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Jesus is Dead, Elvis is Dead, and I Don’t Feel so Good Myself September 29, 2019

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Parables, Responses.
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Lately I’ve heard a lot of apologists try to argue for the reliability of the NT accounts of Jesus.  And they seem flummoxed when non-believers are not willing to accept their assertions about this.  So instead of talking about the gospels for the moment, first I’d like to talk about Elvis Presley. (more…)

The End of the World Show March 21, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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Well, a few days after I got the ultra-impressive, extremely professionally produced Shen Yun booklet, I got another flyer for a religious event.  Full color, yes, but much thinner paper, and only four pages, so I’m going to post them all here for you.

Oh my.  The Shen Yun flyer had really professional graphics, careful layouts, and even if it was advertising a cult recruitment event, it was at least lovely to look at.  This one hurts my eyes.  Look at the cover, they’ve plopped a bunch of random images down, and then put yellow and white text on top of an image that already has a lot of yellow in it.  And I think there’s at least three different fonts.  Ow.

So let’s look at the content.  It’s inviting us to a series of lectures on “Revelation’s Ancient Discoveries”.  On the front it’s at least quite clear that this is a “Bible Prophecy Seminar” and it’s also clear that it’s free, so at least there’s that much up front.

So who is presenting this?

Join Mark Finley, a world traveler, an international speaker, for an incredible journey through Bible Prophecy.  You will be amazed that recent world events are a fulfillment of these ancient predictions.

Finley has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East to Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Turkey.  You will thrill at his clear state-of-the-art, fully-illustrated presentations that reveal the secrets of the ancient past and their meaning for our lives today!

I notice that Mark Finley is described as a “world traveler” but not as a scholar.  All you need to be a world traveler is a passport and sufficient money.  (I traveled all around southern England, but I don’t think that makes me qualified to lecture on the “Mysteries of Stonehenge”!)

So what organization is behind this?  I had my suspicions, but first I thought I’d start with the information on the flyer.  No religious denomination is listed anywhere on it.  Ah, but there’s a website listed!  revelationsdiscoveries(dot)com.  Surely there’s more information there?  No, just a single page with a link to reserve a seat, and no additional information at all.

So off to Wikipedia, where there’s a page for Mark Finley, identifying him as a Seventh Day Adventist, and a televangelist.  Which is exactly what I was expecting to find, and that’s entirely thanks to the “Oh, No, Ross and Carrie” podcast (their motto is “We show up so you don’t have to”).  They recently did a hilarious multi-part series on the lectures called “Amazing Facts” and I’ve listened to all the podcast episodes.  When this flyer arrived, my first thought was “Is this Amazing Facts?” because it’s so similar.  It had the same sort of focus on “end times”, and having exactly the right understanding of Revelation, was also free, and also was very cagey about what the organization was behind it.  Amazing Facts started with one set of lectures, but once those were completed, of course there were additional lectures for anyone who wanted the whole story.  If you look at page 3 of this flyer, it lists six scheduled lectures, but then there is a section that says “Future programs include”, so that’s the same as well.  So if you have any curiosity about what might be in a these lectures, go listen to the podcast series, because Ross and Carrie have already endured the pain of this for you.

But, I will have to say, I don’t think this flyer is trying to trick me in the same way the Shen Yun one is.  Once, when I was a kid, I went to a lecture series on Ancient Egyptian history, which was one of my hobbies back then.  The first couple were really interesting, but then in the next one the speaker went off on a bunch of “end times prophecies” nonsense, and even though I was still Presbyterian at the time, I was massively disappointed.  How worthwhile is your religion if you have to trick people into listening to you preach?  I guess I had just run into my first instance of “lying for Jesus”.  Mark Finley isn’t trying to trick anyone into listening to him blather about the bible, at least.

Except – on the back, there’s a box labeled “Children’s Program Ages 4-9” with no further information about exactly what they will be telling the children.  No.  Just NO.  Parents, even if you are interested in this series for yourselves, please DON’T subject your kids to it!

