Lyndon Lamborn--In His Own Words
By Their Fruits

Moroni's Pitch

By Guest Blogger Juggler Vain

The LDS Church, like any organization that asks people to do things they wouldn't normally do on their own, employs a variety of persuasive techniques. What follows is an examination of three of the LDS Church's techniques: (1) Moroni's Promise, found in Moroni 10:4; (2) Alma the Younger's Sermon on the Seed, from Alma 32; and (3) Boyd K. Packer's Testimony Experiment, from "The Candle of the Lord," a 1982 address to mission presidents, published on page 51 of the January 1983 Ensign.

The Low Ball

The "low ball" is a common sales technique that consists of offering a really good deal to a potential customer, building rapport, and then subtly adding conditions to the deal that make it less of a bargain, relying on the customer's reluctance to walk away and be perceived as (1) greedy, shallow, or cheap (for only wanting the best deal), (2) stupid (for not realizing there would be conditions), or (3) a liar (if they promised to buy before learning of the conditions).

A low ball is commonly found in print or broadcast media, for example, when an advertisement is followed by fine print (or really, really fast talking).  In religion, the low ball is common enough to be cliche: "God will freely forgive you of all of your sins (but only if you send me money)."  Like this example, the technique usually involves an independent positive statement, followed by a "BUT" phrase.  Low balls are routinely used by the LDS Church. They are found in scripture and taught over the pulpit.

Example 1:
Moroni's Promise
(Moroni 10:4)

IT'S SIMPLE: Ask God and He will manifest the truth of these things unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.

BUT don't expect a clear outward sign; the Holy Ghost is a still, small voice that usually speaks to you through your feelings.

BUT the Holy Ghost only answers if you ask with...

  1. A Sincere Heart
  2. Real Intent
  3. Faith in Christ

BUT you have to be asking the right question. 

  1. Your question has to be focused on "these things."
  2. You have to ask if these things "are not true,"
    1. which may mean that you have to decide they are true first and then ask God to confirm your conclusion, or
    2. it may mean that you should assume it is true and then ask God to tell you if your assumption is mistaken.

BUT read verse 3. You have to "ponder" Gods mercy "in your heart" before moving on to the experiment in verse 4.

Moroni's Promise is a particularly extreme low ball, in that the promised benefit is clear and simple ("God will tell you this is true."), but the "BUTs" do more than just make the promise less attractive--€”they eviscerate the promise by dropping it down a postmodern rabbit hole. You learn that it is impossible to confirm that the low ball conditions have been met (What is "real intent," and how "sincere" and "ponderous" does your heart have to be?); you can't be sure if the promised message from God has been sent or received (What, exactly, is the "power of the Holy Ghost"?); and you don't even know if you've been asking the right question (What are "these things," and does our phrasing of the question really matter?).

The False Test

With so much uncertainty, why does Moroni's Promise ever produce results?  Probably because Moroni's Promise is also a "false test"--€”a test that, on the surface, appears to be an objective means to solving a problem, but is really designed to yield a predetermined "right" answer. You think the test is simple and objective, but the low ball conditions leave it subtly nuanced and biased. Moroni's Promise is designed to produce the right answer, independent of whether or not "these things" are actually true.

A false test is characterized by a feedback loop. There is only one way out of the loop once you have accepted the terms of the test: get the right answer. If you get the wrong answer, it is because you did something wrong--your effort has failed to meet one or more of the low ball conditions--€”and suddenly a "BUT" phrase becomes part of the test ("BUT you were supposed to have been doing X, Y, and Z as well! No wonder you didn't get the right answer."), and you have to go back and try again.

From the moment you get your first wrong answer, you are faced with a "double bind." A double bind is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" proposition--no matter what you choose, you lose. Your choice is this: either (1) compromise your personal integrity and lie about getting the right answer, or (2) admit you got the wrong answer and accept the blame for it. Because you have accepted the terms of the test (and you are not a liar), you admit your error, and go back and try again. This time around, however, you are much more likely to get the right answer--the loop will never end if you don't.

Example 2:
Alma the Younger's Sermon on the Seed
(Alma 32)

IT'S A SIMPLE TEST. You can know whether the gospel is true or not by performing an experiment. If it's not true, then you're free to seek something else.

BUT this is not a scientific experiment--€”objectivity is not part of the process or the results. You have to believe in the gospel, and not let yourself have any doubts. (vs. 28, 40) If the "seed" grows (if you start to believe and become familiar with it and feel good about it), then it's true. (vs. 28, 30) If not, then you're free to seek something else. (vs. 32)

BUT you have to nourish the seed properly. If "your ground is barren" (if you are not committed or active enough to perform the experiment), it won't grow, even if it's good. (vs. 39)

BUT you have to exercise "diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you." (vs. 43)

BUT if the "seed" grows and bears forth "bad fruit", you shouldn't give up on it, because God can make a tree with bad fruit bear good fruit (see Jacob 5:17-18). Anything is possible with God.

BUT if you end the experiment early, you haven't really performed the experiment, in which case, of course, you won't get the proper results.

BUT the experiment doesn't have a defined endpoint, so you never know when the experiment can properly end. A potentially endless experiment is a trial of your faith (see Ether 12:6)—a test which you will certainly fail if you don't "endure to the end." (vs. 13, 15)

BUT if you go back and read the beginning of the chapter, you'll note that humility is necessary for belief, and belief is necessary for this experiment. (vs. 6-16, 28) If you're having trouble with belief, you are probably not humble enough.

