Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mormons V: Racquetball with Hitler

This is the final chapter in the Mormon installment. Like the final installment about any New Religion (see Scientology), it gets a little weird. You’ve been warned.

Several years after college I had a second encounter with LDS missionaries. I was sitting on the bottom step at the base of Preseren statue, a monument to the national poet of Slovenia who presides over Ljubljana’s old town square. Preseren statue was a popular rendezvous point to wait for friends or lovers before a night on the town. For those without the money, it was a nice place to drink instead of the bar. Students in the latter group perched on the granite shelf above me and passed around a bottle of the kind of wine that comes with a cap instead of a cork. One of them turned and tilted the bottle in tribute to the memory of the hard drinking poet. Preseren did not seem to notice. His forlorn gaze was locked down the cobbled street to a bust of his unrequited love set atop a doorway where her nymph-like smirk forever spurned him. I hoped I wouldn’t be waiting so long.

I waited. Andreja and I were supposed to meet for a drink. I watched the few who trickled into evening vespers at the cathedral and the foot traffic on the triple bridge over the river that split the old town. The pedestrians kept their eyes straight ahead, down along the cobble of the square.

No one paid mind the two smiling young men on the bridge who greeted in competent Slovene. The foot traffic snaked around them—their identical suits and black nametags marked them for what they were a hundred meters away. They held their smiles. They kept up the greetings and a few varied one-liners about the Lord in a language with less than two million speakers and at least 42 dialects, a language they had dedicated two years of their lives to mastering. They devoted hours to pre-dawn study each morning so they could stand on this bridge and be shunned like a two-man leper colony.

If they would just venture beyond the uninterested commuters, past the statue and up the stairs leading up to rose Cathedral buttressing the Northern end of the square, they’d find their competitors faring little better in the competition for souls. The air inside of the Ljubljana Cathedral is heavy, weighted down with history, the arcana of faith. The late afternoon sun bleeds through stain glass to where a priest administers vespers before a dozen old babicas, Slovene grandmothers, wrapped in their headscarves. Tourists filter in and stand and watch the ceremony for a few minutes, then discharge back out onto the square.

Slovenia is not fertile ground for religion. It is an ex-Communist, post-Catholic nation. Most Slovenes claim Catholicism as their religion, around 96% are Roman Catholic by ethnicity. Most Slovenes have a priest administer their weddings and funerals, but in daily life God is kept at a comfortable distance, six feet under to be precise. Few here are interested in religion. The Mormons would have better luck in Baghdad, Kathmandu, anywhere else but ex-communist, post-Catholic Europe.

I checked my phone. Text message—Andreja: can’t make it. More students arrive at the statue and another bottle is passed around the feet of the sodden poet. I am offered a drink. Good timing. Even a 75 cent bottle capped wine tastes good in Slovenia.

One of the missionaries catches me watching them. He says something to his partner and takes the lead as they start walking towards the statue. The front man is short and has a dark complexion. He looks vaguely Polynesian.

Jaz sem Starsine Lee. Kako ste vi?”

Dobro, Hvala. But I’m American, you can speak English if you’d rather.”
“An American! I thought you were Slovene! I’m Elder Lee, this is Elder McFadden, we are with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…”

The shorter one continued the pitch while his partner stood slightly behind him and warily regarded the students behind me as if at any moment they might toss a bottle at him.

“Thanks, but I’m not looking for a religion,” I replied. For some reason I continued. There was something I missed about Americans' friendliness to strangers, even if this was a sales job.

“It’s amazing you guys learn Slovene so well, I’ve been studying for over a year now and can still can’t understand people.”

The leader gave a quick glance back over his shoulder. His partner then rustled in his bag and pulled out a black notebook.

“You know, we give language lessons.”

On cue, Elder McFadden produced a flyer with the phone number and address of their meeting house.

It was a good pitch. They offered the one thing I could have I possibly wanted from them. I had taken two 80-hour Slovene courses at the university, but there wasn’t a class between the intermediate I had just completed and the advanced level. The advanced course was designed for immigrants from Serbia and Bosnia who blended Slovene with their similar sounding mother tongues. The result was an incomprehensible Balkan hodgepodge punctuated only by the laughter from the withering jokes as the rump of South Slavs ganged up on what they saw as their stuffy (rich) Slovene neighbors. I had tried private tutors, but hadn’t found a good one. My last tutor smelled like raw onions and liked to sit six inches from me when we practiced.