THE NO. 1 SHOW in the world? March 21, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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I received an advertising flyer at my office a few days back.  This is nothing unusual, I get stuff like that all the time – restaurant menus, computer sale flyers, postcards from one particularly pushy dental office.  But this time I got something different – a large ten-page full-color glossy brochure on heavy paper, advertising one theater production:

 Holy cow.  Everything about this ad is over the top with “this is the most wonderful show you will ever see in your whole life ever”.  It’s full of lush photos in brilliant color of dancers in front of vivid Chinese backgrounds.  Like this:

Testimonial after testimonial after gushing review from random celebrities and officials.  They are trying really hard, and have certainly sunk a lot of money into this ad campaign.  So what’s up with this?  Who are these people really?

The answer was in the return address: Falun Dafa.  Otherwise known as Falun Gong, a group that originates in China, but the Chinese Government considers it a cult and has outlawed it.

So I went looking to see what regular people had actually said about this performance, to see if it was overtly a push for their religious cult or was actually a nice cultural event.  When I first googled “Shen Yun” all that came up were ads for it and gushing articles raving about how wonderful it was.  Likewise, a search on YouTube comes up with trailers and other videos that are either direct advertisements or full of glowing praise for them.  So, in addition to the slick glossy brochures, this group has obviously put a lot of effort into doctoring their internet presence, and removing anything negative from the first few pages of search results.

But then I tried looking specifically for Yelp reviews.  Oh, boy, was that ever a different perspective!  I found some reviews from people who liked it, but others were so disappointed that they had walked out of the show in the middle of it.  They wrote that it was pretty, but not nearly as impressive as the advertising had let on, that many of the dances were overt pushes for their cult beliefs, that the singing performances were religious propaganda songs with lyrics like “The heresy of evolution now eclipses the Divine word.”  It wasn’t a spectacular cultural event, it was mediocre evangelizing.

How, then are they funding all this?  The brochure I got was just addressed to “postal customer” so it’s a sure bet that they mailed out massive numbers of these ads.  And the effort required to make sure that every google search returns only positive things about the group for the first few pages can’t be cheap either.  Where’s the money coming from?  Here’s one answer:Even the nosebleed seats on a weeknight will set you back $80, and the good seats are $250!  (For comparison on seat prices, the New York City Ballet is at the Kennedy Center in this same hall this weekend, and the best seats can be had for $99.00.  I didn’t find any nearly comparable prices for seats in this hall until I looked at the prices for Hamilton.  And I’m pretty sure that the audience for Hamilton won’t be disappointed by bait-and-switch preaching.)

I’ve scanned the entire brochure to a .pdf file, so if you’d like, you can get a look at all of the hype in its full glory:

Shen Yun Flyer – click here


No true Santaist December 23, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Humor, Rants, Responses.
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Over on ex-christian.net, there has recently been a commenter who seems very earnest, but less prepared than most to defend what he believes.  He assures us that he knows god personally, and that he knows because he is “filled with the holy spirit”.  But of course he is unable to demonstrate this in any way, and we’ve replied to him that we also had strong feelings back when we were religious, and that his personal feelings in no way establish the truth about his claims.   He’s been asserting that all of the ex-christians were never True Christians™ because, of course, anybody who left christianity could never have been a real christian.  He’s sure that nobody who has felt what he has felt would ever change their mind.

You can read his commentary here:


So after trying to talk to the guy for awhile, an idea for a  cartoon about this guy popped into my head, and would not go away until I drew it.  I have very limited skills with computer graphics, so I just used powerpoint’s drawing tools to create this.  I’ll put it after the break, so there won’t be spoilers for any small children who are reading over your shoulder. (more…)

Box of Apologetics June 8, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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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.

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

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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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.


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:


“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!



“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.


“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!” Cleanliness is next to… August 2, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing on with the 1968 guide for prospective Mormon missionaries:

Chapter 6, Housekeeping Care


So these kids have been sent out to a faraway place where they are isolated from everything familiar, they are expected to spend grueling days on foot, out “spreading the word” for ten hours a day, six days a week, and they are expected to study constantly and shop and cook for themselves.  I can’t imagine that they are anything but exhausted from this routine.  So on top of this, they are expected to keep their quarters spotless and keep to a daily cleaning routine, because adding unrealistic expectations for cleanliness is just what these stressed-out kids need.

So let’s have a few quotes!

“Some elders leave for their missions without knowing how to … sweep, mop and wax a floor…” (pg 54)

Yes, I guess waxing floors was a thing in 1968.  (I don’t think I’ve ever waxed a floor!) But I don’t see that it would ever have been a good idea to make frustrated and exhausted teenagers wax floors.