BUT the point of this whole thing isn't really to "know" anyway. Why not? Three reasons:

  1. God prefers that you just believe to start with.  He wants you to worry about knowledge later. (vs. 22)
  2. You shouldn't try to "know" the gospel is true because you are more blessed if you just believe without knowing. (vs. 16) Don't you want the greater blessings?
  3. If you will accept nothing less than knowledge, you are not humble and you are a sign seeker, which is dangerous because if you happen to obtain that knowledge, you will be more cursed for disobedience than those who merely believe. (vs. 19) God is more merciful to those who just believe than he is to those who know. (vs. 22) Regardless of what you want for yourself, God knows what's best for you, and because He's merciful He probably won't subject you to the increased danger of knowledge, so don't expect to "know" the gospel is true.

The Alma 32 low ball could probably pass as a false test, but only because it is described in such a drawn out, confusing manner that people get lost in the mixed metaphors, give up, and assume it is an objective problem solving tool. On its face, however, the "experiment" is not objective at all, using circular logic to help people bootstrap their way to the right conclusion. (If you believe in the word/seed, then the word/seed will "grow," and when the word/seed grows, you can believe in the word/seed.) For those who assume the test is a fair one, it does provide a robust feedback loop, featuring an impressive string of "BUTs" and a double bind to ensure that the loop continues until the seed is pronounced good.

Example 3:
Elder Boyd K. Packer's Testimony Experiment
("The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, Jan. 1983, p.51)

"Bear testimony of the things that you hope are true, as an act of faith. It is something of an experiment, akin to the experiment that the prophet Alma proposed to his followers." If you do this, God will give you a testimony because "[a] testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!...The Spirit and testimony of Christ will come to you for the most part when, and remain with you only if, you share it. In that process is the very essense [sic] of the gospel." (see the article subheading "Where to Start")

Problem #1:

This is, by most moral standards, dishonest (and presumably a sin--€”"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Exodus 20:16).

Elder Packer's Response:

"It is not unusual to have a missionary say,...'If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?'...If you will speak with humility and honest intent, the Lord will not leave you alone."

*Clarifying Note: Elder Packer seems to be saying the lie will be made true by the Lord. The lie will be retroactively negated by the testimony you receive later. Lying with the "honest intent" that what you say will be true in the future is not dishonest.

Problem #2:

This process is indistinguishable from autosuggestion in that this kind of testimony only comes to you "when...you share it," and it will "remain with you only if...you share it."  Maintaining such a testimony requires continuously repeating it to others. Elder Packer's process allows for no other way.

Elder Packer's Response:

"The skeptic will say that to bear testimony when you may not know you possess one is to condition yourself; that the response is manufactured. Well, one thing for sure, the skeptic will never know, for he will not meet the requirement of faith, humility, and obedience to qualify him for the visitation of the Spirit.

"Can you not see that that is where testimony is hidden, protected perfectly from the insincere, from the intellectual, from the mere experimenter, the arrogant, the faithless, the proud? It will not come to them."

*Clarifying note: Elder Packer appears saying that those who think this question has merit don't have enough faith, humility, or obedience for God to bother with them anyway. Such people are insincere, intellectual, "mere experimenters" (Wait, didn't he say this was an experiment?), arrogant, faithless, and proud. He is simply calling people names rather than dealing with the question. This is called an "ad personam" argument. It is invalid.

Elder Packer's "experiment" is more of a simple double bind than a low ball or a false test, since he makes almost no attempt at disguising it as an objective test (other than a fallacious argument against calling it autosuggestion).  The double bind is straightforward. It is induced when he tells us to bear false testimony. If we follow his advice, we violate our personal integrity; but if we don't follow his advice, we lack faith and we are not following the counsel of an Apostle of the Lord.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as Elder Packer "speaking as a man" but this counsel has not been rescinded in the nearly 25 years since this was published in the Ensign, which amounts to tacit approval by the Brethren.  This seems especially clear in light of the fact that this article continues to be actively used in Church educational materials.  For example, the 2007 BYU-Idaho Learning Model, p.2, cites the article to support the notion that taking leaps of faith is necessary to gain "spiritual knowledge".

Applying the Techniques

These three examples are based on three interconnected concepts that augment each other and function together to persuade people that the LDS church is God's one true church. Moroni's Promise ("feel the truth") and Alma's Sermon on the Seed ("try to believe") share the purported goal of sorting out truth from falsity. In contrast, Packer's Testimony Experiment ("fake it until you make it") has a goal of feeling strongly about already-established truth. Alma's Sermon on the Seed and Packer's Testimony Experiment, unlike Moroni's Promise, both embrace autosuggestion, but give a person the skills to glide through Moroni's Promise.

As with most persuasive techniques, these three examples don't necessarily convince everybody. Their effectiveness, however, can be bolstered when they are used in concert. With this in mind, an effective missionary will probably start with Moroni's Promise, which is the most straightforward and objective looking test. If the investigator accepts the test but is still having problems, the other two concepts can be introduced, and Moroni's Promise can be revisited later, if necessary.

Comments

SML

Nice. I applied these methods and know your words are truth.

:)

-Domokun-

When BKP asks people to "Bear testimony of the things that you hope are true, as an act of faith", isn't he essentially telling them to lie? Or in OT words, bear a false witness?

paranoidfr33k

BKP is asking us to lie, until we beleive the lie. I think we can beleive anything if we beleive it, live it, and think about it constantly long enough. We would rather beleive the lie than to admit that we are lying.

This is one of those posts that I read and say to myself... "this is exactly how this works". Thanks for putting into such concise arguments.

