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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Communicating August 9, 2017

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Continuing with my chapter-by-chapter review of the 1968 guidebook for prospective Mormon missionaries.  I’ve been away from this series for a long time, let’s get back to it.  Chapter 16: Conversation Care.

So far, there has been a lot of bad advice in this book, a lot of condescension, and quite a few amusingly outdated attitudes.  But finally we’ve come to a chapter where our author actually has mostly good advice for these kids!  Apparently she has enough experience with talking to people that she knows her stuff here.  Mostly.

Her advice includes:

  • Paying attention to first impressions.
  • Avoiding bad grammar,  slang, and pretentious vocabulary.
  • Maintaining a tone of voice that is not harsh, loud, or monotonous.
  • Avoiding profanity.
  • Listening more than you talk, and not monopolizing a conversation.
  • Avoiding off-color stories, and long boring personal stories.
  • Avoiding gossiping or bragging.
  • Avoiding responding to insults to your home country in kind.
  • Not fidgeting or chewing gum.
  • Looking to the people around you for cues as to appropriate formality in speech.
  • Not embarrassing someone for not remembering your name.

This is all good stuff, and should be observed by anyone who is trying to persuade people through conversation.

However, sometimes her good advice comes crashing back down into preachiness:

“Keep an open mind and never be afraid to listen to another version of truth.  Learn to say, “I think” or “It seems to me” except, of course, when it comes to talking about the gospel and bearing your testimony; then you always say “I know.” (pg 147)

And she concludes with a complicated discussion about making introductions, and whose name you should mention first.  I remember seeing similar sets of rules for this when I was a child, and I don’t remember ever having occasion to use them.    Here’s her rules:

“Rule I: Introduce the younger person to the older.  This means you say the older person’s name first…

Rule II: Introduce the male to the female. This means you say the female’s name first…

Rule III: Introduce the less important person to the more important. This means you say the more important person’s name first.” (pg 149)

And then this:

“Unfortunately there will be a few times when these rules will have to be broken.  Perhaps you’ll need to introduce an elderly man to an important man, or an important man to a woman.  In such cases, rule breaking is based on respect.  The very old person’s name is said first to show respect for old age, and the person holding an important church or civic position is mentioned first to show respect for a man of his stature and office.” (pg 150)

I’m still confused.  What if you need to introduce a fairly important person to a rather old person?  Or an important woman to an elderly man?  (Oh, silly me!  This is Mormonism, there is no such thing as an important woman!)

But my real problem with these rules is that it forces the person making the introductions to make value judgments about people, and letting them know how you judged them.  You have to evaluate whether a person is more important than the other person is old, or whether someone’s importance or age places them ahead of women in introductions.  I hate this whole thing!  By the simple act of helping people get to know each other, you might inadvertently offend somebody!  And you sometimes have to make these snap judgement on the spot, too.  And there are things that you might have wanted to consider, such as which person you know better, or which person you arrived with, or who you are currently talking to, and none of these are allowed to be considered in this artificial system.  Let’s just have nametags and be done with it.

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Box of Apologetics June 8, 2017

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Every Monday I listen to the previous Sunday’s broadcast of The Atheist Experience.  And generally the show is a lot of fun, lots of promotion of critical thinking and jousting with theists.  My favorite host is Tracie Harris, who just hits it out of the park, and it’s pretty satisfying when Matt Dillahunty hangs up on an annoying troll.  But lately I have been getting frustrated when some apologist calls in with their favorite clever twist on some tired old apologetic, and they proceed to argue in endless circles, because they just have to “get the atheist to admit that they are right”.  These calls tend to go on way too long and almost never accomplish anything.

I’ve realized that if I were hosting the show and one of these guys got going, that there is something specific I would want to say to them.  But since that’s unlikely ever to happen, I’ll just say it here instead:

“Hey Mr. Apologist!  Before you begin on whatever clever argument for god you are about to present, I need to ask you three background questions.  So, for the time being, instead of discussing it right away, we’re going to put your apologetic in a box.

This Box.

“We’re not going to unpack it just yet.  Not until I find out a few things about the person I am talking to.  First I need to ask you when you first started believing in god.”

(A typical theist will probably tell me that they have been a believer their whole lives, or from when they were very young.)

“OK.  And when did you first learn this argument you are about to present?”

(Let’s assume they tell us about the book they read in high school, or the class their church had recently, or some such.  It’s not likely that they learned a complicated argument in their earliest Sunday School classes.)

