Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/Letter to a CES Director/Testimony & Spiritual Witness Concerns & Questions

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Response to ":Letter to a CES Director: Testimony & Spiritual Witness Concerns & Questions"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Letter to a CES Director, a work by author: Jeremy Runnells
Chart CES Letter testimony.png

Response to section "Testimony/Spiritual Witness Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author asks the question, "Why is this Spirit so unreliable and inconsistent? How can I trust such an inconsistent and contradictory Source for knowing that Mormonism is worth betting my life, time, money, heart, mind, and obedience to?"

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Response to claim: "Every major religion has members who claim the same thing: God or God’s spirit bore witness to them"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Every major religion has members who claim the same thing: God or God’s spirit bore witness to them that their religion, prophet/pope/leaders, book(s), and teachings are true.Provenance of this claim:Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 131. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

This is not a characteristic of "every major religion".



Logical Fallacy: Composition—The author assumes that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.

In this case the author asserts that because Mormonism has members who claim that God or God's spirit bore witness to them, that all 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

DC 109:7:

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.[1]

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.” [2]

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![3]

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."[4]

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.[5]

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.” [6]


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.[7]


Response to claim: "it would likewise be arrogant of a Latter-day Saint to deny their spiritual experiences and testimonies of the truthfulness of their own religion"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

it would likewise be arrogant of a Latter-day Saint to deny their spiritual experiences and testimonies of the truthfulness of their own religion

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Latter-day Saints are not taught to deny the spiritual experiences of others.



Question: Do Latter-day Saints discount the spiritual witnesses that members of other religions may receive?

Latter-day Saints should never deny the spiritual experiences of those who belong to other religions

It would indeed be arrogant for a Latter-day Saint to deny the spiritual experiences of those who belong to other religions. We should never try to tear down what someone believes. We should, however, present the Gospel in its fullness and encourage those who are so inclined to accept it.

Gordon B. Hinckley talks of some of the comments left at Temple Square by visitors: [8]

  • From a Protestant from New Jersey: “I have often heard the word Mormon and associated it with a fanatic religious group. I couldn’t have been more wrong!”
  • From a Congregationalist from Massachusetts: “I have always felt that religion should be a joy, and you certainly show it!”
  • From a Christian from Maine: “This is beautiful; it is the first time in my life I have wondered if my religion is the right one.”
  • From a Catholic from Pennsylvania: “I envy your way of life.”
  • A Presbyterian from Canada: “God is in this place; we see him everywhere.”
  • A Christian from Germany: “I enjoyed myself very much here. I cannot believe such a place exists that offers so much and asks for no money.”


Joseph Fielding Smith: "when the millennium comes...There will be millions of people...of all beliefs, still permitted to remain upon the face of the earth"

Joseph Fielding Smith on the Millennium (Doctrines of Salvation 1:86):

Some members of the Church have an erroneous idea that when the millennium comes all of the people are going to be swept off the earth except righteous members of the Church. That is not so. There will be millions of people, Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, Mohammedans, people of all classes, and of all beliefs, still permitted to remain upon the face of the earth, but they will be those who have lived clean lives, those who have been free from wickedness and corruption. All who belong, by virtue of their good lives, to the terrestrial order, as well as those who have kept the celestial law, will remain upon the face of the earth during the millennium. Eventually, however, the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters do the sea.[9]


Question: Can non-Mormons feel a spiritual experience that cause them to devote themselves to service within another Church?

One purpose of this life is for us to gain a body, and then have experiences that help us to learn and grow and to demonstrate the extent to which we will respond to the light that we do receive

Could it be that non-Mormons feel similar feelings that cause them to devote themselves to service within another Church? Certainly. We are taught in our Church that not everyone will join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this life, but everyone will eventually have the opportunity to do so, if that is what they want. The purpose of this life is not only to get baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ. If that were so, God's plan for us in this life would seem to fall dramatically short of meeting its purpose since so few people have ever even heard of the Church. So the larger purpose of this life is for us to gain a body, and then have experiences that help us to learn and grow and to demonstrate the extent to which we will respond to the light that we do receive. All of God's children receive light in one way or another. We will all have different experiences and we will all receive different amounts of light. So the test for any of us individually is to respond in the best way that we can to the light that we receive.