/paranoidfr33k

dpc

I don’t understand this post. Example 1 is especially confusing. I’m not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that the promise is a ‘low ball.’ The fact that conditions are attached to a promise does not make it a low ball, otherwise many regular contracts would be included. I can sell you my house conditioned on you getting a mortgage. You agree to buy my house if and only if I agree to fix all of the broken windows first. If I clearly state what the conditions are before we have a deal, then there is no low ball. Similarly, it would be a low ball if after the person agrees to pray, Moroni imposed other conditions that were not plainly stated in his promise. Are there other conditions Moroni imposes that are not stated in Chapter 10? Are there conditions in the footnotes?

Furthermore, the whole argument of a false test crumbles when the idea is that a person is seeking for simple ‘objective’ truth when invoking Moroni’s promise. Does any person who prays to confirm religious truth seek anything other than a subjective personal experience? The wording of the promise itself clearly states that an answer will come by the power of the Holy Ghost, hardly a promise of an objective answer. And I doubt very much that people praying about the truth of the Book of Mormon are looking for a witness from God that the historical information contained therein be objectively verified to them through prayer. People pray to know if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true.

I agree that there might be confirmation bias in praying to God, but then again, if one prays to God to ask the truth of the Book of Mormon, haven’t they already accepted to a certain extent that it is true? If the teachings of the Book of Mormon were distasteful to the reader, why would she (i) believe any promise written therein; or, (ii) pray to know if the Book of Mormon were false? The question is not so much why do people fall for certain techniques, but rather, why do people hope for confirmation of new beliefs in the first place? What motivates a person to change his/her entire lifestyle based on a purely emotional sensation? If someone is unhappy with their current lifestyle who are we to criticize that person for changing their lifestyle to a system of belief that we may not agree with? Because we consider it harmful to them? But what if the person doesn’t consider it harmful? Just because I don’t like the taste of mushrooms doesn’t mean that I should contemptuously scorn those who market them, especially if the people who buy them actually like them.

Jonathan Blake

Excellent post.

Toward the end of my belief, I actually started to wonder whether Moroni's promise even applied to non-Lamanites. "Now I, Moroni, write somewhat as seemeth me good; and I write unto my brethren, the Lamanites;" (Moroni 10:1)

I often heard "fake it until you make it" as a missionary. No one seemed to see how dishonest that was.

dpc,

I think you're trying very hard to avoid coming to the natural conclusions. Moroni's promise is routinely presented as an objective test which takes the form "If you read the Book of Mormon and ask God about it, God will tell you that it is true." On the surface, it sounds pretty objective. The provisos do little more than to help Mormons hedge their bets against those who read and pray yet fail to believe. "They must not have had enough faith or real intent."

In your last paragraph, you seem to expect people to be motivated by pure rationality. That is rarely the case. Otherwise, marketing wouldn't be nearly as successful as it is.

"If someone is unhappy with their current lifestyle who are we to criticize that person for changing their lifestyle to a system of belief that we may not agree with?"

This comment displays a common problem with Mormon thinking: confusing criticism of a person's beliefs with an attack on the person. This post never criticized anyone for falling prey to these marketing ploys.

Lincoln

Let's say that I have a seerstone and I want to induce you, a rich farmer, to believe in it. I approach you with a group of people, my friends and work crew, and show you my magical seerstone. It is a strange rock that looks like a gear, with a hole in the middle. I tell you that it operates by faith, and if you believe, then it will definitely lead to buried treasure. You are skeptical. Very skeptical. You actually laugh when I show you the stone. I note your skepticism and let you know that I have seen a vision in the seerstone of ancient Spaniards burying a chest of silver on your farmland. I have seen it. I ask my group of friends if I am accurate in my predictions and they all resoundingly agree. You continue to listen and start wondering if it actually may be possible that there is a treasure chest of silver hidden by some Old Spaniard on your land. I let you know that it is not only possible, but that I know it is there.

You decide to test me. You ask me to find something else with my seerstone first. I look into it, and see a teapot buried at some distance from our location. We all walk to that location and dig it up, and sure enough it is there. You wonder if by some means I had it buried there previously, but your mind drifts away and you start thinking more and more about how rich you will be if I find the treasure. You actually start to exercise a bit of faith in my seerstone.

I caution you once again that you must have complete faith in my seerstone before I can even attempt to show you it works, or the treasure will remain enchanted. I also explain that many treasures are guarded by an enchantment and a guardian Spirit. We will have to break the enchantment to retrieve the treasure. You begin to doubt and waiver because the whole process is starting to sound foolish. I ask you again if you want the treasure. Again you begin to ponder on the wonderful things that a treasure of silver will buy for you. You are curious as to how I was able to locate the teapot. You begin to get excited in the possibilities of it all. You begin to believe in my magical seerstone. You really begin to appreciate my gifts, and my abilities to use the precious stone. Once again you ask my friends if it is all true, if they will be witnesses of my seerstone, and they all triumphantly declare that the seerstone is indeed a marvelous gift from God and that I have the ability to see things in it. You start to become convinced, by the sheer number of witnesses. You start to get caught up in a rush of emotion, part excitement, part joy, knowing that very shortly you will be rich.

