Mormonism and Marketing
Almost five years ago my family accepted an invitation to study with Mormon missionaries. Our studies lasted almost a year, and of course, over time missionaries were transferred in and out (one rather quickly) and others brought in to 'discuss' things with us. There were several parts of this study that did not go as most contacts with Mormon missionaries go.
"Our" missionaries, the first two, told us their first names and permitted us to call them by friendly nicknames. Our missionaries both gave us their home phone numbers and addresses. The missionary who was transferred out the quickest broke the rules and called us and emailed us within a few days of his transfer to tell us where he was and how to keep in touch with him.
Both missionaries remain quite committed to the LDS church, but I am not discouraged because I have read many accounts from former Mormon elders and missionaries who left the LDS church in their thirties and forties and older, which accounts all said that the little spark that lit the fire started with people like us challenging people like them during their young missionary days. They would even have forgotten all about it, but decades later, they'd have a question about an issue with the LDS church and suddenly recall that previous experience and the dominoes would slowly begin to topple.
Mormonism is a highly successful organization from a marketing point of view. One of the ways products are marketed in the consumer world is to appeal to the emotions, to generate happy, pleasant, warm feelings about the product or the company. Mormonism is very feelings based as well.
To begin with, one of the foundational beliefs of Mormonism is that feelings are actually a reliable indicator of whether something is true or not. They will claim to have a 'scientific' test for whether or not the Book of Mormon is true, but a scientific test carries with it an element of falsifiability. There must be a null hypothesis. The Mormon test is not falsifiable.
What is the Mormon test?
It comes from the book of Moroni, in the Book of Mormon:
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:4-5).
In Mormonism, a testimony is a reliable method to learn the truth and to communicate the truth -- but as in many areas, we need to define terms, because they don't mean by 'testimony' the same thing most people do -- more about this later, but it's based more on a 'feeling' and emotions, not an anything specifically measurable, or even an 'eyewitness' account. It's about how they feel. "Men can deceive, science can be wrong, but a true testimony is an undeniable way to establish the truth of the gospel" [Mormon Testimony & Spiritual Witnesses]. A testimony of the Book of Mormon can be gained by reading the Book of Mormon and putting the book to the test by praying that God will show you it is true. This will seem like semantics, but it's not, so note carefully the wording because what our missionaries asked us to do is slightly different from what their own verses say. We were to read the Book of Mormon and then pray, asking God to show us that the Book of Mormon is true. It was not acceptable to the young Mormon Missionaries for us to offer to pray and ask God to tell us if the Book of Mormon is true or untrue. We must earnestly plead with Him to show you that it is true.
During the year of our time with our young Mormon friends, our refusal to ask God to tell us that the Book of Mormon is true just flummoxed them. They couldn't understand why we would only agree to ask Him to show us if it was true or not, and this upset them greatly.
They were even more upset when we showed them II Thessalonians 2:11: "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie."
We explained that if we earnestly prayed for God to tell us something was true instead of earnestly praying that He would show us truth, whatever that turned out to be, we would be pleading with Him to deceive us, we would be saying that we wanted to believe a lie, and He just might respond to that by sending a strong delusion.
One of them even emailed us later to tell us how much that scripture had bothered him. He asked us a lot of questions about it and wondered how he would know that he was deceived, and how he could be sure that God wouldn't trick him by sending him a delusion.
I wrote him back and pointed him to the entire chapter, particularly verse 10, where it says that those who received the strong delusion were those who did not have a love of the truth, and I pointed to verse 12, "That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." If he wanted to be spared that strong delusion, I said, I thought that verse gave us a clear and promised hope that so long as we had that love of truth, we were protected. And how would we know we had that love of truth? We had to be receptive to it, for one thing. We had to honestly commit within ourselves to be truly open to and seeking the truth, willing to listen to something we might not like and fairly investigate it to see if it was true or not. We had to love the truth more than we loved our parents, more than we loved our heritage, more than we loved family, girlfriends, jobs, or all that we had known and believed all our lives. We had to love the truth so much we could give those things up if we found out they were not based on truth, we had to love it so much that we wanted to know the truth, that we sought it as the Pearl of Great Price (I believe I quoted that parable because Mormon beliefs about the Pearl of Great Price are also counter to Scripture).
I did not hear from him again, but I am still praying for him and for the other young Mormon lad we studied with so much.
Mormons value their 'testimony' very much, and they define 'testimony' differently than we do. It is not an eye-witness to the workings of God. It is not an eye-witness account as defined in the New Testament. It is largely an emotional feeling, sometimes a 'burning of the bosom,' sometimes just a nebulous feel good experience.
The so called scientific experiment we were asked to participate in, to pray sincerely that God would show us the Book of Mormon's truth, has no falsifiability because if you pray that prayer and then do not get a warm feeling of confirmation that the book is true, or that Joseph Smith was a prophet or the LDS church is the only true church on earth, then you will be told you couldn't have prayed sincerely.
