In part one of this exploration (READ IT HERE), we acknowledged how difficult it can be to know how to distinguish between truth and mistruth in this age of information overload with its 24/7 news cycle, an excess of news sources, and an ever-expanding number of social media platforms.
The scriptures warn us repeatedly that there will be those who try to deceive us. We must know how to determine what is good and true so that we can choose rightly.
Fortunately, our loving Heavenly Parents have not left us defenseless. They have provided us with some sure patterns and standards for determining truth. Last time we talked about two useful patterns: the “Search/Ponder/Pray” pattern and the “Contrite Spirit/Meek and Edifying Language” pattern. In this installment, we will discuss two important standards that God has given us for measuring truth.
Pattern and Standards for Determining Truth: Standards
13TH Article of Faith
In addition to patterns, God has also given us standards for measuring what is true, good, and of Him.
Possibly the most well-known of these is our 13th Article of Faith. Here we find, clearly articulated, the basic standards by which we should measure all things. Whether we’re evaluating issues, positions, or candidates, we should ask; Is this thing/this individual:
Christ as the Standard
In addition to the standards laid out in the 13th Article of Faith, God has given us the perfect standard whereby we may measure truth. That standard is our Savior himself.
Christ proclaimed: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). If Christ himself is truth, then what better way to measure truth than by Him–His words, his teachings, his very life.
What would it mean to live a life like Jesus lived? There are, of course, limits to that for us. As mortals, we are imperfect. We can’t routinely perform miracles, nor do we have the capacity to atone for the sins of the world. But how can we emulate Him? If we tried to live as He did insofar as is possible for us, what would that life look like? As we carefully study the scriptures and learn all we can about Him, we realize that it would be a life of simplicity, of generosity, of love and service and devotion both to God and to our fellow brothers and sisters. It would be a life focused not on material gain or self-advancement, but on lifting and helping others. We would not be pharisaical or judgmental in our approach to life or in our relationships to others. Rather we would be focused on taking care of each other–feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, ministering to the sick and needy.
Above all, we would love. What did Christ teach if not love? “Love one another,” “By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another,” “Love thy neighbour,” “Love your enemies,” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Sometimes I think we attribute to Christ precepts that he never actually taught and ignore some of the things he did, in fact, teach.
It’s interesting to note that Christ’s harshest rebukes are leveled toward those who are self-righteous, judgmental, or hypocritical.
As Hugh Nibley points out with his characteristic incisiveness: “The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality . . . .” (Approaching Zion, 53-54).
Jesus concludes his great Sermon on the Mount by explaining the higher law he is calling us to live which culminates in love—not only of God, ourselves, our neighbors, but even of our enemies.
In 1 John 4, we are again warned that we must be discerning: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.”
And in verses 6-7, John gives us a key: “Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God.” And in verse 8: “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.”
The key, then, the standard, is love.
When I was a young girl, my mother announced one day that she could no longer support a political organization that she had initially been enthusiastic about. I was surprised and asked her why. “Because it’s based in fear,” she said. “And God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1: 6-7).
Those words changed my life. That scripture in 2 Timothy has become the measure by which I judge almost everything. Is this information, organization, philosophy, behavior, position, policy, etc. based in fear—or love?
“If you can’t find the love,” my mother always said, “it’s not of God.”
The Spirit of Christ/The Light of Christ
In Moroni 7 we are cautioned to “take heed . . . that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God.” And we are assured that we can do this because “the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” Then another important key is given: “for everything which inviteth to do good . . . is of God.” We are then instructed to “search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil.”
Amy Gold Douglas has written with great clarity and power about this, applying it in a very pragmatic way to our quest for truth. When we encounter new information, she writes, we should ask ourselves:
“What is the purpose of this information? What is it trying to persuade me to do or think? Does it provoke fear? Does it stir up anger? Does it seek for solutions, or cause division and discord? Does it inspire me to act in a positive and constructive way? Is it subtly sowing seeds of hate or distrust of others? Does it promote “us vs. them” thinking?”
