Thursday, May 10, 2012

Stop calling me weird

A lot has been said about my religion in the last year. It has been, as the Washington Post reminds us so frequently, a "Mormon Moment." Which has been pretty weird in some ways. A while ago I searched for "Mormons" on Google News and scanned some of the things major news outlets were writing about. One talked about how Mormons are all bland and boring. There was a Slate article calling us radical. Christopher Hitchens called us sinister. Another commentator called us nice but extremely naive. To tell you the truth I read those articles, with their opposing viewpoints, and didn't see myself or the majority of Mormons I know described in any of them. You can't describe what all Mormons are like any more than you can accurately sum up all Americans or everyone of a particular generation in a few hundred words. You might hit some common themes but for every person who fits the stereotype you can find three or four who don't.

Plus, I get really tired of getting called weird all the time. I mean, come on, everyone's religion is "weird" if you step back and look at it objectively. I can respect atheists who say "I can't believe there are people wacko enough to believe that" because a lot of them generally think that about anyone who believes in a higher power. But it is hugely hypocritical for other Christians to make fun of our beliefs. As Stephen Colbert once put it, Mormons believe that Joseph Smith got gold plates from an angel, but everyone knows that's crazy, because it was actually Moses who got stone tablets from a burning bush. The Bible (which we also believe in) is full of stories way more odd than anything you will ever find in the Book of Mormon. In the Bible you read about a talking donkey, a prophet summoning a bear to eat some boys that were calling him "bald head," a guy saving every species of animal on earth by putting them in a boat, people being raised from the dead and a boy killing a giant. I feel like if you can believe in a virgin birth you should be able to believe God is capable of just about anything, including appearing to a 14-year-old boy in New York in the 1800s. Maybe you don't believe it did happen. But you should be open-minded enough to believe it is possible.

But somehow we get a really bad rap compared to everyone else, I guess because we're still the new kid in town after almost two centuries. But let's look at something for just a second. Catholics, who are basically as far from the new-kid-to-Christianity as you can get, believe in transubstantiation. I'm sure I'm oversimplifying here, but from what I understand that means they believe that as they partake of communion, the wine and bread literally, not just symbolically, turn into the flesh and blood of Christ. So let's say you didn't really know anything about Catholics and I told you that they believe in cannibalism and that they have a worship rite they perform frequently that involves drinking blood. In fact, that's pretty much the main point of their church according to me. You go to your Catholic friend and say "Do you drink blood during church, yes or no?" And they go, "Well, that's sort of technically true if you squint at it but let me explain ..." And you tune out their explanation because you're thinking "No way, my friend just told me they drink blood! What a creepy religion!"

So you find an angry ex-Catholic with an axe to grind and say "What else can you tell me about the Catholic church?" And they direct you to some websites talking about sexual abuse and cover-ups by priests and you think "Wow, Catholics sound like really bad people." The bitter ex-Catholic also tells you some things that are just flat-out untrue but you take them as doctrine without question.

And then you come across an article about the story in the Old Testament about Lot's daughters preserving his seed by getting him drunk and sleeping with him. And you think "This is one of the stories they commonly teach about in their church? No wonder they have a pedophile problem!" even though in reality most Catholics are probably aware that story is in the Bible but can't remember if they have ever heard it mentioned in a sermon before in their lifetime of church membership.

So then that would be your picture of the Catholic church, and despite knowing some Catholics who are extremely nice, normal people with a good relationship with God you figure they're the exception rather than the rule. You would have no idea that most Catholics spend their time worrying about things like how to raise their children to be good people and praying for their sick family member to be healed rather than thinking about Lot and his daughters.

That's what has happened to our church, but on a national scale. There are so many things that people have said "I hear you believe this" and I have either been able to tell them that's not true at all or been able to put it into context (like the Catholics and drinking blood) and the person has been like "Oh. Well that's not actually that weird at all."

If people don't believe my church is true, fine. I can understand that. But they should at least attempt to get their facts straight and then show some respect. Like when Lawrence O'Donnell said that Mormonism was started when a guy got caught cheating on his wife with the maid and he made up a story about an angel telling him to do it. Hello, Joseph and his wife Emma had to elope because her family had heard about Joseph telling people about his vision as a teenager and they didn't want her to be associated with that. So I don't think the whole "alibi for getting caught cheating" theory of why our church was started really checks out. Every time I see the frenzied protesters outside of General Conference in Salt Lake holding signs saying things like "The Bible is the word of God!" and "Only through the blood of Jesus Christ can we be saved!" I want to say "Thanks for the preview of exactly what I'm going to be hearing inside today." As for the guy dancing around in the devil costume, I want to say "And you think I'm the weird one?" That also goes for the grown men obsessing over Mitt Romney's underwear.

I don't spend my time tearing down other peoples' religion. I figure even if we differ on some doctrine points, if they believe in treating others as they want to be treated, and are teaching against things like stealing and murder, then their church is probably making the world a better place and there are a lot of worse things out there I should spend my time and energy bashing instead, like child abuse. I just wish other followers of Christ would extend me the same courtesy.