Testimony & Spiritual Witnesses


To a Latter-day Saint, a testimony is a personal witness of a gospel truth. This witness is received through the third member of the Godhead called the Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit or Spirit. The Church teaches that all humans have a physical body and a spirit body and the Holy Ghost witnesses directly with a person's spirit through thoughts and feelings. The Holy Ghost is said to witness of all truth, secular and religious. Such a spiritual witness, they say, is more certain or accurate than any of the five physical senses or human reasoning.

Overview of LDS position

The influence of the Holy Ghost is available to all people.

The gift of the Holy Ghost is the privilege—given to people who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, been baptized, and been confirmed as members of the Church—to receive continual guidance and inspiration from the Holy Ghost.[1]

However, the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is only available to those who have been baptized into the LDS church and abide the precepts set forth by the church. The Holy Ghost can provide a witness that the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a prophet and that LDS Church is God's one, true church.

Overview of Critics' position

We don't doubt that many LDS have strong feelings that the church is true. However, we question whether these feelings are really a reliable guide to establishing truth. There is considerable evidence that the 'spirit' is totally unreliable as a means of determining truth.

Most of the "burning bosoms" are emotion based and they stem from meaningful situations based upon our experiences in life. Many people from all religions report having the same feelings that witness to them that their religion, beliefs or church is true, but obviously they all can't be right.

References

  1. Gospel Principles, Chapter 21: The Gift of the Holy Ghost. Available at http://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-21-the-gift-of-the-holy-ghost

Contents

Introduction

Member beliefs

Gaining a testimony

Burning in the bosom

Witnesses from Satan?

BoM prayer, wrong answer

Faithful LDS lose testimony?

Bear a nonexistent testimony

Believing false testimonies

Special witnesses of Christ

Other faiths' testimonies

Other spiritual witnesses

Unexplainable experiences

Power of discernment

Patriarchal blessings

Priesthood blessings

The power of prayer

Feelings vs. facts

Scientific explanations

New Era story

Church's response

Critics' summary

Editor's comments

Links

Member Beliefs

A testimony is a reliable method to learn the truth. Men can deceive, science can be wrong but a true testimony is an undeniable way to establish the truth of the gospel. A testimony of the Book of Mormon can be gained by reading the Book of Mormon and putting the book to the test by praying about whether or not it is true:

Moroni 10:4-5

4) 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.

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

A true testimony comes from the Holy Ghost and cannot be denied. Although the Book of Mormon does not say how exactly the Holy Ghost will manifest the truth to people, many LDS believe it is either a physical sensation such as the burning in the bosom or just an intense feeling that it is true.

Joseph Smith revealed that the Holy Ghost will witness something to one's heart and mind (D&C 8:2). He also told David Nye White, senior editor of the Pennsylvania's Pittsburg Weekly Gazette, on August 28 1843 that speaking to Joseph Smith about revelations, "he stated that when he was in a 'quandary,' he asked the Lord for a revelation, and when he could not get it, he 'followed the dictates of his own judgment, which were as good as a revelation to him; but he never gave anything to his people as revelation, unless it was a revelation, and the Lord did reveal himself to him." (See Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Volume 1, page 181.)

Link from the official church web site:

http://scriptures.lds.org/en/moro/10

How do members gain testimonies?

Children

Many saints are essentially 'taught ' their testimonies growing up. We've all seen many Fast & Testimony meetings where a five-year old child is at the podium with his mom or dad whispering in his ear telling him exactly what to say "I know the church is true, I love my mommy and daddy, I know Joseph Smith was a prophet, etc."

Primary classes reinforce this as young children think of their primary teachers the same way as their school teachers - adults that teach them true things. The primary music like "Follow the Prophet" and the primary games like "Do as I'm doing" also reinforce the ideas for these children to act like adults and have testimonies about things they know nothing about.

Naturally children believe what their parents teach them, whether it be factual things like the multiplication tables and geography or things not true such as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. To children it's one and the same. And when these children grow up they naturally hold on to the religious beliefs that they were taught as children.

If those same children were raised by Islamic Extremists they would very likely support those views instead of Mormonism. See Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

Adult Converts

How do adults that were not brought up LDS gain their testimonies? There are perhaps many answers to this question. Some say that they prayed about the Book of Mormon and got a feeling that it was true. Some claim they even got a burning in the bosom. Others just knew it was true but can't say why. Others never really got a real witness but lean on other's testimonies thinking that the other people must have real testimonies and that's good enough for them.

Many converts, who have since become inactive, admitted that they were so impressed by the missionaries that they didn't want to disappoint these young men that took such an interest in their well-being, so they said they had a testimony when they really didn't have one.

Missionary methods

The following is from a study on how to make people believe something is plausible that is implausible. Those of us of who have been missionaries may recognize having used a similar process in helping investigators "gain a testimony" using Moroni's promise. Here is the conclusion of the study:

"We have proposed a three-processes model for the development of false memories for implausible events through suggestive procedures. The first process is to make an event be perceived as plausible, the second is to help individuals acquire the autobiographical belief that it is likely to have happened to them. The third, not examined in this study, is to help people interpret their thoughts and fantasies about the event happening as memories. Our data shed light on two of the three processes.

We have shown that information about an event from a presumably credible source can alter perceived plausibility of the event. Our results also indicated that this information can produce changes in the perceived likelihood of the event having occurred to the individual. When suggestive personalized information was added, the effects on autobiographical likelihood were substantially greater and a sizable minority of participants came to believe that the event probably happened to them. In addition, we have shown that this happened although the event continued to be seen by participants as relatively implausible. This provides evidence for the fact that even a relatively small increase in plausibility of an initially implausible event can pave the way for additional suggestion, so that some people increase the perceived likelihood of occurrence of the event in their life."

http://faculty.washington.edu/eloftus/Articles/mazzloft.htm

In converting people to Mormonism, missionaries follow the three-step process this way:

  1. The investigator reads the Moroni Promise and we bear testimony, suggesting that the experience (and what we teach them) is plausible.
  2. We ask them to pray about it and to feel a particular feeling, which makes it part of their autobiography, increasing for them the plausibility of what we have told them.
  3. We interpret their feelings and subsequent positive feelings, fantasies, and events connected with Mormonism in a way that increases plausibility.

Once the "testimony" is created, it is reinforced and further developed through social learning, positive reinforcement ("fellowshipping"), public expression in testimony meeting, and the acceptance of additional commitments by the convert.

Also, see the commitment pattern as taught by the missionaries:

http://lds4u.com/Discussions/commitment.htm

What if you don't have a real testimony?

Although the leaders of the Church would like it if everyone simply had a strong testimony of the Church, many people don't. Here's advice from The Ensign:

"We should be patient in developing and strengthening our testimonies. Rather than expecting immediate or spectacular manifestations, though they will come when needed, we should pray for a testimony, study the scriptures, follow the counsel of our prophet and other Church leaders, and live the principles of the gospel. Our testimonies then will grow and mature naturally, perhaps imperceptibly at times, until they become driving forces in our lives."

—Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Patience, a Key to Happiness", Ensign, May 1987, 30

Critic's Point: Sounds like if you don't get any real answer from the Holy Ghost that you should just keep on following the church and do everything you're suppose to do such as paying 10% of all your income to an organization that you do not know is true or not, and maybe you will slowly gain one and that may take many years or even a lifetime. It is suspicious when the leaders tell their members that the way to gain a testimony is to follow the leaders and some time in the future you may get a testimony but don't expect anything spectacular.

Burning in the bosom

Per the Book of Mormon, a testimony is suppose to come from the Holy Ghost but the BOM does not specify how exactly he will manifest the truth to the truthseeker. However the Doctrine & Covenants may give additional insight. Although this was specifically referring to how Joseph was to translate the BOM, many LDS say it also applies to the BOM promise as well.

D&C: 9, 8-9

8) 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.

9) 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; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

The burning in the bosom.

Critics say that people who claim to get a "burning in the bosom" are just experiencing a warming sensation that is caused by the person itself and not an external force. Ever wonder where the expression "heart-warming" comes from? It's meant to describe a warm feeling you feel inside yourself. It's related to emotional responses to intense drama. The drama does not need to be true. For example, heart-warming is often used to describe watching a 'tear-jerker' movie where a beloved character dies saving someone else or reading a fictional, inspirational novel. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:

I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom ‘burn within’ them. 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. (Ensign, Mar. 1997, p. 13 http://www.lds.org/ensign/1997/03/teaching-and-learning-by-the-spirit).

Feelings

Since many people don't actually get a 'burning in the bosom', a testimony is often attributed to a feeling that you know something as opposed to a specific physical manifestation. Descriptions of the feeling vary greatly. If you asked 10 LDS people to define their testimony, you would likely get 10 different definitions.

From conversations with numerous LDS and from reflecting upon our own testimonies of the Church when they were the strongest, it appears that a testimony is basically a strong feeling. It's an emotional response to an undefined situation.

Emotions or the Holy Ghost?

The whole "burning bosom" warm feeling is not uncommon in daily life for people of any and all religious backgrounds. We felt it when Superman saves someone that fell off a building, when Darth Vader turns on the emperor to save his son Luke, when Lassie finally came home and when the Grinch returned all the toys to Whoville.

Some people get goosebumps, some get a lump in their throat, some get teary-eyed from watching these emotionally-charged fictional movies. Likewise, even atheists feel that "tingling, warm sensation" in many activities. You take a nature lover who climbs to the top of a mountain and looks out over the valley with a setting sun and - wham - the tingles start. The patriotic person who listens to a rousing rendition of the National Anthem or the Battle Hymn of the Republic gets the shivers.

All of these experiences can cause the "burning bosom" regardless of religion. That is because they are "emotion-based." Whether something is meaningful to us is the result of our past experiences and belief system. While an American would feel the tingles during the National Anthem, a visiting Frenchman may not feel anything at all. Why? Because America's National Anthem has no meaning for him.

How to purchase that feeling.

The feelings are certainly not unique to the LDS Church. Bonneville Productions, the media firm owned by the Church, claims to produce that special feeling that many of us and investigators associate with the Holy Spirit. In fact, Bonneville has trademarked this term and calls it "Heartsell".

"Their unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. They call this uniquely powerful brand of creative HeartSell® - strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response."

If you own a business you can also employ "Heartsell" by hiring Bonneville to consult for you. At first, we couldn't believe that they would blatantly admit that they can manufacture such feelings but they do.

Bonneville

 

Even those totally undeserving get that feeling.

I came across this interesting account from a young soldier during World War I:

"I was eating my dinner in a trench with several comrades. Suddenly a voice seemed to be saying to me, 'Get up and go over there.' It was so clear and insistent that I obeyed automatically, as if it had been a military order. I rose at once to my feet and walked twenty yards along the trench carrying my dinner in its tin can with me. Then I sat down to go on eating, my mind being once more at rest. Hardly had I done so when a flash and deafening report came from the part of the trench I had just left. A stray shell had burst over the group in which I had been sitting, and every member of it was killed."

Adolf Hitler

Reference: The Nizkor Project It's in a psychological profile of Hitler done by the OSS (the precursor to the CIA).

Now it doesn't seem to make much sense that the all-knowing Holy Ghost would whisper to the man who is perhaps the most evil man to ever live, so he could save his life just to be the architect of the World War 2 and the slaughter of millions of innocent people. Of course, maybe Hitler made it up to inspire others or just imagined it. Maybe this is the same with some church members' faith-promoting stories?

 

 

References:

Spiritual witnesses from Satan

Joseph Smith said "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil."

From David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.30-31 [It will be on slightly different pages in different editions of Whitmer's pamphlet. Emphasis added]

We were waiting on Martin Harris who was doing his best to sell a part of his farm, in order to raise the necessary funds. After a time Hyrum Smith and others began to get impatient, thinking that Martin Harris was too slow and under transgression for not selling his land at once, even if at a great sacrifice. Brother Hyrum thought they should not wait any longer on Martin Harris, and that the money should be raised in some other way. Brother Hyrum was vexed with Brother Martin, and thought they should get the money by some means outside of him, and not let him have anything to do with the publication of the Book, or receiving any of the profits thereof if any profits should accrue. He was wrong in thus judging Bro. Martin, because he was doing all he could toward selling his land. Brother Hyrum said it had been suggested to him that some of the brethren might go to Toronto, Canada , and sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon for considerable money: and he persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it. Joseph concluded to do so. He had not yet given up the stone. 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 copy-right of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copy-right, 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 copy-right, 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 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. When a man enquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if he is deceived by his own carnal desires, and is in error, he will receive an answer according to his erring heart, but it will not be a revelation from the Lord. (http://sidneyrigdon.com/vern/vernP3.htm p. 49)

In discussing the "Canadian Copyright Caper" B. H. Roberts quotes this entire passage in Comprehensive History of the Church Vol. 1 pp. 162-66.

So just how do we know what revelations are from God, from the devil or from the heart of man if even the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn't tell?

Counsel from General Authorities

Elder Boyd K. Packer in an address that was printed in the 1983 LDS Ensign magazine in an article titled "Candle of the Lord" (http://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/01/the-candle-of-the-lord):

Be ever on guard lest you be deceived by inspiration from an unworthy source. You can be given false spiritual messages. There are counterfeit spirits just as there are counterfeit angels. Be careful lest you be deceived, for the devil may come disguised as an angel of light.

The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that it is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary.

This address from Elder Packer was likely prompted by many letters to the church concerning "false positives" of the spirit. We've seen this happen many times. One incident in particular stands out. There was a returned missionary who fell in love with a woman shortly after returning home from his mission. They dated for a time and then he prayed and asked God whether she is the "right one" to marry. He got a very strong tingly feeling that confirmed, in his mind, that God revealed that she, indeed, was the right one. They married.

Not a few months passed when it was discovered that his wife was having an affair with another man (who just happened to be a bishop of another ward with a large family). He was also shocked to learn that she was having affairs with this man all during their dating and courtship including the time he was praying about marrying her. He was devastated and had the temple marriage annulled.

Most LDS members have a hard enough time getting ANY type of "witness" at all and now we're faced with the dilemma to somehow differentiate between whether it comes from God, their emotions or the Devil. To make matters worse, Elder Packer in his address offered no way to discern between them. If the prophet Joseph Smith couldn't tell the difference between revelation from God and from Satan how can the rest of us possibly say with surety that any revelation or witnesses we get are indeed really from God?

Identifying Satan

For devout believers in the Holy Bible, Satan can appear as an 'Angel of Light' and can possess many of the other attributes we associate with truth and goodness. It's possible that Joseph and others were deceived by the 'Master of Lies'. For those adamantly opposed to polygamy and some of Joseph's other teachings, this is a possibility. Please read this article 'How can we know when information is from Satan?' by Richard Packham.

References

What about those people who sincerely pray about the Book of Mormon and get a different answer?

Many people, that the missionaries give the Book of Mormon to, sincerely pray about it and do not get a witness that it's true and therefore do not join the LDS church. How are we to reconcile that? Should not the Holy Ghost bear witness to all sincere seekers of the truth? The often heard trite answers such as 'he wasn't ready' or 'you expect too much' don't really make sense when you think about it.

The promise as stated in the BOM is conditional only upon asking with a sincere heart, with real intent and having faith in Christ. Virtually everyone who wants to know if it's true has that. The missionaries even instruct people on how to pray if they need it. So why doesn't the Holy Ghost tell all these people that the BOM is true as well?

The church would have you think that if everyone read the BOM, prayed about its validity that they would all receive a witness to its truthfulness. But simply put, many more people read the BOM, or at least parts of it, and do not believe it to be true than those that read it and accept it to be true.

