Encounter with the Mormons

The ubiquity of the Gimbap Chonguks (김밥천국) in Busan is matched only by the ubiquity of certain other infamous economic powerhouses which advertise themselves in the city by use of a peculiarly idiosyncratic whirling barbershop pole that always has the same faded blue and red (almost pink) colors and always turns so quickly that these colors blur into a sort of fluid whirlpool. You’ll find (at least) one flashing on every street. As for the Gimbap Chonguks—Gimbap is similar to sushi (just with bits of ham and vegetables instead of raw fish) and has been a near-everyday staple of my diet here for thirteen months thanks to its relative decency and inarguable cheapness; “Chonguk” means “Heaven”—you can generally find one within a ten-minute walk of the other. A combination of my own cheapness, my bottomless western belly, and the vicious, viscous deliciousness of this restaurant, has resulted in my dying numerous times and going to gimbap heaven.

This is a chain restaurant in Korea apparently on the same level as “Macdonalduh”, though it is far more sui generis, and every time I tell a Korean I’m going to one I must do so with some show of embarrassment and amusement, despite the fact that the meals, which rarely go beyond five dollars for one person, are at least as good as anything at a more expensive restaurant, and are sometimes far better. I’m afraid I don’t quite understand certain aspects of the very popular Korean barbecue, which generally just results in a lot of smoke, shouting, and maybe a few scraps of charred meat wrapped in lettuce, which you must cook yourself, for $10 per person—my favorite restaurant in Korea is a local Gimbap Chonguk, which is staffed by three generations of a family that I have more-or-less gotten to know during my sojourn here.

Anyway, digressions aside, I found myself in Seomyeon yesterday night with a trio of friendly Turks—this is the heart of the city, a place where one does not walk on a sidewalk so much as a sort of soft mattress of sex fliers and smoldering cigarette butts adhering to a gummy layer of phlegm—the place is populated by a mix of young women enslaved by short skirts and high heels, young men with black, horn-rimmed glasses who will be transformed into prim trim suits and ties after their two-year stint of getting screamed at in the military, and an older, shorter, rambunctious generation of phlegm-spewing yokels who purchase sex from the women—searching for a good place to eat, which was far more difficult than it should have been (no shellfish soup for me, no non-halal meet for my friends), but, of course, you can never find what you need when you actually start to look for it, and rather than eating at the spectacular, otherworldly Bap Sang (closed at 9:30 on a Friday?????), we found ourselves at a Gimbap Chonguk in the company of three Mormons sitting at a nearby table.

Now what distinguishes a Mormon missionary in Busan from the other Westerners, which consist almost entirely of either lascivious Russians (or Russian families in possession of little blond blue-eyed children and broad-backed patriarchs) or degenerate English teachers? The uniform of the typical English teacher is slovenly, laid-back, cheap; the accouterments of a loser and a reject, identifiable by his distinct wideness, his advancing baldness, his isolation, and the Star Wars novel he reads on the subway—the typical Mormon in Busan will always have three things: a professional demeanor (short hair and business attire), a black bag of some sort slung over his shoulder, and a distinct aura of being totally uncomfortable and out of place among so many hell-bound heathens who have not heard the translated word of that scam artist and polygamist Joseph Smith. They will always be in pairs, at least, lest they be corrupted by free thought, and, apparently, they speak impeccable Korean, no doubt because they believe they will spend eternity burning in hell in the company of evil coffee drinkers if they fail to kowtow to their elder masters locked away in the organ-like megaliths of Salt Lake City, men who will not rest until everyone on Earth believes that Native Americans are the descendants of evil Israelis.

Two men and one woman were there—the leader, an older, taller, silver-haired scruff-cheeked doppleganger of Tim Robbins, whom I have actually seen in person; the subordinate, a bald black-bearded fellow with the aforementioned black bag; and the provider-of-children-for-the-cause, a gaunt harpy as sharp and bony as a pterodactyl, whose knife-like hips will surely pinch the rosy cheeks of the army of infants she will soon force out, kicking and screaming, from her stale uterus. I wanted to ask Mormon Tim Robbins if they had met the day’s soul quota but instead I settled for giggling about the ridiculousness of it all with the Turks while Mr. Robbins directed maybe one or two disdainful grimaces in our blasphemous direction. This was the extent of our interactions.

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9 thoughts on “Encounter with the Mormons

  1. Jennifer says:

    Dude, you should call me next time you end up in Seomyeon on a Friday night. I’m generally doing absolutely nothing and laughing at Mormons sounds much more amusing than nothing.

