The Artis Magistra wrote:emceecombs, I hope you don't mind too terrible, and its ok if you don't want to, but I think I could benefit greatly from hearing more about your personal story and how you used to experience Mormonism, interpret it, how you became attracted to Buddhism, and the whole thing up until now. The reason I ask these sorts of things is for the purpose of learning how one might approach possible Buddhists or Christians of various kinds and bring them the Dharma, what hit the right spots for you, and all that, what was unsatisfying in detail about Mormonism or difficult to practice or believe or whatever, how your family is dealing with you, this might be an alright thread for that or you could make another one, or not one at all, but I thought we might all benefit from this information being expressed. Sorry though, I know it can be annoying to talk about these things when we want it left behind.
Mormonism and Mormons are pretty unique, so I'm not sure if learning to approach Mormons about Buddhism would help with approaching other Christians and Buddhists. Like I said, Mormonism isn't necessarily just a "Christian" religion or "Christian restoration movement." Mormonism claims to be an original religion that all of humanity has had, that God keeps reintroducing over and over again because people keep changing it over time. So Mormons could try to claim, for example, that Mormonism is the one true Buddhism and it would make just about as much sense as saying it is the one true Christianity. Pretty much anything you say or idea you introduce to a Mormon will likely be accepted into or rejected from the larger Mormon framework of ideas in a way that fits those previous ideas. So if you mention something about Buddhism that they can make fit their previous opinions, then they are liable to think something along the lines of "well Buddhism must have lost the truth a long time ago, but it clearly has some truth," and then they'll use that to reinforce their belief in Mormonsim. If what you say doesn't fit, then they will likely think it is either a deteriorated teaching or the teaching of the devil. Of course everyone falls into cognitive bias, but I believe Mormonism is especially bad with this. Mormonism is a weird religion, and it requires a lot of mental gymnastics to make everything fit. It doesn't make any kind of logical sense, and a lot of the ideas are actually contradictory. As a result, from my experience Mormons are really good at compartmentalizing things and twisting ideas and beliefs just enough to keep everything from crumbling. New Order Mormons and ex-Mormons frequently reference a mental "shelf" that they put concepts and ideas onto when they can't make everything fit.
So I'm not sure approaching Mormons about Buddhism would be very effective generally. Also, to be frank, I'm pretty skeptical of proselytizing and missionary activities. I don't think most people are open to being preached to, and I think most people are turned off by directly talking about religion. From my experience, most people do not respond to the kinds of missionary activities that Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and SGI are known for. Ironically, I've seen Mormons become offended or shocked when other religions turn the tables and try to convert Mormons (Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are bitter rivals lol
In my opinion, the most effective form of missionary work is generosity. It is a material age, and people in general are attracted to material things. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. And I'm not saying the kinds of things Mormons are known for, like baking cookies or something for your neighbor. I think the most effective form of missionary work is things like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, humanitarian services, social services, addiction recovery, and service projects, especially manual labor in general. Mormon missionaries do some service projects, but hardly any--in fact they are required to keep their weekly service projects within a certain time limit. In general, I think people will be more likely to be interested in a religion if they it and its members as generous, good people. You never even have to talk about your religion. Actions speak louder than words.
If you really just want to introduce the Dharma to a Mormon of any kind, then I think you'll only have luck with people who are already on the fence or on the way out. Fortunately, at this point in time there are more Mormons like that than ever! It is part of the general trend of millennials leaving religion, but Mormonism in particular seems to be struggling to retain both youth and converts. According to the stats, only about 1/3 of Mormons go to church. As I said, Mormonism in general just really lacks substance. It is a really unsatisfying religion, imo. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, Joseph Smith pretty blatantly just made it all up as he went along. Mormonism in 1830 and Mormonism in 1845 were two completely different religions, and it has changed several more times until we're left with the LDS church we have today. For example, Mormonism in 1830 was like a normal Trinitarian, Protestant church with a weird dose of American folk-magic. By 1845 it had become a weird, American folk-magic, Masonry-infused, Monolastric, polygamous, "Christian" cult. Because Joseph Smith made up everything on the go, the religion doesn't have a coherent theology or doctrine. There are a lot of contradictions, and the metaphysics of the entire thing just have not been thought through. No one has ever tried to go through all of the scriptures and sayings and talks of all the Mormon prophets to put together a cohesive exegesis of Mormon theology, doctrine and metaphysics.
