The person approaching the fortune teller or psychic is already keyed for belief in a small way, else they wouldn’t bother. The psychic can use this small desire to believe to their advantage through a method called “cold reading.” Here’s how it works:
The psychic offers a huge quantity of information, but which has been carefully crafted to be absent of specificity and nuance. This increases the odds that the listener will feel a connection, or that “you’re right!” moment.
The psychic does NOT start off by saying “I sense that your father is dead and his middle name was betty due to a clerical error at his birth.” Why? Because it reveals just how off base and fraudulent the psychic is. Instead they say things like “I sense that somebody has lost a loved one.” That’s literally everybody. Of course the listener, hoping for something, says, “oh, wow. They’re talking about me!”
Like the fortune teller, the anti-Mormon texts are amplified in their effectiveness by theater. Instead of smoke, crystal balls, and tarot cards, the anti-Mormon text relies on serious-looking citations, charts, and the claim of being “only looking for the truth.” But, just like with the fortune teller, these theatrics often fall flat with the most basic of investigation.
Critics of Mormonism have a big advantage over the fortune tellers. They don’t have to do a cold reading. They already have a lot of information to go on. They already know a LOT of what you believe because they used to believe it themselves. This gives them a terrific advantage, transforming their cold reading into a “hot reading,” where they can use the same flood of shocking information, but specifically target you and your beliefs. Now, instead of the psychic saying “I sense somebody has lost a loved one…” these critics jump straight into your most likely concerns and weaknesses, prying at your doubts with a crowbar.
However, the psychics and the antagonists to your faith have one shared weakness. One they do everything to try and prevent you from noticing: Their techniques still always REQUIRE leaving out so very much.
The Weakness of Psychics and Anti-Mormons
A psychic doing a hot reading already knows something about the person. Perhaps they’ve secretly looked at their target’s Instagram to find pictures of skydiving. They can drop in little hints like “I’m getting the sensation of… falling through the air??” It feels so specific, but it’s just one event in a lifetime of events dressed up in an aura of authority and exclusivity. It is one moment put to use outside of the context of your whole life.
What happens if you instead hold the psychic to YOUR standards instead of letting them dictate the terms of your engagement? What if you say “tell me the three biggest influences on my life?” or “Tell me my grandfather’s last words?” The charade falls apart. It’s the context that reveals the shallowness of the fraudster’s efforts. By leaving information out, almost anything can seem convincing.
Here’s two examples of how leaving information out and treating just a few data points as “the main thing” can make a hot reading feel like an undeniable bullseye:
Here’s the second image. It’s long but well worth a read and the article continues below:
In those examples, by scooping out inconvenient contrary data, we make it look like somebody copied Toy Story to create The Walking Dead. Through careful word choice we can create even more connections that aren’t strictly true. Then all we need to do is throw in our oh-so-innocent conclusion “I’m not saying Walking Dead is based on Toy Story, but how else do you explain this FLOOD of connections? Characters even say the same words!”
The fraudster convinces the innocent, and they feel special and superior for having access to unknown secrets.
Telling a partial story through cold reading methods is HUGELY convincing to the casual consumer of information. Look at the extremely partisan news outlets that collect millions of viewers by simply ignoring facts that are inconvenient, and which provide conclusions for you. Think of how people feel about their politics the more extreme they become – how their certainty only seems to increase. Complexity is unappealing. Simple answers that play to our biases are attractive. Being “in” on a big secret is hugely appealing to our psychology.
When the customer starts asking the psychic not for advice, but for specifics such as “what’s my dead father’s computer password?” or “yeah I went skydiving! Tell me why I decided to do that.” things fall apart for the fraudster.
Similarly, things fall apart for the critics of Mormonism when we remove all the commentary and place the specific complaints back in their context among the totality of the truth. Sure, there are numerous problems with our shared religion. About as many problems as there are imperfect members, I’d say. But the list of questions, concerns, and complaints PALE in comparison to the vast array of good in actions, doctrines, history, and culture found in our faith. Good which can’t be explained by the conspiracy theories presented by the antagonists.
This is probably the main reason I started working on Latter-day Hope. I wanted to point out how much truth and context was sacrificed in the effort to bring about the criticisms that can fool us into feeling overwhelmed. Don’t fall prey to their tricks. Look for the context, see past the theater, and seek a fullness of truth; always with a forgiving and charitable heart for the imperfections of the people in our faith.