  2. Seth R. says:

    Your description of the missionaries sounds more like you projecting your own general hostility towards religion than any real insight to what the missionaries are thinking.

    I was a missionary in Japan back in 1994, and I can assure you, I didn’t waste a whole lot of time thinking about how “wicked” anyone else was.

    Secondly, from your description, these weren’t even Mormon missionaries to begin with.

    LDS missionaries are YOUNG men or women age 19 to 24. They travel in pairs of the same gender (it’s more of a safety thing than anything else), and they have a pretty standard uniform which you didn’t really describe entirely accurately.

    They would not be the age of your “Tim Robbins” character, they would not be grouped two guys and one girl, and NONE of them have beards.

    I don’t know who you saw, but it wasn’t Mormon missionaries as far as I can tell.

    As for them glaring at you, I don’t really blame them. Most normal people start glaring when they’re being impolitely sniggered at in a restaurant.

    Duh.

    Oh, and most Mormon families in the US go about 1 or 2 kids above the national average, but that’s about it.

  3. Ian Schwartz says:

    These look like Mormons to me!–http://www.globalpost.com/sites/default/files/photos/12/South%20Korea-Mormon-missionaries-2010-05-25.jpg

    Who else could they have possibly been?

    Regardless of the fact that they were absolutely beyond any doubt members of Joseph Smith’s polygamy cult, I do not feel any ill will toward people of faith–the Turks I was having dinner with all happened to be wearing headscarves (which means, since you are probably unaware, that they are Muslims). But I do have a problem with the brainwashed minions of a 19th conman trying to infect innocent people with a virulent disease. Religious proselytizers of any kind, even atheists and agnostics, are annoying at best and disgusting at worst; I’m fortunate I managed to keep from vomiting all over myself at the mere sight of such riffraff. I will be quite happy when I find myself screaming in agony in hell beside them, yourself, and the handful of fools you may have swindled into your hands while poisoning the islands of Japan in 1994.

    None of them were too old but they may have been aged prematurely by the inherent idiocy of their belief system or by the need to constantly lie to others and to themselves. As for the beard, what can I say?, the guy had a beard, maybe to make up for his premature baldness. He has to attract an incubator for his children, his future crusading zealots, somehow.

    As for the 1 or 2 kids above the national average, that certainly clears up one of my misconceptions; my impression was that Mormon homes typically take the form of steamy, incestuous harems, with daughters giving birth to their own brothers, but I suppose I was mistaken.

    Anyway, you should find a way to contact these goons and sic them on me because I would be more than happy to give their god an opportunity to test their faith. さようなら!

  4. Seth R. says:

    Well…

    Therapy time all finished now? Feel better?

    Or did you actually want a response from me?

    Incidentally, the LDS Church ended the practice of polygamy over 100 years ago. The FLDS Church is a rebel spinoff group that fractured from the larger LDS Church back around 1910 or so. They still practice polygamy, and they are the ones you heard about on the news in Texas and all that.

    The FLDS are a definite minority faction. The LDS Church is by far the most numerous. And they do not practice polygamy. Practicing it is, in fact, grounds for being excommunicated from the LDS Church.

    As for the picture…

    Looks to me like you dragged up a stock photograph online and are now trying to pass it off as a photo of the people you are talking about. The people pictured there are seated in someone’s home, not a restaurant. Or were you trying to say that the people you encountered looked like that? Because the guys in the photo don’t look much like your description.

  5. Seth R. says:

    Oh, and one more thing – Mormons don’t believe in the traditional Christian concept of hell.

    I can elaborate if you are interested. If not, fine by me.

  6. Ian Schwartz says:

    You’re right! I DID want a response from you! I’m just disappointed it took you so long to come back for another thrashing!

    The picture is from the first result of a google image search for “Mormons Korea”. I never said they were the people I saw at the restaurant; I should have clarified that they merely belonged to the same species of insect. This is the article it comes from: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/south-korea/100517/mormon-missionaries-seoul-teach-english, extensively detailing how the Church preys upon young children by luring them into the fold with the promise of a free English education, which generally costs families at least a thousand dollars a month per child.

    I know all about the FLDS thanks to the book by Jon Krakauer, who is a fellow alumnus of my alma mater, Hampshire College, and my belief is that they represent Mormonism as its founder originally intended; i.e, an excuse to sexually abuse women, children, sons, daughters, attractive cousins, etc. If I’m wrong I may not become a god on the planet Kolob but I suppose I can live with that very real possibility.

