Deseret News Book Review: ‘Are We Special’ Brings Balance to Self-Identity

Book review: ‘Are We Special’ brings balance to self-identity

By James Holt

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, June 29 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

In “Are We Special? The Truth and the Lie about God’s Chosen People,” Brigham Young University associate professor Jeffrey S. Reber and Mormon psychologist Steven P. Moody give readers with much to think about. Their book explores who people are, how they relate to the world around them and also to perhaps make changes to the way that they live.

Primarily for an audience who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the authors highlight today’s obsession with being special; with being the center of attention. They explore examples from culture such as the rise of celebrity and reality TV shows. It is an interesting commentary on today’s world and has applicability beyond the anticipated LDS readership.

The truth Reber and Moody use is that truth that every person is a child of God, and the authors describe “lie” as making people “unique in the world and more important, special and better than everyone else.”

Individuals generally fall into four different categories based on acceptance or denial of the truth and lie, write the authors, who combine an LDS perspective with elements of their experience as psychologists throughout the book.

They also suggest that there is a fine line between the truth and the lie. The four categories are:

1. Accepting the truth and the lie that makes people believe they are better than others because they are children of God.

2. Denying the truth and accepting the lie, thus being focused on selfish desires.

3. Denying the lie and the truth, thus making the individual nothing special.

4. Accepting the truth and denying the lie (the preferred mode) by accepting a divine heritage but denying that it makes them better than anyone else.

Reber and Moody explore how each of these approaches may be evidenced in a person’s life. Even by knowing about the less-desirable states, readers are able to explore themselves and their motivations to strive to establish an equilibrium in living the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The path of the disciple as a reflection of the fourth category is explored in great detail and provides a template for being anchored to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In common with other LDS writers, while recognizing that Mormons are not inherently better than those who are not of the LDS faith, the authors rely heavily on LDS authors in building their discussion.

James Holt is a senior lecturer in religious education at the University of Chester, U.K. His email is

Member Missionary

By Jeff Reber

Last Sunday evening, as I sat in the world wide leadership training meeting and watched the video narratives about member missionary work, I thought back to a family home evening that took place many years ago when I was a 10 year old boy and my parents introduced the “set a date” program to the family.  Because my dad was in the stake presidency he was one of the first to hear about the new program and he could hardly contain his excitement about it.

It is important to explain something about my parents before I continue.  They are incredibly faithful people who will immediately and joyfully do whatever the leaders of the church ask.  If the prophet wants every member to grow a garden, the seeds will be in the ground the next morning.  Food storage for a year?  Done. Read a chapter of the Book of Mormon every day as a family? Absolutely!  Sacrifice a child as and offer the child as a burnt offering?  The knife is already in hand.

So, when the set a date program was introduced my parents jumped at the opportunity.  My dad set up the projector screen and prepared overhead slides with a calendar and quotations about missionary work and everything in between.  A prayer was said, the program reviewed, and within the hour our family had prayerfully set a date by which we would have somebody in our home to hear the missionary discussions.  The date was only a couple months away, in December.  My parents were giddy with excitement and couldn’t wait to watch the Lord clear a path for us to find someone to hear the good news of the gospel.  My personal reaction was lukewarm.  Even at 10 years of age I had grown a little weary from all the programs my parents introduced to the family.  I had to weed the garden, stock the food storage, and get up at 5:00 in the morning to read the Book of Mormon with my family after all!

Just a week or two after we set a date, our long-time next door neighbors, who were active church members, sold their house.  My parents were certain that the new occupants of that home were the people meant to hear the missionary discussions on the date they had set.  Even I, with my somewhat dubious attitude about the whole thing, though it pretty coincidental that someone new was moving in next door to us right after my parents set the date.  It had a bit of the feeling of divine destiny to it.  So, I paid close attention to everything going on at the house next door to see if I could catch a glimpse of these soon to be baptized new neighbors of ours.

The first activity I observed taking place at the neighbors’ house was the arrival of painters.  There was nothing unusual about painting a house the colors you want, but it struck me as kind of odd to paint the whole house white with black trim, when every other house had earth tones like brown, beige, and pale yellow; but that is exactly what they did.  Then, the movers brought in the furniture.  There was very little of it and it was very simple and plain.  They also unloaded several framed paintings of Christ, along with crucifixes and a full-sized statue of Mary that was placed near the pool in the backyard.  I thought this was very promising for my parents, because the new neighbors were clearly religious, and Christian to boot!  A few days later, I noticed a long black car with tinted windows pulling up to the house and out of the car stepped a Catholic Priest.  I assumed he was there to bless the house for the family moving in.  We had a number of devout Catholic neighbors and there was a private Catholic school nearby, so none of this struck me as being odd.

