This whole Mayan debacle last month still has me puzzled. How did so many seemingly rational people get swept up in a prediction they hadn’t even researched, made by a people they don’t even know, and bearing all the earmarks of, well, ridiculousness?
I think I know how it caught on. People like magical, amazing stuff. They may deny that they’re superstitious, but they carry a lucky rabbit’s foot, or they wear a lucky hat to a ballgame. Some follow astrology, some seek out psychics, some read Tarot cards. Some people won’t stay on the 13th floor of a hotel, some won’t walk under a ladder, some worry if they break a mirror. They like to think there’s something in the universe reaching into their world and controlling their fate. Space travelers, perhaps. If it’s a group of ancient people with mysterious calendars and carvings, all the better. When odd things happen, these people can’t shrug it off; they look for hidden meanings and omens. Sometimes, after great stress or a tragedy, society grasps at straws trying to find solace and stability, as if there’s something firm they can count on when the world seems to be careening out of control.
We are not immune to this as Mormons. I once heard a hilarious testimony-okay, unintentionally hilarious-about the zodiac. And I know a couple of members who claim to have a lucky number. Seriously. One person’s is three, another’s is eleven. They claim that their lives are literally peppered with these numbers, as if a Numeral God has plucked them from the masses and chosen to dangle these numbers before them almost constantly (and for seemingly no purpose). But let’s look at this. Let’s say you pick the number four. Suddenly you’re seeing quantities of four all around you but it’s because you’re looking for it. You’ll suddenly notice four spoons in the sink. You’ll wake up at 4:44 one morning. A phone will ring four times before someone answers it. There will be four desserts to choose from on a menu (and menu has four letters). Four buttons on your coat. Four chairs at the table! Four wheels on your car! And you can do this until the cows come home. All four of them.
What’s the harm in this? More than you’d think. By placing our destiny and our energy in this bogus, mystical drivel, we are thus excused from taking responsibility for our lives and fortunes. We think we’re at the mercy of forces far greater than we can grasp, and there’s little we can do about it. We stop relying on God to help us in our efforts to grow and improve, to help others and serve. Basically, we transfer the faith we should have in God’s power to that of a man-made idol. We stop growing closer to Christ and praying with full intent of our heart. We stop listening to real prophets, and get swept up in the charismatic predictions of false ones. We start quoting witty pop psychologists in Gospel Doctrine class, instead of inspired church leaders. Who are, as a matter of fact, plenty witty.
And we start seeing our lives as lucky or unlucky based on outward circumstances, rather than seeing ourselves as blessed because of Christ’s atoning gift, or because we’ve prayed sincerely and worked to gain a testimony. We get swept up with others who gasp over scary rumors. You cannot be a member of this church without hearing homespun rumors designed to frighten people into obedience. It’s one of the reasons folklore springs up-to get people to conform to the community’s rules and preserve society. But these rumor mongers are getting compliance the same way parents threaten kids with “Boogie Man” stories: Obedience through fear, rather than through understanding and sensible choice-making.
Soon you have a culture that thinks their poverty or wealth is solely due to luck. They embrace superstitions designed to keep bad luck at bay, and entice good luck to stay. They think good and bad health are also controlled by luck, as are good or bad relationships. For them, God does not figure into the equation at all. Lest you think this is some faraway unenlightened culture, look how often we wish someone luck, knock on wood, or tell performers to “break a leg” so as not to “jinx” them. It shows how pervasive this notion of luck can be.
Fortune cookies are another example of logic interruptus. Most of us crack them open just for sheer amusement, although lately they seem to be Advice Cookies, more than Fortune Cookies. I mean, who wants to read “measure your words” rather than, “great fortune is coming your way”? And we all know they’re cranked out by some employee in a cookie factory, not by anyone with an inside track to the future. So we read them just for laughs. But some people actually believe them! It’s so much easier than actually working to achieve goals, and following Christ’s commandments to ensure a happy life. They believe luck is a real commodity, something doled out by hidden forces, something you must simply accept.
It also leads these giddy followers to make bad investments, sign up for “get rich quick” schemes, and gamble their savings because they feel lucky. They have stopped using their powers of reasoning and are making decisions based on pure emotion. Horse races, casinos, and lotteries all count on the public embracing the idea of “luck.”
Is it possible to have a string of bad luck? Or an amazing windfall of good luck? Yes, but not because the stars aligned or you carried a lucky talisman. Sometimes good things happen, and sometimes we face harrowing trials. In each case it’s a test of whether we turn to God-for his help, or to thank him. He allows the pendulum to swing both ways, and our test is to remember him in both cases.
So this won’t be the last time an “end of the world” prediction comes from the Mayans, or from soothsayers such as Nostradamus. Some primitive tribe in the Amazon will be discovered and they’ll have a line and a figure 8 scrawled on a tree and someone will interpret it to mean the world will end in 2018. And then we’ll get to watch the media speculate all over again.
But hopefully, as Latter-day Saints, we will measure all we hear against revealed truth, and avoid the panic and silliness of “every wind of doctrine” that flies by. We’ll use elbow grease and prayer to make our own good fortune, and rely on inspired leaders to give us messages grounded in reality. Are you a member of the actual church Christ established, restored in modern times? Now there you’re lucky.
Joni Hilton’s book, “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is in LDS bookstores everywhere.
Her latest three novels, “JUNGLE,” “SISTERS IN THE MIX,” and “PINHOLES INTO HEAVEN” are all available on Kindle at amazon.com/author/jonihilton and at mormonauthors.wordpress.com.
Listen (and call in) to The Joni Hilton Show, streaming live on AM-1380 Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. PST.
Hilton has written 20 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.
” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California. She can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com, Twitter:@JoniHilton, and Facebook: Joni Hilton.