Response to claim: "If God’s method to revealing truth is through feelings, it’s a pretty ineffective method"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

If God’s method to revealing truth is through feelings, it’s a pretty ineffective method,
....
how can they be sure of the reliability of this same exact process in telling them that Mormonism is true?
Provenance of this claim:Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 131, 133. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The Gospel does not teach that one should make decisions regarding the truth of something simply through "feelings," but rather through study and prayer.



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.'”[10]

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.” [11]

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” [12]


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.[13] —(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.[14]


Question: Why do critics of Mormonism who belong to other religions discount spiritual experiences?

Sectarian Critics and the Biblical Roots of Burning Feelings

Sectarian critics also belittle appeals to spiritual experiences, comparing them to "warm fuzzies," or merely something "felt by simply watching a Hollywood movie." However, it is strange that sectarian critics fault appeals to a "burning in the bosom" within the LDS community when the roots of the idiom are found in the Bible itself.

Following Jesus' resurrection, He walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Jesus, but listened to Him as "he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).

After breaking bread with them, Jesus was revealed to the disciples, and vanished from their sight.

Interestingly, they did not say to each other, "We should have known it was Jesus because of his scriptural teaching." Rather, their explanations went beyond their intellectual faculties. They said:

Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?(Luke 24:32)

Likewise, a reference to a "burning" in the heart can be found in Psalms 39:3:

My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue. Psalms 39:3

The Lord's counsel to Oliver Cowdery makes perfect sense in this context:

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. D&C 9:8

It seems unlikely that sectarian critics who generally work to uphold the Bible to the best of their understandings would dismiss Jesus' disciples' witness because it was described in words with an LDS ring to them such as “burn” and “heart.” Surely sectarians wouldn’t argue the disciples in Luke 24 must have been emotionally manipulated or that they were experiencing some kind of social effervescence simply because they referred to their feelings when speaking to each other about being in the presence of a holy being. The disciples in Luke 24 were not new to the gospel. They knew what it felt like to experience Christ and they recognized the feeling even when they weren’t expecting it. Human nature remains the same in contemporary times and it stands to reason that even now people experienced in spiritual witnesses can know the difference between spiritual sensations and the emotional rush of a Hollywood film.

Ultimately, as the Bible instructs us, we trust in the Lord to reveal the truth:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)


Response to claim: "Joseph Smith received a revelation, through the peep stone in his hat, to send Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery to Toronto, Canada for the sole purpose of selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith received a revelation, through the peep stone in his hat, to send Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery to Toronto, Canada for the sole purpose of selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon. . . . The mission failed and the prophet was asked why his revelation was wrong.Joseph decided to inquire of the Lord regarding the question. The following is a quote from Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer’s testimony:“…and behold the following revelation came through the stone: ‘Some revelations are of God; and some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.’ So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.” – David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.3. How are we supposed to know what revelations are from God, from the devil, or from the heart of man if even the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn’t tell? What kind of a god and method is this if Heavenly Father allows Satan to interfere with our direct line of communication to Him?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The account by Whitmer (who did not go on the trip) does not correlate with the accounts by those who actually went.



Question: After receiving the revelation to attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright in Canada, did Joseph Smith later claim that the revelation was false?

David Whitmer, years after he left the Church, claimed that Joseph said that the revelation did not come from God

David Whitmer claimed that Joseph Smith received a revelation and prophesied that Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page should go to Canada where they would find a man willing to buy the copyright to the Book of Mormon. When they failed to sell the copyright, Whitmer states that Joseph admitted that the revelation had not come from God.

David Whitmer was not a participant in the trip to Canada

The primary evidence supporting the negative aspects of the Canadian Mission story comes from David Whitmer, who was not a participant in the event, and who had left the church many years before. With the discovery of the Hiram Page letter of 1848 showing that the actual participants involved in the trip felt that Joseph Smith delivered an accurate revelation of what would transpire on the Mission, and in fact even found the event uplifting rather than negative, it is evident that no individual contemporary to the event felt that this represented a false prophecy by Joseph Smith. What we do see is excellent evidence in fulfillment of the teachings of Deuteronomy 12 and 18 that Joseph Smith was perceived as a true prophet of God by those involved in the Mission to Canada in early 1830.


