If there’s one thing that’s changed about me since leaving the LDS church, it’s my desire to help others. As a Mormon, I tended to outsource at least some of my charity to God in prayer, as many members tend to do. I thought engaging in cult-like temple ceremonies for hours a week was making the world a better place, and that my tithing was doing people a lot of good. How wrong I was. Since studying enough to realize the church was a fraud and resigning my membership, I’ve been more driven to help others who are struggling, and am able to feel compassionate for a larger range of people than I would before, without appendages. (Ex: LGBT people.)
I’ve seen this increased motivation to be charitable in abundance from my fellow ex-Mormons, and I was excited to learn that Joe Rawlins, author of “The Korihor Argument: A Missionary’s Journey Out of Mormonism“, has been working to donate part of his book royalties to children in Peru who are struggling, as well as people closer to him who need help.
I spoke to Joe about his (fantastic and hilarious) book to gain more insight into what inspired him to write it, and what he hopes will come from it.
Joe! Your book is awesome, first of all. Tell our readers what The Korihor Argument is about and what inspired you to call it that.
The first chapter of my book is called “Korihor Wins” because all my Mormon life, I pretended not to know that this simple fact was true: Korihor was a bad story to be included as something faith-affirming in The Book of Mormon, and how it escaped three opportunities to be editorialized out of the manuscript was beyond me.
(Joe’s book includes a fantastic chapter about the logistics of debating, and how his time on a high school debate team helped him understand the fallacies in Joseph Smith’s immature story of Korihor, a so-called “anti-Christ” whose arguments resemble those of a poorly educated teenager rather than a sophisticated product of Satan. If the Book of Mormon was written for the last days, God must have really got it wrong when it comes to determining how intelligent people would be or why they would disbelieve in the Mormon church.)
What made you want to write this book?
It was around the time that Christopher Hitchens died that I realized my life’s work was going to go unfinished without setting something to paper about what I had learned. So I wrote a paper that was about 40 pages long about how the debate between Korihor and Alma proved that Korihor was right and proved an epistemological point that I had learned from my own Mormon experience: you can’t claim to know anything to be true until you have embraced the reality that you could be wrong.
I tacked on about another 40 pages of my story and sent it to me best friend, David Despain, who sent it back to me with the carefully-worded note that it was very interesting for a boring book. In fact these are his words: “I really enjoyed this book. Thank you for the privilege of having edited it.”
And I knew that he hated it.
So I talked to him about it and he told me that the parts he really enjoyed were the parts about me and my mission and the things that I personally learned and how I grew and how funny it was in the way that I told it. So I took a funny story from the end of the book about a boy who asked me on my mission why the Church taught that non-Mormons were resurrected without their genitals and I put it in the beginning of the book. Then I put the story about the debate with “Courtney” in high school. It was entirely out of chronological order but it helped lead into the story of Korihor. Then, I took apart the Korihor Argument and I assigned it to parts of my life where I learned that Korihor was right and rearranged those into chapters of my life, rather than chapters of Alma 30.
The idea was that the Church tries to “shut up” dissenters the way that Joseph Smith had to “shut up” Korihor when he realized that he had lost his train of thought and had to wrap up the story as best he could. But that was way too heady. It was then that David made me see that this book wasn’t about Korihor or Joseph Smith or the Church. It wasn’t even about me – it was about a journey of maturing, learning to love, learning to be honest with myself. And my story was way better than Korihor’s. He provided the logic but my past provided the experience. My life, you might say, was The Korihor Argument. So I wrote another 500-600 pages of it.
I know you served a mission in Peru, but why did you decide to donate part of your book’s royalties to Peruvian children?
My first several months in Perú were really hard because I was focused on how I was sick and how I was having difficulty making converts, etc. Toward the end of my mission, I came to really understand that I would never know difficulty like Peruvians knew it. After I lost faith in God, I saw that I had adopted the wrong mission trying to save Peruvians’ eternal souls when their mortal lives were so hard. I can’t feed all of them and I can’t clothe all of them. But maybe if I can help children to think and to learn then I can give them the gift of shaping the future of a people I came to love even as I fell out of love with the Church and with God. (Joe’s efforts are primarily focused on education for the children.)
How do you feel about the fact that you spent two years of your life teaching something you no longer believe?
I don’t regret going on my mission. I regret that I didn’t punch “Elder Greene” and I regret that I told people that Catholicism was wrong. I regret that I didn’t break the rules and kiss “Connie” my “Snakita”. I regret not dating in High School. But my mission is a part of me, now. It is a part of my history and I will make Peru a part of my future. And because I went, I learned to free myself of dogma. I am grateful to the Mormon Church for that.
What do you hope people will take away from your story/The Korihor Argument?
I want Non-Mormons to walk away seeing how difficult it is to escape Mormonism. I hope that will change the way others think of people trapped in cult behavior. I want Mormons to see that some of us truly do leave on ideological grounds – not just because we are offended or prideful. And I want people transitioning out of Mormonism to see that the darkness they fear in leaving is real and valid but there is hope for a better and healthier life outside of the faith. And I want to make the argument that Korihor made – that life outside of the Church and life without God can go hand-in-hand – that you don’t have to set down one set of lies to pick up another set. You can live authentically and without the nagging feeling that you know, no matter how much you attempt to deny it, that you are trying too hard to convince yourself of something that you know isn’t true out of the worst of all reasons: fear. Fear of what God’s non-existence might cost you.
Ok, last question that I’m sure many Mormons will be dying to know. Why can’t you leave the church alone? 😉
At the end of the last chapter, I talk a little about responsibility in a secular world. There is a Latin proverb that says “He who is silent is understood to consent. He should have spoken when he had the chance.”
Whether we want to accept it or not, the abuses and tragedies in this world that we choose to ignore in order to preserve our own ivory towers make us tacit accomplices to the world’s crimes. Most of the time we pretend that the world is okay like we pretend that our choices don’t have consequences and that we will never die. Sam Harris really said it best when he said that we make a tragic mistake in thinking that death is an emergency. “Life is the emergency.” And in this emergent life, we who have abandoned Mormonism can help others to steer clear of it, steer their children clear of it, and protect their loved ones from it.
For nearly 200 years, the Rawlins family has protected this Church because they believed it was something other than what it is. They aren’t at all happy that I have written this book or taken this mission because they only see it from one angle. But I think that anyone who picks up The Korihor Argument and reads its pages will see that it is not a story about hate but a story about love.
If you would like to read Joe’s book (I really recommend that you do), you can order it through our Amazon affiliate link below and have it sent right to your door. (You can also NOT order it through our affiliate link, but then you wouldn’t be supporting your favorite ex-Mormon site ;))