Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Exotic and Knowledgeable

When I started this blog just over six years ago, I had a policy of not discussing religion in any explicit sense. My primary motive for doing so was to avoid religious debates that might arise. I wanted any religious discussion that took place to be respectful, sincere, and most importantly, open to everyone, whether religious or not. I feared that divulging too much about my own particular beliefs would deter people from participation and/or invite those who strongly opposed my views to attack my beliefs rather than sharing their own, thereby derailing the conversations I had hoped to have. Believe me, I had reasons for supposing this could happen, as I’d seen it happen elsewhere.

At this point in time, pretty much the only people who read my blog are my family, so there is little mystery as to my faith. I’ve also said things here and there that, if you knew what I was talking about, would make it obvious to what faith I belong. You could also take a slightly informed guess as to what my religion is by the fact that I hail from Salt Lake City, Utah, though that hardly guarantees anything and my oft-advertised love for Mountain Dew may have cast doubt on your guess, depending on what preconceived notions you have about Mormons. From what I’ve gathered, those notions can be pretty off-base.

Yesterday, as I was waiting for my graduate seminar to begin, there were about six or seven of us in the room. Somehow the topic turned to Facebook, and one girl proceeded to tell a story about her friend who set up a bogus Facebook account so he could “make exotic friends. He friended a Mormon.” The girl in my class then went on to tell a story about how this Mormon girl was very religious (“Did she drink caffeine?” someone interjected) but ended up pregnant out of wedlock. I was amused, and I was going to say that I was unaware I was “exotic,” but it all passed very quickly and people were talking about other things. At that point it felt silly and relatively pointless to break in and tell them I was Mormon, so I didn’t, but part of me felt like I was being dishonest somehow. Is that weird? I don’t know. People just don’t expect other people to be Mormon, I guess, and so every once in a while you get someone talking about Mormons in front of you (or to you) with the assumption that we’re all in agreement that Mormons are a little strange or whatever.

A few years ago, I took a philosophy of religion seminar at Georgia State. There were several religious studies graduate students in the class, including one that always struck me as wanting to have something very interesting to say. She was probably in her 40’s and probably not exactly buddies with anyone in the class. Anyway, one day before class got started, she started telling our instructor a story about how she once attended a Mormon church service. She said that after the church service concluded, she talked to the priest (which is not the right word for what she meant, but that’s OK) and showed him some documented evidence that the Book of Mormon had been changed from its originally published version. (This is true, and it even says so in an introductory part of the Book of Mormon, which makes the rest of this woman’s story all the more suspicious. Obviously, the changes are not anything Mormons find worrisome, as they are primarily aimed at clarification and correction.) According to the woman telling this story, the Mormon “priest” grew very agitated and asked where she got the documentation she was showing him. He then confiscated her materials and refused to give them back to her. Those are the details I remember, but I think her story may have been even slightly more wild. Anyway, it’s possible her story is true, but I find it incredibly unlikely. The “priest” would have to have been surprisingly ignorant, and he also would have behaved quite unlike any “priest” I’ve ever dealt with. I just don’t buy it. And I didn’t buy it then, but I wasn’t even part of the conversation, so I didn’t say anything. Again, I wondered if I should have. But what do you say and what would be the point?

Go back an additional few years. I frequented a religious message board that, I thought, was aimed at generating respectful interfaith dialogues. There were only a handful of regulars who participated on the site, and I became one of them. But for a short while, I didn’t mention what my particular beliefs were. I did a lot of asking about other people’s beliefs. Well, eventually, I made it known that I was a Mormon. The backlash was surprising. A couple of the born again Christians were particularly sinister toward me after that, and one of them made a big to-do about how I had been so sneaky and crafty, trying to lure them in before telling them I was Mormon. I was astonished. The attacks seemed ravenous and immediate, and I hadn’t done anything other than apply the “Mormon” label to myself. Yikes!

Today, I am quite intrigued by this article (which was also covered here by the New York Times). A recent study of Americans found that, on average, atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons are the most knowledgeable about world religions in general. The study consisted of a survey wherein participants were asked 32 general knowledge questions about various faiths. On average, atheists and agnostics (who were lumped under the same group) answered 20.9 questions correctly. Jews answered an average of 20.5 questions correctly, and the average Mormon provided 20.3 correct answers. The next highest group after these three is “white evangelical Protestants,” who answered an average of 17.6 questions correctly. When it came to questions about the Bible and Christianity, Mormons answered more questions correctly than any other group.

I find these results interesting for a few reasons. It wouldn’t surprise me if most atheists (of a certain ilk) would assume that Mormons are even more deluded or in the dark than most other religious adherents. These survey results at least suggest that such attitudes are ill-founded. Also, I find it interesting that Mormons fare better than any other group on questions about the Bible and Christianity, when there are still many Christians out there who would insist that Mormons aren’t Christians. Of course, getting the questions right about Christianity doesn’t make you a Christian, but some might find it amusing that the average Mormon is more knowledgeable about Christianity than the average Christian who would deny that Mormons have any claim to that title. (It should be noted, of course, that white evangelical Protestants aren’t far behind Mormons in answering the Christian-themed questions correctly.)

And the moral of the story is? If nothing else, I’m exotic and knowledgeable.


  1. Awesome. I've always respected your zeal for digging for your own truth in your own way. Thank you for sharing these experiences. I have also been in the same situations where I wasn't quite sure if I should chime in about "Mormons" so don't feel alone there.

  2. Hi..good post. I often find that others seem quite hostile towards us, the Mormons. I don't know why.

    Here's an amusing anectdote, perhaps. I was talking to my neighbor about church and mentioned something about the Block Schedules. It was the first time he had heard about that...it's been a long time since this person, a member, had been to church.