A Sacrament Meeting talk given by me in my ward 16 February 2020.
Back in the 1950s psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments, which later became known as the Asch conformity experiments, designed to test the extent to which an individual will conform to or withstand social pressure. In each of these experiments a male student, who had been told he was participating in a vision experiment, was put in a room with several other men. Each individual was shown the same two cards. On one card a single line was pictured. On the second card there were three lines of differing lengths, one of which matched the line on the first card. Each individual was asked to state which of the three lines on the second card matched the line on the first card: A, B or C. The student was always the last or next to last to be asked. Unbeknown to the student the other individuals were actors in the experiment, and had been told which answer they should give to the questions. There were 6 questions for which the actors had been told to give an answer that was correct, and 12 questions, for they were instructed to give the same incorrect answer. What did the students do? Only 24% of students never conformed to the majority wrong answer. 75% agreed with the majority incorrect answer at least once. The students were interviewed following the experiment, and asked why they had given the incorrect answers that they did. Some stated that they had known the correct answer all the time, but hadn’t been willing to say so out of fear. Others said they didn’t have confidence in what they were seeing, and decided that everyone else must just be seeing it better than they were, so went along with the majority.1 In neither case did the students feel able to answer with the truth.
Today I want to talk about truth. President John Taylor taught:
“..it is the duty of all intelligent beings who are responsible and amenable to God for their acts, to search after truth, and to permit it to influence them and their acts and general course in life, independent of all bias or preconceived notions, however specious and plausible they may be. …
In an address given at a CES devotional in January 2013, then President Uchtdorf spoke of the complexity that can surround us in our efforts to identify truth. He said:
“Part of our problem in the quest for truth is that human wisdom has disappointed us so often. We have so many examples of things that mankind once “knew” were true but have since been proven false.
“… in spite of one-time overwhelming consensus, the earth isn’t flat. The stars don’t revolve around the earth. Eating a tomato will not cause instant death. …
“In the Book of Mormon, both the Nephites as well as the Lamanites created their own “truths” about each other. The Nephites’ “truth” about the Lamanites was that they “were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people,” never able to accept the gospel. The Lamanites’ “truth” about the Nephites was that Nephi had stolen his brother’s birthright and that Nephi’s descendants were liars who continued to rob the Lamanites of what was rightfully theirs. These “truths” fed their hatred for one another until it finally consumed them all. Needless to say, there are many examples in the Book of Mormon that contradict both of these stereotypes. Nevertheless, the Nephites and Lamanites believed these “truths” that shaped the destiny of this once-mighty and beautiful people. In some way we are all susceptible to such strange thinking. … Part of the reason for poor judgment comes from the tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth.”3
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read:
“And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come”4
Dallas A Willard describes how we come to recognise true and false as part of our learning and development as we match our beliefs with our experiences, and relates an experience of his own:
“Beliefs must come to terms with facts, not facts with beliefs. … it is a part of the precarious human condition that acting or being ready to act as if something were so does not guarantee that it is so. We can act as if something were so-and-so when it is not, and when we do we have a more or less unpleasant collision with reality. … Reality makes no allowance for our beliefs, desires or good intentions. It just says: “Here is how things are. Now you have that to deal with.
“We all discover this at an early age, and with it we discover truth and falseness. … This fact, this “matching up” is truth. … This is how we learn to speak of truth, learn the “language game” of truth.
“Once while in a meeting …, my automobile was stolen. I still believed that it was where I parked it and acted accordingly. When, upon leaving the meeting, I came to the place where I had parked it by the curb, I experienced the shocking incongruity of my belief (that the car was there) with the facts…
“We characteristically say “I don’t believe it!” in such cases, because we don’t believe it—that is, we don’t believe the fact that presents itself to us in place of the one we are in the course of acting as if it were there. It takes a while for our beliefs to adjust to reality. Then we do “believe it,” and trudge our way to the police station and report how things are.”5
Alma recommends we carry out this matching process when he tells us that having faith is to have “hope for things which are not seen, which are true”6 and invites us to experiment by planting the word of God like a seed in our hearts and observing what happens. We read:
“…as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. … And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? … because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. … ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.”7
Similarly, in the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.”8
What is the truth in which should we be centering our faith?
In Helaman we read:
“…remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”9
Indeed, Jesus taught:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”10
Throughout our scripture, truth is connected with Christ, and can be found partnered with mercy, grace and light. In Psalms where we read:
“All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.”11
“O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.”12
Jesus, speaking to his disciples about leaving them, explains about the gift he will leave as a guide in those paths of light and truth. In John we read:
“I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth”13
A Spirit we can also learn to recognise by the fruits of:
“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance”14
Moroni teaches that:
“by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is. And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost;”15
Our search for truth and for knowledge requires that we follow that Holy Spirit, and the light that it brings into our lives.
