Today I wanted to find a 1976 First Presidency message that is rather famous — or infamous for those who felt threatened by its radical stance. Spencer W. Kimball’s “The False Gods We Worship,” though radical in 1976, in our day has become virtually blasphemous as leaders in both political parties in the US and across much of the West strive to outspend and out-virtue-signal each other in showing support for the sanctity of war, or rather, the sanctity of our great war machine and its enormous profits.
Money never speaks louder than when it’s speaking about war, and the louder the money gets, the quieter the voices for peace become. For some reason, the increasingly controversial text of “The False Gods We Worship” is almost impossible to find using search engines like Google or even searching within the Church’s own website. It’s still on the website, but trying to bring it up with a search of any kind seems hopeless. As far as I can tell, the only way to find this message now on the Church’s website is if you manually navigate to the June 1976 Ensign.
I understand that the Church relies on Google for its search features (that was what I understood from a recent discussion with tech support regarding problems in search on the app and on the website), a choice that may need to be reconsidered someday. Or perhaps it’s due to choices by the Church’s website staff. In any case, there’s something odd going on.
If you have heard of President Kimball’s 1976 remarks on war and knew the title of his First Presidency message or perhaps remembered a meaty phrase from it, you really ought to be able to bring it up with any search engine, and especially if you enter the Church’s URL as the site to search and most especially if are on the Church’s own website searching for it. But I have failed in all attempts to do that. Let me know if you can do better! First, to help you out, here is the especially controversial/blasphemous paragraph, one that I treasure (marked in bold), followed by some additional text:
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)
We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us—and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7)—or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do, for as he said at the time of his betrayal, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53.) We can imagine what fearsome soldiers they would be. King Jehoshaphat and his people were delivered by such a troop (see 2 Chr. 20), and when Elisha’s life was threatened, he comforted his servant by saying, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:16). The Lord then opened the eyes of the servant, “And he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kgs. 6:17.)
Enoch, too, was a man of great faith who would not be distracted from his duties by the enemy: “And so great was the faith of Enoch, that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch.” (Moses 7:13.)
What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the “arm of flesh,” for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” (D&C 64:24.)
Here are the search strategies I tried for Google:
- Search string: Spencer Kimball, “false gods” Ensign, June 1976
Result: Nothing from the Church’s website was present at all in the first 60 hits (my first page of results) excerpt for an excerpt from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods before Me,” that quotes portions of his June 1976 First Presidency Message, but not the meatiest part (the passage in bold above). That result was in the #2 position, after a hit from the Nauvoo Times that had the text from the June 1976 First Presidency message, but where was that result from the Church website itself?
- Search string: site:”churchofjesuschrist.org” Spencer W. Kimball “The False Gods We Worship”
Results: Google indicated there were 161 results, but upon scrolling through the entire list (Google “omitted some entries very similar to the 119 already displayed”), no direct link to the June 1976 Ensign message was provided, though many of the hits cited it somewhere.
- Search string: site:”churchofjesuschrist.org” “we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel”
Results: Zero hits for the words in quotes (seeking an exact match), but two irrelevant hits if the quotes are removed.
- Search string: site:”churchofjesuschrist.org” “We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment”
Results: Nothing found. Huh?
Hmm, Google isn’t working. Let’s go straight to the Church’s website and search there:
- Search string: “The False Gods We Worship”, Ensign, 1976
Results: There are 36 hits that generally cite the 1976 target, but that First Presidency message itself is not among them. Time to try searching for direct quotes from the controversial part of the talk.
- Search string: “We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment”
Results: Nothing! Zero hits. This text, taken directly from the June 1976 Ensign, has vanished from the database used for searching. Let’s try some more.
- Search string: “When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel”
Results: Zero hits. Let’s try one more from the meaty paragraph.
- Search string: “we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot”
Results: Zero hits.
What’s going on?
The 1976 First Presidency message is still there on the Church’s website. If you know how to navigate to the June 1976 Ensign, you can read “The False Gods We Worship,” including its most controversial passage, one that I feel we need to recall today, when handing vast mountains of weapons and cash without accountability (not even basic hand-sketched receipts) to some of the sketchiest people on the planet is considered a mark of virtue. But searching with Google or on the Church’s website (which apparently is based on Google) will make this First Presidency message invisible.
It’s not just Google. I’ve tried at least two of these searches with each of Bing, DuckDuckGo, SwissCows, and PreSearch, and have yet to find the targeted First Presidency Message. But kudos to BYU Idaho, where an employee apparently posted the First Presidency message on the university’s website, which did show up on the first page of search results at PreSearch.com searching for the exact quote “”we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel”. That’s as close as I’ve come to finding President Kimball’s full June 1976 message on a Church-related website by using a search engine.
This kind of behavior is related to “shadow banning” or “de-amplification” but might better be called “search obfuscation.” But why? And is it from someone managing the Church’s website that could have done this, or is it most likely the result of action at Google?
UPDATE: Ah, I’ve found the answer. I just asked ChatGPT 4 for guidance on how to determine whether it’s Google or the Church’s website that has hindered search. ChaptGPT noted that the HTML for a given page may have a “noindex” instruction for robots that can keep a page invisible. So I downloaded the source code (for Firefox, use Tools > Browser Tools > Page Source) and there was the smoking gun:
<meta data-react-helmet=”true” name=”robots” content=”noindex”/>
That command keeps this article hidden from search engines. But then I found that it was not just this article. That “noindex” command in the “meta” information for Ensign articles (now known as the Liahona) appears to apply to everything before January 2000. The same also applies to the Friend (but not General Conference talks). This was not a case of censoring a controversial article, but apparently trying to keep search results focused on more modern information in general. I don’t understand that decision and feel a great many valuable articles and messages were given in the previous millennium that we should be able to access.
I hope we might be able to have search access to pre-2000 material in Church publications. There is a lot of value there.