I can’t wait for the Mormon missionaries to show up at my door again. Usually, I don’t have the patience to deal with people trying to sell me religion – I’ve got kittehs to play with, rocks to pound, posts to write, food to savor… Who wants to spend a glorious summer afternoon arguing religion with two scrubbed (in mind and body) young people when you could be lounging on the patio with book, cat, and drink?
After two books and a website, I’m eagerly scanning the horizon for those poor innocent folks. I might even invest in two extra patio chairs so we can lounge outside with the Book of Mormon, the cat (granted neither are allergic), and drinks (non-alcoholic, of course. See – I can be accommodationist, too!).
“Dana!” I hear you cry in my vivid imagination, “what can possibly lead to such a dramatic change?!”
I shall tell you. What’s more, I shall arm you with fascinating, often funny, reading, and questions guaranteed to make missionaries sweat more than the weather warrants.
It began because Steve and Phillip Wells are Blogging the Book of Mormon. They’re brave people. I haven’t attempted to read the BOM since our badass cat – you know, the one who could catch jackrabbits twice her size on the hop – took a serious dislike to it.* Look, when my mama cat tells me not to do something, you think I’m gonna argue? Kitteh knows best!
Besides, as the Doctor would say, it’s not holy writ – it’s atrociously writ. The ingredients list on a shampoo bottle is better than that book: it’s (probably) non-fiction and teaches me interesting words, plus some chemistry. The BOM causes my Inner Editor to have a complete nervous collapse, which process is painful to witness. Who wants to suffer all this? So I’m grateful to Steve and Phillip, who are sparing us much agony.
Thanks to them, I can now have a somewhat in-depth discussion of the BOM up through most of Mosiah. I can ask questions about things like how fast ancient Hebrews can walk**, and why God likes the phrase “and it came to pass” so much. I can explain that one of the reasons I’m having a hard time abandoning my atheism is that I can’t believe any god could be such an awful writer. And I can give them a handy URL (http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.com/2010/07/blogging-book-of-mormon.html) to visit showing them how their holy book appears to skeptics. Heck, if I’m feeling really ambitious, I can direct them to the Skeptics Annotated Book of Mormon, lovingly edited by two brave blokes blogging the BOM.
It’s kind of like if MST3K did holy books. Hilarious!
But that’s pretty skeptical stuff, and only super-useful if a) the missionaries are already wavering in their faith and just need a loving push off the fence, or b) I want to see how long it takes to make the pair of them run away screaming. It’s a great way to read a really fucking stupid religious
screech screed, but doesn’t give me the real dirt. You know, the stuff you can only learn by investigating the “making of” a religion.
Enter The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion: the Mormons, by David Fitzgerald. ZOMG, you guys! Now, mind you, I’ve been subjected to an hours-long rant about the fraudulicious origins of Mormonism by an enraged ex-Mormon who’d become ex by engaging his brain, and I’d picked up more bits and pieces hither and yon, but this book packages the juicy bits with premium snark. Like so:
So despite all FAIR’s [Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research] smug assertations, it would appear the Book of Mormon’s ancient Nephites had, in fact, not a barley-based, but bullshit-based economy.
Oh, snap. (By the way, barley didn’t show up in the New World pre-Columbus. You might want to ask your anxious young religious salespeople what God did with all the archaeological evidence of these ancient civilizations. Then, after they’ve stumbled through an answer on that, ask ’em why God mucked up all the Native American DNA.***)
David’s book was as informative as it was entertaining. He’s got great useful factoids like the weight of the mysterious “Golden Plates.” Joseph Smith’s first wife Emma must have been superpowered, because she could lift the box they were in with one hand whilst dusting. Thing is, the buggers weighed more than 198 pounds (50, if God was a cheap-arsed barstard and let his scribes use mere gold-plated plates). I can’t wait to ask about things like that. And the discrepancies in Mormonism’s foundational stories (Jo Smith couldn’t keep his lies straight, poor bugger). And I’ll want to know why there’s so many corrections to “the most correct book on Earth” (62,000 words added or deleted, for instance). And so much more!
