The LDS Church teaches members from childhood to rely upon feeling the spirit to confirm truth; however, the Church relies heavily upon authority as the means by which we learn the truth, promoting a personal connection to God which stems from the priesthood-conferred Gift of The Spirit. While Church leaders and missionaries relate that sny can know the truth of Mormonism via prayer and personal revelation, we paradoxically rely upon the exclusively male leadership structure that endowed with spiritual gifts, keys, and authority.
Church leaders and missionaries often instruct members and investigators of the religion that once they know through prayer that the Book of Mormon is “true,” they can then confirm that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, which naturally means the LDS Church is Christ’s one true church.
The author of these essays provided to Mormon Stories shared his testimony as follows:
Lest anyone conclude that I merely lack the powerful spiritual experiences and personal confirmation they received, allow me to share how I obtained my testimony. Like most Mormons, I was born into the covenant, attended church every Sunday and Seminary every school morning. I was one of those 8-year-olds who, prompted by my multi-generational believing parents, regularly stood in testimony meetings to declare how “I know the Church is true,” unaware that it is not a normal thing for young children of other faiths to do. I learned that God was always watching me, that even small sins could compound and magnify, like a small splitting wedge forgotten within the crotch of a mighty oak tree, resulting in unintended destruction years later.
Having been an exemplary LDS youth, serving in nearly every leadership calling available, I anxiously prepared to serve the Lord on a mission. In preparation, I realized that I leaned too heavily upon my parents’ testimonies and the indoctrination I’d received since birth. Seeking a greater confirmation, I fasted in preparation for kneeling before the Lord in humble prayer in the privacy of my room.
After several minutes of the most earnest exhortation I had ever offered, pleading repetitiously for a confirmation that the Church, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were true, I felt a warmth envelop me from within; tears filled my eyes, flowing down my cheeks. I sat for a moment in the afterglow, comforted with a renewed knowledge that the Church was indeed true. In the years that followed, I drew upon that powerful experience, and many others, testifying of the spiritual confirmations I had received. I knew the Church was true. I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and the Book of Mormon was true. I knew.
While Mormons may recognize the goodness and sincerity of other faith traditions, they regularly profess that they are the only ones encouraging and receiving a spiritual confirmation of the truth of the Gospel. Yet, in a similar fashion as Mormons, countless other religions also receive confirmations and testify with the same spirit and certainty. Early Mormonism is in many ways parallelled other nineteenth-century evangelical faiths such as Methodism, sharing a fundamental dependence upon an inner witness of the Holy Ghost. Even religious extremist groups like Heavens Gate, Scientology, Jim Jones and David Koresh sought and obtained regular spiritual experiences.
Explore the testimonies of others who bear witness of their truth and spirit. Are they remarkably similar to the LDS experience?
“When a person experiences the spirit at a Protestant revival meeting or when reading the Book of Mormon, it is not my belief that the powerful feelings prove the truthfulness of the doctrines heard, taught, or read. Nor does the Spirit, which testifies of the Book of Mormon, confirm the historical reality of the book. This sustaining and uplifting feeling, in my view, is a God-felt urging to repent and come unto Christ. It does not prove the truthfulness of a doctrine, book, or belief, nor does it need to be a valid religious experience to any person” (An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, 133).
Seventh Day Adventists
The religion was founded in the mid-1800’s during same Second Great Awakening as Mormonism, in the same upstate New York “burned-over district.” The Church today boasts a worldwide baptized membership of 16-19 million, adheres to a health code, maintains a missionary presence in over 200 countries and is governed by a General Conference with smaller regions administered by divisions and local conferences.
Very much like Mormons, the JW’s passionately know their church to be God’s one true church; members bear testimony and serve missions. It too was founded in upstate New York in the mid-1800s and claims a worldwide membership of 19 million.
Islam, the second-largest worldwide religion, boasts over one billion members and encourages followers to seek the spirit of confirmation. Muslims know the Quran to be the word of God, and that Mohamad, an uneducated orphan, saw an angel of light. Does that occur without some basis in a spiritual confirmation?
As it turns out, there is a scientific term related to this feeling of spirit – Frisson: A sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill. The sensation commonly occurs as a moderately pleasurable emotional response reaction, incorporates both psychological and physiological components, and is known to be amplified by music.
In addition to receiving organized religious training from a young age in the Church’s primary (Sunday school) program, many Mormon teens participate in religious classes at least 6 of 7 days per week: Sunday School, Seminary, Young Men and Young Women programs, and frequent ward activities. From the age of twelve, adolescents become accustomed to one-on-one closed door worthiness interviews with male authority figures, which can include sexually-explicit questions about masturbation, pornography, or sexual encounters.
Upon entering the temple, members are instructed that they will fall under Satan’s power if they do not keep the promises they make. Church missions are highly-regimented with daily and weekly devotionals, mandatory scripture study, and isolation from popular culture and typical young adult activities. Upon completing missionary service, the expectation is for the newly-returned missionary to marry soon in the temple and begin their own eternal family. Nonstop engagement from youth to adulthood solidifies the unique and often insular worldview held by many faithful LDS members.
SPIRIT TESTIFIES OF FALSEHOOD
Many past teachings testified of by prophets and apostles have changed over time. Brigham Young and other apostles taught that Adam was God until the doctrine was disavowed by later prophets and apostles. For generations, prophets reiterated a divisive race doctrine, until it too was disavowed.
An examination of the Mormon spirit testifying of falsehoods can be found in Elder Paul Dunn. Though his fantastic stories felt good, many were later proven to be fabrications. Paul H. Dunn falsely claimed he was the “…sole survivor among 11 infantrymen in a 100-yard race against death, during which one burst of machine-gun fire ripped his right boot off, another tore off his ammunition and canteen belt and yet another split his helmet in half – all without wounding him” (Arizona Republic, Feb 16, 1991, B-9).