Shortly after the priest arrived, a large 12 passenger van pulled into the driveway.  I wondered if this family had a bunch of children and potential new friends for me and my siblings.  To my great surprise, it was not children in the van, but 5 or 6 Catholic nuns!  They each got out of the van dressed in their religious habits and looked over their new lodging with obvious glee, regularly making the sign of the cross across their chests as an apparent expression of gratitude for such fine accommodations.  Apparently, this was pretty fancy living for nuns.

I couldn’t help but relish the irony.  My parents had set a date to have nuns in their home to hear the message of the missionaries!  These are women who take a vow to be brides of Christ.  They have committed their whole lives to their religion and a certain way of life, and their new Mormon neighbors were going to try and convert them?  “This should be interesting,” I thought.  We’ve all heard the clichéd query, “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?”  Well, here was its prime manifestation.  I knew that nothing could stop my parents from doing what the Lord commanded and what they felt inspired to do.  And I knew that a group of nuns were not inclined to investigate another faith; let alone a faith they probably didn’t even think of as being Christian.

I ran to tell my mom what I saw so I could study the expression on her face and see how she would deal with this obvious setback.  I told her 5 or 6 nuns were moving in next door and that was the reason why they painted the house white and black and put a big statue of Mary in the backyard.  I could see her face look downtrodden for just a split second and then I watched that amazing unstoppable faith rise up within her, leaving all doubt behind.  I knew that she was not going to give up on the goal, and when my dad heard the news and had the same faith rise up in him, I knew he wouldn’t give it up either.

We all stuck to the plan.  We went over to the house with warm homemade bread and welcomed the nuns to the neighborhood.  My dad and mom told them proudly that we were Mormon and that we had a wonderful message about Jesus Christ that we wanted to share with them.  They politely declined.  I had the assignment of going over and mowing their front lawn.  My other siblings helped with their trash cans and other things.  We all tried to overwhelm them with our good Christian service and my parents continued to try and get them to come over and hear our message of faith.  They continued to decline the invitation.

I waited for my parents to give up on them, but it was too late to find someone else.  We had invested all our efforts into these new neighbors of ours and the date was almost here.  But my parents were not going to give up.  The saving grace (and compromise between the unstoppable force of my parents and the immovable object of our new neighbors) came with the church’s announcement of a new television production, Mr. Krueger’s Christmas, which was scheduled to air just a day or two after the date our family had set to have someone in our home to hear the missionary discussions.

The Sunday evening before the airing of the show, we did our traditional Christmas caroling to all the neighbors on our street.  When we arrived at the nuns’ home we sang our best carol and gave them a plate of goodies, and then my parents asked them if they would come to our home the following Sunday evening and watch Mr. Krueger’s Christmas with our family.  We all waited with rapt attention to hear the answer.  The nuns whispered to each other for a minute or so and then turned back toward us and one of them said, “We would be happy to.”  It almost felt like a bigger success than having a family in our home listening to the missionary discussion and later getting baptized.

That next Sunday, as we sat in our family room with 5 nuns, all of us watching Mr. Krueger imagining himself in the manger with the baby Jesus, I could see the tears in each nun’s eyes, just as my eyes had become wet with my tears.  We may have had very different perspectives on religion and, certainly, none of us were going to change our respective church memberships, but we were totally united in that moment by the one thing that we all had in common, the only thing that can ever truly unite us, our faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.  We shared a deep reverence and awe for this incredible Son of God who came to earth as a baby that was helpless and fully dependent on others, all so he could save us and all because he loved us.

We were one in the spirit that night and, although they never again came over to our house or accepted any of our other invitations, and though no video interview for the church would ever feature my parents’ Herculean efforts to convert those nuns, something truly wonderful did happen that night and something truly wonderful happened to me.  I learned that people of different faiths can gather together in the name of Christ and feel the spirit bear witness of his divinity and know that he is the Son of God, and this is a beautiful and glorious thing in its own right.

Ever since that day, I stopped thinking in terms of member and nonmember.  I learned that all of us are beloved children of God no matter what we believe.  Like my parents, I am committed to sharing the message of my faith with others, even those who are unlikely to receive it.  I invite others to read the Book of Mormon and ask God if it is true.  I invite them to be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost.  Like Alma the Younger, I want them to “taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste” (Alma 36:24), but I do not consider those who accept the invitation “in” and those who do not “out.”  Like those nuns from so long ago, I consider them all brothers and sisters with whom I can feel the spirit, rejoice together and be edified together (D&C 50:22) as we help each other come unto Christ and partake of his abundant love.

