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Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife)/Chapter 26
Response to "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 26 - Spiritual Confirmation
|Chapter 25 - Scientific Evidence||
A FairMormon Analysis of: For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife), a work by author: Anonymous
Response to claims made in "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 26 - Spiritual Confirmation
Jump to Subtopic:
- Response to claim: "Thousands of different world religions...make the same claim: 'God has witnessed to me that my particular religion, prophet, book, and teachings are true'"
- Response to claim: "Since thousands of religions claim to be 100% true, an emotions-based method proves unreliable"
Response to claim: "Thousands of different world religions...make the same claim: 'God has witnessed to me that my particular religion, prophet, book, and teachings are true'"
Thousands of different world religions believe they are God’s one true church and every other religion is in error. All make the same claim: “God has witnessed to me that my particular religion, prophet, book, and teachings are true.”
This is not a characteristic of "thousands of different world religions".
Jump to Detail:
- Question: Do other religions confirm their beliefs through spiritual witness?
- Question: How can you know if your answer to prayer, your personal revelation, is true?
- Question: Do Mormons believe that other religions can be inspired by God?
- Joseph Smith (1843): "I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination"
- Preach My Gospel: "many other nations and cultures have been blessed by those who were given that portion that God 'seeth fit that they should have'"
In this case the author asserts that because Mormonism has members who claim that God or God's spirit bore witness to them, that thousands of different religions have members who claim that God or God's spirit bore witness to them.
Question: Do all other religions confirm their beliefs through spiritual witness?
Not all religions claim that the truth of their beliefs are confirmed through a spiritual witness
It should be noted that not all religions claim that the truth of their beliefs are confirmed through a spiritual witness. In fact, a fair number of Evangelical Christians have spent a great deal of time trying to prove to the Mormons that a spiritual witness should NOT be relied on to establish truth. Most major religions and sects rely on claims of authority (the Pope in Catholicism and the Bible in Protestantism) or simply tradition and majority and obviousness (Islam, Hinduism, etc.).
Latter-day Saints accept that God and God's Spirit will witness Truth whatever its source. (D&C 109:7) As a member of the Church we are encouraged to find truth in many places. Nowhere in our beliefs do we claim that there is no truth in other religions.
Some other religions do rely on a spiritual confirmation of true principles
And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;
Westminster Confession of Faith 1.5, reads in part as follows:
“’our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of the scriptures], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.’”
John Calvin wrote:
“’We must regard the authority of Scripture as higher than human reasons, factors or conjectures. This is because we base that authority on the inner witness borne by the Holy Spirit,’” Institutes, 1539 edition. The doctrine, particularly stressed by Calvinism, that the Holy Spirit provides an ‘internal witness’ to the authority of Scripture…..”
Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604), according to Robert Markus, taught that:
“The scriptures contain what the reader finds in them; and the reader’s mind is shaped by his inner disposition: ‘unless the readers’ minds extend to the heights, the divine words lie low, as it were, uncomprehended…. It often happens that a scriptural text is felt to be heavenly, if one is kindled by the grace of contemplation to rise to heavenly things. And then we recognize the wonderful and ineffable power of the sacred text, when the reader’s mind is permeated with heavenly love…. For according to the direction that the reader’s spirit takes, so the sacred text rises with him…’”
Pope John Paul II stated the following, regarding the possibility of the Holy Spirit inspiring non-Catholics:
“Every quest of the human spirit for truth and goodness, and in the last analysis for God, is inspired by the Holy Spirit….. At their origins we often find founders who, with the help of God’s Spirit, achieved a deeper religious experience…. In every authentic religious experience, the most characteristic expression is prayer…. We can hold that ‘every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person’”.
Question: How can you know if your answer to prayer, your personal revelation, is true?
If you want to know the truth of your own personal revelation, then you must test it
How can you know if your answer to prayer - your personal revelation is true? This is not like political advertising, calculated to convince us of half truths. This is not about competing narratives where only one can be really true, while the rest must be false. If you want to know the truth of your own personal revelation, then you must test it. If you feel the promptings of the spirit to do something, then do it, and see what happens. Alma, in the Book of Mormon, suggests that we treat it like a seed, and make an experiment out of it. But debating its validity in a sort of theoretical way, won't ever provide you with that answer.
Joseph Smith talks of "pure intelligence" flowing into you:
A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God,will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.
However, as Boyd K. Packer points out, revelation does not "flow without effort" on the part of the person desiring it.
To one who thought that revelation would flow without effort, the Lord said:
“You have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” 
This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.
Describing the promptings from the Holy Ghost to one who has not had them is very difficult. Such promptings are personal and strictly private!
Each individual's personal revelation is different
Latter-day Saints don't believe that differences in personal revelation between different individuals means that those others who pray and receive different messages than we do are wrong and not really receiving answers to their prayers. What it means is that they are receiving personal answers to their prayers from a loving Heavenly Father, and we are receiving personal answers to ours. Personal revelation is this wonderful thing precisely because it creates these differences. Some may have "spectacular" experiences, while others may experience revelation only through a still, small voice.