“All right.  And finally, suppose that your apologetics teacher (or Pope, or whoever is an authority for your sect) came to you and said ‘Dude, we found a flaw in this particular argument.  It doesn’t actually prove the thing it’s supposed to prove.  You have to stop using it.’  If that were to happen, would you still believe in god?  Would you have to reconsider anything about what you believe, or would you still believe exactly as you do now?”

(I would expect that a typical True Believer™ would declare that their faith would continue to be steadfast in that case.)

“OK, so let me review what we’ve learned about the argument in this box.

  1. It’s not what initially persuaded you to believe, because you didn’t have it at that time.
  2. It’s not what’s keeping you in your faith, because you would still be a believer even if you lost what’s in the box. 

SO, what that tells me is that we don’t actually need to open this box at all!  The question for callers is “Tell us what you believe and why.”  And we have just established that the argument in this box is not really part of your “why“.  So we can throw out this box unopened.  It’s not relevant.

“Here’s the box we ought to open up:

“What we should be talking about are the real reasons that you believe.   What initially persuaded you to start believing?  What things are so central to your beliefs that you would have to rethink your entire belief system if they were discredited?   I don’t know what’s in this box for you.  Maybe it’s things like ‘trust in your teachers,’ ‘personal experience,’ ‘clerical authority,’ or ‘biblical infallibility.’  Maybe it’s something else.  We won’t know until we start unpacking it.” Those are the interesting and useful discussions to have, not these circular apologetic word games.

If I ever were in the position similar to the hosts on TAE, I think that I would have to label some real boxes to use as visual aids.  Because, unless a caller says that their argument was specifically why they started believing, or that their faith would collapse without it, there’s no way that I would want to waste my energy listening to their endless philosophical wanking.  I have better things to do, like watching paint dry.

What’s the point of prayer? May 17, 2017

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I recently left this as a comment on Wondering Eagle’s blog post about prayer.  Since I haven’t blogged much recently, and I’m pretty pleased with the comment, I thought I should give it its own post.

I’ve always been puzzled about the disconnect between what evangelicals say about god, and what they say about prayer. They say their god is all-powerful, all knowing, benevolent, and has a perfect plan for their lives. Then they spend time telling god things and begging god to change stuff. If god already knows what people need, why spend time telling him what you want? If god has a perfect plan, then why are they asking him to change it, just for them? And why do they think a request to change his perfect plan is more effective if they have more people doing it? Is god not going to “bless America” unless a bunch of christian politicians make sure to ask him to in their every speech? (This is why I laugh at the whole “prayer warrior” idea. It’s just magical thinking.) They say “trust god” and “let go and let god” and then they spend long hours in prayer not trusting him and giving him advice on what to do.

Back when I was a believer, the only kinds of prayer that actually made sense were things like “Help me understand. Help me be strong to do the things that I need to do. Help me cope with what I can’t change.”

Now the way evangelicals pray would make a lot more sense if they were talking about a limited god, like the ones in the Greek pantheon. Those gods didn’t have perfect plans, didn’t know everything you were thinking, and if you sucked up to them enough, and sacrificed enough cattle, they might be willing to take your advice about what to do. Modern evangelicals often sound like they are preaching about YHWH and Jesus, but then praying and tithing to Zeus.

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Missionaries Behaving Badly October 20, 2016

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Continuing with my chapter-by-chapter review of the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries:

Chapter 15.  Skeletons in Missionary Closets

(Content advisory: animal cruelty)

A whole chapter on misbehavior!  Let’s see where this goes.

“While fulfilling a mission is a great privilege, it is also a great responsibility.  Everything you say or do is being recorded in somebody’s mind for good or ill.” (pg 136)

So we start right out with setting an impossible standard that 19-year-old boys really can’t be expected to live up to. And then?

“A tactful missionary will not step over his bounds; he will respect other people’s beliefs rather than argue with them; he will not laugh at quaint or unusual mannerisms or customs but will view them so sympathetically as to adopt them as his own, at least during his mission; he will not criticize the people, the bus system, the food, the toilet tissue which might bear a strong resemblance to either wax paper or sandpaper, nor the beds which he suspects were invented for medieval torture chambers.  Rather, he will admire what these people do have, realizing that all persons are entitled to hold good opinions of themselves and their country, and that they are happy the way they live and are proud of their backgrounds and country just as we are of ours.” (pp 136-137)

Right.  Respect their beliefs, then tell them that they are completely wrong about everything they think about religion and have to change to what you think.  Good plan.

So, as this author usually does, she harps on manners.  She gives us a couple of examples on the necessity of thanking people.  The first story I think really shows how outdated this book has become: A missionary had to be hospitalized, and of course didn’t have the money to pay for it.  A local Mormon paid for his treatment, and the missionary never bothered to thank him.  The author says about the Mormon: “She told herself to forget it since it wasn’t a matter of great consequence…”  Nowadays, there’s no way that a hospital bill could be considered a matter of no consequence, it would be a huge financial outlay and a really big deal.

