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How To Hoodwink God (Now with Clickable Footnotes!) - Look out, it’s evil!
Helping to drag America, kicking & screaming, into the Age of Enlightenment
How To Hoodwink God (Now with Clickable Footnotes!)
The Mormon Church has several laudable aspects. Their aggressive, globe-spanning missionary program is definitely not one of them.

First off, I instinctively distrust anyone who claims to be closer to God than anyone else, especially when he intrudes in the lives total strangers to put forth this assertion. George Carlin said it perfectly: "Religion is lift in your shoe, man. If you need it, cool—just don’t let me wear your shoes if I don’t want ‘em. And we don’t have to go down and nail lifts onto the natives’ feet!"

Second, I have a specific objection to hearing this unsolicited message from a smug nineteen-year-old who—let's face it—doesn't know jack about anything. I wonder how an eighty-year-old in Japan, or Central America, or anywhere with a culture very different from ours, who has lived through most of the 20th century and perhaps has seen a fair proportion of loved ones die in wars or natural disasters, feels when a lily-while, greasy-haired chucklehead in a suit informs her that the only path to true salvation is to wear special underwear and to conduct strange rituals ripped off from the Masons.

I never did understand the practice of paying money for "logo apparel." I don't mean Tommy Hilfiger and Abercrombie & Fitch and the like, which labels tie the brand name to a certain status or social statement. No—I'm talking about forking over precious cash for, say, a Budweiser hat. Correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't the company pay you for advertising their product? Especially on your body? Now let's consider the Mormon mission program. The missionaries (or, more accurately, their families) have to shell out some ten thousand US dollars for the privilege of expanding the Church's revenue base. (And for no extra charge, the Church will throw in a good cerebral scrubbing.) Logic, please? Families are bankrupting themselves working sales for a semi-corporate entity that, as of 1991, raked in nearly five billion dollars a year. Actually, I started composing this entry when I learned that the best miniature golf course in the entire Orion Spur had been sold, and promptly razed for space to build McMansions, because its owner needed vast quantities of short-term cash to pay for missions for her many, many grandsons.

Lastly, the life of a missionary, both during training and out in the field, reads like a manual in coercive mind control techniques. Every hour of the missionary's day is controlled almost to the point of sensory deprivation. (Most of what I know about this I've learned from talking to returned missionaries. I was unable to find a comprehensive overview of the missionary's way of life, but a large number of stories detailing experiences on a mission may be found here.) I have witnessed firsthand how effective this means of indoctrination can be. During my college years, I spent summers with the family in Utah. Each year I'd run into old high school classmates freshly returned from their missions in far-off, exotic places. Several of them had been real characters in school—half-crazy, subversive, and funny as hell. But two years on their mission, and alakazam! instant zombie. They were outwardly personable—"Hey, how are ya, shake your hand"—but behind the façade, not a speck of individuality remained. There was nothing left but a newly minted Patriarch, ready to fulfill the Lord's bidding by getting his MBA and making more little patriarchs and helpmeets.

On the other hand, a fair number of acquaintances proved resistant to the mind probe. They were generally the quiet, thoughtful ones. In a few heartening cases it was apparent that someone had matured during his mission. Once or twice I even dared hope that the returned missionary had had occasion to think to himself, working amidst poverty and social unrest, "Perhaps what these folks need really isn't a dose of the American Protestant work ethic."

Rarer still was the young man whose mission caused him to rethink his whole life in the Church, and perhaps to go as far as to leave the Church. I didn't know anyone like that. But years ago I discovered the writings of one such ex-Mormon, who withdrew his membership shortly after returning from his two-year stint for the Lord. He went by the name Playelder—a whimsical variation of playboy, where "elder" is the title for a Mormon male once his mission is begun. Around the turn of the millennium, Playelder posted hilarious stories about his childhood and missionary years to various Internet fora. Alas, some of the tales may be gone forever, and only one or two copies of the rest appear (through Googley eyes) to be accessible via the Web.