Boyd K. Packer:
We do not seek for spectacular experiences. President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the many who "have no ear for spiritual messages … when they come in common dress. … Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication."
A revelation given to the whole Church is limited by the whole Church
A revelation given to the whole Church is limited by the whole Church. Joseph Smith said that "It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.
On the other hand, the revelation we receive comes to us individually, personally, and from our unique perspective helps us to refocus on that distant absolute truth that are slowly working towards. It isn't about "getting it right now" so much as it is about making it more right so that we become better people. And in the end, it is the light that God gives us (individually and collectively) that becomes the ruler that we are measured with. And this of course gives us great hope that we (individually) can be saved despite all the strange notions and ideas we have both believed and sometimes abandoned over the years.
Just because someone else receives a different message than you did doesn't mean that either you or they are wrong
And of course, just because someone else receives a different message doesn't mean that you (or they) are wrong. We are all working towards that perfection even if the roads we take start from different places and have different turns and twists. The idea that revelation to all individuals about a specific topic should always be the same really stems more from a Protestant view of religion, with its inerrant view of texts.
Question: Do Mormons believe that other religions can be inspired by God?
Latter-day Saints believe that the good in every religion is inspired of God
Latter-day Saints believe that other religions have portions of the truth. We acknowledge that the good in every religion is inspired of God. Moroni 7:13 states:
But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
Latter-day Saints do not claim that a spiritual manifestation to another Mormon is evidence for the truthfulness of the church, nor are we impressed with someone's claim to a spiritual witness in favor of another church. The LDS message is that each person must receive the witness for himself and that only that person can judge the truth of what he has experienced.
Joseph Smith (1843): "I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination"
Joseph Smith, in 1843:
The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon.’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.” 
Preach My Gospel: "many other nations and cultures have been blessed by those who were given that portion that God 'seeth fit that they should have'"
"Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service:
Just as the Christian world was blessed by the courage and vision of the reformers, many other nations and cultures have been blessed by those who were given that portion that God "seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8). Teachings of other religious leaders have helped many people become more civil and ethical.
Buddha (Gotama): Born in 563 B.C. of a Hindu chieftain in Nepal. Concerned with the suffering he saw around him. Fled from his father’s luxurious palace, renounced the world, and lived in poverty. Seeking enlightenment, he discovered what he called the “path of deliverance.” Claimed to reach Nirvana, a state of oblivion to care, pain, or external reality. Became a teacher for a community of monks.
Confucius: Born in 551 B.C. Orphaned as a child. China’s first professional teacher. China’s greatest moral and social thinker. Said little about spiritual beings or divine powers. Believed that heaven had entrusted him with a sacred mission as champion of the good and true.
Mohammed: Born in 570 A.D. in Mecca. Orphaned in childhood. Lived a life of poverty. Gained reputation as a trusted peacemaker. Married at age 25. In 610 prayed and meditated on Mount Hira. Said the angel Gabriel appeared to him and delivered a message from Allah (God). Claimed to receive communication from God through Gabriel from 620 to 632. These communications, which he recited to his disciples, were later written in the Koran, the sacred book of Islam.
Response to claim: "Since thousands of religions claim to be 100% true, an emotions-based method proves unreliable"
Since thousands of religions claim to be 100% true, an emotions-based method proves unreliable.
The Gospel does not teach that one should make decisions regarding the truth of something simply through "feelings" or "emotions," but rather through study and prayer.
Jump to Detail:
- Question: Is a "burning in the bosom" simply a subjective, emotion-based, unreliable way to practice self-deception?
- Dr. Wendy Ulrich (2005): "How do the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when someone speaks in a testimony meeting differ from the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when the 4:00 parade begins at Disneyland?"
- Dallin H. Oaks (1997): "Surely, the word “burning” in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works"
Question: Is a "burning in the bosom" simply a subjective, emotion-based, unreliable way to practice self-deception?
It is a fundamental misunderstanding or misstatement to say that the Latter-day Saint revelatory experience is exclusively or primarily “emotional”
It is claimed by some that the Latter-day Saint appeal to "revelation" or a "burning in the bosom" is subjective, emotion-based, and thus ineffective, unreliable and susceptible to self-deception.
It is a fundamental misunderstanding or misstatement to say that the LDS revelatory experience is exclusively or primarily “emotional.” The united witness of mind and heart is key in LDS doctrine. Even the body is involved in many instances, hence the use of language exactly like “burning in the bosom.” The LDS concept of human experience is not one where we are carved up into separate, rigid compartments labeled emotional, intellectual, and physical. The LDS approach to human experience is holistic and involves all of our faculties operating simultaneously and inextricably. According to LDS scripture, “the spirit and the body are the soul of man.” D&C 88:15 We are greater than the mere sum of our inner and outer parts. Ordinarily, it’s not possible, nor is it desirable, to reject and shut down any one of our faculties. All of them combine to provide useful and valid ways of coming to know ourselves, the world, and God. All are involved in true spiritual experience.
