“I’m really sorry about this.”
My flight from Salt Lake City to San Francisco was delayed for almost an hour and God had sent a Mormon to apologize. She didn’t work for the airline — we’d just fallen into conversation and she felt a need to say sorry that my trip to Salt Lake was ending with two hours of pretzels and frustration in the departure lounge of SLC airport.
I told her she didn’t need to apologize. She looked at me like I was an idiot: of course she needed to apologize. (I can sympathize: I’m British and I have the same urge to take responsibility whenever someone treads on my toe.)
Only as I write these words does it occur to me how weirdly offensive that sounds: “a Mormon” — like this lady — Krissie? Christie? Probably the latter, all told — is not so much a human and more of a mythical creature, one of the genus of “Mormons” indigenous to Salt Lake. Would I seriously write about meeting “a Jew”, “a Catholic” or— heaven forfend — “a Muslim”? I would not.
But that’s the thing — a thing that was really driven home during my three days in Salt Lake — Mormons are a different species. They are quite simply not like you and me. Mormons are nice to the point where the only logical explanation is that they’re deliberately fucking with you. Niceness has infected Salt Lake like a smiley, door-holding cancer. A cancer that apologizes profusely before spreading to your liver and face.
“Hello friends!” said the three girls who crossed our path at the top of the Ensign Peak, following a troublingly grueling ten minute hike to the summit where Brigham Young looked out over Salt Lake and thought, “Yep, this’ll do”. Their friendliness would be less remarkable had they not arrived just as we were loudly debating the merits of a town built by a cult. Our disrespect for everything they believe in didn’t faze them. “Hello friends!” they said. And they meant it.
A couple of days earlier — immediately after I landed in Salt Lake — Mark Ames (above) had driven me in the NSFWCORPMOBILE — a puke green Mustang, bought with his expense account — out to the new Brigham City temple, an hour outside Salt Lake proper.
We arrived thirty minutes late for our tour but were ushered straight in. “Welcome friends!” Once consecrated, only card-carrying members of the Mormon church are permitted inside the temple: a card of introduction from a Mormon elder being a condition of entry. So a month-long open house period allows Jews and Catholics like Ames and me to poke our noses around and satisfy ourselves that nothing creepy lurks behind those dull white walls.
Conclusion: Nothing creepy lurks behind those dull white walls.
In fact, barely anything at all lurks behind those dull white walls. Rather than having one giant chamber of worship, Mormon Temples are divided into a series of small rooms. There’s a baptism room, where a herd of twelve oxen support the huge marble font used for the baptism of the dead. A sign posted in the doorway explains to guests that [contrary to what you might have heard] corpse baptism only occurs with the explicit, posthumous permission of the departed.
Then there’s the binding room: where families — husbands, wives and their children — are “bound” together, not just for life but for all eternity. And of course there’s the candy room where giant sugar flowers grow wild and a chocolate lake threatens to sweep Augustus Gloop to his doom.
The Mormons on the tour could barely contain their appreciation for their new temple: “It’s so wonderful!” said one, “It’s just incredible how classy it is!” near-wept another. In truth, I felt like I was wandering through the wedding chapel at the Bellagio in Vegas. That very American form of luxury — white carpets, glass chandeliers, mirrors — all precisely calculated to offend no one.
Back in Salt Lake we took another tour: this time of Temple Square, and the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Our hosts were two 21-year-old girls, one from Switzerland and the other from Monglolia. That makes sense: Utah Mormons travel to Mongolia and Switzerland to proselytize — and so the Swiss and Monglolian sisters come to Utah to do the same. The Swiss sister had far better English (it was only week three for the Mongolian) so she led the way: talking us through the miracle of the seagulls — where God sent seagulls to eat the locusts which were eating the early Mormon settlers’ crops. “It teaches us that God will always answer our prayers,” explained Swiss Mormon. “I often pray to God for help, and he delivers.”
“Does he generally still use seagulls for the delivery?” I asked. Because I’m a dick.
“No, no.” she replied. Because she isn’t.
Finally, twenty minutes into the tour, the books of Mormon appeared. The first I’d seen on my trip. Here it comes, I thought — the hard sell. But nope: all we got was a rudimentary explanation of how the book overlaps with the other books of the bible. “So it’s not a sequel — like The Godfather Part Three?” I asked. She took a stab at the reference. “No, it’s not a sequel,” she explained, “it overlaps the same time. The bible is from ancient Jerusalem, the book of Mormon tells the story of ancient America.”
And there lies the rub. Almost no part of the book of Mormon makes sense — not even to the extent the bible does: reflecting some actual, albeit corrupted historical events. Jesus almost certainly existed, but he sure as all hell never showed up in Utah. The idea that the Garden of Eden was found in Jackson County, Missouri is geographical pandering of the worst sort. But only the world’s most obnoxious jerk-off would say that to those two girls. Likewise, bringing up the weirdness of a religion that bans drinks based on their temperature.
“Do you often get visitors who want to argue with you?” I asked the Swiss Mormon. She laughed. “Oh, no, that never ever happens.” She explained my question to her Mongolian charge. She laughed too. The sisters are given cell phones to call for help if things get too heated. “But we don’t argue,” she said, “we just walk away if people aren’t interested in talking to us. And we don’t try to convince anyone to believe what we say.”
It’s true, at least for those two. Ames even tried to bait them into the hard sell: “So what would be the next step if someone was interested in converting?” he asked. Swiss sister looked shocked — perhaps because Ames and I had identified ourselves as, respectively, a lapsed Jew and Catholic. (“What is this word — ’lapsed’?” she asked).
“Oh, we don’t tell you what to do next,” she insisted, “We just give you this … ” She handed over a printed card with space for a name, address and email … “and encourage you to read the Book of Mormon. If you decide you would like to discuss more then you can ask that someone from the church visit you to discuss more.”
A double-opt-in religion. It’s impossible to dislike these people.