The second story also includes somebody being extremely rude, but I don’t think I agree with the author as to who the rude people were.

“One mission president and his wife decided to surprise their missionaries with a big Christmas dinner.  Turkey was scarce in this distant land…. His wife worked in the kitchen for days making all the trimmings to go with the turkey, but they both felt rewarded just anticipating the eyes that would sparkle and the mouths that would water as the door of the dining room was opened at the climactic moment to show the festive table.  On Christmas morning the missionaries all arrived for a brief meeting following which the mission president happily announced that they were all to stay for dinner.  Just as he was opening the door into the beautifully decorated dining room, two elders blurted out “Do we have to stay? We were going to hit a flick.” (Go to a show.) With spirits somewhat dampened the mission president said “I think maybe you’ll want to stay when you see what we have planned for you.” Without so much as a single word of thanks, these same two elders complained to their mission president the following day that they got cheated out of their day off…and they had to go over to his house and eat that Christmas dinner!” (pp 137-8)

Somebody was rude here, but it wasn’t the missionaries.  This mission president didn’t think that any of the 180 missionaries in attendance would have already made plans for christmas Day.  Perhaps they were already invited to eat with local friends, perhaps that was the one day in the whole year that they allowed themselves the luxury of a movie and already had tickets, perhaps they had spent the previous week being invited to christmas dinners at other houses, and stuffing themselves each night.  This mission president just assumed that his idea of what a perfect christmas dinner should be would take precedence over the plans of all these other people, and that they should just drop everything they had on their schedule to stay for his dinner.  It’s pretty clear that while these youngsters are expected to take on the responsibilities of an adult, in no other way is the hierarchy treating them like adults.

Now we come to a long section on “don’ts”, and bad examples.

“For instance, two elders in a playful manner placed a rubber band around a dog’s mouth, but they inadvertently forgot to take the elastic off when they went into the house for supper.  For five days the poodle wouldn’t eat and the landlady couldn’t imagine what was wrong (the rubber band had worked down into the fur and couldn’t be seen). Finally she took the dog to a veterinarian who had to perform a minor operation in order to cut the elastic which had become embedded in the animal’s flesh.” (pg 138)

Playful manner? Really?

“In one of the foreign missions, a group of elders found some old American Remington and Winchester rifles.  So great was their excitement at this unexpected discovery that it blurred their judgment and consideration for others: they climbed on top of the church and began shooting at stray cats.  People throughout the neighborhood began saying “What’s the matter with those Mormons?”  Then they began referring to the elders as ‘Latter-day Cat Haters.’ “(pg 138)

So remember, missionaries, don’t be cruel to animals because it makes Mormons look bad.

One lovely member lady actually said to a mission president’s wife “Please don’t send us any more missionaries – wait a few years until the town can forget the last two!’ ” (pg 138-9)

“An elder or sister who is living up to the ideals of missionary work will never do any of the following…”

15. Feel that just because a method works it is right.  For instance, one elder resorted to many different tactics to gain entrance to people’s homes.  When a lady opened her door, he would throw his hat in and then have to go in to get it.  Or, he’d walk in without making any comment and then say, “I’ll get the table ready while you get your Bible.” …

18.  Be impatient with those not ready to accept baptism.  One elder actually pounded the table and said to an investigator, “You are ungrateful.  You should be thankful that you have been called.   You must join now when the call is upon you.”  The woman was offended and has not joined to this day.” (pp 139-40)

So at least there are limits on sneakiness in getting your foot in the door to preach at people.  Bait and switch is OK (as seen in a prior chapter), and cornering your seatmate on a plane, but not overt rudeness.

Next section is back to basics on manners, this time regarding relations with the landlord.  Don’t be noisy, don’t leave a mess when you move out, pay your bills, etc.  All really good advice.

And finally a long section on relations with Mormons who live in the area the missionary is working in.  Mostly it boils down to “yes visit them, but remember to behave like a guest, and don’t take advantage of their hospitality.”  I also think this section is more of a cautionary tale for Mormons living in areas where there are missionaries active.

