The Mormon Church runs a 24-hour live chat with missionaries at Mormon.org. I found out about this service since screenshots of their chats frequently appear on The Art of Trolling, a blog that curates internet based pranks, some of which are not safe for work.
I figured that the Mormon Church, which puts a heavy emphasis on conversions and is fairly successful in its efforts was worth talking to, so I logged on to ask my most basic question for theists:
Our conversation lasted a while, and I’ve posted some highlights below, with the full transcript after the jump. Sometimes, I am reluctant to post about conversations I have had with apologists, since I don’t want them to constrain their comments for fear of being taken out of context in a wider medium, but I decided it would be all right to post this discussion, particularly as the identity of the missionary is not available and the Mormon chat window includes a ‘print’ button, presumably for later sharing.
So here’s how we started off:
And to be honest, I never felt we moved very far beyond that point:
Moroni seemed to be defending a parallel version of Jennifer Fulweiler’s Finding God in 5 Easy Steps (summed up as trying to behave as though God existed and seeing if belief follows). However, unlike Jennifer, Moroni never made much of a pitch for why belief in God could appear necessary or even desirable from the perspective of nonbelief.
I found the conversation extremely uncompelling, but it did signal a kind of extreme confidence. Instead of making an emotional or scholarly pitch, Moroni’s sole goal seemed to be for me to read the Book of Mormon and attempt to pray to his God, at which point, conversion was expected to be inevitable. I imagine this strategy is different from the door-to-door pitch, but I have no idea. Has anyone heard a different spiel from a Mormon missionary?
Moroni: Hello, my name is Moroni.
Moroni: How may I help you?
Me: Hello, sorry for the delay.
Me: I’m an atheist, and I was wondering whether you think the evidence for your god’s existence is universally accessible
Moroni: Yesm we all can pray to Him and know that He is tehre
Me: All people can feel God’s presence when they pray? Or only if they already had faith?
Moroni: We need to pray with faith
Moroni: a desire to believe and a sicnere heart can help us receive an answer
Me: If people do not have faith, what should compel them to change their minds
Moroni: The fact that by faith we can obtain all the blessings that God has for us
Me: ^ that statement presupposes the existence of God.
Me: What justifies that belief?
Moroni: Well, a person after hearing about God should aks himself/herself if that stament is true or not
Moroni: don’t you think so?
Moroni: And if the only way to know if it is true is by praying with fait, or a desire to believe, then a person that hears that statement should be compelled to have faith
Me: I don’t have a desire to believe in precepts I think are false.
Moroni: Who told you they are false?
Moroni: What if they were true?
Me: If I were told acupuncture only worked if I *believed* acupuncture worked, I wouldn’t feel compelled to try to believe acupuncture worked.
Me: I don’t need to try to believe every idea with defenders if the pitch is “if you tried to believe this, you would believe it”
Me: Is there a reason I should take your pitch more seriously than a pitch for Transcendental Meditation, which also claims I must have faith for it to work?
Moroni: I have seen the blessings of developing this faith in my life
Moroni: all I can do is invite you to do it yourself and promise you that the same that has happened in my life will happen in yours
Moroni: and you will feel the love of God and receive of His blessings
Me: But similar claims are made by proponents of Transcendental Meditation,
Me: Scientology, etc. By what heuristic should I trust your experience over theirs?
Me: Your claims are mutually exclusive
Me: Why are your claims, using the same justification, more believable?
Moroni: I invite you to read the Bible and the Book of Mormon
Moroni: and then to pray about them, try doing someof the things it teaches, and you will know that what I ams aying is correct
Moroni: if they ask you, the other churches, to do the same, then do it, only in one place you will feel an answer by God as taught in the scriptures, throught the holy Ghost
Moroni: who will speak to you through feelings and thoughts
Me: I’ve heard the exact same pitch from catholics. Who ask me to read the bible and pray in their churches and assure me that the holy ghost has spoken to them and will speak to me there
Me: They sound just as convinced by their experiences as you do.
Moroni: As I said
Moroni: all you can do then is follow both invitations
Me: Do you think people who feel the influence of the holy spirit in non-Mormon religions are decieved? Or are many religions acceptable to your god?
Moroni: Well, there is only one true church, but there are good things in several places, so people may feel something good when the go to one place or another
Moroni: but we need to search for that place that has the fulness
Me: How are you certain that you have found the fullness, given that Catholics and others also claim to experience fullness in their faith? Are there proofs of your faith external to your personal experiences?
Moroni: Your personal experience while praying is what will matter most at the end because that’s the way to obtain a testimony
Me: So there’s no way for your claims to trump those of Catholics or even Scientologists?
Moroni: I am not here to prove anyone wrong
Me: By making assertations about the truth of what god wants, you are implying others are wrong.
Moroni: Well, but I am inviting you to find out for yourself whether or not what i am saying is correct
Moroni: I am not trying to get you to believe by saying why other people are not good
Me: But when I hear a number of people make contradictory claims based on the same type of evidence, it makes me doubt the utility of that evidence
Moroni: Well, then find out for yourself
Moroni: really, there is nothing better you can do than praying and asking yourself
Me: To be honest, this doesn’t sound that different than the claims of my runner friends that if I just put enough time into running, I would find that I enjoyed it.
Me: When I try running, and don’t enjoy it, they tell me I didn’t give it enough of a chance.
Me: At some point, it is reasonable of me to reject the proposition
Me: At what point is it reasonable for me to reject yours?
Moroni: After you have read the Book of Mormon and prayed about it sincerely and having a desire to believe
Me: But what prompts a desire to believe, if not evidence?
Me: I feel like we are going in circles, and I don’t see why your religion has a firmer foundation than homeopathy.
Moroni: Take the challenge
Moroni: ask God about these things
Me: And a homeopath would tell me to try their remedies, believe, and wait for a cure. Why should I have more confidence in your claims?
Moroni: As I said, your confidence should be in God
Moroni: and in the answer you will receive from Him as you pray
Me: I don’t feel like we are covering new ground, and I ought to go to bed. Thank you for your time
Moroni: Take care Leah