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Our vacation here in Utah draws to a close.  We'll be flying home soon.  It has been a good vacation.  We've seen all of the people who asked us to come see them, and several more.  We got to meet people that we had previously only known through Facebook.  It was good to meet them in person and to get to know them better.  We've attended several parties and enjoyed our time.

One thing that is a bit sad is that there are people that I wanted to see, but wasn't sure if they wanted to see me with Conrad.  I would gladly have gone to visit them if they had invited us, so we tried to make our presence in Utah as widely known as possible to give all of them the opportunity.  Since they didn't invite us, we didn't see them.  Maybe this was for the best.  If there were people that we didn't see that wanted to see us, I apologize for the miscommunication or the missed opportunity.

I wanted to add some of the thoughts that I've had during this trip that have been mulling around in my head for a while.

We visited Temple Square--the headquarters of the LDS church.  Conrad had never been to Utah before, so I wanted to show him as much as possible in the time that we had.  I had been on a tour of the Conference Center multiple times before, but Conrad hadn't, so I thought it would be nice for him to see it.  The Conference Center is where the church holds is semi-annual conferences, which are broadcast worldwide.  They have several senior missionaries (usually over the age of 60 or so) that give the tours for the building.  The gentleman who was our tour guide was a very talkative, very kind, and very knowledgeable man.  It was a pleasure to have him as a tour guide.

For the sake of simplicity, we pretended to be members of the LDS church and not to be lovers.  He never asked specifically, so perhaps he thought we were good friends or maybe even related.  Anyway, he talked to us in great detail about the teachings and operations of the church and all of the paintings that can be found throughout the center and what stories and teachings they're based off of.  It was interesting.  As I said, I had been on the tour before, but even then I still learned some things I hadn't known before.

At any rate, during the course of the tour, I found myself reflecting on the (seemingly) genuine good nature of our guide.  I've known thousands of Mormons in my life and I find they nearly all have this in common.  I think that the teachings of the church encourage such geniality.  I'm sure that some people really are genuine, and they really are just cheerful and helpful people.  I'm sure others are doing it to be sociable and friendly, and other just out of duty to their god or their religion.  Whatever the motivation, I do think that it's good for people to be friendly and cheerful, even if it is fake.

So, I'm musing to myself about how this man (as is just about every Mormon) is a very kind, likable person and how I enjoy being in his company.  At the same time, I'm also musing about how silly everything is.  Looking at the Conference Center, and all of the decorations and things inside it, now as an ex-Mormon I get a much different feeling than I ever did being in that grand building while I was a believing member.

There is a story in the Book of Mormon about Jesus visiting the Nephites (the inhabitants of the ancient Americas) shortly after his resurrection.  John Scott was commissioned to paint a picture of this event.  It's actually a very large painting.  As I was looking at it, I just thought how much time it must have taken.  He's a very skillful artist, and it's a lovely painting.  And I think that there is merit in art, and that it should be encouraged and admired.  But, as I was looking at it as an atheist, I just thought what a horrible waste it was.  Not that there was no value in painting it, nor that the painting itself has no value.  It just struck me, as I was observing the painting, that believers waste so much of their lives thinking that a fairy tale is in fact reality.

I think stories such as Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and other fictional stories have their place in our culture, and such literature is to be admired.  But, at least all of these fictional stories are understood to be fiction.  People don't spend three hours every Sunday worshipping Sauron or trying to grab the attention of the local wizard.  People don't build shrines to their fairy godmothers.  We tell the stories, learn the moral from them, and then continue on with life.  If this were done with religion, that would be great.  But people devote their lives to their religion.  They spend so much time and energy on things that really don't benefit anyone in any way at all.  There is so much waste in religious practice.

One great irony that I see is that religion touts itself as being charitable and giving, and yet it builds extremely gaudy and large cathedrals and pays artists and architects large sums of money to create such things.  Walking around temple square, seeing all of the elaborate buildings that the church has made over the years (and knowing about all of the others worldwide), I just thought about how truly wasteful it all really is.

I think that charity is great.  I think it's important, and I think it's admirable.  And if an organization truly did promote charity (which many charitable organizations actually do) rather than put on a big show by building large, fancy buildings, that would be truly admirable.

Contrast the gaudiness of cathedrals and the huge vastness of the Conference Center (which I find highly ironic because in the Book of Mormon, one of the characters has a vision wherein a "great and spacious building" is equated with the vanity of the world) with the City Creek Mall.  The LDS church spent over $5 billion making a shopping mall immediately adjacent to Temple Square in Salt Lake City.  I do think this money, since it comes from an organization that presents itself as being a humanitarian-oriented organization, would be much better spent helping developing countries or people below the poverty line in our own country.  However, I also think it's far better than the useless temples and church buildings that religions build.  At the least, the mall generates hundreds of jobs for people and helps stimulate the economy.  And it provides goods and services.  Temples do not provide goods or services.  Cathedrals offer nothing--they just soak up money and take up space.

At any rate, this is what I was musing about while I was touring the Conference Center.  That Mormons are very kind people, and very well-intentioned too.  But at the same time, they see things such as the Conference Center, church buildings, and temples as useful.  They spend so much of their time on things that have no effect on life and think that in so doing, they are doing good.

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