The Mormons are very clever, and well-prepared, in the way they do "outreach" to Protestant/Evangelical Christians. Let me count only a few of the ways.

First, those clean-cut, all-American-looking youths will have been well briefed. They will probably know several key Bible passages, book-chapter-verse, which will seemingly support the ideas they want you to accept. Listen, and even take notes if possible; then, when the Mormons are gone, look up those passages and read them along with their surrounding context. You may easily discover that none of the verses had anything to do with the point the Mormons were using them to make. With some help from other Christians, or even a minister, you may also find out that there are many places where the Bible teaches the exact opposite of what the Mormons were saying.

It's pretty shrewd of the Mormons to be using our Scriptures to persuade Christians to follow them, when they themselves do not consider the Bible authoritative. The tragedy is that too many Christians don't know the Bible well enough to recognize when it is being used the way Satan used it in Matthew 4:6. Mormon doctrine denies the key teachings of the Bible and rests on the authority of revelations outside the Bible. But there's no point making a fuss about that when the Mormon missionaries come calling. Those nice-looking youngsters aren't to be blamed; they may not know all that much about their church's official teachings!

Second, as I hinted in a recent blog entry, the Mormons know how to throw words around that mean one thing to Evangelicals/Protestants and another thing (or nothing) to themselves. I have personally heard Mormon missionaries go on and on about "how important faith is," as if that actually means something. Don't be snowed by evangelical-sounding phrases. Perhaps ask them, but definitely ask yourself what they are really saying. In my experience, I didn't think the Mormons used "faith" to mean believing a message or trusting a promise, but rather a virtue or a quality within people, like "will to live" or "desire to succeed."

Also in my experience, one gets nowhere by confronting the Mormons about this. As soon as they realize you're not with them, they start looking for the exit.

Third, the Mormon missionaries will be willing to give you a free book, The Book of Mormon. This is not a bad deal. I would advise you to accept the offer. Even if you don't read the book (and I've never been able to get very far into it) you can at least take solace in the money you're costing the LDS church. I don't think the Mormons really care if you read the book either. I wonder how much of it they necessarily know by heart. I don't think The Book of Mormon has much to do with the current shape of LDS doctrine.

So why do they give this book to you? Because they're clever, of course! If you're the type of person I am, you could easily be fascinated by the very idea of "another testament of Jesus Christ" existing, apart from the Old and New Testaments. Heck, look how well The Da Vinci Code has been selling, both in book form and on video. Look how readily the press gloms onto supposed updates to the Jesus story, such as the fraudulent Gospel of Judas or the discovery of first-century bone-boxes ascribed to "Jesus, son of Joseph" and "Judas, son of Jesus" (however common those names may have been). We are titillated by stories of high-level corruption, conspiracies to hide the truth, and what-if scenarios such as, "What if there was more history to do with Jesus than just what's in the Bible."

The Mormons are so clever because they know how to tap into an existing desire, or even need, to wax speculative about the Jesus record that has marked Western culture on so many levels. From there it is only a small step to accepting the idea - for them, the really crucial idea - that God's direct revelation to man continues beyond the Old and New Testaments, particularly into the prophecies of the LDS apostolate. Once you accept that much, your mind is wide open to being reshaped by the ongoing revelations alleged by the leaders of the LDS church.

Fourth, the Mormon missionaries will advise you to do some reading in their "scripture," while praying that God would lead you to accept it as His authentic revelation. This is diabolocally clever! To pray for a thing to happen is practically the same as desiring it to happen. To desire to believe something is tantamount to actually believing it. Once you start praying the prayer that the Mormons have left for you, you are actually working for them. I don't know if they often get that far with people, or if many of the people they ask to pray this prayer actually do so, but my gut instinct says that most people who pray for God to show them the truth of Mormon scripture will soon see it.

It's a neat psychological trick, but it does tell you something useful about the nature of prayer, doesn't it? Clever as the Mormons are, I doubt that they fully recognize the place that prayer holds in the deep wisdom of God. God tells us to pray, and even tells us what to pray, so that we may be strengthened in the true faith. My advice is not to bell the Mormons on this; just wait until they are out of earshot, and then start praying the Apostle's Creed and the Our Father.

