WATCH: An Atheist Finds Faith Among the Mormons

‘These guys produced the last normal Republican presidential nominee. Who am I to judge?’

As a gay teen in the early aughts, raised atheist in Brooklyn among folks who could handle a bit of sexual deviance, I neatly divided people into good and evil based on whether or not they supported gay rights. So if you’d asked me back then what I thought of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’d probably have trashed the lot of them. It wasn’t just their opposition to gay marriage; it was also their fairly ridiculous origin story, which I’d of course learned from a 2003 episode of South Park.

In recent years, though, I’ve come to view the LDS with greater charity. Their productivity alone is to be admired—just check out this guide to managing your time, which may be the most useful piece of liturgy ever published. Is it any wonder these guys produced the last normal Republican presidential nominee? I can barely plan dinner, let alone “set goals”; who am I to judge?

So when I heard the LDS General Conference was coming up, I knew I had to book a flight to Salt Lake City. “Ben Meets America!” is all about communicating across cultural divides, and I thought there might be some interesting friction between the LDS community and me. Plus, I wanted to poke the tension between seeing one’s religion as literal truth and seeing it as a useful way of understanding a complicated world.

As it turned out, though, the most dogmatic folks around the conference center were not LDS members, but evangelical Christians, several of whom had alighted on the scene to inform attendees that they were risking damnation by following a prophet, or attempting to get to heaven by doing good works. “I would be a cruel person not to warn them,” one evangelical told me.

Next to these fire-and-brimstone types, I felt an unexpected alignment with the LDS. Their focus on a personal, loving relationship with Jesus Christ seems positively liberating; their audacious commitment to the Book of Mormon in the face of mainstream derision seems oddly heroic. 

Also, in recent years the LDS Church has softened up on the gays. If anything, the people I spoke with seemed slightly embarrassed by its teachings on homosexuality, just as I am embarrassed by my erstwhile views about their beliefs.

It seems we’ve all grown more tolerant of deviance. In the Book of Ben, anyway, that counts as a win.

If you like what you see, watch Ben’s previous dispatch, from West Hollywood: “The California Progressives Trying to Cancel Affordable Housing.” You can also learn more about “Ben Meets America!” 

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