In Samuel the Lamanite’s teachings in Helaman 13-15, he is quick to point out the pride that has overtaken the Nephite society. Samuel the Lamanite declares:
…for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.Helaman 13:26-27
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
Samuel demonstrates the pride of the Nephite people by inviting them to consider how they respond to prophets that confirm or reject their natural inclinations. However, the tendency to reject inconvenient counsel is hardly unique to the Nephites in the years leading up to Christ’s mortal ministry. The same rejection of prophets is manifest consistently throughout the scriptures.
Confirmation bias is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the tendency to gather evidence that confirms preexisting expectations, typically by emphasizing or pursuing supporting evidence while dismissing or failing to seek contradictory evidence.” Numerous studies have found this to be the case when people are evaluating new information. People tend to be far more critical of information that contradicts their opinions and more welcoming of supporting data. It’s no wonder then that this bias has colored our perception of the legitimacy of modern-day prophets.
In Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk “The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship” he observes this trend in today’s society:
“Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds.”
He goes on to explain, “…there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which [Christ] had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).”
As prophets are called of God to be “watchmen on the tower,” warning us against the dangers of sin, they necessarily must speak uncomfortable truths. It is thus our responsibility as disciples of Christ to prayerfully seek to understand those teachings that are particularly difficult for us to grasp rather than immediately rejecting them and symbolically saying “to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Isaiah 30:10).
Today, in my attempts to discern the truth for myself, I will be cautious to not dismiss the council of my church leaders. I will exercise faith and seek to understand God’s will rather than confirm my own will.