The whole book is a rollicking good read, but the most valuable chapter of all is Chapter 14: Talking to the Ex-Mormons of the Future – Today! This was like getting special Mormon-spectacles. They and their bizarre belief system had been sort of fuzzy and out of focus, despite growing up with Mormon friends. Now they’re in better focus. I never quite knew quite how sheltered, terrorized, and lied to, not to mention programmed and brainwashed, the poor things were. Chapter 14 gives excellent advice on how to talk to missionaries. That was worth the price of the book right there. And it quotes our own Greta Christina‘s fabulous Why Are You Atheists So Angry? Awesomesauce! There’s a whole list of things that will help you effectively talk to Mormons – and plant the skeptical seeds that may eventually help them grow out of a very destructive faith. Priceless!
But don’t stop there. Not when you can get Kay Burningham’s An American Fraud: One Lawyer’s Case Against Mormonism. Guilty!
Before I sing the book’s praises, a caveat: Kay’s a lawyer, not a writer. You will have to gird your loins (or thwack your Inner Editor over the head, slap some duct tape on their limbs and mouth, and bundle them into a closet for the duration). The first portion of the book, her autobiographical bit, does, shall we say, reveal that the author is not a polished prose professional. The flashbacks are more like switchbacks that include several detours, a blizzard, and an impaired driver. Throughout, there are spelling and grammatical errors that demonstrate that a) no professional editor got so much as a glimpse of the book or b) if one did, they were also grievously impaired. The violence done to the common comma will make you weep and perhaps start a charity fund. In other words: this book will win no awards for its literary perfection.
And that doesn’t matter at all.
A flawed gem is still a gem, and a gripping story can survive an amateur storyteller. Kay gives you a raw, honest look at what it means to grow up Mormon: how even an intelligent and skeptical person can fall for a pious fraud. She kept me up all damned night – twice. And just about did for me the rest of the nights. It took a lot of self-control to keep from trying to finish in one marathon session.
Through Kay, you’ll get an inside look at super-sekrit Temple ceremonies (newsflash: they suck).You’ll see how the Church’s misogyny destroys women. You’ll learn why Utah is among the psychiatric medicine industry’s best customers. You’ll learn what it takes to break free of a lifetime of indoctrination. It’s harrowing.
I love the two-thirds of the book devoted to a lawyer’s assessment of the evidence against the Mormon church. You’ll discover the lengths the Mormon church’s elders have gone to in order to keep the flock ignorant. You’ll see the devastating effect the internet’s had on America’s second dumbest religion (you know what the first is). And you’ll learn how the Church could be prosecuted, without disturbing the First Amendment a bit.
This is the kind of book you mark pages in and keep by the door, ready for the missionaries’ next visit. It’s the one you go through, quoting original source material fatal to their religion, until they flee. And the beauty of it is, nearly every primary source Kay cites is or once was a devout Mormon. These are people who were privy to the secrets at the top, people who were there at the beginning, people who did their homework, desperate to restore their faith – and ended up killing it dead. These are people who are still trapped inside. All folks these poor missionary kids will find impossible to impeach. Learning this stuff may free them before they’re in far too deep to rescue themselves. And it’s certainly a book you should give to anyone in your life who’s considering converting.
So there you are. All you’ll need for a rollicking good time the next time the kids in white shirts and dark ties appear at your door. You’ll probably end up on the Church’s do-not-visit-this-house-under-any-circumstances list, but hopefully not before you’ve made inroads on church membership.
Freeing people of damaging dogma is one of the best things we can ever do. Take these keys and open some cages.
*One of my friends did give me the Book of Mormon once because she wanted me to understand her faith better. I tossed it on the couch and didn’t give it another thought until my big calico mama cat came in, looked at it, puffed up and hissed, walked waaaay way around it, and sat down staring me in the eye with a “What are you going to do about that evil thing?” look on her face. I trust my cats. I got rid of the book.
**The average human walking speed is roughly 5 kilometers per hour. Based on the length of time the BOM says Lehi and his family took to walk the 407km (straight line) from Jerusalem to the Red Sea, ancient Hebrew families could apparently hoof it at nearly 6 kilometers per hour, and never had to pause for food, water, restroom breaks, sleep, thorns in sandals, heatstroke, etc. for up to 72 hours. Now dat’s stamina!
***Mormons believe barley was introduced by Hebrew immigrants to the Americas long before Christ, and that Native Americans are descended from some of those immigrants. Alas for them, archaeological and biological evidence refuse to cooperate.