Education Week. Once a year Brigham Young University hosts a week-long indoctrination extravaganza lovingly referred to as Education Week. My wife told me that this year, over 21,000 people took advantage of this opportunity to come to the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, and learn from gifted scholars and speakers about the finer points of Mormonism.
My wife, my oldest son, and my mother. They were just three on campus this week. Yesterday my wife exuberantly said, “You have to come.” And I emphatically said, “No.” And my mother also said, “You have to come.” And I also told her, “No.” So why am I here?
I wish I had a better answer to that question. Both my mother and my wife were very insistent that I come. Not from the start. They made plans to go and didn’t even think to invite me. But once they got here, they both separately came to the same realization: the Church is true, and since I don’t believe it, I am therefore following Satan.
My wife was more diplomatic about her invitation. “It’ll be a great opportunity for you to talk with people who have been studying this stuff their entire lives. At the very least you can ask them how they are able to reconcile the things you’ve been learning with their belief in the Church.” My mother was more direct: “You’re making a huge mistake, and I’ve talked to several people here who want to talk to you now. They told me, ‘Get him here, and I’ll kick his ….'” Yes, my mother actually said a word I don’t feel comfortable even typing. And no, that’s not typical language for her. Which leads me to believe that the people who want to talk to me actually said that. And no, that’s probably also not typical for what you’d expect to hear from someone who is supposed to be indoctrinating you. Interesting. Maybe they really would be worth talking to.
My problem is that I’m too nice. I listen to people. I consider what they tell me. I’m not close-minded. I evaluate arguments on their own merits rather than on what I want them to be. Because of that, and because of the way I was raised, I think I am very susceptible to the kinds of things I’m likely to hear at Education Week. I’m also very likely to be swayed by people who have practiced their whole lives being convincing.
I tried to explain to my mother how it would work. “I’m too humble,” I told her. “I’m too easily influenced. The stories will resonate. I’ll spend a month wondering at the huge mistake I’ve made leaving the Church. Then I’ll finally remember: none of it is true. I don’t need that drama in my life right now. I’m trying to move on. I need to focus on the future, not the past.”
Of course, she told me that I wasn’t humble, but that if I’d humble myself, then God could tell me what he had told her, that the Church is true no matter what kind of evidence comes up saying it’s not. I don’t think I was able to explain to her the irony of what she was saying: that humility allows one to question one’s beliefs and that while I had questioned mine and she hadn’t questioned hers, she was insisting that I needed to be humble like her.
That’s the kind of thing that drives me crazy about this kind of discussion. We’re never on equal footing. I am expected to use logic in explaining my viewpoint, but logic doesn’t always apply for theirs. She even told me, “Your mind can never tell you God exists.” Yet when I asked what it is that tells you that God exists, I didn’t get a straight answer. He just does, I guess, and you have to accept that. I told her I’d be fine accepting God’s existence if she’d also accept the existence of all the other gods that have featured in religions throughout the history of the world, since they are equally unfalsifiable. But she shot that down by appealing to the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods….”
So do I really want to go talk to these people? Do I want to subject myself to more faith-based arguments? No. Absolutely not. I am willing to talk to them. I am willing to listen. But I was raised Mormon. I’ve lived it. It’s not like I don’t know what they are going to say. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be interested in what I’m likely to hear.
The deciding factor, though, was that I had been planning for months to take my son on an outing this weekend, and since he was in Provo, he wouldn’t be able to come with me. If I went to Provo, I could bring him back with me as soon as it was over, and we could tackle our planned outing.
So here I am. I hope I don’t regret it. Too much.