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.
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...
- A Sincere Heart
- Real Intent
- Faith in Christ
BUT you have to be asking the right question.
- Your question has to be focused on "these things."
- You have to ask if these things "are not true,"
- which may mean that you have to decide they are true first and then ask God to confirm your conclusion, or
- 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.
Alma the Younger's Sermon on the Seed
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)âa 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:
- God prefers that you just believe to start with. He wants you to worry about knowledge later. (vs. 22)
- 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?
- 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.
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")
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.
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.