Question: Are there any eyewitness accounts of the events that resulted in the trip to Canada to sell the Book of Mormon copyright?

Joseph Smith decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith had been told there were people in Canada willing to buy the copyrights to useful books. Due to the dire financial position of the Church, he decided this could be an opportunity to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with publishing the Book of Mormon. Four men went to Canada.

Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success

Before leaving, Joseph Smith received a revelation directing them to go to Kingston, Canada, with some conditions placed upon their success.

...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing yea even in securing the Copyright & they shall do it with an eye single to my Glory that it may be the means of bringing souls unto me Salvation through mine only Be{t\gotten} Behold I am God I have spoken it & it is expedient in me Wherefor I say unto you that ye shall go to Kingston seeking me continually through mine only Be{t\gotten} & if ye do this ye shall have my spirit to go with you & ye shall have an addition of all things which is expedient in me. amen & I grant unto my servent a privelige that he may sell a copyright through you speaking after the manner of men for the four Provinces if the People harden not their hearts against the enticeings of my spirit & my word for Behold it lieth in themselves to their condemnation &{\or} th{er\eir} salvation.

Revelation book 1 p. 15 1.jpg

The text of the actual revelation was recently discovered and published in The Joseph Smith Papers

The text of the revelation was published in the The Joseph Smith Papers: The Revelations and Translations Series. According to Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder,

Another interesting development from work on the Revelations and Translations Series has been the identification of a previously unpublished revelation on securing a copyright for the Book of Mormon in Canada. David Whitmer, after he left the Church, recalled that the revelation promised success in selling the copyright, but upon return of the men charged with the duty, Joseph Smith and others were disappointed by what seemed like failure. Historians have relied upon statements of David Whitmer, Hiram Page, and William McLellin for decades but have not had the actual text of the revelation. Revelation Book 1 will provide that.

Although we still do not know the whole story, particularly Joseph Smith’s own view of the situation, we do know that calling the divine communication a “failed revelation” is not warranted. The Lord’s directive clearly conditions the successful sale of the copyright on the worthiness of those seeking to make the sale as well as on the spiritual receptivity of the potential purchasers. [15]

Hiram Page, one of the participants, stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit

Hiram Page, who was one of the individuals sent to Canada, laid out the event in a letter in 1848.[16] Page wrote that the revelation Joseph Smith received conditioned success upon whether those individuals in Canada capable of buying the Book of Mormon copyright would have their hearts softened. When unable to sell the copyright, the four men returned to Palmyra. Hiram Page stated he for the first time understood how some revelations given to people were not necessarily for their direct benefit—in fact, Hiram Page believed that the revelation was actually fulfilled.


Question: How did the erroneous story of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright develop over time?

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin. Because it was private correspondence, its existence and details were unknown until the 1930’s, when the letter was donated to the RLDS Church’s archives as part of a larger collection of McLellin materials.[17] The content of the letter was not broadly known until after the document was stolen in 1985, but a copy of the original was donated by a private collector around the year 2000 who had made a copy prior to the theft of the original.

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada.[18] He had no first hand knowledge of the event, as he did not join the Church until 1831. He apparently got the description of the event from Martin Harris, who was likewise not there and had no first hand knowledge. From the published account, McLellin ignores Hiram Page’s 1848 letter, and asserts that all involved in the Canadian Mission viewed it as a complete failure. Since all involved were dead, and the only known account by one of the participants, who obviously viewed it as a success, was in McLellin's possession, he apparently did not worry about being corrected.

In about 1881 J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event

In 1881 or shortly thereafter a man by the name of J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event.[19]

In 1886, David Whitmer mentions the trip to sell the copyright for the first time

Beginning in 1886, David Whitmer reports for the first time of the Canadian Mission.[20] Initially Whitmer reports the event in the third person, but by the time of his 1887 pamphlet An Address to All Believers in Christ, 57 years after the event occurred, he reports to having been a first hand witness, and Joseph Smith having given a false prophecy. Whitmer states,

Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copyright, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada.

Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copyright, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copyright was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.[21]

Whitmer was looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet

One must remember that not only was Whitmer looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet, but he also wrote with no fear of contradiction, as all the witnesses to the event were dead.