“On her arrival, one mission president’s wife who sincerely wanted to be like a mother to all the missionaries living in the mission home made the statement ‘I want you to know that this is now your home,’ but it wasn’t long before she had to put little signs all over the house such as the one on the refrigerator which said “Keep out.  For family use only.” (pp 142-3)

That was her mistake.  If you tell a bunch of 19-year-olds to “make themselves at home”, then you should not be surprised if they put their feet on the furniture, eat all the food in in the fridge, leave dirty dishes in the sink, and borrow your stuff without asking.

messy-kitchen

I found this chapter somewhat refreshing.  All through this book there’s been this impossibly high standard set for the missionaries, that they have to be perfect every moment, always smiling, always polite, and must never slack off or relax too much, or stop thinking about pushing their religion on everybody.  Do the missionaries actually live up to this expectation?  From reading all of the “don’t let this happen” examples in this chapter, it’s pretty clear that a lot of them don’t.

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Funeral update October 20, 2016

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Well, I went to the funeral for my friend.  And it was pretty much like I expected.

First, I want to give all due credit for the good stuff, the thoughtful stuff, the stuff that helped us all remember:

  • There was a display of some of his favorite things, and favorite T-shirts in the lobby.
  • There was a slideshow of years worth of family pictures playing on several screens for about an hour prior to the service.
  • There was a terrific reception with tons of food provided, so that all the people there could have a chance to talk afterwards.
  • There was a crowd of more than 600 people.  The seats were filled and there was overflow seating set up in the lobby.
  • My chorus had almost 50 people show up, and we did a really good job singing the piece we were performing.
  • There were several people who spoke about my friend, and his life, and his influence on them, and especially his sense of humor. Some of his family spoke, and some of them wrote their thoughts down and had somebody else read them, which I think is great for when someone is too emotional to speak, or just too terrified of public speaking to speak.

But.

The service was maybe 1/4 about my friend’s life, and how much we will miss him.  The other 3/4 was about how religious he was, how important religion is, god, grace, god, heaven, god, bible, Jesus, and more god.  Yes, he was a religious man, yes he was active in religious groups, and yes his wife’s a pastor.  I’m not saying that their church shouldn’t focus so much on that, it’s their church and they should do their thing, it’s what the congregation expects.

But wow was it awkward for me as a non-believer to sit through all that.

The thing that maybe bothered me the most was the sermon.  It was actually a sermon, not a eulogy.  Instead of talking about the deceased, the preacher talked mostly about the biblical story of Lazarus.   OK, I guess this is appropriate for a funeral, given that it’s about Jesus bringing a dead man back to life.  But the pastor really focused for a bit on this sentence:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And what I’m thinking is, if their benevolent god actually existed, one that cared about people’s beliefs, and wanted people to be righteous and religiously observant, and to serve their fellow man, then there wasn’t a better example of a faithful follower of that ideal than my friend.  My friend who died in a pointless accident.  My friend who should have had at least another 20 good years.  I’m thinking “If their Lord was real, and cared, this man should not have died.” But no, then he went on to talk at length about Jesus bringing Lazarus back, a thing that in our modern experience never actually happens.  You know, if their god existed and actually wanted to me to believe that he existed, at that point all he needed to do was to have my friend walk into that room, in perfect health, and I’d probably change my mind.

But alas, all we get is talk about grace, and the “arms of god” and “we’ll see him again” and the happy fairy tales people tell themselves to make us feel better.  On the outside I was not showing my annoyance, but on the inside here’s the version of the sermon that was going through my head:

I think my presence there was helpful for my chorus, and I think the chorus’s presence there was helpful for the family.  So I’m glad that I was there for them, even if I hated most of the actual service.

Funeral frustrations October 11, 2016

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Most of the time, I can arrange my life so I don’t have to have much contact with religion.  Sure I sing with a chorus that sings music with religious texts, but I can appreciate the artistic quality, and try to ignore the words as much as possible.  But other than that, I’ve managed to exclude the religious practices and expectations of others pretty well from my day-to-day existence.

Except.

Earlier this month, a good friend from my chorus died in a pointless accident.  You know how, in most organizations, 10% of the people do 90% of the work?  He was one of those 10% and then some.  He was a stalwart member of the chorus, not only singing, but taking on more responsibilities than anybody else, and holding a really important position in the organization.  He always went above and beyond, was always positive and cheerful, and I will miss him terribly.

The funeral is Friday.

It’s Methodist.  His wife is the pastor.

AAARGH.  I’m already hearing the religious platitudes about “He’s looking down at us” and such being thrown about.  Going to listen to an extended session of “he’s in a better place” and “god has a plan” and all the other religious tripe that people say is not how I want to be spending an afternoon.  That’s not how I cope with loss.  Instead of grieving, at the funeral I would be trying to keep my mouth shut, and finding a way not to be rude or roll my eyes when the crowd around me is playing their pretendy-game that he’s in heaven and they will see him again.  My friend is gone, really gone, when he should have had at least another twenty years ahead  of him.  This completely sucks.  They get to be honest, but I don’t, because if I say what I really think I’ll offend someone, and a funeral is not the appropriate time to be doing that.  If I go I have to be fake and polite.  Sheesh.

