The English and Anti-Mormons
There are two kinds of people in this world: polite people, and those who would just as soon see you fall down and give your knee a good scrape.
Recently I've received a batch of emails from both groups and here's my conclusion:
1. The English are polite.
Allow me to explain.
In my last column I made a jab at what I thought was an obscure event in English history, one -- I was sure -- even the English had forgotten. The Gunpowder Plot.
Imagine my embarrassment when after the column was posted I received several emails from English readers informing me that the Gunpowder Plot was NOT in fact an obscure event but instead a monumental one that is remembered and commemorated every year.
In fact, it's such an important event that a nursery rhyme was written with the explicit intent of encouraging schoolchildren to NOT forget it:
Remember remember the 5th of November
How's that for an editorial boo boo? It's like me saying, "It's too bad Texans have forgotten about the Alamo" when of course the Alamo is the last thing any Texan has let slip his memory.
In my feeble defense, the celebration of the Gunpowder Plot is not called Gunpowder Plot Day -- as any ignorant American like myself would assume. Nor is it Gunpowder Day or even the more mysterious sounding Plot Day.
It's called Guy Fawkes Day.
Guy Fawkes -- as any Englishman can tell you -- is the name of the would-be assassin who with a group of fellow conspirators tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament back in 1605 with several barrels of gunpowder (hence the name of the plot).
So when I didn't find any information on "Gunpowder Plot Day," I jumped to the wrong conclusion.
I know. An inexcusable error. And one I regret. My most heartfelt apologies to any English reader who may have taken offense.
Fortunately for me, all of you who wrote in to set me straight were extremely polite. Rather than fill my inbox with insults and justifiable complaints, you merely patted me softly on the back and said, "My dear sir, thank you for giving some notoriety to a bit of English history, but if it wouldn't be too much trouble and if you would permit me this slight indulgence, I'd like to clarify a few points of fact."
Proof, folks, that the gentleman and lady-ness of English Society is still alive and well (thank goodness).
One email went like this:
"I just read The Back Bench Gunpowder Plot stuff and as a full-time Englishman am about to weigh in (not by way of correction just, Oh, call it enlightenment, and because I''m bored at work)."
See what I mean? Polite. This person even went out of his way to NOT offend me by reassuring me that it was not his intent to correct me (even though I was clearly in the wrong).
He goes on to clarify the event:
"Every November 5th across the nation there are bonfires, hotdogs, millions of dollars worth of spectacular fireworks (as a damper country we don''t have the firework regulations had by most of the more flammable U.S.), and very scared pets. I think I''m right in saying it''s the only celebration unique to the British Isles."
Now compare this sincere politeness to a batch of emails I received about the same time from someone who is not a fan of our faith. In other words, an anti-mormon.
For the record, I dislike the term anti-mormon. I think it's silly, to be honest, and more than a little melodramatic.
Plus it's one-sided. Those we label anti-mormons probably don't consider themselves such. In fact, they don't consider themselves anti anything, except maybe anti-Satan. And who can fault them for that?
They're generally devout Christians who believe as much as we do that the message they have to share is as vital to the listener's salvation as ours is.
More specifically, I define an anti-Mormon as anyone who actively works to break down the Church and disenfranchise its members. These are the guys who wave banners and shout scripture outside the Conference Center during General Conference. Or the guys who pass out anti-Mormon literature at all the temple open houses. Or the guys who invite Mormon missionaries into their home only to start an argument and stir up a cloud of contention. Or the members of the Church who became "disillusioned" with the gospel, leave the Church, and then do everything in their power to take other members with them.
In my experience, these people are hard to deal with. Get them on the subject of Mormonism and they become downright hostile. The conversation quickly becomes not a dialogue, but a monologue, with the anti-mormon lecturing you on how ridiculous and evil Mormonism is and making it impossible for you to get a word in edge wise.
But even if you did get a word in edge wise it wouldn't make any difference.
Nothing you or I can say will budge an anti-mormon one inch from the soapbox he or she stands on. They're immovable, unshakable, so determined to prove how wrong and silly we are that they will never hear a word we say to them.
Logic is irrelevant. Fairness is irrelevant. A person's right to believe how he or she wishes (see the Bill of Rights) is irrelevant.
Which leads me to a list of sad truths one should always keep in mind before firing up a conversation with an anti-mormon.
Sad Truth #1: Anti-mormons don't care what you think.
If an AM (my cute abbreviation for anti-mormon) asks you a question, it's not because he doesn't know the answer. Nor is it because he's interested in your opinion. AMs could care less what you think or believe. Asking questions is merely a set up.
For example. Someone might say to you, "Don't Mormons believe that God lives on a distant planet called Kolob?"
WARNING! WARNING! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!
If a stranger asks you that question with the most innocent of expressions on his or her face, make sure you've got your tennis shoes laced up before answering. Chances are you'll want to run away as quickly as possible.
"But don't Mormons believe that God had sexual relations with Mary to conceive Christ?"
RUN! RUN LIKE THE WIND!
This isn't to say that we ignore people's sincere questions about our faith. If someone approaches us, motivated by sincere curiosity, then we should by all means answer their questions.
But those people will phrase their questions differently. They'll ask, "Is it true that Mormons believe . . ."
