Last comments from Europe, for a while

Last comments from Europe, for a while June 20, 2024


Der Bernertempel
The first temple in Europe was this one, the Bern Switzerland Temple (actually located in Zollikofen), dedicated nearly seventy years ago, in September 1955, by President David O. McKay.  We had hoped to do a session there during this trip, but the temple has been closed this week.  (LDS Media Library)

Well, the FAIR LDS conferences in Europe ended a week ago (though two or three solo presentations may remain).  They were, I think, reasonably successful.  The in-person attendance in Rome was disappointingly poor, but the audiences in Salzburg and Göteborg were fairly good.  And, in all cases, the talks were recorded, translated, and made available—or will soon be made available—online.

One of the obvious benefits of the FAIR LDS conferences, however, is that they provided considerable merriment and a wonderful occasion for sneering — ah, but I repeat myself! — to a small coterie of anonymous critics on what, with strict clinical accuracy, I’ve termed “The Peterson Obsession Board.”

A few of the folks there enjoyed referring to the conferences as a month-long free vacation, an all-expenses-paid romp through Europe for those of us who were involved in it, and suggesting that I (or we) had manipulated a wealthy donor into paying for the European vacation that we had already decided to take.

The truth, of course, is rather different.  Not that the truth will matter to some of those on the Obsession Board.  I’m reminded of the opening sentence of Sir Francis Bacon’s classic 1597 essay devoted to the subject:  “’What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.”  Or, to borrow a line from Winston Churchill, the folks at the POB “occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”

As I understand the actual back story of the conferences, it started with a married couple who have a particular and particularly strong interest in Italy.  (I know them; I’ve known them for years; they were actually with us in Italy.  But I won’t name them and, thus, expose them to the tender mercies of the online piranhas with whom I’m all too familiar.)  Since they have the means to do so, they proposed to the leadership of FAIR LDS that they sponsor a FAIR conference in Italy.  (They had already done so at least once before.)  The proposal was adopted, and they were then persuaded that, once the participants in the conference had traveled from America to Europe, it would be relatively cost-effective to have those speakers do various conferences and presentations elsewhere, as well.

Accordingly, and very generously, this couple picked up the lecturers’ transportation costs to, from, and within Europe, as well as the costs of our lodging from 31 May through 15 June – a period of slightly more than two weeks.  As for the rest, with the exception of a group thank-you dinner on each of the three conference evenings in Rome, Salzburg, and Göteborg, we covered our own costs.  As for the rest of our food and drink during the intervening days, for example, and as regards any entertainment or sightseeing that we might have done, that was entirely at our own expense.  And. if we came over a few days early (as my wife and I did to Ravenna after visiting family in Virginia), or if we decided to stay for a few extra days (as my wife and I just did in Switzerland), that was on our own nickel.

One participant in the festivities over at the Peterson Obsession Board, though, suggested a few days ago that we should have flown home between the conferences—rather than luxuriating at donor expense in Europe.

Such a plan would have entailed flying from North America to Europe on three successive Thursdays.  (Why on Thursdays?  Because one typically loses a day going in that direction. Since the conferences began on Saturday morning, one would probably need to be in place by sometime on the preceding day, Friday—unless, of course, one could arrange a flight that arrived early enough on Saturday, and find a taxi fast enough, to reach the conference venue by 10 AM.  And Salzburg and Göteborg would require some extra effort to reach, either by train or rented car or smaller connecting flight, since they don’t service flights directly from North America.)

In any event, here’s how that sagacious POB travel counselor’s plan would have looked for me:

  • Fly from Salt Lake City to Rome (Thursday, 30 May, arriving morning of 31 May)

                  Conference in Rome (Saturday, 1 June)

  • Fly from Rome to Salt Lake City (Sunday, 2 June)
  • Fly (and etc.) from Salt Lake City to Salzburg (Thursday, 6 June, arriving morning or evening of 7 June)

                  Conference in Salzburg (Saturday, 8 June)

  • Fly (and etc.) from Salzburg to Salt Lake City (Sunday, 9 June)
  • Fly (and etc.) from Salt Lake City to Göteborg (Thursday, 13 June, arriving morning or evening of 14 June)

                  Conference in Göteborg (Saturday, 15 June)

  • Fly (and etc.) from Göteborg to Salt Lake City (Sunday, 16 June)

That’s six transcontinental and transoceanic flights within the space of eighteen days, for an average of one flight across North America and the Atlantic Ocean every seventy-two hours.

Seems completely reasonable, no?  Plainly more economical and efficient, and ethically superior.  Creates a larger carbon footprint, too!