They have a helpful numbered list of the reasons for their focus on cleaning, including,

“1. You cannot expect the Spirit of the Lord to dwell in dirty surroundings.” (pg 55)

So the all-powerful god, who will never desert you (unless you aren’t believing hard enough, see part 1), is going to desert you if your bed isn’t made.  How reassuring.

“2. If you are content to keep house in a careless, sloppy manner, this same attitude is bound to be reflected in you whole missionary outlook and effort.  Supervising elders, whose job it is to inspect the living quarters of missionaries, report that they can look at an apartment and just about tell what kind of total job its missionary  occupants are doing. (pg 55)

These kids are being judged not just on how well they preach, or how much of their free time is spent studying their holy books,  or how presentable they are on the job, but they are even having their rooms formally inspected.  And no matter how well they are doing at their “proselyting”, if they can’t at least fake being a neat freak for two solid years they will be found wanting by their supervisors.

“5. You never need to fear that a district leader will catch you in a mess and put you to shame by starting to clean up your quarters himself.”

Again, messiness=shame.

“6. One of your real assets is your landlady whose respect you must earn.  If you are strictly “top drawer” she spreads the good word at the grocery store; if you are careless and lazy, that is the image she will spread.”

Now I have this image of the landlady dropping in to the grocery store to catch up on the latest gossip.  Oh, and she’s totally going to badmouth her missionary tenant, who is polite, helpful, well-groomed, and pays the rent on time, but is a totally bad person because he sometimes leaves towels on the floor.  Shame, shame, shame!

cloroxThere is actually some useful advice in this chapter, apart from the constant judginess.  There’s advice on how to cope if assigned to an area with fleas or other pests.  There’s also some practical tips about washing dishes and tidying up messes as soon as you make them, and a recommendation for Clorox for cleaning bathrooms. Because a missionary wouldn’t want to face the ultimate humiliation:

“Your goal should be to keep your living quarters clean enough that your mission president’s wife could drop in unexpectedly without embarrassing you.” (pg 57)

Oh dear, let me clutch my pearls, the mission president’s wife might find dust in my room!  And once again, as in the chapter on homesickness, our author recommends housecleaning as a remedy for feeling depressed.

The last paragraph of this chapter is just so amazing that I need to quote it in full here:

“Living with Non-Members

Missionaries are usually urged to hunt for living quarters with non-members for three reasons.  First, members already know our Church  is true, and a missionary might just as well live with someone he can possibly convert.  Second, in accepting their calls missionaries have dedicated themselves to preaching the gospel.  It is too easy to become lax and take advantage of periodicals and TV and warm hospitality when one lives with or near members.  Third, members, thinking all missionaries are perfect, might become disenchanted if missionaries living in their home caused them to think differently.” (pg 57)

So they want missionaries living with non-Mormons so they can make a good impression on them.  And they don’t want them staying with Mormons, because they might make a bad impression on them.

But what’s  evident here is that they don’t want these kids finding any source of support and comfort during their two years.  The Mormon hierarchy wants these kids to be overworked, over-tired, uncomfortable, and worried about every little detail of everything.  Your home isn’t a place to relax and retreat from the cares of the day, it’s a place where you are supposed to antagonize your landlady with preaching (the same landlady whose respect you are supposed to earn), and you must keep it antiseptically clean, even if that’s not what you are used to or comfortable with.  Now smile and pretend to be happy!

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” There’s no place like home July 25, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing series on the 1968 guidebook for prospective Mormon missionaries.


Chapter 5.  Homesickness

So these missionaries are sent out for two years to be door-to-door salesmen for a bad product that nobody needs.  They are expected to do this six days a week, and the other day will be mostly consumed with getting their chores and errands done.    I’ve talked to some recent missionaries about how cut off they are from their families and previous lives during this time.  I found out that the rules they work under restrict them from almost all contact with the folks back home, and what contact they have is very carefully monitored.  No email, and no internet.  No phone calls to friends or family.  No TV, no radio, no movies, no unapproved magazines, no unapproved music.  Calls home might be permitted on christmas and mother’s day, but no other times.   And essentially no unapproved having fun.   The hazing that these kids are going through to gain future status in their church is being made ridiculously hard with these restrictions.