There’s no point in my going for my own benefit.  There’s no point in my going for my friend’s benefit, he’s dead and so has no opinion on this.  There’s no point in my going for his family’s benefit, because I don’t know them and they don’t know me.

But-

As someone who has also held major positions in the chorus in the past, there’s an expectation that I’ll be there.  The director, the other past and present officers, and the chorus members are expecting me to be there.  It’s part of the solidarity needed to keep the chorus functioning through this.  I don’t need to be there for me, but they need me to be there for them, so I can’t not go.

The chorus has been invited to sing.  If I go, I can’t not sing.

So there I’ll be, the atheist in the choir loft.   Crap.

Happy Blasphemy! September 30, 2016

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blasphemy-day

It’s Blasphemy Rights Day!

In appreciation for living in a country where it’s (currently) not illegal to say bad things about people’s beliefs, I’d like to state the following:

Islam is a religion that contains a few good ideas and a lot of really horrible ones.  People who follow it should quit.

Christianity is a religion that contains a few good ideas and a lot of really horrible ones. People who follow it should quit.

Judaism is a religion that contains a few good ideas and a lot of really horrible ones. People who follow it should quit.

Same for Scientology, Hinduism, Mormonism, and most other isms out there.  Stop giving these organizations your money.  Stop doing what their self-appointed holy men tell you to do.

worst-kite-ever

And now, to make sure I have offended everybody:

Professional sports aren’t really important, and we spend too much money on them.

The Battlestar Galactica reboot could have used better writers.  So could Lost.

Beer is gross.  So is champagne.  So is coffee.

“Sherlock” is only just OK, and doesn’t compare to the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series.

Did I miss anybody?

jeez-it

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Sell the product September 14, 2016

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Continuing the series on the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries:

Chapter 13, Proselyting Care

(I still continue to find it very weird that this book says “proselyting” instead of “proselytizing” as most people do.)

So, we’ve been through chapters of advice on manners and laundry and packing and cooking, and all kinds of things that missionaries need to do, but we have finally come to the loooong chapter about the primary activity that the missionaries are supposed to do: sell the product.

mormon_missionaries_door

Now, if you remember, right at the start the guidebook said it was not going address details of theology. So this chapter is about motivation and salesmanship.  And as usual, there’s a mix of actual practical advice (like learn from people that have already been doing this, or be patient, or tolerant of a less motivated companion,) but also some really over-the-top instructions.

So what helpful advice does our guidebook have?  It starts out this way:

“If you want to have a successful mission you must start out successfully.  The magic formula is successful W O R K.  Just as it is true that no one has yet devised a method for getting wheat out of straw except by threshing it, so it is true that no one has yet devised a method for baptizing people into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without meeting with them and converting them.  Such a supreme accomplishment is impossible for a missionary who is easygoing or lazy, sitting in his room all or part of the day, or indulging in too much social activity.  The Lord has never said his work would be easy; he has promised that if you work, you’ll be happy doing what you came to do, while if you don’t, you’ll be nothing but miserable.” (pg 113)

So, right off the focus is work ethic, work makes you happy, don’t goof off.  Relaxing too much will make you unhappy.  What else does our author have to say about this work?

“Are you a cheerful happy friendly person who can smile and keep a song in your heart even though slapped down periodically by discouragement? …  Remember a cheerful person is not one who has no problem; rather he is one who has made a habit not to wear his problems on his face nor reveal them in his tone of voice.” (pg 114)

“Can you jump in with both feet and forget yourself, your clothes, dates, friends at home, and personal pleasures, devoting yourself to your one purpose of fulfilling and honorable forceful mission?” (pg 114)

“HINT: If you don’t get going and do your job well, the whole district suffers.” (pg 115)

“Can you work as though the success of the whole mission depended on you but pray and have faith as though it all depended on the Lord?” (pg 115)

“Missionary work is a team effort from the mission president down to the greenest missionary.  Success within the team rests solidly on respect for authority. … Obey their rules.  Keep them whether you think they are important or not — even little ones.” (pg 115)

This is sounding more and more like a creepy cult.  Don’t show how you feel, smile all the time, forget your own life, obey authority, and everybody else is depending on your doing this. Yeesh.

And you know how impossibly upbeat and smiley Mormon missionaries always are?

