Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Mirage of Beliefs and Worships

In 1983, magician David Copperfield wowed a live audience when he made the Statue of Liberty disappear before their very eyes, even shining strobe lights through the open air where the Statue once stood to satisfy even the staunchest skeptics. Or did he?

Most magic tricks are illusions that rely on a combination of distractions, perceptual distortions and creative engineering. Copperfield employed all of these elements to deceive and delight his audience: the dark of night and two large pillars on stage restricted the audience's view, stage lighting and a fake radar system gave the audience false cues about what they were seeing, and loud music helped to hide a slow rotation of the stage and seating area. When the seating area had turned so that Lady Liberty was safely hidden behind one of the pillars, the curtain came up and spotlights confirmed nothing but open air. The audience, now disconnected from the reality of what they were seeing, applauded in astonished approval.

In the audience of a magician, we are delighted by the unexpected and the unexplainable. It's far less charming when, often without even knowing, we are confronted by illusions in our lives that have been creatively engineered to distort our perception and distract our pursuits. Like the mist of darkness in Lehi's vision, the world offers an abundance of false cues and figurative loud music that will ultimately disconnect us from reality and lead us down broad roads where we wander off and are lost (1 Nephi 8:23). In the midst of the mist we may unknowingly become blinded to true principles and deceived by errant thinking, social pressures, cynicism and doubt.

President Benson said it this way:

Without [Christ] we would be lost in a mirage of beliefs and worships, born in fear and darkness where the sensual and materialistic hold sway. We are far short of the goal he set for us, but we must never lose sight of it; nor must we forget that our great climb toward the light, toward perfection, would not be possible except for his teachings, his life, his death, and his resurrection" (April 1964).

Mirages are optical illusions that most often occur when light is refracted by hot air. They can be difficult to discern until we approach where they appear and discover nothing but a hot emptiness.

The mirages of the world are just as real in appearance and just as void upon arrival. The pursuit of worldly mirages can lead us far away from the person we want to be and the life we hope to have.

Consider, for example, the mirage of money. Most of the world's money today is found in the data banks of computers. The bank has a number stored for me and a number stored for you. If you think about it, that's really all you have-- a number. Our economies can function based on these numbers sitting on computer databases because we have all agreed to pretend the numbers we have are valuable. We accept addition for our hard work and subtraction in exchange for the things we want.

We are playing the same game whether our currency is a number on a computer, a stack of paper bills, gold and silver, or a 20-foot chunk of donut-shaped limestone as once used on the Micronesian island of Yap; there is little inherent value to any of these items-- it's all an awesome game of pretend we play our entire lives. In fact, it's so awesome and can get us so many things (even a trip to the Micronesian island of Yap) that it is easy to believe that a bigger number at the bank or a larger accumulation of those things will make us happy.

The trouble is, money isn't real in the first place. We made it up because it was easier than trading livestock and loaves of bread. We made it up to help us all get the food and shelter and services we need. We didn't make it up to make people happy; and those who build their happiness on money will find they are just as disconnected from reality and the real things that can really make them happy as someone in the audience of a great magician.

Like a dark mist or a mirage, much of what we encounter in the world is empty or contains too little substance to provide a foundation for real joy and happiness. Many build their identities on their academic or athletic achievements, only to find these are subjective and temporary. Status and fame are often fleeting. Recreation and fun lose their appeal when tragedy strikes and our hearts are heavy. Pornographic images cannot love us back. Video game victories are erased by a drop of water or a poorly placed magnet. Labels placed on us, whatever they may be, eventually fade and peel.

In 2001, Bishop McMullin warned of the mirage of worldly preoccupation with self. "The highs are counterfeit," he taught, "the lows are disparing. Love, kindness, personal fulfillment, and genuine self-worth are found in service to God and others, not in service to oneself" (An Invitation with a Promise, 2001).

Similarly, Elder Bednar has taught that "sadly, some [men and women] in the Church today ignore 'things as they really are' and neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions, and detours that have no lasting value." He continued:

Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, earbuds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience (Things as They Really Are, 2010).

In these prophetic warnings about the mirages of the world we see that there are many ways we can be fooled into giving up what matters most for an attractive illusion. However these illusions may deceive our senses for a time, they cannot quench our thirsts for purpose, joy, love and belonging.

Prophetic teachings also teach us about what is real: Loving and kind relationships filled with service and communication, covenants such as baptism and eternal marriage, physical experience and a grounded knowledge in things as they really are enhance our lives and bring lasting satisfaction.

In Lehi's dream, the iron rod through the mist of darkness was the word of God. If we are lost in a mirage of beliefs and worships without Christ, certainly with Christ we are anchored in reality and receive a clearer focus on what we want most in life. Like watching a magic trick after we have learned the trick, we are better able to discern reality when we embrace the word of God in the scriptures, revealed through modern prophets and written on our hearts by the Holy Ghost.

Jacob taught:

The spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls (Jacob 4:13).

Ultimately, the spirit and the words of the prophets will lead us to our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the living water that can quench our thirst. He has blazed a trail through the mist and engraven the path upon the palms of his hands. Through his atonement we find healing and strength, love for self and others, compassion, knowledge, service, power, lasting joy and eternal glory. Though the world will offer innumerable counterfeits and illusions that leave us with only vacant space, holding to the word of God will safely guide us through this life and back to that God that created all that is real.