Deseret Book Orange County Are We Special? Book Signing!

A big thanks to all those who came out to support us!!

Are We Special? Book Review on

Review by Jinky:

This book began with a premise that we once lived with Heavenly Father and when we came to earth, the separation from Him caused a void in us that longed to be filled.  This book ventured the psyche of man in his relationship with God to identify how we fill that void.  Guided by the principles found from the teachings in the LDS church, the authors came up with a system of ideas to help us understand why we think and do what we do.  They categorized this theory into personality quadrants (Pharisees, Egoists, Nihilists, Disciples), using a combination of belief in the TRUTH or LIE.  At any given time, one can be found in a quadrant.  The best quadrant to be is “Disciples”, where you accept the truth and deny the lie.

My copy of this book is all marked up and frankly, stained with tears.  I found it to be very insightful, edifying, hopeful, and especially caring.  It not only provided the “what” to thought processes but the “why” and so I came out of the read armed with the power of knowledge that can help me succeed in truly filling the “void”.  Such power came from the scriptural and prophetic words that were cited.  The author’s personal examples also strengthened my understanding.  Overall, my spirit felt the truth of the admonition that were being conveyed.  God’s message of love radiated in this book and seeped to my heart.  It was and is an amazing feeling.  Read this book and you will feel it too.

Moving, truthful, and empowering ..period.

LDS Women’s Book Review by Shanda Book Review by Shanda

I love a clean cover with lots of white space and simple, eye-catching art. With a question for a title and the dichotomy of the subtitle, I was intrigued from the start. How can our being “special” be both a truth AND a lie? It definitely urged me to read on and find out how it all fit together.

Being told all throughout childhood that we were a special generation that would lead the way into the millennium, etc., unintentionally encouraged me to have a somewhat inflated attitude regarding myself and those of my generation in the Church.There is an emphasis in my generation’s culture about feeling special and making sure your kids feel special. I have always felt like there was something wrong with that but couldn’t quite explain why. Now I understand that it isn’t recognizing that we are special that’s the problem, it’s feeling MORE special than someone else that is the real issue.

The authors state that being separated from our Father in Heaven during our time in mortality creates a void that Satan takes advantage of, tempting us to follow selfish, denigrating interests to fill what only a close relationship with our Father can only ever truly fill. It is that strong and special bond we enjoyed before this life that we miss and often end up trying to replace with empty, meaningless and even harmful pursuits.

They go on to explain the TRUTH and the LIE: While we, as children of God, are indeed special to Him, as members of the Church, we might mistakenly consider ourselves of more worth to Heavenly Father than His other children. We ARE special to our Heavenly Father, but we are not MORE special to Him.

“We can believe the adversary’s lie and try to fill our void with the false belief that we are better than others rather than lowly and humble servants of all.”   –Are We Special?

The chapter examining the Pharisees had the most impact on me. I am guilty of sitting in Sunday School, answering “No” to the question, “Are you like the Pharisees of old?” After reading this section, I have learned there is a subtlety to these Pharisaical characteristics that, at one time or another, I have indeed been guilty of possessing.

Another section that really stood out to me was entitled “Sin and Perfection.” I have had issues with perfectionism most of my life, and there was one sentence that opened my eyes in a way that nothing else has previously. The authors explain that the root of the word translated into “perfect” in certain scriptures of the Bible means “whole” or “complete,” which I had previously known but had never considered in the context of my current relationship with my Savior:

“Perfection, understood relationally, is not a property of the individual; it is a quality of relationship with the divine.”  –Are We Special?

The authors don’t just focus on the ways we struggle with being self-centered, modern-day Pharisees. They also discuss how we can be true disciples of Christ, submitting our will to His and accepting the fullness of His love so that we can truly love others.

He delighted in the happiness of others, the happiness He could bring them.      –Are We Special?

They encourage readers to take time to meditate and reflect, staying mindful about activities and if they are helping to develop a closer relationship with Christ. Each chapter and section is full of layers and depth that I did not expect and that have changed so much about the way I view myself and others, including my Savior and Father in Heaven. Everything relates back to the Savior and His Atonement for us, as well as the immense and incomprehensible Love that He and Heavenly Father have for every one of us.

Without hesitation, I recommend this book to everyone. There is wisdom and insight in this book to which my review cannot do justice. I will be purchasing copies of Are We Special? for myself and several loved ones. Visit the links below to learn more about Are We Special?, the authors, and how to purchase a copy for yourself.