Truman is going about his happy, uneventful life when out of a clear blue sky a stage light falls onto the street. This peculiar event is the beginning of Truman discovering the truth about his false reality.
Truman’s “creator” Christof (a suitable name) sees himself as a messiah figure, having saved Truman from what “might have been” a sad, painful life as an unwanted child. Christof works day and night to keep Truman believing in this false narrative. His success, after all, depends upon it as millions of viewers, thousands of actors, and countless other commercial entities all have an interest in Truman remaining faithful to this great deception as well.
At the end of the movie, Truman stands in front of a dark unknown doorway at the top of the stage set above the “ocean.” Christof, now entirely desperate, speaks from his hidden lunar command center, makes one last attempt to keep Truman from leaving the “Show.” (You can watch the clip by clicking below. It’s classic.)
The story of Truman is really the story of every man.
We are each born into this world with certain traditions that inform our reality and our perceptions. Because we are born into a fallen world, no one’s reality is devoid of lies, false traditions, and darkness.
The goal of every man is to become a “True Man” — a Man or Woman in Christ, reborn to Him, enlightened, passing through the doorway (the veil) of unbelief and into a new spiritual world that will eventually endow us appropriately to successfully enter into His presence — in this life — as well as in the life to come.
We are warned, however, that in the last days we will be especially vulnerable to being misled and deceived as Truman was. As members of the church we mustn’t assume we are exempt. Anyone who teaches otherwise is a false messenger, leading astray and perpetuating a false reality that eventually destroys souls.
They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. (2 Nephi 28:14, my emphasis added)
I recall an experience as a bishop in one of my first priesthood stewardship interviews with my stake president. He had served in that calling for many years and as a new bishop I looked to him for counsel and advice.
During the interview my stake president spoke of a recent private lunch he had with one of the 12 Apostles. He was actually good friends with this particular apostle and had known him for forty years or more. My stake president was also friends with another apostle, who he had spoken of getting together with regularly. His very close relationships with two apostles prompted my question:
“President, how do they become special witnesses?”
He seemed perplexed. “What do you mean by that bishop?”
“Well, I know they have stood in Christ’s presence and that’s why we call them special witnesses, right?” (I was trying to clue him in that I was in the know about such things) “How do they spiritually get to that point?” I asked in all sincerity.
A very concerned look came across the stake president’s face as he gravely responded.
“Bishop, I need to warn you to never pray for or seek to be in the presence of God or Christ!”
My stake president’s comment was as much a scolding as a warning. It was as if he could not believe I would ever be so foolish and careless to think that this was what these men had actually accomplished.
“But, I thought we were commanded to seek to make our callings and elections sure and to each become special witnesses of Christ in this life? As the Prophets and Apostles have done? Right?” I now questioned somewhat desperately.
That question seemed to further aggravate my stake president’s sensibilities. Now determined to correct the record and make sure I never taught such foolishness as a bishop, he replied:
“Bishop, NEVER, EVER pray for such things because almost every man who has seen Christ or angels has fallen away from the church! And if for any reason you do see Christ and then turn away from Him, you will become a son of perdition!”
This man was in my ward. He was a very educated and dedicated individual. He enjoyed a very long pioneer genealogy in the church. And yet the first thought that came to my mind was that as his bishop, it was ironically my priesthood responsibility to try to correct him.
Without trying to make him feel badly, I referred to Paul and Joseph and others who taught this doctrine openly. I pointed out that every man who became a prophet in the Book of Mormon, had witnessed angels and had entered into the presence of God.
He was not deterred by my arguments and continued to warn me of the dangers of seeking Jesus in this way and warned me to never discuss these ideas with anyone, ever again. My experienced file leader then proceeded to instruct me how the Brethren held the keys and how they lived by the Spirit. “Our job was to obey them” he said “as if their words came directly from God” and was not to seek heavenly visitations. I left feeling rebuked, dazed, and confused.