Fifth, the Mormons understand the power of imagery, and they use it perhaps better than any Christian denomination. I have been personally acquainted with several Mormons; I even had a couple of Mormon friends in high school. Outwardly they looked very respectable. I'll even go out on a limb and observe that the average young Mormon man or woman seems to be better-looking than the average non-Mormon in the same age group. The face they show to the world is that of people with straight-laced family values, squeaky-clean personal habits, and an enviable level of active religious commitment. They build big, affluent-looking, churchy churches (except there isn't a cross on the steeple). They reek of success, decency, Mom & apple pie.

Of course, when you get very close to the illusion, you may start to see through it. You may notice, for example, that the Mormon girl in your high school class isn't so much "naturally hot" as heavily painted; she wants a man so bad that she's almost scary. You may, for another example, niggle and cajole the square Mormon boy who rides next to you on the school bus until he caves in and recites the rap song he's been writing, only to end up blushing right past the visible spectrum and into the infrared when they turn out to be the raciest lyrics you have ever heard. Behind the orthodontically perfect smile of Mormonism lurks a gingivitis of frustrated sensuality, barely held in check (if it is held) by a repressive religion of moral Law and a form of church discipline that means if you bolt from the LDS church, your family and friends will carry on with their lives as if you had died. People have been driven to suicide by less, and I hear tell of cases where this very thing happened in the LDS church.

It is a church of family values that is still trying to stamp out the polygamist splinter-groups whose lifestyle of multiple wives degrades women to childbearing machines. These splinter groups actually stand today where the whole LDS church stood 100 years ago, a church where a woman's best hope for eternity was to become part of a deified man's harem. The church has also changed its mind about African Americans, seeing that in its original form their "divine revelation" was pretty racist. Fortunately for them, revelation is ongoing. Maybe if they continue receiving revelations long enough, they will become indistinguishable from the main run of American Protestants.

In some ways, that's how the LDS church tries to position itself now. But it isn't anything like your friendly neighborhood Baptist church, not by a long chalk. The Baptists are generally individualistic and congregationalistic. This appeals to many of the basic ideas of American culture (whether it's right or wrong is not relevant right now). The Mormons would like you to think they're pretty much just like the Baptists, and they're quite clever at doing it. But again, in history and in present reality they are quite different from what they seem to be. The LDS church is an extremely hierarchical, elitist structure, like Freemasons on steroids.

Sixth, the Mormons improve your quality of life. I'm not just talking about the money you save buying Shasta cola at the Dollar Store. Nor do I have the goods on how hard it is to get by in Idaho or Utah without belonging to the LDS church. Just think of all the people you know - nice, practical, non-Mormon people - who are interested in their family's genealogy. Where are they going to go? The Number One Place to do genealogical research is Salt Lake City, Utah, where the LDS church has compiled the records (for reasons related to some obscure, kabbalistic ceremony of theirs). And while you're there, why don't you take a tour of the Tabernacle and buy a CD of their lovely choir at the gift shop. So many people have done this that, according to a recent issue of some Martha Stewartish magazine, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir supplies the current U.S. cultural standard for Christmas music. And this from a church that denies the incarnation of God.

Mormon outreach has a lot going for it. The LDS church has a beautiful image. Its advertising is exquisite. Its mecca is a bigtime tourist destination even for non-Mormons. Its Tabernacle Choir has a place in your auto-CD-changer during the holidays. And its door-to-door missionaries, though probably their weakest point on the battle line, are still very easy on the eyes and very, very cleverly briefed.

And so, finally, here is my favorite strategy for getting rid of them. After patiently listening to their spiel (so I can gather more evidence), I politely ask them if they will kindly answer a few questions. Then I pull out my Greek New Testament, and my Biblia Hebraica, and say, "See all these squiggly characters? That's the Old Testament, and this is the New Testament, in their original languages. It's amazing; after thousands of years, there are still complete manuscripts. Lots of them, spread over a considerable area. There isn't a single piece of ancient literature that has a more credible, and uniform, textual tradition. And all of it is in a language that can still be read today. Where's yours?"

Then go into your closet and pray that they will recover from their injuries, due to your screen-door hitting them as they ran out of the house.

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