Sunday, November 30, 2003

The Time I Became a Mormon for Dating Purposes

Apologies to any Mormons in advance. I recommend you don't read this post at all, actually. No disrespect is intended, but neither do I hedge on my opinions here.

My senior year in high school I met a girl and we started dating. She was a Mormon, and as things began to get serious between us that summer, she told me that if I wanted to marry her, I would have to convert to Mormonism. One of my good buddies was a Mormon, and others I knew who were seemed like a nice enough bunch of people, so I looked into it.

Holy tar baby, Batman.

I started up the process in my first year of college. For some ungodly reason (yeah, yeah, a groaner, I know), the temple was on the freakin farthest snow-blasted edge of Fargo - I attended college in Moorhead, the Minnesota twin city to Fargo - so the drive was long, horrid and dull. I shoulda bought the clue right there, Pat and Vanna. Right away, I had a lot of questions about the Book of Mormon like "what does this have to do with Jesus?" and "why doesn't this make any sense?" (- Compared to the New Testament, which is pretty straightforward.) The answer, almost always, was "look into your heart, and it will tell you if it's true." Well, my heart didn't get it either, so I just nodded and went along hoping that it would become clear later, like history class sometimes did.

Church for Mormons is an all day event on Sunday. There's church proper, where three of the congregationalists get up and talk about whatever. Then there's Bible study (usually Book of Mormon study). Finally there's the segregated between the sexes men's and women's studies stuff. THEN they have social hour. I've never been much of a churchgoer (mostly due to a passionate loathing of organ music), but, I tell ya, I certainly got church fatigue the few times I went to temple on Sunday. Further, some guy who looked like a greasier version of Tom DeLay (if that's possible) kept ragging on me to join their nightly Bible study. I told Mr. Grecian Formula 101 that I was a college student with a full load of classes and two jobs. He cared not and just invoked Mormon Guilt, and said I should make it anyway. (Catholics and Jews sometimes think they've got the guilt market cornered. Ha! They should try Mormon-style guilt. It's top-shelf.)

The day of my baptism came and by then I had broken up with the girl the whole episode had been about anyway. As I had always been a Christian (raised Lutheran), the things I had learned during my Mormon indoctrination really bothered me, though I wasn't sophisticated enough in my understanding of plain ole vanilla Protestant theology at the time to be able to explain why. It just seemed wrong. (To cut to the chase here, the Mormons claim one has to do many more things to be saved than believe in Christ. Simply believing in Christ and what he did is not enough. No, you've got to be a Mormon to make it to heaven, of which there are seven levels, btw. Also, one has proper undies one must wear, and one must treat the body as a temple, so no beer or cola (even though the Mormons own fast food chains that serve the stuff), and on and on and on. Still the biggest and most important was they essentially undid, or for all practical purposes, denied that belief in Christ was the way. Since Christ himself, Paul and the other Apostles said belief in Christ was all you need, it's suspect when a denomination adds to the dance card. No one needed all this other baggage the Mormons had conceived to get on the rocket to heaven. This, my friends, is heresy*.)

TLD: But then all religions are heresy to each other, with the possible exception of Hinduism as they tend to adopt everything from other religions. So what I mean here is that the beliefs of Mormons are vastly different than those of most Protestants, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. They have Jesus as the initial prophet of their religion, but that's about where it begins and ends with similarities to historical Christianity. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists are all lumped into Christianity because they claim Jesus as their prophet to some extent, but then contradict his teachings and, most importantly, his dying so that our sins might be forgiven, with their version of theology. That's like saying that "Jews for Jesus" are Jewish; someone can attempt to claim such a thing, but it just isn't true.

So, I showed up at the temple planning to say I wasn't going through with my baptism because I didn't believe in the doctrines of the church. I had even purposely left my white, cotton baptism clothes back in the dorm room so I couldn't be guilted or forced into it. Of course they plan for this very thing. They had clothes there for me. They pulled me to my knees (hard, too) and said, "Satan is working on you! Don't give in!" (Yes, really, the said that. That kind of talk usually make me giggle.) After about an hour of this, I realized that the easiest path out of the temple was to go along with it. As I felt their beliefs were false and such, I didn't think God would be angry at me for going through the motions physically when I wasn't doing so in my heart. I was actually thinking of finding a Lutheran church again whilst getting dressed in my special white cotton baptism clothes (with no undies, btw - that was part of the ritual).

