I posted yesterday's story to the Internet Infidels discussion boards here, and one of the regulars asked for more details about the conversation. So I wrote up the rest of the story over there, and I am reposting it for your convenience right here:
As I always do when talking with LDS missionaries, I started by asking them where they're from and what they think of France. I also like to ask them how they're coming along on learning French and what sorts of things they're studying to learn French.
Some missionaries have lots of interesting things to say on these subjects, but this particular pair was very intent on steering the conversation back to religion. Particularly the senior companion. It may have been partially because there was a another guy along to chaperone them, but I doubt it since the other guy didn't seeem even remotely interested in our conversation -- he just played with my two-year-old Leo.
So the missionaries asked me what religion my husband and I were, I told them the my husband is a former Catholic and I am a former Mormon.
Mishies: But you still believe in God, right?
Me (big smile :D ): No. I am an atheist.
This seemed to surprise them just a tiny bit but not very much. I imagine they run into atheists all the time here in France.
Inevitably, they asked me why I stopped believing. I gave them some variant on my usual response, which is the following: "Look, I don't want to debate you on this. I've looked at the questions of god existing and the Book of Mormon being true and all that, and for me the evidence just isn't there. But I assume you've already heard all of the same arguments, so it's pointless for me to repeat them to you. I understand that these are hard questions, so it doesn't bother me if other people come up with a different solution than mine."
So they told me a story about how they had had doubts as well when they were younger, and the one was telling me about how his father encouraged him to doubt and question. I agreed with him that it's important to seriously analyze and question your beliefs. I told them that for that reason I was making a point to see to it my sons would be exposed to different religions so they could make informed decisions about the subject.
When they asked me if I had read the Book of Mormon, I told them that I had a degree from BYU (where two semesters of Book of Mormon class are required for graduation), plus that I was a believing Mormon until I was seventeen years old and graduated from seminary, etc.
They then started talking about how it's very common for people to grow up Mormon and just go along with what everybody else says and never really study it out for themselves. Obviously they followed up by asking me if I'd prayed about it.
Still friendly but firm, I replied "Of course I read the Book of Mormon. Of course I prayed about it."
I'm not sure this really impressed them since they were probably just thinking I must have done it wrong if I got the wrong answer!!! LOL
But seriously, I think it is beneficial for them to see an example of a nice, normal person who took the "challenge" they're pitching and didn't get the result that is supposed to always work...
Of course the senior comp countered by bearing his testimony and telling me that the spiritual experiences he'd had were so powerful that they couldn't possibly have just come from his own mind. I just smiled and said "okay." Really, this whole testimony-bearing thing is always to be expected. I usually just say something like "I know you believe in it, otherwise you wouldn't be here doing this, right?"
So they wrapped up by asking if they could do any service for us. The junior comp mentioned that one of their jobs is to do services (odd jobs, I guess) for the members.
I asked "Oh, you guys can put this visit down as 'fellowshipping an inactive', right?"
This seemed to annoy the senior comp, who said "It's not about the numbers."
Me: Yeah, but you guys have to turn in weekly stats, right?
Of course the senior comp confirmed that they do, but that it's just to make sure they're always improving. So I said I was sorry to have accidentally cynically suggested that they are obligated to focus on getting numbers for their weekly stats.
Then I told them I'd be sure to call if I needed anything, and said it was really nice meeting them, and wished them luck on their missions.