Ten Thoughts After Debating Hundreds of Anti-Mormons

A little over four years ago, I posted this video about Book of Mormon evidence online. In the last year or so, it has really taken off, and now has over 77,000 views, with over 1300 comments. Many of those comments are from me–I read and respond to almost everything. Here are some things I’ve noticed from engaging those comments:

  • Many people who comment clearly have not watched any of the video at all. They’re posting pre-conditioned talking points on the subject. Most of those people, even when explicitly invited to do so, still do not watch the video. Even when I reply to a comment with just a single, simple question, most people will never return to comment again.
  • Even when I make it clear that my only criteria for posting is that people refrain from rudeness and that they address my questions, many people still won’t. If they repeatedly abuse my hospitality and I block them, others will complain about censorship. To be fair, though, on the other hand, I’ve also had to block several Mormons who won’t stop insulting critics or “spiking the ball” about how the critics are failing to make their points, even after I insist that they be nicer. It’s weird and frustrating.
  • The saddest exchange I’ve had is with a young woman who didn’t care if the evidence was true or not. She had decided to openly rebel against God, whether He’s real or not, because religion doesn’t line up with her political preferences. I didn’t know how to respond to that–it really was shocking. I think this may well be representative of a lot of people these days. It’s nothing short of heartbreaking.
  • Dozens of people have complimented the video overall, but have scolded me for not embracing the Heartland model of Book of Mormon geography. Every time, I tell them that I don’t really care about it, but I post a link to a summary of arguments on the topic and invite them to respond. Not one ever has.
  • Dozens of others have explained the evidence for the Book of Mormon by claiming that Satan inspired it. Nothing else productive ever happens after that.
  • Some of my favorite comments are ones posted from other countries and even in other languages. I’ve used Google Translate to reply to such comments more than once, and it’s a wonderful experience.
  • This hobby has taught me that there are sections of the world where the cruelest, most superficial stereotypes about Mormons and our beliefs are alive and well. There is still a lot of work to do.
  • Many people have written claiming to be innocent investigators who have honest questions. Such people are almost always undercover critics, and they reveal their hostility before long. It’s apparently a standard anti-Mormon trick.
  • Often a commenter will be shown definitively that a claim they’ve made is wrong–not as a matter of belief, but merely as basic factual inaccuracy–and then they’ll repeat the claim again later on in another comment. That makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.
  • But many others have said that they were impressed to study the book because of the video, and that’s immensely satisfying. Dozens have said that it has strengthened their faith. That makes it all worth it! :)
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Social and Political NOTES, January 2014

  • National Review post called “Dear Hysterical Liberals: Hectoring Hurts Science” says this: “But conservatives (including Christian conservatives) aren’t anti-science as much as they’re anti-hectoring and unpersuaded by naked appeals to authority delivered with maximum condescension.”  No joke.  Early in college, my religious and political beliefs developed largely for the same reasons: because I saw solid, irrefutable results in one way of thought and not in the opposite way, and because the advocates of those opposite views typically relied more on belittling the character of others than on engaging in serious argument.  I noticed that anti-Mormons (and anti-Christians in general) as well as secular leftists tended to ridicule others rather than refute their points, or even support their own.  I saw so much bandwagon elitism from those allied corners that it just added a deep layer of comfortable relief to the more objective conclusions I had otherwise reached about politics and religion.
  • If aliens from another planet came and observed America, they would determine that the purpose of our public school system is to make girls and minorities feel good about themselves.  After all, where does the balance of our energy and resources go?  What are our most sacred values there?  What agendas permeate the system top to bottom more than any other?  Based on the evidence, what else could those extraterrestrial visitors possibly conclude?   Continue reading

Evaluating the Arguments For and Against Gay Marriage

My attempt at an objective analysis of some popular points:

Pro-Gay Marriage Ban Arguments Evaluation Anti-Gay Marriage Ban Arguments Evaluation
“Homosexuality is morally wrong.” WEAK. While people have the right to campaign for laws based on their beliefs, civil laws are not obligated to honor them.  This opinion is actually irrelevant to the issue. “We’re born that way and should be treated equally.” WEAK.  Establishing that something is natural is not the same as showing that it’s good or deserves to be protected.  Further, while fairness is a virtue, equality is not automatically universal, but is dependent on a number of factors—insisting on immediate equality is an attempt to circumvent discussion.
“It would open doors to abuses like polygamy and bestiality.” WEAK.  Even if this actually would be the case, it would be irrelevant.  You can’t ban something because it might lead to something else.  The issue has to be considered only on its own merits. “Banning gay marriage fosters discrimination and harassment.” WEAK.  Like the opposing slippery slope argument to the left, even if this is true, it’s not relevant.  Laws are not based on whether or not they might be interpreted in ways that will lead to positive or negative behavior.  Certainly mistreatment of others is bad, but laws cannot be altered because they might contribute to a more civil citizenry.
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“I Don’t Understand…”

This is a phrase that gets beaten to death in arguments, as in, “I don’t understand why you think…”  People use this phrase as if they’re introducing an accusation, when they’re only stating their ignorance!