A Latter-day Saint “spiritual” experience has intellectual content as well as emotional elements of peace or joy
Accordingly, a Latter-day Saint “spiritual” experience has intellectual content as well as emotional elements of peace or joy. In the early days of the Church, Oliver Cowdery received the following revelation through Joseph Smith:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:22–23).
Notice the information is spoken to the “mind,” and the feeling of peace accompanies the intellectual gift. Further, the solution for later doubts or concerns is not reliance on “a feeling” alone but an admonition to recall specific information communicated earlier.
This matches the revelatory pattern later explained to Oliver Cowdery when he attempted to participate in the translation process of the Book of Mormon:
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong… (D&C 9:7–9).
Again, the united witness of intellect and heart are essential. If either does not agree, then revelation has not yet confirmed the matter under consideration. Anyone who relies exclusively on any one faculty – either feeling or reasoning or physical sensation – does not properly understand the LDS approach to spiritual witnesses.
Talk of “feelings” does not mean simply experiencing an “emotion”
To be sure, many Church members will talk about how they “felt” when they prayed or had other experiences with God. However, it is to fundamentally misunderstand these experiences to assume (as critics often do) that talk of “feeling” means simply—or only, or primarily— experiencing an “emotion.” What's lacking from these descriptions is vocabulary. The problem with them is more semantic than it is substantial. The LDS member is stymied, in a sense, because there is no good, available word for what happens during a spiritual experience. These experiences are ineffable. By definition, they defy description. Since few of us have the poetic and metaphorical powers of prophets like Isaiah and John, we are left to try our best to convey what we've experienced in words laden with secular connotations which critics can misinterpret if they so choose.
LDS scholar,Hugh Nibley, hazarded a guess at what this process of willful misinterpretation might look like:
He cannot conceive how anyone could possibly acquire knowledge by any method other than his. He cannot believe that any man has experienced anything which he has not experienced. . . . ‘I have never seen a vision,' says the [skeptic], ‘therefore, Joseph Smith never had one. I have seen dreams [or had emotionally moving experiences], therefore, I will allow him that.'”
Early Christians experienced similar feelings to a "burning in the bosom"
Justin Martyr wrote in his book Dialogue with Trypho, of his conversion that he was a philosopher until he met an old man who introduced him to the Hebrew Prophets when “a flame enkindled his heart” and he found “this philosophy (Christianity) alone to be sure and profitable.” 
The Shepard of Hermas, which was once considered scripture, reads “There are two angels with a man-one of righteousness, and the other of iniquity...The angel of righteousness is gentle and modest, meek and peaceful. When he ascends into your heart, he speaks to you of righteousness, purity, chastity, contentment, and every other righteous deed and glorious virtue. When all of these things come into your heart, know that the angel of righteousness is with you” 
Dr. Wendy Ulrich (2005): "How do the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when someone speaks in a testimony meeting differ from the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when the 4:00 parade begins at Disneyland?"
Dr. Wendy Ulrich (a licensed psychologist with over 25 years of experience):
People from many religious traditions have “spiritual” experiences–feelings, insights, premonitions, and encounters which they are left to their own conclusions to decipher. It is not unusual for people to conclude from such experiences that God is their God, that He is nearby, or that something associated with that experience is God’s will. Often in the Church we encourage people to look for such feelings and experiences as evidence of God’s hand, or of the truthfulness of the Church’s message. Yet people from many religious backgrounds can have such experiences. How do the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when someone speaks in a testimony meeting differ from the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when the 4:00 parade begins at Disneyland? Critics may conclude that there is no real difference, that feelings are not trustworthy or related to the spirit, and that Church members are being misled by missionaries who teach them that such experiences are the Holy Ghost testifying to them of truth. I have seen this argument used to discredit “spiritual” experiences as nothing more than subjectively produced emotions with no supernatural significance. In many cases I might agree. Because I feel certain emotions in response to a film–even a Church film–may say more about the credibility of the actors’ performance or the director’s talent than the presence of God or the historical accuracy of the message, for example. —(Click here to continue)
Dallin H. Oaks (1997): "Surely, the word “burning” in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works"
Dallin H. Oaks:
What does a “burning in the bosom” mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word “burning” in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.
- Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," 151.
- D&C 9:7–8
- Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
- Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 21.
- Joseph Smith, in 1843, History of the Church, 5:498.
- "Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004) 46
- Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), 31.
- Dialogue with Trypho 8, Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:198
- Shepard of Hermas, Ante-Nicene Fathers 2:24
- Dr. Wendy Ulrich, "'Believest thou…?': Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience," Proceedings of the 2005 FAIR Conference (2005).
- "Teaching and Learning by the Spirit," Ensign (March 1997) 14.