I have preserved a topical Playelder story: perhaps the first one ever, and arguably the best. Here, he relates how he established that the so-called "divine" inspiration guiding mission destinations was purely bogus, and improves his own fate in the bargain. I pieced the version below from two sources: the original 1998 text, now available at exmormon.org; and a much cleaner 2006 revision, which, sadly, is missing the punchline. (The latter appears at the top of a huge, jumbled mass of Playelder works, many of them too Church-technical to be of interest to Gentiles.) You'll find annotations explaining some of the Mormon lingo that may be unfamiliar to the uninitiated. I like this piece in particular because it highlights a fundamental aspect of Mormonism: that most Mormons acknowledge that much of the theology behind the Church is ludicrous, but that nobody is willing to state right out in public that the Emperor rides naked. (As a side note, quite a few Mormon classmates complained to me that the cushy mission "callings," like Paris or Tahiti, wound up being assigned [allegedly by divine revelation] to the descendants of high Church officials.)

I hope that Playelder forgives me for copying this delightful story here, and that he understands the necessity to preserve it so that Mormons, and especially potential Mormon initiates, may read his words of wisdom and be enlightened.

How I Stayed Domestic (or, God Bless America)

Revised March 30, 2006 by Playelder
I have nothing constructive, intelligent, or well thought out to add here. Just a stupid story.

I vividly recall hearing prospective missionaries claim how they always wanted to go on a foreign mission, but would humbly accept the calling should it be of a rather "telestial"1 nature and keep them here in the U.S.

They chose their words as if they were setting aside what they wanted and instead chose to selflessly pursue the greater good. Kind of like getting called to the Burns, Oregon Mission when your personal revelation2 had you all set to serve in the Melbourne, Australia Mission, mate.

And thus we have one of the great debates known unto these Saints of Latter Days…

Foreign vs. Domestic.

Now, to the rest of The Children of Man, that means we’re talking beer. To the faithful flock of The Good Shepherd Gordon3, it means we’re talking Netherlands or Nebraska, Tokyo or Tennessee, Madrid or Montana, South Africa or South Dakota. You get my drift. Its funny how everyone wants to go to Britain or Australia, but no one wants to go to Boise or Arkansas. Picky little servants, aren’t we?

When I was about to receive my "inspired" call in 1986—actually, hold on a second. What's so inspired about it? One guy leaves, one guy takes his place. It's not like The Great Creator of The Universe is going to take the time to deliberate whether this dumb kid from Utah gets sent to Japan or Jackson, Mississippi.

Personally, I think that whoever it is in SLC that makes these “callings” are actually expert dart throwers who secretly belong to a citywide bar league and regularly kick ass in whatever tournament they enter.

"Oh, no, Jake! Our next match is against 'The Callers'!! There's no way we can win! We might as well forfeit because we're screwed!"

That's right. One flick of the wrist and you're off to Bangladesh, boy.

Having been out of the country before, I was in no hurry to take my chances at an extended visit. My experiences eating dogs and cats in China was more than I bargained for, and I wasn't about to wait for something that came straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Don't get me wrong: other countries and cultures are just fine for two weeks, but two years is an entirely different matter. I like speaking English. I like eating food that won’t kill me. And I like knowing that doing something as simple as reaching for something with my left hand is not an offense considered punishable by death according to local customs. I’m just kind of weird that way.

When it became my turn to go thru all those pre mission call rituals, I noticed many guys in my small ward in Burns, Oregon were going to places like Italy, Ireland, South Africa, Spain, and The Philippines. There was a real good chance that I was going to get sent to Dogburger China. NO WAY!!!

I want to eat at Denny's on P-Day4!!! I want to ride my bike on the right side of the road! When people yell and swear at me, I want to know what they're saying! I don't care if I come back and can't bear my testimony in some kooky tongue or have no cool stories to tell and have to settle for a sweet spirit5 for a wife because of it! To hell with that dart with my name on it! I'm going to make a stand!