I hadn’t given a firm commitment on the lesson, but I decided to meet them. I was curious about these kids who traveled halfway across the world to proselytize to the unconvertible masses, peddling a religion founded by a polygamist from upstate New York. Did they know what a joke they were in the eyes of the residents—those who even noticed them—that they were a source of universal derision, something all Yugoslavs could agree on? There isn’t a whole lot all Yugoslavs can agree on.

Maybe I met them out of boredom. My job was only 20 hours a week, so I had plenty of time on my hands. Almost every social interaction I had revolved around drinking, even hiking and language classes ended in beers, so I maybe welcomed some time with the teetotalers. Since I knew I’d be moving to London in a couple of months, I wouldn’t have to worry about these guys stalking me for my soul. I could easily disappear.

The lesson was at their local ward meeting house, located in a middling suburb to the west of town on the second story of a building that unfolded around an interior courtyard paved over with asphalt. As I locked up my bike I could feel the eyes of the locals who sat at a table drinking pints in the courtyard. Elder Lee met me with a handshake at the door.

The ward had two rooms for services, a large chapel and a smaller annex for when the men and women divided up to discuss gender specific themes. Allegorical paintings decorated the walls. I stopped to look at a photograph of twelve old white men in an unsymmetrical line.

“They’re not arranged by height,” I said.

“Good observation, they are actually lined up in order of seniority. This is what we call the Council of the Twelve Apostles. And that’s the prophet Gordon B. Hinkley,” Lee said, a touch of awe in his voice as he pointed to the shriveled suit at the far left of the lineup. “He is a great man”

Elder McFadden was seated in the smaller of the two meeting rooms, either studying his tie or napping. I took a seat in front of a white marker board set up in the middle of the room prepared in advanced for my lesson. They had written out all the first declension case endings on the board.

Slovene is an inflective language, similar to Latin in that the nouns and adjectives have different endings depending on how they are used in a sentence. Endings must be written out in three columns, since in addition to singular and plural, Slovene has a dual case that is used when referring to two things or persons. Slovene grammar is a nightmare. A manufactured nightmare. Standard Slovene is the product of a 19th century literary movement that restored the language after centuries of occupation left it an informal, unwritten language only spoken in the home. The academics were keen to restore archaic forms like the dual that would have died away otherwise. Few in the capital bother to speak properly anyway, Ljubljanans clip many of the endings at random. The conjugations before me are for the most part a pain in the ass.

Elder Lee stood beside the board and went through the endings case by case, giving an example for each ending. Maybe they were trying to put me to sleep. I could not have conjured a lesson plan better designed to induce hypnosis.

Flagging, I started looking at the pictures hung on the back wall. There was one with a man kneeling in a wood before two identical bearded white men in white robes in a shaft of white light.

“Who is that guy?” I yawned.

Elder Lee, who had also slumped a bit, drowsed by his own mind-numbing lesson, perked up. I had taken the bait. He kicked the bottom of white board and it swung around to reveal the lesson prepared on the on other side of the board. On the top, in bold letters read: JOSEPH SMITH.

After a much livelier twenty-minute presentation, derailed a bit by my questions about Mormon claim to the discovery of the New World, Lee suggested we end with a prayer. Elders Lee and McFadden kneeled and recited in unison a passage from the end of the Book of Mormon. It was a passage they would repeat at end of every meeting:

I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

It was pretty obvious the language lessons wouldn’t be helping me much. Not that I cared, I was becoming interested in these missionaries and their bizarro existence in a land of atheists. Their colleagues in South America were converting souls by the dozen, some claimed upwards of a hundred new members a year. Neither Lee nor McFadden had a single convert between them. I was the first guy who had talked to them in weeks and the first they had brought back to the ward. Though I made it clear up front that I was not interested, that I was even talking to them made me their best prospect in Slovenia.

I agreed to meet them for another lesson. This time they didn’t really have anything prepared, and we quickly fell into another discussion of Mormonism. I was interested in the LDS cosmology, and Elder Lee sketched out on the board a beginners guide to Mormon heaven. He drew a series of circles on the board, each one a bit higher than the next. Then he drew a line at the bottom of the board.

