I got thinking about a discussion I had recently about the Placebo Effect. Some of you will know what it is. Basically, it's something scientists have noticed when studying medicines and treatments, or when trying out new ones. To see if a medicine will work, the researchers will often give one group of people the actual medicine to try, and another group will get a non-medicine, a "placebo". Something totally inert that we know won't have any effect (at times, they'll even use plain ol' sugar, hence the name, a "Sugar Pill"). Then we measure the difference between the two groups to see how well the medicine works.
|One set of medications is real, the other is just full of cornstarch and nasty smelling stuff to convince you it's real|
Interestingly enough, taking something that isn't supposed to work, often does have some benefit. The placebo often gives people a medical benefit. For whatever reasons, placebos work. Maybe it's mental, maybe it's emotional, maybe a mix of things. So if the placebo gives a benefit 10% of the time, and the medicine gives a benefit 80% of the time, we can get a good idea whether we should use that medicine or not. Or, perhaps the placebo will give a 10% reduction in symptoms all the time, but the medicine will give a 70% reduction all the time. For some things the placebo effect can be as effective as the best drugs we have for it! That's a lot for something that's not supposed to work.
That means, that when we THINK something will work, often it makes enough changes within our body and thus our life that it actually DOES work. The power of the mind is amazing. It's so sensitive to actually believing in the medicine that researchers often times won't even let the doctors giving the medicine know which is the real medicine and which isn't, or else the doctor might give some hesitancy, some clue, some subtle discouragement to the medication that will turn off the patient from believing in it. This is called a "Single Blind" study.
And to make sure that there's no hints about which medicine is real coming from the researchers, they will often prevent themselves from knowing which is which until after the study is over. This is called a "Double Blind" study and is the safest way we have in science of knowing whether something works or not: When NO ONE involved in the experiment knows which is the real medicine or not until after it's over, then we know for sure there were no hints or nuances that might have tipped the doctor or the patient into believing a medicine will work or not.
That's how powerful the placebo effect is. When we BELIEVE it works, sometimes, it actually does. Not always, and almost never the majority of the time, but enough that we can measure it consistently and have to watch out for it messing with our studies.
|"I know it sounds like a cat poster, but it's true"|
Sometimes, though —maybe one in ten times— my headache will go away immediately. Within seconds or minutes of swallowing the capsule I'll get relief, too fast for the effect to come from the actual medicine. On very rare occasions, the headache will start to lessen even as I make up my mind to take it, before I've even taken it! My brain and my body KNOW what is coming and will trigger things inside of me to lessen the tension even without the Ibuprofen! Yes, the placebo effect is powerful.
So, how does this affect my faith? I've listened to enough life coaches, attended enough motivational speeches and lectures, and read enough books to know that BELIEVING something will happen, often makes it happen, whether it's real or not. If I want to believe the world is flat, I will find evidence helping me believe it, until I've read enough evidence and spent enough time studying it that nothing will ever convince me otherwise. If I want to believe Mormons are bad people and the LDS church is a corrupt institution, I can find enough material to convince me of that as well. And if I want to believe that God is real, Joseph Smith was a prophet, and the Book of Mormon is an accurate historical document, I can find enough material to convince me of that as well. And in my own world, I would be right because I would have all the evidence I needed to KNOW whatever it is I was determined to KNOW.
|I have all the evidence I need to know that this guy....... would be fun at parties|
Knowing all this, how do I know when I'm really making a sound decision, then? How do I know that I believe the Gospel for the RIGHT reasons, whatever those are? What even ARE the right reasons for believing in something? I'm not going to answer that for you, it'll be different for each of you. For some of you, believing because your family believes will be enough. Believing because you see that it makes you a better person could be enough. Believing because you see that it has helped the lives of your community could be enough. Believing because you trust or trusted the person who taught it to you could be enough. Those are all wonderful reasons for believing the gospel. That is faith. We have seen the fruits of the gospel and want hope to see those same truths lift us up as well.
Those have been good enough reasons for me in the past to even say "I KNOW". Because I did Know. I had been taught by people I trusted. By people who's lives were made better. By family and friends and community. The church is a school and a support group. We are taught through curriculums from experts on the subject, and we share with each other what has worked for each of us in our individual lives. What we KNOW about the gospel, we learned from people we love and trust.