I inform you that it can be an expensive proposition to remove the guardian Spirit, and I will need to pronounce the proper encantantions so that a cursed treasure will not slide away into the earth. I warn you that even if we find the treasure, improper procedures with the guardian spirit will cause failure. I ask my friends to tell you about the last treasure that slid away. A friend describes the sound of the rumbling earth when we had discovered a treasure, but the curse stole it away out of our sight. We had not prepared properly. We needed a lamb's blood to prepare the site properly. We would need one again, possibly two sheep to draw a circle of blood around the treasure. Of course, after making the sacrifice, we would have a barbecue with the lamb. We wouldn't want to waste good meat, and diggers will need to be properly fed. I look at the seerstone, I ask you to believe, you tell me you do believe, you do. I tell you that I see three Guardian spirits around the treasure, but it is a lot of treasure. The biggest chest I have ever seen. This will take great power to overcome the guardians of this treasure. We will need to dig very quickly after cleansing the site with the circle of blood. I will need a lot of diggers, possible ten men to dig quickly enough to recover the treasure. Can you afford $1/day per man to find this treasure? You answer that $1 a day is expensive, but if the treasure is found it will make you rich. I look in my seerstone again and see that there are a thousand pieces of silver, each worth about $5. That would be a $5,000 treasure that you would have only a few weeks from now. You wonder why it would take so long, and I inform you that it is a tedious process and that the digging takes time. Should we try, I ask? You ponder and make the calculations, and then ask what the chances are of finding it? I remind you that you are doubting again, and that the seerstone will not work properly if you are a doubter. I ask you to have faith in me. I ask you to believe in me. I ask you to believe in the treasure that awaits you. I look into the seerstone again. I see the treasure! You are exercising your faith! I see it! Do you believe? Yes. Then we will need to proceed quickly for I already see trouble with the guardian spirit, he knows we are here and....

Latterday Skeptic

Great post. I've never seen something so clearly spelled out what has internally bothered me for ages about the use of these scriptures, but could never quite put my finger on it. (I wasn't aware of BKP's talk, but I've always been skeptical of the suggestive power of bearing testimony, as it seems as a continual attempt to convince someone against considering the alternative...not really knowing).
DPC--I appreciate your perspective, and I wondered about the same thing. But when I consider your attempts at comparable analogies, they fall short. Of course contracts have conditions, but you missed the points of the post that were the most salient, namely, that the conditions in these scriptures/talks can't really be met unless you acheive the same already forgone "answer". This suffers from what all things Church suffer, that the Truth is already there and just needs to be accepted, not discovered with any real test. If you buy a house or car, there may be additional conditions, but those conditions can either be simply met or not met, and are not determined by the outcome of the answer. All is discoverable, and the conditions are not based upon judgmental "character" attributes.

dpc

Jonathon Blake

Are you seriously trying to argue that expecting an answer from God counts as an objective test? Any test that relies on God for the answer is, by definition, non-objective. Scientists don’t make hypotheses and then pray to God to let them know if their hypotheses are correct. A major criticism of creationalism is that it includes God as part of the hypothesis.

"If someone is unhappy with their current lifestyle who are we to criticize that person for changing their lifestyle to a system of belief that we may not agree with?"

‘This comment displays a common problem with Mormon thinking: confusing criticism of a person's beliefs with an attack on the person. This post never criticized anyone for falling prey to these marketing ploys.’

Not directly at least.

Besides being a hasty generalization of ‘Mormon thinking’ (whatever the hell that is; is it like ‘Christian ethics’ or ‘Hindu gardening’ or something?), I believe that you read my comment out of context. The main point of the blog entry was that the Mormon church uses manipulation to sucker people into joining. The sentence before it stated that the real question to be asked is what motivates people to change their lifestyle on what most of the readers of this blog will agree is a purely subjective emotional experience. If all of these techniques discussed are dishonest, unethical, manipulative tools of a nasty organization, then who would fall prey to them except the exceptionally stupid, dimwitted, or slow, who can’t tell emotional experiences from spiritual ones? To that end, we (all people, Mormon and non-Mormon alike) shouldn’t be critical of those who change their religious beliefs. To state that religious conversion is a result of a manipulative ‘market ploy’ is not a fair and thorough analysis of the issue. I have consistently maintained that religious choice is irrational and that to stay or go in a particular religious tradition is exactly the same because neither course is more rational than the other. Religious studies programs at universities usually fall under the Faculty of Humanities and not the Faculty of Science (or even the Faculty of Social Sciences), after all. People talk about examining the facts and making a decision based on the facts, but I see it all as post hoc rationalization of a prior-made personal choice.

dpc

Latterday Skeptic

I had stated above that I believed that the Moroni’s test may suffer from confirmation bias, but this is different from low balling (i.e unfairly changing the conditions of a contract before a final agreement is made) as I understand it. What does effect does confirmation bias have when applied to an admittedly subjective test?

JV

Thank you all for your compliments. I hope this analysis was as useful for you as it has been for me in terms of clarifying some of the experiences we have had with the LDS Church.

-JV

Equality

dpc,

"To state that religious conversion is a result of a manipulative ‘market ploy’ is not a fair and thorough analysis of the issue."

I think you are overstating JV's thesis here. I think it would be more accurate to say that JV is arguing that the "experiments" that Mormon leaders (whether Moroni or Boyd K. Packer) suggest people undertake to determine the "truth" of the Mormon message involve some of the same sales and marketing techniques that are used to get people to buy consumer products. He is not attempting a "thorough" examination of religious conversion, and I see nothing unfair about pointing out that the church employs psychological tools to convince people to "buy" its product. Church leaders would have people believe that what they are experiencing when they engage in the "experiment" or "test" is a communion with the divine. What JV's analysis suggests is a more mundane explanation of the religious conversion experience.

I do not think his post comes close to arguing that people who convert based on their experiences are, in your words "exceptionally stupid, dimwitted, or slow." It sounds to me like you are projecting here.

dpc

Equality,

Maybe you didn't read the same post that I did.

"These three examples are based on three interconnected concepts that augment each other and function together to persuade people that the LDS church is God's one true church."

Persuading who? The converted? Or the unconverted? And if person has one set of religious beliefs and then changes those beliefs to another set because of what a missionary teaches them, what other words can describe such a process other than "religious conversion"? JV is taking a complicated, multifaceted process and attempting to label it as nothing more than the product of psychological manipulation. I don't know what your definition of fair is, but I don't see that as a particularly good analysis of the situation. A good analysis would require examining the different sides (in an unbiased manner) and weighing the differences. Anything less is intellectually dishonest.

