Friday, 11 May 2007

The Real Chess Club and the Mormons

An article in the unofficial Mormon Meridian magazine illustrates the Mormon preoccupation with critics. Entitled The Parable of the Chess Club and anti-Mormons it portrays the typical ‘anti-Mormon’ as someone who has become disaffected with and left the Mormon Church and gone on to live a parody of ‘the true church’ and insisting that what he has is the real truth. The article can be read at

Typically it begins with the assumption that Mormonism is the truth. I was quite taken by the idea and the format and wondered how it would work out if we assumed that the traditional Christian message is the truth and wrote my own version. It was good fun and this is it.

There once was a highly successful chess club. Over a period of 2,000 years the club became popular across the world and gained countless millions of members. Clubs were set up in most countries, each doing things a little differently reflecting the different cultures, times and circumstances of its members. Some were quite formal while others were less so. Some met in great numbers in large buildings, while others met in small groups in local halls, or member’s homes. Some club meetings were grand affairs with a good deal of pomp and ceremony, while others were simple gatherings with the least fuss and formality. But each adhered to the basic rules of the game of chess.

One of the members, let’s call him Joseph, didn’t really understand the game and grew bored with playing chess according to someone else’s rules. He decided he wanted to play by his own rules. In fact, he was so determined that he wanted all of the other members to play by his rules too. He spent all of his time haranguing them to stop playing by the established rules and start playing his way. He began to claim that he had a special gift for the game, and an insight on how the founder had originally intended it to be played. And when he didn’t get his way, he left in a huff.

The chess club didn’t mind too much. Joseph was still the only guy who wanted to play by his rules. Time passed, and the chess club went through a rough patch, as all clubs do from time to time. It had happened before and would, no doubt, happen again. Some of the people couldn’t deal with the tough times, and Joseph noticed this. He convinced them that now was really the time to start playing by his rules. A small group, a total of six, of the chess club’s members said they felt that there was something in what Joseph was saying and wanted to play Joseph’s way.

Soon they became bored with just playing among themselves, and they decided to try to get everybody else in the chess club to play Joseph’s way. But nobody else wanted to play with Joseph besides the original six. Club leaders and members became concerned that Joseph and his friends were claiming that they were the real chess club, that members of the club they had left were not true to the rules, and that he had a book containing the original rules of the game.

"Look guys, this is the chess club. If you want to play by different rules that you’ve made up yourselves, go start a club of your own, but don’t pretend your us" the original club members said. But of course this is not what the dissident chess club members wanted. Simply going off and doing their own thing was not very challenging; they wanted to convince everybody else to play by their rules.

Soon it became a rule of Joseph’s club that members give some of their time, say two years, to going around telling as many people as they could that what they had come to regard as the chess club over 2,000 years had moved away from the club founder’s original vision. That they should look around for another club to join, say Joseph’s. They gave away copies of the book Joseph claimed contained the original rules as well as supplementary books containing more and more and more rules.

Members of the original club were now quite alarmed and began to study these books and compare them with the real original rules contained in the book they had been given by the earliest club members, friends of the founder. Joseph had changed so many rules they hardly knew where to begin. For instance, while there was only one white king in the original game, Joseph had lots of white kings. Furthermore, Joseph kept adding rules, changing rules, and ignoring rules. In fact this last point bothered a lot of people since he seemed to play by different rules to everyone else in the club.

Where the book he started off with seemed to have some resemblance to the original game, his later books moved further and further away until it was hard to recognise that they were playing chess at all. He jumped over so many heads in an attempt to have his own way that some say he was playing checkers. And this was a problem because people who didn’t know the rules of chess took a game played on 64 black and white squares with "pieces" that moved back and forth across the board "taking" each other was actually chess. Some people played checkers for years thinking they were playing chess.

Soon some of the original members of Joseph’s club decided to leave for various reasons. Some left because they noticed that Joseph was not true even to the original rules under which these earliest members joined. Some left because, following Joseph’s example, they saw an opportunity to be at the head of a club of their own. Some even left because they began to suspect that Joseph was using the club as an opportunity to have improper relations with other club member’s wives. Following this scandal Joseph’s wife, lets call her Emma, eventually got involved in another club that claimed to have stuck to Joseph’s original rules.

This was all getting very messy, and Joseph and his friends were creating chaos. They spent all of their time bothering the chess players so no one could simply enjoy the game as it had been played for 2,000 years. Finally, the members of the original club decided it prudent and wise to publish what they had found so that people would have a clearer picture of what Joseph’s club was really all about. To broadcast to the world of chess what had been going on and warn them that this dissident group could cause all sorts of problems.

Some, who had played checkers for years, thinking it to be chess, refused to believe at first what they were told by original club members. When they finally realised, however, that they had been mistaken in taking checkers for chess they were grateful and left Joseph’s club. Many joined the original chess club, although it has to be said others stayed away from the game altogether, refusing to risk being duped a second time. Joseph had spoiled the game of chess for a lot of good people. Some simply refused to believe anything members of the original club told them. They accused those who left Joseph’s club of betrayal and said that those who went on to tell the truth about Joseph were just bitter and spiteful people. This was sad because these people felt that in the original game they had found the challenge, companionship and fulfilment they had always been seeking and simply wished to share it with others.

As time passed and new presidents of Joseph’s club came and went the rules continued to change. Eventually new generations of club members knew only the "Joseph’s rules" with which they had grown up and knew nothing of the changes that had taken place over the years. They believed that this was how the game had always been played, not just 2,000 years ago, but by Joseph himself. They didn’t realise how far from the original game their club had travelled. Nor how far even from Joseph’s game.

Original club members continued to share the original rules with those who cared to know, and especially with members of Joseph’s club, because they felt an empathy with those who thought they were playing the game but were only paying a pale imitation. Meanwhile, members of Joseph’s club whined and complained continuously about the original club, claiming it was "persecuting" them. The leaders of Joseph’s club realised how far they had moved from the original club rules and began to "forget" some of the rules Joseph and other early presidents had insisted upon. They tried harder and harder to sound like chess players. They used chess terms, even though they were playing checkers. Finally, they thought that they had enough people convinced they were really playing chess that they demanded to be recognised as just another chess club.

Original club members, while recognising the different "flavours" of chess clubs around the world, felt this was asking too much. It didn’t seem right somehow that people should go around playing checkers all the while claiming it was chess. They, therefore, continued to publish information about Joseph’s club, and members of that club continued to whine and complain. They insisted that members of the original club were not playing chess, only the checkers players were playing chess. When members of the original club aimed that charge back, claiming that you can hardly call checkers chess, Joseph’s club members insisted that they had every right to call their game chess, and said they were being persecuted. They said it was not fair that, just because the original club had the original rules, they should decide on how chess should be played. "We’ll play by Joseph’s rules ‘til we die", they exclaimed as they jumped over several of the opposing player’s pieces and demanded to be made king.

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