Apostle Jeffrey Holland recently retracted a missionary rescue story that had been widely distributed and enjoyed by members. Though the story was largely inaccurate, members felt the spirit and shared the story numerous times. Is it possible that we humans are predisposed to believe that which we desire to believe? “Feeling the spirit” certainly feels good, but is it really a reliable measure of truth?
- Paul H. Dunn, Field of Dreams, Sunstone, Lynn Packer
GIFT OF DISCERNMENT
Latter-day Saint faithful often refer to “the power of discernment” – the notion that the Spirit confers heightened understanding and enlightenment. While we can’t expect perfection, it is interesting to observe how none of the LDS Presidency sensed Mark Hoffman’s frauds as they analyzed his forgeries and negotiated with him. Nor did any of the priesthood-endowed interviewing authorities sense the darkness within Ted Bundy as he was baptized into Mormonism during his serial killing spree which possibly encompassed up to 100 victims. Bundy remained a member in good standing until his crimes came to light many years later.
Recently, even the most believing of Mormons are struggling to reconcile how Joseph Bishop, President of the Missionary Training Center from 1983-1986, could have allegedly (his confessions was recorded) been sexually assaulting young female missionaries in the basement of the training center while simultaneously leading one of the Church’s most prominent institutions. How is it possible that none of the elite leaders with whom he regularly engaged discerned anything, and that no disciplinary court was ever convened despite other victims reporting their experiences through LDS authority channels?
- Official LDS Statement: Alleged sexual assault by Mission President
- MTC employee confirms MTC room in basement ‘odd’ basement room
- Attempted Utah legislation to prevent private party recordings
THE SALAMANDER LETTER
Mark Hofmann, the infamous forger of documents, was well versed in Mormon history and knew exactly how to entice Church leadership. Hofmann knew the Church purchased documents and artifacts that could challenge its historical narrative, often with only cursory verification (see Leonard Arrington: The Writing of Mormon History, 423–29).
Having secured the leadership’s trust with prior transactions, Hoffman created a document that elaborated upon Smith’s occult practices, explicitly mentioning the peep stone, enchantments, Alvin’s role, and the salamander lore. Hofmann later confessed to investigators that it was “a clumsy job . . . completed in a day,” and that he “wasn’t fearful of the Church inspiration detecting the forgery” (Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh, The Mormon Murders, 429–33). It’s likely that Church leaders were persuaded of his fabricated Salamander Letter because they knew Joseph had spoken of it.
Before the Salamander Letter was deemed inauthentic, Dallin Oaks defended the letter and Joseph’s use of the word salamander. Later, as the fraud became public knowledge, he derided critics for attacking his speech. Ironically, Jerald Tanner, a prominent anti-Mormon researcher, discerned the letter to be a hoax early on.
- Dallin Oaks, “Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents,” Ensign, Oct 1987.
- The Salamander Letter
Mormonism often feels good, as it is indeed comforting to believe you know the eternal plan. But most often, the religion relies upon emotion, spiritual feelings, and community ties over verifiable information. Facts and evidence often fail to sway feelings and opinion.
Here are some common mental pitfalls:
- Motivated Reasoning – Seeking out only the information that supports what you already believe.
- Appeal to Ignorance – Claiming that something is true simply because it hasn’t been proven false. “We do not know where Lamanites actually lived, but we know them to be true.”
- Appeal to Fear – “Where will you go to find all these great values; what will you teach your children?”
- Arguing for Consequences – Skirting the valid argument, while appealing to real or imagined consequences. “Your mother will be so disappointed if you leave the church!”
- Appeal to Bandwagon – The notion that if enough people believe in something, it must be true.
- False Dilemma – Presenting a limited set of possible outcomes. “If you leave the Church, you’ll stop believing in Jesus and get addicted to porn.”
- Straw Man – Attacking an fabricated exaggeration of the argument, not the real argument. Johnny says, “Lamanites aren’t historical.” Bishop replies, “I know that Jesus loves us and that our sins are forgiven.”
- Appeal to Irrelevant Authority – Appealing to cultural wisdom, vague authority, or one who is not expert. See the LDS Gospel Topics Book of Abraham Essay.
- Equivocation – Arbitrarily changing the meaning of basic words – Mormon examples include “translator,” “seer,” “revelator.”
- Slippery Slope – Arguing that an idea or action leads to severe consequences. “If Johnny masturbates, he’ll be fornicating and watching porn in no time.”
- Circular Reasoning – “The Book of Mormon states that Lehi and his colony found horses upon this continent when they arrived; and therefore horses were here at the time.”
- Escalation of Commitment – When a group, faced with increasingly negative outcomes, continues the same behavior rather than alter course.
- Fascinating visual representation of the 188 known cognitive biases.
FACTS DON’T CONVINCE PEOPLE
REMEMBERING THINGS THAT DID NOT HAPPEN
In the event that a person manages to overcome the usual human mental pitfalls, studies indicate that about half of all individuals will come to believe that a fictional event occurred if they are told about that event and then repeatedly imagine it happening.
- Awake My Soul a Faith Journey
- Testimony, Spiritual Experiences, and Truth: A Careful Examination
- Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds – The Limitations of Reason
- The Neuroscience of Changing the Mind (Podcast)
- The Backfire Effect
- If the Church Really Isn’t True, Then Why Have I Felt the Spirit?
- Faith Imagery Lights Up Mormon Brain
- Chris Oyakhilome’s holy ghost show
- Why I left