The Gospel of Misery


by Johnny Townsend

“Man is, that he might be miserable.”

Mormons are moral ascetics, demanding secular bans on alleviating misery whenever possible. Could the state of Utah or the U.S. federal government afford to provide healthcare to its citizens? Yes, but that would improve everyone’s quality of life. Could the government afford to provide a college education or vocational training to every resident? Yes, but that would make our lives better.

Mormons don’t mind if the privileged lead easy lives, but goddammit (literally), everyone else needs to suffer. We aren’t supposed to look out for our fellow man if it means providing tangible help, it if means helping people who aren’t even Mormon, if it means using our collective taxes. It’s everyone for him or herself, and if some people don’t have the financial or emotional or physical means necessary to move forward, then a lifetime of misery is good for them. A truly righteous person would be grateful for their sickness and poverty. It helps them grow. Anyone who expects a helping hand when they’re down and out needs to change their bad attitude.

It’s astonishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has any converts at all.

When I ran into two Mormon missionaries at a bus stop in Seattle, I invited them to my apartment. I explained that I was Jewish and did not plan to convert, but I wanted to hear what they had to say.

Over the next few weeks, they talked a lot about Jesus.

“I can get Jesus anywhere,” I said. “Two billion people belong to other Christian denominations. If all you have to offer is Jesus, why should I pick you instead of another religion?”

The missionaries struggled to come up with an answer that didn’t sound unconvincing even to them.

Jesus fed the multitudes. He healed the sick. He told his followers to love their neighbors as themselves.

Mormons don’t want the sick to receive medical care if they don’t deserve it by having money. Mormons don’t want the uneducated to receive career training if they don’t deserve it by having money.

The Mormon gospel offers the world illness and poverty and ignorance. But we can get that anywhere. Why should anyone become Mormon just to get the misery easily accessible already?

Is it because Mormons can promise us a good afterlife?

Well, so can everyone else. One promise that can’t be redeemed until after death is as believable as another. If you can’t offer us anything tangible, you’ve got nothing for us. And we can get nothing absolutely anywhere.

Mormons can offer community, but we can get that from lots of other religions, too, both Christian or non-Christian. We can get it working in unions, in Socialist or Democratic Socialistor Labour Parties. We can get it working with non-profits that help people in real, measurable ways. We can get it at a book club, in a quilting group, even at the gym.

Liberation theology and similar humanitarian religious movements address the immediate needs of God’s children. If a hungry child can’t learn at school while fantasizing about his or her missed breakfast, poor and sick adults around the world likewise can’t concentrate on theoretical possibilities for peace in the afterlife.

Poor people play the lottery out of pure desperation, but all that 99.9999% of them receive is further loss and disappointment.

Many are called to buy tickets but few are chosen to benefit.

Desperate people can be converted to almost any religion in the vain hope their misery will someday end.

If there is a god worthy of worship, he/she/it would ask us to house the homeless, keep the water and air we all depend on clean, welcome and improve the lives of refugees. A god worthy of following would not want us to profit from the misery of others.

Mormons, at least in the U.S., refuse to support universal healthcare, tuition-free college and vocational training, free public transportation, and so many other programs that would improve the lives of everyone. Apparently, given how vehemently Mormons fights against it, improving lives is the work of the devil.

Is the only way to maintain a monopoly on happiness to deny it to everyone until after death?

I used to be Mormon. I used to be a missionary offering misery to others.

The desperate and lonely accepted the offer.

And we delivered on our promise.

Mormons, ironically, are known for being kind and friendly, but denying people medical care with a smile and a hug doesn’t change its abuse.

If all Mormons can offer those without privilege is a lifetime of misery, it’s a donation worth even less than a widow’s mite.

And we can get an empty hand anywhere.

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