Dark Lauterbrunnen
The Berner Oberland in Switzerland, near Interlaken, is, I as I’ve said more than once, my favorite landscape on Planet Earth. Here is a view in the Oberland town of Lauterbrunnen, located in the valley that, as I had long suspected, inspired Tolkien’s description of the home of Elrond and the Elves in Rivendell.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

I’m still surprised from time to time at how much the image that has been painstakingly constructed for me over at the Peterson Obsession Board during the past fifteen or twenty years relies on shameless misrepresentation.  Consider these three very recent examples:

My Malevolent Stalker recently told his gullible audience there that, according to my own frequent statement, the highlight of my mission was “bashing” with and “humiliating” a Protestant pastor.  The Stalker isn’t stupid, so I can only assume that he’s lying.  He can be referring to no more than two stories that I’ve told.  I cited one of them just the other day, and provided a link for it:  Judge for yourself whether it’s a boastful account of having bashed and humiliated Pastor Theo Bürk.

The second possibility concerns a story that I’ve related here at least once, about having been summoned from the Mission Home in Zürich at the last minute to help out a pair of elders who had arranged for a debate with a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Just hours before the event, they called and begged me to come as the Latter-day Saint side of the argument, because of the Witnesses’ big guns had decided to come.  I went as they had asked and, frankly, I think I mopped the floor with him.  Not because I was such a genius but because he really wasn’t very good.  But I hated it.  It was painful.  I told them never to set up such a debate again, and certainly never to invite me to participate in such a thing.  I told them that I wouldn’t come, and I vowed to avoid such confrontations in the future.

Does that sound like a “highlight” of my mission?  Hardly.  Nor, I think, would an official of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society think of himself as a “Protestant pastor.”

And here’s another recent gem from the Stalker:  He says that my love for Switzerland, which has become a relatively unchurched country over the past few generations, shows my hypocrisy.  Why, if I claim religion is such a good thing, am I so in love with a comparatively irreligious place like Switzerland?  But this is brazenly disingenuous.  Have I ever praised Switzerland’s decline in church attendance?  Pick one, based on your reading of my blog entries here:  Do I (a) go on and on about the natural beauty of the Swiss mountains and forests and lakes and meadows?  Or do I (b) praise trends toward secularism in Swiss society?

But the Stalker also has a small corps of avid disciples who have bought hook, line, and sinker into his myth-making.  Just yesterday, perhaps, one of them offhandedly commented that I’ve dedicated much of my life to insulting anybody who doesn’t share my religious views.  But that is demonstrably false.  I’ve published and spoken extensively about other religious faiths and to adherents of other religious faiths.  I’ve spoken on every continent except Antarctica and South America in other churches, in mosques, in synagogues; I’ve published books and articles and scores and scores of newspaper and magazine columns on other faiths.  My record in this regard is extensive, and it’s flatly false to claim that I regularly insult people whose religious views differ from mine.

A third example:  A participant on the Obsession Board decided to count the number of times various personal names have been mentioned on my blog during the past several weeks.  And he reports that, by far, the single most frequently occurring name has been that of the late Christopher Hitchens.  Which, he has allowed his credulous audience to conclude, means that Christopher Hitchens is the major theme of this blog.  It reminds me of a comment from Andrew Lang:  “Most people use statistics like a drunk man uses a lamppost; more for support than illumination.”

Den Haag Nederlands Tempel
The Hague Netherlands Temple (Den Haag).  Photograph from

I was surprised, too — and pleased — to see some obvious changes in the missionary program here in Europe.  I wonder whether they are connected with the fact that Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a European, has a particular assignment with missionary work.

For one thing, the missionaries are dressing differently, both younger missionaries and senior missionaries.  (I guess I’d seen announcements to that effect, but I hadn’t really been paying attention.)  The elders aren’t always required to wear dark suits, white shirts, and ties.  I saw some of them in colored shirts, lacking both coats and ties.  And the sister missionaries were sometimes dressed in pants.  I welcome this.  It makes us look more “normal.”  (More Mormon deception, I suppose!)

I still recall a very hot day on my Swiss mission when the door opened and a man invited us in.  He wasn’t interested in our message, he quickly explained, but he was a physician and, while offering us something cold to drink, he said that he wanted to make sure that we were properly hydrated.  Only Momonenmissionare, he commented, would be so stupid as to be out at noon on such a day dressed in dark suits.  Honestly, I couldn’t really disagree.

Perhaps a more fundamental change is this:  The missionaries are devoting relatively little time to tracting.  Instead, they’re working through social media.  This allows them to focus on people who actually express genuine interest, rather than to spend hours each day ringing the doorbells of empty apartments and/or having doors shut in their faces.  Much more efficient.  I dreamed of such a thing in my day, but the technology wasn’t there.

Posted from Amsterdam, The Netherlands



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