Mormons believe in complete immersion, so they have these huge baptismal fonts that can hold eight people, and the water comes up to your waist. There were five or so other dunkees scheduled along with me, and since I was had tried so hard to escape, I was last in line as I had held up the ceremony. So down they went into the water, and got dunked. The guy (it's never a woman - the Mormon's believe only men can hold priesthood specialness; the women get it via spiritual osmosis from their husbands, and it's just too damn bad for old maids) would say something, then the dunkee would cover his/her nose, the guy would put his hand over their face, put one hand behind their back, and down they'd go. Kerplunk! Then he'd say a long prayer and pull them back up. They always had a look on their face that I'm sure the pious assumed was epiphany, but I was pretty sure it was just shock for having been underwater that long and finally getting air again.

My turn came, and I was feeling terrible, because even though I didn't think God was gonna hit my Impala with a lightening bolt as I left the parking lot, I did feel bad that I was being forced into performing a lie when others were taking this seriously, so I kept my eyes down and waited for the moment of dunkatude. It came and down I went. I was under so long that I started wondering what would happen if I freaked and clawed my way up the dunker for air, like drowning victims often do to their rescuer. I wondered if they'd dunk me again, or if they'd declare it a miss and say I couldn't join or something. I got to where I was way past the point of discomfort and wondered if they were trying to make a point, like trying to kill me for my attempted backing out. Finally, I made a deal with myself that at the count of five I was standing up whether they liked it or not, and I got to three.

And then up I came. We come now to my fondest memory of that day. I immediately had to revise my supposed reason for the look on everyone's face when they surfaced again. As I mentioned, we had to wear white cotton with no undergarments - the men wore pants and a shirt and the women wore simple dresses - well, everyone knows what happens to white cotton when it gets wet. IT BECOMES COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT. There they were, on the side of the font, looking down at me, naked for all practical purposes. We were told that we were to entertain the most holy and sacred of thoughts during this event, but there are some directives that are nearly impossible for a 19-year-old horndog to follow, this being one. I tried completely unsuccessfully to not stare. It was a bitterly cold hinterland day and the font water wasn't all that warm, either, and as they had been cooling off on the side of the font this whole time, everything was at absolute attention and rendered in bas-relief. Two of the girls my age were absolute babes, and I was recently single again - and I suddenly didn't have the conversion hurdle to get over (well, I did, of course, but they didn't know that) - I began scheming as to how I could bump into them after we'd gotten decent again.

But then I finally did get that feeling the Holy Ghost will hit you with, a sort of "don't push it, dude," when you're being bad and you know it. Even though I intended to flee after the baptism because I thought this was BS, I shouldn't be nuts deep in a baptismal font thinking of scamming on cute, wet-t-shirt-contest-winner Mormon chicks at that exact point in time. I blushed and crawled out of the font, covering myself modestly. Pulling onto the street later, I literally peeled out in my haste to put some distance between the Mormons and me.

About eight years later I was relaxing in my apartment when there was a knock at my door. I lived in apartments on the edge of town where a lot of young singles lived, and so we didn't have many unexpected knocks on our doors. Lo and behold, there stood two Mormon missionaries, smiling at me in that Latter Day Saints way they have. Between college and this moment, I had finally had a chance to read the Bible, had taken many comparative religion classes, and had passed through the gauntlet of my fundamentalist atheist college buddies (most of whom were anthropology majors which calls for a mandatory conversion to atheism). I had waited for this moment. The inevitability of Mormon missionaries knocking at your door is comparable to having a flat tire at some point in your life. "Just prepare" is the only advice I can offer.

But before we got down to it, they did something that freaks me out to this day. After identifying themselves as missionaries, they said, "You're [my name here], correct?" Yes, I said. Then they said, "We show that you lived in Fargo/Moorhead from [date] to [date], then moved to T___ from [date] to [date] ..." and so on. They had kept complete track of me that whole time. I had managed to shake some annoying acquaintances who still called drunk in the wee hours, a creditor or two (not my fault), some ex-girlfriends, my alma mater, and even a couple family members, but the Mormons knew where I was at all times. Well, that pissed me off even more, so I smiled and invented them into my little den.

One harrowing hour (for them) later, after I had knocked down each theological point they raised with examples from the Bible, they stood up, faces now slack masks of shock and disdain, and told me in the most polite, but very specific and nonmisconstruable way that I was going straight to hell, with an afterburner strapped to my ass. To this day I wish I could remember the exact phrasing because it was killer. It took me aback it was so brilliant, which they mistook for second thoughts until I divested them of that notion.