And she returns to the idea of love:
“The two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught that loving our neighbor does not mean that we only love those who believe like us, think like us, look like us, or live like us. The parable of the Good Samaritan clearly demonstrates that loving our neighbor means especially loving those who are different from us and who might even be considered our enemy.
Keeping this in mind, I recognize that any messages that promote distrust, suspicion, fear, or hate of any group of people – whether it be people of a certain religion, nationality, race, political party, or any other population of God’s children – is not good fruit. Thus, I can discern that any source of such a message is not good and is not of God.”
A Word About Conspiracy Theories
This seems like a good place to talk about conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories are unsubstantiated theories that attempt to explain an event or situation as resulting from the secret actions or ploys of a powerful covert group or organization. Examples of some well-known conspiracy theories include the belief that an American military installment (Area 51) is involved in experimentation on aliens, the insistence by some people in Idaho that the federal government is systematically poisoning them by dropping chemicals from airplanes, and the theory that the Denver airport is built over an underground city that is the headquarters for the New World Order.
Christians seem to be particularly susceptible to conspiracy theories, probably because we are warned so repeatedly in the scriptures that evil and conspiring men will try to deceive us. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are also steeped in the rhetoric of the secret combinations spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
There are, of course, true conspiracies. Real corruption does exist—in business, in governments, in the private sector. There are modern-day Gadianton robbers—mobs, gangs, drug cartels, trafficking rings. We need eyes wide open to these evils.
But when it comes to conspiracy theories, we must be discerning lest we be deceived. We can’t simply believe things because they bolster our own biases or exploit our deepest fears. There will always be those who will try to deceive and manipulate us, who will prey upon our worries, our vulnerabilities, even our secret hopes. Don’t be taken in. Don’t be played for a fool. We must see things as they really are. Again, do your research—and make sure that the sources you are consulting are credible ones. Search (and research), ponder, and pray. The pattern holds true here as well.
Here are two excellent resources for guarding against being duped by false information and unfounded conspiracy theories:
As we approach an important election in our country, we would be wise to ask if God has given us any similar guidance for determining who we should elect as our representatives and leaders. Again, we can use the 13th article of faith as a guide. Is the candidate we are considering honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous? Does he/she believe in doing good to all people?
Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect candidate. All are mortal and subject to human frailty and weakness. Politicians sometimes seem particularly vulnerable to corruption. Still, good men and women do exist in the political sphere. Few if any candidates will meet all of these criteria, but some come closer than others. Can we immediately eliminate certain choices based on these standards? Can we use this guide to help us identify the best candidate, no matter his/her party? As our modern-day prophets consistently remind us: “Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties, and members should seek candidates who best embody those principles.”
But God has given us even clearer direction on this. Lest there be any misunderstanding about the kind of people God wants us to elect as our leaders, he gives us this unequivocal instruction in D&C 98:8-10:
“I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men [and women] and wise men [and women] should be sought for diligently, and good men [and women] and wise men [and women] ye should observe to uphold.”
God’s standard is clear. The candidate should be honest, wise, and good.
We must resist the temptation to respond with cynicism and insist that none of the candidates are honest, wise, or good. There are, in fact those who, though imperfect, truly try to live and govern with honor, dignity, decency, and integrity.
Nor can we buy into the dangerous and fallacious argument that character doesn’t really matter in an elected leader. As evidenced by D&C 98:8-10, God clearly doesn’t agree. Nor does the father of our country, George Washington, who on Sunday, December 5, 1790 wrote these words to his nephew, George Steptoe Washington: “A good moral character is the first essential.”
God needs a clear-eyed, clear-headed people to do His work. And so we must be ever vigilant in guarding against deception and in seeking and defending truth. Thankfully, God has given us reliable patterns and standards to guide us. Most importantly, He has given us the light of Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost whereby we may know the truth of all things.
Truth exists, truth matters, and the truth shall set us free.
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Sharlee Glenn taught for many years in the Honors Department at Brigham Young University. She is a writer, teacher, advocate, and community organizer. Glenn currently sits on the external advisory board for BYU’s Office of Civic Engagement.