It was then that I came up with a plan. A wicked, evil, unrighteous plan that would have made Korihor6 himself think twice.

I was aware of a language aptitude test that I'd be given. Not as secret as the temple, so I knew what to expect. Does anyone know if they still do this or has a revelation changed and now they don't? My test consisted of sitting in an empty room listening to a guy on a tape. He was an old guy, of course. I think he'd been a sheet rock worker on the Tower of Babel back when they invented all the different languages. He would say a word in English and then say the word in a different language. The other language wasn't real—just something they made up.

No! They didn't say "pay lay ale!"7

They said other things that they made up! The old guy would say some words and phrases and I would write down the right words for what he said. The only word I can remember was "sherm". It kind of sounded like a Dr. Seuss book.

"The sherm had a glerm with derm on its verm."

Knowing what was at stake here, I proceeded to totally bomb that test. I made every wrong answer that I could. I even had the audacity to say,

"The sherm had a worm with sperm in its perm!"

I cackled to myself as I wrung my hands in a Mr. Burns-like fashion, "Excellent!" These guys won't let me out of the stake!8 I'll be lucky if they even let me ride a bike.

When my call finally arrived, I opened it with dread and anticipation. Where had my dart landed? Did my caller have a bad commute to work and was so pissed that he was going to send 20 guys to the Tapeworm Jungle Bug mission?

Did my dart maybe just bounce off and hit the floor, thus making me exempt? (yeah, right)

As I opened the letter I couldn't help but feel like Charlie Bucket as he opened up his Willy Wonka chocolate bar looking for a golden ticket. Had my sherm plan saved me from cat casserole for two years? Two long, miserable, Slim-Fast years?

My dart had landed in, drum roll please…

GEORGIA!!! WOOHOO!!! U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!

Burger Kings and Dairy Queens! Piggly Wiggly grocery stores with Froot Loops on aisle 12 and Spam on aisle 9!!! National Enquirers to pretend I wasn't reading as I stood in line!!!!!!

Awhile later it occurred to me that I must have REALLY done bad on that language skill test to have been sent to the deep south. There's no way they're going to trust this enemahead with sacred doctrines in Europe or Asia. It kind of sounds like the spy biz. Agent 007 gets the cool foreign assignments because he's suave and sophisticated and good looking. He's what the US wants everyone else in the world to think what American men are all about. Meanwhile, Inspector Gadget gets the domestic assignments because we don't have to worry about him stealing away the member's daughters.

Yep, I reckon I done went to Georgia cause of them there language scores I got me on that test. A year later my brother was a'fixin' to head on out to his mission, so I says to him, "I reckon if'n's y'all bomb that there language test, y'all can stay here in the good ol' US of A." So he did and got sent to Mississippi.

I reckon me and my brother done went and fooled them callers real good this time, yessir.


1The Telestial Kingdom, in Mormon doctrine, is the lowest sphere of Heaven. It's not actually a bad place—nothing like Hell—but rather a second-rate afterlife from which the departed souls gaze mournfully across the tracks at the opulent Celestial Kingdom, to which all Mormons aspire to go, and which is only achieved through living a "saintly" (i.e., obedient) life. While the true-blue Mormons are driving brand-new Escalades in the Celestial Kingdom, we unbelievers will be puttering around in a rusted out 1968 Dodge Dart. Here, Playelder is using the term telestial to mean "inferior."

2The president of the LDS Church supposedly receives revelations directly from God. (You probably already knew this.) Less widely known is that anyone can </a>hop on the divine party line</a>, though the reception is rather spotty, as you might expect. Of course, your personal revelation only counts if it affirms the absolute truth of the Church and/or the wisdom of behaving exactly as the Church elders say. If your revelation tells you to smoke a bong in your local church parking lot, something obviously got garbled in transmission.