Or simply, "What do Mormons believe about . . . "
And they typically won't ask about controversial doctrine. It will be simple questions about Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon or temples or family, etc.
Anti-mormons, however, ONLY ask about controversial doctrine (or supposed doctrine) and phrase the questions in a way that suggests they already know the answer, which they think they do.
So they'll say, "Don't Mormons believe . . . " Or "Isn't it true that Mormons believe . . ."
Can you hear the difference? It's a leading question.
And here's the funny part. If you tell the AMs that we don't in fact believe whatever hokey doctrine they suggest, they will promptly inform you of how wrong you are.
Which brings me to:
Sad Truth #2: AMs believe they know Mormon doctrine better than you do.
If you're foolish enough to initiate a conversation with an anti-mormon, keep that in mind. Nothing you say or do will convince him or her that you know more about Mormon doctrine than he or she does.
The AM who began emailing me recently asked several leading questions that, I can only assume, he hoped would initiate an argument.
Some of the questions made me laugh. The doctrine he was proposing was downright preposterous.
When I tried to tell him that no, in fact, Mormons don't believe what he was suggesting, he promptly told me how wrong I was.
You see, he knows what I believe better than I do. I don't know how this is possible. He must have some secret power that allows him inside my head and gives him the ability to not only see the knowledge I've retained and consider credible but also the knowledge I haven't retained but consider credible. It's an amazing trick.
Sad Truth #3: AMs gleefully stockpile obscure quotes by general authorities and former members of the Church.
AMs love to keep a record of all the odd statements made by members (or purported members) of the Church. This is their ammunition. They can't wait to throw it at you. They've got emails just waiting in their outbox to send to you.
I'm not kidding. They really get a kick out of this.
I can almost hear them slam the quote down on the table in front of me and shout, "Booyeah! Get a load of them apples, Mr. Returned Missionary."
And if I try explaining to this person that the quote was taken out of context I'm only wasting my breath. Because . . .
Sad Truth #4: AMs will never, under any circumstances, admit they're wrong.
If talking to someone until you're blue in the face is your idea of a wild and crazy time, then by all means sit down and have a lengthy chat with an AM.
Just keep in mind that no amount of evidence or counter-evidence will disprove the allegation he or she has made.
For instance, say the AM has a quote by a general authority saying the world is flat.
Even if you present to this person fifty or a hundred different statements from general authorities clearly stating that Mormons believe the world is round, the AM will never waver from his accusation.
He'll frown, cross his arms and say, "I know what Mormons believe. Nothing you can show me will disprove this."
All righty then.
Sad Truth #5: AMs will not leave you alone, even if you ask them nicely.
Warning flags went off the moment I began reading the first email I received from an AM recently. I could see where this conversation was going.
So I politely congratulated him on his beliefs and wished him well.
This was not enough apparently. I promptly received a reply filled with obscure quotes and argument-inducing statements.
My response was simple and polite. "I'd rather not get into a theological debate. You obviously believe very strongly in your faith, as I believe strongly in mine. If we begin swapping scriptures and citing people, one of us will end up with hurt feelings, and I'd like to avoid that. So let's simply allow each other to believe what he wishes and end it there."
How silly of me to write such a response. How silly of me to suggest that we merely respect one another.
I forgot that the AM's objective for writing in the first place was to prove how smart he is and how stupid I am. By denying him the argument he so desperately craved, I was denying him the opportunity to prove his wisdom.
I received another email with more obscure quotes.
I politely emailed him back and asked him to not to email me again. And trust me, I was polite. It took all the power of restraint I could muster. But I was polite.
I wrongly assumed that this would be the end of it. After all, that's how civilized people operate. You ask someone to leave you alone, they leave you alone.
The following day I received yet another email, this one clearly stating what the AM had been waiting to say all along: I'm smarter than you; you're an idiot; I know more about the Mormon "cult" than you do.
I only read about three lines of the massively lengthly email -- which this person must have spent hours constructing -- before moving it to the trash bin.
How sad, I thought. All that time of his wasted.
I've since put a block on his email address. If my AM friend emails back, he'll find his email where I won't: in my trash folder.
Which brings me to the final and obvious truth:
Sad Truth #6: AMs are not courteous.
Try to talk to that sign-waving guy outside General Conference and he'll only scream louder. Try to politely end a conversation with an AM, and they'll only get more hostile.
I distinctly remember the day on my mission when we tracted into the home of an anti-mormon. The man, upon seeing our white shirts and name tags, began yelling at the top of his voice at us. Vile and terrible insults. My companion and I tucked tail and ran. What else could we do? A civilized conversation was out of the question. So we skeedaddled.
A block away we could still hear him yelling.
Sad sad sad.
Don't these people have better things to do with their time and energy? Why be rude? Why disrespect someone's freedom to believe what he or she wishes?
The answer? I have no idea.
But take my unsolicited advice. Don't try to fix the problem. Avoid it. You can't indoctrinate an anti-mormon. You can't even explain simple facts to them. So why bother? It will only leave you scratching your head, not because you suddenly doubt your faith but because you'll be wondering where in the world people like this come from.
If you really need someone to talk to, call the English. They likely have some nice refreshment on hand, and you won't find more pleasurable company.
Copyright © 2006 by Aaron Johnston
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