He explained that Mormons in good standing went off to the highest circle, a heaven where they would rejoin their families for eternity. Each descending circle was a less desirable brand of heaven, all of them “nice” though. He did not have to tell me what was below the line at the bottom of the board. I had been to Sunday School.
“Then who goes down there, to hell?” I asked.
“Hell is reserved for the worst kind of sinner, the man who knowingly turns his back on God.”
“So, Hitler is down there,” I said.
“Well… no, Hitler is probably here,” Lee said, pointing with his marker to a circle above damnation.

“Hitler didn’t turn his back on God?”

Hitler couldn’t turn his back on God, according to Lee, because he had never received the testament of the Latter-day Saints. The flip side of claiming to be of the one and true religion is that the Gentiles without God can’t be blamed for their earthly foibles. The way Elder Lee described it, Mormons reserve eternal damnation for those who stray from their own flock. So Pol Pot and Uncle Joe are headed to an eternity near you.

Elder McFadden seldom spoke up during the lesson, when he did it was to give some brief anecdote about his discovery of his faith. Lee nor McFadden had been born into the faith. They were both converts from Catholicism. And neither of them came from Utah. Lee was raised in California, McFadden in Idaho. They both had joined the church after high school friends convinced them to start attending meetings of the one and true religion.

I had lots of questions. They had answers. I asked them about their personal habits. I could see the straight edge appeal of abstinence in high school, and maybe on the campus of BYU, but was it hard giving up caffeine?

After our second language lesson they gave me book of Mormon to take home. They had marked several passages for me to read in my spare time. I thought it better to start from the beginning. Just a few pages into first chapter, describing the Mormons’ last days in the Old World, their leader is commanded by God to decapitate his arch enemy. I thumbed ahead to the wars between the divided factions in the New World, and the apostates whose skins were darkened as a punishment for their paganism. And though now an ocean and a continent away, this account of the ancient Americas still managed a few swipes at the Jews. How did this stuff not catch on in the Old South? This book had the zingers to fill a dozen recruiting pamphlets for the KKK.

I conducted a little research. Turns out the Mormons did market the racism in the Book of Mormon. During the height of southern resistance to integration, the LDS made inroads in southern communities by allying with groups like the White Citizens Councils. The LDS advertised the passages of Mormon scripture that explicitly forbade people of color from obtaining the priesthood. At 12 years old all Mormon males (in good standing) are inducted into the priesthood, and thereby can perform certain functions in the church, so this mandate effectively barred African Americans from joining the LDS.

This became the subject of my next conversation with the missionaries. As long as they were so eager to talk about Mormonism, I figured they should be up to discussing their history. Neither Lee nor McFadden had heard these details, though Lee was quick to point out that people of any color are welcome to become LDS. This is true. In 1978, the acting prophet Spencer Kimball received the revelation that skin color was no longer a criterion for eligibility to the priesthood, and the Mormons thereby became rearguard integrationists. They are now racking up souls in Africa and South America.

The elders were not put off my criticism, rather they seemed to enjoy the challenge. Elder Lee called me a few days later and invited me to my first Family Home Evening. Held each Monday, Family Home Evening is a time for Mormon families to get together, read the scripture, and pray. Since the Saints in Ljubljana were a small group, they held a home evening in common. The hosts were an elderly couple from Utah spending their golden years as an auxiliary to the younger missionaries who hustled the streets and stood invisible amidst the ex-communist, post-Catholic humanity.

That Monday I caught my first glimpse of those rare creatures--Slovene converts to Mormonism. A mother wheeled in her son of indeterminate age who had the shriveled and twisted limbs and suffered spasmodic convulsions of Cerebral Palsy. The mother cast nervous glances to the American Mormons and twice asked Elder Lee if he would perform a laying on of hands for her son. A second mother with a different sort of nervousness arrived, her teenage daughter in-tow. The daughter appeared to be the age of my third year students, about 17, though her ample thighs and magnificent breasts could have passed her for much older.

I wondered which mother sought the bigger miracle. A statistic I had heard in the faculty room at Gimnazija Poljane was that over half of the girls in our school underwent their first abortion by the time they graduated. And these were elite students. A chaste Slovene teenager seemed every bit as implausible as faith-healed Palsy. I needed more information about this laying on of hands before handicapping the miracles. In any event, here was a natural audience for the hard up missionaries, desperate mothers who lacked godless alternatives.

The teenager bounced in behind her mom and immediately locked eyes on me. When I was introduced as an American, she volunteered as my translator. Before anyone could suggest otherwise, the girl was nestled beside me on the couch. I was sitting on an end and so had no real estate to maneuver when her thigh came flush against mine. Now I sought a miracle. I was determined to give no further notice to the magnificent breasts snug in her v-neck sweater.

