By Tony Gill
I woke abrupt from a dream filled with oddities, obscurities and fleeting absurdities, to my doorbell. I had a hangover. What species of sadist, I thought, would ring my doorbell at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Fanaticus Mormonidae, of course. I opened the door to two fine specimens (they’re often seen traveling in small groups) perched on my threshold.
Where does the impulse come from to proselytize?
Intensity of conviction is not the main factor which impels a movement to spread its faith to the four corners of the earth: “religions of great intensity often confine themselves to condemning, destroying, or at best pitying what is not themselves (Burckhardt, Force and Freedom). Nor is the impulse to proselytize an expression of an overabundance of power as Sir Francis Bacon has it “is like a great flood, that will be sure to overflow.” The missionary zeal seems rather an expression of some deep misgiving, some pressing feeling of insufficiency at the center. Proselytizing is more a passionate search for something not yet found than a desire to bestow upon the world something we already have, it is a search for a final and irrefutable demonstration that our absolute truth is indeed the one and only truth. The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others. From this perspective, it’s not difficult to see that the creed whose legitimacy is most easily challenged is likely to develop the strongest proselytizing impulse. It is doubtful whether a movement that does not profess some preposterous and patently irrational dogma can be possessed of that zealous drive which “must either win men or destroy the world.” It is also plausible that those movements with the greatest inner contradiction between profession and practice - that is to say with a strong feeling of guilt - are likely to be the most fervent in imposing their faith on others. The slaveholders of the South became the more aggressive in spreading their way of life the more it became patent that their way of life was untenable in the modern world.
The passion for proselytizing and the passion for world dominion are both perhaps symptoms of some serious deficiency at the center. It is probably as true of a band of apostles or conquistadors as it is of a band of fugitives setting out for a distant land that they escape from an untenable situation at home.
After explaining my agnosticism and them looking at me like I sprouted horns, I told them that the only real difference between us was that they use words as if they were ignorant of their true meaning.
They said “Wah?”
And I said “If a doctrine, and the particular religion it supports, is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable. Why else would one have to get to heaven or the distant future to determine the truth of an effective doctrine? When some part of a doctrine is relatively simple, there is a tendency among the yoos guys to complicate and obscure it. Simple words are made Pickwickian and pregnant with meaning and made to look like symbols in a secret message. Ergo, there is this illiterate air about the most literate true believer,” (Truth be told, I’m quite incapable of working both “Pickwickian” and “ergo” into my sentences that early in the morning.) At once, one of them reached for a clear glass vial strung from his neck. On the vial was printed “Incase of heretic, Break!” Inside the shattered remains was a piece of rolled paper that had a quote from their holy book. It was a thinly veiled threat concerning my fate in the "life to come." (Only later did I determine that this necklace thingy was part of the Universal Emergency Mormon Reply Kit.).
I concluded with a “then I guess I’ll see you there” and sent them on their merry way.