"As with most persuasive techniques, these three examples don't necessarily convince everybody."

Really? So who do they convince? Why are some people convinced and other's aren't? What do the people who remained unconvinced have that the people who were convinced don't have? Could it be that JV is suggesting those in the 'know' or who have some kind of superior intellect to deflect such base psychological methods are more impervious to them?

"Their effectiveness, however, can be bolstered when they are used in concert. With this in mind, an effective missionary will probably start with Moroni's Promise, which is the most straightforward and objective looking test. If the investigator accepts the test but is still having problems, the other two concepts can be introduced, and Moroni's Promise can be revisited later, if necessary."

So a missionary will ask an investigator to bear testimony of a truth he hasn't embraced a la fake it until you make it? I always thought missionaries testified and not the other way around.

The post clearly indicates that by its use of what an 'effective missionary' would do that it was intended to be an analysis of religious conversion. And why would anyone attempt an analysis if they didn't mean for it to be thorough? How can you arrive at the truth if you're only willing to go part of the distance?

Jordan F.

Equality:

I just recently spoke with a "disaffected" mutual friend who opined that all members who actually followed one or more of these methods, received an affirmative "answer," and acted on that answer were delusional.

In terms of thinking that believing Latter-day Saints are actually normal, intelligent individuals, I think you are the exception rather than the rule.

It's funny how an accusation of "delusional" can fly so glibly from the lips of one so smart that he has figured it all out while we LDS schmucks wallow in our delusional "answers". However, were the accusation reversed, it would just serve to that person as another confirmation of LDS "delusion" and "arrogance."

This is slightly off topic, but how exactly does one go about continuing a friendship with one who believes he is delusional? It is human nature to want to associate with people who support you and listen to you non-judgmentally without telling you constantly how "delusional" you are for accepting "answers" to certain "truth-tests." Not that surrounding yourself with sycophants is healthy or desirable, but neither is constantly subjecting yourself to accusations of being "delusional."

A lot has been said here and elsewhere about how LDS church members "abandon" their friends at the first sign of apostasy. But are we really required to keep up friendly ties with people who constantly belittle our intelligence and call us "delusional"? How do we do that? Yet if we don't keep up the friendship from our end, then we are judged to have abandoned our friends at the first hint of apostasy and told we were not "true friends." Talk about a double-bind!

At any rate, while I agree that the above post does not per se argue that people who convert based on such experiences (or continue attending and believing based on the same) are "exceptionally stupid", the one constant mantra I have heard from people in the DAMU is that those who believe in the LDS church are (1) ignorant and/or uninformed of its history or (2) delusional. This comes from my experience as I have frequented many sites and commented many times in the DAMU over the last 2 years, sometimes as a skeptic, and other times as myself. Equality is just about the only person I have met in real life or virtually who I truly believe does not think most LDS are delusional and/or ignorant.

Thus, Equality, perhaps it is you who are projecting your generosity and willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt onto the greater DAMU community. (Just as I often project my way of handling certain things onto the rest of the LDS church. as we have often discussed).

LDS Truthseeker

While we're on the subject of testimonies, what do you all think of the advice often given in Church to bear your testimony even when you don't really have one? My thoughts:

Perhaps it’s not official Church canon, but we’ve all heard something like this in wards throughout the world; ‘if you don’t have a testimony, still bear one and that’s how you can gain one’, ‘a testimony is gained in the bearing of it’, ‘your weak testimony will grow stronger when you bear it often’.

In a talk by Richard Wirthlin, he quotes Elder Packer:

"A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it. Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that 'leap of faith,' as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and step into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two."

The citation for this in Wirthlin's talk is:
18. "That All May Be Edified" (1982), 340.

The people following this counsel repeat things over and over, until they convince themselves that they're true. Just keep telling yourself, "I know it's true...I know it's true...I know it's true--" --and before long, you'll believe it!

The advice is essentially to lie enough times until you believe it yourself. Just think about this for a minute. If you don’t have testimony, bear one anyway. Does this make sense? Lying is wrong. If you say ‘you think you know’ or ‘you believe’ that’s fine. We can all accept that as that’s a truthful statement. But to say ‘you know’ when you don’t really know is lying plain and simple.

http://www.mormonthink.com/testimonyweb.htm

Jordan F.

Truthseeker:

The advice is essentially to lie enough times until you believe it yourself.

I think this is a severe mischaracterization of the oft-quoted maxim that "a testimony can be found in the bearing of it." Rather, I think this means that if you take a leap of faith and get up to bear your testimony even if you are not sure, then the Lord will witness the truth of it to you as you stand there doing it, not that you just repeat it until you believe it. Thus, this is not a "lie until you believe your lie" approach but a challenge to stand up and let the Lord fill your mouth.

That is not to deny that there are those who think it means they have to lie. The testimony either comes when they start bearing it or it does not. If it does, great. If it doesn't, and they then proceed to "testify" to something they haven't received or are not receiving as they talk, then they are lying, and that is not what I envision when I hear the adage "a testimony is found in the bearing of it."

Fly_on_the_wall

I'm confused. I always thought a testimony was the result of personal experience and/or personal revelation. So am I to believe that all I need to do to gain a testimony that Jesus is the Christ is to say out loud that I know Jesus is the Christ and I will know? I don't need to follow his teachings?

Jonathan Blake

dpc,

I agree that Moroni's promise isn't an objective test. I'm saying that it is sold as such, and many Mormons believe it is a quasi-scientific test. I've heard it and Alma 32 compared to the scientific method numerous times at church.

