Saturday, April 19, 2014

On The Similarities Of Mormons And Atheists

I'm at the American Atheists convention in Salt Lake City this weekend.  I caught a tweet, retweeted by Recovering From Religion, from an LDS member who works near the convention hotel and wanted to spend his lunch hour with some atheists.

It was an interesting experience.  Time was limited, so I intentionally avoided topics that would become debate, but I got to pick his brain a bit about Mormonism.  We talked about the colleges around town, I asked about Book of Mormon, and I finally learned what the deal is with the Institute of Religion that is near the University of Nebraska Omaha campus.  They're places to take courses to learn about Mormon theology, and they're intentionally put as close to colleges as possible.  It's presented as educational, but I suspect the purpose is to proselytize.  Either way, I hope to get a better look at them sometime this year.

If I keep talking to the guy I met, one thing I plan to dig deeper into is his comparison of Mormons & atheists.  At first it was based on the fact that both of us are seen as outsiders to the general Christian community in America, which goes along with the premise of a Daily Beast article today about the convention.
The convention this week will bring together in Salt Lake City two distinctly American movements, with remarkably similar demographics, that are in the process of emerging into a public sphere that has long considered them suspicious outsiders.
That part is true.  Both groups are seen as outsiders.  The thing is, it's for very different reasons.
For Mormons, that suspicion goes back to the 1800s, when, as a young movement, they were driven from town to town and subject to anti-Mormon riots (the Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, was killed by a mob in Illinois). 
The article does touch on one similarity in where the hate for both groups comes from.
That suspicion subsided a bit, helped by the church’s renunciation of polygamy in 1890, and cropped up again in the 1980s and 1990s, the result of scandals, a slow adoption of racial equality, and attacks from some right-wing evangelical Protestants.
The Christian Right are no fans of the Mormon Church, and they're certainly not fans of atheists.

The article doesn't mention that Joseph Smith was convicted of fraud, or the other issues that lead to Mormonism being not trusted.  It also doesn't mention that the main source of the mistrust toward atheists is Cold War anti-communism.

One hilarious similarity that my lunch companion made was the claim that both groups reject the supernatural.  I think the premise he intended was that both groups reject the supernatural more than Creationists like Ken Ham, and I suspect that's true to a degree.  Mormons do describe their god in less supernatural way than fundamentalist Protestants.
God is perfect, all wise, and all-powerful; the ruler of the universe. He is also merciful, kind, and just. He is our Father in Heaven. We are created in His image (Genesis 1:27). He has a body that looks like ours, but God’s body is immortal, perfected, and has a glory that words can’t describe. Because we are His children, He knows and loves each of us individually. He has a plan to help His children find joy in this life and return to live with Him when this life is over.
But they quite clearly believe in the supernatural.  It's kind of a requirement of being Mormon.  Or any other religion.

The author of the Daily Beast piece and my lunch companion were right about our 2 groups having some similarities, but we don't have similarities on any of what is the core of either group.  Mormons are still a religion, founded by a con man.  Atheism isn't a religion at all, and attendees of conventions like this one are primarily people who have escaped religion.

But the Daily Beast did get one thing right.
Well, the Mormons just had their Moment. And as for the atheists? While churches might be in decline, their numbers are growing.
Atheism is growing, and religion is shrinking.  And with good reason.  It's the same reason Phil Ferguson told a story on today's Dogma Debate about how, to get some kids to rethink their Christianity, he gave them both Bibles and asked them to read them.

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