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Spiritual Witness

This is a strange topic to write about for me.  I have always had a very difficult time being really sure when I was and was not feeling the Spirit.  For many, many years I tried in vain to receive the promised witness of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  The fact that the witness never came for me in any recognizable form was disturbing.

In struggling with the veracity of the church and writing this blog, I have encountered a number of people who admit the church has been deceitful, is not perfect, etc. but still believe it is the one true church simply because they have received a spiritual witness.

But that has ultimately left me with many questions that I think have greatly improved my understanding of God, the church, and myself.

  • Why are there billions of other people on the Earth who believe in different religions and many of them claim to also have felt the Spirit tell them their religion is true?
  • What makes the spiritual witness of a Mormon more correct than theirs?
  • I have felt a warm, fuzzy feeling at the end of fictional movies, books or songs.  How can I distinguish between that and the feeling of the Spirit?
  • The study of human psychology shows a massive amount of evidence that our brain can trick us into believing all kinds of bizarre things.  It explains how intelligent people can abandon reason in pursuit of cult beliefs or a terrorist can believe he will receive paradise from a benevolent God by killing hundreds of innocent people.  How could I be sure that no psychological phenomenon was affecting me when I thought I was feeling the Spirit?
  • There are countless cognitive biases that affect how we receive and interpret emotional responses.  How could I know if my bias in wanting to believe the church would affect any answer I might receive?
  • Many Mormons claimed to have felt the Spirit when Elder Paul H. Dunn recounted his faith-promoting stories.  Now that we know they are false, what does that say about the Spirit as a method for discerning truth?

The truth test

The Mormon church would have you believe there is a simple, flawless truth test: pray about it and get a feeling.  In order for a test to be an effective and objective evaluation of truth, it needs to have a few basic characteristics:

  1. Consistent responses in the positive or negative
  2. Clearly identifiable answers
  3. Independent verification of what an answer is
  4. Independent verification of what an answer means

The Mormon truth test fails all four of those.

  1. Responses are different for different people.  Some people get no response.  Many receive contradictory responses.  Many have responses that change from one time to the next.
  2. Answers are not clearly identifiable.  They are feelings.  Different people feel it in different ways.  There is no single way to recognize the answers.
  3. The very source of the test, the Book of Mormon and church leaders, are the ones identifying what an answer is.
  4. Not only is the source of the truth identifying what an answer is, the source is also telling the person what that answer means.  It is interpreting the results for the person.

It is a perfect lesson in circular logic.  Let’s say you have a headache.  Someone you don’t know offers you a pill saying that it is headache medicine.  They also tell you that your pain will subside and that because the pain subsides, you will know that it is indeed headache medicine and should buy more from him.

Do you see the problem?  Let’s look at the possibilities:

  • It doesn’t work and you reject the offer to purchase more.
  • It is another drug.  One of the side effects is that you will feel less pain.  But because your personal experience with it and feelings towards it, you may falsely believe it really is headache medicine without a full knowledge of its properties, effects, and dangers.
  • It is a placebo.  Coincidentally, you do feel the pain subside.  Whether it subsided by itself or the placebo effect helped, either way you falsely believe it really is headache medicine.
  • It actually is headache medicine.  But instead of carefully researching its properties, effects and dangers, you trust what the guy is telling you and make your purchase.
  • It actually is headache medicine.  You decide not to just believe the guy, but to research it independently from outside sources to make sure you know what you’re getting into if you make the purchase.

So there it is.  I am afraid that many of my friends and family members are unaware, as I was, of the historical and policy problems with the church.  I believe they have been led astray by their feelings and experiences.  My desire is for them to make an educated and informed decision one way or the other.

Next step: Psychological Phenomena

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