I wouldn't characterize Mormon believers as exceptionally stupid or gullible. If for no other reason than that I was recently a believer myself and I don't like to think of myself as stupid, I will give believers the benefit of the doubt. :)

I do believe that they suffer from the same irrational tendencies as all human beings. My awakening to what I believe is the truth didn't happen because I got more intelligent, just better informed with a clearer perspective. I began to see things from a less biased perspective.

Equality

Jordan,

You raise good points. I definitely do not think that religious people, including LDS, are all "delusional." (Some certainly are; to wit, Brian David Mitchell or Dan Lafferty). I have read a number of books regarding spiritual experiences and religious conversions since I first began studying the subject in college more than twenty years ago. I think my wide-ranging personal study of the phenomonon of religious conviction gives me a perspective that most people (whether in the DAMU or among the more devout members of the church) do not share. I am currently reading a book called "The 'God' Part of the Brain" that is providing me with much food for thought. I might recommend it to our mutual friend.

As for whether one ought to continue friendships with those who have called you "delusional," I would say that it depends. Such a statement may indicate a total lack of respect for you as a person, in which case I'd say you have no reason to continue to associate with the person. Or, the statement might just be an example of someone using hyperbole and heated rhetoric in a moment of passion. I have had friends in the past with whom I have disagreed vehemently on, say, politics. Sometimes we would engage in heated rhetoric, but we always knew that we respected each other even if we disagreed. I think that's the key.

Jonathan Blake

Regarding the missionaries having converts bear testimony, I personally never asked someone to lie, but it is common practice to have new converts bear their testimony. This serves to strengthen their new beliefs because they verbally identify themselves with those beliefs in public. They may feel some peer pressure to go beyond what they actually believe. "Everyone else seems to know that Joseph Smith is a prophet. How will it look if I don't say that too?" The more we say that we know something to be true, the more we believe that we actually know: the "saying is believing" principle.

Jordan F.

I have never heard of a "saying is believing" principle. I have heard the term "seeing is believing." Is that what you meant?

I have heard of using daily affirmations to build a certain attitude unrelated to religion. After all, you must remember that I am good enough, I am smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!

dpc

Jonathan:

"My awakening to what I believe is the truth didn't happen because I got more intelligent, just better informed with a clearer perspective. I began to see things from a less biased perspective."

I think that's a very interesting comment. I personally have found that the more I learn, the less clearer my perspective comes and I have a harder time accepting or believing anyone's version of the truth. Philosophy also played a part. (Why does David Hume have to be so damn persuasive?) I guess if we want to know the truth of the foundational claims of the Mormon church we can ask Joseph Smith about what really happened when he comes back and uses all the offices we constructed for him at our church buildings (Wait a second, that's L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology...I've been in Clearwater too long)

Equality

Your response to Jordan is a great lawyerly answer (i.e. practical).

Jonathan Blake

Jordan,

"Saying is believing" is probably a play on the more familiar phrase "seeing is believing". I first learned about it from a Bob McCue essay where he quoted the following:

"If all I want you to do is recite a speech favouring Fidel Castro, the Marx Brothers,socialized medicine or anything else, the most efficient thing for me to do would be to give you the largest possible reward. This would increase the probability of your complying by making that speech. But suppose I have a more ambitious goal: suppose I want to effect a lasting change in your attitudes and beliefs. In that case, just the reverse is true. The smaller the external reward I give to induce the recite the speech, the more likely it is you will be forced seek additional justification for delivering it by convincing yourself that the things that you said were actually true. This would result in an actual change in attitude rather than mere compliance. The importance of this technique cannot be overstated. If we change our attitudes because we have made a public statement for minimal external justification, our attitude change will be relatively permanent; we are not changing our attitudes because of reward (compliance) but because of the influence of an attractive person (identification). We are changing our attitudes because we have succeeded in convincing ourselves that our previous attitudes were incorrect. This is a very powerful form of attitude change" (Aronson, The Social Animal 9th Ed., p. 165)

I found his essay very enlightening:

http://tinyurl.com/2jjuzp

Equality

Jonathan,

Interesting quote from Bob's essay. I, too, enjoy his writing and have spoken with him on the phone a few times. I wonder if the principle doesn't operate as well on those of us who engage in a Festivusian "airing of grievances" on DAMU blogs and message boards.

Jonathan Blake

I'm sure it does. I think the place that I see this as most operative in the ex-Mormon crowd is when people start believing that the church is a conspiracy of some sort.

I try to take this source of bias into account in myself and tend to avoid spending too much time with like-minded individuals. :)

JV

Jordan and dpc,

I count myself among the ranks of people who believe that believing Latter-day Saints are normal, intelligent individuals. I do not believe, nor was my essay intended to assert, that a believer who finds these persuasive techniques persuasive is any more delusional than a person who buys a timeshare in Mexico or signs up for a free ipod on the internet.

I also do not believe that the decision to take a risk and purchase something is wholly a result of the sales technique. There are certainly many other factors that go into that decision, including the individual's personality, personal philosophy, past experience, independent research, etc. I don't believe that the decision to take a risk on following a religion is any different.

My analysis is very limited in scope. (I actually thought the second sentence of the essay made that clear.) It examines a couple of sales techniques only, and some of the psychological effects they can have on people who submit to them. It is not intended to be a unified theory of religious conversion.