The stake president’s words became for me, the proverbial stage light falling out of my clear blue sky onto the street of my church reality.
This new “idea” challenged everything I believed and had been taught. Why would someone who knew these men so well, who joined with me in calling them “special witnesses,” actually try to dissuade me from doing what they had themselves done? UNLESS of course, they were not witnesses the way I had believed them to be. Was that even possible?
This was something I had never before considered or had ever allowed myself to consider.
In my mind, Jesus’ admonition and warning to the pharisees and scribes of old applied to Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis and Muslim mullahs, BUT NOT TO OUR church leaders!
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. (Matthew 23:13)
I became physically ill in my contemplations. Could the church actually be keeping people from seeking true messengers? Why would they do that? Was it possible that they were not seeking these experiences for themselves either, out of fear that “almost all men who had ever seen angels or the Lord had left the church?” My belief system was being turned upside down.
I was born into the church to good parents who are both converts. At a very young age they instilled in me a strong love for the restored gospel. By the age of 14 I began to feel very much drawn to the invitation I found in scripture to literally come unto Christ. I truly believed D&C 93:1 and read it often. I believed the words of Moroni found in the book of Ether and took his invitation very seriously:
And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things; And only a few have I written, because of my weakness in writing. And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen. (Ether 12:39-41, my emphasis added)
Like perhaps many of you, I had been led to believe that The First Presidency and The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with the Savior often in their sacred weekly meetings in the Upper Rooms of the Temple.
I relied upon the final testimony of Bruce R. McKonkie and believed his witness to be literal.
I began at a young age to look for and listen carefully to the “key words” the brethren used to refer to sacred experiences they often only alluded to, that apparently, despite being “special witnesses,” they could not specifically discuss publicly.
I took Religion 333 after my mission at BYU and was led to believe that the leaders of the church were of a special and more elevated status than the average member of the church. I was taught the Brethren were to be “reverenced, sustained, emulated, and honored.”
These men were spiritual giants for me. I believed they could lead me to the Savior. Logically if they were Special Witnesses, and yet were once just like me, then maybe they could show me how to get there too! This was my most fervent desire.
I watched them ever so closely. I studied their words as much if not more than the scriptures. I was taught and believed that the “living oracles” were more important than the dead ones, that they could not lead us astray. I took that to mean that Elder Neal A. Maxwell was more relevant and important than Isaiah. So I read and listened to Elder Maxwell, and President Hinckley and any living Prophet in priority over even the Book of Mormon.
When the Brethren came to speak, I made sure to never miss them. In some cases, I drove hours to be in their presence. When they walked into the room, I stood out of reverence for them. Out of reverence and respect, I only sat down when they were finally seated. I once witnessed the rushing silence that overtook the entire Marriott Center when President Benson entered from an obscure portal near the stage. I was sure this was a spiritual confirmation of his very real witness of the Savior.
I was with Elder Bednar when he boldly told us bishops and stake presidents — “I AM A TRUE MESSENGER!” I took that statement literally. I believed him to be a special witness who stood in God’s presence as did Peter, James, and John, with a message of life and salvation for God’s children lost in the lone and dreary world. I had no reason to believe Elder Bednar would seek to mislead me.
On a different occasion Elder Bednar said, “I know God lives beyond the five senses.” Again I believed him and logically could only assume what this meant — that he knew God greater than touch, greater than sight, greater than smell or taste or sound.
But, then my stake president dropped the stage light.
What if Elder Bednar was simply stating that he knew God “by the feelings of the Holy Ghost?” Maybe he’s suggesting the Holy Ghost is not considered one of the five senses? Was this just a clever way of saying that he had a testimony just like me? That he had never actually “touched, seen, or heard” the Lord? That thought had never crossed my mind before.
Up until then, these men were holy, anointed, special, and above all, they knew God, literally! I sought to touch the hem of their garment, so to speak, to shake their hands, to be hugged by them, to be taught by them. Again, because I believed it was their mission to teach me how to do what they had done. For this is life eternal, that we all might know Him and His Son whom He hath sent (John 17:3) with the help of those who are true messengers.