From former LDS members:

I had that good ol' burning in the bosom. That's a huge part of why I stayed in so long. After a bout of inactivity, I became confused that I could still have that burning while doing things the church would disprove of like watching an R-rated movie, taking a walk with my kids on a Sunday afternoon instead of going to church, etc.

In fact, I had the most profound, most poignant, strongest burning on the bosom when I got down on my knees and asked God if it's possible that the Mormon church was not true. Yup, I had that burning in the bosom and an unbelievable feeling of peace came over me and I just knew that it was not true. I knew it and I accepted it then and there.

Yup, that burning told me for years that the church was true, and then it told me that it wasn't. You just can't rely on emotions like that. You have to rely on reason. Do the research, add it all up, then see if any of it makes any sense. I did that with religion in general and my belief in God.

- Jenny

A few years after I became inactive, and when people from my ward and my family asked why, I told them, I asked and I didn't get anything about it being true. They all openly said that I must be doing SOMETHING wrong, or some sort of sin, even though I was a virgin at the time, no drugs, nothing considered "dirty" by the LDS Church.

- Formaggio

What about faithful members who lost their testimonies?

Advice often given in church for those that are struggling with their testimony is to rely on others testimonies as you develop your own. But how do we know that other members really have valid testimonies?

Growing up in the Church I knew a very staunch member who was one of the pillars of the ward. He was a stake high councilman with a strong testimony that he shared often. He would bear his testimony at most every Fast & Testimony meeting using the typical phrases such as 'I know this church is true' and 'I have a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon'. Some years later he left the church over historical issues of the church that he felt were too serious to ignore. So what are we to say about his former rock-solid testimony of the church?

If he really had a real testimony of the church then how could he have lost it over historical facts? Many would say he perhaps never had a bona-fid testimony from the Holy Ghost. If that's the case, then how can we trust anyone else's testimony? How do we know that all those people that bear their testimonies every week aren't just like this righteous high councilman that only 'thought' he had a testimony?

In the early days of the church even many apostles lost their testimonies. How could this be? If apostles' testimonies can be so weak and not real than what does this say about the average member's testimony?

Some say that it was different back then and modern-day, high-ranking church leaders don't lose their testimonies.

Jerrell Chesney served as the president of the Oklahoma City temple from 2000-2005. His wife served as the temple Matron. He and his wife had worked hard in the temple and had earned a reputation for sustaining good attendance figures. Prior to being a temple president, Jerrell Chesney had served in numerous church leadership positions, including Stake President and bishop several times. He had been again serving as a bishop of his home ward in Shawnee, Oklahoma when he and his wife resigned their church membership in 2006 reportedly over problematic historical issues he discovered about the church that the LDS leaders could not resolve. If you search the church's website for his name you will find it mentioned in The Ensign as he was a very respected church official.

Scores of bishops, several church Education System teachers, at least five stake presidents, at least one Temple President, at least two Mission Presidents (Wendell Hall) and several Church Historians also have left the church in the past few years over historical problems with the Mormon Church. These are just the people we happen know of (as of Jan 2008). Most people leave quietly so who knows how many other members in high positions have also left?

Also, many more members remain in the church after losing their testimony (not unlike some of the writers for this site). One CES employee told us that he knows of 11 CES instructors that have lost their testimony as a consequence of studying church history. At least 3 CES instructors that we know of have publicly resigned in the past decade.

The Santa Analogy

The following is from a conversation of a former believing member and his bishop:

I resigned from the LDS Church and informed my bishop that the reasons had to do with discovering the real history of the Church. When I was done he asked about the spiritual witness I had surely received as a missionary. I agreed that I had felt a sure witness, as strong as he currently felt. I gave him the analogy of Santa; I believed in Santa until I was 12. I refused to listen to reason from my friends who had discovered the truth much earlier...I just knew. However, once I learned the facts, feelings changed. I told him that Mormons have to re-define faith in order to believe; traditionally, faith is an instrument to bridge that gap between where science, history and logic end, and what you hope to be true. Mormonism re-defines faith as embracing what you hope to be true in spite of science, fact and history.

Bearing your testimony when you don't have one

Perhaps it's not official church canon, but we've all heard something like this in wards throughout the world; 'if you don't have a testimony, still bear one and that's how you can gain one', 'a testimony is gained in the bearing of it', 'your weak testimony will grow stronger when you bear it often'.

In a talk by Richard Wirthlin, he quotes Elder Packer:

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 step into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two.

"Pure Testimony," General Conference, October 2000. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2000/10/pure-testimony [emphasis his]

In the April 2008 General Conference, Dallin Oaks made the following statement:

Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.

"Testimony," General Conference, April 2008. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/testimony

The people following this counsel repeat things over and over, until they convince themselves that they're true. Just keep telling yourself, "I know it's true...I know it's true...I know it's true..." and before long, you'll believe it!

The advice is essentially to lie enough times until you believe it yourself. Just think about this for a minute. If you don't have testimony, bear one anyway. Does this make sense? Lying is wrong. If you say 'you think you know' or 'you believe' that's fine. We can all accept that as that's a truthful statement. But to say 'you know' when you don't really know is lying plain and simple. To the church, such "technical distinctions" between belief and knowledge don't seem to matter—why? Because the church is true anyway, so the ends justifies the means.

Peer Pressure

The peer pressure involved in bearing testimonies is enormous. In any leadership position you are expected to bear your testimony, regardless of whether you have a genuine one or not. We personally would much rather prefer to only hear people's real accounts of their beliefs and not 'made-up' testimonies given in order to help others gain one. I admit that I did it when I conducted church meetings as I was expected to bear my testimony first to kick off the meeting.

And how do we know that the people we hear bearing their testimonies every month are not just following Elder Packer's advice and bearing testimonies when they don't really have them?

Believing false testimonies

What would happen if the spirit bore witness to something that we found out wasn't true?

Paul H. Dunn

Paul H. Dunn was a General Authority of the LDS Church. He was a member of the First Quorum of Seventy for many years. For years he broadcasted personal experiences of his life that were completely untrue and undetected in the presence of the prophet, apostles, seventies and huge amounts of saints. Elder Dunn wrote, for example, 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.

These stories motivated at least two people that one of us knew to be baptized during his mission - because they "felt the spirit" when listening to him speak. The "spirit" was strong, yet the whole thing never happened. So what exactly was the "spirit" testifying to? Obviously it was an emotional reaction based upon those riveting lies and Dunn was a master of manipulating the "spirit" to testify of things that were not true.

Eventually Brother Dunn's deceptions were exposed. He apologized and said something about how he liked to tell exciting, motivational stories. He became the very first General Authority to gain "emeritus" status and was quietly removed from public church life.

I personally had dinner with Elder Dunn many years ago. I liked the guy and enjoyed listening to his stories during the conference he spoke at. But even though I thought I 'felt the spirit' during his recounting of fascinating events of his life, I now know that many of those stories were fabrications and I was mislead by whatever spiritual feeling that came over me while I listened to his stories.

We've been told countless times by well-read people who know all the scientific and historical evidence against the LDS church, that despite the evidence, they "still know it is true because of spiritual experiences". Condescendingly, a man told me that he felt sorry for everyone else who didn't have these spiritual experiences like he did, so that they could also know the 'truth'. One of our members has had these spiritual experiences throughout his life, including at the death of his daughter, and also as an LDS missionary. So let's consider these spiritual witnesses.

References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_H._Dunn

Sunstone article (page 28 excellent article):

Ensign talk from Paul H. Dunn: If Thou Art Willing

Personal stories from former LDS members:

- A stake president gave a serious invitation for myself and my wife to move to his stake at the drop of a hat, to help populate a struggling ward with an extra priesthood body. He mentioned the "blessings" that we would receive as a consequence. I replied that our Stake president had just called me to be EQP and asked him the question "Which revelation is more correct - yours or his?". He fumbled with this question and went onto some other topic. I suddenly saw a very human way of operating by a stake president.

- One friend of mine had his mother receive a "priesthood blessing" of "counsel and comfort" where the mother was told his father was to die shortly - as you can imagine this caused life changing turmoil both for the mother and son. This occurred some 19 years ago, and the father is still alive and well.

- My daughter and boyfriend went to the temple to get inspiration as to whether they should marry. She got a 'yes' answer. He got a 'no' answer.

- My parents felt inspired that a monetary investment would pay off well. They lost money.

- Our Primary President felt inspired about calling a certain sister to a Primary position. The bishop vetoed that inspiration.

- A couple, who are our friends, went to the temple for an answer as to whether he should attend law school. He got a 'yes' answer, and she got a 'no' answer.

- A neighbor had revelation that 'Twin Girls' were waiting to be born to her family, so she became pregnant by deceiving her husband who wanted no more children. She had a single boy.

Then there is the disconnect where people pray and find lost keys, while others pray about lost cousins who aren't found until after they have asphyxiated in a trunk.

Missionary story

When I was a missionary, a ward member told my companion and I he wanted to do a little test. So he told us three "spiritual" stories, each one more moving and sensational than the previous one. At the end of his story-telling, he asked my companion: "During which story did you feel the Spirit the most strongly?" My companion answered:"during the third one." The ward member then told my companion that the first two stories were true, but that he had invented the third story; i.e., it was pure fiction. My companion was deeply bothered by his lack of being able to accurately discern truth through the Spirit, and it showed me that someone can "feel the Spirit" about something, even if it is not objectively true, simply because it has "inspirational" elements in the story.

Andrew

The Hawaii Temple Bombing

I sat mesmerized as a 14-year old Teacher in MIA as a fantastic and faith-promoting story enveloped us.The workings of the Lord, mysterious and ineffable, overcame me that night.For good or ill, that story made me think.That night the Bishop’s wife told us a story - a true story, she claimed.We knew it was true because she told us it was.Since, in an LDS context, it is possible to teach only with the spirit, and because she told us the spirit was there in the room that night, she was therefore teaching by the spirit. So, what she taught had to be true, didn’t it?

She told us of the workings of the Lord in advancing his plan of salvation and carrying-out important genealogy work. She told us this incident would illustrate how the Lord always made it possible to bring the gospel to so many on the other side.She told how the Lord protected his own so that His work would go on nobly and unimpeded in all parts of the world, no matter what world conditions might be.She told us that we were in the last days, and this story was one of the proofs of that truth.

What was the wondrous, faith-promoting, spirit-infused, last-day-proving, salvation-advancing, thought-provoking true story?It was the story of the Hawaii Temple and the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

On that infamous day, a lone Japanese Imperial Naval aircraft, on its homeward run after sinking numerous battleships and killing dozens of U.S. soldiers and seamen, with one bomb left its racks, passed over the Hawaii Temple.(The Bishop’s wife never explained why the aviator did not drop the bomb on a battleship and, in all candor, I was not smart enough to ask).The pilot, intent on Japan’s glorious victory, thinking such an imposing structure had to house something important, decided to bomb it.Just as he came around to drop his ordnance, however, a cloud obscured the Temple from the pilot’s vision and stayed over the Temple grounds so the pilot could see neither the structure itself nor its land.Unrequited, the pilot returned to his ship, the bomb still a-rack. I guess God was so worried at the time about the temple and all the money the LDS Church had invested in it that he forgot to worry about all the Navy and Army Air Corps guys at the Naval Base.

Well, we 14- to 18-year olds were properly impressed!Our instructor knew we were, since the spirit bore witness to her that her story increased our faith and taught us a great lesson about how the Lord will not let His plan of salvation come to naught.We knew the spirit bore her that witness, because she told us it did.

Fast-forward now a bunch of years. I was very active in Church at the time; indeed, I was a counselor in the bishopric.

One Saturday, on a bookstore visit, I came across Gordon Mackelprang’s exhaustive book on the Pearl Harbor attack called At Dawn We Slept. At the time, I had been engaged in research on President Roosevelt’s foreknowledge (or lack of the same) about the Pearl Harbor attack.This looked like more great source material, so I purchased it.About halfway through the book (and it was thick!),for some reason the Hawaii Temple story came to mind, even though the book had not yet mentioned it.To my chagrin and consternation, it quickly became apparent that this book would never mention the incident.Only later would I find out why.

That Mackelprang’s really thick book on Pearl Harbor did not mention the Hawaii Temple episode raised a 20’ X 40’ red flag with me.There was almost no civilian damage from the attack.Further, since Mackelprang had post-war access to the Imperial Navy’s archives, there would have been some mention of it there, at least as a footnote.The pilot would have mentioned the details of the miraculously cloud covered-building and his commanders would have wanted to know why he still had one (live!) bomb remaining.

Therefore, I corresponded with both the Hawaii Temple and The Ensign magazine (this was before e-mail, so this meant snail-mail) on the matter.I needed facts, figures, and academically-oriented source materials. Therefore, out the letters went.The first response came from The Ensign.

I wrote to the editors of The Ensign to ask if the magazine could forward the details it (or its predecessor publications) had featured on this incident.The editors were kind enough to write back and indicate that it would be impossible to provide such data. Why impossible? It was impossible because neither The Ensign nor any of its predecessor publications had ever printed such an article! The reason they had never printed such an article was because that incident was nothing more than a persistent, pernicious rumorthe incident never happened(!).The Japanese never bombed, or even tried to bomb, the Hawaii Temple!

As to the letter to the Hawaii Temple, someone from the visitor’s center responded.In essence, the letter stated clearly that the bombing incident never happened, the volunteers at the visitor’s center had specific instructions to counter the rumor whenever it came up; and no, they had no idea where the rumor started or how/why it had endured for so long.

How could the Bishop’s wife bear such a fervent testimony of the presence of the influence of the Lord, when the incident on which she based her testimony never happened, and that the truth was so easy to obtain in that it came from the Church itself? The answer was simple, while she intended no harm, she had testified to a lie; a lie she could have exposed by sending one letter and asking one question.And she asked us to believe equally in that lie and make it part of our testimonies. Unless I improperly remember the lessons of the Korean War, that’s a brainwashing technique.                    

Some few months after the letters arrived, the Bishop to whom I was the counselor told essentially the same story to the Youth, drew essentially the same conclusions, and bore essentially the same testimony (and the youth treated those about as reverently as I had).After the kids left the building, I asked him about the story, especially where he got it, and if it were true.He responded that, of course it was true, a former stake president told the story on numerous occasions and had read it in The Ensign. The next Sunday, I gave him copies of the correspondence from The Ensign and the Temple Visitor’s Center. He read them quietly, thanked me for them, tucked them deliberately and thoughtfully into his suit coat inside breast pocket, and never spoke of them again.He never told that story again, either.

I presented the story and the results of my research to the Ward High Priest’s Group.Another member of the Group immediately and brusquely interjected that even if the story were not true, we should repeat it anyway and bear witness of it since it was so faith promoting. When I asked him if his faith had its base on a lie, he told me that his faith was intact since it was based on revelation, which came from God, not reason, which came from man. Rather than get into an argument over whether God expected him, as part of his faith, to use his ability to reason to ferret out a lie, I thanked him for his explanation and left the meeting.

Timothy C. Andersen

Personal testimonies of the principle of "Adam is our God" yet linger from former-latter-day-saints. Try reading the words of Eliza R. Snow in "Women of Mormondom" (available in modern reprint), and you be left with no doubt about the Holy Ghost's witness to her about Adam—it certainly gives a whole new meaning to "O My Father" in the hymn book.

We suspect that all of us have heard similar stories where the inspiration, revelation, and spirit whispering have not turned out the way they were supposed to turn out. Then we start rationalizing. "The answer was No. His ways are not our ways. In His time, not ours." Do we twist answers to make them fit what we desire? Are we programmed and conditioned to practice self-deception? Are we letting emotion override reason because we '"feel good about it"? Do we emphasize magical thinking? Do we let testimony trump multiple lines of scientific evidence and fact? Who can tell which experiences are externally valid, and which are within our own brains?"

