Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mormons and Prophets

Just came across a great article by a Robert Sonntag.

Here are a few excerpts.  The whole article is worth reading.  It can be viewed and downloaded here.

Our history is a study in the power of words. By changing the use of one word we have profoundly affected our understanding of the gospel at a fundamental level. Now orthodox members see evidence of "prophetic power" in every sentimental story, pithy platitude, quote from a famous poet, and marketing buzzword that comes from the general conference pulpit. They see “prophetic counsel” in every piece of advice or opinion given by “the brethren.” They look at policy changes driven by market research and see revelation. The word "prophet" has become a rhetorical cudgel used to enforce conformity to institutional norms. Who, after all, could possibly be right when they disagree with a "prophet"? Who are we to think we could possibly “know more than the prophets"?

Mormons should study to understand how institutions and institutional leaders inspire a sense of “awe.” contains links to many interesting discussions. Tools to inspire religious awe include lighting, music, ritualized social interactions such as hushed silence and standing when a leader enters a meeting, praising and adoring leaders, etc. The LDS Church’s media and broadcast arm, Bonneville International has trademarked the "HeartSell"® technique of “strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response.” This is the music-and-sentiment technique used in all recent LDS media productions, and is explicitly designed to affect viewers behaviors by carefully manufacturing emotional experiences ( Bonneville uses the same techniques in its religious productions as it does in its commercial advertising. Since Latter-day Saints have been conditioned to perceive warm, peaceful emotions as spiritual confirmation, they are ever more likely to mistake HeartSell® brand institutional awe for the the Spirit of God. This sort of emotional manipulation, while effective at building brand loyalty, cannot save anyone. Pg 45-46

These (Section 76) are the glories to which Latter-day Saints aspire. We flatter ourselves that we will obtain them by some magic in the afterlife, ignoring the fact that these verses in D&C 76 are supposed to describe revelations we receive in our mortal life. It is perfectly natural that in the widespread absence of these fruits, a religious group will establish other signifiers to identify "righteousness" in themselves and others. These signifiers almost invariably consist of outward appearances and behaviors, because those are easiest to measure. Over time, these signifiers grow in importance, becoming a second set of commandments, an "unwritten order of things," by which we can measure the boundaries of our group. For the Jews it was the "hedge about the law": the strict rules that keep people from breaking commandments, rules that eventually became intrinsic to Jewishness. For Latter-day Saints, these other signifiers tend to be dress codes and appearance, abstinence from coffee, tea, tobacco and illegal drugs, 'niceness', wealth, education, Church callings, outward profession of orthodox belief, and meeting attendance. In such a culture, “repentance” often means returning to conformity with this unwritten order, a concept of repentance foreign to the scriptures.

For a fascinating comparison between prophets anciently and now click here.  Worth reading.


  1. There are times when I will be listening to something put out by the church that is supposed to be uplifting, and while the words of the message (typically from a Conference talk or Church School fireside) may actually be inspiring or uplifting, the "Heartsell" or what ever background music actually interferes with feeling the spirit. The manipulated emotionalism becomes an irritating distraction to any true spirituality in the message.

    I've also recently found myself being as "inspired" and emotionally moved by Glider videos, of sailplanes soaring majestically through the sky, as anything the church has recently put out.

    Our unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of our audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. We call this uniquely powerful brand of creative "HeartSell"® - strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response.

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