For whatever reason, Elvis Costello seems to reflect my mood these days. I’m not sure what that means, but some of his lyrics again captured my mood:
Some of my friends sit around every evening
and they worry about the times ahead,
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
and the promise of an early bed.
I have been thinking a great deal about how some people really believe we are in the end times, in a battle for human souls, and that at some point Armageddon will come and the end of the world. One of my readers posted in response to my essay on Dallin Oaks’s recent speech:
The warning is, put on your seat belts, we’ve got some major turbulence ahead, the same kind of moral/spiritual turbulence you can read about ad nauseum in the Book of Mormon. For the real issue here is not gays but the basic question of whether we’re a secular or a god-fearing society. The balance is fast shifting toward secular, which will bring us the same civil war, outside invaders, secret combinations, and natural disasters that the Nephites faced when they turned from God in this promised land. Only with today’s technologies, this time it won’t take 1,000 years to fully play out…
Similarly, someone I know from the MAD board routinely speaks of critics and unbelievers in terms of ravening wolves who are trying to destroy God’s true church. He says that some of us are unwitting tools of Satan, but we’ll drink of the wrath of God soon enough.
Obviously, this kind of melodramatic warrior imagery isn’t unique to Mormonism. Even the most benign Methodists sing “Onward, Christian soldiers! Marching as to war!” But on the other end of the spectrum are the violent jihadists who sing “You have the atomic bomb, but we have suicide bombers.”
Belonging to a religious group makes one feel part of something bigger and grander than a single life. It feels wonderful to be an instrument in the hands of God toward some larger cosmic purpose. Naturally, those outside the group are to be considered the Other, either to be pitied for not having “the truth” or disdained for “kicking against the pricks” and criticizing the movement. Mormons, for example, often speak of how they feel sorry for people outside the faith, who would be so much happier if they had the gospel in their lives. At the same time, they express bewilderment and often contempt for those who consciously decide to reject Mormonism. Such people, they say, are spiritually dead or hard-hearted.
A similar, though far more extreme, dynamic is on display in David Rohde’s excellent account of his seven months of captivity at the hands of the Taliban.
My captors saw me — and seemingly all Westerners — as morally corrupt and fixated on pursuing the pleasures of this world. Americans invaded Afghanistan to enrich themselves, they argued, not to help Afghans. …
Pressing me to convert, one commander ordered me to read a passage of the Koran each day and discuss it with him at night. He dismissed my arguments that a forced conversion was not legitimate. He and the guards politely said they felt sorry for me. If I failed to convert, they said, I would suffer excruciating pain in the fires of hell.
At one point, a visiting fighter demanded to know why I would not obey. He said that if it were up to him, he would take me outside and offer me a final chance to convert. If I refused, he would shoot me.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but I am not equating Mormons with the Taliban (though it is interesting that some ex-Mormons have been compared to Afghan terrorists, such as Tal Bachman, whom many apologists refer to as “Tali-Bachman”).
Rather, it’s the commonality of attitudes that I find interesting, and as I said, this attitude permeates pretty much every religious group: we alone have truth and are happy and fulfilling God’s plan.
Thus it’s natural for some people to see things in the stark terms of a war for the souls of humanity. They need to see every criticism of their beliefs as Satanic attacks on the truth. It’s much easier to dismiss a hateful attack than a legitimate criticism, but if you start from the premise that there are no legitimate criticisms, then you can dismiss every non-positive observation about your religion as anti-whatever you are.
Such an attitude would explain why some people are so offended by what they term “smooth-talking critics” who really just feign “niceness” as a tactic for spreading their hateful and evil message.
But in the end, the battle is being fought only in the mind of the believer. Many of us Mormons were taught from an early age that everyone outside the LDS church was watching us closely to see if we lived up to our faith. But it was shocking to me after I left to learn that no one was paying attention; no one cared what we did. Sure, they might think we were a little odd, but that’s about it.
And the church at large, although many of its members believe it is under constant attack from the media and others, rarely appears in the public consciousness. Mormonism surfaces as an issue only when the church or its members put themselves there, such as when Mitt Romney ran for president and the LDS church went all out to pass Proposition 8 in California.
No one cares about this alleged battle. I for one am overwhelmed by indifference. I don’t care enough about the LDS church or any other religion to attack it. I don’t care if I’m pitied or reviled for opting out of Mormonism. It just doesn’t matter much in the eternal scheme of things.
Of course, that’s just part of Satan’s plan, I suppose. He just has to convince us that nothing important is at stake, and he’s won the battle. At least he has with me.