I imagine they're tracking me to this day*, because that's just something they do, and I don't know if I've been officially excommunicated or not. But then, unless they threaten you like Scientology does, does it really matter if they have, since being excommunicated from something you believe to be false is the very definition of inconsequential? Btw, that's where I've gained insight into how atheists feel when they talk to believers of any religion. The atheist who is legitimately an atheist, meaning they're not just mad at daddy or at a religion for some real or imagined insult, so completely doesn't believe what you do that all conversation necessarily stays at the rock bottom floor of disbelief itself; thus debating theology is like discussing color swatches with the blind. Don't take that wrong, my atheist friends. It's kind of a back-handed compliment, actually.

*TLD: One thing that bugs the hell out of me is that a large portion - I've heard it's from at least half to perhaps a large majority - of the agents in the FBI, CIA, NSA and other American spook organizations are Mormon, because only Mormons - and those bitter, lost souls in college who would never take a hit off the joint with everyone else - can pass the purity test you must to gain admission into the intelligence organizations. I've heard if you admit to smoking pot over three times in your life, you can't get in. It's not that I mind that there are so many Mormons in the intel ops, per se, but that their world-view is very controlled and molded by their faith in a way that might make them unsuitable for the job. For instance, breaking any law is considered a sin to Mormons - a fact which usually makes Catholics laugh so hard that beer comes out of their nose. So, if you are to remain so pure of mind, how can you effectively delve into the deception and evil that naturally comes with the responsibilities of the job? I've heard on the grapevine that it was floated - though never officially because it would be construed as persecution of religion - that one of the components of the intelligence failure related to 9-11 was the fact of the Mormon contingent in intel who couldn't fathom such an attack and thus ignored the signs. Do I have hard facts regarding this? No, I do not. So take it with a grain of sodium, please. It's just something to think about.

And that, my friends, was my brief voyage into Mormonism. I should state here that I do respect other's beliefs and their right to have those beliefs, even if I do not share them. Again, I apologize if I've offended any Mormons or have come across as disrespectful. Let me spell it out right here that the only "religions" I truly do disrespect entirely are Scientology (which isn't even really a religion); fundamentalist atheism - those atheists who don't legitimately lack belief or have an active disbelief in God (or gods) but just take on the title to attack and belittle believers; and any cult or religion that thinks it's OK to kill, physically harm, or imprison others who don't believe as they do. We don't need to point fingers on that last one, do we?

Someday, I'll tell you about my fun with Transcendental Meditation. I mean, if the Beatles did it, it couldn't be all that bad, right? Auuuummmmmm.....

Update: Having thought about it, there's not much to the TM story, except that my instructor was in her early twenties and I was about fourteen when I got trained or initiated into it. It was a mild thrill going to her trailer alone for my lessons, as I both hoped for and feared a possible Mrs. Robinson scenario - the wild delusions of a horny adolescent, to be sure. As for TM itself, all I ever got out of it was the occasional headache and some wasted time that could have been better spent on my skateboard. You're never supposed to tell anyone your mantra, for reasons that were never clear to me, and I was always tempted to, just to see what might happen, here it is (phonetically): "ee-mah". I feel so devious!


Anonymous said...

This is brilliant. I laughed my ass off, (I'm Catholic so far be it for me to say anything about other peoples beliefs but I thought the story was great). Keep them coming.


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bridgetlee said...

I know it's been quite awhile since you posted your blog, but I have a question for you. You mentioned that they teach that there are 7 levels of heaven. I was just wondering if you happen to remember what they are??? My mother-in-law is mormon and I know that she has said there are 7 levels. well my friend asked her today and she says there are only 3 and that she never said that. Nothing like a little brainwashing. Anyway...she likes to attack me for my crazy "Jewish" beliefs (not that I actually am Jewish, and I have explained this to her many times, but ya just can't fix stupid)...soo I just like to be prepared w/ facts about her "church" or cult as I like to call it. If you have the time I would really appreciate it. Thanks so much


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Anonymous said...

Wow! You have absolutely NO idea what you are talking about. Why would you write something like this that is utterly and completely wrong on just about every aspect? You obviously have NO idea what Mormon doctrine is all about. You couldn't have been more wrong if you tried, and I think you did. You should be ashamed of yourself for misleading everyone that reads this.