28 … And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
In the Savior’s address to the Nephites (3rd Nephi 11: 28-30), he explains to the Nephites that stirring up the hearts of men with anger about doctrinal issues was not his doctrine. He states pretty clearly that those who have the spirit of contention are “of the devil”. It is important to note, however, that the internet had not yet been invented. And, as we all know, the internet changed all the rules. The internet is almost exclusively powered and run by the spirit of contention.
So, by wading in this cesspool of contention, LDS web denizens are faced with a number of difficult decisions. Some examples-
–How do I state my irrefutable truths in a way that really dumb, backwards people will understand?
–How can I not only prove that I am right, but force the other arguing party to feel shame, regret, and the need to repent for the beliefs that they formerly held (before I so effectively called them to repentance)?
–If my true calling is to spend day and night, 24 hours a day roaming the internet, angrily correcting people’s doctrinal mistakes , how will I be able to provide for my family?
I cannot answer all of these questions easily. But I can provide you with a guide, illustrated by yours truly, on a variety of rhetorical tools that I have seen employed by the congregations of the Bloggernacle. Perhaps, one day, they will aid you in some ridiculous internet argument, and lead you to a flawless victory.
Guilt is one of the most effective forces of motivation in the church currently. Although it doesn’t work on all members, those who are plagued with a guilt complex may be compelled to civility through a simple, guilt inducing statement. If you want to use guilt as a rhetorical tool in an argument, you can use this in two ways. You can either be the arbiter, or you can play victim. The arbiter takes the judgment of God into his own hands to heap on the guilt, and the victim tries their hardest to make the arbiter types feel guilty. Both sides are seen pretty commonly in Comments sections throughout the Bloggernacle, although the arbiter tends to be a bit more common and vocal. This is what an argument between the two might look like- notice that both sides try to force the other into submission using different types of guilt.
Arbiter: I don’t know how you are comfortable with ________. I can’t see how you can believe that and actually think you’re going to the Celestial Kingdom. Just watch out, and know that the Lord warned us to look out for people like you.
Victim: Brother/Sister, as I have thoughtfully reflected on your statement, I have decided to leave the church. My 13 kids will also leave. So, you won! We are all going to the telestial kingdom now. As the generations continue, and the numbers of my progeny reach the thousands, my hope is that your unraveling of the thread of my faith through your comment is remembered through the godless generations. It’s like you’re doing reverse temple work. Actually, I might print it out and frame your elegant indictment, and place it above my desk, so that I never forget my worthlessness. May you reflect on your actions each sacrament meeting as you review your covenants. Truly, you have shown me my worth. (Bows for applause)
Strengths- Like I stated, guilt-inducing rhetorical tactics work only on a specific type of member (one that has a soul, i.e. the capacity of feeling remorse…just kidding.). With that type of member, it could potentially be very effective.
Weaknesses- Since we all are on the internet and have turned into bloodthirsty, heartless beasts and and have been desensitized to feeling any sort of remorse for anything they type, guilt as an argument-winner is extremely unlikely to work. Worth a try, though.
There are lots of things that are attributed to the General Authorities. There are also a lot of weird ideas floating around in the culture of Mormonism. My crash course in “deep doctrine” was on my mission, where I heard that comets are planets being celestialized, spirits who fail in this life will be recycled in the next eternity as ‘intelligence’, etc. You all have heard weird stuff like this. Attributing all sorts of strange ideas to ‘The Brethren’ is an easy way to buttress your point with the appearance of credibility! If you feel backed into a corner about something, you can always say, “Well, you know, The Brethren have said…” and then you can badly paraphrase something they actually said (deliberately changing the text to make you look better). Or, if you don’t even want to cite, just make something up! Your seminary teacher did this all the time, right?
Strengths– The large quantity of General Authorities in this dispensation of time, and the variety of opinion among them already have us scrambling for answers. Buffeting your own weird ideas with quotes from ‘The Brethren’ will most assuredly drive people crazy! This tactic is particularly effective if: 1.) You have a history of compulsive lying and 2.) Google is censored in your country.
Weaknesses– This only works for those arguing parties that believe that the General Authorities are the mouthpieces of God on the Earth. In other words, don’t try and pull this one on your “Liahona Mormon” or Ex-Mo friends.
Outcrazy the Crazies
Sometimes the discussion you encounter is beyond rationality. Sometimes you are bound up in a discussion with someone and you honestly see no light at the end of the tunnel. Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you are desperate for a win, then you can always play the jerk. This one is a bit tougher, because it requires that you feign sincerity, but as a member of the church, you have been practicing this your whole life! Example:
Strengths: You may use this tactic to sarcastically point out fundamental flaws in their reasoning. They will probably get their feelings hurt, get defensive, or dismiss you entirely. But that’s what you wanted, right? You don’t have to engage them anymore, plus, you don’t have to make a valid point, either! I have used this method for years, by the way.
Weaknesses: Once people find out you’re actually acting like an arrogant jerkface, they will think you are an arrogant jerkface. And, if you use this method, they are most certainly right.
Using the “Holy Ghost”
Seriously. This is what they counsel missionaries to do. If you find yourself backed up against a wall in a huge, pointless internet argument, tell your story, and then, the end. This has saved many people from having to answer completely legitimate questions all throughout church history. I see this one used in person more than on the internet, but it is usually an argument-ender. How are you supposed to follow up a testimony? “Nope, that’s not true.” And then it just turns into a Monty Python skit- “Yes it is!” “No, it isn’t!” So if you are done arguing, just say you had a spiritual experience.
LDS Person 1: Your argument is weird and baseless!
LDS Person 2: I have felt a confirmation through the Holy Ghost that Kolob is actually located in the star cluster Sirius B. You may deny my experience, but if I were to do so, I would be lying to myself.
This is even better when employed between spouses- “I was praying and the Spirit told me not to shop at Kroger anymore. I don’t know why, but we have to follow the Spirit.” Or, similarly, mission companions. “Elder, I really think we should stop listening to Disney songs. They are driving away the spirit.”
Strength: Who can tell you that you didn’t have a spiritual experience?
Weakness: Internet people, that’s who.
With these tools employed, I am sure that all of you will see a 0% increase in the efficacy of your arguments. May you continue to fan the flames, and may your year be filled with fruitless, pointless arguments all over the internet that make everyone else uncomfortable.