I had an interesting encounter the other day. I thought I'd chronicle it here because it perfectly encapsulates my approach to religion…
It's Sunday afternoon, and I'm sitting in front of my house while my daughter and her friends play some overly complex game involving sidewalk chalk on the driveway. I'm nominally watching them, but they're being good, so I'm mostly relaxing, having a beer, and reading a book.
I didn't see them walk up, but suddenly two young men wearing black pants, white shirts, dark ties, and name tags appear from behind our car.
I startled a bit, and it took me a second to process everything and recognize that Mormons were afoot.
I stand up. "Hello." "Hi."
I start to make my "I'm deeply sorry, but I'm not at all interested in talking to you right now" face, but they begin talking before it can take effect. I'm far too polite to outright send them away, so… we'll see where this goes.
"How are you?", "Fine.", etc. We talk about the children for a moment. I point out mine.
"Someone up the road said to look for the houses with all the bikes in front, because someone is home most times." (Hmmm, must find out who referred me!) "We're with the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and we're just talking to people about the Heavenly Father."
Nodding, non-committal, I say, "Ah."
"Do you belong to some faith now?"
"Eh… no. We're not religious."
There's a curious expression on their faces which I can't quite describe, much less name.
"We believe there is a direct line of communication with the Heavenly Father. You said you're not religious. But you believe in God, right?"
"Well, no. I don't," I say, with that small head tilt and palms-up shrug which means "Eh, no biggie".
Now, I've heard the term "it boggles the mind" before, and heard people say they "boggled", but I've never seen it visually demonstrated.
Then one got excited. "Can I ask why? I've always wanted to ask… uh, someone, why."
Could it be? Could it be that they've never run across a non-religious person until this very minute? Or, all the non-religious people they encounter always find a way to end the meeting early? It's like they studied about it in class, but never had a chance to see it in the field.
Why? That's simple enough: "I've never seen a reason to think it's true."
For an instant, one appeared visibly crest-fallen. I think he was hoping for me to say something stereotypical like "Religion is evil and causes so many problems" or "There's so much pain and suffering in the world" or something.
"If I may ask: what if God is real?" He said, politely.
"Well, you could ask that about anything, I guess: 'What if Allah is real?' 'What if the Hindu gods are real?'" I pause, wondering if I should name others, deciding not to. "I've never found a reason to think any of it is true." I said conversationally, with a few "Eh, no biggie" gestures thrown in.
There was a few seconds of "hmmmm"s alternating with silences.
"What do you think our purpose is?", one asks.
"I'm not sure there is one. I think we're just here. We make our own purpose."
Not quite accepting it, he asks, "I mean, why are we here? What are we supposed to do? Is our purpose to work a lot and get a lot of money and get toys for our kids?"
"Like I said, I think each person makes their own purpose. We're just here, and we figure out what to do."
At this point, I think he decided to circle back the wagons to the main pitch:
"Well, we invite you to consider talking directly with the Heavenly Father, and seeing what's there."
I'm not sure exactly how to respond. I mean, I've just told them I don't believe in any gods, but now they want me to start talking to theirs? I manage, "Um, I was raised religious, so I have been there already. Like I said, I dropped it when I couldn't find any reasons to believe it was true."
"Ah, ok," says the main guy, which brought the philosophical portion of the conversation to an end.
A few pleasantries were exchanged.
They asked if I knew of anyone else along the street they could visit. I explained that the neighbors were out, etc.
We wished each other nice days, shook hands, and they walked back down the street, talking amongst themselves, presumably pursuing their purpose.
I went back to my book, my beer, and my kid.