Special witnesses of Christ

We've all heard that one of the important reasons that we have a prophet and apostles in modern times (as well as ancient times) is for them to act as a 'special witnesses' of Christ. What does this mean? Many members believe it means that these 15 men may have actually seen Christ or have had some sort of definitive experience that would eliminate any possible doubt as to the validity of God's true church on earth.

We've heard that when missionaries are visited by apostles and they give them the opportunity to ask them any questions, it almost always come up that someone asks the big question 'Have you actually seen Christ?'. The usual response is something vague like 'If I have, it would be too special to talk about'.

A member of my stake presidency was talking to me about Gordon B. Hinckley's interview with Mike Wallace and said that Wallace asked him if he'd ever seen Christ (this may have been off-camera). Hinckley responded that he has not seen Christ. The stake presidency member said that GBH had to say that to Mike Wallace so it wouldn't be paraded around on National TV but that we all know that GBH has seen Christ.

It's obvious that many Latter-day Saints believe that the special witnesses, that we call prophets and apostles, have actually seen Christ. What do the apostles themselves say?

President George Albert Smith

Mar 25, 1950 - President George Albert Smith writes,

I have not seen the Father or the Son, neither have I heard their voices in an audible way, but I have felt their presence and have enjoyed the whispering of the Still Small Voice that comes from them, the result of which has given me a testimony of the truth.

"The Vocation of David Wright: An Essay in Analytic Biography" by Bruce W. Jorgensen in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 11, No. 2 Summer 1978, p. 48-49

Critic's point: George Albert Smith was not just and Apostle when he wrote this, he was Church President, THE PROPHET etc. His testimony as a prophet doesn't really sound like he's a 'special witness'. His testimony is similar to the average member.

Apostle Neal Maxwell and Apostle Dallin Oaks

In an interview with Steve Benson (President Ezra Taft Benson's grandson), Apostle Neal Maxwell and Apostle Dallin Oaks were reportedly asked "What personal spiritual experiences have you had which gave you your testimonies as special witnesses for Christ?"

Per Steve Benson:

In response, Apostle Oaks summoned up memories of his days as a college student at the University of Chicago. Back then, he said, he thought he "knew a lot" about the gospel. He admitted, however, that he had "questions about the Church"—although he did not elaborate for us exactly what they might have been.

Oaks said a local LDS Institute teacher helped him work out the answers.

Apostle Maxwell hearkened back to his days as a boy, when he said he observed his father give a healing "priesthood blessing" to his sister, whom Maxwell thought was dead.

This, brothers and sisters, was the sum total of their answers—answers that I did not need to travel 700 miles to Salt Lake to hear. I could have saved everyone a lot of time and trouble if I had just stayed home, gone to the next fast and testimony meeting at our local ward and listened to regular members bear personal witness to the same kind of experiences.

There was no testimony bearing from these modern-day Peters and Pauls of personal visits, in the Flesh, from the Father or the Son.

There was no telling of any "road to Damascus" story.

There was no recounting of angelic visitations.

There was no description of rushing winds or flames of fire.

In short, there was "no there there."

Reference: http://twincentral.com/site/pages/articles/doctrines/alt/LDS/stevebenson.htm

All the accounts we've ever heard about the prophets and apostles are similar to these. Their testimonies are simply no different than any other member's testimony. There's nothing special or divine in their testimonies that eliminates the room for doubt about the LDS Church being God's one true church on earth. In fact these testimonies, as well as the average members' testimonies, aren't really any different than the testimonies of members of other faiths. To see how average their "special" witness testimonies are, read them here.

Think about how many apostles left the church in the early days. Many left after hearing Martin Harris say publicly that he did not see the plates with his natural eyes but only in a vision or imagination, and the same was true for all the other witnesses. If these 'special witnesses' of Christ really had a special witness then they would not have left the church merely over what Martin Harris said.

Prominent Church members led astray

LDS leader James Strang claimed to be the true prophet that succeeded Joseph after he was killed. Many people followed Strang after he sent a letter claiming he had received a revelation that he should be prophet.

The letter convinced most of Smith's family and several other prominent Mormons that Strang's claims were genuine; John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Hiram Page, John E. Page, William E. McLellin, William Smith, Smith's first wife and widow, Emma Hale Smith, the sisters of Joseph Smith, William Marks, George Miller, and others, including Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy wrote to Reuben Hedlock: "I am satisfied that Joseph appointed J.J. Strang. It is verily so."(ibid) According to William Smith, all of Joseph Smith's family (excepting Hyrum Smith's widow), endorsed Strang. (Palmer, 211)

Here we have all of the living Book of Mormon witness, except Oliver Cowdery, as well as most of Smith's family and several other prominent members of the early LDS church accept Strang's claim of being a prophet by merely reading his letter. How much credibility can we give these people and their testimonies when they accept someone so easily as a prophet who later turns out to be a fraud?

David Whitmer's testimony

After David Whitmer left the church he said "If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to separate myself from among the Latter-day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so should it be done unto them."

(Address to All Believers in Christ, p. 27, 1887).

Critic's point: So which testimony of David Whitmer is wrong?

Martin Harris's testimony

Martin Harris joined the Shakers for about two years. The Shakers had a large number of witnesses who claimed they saw angels and the Roll and Book. There are over a hundred pages of testimony from "Living Witnesses." The evidence seems to show that Martin Harris accepted the Sacred Roll and Book as a divine revelation. Clark Braden stated: "Harris declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon" (The Braden and Kelly Debate, p.173).

Critic's point: So which testimony of Martin Harris is wrong?

References

People of all faiths have similar testimonies of their own religions

Although they might phrase things somewhat differently, people of virtually all faiths, Christian and non-Christian, believe that the church that they belong to is 'correct' and approved of from God. This is especially true of Catholics, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, RLDS (Community of Christ) and other non-protestant religions. Shamans have spiritual experiences and visions, as do Buddhist Monks. Yet all these faiths are mutually exclusive.

Although many protestants do not necessarily believe that their church is absolutely correct and another protestant church is totally wrong e.g. Lutherans are correct and Baptists are wrong, most have a burning testimony of Jesus. However, their perception of God and Jesus is different than the one attributed to Mormonism. They reject the God and Jesus as taught by the LDS faith so their testimony of Deity is different than the LDS member's testimony of the Godhood. Both cannot be correct.

Do we discount the spiritual experiences of others because "Everyone has the light of Christ, which they misinterpret, but we have the fullness of the Spirit"? Is thinking that our spiritual experiences are more valid than others the epitome of arrogance and conceit?

The following are a few accounts of actual 'testimonies' of real people from various religions:

Catholic

From a Catholic forum website, there are numerous examples of people with amazing similarities to LDS testimony accounts. The topic of this thread on the forum was "So why did you convert?" Here are some excerpts of these Catholic conversions:

#6) I also started praying a lot and praying consistently (probably for the first time ever). I realized I couldn't do this on my own, but I recognized the true gravity of this decision, and so I tried to clear my mind of all preconceptions and I honestly prayed (on many occasions over those months) something like this:

"God, if any Christian sect holds truest to your truth, or if somehow they all do, or certain ones do, please show me so I know how to best worship you. I want your Truth—no matter the cost."

And I tried to make sure that I meant it. Each time that I can remember praying that, I got an answer which was along the lines of a "statistical miracle," though not quite as grand as the first, and it always pointed towards Catholicism. I would always feel at peace after this was revealed to me, not because Catholicism is the most comforting choice at a glance (is St Leonard of Port Maurice's (private) revelation, or anything for that matter, more comforting than sola fide?) but because the Truth became clear to me, finally.

#9) This process took two years. We did not easily convert. But we were definitely wooed by God. Both of us, at one point, were spoken to by the Holy Spirit, Who told us, "This is the truth. If you reject it, you are in danger of hellfire. Do you accept My teaching and will you say 'Yes' to the Catholic Church? Or will you reject My teaching?"

We accepted the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and in 2004, we were received into the Catholic Church.

We love being Catholic! Based on history and theology, we believe that the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus Christ founded and intended for human beings to be part of. We believe that Protestant churches have a portion of the Gospel and that Protestants have a hope of heaven through their triune baptism and their invincible ignorance. We pray that the Church might one day be ONE, as Jesus prayed in John 17.

#13) I would describe myself as having been anti-Catholic at times and pretty hostile about the Catholic Church. For reasons that I cannot explain or even begin to explain, I began to feel God calling me to the Catholic faith

#15) Fast forward 5 years later, almost everyday I drive by a Catholic church and over these years thoughts would come to me of, "stop by", "you should be going there", "You are welcome here", etc. For whatever reason, one Sunday morning I got up, got myself and my son dressed, and off we were to the Catholic church down the street from me. It was a beautiful experience and I truly felt that I had "Wandered Home" Hence, my handle.

...I feel that the Holy Spirit truly led me to that Church and I have since turned my heart and mind to the Catholic faith that the Holy Spirit is residing within me like never before, or maybe it always has and I am just knowledgeable of it now. The world truly looks entirely different and my life is fuller and has more direction and meaning.

#26) That night, while I was lying in bed, I heard a Voice and It said "Welcome Home". I know with every fiber of my being that It was the Holy Spirit.

There are many more examples on this Catholic forum, some others of note are #17, 18, 25.

Jehovah's Witness

The Jehovah's Witnesses came to my door one day when I was 15-years-old and I bought their literature and let them come to my home for a weekly "Bible study". One day I read something in their literature that gave me "the burning in the soul" and I immediately "knew" that Jehovah had sent the Jehovah's Witnesses to my door because I had been praying for this moment for years (even though I was only 15). And I became a Jehovah's Witness.

Muslim

I had never in my life heard of The Holy Qur'an. I began to briefly read some pages. While I was reading I knew that what I was reading was true, it was like a slap in the face, a wake up call. The Qur'an is so clear and easy to understand.

http://thepeopleofthebook.org/islam6testimony.html

RLDS (Community of Christ)

I go where I feel God is directing me to go. I go to this church because I feel so lead by the Holy Spirit as supported by the many spiritual experiences, blessings and testimonies that have been a part of my life. I go to this church because based on my background, my study of the scriptures and church history, it makes so much sense to me and brings so much joy to me, that I feel complete. I go to this church because I believe it to have a greater fulness of the gospel than can be found anywhere else without the stain of getting caught up in the trivialities of a few scriptures or the errant teachings of man. I go to this church because of the joy that I feel when I am serving the Lord.

Terry

FLDS

There are many people who have received spiritual witnesses just as many LDS have, for completely different "truths." We were amazed as we read through several testimonies of FLDS folks. They sounded just like they came from LDS testimony meetings, except there were a few things that were different, but the spiritual witnesses were the same. Here is an excerpt of one that is not particularly unique, but you can see the standard LDS pattern in it, except this person had a strong witness from the Holy Ghost that GBH is not a prophet and that James D. Harmston is a prophet. There are many such FLDS testimonies. The LDS witnesses of the Holy Ghost are no more or less correct or compelling that these FLDS testimonies, or the testimonies of born again Christians, or Muslims.

"A wonderful thing happened once we arrived in Manti. I felt all of my misgivings, anxiety, mistrust just melt away as immediately as we arrived here. A calm peacefulness filled me (incidentally, filling the void I'd been trying to fill for five months) and gave me rest from the trials I had suffered through. My great mistrust of my husband (that is, of his knowledge) was replaced with trust and I allowed him to teach me, finally. I forgot all about trying to prove TLC wrong. From that point on, I discovered so much truth! I was like a sponge, soaking it all in. Choosing what to believe was not an issue, the truth just seemed to speak to my soul and I knew it was true. I didn't have an ounce of doubt in my whole body. Every fiber of my being knew and recognized the truth and I only wanted to know more. I believed it with all of my heart. I knew the Holy Ghost was bearing witness of truth and I knew the same would happen concerning the Lord's Servant, James D. Harmston.

And it did. The Holy Ghost bore witness to me that He is indeed the Lord's Servant on earth at this time, He has been divinely appointed to lead and direct the Father's elect at this time. Every time I am in the same room when Jim is teaching, I receive the witness of heaven that he is indeed who he says he is and that what he is teaching is most certainly true. I testify to you that I never had the witness of heaven telling me Gordon B. Hinckley was a true prophet. I have been full of emotion at times and at times, I have been filled with the Spirit of God and I tell you, they are two different things. That is something I didn't know before I came here.

I can and do testify that Jesus is the Christ, that He lives! I have felt the indescribable joy and love that emanates from Him. I know that any man who has been in the presence of the Savior, would declare repentance and baptism to all that would hear him, for the sole purpose of bringing those who are willing into the Savior's presence. I know that Jim is a true prophet, by the witness of heaven burned into my soul and because his works prove it. He spends his life seeking to bring others into the presence of the Savior. Anyone who has truly felt the Savior's love would seek to share it with all who will be worthy to receive it. Jim speaks, teaches, exhorts, and lives his life as one having authority. This truth has been burned into my soul over and over again. I testify to you that Gordon B. Hinckley is leading the LDS church with all of its members in a false hope of Christ. Those LDS members cannot come into the presence of the Savior in this lifetime while they continue to follow a false prophet. GBH does not teach how to come into the presence of the Savior, which requires obedience to ALL the ordinances of the House of the Lord. I know that the fullness of the gospel as restored through Joseph Smith is true with every fiber of my being. I know that the fullness of the gospel is not taught in the LDS church. I know that the ordinances offered in LDS temples have been changed despite Joseph Smith's warning to keep them the same as they ever have been. I know that Joseph Smith taught his people to receive their calling and election ordinances and that these ordinances were to be ratified by the Savior. That can no longer be accomplished in the LDS Church. I know that those who diligently study LDS Church history will find the essentials of the gospel that have been lost. And a diligent study will bring you here, if you desire truth. The truth is here and the Spirit of God will back it up."

Hindu

From an LDS member:

The Mormons resort to asking you to pray about the truthfulness of the church. I had several people that claimed they did the same thing with their church and felt the same feelings we often described for the truthfulness of the church. In fact a friend of mine, without knowing anything about the Mormon Church described the exact feelings we would use as Mormons, only he was given a hug by a supposed reincarnated being from the Hindu religion. He bawled like a baby. How about that, try as I might I could never doctrinally justify God responding to another person with a conflicting message.

Brasilman

American Indian

The Colorado Indians experienced a ... culturally induced delusion when they climbed to a mountaintop to fast until the Great Spirit came to them. Every Indian boy who had to pass through this rite of puberty wasn't allowed to eat anything until he reported that the Great Spirit spoke to him. Every young man in the tribe actually hallucinated hearing and seeing the Great Spirit. But his hallucinations were not psychotic; it was simply something that the whole culture believed in to the point of mass delusion.
From Letting Go by Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, p. 73

See also Vision Quests

An Untestimony

I believe that God or nature gave us brains to use and that the use of them will help us to survive. If God gave us the ability to reason, it should not be wasted. Now saying that, do you believe in revelation? If you believe in revelation and that a believing member of the church will get an answer from God when a sincere question is asked, then what do you make of the following? This is my personal story of revelation:

In August 2003 my father died. This was very hard on me and on my family and was completely out of the blue. My brother and sister had come into town to visit and we all had lunch together and that night he died. While my brother and I were cleaning out his house and getting ready to move my mother to live with my sister, I found a book entitled Freemasonry and Mormonism. This book was the start of my realization that the church was a fraud. It was written by a Mormon apologist and was the worst written book that I had read in a long time. It even had a chapter in it on Navajo religion that was complete and utter bunk. Navajo religion was one of the things I studied for my Masters in Anthropology and I had been a missionary on the Navajo reservation and was fluent in the Navajo language. Reading this book started me on a path of study that lasted 3-4 months. I read 1st century Christian texts, studied Masonry, early church history and theology. This was all during the fall of 2003. During the Christmas season I had a revelatory experience. I now know that at that time I was plagued with a bad case of cognitive dissonance. I had compartmentalized church teachings separate from what I knew as an anthropologist. During this time of study and reflection I also was praying earnestly for an answer to the question of "is the Mormon Church true?" when all the evidence I was reading, from old church and other sources, said it was not.