Question: How does David Whitmer's account of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright compare to those of the eyewitnesses?

Whitmer's account is at variance in several ways with Hiram Page’s account

Whitmer's account is at variance in several ways with Hiram Page’s account. Whitmer gets the destination city in Canada wrong (he says Toronto, the other accounts, and the revelation itself, say Kingston) and he did not correctly identify all of the participants (he identified Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery, while Page noted Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell). Note that the text of the revelation itself finally clears up the issue of exactly who the revelation was directed to,

...it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing...

Page, an eyewitness, makes no mention at disappointment in Joseph Smith, nor is there any mention of a "false prophecy"

Page also makes no mention or even a hint at disappointment in Joseph Smith, nor is there an accusation that the trip was based upon a "false prophecy," so naturally no subsequent "revelation" is noted by Page explaining the mission’s failure.

In Whitmer’s 1887 account we learn for the first time of the supposed post-mission revelation where Joseph Smith is told that some revelations are from God, some from devils, some from men. This account is in all likelihood a fabrication. Unlike his consistent, life-long statements concerning the witness of the Gold Plates, this account, which is probably a second-hand retelling of events 57 years after their occurrence, suddenly appears and is wrong on several of the documentable facts, as well as being inconsistent with the first-hand testimony of Hiram Page, given 40 years earlier than Whitmer and by comparison much closer to the actual event.


Question: How did Latter-day Saint scholars respond to the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright prior to Page's letter coming to light?

B.H. Roberts expressed doubt as to the accuracy of the story, and suggested that David Whitmer may not have recalled all of the details correctly

The letter from 1848 by Hiram Page was not publically available until the 20th Century. As a result, various LDS responses to the accounts by Whitmer and McLellin of necessity must explain why the apparent anomalous revelation does not make Joseph Smith a fallen prophet. Such was the case when B.H. Roberts expressed doubt as to the accuracy of the story, and suggested that David Whitmer may not have recalled all of the details correctly, yet went on to address the claim anyway. Roberts concluded:

Does that circumstance vitiate his claim as a prophet? No; the fact remains that despite this circumstance there exists a long list of events to be dealt with which will establish the fact of divine inspiration operating upon the mind of this man Joseph Smith. The wisdom frequently displayed, the knowledge revealed, the predicted events and the fulfilment thereof, are explicable upon no other theory than of divine inspiration giving guidance to him. [22]

As it happens, the passage of time and the uncovering of additional information has vindicated that confidence.


Response to claim: "I saw a testimony as more than just spiritual experiences and feelings. I saw that we had evidence and logic on our side based on the correlated narrative I was fed by the Church about its origins."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

I saw a testimony as more than just spiritual experiences and feelings. I saw that we had evidence and logic on our side based on the correlated narrative I was fed by the Church about its origins.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The mention of the "correlated narrative" is a reference to popular ex-Mormon complaints about the correlated curriculum. A testimony is more than just spiritual experiences and feelings - the author neglects to mention study and prayer.



Question: Is a Latter-day Saint testimony simply based on "feelings"?

A testimony more than simply "feelings", and requires study and prayer

Latter-day Saints bear "testimony" of the truthfulness of the gospel and of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  • Is this testimony simply based on "feelings?"
  • Are logic and evidence part of gaining a testimony?

A testimony is more than just spiritual experiences and feelings. Gaining a testimony requires more than having "spiritual experiences and feelings," and it requires more than simply listening to "the correlated narrative" provided by the Church. We are not taught to base our testimony on historical narratives.


