A couple of evangelical missionaries came by while I was lounging in the yard the other day. After I figured out that they weren't a charity asking for money, I was glad to talk to them for a few minutes. They came all the way from Florida to share their message out of love and I hope people don't give them a hard time for it. The core of that message, unsurprisingly, is on the sufficiency of Jesus' grace, which by implication contrasts with the more works-based salvation of Mormonism. "Those who trust only in the perfect work of Jesus," says the flyer they gave me, "Are enough in God's sight right now, Are forgiven of all their sins right now, Are perfect in Christ right now, Will live with Heavenly Father forever." Personally, though I know Mormonism's emphasis on righteousness and self-improvement is toxic for a lot of people, I always kind of liked it. I think people should have to do something to earn salvation so that Putin doesn't get into heaven by converting right before he's executed for war crimes. I don't agree with the claim that "Nobody is good." I'm not perfect, maybe I'm not even great, but I am objectively light-years better than someone like Putin. Most of my intentions and motivations are good even when the execution falls short. And I don't think most evangelicals believe that you should just give up and not even try to be good since Jesus took care of everything.
They asked why I left Mormonism, and I kept my answer deliberately vague. Policies, political actions, historical problems. I didn't want to make things awkward by saying I left because of how it treats women and gay people, because their church probably isn't much better in that regard. I didn't want to get into any arguments so I didn't ask questions when they invited me to ask questions. I did mention, because I didn't want them to try too hard to convert me to their particular denomination, that I'm hesitant to commit to any belief system because I no longer believe spiritual feelings are an indicator of truth. They agreed and said that's why they just use the Bible. I didn't press the issue of how they know the Bible is true without a spiritual witness. They probably would have said something about how reliable the manuscripts are. I remember from past Mormon/evangelical debates that the latter often claim the Bible has been proven true by secular evidence, which of course it hasn't, but someone who's already committed to believing it's true can certainly find secular evidence to fit that paradigm. (It also depends on what you mean by "true." No serious scholar could say with a straight face that it's inerrant, consistent, or univocal, but that doesn't mean you can't believe in it in some more nuanced sense.)
As it happens, right before they showed up I'd been reading about George Harrison's death. He was Hindu, and a quote he loved from the Bhagavad Gita was included in the liner notes of his final posthumous release: "There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be." It's such a beautiful thought. If I had wanted to get into an argument, I would have asked if he's burning in hell right now for picking the wrong religion. Mormonism, for all its faults, answers that question with an emphatic no, but I doubt these missionaries could have done the same. I did discuss this issue with an evangelical at Gospel Peace Church last year. His reasoning was that all of us deserve to burn in hell, so God is being generous and graceful by saving any of us. I think that reasoning falls apart without the premortal existence that Mormonism and, as indicated in George Harrison's beloved quote, Hinduism both teach. If God brought the entirety of me into existence from scratch in this world, then a. I didn't ask to be created in the first place and b. it's entirely his fault I'm not perfect, and therefore he has no right whatsoever to condemn me to hell. Furthermore, why doesn't he show himself to the world and tell everyone to accept Jesus, thus saving virtually all of us instead of a lucky few? In Mormonism, he requires faith because we've forgotten about the premortal existence and we're being tested to see what we'll do. In evangelicalism, I see no such justification.
I don't know how to have faith anymore in any case. The stuff they said about Jesus was beautiful, but that doesn't make it true. How can I know if it is? There's certainly not much secular evidence that the historical Jesus was born for me, lived perfectly for me, died for me, rose for me, intercedes for me, and will return for me. (In fact, the disappointments of two thousand years of Christians who believed he was returning in their lifetimes have made that last point very implausible in my book.) I used to believe spiritual feelings could fill in the gaps where secular evidence failed. Now I don't. People in religions that are incompatible with Christianity get the same feelings. And these missionaries agreed with me on that. So what else is there? I could choose to believe just because I want to, but I could just as well do that for anything. I really want to believe George Harrison's Bhagavad Gita quote, but being beautiful doesn't make it true either, and I really don't want to believe in the reincarnation cycle so that would make me kind of a hypocrite. I suppose I only have myself to blame for not asking these questions when I had the chance. I did take a look at the website on the flyer: beyeperfect.org/forus
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.