“Hallmarks of success as listed in the handbook of the Central Atlantic States Mission are:

  1. Be affirmative in your thinking and speech.  Avoid negative words and phrases: “if,” “I hope,” “I’ll try,” and “I’ll do my best.”  Say instead “I’ll do it.”
  2. Smile.
  3. Look people in the eye.
  4. Be enthusiastic.”

What about relaxation?

“…in order to be happy and productive in one’s work he must not do it all the time.  Because this is true, missionaries are given time off each week to enjoy a change of pace.  … This does not mean, however, that you should ever pass up an opportunity to present the gospel message.   …. Every time you need toothpaste, purchase it at a different store and then, even though it is your diversion day, ask the Golden Questions.” (pg 116)

So a missionary needs to relax, but at the same time he’s never supposed to totally relax.

Some other great bits:

Humility:

“Just because you have been ordained to teach the gospel doesn’t qualify you to tell people how to solve all their daily problems.  In the mission field as at home humility is always the supreme Christian virtue” (pg 114)

So knock on people’s doors, tell them their religion is completely wrong, tell them that they have to stop believing what they believe and start believing what you believe, but be humble!

elder-cunningham-2

Success:

“As Henry Ford preached all his life, ‘Whether a man says he can or he can’t, that man is right.’ “(pg 117)

Right.  Which is why you meet so many people who can fly.

Time management:

“If you take your clothes to a laundromat, memorize and review scriptures while your clothes are washing.” (pg 118)

“You can waste time reading cheap books, going to shows, getting together too often with other elders to eat or visit, going sightseeing every few days, socializing regularly at certain members’ homes, staying in your apartment for hours at a time performing accumulated trivial tasks, or shopping around every spare moment looking at cameras, tape recorders, radios, etc.  But again, what have you gained?” (pg 120)

Living your real life, that’s what you’ve gained, instead of wasting it trying to sell dogma.

Discouragement:

“It has been said that even the most miserable-looking crow has a hunch he’ll look like a peacock and sing like a nightingale some day.” (pg 121)

“Discouragement is Satan’s most useful tool.  He uses it to pry inside your consciousness.  Once inside and in control, he can use you in whatever way pleases him.” (pg 120)

Satan?  This is the first mention I’ve heard of Satan in this book; I wasn’t aware that Mormons made a big deal out of the Satan thing.

“Have you ever stopped to think that even Christ didn’t convert everyone?” (pg 121)

Because apparently there are some things that are just too difficult for an omnipotent god.

“The Lord knows which people are ready to accept the gospel, because it is up to you to find them.” (pg 122)

Because even though you pray to god and ask him to tell you things, he’s not going to tell you anything that’s actually useful.

 

But, to be fair, there was one part in this chapter that I really did like, an example about quarry workers:

“When someone asked the first worker what he was doing he answered, “I’m cutting stone.”  The second worker when asked the same question said, “I’m carving a lintel.”  The third quarry worker replied, “I’m building a cathedral.” (pg 117)

That’s a good example about perspective, which I might apply to help with motivation in tasks that are a small part of a worthwhile endeavor.  Unlike preaching.

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Roommates August 27, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing with the chapter-by-chapter dissection of the 1968 guide for prospective Mormon Missionaries.

Chapter 12, Companion Care

you_and_me

The chapter begins:

Sooner or later every missionary will find that his mission life is a mixture of good days and bad, success and disappointment, give and take. (page 101)

Let’s fix that:

Sooner or later every missionary person will find that his mission life is a mixture of good days and bad, success and disappointment, give and take.

This chapter is about getting along with assigned companions, and in general has a lot of good advice about getting along with people.

I’ve been looking at the stress level for these youngsters, who are thrown into a strange place, cut off from family and friends, and expected to sell religion door-to-door, not to mention the expectation of perfect clothes and grooming, clean quarters, and impeccable table manners.  Now add the additional stress of being assigned to spend 24 hours a day with a stranger.  This is worse than college roommates, because you can spend most of your time away from your college roommate if you need to.  These companions are expected to spend every minute of every day together, except for using the bathroom.  Like this:

“If, without warning, he jumps off his bike and runs into a store, you have no choice but to follow him.” (pg 102)

Not just wait outside the store for him, follow him.  At this rate, they might as well be handcuffed together.  Is there any mention that the people in charge are making any effort to team up people who might be compatible?  Nope.  How about a provision for requesting a change of companion if two completely incompatible people have been assigned together?  Nope, not mentioned either.  But she does talk for several paragraphs about ways that companions might clash.  An example:

“You may be a “gourmet” while your companion takes constant delight in smothering his meat with jam.”(pg 102)

But the author does make some good points about the value of learning to get along with people.  The skills they learn in getting along with their randomly assigned companion will probably serve them well in getting along with future spouses, employers, and coworkers.  So among all the pointless things these kids are expected to do during this two-year hazing, this actually has a use in their later lives.

