The Mormons apparently don't get mocked enough, so they have opened a new web-based service called Chat with a Mormon.
In this, you can go to a chat window very much like any decent customer support system and talk to two Mormon missionaries.
I decided to try it out. The first thing that happens is, you're asked by the chat facility itself what you want to talk about. I suspect this also confirms the site's guess (based on IP-geolocation and/or browser settings) as to what language you want to use.
I chose a topic that no religious person has ever answered for me satisfactorily, that being: is there a logical reason to believe? I figure if they are putting these people out into the world, they should be able to handle that.
The essence of their answer was, we get answers to prayers in our minds from the Holy Ghost and that is how we know what is true. Suffice to say, I did not find this any more satisfactory.
The chat facility is clearly designed more for them to teach and preach at whoever shows up than for honest discussion, but this is also not a big surprise. What I did find surprising was that they kept me on for a solid hour, even though they should have known within five minutes I was never going to be a convert. But then, I don't know how they accumulate the "brownie points" they get for missionary work. For all I know, talk-time is a big-deal metric. I was also disappointed in the poor preparation of these two workers. Not that I want to be giving them tips but how do they expect to relate well to people who live in the world if they know nothing about it? Check their response about newspapers....
There is a full transcript of the session after the jump. I edited it only for formatting and to fix that annoying chat phenomenon where responses show up in the transcript disconnected by a line or two from the statement to which they respond.
Enjoy! You can also try it yourself. I would be interested to know in the comments if they only staff this with females, so as to get women their missionary hash-marks without having to send them out into the actual yucky world.
Thank you for your interest in chatting with a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What would you like to talk about?
D: Rational basis for beliefs? Now chatting with Sister Jeon Now chatting with Sister Snow
S: Hello David. S: Hi! Sister Jeon and I will be chatting with you
D: Hi, Sister
S: Our beliefs come directly from the teachings of Jesus Christ, namely the Gospel.
D: How do you know
S: Do you believe in Jesus Christ David?
D: no but you seem so certain how do you know
S: Do you have any religious background?
D: yes, but it's irrelevant
S: We came to know this for ourselves, would you care to learn how?
D: you collected evidence?
S: We receive personal witnesses that testify to us that the teachings of Christ are true. This is accomplished through Prayer. Have you ever prayed before?
D: personal witnesses? other people?
D: (after three minutes' silence) wow this should not be so hard to answer
S: No, we believe that through prayer, we can receive personal answers from God, through the Holy Ghost.
D: i see. so you hear this in your own mind.
S: Please open this link and turn to page 17 (link to Mormon missionary manual PDF, click at your own risk)
S: The Holy Ghost is a Spirit personage that testifies to us in our hearts and in our minds of truth. In the Bible, Galatians 5:22-23 it says that "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.." This is how we can recognise answers to our prayers.
D: so when you feel OK about your thoughts you attribute those thoughts to a separate, divine entity?
S: It's not a feeling of 'OK'. The Holy Ghost brings powerful feelings to our hearts through feelings, thoughts and impressions. These feelings are a confirmation from the Holy Ghost that the message you are receiving is true. The spirit testify the truth of all things. When you feel those feelings the spirit is with you and testify to you it's true. This is how we can know truth.
D: so when you feel POWERFULLY OK about your thoughts, you attribute those thoughts to a separate, divine entity?
S: Could you please rephrase the question? :)
D: You pray, which I at least consider a form of meditation. The meditation guides your thoughts and feelings into the state you desire it to. Then you let those thoughts and feeling wash over you and enjoy them: and that is what you attribute (with no real basis but it's your mind, do what you want) to a separate, divine entity.
S: No, there is a difference between our own thoughts and feelings to the thoughts and feelings that God gives us through the Holy Ghost. We can teach you how to test this out and see for yourself. Only then will you be able to know for yourself that what we are teaching is true.
