We See What We Want to See.

This is a bit of a follow-up to my recent post We All Believe What We Want to Believe.

Today at church we had an activity wherein everyone sat in a circle. We were given notecards and pencils and instructed to take 60 seconds to look around the room and memorize everything we could see that was the color blue. Once the time was up, we were instructed to not look up, and to write down everything we had noticed that was the color green. I couldn’t remember a single thing. We were then instructed to right down everything we could remember that was the color blue. I could remember about five things.

The lesson, of course, is that we see what we are looking for, and tend to ignore what we aren’t looking for. And since our wants and desires strongly influence what we look or don’t look for, we end up seeing much of what we want to see, and little of what we don’t want to see.

In the case of religion, if we want our religion to be true, we will see those things that support that bias. If we don’t want a religion to be true, we will see those things that support that bias. Hence, we get one group of people who says “How can you possibly believe Mormonism is true?!” while another group says “How can you possibly believe Mormonism is false?!” How can intelligent people be found on both sides? Because we all make decisions based on the information available to us, and if we are each absorbing certain bits and pieces of information and ignoring other pieces, then it’s no wonder we arrive at different conclusions.

But of course regardless of what we believe, there is absolute truth, and our belief doesn’t affect what that truth is. You might convince everyone in the world that the moon is made of green cheese but it won’t make it so. So how does one go about finding out what the real truth is, despite our biases?

1. Desire. If I don’t want to know what the truth is, then I’m already stuck. I will never see past my biases if I have no desire to know what the truth is. “But if what I believe is true anyway, what does it matter?” you might ask. The problem is that if you don’t really know whether what you believe is true or not, you cannot take advantage of that truth in nearly as effective a manner. In addition, you are on wobbly ground, because without that assurance something unexpected may come along that shakes your belief, and even though you already believe in what is true, because you were not convinced you may be convinced it is not.

2. An open mind. If one wants to know the truth, then it follows that one will have an open mind. No idea will be threatening. No idea will be beyond consideration, with the exception, perhaps, of those you already know to be true beyond any doubt.

3. A seeking mind. One might have desire and an open mind, but if one waits for things to fall in one’s lap, then one might be waiting a long time. To find the truth, one must seek it out. Otherwise the gems of truth that are buried your backyard may remain as undiscovered as if they were buried under a mountain on the other side of the world.

4. Commitment. We are less likely to find the truth if we are not committed to act upon it. In the case of the things of God, I believe he may actively prevent us from finding the truth if we are not prepared to live according to that truth. For example, for the sake of argument let us assume the LDS Church is God’s one true church upon the earth, as the Church claims. If one asks God whether the LDS Church is that one true church, but one is not committed to becoming a member of that Church upon receiving a positive answer, will God give them an answer? Why would he? All that would do is condemn the one asking, without doing them any good.

For those inclined to say “But you Mormons aren’t open-minded at all, and you don’t want to know the truth! You just stick to your biases!” Certainly in many cases that is true. But that has nothing to do with whether or not the LDS Church is the true church of God. As for myself, while I can speculate and consider arguments against the truth of the LDS Church, I can’t do so very seriously, because I do know it’s true. I would have to close my mind to what I have already experienced, and what I already know, in order to seriously consider anything else being the truth. I would be no more “open-minded” in so doing as I would be to consider whether 2+2 is not really 4, which can be stimulating, but is not very useful for most people.

“But how do you know what is true?” you might ask? Because God has a way of communicating with us that is unmistakable. He gives us knowledge that is as self-evident as 2+2=4. To those who have not experienced this form of communication, it seems mystical, even foolish. To those who have experienced it it seems logical and straightforward. The question for you is whether or not you have a desire to know what the truth is, are open-minded enough to accept it, whatever it may be, will make an effort to find it, and then be committed to living according to that truth. If you can answer “yes” to each of those questions, then you will find the truth. God guarantees it.


  1. Thanks Josh. Thank you for choosing to share this website with everyone else and for letting us benefit from your spiritual and intellectual journey. I completely agree with you that we only see the things we want to see. It is frightening how easily this gets us into trouble. I've experienced it for myself and over time and a whole lot of introspection and counseling, I can "see" now that I have been wrong about so many things, but most importantly, my own tendency toward pride and unrighteous dominion. I am so grateful for repentance and the ability we have, through the atonement, to overcome the beasts that seek to thwart our eternal progress.

  2. This is a pretty lame argument for Mormonism. For someone who has no appetite for tobacco and alcohol, who wants to marry a virgin, and who wants there to be a God, and a Heaven, Mormonism has an obvious appeal. This does not mean that Mormonism is true.

    Just because I want to believe that if I spend $10,000 on lottery tickets I will be sure of winning one hundred million dollars does not mean that buying lottery tickets is a good investment strategy.

    • If you think this post is an argument for Mormonism then you misunderstood the post, although perhaps that's my fault. The post is merely meant to explain a phenomenon, not prove anything about Mormonism.

  3. John's comment illustrates perfectly what you are trying to say. He is seeing what he wants to see in seeing the argument for Mormonism. He is seeing Mormons as religious zealots that don't think for themselves, and rely on what some church teaches them to know the truth. My husband, being non-Mormon does the same thing on occasion, and can sometimes see an invitation to play basketball with the elders as pressure to join the church, because he's looking for reasons not to join. I have even been accused of not thinking for myself when I was touched (more like yelled at) by the Holy Ghost to tell me that the Book of Mormon was true, more than 20 years after the first time I read it, and after having fallen away from the church for many years.

    The interesting thing in all of this is that Mormonism really requires that you think for yourself more than any other religion out there that I'm aware of. For some, you always have to have the priests tell you what to do. Others think that it doesn't matter what you do as long as you say you believe in Christ. Neither of these things really requires you to think at all. We, on the other hand, are told to "Choose The Right." This requires far more thought than relying on others to tell us what to do, or just saying we believe in Christ.

    As far as seeing what you want to see, that is definitely true. A person who is trying to get out of joining the church will see everything wrong with it, and nitpick until they run out of things to nitpick, because they are just not ready to be baptized yet, but they do know it's true (I think this is where my husband is right now). He even sees the idea that we claim it to be the one true church as being a problem, because he is nondenominational, and says there cannot be one true church, but there is only one God. I'm not sure I see the logic in that, because if there is truly only one Heavenly Father, there only can be one true church, because if the churches disagree, it's because some of them are teaching either false or incomplete doctrine.

  4. ChrisSorry I missed your comment till now. As for improvement printcieods, everyone is different. Some see results in as little as 1 session. With chronic conditions such as yours, I always try to set expectations as follows: You didn’t get this way overnight so likewise, the healing process will probably take time. First session is $150, subsequent sessions are $100. I just sent you email with more info about our getting together.  

  5. Touchdown! That’s a really cool way of putting it!

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