Robert D. Hales (2013): "Gaining a testimony and becoming converted begins with study and prayer, then living the gospel with patience and persistence"

Robert D. Hales:

Gaining a testimony and becoming converted begins with study and prayer, then living the gospel with patience and persistence and inviting and waiting upon the Spirit. The life of Joseph Smith and the pattern of the Restoration are excellent examples of this process. As you listen to my message today of the events of the Restoration, look for the steps that lead to testimony: desiring to know the truth, pondering in our hearts, then feeling and obediently following the promptings of the Holy Ghost. . . .Like Joseph, we must search the scriptures and pray. For many, this means overcoming feelings of doubt and unworthiness, being humble, and learning to exercise faith.[23]


Response to claim: "What about the members who felt the Spirit from Dunn’s fabricated and false stories?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

[Paul H.] Dunn was a General Authority of the Church for many years. He was a very popular speaker who told incredible faith-promoting war and baseball stories. Many times Dunn shared these stories in the presence of the prophet, apostles, and seventies. Stories like how God protected him as enemy machine-gun bullets ripped away his clothing, gear, and helmet without ever touching his skin and how he was preserved by the Lord. Members of the Church shared how they really felt the Spirit as they listened to Dunn’s testimony and stories. Unfortunately, Dunn was later caught lying about all his war and baseball stories and was forced to apologize to the members. He became the first General Authority to gain “emeritus” status and was removed from public Church life. What about the members who felt the Spirit from Dunn’s fabricated and false stories? What does this say about the Spirit and what the Spirit really is?"Provenance of this claim:Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 132. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Simply receiving a warm feeling about a speech or article is not enough to call it revelation or a confirmation of the spirit.



Question: Who was Paul H. Dunn and what happened to him?

Elder Paul H. Dunn was a very popular speaker who told many faith-promoting stories about his days playing baseball and his service in World War II

Elder Paul H. Dunn was a very popular speaker during the 1970's and 1980's who told many faith-promoting stories about his days playing baseball and his service in World War II. Many people were inspired by his stories, and he was in much demand as a speaker. It was eventually discovered that Elder Dunn had exaggerated and conflated elements of his stories. He was given emeritus status as a General Authority on October 1, 1989.


Question: Many who listened to Elder Dunn's stories felt the spirit. Why would one feel the spirit upon hearing a story that was fabricated? Doesn't this confirm a lie?

Simply receiving a warm feeling about a speech or article is not enough to call it revelation or a confirmation of the spirit

Simply receiving a warm feeling about a speech or article is not enough to call it revelation or a confirmation of the spirit. One would need to properly study the issue, get an idea of what is correct, then ask for confirmation. The witness has to be consistent with other revelation and can be compared with others witness of similar events. In the case of Elder Dunn's stories, we felt good when we heard them. Boyd Packer pointed out that feelings and “spiritual” events can come from three sources: 1) your own feelings, 2) Satan, or 3) the Holy Ghost. You must use methods to properly confirm which is occurring in a particular event.


Question: Why did Elder Dunn exaggerate elements of these stories?

Elder Dunn responded to this issue himself

Regarding Elder Dunn's stories: he was human, just like the rest of us. He can speak for himself on this issue: "Elder Dunn Offers Apology for Errors, Admits Censure", Deseret News, Oct. 27 1991.

In an open letter to LDS Church members, Elder Paul H. Dunn apologized Saturday for not having "always been accurate" in telling his popular war and baseball stories, and he acknowledged being disciplined for it by church authorities.

Elder Dunn, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asked the church's First Presidency and Council of the Twelve for the opportunity to send an open letter to church members. The letter was published in Saturday's issue of the Church News."I confess that I have not always been accurate in my public talks and writings," Elder Dunn wrote. "Furthermore, I have indulged in other activities inconsistent with the high and sacred office which I have held.

"For all of these I feel a deep sense of remorse, and ask forgiveness of any whom I may have offended."

A former Army private and minor-league baseball player, Elder Dunn told riveting accounts of his war and baseball experiences that made him one of the most popular speakers in the church. According to the Associated Press, he was author or co-author of 28 books and is featured on 23 inspirational tapes. He served in the presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy from 1976 to 1980.

In 1989, Elder Dunn was placed on emeritus status for "reasons of age and health," the church said. In February 1991, the Arizona Republic reported that Elder Dunn had made up or combined elements of many of his war and baseball stories.

In his open letter, Elder Dunn, 67, said general authorities of the church have conducted in-depth investigations of charges that he had engaged in activities unbecoming of a church member.

"They have weighed the evidence," he said. "They have censured me and placed a heavy penalty upon me.

"I accept their censure and the imposed penalty, and pledge to conduct my life in such a way as to merit their confidence and full fellowship."