During this Christmas season as I was reading one evening, alone, at home, I sat and thought. I let reason flow and all of a sudden it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes and I was able to see and to think rationally again. I almost felt like I was sitting beside myself and was able to think rationally once more. This ecstatic experience fostered a sense of peace and comfort, I was no longer confused over my question of the truth of the Mormon Church. I knew and realized that a true Christian religion could not be based on lies and that true Christian leaders would not hide the truth from the membership. I had prayed and had a very distinct answer given to my prayers. The church was not true. There was no stupor of thought. No darkness. I was at peace and knew that the church was not true.

I had a revelatory experience that was greater, that trumped anything I had ever had before. Now I expect you will say that it was Satan deceiving me. But this experience had more of what I was taught was contact by the Holy Ghost than I had ever had before. Why does a True Believing Mormon's testimony trump mine?

Testimony of modern-day, non-LDS scripture

Christopher Marc Nemelka wrote (translated) what he claims is the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, aptly titled, The Sealed Portion. More information is found here: http://marvelousworkandawonder.com/tsp/whatistsp.htm. You can read The Sealed Portion online by clicking on the "Read Now" links from that page.

Here's the testimony of a few of his followers:

(Mrs. Smith's review)

When my husband first read The Sealed Portion, I didn't want to believe it was true. "It can't be right!" I thought. "It can't be! It didn't come from the "proper authority" (The LDS church to which I belonged)!" I was perfectly happy with my beliefs, my church, my family, and my friends. I was about as "Molly Mormon" as they come. I was stricter with my kids than most people in the church I knew—we had home evening, prayed on every meal, and had daily family prayer and family scripture study—reading through the Book of Mormon about 8 times in 8 years (while going from 4 to 7 children). On Sundays, we didn't watch anything but LDS church movies, and didn't let the kids jump on the trampoline, ride bikes, or play with their friends. We attended every single activity and event that the church put on, and would attend all 3 hours of church whenever we traveled. We paid our tithing on every penny that came into our house and attended the temple. We were the "golden LDS family."

I was happy. I wasn't seeking for the truth. I wasn't searching for anything at all—or so I thought.

Books have always played a big part in my life. I grew up loving the library, and reading, and books in general. I had a library of my own of thousands of books. I had been part of many book discussion groups, and been on the local library board. I never imagined one book (THE Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon) would change my life so drastically.

As I began to read the book, I tried to reconcile the real truth with my "old beliefs." I just couldn't do it. It has been said, "Those who do not approach this book with a broken heart and a contrite spirit are not those who are truly searching for the truth, for they believe they already have it."

This fit me to a tee. My flesh fought hard trying to reconcile the "new wine" (the truths of The Sealed Portion) with the "old" (what I'd been taught all my life as a Mormon). Sometimes the truth was hard for me to handle. But as I read Moroni's words, and compared what he said with what the LDS church taught me, the truth stared me back in the face. My heart literally became broken. I regretted being deceived my whole life and not even knowing it. My spirit became contrite. I read the Book of Mormon in the month of December. Then came my moment of "looking at the serpent."

I had told myself my whole life that if I had lived in the time of Moses, that I definitely would have "looked." I would have looked at the staff in order to be healed from the serpent's bites. "How hard could that be?" I thought. So in December of 2005, I began reading The Sealed Portion, with the decision to read the whole thing from front to back. "It's only a book." I thought. "Only a book—words on a page, and I will know. When I finish, I will know whether it is true or not." This time I started with the Book of Lehi. The information stunned me. The truth made so much sense, it was unbelievable.

Needless to say, I found The Sealed Portion to be true. Reading was like being baptized and born again. As the pages of Moroni's words unwound the old beliefs in my brain, I slowly began to be "immersed." I was amazed at what was revealed. Sometimes I was so excited, I just wanted to shout, "The Sealed Portion has been translated! It's really here! This is really it!!"

The atonement of Jesus Christ finally made sense. The meaning of the temple endowment was absolutely incredible. The history of the earth laid out in one fell swoop was remarkable. Christ's visit among the Nephites brought me to tears.

Once I decided to read it front to back, it took me about 2 1/2 weeks to read the whole thing. Before I was even finished, we decided to leave the church. I could not deny the truths taught in the book. I felt like Joseph Smith: "I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it." Leaving the church was a very hard decision for me to make. The church had been my whole life. In fact, I didn't have much of a life outside of the church. But I knew that we couldn't stay. I knew what I had to do to be true to myself.

Needless to say, our friends and family were upset. (That is defiantly an understatement.) No one would read the book though. The phone soon became silent, and pretty much everyone was too scared to even talk to us. A few tried to convince us of our error (I'm sure many thought we were "the very elect being deceived"). We would just smile. It didn't matter what anyone thought or said. We had read the book and we knew it was true. Every fiber of my being knew it was true.

It has been almost 4 years now since I decided to read the book. I am so happy to have found the truth. So very happy that I decided just to read the book. It is THE Sealed Portion, the final testament of Jesus Christ. No man or woman alive can ever convince me otherwise.

(N. Lance "A Friend to all" review)

The LDS faith has been waiting for the fullness of the gospel to be given in its COMPLETE FORM through the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon ever since Joseph Smith, Jr. translated the UNsealed portion. Much like Moses having to give the lower law (Ten Commandments) to the Israelites unprepared minds, the early LDS church was withheld from the fullness of the sealed portion. (Do you give a child meat before milk?) The further light and knowledge of the Father is now available to those who will prepare themselves with a broken heart and contrite spirit. The sealed portion is the pure living water of the gospel unpolluted with the doctrines of men. It made me feel as Lehi did in the vision of the Tree of Life partaking of the delicious fruit as I read. Though the truth may be hard at times, those who drink from this fountain, will never thirst and their joy will be eternal.

The yoke of Christ is light and exhilarating. Many of the LDS (at all levels of membership) are burdened with so many things in their lives trying to perfect themselves showing the heavy yoke they bear. I was one of them thinking I had no further to look for truth (although I had those little questions no one could answer that I filed away with not knowing till Christ comes again) and figuring I had the MOST truth there was to gain in this life regardless). After reading the sealed portion, they were all answered PLAIN AND SIMPLE and many more mysteries I hadn't even considered. It filled me with peace, hope and above all CHARITY for my fellowmen (not just church members)! One must prepare themselves for this book mentally and humble themselves before God. Do not let your fear or pride hold you from accepting the possibility that the church Joseph Smith started may have become polluted by the precepts of men unknowingly. Has the Lord ever called a man to call the church to repentance that was "authorized" by the church? (Samuel the Lamanite, Alma, Moses, JESUS, etc.) Then why would we think it is not possible that God, all powerful that He is, could not choose one outside of the Presidency of the LDS church to give the sealed portion? (The Lord promised the "GOSPEL" would never be taken from the earth again NOT the "CHURCH"- two completely different terms that LDS seem to confuse as one).

The LDS church is repeating the history of the Jewish Church when Christ was among them. We stumble from the many "laws" of the CHURCH to blind us from accepting the simple message of CHRIST. (Read the UNsealed portion first with this in mind and you will see how clearly Moroni was speaking to us in these latter days- why he quotes Isaiah so much... the Book of Mormon was meant for our times- liken the scriptures unto yourselves). Then if your heart is broken in humility and your spirit is contrite like a little child you can let the Spirit of God fill your soul as you read of the brother of Jared's vision from before the creation beyond the end of this mortality. This book only showed me how merciful and loving our Heavenly Father is unto all His children. Do not fear the truth, for it will set you free. Do not fear men (or leaders or prophets) more than God! If you do, then you have no business reading the sealed portion yet. Come back when you are seeking for REAL TRUTH and are ready to FEAST on the words of Christ! =-) XO Natalee

(Carolyn Smith's review)

I know this is True! It brings peace and connection with Jesus Christ. I knew much of this material before I even read the book. I was searching for Truth, and here it is organized. I had gotten myself excommunicated from the Mormon Church, because I had found James Strang (Yale University has Joseph's signed statement in its archives) was to take Joseph Smith's place until Joseph's son was of age, not Brigham Young. Brigham was mean to some of the wives he took that he was not supposed to have. But Joseph was a Grail Lineage Prophet. I am a direct descendant. I'm glad he had more than one wife or I would not have been born. However, I do not want to share my High Priest with another woman. That was the issue I was struggling with when I found the Truth of Father's Plan explained clearly here. I have suffered through that personally. Now I know the man on the "white horse" who persecutes the remnant is also the "Angel from the Bottomless Pit" who wants to grab the child,"Rod", as soon as he is born. It is an archetype.

I am a mother, one of many who is called to raise my son, one of the "Golden Race". They, like Joseph Smith and Mohammad are bringers of Light(evolution) to this planet. The man who I love, my son's father, was a Son of God,a fallen angel, of the"Great White Race". We have suffered much because of how he uses his free agency. When I met Christopher N., he said, "You are the fourth woman I've met who thinks she is a reincarnation of Mary Magdalene". Now I understand. I follow an archetype. I am a High Priestess, as symbolized in Virgin & Unicorn(Scott Clan) portraits. I am waiting for my High Priest-Bridegroom of the Aaronic(Bishop)Israelite Lineage to fight his dragon, forest, Nemean lion- whichever legend is considered. I know there are others like me out there. Carolyn Smith-peace&love&stay positive!

Study of Spiritual Experiences Among Faiths

This study on spiritual experiences among various faiths is very telling:

http://www.theamateurthinker.com/2011/02/how-can-we-find-truth-part-4/

Basically it has spiritual experiences dictated and one is supposed to be able to match the religion with the experience. You honestly cannot tell the difference.You read each experience and think - that happened to me as a Mormon - that happened to me as a Protestant, etc.

Here's the test:

A Short Experiment – Comparing Descriptions of Spiritual Feelings from Different Religions

It is interesting to read people’s personal descriptions of religious experience. People from very different religions often use similar words to describe their spiritual experiences.

I’ve collected a sample of people’s descriptions of religious conversion or spiritual revelation. The following twenty quotes are from practicing Atheists, Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, New Agers, Protestants, and Universal Unitarians. Try to guess which quote comes from which religion (some religions are used more than once). I have standardized the language (changes indicated by brackets ), so that differences in terminology between religions will not tip you off (thus, mosque, temple and church are all become a [church]; the Bible and all other religious texts become a [text] or [sacred text]).

Try to match these 8 religions to the following 20 quotes. The answer key is below:

    Atheist
    Buddhist
    Catholic
    Hindu
    Islam
    Mormon
    New Age
    Protestant
    Universal Unitarian

1. “I felt a burning in my heart, and a great burden seemed to have left me.”

2. “But what can I say? How can I describe an experience so profound and so beautiful? Shall I say that it was the most blessed experience of my life? Shall I say that [God] touched my heart and gave me a feeling of peace I had not known before? Shall I describe the tears that flowed freely from my eyes, affirming my . . . faith, as I . . . beg[ed] [God's] blessings for myself and for those I love?”

3. “The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.”

4. “As I read these books in a . . . bookstore, . . . I felt a burning in my heart that I should come and investigate.”

5. “[Even as a child], [w]ithout understanding much about the complex [doctrine] . . . he was attracted to [church]. There he often felt a strong feeling of peace flowing through his body.”

6. “I was praying . . . when I felt a burning shaft of . . . love come through my head and into my heart.”

7. “I truly [sic] wanted to know [the truth]. After a few weeks, I stumbled onto [texts] which . . . answered my questions in a way that I had not heard of before. I read everything . . .and I even tried the experiment of asking [God] for . . . his divine love. After about 6 weeks, I felt a burning in my chest and a sensation that was unlike anything I had ever felt. It was pure happiness and peace. I knew then that [God] had sent His love to me.”

8. “A feeling of peace and certitude would tell me when I had found the answers and often after people would help me by pointing in the right direction.”

9. “We gave up a lot of things. What did I get in return? I received a feeling of peace, hope and security. I no longer lay awake at night worrying. I stopped cussing. I became much more honest in all aspects of my life. [God] has changed my heart and my life. My husband’s heart is changing also. We pray all the time and really feel [God’s] presence in our marriage. My perspective has changed. My view of life has changed about what is truly important.”

10. “Many women described a feeling of euphoria after they committed to following [God] . . . . One woman described a feeling of peace; she said: ‘It is like you are born again and you can start all over again, free from sin.’”

11. “A feeling of peace seemed to flow into me with a sense of togetherness . . . . . I felt very peaceful from inside and also felt [warmth] . . . .”

12. “I felt a burning sensation in my heart.”

13. “That inner light, that we all have or had at some time in our existence, was nearly burnt out for me. But in the [church] . . . I found a feeling of peace, inner solitude and quietness that I’d also found in reading the [text] and pondering over its meaning and trying to practice what it tells us.”

14. “For the first time I not only felt accountable for my past sins but I had to fight back tears. I knew that I had let down [God] [and] my family . . . . However, I also knew I was forgiven! [It] gave me a feeling of peace that I have never felt it in my whole life. I felt like I had a huge weight lifted off of me and that I was finally home and free . . . . I felt like a new person.”

15. “Every time I am there [at the church building], a feeling of peace overcomes me.”

16. “Every time I was with the [church members], I felt this warm feeling, a feeling of peace and for the first time in my life since my church-going days, I wanted to follow [God] . . . .”

17. “About 10 years ago, when Jenny and I decided to start a family, we began looking for a spiritual community for our kids. During my first service at [the church]. . . I was hooked. I recall the feeling of peace that I felt when I was attending [services].”

18. “The power of [God] came into me then. I had this warm and overwhelming feeling of peace and security. It’s hard to explain. I had to . . . stop myself from falling backward.”

19. “[The religious leader] looked into my eyes deeply for a moment, and I experienced a feeling of peace and love unlike anything I had ever experienced before.”

20. “[After praying,] [i]mmediately I was flooded with a deep feeling of peace, comfort, and hope.”

21. “I recently spent an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon. . . . As I sat and gazed upon the surrounding hills gently sloping to an inland sea, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self—an “I” or a “me”—vanished. . . . The experience lasted just a few moments, but returned many times as I gazed out over the land where Jesus is believed to have walked, gathered his apostles, and worked many of his miracles.”

The answers are in the next paragraph. My point here is not to say that any of these people’s experiences are invalid or that they are not valuable, or that religion is bad (I am an active church-goer myself). Nor am I trying to say that this proves any certain religion to be true or false – just that spiritual experiences are a universal human emotion, and that, just like any emotional experience, they are not enough by themselves to be reliable indicators of absolute truth. This is easy to demonstrate using religious experiences, since the claims of most of these religions are contradictory. Thus, if one of the above religions were true in the absolute sense, many or most of the others would be false. Many or most of the above people’s religious experiences, therefore, could not have been reliable indicators of the truth.