A middle aged Slovene couple was the last to arrive. Their angle was less obvious than the mothers’. When they sat down Elder Lee took the floor, and introduced me to the group. Perhaps feeling upstaged, the Palsy child belched three or four haunting guttural whines.

Lee started with a reading from the Book of Mormon. My translator leaned into to whisper me bits of the passage, her lips half an inch from my ear. Her tits pressed into my upper arm as she traced a bright red nail beneath the lines in my book.

...but this is a church meeting. Think about the Bible, or that old lady with the wart on her neck who sells onions in the market. No, too disgusting. This is church. The Bible, think about the Bible. Let’s see…Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, ActsoftheRomans and Corinthians…How can she not be wearing a… The Garden. Adam and Eve and the snake... Forbidden Fruit.. Great. Way to sexualize the only thing you learned in Sunday School, dickhead.

I didn’t know much about Joseph Smith at the time, though a flash of inspiration (is this the holy ghost?) suggested his approval.

I now know a great deal more about the Prophet, and I am confident he would have approved. When he proposed celestial union to a girl like this I bet she spared him the obligatory fainting episode.

The passage concluded and the breasts brushed back across my arm and faced the circle. The boy in the wheelchair squealed in approval at amen. The middle aged Slovene with a broad back and rough hands of a factory worker raised his hand to Elder Lee. Lee nodded and the man straightened up in his chair and began to speak.

“America defeats Saddam Hussein, evil in Middle East. 25 years America make world peace.”

Elder McFadden looked my way, “That’s not church doctrine,” he said.

Elder Lee led us in a giving thanks and blessings. At the final amen he looked to the Palsy child who erupted in joyous exclamation. His mother moved in on the Elder and asked a third time if they would bless the child. Lee and McFadden wheeled the boy into a backroom.

“Do you live in the city?” the girl asked me.

Before she was finished with word city, her mother had taken her by the arm and was pulling her up from the couch and towards the door.

The pro-America man must have memorized his speech. He wasn’t able to say much else in English. Since the couple from Utah didn’t speak Slovene, we all sat quietly and munched on the grapes the hostess had brought from the kitchen. The silence was punctuated here and there by grunting and screaming from the back room.

“How old are you, son” the Utah man asked me.
“I’m 26.”
“Well then, it’s about time you started a family!”

I paused for a second and imagined the family scenario, the most conceivable one anyways, the one where I knock up my girlfriend. Flash forward to the force in her tiny foot as it strikes my tailbone, knocking me out of bed to tend to the smelly screaming child in the corner of our one bedroom.

“You're right, sir.”

I thanked my hosts and bid them goodnight. Elders McFadden and Lee were still working with the Palsy child so I left alone. Maybe I would explain if they called again, how there wasn’t any point in further meetings. Jailbait aside—though in Slovenia 16 is the age of consent—my values were not compatible with these people, and as much as I had enjoyed playing the devil’s advocate with these two, the joke was wearing thin. They wanted my soul for the one and true way. I wasn’t about to give it to them.

I didn’t pick up the phone the rest of the week and stayed away from the triple bridge. The following Saturday evening Andreja and I went to see a movie, a pretentious Spanish flick where the main characters, too rich for their own good, drown on their sailboat-yacht. I bashed the film on the way back to the car. Andreja was quiet, but she either liked the movie or was taking my critique personally, because she drove me to my apartment, didn’t park, didn’t offer an explanation. We had been on and off for several months. We were currently together, evidently just barely. Maybe she was cheating on me again.

Late that night, alone in my attic apartment, I lay in bed and listened to a strengthening wind that began to scratch at the shingles. Heavy clouds rolled down from the Julian Alps, and the stars extinguished from north to south in the skylight above my bed. I closed my eyes.

A lightening strike illuminated the exposed beam dividing my room in two. Another strike revealed swirling leaves. It was raining through the skylight.
I opened my eyes and was suspended in the swirl of rain and leaves, now levitated above my bed. I bent forward in a mid-air somersault, and out of my throat came the question Elder Lee had been encouraging me to pray on. “Is the Mormon way the one and true religion of God?” Lightening flooded the room with a powerful light. Only it wasn’t lightening this time, but a blinding shaft of white light. The beam shot into my chest filling me from fingertips to toes. Every hair on my body stood on end. I radiated the pure energy—the concentrated ecstasy of a thousand orgasms.