Church spokesman Don LeFevre said Saturday that the nature of the penalty is "an internal matter, and we don't discuss such matters" publicly.

Elder Dunn has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment. He concluded his letter by pleading for the understanding of church members and assured them of his "determination so to live as to bring added respect to the cause I deeply love, and honor to the Lord who is my Redeemer."


Response to claim: "a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

[Boyd K. Packer said] "How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?’ Oh, if I could teach you this one principle: a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!" – Boyd K. Packer, The Quest for Spiritual Knowledge.

How is this honest? How is this ethical? What kind of advice are these Apostles giving when they’re telling you that if you don’t have a testimony, bear one anyway? How is this not lying? There’s a difference between saying you know something and you believe something. What about members and investigators who are on the other side listening to your 'testimony'? How are they supposed to know whether you actually do have a testimony of Mormonism or if you’re just following Packer and Oaks’ advice and you’re lying your way into one?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Elder Packer is talking about having faith, not about "lying your way" into having a testimony.



Question: Did Elder Boyd K. Packer suggest that we should "lie our way" into obtaining a testimony?

Elder Packer said "a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it"

Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke of how to gain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?’ Oh, if I could teach you this one principle: a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it![24]

Critics of the Church claim that Elder Packer is advising that Church members claim to know the truth of the gospel even before they actually do, and that this is simply "lying their way" into gaining a testimony.

Elder Packer is talking about having faith, which one must exercise before receiving a witness

Elder Packer is not suggesting that a person much "lie their way" into having a testimony. Elder Packer is talking about having faith.

Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

One exercises faith before one has the evidence to prove it. Elder Packer is simply restating the scriptural definition of "faith" in terms of "testimony."

When one exercises faith, results follow which strengthen that faith

When one exercises faith, results follow which strengthen that faith, but one has to take that first "leap of faith." One does not take a "leap of faith," unless they already have a seed of faith to begin with. Elder Packer is not suggesting that you should be "lying your way into" having a testimony. Attempting to "lie" your way into having a testimony would be ineffective: your testimony would not grow, and you would become increasingly frustrated.

Elder Packer makes this clear by addressing this particular concern:

It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?”

Oh, if I could teach you this one principle: a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!

Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man is,” as the scripture says, indeed “the candle of the Lord” (Proverbs 20:27).

It is one thing to receive a witness from what you have read or what another has said; and that is a necessary beginning. It is quite another to have the Spirit confirm to you in your bosom that what you have testified is true. Can you not see that it will be supplied as you share it? As you give that which you have, there is a replacement, with increase!

To speak out is the test of your faith.[24]


Response to claim: "how can they be sure of the reliability of this same exact process in telling them that Mormonism is true?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

if individuals can be so convinced that they’re being led by the Spirit but yet be so wrong about what the Spirit tells them, how can they be sure of the reliability of this same exact process in telling them that Mormonism is true?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

A knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained. It requires sincere study and prayer.



Question: What is Moroni's promise?

The Book of Mormon provides a means of determining the truthfulness of the book

The Book of Mormon provides a means of determining the truthfulness of the book Moroni 10:3-5:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Moroni's promise claims that we can know the truthfulness of the gospel by praying about it with sincere intent

Moroni's promise claims that we can know the truthfulness of the gospel by praying about it with sincere intent (Moroni 10:3-5). However, some claim that praying about the Book of Mormon is not an objective standard for determining if the book is true or not, and should therefore not be trusted. It is also sometimes asserted that many people have read and prayed about the Book of Mormon or the Church and have either received no answer, or an answer from God that it is false.

A knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained

A knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained. It is not enough to simply "ask God" without putting forth some effort. The Lord requires that we be sincere and that we actually study the contents of the book in order to know of its truthfulness. As Moroni says, we must have "real intent" while "having faith in Christ." Those that read the Book of Mormon solely for the purpose of finding flaws in order to tear it down do not have "real intent" to know of its veracity. We are taught that feelings alone are not enough, and that we should confirm them.


Question: Is prayer the only element required in the determination of truth?

Prayer is one element in determining truth

Non-Mormons often claim that the Bible is the only true "yardstick" for determining truth. Ironically, the Bible refutes this, and clearly shows that the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth will lead us to all truth (John 14:26, John 15:26, 1 Jn 5:6). By claiming the Bible as the only source of truth, non-LDS are in fact minimizing the power of prayer and the role of the Holy Ghost.