Answers: 1. Protestant; 2. Islam; 3. Protestant; 4. Catholic; 5. Hindu; 6. Catholic; 7. New Age; 8. Islam; 9. Protestant; 10. Islam; 11. Hindu; 12. Protestant; 13. Islam; 14. Catholic; 15. Buddhist; 16. Mormon; 17. Universal Unitarian; 18. Catholic; 19. Hindu; 20. Protestant; 21. Atheist

Critic's comment: If members were to take the time to ask believers who’ve experienced Baptist, Pentecostal or Evangelical revivals what they felt, they would recognize the symptoms: heart-warming, mind-stimulating peacefulness and assurance that God loves and gives them truth. Hindus will attest that of the seven chakras the heart and mind centers are designed to follow higher understanding and intuition. Proper use of these chakras will yield intense elation, peace, higher truth and a refined sense of consciousness that only the diligent can achieve. The chakras experience is occasionally head-to-toe sensations and can become a full-time guiding essence if one seeks such constant experience. And so forth and so on with elements of all major religions that believe in spiritualism. There are members of other walks of life that will describe their spiritual renewal with terms reflecting the burning of bosoms and enlightenment of mind to higher states. Are these really inferior to LDS Holy Ghost witnesses? How do you know?

Conclusion

1. I've had spiritual witnesses that my church is true.
2. Since my church is true, all other spiritual experiences that confirm that other churches are true must be wrong since they have differing beliefs.

Other spiritual witnesses

Many faithful LDS have a tendency to turn almost any situation into a spiritual one. If their car breaks down on the way to the temple it shows that the church is true because Satan was trying to thwart their efforts but if it ends up being a smooth trip it shows the truthfulness of the church as God helped them get to the temple. If church membership starts to shrink this shows that the church is true because Satan is working against it but if church membership is growing then the church is true because people are accepting God's true word, etc.

Encounter with Satan

Account from an LDS member:

As a teenager I was terrified of going to bed. One night I had an encounter with Satan. I "wrestled" with Satan and commanded him to leave. I was not asleep. I can remember the touch of the bed, the twist of the sheets, and Satan sitting behind my pillow near the headboard. After Satan kindly left, I got up, turned on the lights, and prayed myself back to sleep.

A few days later I told my dad about my experience and he reassured me that it was real. I took all of this as a sign of my own importance. Being visited by Satan had some serious street cred in my Utah Mormon community. During a seminary testimony meeting, I got up and told the story of my demonic visitation. All the other kids were impressed. I must have a great role in the "last days" for Satan to make a personal appearance, right? Satan wanted me. It was a bizarre way of feeling special.

But at night, feeling special wasn't worth the price of going to bed deeply frightened. I prayed and prayed that God would save me, but the demonic visitations continued. Once, I saw a shadowy figure crouched near my bed. Another time I saw a dark presence surge towards me. My only consolation was that occasionally I would wake up and see fuzzy globs of light floating above me. Angels, I figured. Angels who were protecting me, who were blessing me, who were cleansing my bedroom.

After years of believing, the visions and visitations began to change. I began hallucinating all sorts of weird things. Once, I saw a giant grasshopper dancing near my bedside. Another time I saw a robot sitting on a chair. I saw gummy bears and headless children and preternatural spiders. And even more significant than the encounters themselves was the profound sense of meaningfulness attached to each episode. Yet when I was lucid, I couldn't recall any particular significance. How did these visions fit into my Mormon belief system? What does it mean, God?!

When I realized that I had a sleep disorder—hypnagogic dreams with a side of night terrors—so much of my life finally made sense! I woke up and hallucinated because my brain was still in dream mode. If I had been someone else I might have assumed that I had been abducted by aliens, but since I was a young Mormon girl everything naturally converted into a Mormon spiritual context. And sometimes I worry that if I hadn't ever hallucinated the cartoonish and the chimerical, would I still be getting up and bearing my testimony about my one-on-one with Satan? Now, that's a scary thought.

Learning about my hypnagogic state has not made the hallucinations go away, but it has released me from the superstitious notion that God and the devil are involved. Recently I had a night terror where there was a pop-up turkey timer on my pillow. Call me crazy, but I don't think that it was inspired by God. Now I can wake up with a night terror, see a demonic red hand holding my own, shake my head a few times, roll over and go back to sleep. No big deal. It's a trick of the brain.

Lynne

Critic's point: Other than being deceived herself, Lynne recounted this experience to many audiences as a real 'spiritual' encounter with the other side. So anyone that first heard the story believed it as a real event whereas she admitted later that she was deceived by a psychological phenomenon. And the people that heard her 'testimony' of seeing demonic beings probably passed these false stories on to other people that would believe them as well.

Act of God or coincidence

Account from a former LDS member:

A little background: We recently took a trip to Hawaii, and because I do mostly contract work, I don't receive holiday pay. That's fine, I make up for it with a higher hourly rate, but it can be a nuisance to have an irregularity in your monthly income.

Within a week from returning home, we get a refund check from our homeowners insurance for almost the exact amount of money that I forfeited by going on vacation. We had no idea about the refund and we were surprised, pleasantly, by the money. All of this in spite of the fact that I didn't get on my knees and pray for the lord to assist us with our finances, nor have I paid any tithing in the past 10 years, so it cannot be attributed to the blessings of tithing.

This is not the first time this has happened. My wife reminded me of the first trip that we took together when we were dating. Both of us were just starting out in our careers, we were at the bottom of the salary ladder and therefore every penny counted. Undoubtedly, I went over budget during the trip and lamented the fact that I might have to ask my active LDS mom to float me financially until payday. The day I arrived home from our trip, I found a check in the mail from the electric company for a refund of a few hundred dollars, thus saving me from having to ask someone for assistance. Again, all of this without praying for help or paying tithing.

My point is that there are many occurrences in my life that I regard as coincidence or random. If these same things had happened to a true-believing-member of the LDS Church, they would undoubtedly be spouting off about the blessings of paying tithing or the truthfulness of answered prayer. LDS often bend over backwards to make every good thing in their life a sign of God, and every bad thing in their life a sign of Satan. They never stop to think that maybe there are no signs or that maybe there is such a thing as coincidence.

When things work out well for THEM, it is because they paid their tithing, prayed to God, heeded counsel of General Authorities - or were otherwise "righteous" as defined by the church. When things work out well for ME (evil atheist) it is just a coincidence.

Amazing spiritual expereince from an RLDS member

Spiritual Experience from an RLDS (Community of Christ) member

Comment: I have asked Terry about his experience many times. He definitely believes it was a real event. I can only say that if I had this kind of vision while at the pulpit of the RLDS Church, I would likely firmly believe that the RLDS Church was true.

Editor's comments: We personally have noticed many people in our wards and within our families that claim the 'spirit' helped them with everything from finding car keys to saving their life. The vast majority of these are not truly that phenomenal of events and completely explainable. They only attribute them as a 'spiritual' experience because they are LDS. We just have to wonder if that's really the case then why God would help some LDS kid find a lost toy and ignore the thousands of people starving to death or dying from diseases in third-world countries?

What about spiritual witnesses that defy explanation?

Although the vast majority of spiritual experiences that happen to LDS people are explainable by coincidence, natural occurrences, scientific reasoning and many other factors, there are some experiences that seem to defy explanation. We've known many LDS that are absolutely adamant that they experienced some sort of spiritual experience that is beyond earthly explanation. One of these people happens to be my wife.

These would include visitations of people that died, ministering of angels, direct answers to prayers in ways that are incalculable. Although there may in fact be extraordinary explanations like sleep paralysis, hallucinations, brain disorders, etc, we accept that there may be things that have happened to humans that truly defy all earthly explanation.

However, whatever these true spiritual experiences are, they happen to people of all faiths - for example Catholics see the Virgin Mary. To them of course it's evidence that their faith is correct. People reportedly see spirits and ghosts all the time. There are even several television shows that are dedicated to examining these encounters.

If you read articles from the Reader's Digest and Guidepost you will find amazing, uplifting, true stories of people who had amazing spiritual experiences. But the interesting thing is that the vast majority of them are not LDS. So the LDS people, that believe in the truthfulness of the LDS Church because of some remarkable spiritual experience they had, may be interpreting that experience incorrectly. It may have nothing to do with the truthfulness of the LDS Church if people outside the LDS faith receive similar, unexplainable spiritual experiences.

Here's an interesting article that discusses how 'spiritual experiences' can be reproduced in the laboratory:

Holy Visions: Mystical Experience or Brain Malfunction?

The power of discernment

Bishops and stake presidents and other leaders of the church reportedly have the gift of discernment so they can see if someone is lying or not really worthy to hold a given calling. We question this ability.

Several bishops have told us that they rely on conventional methods such as body language and hearsay to prompt the person being interviewed to give further information to the church leader.

Also, many people have bluntly admitted that they were 'unworthy' to enter the temple but their misrepresentations to the bishop and stake president, as well as to the temple officiators went unchallenged. In short, we haven't seen any real instances of actual discernment coming from heaven to help our leaders discern the truth.

In fact several people have smuggled tape recorders into the temple and made tape recordings of the entire temple ceremony that are available on the Internet. Surely God would have prompted the righteous temple workers to discover the nefarious intentions of these men but they didn't. Nor did God alert the bishop and stake president when these people had their temple recommend interview. An infamous recording was made in the Los Angeles Temple. A former Mormon made this recording after he was excommunicated! At no time during the process of entering the temple and making the recording did ANY members of the LDS church show that they were aware that an "apostate" of the LDS faith was in their very temple. This recording was later used to aid Chuck Sackett in the writing of What's Going On In there?

http://archive.org/download/LdsTempleEndowmentCeremony1984/1984temple.mp3 - 1984 audio version.

http://archive.org/download/LdsTempleEndowmentCeremony1990/1990temple.mp3 - 1990 audio version.

In 2012 a man brought in a hidden camera and filmed a temple session and posted it to youtube for anyone to look at - as of {4/17/2013} it is still on the Internet. Here is a copy at archive.org. Here are his words:

I made this video and all of the other ones on YouTube channel "NewNameNoah". When I attend the temples to film, I intentionally give all of the temple workers sense of instinct and powers of discernment an advantage.

I will almost always carry a Paul H. Dunn book with me, even into the endowment. I will use names like "Mark Hofmann" and "Noah Buildaboat."

I never get so much as a raises eyebrow.

I have stood in prayer circles and acted as a witness in the Baptistry and have done Washings & Anointings, all while filming with a hidden camera and often while chit chatting with anyone who seemed willing to talk.

I get nothing.

I've even chatted with Church Security guys WHILE manning the recommend desk in the SALT LAKE TEMPLE (and keep in mind, I am listed as the #1 "security risk" in every temple in Utah. They have my photo on page one of their security books.

Nothing.

If Elohim exists, he remains mute when I am in the temples. Either that or those who work in the temples are not worthy to hear the whisperings of the spirit.

Or both.

Here's a true account of five people that went to the temple together who were definitely not faithful members. http://packham.n4m.org/templex.htm

Perhaps the bishop's power of discernment is stated as a psychological method to try to get people to act more honorably and to think they can't get away with something instead of it being a real, actual priesthood power.

Mark Hofmann and the Forgeries

By Ken Clark.

Most Mormons were at first elated then troubled by the documents that Mark Hofmann, forger extraordinaire began marching through the First Presidency's office in the mid 1980's. Members first thought that the documents would prove beyond all doubt that Joseph Smith was a true prophet; the version of history taught by the church would be vindicated and the church would be proved to be the only true church on earth. It became clear that the message from the documents was that Joseph and others were superstitious and prone to "see" heavenly beings when convenient. It was embarrassing.

When the Salamander Letter was published (a forged document claiming that a white salamander gave revelations to Joseph instead of the angel Moroni), CES began to churn out all kinds of defensive statements and a packet of material to provide some damage control. I still have it in my files. The CES information indicated that sometimes a spirit was referred to as a toad or salamander. It admitted that Joseph had been prone to some superstitious practices in his younger days. Though Joseph had dabbled in the occult when younger, he undoubtedly saw God and the Son just like he said, the printed material insisted.

President Kimball posed for a now-famous Church News photograph holding a magnifying glass over a forged document he thought was authentic, with Mark Hofmann (liar and forger) standing next to him-arm around his shoulders. It was not encouraging to learn that the Lord's prophet, who supposedly held all the keys of the dispensation, including the keys of discernment had been duped. He and all the other apostles didn't have a clue that Hofmann was a liar and murderer. Despite all the stories I had repeated in seminary to the kids about the all-knowing power of discernment the prophets possessed, it turned out that they were fooled as easily as anyone else. In their eagerness to suppress documents embarrassing to the church, they had shelled out over $900,000 worth of rare church antiquities and cash to Hofmann.

I read books about the Hofmann affair-4 of them. Except for the one by Richard Turley where his purpose for writing was to exonerate the general authorities at all costs, the other 3 admitted that the leaders had been tricked, had been tried to suppress information from members if it was unfavorable, and perhaps obstructed justice. The authorities looked even more like old, incompetent, paranoid men when Turley's book revealed that the First Presidency's vault contained the famous McLellin papers that Hofmann had promised to produce. The Mormon leaders had no idea the documents were there-since 1908. When they were discovered in 1986, they told no one for six years, though that information would have been helpful for law enforcement. If after finding them they admitted that the collection had been there all the time it would have proven critics right who accused them of covering up information. They decided to stay tight lipped instead of turning over the documents to the police who needed them to make the charges stick against Hofmann. It was another example of cover-ups, deceit and getting caught red handed. Because the church advocates "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law" (12th Article of Faith), it was embarrassing to be a member and learn how they conducted themselves.

It made me angrier when Dallin Oaks, through self righteous posturing took the press to task for accusing the church leaders of shoddy conduct. He deliberately tried to deceive the public into believing that his error filled tirade was accurate and that the church had been a victim of unfair publicity. Facts plainly pointed to a different conclusion. I lost more respect for the church's leaders. They appeared to be just like a guilty politician when caught in a scandal-resort to lying and claim that the media is to blame for his/her troubles.

I spoke to a CES colleague about the Hofmann affair after he was sentenced to life in prison. I asked him how he felt about the church's conduct and the fact that the leaders seemed to be no more inspired than the average Joe on the street. He went to great lengths to defend the leaders. After all, they were gentle and trusting men who took people at their word in good faith, he insisted. Because the colleague was my boss I didn't challenge him. But it was obvious to me that when it suited them the Mormons regaled each other with stories about the God-given power of discernment prophets possess. Now when it was obvious that they were simply old white gentlemen who had been duped, they were extra gentle and compassionate, but not incompetent.

Ken Clark

http://www.exmormon.org/whylft149.htm

Critic's comment: Where was their Power of Discernment? Even the Tanners, which were considered some of the biggest enemies of the Church, said that the documents were likely fakes but the Church bought them anyway.

Some LDS speculate that the Church bought them knowing that they were fakes but better to keep them out of critic's hands. That makes no sense. It would have been much more powerful for the LDS Church to declare them fakes and have experts verify that. But this story makes it obvious that the top leaders have no real power of discernment.

If they want to admit they made a mistake then fine but whenever someone tries to hide the truth there are always consequences to deception.

Even worse is when Apostle Dallin Oaks tries to validate that the document didn't really alter the Church's foundational claims by saying that the 'salamander' mentioned in Hofmann's document could be interpreted as a 'mythical being thought to be able to live in fire' (even though Hofmann said he substituted the word salamander for toad from another early church document which clearly shows that the context of salamander was a small lizard and not some off-the-wall 'mythical being' obscure definition of the word salamander). Amazing that an apostle would bend over backwards to try to justify a document to prevent it from harming people's testimonies - and then to find out that the document he was making excuses for was a complete forgery!

References

Patriarchal Blessings

Patriarchal blessings are often cited as special, very real spiritual witnesses given to members from deity through patriarchs. Many members take these very seriously and often say how inspired the patriarch must have been to have provided the unique and applicable blessing to the recipient. The calling of patriarch is often cited as one of the most difficult callings in the church and only given to the most spiritual of men. It's interesting to note that in the early days of the Church, the church members had to pay the Patriarch (Joseph's father was the first patriarch) for their blessing.

The interview process.

