Skip to main content

On popularity and power

A person recently emailed me his hilarious opinion that I do what I do because I feel power when people read what I write, buy my books, or watch my videos. I suppose it’s not completely his fault that he is so wrong, since he doesn’t have access to the statistics of my reads and views and sales.

It is human nature to try to make sense of overt demonstrations of character beyond our own by finding ways of depreciating that character down to our level. It is an abundantly common thing to do, but its abundance does not make it any less sad. Especially when you understand more about how costly these demonstrations are, and how critical they are to helping all people lay hold of "every good thing" (see Moroni 7, including this video series)--or at least more than what they had before.

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. (2 Nephi 26:24)

It is so interesting to me how people so readily try to explain away what they see by imputing to the person they are judging the poverty of their own motives, and how abundantly obvious it is to any who possess even the tiniest bit of the spirit of God.

In this case, the writer looks at the fraction of what he sees of what I do, and what it costs me. He realizes he would never do that, and then wonders what it would take to make it worthwhile to him. It never even crosses his mind that anyone would do so because they love the world. He can't comprehend caring about others enough to actually repent of his sins, face the fury of the world, and sacrifice his money and time and sleep and recreation for their sake. He can only imagine doing all this if it made him famous and popular. He gets excited by the idea of commanding and controlling people, and he presumes that anyone making such a sacrifice to preach the gospel must assuredly operate on the same principles he does, and to full the same desires he has.

Let me disabuse his conjecture, along with anyone who shares it. I have steadily become less popular with everything I publish. You can see how many views I get on YouTube. I get about 120 views per post at the moment. Many of them are probably multiple counts of returns by the same people. I sell maybe two to ten copies of each of my books per month, except for my reprint of lectures on faith, which sells a lot more. It varies a lot, and I don't watch it.

I don't have low uptake because I don't know how to get them.  I started with orders of magnitude more views on my blog than I have today. I could tell you the posts that caused declines. They were all about repentance.

It is not hard to boost reads, views, and sales. I have low uptake because I refuse to tell people what they want to hear, and insist on telling them the truth, as far as I understand it. Most people do not find the truth appealing.

People want to hear:

  • That they are great how they presently are. The truth is, all people are alienated from God, and no one can rise up to the tremendous potential he has given them without learning from him and becoming like he is. That is a very unpopular message.
  • That they can feel good without actually being good. The truth is, in order to feel good—at least consistently and continuously—you have to actually be good. That’s a very unpopular message.
  • That what they think is right right now is what God thinks is right. God’s ways are very different from our ways. We can’t rely on our own ideas of right and wrong to know actual right and wrong. He must reveal it to us. That’s a very unpopular message.
  • Explanations of end-times scriptures. These are important, but they must be explained in the context of why it matters, which means reserving them for the time and place where they persuade people to change for the better. That's not popular.
  • That God will do what they want him to do. The truth is, we ought to be spending our time searching out what God wants us to do to conform to his will, not trying to get him to conform to ours. That is a very unpopular message.
  • That there is no such thing as sin, and God treats all people the same, whether they sin or not. The truth is sin is real, God’s laws do not change, and the goodness we give and receive is determined by how well we learn and live these laws. That is a very unpopular message.
  • That they can be as happy as they wish they were while doing anything they feel like doing. See the previous point. Deviation from God never brings enduring joy or meaning. 
  • That you can obtain marvelous experiences with God in some other way than becoming more like he is and doing more of what he does. This is a very unpopular message.
  • And so on.

The more valuable and broad a set of truth is, the less popular it will be. Because I care about obtaining and disseminating truth, I readily accept and even expect that the better I do in my mission, the less interest it will garner among the crowds. This is the pattern Jesus showed. His end audience was size zero.

I do not care what others think of me, beyond my hope that I do not make any good thing harder to believe or do as a result of my own limitations. I don’t care about how popular I am, beyond how it intersects with my ability to share the things that God has shared with me.

As far as power goes: Popularity is not power. Power is the ability of one to obtain what they desire. Power does not come through catering to the mob. It comes through learning the laws of cause and effect—God’s law—and following it. Might does not make right. Right makes might. The only enduring power is found in and through Christ: through learning how he is, and living all you learn. Paul gave a nice summary of what this entails in Philippians 2. TLDR: Become the best person you can be while giving everything you can for the benefit of all. Here is my present reflection on the passage:

2 Fill yourself with my joy, through taking upon yourself the same inner motive, loving with the same love, being actuated by the same spirit, and coming to the unity of the same understanding as I have,
3 Without any preference for yourself over others, or thinking you are more than you are, but humbly recognizing when others are better than you,
4 Concerned more about others than yourself;
5 These attitudes I direct you to are those that were in Jesus Christ:
6 Though he was already a God, he did not consider godliness a question of what you gain,
7 But rather as what you give, taking upon himself the nature of a servant and coming down as a man.
8 And in the form of a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 And through this, God elevated him to the highest position, and favored him with a name above every other name,
10 So that to the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth,
11 And every tongue should acknowledge and fully agree that Jesus Christ is Lord, as glorious as God the Father. (Philippians 2, Author's Reflection)

There is great value in the preceding passage.

Because I live as best I know to have something of service to others, and because this means seeking God with all my heart, might, mind, and strength, and because this path will unavoidably include receiving all that God has, I do and will receive power. But I do not seek it. I seek Jesus. And you should, too.

The Lord does not do what he does for what he gets out of it. He does what he does because he cares more about others than he does himself. This is what he has shown me, and it is what I do. And everything I do aligns with that claim.

For anyone to suggest otherwise,—especially by those who have never met me nor anyone who knows me well enough to be able to say so—is mindbogglingly absurd.