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.

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.

Simply receiving a warm feeling about a movie or other fictional work is not enough to call it revelation or a confirmation of the spirit

Latter-day Saints understand that a testimony of the Gospel is not based on feel-good movies. Latter-day Saints base their testimony on a dynamic influence of the Holy Ghost as sought for by revelation. This revelatory experience that is sought out comes from study and prayer (D&C 9:7-9) through the use of all our faculties (D&C 88:15; Alma 32:27).

This dynamic influence is contrasted with a more passive influence, where one feels the Spirit (usually in the form of peace) while in the presence of good things. This is how the vast majority of Latter-day Saints view (or would view) feelings towards movies. We are to seek after all virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy things (Articles of Faith 1:13) because all good things come from God (Moroni 7:12) and they can inspire us to serve him (Moroni 7:13). We may also simply be feeling the Spirit that is promised to always be with us as we live up to our baptismal covenants (Moroni 4:3; 5:2). That doesn't mean, however, that we have received some sort of dynamic, "revelatory witness of the truthfulness" of these works. Since our bodies and spirits are connected (D&C 88:15), it is easy to see why a warm feeling or a heart murmur may be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. Moroni tells us that we have the ability to judge that which is of God and that which is not of God (Moroni 7:14; See also D&C 8:2). The key to discernment is simply to pay close attention to both our mind and heart (D&C 8:2) and "prove all things and hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess 5:21; See also JS-Matthew 1:37; Moroni 7:20-25).


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)


Notes

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