And so perhaps strangely, as a bishop, I began a prayerful and at times painful study to know whether or not these men were truly witnesses of God, in the literal sense. This time I began with a different set of questions than those I had ever allowed myself to consider: “What if, these men have never seen God or been taught by Angels? What if they are just like me? Is it possible? If so, what would that mean? What would that change for the church and for me personally?”
I studied. I pondered. I fasted for many days, on countless occasions. I went to the Temple zealously. I served as faithfully as I knew how as a bishop. I tried to be a good husband and father. I feasted upon the scriptures and I prayed like I’ve never prayed before.
I studied the journals and other accounts of these men. I scrutinized all the stories of prophets such as President Snow, where he allegedly met the Savior in the Temple. I now questioned these stories and sought to discover whether they were real or not. Were these just contrived “stories” invented or exaggerated to encourage me to believe? Was I being played?
You see, for me, everything I believed the church to be, rested upon the idea that its leaders were simply a continuation of Joseph Smith. That every leader from Joseph forward was a veritable witness of God, Angels, and of Christ JUST as Joseph was.
For me this principle was too important to dismiss or set aside. Now I needed to know the truth. I could no longer be led on by fables and endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4). Was my “faith” in these men’s witness real or was it some fantastic illusion?
Joseph Smith taught:
Now I will give you my testimony. I care not for man. I speak boldly and faithfully and with authority. How is it with the kingdom of God? Where did the kingdom of God begin? Where there is no kingdom of God there is no salvation. What constitutes the kingdom of God? Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives His oracles, there is the kingdom of God; and where the oracles of God are not, there the kingdom of God is not…The plea of many in this day is, that we have no right to receive revelations; but if we do not get revelations, we do not have the oracles of God; and if they have not the oracles of God, they are not the people of God. But say you, What will become of the world, or the various professors of religion who do not believe in revelation and the oracles of God as continued to His Church in all ages of the world, when He has a people on the earth? I tell you, in the name of Jesus Christ, they will be damned; and when you get into the eternal world, you will find it will be so, they cannot escape the damnation of hell. (TPJS, pp. 271-272, my emphasis added)
If these men were not receiving revelations, were not acting as prophets and as living oracles of God, and had not in fact seen the Lord and been anointed and ordained by God Himself (TPJS), then I could not, at a minimum, simply continue to trust in their words as I had.
In my research that continued on for some time, I became quite surprised to find so few reliable post-martyrdom church accounts of a man or woman entering into God’s presence, as Joseph and Hyrum and Sidney had. This despite the charge made by Apostles Oliver Cowdery in 1835 to the Twelve which was later abandoned because apparently at some point church leaders saw it unnecessary.
It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God.’ Then he continued: ‘That is more than the testimony of an angel … Never cease striving until you have seen God, face to face.’ (Read more on this subject here)
I was saddened and quite surprised to find that many of the stories that were close encounters with the other side of the veil such as President Snow with Christ at the staircase and Brigham transforming into Joseph over the pulpit, the Founding Fathers appearing in the Saint George Temple, etc. appeared to be nothing more than exaggerated folklore-ish stories, no different than ones we share today.
Sometimes these stories are seemingly harmless such as the tale of Nephite hitchhikers warning people to get food storage (here and here) before the big Utah earthquake or the rumor that Lionel Ritchie finally joined the church. Other times it’s everyday stories like “When Elder Bednar spoke in Gabon, the rain stopped, and the sun appeared only on his face as he spoke.” I even heard such a legend repeated the other day in church, one I had not heard for a long time: “Did you know there is a chair in the Salt Lake Temple that is reserved just for the Savior? And that it’s worn out from use?”
