I should do this more often I think. Anyway, now and then I'll go to a church to observe the goings on. It's like a zoo, but with humans, and you get to analyse psychology at work, peer pressure, conditioning, religious tactics and so on. It's much more interesting to me as a non believer than it ever was when I thought it was true. Well, a while ago I went to a Mormon one and I wrote a report on it. It's pretty long, but it might hold the attention.
I attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (better known as Mormons) with a friend. Before it all got started, I spoke to a few of the members. One told me about a special prayer I could try.
If you want to know if the Mormon god is real, try this prayer. Ask God to let you know the Mormons are right, and be open about it. Then, perhaps that day, perhaps later in the week, God will let you know. It won't be a real voice, more of a feeling. "The Holy Ghost confirms the truth through feelings, thoughts, and impressions" according to the booklet he had at hand. It won't be a trick of the mind, because He will touch your heart, not your mind.
As poetic as that sounds, the heart is an organ for pumping blood around the body, it doesn't 'feel' or sense things. Thoughts and feelings occur in the brain, and the brain certainly can trick us. It tricks us every night when we dream. It tricks us when we look at optical illusions. It interprets things that come in through the senses, and sometimes it gets it wrong.
It's wise to keep this in mind if we ever get a strange warm fuzzy feeling, a glow, while at the same time we're thinking about a god. It doesn't mean that a god is involved. It just means we have a feeling.
Imagine scraping your fingernails down a plate, or imagine biting ice cubes. If you're anything like me, that will send a shiver down your spine. You'll genuinely feel cold for a brief moment. Did the temperature where you are suddenly drop for an instant, and then rise to a normal level again? No. You've thought about something, something that isn't actually happening to you, and your brain has given the illusion of coldness.
If you're looking for a god, and you're open to it, then the brain can easily generate a wave of joy and peace and trick you into thinking it's a god. Especially if you want there to be a god.
Many Christian religions will say similar things, often pointing to scriptures that say to seek God with all your heart, so that God can reveal himself to you. This is why it's not just the Mormons that experience this 'answer from God'. It's people of all different religions, worshipping all different gods. People getting baptized or travelling to holy places feel that their god is with them too. These waves of emotion are no indicator of a god being real at all, not unless all these different gods exist - and many contradict each other.
I sat in with my friend and the children at first. They sang songs and learnt the story of Jesus dying and returning to life. They were taught from Matthew's version, in chapters 27 and 28. One thing I've noticed when studying this story is that the four accounts don't all match up. It's not little mistakes either. Have a look at Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20. Then try to figure out which women were present, how many angels there were, where they were, and when and where the women met Jesus. Good luck.
I'm not a fan of childhood indoctrination. These children believe as their parents do because they're being taught at an age when their minds are still forming. They've been labelled as Mormons before they've even had the opportunity to explore other religions and decide for themselves what they want to believe about the universe and their place in it. It's hardly a coincidence that out of all the adults I asked, they'd all been raised as Mormons.
Their religious beliefs come down to when and where they happened to be born. If they'd been born to Muslim parents, they'd be Muslim. Jehovah's Witnesses, they'd be Jehovah's Witnesses. Catholics, they'd be Catholics. Children usually follow the religion of their parents, and it always happens to be the right one in their eyes. Once they have children of their own, the cycle can continue. It's not something I feel happy about. Children aren't expected to choose a lifetime partner, a political party to support or a job they want to do when they're older. Yet they're expected to follow in their parents' religious footsteps.
I'm sorry to say you have a disease called Losgalasin. You were born with it. It's not something that can be seen or tested for unfortunately, that's why most humans don't even know they have it. They go about their daily business with no idea of the danger they are in. That's why you didn't know either, until I told you. You could drop dead from it any day, that's how serious it is.
I'm sure you're shocked to find this out, but please don't panic. Tragedy can be averted. I've come up with the cure. It's a medicine called Mentatone. If you keep taking this medicine, you won't die from the Losgalasin. You can only get this medicine from me, and you may hear of other people with their own cures, but I've done the research, and most of the time it's just water! They can't help you at all. You're risking your life if you dare to trust them.
You may as well take my cure, and some extra bottles of Mentatone for the kids, even if you're not completely convinced yet, because at the end of the day, what have you got to lose? It could mean the difference between life and death.
What is it that makes us see this is a rather obvious scam? What lets us know straight away that a disease has been made up just to pass on bottles of something? Why aren't we convinced by the 'what have you got to lose' argument? The answer is common sense. We all have it; we're all capable of using it.
Yet change the disease to 'sin' and the cure to 'atonement' and you have an instant following of humans who believe your story. What has happened to their common sense? Why don't people see straight away that Christianity has invented something called sin that all humans supposedly have, and that conveniently they also hold the cure. Why believe one story, yet laugh at the other? Apart from some minor details, what's the difference between them?