-JV

Latterday Skeptic

DPC--I know that spiritual experiences can be considered subjective, but the church promotes it as objective, as if anyone who applies "the formula" couldn't possibly come up with a different answer, unless their character traits are in question. The double bind of this formula shows a powerful persuasion to come to a forgone "answer", not to discover it through reasoned thought and study of all sides of an issue, including possible disbelief (or doubt, at least). I agree with some aspects of the promises contained in these scriptures. If you are questioning about God, first you have to at least entertain the thought that he might exist, otherwise, why bother. Of course you will experiment on what you've been told by putting the teachings into practice, or ponder their usefulness/rationality and see what kind of effect they have on you and your life. But there is more than this, there is this Holy Ghost thing that's supposed to confirm to you that absoluteness of the "answer". I'm not sure of this complete "answer" idea. It's too packaged. I think while that happens for some, for others it's more gradula. They get general feelings that this could be good for them and their families, and that's what keeps them following things. But what happens when you start to sense that something's not right in Zion? That perhaps the things you thought were "true" don't pan out as being so. Well, then you're caught by the double bind, the character assassination, as these scriptures once shown to you to get you in, now are used to accuse you. So while I think your assertion about subjectivity is correct, you neglect to take the point of the article, IMO.

Lincoln

JV:

Unified theory of religious conversion or not, I think your article hits the nail on the head. Many Mormons are encouraged to proclaim a testimony they do not possess. This concept is troublesome on many levels. Douglas L. Callister, of the Seventy, mentioned in General Conference: "When the 23-year-old Heber J. Grant was installed as president of the Tooele Stake, he told the Saints he believed the gospel was true. President Joseph F. Smith, a counselor in the First Presidency, inquired, “Heber, you said you believe the gospel with all your heart, . . . but you did not bear your testimony that you know it is true. Don’t you know absolutely that this gospel is true?”

Heber answered, “I do not.” Joseph F. Smith then turned to John Taylor, the President of the Church, and said, “I am in favor of undoing this afternoon what we did this morning. I do not think any man should preside over a stake who has not a perfect and abiding knowledge of the divinity of this work.”

President Taylor replied, “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph, [Heber] knows it just as well as you do. The only thing that he does not know is that he does know it.”

So, Joseph F. Smith wanted to release Heber J. Grant as Stake President because he would not tell people he knew something that he did not know. It is very interesting that Taylor dealt with the issue through denial and circular reasoning. To state that someone knows a fact, but the only piece of information they are lacking is a knowledge of that knowledge, is circular, denial-based, flawed logic. However it was preached six days ago in Conference, and given as a good example. That is the problem. Good people are attending an institution that they believe possesses all knowledge and truth, and instead are fed a diet of faulty reasoning, deceit clothed in denial, and feigned "knowledge." This makes me wonder how many testimonies I have listed to in my life, where people claimed to know something that they really didn't know. I based a lot of my decisions on their testimonies, which were contrived. This is very problematic for me, and reduces my ability to trust the Church leaders in the future.

dpc

Lincoln:

You must have some kind of super power that clues you in on what people know and don't know. On what basis could you possibly argue that someone doesn't know something, especially concerning unverifiable matters? If I ask someone when the Declaration of Independence was signed and they say 1845, then I know that they don't know that fact if I happen to know that the Declaration was signed in 1776. But if I ask someone what the nature of God is, how could I possibly say that they don't know based on their answer, unless I already knew the correct nature of God?

Mayan Elephant

dpc,

what in the hell is the point of your last comment? if your point is that it is impossible for one person to claim/state/declare that another person does not know something then it is not lincoln that you would have issues with.

that was exactly the point of lincolns story - Taylor claimed to know that Grant did not know something. sounds to me like your issue should be with taylor, not lincoln. lincoln is on your side here by saying that taylor was full of shit. (the fact that f. smith thought everyone should know and declare something is true is another shitty detail, but it does not appear to be a factor or issue to you)

the issue at hand is not whether someone knows the nature of god or not. it is not whether the nature of god is even knowable. the issue is that leaders of the church tell people to say they know something even when they do not know to be true what they literally profess or testify to know.

dpc, lincoln is on your side on this one.

are you still confused?

Lincoln

dpc:

Let me just quote the relevant part of the talk for you again: "Don’t you know absolutely that this gospel is true?” Heber answered, “I do not.” No super powers needed to figure that one out.

With all due respect dpc Heber said "I do not" which is very similar to Gordon B. Hinckley's common response of "I don't know" to tough historical questions.

So that basis that I am using to argue that Heber J. Grant did not know the gospel was true, are his own words, as quoted by Douglas L. Callister in General Conference. Seems like a pretty good source to me.

Mayan Elephant

hey lincoln. you should warn people that callisters talk includes a part about orson pratt going into the meat grinder:

Brigham Young later said of Orson Pratt, “If Brother Orson [were] chopped up in inch pieces, each piece would cry out, ‘Mormonism [is] true.’ ”

brigham young had some serious issues. that dude loved violence a bit too much. oh, and i think it is fairly safe to say that the body of pratt, once chopped up, would not cry out like Shiz in a chorus of "mormonism is true."

do we know where orson pratt is buried? i hope someone hasnt taken this information from brigham young too seriously.

dpc

Lincoln said:

"This makes me wonder how many testimonies I have listed [sic] to in my life, where people claimed to know something that they really didn't know. I based a lot of my decisions on their testimonies, which were contrived."

My questions and comments were in response to this statement. How does Lincoln know that the testimonies were contrived?

As far as the exegesis of the words of 19th century men, I believe that reasonable people can disagree on the meaning of President Taylor's words. I see it as a gentle rebuke to President Smith not to require a person to testify to anything as a precursor to service in the church.

Equality

"My questions and comments were in response to this statement. How does Lincoln know that the testimonies were contrived?"

Maybe because people who say they "know" about something that nobody can actually "know" must, by implication, be talking about something they don't really "know" at all.

