Throughout my extensive travels around the continents, I have had the great fortune to meet and interact with a vast number of people of the utmost diversity of cultural and ideological backgrounds. Religion, as it happens to be one of the most profound and enigmatic sentiments a human being bears, has been always exciting my curiosity in a highly keen degree. And the more obscure, occult, or just unique, someone’s beliefs are, the more my curiosity flares wild. Having already had various chances to discuss with people of pretty much every well-, less-, or un- known religious caste, I had never happened to run into some one adherent of that so notorious yet so arcane caste, the Mormons. And, honestly, I wasn’t really deem it any probable to ever run into one if I was not to go to Utah, or somewhere in the US at least. However, chance brought it about so, that I finally met one where I least expected it. I met a Mormon in Thailand.
It was when I was staying at that hostel in Chiang Mai. Quite a big one it was. People were coming, people were leaving… casual European and American young party-travelers in their majority. There was that one guy who came one day and mobilized my interest. He was part of a group of three more people: all of them from some south American state – Carolina I think – touring around Thailand. The rest of the group were closer to what I have in my mind fixed as a stereotype of a southern-states-American: obese, bearded, good eaters and drinkers, loquacious, loud, jocular…
That guy, on the other hand, he was a totally different story. He was strikingly distinct from his mates, who all looked identical to each other like they were cloned, in every respect, wherefore I got puzzled as to how they ended up forming a traveling-party together. In appearance, first of all, he was puny and with a nerd countenance. In manners and habits, most notably, he was discreet, taciturn, introvert, slightly shy… He wasn’t smoking and never drinking a sip, whereas his comrades were having two beers each for breakfast.
Throughout the days of our concurrent sojourn at that place, I had had several chances to engage in discussion with him. We never talked for too long, though our shorts talks on a wide range of general topics were always of high quality. I had found him particularly likable for his modesty, composure and knowledgeability. It was a pity that the best topic we could have touched on was reserved for only a brief time prior to their departure.
It was that early morning. I was sitting out in the deck in front of the hostel drinking my coffee. The American group were preparing to depart. Their backpacks were left against the wall by the side of the hostel’s door, and their motorbikes parked before it. The three were inside having their breakfast-beer. The fourth was outside sitting opposite me, having a talk with another American guy. My half-asleep brain, absorbed in some other, drowsy process, wasn’t paying much attention to what was said until the overheard word “mormon” made its way into it. “Who is a mormon?” – I broke off – “Are you a mormon?”
During the next half hour or so which preceded their leaving-away, we had a very interesting conversation about his newly-communicated-to-me religious beliefs. He was raised a Mormon after his mother got converted to Mormonism when he was four, and has remained a devoted adherent ever since. One of the first questions I asked him was of whether it is his intention to marry more than one woman in the future. He replied in the negative. He explained that polygamy is an outmoded practice among his cult, no longer officially accepted. In fact, he claimed, that their doctrine and rites deviate very little from traditional Christianity, the principal differentiating point being the acceptance of Joseph Smith as a divine figure, a prophet sent to earth by God to restore humans on the right path. He asserted he has no doubt on Smith’s divinity and the supernatural origin of his texts, which were found by him, after God’s guidance, engraved on some golden plates hidden somewhere in South America.
However, I had strong doubts on him having no doubts. It was just the day before he had told me that the principal reason for his visit to Thailand was to explore and study Buddhism. He explained this inconsistency by arguing that the two creeds do not contradict each other, as they are of a totally different nature. Whereas he saw Mormonism as the true religion, the ultimate answer to human’s existential questions and the only path to salvation and after-life eternal bliss, he saw Buddhism as an earthly philosophy, merely a method to help him alleviate the burden of his physical and mental subsistence while on earth, thus rendering his soul better prepared to be uplifted unto heaven and take his place by the side of Jesus and Smith.
That’s pretty much what he was talking about until his companions had finished their second beer and it was for them time to go. He hopped on the bike and rolled away to continue his spiritual journey in Thailand.