This testimony serves another purpose, as well. It is works to reinforce what they already believe, to close off doubts or questioning, it's supposed to be an unanswerable discussion closer. (Hence, the emotional tone, who can argue with how you 'feel' or what you personally have experienced. You may recognize this as a common sales technique, too, particularly with certain types of marketing.)
If anything at any time, and especially something said during a 'study' with the likes of you or me, makes them question their faith in the LDS church, in Mormonism, or in Joseph Smith, they are taught to immediately repeat their testimonies. This means that if you are communicating truth well and that underneath his true, blue believer exterior the Mormon missionary has a heart that yearns for truth, you may find your train of thought and the study interrupted half a dozen times with the repetition of their testimony.
What is that testimony?
It is some variation of:
"I testify that the Church is true, and Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I testify that the Book of Mormon is true. President Hinckley is the prophet on the earth today."
And they repeat it, and repeat it again, as they have been taught. This is actually a form of self-brainwashing, which is why the LDS church insists that young missionaries keep repeating this mantra when faced with doubts. They are not encouraged to investigate the claims that cause them doubts, rather they are forbidden to read 'anti-Mormon' materials or anything that isn't 'faith building.' What is 'anti-Mormon?' Anything that questions Mormonism in any way is seen as a hostile attack. Because any time they feel any doubts or feel they are losing control of the study or unable to answer a question or comment, they are supposed to repeat their testimony. You will hear this many times in an hour long study if you have done your homework, and so this is a good way to know if you are successfully chipping away a chink in the armor their cult has given them. Repeating that testimony is a way of building up the places where they feel weak. It's a way of reinforcing their brainwashing, and attempting to bring you into the fold. It's also a way to defer all serious questions by combating them with further repetition of emotional testimony which derail any trains that might be heading toward raising answerable questions. They will keep this up, in an increasingly defensive, under siege tone, and they may also succeed in making themselves sound (and feel) like the persecuted victims of an agenda instead of people without any reasonable answers. But it is also a signal to you that you have said something that unsettled their fixed belief, that you said something that caused a niggling of doubt, that something you said raised an issue for which they have no answer.
Notice the foundation of the testimony is cult of personality-allegiance to Joseph Smith and the current 'Prophet,' as well as their organization, and a strong, positive feeling about those men. Other testimonies include personal anecdotes, anecdotes that can't be independently verified, that are again emotion and feelings driven, and if you question them in any way, you are being mean, hurtful, persecuting them, or, at best, closed minded.
Criticize Joseph Smith or the current prophet, and it is as though you dissed their mother. They actually sing a hymn of praise to him in their worship services ('Praise to the man...'). Investigate his history and attempt to share what you have discovered, and they are even more offended.
We have a right to our own feelings, but we don't have a right to our own facts; however, it is very difficult to get Mormons to think beyond their feelings. There are good reasons for this.
Those brought up in the Mormon faith are trained to have a testimony from early childhood. There are 'Fast and Testimony' meetings where members give their 'testimony' and small children participate, often lisping the testimony their parents are whispering in their ears, or that they have memorized at their parents' knees at home.
Mormon missionaries are typically idealistic, delightful young people with an infectious enthusiasm. Sometimes they gain converts who like the comradely, the friendliness, the sense of connection and community, and these 'converts' hate to disappoint these personable young men, so they claim to have had a testimony even when they don't. Or they nurse along a positive, friendly feeling into a testimony, and nothing deceives like self-deception.
"The following is from a study on how to make people believe the implausible is plausible. Those of us of who have been missionaries may recognize having used a similar process in helping investigators "gain a testimony" using Moroni's promise. Here is the conclusion of the study:
"We have proposed a three-processes model for the development of false memories for implausible events through suggestive procedures. The first process is to make an event be perceived as plausible, the second is to help individuals acquire the autobiographical belief that it is likely to have happened to them. The third, not examined in this study, is to help people interpret their thoughts and fantasies about the event happening as memories. Our data shed light on two of the three processes.
We have shown that information about an event from a presumably credible source can alter perceived plausibility of the event. Our results also indicated that this information can produce changes in the perceived likelihood of the event having occurred to the individual. When suggestive personalized information was added, the effects on autobiographical likelihood were substantially greater and a sizable minority of participants came to believe that the event probably happened to them. In addition, we have shown that this happened although the event continued to be seen by participants as relatively implausible. This provides evidence for the fact that even a relatively small increase in plausibility of an initially implausible event can pave the way for additional suggestion, so that some people increase the perceived likelihood of occurrence of the event in their life."
In converting people to Mormonism, missionaries are trained in the following method, not realizing they are following the above three-step process this way:
The investigator (that's the non-mormon) reads the Moroni Promise and the missionary bears his emotional, cult of personality based, testimony, suggesting that the experience and Mormon teaching, however implausible actually is plausible. Such nice people wouldn't lie, would they? They are also too nice to be deluded, right?
