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Tasteless testimonial

July 14, 2011

A door-to-door sales representative came by our house pedaling some educational reference books for school-aged children. We’re all about reading and education in our house, so we let him in. I told him that the books seemed all right, but I just wasn’t sure if we’d use them since information is so readily available on the Internet. I wanted to know what others had to say about the books after having them for a while. This is when he pulled out a little purple, flowery journal.

He handed it to me explaining that when he knocks on the door of a family who has previously bought the books, he asks them to write a testimonial. I read through the testimonials with interest — it seems a number of people who have the books do use them and like them. Then I came across one entry that wasn’t exactly the testimonial the salesperson was looking for.

After giving the salesperson some advice about how he could improve his sales, the person wrote, seemingly apropos of nothing, “If you want to know the meaning of life or why you’re here, go to mormon.org or lds.org.”

Maybe the church member had a throwback to mission days and mistakenly thought he had rung the doorbell. I know, I know—the writer was probably thinking he was just tryin’ to share the good news of the restored gospel. But isn’t it clear why such a statement would be insulting? Okay, I’ll spell it out for you.

“If you want to know” kinda sounds like, “I know, but you clearly don’t know. Soooo, if you want to know what I know….”

The definite article “the” in “the meaning of life” conveys that there definitely is a meaning—just one meaning. And you too can be handed the meaning of your life on a golden tablet by visiting mormon.org.

Incidentally the sales rep and I laughed about this testimonial. Turns out he’s atheist too.

Mormons, like most theists, have very concrete answers to life’s three big questions: Where did I come from?, Why am I here?, and Where am I going? But look what happens when you reject supernaturalism, as atheists do.

Where did I come from?

Image from Where Did I Come From, the book that taught me about the birds and the bees.

Really, before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, any answer to this question is pure speculation. Just look at all the world’s creation myths. But to know that my earliest ancestors emerged some 3.8 billion years ago, now that’s fascinating, and all the more so because there is evidence to back it up.

Why?

Why am I here?

Well, according to mormon.org, I’m here to get a body and to choose to follow God’s plan. Never mind that meaning in life is personally and socially constructed, not some inherent, predetermined dictate.

Far be it from me to tell anyone what their purpose in life is. I can only speak for myself. My purpose is to be the best father to my boys that I can be, to be an effective university professor, and to stand up for reason and truth. Compare this with “obtain a body” (that was easy) and “follow God’s plan.”

Where am I going?

I’ve often thought religion has a bit of an incentive problem anyway. So we get to live with God in heaven when we die? I don’t know, I guess I envision living with God being a bit like living with Grandma. Don’t run around or make noise. Bored? Deal with it. And DON’T TOUCH THAT! Heaven—it’s just so vague (intentionally so).

As Lou and Peter Berryman sing in their song “Glorious Prediction,”

Will there be less TV football if you don’t like football?
Will there be more TV football if you do?
And if you’re not sure if you like it, will there be some football
When the glorious prediction comes true?

Understanding that death’s blow is final, I know that the only things that will survive my death are approximately one half of my genes in my three sons and anything I happen to write, which of course is only worth anything if someone reads it.

No afterlife also means that if you want to do good in the world, this is your only shot. There are no second chances, no opportunities to make things right, and no divine justice (rats!). An LDS acquaintance put it to me in an email this way:

As a ‘believer’, it’s very shameful that other believers don’t do more. I have to wonder why that is. Perhaps they have the thought that because God is in charge that it doesn’t matter too much what they do because God will bless or help anyone that needs help. Perhaps atheists believe, that since there is no God, they are the actors in good/bad and can enrich lives by their own actions. I have noticed that the friends that I have that have joined groups, such as the Peace Corps, have been atheist.

*  *  *

Some people find the answers provided by reality to be troubling. Indeed, much of religion’s appeal lies in believing that you are sent to earth with a purpose, that you’re loved, and that you’ll be reunited with your loving creator when you die. Unfortunately, the answers ring hollow once you demand evidence.

I find reality’s answers to be much more satisfying than any answer religion can provide because they’re true. At least, they’re the best answers we have based on information the real world offers us. And reality’s answers are all the more reason for us to appreciate this life, to do good in this life. It’s the only one we’ve got.

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3 Comments
  1. Jonathan permalink

    I think most religious do point out that this life is still your only shot to get it right. Only those faiths that believe in reincarnation do not. The next life, however you interpret it, is the consequence for the choices you made in this life. “This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32).

    To ascertain that there is one truth is offensive? Is that not what you do? Simultaneously, at least from my point of view, I do not condemn another for their beliefs, even if they differ from mine. I simply believe I have more to offer than they already possess. Even an atheist believes in much truth, has a meaning to life, and can be a good person. It’s just that I believe there is more. I don’t find it offensive any time an atheist tells me I’m wrong, as long as he/she is respectful. Why is the opposite so offensive?

  2. Chandler permalink

    Mormonism is a form of christianity, must I point it out. I am baptized Mormon but I prefer to be agnostic. Everyone separates Christianity and Mormonism, but Mormonism is a form of Christianity.

  3. adtalarmmiami permalink

    Very well written post Atheist dad. I get what you’re saying but I look at the world around me and it screams creation. One of the things you said is that you find meaning in life by standing for reason but to me it would seem unreasonable to think that evolution is responsible for creating such a perfect system. When I think about it , I conclude that it would take much greater faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in a master architect.
    Just sharing my thoughts. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

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