The LDS Church teaches members from childhood to rely upon feeling and emotion, or “feeling the spirit,” to confirm truth. The Church relies heavily upon a uniquely authoritarian epistemology, encouraging emotion to trump hard facts, while promoting a personal connection to God which stems from a priesthood conferred Gift of The Spirit. Anyone can know the truth of Mormonism via prayer and personal revelation. The exclusively male leadership structure is particularly endowed with spiritual gifts, keys and authority from God.
Members are instructed that once you know the Book of Mormon is true, then you know Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God…therefore the LDS Church is Christ’s one true church. Yet the notion of exclusive confirmation via the spirit fails to account for the hundreds of other faiths experiencing the same spirit to very different ends.
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. 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, 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 two year 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’d ever offered, pleading repetitiously for a confirmation that the Church, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were true, I felt a warmth envelope 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 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.
Mormons regularly profess that they are the only ones encouraging and receiving spiritual confirmation of testimony. 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 considered old-fashioned Methodism, sharing a fundamental dependence upon an inner witness of the Holy Ghost. Even extreme 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 p. 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,” by a God seeing, visionary prophetess. 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, larger than the LDS faith.
Islam boasts a 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. Perhaps there’s a reason why every LDS sacrament meeting includes two or three hymns.
In addition to receiving organized religious training from birth, Mormon youth participate in formal indoctrination classes at least 6 of 7 days of the week – Primary, Sunday School, early morning Seminary, youth and ward activities, even Scouting are all sprinkled with Mormon doctrine. From the age of twelve, adolescents become accustomed to one-on-one closed door worthiness interviews with male authority figures, which include sexually explicit questions.
Upon entering the temple, members are instructed that they will fall under Satan’s power if they do not uphold every covenant made at the alter. Nonstop engagement solidifies the totally unique world-view held by faithful LDS members.
SPIRIT TESTIFIES OF FALSEHOOD
Ponder for a moment the world we would live in if merely feeling good about something made it true. In the past, Mormon prophets taught that Adam was God, until the doctrine was disavowed by later prophets. For generations, Mormon prophets reiterated a divisive race doctrine, until it too was disavowed by later prophets.
Today, LDS prophets double down on the notion that the Book of Mormon is a literal record of early American Hebrew settlers, which is demonstrably false. Prophets sustain the notion, contained in canonized LDS scripture, that American Indians’ skin color was darkened because God cursed them a relatively short time ago. This is false, as we now know where skin pigmentation comes from.
The LDS Church seems intent upon distinguishing its public brand of marriage (not the most holy kind of polygamy practiced in its temples) from others with judgmental rhetoric, leaving many members to wonder when this doctrine will also be disavowed by future prophets as new light seeps in.
Boyd K. Packer taught that “A testimony is found in the bearing of it” and that the “best way to build testimony is to bear it.”(The Candle of the Lord, Ensign, Jan. 1983, p. 54-55) So it is we learn that one of the surest ways to obtain a belief in something is to talk about it with feigned conviction until you come to believe it; fake it until you make it.
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, p. B-9)
Apostle Jeffrey Holland recently retracted a missionary rescue story that had been widely distributed. Though the story was largely inaccurate, members felt the spirit and shared the story numerous times. Does it not beg the question of why nobody discerned it to be false? Is it possible that we humans are predisposed to believe that which we desire to believe? “Feeling the spirit” feels good, but it in no way confirms truth.
- Paul H. Dunn, Field of Dreams, Sunstone, Lynn Packer
GIFT OF DISCERNMENT
The handmaiden of feeling the Spirit is “the power of discernment” – the notion that the Spirit confers heightened understanding and enlightenment. While we can’t expect perfection, it is interesting to note that none of the LDS Presidency sensed Mark Hoffman’s fraud as they jockeyed for position around the table while he relieved them of their money via his ongoing forgeries. 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 (he confessed on tape to sexual assaults) been raping women in the basement while simultaneously leading one of the Church’s largest 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 victim reports through LDS authority channels? Instead, within a month of learning that there was a taped confession by Joseph Bishop regarding the MTC abuse, the LDS Church supported legislation requiring two party consent to record a conversation in Utah.
Many Mormon brethren have recounted the terror they feel when bestowing blessings upon the sick via the laying on of hands, realizing they’re totally alone, with no promptings or whispers beyond their own intent.
- Official LDS Statement re: Alleged sexual assault by Mission President
- MTC employee confirms MTC room in basement ‘odd’ basement room
- Attempted Utah legislation to prevent private party recordings
Mormonism often feels good, as it is indeed comforting to believe you know the eternal plan. Yet few reason their way into any religion. Most often, religion relies upon emotion, spiritual feelings and community ties over verifiable information. Facts, evidence, arguing and pleading so often fail to sway opinion.
To see more clearly, one must desire and seek truth, even if it conflicts with what we already know. An understanding of basic human emotional pitfalls is helpful.
See if this list rings any confirmation bias bells:
- If things go well, the Church is true.
- If things go badly, persecution means the Church is true.
- When information supports the Church’s position, the Church is true.
- When information debunks the Church, it shows how Satan is trying to destroy the Church, which means Church is true.
- When an accomplished person is a member of the Church, the Church is true.
- When an accomplished person refuses to join, their Satan inspired pride is evident, which means the Church is true.
- When a loved one recovers from an illness, the Church is true.
- If a loved one dies in a tragic accident, it’s a sign that the Lord tries his people, which means the Church is true.Here are some common 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. See Utah.
- 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 real.” 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 translate, see or chariot.
- 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.
Q: Does feeling the Spirit actually confirm if something is true or false?
Q: If you applied the LDS method of discovering truth to most other religions, would it not also find those religions to be true?
Q: Why do Mormons feel their brand of feeling or confirmation is different or superior to others?
Q: While heartfelt and sincere feelings have been experienced by many, is it possible that basic human emotional pitfalls play a factor?
Q: Why do Mormons devote 25% of Sacrament Meetings to the bearing of testimony, self-reinforcing emotions and “I believe”?
- 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