The story is told of a man on death row who was approached by the warden on the night before his scheduled execution. “What would you like for your last meal?” the warden asked.
After a moment’s thought, the condemned man replied, “I’d like a big plate of cooked mushrooms. Until now, I haven’t dared eat any!”
My wife and I love mushrooms, and several years ago, while shopping in an Austrian supermarket, we were surprised to see two cans of mushrooms of the same size with different labels and a big difference in price. When we asked a store clerk what the difference was between the 13-schilling can and the 20-schilling can, he replied with a smile: “The ones for 20 schillings are guaranteed not to be poisonous.” If you had been in our shoes, which would you have chosen?
There are hundreds of species of mushrooms, and many of them are not only edible but delicious. Mushroom hunting is a favorite family activity in many parts of the world, but mushroom hunters must be aware that between 70 and 80 varieties of mushrooms are poisonous. Some of them are fatal.
Among the safe mushrooms is the common meadow mushroom or champignon found in nearly every neighborhood grocery store. Deep fried, sauteed, served in soups and gravies, or simply topping a pizza, it is not only safe to eat, but delicious.
Among the poisonous mushrooms is the Omphalotus illudens or “jack-o’-lantern” mushroom. The body reacts to its poison very quickly with violent nausea and vomiting. Because of this immediate reaction, the “jack-o’-lantern” is not fatal.
A much more dangerous mushroom is the Amanita phalloides, or “destroying angel.” Just one or two in a batch of two dozen can poison an entire family. Because it tastes like an edible mushroom and has no immediate effect, the victim keeps on eating. Then, six to fifteen hours later, when it is digested and its poisons have entered the bloodstream, the victim experiences severe nausea and cramps and unquenchable thirst. Eventually it destroys the liver. There is no known antidote, and the fatality rate is about 90 percent.
Then there are the “doubtfuls” and the “look-alikes.” An example of a doubtful mushroom is the Russula emetica. Most of the older mushroom literature classifies it as poisonous, but some of the modern mushroom hunters say it is edible. Whom do you believe? (Clue: emetica means “causing vomiting.”)
“Look-alikes”—toxic types that resemble edible varieties—are responsible for most cases of mushroom poisoning. For example, the poisonous “jack-o’-lantern” can be mistaken for the “brick cap,” a tasty, edible mushroom common in eastern North America. And people who have been poisoned by the deadly “death cup” thought they were picking an edible mushroom that looks very similar.
Music, movies, and magazines have a lot in common with mushrooms. For example, they come in countless varieties. Just as some mushrooms are edible and desirable and nutritious, certain kinds of music, movies, and magazines provide nutrition for the soul as they edify, entertain, and uplift.
And just as there are different kinds of poisonous mushrooms, so are there different kinds of music, movies, and magazines that poison the spirits of men and women. Some of these poisons are very much like jack-o’-lantern mushrooms because their impact is so repulsive and objectionable that we immediately reject them.
But there are other kinds of music, movies, and magazines that work very much like the “destroying angel”; that is, at first we have no idea that what we are listening to or watching or reading is slowly and surely poisoning our very souls.
Often we hear people comment on different entertainments, and we will hear something like, “This tape by the Dirty Gym Sox has ten good songs and only two bad ones.” Or, “It was a great movie (or video), with only two or three bad scenes.” Or, “Most of the articles in this magazine are very interesting and insightful.” But in 1988, only a few toxic mushrooms in a whole dishful put five Oregon people in the hospital on the verge of death.
Moroni tells us that “the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ” (Moro. 7:16).
Just as mushroom hunters develop safety checklists regarding the color, size, and shape of edible and poisonous mushrooms, our loving and protective Heavenly Father has provided us with several checklists to determine whether the things we view, listen to, and read are poisonous or wholesome.
The thirteenth article of faith [A of F 1:13]. Just ask yourself, Is this virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy? If so, “seek after these things.”
In Doctrine and Covenants 45:32 the Lord says: “But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved” [D&C 45:32] (emphasis added). With the music you play, the videos and TV programs you watch, and the magazines you have lying around, is your home a holy place? Would you feel comfortable if the bishop or stake president were to walk into your family room while you were listening to music or watching TV or a video? Would they feel comfortable in your home?
In his Sermon on the Mount, the Savior admonishes us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33). He did not suggest that we just keep the gospel in the “top ten.” He lovingly encourages us to make the gospel the top priority in our lives.
In the very closing verses of the Book of Mormon, Moroni extends the invitation to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness” (Moro. 10:32; emphasis added). The real question is not whether heavy metal is worse than hard rock or whether certain TV programs are worse than certain movies. If we wish to avoid being poisoned spiritually, we must ask: Is this music, movie, TV show, or literature ungodly? For example, does it leave me feeling unworthy to approach my Heavenly Father in sincere prayer?
The Apostle Paul gave the Thessalonians some great counsel that would protect them, and us, from the poisons of the world. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thes. 5:21–22; emphasis added).
Remember, the same principles that keep mushroom hunters alive will help you stay alive spiritually. Beware of dangerous look-alikes; if it’s doubtful, avoid it. (It has been said that there are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.) Remember, too, that sometimes the slowest poisons are the most deadly. Above all, continue to develop your own growing, personalized checklist. Together with the guidance of the Holy Ghost, it will always help you to judge between the poisonous and the wholesome.