The patriarch will interview the recipient of the blessing prior to providing one. Why is this necessary? During the interview he will ask you many details of your life - your schooling, profession, marital status, hopes, dreams, testimony, etc. Is it just a coincidence that many of these things you tell the patriarch end up in some form in the blessing? If he was truly getting the information from 'the spirit' then he would not need to 'pump' you for information before-hand.

I received my patriarchal blessing while attending BYU. He asked me many questions about my schooling and what I plan to do with my career. My PB stated many things all involving attributes of my chosen profession that I told him about and nothing at all that was unique to me. Everything else was pretty generic and could have applied to anyone despite it being a very long blessing - two full pages. Also he got my father's name wrong. I think a truly inspired patriarch would have gotten my dad's name correct regardless of what he thought he heard either when he gave the blessing or when it was transcribed afterwards and mailed to me.

Disclaimers

Many recipients of patriarchal blessings say that the patriarchs give so many disclaimers as to render the blessing useless. Disclaimers such as, he makes mistakes which can be corrected when proofreading the typed version, so if something gets added or left out in the written version as different from the verbal blessing, it is by his inspiration. Sometimes there are typos. Sometimes it is him speaking as a man. Sometimes things don't turn out as in the blessing because God changes his plan for us, etc.

Training of Patriarchs

A member writes: I served a mission in England . I was once eating dinner at a patriarch's house. He told me that he was petrified when he was called to be patriarch back in the early sixties. Right after he was called, he and a bunch of other patriarchs met at a stake center where an apostle was waiting to train them. He said that all the training amounted to was about five hours of looking through piles and piles of old blessings. There was hardly any real training at all besides reading blessings that were hand picked by the church as good examples for the patriarchs to model future blessings on.

The tribe

An unusual part of the blessing is naming what tribe you're from. We don't really know the significance of this. Almost everyone is from the tribe of Ephraim. Since members of the same family can be from different tribes, it doesn't seem to be a biological tribe but some sort of spiritual tribe. However, this article from the Ensign specifically states:

Your lineage is a "blood relationship." That makes you literally "children of the prophets" with a noble birthright. That is why we often say that you are "youth of the noble birthright" and belong to a royal, "chosen generation."

Julie Beck, "You Have a Noble Birthright," General Conference, April 2006. http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/04/you-have-a-noble-birthright

Blessings that don't come true.

Whenever someone's PB doesn't come true, everyone always says either it can still come true in the next life or perhaps you were not worthy enough as usually there's a statement at the end about these blessings being predicated on the subject's worthiness. However there are some blessings that cannot be explained away so easily.

Blessing given by Joseph Smith Jr.

The following blessings, by the spirit of prophecy, were pronounced by Joseph Smith, Jr...These blessings were given by vision and the spirit of prophecy, on the 18th of December, 1833, and written by my own hand at the time; and I know them to be correct and according to the mind of the Lord...Thus spake the Seer, and these are the words which fell from his lips while the visions of the Almighty were open to his view, saying:

...Blessed of the Lord is my brother Hyrum...he shall be a shaft in the hand of God to execute judgment upon his enemies: and he shall be hid by the hand of the Lord that none of his secret parts shall be discovered by his enemies, unto his hurt...his acquaintance shall be among kings, and he shall be sought for that he may sit in council, by nations and kings that are afar off...Behold he shall be blessed with an abundance of riches of the earth: gold, silver, and treasures of precious stones, of diamonds and platina. His chariots shall be numerous, and his cattle shall multiply abundantly: horses, mules, asses, camels, dromedaries, and swift beasts...

Blessing, JS to Joseph Smith Sr., Kirtland, OH, ca. Sept. 1835; handwriting of Oliver Cowdery; in Patriarchal Blessing Book 1, pp. 8–9; CHL. (click to page two to see Hyrum's blessing)

Critic's point: Hyrum never experienced any of these things in his relatively short life.

Another example of a Patriarchal Blessing that didn't come true

'[Oliver B.] Huntington received a blessing from his father, William, on 7 December 1836. As recorded in the Patriarchal Blessing Book, the text reads: 'I lay my hands on thee & bless thee with a father's blessing. Thou shalt be called to preach the gospel to this generation. Before thou art twenty one thou wilt be called to preach the fullness of the gospel, thou shalt have power with God even to translate thyself to Heaven, & preach to the inhabitants of the Moon or planets, if it shall be expedient, if thou art faithful all these blessings will be given thee . . . .' (The Word of God, pp. 209-10, Dan Vogel)

Critic's point: Obviously there was no way that Brother Huntington could have preached to the inhabitants of the Moon.

Forcing blessings to come true

Faithful members will often try to interpret any blessing as coming true. It's like the six degrees to Kevin Bacon method. An example comes from apostle James E. Faust talk 'Priesthood Blessings':

Elder John A. Widtsoe said: "It should always be kept in mind that the realization of the promises made may come in this or the future life. Men have stumbled at times because promised blessings have not occurred in this life. They have failed to remember that, in the gospel, life with all its activities continues forever and that the labors of earth may be continued in heaven. Besides, the Giver of the blessings, the Lord, reserves the right to have them become active in our lives, as suits His divine purpose. We and our blessings are in the hands of the Lord. But, there is the general testimony that when the gospel law has been obeyed, the promised blessings have been realized."

This was well illustrated in my father's patriarchal blessing. He was told in his blessing that he would be blessed with "many beautiful daughters." He and my mother became the parents of five sons. No daughters were born to them, but they treated the wives of their sons as daughters. Some years ago when we had a family gathering, I saw my father's daughters-in-law, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters moving about, tending to the food and ministering to the young children and the elderly, and the realization came to me that Father's blessing literally had been fulfilled. He has indeed many beautiful daughters. The patriarch who gave my father his blessing had spiritual vision to see beyond this life. The dividing line between time and eternity disappeared.

Critic's comment: With that kind of free latitude that members give to Patriarchs, they can interpret virtually any blessing as coming true - which makes the blessings of no real value.

Can patriarchal blessings be harmful to people?

Excerpt from former members:

I hate my patriarchal blessing. It has practically ruined my life. I tried to follow it to the letter and none of the stuff ever happened!!! I totally limited my options in life to make it "come true". Now that I am "out" ( only a few months, now) I can see how my husband and I both tried so hard to make our blessings "come true" that we made very bad decisions—like having too many kids, or getting crappy degrees in school that we thought would help fulfill the blessings.

One line in mine said "In the early years of your marriage your husband will be away receiving training and schooling." —We waited for that to happen. We tried to make it happen ( "hey, honey, why don't you go get a Masters degree at night, or go to some conferences for work, out of town?") to try to help the blessing along. Nothing ever happened. He was never "away from me" for more than a night and never for training or schooling. Finally, we hit our 10 year anniversary and I said, "Well, I guess the early years of our marriage are officially over."- He was really worried I'd think I married the wrong guy!!! It was soon after that we "found out" it was all a ruse. It explained a lot.

One more thing: A lady in my ward lost her son this year. I think he was 14. He had just gotten his blessing that month! And it was all like " you will go on a mission, marry in the temple etc..". Then HE DIED! I AM NOT JOKING! And what did the family say? Did they even think for a moment "Hey, Something's not right?" No!! They said "Well, we understand that all that stuff doesn't have to happen here (on this earth)."

Perhaps it was best for them to keep that faith in such an awful situation but it's further evidence that some patriarchal blessings cannot be fulfilled as promised.

The lack of real meaning in a patriarchal blessing

We've often wondered why our blessings didn't include more counsel or reveal anything that any of us could really grab onto and help us in our lives. Many of us unjustly blamed ourselves for perhaps not being worthy enough to receive special counsel; that maybe we got ours when we were unprepared. The singular chance at such a blessing becomes quite the burden when you are faced with these doubts.

Many of us have reflected on our patriarchal blessing many, many times. Most blessings are rather vague and provide precious little counsel. So ultimately what practical purpose do they serve?

None of the critics that we talked to had any mention in their patriarchal blessings of having to deal with 'faith-challenging' issues in church. Perhaps a few simple statements like that would have kept them from becoming critics of the church.

There was a study on PBs published it in Dialogue in the late 1990s. It indicated that during certain time periods in church history certain themes (like the Second Coming) were emphasized in public discourse and by coincidence, these same themes popped up in patriarchal blessings. We haven't found the article yet but if anyone finds it, please let us know.

The Amazing Randi

The Amazing Randi is a famous magician that also spends his time exposing charlatans and psychics. He particularly goes after those that try to defraud people out of their money using magician's tricks and other deceptive practices. The following story illustrates this:

Randi had a psychic look at a group of about 30 college students and write up some characteristics unique to each person much like a palm reader would do. Randi distributed each person's 'psychic reading' to them. He then asked how many people thought the psychic accurately described each person. Virtually every hand went up. Each person was amazed at how accurately their reading was. They could not understand how this psychic could have 'read' them each so well when he didn't know any of them.

Then Randi had everyone pass their individual psychic reading to the person behind them. The students were shocked. Everyone had the exact same psychic reading. The phony psychic used generic, nonspecific platitudes that most people can identify with such as 'people don't understand me', 'I don't really know what I want to do with my life', 'I am more creative than I let on', etc.

This reminded us very much of patriarchal blessings. Except for the parts that the blesser obtains from the blessee in the interview before he gives the blessing, most people's blessings could apply to anyone. Most are so vague and full of platitudes that anyone could really be just as 'blessed' with another person's blessing if they traded theirs for someone else's blessing or if the patriarch accidentally gave a blessing meant for one person to another person.

Critic's website: http://www.salamandersociety.com/blessing/

Priesthood blessings

Statistically, the death rate from car accidents in Utah is the same as across the nation. Statistically, the death rate of terminal cases in Utah is also the same as the rest of the nation. With all the priesthood blessings being given in Utah, why don't we see a statistical difference?

Are there other logical reasons why people would be healed? Time? Immune system finally kicks in? Medical and health care? Placebo effect? Body-brain connection?

A healing of a deaf girl sounded like a classic case of auditory malingering. There are many other stories of various kinds of malingering.

James Randi, mentioned above, also tells of healing experiences by Peter Popoff and others, but after the cameras are off, those healed are left writhing in pain. Randi also debunks Sylvia Browne, Allison DuBois, John Edward, and other psychics. His foundation offers "a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event." The million dollars has yet to be claimed. http://www.randi.org

Another favorite debunking site which covers everything from 'the hundredth monkey' to 'remote viewing' and everything in-between http://www.skepdic.com Another great site is skeptoid.com which may have been created by a former LDS. Perhaps we really do need to start thinking more critically.

Examples of priesthood blessings received by faithful members of the LDS Church that are not faith-promoting.

Example 1

...Then a close friend died. He had been a good friend of mine and a member of the Church. I had been his home teacher. I would later learn that I was his best friend. He was a good man with five children whom he loved more than anything else in life. Sure, young fathers die every day and leave wives as widows and children fatherless. I understood that. A belief in the gospel doesn't change the reality of life - it ends and sometimes it ends very awkwardly and untimely.

However his life ended after a priesthood blessing which promised wellness and a speedy return to his earthly family. I was the one who was asked to give the blessing. Reverently, I placed my hands on his head with his bishop and listened for the reassuring voice of the Spirit - that same voice I had come to rely on in blessing my children and wife and knowing if the Church was true. I sat silently as my ill friend gasped for air in his hospital bed. He had survived a heart attack at forty-three. Now he was just waiting for some infection in his lungs to clear so he could go home. Several gasps later, that quiet, powerful and unmistakable voice of the Spirit told me to bless him that he would live and return home to his children. Had it told me otherwise, I was brave enough to have spoken the words of departure. But happily and reassuringly, the Spirit bore witness to me in a gentle, peaceful and undeniable way that he would raise his children and that grandchildren would bounce on his knee. His wife's face reflected that quiet confidence of a woman reassured by priesthood power that her husband and the father of her children would be okay. I left quietly giving thanks that my prayer had been answered.

Five days later I received a call early in the morning, my friend had just died. He would not be going home to his wife and children. What had happened to the promise? Could I really trust my feelings? I had had faith in the voice of the Spirit and had just been an accomplice in the deception of a wife and friend. I could barely find words at his funeral. As I looked into the faces of his widow and his children during the eulogy of my friend, I again felt empty. This family had been forsaken despite an undeniable spiritual promise. I had depended on the SAME undeniable Spirit to witness to me that Joseph Smith had seen Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ; that the Book of Mormon was true; that the Church was true. If it had been wrong about my friend's recovery, could it have been wrong on other 'truths' too? And why did the most spiritual feeling I have had during the last decade occur during the powerful finale of the musical Les Miserables? My heart had burned within me as Jean Valjean sang in a heavenly chorus at the completion of a selfless life spent in the service of others. Jean was a fictional character in a beautiful, yet fictional story. Had my emotions also permitted me to feel that burning in the bosom for other fictional events too?

Author: Skeptical

Example 2

I also started losing faith quickly when I was on my mission involving a blessing. A woman had been in a car accident who was not a member, but she had family members who were. Who better to call and give her a blessing than the Elders in the area. So we went to Grady General in Atlanta. My companion anointed, and I gave the blessing that she would live. Just like you I felt the spirit directing me to say that she would live. She didn't make it through the night. I went home after that from my mission (it was my last area) and I went into a depression. I think that was probably the point where I really started to question things.

Author: Primus

Example 3

I was six weeks away from going home, wrapping up a tough but fulfilling European mission. I was at the top of my game in terms of language ability, relationships with local members, and had a good command of what I was teaching, and felt I was in a good spot spiritually. The mother of a local family...just a beautiful, great family...was ill with breast cancer. If there ever was a saint, she was it. Never a mean word to anyone, very giving and patient, and she fought her illness with dignity and strength.

One day after church, her husband requested of my companion and me to swing by and give her a priesthood blessing. We gladly agreed, went back to our appt, had lunch, and then spent 30 minutes getting in the right frame of mind, taking the request very seriously. We then went to their house and I blessed her with a promise of full recovery, according to her faith. I felt inspired...I felt the spirit, and it was at the time a profound experience. The family was very emotional afterwards, and everyone was gracious and appreciative.

Eight weeks later, she was dead.

When I allow myself to think about this, the memory still haunts me. I'm ashamed that I could pretend to be able to make such promises. And I'm sickened by the idea of leaving her family with the life-long notion that their dear mother and wife didn't have faith sufficient to be healed. I'm sickened by the arrogance of it all. That phrase "...according to your faith..." is nothing new to a TBM, but I chose to invoke it. I'm profoundly sad to this day about that, and only wish that I had had someone in my life to teach me how to communicate with the dying in a dignified manner, but I had no one. I had learned by example to say words of "authority" laced prudently with conditions. If I had a time machine, that's one of three moments in my life that I'd gladly change.

But life goes on. Twenty years later, I lost my sister to cancer, and I can hold my head high knowing that I spoke with her in a real way, with nothing but love, hope, and honesty. And my sister, bless her heart...she the devout Mormon...never took a single moment of her precious remaining time to convince me of the "errors" of my agnostic ways, as some would perhaps feel the inclination to do. I like to believe that with me, she could just BE...just be who she was and just feel what she felt in those last conversations we had, without pretense or judgment. She too was a saint in the best sense of the word.

Author: GQ Cannonball

An honest view of a member's many blessings

I've given many blessings of comfort and guidance to kids, step-kids, friends and neighbors, etc. They were for the most part positive experiences and many told me how "inspired" it felt. I have to honestly acknowledge that I quite frequently had insights about those people come into my mind during the process.

I now realize that these were all people I knew pretty well. I understood some of their struggles, and never proceeded without visiting at least briefly so that I felt I understood what was on their minds and in their hearts at the time. Looking back it's quite obvious that the better I knew them and their situation, the more "inspired" I was. The converse was also true, of course.

