The Savior provides His gospel as a light to guide those who choose to believe in and follow Him.
Now we have to stop right here and just argue with the entire premise of the talk: That we choose our beliefs.
Psychology today, in September 2011 published an article where they discuss that this premise simply is not true
After all, though we can choose our religious affiliation, none of us can ultimately choose what we truly believe or don’t believe.
As such I would challenge any believing member of church to suddenly stop believing. Even for a minute, throw it all away. Or perhaps, even more universal, try believing in Santa Clause. Not a half-held belief that he might be somewhere, but as real as children believe on Christmas Morning. Or try this, try to believe there is a Duck on your head. Not just imagine it, but believe it so hard that you would fight people who claim there is not . That you would start arguments with friends on facebook and post about the glorious benefits of the head-duck.
Do you see how belief is not a choice? One may be able to alter it with time and effort, but it’s not just like choosing what you’ll eat for breakfast.
Now, to really emphasize it, imagine that you believe that your uncle is a good man. Picture your uncle. Now imagine you sit down at his computer just to do some web surfing, and you find his browser history. Not only does he log in to AshleyMadison.com daily, but he visits a variety of Porn sites. Trying not to judge you go to close the browser history and click on a chat log where he discussing bargening the price on disposing of your aunts body with an individual. Pictures of the gruesome death are posted and your aunt has been missing for a month.
Belief can be altered by external forces. Discovering the evidence of your Uncle’s misdoings alters your belief in a way that is not controllable. One cannot simply believe that the uncle is a good person again. Similarly, imagine that your aunt walks in a few seconds after. The death is not real; she explains that this was all part of a game; and she knew about the AshleyMadison.com profiles. She even points out how she was the “other woman” he was flirting with by logging in to both profiles.
Would you choose to believe in this situation? No, again the outside forces have swayed your belief without your free will even being asked.
So what does that mean for church members?
The implications go from simple understanding to staggering. First, please understand that this entire talk, pointed to someone who doesn’t believe is simlar to finding a parapelegic after a car accident and telling them to walk. Just as they did not control the Mack Truck that crushed their car, members who find historical documents or personal stories have their faith impacted in ways beyond their control. I hope understanding this breeds empathy for those who do not believe.
For the Exmormon trying to convince a loved one that the church is a fraud, it is similar. Just as the exmormon could not simply opt to believe that Joseph Smith Jr. was a good man, they should not expect the believer to see him as a person who committed fraud.
For the Member, they should realize that “But for the grace of God, there go I”. The line between belief and non-belief is thin, and can be shattered by outside influence. Being proud you believe is a false sense of confidence. Many of those who no longer believe once said “I would never stop believing”. It’s beyond one’s control. Science supports that.
And that’s where the world shattering understanding starts. God made us so that our beliefs were more heavily defined by our parents, our peers or our geographical location than our own internal decision making ability. A God who exists as described by scripture understands that external forces convince individuals and He would perfectly know how to impact those individuals to join. If one believes God is omniscient, then individuals joining or leaving the church must be part of His plan, as He could convince people, and made them so that He could.
Further, one must then understand that this talk, while well intentioned, is harmful to relationships and cannot either convince the non-believer, or prevent the believer from falling away. Instead it drives wedges between family; and reduces understanding of the realities of the world.
This talk, given by a general authority, over the pulpit, at General Conference, is not inspired. God allows harmful, wrong ideas to come from his leaders.
Either that, or all of our understanding of science and psychology is wrong; as well as your experiences with my examples above, and we should all just start claiming there are ducks on our heads, because belief is a choice.