In my study, I found few, to none of what would be called revelations by the standard of Scripture or Joseph Smith. In fact, I was discouraged to find the example of an aged “prophet” who testified under oath before Congress that he had never had “real” revelations.
I will not include here all the details of my personal study that support my new conclusions about the Brethren and their “witness.”
But I will say that my study has led me to conclusions that have changed my life and have led me to a dark doorway on the church’s stage, that I did not know was ever there. Entering that doorway has led to some of the most rewarding and difficult experiences of my life.
I have keenly and literally felt the pressure from the show’s producers — the lightning, the waves, and the storms from people very “high up.” I have come to see the truth and irony of Christ’s words to those seeking to truly be His disciples:
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-38)
I have come to believe we must all seek truth and not fear the unknown world beyond the doorway. I believe that as we find and embrace truth, we will be led by Him to more and more light, until that perfect day.
A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.
If we fear to contemplate the darkest abyss, the deepest contradictions and the most awkward ironies, or to consider the depths and the effects of our traditions that form our false realities, we will never commune with God.
The stake president who chastened me for wanting an audience with the Savior was eventually called to serve as a mission president and is destined for the red, chief seats, so I’m told by those who would know.
One might ask, but don’t the Brethren teach truth? What does it hurt to follow their counsel if it’s “good?” Just because they have not been in Christ’s presence doesn’t make them evil or any less capable of teaching the gospel like anyone else…Right?
Sherem, one of several anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon, sought to confront Jacob the prophet who had been in Christ’s presence, in order that he might “overthrow the Doctrine of Christ.”
And he preached many things which were flattering unto the people; and this he did that he might overthrow the doctrine of Christ. (Jacob 7:2)
The Doctrine of Christ is at the core of this very important question. It is in fact at the very core of what we say we believe as Mormons. And yet it is the most neglected and most misunderstood of all doctrines, in my experience. So much so that even in Nephi’s day he lamented after speaking on this topic for three chapters:
And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be. (2 Nephi 32:7)
I have no problem with the Brethren or anyone trying to teach truth. But the precepts of men (my own included), no matter how well-intentioned, will mislead us, especially when we treat them as the words of God delivered by special servants (which I do not profess to be). They will entrap us in a false bubble of reality, a bubble that may even seem peaceful and safe and that for a time may be calm and happy.
If and when the Brethren diligently share scripture and seek the spirit in expounding it, while I believe this to be a better result than what we usually see in General Conference, it is not to be a substitute for the Doctrine of Christ, which Jacob and all True Prophets in the history of the world have attained unto. Only one speaking with the Tongue of an Angel, following the pattern of the Doctrine of Christ, can deliver a message that brings about a complete change of heart. (2 Nephi 33:1, Mosiah 5:2).
As children of God, it is our duty to discern between true and false messengers, who come in the Lord’s name.
I have looked past the lighting, the tremendous stage, the make up, the rehearsed one liners and teleprompters, the emotion, and the stories and I have sought to know whether these men stand in the presence of God or not. For me, this matters a great deal.
Is it possible that these men now unwittingly promote a deception regarding what they know and who they know because they feel the pressure to keep the show going? Do their lives, their fortunes, their jobs, their traditions, and their identities not depend upon it?
If it’s not the Doctrine of Christ shared by the power of the Holy Ghost by true messengers who have been in His presence, then we each must decide whether we shall remain deceived or whether we will look to cross the stormy sea to find the stairway that leads to the door of our escape into a new awakened state of reality, wherein then and only then we can find the True Messiah, our True Creator, even Jesus Christ. We must listen closely and we must choose. Our very salvation depends upon it.
P.S. For those of you wondering why I am including the above clip, I invite you to watch it juxtapose to the other Truman Show clips. Are we relying too heavily on drama, lighting, emotion and music? I am especially troubled about Elder Holland’s praise of President Monson, suggesting he knows NO other man who has done more for the poor than this man who shuffles through the airport in his slippers publishing peace. Just maybe that’s a confession worth contemplating.