D: Test? I love tests, as long as they have a way to pass and a way to fail, and an explicable mechanism for why one or the other happens, and an objective way to tell which is which. Does your test meet all those criteria? Or even one of them?
D: Is there anything I could have asked you about the test to which you would have said no? well, ok I did make it easy with the "or even one" at the end
S: This is a scripture from the Book of Mormon. The prophet Moroni teaches us how we can receive this personal witness for ourselves that Jesus is the Christ and that His teachings are true.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. 5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
D: Scripture is not evidence of anything except words on paper
S: No, you need to act on what the scripture teaches. Please read it.
D: stop stop stop scripture is useless to you with me. scripture is trumped up, false authority. I can type words too. you would reject them but I bet I could get SOME chump to accept them
S: Do you believe in prophets?
D: define prophet
S: A man called of God, who receives direct revelation to teach and guide the Lord's children on earth.
D: OK, to me, you just defined "con-man." whether he is one of his own victims or not is an open question. so yes I believe such people exist I see them on TV and street corners all the time. evidence! :)
D: (after four minutes' silence) Two on one, you should be making better progress :)
S: You seems like you want to know about God is exist.
D: Nope, I do not question that any more
S: So you do believe in God?
S: What do you want to learn about the Gospel?
D: Hm, not about that really, except as a side issue to why you guys believe it, without evidence, strongly enough to staff this chatroom about it. Your epistemology is so foreign to me (and not the least bit tempting so I would not fault you for declining to waste any more time with me, should you choose)
S: The Gospel bless our life. Our lives will be more happier and peace. One thing that I love the Gospel is that Our family is more united as we follow Jesus Christ's teaching.
D: are you using a computer? and the Internet?
D: can you show me where those were described in any Gospel? (written before 1950) :)
D: (after two minutes' silence) never mind, of course not, it's a dumb question. Listen: religious texts have two kinds of pronouncements in them. Obvious principles for a minimally functional society (e.g, don't kill each other or steal each other's stuff) and gnomic claptrap designed to keep the priestly class in gold and wine. the former makes the latter seem credible. None of it is needed to live a happy peaceful life. I live a much happier and more peaceful life since I shed it all
D: (after six minutes' silence) the lengthy pauses make me think you two are arguing (collegially, of course) about what to say :)
S: That's great. We are not force you to know more about the Gospel. It's up to you to accept and live the Gospel. But I do know that God is our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is our Savior. Through Jesus Christ We can live with God again.
D: and that brings me back to "know". what is the threshold for you to decide that something you perceive is true? it seems low - and off to one side - compared to mine
S: Sorry, I'm learning English, I couldn't understand what you mean. Can you explain easily please?
D: do you read a newspaper? in any language?
S: As a missionary We focus on our work so we can't read a newspaper.
D: what do you read besides gospels and missionary manuals?
S: We study the Gospel so we read the scriptures.
D: aside from that, anything?
D: I really wish you well. I think you're very patient to put yourselves through this. But I don't think your very-focused training equips you to discuss what I wanted to discuss. On the other hand, your English is coming along beautifully.
S: Sorry, what did you want to discuss?
D: 1) why you believe the religious texts are true. 2) What kind of epistemology supports that belief without giving you a nervous breakdown (I admit to *presuming* that it does this).
D: but we keep looping around to you telling me you don't understand, and asking what I want to discuss.
S: We spoke about Prayer and the Holy Ghost. This is the only way you can come to know the truth of anything.
D: what is the bus fare to go to school from home, where you live?
S: We are serving in New Zealand.
D: ok what city? (if you are allowed to say, if not, that's OK) I have a friend in Christchurch
S: Are you interested in learning about how to receive personal answers from God? If not we will let you go.
D: um, if that is our criterion for continuing, I guess you had better let me go.
S: It's nice meeting you David.
S: Hope you find out your questions.
D: as if I am on some worldwide search? Cute. Just killing an hour and maybe getting a blog post out of it
S: Okay. Have a good night.
D: u 2