    And I am very interested in anything your founder happened to see in that rather remarkable top hat of his! But really just on these terms: as a man who frequently cohabits with a woman of extraordinary beauty who is not my wife (or sister), drinks coffee, occasionally enjoys a good glass of wine and other “hot drinks”, reads books that thankfully have nothing to do with the rampant stupidity surrounding the founding and subsequent propagation of your incest cult, what torments can be said to await me after I die, assuming a Mormon like yourself doesn’t dig up my green, maggot-infested corpse and baptize it?

    I will state what I believe: that I become nothing, which is the same as becoming everything; that there is no god, which is the same as saying god is everything; and that morality is not derived from ancient religious texts written in “reformed Egyptian” and viewed inside a magical top hat but from where and when we happen to be born. These are my own beliefs (largely copied from those that Jorge Luis Borges seems to sometimes profess in his fiction, essays, and poetry) but no one else has to share them. You are obviously deeply engaged with Smith’s laughable nonsense, but as a mediocre character in a mediocre movie says, every moment is another chance to turn it all around 🙂

  7. Seth R. says:

    We also don’t baptize cadavers.

    We perform ordinances ourselves (such as baptism) on behalf of people who have died.

    But you don’t really need to worry. Just having a posthumous baptism performed on your behalf does not automatically make you a Mormon. It simply gives you the opportunity to accept or reject the ordinance after death.

    I have been baptized on behalf of a few of my own ancestors, but that doesn’t make them Mormons. For all I know, they all rejected the ordinance.

    Also, Kolob is not a planet. In Mormon cosmology, it is a star “nearest to where God dwells.” The entire account is actually highly symbolic in its language, so I’m not sure how literally we are supposed to take that particular scripture passage.

    The FLDS are an anomaly that do not really represent polygamy as it was practiced in 1800s Utah. A few key differences:

    1. 1800s Mormons did not live in isolated walled compounds cut off from outside influence. They were an agrarian society spread out over the entire Intermountain West region of the United States. There was very little interference in people’s personal lives from Church authorities – people were simply too spread out and too independent to be controlled like that.

    2. 1800s Mormons were self-sufficient and not reliant on the LDS Church for everything they had.

    3. The norm for Utah polygamy was 2 wives at most. More than that was quite rare. And most 1800s Mormons were actually monogamous – with the full blessing of LDS leadership.

    4. Due to the fact that Utah’s population was growing steadily, and the fact that men tended to marry women a couple years younger than them (just like normal marriages anywhere in the US at that time), there were always enough women for all men to be married. So 1800s Utah did not experience the phenomenon known as “lost boys” – where young men have no marriage prospects and are driven from the community so the older guys can have more wives. This did not occur in 1800s Utah. It’s actually a fairly modern phenomenon within the FLDS faction in the latter half of the 20th century.

    5. 1800s Utah Mormons were not discouraged from secular learning. It was not considered dangerous and 1800s Utahns were actually relatively well-educated and progressive on many issues. Utah was the first territory to allow women the right to vote (they were stripped of this right by the Republican-controlled Congress who was afraid of giving Mormon women a political voice).

    6. Divorce laws in 1800s Utah were some of the most liberal in the nation at the time. Any woman who wanted a divorce in 1800s Utah could easily get one. The same could not be said of most other places in the US at that time.

    7. Polygamy was not demanded as a requirement for salvation by 1800s LDS authorities the way it is by the FLDS.

    8. Polygamy operated in the open in 1800s Utah society, and had many social checks and balances to prevent abuses. The FLDS operate in isolation from the wider society, and in secrecy. This culture of illegality and secrecy has created an environment were it is easy for abuse to occur. The same factors were not in play in 1800s Utah.

    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify these issues.

    Anything else you have questions about?

  8. Ian Schwartz says:

    I can’t counter your lies for at least a few hours, but in the mean time I would still request that you clarify a certain point: as a practicing idolater, what particular circle of hell will I call my home for all eternity after my death, and what tortures will I be subjected to during my stay there? And also, if any of my descendants baptizes himself on my behalf, I will make sure to come back and haunt him until he sees the errors of his ways—but I would also like to know how many ancestors you have baptized yourself for. What’s the cutoff point? When do you decide that, hey, okay, that guy’s way back there, I don’t know anything about him, he can burn in hell like everyone else, that’s fine with me? Or do you baptize all of your ancestors back to the very first humans? If you take the bible literally that means you think the world is only five thousand years old, which likewise means that you’ve neglected hundreds of thousands of years’ worth of human beings—millions if you also include hominids in general. So the question is: how many ancestral spirits have you decided to annoy with your nonsense?