What I have since told some who are aware of my change of heart, is that I wish that rather than stand behind them and "pronounce" a blessing as if I really had some sort of special power to do so, I had sat with them where we could look each other in the eye as friends, and listened.

I've found that when I truly listen, people come up with the guidance and solutions that they need on their own. A nudge here, a question there, and pretty soon they get the clarity they need, and I don't have to pretend to have magical access to some god.

The other downside to all of the blessing nonsense that goes on, is that it just fosters co-dependency. Women and girls especially grow up thinking they need the help of a man to fully access their god, and that is truly sad.

Author: Cassidy

Editor comment: We have all witnessed and even given priesthood blessings where someone got better as promised in a blessing. Why did the people get better? We don't know. Maybe the blessings worked, maybe it was God's will, maybe the medical treatments they had healed them or possibly even the placebo effect. If it was someone we cared about the reason probably wouldn't really matter to us.

However, many of use have also witnessed and even given priesthood blessings that did not come true so we can't really say with any certainly that priesthood blessings are truly effective - but they can't hurt - if they are positive in nature. The placebo effect can be very powerful in helping people get better if they think they are suppose to. Conversely, if someone thinks they are going to die and someone gives them a blessing saying as much then the person's will to live can have a powerful effect on their body. So if anyone is asked to give a blessing, and they are comfortable in doing so, it should always be a positive one.

The power of prayer

Many people of all faiths claim prayer has healed the sick and caused other miraculous and unexplainable events. Maybe it has helped, maybe it's coincidence or the placebo effect. Here's an article about scientific testing done in this area. (this is not LDS-focused):

March 31, 2006

Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer

By BENEDICT CAREY

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.

And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.

Because it is the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago and involving more than 1,800 patients, has for years been the subject of speculation.

The question has been a contentious one among researchers. Proponents have argued that prayer is perhaps the most deeply human response to disease, and that it may relieve suffering by some mechanism that is not yet understood. Skeptics have contended that studying prayer is a waste of money and that it presupposes supernatural intervention, putting it by definition beyond the reach of science.

At least 10 studies of the effects of prayer have been carried out in the last six years, with mixed results. The new study was intended to overcome flaws in the earlier investigations. The report was scheduled to appear in The American Heart Journal next week, but the journal's publisher released it online yesterday.

In a hurriedly convened news conference, the study's authors, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, said that the findings were not the last word on the effects of so-called intercessory prayer. But the results, they said, raised questions about how and whether patients should be told that prayers were being offered for them.

"One conclusion from this is that the role of awareness of prayer should be studied further," said Dr. Charles Bethea, a cardiologist at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City and a co-author of the study.

Other experts said the study underscored the question of whether prayer was an appropriate subject for scientific study.

"The problem with studying religion scientifically is that you do violence to the phenomenon by reducing it to basic elements that can be quantified, and that makes for bad science and bad religion," said Dr. Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia and author of a forthcoming book, "Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine."

The study cost $2.4 million, and most of the money came from the John Templeton Foundation, which supports research into spirituality. The government has spent more than $2.3 million on prayer research since 2000.

Dean Marek, a chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a co-author of the report, said the study said nothing about the power of personal prayer or about prayers for family members and friends.

Working in a large medical center like Mayo, Mr. Marek said, "You hear tons of stories about the power of prayer, and I don't doubt them."

In the study, the researchers monitored 1,802 patients at six hospitals who received coronary bypass surgery, in which doctors reroute circulation around a clogged vein or artery.

The patients were broken into three groups. Two were prayed for; the third was not. Half the patients who received the prayers were told that they were being prayed for; half were told that they might or might not receive prayers.

The researchers asked the members of three congregations - St. Paul's Monastery in St. Paul; the Community of Teresian Carmelites in Worcester, Mass.; and Silent Unity, a Missouri prayer ministry near Kansas City - to deliver the prayers, using the patients' first names and the first initials of their last names.

The congregations were told that they could pray in their own ways, but they were instructed to include the phrase, "for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications."

Analyzing complications in the 30 days after the operations, the researchers found no differences between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not.

In another of the study's findings, a significantly higher number of the patients who knew that they were being prayed for - 59 percent - suffered complications, compared with 51 percent of those who were uncertain. The authors left open the possibility that this was a chance finding. But they said that being aware of the strangers' prayers also may have caused some of the patients a kind of performance anxiety.

"It may have made them uncertain, wondering am I so sick they had to call in their prayer team?" Dr. Bethea said.

The study also found that more patients in the uninformed prayer group - 18 percent - suffered major complications, like heart attack or stroke, compared with 13 percent in the group that did not receive prayers. In their report, the researchers suggested that this finding might also be a result of chance.

One reason the study was so widely anticipated was that it was led by Dr. Benson, who in his work has emphasized the soothing power of personal prayer and meditation.

At least one earlier study found lower complication rates in patients who received intercessory prayers; others found no difference. A 1997 study at the University of New Mexico, involving 40 alcoholics in rehabilitation, found that the men and women who knew they were being prayed for actually fared worse.

The new study was rigorously designed to avoid problems like the ones that came up in the earlier studies. But experts said the study could not overcome perhaps the largest obstacle to prayer study: the unknown amount of prayer each person received from friends, families, and congregations around the world who pray daily for the sick and dying.

Bob Barth, the spiritual director of Silent Unity, the Missouri prayer ministry, said the findings would not affect the ministry's mission.

"A person of faith would say that this study is interesting," Mr. Barth said, "but we've been praying a long time and we've seen prayer work, we know it works, and the research on prayer and spirituality is just getting started."

Editor comment: It would be an interesting study if the prayers of different faiths, namely the LDS religion could be tested for effect vs. those of other religions. From personal observation it seems that sometimes prayer in general appears to be beneficial and other times it appears to make no difference at all thus rendering prayer as a hopeful remedy to some affliction but with no guarantee of success. In other words, it can't hurt but don't count on it to really work.

Another study: http://www.ahjonline.com/article/PIIS0002870305006496/abstract

Feelings vs. facts

The basic fallacy of the Book of Mormon promise is that truth can be discerned from a feeling. Where does it say this? It says it in the Book of Mormon. Well if the Book of Mormon isn't true then the promise is meaningless. It also says it in the Doctrine & Covenants but if the BOM isn't true then neither is the D&C. LDS prophets also say that but if the BOM isn't true then they aren't prophets. The Book of Mormon cannot be used to prove itself if it's a work of fiction.

There is circular logic to the spiritual witness paradigm that is accepted in the church. How do you know that the transcendent feeling, that burning in the bosom, that feeling of calm is a witness from God? Because you have been taught that from the scriptures and from the leaders and teachers within the church. How do you know that the leaders and teachers are teaching truth? Because it says so in the scriptures. How do you know the scriptures are true? Because you have received a witness. The circle continues with no foundation.

Members of the LDS Church seem to think that there is this irrevocable law established eons ago that says you can discern the truth by having a good feeling about it. That has never been established. If it was an eternally established principle then we mortals wouldn't be so confused about everything from what religion to join to deciding whether or not someone is guilty of a crime.

The concept of using a feeling to establish whether something is true or false has not been established as reliable. As demonstrated above feelings or 'the spirit' have been wrong many times.

Oscar Wilde is credited with saying "You can't reason a man out of something he didn't reason himself into." We're not entirely sure that is true, but there is little question the religious mind can be tenacious in defending the absurd.

Religion has done well to adopt the warm fuzzy process as a means of overcoming rational thought. Believing the emotional surge we feel within our bosom is the voice of God can be very powerful especially when socially reinforced and the fear of Satan trying to deceive even the very elect.

It is this pernicious warm fuzzy process we choose to be specifically at war with. LDS and other religionists tend to primarily base their religious certainty on one or more of these ecstatic experiences and use them to justify a knee-jerk rejection of any information contrary to their spiritual perceptions. Faith then trumps reason in their minds when reason is in conflict with faith.

The irony of this of course is that faith has a terrible track record when it is in conflict with reason. One person's warm fuzzy confirmation contradicts another person's warm fuzzy confirmation often even within the same religious organization. What size ego does it take to assume, as many LDS do, that their warm fuzzy is the warmest and the fuzziest of any contradicting warm fuzzy; that their confirmation from God, which contradicts literally billions of other extremely sincere confirmations from God, is confirmation of higher otherworld truths than all the rest? "God really does love me the most!"

In addition it is clear from a historical perspective that the LDS warm fuzzy process, even in the experience of church leaders, is extremely faulty; not to mention that most people who actually give credence to the process have made fools out of themselves on numerous occasions when their spiritual insights have proven less than accurate.

All that said, it is our opinion that the battle to free the minds of the religiously entrapped should center at the basis for their religious certainty: the warm fuzzy process itself.

If spiritual knowing is to be given any credence at all it would only be reasonable to expect that when that certainty has been in conflict with science it was spiritual certainty that demonstrated itself to be more accurate than science; that it is science that most frequently bends to meet religious certainty. In point of fact we can't even name one time when religion/Mormonism and science were in contradiction where religion/Mormonism was clearly demonstrated to be correct and science incorrect. There are however countless times where religion/Mormonism has had to bend to overwhelming evidence that science was correct.

It is of course true that science changes and corrects itself frequently, but it is the nature of science to aggressively question and correct itself and it is the nature of science to avoid certainty. Religion embraces certainty, particularly on issues where rational clarity is unlikely, and it not only discourages aggressive questioning, but it often marginalizes, or even punishes, those who do question; they are considered "unfaithful" while those who hold most tenaciously to their unfounded beliefs, without serious questioning, are held in high esteem. The religious thought process is only considered admirable when applied to religion, in all other aspects of our lives we would consider that thought process dysfunctional and yet it is that process that is most responsible for the maintenance of the majority of our religious institutions.

A comment from an ex-Mormon:

After a lot of study and research I determined that it was a fraud. However, I was very conflicted over my "spiritual" experiences. There were many experiences that I considered to be spiritual. These occurred throughout my mission, callings, meetings, bearing of testimony, etc. A couple of years after I had quit believing I attended the retirement ceremony for John Stockton. I'm a big Jazz fan and Stockton was always my favorite player. During the ceremony they played clips from throughout Stockton's career. During this tribute I felt the Spirit as strong as I ever did during my experience in the LDS Church. It was pretty clear to me at that point that what I was feeling was an emotional response that I had been conditioned to believe was the "Spirit."

The most amazing discovery for me since leaving the church, has been realizing that my spirituality hasn't ended. When I was a member of the church, I thought that I had "felt the spirit" many times. You know, that feeling that you get when you're singing the "The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning", or "O My Father"? I still get that feeling quite often, but now I realize it's based on emotion and endorphins. My sense of worship now comes from seeking beauty - something I do actively. The feeling of awe I get when I see the glow of Mt. Rainier at sunset, drive through the Redwoods, or when I listen to someone like Pat Metheny, Sade, or the soundtrack to Les Miserables, is beautiful to me, and is much more fulfilling than the guilt-ridden emotional rush I sought after in the church.

Bottom line is don't ignore the facts. Don't dismiss credible arguments that cast doubt on the church merely by saying you have a testimony. Whether or not your testimony has any validity to it or not, the facts that seem to undermine the very foundation of the LDS Church still need to be reconciled.

Scientific Explanations

People who have more spiritual experiences than others, also have brains that are wired that way. A new study finds that people who have had near-death experiences are generally more likely to have difficulty separating sleep from wakefulness. http://www.livescience.com/health/060411_near_death.html

Psychiatrists see a constant stream of these vagaries of the mind, which may be why psychiatrists rank at the bottom in percentage of believers. When a psychiatrist was asked how to produce hallucinations, he replied, "Fasting and prayer".

One gentleman's description of an encounter with Satan sounded like a classic Sleep Paralysis experience. http://watarts.uwaterloo.ca/~acheyne/S_P.html

In the last couple of decades, great progress has been made in understanding how the brain works, with explosive learning ahead. Highly recommended is a book called "Don't Believe Everything You Think" by Thomas E. Kida. He presents scientific studies in easily understandable language on the unreliability of the human mind, perception, and memory. This is why we have science which is testable, reproducible, quantifiable, peer reviewed, double blind with placebos, and all the other objective checks and balances to limit the vagaries of human perception, wishful thinking, and affirmation bias.

"Science doesn't start with a preconceived notion of what we should believe.it's still the best thing we've got to unravel the mysteries of life." Kida, p 72

"Finally, we have to proportion our belief to the amount of evidence for or against that belief. If the evidence doesn't strongly support a belief, a leap of faith will never establish the belief as true. We simply can't make something true just by believing it." Kida, p 83

We have a right to our own feelings, but we don't have a right to our own facts. Spiritual experiences are not a reliable way of ascertaining truth. An experience within our own brains is not a reality to the rest of the world. We must base our worldview on science and logic, not warm and fuzzy feelings. "The true critical thinker accepts what few people ever accept-that one cannot routinely trust perceptions and memories." -Jim Alcock, "The Belief Engine"

Elevation

An emotion people feel after witnessing something uplifting is called "elevation" and is often equated to a "spiritual" experience. Dr. Patty Van Cappellen (Universtity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and colleagues conducted a study titled "Self-transcendent Positive Emotions Increase Spirituality Through Basic World Assumptions." The abstract from the study:

[W]e investigated whether spirituality may also be triggered by self-transcendent positive emotions, which are elicited by stimuli appraised as demonstrating higher good and beauty. In two studies, elevation and/or admiration were induced using different methods. These emotions were compared to two control groups, a neutral state and a positive emotion (mirth). Self-transcendent positive emotions increased participants' spirituality (Studies 1 and 2), especially for the non-religious participants (Study 1). Two basic world assumptions, i.e., belief in life as meaningful (Study 1) and in the benevolence of others and the world (Study 2) mediated the effect of these emotions on spirituality. Spirituality should be understood not only as a coping strategy, but also as an upward spiraling pathway to and from self-transcendent positive emotions.

Study results (PDF)

Sources

These excellent sites contain scientific explanations for the spiritual experiences that occur within our own brains such as sleep paralysis, night terrors, and near death experiences. Many include additional links.

These are excellent books, particularly the first one:

Waiting for my Testimony - New Era article

In the Church Magazine, The New Era, Feb, 2010, the following story is told:

Waiting for my Testimony

Carolyn LeDuc, “Waiting for My Testimony,” New Era, Feb 2010, pp. 32–33.

The answer to my prayers wasn’t a sudden flash of inspiration. It just took time.

“This time, I’m really going to do it,” I told myself. “This time, I’m going to make it all the way through the Book of Mormon.”

In the past I had read a chapter here, a chapter there, but now I wanted to say I’d read it from cover to cover. “I’ll put Moroni’s promise to the test,” I told myself, eager to get started. “I’ll finally learn whether the Church is true.”

For the next 90 days, I diligently devoured the book’s contents. Exultant with joy as I closed with Moroni’s farewell and amen, I scrambled to my knees.

Brimming with anticipation, I posed my question: Was the Book of Mormon true? As I waited for a response, a cricket chirped. The air conditioner switched on. My watch intrusively ticked off the seconds as they passed. There was no burning bosom sensation, no chorus of angels, no flash of knowing. Nothing.

I was somewhat perplexed. “Do I just need to read the book again?” I thought to myself. “I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

Three months later, again finishing with Moroni’s testimony, I leapt to the floor, doubly sure I’d done my part, doubly sure an answer would come. But my hopes were disappointed when, as before, my inquiry was met with silence. Unsure of what else to do, I got off my knees and started over. Again. But even after a third reading, there came no reply. I was confused. Where was the answer I’d been promised?

