I was traversing my frequented route between Tesco and JBH when I was stopped by two guys asking to talk about The Church of the Latter-Day Saints.
I knew Tesco had a deal on Pizza Express products and I was tempted to swiftly ignore them. But that little geeky bit inside me which has brought me to study Philosophy and Social Anthropology made me stop. I’d seen The Book of Mormon on the West End only a couple of months earlier and I’ll admit I was curious to see how the South Park authors’ crass interpretation of Mormons compared to the real deal.
On first impression they seemed to match faultlessly. They both had neatly cropped brown hair and badges declaring they were “elders” of the Mormon Church. But as they introduced themselves I was struck by the fact that, if the badge was removed, they could easily pass for another couple of American students in St Andrews. Slightly preppy American boys are never going to be out of place in this particular corner of Fife.
They asked me what I knew of Mormonism and I sheepishly admitted most of my knowledge came from my earlier viewing of the musical. This was clearly not the first time they had come across this response. They then asked what my views / religious affiliations were.
It was at this point I declared that in my opinion religion didn’t want to accept me, so I was not going to accept it. I’m trans. Mormons, and religion at large, aren’t famous for being LGBT+ friendly. The boys seemed pretty clear on their policy that homosexual relationships were “not what God intended for us.” But for someone systematically studying argument, this adherence to scripture with no underlying, rational justification wasn’t a principle I could accept.
It was clear we weren’t going to agree on this so I moved the conversation on to the topic of gender; both in terms of transgender and feminist associations. It was during this conversation that they began to seem out of their depths, mentally scrambling to pluck up whatever they’d been taught on these topics. They seemed to have vague ideas of religious misogyny and transphobia but couldn’t recall the qualifications for these views. When I began to ask more challenging questions of the complexity of the evolution of gender in today’s society, they couldn’t engage on the same level.
Now, I don’t want to come across as some form of egomaniac, proclaiming my own intellectual superiority, but it was impossible not to recognise their limits when it came to discussing complex social issues. St Andrews is populated by some of the brightest young minds in the world. We are a group who are well instructed in socio-political matters and spend our time challenging our minds intellectually. It seemed herein lay the problem for the Mormons; they were sitting amongst students selected for their ability to critically think for themselves, whereas they had spent a life time being instructed in learning and accepting the words of three books as the absolute truth.
If they were going to have a serious chance of making headway with their mission to bring St Andrews students into the religion of a New York prophet and illusive plates of gold, the boys from Utah needed to be able to relevantly take part in the debates and issues students are discussing today. Can they? Possibly not. But let’s not bite the heads off of the Latter-Day Saints as they accost us on North Street. You’re most likely as alien to their experience as you are to theirs.