  9. Seth R. says:

    LDS scriptures speak of “hell” in two senses:

    1. temporary suffering after death, but prior to the resurrection – which ends it.

    2. a final state of people who have cut themselves off from God irrevocably.

    Keeping these two concepts straight is important for understanding what hell means in an LDS sense.

    The LDS belief is that after people die, their spirits remain on this earth awaiting the final moment when Christ will return, the dead will be resurrected, and the earth will be united with heaven in glory. All spirits – whether good or not – inhabit this temporary “spirit world.”

    They all inhabit the same place (whatever “place” would mean for a spirit). But the experience is very different depending on the life of the spirit in question. For the wicked, the spirit world is a place of internal anguish and fear – all of their own making. They suffer with the knowledge of what they have done in life.

    For the righteous however, the temporary spirit world is a place of joyful anticipation of what is to come.

    Either way, this state is temporary.

    When Christ returns, the dead will be reborn. The spirits in the spirit world temporarily bereft of physical form will be restored to perfected and glorified material form. This happens to ALL spirits – good or bad. All of them get the resurrection.

    At this point, there is a judgment. It speaks of God the Father judging us – with Christ as our advocate before the Father. But I believe that we will judge ourselves more than anything. We ourselves will determine what fate we most desire – and wherever we end up – it will be exactly where we wish to be.

    There are three levels of heaven in LDS scripture – and the vast majority of the world’s population will end up in one of them.

    The highest level is the Celestial Kingdom – reserved for those who are willing to unite with God fully by the holy ordinances he has designated to symbolize that union. The LDS Church considers itself to be the sole caretaker of those vital ordinances.

    These people who achieve the Celestial Kingdom will be gods – male and female alike. They will inherit everything that God has and share completely in his power and glory.

    The next and lower level of heaven is the Terrestrial Kingdom. A place of glory beyond any human imagination, but not as great as the Celestial Kingdom. People here do not experience the presence of God the Father, nor are they unified with him. Nor do they inherit all that he has.

    However, the place is, by all accounts, not bad at all. It is a place of glory – very similar to traditional Protestant and Catholic notions of heaven, actually. The people here are those who led honorable lives while on earth, but ultimately refused to accept the ordinances that would enable full union with the Father. As such, those here are not considered gods.

    Third and lowest level of heaven is the Telestial Kingdom. This is the place reserved for the evil people of the world. Murderers, liars, those who harm and rob from others, cruel people. They will dwell here if they do not repent in life, or after death in the spirit world before judgment.

    But it is still part of heaven, and a kingdom of glory in spite of that. It is a place of beauty far surpassing anything we can imagine now. In Mormon thought, God is indeed merciful. Even the most evil people who have lived on earth will live in resurrected glory after the judgment.

    This covers the vast majority of the human race. All are resurrected in glory, and most all receive a place of glory in the hereafter.

    Ian, I have no particular desire to guess at where you will end up of these three options. Though I am fairly sure it will be one of them.

    There is a fourth and final option that is not a part of “heaven.” That is what modern Mormons popularly term – “Outer Darkness.” This is not a kingdom of glory. It is a place utterly cut off from God. Those who dwell there have chosen to have no part of God, have rejected him and his gifts utterly, and prefer to dwell alone with their own internal torments.

    You see, it is never God, or Satan, or imps with pitchforks who torment us in the afterlife. It is we who torment ourselves. If we suffer in the afterlife, it is by our own choice and of our own doing.

    In order to wind up in Outer Darkness, the criteria are actually pretty tough to meet, and few will meet them.

    You have to basically have a sure knowledge of God’s existence, and what he wants. You have to have talked to God personally, and received his word in no uncertain terms and understood it. Then, after having experienced this, you much reject God and his word. Knowingly. With full comprehension of what it is you are doing.

    Precious few people meet that criteria Ian.

    Cain is the only scriptural example we are aware of. The son of Adam who knew God, lived in his presence, talked with him personally – but loved Satan more than God and who murdered his brother for gain.

    That’s a pretty tough standard to live up to. I find it highly unlikely that hardly any of the people I encounter online can ever measure up to it.

    Sorry for the long essay. But you asked a complex question – for which a long answer was necessary.

    To summarize, our view of heaven and hell is radically different from the traditional popular Protestant and Catholic notions. So it makes little sense to ask a Mormon if he or she thinks you are going to “burn in hell.” We simply don’t really envision hell that way.

    Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright had a good summary of the notion of hell that I liked quite a bit:

    Which seems to indicate that your view of hell may not even match up with the notion as described in the Bible.

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