"I thank that man every day for coming up with Mentatone. It's saved me, and I will always be grateful."
"We need to tell more people about the danger they are in from their Losgalasin. We need to get the bottles out around the world before it's too late."
"My son stopped taking the Mentatone, and I pleaded with him to come back and drink it. I was distraught. Eventually he did, I'm glad to say. So if you know someone who's stopped taking their bottles, there's always hope."
"People have a choice. Either they take the Mentatone and become saved, or they don't and die."
Replace the appropriate words, and these were the kind of things one could hear at the Sunday school where 2 Nephi, chapters 9-11 were being discussed. The idea that Jesus died for our sins. I didn't learn anything new in this part, simply because it's the teaching I'd heard since I was a child in a different religion; one which was also convinced they were God's chosen people.
Next it was time for audience members to give their testimonies, and to show how they knew their god was real. Could this convince me that they really were worshipping a true god?
Before I discuss what happened there, my friend Franko wants to say hi. I know you can't see him, but that's because Franko's a magical invisible pixie who lives on my right shoulder. He definitely exists though. I'm not crazy. I can prove it.
I was making a shed door last week, and I needed to add the lock. That's a tricky thing to do. I've had trouble with that in the past, so I spoke to Franko and asked him to help me out. He has magical powers, and he must have used them, because adding the lock ended up being easy that time!
I had to move out of my home because I couldn't afford the rent. It was a stressful time. I spoke to Franko about it. My human friend came by, and Franko told me to speak to him. I asked my friend if he could help me, and he ended up securing a new place for me.
It was late and I wanted to go to bed, but I couldn't find my pyjamas. I was about to go in my day clothes, when Franko suggested I looked on the settee. Voila! There they were! Even in the small things, Franko is always there to help me.
I was very ill last year, and I had to have an operation. I spoke to Franko and I asked him to use his magical powers to help me. The doctors did their work, and I pulled through. This is how I know Franko is real.
If these reasons for believing in Franko seem terrible, why then should they be convincing if an invisible god replaces the invisible pixie? They shouldn't be, yet shockingly to many they were because these were the exact same testimonies people gave for why they believe the god of the Mormons is real.
Sometimes making a lock is easy, sometimes it's hard. If you speak to invisible beings, nothing happens, yet if you speak to humans, things can get done. If you have the feeling to look for an item in a particular place, and you find it, it doesn't mean a cosmic force has guided you to it. If there were a cosmic force, it seems odd that it didn't help this person right away and save her some time. Were the doctors even needed for the operation? Seemingly so, because God didn't cure her instantly so that she wouldn't have to go through with it. Did God help the doctors without them knowing? If so, then God's abilities are only as powerful as current medical science because you don't hear reports of limbs growing back and so on; and God lets some people survive and others die, whether they pray to him or not. In fact, people pray all the time before operations, and they certainly don't all make it. Atheists are just as likely to recover. It would be nice if the doctors could receive all the credit, because they are the true power behind successful operations.
People in other religions give testimonies like these all the time, yet they don't convince Mormons to join these other religions. They can see there are natural explanations or coincidences at work. It's common sense. Yet for some reason they aren't as sceptical of their own experiences. When it comes to their god, the rules change along with their criteria for judging what is real or not. If every religious person were as critical of their own beliefs as they were about the religious beliefs of other groups, the world would be a very different place.
For the sake of argument, let's say there is a higher power involved. It doesn't automatically mean it's the god the Mormons follow. It could just as likely be their own invisible pixie helping them, answering requests for help directed to a fictional god. It could be a god nobody worships any more. Aliens in the brain, gnomes, shadow creatures, the list of possibilities is endless.
To add another testimony now, one person spoke about losing his wife six months ago. It was sudden, but he happened to be off work ill in the weeks leading to her death. He sees this as God's plan, so that he could spend time with her before she was taken. One could ask why God did things that way, instead of just not letting her die, but the standard response to such queries is that God works in mysterious ways and that He has His reasons, even if we don't understand them. That line of thought is convincing enough for some.
Here are some things that happen in life - anyone's life: Sometimes a partner dies suddenly. Sometimes illness leads to taking time off work. These events are not rare. Everyone dies. Not a year goes by usually without most people taking some time off work due to illness. So if it happens to coincide with the death of a loved one, how can it possibly be seen as anything other than a coincidence? It makes perfect sense that there are going to be times people die when their partners are off work. There is no supernatural explanation needed for something like that.
I think fear of death and the difficult emotions people have to deal with when they lose people close to them has caused some of these people to think there is a god. The Mormon belief is particularly comforting. They look forward to spending an eternity with their families, the ones alive and the ones who are already dead. It's much easier to cope with a loved one dying if you believe you are going to see them again one day.
Is it harmless to think this way? Even if it's false comfort, can't that be a good thing? On the surface it may seem that way, but I can see a darker side to all of this.
