Over the New Year holiday weekend, I ran into some roving neighborhood Mormon missionaries. Even though they were the Spanish language missionaries for the area, when the asked if we were members of their church, they took perhaps 20-25 minutes to talk to me in the front yard because I told them openly and unapologetically that I was an atheist. They were trying to see if they could send more dedicated proselytizers and I was seeing if the tactics of Mormon missionaries had changed much since I last talked to some (plus my more devout Mormon family who have served missions).
I really wanted to see what sort of arguments I would encounter this time, and perhaps I should feel bad that I basically saw it as an anthropological study opportunity, but I don’t. From the encounter I got the following highlights:
- Non-Overlapping Magisteria
- Pascal’s Wager
- “I feel it in my heart” Argument for God
- Assumption that as an atheist, I would not know about religion, and especially their religion specifically
- Stubborn refusal to acknowledge that non-Mormon faiths or gods exist*
- Wishy Washy talk about “the spiritual”**
- Apologism for Sexism in the Mormon faith because of God Appointed Gender Roles
When dealing with family members who have tried to push me toward Mormonism, I find I used to get much more irritated. I didn’t bring up my faith, so what fucking business was it of theirs? I certainly wasn’t trying to convert them. I’m little less defensive now, but it hasn’t come up for quite a while, so that helps as well. In general, I try to not to push my ideas about religion, but I will respond honestly when they bring it up. I will get more than little angry when you start to use religious belief to justify government and school policies because you don’t have the right to impose religious belief; I will argue for secularism. But when your purpose is eventual conversion? All bets are off.
I won’t be nice and say that your explanation of the world is good or rational because I can’t agree that it is. To me, religious belief is not a sacred thing the should be protected from criticism, but is simply another idea attempting to explain reality. So I will call you out when you use poor logic or circular reasoning to try to convince me that your explanation about reality is the right one.
They seemed eventually to become resigned to the idea that sending missionaries would be futile, thankfully. But I kind of feel bad when I outmaneuver missionaries that are all fresh and dewy eyed. Who isn’t a bit of an idiot at 19, after all?
*Followup from Pascal’s Wager. “If I was to pray to a personal god, which one would I pray to?” “God, of course.” “Right, but not everyone believes in your god, or even in just one.” Stunned reaction and subject change.
** It is apparently really surprising to be told that since I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in magic, or the supernatural or souls. We are meatsacks and that is a horrifying thought, it seems.