Back in the day….(I know that some of you automatically roll your eyes when you hear that.) Anyway, back when I was a kid, we used to have door-to-door salesmen come to our house. These days we still get a few illiterate salespeople that can’t read our “No Soliciting” sign, but not too often.
I know a lot of folks still make their living doing this, whether it be alarm systems, pest control, satellite dishes, or just selling something to “keep me off the streets.” When I was a kid, it was more of a grown-men, career type thing. I distinctly remember salesmen coming to the house, selling encyclopedias, cleaning solutions and kitchen knives.
My favorite were the vacuum salesmen. They would show up at the door with a vacuum in hand and ask to come in and give a demonstration. Once-in-a-while my parents would open the door and let them in.
The salesman would then extoll the virtues of the vacuum cleaner, and then offer to demonstrate its effectiveness. He would take a tube of dirt and dust and pour it onto the carpet, then turn on the vacuum and suck it back up. I am adding way too much detail for the point of this post, but hey, it is a fun memory.
One of the age-old techniques for door-to-door salesmen is to keep the conversation at the doorstep going as long as possible. Some aggressive salesmen will even resort to the “foot in the door” technique, where they would literally wedge their foot in the open doorway to prevent the potential customer from shutting the door. It is a pretty brash move, and if someone tried it here, they would get a sore foot and no sale.
Lately, it seems that nowadays I am more frequented by a different technique. Several times a week I get phone calls at work from an “appointment setter.” It consists of a phone call from someone I don’t know, who excitedly tells me that “One of our representatives will be in YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD and would like to meet with you to show you this exiting new offer, yada, yada, yada.” Yeah. In all my years of business, I have never made an appointment like this, but you can’t fault them for trying.
The goal: Get a foot in the door – either figuratively or literally. Once you have that, you have a chance to make the sale. (If you want to read more about the foot-in-the-door, and the related “successive approximations” concepts, click here.)
Reading the Book of Mormon is always fascinating because different things jump out to me at different times. I have read the story of Alma the Younger and his rebel ways a bunch of times. The most recent time through, something new caught my eye. It was when Alma Jr. was in full-blown “destroy the church” mode. A verse in Mosiah explains how he went about it.
“And he (Alma Jr.) became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.” (Mosiah 27:9)
How did Alma go about his self-appointed job? By “causing much dissension among the people.” The result: “Giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.”
Alma the Younger was essentially functioning as Satan’s appointment setter. He would get the people stirred up just enough that the door would be opened a crack, and his boss could come in and do some real damage.
Jesus Christ taught that Satan is the “Father of Contention.” “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Nephi 11:29)
I can’t help but wonder how often we crack open doors just enough to give “a chance” for the “enemy of God to exercise power” over others.
There is no doubt in my mind that the constant dissension among the people of our Nation has opened a doorway for Satan to exercise his power in remarkable ways. (I’m tempted to insert some sort of Ghostbusters analogy here, but I will resist.)
There is so much dissension. So much hate.
If we bring it down to the Church level, there are still those who make it their life mission to cause dissension within the ranks of the church – from both inside and outside. The result? Satan has his crack in the door, and he will exploit it.
I think sometimes we forget that Satan is a real person, with a real agenda to thwart God’s plan. President Kimball taught, “Regardless of who is getting the adversary’s special attention at any given time, he seeks to make all people “miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne. 2:27). Indeed, he seeks “the misery of all mankind” (2 Ne. 2:18). He is undeviating in his purposes and is clever and relentless in his pursuit of them.” (link)
He goes on to offer this very sobering view of Satan’s methods:
“The arch deceiver has studied every way possible to achieve his ends, using every tool, every device possible. He takes over, distorts, and changes and camouflages everything created for the good of man, … so he may take over their minds and pervert their bodies and claim them his.
He never sleeps—he is diligent and persevering. He analyzes carefully his problem and then moves forward diligently, methodically to reach that objective. He uses all five senses and man’s natural hunger and thirst to lead him away. He anticipates resistance and fortifies himself against it. He uses time and space and leisure. He is constant and persuasive and skillful. He uses such useful things as radio, television, the printed page, the airplane, and the car to distort and damage. He uses the gregariousness of man, his loneliness, his every need to lead him astray. He does his work at the most propitious time in the most impressive places with the most influential people. He overlooks nothing that will deceive and distort and prostitute. He uses money, power, force. He entices man and attacks at his weakest spot. He takes the good and creates ugliness. … He uses every teaching art to subvert man.
The adversary is subtle. He is cunning. He knows that he cannot induce good men and women to do major evils immediately, so he moves slyly, whispering half-truths until he has his intended captives following him.” (link)
Yikes. All he needs to do is get that foot in the door, and Satan will start pounding on us – as a nation, as a church, as families, or individuals. The crack in that door? Contention. A chance is all he needs.
While I believe we underestimate Satan’s relentlessness and efficacy, I also think we downplay the reality of his host of helpers. We tend not to look at people sowing dissension and think: “Hey, that guy is trying to open the door for the devil!” First, it sounds rude, and judgmental, and, second, the person doing it might not even be aware of the link.
But that doesn’t make it any less true.
Firing off hateful tweets, heated arguments with people in person and online, getting mad at the bishop, yelling at my kids, ALL of these things are sowing the seeds of dissension and contention – effectively putting me on the same team as the pre-repentant Alma the Younger.
Strong passions, sound reasons and even moral outrage are not valid reasons to bring contention into the mix. The reason? As soon we do, the Spirit of the Lord is grieved, and leaves. Now we find ourselves arguing without the Lord’s support. Richard G. Scott said in quite a unique way:
“The inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit can be overcome or masked by strong emotions, such as anger, hate, passion, fear, or pride. When such influences are present, it is like trying to savor the delicate flavor of a grape, while eating a jalapeño pepper. Both flavors are present, but one overpowers the other. In like manner, strong emotions overcome the delicate promptings of the Holy Spirit.” (Link to Conference talk here.)
We need to learn how to disagree and fight for what is right and true without cracking the door for Satan. Hateful tweets, riots, arguments, insults, and accusations are not that way. We need to get better at listening and reasoning together so that we can enlighten with the help of the Spirit.
“And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand.” (D&C 50:10)
We need to get better at this – as a nation, as a church and as family members. Satan roots for us to insert contention into our actions and relationships. It is how he gets his foot in the door. It is a simple delineator as to which side we are on: If we are contentious, we are on Team Satan.