Often times we spend a huge amount of time and effort building a religious ideology or identity. We can research a number of options and then choose what we feel is best for ourselves and our families. An individual’s sincere choices are sacred and certainly should be respected. However, since we have spent so much time and effort in this very important decision, we can sometimes go to great lengths to ensure that our previous efforts were not wasted without realizing that properly applied knowledge is never wasted. This is especially true when we are confronted with evidence that shows that our previous choice may not be the best choice available anymore.
Sunk Cost Fallacy
In business terms there is an idea of continuing to do something that is no longer productive or helpful because you have already invested so much time and effort into it already. This is known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Most often we think that with a little more time, a little more effort, and maybe a few changes here and there that everything will work out again. We can then salvage what we have, and our time and effort will not be wasted. Often times this cycle repeats over and over again yielding a little more time, a little more effort and a few additional changes here and there. After a while we suddenly realize that we are significantly away from our starting point and quite possibly have invested massively more into our original decision than we had to begin with. We didn’t want to be wrong and so had to be right essentially at all costs.
In a religious concept this can be eternally damaging since we would willingly be living a lie. We know there is a better alternative, however we don’t want it to be right, so we ignore it or even worse we convince ourselves that it is in fact wrong. We tell ourselves that since this box was once true then it must always be true. In one sense we are damning ourselves to forever associate with God inside the box we have placed ourselves in. Any time God leaves that box then we ignore him and require that he enters that box again to communicate with us. Pretty soon God stops trying to help us leave the box and adheres to our desires. Dangerously, according to Ezekiel 14, God can actually then answer our prayers according to the box, or in other words idols, that we have setup. These answers we can then interpret as being the final word of God and can act accordingly. Totally unaware that God was just giving us what we wanted, which was the only thing we would listen to.
Am I wrong?
This may seem extreme however imagine the familiar example of Samuel the Lamanite in Helaman 13. The righteous Nephites of the time had a religious leader named Nephi. Nephi was certainly a man of God and very likely did great things in his own right. As Samuel was speaking, the people at the time could have easily said that Nephi was their leader and God will only speak to them through Nephi. Therefore, they didn’t need to listen to Samuel. This would have been an understandable decision considering Samuel was a Lamanite who were enemies of theirs and had come into their city to tell them that they were wicked and needed to repent. In their minds they certainly weren’t wicked and needed to repent. Very few people in fact see themselves as wicked even when they obviously are. Samuel was essentially just a crazy person speaking crazy things on the wall and needed to be dealt with quickly. Those that did however place a mental box around their ideas of how God works, ignored the call for repentance, the signs of Christ’s birth, and the signs of his death. These people would have cut themselves off from further light and truth and consequently their existing light and truth was in fact eventually removed, and they were destroyed according to the scriptures. The people though that did heed the words were willing to accept that they could be wrong. As a consequence, they sought out Nephi, repented, and were baptized unto the Lord.
Another great example of this principle is Nephi in 1 Nephi 4. Nephi had lived a very good life and had exerted much effort to live the laws of God. However, he was confronted with a very difficult position when he was asked by God to kill Laban. Nephi had never killed before and certainly wasn’t looking for opportunities to do so. When asked by God to kill Laban, Nephi recoiled in horror at the thought of doing so. God understood the initial reaction and gave Nephi a list of logical reasons for why it was a valid request. Nephi eventually understood and followed God. However, if he had instead put his understanding of God in a box and told himself that his god would never ask something like that then he would have stopped his spiritual progression at that point. Nephi would have been limited to the god that operated according to the laws as he understood them and never would have progressed to the understanding of God that would ask him to build a boat to go to an unknown land. Nephi was willing to be wrong and he quickly adjusted his perspective to his new knowledge.
Response to Truth
Initially, when we hear things that don’t agree with our current understanding then it can be very easy to approach the speaker or the ideas with anger. This is very evident in Alma 21, which describes how Aaron, who had sacrificed a lot to preach the gospel to the Lamanites, was met with derision and contempt.
And it came to pass as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake.Alma 21: 10
Aaron had done nothing except show them through the scriptures how their current beliefs were wrong and there was a better way. They hated him for this and eventually cast him into prison in order to shield themselves from the truth. Had they in fact been willing to be wrong then they would have considered the new knowledge Aaron was sharing and found that it was in fact superior to their current beliefs. They would have repented, turned to the true God, and enjoyed peace, prosperity, and happiness. Instead, the thought they were wrong was too much for them to handle and they didn’t even want to consider it at all.
Anger to a new idea is never a righteous response or a rational consideration of the potential truth. It is an emotional response to what should be a logical situation. If something is wrong, then there must be a logical explanation. However, if we instead react defensively then we have instantly cut ourselves off from a potential learning opportunity given by God. We would also have cut ourselves off from helping teach why the idea may be inferior to something else. We instantly would have turned a positive situation into a negative one.
Wrong Is an Opportunity To Be Right
Everyone is going to be wrong about something. In addition, everything we know about God and religion is either totally wrong or at best incomplete. God will give us many opportunities to be shown where and how we are wrong. If we accept that God lovingly guides us and knows what is best for our spiritual progression, then we can take each of those opportunities as a time to learn our deviations from God and adjust accordingly. When appropriate we can show others their deviations and they hopefully will rejoice with us. However, if we instead approach each opportunity as a chance to show how we are correct and everyone else is wrong, then we have cut ourselves off from further light and truth. We are by definition damned as we are no longer capable or willing to spiritually grow. There is nothing wrong with being wrong as long as we seek out the truth when it is available. It is however not right when we think of ourselves as always correct even when evidence of our false beliefs is clearly shown to us.