The LDS believe that the most significant verse of scripture, the scripture which has had the greatest impact on the history of the world is found in James 1:5–6:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1:5-6)

This verse led a young man, Joseph Smith to follow that counsel–to offer a humble prayer of faith, being willing to accept the answer, no matter how difficult to accept that answer might be. That prayer led to the beginning of the restoration of the gospel.

There are elements in addition to prayer that are required in order to determine truth

Through Joseph Smith, the Lord has revealed other keys to prayer. One is that we are to "study it out" in our minds, then go before the Lord and ask for confirmation that our decision is correct. We are then instructed that if our decision is correct, we will feel the fruits of the Spirit, and if incorrect, we will have a "stupor of thought". Thus, serious seekers of truth cannot fully claim they have studied the Book of Mormon until they have read it in its entirety. The LDS encourage critical analysis of the Book of Mormon, specifically by prayerfully asking if anyone could have fabricated the book. Everyone who asks himself that question with every page will find, somewhere between the first page and the last, that the answer is 'no'–that the Book of Mormon is true. The Book of Mormon is convincing evidence of the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith.


Preach My Gospel: "As you pray for inspiration, you should also confirm your feelings...Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself"

"How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service:

As you pray for inspiration, you should also confirm your feelings. For example, compare your decisions with the scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets. Be certain that the feelings are consistent with the assignment you have; for example, you will not receive revelation to tell a local bishop how he should perform in his calling. Discuss your decisions and conclusions with your companion, your district leader, or your mission president when appropriate.

President Howard W. Hunter offered this counsel: “Let me offer a word of caution. … I think if we are not careful … , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 184). The Spirit of the Lord always edifies.[25]


Question: What about those who pray and don't receive a confirmation the Book of Mormon is true?

There is more required than simply praying in order to receive a confirmation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon

Moroni's gives us the requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to obtain a confirmation:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4)

It is not enough to simply ask: One must exercise faith in Jesus Christ and demonstrate a sincere effort to understand what is contained in the Book of Mormon. It is useful to recall Oliver Cowdery's experience when he attempted to translate,

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. (DC 9:8)


Response to claim: "I felt the Spirit watching 'Saving Private Ryan' and the 'Schindler’s List'. Both R-rated and horribly violent movies. I also felt the Spirit watching 'Forrest Gump' and the 'Lion King'."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

I felt the Spirit watching 'Saving Private Ryan' and the 'Schindler’s List'. Both R-rated and horribly violent movies. I also felt the Spirit watching 'Forrest Gump' and the 'Lion King'.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author has his own definition of "feeling the spirit."



Question: Can a person "feel the spirit" while watching movies?

The Spirit testifies of all true principles, regardless of the source

Why would I "feel the spirit" when watching fictional movies? Some of these movies are even violent and R-rated, such as Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List.

The Spirit testifies of all truth. The Spirit can testify of true principles taught or portrayed in fiction as well as in real life. For example, why would one feel so compelled by the story of Les Miserables? After all, the movie portrays prostitutes, thieves, and blasphemers. However, the message is of the importance of mercy over justice, of self-sacrifice, and of forgiveness. Why wouldn't the Holy Ghost tell us these are true principles? The same can be said of many movies, including animated films such as The Lion King.

Also, one should not equate the witness of the spirit with emotion. Just because an experience generates a pleasant emotional response does not mean that you are "feeling the spirit." Just because one can "feel the spirit" regarding religious matters does not mean that one is unable to feel good or inspired about anything else.

The movies Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List are very accurate and profound dramas that depict certain important historical events: In this case, the D-day invasion and the Holocaust. Yes, they are, out of necessity, R-rated and violent movies, nevertheless they are still deeply moving. We are moved by these portrayals because we empathize with the sacrifice and suffering of those depicted. Just because we seek "confirmation of the spirit" in religious matters in order to receive confirmation of their truthfulness does not require us to be "dead in feeling" to the rest of life.