If I get up and testify that I "know" what occurred the moment just before the Big Bang, you can say that my testimony is contrived, because nobody can "know" that. People can conjecture about it, but can't "know" it. Likewise, if I testify that I "know" something that is demonstrably false, e.g., that the sun comes up in the west or that George Bush won the Nobel Peace Prize last week, you can say that my testimony is contrived because no matter how much I might believe such things, no matter how much feeling and fervor might be associated with my statements, they are false, and thus I can't really be said to "know" what I am claiming to "know."

I will leave it to you to connect the dots as to how my examples relate to Mormon testimonies.

SML

Jordan F. ~

You wrote, "At any rate, while I agree that the above post does not per se argue that people who convert based on such experiences (or continue attending and believing based on the same) are "exceptionally stupid", the one constant mantra I have heard from people in the DAMU is that those who believe in the LDS church are (1) ignorant and/or uninformed of its history or (2) delusional. This comes from my experience as I have frequented many sites and commented many times in the DAMU over the last 2 years, sometimes as a skeptic, and other times as myself. Equality is just about the only person I have met in real life or virtually who I truly believe does not think most LDS are delusional and/or ignorant."

Often, people who are believers do the same thing to non-believers or to people who walk away thinking it's a fraud: they think that we are being led astray by Satan or that we are allowing the things of the world to be most important or that we are so easily offended that we are leaving in a huff. Or sometimes they do the same to believers who question aloud at all, as happened with me. I emailed one good friend about Brigham Young teaching multiple times that he'd received revelation from God that Adam was God the Father. Then all Adam/God theories were discounted later by Spencer W. Kimball as "false doctrine." My friend didn't want to discuss this and then a day later, I received a letter in the mail from my High Priest Group Leader (found here: http://sistermarylisa.blogspot.com/2006/08/someone-snitched-on-me.html) which admonished me to "Deny the voices in your head. Say - STOP it! Stop it! Stop it! all the day long" and "Don't worry about these things of Satan" and "May the angels protect you from Satan's grasp" ~ in fact, he referenced Satan nine times. So...

I hope you cut your friend some slack. Perhaps he feels people are "delusional" but with reason...Delusion is after all defined (per my American Heritage dictionary) as "A false belief held in spite of invalidating evidence." I can see how this conclusion is possible considering the many things about Mormonism that seem like invalidating evidence to me as well. I hesitate to call anyone delusional (this gives a mental image of someone in a straight jacket with wild eyes - which is not intended but can be a negative side-effect to the word "delusional") ~ but when looking at the definition of delusion it's not a completely unreasonable word to use, in my opinion.

I would say it's not a slam on your intelligence, and I hope you don't lose a friend because of this. Friendships are valuable, and I feel friends are worth way more than any religion.

Best wishes.

SML

Sorry, the link screwed up...

http://sistermarylisa.blogspot.com/2006/08/someone-snitched-on-me.html

Equality

On a related point, I guess people who are mentally ill and suffer from delusions could take offense at the notion often put forward by sane people that equates "delusional" with "lacking intelligence." Some of the smartest people in the world also may be delusional (viz., A Beautiful Mind). So, while the epithet "delusional" may, in its own right, cause consternation in those at whom it is hurled, that consternation need not be complicated by an unnecessary ellision of "delusional" and "stupid." While some stupid people may be delusional, not all delusional people are stupid.

dpc

SML

"Friendships are valuable, and I feel friends are worth way more than any religion"

Unless, of course, those friends are the pawns of Satan... :)

SML

Look at me, Damien! It's all for you!

[I jump off roof, hanging myself]

;)

Lincoln

"I think, therefore I am delusional"

Jordan F.

Those are wise words, SML. Thanks. Probably not such a big deal as I thought.

Still, you know how easy it is to feel defensive when people think you are under Satan's influence. It's the same when people think you are delusional. I will just skip the defensiveness and realize that it's all good...

SML

Yeah, it's hard for me sometimes not to get defensive. I was proud of my response letter to the HPGL. I've seen him one time since, and we shook hands and commented on the chorus concert we had both just attended, and it really was "all good."

:) Glad things look better to you now...

SML

I just can't believe nobody commented on my quote out of "The Omen"...did nobody here watch that movie??

Lunar Quaker

I can't help but quote Richard Dawkins quoting Robert Pirsig:

"When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion."

Although I have become sympathetic to that view recently, I would never use the word "delusional" to describe a person that holds onto a religious belief. To define a delusion as "a false belief held in spite of invalidating evidence" is technically correct, but the word "delusional" is usually used in the context of mental illness. Religion is not mental illness, and no psychologist would characterize it as such.

dpc

SML:

I got the quote, but I said avoid friends that were the 'pawns of Satan' not the 'spawn of Satan'!!!! :)

SML

Hi DPC ~

It WAS a pawn of Satan who hung herself from the roof...not that I have experience in such things, of course. *evil laughter fading into silence*

LQ ~

Do you think it's the same negative connotation when one says members who know of the difficult issues and still believe are deluding themselves? I've heard that before and am not sure if that's as harsh as calling someone "delusional." What do you think?

Lunar Quaker

SML, yes I agree with you that to say someone is "deluding themselves" has a less negative connotation than calling someone "delusional". It's just that because the word "delusional" is also a clinical term used in psychiatry, it tends to connote mental illness.

Equality

Kind of like saying someone suffered a "crippling injury" is not offensive, but calling them a "cripple" is.

SML

And nobody better DARE call someone else a "delusional cripple!" Them's fightin' words.

Jordan F.

how about "delusional cripple apostate"?

SML

So...you askin' to pick a fight with me, Jordan? Hmmm? :) Bring it on.

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