Given that, our author opens her chapter with this:

“Homesickness is a condition of spirit which comes over you when you are separated from all you love.” (pg 50)

Ya think?

As far as I can tell, the missionary rules are structured to deliberately separate these kids from all they love.  Should anybody be surprised that a lot of them suffer from terrible homesickness?

So let’s see what this book has to say about it.

First she talks about causes of homesickness, from missionaries that she interviewed for the book.  Among the causes listed were writing home too often, calling home, thinking about home too much, and goofing off.  And this might be my favorite:

“I suffered most on the nights when there was a full moon; then I let myself start thinking about the girl I left at home.” (pg 51)

That’s cute, but it sounds more like a song than like an actual case of homesickness.

But what advice does she have to help with this?

“…look in the mirror and say, “Am I working as hard as I can?  Have I really buckled down and learned scriptures and discussions, realizing that discouragement comes most often from not knowing the materials I must teach?” (pg 52)

It’s your fault, so beat yourself up, feel guilty, indoctrinate yourself more, that’s the answer.

But there’s this, too:

“Have I made a real effort to get close to my senior companion?… Perhaps we can console each other.” (pg 52)

I know where my mind just went, but our 1968 guidebook doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that the companions might be comforting each other in unapproved ways.

And this one made my jaw drop:

“Do I really believe that if fear, discouragement, or worry enter my mind I have the power to toss such thoughts into my mental wastebasket and forget them?”(pg 52)

Remember the video “Turn it off!” from Book of Mormon that I posted few chapters back?  I had thought that they were exaggerating when they said “don’t feel those feelings”.  Sounds like they’re not exaggerating so much after all.

There’s also advice to senior missionaries about how to assist their junior partners with homesickness.  And some of the advice given is actually pretty good.  Take a walk, visit friends, do something nice for people where you are, make some personal connections.  Not bad, until she says this:

“Most probably the best results will come from fasting together and talking about nothing but missionary work.”(pg 53)

Because when you’re feeling lonely and depressed, low blood sugar is just the thing to make you feel better?  Seriously?

And she gives us this gem:

“You might even suggest thoroughly cleaning your living quarters.  Sometimes a missionary can get depressed and feeling lonely just living in an unclean, unorganized apartment and it’s amazing what throwing away a three-month-old bottle of unrefrigerated mayonnaise can do for one’s morale!” (pg 53)

Yup, I’m sure that’ll do it!  Next time a couple of missionaries knock on my door, maybe I’ll ask them if they are lonely and would like to cheer themselves up by cleaning out my refrigerator!  It would sure help my morale, but I don’t really think that it would help theirs.  Unless they actually enjoy cleaning, which coincidentally will be the topic of our next chapter.

(I also need to point out that commercial mayo is very shelf stable, it’s a myth that it spoils quickly.)

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Planes, Trains, and Bicycles July 21, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing the 1968 guidebook for prospective Mormon missionaries:

Chapter 4. Travel Care

Like the previous chapter, this surprised me with the amount of good advice it contained.  Sure a lot of it was information about specific luggage weight allowances for different countries that’s now outdated, but a lot of it is helpful information for young people taking a flight or a train for the first time.  What to expect at the airport, how to deal with motion sickness, how to tip properly, how to pack your bicycle, remember keep your tickets handy, all very practical stuff.   And, of course, strict rules for polite behavior, because the missionaries are supposed to be perfect role models, not just normal teenagers.

But of course, there are still some wonderfully hilarious or head-scratching moments in this chapter. Amongst all the advice about how to behave and dress while travelling on a train, there is this:

“If you find a stranger sitting at the table with you, a word of greeting is all that is absolutely necessary, but the meal is sure to be more pleasant if you find some general topic of conversation to share.  Actually you’ll be missing the boat if you don’t ask him the Golden Questions!” (pg 40)”

Golden Questions?  What are those?  I went and looked them up.  Here they are:

“What do you know about the Mormon Church?”

And, regardless of the answer, “Would you like to know more?”

Oh boy.  These kids are expected to start right in on preaching at the poor unsuspecting random person sitting in the dining car with them.  If I’m trying to have a nice dinner on a train, and another person at the table starts in on this, I think my response is going to be “Waiter?  May I change tables please?”