Perhaps this is meant to be employed as a rhetorical device, trying to get someone else to draw out a defense of a position that you don’t think they really can defend, thus exposing their weakness.  (“I don’t understand why you believe that the moon is made of green cheese.”  “Well, it’s obvious, actually.  You see…”)

However, that’s not how it seems to be used most of the time.  Whenever I hear someone say this, it’s always delivered in a tone that suggests that the speaker’s confusion is inherent proof that there is no rational explanation behind whatever proposition they haven’t bought into.  But since when is a failure to comprehend on one person’s part somehow evidence against the claims made by someone else? 

Such a reaction as “I don’t understand…,” intended to convey skepticism more than curiosity, strikes me as a singularly solipsistic excuse for an argument: “I have no real rebuttal to your proposition, but I just don’t like it, therefore it’s wrong.”

Being Wrong Does Not Equal Being Evil

Balderdash.  Poppycock.  Nonsense.  Rot.  Etc.

I’ve picked up from multiple sources in the conservative media speculation that President Obama might have purposely engineered the Gulf Coast oil spill as a means of discrediting oil-based energy and convincing people of the need to make a major shift to alternative energy plans.  While he does clearly want to focus more on “green” energy, we must make no mistake about this dangerous accusation: it is irresponsible, reprehensible, and unacceptable. 

It bothers me that so many on both sides of the political spectrum are comfortable slapping grossly wild labels on those on the other side.  One might not have liked George W. Bush’s administration, but he did not deserve to be called an empty-headed warmonger for eight years.  Similarly, President Obama deserves the same basic decency in our treatment of him.  Are people really suggesting that he might have manufactured a crisis that has cost many human and countless animal lives, and will surely devastate the environment and parts of the economy for years?  That’s not civic discourse, that’s not criticism–that’s childish demagoguery of the very worst sort. 

Many have unfairly linked Obama to this oil spill personally, comparing the crisis to Bush’s public connection to Hurricane Katrina.  But suggesting that he purposely caused the oil spill is far, far worse.  Implying that Obama created this oil spill is no more reasonable nor humane than the “truthers” who swear up and down that Bush was behind 9/11. 

I strongly disagree with many of Obama’s policy positions, but that does not make him a monster.  At the very least, we need to give the benefit of the doubt to those with whom we disagree.  Even if the worst fears of the Right about Obama are true and he really does have a hidden agenda to socialize our society as much as possible, I’m sure that he’s at least operating out of a good faith desire to help people and strengthen the country, not destroy it and sabotage our way of life.  Such groundless assumptions about the motives of others are both warped and counterproductive. 

We need to keep the criticism of politicians on the politics, not on shadowy speculations that they’re evil.  I would hope that especially after seeing how half the country treated George W. Bush, that we conservatives would show more professionalism in our analysis of his successor.  Obama may very well be a bad president, but that does not make him a bad man.

The Brown Herring

I haven’t yet commented on the kerfuffle over Arizona’s illegal alien law because it was so fractious that I wanted to let the dust settle, and I wanted to collect my thoughts before writing.  Sadly, the first isn’t even close to happening yet, so neither is the second.  But especially since so many in my own community–Latter-day Saints–are voicing opposition to this online, I need to contribute.

Almost all of the argument against the Arizona law amounts to one paltry thing: they’re racist!  They’re doing it because they hate Hispanics

Haven’t we lived with political correctness long enough to see it for the desperate, transparent attempt to stifle freedom and restrict discussion that it is?  Individual racists still exist, but are few and far between, and certainly any broad social consensus on a policy issue such as this is based on the honest good intentions of the citizenry, not some sudden massive throwback to the Jim Crow era. 

I’m happy to debate the pros and cons of this law, but people who base their position on the idea that those who disagree–regardless of what they say, no matter what other information they bring to the table–are really doing it because their black evil hearts are just filled with hate, are indulging in the worst possible vices of civic discourse: lying, stereotyping, refusing to listen to others with the benefit of the doubt.  They’re changing the subject, sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting, “La la la!  I can’t hear you and I don’t have to because you’re just a dumb meanie!  La la la!”  No constructive conversation can come from such an intellectual disconnect. 

I encourage anyone who supports Arizona to engage in discussions with those who disagree with us, but to present this understanding to them up front: if you’re going to insult millions of people and boil our principles down to ugly slurs, this conversation is over and I will walk away. 

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“Don’t Drink The Kool Aid”

Another cliché that irritates the heck out of me is “don’t drink the Kool Aid.”  The first time I heard it I was impressed by this clever adaptation of the Jonestown tragedy to symbolize the uncritical consumption of ideas, but I’ve heard it used so often now that it’s lost all meaning. 

No, that’s not quite true.  It does have a meaning.  “Kool Aid” is now an all-purpose stand in for any idea you don’t respect and with which you disagree.  If you want to call someone a moron but want to use a classy metaphor to do so, this one is your go-to. 

Have reservations about your colleagues’ political/religious/social/whatever beliefs?  You don’t need to bother hashing it out in a long series of mature discussions where you explore the origins and basis of dissenting opinions, just tell them that you’re not a vapid zombie and you “don’t drink the Kool Aid.”  Didn’t get behind the Cardinals this season?  It’s not just a matter of personal choice, it’s because you, unlike anybody else with differing tastes, are too smart and strong to drink the Kool Aid.  Refuse to butter your toast on a certain side?  You know the drill, you dangerous rebel, you. 

In today’s cultural climate, this strategy assures you of instantly establishing your independent thinker credentials. 

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