March of 1945, nearing the end of WWII, the Americans were preparing to cross the Rhine River into Germany’s heartland, the most direct route to Berlin. It was expected to be one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The Nazis said the river would run red with blood, and after the causalities of D-day, the Allies believed them.
For days, the Nazi soldiers could hear the movement of American tanks and artillery into the area. The information received through their intelligence estimated at least 30,000 troops were assembling to cross into Germany. Immediately Hitler’s army was summoned in preparation—but the attack never came. Instead, when the enemy ventured into the supposed American camps, they found nothing—not a tank, not a soldier, not a gun.
Meanwhile, 10 miles upriver, American Troops of the Ninth crossed the Rhine en masse with little resistance and very few casualties, thus numbering the days of Hitler’s Berlin.
How could this be? Hitler’s Army had once again been fooled by the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, nicknamed “The Ghost Army,” a special unit under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The 23rd were masters of deception and deceit, a group of carefully selected artists, actors and sound technicians with great skills of showmanship and flair. They used balloon tanks, guns, and planes supplemented with sounds transmitted by loudspeakers and fake radio transmissions meant to be intercepted. And then, just before the enemy descended upon them, they’d disappear.
During their existence, the Ghost Army sent Hitler’s forces in a tailspin, directing them wherever our soldiers were not, and saving an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 American lives.
The British used similar techniques, drawing German bombers away from airbases and populated areas by constructing dummy airfields or using lights to imitate a nearby town. I’m sure after attacking these sites and returning home, some of these pilots felt pride at their accomplishments in destroying the enemy, but imagine their dismay when later, their own families and villages were bombed by the very aircraft they thought they had destroyed.
The consequences of being deceived can be grave indeed.
He Shall Deceive Many
Today, we live in perilous times when the adversary has full reign in the hearts of men. When speaking of our time, the Savior warned us to “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks explains, “In other words, many will seek to deceive us by saying that they or their teachings will save us, so there is no need for a Savior or His gospel. The Book of Mormon describes this as ‘the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing’” (3 Ne. 2:2).
For many of these deceptions, the strategies are surprisingly simple. Some even use the same tactics as the anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon. Here are three common tactics Satan uses in our day and how to avoid them:
A strategy of the adversary that is becoming more and more common is when someone first manipulates the teachings and doctrines of the church and then points to the seeming inconsistencies to shake the faith of those willing to listen. Some refer to this tactic as “Building Straw Men,” and it’s used in all aspects of our society.
Straw men are purposely built up to be knocked down. When the method is used to attack the Church, the perpetrator builds a shadow church. Manipulating and misrepresenting facts, using half-truths and lies, they construct and fabricate a replica of the true Church. They construct a “Ghost Army” among the Saints. Then cleverly, they employ the “Ah ha” moment.
The “Ah ha” Moment
Let me explain how the “Ah ha” moment works: You lead your listeners carefully toward a truth, but in such a way they come to the conclusion themselves. It’s like a light bulb going off in their head. When used for good, it’s a moment that the Spirit can cement the truth or principle in the listener’s heart and mind.
We all know that Satan counterfeits the Lords teachings and principles, but he can’t use the Spirit. So, instead, in his “Ah ha” moment, he quickly slips pride into the person’s heart.
The victim, like the Nazi pilot, quickly attacks the shadow church and destroys it. It’s easily done because it was built on false doctrine in the first place. Arrogance takes over and the victim is lured into a false sense of complacency. But the sad truth is, they have done nothing but destroy an illusion. So onward they go, leading their families away from the truth, toward destruction.
Their pride easily leads them to become an advocate for the truth they think they have found, and thus, they anxiously try to get others to follow. Then, as the scripture states, “…the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21).
Meanwhile, the true church stands strong in its doctrines and faith, revered by those that have toiled to add drops of oil to their lamps day by day—steadfast in their preparation for the return of the Savior.
Our Own Good Nature
Another common deception today is crafty enough to lure many good souls to err. My favorite incident that demonstrates this comes from our oldest son, John. He’s one of the kindest and most compassionate people I know.
After he came home from his mission, John bought a truck. One day, while he was driving along, a man standing outside a building hailed him. The man said, “You have a truck. I need to move. Can you help me?” Eager to do good, John agreed. So he followed the man inside the building which looked to be some kind of boarding house. The man led him to a stark room with only the bare necessities, and John proceeded to carry things out into the truck. As John was carrying the very last load out of the building, a nurse walked around the corner.
She looked at him and said “Sir, what are you doing?”
John answered, “I’m helping my buddy here move.”
She replied “Sir, this is a Mental Institution. You can’t help him move.”
The adversary knows how to use our good natures to his advantage. Out of misplaced sympathy or misinformation, we can sometimes do more harm than help. Even if our intentions are purely good, in our haste, we either fail to gather all the facts or all the facts are not readily available.
Take Heed that No Man Deceive You
So, how do we escape being deceived? The Lord has put many safeguards in place. Here are just three of the tools we can use to avoid spiritual deception.
The easiest safeguard, like the nurse, is the prophet. The prophet is directed by the person that knows all the facts, the Lord. After being a member of this church for over forty years, I’ve never once regretted following the prophet’s advice. In fact, it’s saved me grief more times than I can count.
Though the prophet can lead us in the right direction, we need to learn the truth and gain a testimony for ourselves, and that requires real effort on our part. In the Savior’s parable of the Ten Virgins, he makes it plain we are responsible for putting the oil in our lamps.
Of course, the most valuable asset we have been given is the Spirit. But it takes our most devoted effort to keep. Elder Dallin H. Oaks tells us:
“The Holy Ghost will protect us against being deceived, but to realize that wonderful blessing we must always do the things necessary to retain the Spirit. We must keep the commandments, pray for guidance, and attend church and partake of the sacrament each Sunday. And we must never do anything to drive away that Spirit.”
It takes practice, patience, and faith to keep the Holy Spirit by our side. We must learn to tune ourselves into the promptings and whisperings. And then, we must learn to follow the Spirit’s guidance without question—even if, at the time, it seems to make little sense.
Never Letting Our Guard Down
Christ has given us this warning:
“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24, emphasis added).
We can avoid being deceived. The Joseph Smith translation adds even more clarity when it specifies, “who are the elect according to the covenant.” So we must never let our guard down.
The adversary and his advocates play upon the sympathies of good people using false precepts to deride the commandments of God. They defame and falsely accuse good men. They counterfeit documents. And they build shadows with half truths and lies easily torn down by prideful men that think they know more than God. But the results are always the same for those who are deceived. Like the Nazis pilots, who went home thinking they had won a victory, eventually they’re faced with the truth that they have lost everything.