And regarding airports, she starts off with this:

“There will always be people who have to run to catch a plane, but if you are on your courtesy toes….” (pg 45)

Courtesy toes?  Are these kindergarteners she’s talking to, or young adults?  Sheesh.


Her description of what the stewardess on a plane can provide makes me a little nostalgic for the bygone days of air travel:  Chewing gum, airsick pills, tranquilizers (really?), a pillow, socks, and the now-seldom-seen complimentary meal.  (Then I remember that smoking was allowed on planes back then, and I think I’ll stick with today’s foodless cramped steerage seats.  At least I can breathe now.)

But no relaxation for the young missionaries during their flight, nosirreebob!

“HINT: Flight time is valuable time for memorizing scriptures, doing further work on your discussions, or asking the Golden Questions.” (pg 46)

Great, if there’s anything worse than a preachy dining table companion on a train, it’s a preachy seatmate on an airplane.

Next up, what to do about homesickness. This oughtta be good!

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Packing and Shopping July 18, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing with the 1968 guidebook for Mormon missionaries:

Chapter 3. What to Buy and Why

This chapter was pretty long and rather of a surprise.  Most of it was actual good solid advice about how to pack for a long trip.  It talked about which kinds of fabric were better for what kinds of weather, and for laundering, and what things will be useful to bring and what to leave behind. It discussed the possible reasons to buy everything ahead, and when it might be better to shop after arriving.   It reminded me of a college packing list, except for the rules on how conservative and boring the clothes needed to be.

Mormon packing

Modern example of Mormon mission packing

It even had good advice on what kind of luggage would work best, and how to deal with customs inspections.

Apparently the boys were expected to wear suits, and the girls modest dresses with nylons, except on their one day off a week.  Absolutely no socks in “wild colors” for the boys, and no “flashy jewelry” for the girls.  There was a note that the boys might be excused from wearing suit jackets in hotter climates.  I guess they’ve either changed that rule, or I live in a “hotter climate” because I’ve never seen any of the missionary pairs in anything but a white shirt and tie, never a full suit.

But even with as practical as this chapter was, there were a few gems that stood out.  For instance, one of the reasons given that shopping before leaving is:

“7. In some missions it might prove to be an advantage to look “American” because it impresses the local people with your importance.” (pg 20)

Not “makes you interesting”,  it “makes you important”.  What a patronizing attitude towards the people they are sending these kids out to preach at.

Then there was this:

“…In many foreign missions you can even have a suit tailor-made from excellent material for less than it would cost to buy an inexpensive ready-made suit in the States.  HINT: Many times pants are made button front rather than zippered, so if you think you might have a suit made while on your mission, tuck an American zipper into your suitcase. Local zippers, if available, sometimes break easily. ” (pg 20)

Wait what?  I had to go back and read that again.  I knew about magic underwear and abstaining from caffeine, but no button-fly pants?  I had to go look this up.  Turns out that it was attributed to Brigham Young that he once called the newfangled button-fly jeans of his time “fornication pants”!  I wonder if they still have this rule.

A reminder of how outdated this book is can be found in the section on hats.  If a missionary brings a hat along, it should be a men’s business hat, not a “collegiate-looking porkpie hat”.  Porkpie?  Nobody in the 1960’s was wearing those.

Also, among the things they recommend as essential is a “pen, plus extra cartridges”  Cartridges? Like for a fountain pen that can leak all over your luggage? I looked up when the cheap disposable ballpoint pen became available in the US, and it was about 1959.  So this advice was already out of date when it was given.  And under “useful non-essentials” our author suggests “Frisbees (These are small plastic discs…”  I looked up when Frisbees first became popular, and sales took off in 1964.  Why does this author think that she needs to explain what a frisbee is to teenagers?  (That’s like thinking you need to explain to a modern teenager what an iPhone is.)

Who is this author giving advice from the 1940’s to teens in 1968? I looked her up:

Barbara Tietjen Jacobs

Barbara Tietjen Jacobs          1919-2010

Somehow this is exactly what I was expecting her to look like.  (How did she get her hair to be that tall?)  Her birth year makes her about 49 at the publication of this book.  I found her obituary, and her bio paints her as the perfect Mormon wife, raising kids, serving on charity boards and teaching etiquette to children.   Reading this book feels more like she was writing about the era of her own teenage years than trying to connect to the time these kids were living in.

Her obit

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