Pictured here are two young Mormon missionaries pushing their weird religion on someone stuck at an intersection in Fengyuan 豐原, Taichung 台中. This is not accidental—missionaries actively target people at long lights, endangering themselves and everyone else on the road in the process. Taiwanese people are generally too polite and conflict-averse to tell these delusional clowns where to go—but I’m not, on the odd occasion they dare to make a play for my immortal soul. Sorry, it’s already taken…
Finally capturing Mormon missionary activity on film prompted me to do some reading into this fringe phenomenon in Taiwan 台灣. On some level it mystifies me that missionaries are welcome here at all given that they are explicitly dedicated to dismantling local culture and converting people to an alien religion. I had a glance at the visa requirements for “religious workers” in Taiwan and found them rather peculiar. For starters, a worker’s activities “must directly serve the organisation’s religious objectives”, not those of society-at-large. What makes religion so special that there should be no concern for Taiwan’s welfare when welcoming someone to spend a significant chunk of time here? Moreover, applicants must have two years experience in “conducting works of religious nature”, but the Mormon church regularly sends 18 year-old kids on missions with the title of Elder, apparently without any sense of irony. And really, who better to turn to for insight into the meaning of life and the secrets of the universe than kids fresh out of high school?
In any case, I was surprised to stumble upon an entire subculture of missionary blogs in Taiwan while drafting this piece. I suppose the church actively encourages their young elders to blog as a means of keeping track of time, passing on knowledge to the next cohort, and to keep friends and family informed about what it’s like to spend a year abroad in the exotic lands of the far east (and I’m being sardonic here, in case that isn’t obvious). What I found most peculiar after browsing several of these blogs is the custom of posting what amounts to trophy photos of successful baptisms, of which there were few. I’m not about to dig into the data for this short write-up but from a survey of those blogs it didn’t seem like most missionaries managed more than one or two conversions a year—and I wonder how many actually stay with the church after their “friend” goes home.
And that’s the other thing that bothers me about missionaries: they’re such phonies! They prey on lost and lonely people who could actually use an friend, not some upbeat young “elder” whose job it is to coerce others into wearing magic underwear. On some level they aren’t all that different from the PUAs of the seduction community. What they do is inherently self-serving and manipulative.
Is there any benefit to missionary activity in Taiwan? Is that benefit worth the additional hassle and constant low-level assault on Taiwanese culture? As far as I’m concerned it’s not—and I fully recognize that it’s not really for me to say, speaking as another kind of outsider. The difference is that I try and stick to something akin to the Prime Directive whereas missionaries are, by definition, interfering in local affairs, however ineffectively. From what I gather most Taiwanese view the Mormons in their midst with idle curiosity or disinterest, not as a threat to their way of life, but they’re still making nuisances of themselves at traffic lights and what-not. Taiwan 台灣 has no need for these overly earnest proselytizers.