Thursday, July 20, 2006

Mormon Smiling Contest

Yesterday Dazza and I went to temple square in downtown Salt Lake City. For those who are not aware this is centre of the Mormon church - or 'the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints' as they generally preferred to be called. The square consists of several buildings including the tabarnacle where their famous choir sings, a conference center, office buildings, a chapel and most crucially The Temple. The Temple is a grey building built over forty years by the Mormon's who came and settled Salt Lake City in the 1840s. They are extremely proud of how long it took them to build it and how 'beautiful' it is but I have to admit that it didn't strike me as particularly special - probably years of living beside an English cathedral (Wells) has tainted my ability to appreciate Mormons architecture. When I get to Miami and set up our computer and figure out the whole photos and posting them online thing you can judge for yourselves.

They give tours of the square led by their 'sister' missionaries from all over the world (young women that they call sisters - I don't know if they are 'nuns' or not). Our guides were Ahn from South Korea and Adhadhe from Ghana . They were lovely, sweet, gentle, kind and never ever stopped smiling!! They told us about how happy they are to know that God is their father and that Jesus Christ is the center of the universe. They told us the story of the seagulls: when the Mormon pioneers first came to Salt Lake they planted their first crop but that year there was a swarm of black locusts that descended eating everything; at first they tried to fight off the insects but to no avail; so they turned to prayer and prayed and prayed and then a miracle happened; a flock of seagulls appeared and ate the locusts leaving the Mormons with a small but viable harvest. They told us how the seagull is the state bird of Utah and that they have a beautiful fountain with gold seagulls atop to honour their miracle. They told us that they believe that a group of prophets left the holy land in 600BC and came to America and wrote of their prophecies on gold tablets and hid them in America until Joshua Smith came and found them through a vision from an angel and translated them from an unknown ancient Egyptian language into English and compiled 'The Book of Mormon'. They told us that they believe in the living prophet and believe that the current one (the man who is head of the church) talks directly from God. They told us all this and did so still smiling and smiling. They sang us two songs and their voices were sweet and the envy of every girl guide troop the world over. And they smiled.

They were so nice that they deflected all questions. They were so nice how could you possibly wish to deflate their bubble of niceness by suggesting problems or queries about what they believed. So we found ourselves smiling and nodding and smiling again. My ambitions of getting answers to why they think it is ok to try by whatever means necessary to 'cure' homosexuals, or why God would have no prophets after biblical times until an immigrant in northern New York state in 1832 and thereafter have a direct succession of fifteen prophets or why they don't believe in evolution or where is the evidence for a people emigrating to the Americas 600BC? - all those questions were rendered mute in the face of those smiles. I suppose I naively thought that I may find that they would want to engage in discussion - at least try to convert me. But instead their means of conversion is much more subtle. Their message is become a Mormon and you too can smile like us, can have the power of smile.

I left with my cheeks aching and my brain dazed. Dazza and I both agreed that we felt violated by niceness. None of our questions had been answered and we didn't feel that we knew much more about the Latter Day Saints. So we went to their book store (a trip in itself - with books with titles like "What I Wish I'd Known Before I Became a Missionary" and "So I Married a Mormon") and bought a copy of 'The Book of Mormon'. As I get more answers I will have more to write and ponder. The most profound thing I learnt however is the powerful deadly precision of a smile. Perhaps the Israelis and Hezbollah could take a leaf out of the sisters book of Mormon magic and just smile with avengance.

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