Sunday, April 11, 2010

Strange encounters over the years.

For most of us there are encounters with others that we remember well. We may forget some details, we might not even remember the person's name, but we remember the conversation. I thought I'd recount some of them for the pure amusement value.

The first encounter I remember well was when I was in high school. The county fair was practically across the street from the house. It was here that I ran into the Socialist Workers Party. They had a booth there espousing the virtues of socialism. Having, to that point, never met a self-declared socialist I thought I would talk with them.

The idea that someone as young as I was then would speak to them excited them. One of their members went into trying to explain how I was being exploited by my part-timer employer—a local bakery. Even though I had not yet read much economics the whole theory seemed based on some pretty obvious fallacies.

I was told that anyone who earns wages by an employer is not being paid the full value of their wages since all value is created by labor. So that meant that I, as an employee, could not be profitably employed without being exploited. The rather old socialist later started bragging about how the party he belonged to was even older than he was. And he gave me some newspaper that they published. He bragged that they owned a printing company in New York City which produced the paper.

The moment he said that I asked: "Oh, so does this printing company hire people for wages to produce the paper?" I wish I could say that he responded. He glared at me for a moment and then walked off without ever responding. But it was an incident I remember with a certain amount of glee.

In chronological order the next incident I remember was a protest against Anita Bryant. A few thousand people came out to picket a concert she was doing. And I went to join them. A small group of fundamentalists were there with a counter-picket. Having recently escaped their mentality I challenged them.

The leader of the group was some young theology student. He was praising Bryant's antigay campaign because gay sex was inherently immoral. I asked why that was and he said: "Because all sex outside of marriage is immoral." That was just the opening I was looking for. "All sex?" I asked again, loud enough for everyone watching the confrontation to hear. "Absolutely," chimed the self-assured preacher. Now it was time to move in for the kill. "Really, so tell me, do you masturbate?"

This sort of honest discussion was not something he was used to having. He stammered for a second and you could see he was trying to figure out how to answer this. In all likelihood an honest answer would have meant he would have to condemn himself and he knew this would lose him credibility in the debate. After a few seconds he decided the best answer is a lying answer: "No, of course not," he replied.

With that he started to smile thinking he had won the debate. My reply was short: "Well, perhaps that's your problem."

The large audience that had formed to watch the confrontation broke into laughter. If that wasn't bad enough the counter-protesters who with the young man were snickering as well. And once an audience is laughing at you, and not with you, you have lost them. People were not just laughing at him, they had also decided he had no credibility whatsoever. The conversation ended there and he and his crew left a few minutes later.

I also remember the day some Mormon missionaries decided to visit me. They had actually called earlier in the day. I and a friend had visited the LDS Visitor's Center in Salt Lake City on a cross country trip. Somehow they ended up with my address and phone number. I had made it clear that I didn't welcome their visit. But that didn't stop them. They showed up anyway.

When I opened the door and found them there I was not in the mood for light banter. I was going for blood. The lead missionary said they came to talk about the "church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints." I said: "Fine, wait here." I went to my library and grabbed a huge stack of Mormon literature and books including training manuals I had on how to be a missionary.

I brought a stack, about 2 to 3 feet high, out to the table and dropped them rather loudly down in front the missionary. I gave him enough time to see what I had in hand before I started in. I wasn't going to let him talk while I listen, I was going to cross-examine him right from the start.

I said: "Tell me, do you agree with Joseph Smith where he said in the King Follet Discourse, 'as man is now god once was, as god is now man may be?'" This is a direct reference to Joseph Smith's claim that the secret temple rituals of the Mormon sect will prepare believers to become gods themselves. In this discourse Smith revealed that he was a polytheist and that all men would eventually become gods and that all gods were once men.

The missionary agreed with Smith, not like he had much choice. I then asked: "If god was once a man, who created him?" "Another god," he answered. I replied, "And he too was once a man?" The answer was "yes."

I said: "Fine, let's go back to then to the first man. If each god was once a man, then where did the first man come from since there could be no god before him? "

What I got was not a reply but an explosion of anger. The young man literally shouted: "I didn't come here to argue. I just came to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ." He turned to the door and literally flung it open, slamming it into the wall and bolted out into the hall of the apartment building. The novice missionary was left standing there by himself. He looked a bit chagrined and somewhat saddened by the whole thing. He shrugged his shoulders and gestured that he didn't know what happened and sheepishly followed his angry compatriot.

For the sake of brevity I will recount just one more such incident, this time with Jehovah's Witnesses. When I lived in San Francisco it was my policy to ignore the doorbell. Friends knew to call me before arriving. Anyone who rang the doorbell was either there for political purposes or religious purposes and I wasn't interested in dealing with any of it.

That day a flat mate called and begged me to answer the door it the bell rang. He was expecting a parcel delivery and if no one answered when the bell was rung he would have to go to the post office to pick it up. So I agreed to answer the door. Sure enough the bell rang mid-day as expected.

I ran down the first flight of stairs from my apartment to the door to the apartment, and then down a second flight to front door. That door was glass and just as I made it around the corner I saw two women. I knew they weren't the post office but it was too late to ignore them since they had seen me.

I opened the door and she started: "Excuse me sir, we are doing a survey on good government." I contemplated explaining to her the nature of an oxymoron. Instead I figure, based on the theology of Jehovah's Witnesses, that whatever I said would give her a chance to start preaching. Had I said I did believe in good government she would talk about the government of God when the kingdom was established on earth. If I said that it was an oxymoron she would discuss the evil nature of man's governments compared to the goodness of God's government.

Not wanting a sermon I said: "You're a Jehovah's Witness, aren't you?"

She was shocked that she was uncovered so easily. She nodded that she was. "No, thank you," I said, "but I'm an atheist."

Telling a religious nut you are an atheist is like waving meat in front of a hungry dog. She jumped: "Have you always felt this way?"

"It is not a feeling," I said, "it is a conclusion based on the evidence."

"What about the universe?" she countered.

"If you are going to say that the universe is an incredible place I would agree with you. If you then assume that it therefor must have a creator I would reply that the creator would have to be more incredible than the universe itself. And by your own logic he then would be more in need of a creator than would the universe itself."

She seemed baffled. This didn't seem to be something she was trained to reply to, so she changed topics instead. "What about time?" she asked.

"Time is a measurement by which man measures himself against the actions of the universe," I said. Unlike the Mormon missionary there was no outburst. But I know what that was. The Mormon was angry precisely because he understood the nature of my argument with him. Our poor JW was simply too intellectually challenged to understand what I said. She simply did not understand my arguments where the Mormon had. She just said, "thank you," and turned around and walked away. However, they never did come back, something I do appreciate.

That's one socialist, one fundamentalist, two Mormons, and two JW's: that covers four the silliest religious sects of the modern world.