Felix and Oscar

She helpfully points out is that it’s a good idea to avoid being annoying, and to be aware of things that others find annoying.  And she provides a helpful and lengthy list, which is so wonderful that I’m going to include the whole thing here.

“Fifty personal habits which have proved to be annoying are:

  1. Leaving hair in the washbasin.
  2. Squeezing a tube of toothpaste the wrong way or leaving the cap off.
  3. Not cleaning out the bathtub.
  4. Not putting away personal toilet articles.
  5. Using companion’s towel, washcloth and even toothbrush.
  6. Staying in the bathroom for long periods of time; using all the hot water.
  7. Leaving washcloth in the tub.
  8. Not knowing when it is time to take a bath.
  9. Kicking off shoes and leaving them in the middle of the floor.
  10. Acting undignified; slouching on couch, crossing legs so that hairy legs show.
  11. Yawning without covering your mouth.
  12. Not making your bed.
  13. Dropping clothes on the floor.
  14. Snoring.
  15. Picking teeth with fingers.
  16. Being bossy and telling the other how to cook.
  17. Eating like a horse.
  18. Placing elbows on table while eating.
  19. Slurping soup.
  20. Not accepting responsibility for cooking meals according to schedule.
  21. Not washing the dishes right after a meal but waiting until everything is dirty and then doing them; failing to wash dishes really clean.
  22. Dressing in poor taste.
  23. Indulging in such bothering mannerisms as sniffing or clearing throat.
  24. Using poor English such as “ain’t,” “he done,” “we wuz,” etc.
  25. Being slouchy and lazy.
  26. Borrowing clothes or money; “what’s yours is mine” attitude.
  27. Not obeying mission rules (i.e. leaving city without permission).
  28. Wasting time by making unnecessary trips to shopping centers, banks, etc.
  29. Being stingy with money.
  30. Being wasteful with money. (Leaving lights, heat and water on, leaving iron on and refrigerator door open; using too much toilet paper, etc.)
  31. Tapping foot on floor or pencil on a book.
  32. Being selfish; having a “what’s in it for me” attitude.
  33. Saying one’s home town is better than companion’s.
  34. Being bullheaded and set in ways.
  35. Kidding when companion doesn’t know how to take it.
  36. Being opinionated – “a know it all” who can’t listen.
  37. Having a habit of being late for everything.
  38. Being selfish and ungrateful; not doing anything for anyone, or if companion does something for you, doing it over.
  39. Humming in a subdued tone.
  40. Being noisy if you get up earlier or stay up later than your companion.
  41. Interrupting others; monopolizing conversations.
  42. Belittling member’s superstitions even if done jokingly; imitating member’s mannerisms or voice peculiarities.
  43. Being overly sensitive.
  44. Acting spoiled.
  45. Complaining about everything.
  46. Correcting a companion in front of others.
  47. Criticizing, insulting, or finding fault with a companion.
  48. Taking an hour to polish shoes while companion sits and waits.
  49. Carrying a chip on your shoulder.
  50. Having the “I” disease: “I” made this baptism, “I” got this contact, instead of “we.” (pp 103-4)

I find it interesting that all these are thrown in together in no particular order, and that major rule breaking is not given any more emphasis than subdued humming.  And things you can’t help, like snoring, are lumped in with easily corrected irritants like soup slurping and leaving hair in the sink.

But mostly me

A lot of this chapter sounds like it could have been written by a professional counselor, and has some really good advice.  (Surprise!)  Like this section:

“…you must first learn to accept the fact that conflict is normal.  Then you must learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.  You must be able to recognize the difference between frankness and rudeness.  You must be able to explain something without sounding superior.  You must give more than you take.  You must try to forget little differences of opinion quickly once they are resolved.” (pg 107)

But not all of the chapter comes up to this standard.  Remember in the chapter on table manners, where there was advice to lie to your hostess?  And to avoid telling them directly when you aren’t allowed to eat something, or don’t like their food?  Well this chapter has a heavy dose of advice about how to use passive-aggressive manipulation on your companion.

“If you can’t teach through example, perhaps you can through suggestion: “Shall we cook a big dinner tonight?”  “Shall we make our beds  before we eat breakfast?”  “Shall we adjust the schedule so that we can get our hair cut today?”  Or perhaps you can teach through exaggeration.  If your companion leaves one light on, accentuate the problem by turning all the lights on.  Or sometimes you can embarrass a companion into doing what’s right. Make his bed for him when he doesn’t do it himself.  Pick up after him and hang his clothes up when he forgets to do so.” (pg 110)

I know if I had a roommate who was obsessed with always having the beds made, and they started making my bed for me, you know what I’d do?  I’d let them!  It’s obvious that they care more about it than I do, and if that’s the way they want to spend their time, them good for them.