In a way, humanity needs to grow up. Life can be hard at times, but comforting delusions are not healthy. I'll give an example.
A person with debts up to his eyeballs may be stressed out, hoping his problems will end. How would we feel if he deluded himself into thinking he had a million pounds in the bank? Even though it would be comforting, why would most of us want him to accept reality instead?
It's because we know the only way to really deal with the issue is to face it, not hide from it. Problems don't have a tendency to fix themselves. Action is needed. Acting as if there are no money worries can only make things worse, and acting as if we'll see our dead loved ones in a paradise any day now can make things worse too.
One lady spoke about how she couldn't wait until she was resurrected with a brand new, perfect body where she wouldn't have to wear glasses. This would be fine to believe, if it were true. If it's not true (and there is no good reason to think it is) then exactly what is being done to help cure bad eyesight? Nothing. If people are simply waiting for God to come and solve problems like these any day now, then there is no conceivable reason why these people would spend the time trying to fix their own problems.
Imagine if everyone had believed that back in the time glasses were invented. There would have been no drive to create them at all. Why would they, if they believed God was going to cure all the bad eyesight in a matter of a few years at the most? This marvellous invention this lady wears to help her see is the result of humans deciding to do things for themselves, instead of waiting for a supernatural entity to sweep in and do it for them.
There are now the options of contact lenses and laser surgery, which can eliminate the need for glasses altogether. All thanks to humans fending for themselves, instead of believing they were in the 'latter days'. Humans change the world with action, not talking to gods. Wishful thinking, as comforting as it is, can be dangerous and hold us back as a species.
Any human is lucky to be alive. The chance of any of us existing is miniscule. This planet beneath our feet is the only place we know of that supports life in the entire universe. There had to be a precise family line, specific ancestors, a continuous chain over millions of years from the very first life forms to now to make each of us 'us'. Billions of sperm do not make it to an egg. Most eggs leave the females' bodies without having been fertilised. Then there are the barriers of being miscarried and stillborn to overcome. Just coming into being is beating the odds. You would have better luck winning every lottery in the world.
Our species has a longer lifespan than most animals. Flies get days to live, cats get ten to fifteen years, dogs get around twenty years. We get approximately eighty rotations around our sun. But even knowing all this, so many people want more. They may even feel cheated if there isn't more to come. Not an extra ten years, fifty years, even a thousand years. An eternity! The existence they were lucky enough to have isn't enough for them, and while they might feel the universe owes them, it is actually us who owe the universe.
If death itself is simply non-existence, then that's nothing to fear. We all coped wonderfully well with that before we were born.
Imagine the Mormons were teaching their children that the Earth was flat. Would that be disturbing? It may not make much difference to their lives, but I'm sure most of us would be concerned that they were being taught something that simply wasn't true.
Imagine no longer. Teaching them that evolution is not true is just as bad as teaching them the Earth isn't a sphere, yet this is what they do. Evolution is a fact. The evidence for it is overwhelming. We've known about it for about 150 years, and yet after all this time there are still people who have been completely misinformed about it.
I am becoming increasingly convinced that people don't believe in evolution simply because they have misconceptions about what evolution actually is.
Comments such as these should be a thing of the past:
"I believe in micro evolution, but not macro evolution."
Microevolution is a small change. Macroevolution is just a series of small changes, one after the other. If a species can change slightly, then it's capable of changing slightly again, and again, and again, and in the end, once all of these small changes have mounted up, you have a species that looks very different to how it started out. It's like travelling a mile- you don't do it in one massive leap, you do it by taking one step at a time.
"If humans came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?"
Humans and monkeys share a common ancestor. It would be better to say we came from apes, because humans are apes. If humans came from apes, why are there still other kinds of apes? This is like asking if Americans came from Europeans, then why are there still Europeans? You can have common ancestors, yet still split off and become different species. This won't happen with humans in different parts of the world now, because there is travelling and breeding between humans around the globe. But it has happened with other species that became separated and went on to form two or more separate gene pools.
How did life start? Nobody knows for sure yet. We're learning. Just because we don't know something, it doesn't mean the default answer is God. We've made that mistake before. Why does thunder happen? Thor gets angry and strikes his hammer. What causes tsunamis? That's Poseidon, god of the sea. Humans have used gods to try and explain things in this manner, and they were always proven wrong when a natural explanation came to light. It was only a hundred years ago we learnt to fly. Fifty years ago we learnt how to transmit moving colour images. Common sense tells us we still have a lot to learn now. It would be preposterous to think we know as much as our descendants are going to know. Saying 'God did it' shuts off the search for the real answer.
The people I met were very friendly; I just think their beliefs are wrong. They know what it's like to be in my shoes, because they dismiss thousands of other gods and religions without much effort. I simply apply the same criteria to all of them.