None of us were baptized knowing how to deal with a difficult employee, or live with discouraging health problems, or with a perfect knowledge how to deal with anxious and ill-tempered neighbors. Many people don't even know how to be nice to their own selves! "Love one another" doesn't have many details how to carry itself out. Church is one of many places where we can learn those important skills and apply them to the commandment to "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." We learn from rich and wealthy business people, we learn from mild and timid kids. We learn from hardened blue-collar workers. We learn from the overwhelmed mother. We learn from PhDs and apprentices alike. It is truly a place where lions and lambs dwell together. Where "babes" can play with "asps" and not be bitten.
|Is it just me, or is it the wolf that looks frightened? Good thing there's a fence to hold back that vicious lamb!|
And now, how do I REALLY KNOW that my endpoint is the right one? How do I know I'm going in the right direction, playing for the right team, and working towards the right goal? How do we know we haven't just deluded ourselves, or that our families aren't wrong? How do we know how to stand up to accusations of "false hopes" and "self-righteous fantasies?" How do we know a miracle is real and not just hopeful dreams ignoring the reality that may have caused it?
We keep learning. We learn to judge between truth and error. We advance ourselves in wisdom and intelligence. We seek for words of wisdom only out of "the best books." We work to get a personal experience with God Himself. We read that he has allowed others to see him or speak with him. We read of those who've had unmistakable experiences with heaven. And then we work towards and pray for those kinds of experiences for ourselves. Or at least enough faith and evidence to keep us believing until we do get an undeniable experience we are seeking. And even then, if you've had an undeniable experience, don't be surprised if the weathering and beating of Life on Earth dulls that experience for you, but hold onto the memory as best as you can until it is renewed somehow. Just because a mountain is worn down by the wind and rain, doesn't deny the forces that put it there in the first place.
|Eternity is a seagull wearing down this mountain by sharpening it's beak on it once every thousand years...??|
What about all those others around the world, absolutely convinced as much as we are that their religion and faith are correct? I would say this, "If they are on a good path that will eventually lead back to the Savior in their own way, God would have no problem telling them so, right?" So of course they are going to continue doing the good things they are doing, and we should encourage that! If God tells us that what we are doing is right, then you should keep doing it! Just be careful. Just because God tells us that one thing we are doing is good, doesn't mean ALL the things we are doing are good, too. If you feel good at your other church, then that's great! Keep going and learning. Keep improving, because you and the rest of us, all need improving. If you subscribe to your faith and God tells you that He is There with you, believe it! Then do your best to live up to it.
If you find yourself wondering, "Is all this religion stuff, just a placebo? Couldn't I get the same or better benefits by trying other things?" Perhaps you could, it may be your place in life to try it out and see. Maybe it'll be your place in life to learn a few things the hard way and come back and report to us how it went! I do have a spoiler for you: This is all of our place. We are all having to learn by mistakes, by trying to do things our own way, or by consciously abandoning what we knew was right, to find out for ourselves. We are all doing this in different ways, so if you ever feel uncomfortable going to church because you don't feel like you fit in, I'm here to tell you that most people don't feel like they fit in. They are at church because they are trying to fit in.
|What on earth is wrong with those GRAY apples?! That's just weird.|
If faith in God is just a placebo medication, it is the original medication that all other medications were made to imitate. It's foolish to abandon the faith of your parents without abandoning everything that their faith also taught them, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents' parents about decency and civility and kindness and love, and most importantly about hope for the future.
I have known God in a way better than I know my wife, or my parents or my children. I have heard him speak inside of my heart and mind and show me things that no one else could show me. I have had a taste of the reality outside of reality. A few times even. All while completely sober and clear-headed. This life is a hazy dream compared to it. The next life will be crystal clear in the same way that a clean window looks compared to murky pond-water.
This gospel is true. The Book of Mormon is correct and true. God himself has told me it is. The Savior and his atonement are real, you can be forgiven for your mistakes. God has also told me this himself. I invite you to run after him and try to learn these things for yourself. Don't be afraid to use something that is working for you. Just find ways to keep learning and growing.
|There's more ways to learn than from books... but you'll need to know all of these to pass the Final Exam!|