3Gordon B. Hinckley, Church president from 1995 until this January, when he gave up the ghost unexpectedly at the tender young age of 98. It wasn't until 1994 that the Mormon Church had a president born in the 20th century.

4Preparation Day, the day of the week during which missionaries are allowed to relax—briefly—from their duties, and to go shopping and take care of other necessities. If they're lucky, a missionary and his partner might get to go see a movie. A Church-approved movie, of course.

5Sweet spirit is a versatile Mormon cliché, here used as a euphemism for a nice, but plain-looking, woman.

6I had to look this one up. Korihor, an apostate and general rabble-rouser, was deafened and muted by God for his outrageous skepticism, according to the Book of Mormon.

7One of the "secret handshakes" in the Mormon temple endowment ceremony, before sweeping changes were instituted in 1990, involved chanting the words "Pay Lay Ale" thrice. In the Adamite language this meant, "O God, hear the words of my mouth."

8A stake is the second smallest administrative unit in the Church, consisting of several wards (congregations). When I lived in Utah a stake generally encompassed about 500 families.

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chillyrodent From: chillyrodent Date: July 25th, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
You didn't mention that it might be triggering!

Jehovah's Witnesses have a similar sort of appointmental pathway to God. I was a pioneer, which requires all sorts of Hank Ass-Kissing to be recommended, and then the hopeful appointee waits anxiously for their application to be approved or rejected by the Governing Body, who represents the Faithful and Discreet Slave, who stands in for Jesus, who is Jehovah's right-hand man.

Basically, there is a desk across which all these application flow, there is some sort of en masse prayer over a wob of them, and barring any alarming sign, they are all approved.
6_bleen_7 From: 6_bleen_7 Date: July 26th, 2008 04:34 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't envy you your first-hand experience in this regard. From what I gather, missionary work for the JWs is heavily based on "the numbers"—hours served, baptisms batted in, etc.—just as it is in the LDS Church.
chillyrodent From: chillyrodent Date: July 26th, 2008 01:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, you're right. It's very number-oriented. We reported those numbers every month.
6_bleen_7 From: 6_bleen_7 Date: July 29th, 2008 05:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm not surprised. I'll write this up as an entry someday, but once, when I was in graduate school at the U. of Utah, my best friend in 9th grade, who I hadn't seen since high school, appeared in the first-year medical school class. Like everyone else, he took the histology class I was TAing. At one point he invited me over for dinner, for which I agreed to tutor him in some sticky points of the class afterward. Well, about four minutes after I started helping him with the class his bishop called (n.b.: a Mormon bishop is equivalent to a pastor or reverend, as every Mormon congregation has one). They spent the next two hours talking, while I sat there, slowly decomposing from boredom. And the sole topic of conversation was money. My friend sounded far more like an accountant than a parishoner. That incident has really stuck in my mind.
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6_bleen_7 From: 6_bleen_7 Date: July 26th, 2008 04:26 am (UTC) (Link)
That surprises me very little, given the throngs who used to clog every street within a mile of the Ballard Bridge. I don't know anything about their program, however. I'm perfectly fine with it, if Mars Hill is a kind of mellow, "hippy"-type church like some Unitarian congregations. However, if some lunatic like John Hagee is at the helm, I'll have to revise my impression of the overall sensibility of Seattlites.
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6_bleen_7 From: 6_bleen_7 Date: August 1st, 2008 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's not good. Still, I found them considerably less frightening that the "megachurches" operating all over the US. We have one, several miles south of our former residence. The place has its own food court, for Chrissakes. Not to mention an incredibly aggressive bumper sticker distributor. Half the old, beat-up Cadillacs in town are sporting one: "'THE WORD' CHURCH," they say, in a font and text style that just scream "default settings." They must cost about a dollar per ten thousand to manufacture, else the church would have gone bankrupt by now.
6 people said howdyTalk to me!