I opened my eyes and basked in the glow. I felt my boxers, not wet. After a few minutes I looked up at the clock. It was 9:30. With an aftershock up my spine I realized it was Sunday morning, that I had just enough time to put on my suit and make the 20 minute bike ride through the park to the Mormon ward.

There was only one thing to do, so I got dressed. I was already imagining myself telling the elders about my dream, how they’d make me retell it to the entire congregation (all eight of them) with my new high school friend standing at my side offering to translate. Were they going to dunk me in the water on the spot, or would they play the coy Buddhist and give me the cold shoulder for three days, make me prove my revelation? God directing me to a caffeine-free life without coffee and cigarettes, swear words, sex, or booze. And he wants me to put on scratchy underwear.

I went into the kitchen and filled the electric kettle. I stirred a couple spoonfuls of NesCafe into my mug and noticed my hands were shaking. I reached for the bottle with the pirate ship label and poured a nip into the mug. I took a sip. Rum really improves the taste of instant coffee. I sloshed in another shot for good measure. Then another. I had to clear my head, calm my nerves.

There were rational explanations for what had just happened. McFadden and Lee had closed each meeting with the passage about asking the Holy Ghost for the truth about the LDS church. That is exactly what I had done in the dream. I borrowed the bolt of light from the painting in the church. There would have been some leaves in the forest where Joseph Smith received his vision. The thunderstorm was my own embellishment.

I decided not to tell anyone about my dream, especially not Elder Lee. The week kept getting wierder. A heat wave baked my attic apartment to the point I slept outside on the balcony. I broke up with Andreja, again (my suspicions held). I got an email about the death of another former Eclectic member, then heard a guy I went to high school with got run down by a drunk driver. I was homesick. I never get homesick.

I was in line at the bank. Lines were a serious business in Communist times, an experience clearly not forgotten by the grim old ladies who keep a hand on your back while waiting, quick to prod you along the second the person in front of you shuffles a few centimeters closer to the cashier. The babica behind me did not like the inch of personal space I was maintaining with the man directly in front of me. The bank didn’t have air con, so I was sweating and did not want to standing touching the damp shirt in front of me. She was determined to close the gap and kept prodding me just above my tailbone. There was nothing I could say so I just stood and counted backwards from one hundred in Slovene. When my phone ring I forgot to check the number before answering.

“Hey Bill, Elder McFadden and I we’re just talking about how much we missed talking to you. I wanted to make sure everything was all right.” Elder Lee said, “Everything ok?”

I still don’t know why I told him. Was it the heat, the claustrophobia of the line, the relentlessness of the grandmother behind me, or the fact that it had been weeks since anyone asked me if everything was ok? (it wasn’t) I hadn’t allowed myself to think about the dream since the double shot of rum, but once I started talking it all came out. I felt the tingle. It was like a first confession right there in a crowded bank, the hand still shoving at my tailbone.

“We need to meet as soon as possible, can you come by the meeting house this afternoon?”

No, I had nothing better to do than meet with the missionaries. We sat down in front of the white board and Elder Lee asked me to repeat the story to Elder McFadden. I did, but without the conviction from earlier in the day. I had had time to prepare a defense. As cool as a full body immersion might feel with the thermometer reading 35 degrees Celsius in a city without air conditioning, I was about to go and declare myself a Mormon.

I had three main arguments that I gave in order:

1. This was a dream. Nothing I had done or thought in my waking moments since suggested I convert to Mormonism. I have lots of vivid dreams, some of them also end in orgasm.

2. I couldn’t possibly live the Mormon lifestyle. I like coffee, beer, red wine, marijuana, and it turns out the occasional shot of rum in my instant coffee. And I like to fuck—out of wedlock. Now that I am single, I plan to fuck as many girls as possible. I do not plan on marrying.

3. My family. I could not bear telling my family I converted to Mormonism. They would think I had gone insane. I would rather tell my family I had converted to Islam, joined a Krishna cult, married a black woman, become a homosexual, something with precedent among the educated classes. No offense guys, but this was just too ridiculous to contemplate.

To my shock, no offense was taken. After a moment, Elder McFadden started to speak. This was a shock in itself. It was the first time I remember the laconic elder speaking more than a line at one of these meetings. He gave a thoughtful rebuttal, argument by argument. First he addressed the lifestyle question. Yes, living a righteous life is not easy, and it sometimes requires sacrifices. But at the end of the day, he decided to make the sacrifices asked of him out of his personal choice to live a better life. He found that the sacrifices opened doors he couldn’t have possibly imagined before he began walking along the new path.

