Many anti-Mormons unwittingly strengthen the beliefs of the Mormons they are arguing against by the things they say and the way they say them. This happens when the words and arguments they use end up being almost verbatim what can be found in the Book of Mormon, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the story of Korihor, an anti-Christ, as depicted in Alma, Chapter 30. I think it’s worth quoting several parts of this chapter to make sure we’re clear on how not to argue and what not to say.
To give some background first, Korihor is this guy who comes out of nowhere and he doesn’t believe in Christ (this takes place before the birth of Christ, FYI) and is trying to convince others in the Nephite society to drop their belief in Christ. Many anti-Mormons do believe in Christ, so you might think this story only applies to those anti-Mormons who are atheists, but I’ve found that anti-Mormons, whether atheist or religious, typically use the same arguments when debating with Mormons, so the story holds lessons from anti-Mormons of any background.
So we start the story of Korihor this way:
6 But it came to pass in the latter end of the seventeenth year, there came a man into the land of Zarahemla, and he was Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies which had been spoken by the prophets, concerning the coming of Christ.
There follows an explanation that the Nephites honored a policy of free speech, and that there were no laws against a man’s beliefs, so this guy was free to go around saying whatever he wanted to.
Ah yes, no man can know of anything which is to come. This argument is typically used by anti-Mormons of the atheist persuasion, and in this they are generally not discriminatory would use the same argument against any religious person. But in doing so, they fall into two traps, the first being that mentioned as the purpose of this post, of saying something that Mormons have already been inoculated against. That is, when an anti-Mormon puts forth the argument that nobody can know the future, the Mormon says “Hmm, that sounds familiar…” Then they look up this scripture, which tells of a man 2,000+ years ago saying the same thing, and they think “Hmm, well, the Book of Mormon certainly seems to have predicted the future, because it already knew what you were going to say, and this adds a bit more credibility to the Book of Mormon as being authentic.”
The second trap is that it embroils the atheist in having to prove that no one can know the future. All a Mormon has to ask is “How do you know that no one can know the future?” Of course nobody can prove that nobody knows the future, so the atheist is then hedged in by having made this illogical statement for which they have no proof. Instead of damaging the faith of a Mormon, they have strengthened that Mormon’s faith in the Book of Mormon, and have portrayed all atheists as lacking logic and reason. Let’s move on.
This one can apply to believers who are attacking the Mormon faith just as well as atheists. Don’t fall into the trap of insulting the prophecies of Joseph Smith or other Mormon prophets, because as soon as you call the prophecies silly, stupid, foolish, etc., then you sound just like this Korihor fellow. Once again the Mormon says “Where have I heard this before…” and when they read Alma 30:14 their faith in their beliefs is strengthened once again and you’ve shot yourself in the foot. The better route is to take a strictly scientific approach. Research the prophecies of Joseph Smith thoroughly, figure out how Mormons interpret those prophecies, and then when you think you’ve found a hole in one, bring it to a Mormon who is an expert in such things and ask them to explain the hole you’ve found.
16 Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.
As above, if you just call Mormons crazy, then they’ll write you off as merely another Korihor, seeing your behavior as predictable and confirming the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. And baseless insults don’t do any convincing anyway, so it’s best to just stay away from calling Mormons crazy lest you damage your own position in the debate.
One thing leads to another, and Korihor ends up arguing his case in front of a high priest of the Church of the people in the Book of Mormon, and this is how it goes at the beginning:
22 And it came to pass that the high priest said unto him: Why do ye go about perverting the ways of the Lord? Why do ye teach this people that there shall be no Christ, to interrupt their rejoicings? Why do ye speak against all the prophecies of the holy prophets?
This commonly happens in discussions with Mormons. They’ll ask “What’s your problem with Mormonism if it makes people happy?” Unfortunately, many atheist and even Christian anti-Mormons use the same response as Korihor.
23 Now the high priest’s name was Giddonah. And Korihor said unto him: Because I do not teach the foolish traditions of your fathers, and because I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words.
The reason this argument falls flat with Mormons is because they don’t see things this way. They don’t see their ordinances and performances as foolish, but rather as richly symbolic, educational, and as having a truly positive influence in their lives. They don’t see their leaders as exercising power and authority over them, but as their servants who work for the good of all at great personal sacrifice. And they don’t see the LDS Church as keeping them in ignorance, but as a great source of enlightenment and education. They see the result of their faith as enabling them to life up their heads with confidence, rather than hanging them low with shame. So these are tough ideas to sell to most Mormons because they generally don’t jive with their experience.
27 And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges.
28 Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.
Again, this won’t ring true with Mormons. You can make the argument that Mormon leaders make money off the books they write and sell to the Mormon faithful, and that a few of the top leaders (we’re talking about a very small handful–all local leaders are volunteers) receive stipends for basic living expenses, but since it’s not that much in either case, and the books are purchased voluntarily, it’s hard to make the case that anyone is “glutting” themselves, or that anyone is being kept down in bondage.
In trying to make the case to Mormons that they are not able to enjoy their rights and privileges, you had better be ready to be explicit about what you mean, because Mormons look at this argument and ask exactly that. If you mean they aren’t free to drink, smoke, have sex with whoever, whenever, etc., then you’re not going to get far. Mormons don’t see themselves as being tied down in bondage because they don’t drink or smoke, but liberated. Anyone who has dealt with alcoholism or who has tried to quit smoking can relate. And when one looks at all the potential negative effects of wanton sexual relations including STDs, unwanted pregnancies, bad relationships, drama, divorce, etc. it’s not hard to see how a “boring” Mormon family might be seen by Mormons as liberating compared to a “free” sexual life.
And once again, don’t enter into that course of trying to prove a negative. If you state that there is no God, a Mormon will merely ask “Where’s your proof?” If you ask them to provide proof that there is a God, they’ll merely accuse you of avoiding the question and lacking evidence to back up your claim. If you make a claim, you’ll need proof, and since one cannot prove there isn’t a God, it’s best not to make this claim or other such claims in the first place. You’ll just end up in a fruitless debate that doesn’t get anyone anywhere, except that you might come across as a pawn, merely following the same path as Korihor, and thus supplying Mormons with more evidence that the Book of Mormon is true. You make it easier for Mormons, using Occam’s Razor, to believe the Book of Mormon is a true account of real events than a fabricated story.
Reading all of Alma 30 thoroughly is a good exercise for anti-Mormons. It will show you how not to argue against the LDS Church. You might want to read it several times and then whenever you go to argue with a Mormon check yourself against it to make sure you’re not inadvertently working against yourself.