Here's an important point to remember: well grounded Christians should be solidly grounded enough that we cannot be swayed to doctrinal error based on the niceness of those promoting it, but sometimes we let our guard down- we need to take heed lest we fall (I Corinthians 10:12). Sometimes we are tempted to at least 'bash' fellow believers we feel aren't as 'nice' to us as those sweet Mormon boys. Even well-grounded believers with their discernment skills carefully honed through much practice (Hebrews 5:11-14) and thus are likely to notice the irrational appeal to emotions when it comes to doctrine, may fall prey to this sort of approach when it doesn't present itself under guise of religion. In matters of doctrine, our guard is up and strongly fortified. But sometimes we do fall prey to this sort of approach when it isn't based in religion. Certain approaches to marketing, and health claims in particular, sometimes are based on all the above techniques with very little science or logic behind them, and we accept them anyway, never noticing what's happening.
Mormon missionaries are taught to ask their 'investigators' (that's what they call people who agree to study with them) to pray about it and to feel a particular feeling, which then makes it part of their autobiography, increasing for them the plausibility of what the Mormon missionaries have told them. This is patently absurd, thankfully, to the well-grounded Christian, but even the well-grounded Christian may find herself deceived in other areas. Think about this technique carefully, and you may realize it's been used on you in other ways -- "try this new health product and see if you don't feel better." The placebo effect is well recognized, so a better test would be to give you sugar water (unbeknownst to you) one time, and the new product another time, and see if you 'feel' better on the 'real' thing or if you can tell a difference at all.
"You'll feel better if you look better, and you'll look better with our brand of make-up" (a very subjective claim).
The danger of an emotion-based testimony is that once we gain a testimony, whether it is a testimony about Mormonism or one about some new product sold to us by our friends, we then interpret future feelings and events through the lens of our testimony -- it's called confirmation bias.
In Mormonism, once the "testimony" is created, it is reinforced and further developed through social learning, positive reinforcement ("fellowshiping" events), public expression in testimony meeting, and the acceptance of additional commitments by the convert. In marketing, it is reinforced and further developed through your attendance at sales meetings, training meetings, pep talks, spending time reading promotional materials from the company (materials based largely on more 'testimonies', emotional appeals, and sometimes 'studies' produced in house and written by members of the organization). There will be songs (I know of one organization that has its members sing "I've got the [name of company] enthusiasm down in my heart..." You don't want to let your new (and old) friends down, and you buy in further, so now you have an emotional need to support your testimony further and not see any facts that contradict it.
Here is an example of how the commitment or training pattern, as taught to the Mormon missionaries, has a wider application:
The training Mormon missionaries receive is effective, so some of them have gone on later to apply those tools to other market efforts. Bonneville Productions is a media firm owned by the Mormon Church, and it claims to produce that special feeling through their marketing techniques. Bonneville has trademarked this term and calls it "Heartsell".
"Their unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. They call this uniquely powerful brand of creative HeartSell® - strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response."
Keep that in mind when somebody makes appeals to you which first work at your feelings. Somebody is making merchandise of you (II Peter 2:3). [Testimony].
Mormons are told to repeat their testimonies even if they don't actually have one -- this is a way to gain the testimony. In the April 2008 General Conference for the LDS church, official Dallin Oaks made the following statement:
"Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them."
The people following this counsel repeat things over and over, until they convince themselves that they're true. Just keep telling yourself, "I know it's true...I know it's true...I know it's true" -- and before long, you'll believe almost anything.
If a Mormon admits he has no testimony, or an 'investigator' says he prayed and received confirmation that Mormonism is not true, then the response is to question the sincerity, challenge the motives, and even impugn the heart of the person asking unpleasant questions.
- The prayer wasn't sincere.
- There must be some unresolved sin in the life of the one who didn't receive the testimony the Mormon church told him to receive.
- He's listened to too much 'anti-mormon' stuff.
Or get all emotional at the implication that all these lovely, nice Mormon people are deluded or dishonest, or that Joseph Smith was somehow not the Paragon the Mormon church claims.
They will call disagreement persecution, even claim that the person disagreeing, failing to have that testimony, is closed to the things of God.
In certain marketing schemes, the response to doubt or questioning is similar -- ignore the questions, impugn the motives, say the person obviously has a grudge for some unknown reason, perhaps they represent a competitor, or get emotional and demand to know why that mean person is calling your friends or the wonderful owner of the company a liar.
The peer pressure in Mormonism (and in the marketing approaches that operate their sales training seemingly out of the Mormon missionary handbook) is enormous. That's why both the LDS church and the marketing schemes that use the same evangelism techniques focus so much on booster meetings, public sharing of testimonies, 'faith building' stories, where emotional stories of deliverance and God's protection are shared, and similar techniques.
There's not really a good way I know of to reason with people like this -- and reason is what God desires of us. ""Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD" (Isaiah 1:18). "A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still." You can only continue to present facts calmly and pray heartily and consistently.