Holy Ghost/Feeling "the spirit" while watching movies

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Why do I "feel the spirit" when watching movies?

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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 such as the importance of sacrifice, the importance of family, or of humility. 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. No Latter-day Saint will say that they felt the spirit "confirm the truth" of a movie. Important here is to understand the different factors that play into spiritual epistemology. It involves all of our faculties (See Alma 32:27). Spiritual epistemology is a complex interaction between and evaluation of the thoughts of your mind, the feelings of your heart, the physical health of your body, the light of Christ (which can increase by doing good and decrease and be diminished by doing what is wrong), the outside influence of the Holy Ghost, and everything that God has deemed good in the world. One can feel a more passive influence of the Holy Ghost which is like an abiding peace that comes when one is doing what is right or in the presence of something good since we seek after all good things (A of F 1:13) and all good things come from God (Moroni 7:12), or it can be more dynamic as when we are seeking revelation in which we will receive both inspiration or revelation in our mind and a phenomenon (not just a feeling or emotion) in our heart. We can simply be feeling the spirit that is supposed to be with us as we live up to sacrament covenants (Moroni 4,5).

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. They are, out of necessity, R-rated and violent movies, nevertheless they are still deeply moving and, at their most beautiful moments, can move our hearts and minds to God as they teach simple but profound truths. 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. We should understand how the spirit works, including how it interacts with everything mentioned above, and do our best to evaluate it. The key is to simply pay attention to both our mind and heart when discerning the Spirit’s influences (D&C 8:2).

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.[1] —(Click here to continue)


  1. Dr. Wendy Ulrich, "'Believest thou…?': Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience," Proceedings of the 2005 FAIR Conference (2005).