The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Lesson 1

Satan and the First Vision

A detail of the story that the missionaries leave out is what happened right before the pillar of light descended. In Joseph Smith’s own words,

After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction--not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being--just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head…( Joseph Smith History 1:15-16)

Despite being relatively important to the story, the missionaries will always leave out this detail about Satan. 

Why is that? My theory is this: the Missionaries want you to feel the Spirit in the discussions. They won’t hesitate to identify any vaguely good, peaceful feeling you have as the Spirit telling you that their message is true. When you hear a story about a sincere boy praying and having his prayer answer by a loving father-God, that will naturally elicit good feelings, without regard to whether or not the story is true. Likewise, when you read about the awesome power of some evil being from the unseen world seizing the boy to destruction, that will elicit bad feelings. The story is edited to only elicit good feelings, thus increasing the odds that you will "feel the spirit" and will want to embrace the message.

In his book Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer talks about the techniques that "psychics" use to fool people into thinking they are communicating with the dead. One of the principles is to "keep it positive (‘He wants you to know he loves you very much,’ ‘She says to tell you that she is no longer suffering,’ ‘His pain is gone now’)."[1] Isn’t that the exact same approach that the missionaries are using when they accentuate the positive aspects of the first vision story and edit out the negative aspects?


[1] Shermer goes on to explain why they keep it positive: "Life is contingent and filled with uncertainties, the most frightening of which is the manner, time, and place of our own demise. For a parent, an even worse fear is the death of one’s child, which makes those who have suffered such a loss especially vulnerable to what ‘psychics’ offer. Under the pressure of reality, we become credulous. We seek reassuring certainties from fortune-tellers, and palm-readers, astrologers and psychics. Our critical faculties break down under the onslaught of promises and hopes offered to assuage life’s great anxieties." (Why People Believe Weird Things, pages 2 & 5, emphasis added).


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