The most overrated form of communication is “The Debate.” This is especially prevalent on the internet where people have memed themselves into thinking anyone has an open mind, especially themselves. They believe this, of course, because they definitely formed their opinions through deep study and meditation on the issues, by considering the merits of all sides, and then making an informed decision – and definitely not by reading a couple of social media posts by someone more popular than them.
No, people usually do not make informed decisions when it comes to opinions. If this was true, surely someone with the most credentials who has done the most studying would descend from the mountaintop and deliver the truth to all of us, and we would all fall in line. Why, then, are we stuck in the mud arguing about our opinions? Why do we think if only the person next to us opened their mind they would see that ahcktually socialism is good, or free trade is good, or Jesus would have felt this way about this issue?
The truth is most people form their opinions based on their surroundings. You are raised by your parents and you probably agree with them on everything until you learn about your cool friend’s opinions. Then maybe you rebel against your parents for a bit because it’s fun. Then you go to college and take ECON 110 and you suddenly have new opinions about the effectiveness of market planning, or you take Sociology 101 and have new opinions on gender, or you take Biology 110 and have the same opinions on gender.
The similar strain here is there are limitless ways to understand the world around us. The social and political structures that define our lives can be manufactured to fit any value system. Of course, people have different value systems, and different ideas on how to implement those systems, and all these original ideas come from somewhere.
However, when you’re arguing with a stranger online and you’re regurgitating rhetoric that was cooked up in some political think tank or a spout a line about religion some teenager cried while trying to justify their sins, you’re not engaging in some grand debate. It’s usually two people talking past each other. People don’t want to admit this, so they talk about “facts and logic” or say “if only you sat down and listened to this person’s lived experience,” but it’s all nonsense. The political commentators who evangelize this method are not even effective at convincing their own opposition.
So, it looks like the best way to spread ideas is to become authoritative and popular. This is just reality, people understand the world through narrative, not through logic, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Lots of people believe in Christ and are better off for it because Christianity is authoritative and popular. But also, lots of people reject Christ and are worse off for it because their ideology is authoritative and popular.
However, the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the distinct advantage of being true, having the fullness of the restored priesthood of Christ with living prophets to guide His church and His people.
This means when it comes to the doctrine of Christ, we’re not “arguing” for some superior value system, or mechanisms to realize it. There is no argument to be had, the truth is here, it is absolute, and it is carried by the Spirit to touch the hearts of the people. We are not commanded to go out debating the merits of our arguments to convince people our theology is logically superior – we are commanded to go out and preach repentance and invite them to come unto Christ. When they request to debate you, they want to disarm you. When you want to debate them, you disarm yourself. You make yourself, and the Gospel, look weak and lame. The people you’re talking to do not want an “in good faith debate,” this is a lie they use to bait you into playing into their narrative, and it is not effective to call them on it. The only relevant narrative is the true and living Gospel.
The instruction from the Lord to Hyrum Smith is perfect wisdom:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be done unto you; and, if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.
Say nothing but repentance unto this generation. Keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.
Do we desire to be the means of doing much good in this generation? Say nothing but repentance.
If you can’t get there in a couple of exchanges, you’ve lost. If you’re getting caught up in the definitions of words, you lost. If you’re crying about logical fallacies… You. Lost. It’s not useful or cool to engage in days worth of tweets debating someone who disagrees with the most basic premises of the Restored Gospel.
To say nothing but repentance is to boldly preach the truth. It is to invite others to realign their will with God’s. To speak with the Spirit. And sometimes, it is to stand before the booing crowd and to continue to preach.
When I first started posting on Latter-day Saint Twitter, I would talk to certain agitators, and before I would engage with them on whatever topic I would ask, “do you believe God has called a prophet to lead and guide His Church?” Without fail these people would cower and dodge the question or try to sell me on a stupid nuanced understanding. What does that say about them? They know the truth must be absolute, which is why they can’t directly answer my question in the affirmative. So why would I engage them on any other principle? It is pointless.
When missionaries go out to preach the Gospel, they are not sent with a list of Bible verses that point towards the unique features of our Church, or a list of logical fallacies from debate club that serve to show when investigators are not obeying the rules of debate, they are sent with the Book of Mormon to stand as a witness of the truth of the Restoration. This is the example we should be following.
It is important to be fluent in the scriptures, to know the doctrine and be able to answer questions. But to get bogged down in petty debates is debasing. We don’t need to debate how Jesus would have felt about certain issues because we have his own words and the words of his servants at our fingertips!
Most importantly, we are trying to win the hearts, minds, and souls of this generation. Like I said before, we need to be authoritative and popular, but never shaking in our foundation. Our foundation is Christ and He is our strength. If we are rooted in the Doctrine of Christ, and never make excuses for it, we cannot lose.
- “We Can Do Better and Be Better” -President Russell M. Nelson, April 2019
- “An Ensign to the Nations” -Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, April 2011
- “Inviting Others to ‘Come Unto Christ’” -Elder Gene R. Cook, October 1988
You can follow Golden Boy on Twitter @CoconutLaCroixD.