Next he touched on family. He told the story of sitting down with his mother and father and telling them about his choice. First his father got angry, wanted to know what kids had talked him into this, what adults were involved. His father tried to ground him, then got into a fight with his mother who had suggested that maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, his grades were improving and he wasn’t on drugs. They’d be getting grandchildren. After a few months his father came around. He accepted his choice because he loved him. Families have an enormous capacity for love and acceptance.

Lastly, he addressed my dream. It was not exactly a dream, as according to Elder McFadden, I experienced a vision. Joseph, Daniel, Giddeon, Solomon, and many more of the old prophets received divine inspiration through their dreams. Neither he nor Elder Lee had received such a clear sign from God before their own conversions, nor had they since.

“God only reveals himself to individuals for whom he expects great things. It would be very serious to turn your back on the word of God,” Lee interjected. “We think it is important you be baptized immediately.”

Or go burn in the hell for people worse than Hitler. They didn’t say it. They didn’t have to. We had already had the discussion. An apostate: he who turns his back to God. Apostatism is the worst transgression imaginable in the Mormon religion. What they did not tell me was that the early days of the church, LDS leaders sanctioned the practice of blood atonement whereby apostates were hunted down and murdered. Only an apostate’s blood could atone for his ultimate sin.

In the silence that followed I noticed for the first time that the double door leading to the smaller meeting room was closed. I had never seen it closed before.

“Let’s say a prayer,” Lee said, opening to a passage he had marked in his Book of Mormon.

“And it came to pass that from this time forth there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen…

He flipped forward to another passage.

…I would have you remember also, that there were none who were brought repentance who were not baptized with water…

Then Lee closed the book, and began again in his own halting words.

“Eternal Father, we thank you, for the vision you have given our brother, Bill Wilson, and in showing him the goodness, the righteousness, of Your way. We pray that the Holy Spirit will guide him, and help him to see the choice, the choice to do what is right, so that he can open his heart to You.”

Elder Lee was the first to rise after the prayer. He stood beside me and put a hand on my shoulder.

Note: The rest of this entry is fiction, for what really happened, read here.

“If you will only ask with your heart what is right, God will always be there to guide you.”

Meanwhile, McFadden walked in the direction of the closed doors. Just before he reached them, they opened. Four missionaries I had never seen before stood flanking the man who had hosted the family home evening. Instead of matching suits and nametags, they were dressed in white tunics, the fabric down to their knees. Elder Lee and McFadden stood on both sides of me.

“This way, brother.”

Through power of suggestion, or maybe because I might have lost my balance otherwise, I walked in between the two missionaries towards the open double doors.

“Wait,” I said, “Wait a second.”

Elder Lee reached for my upper arm, as if to steady me, but I shied away, knocking into McFadden in the process. I turned in the direction of the outside door. I bolted.

“I’m sorry,” I said, not looking back over my shoulder.

I left my bike on the rack in the courtyard, afraid that they might catch up to me if I fumbled with lock. Looking back it’s an absurd notion to have thought they might have chased after me, but I was not taking chances. I was terrified. If the guys in tunics had put on some hoods they'd have looked like klansmen in summer shorts.
I still am not sure what to make of my dream.

It is a testimony to magnetism of the LDS missionaries that they had a hard-boiled skeptic and militant atheist just a few feet from the baptismal font. Had I not started my own research into LDS doctrine and the history of the Mormon faith, especially their tactics in segregationist south, if I had not been an educated person, there is a good chance I would have converted.

I cannot rationalize my vision; it still gives me the creeps. Yes, Lee and McFadden had laid the foundation for all the elements of the dream: the language, the proximity of nature, and the column of white light. It could all be dismissed as the power of suggestion. Yet there is an opening for doubt.

Religious experience is esoteric, beyond the rational pale. We must embrace it on faith. All of my rational fiber tells me that Mormonism is nonsense, that it is a religion drawn up by a charismatic charlatan, perhaps the greatest ladies man in 19th century America. If I do choose to embrace a faith, it will be in a tradition that accepts there are multiple pathways to experiencing the divine. It will be a religion that does not condemn the rest of humanity to a middling plain in the afterlife playing racquetball with Hitler.
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