Second of all, Many of the most important doctrines in the times of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young have been de-emphasized. They are still definitely there, but they are either ignored or justified. For example, the LDS church doesn't practice temporal polygamy anymore (meaning no LDS member has two living spouses), but they do practice eternal polygamy (meaning that men can get "sealed" to another woman after their wife dies. It is believed that the man would be eternally married to each of his wives in the after-life). In addition, they come up with really strange, provably wrong reasons to explain why God required them to practice polygamy in the first place (for example, believing that there were less Mormon men than women at the time, when the opposite was actually true). Mormons believe that their prophets literally speak the word of God, and that the current ones are always more relevant than the dead ones. Therefore, Mormons generally just accept whatever the new ones say, and old doctrines kind of just go down the memory hole without ever being disavowed. And it isn't like these are men who spend their entire lives studying the Mormon religion. There really are no scholastic or intellectual sides to Mormonism, and this is important for maintaining the religion without doing anything to bring contradictory teachings into alignment. Mormon prophets are simply assigned, like every other position in the church, and it doesn't matter whether the person was a car salesman, heart surgeon, judge, or lawyer before they were called to their position. If you look at the backgrounds of Mormon leaders, the only common thread is really that they are all well off, ultra-conservative, old men.
Third of all, Mormonism feels more like a business than a religion. It is a lay religion that strongly emphasizes participation. As a result, everyone is assigned jobs, many of which can be so extensive as to basically be a full or part time job. There are sooo many meetings to go to. Everything is quotas and assignments. I just do not see how this adds up to a fulfilling spiritual life. You end up just running around, going to work, going to church, going to whatever extra meetings and assignments you have, and just hoping that you still have time to exercise, spend time with your family and have some down time. For example, an average Sunday for me growing up was:
-Wake up at 5AM, deliver newspapers
-7AM go to missionary prep
-8AM go to quorum planning meeting
-8:45AM prepare the sacrament
-12-1PM Bishop Youth Council
-1-2PM priesthood leadership meeting
3:00-indefinitely, home teaching, depending on the long-winded nature of my companion. I would regularly get back anywhere from 7-9PM. Then when I got back home we would have family scripture study, which lasted an hour.
Oh and it is essentially required for all young men to go on a mission (and as a new development, ever since they lowered the missionary ages, young women are increasingly pressured to go as well). But to go on a mission, you have to pay your own way! So be prepared to fork over more than $10,000. Plus, the missionary schedule makes my Sunday schedule look relaxing, but it is for 7 days a week! For all of your work, you don't get paid, you have to pay your own way, and you are only allowed to talk to your family a couple times a year. Then there are things like tithing, fast offerings, and all kinds of other donations that are required (yes required. If you don't pay tithing, you can't go to the temple. If you can't go to the temple then you might as well not be Mormon in the first place because all of the real action goes on in there).
Add all of this together--the made up on the go beginnings, the de-emphasizing of important doctrines, emphasis on current prophets whose word must be accepted without questioning, and the business-like, busy-work approach, and you end up with a highly dis-satisfying religion, with an incoherent basis and theory, that can really only maybe provide satisfaction through its social aspects. As a result, Mormonism is basically just a culture, and I think it creates more questions, spiritually, than it answers.
If you want to approach Mormons, approach ones that are already fed up with all of this and on the way out.
Otherwise, I think humanitarian and service missionary work are far more effective than trying to convert someone directly.