Friday, March 20, 2015
So I had the Mormon missionaries over this evening. It is my humble opinion that when the Catholic finds the proselytizers of another sect at his door, the polite and Christian thing to do is to show them all courtesy. Hospitality demands it, and it is an opportunity to witness to the Gospel. Besides, I've done similar work (I've cold-called, and I've gone door to door offering paint jobs), and it is decidedly miserable, so I thought the deserved a break in the form of a guy who doesn't slam a door in their faces.
I've known others who've been unable ever to get rid of Mormon missionaries after inviting them in. If such misfortune befalls in this case, I may have to explain, perhaps even brusquely, that the welcome has been overstayed, but I see nothing wrong with allowing them to make a few visits, within reason.
When the two elders, both younger than I, arrived, I sat them down and asked them if they were allowed to drink herbal tea. They said they were, so I made them each a cup. Then I started with some philosophical matters, first asking if it were true that the Mormon Church teaches that the universe is made from uncreated matter, and that God the Father was originally a man. They said that was correct, so I explained that contingent, material beings logically require a first cause that is not contingent, and that this first cause is ordinarily called God, and must be the greatest being since an effect cannot be greater than its cause, and therefore the one they worship, though he might be a great saint or a god with a lowercase g, could not be God properly so-called.
This might have gone over their heads. I'm not sure. Later in the conversation, one of them said God was the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and that he was the source of all truth. I replied that if he did not originate all things, he could not be the source of all truth, and that if he was once a man, then he was not the same yesterday, regardless of what he might be today or tomorrow. At that point, the fellow hedged and said the belief that God was once a man was speculation and not doctrine, so I dropped the subject.
They described, as I expected, Joseph Smith's first vision, which is supposed to have occurred when various churches were undergoing revivals and Smith was confused about which to join. Regardless of whether Smith actually experienced the discouragement and consternation during the Second Great Awakening in the Burned-Out District that he claimed to, it makes for a good story; anyone who has ever asked like Pilate, "What is truth?" can relate to it. I told them I had a similar experience of disheartenment on account of the schismatical tendencies of Protestant sects, and that like Smith I came to recognize the need for an authoritative Magisterium to prevent the constant division caused by the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, but that I found that Magisterium in the Catholic Church rather than creating it myself.
I told them also that many others besides Joseph Smith have claimed that the Church committed a Great Apostasy and that they have restored true and sound doctrine, and I asked them specifically why I should prefer Smith and the Book of Mormon to Muhammad and the Quran, since Muhammad made the same claims and also came with a book. They dodged that without answering it.
I told them flatly that I think the Book of Mormon, with its skin color obsession and its speculation about an Israelitish origin of the Mound Builders, looks like a text written in the Nineteenth Century in America by someone with a King James Bible and an imagination, and that it was probably Rigdon's creation based on Spaulding's unpublished novel.
One of the guys was rather meek and quiet. The other was zealous but clearly didn't like to deviate from his memorized lecture, and I had him by the end retreating to giving his testimony, by which I mean he affirmed that he knows, by private confirmation from God, that the Book of Mormon is true. That of course is wholly subjective and thus can't be argued—which is the point.
This segued into an emotional appeal, the request that I find God through the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I ended with an emotional appeal of my own, telling them that Catholics, Mormons, and Evangelicals are allies, not enemies, in the culture wars, and that we must circle the wagons together, but that the best way to present a united front would be under the banner of the Catholic Church, which alone is wide enough in her embrace to take all of us. As an example of this, I contrasted the Mormons and their high view of marriage with the Shakers and their celibacy, and said that there is room in the Catholic Church for both forms of spirituality.
(I thought the Shakers originated at the same time and in the same place as the Mormons, but upon looking them up, I find I'm mistaken, or rather, it's a little more complicated than that, but no matter.)
They of course asked me to read the Book of Mormon, and I said I would do so if they would read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They agreed, and we exchanged books. I do not intend to press them to find out if they will keep their end of the bargain, but I must keep mine, so I have some reading to do once Lent ends.
I was hoping for vigorous but friendly debate. Instead, I think it was more like my debating interrupting their canned spiel. I don't fault them for this, as these elders are both kids. But I found it to be a pleasant evening, and I hope they did as well.