And so we come to the importance of personal revelation. This is a topic that has been addressed many times in General Conference. President Nelson taught:
“The privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children.
Through the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, the Lord will assist us in all our righteous pursuits.”16
Elder Scott spoke about personal revelation teaching:
“I believe that you can leave the most precious, personal direction of the Spirit unheard because you do not respond to, record, and apply the first promptings that come to you.
“Impressions of the Spirit can come in response to urgent prayer or unsolicited when needed. Sometimes the Lord reveals truth to you when you are not actively seeking it, such as when you are in danger and do not know it. However, the Lord will not force you to learn. You must exercise your agency to authorize the Spirit to teach you. As you make this a practice in your life, you will be more perceptive to the feelings that come with spiritual guidance. Then, when that guidance comes, sometimes when you least expect it, you will recognize it more easily.
“…Have patience as you are perfecting your ability to be led by the Spirit. By careful practice, through the application of correct principles, and by being sensitive to the feelings that come, you will gain spiritual guidance. … the Lord, through the Holy Ghost, can speak to your mind and heart.”17
Elder Scott has suggested it might be helpful if we record our personal revelation in a journal.18
I enjoy hearing or reading about the experiences of others, some recording both their successes and failures. Just this week I read the following experience of a church member who usually lived and worked in Shanghai. He wrote about his recent debates with God.
[Here I shared some excerpts from a recent blog post “How to win an Argument with God” over at Mormanity blog. Please go and read it. I finished the excerpts with this quote:]
“God may not be the best debater by human standards, but He often helps us find second chances or new paths forward after we make major blunders in our lives (sometimes as a result of a very persuasive win in our debates with God).”19
I have some sympathy with the author. One of the things I like about the Old Testament is the arguments with God. But as President Uchtdorf has said:
“How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?”20
Sometimes there are things we can learn from perhaps unexpected sources. John Taylor said:
“A man in search of truth has no peculiar system to sustain, no peculiar dogma to defend or theory to uphold. He embraces all truth, and that truth, like the sun in the firmament, shines forth and spreads its effulgent rays over all creation. If men will divest themselves of bias and prejudice, and prayerfully and conscientiously search after truth, they will find it wherever they turn their attention.”21
Just the other evening, [my husband] and I, being big Harry Potter fans, were rewatching “The Crimes of Grindelwald”. Grindelwald is described as being very persuasive. He draws many followers by his words. Indeed, there is one section of his speech where he says:
“Oh and what a world we could make, for all humanity. We who live for freedom, for truth and for love.”22
It is this line that takes my breath away, which in his mouth is both jarring and seductive. If I had to identify the values I hold most dear, it would be those three values. An examination of the wider context of his speech, and the actions of Grindelwald, the fruits of the person, if you will, all tell a very different story. There is no matching. Seductive as they sound, lines earlier in his speech demonstrate the arrogance of a “we” who would create a world because the “we” are better than those he has already designated “other”, nor has he said what kind of world he has in mind. He is flattering and manipulating his followers by telling them they are “rare souls … who live for higher things”23. He does not value freedom, truth or love, when innocent men and women have been killed on his orders, and once his followers have gone he declares “I hate Paris”24 and leaves behind him a magical fire to wreak destruction as he departs. Indeed, if we are not careful, the things we hold most dear can be twisted, perverted, used against us, to draw us into those things that are not in fact good, as so clearly demonstrated in the film.
I love music, and in particular I love listening to choral music, and especially to beautiful arrangements of hymns. They speak to my soul in a way that other things do not. For the past few weeks that hymn has been Lead Kindly Light. The words speak to me. I don’t particularly like the melody in the hymnbook, but there is a beautiful setting by composer Robert Prizeman25 I’ve been listening to.
“Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom; Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene–one step enough for me.
“I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that thou Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now, Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years.
“So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile, Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!”26
In closing, the results of the conformity experiments I mentioned at the beginning did leave reason for hope, can be seen more positively, finding that “total conformity was scarcer than total independence. Only six out of 123 subjects conformed on all 12 occasions. More than half of the experimental subjects defied the group and gave the correct answer at least nine times out of 12.”27
May we all seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit be able to discern truth. May we be willing to stand up for truth. May we follow Christ, as “the way, the truth and the light”.
22 Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, p246 pub. Little Brown
23 J K Rowling, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, p246 pub. Little Brown
24 J K Rowling, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, p261 pub. Little Brown