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.[26] —(Click here to continue)


Response to claim: "Why did I feel the Spirit as I listened to the stories of apostates sharing how they discovered for themselves that Mormonism is not true?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Why did I feel the Spirit as I listened to the stories of apostates sharing how they discovered for themselves that Mormonism is not true?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author has his own definition of "feeling the spirit."



Question: Can someone feel the spirit when listening to stories of apostasy?

The Spirit only testifies of things that come from God, and should not be confused with emotion

One critic of the Church, who believes that the "spirit" is simply an emotional manifestation, poses the question: "Why did I feel the Spirit as I listened to the stories of apostates sharing how they discovered for themselves that Mormonism is not true?" [27]

The Spirit does not confirm apostasy. This is simply an attempt to diminish the experience of those who have truly had the Spirit testify of Christ.

A more accurate way to phrase this would be: "Why did I feel good as I listened to the stories of apostates sharing how they discovered for themselves that Mormonism is not true?" After all, ex-Mormons have already concluded that the "Spirit" is unreliable and inconsistent. The answer, of course, is that the stories that the ex-Mormon is hearing support the conclusion that they have already formed.

This is simply an attempt to demonstrate that the feelings of the "spirit" are meaningless

Ex-Mormons sometimes attempt to equate the experiences of believers who "feel the spirit" during testimony meeting with how they feel when hearing the stories of those who have left the Church, thereby proving that "feeling the spirit" is meaningless. However, while the spirit communicates with us through feelings, such as love, joy, or peace, (Gal. 5:22-23), the mere fact one experiences such feelings does not mean that person is "feeling the spirit." Correctly identifying when such feelings represent the presence of the Holy Ghost can take practice and depends upon study, prayer and experience.


"Recognizing the Voice of the Spirit" (Podcast): "How can I come to know that spiritual experience is not just a product of chemical processes in the brain?"

"FAIR Questions 2: Recognizing the Voice of the Spirit":

How do I find a way to not only discern the Spirit from emotion, but how can I become convinced that the Spirit is actually real? How can I come to know that spiritual experience is not just a product of chemical processes in the brain? I mean, I’ve prayed about the truth of the Book of Mormon and the gospel and I have gotten answers to my prayers, but how can I come to know whether or not this is from God, and not just either a part of my subconscious or a delusion.[28] —(Click here to continue)


Notes

  1. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," 151.
  2. D&C 9:7–8
  3. Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
  4. Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
  5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 21.
  6. Joseph Smith, in 1843, History of the Church, 5:498.
  7. "Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004) 46
  8. "An Ensign to the Nations," October 1989 General Conference
  9. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:86.
  10. 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.
  11. Dialogue with Trypho 8, Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:198
  12. Shepard of Hermas, Ante-Nicene Fathers 2:24
  13. Dr. Wendy Ulrich, "'Believest thou…?': Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience," Proceedings of the 2005 FAIR Conference (2005).
  14. "Teaching and Learning by the Spirit," Ensign (March 1997) 14.
  15. Marlin K. Jensen, “The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books,” Ensign (July 2009) off-site
  16. Letter to William McLellin, February 2, 1848, as cited in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 257-9.
  17. Ibid., page 257
  18. William McLellin to Joseph Smith III, September 8, 1872. See Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, page 328.
  19. John L. Traughber correspondence, which appears to date from 1881. Dan Vogel’s editor comments in “Early Mormon Documents”, Vol. 5, page 333, explain his assumption this was written to James T. Cobb. See page 334 for relevant statements concerning the Mission to Canada.
  20. David Whitmer Interview with Omaha (NE) Herald, Oct. 10, 1886, as quoted by Dan Vogel in Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 174-181. See page 180 for relevant material.
  21. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  22. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:165. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  23. Robert D. Hales, "Receiving a Testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ," October 2003 General Conference.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord", Ensign (Jan. 1983) off-site).
  25. "How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004)
  26. Dr. Wendy Ulrich, "'Believest thou…?': Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience," Proceedings of the 2005 FAIR Conference (2005).
  27. Jeremy Runnells, Letter to a CES Director (2013)
  28. "FAIR Questions 2: Recognizing the Voice of the Spirit," FairMormon Blog (28 August 2011).


A FairMormon Analysis of:
Letter to a CES Director
A work by author: Jeremy Runnells