And of course there’s a hefty emphasis on the overwhelming niceness that seems to pervade Mormonism.

“But remember, there are not likely to be so many problems if you reduce friction by consistently oiling the machinery with a mixture of the five C’s: Cheerfulness, Compliments, Courtesy, Consideration and Compromise.” (pg 111)

And, of course, the religious answer to any problem is to focus on the religion harder, because they aren’t allowed to consider that religion is the root cause of any of their problems.

“Every morning before you leave your living quarters to begin the day’s work take hold of your companion’s hand and tell him that you love him and that you are both doing the work which is right, and that the gospel is true.  Pray together every morning and every evening for a mutual understanding; then shake hands afterwards.  Remember, the more diligently you proselyte the less time you’ll have for pettiness, because little things have a way of adding up when you are not doing the job and when you don’t have the missionary spirit.” (pg 112)

(You know, when things are actually true, it’s not necessary to constantly remind each other of this.  I spent plenty of time around scientists in college, and I never had any of them feel the need to reassure me that gravity was true, or that electrons exist.  I never had a music class where we worried about proving the existence of music.  I didn’t have to get together every morning with my classmates to reassure each other about the fact that computers were real.)

So, to sum up, if missionaries are not getting along with their completely aggravating roommates that they must live with 24 hours a day, the solution includes being passive-aggressive about chores, working themselves to exhaustion, and obsessing about religion.  Yeah, that’ll work.

 

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“So You’re Going on a Mission” Squeaky Clean! August 23, 2016

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Continuing on with the chapter-by chapter review of the 1968 handbook for prospective Mormon Missionaries:

Chapter 10, Grooming Care

shiny teethThis chapter is really short compared to the chapter on table manners.  Most of it is just the usual nagging-mother litany of take a bath, comb your hair, brush your teeth, use deodorant, put on a clean shirt, shine your shoes, get that dirt out from under your nails, smile, and for goodness sake don’t slouch.  Nothing that these kids’ moms haven’t been telling them for years.

But there are a couple of gems here:

 “Once upon a time a lady opened her door, looked a Mormon missionary up and down, and then commented: “My but your shoes are shiny. Why don’t you come in?” (pg 90)

And then there’s this puzzling metaphor:

“Carry a clean handkerchief, but don’t use it for nose-blowing.  An elder who pulls out a dirty handkerchief to wipe the perspiration off his head and neck slides down his totem pole with a bang.”(pg 91)

I don’t know what that means either.

andrew-rannells-book-of-mormon

But the other part to having that squeaky-clean Mormon image is making sure those blindingly white shirts stay that way.  So let’s go on to:

Chapter 11, Clothes Care

Most of this chapter is a laundry list of laundry tips.  Also included is other advice on clothing care, like three paragraphs about deciding whether or not to darn your socks.

There’s lots of tips for stain removal, including a suggestion to use Goddards Dry Clean on food stains.  I hadn’t heard of that!  So it looked it up.  It was removed from the market a few years ago because the ingredients were hazardous.  Or how about this tip:

“Shoe Polish  Take off with rubbing alcohol or carbon tetrachloride. (pg 97)”

poisonWait what?  I’ve never seen carbon tetrachloride for sale as a stain remover.  I’ve never seen it for sale at all!  So I looked it up.  Turns out that it’s a nasty chemical indeed; exposure can cause many physical problems including nerve damage and acute liver failure.  It’s use as a drycleaning solvent was discontinued in the 1950’s and it was banned in consumer products completely in 1970.  So her information was already way out of date when this book was published, and she was recommending a hazardous chemical as a household laundry product.

“Many missionaries save themselves a considerable amount of money by taking advantage of self-service dry cleaning.” (pg 97)

mr-yukIs that still even a thing?  Again, I’ve never heard of this.  Back to some research.  Apparently coin-operated drycleaning machines were introduced in 1960, and still exist. Perchloroethylene is the main solvent used in drycleaning, and has been since 1948.  But it’s use is beginning to be phased out now – turns out it’s a central nervous system depressant and probably a carcinogen!  It’s better to leave the drycleaning to the professionals.

Most of the rest is pretty ordinary stuff, like how to wash and block a sweater, or how to iron if you don’t have an ironing board.  Pretty boring, so that’s enough of this chapter.  Next time – how to get along with your assigned companions!

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