Not to be defeated, I picked up my scriptures, now with a fraying front cover, full of red highlighted verses and with random pages beginning to slip from the binding. “Okay,” I said to myself, “once more.”

When at last I finished the book for the fourth time in a 12-month period, I didn’t immediately drop to my knees. I sat for some time, reflecting on the year. Truly, it had been a remarkable period of growth and change. I smiled, noting to myself that it was common these days for me to feel happy.

I thought about friendships I had formed with wonderful peers who strengthened my faith. I thought about how my family relationships had taken a dramatic turn for the better. I hadn’t fought with my siblings in months, and my parents and I seemed to communicate with amazing ease. What’s more, schoolwork seemed less stressful, odd jobs had been available to provide extra income, and even my physical fitness had improved.

But the most significant change had been in my spirit. I now looked forward to attending church, gladly paid tithes, fasted and prayed with much greater faith, and could list many times when the Spirit had prompted me to avoid danger, express kindness, or voice truth.

All told, there was little in my life that wasn’t drastically better now than it had been just 12 months earlier. “That’s so cool!” I said out loud, slipping to my knees.

Bowing my head, I couldn’t even ask the question. “I get it,” I said to the Lord. “I get it. The truth of this book isn’t always manifest in burning bosoms and visions of angels; it’s manifest in the lives of the people who read it and put it to use. I don’t need to ask anymore if this book is true. I experience its truth every day I live its teachings.”

This wasn’t the answer I had anticipated when I first set out to put Moroni’s promise to the test. It was far better. The Lord could have given me a single flash of confirming peace. Instead, He had given me a whole year of it.

Critic's Comment: This story is likely representative of how most LDS members obtain a testimony. She reads the BOM four times in less than a year and she receives no witness whatsoever. She then convinces herself that the BOM must be true because she appears happier now. It is obvious that she made up her mind beforehand that the BOM must be true and she was determined to find some sort of testimony even though the promise of Moroni failed four times.

There are so many things that make a person's life seem happier such as getting into a serious relationship, switching jobs, getting a raise, making new friends, spending money, positive thinking, etc. Ironically, many people have said they have a much happier life after leaving the LDS Church. Living a more joyful life, for whatever reason, does not prove that a book is historical.

She has to make herself believe she has a testimony, otherwise that means the church isn't true which is too difficult for her to accept - it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why did she even bother taking the test FOUR times if she apparently wasn't going to even consider that the answer could be "No"?

Responses to these issues by the LDS church

We regret that we could not find these issues discussed comprehensively in any church publication or website. However, after discussing the issues with several true believers, LDS apologists and recalling how we felt when we believed most strongly in our testimonies, we came up with the following summary that relays what most true-believing members seem to agree with:

I know the Church is true. No amount of supposed damaging historical facts against the Church or psycho-babble will convince me otherwise. The Holy Ghost has borne witness to me that the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith restored the gospel and the Church is currently being lead by a real prophet of God.

Critic's response.

Why should I believe you over others of different faiths that also say that they have received a spiritual witness that their church and teachings are true? Also, I have earnestly prayed about the Book of Mormon and I get the strong impression that it is fiction. Furthermore there is much evidence that challenges the Mormon faith which you completely ignore by crying you have testimony. The many historical problems with the LDS Church do not go away by merely having a 'feeling' that the church is true.

What if all members of every religion said they would ignore any and all evidence in favor of their cherished testimonies of their own religions? In that case perhaps no one would ever leave the Scientologists, Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. Why would prospective LDS converts even entertain questioning their Protestant or Catholic upbringing if they wouldn't even consider that the testimony, that they had of the church they grew up in, was perhaps false?

Critics' Summary

This is how a "testimony" works in Mormonism. You have an experience (subjective) and then you interpret that experience to be proof the church is true. Now it could be a warm feeling or a dream or a "vision." But the experience is never really discussed only the subsequent conclusion that was drawn from it. In fact the two get confused—like when someone says, "I have a testimony, I can never deny that it happened." You don't have to "deny" the experience to look at it with a bit of objectivity and consider possible alternate interpretations.

If spiritual experiences were a good, valid source of truth, it would seem that the BYU science department would be all over the concept, answering all manner of unknown questions with efficiency and accuracy through this tool. Since they do not, it suggests that spiritual experiences are not a statistically valid and repeatable source of truth.

I would submit that your spiritual experiences are not unique to Mormonism, and they are not a source of truth. I also submit that they are also very real experiences which are deeply ingrained in your mind. The challenge is to accept the spiritual and transcendent experiences as wonderful events in your life, but not necessarily indicative of any specific truth or untruth. The only way to do that is to put the Mormon dogma on the shelf and look at those experiences objectively.

Losing a testimony

Isn't a testimony a personal witness that you know something is true? You always hear faithful LDS saying "I know the church is true." If you have studied, prayed, and received a divine witness from God about a deity, why would you worry about losing it? It seems pretty ironclad right? Wrong! According to many LDS it can be lost at the drop of a hat. Here is a short list of the many ways you can lose a divine magical witness from a supreme being:

-skipping a few Sundays at church
-skipping a tithing payment
-reading too much unflattering history of the Church
-not reading your scriptures
-watching an "R" rated movie
-going too far with your girl/boy friend
-swearing
-drinking coffee
-not attending the temple regularly
-not bearing your testimony regularly

and so on and so on...

If merely visiting a so called 'anti-Mormon' website can cause someone to lose their testimony, then how valid of a testimony was it to begin with? How can you have such a supernatural witness and then forget about it? Or was it just a warm fuzzy feeling?

If you take the LDS church's definition of gaining and keeping a testimony, you would have to compare a testimony to a sieve. You are trying to keep the sieve full of water. The water represents various "testimony" building elements like prayer. I think the reason it is so easy to lose a testimony is because they don't really exist.

The spiritual experiences that LDS so often talk about are experienced by non-LDS as well. My Catholic, Protestant and Muslim acquaintances and I all feel them and they're special and good but they don't testify of the truth. Perhaps they're a gift from God to ALL MANKIND or there are reasonable biological explanations for them, however you want to look at it.

Watch some of these faith-healing scams or stage hypnotists and you quickly see that people can be tricked into manufacturing exactly the kinds experiences they think they're supposed to be feeling or having. These people are passing out, falling on the floor, convulsing, talking in tongues... a "burning in the bosom" is nothing compared to what people are capable of doing to themselves.

It's a form of self-hypnosis, nothing more. You were told you should experience these things, and so by expecting them, your brain created them. Repeating a testimony, over and over won't change the false claims into something that can be verified factually.

The testimony of feelings does not make the BOM factually true either. Repeating that Mormon testimony just repeats the lie. The Mormon testimony of feelings is nothing more than a testimony of imaginary characters and imaginary claims.

My older brother told me that he told himself to pray until he knew it was true. I find it interesting that he didn't give himself the option of concluding it wasn't true. Another brother was considering suicide because he hadn't gained a testimony yet. Needless to say, he gained a testimony. People simply manipulate the outcome.

The testimony-making process

They say to find out the "truth", all you need to do is pray to God, and he will tell you the answer. Sounds simple enough, but there is much more to it. The missionaries, then try to get the potential convert into situations where they repeatedly hear others say they know the church is true. They take investigators to testimony meetings, they hear missionaries, and members on splits say they know the church is true. They go to firesides, and ward socials where they hear others say they know the church is true. In other words, the same way the church conditions young children to go up in testimony meeting and say they know the church is true, is the same method investigators are conditioned into believing the church. Eventually, the investigator manufactures an emotional response that they believe is an answer. Joseph Smith picked this method, the "Burning in the Bosom" because it's obvious that this feeling is universal, and humans can make ourselves feel this under many different circumstances.

Once an investigator tells the missionaries, or whoever, that they have had such an experience, they have you. They then tell you this is the "Spirit" talking to them telling them the church is true. When in fact, this feeling has NOTHING to do with whether the church is true or not. It simply means that the investigator has manufactured in some way the same feelings we get when watching an emotional movie, or moving music. After that, we then see the usual, "I know the church is true, and no amount of evidence can convince me because I had that one spiritual experience", and then there is no convincing them otherwise.

LDS are counseled to "bear your testimony because no one can dispute your own personal experience with the Holy Ghost" or words to that effect. The LDS Church will lose in intellectual and historical debates regarding it's claims but no one can 'disprove' a testimony so it's no wonder the Church places such importance on members having a testimony.

What would you say to someone else that said they had a testimony of their church or to some event that you know can't be true. You would question it of course. So why should other people automatically believe your testimony - merely because you say yours is true? When people say "But I know the Church is True—I have a testimony!" Yes, but that's a statement about the person, not about the church.

Emotions - Warm Fuzzies

Most Latter-day Saints' testimonies are merely of the emotional, "warm fuzzy" variety. Very few actually claim to have anything more than this. Many people just believe because they think someone else must have a VALID testimony - something more than just an emotional response. At church it seems that the same 10-20 people get up and bear their testimony every month. What about the other 80%? Maybe the others are just shy or maybe they don't really have testimonies.

I also think there is something about people in groups communing together that generates emotional buzz. Ever been to a concert and have your bosom burn? I have. For me it was indistinguishable from my Mormon experience. You can observe this buzz going on in all kinds of churches everywhere. Insincere people can also easily fake it. Have you seen the Borat movie where he fakes a conversion experience in a Pentecostal service? It's as easy to manipulate people with this kind of stuff. There is nothing uniquely LDS about it.

If the feelings of billions of people in other religions can be wrong, why are you so sure that your feelings can't be wrong? Praying for an answer is not a reliable way to find answers to anything. Mormon or not. Pray about the "truthfulness" of the Book of Mormon if you wish. You may even feel a "burning in your bosom", which you may interpret as "confirmation" from God that it is. But the mountain of evidence that it is not true is never going away.

Have you prayed to Allah to ask whether Mohammed was God's one, true prophet? Probably not, because (I imagine) you weren't raised a Muslim. If you had been, you would have been psychologically conditioned through systematic indoctrination in the Islamic faith to FEEL that Mohammed was God's one, true prophet. Such religious conditioning penetrates to the unconscious "part" of Muslims' psyches.

The same is true for Catholics, the Amish, Christian Serpent Handlers, Mormons, Lutherans, etc. Catholics have "visions" of the Virgin Mary; Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. do not. Why? Because the seeds of Catholic religious beliefs, such as the Virgin Mary periodically appearing to mortals, have not been planted in the psyches of non-Catholics.

Editor Comments

Both the critics and defenders of the faith have compelling points to make. The editors of this section give their own opinion:

Being members of the LDS Church all our lives we've seen many instances of spiritual experiences. We naturally attributed most of these to our membership in God's one, true church. We never had reason to think otherwise. However, now that most of us have opened our minds to other possibilities, there now appears to be much more probable interpretations for at least some of these experiences.

We don't doubt that many LDS have strong feelings that the church is true. However, we question whether these feelings are really a reliable guide to establishing truth. Some of us accept that some LDS members may have even received some sort of unearthly spiritual 'witness' regarding either their testimony or some other aspect of their lives. However, there is considerable evidence that the 'spirit' is totally unreliable as a means of determining truth.

All of the contributors to this site can site numerous examples from our own lives, families, extended families, fellow ward members and church leaders that demonstrated instances when the spirit was completely wrong.

A couple examples just from the lives of some of the contributors to this site:

- A dear spiritual, very level-headed LDS friend of mine was planning on marrying a man that she had been dating for just a couple of months (hardly unusual for LDS singles). I questioned the wisdom of marrying a man she hadn't known for all that long. She responded that the spirit bore a strong witness to her that this was the man she was to marry. She knew beyond any doubt that this man was to be her husband. She said it was not merely her hormones or an emotional response - it was indeed the Holy Ghost witnessing to her that she should marry this man.

Well a couple weeks later he broke off their engagement. When I asked her about it she did not understand why the spirit told her she was going to marry this man. A couple years later she married someone else in the temple and is happily married today.

- Some dear friends are very spiritual active members of the church and try to base many of their important life choices on the whisperings of 'the spirit'. They mentioned many times that the spirit told them they should move to a certain part of the country and they planned on doing so. Two months later, things changed and the idea didn't seem as good. The spirit then told them they should still move there but that they should wait a year. After a year, the business climate changed enough to make the move totally impractical and they completely abandoned the idea of moving to the place the spirit indicated. We can't help wondering why 'the spirit' mislead them repeatedly.

We've heard much more powerful examples of how good LDS people were mislead by the spirit. The list is endless. The leaders would probably say that it wasn't really the spirit. If that's the case then how can anyone ever distinguish with any degree of reliability what promptings come from God and what are just emotions? Even Joseph Smith was mislead by what he thought was the spirit telling him to send Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery to Canada to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon.

Remembering the hits and forgetting the misses

Many saints remember only the hits and quickly forget the misses. How many times have we answered the phone and the bishop wanted to extend a calling to us and we exclaimed 'I knew you were going to ask me that'? But we never think of the times when the bishop called and we thought he was going to extend us a calling but he didn't? We often only remember the things that reinforce our testimony and don't even think about the many times when our feelings didn't result in testimony-building events.

Almost all LDS agree that the tingles and "burning bosom" can result from emotions and feelings within us, but they also claim that these feelings can come from God as a way to reveal truth. But there is a HUGE problem with that. How do you differentiate between the two? Answer: you can't.

From a former Church Educaton System educator

Is something true because I and others find it edifying? Hundreds of thousands of people believe in the truthfulness of their own religion, because of similar confirming experiences.As an example, many people, including myself, felt this confirming spirit when we heard the World War II stories of Utah Congressman Douglas R. Stringfellow.Stringfellow's experiences were later revealed to be a complete hoax.I was about 14 years old when I heard him speak, and it was truly an inspiring experience.After Stringfellow concluded, I remember that the [Mormon] leader conducting the meeting said, "if you have never felt the Spirit before, it was here today in abundance."He was right.I felt it strongly, as did many others.More recently, I felt the same spirit, along with many others, when hearing Paul H. Dunn, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, relate his religious experiences during World War II, and as a professional baseball player.Today his stories are known to be contrived…

Despite the church’s claim to exclusive receipt of the Holy Ghost as a gift, a 1985 Gallup poll reveals that over 40 percent of adults in America claim the same variety of spiritual feelings and experiences enjoyed by Latter-day Saints.The most common denominator is not religious affiliation, but the conviction that "religion is very important in their lives."The evangelical position of identifying and verifying truth by emotional feelings, which the Book of Mormon advocates, is therefore not always dependable.Such a conclusion may lead some people to believe that these feelings are self manufactured and that there is no objective existence of something called the Holy Ghost.I assert that the Holy Ghost does exist, that it does speak to human beings.The spirit of love gives peace, comfort, and prompts, and enhances belief in God, but abundant evidence also demonstrates that it is an unreliable means of proving truth.Those who advocate the witness to the Holy Spirit as the foundation for determining the truthfulness of a given religious text need to honestly deal with these epistemological contradictions.(Insiders View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer p. 130-133).

Feelings vs. Facts

To base your decisions about certain things on emotions is fine. We all do that. But to simply ignore facts because you have a testimony may not be such a good idea. It's like buying a stock on a feeling and how many times are people wrong about that? We've heard faithful members say that even if the prophet of the church said it was all a fraud that they would still believe in it.

This unwavering devotion to a church may in some ways be admirable but merely having a testimony that the church is true still doesn't explain why the translations of the Book of Abraham facsimiles by Joseph Smith do not match what Egyptologists say they mean or why there is absolutely no archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon peoples or why Joseph incorrectly translated the Kinderhook Plates or why the Book of Mormon mentions things that didn't exist in the Americas during that time period such as horses, elephants, wheat, barley, steel, glass, silk, etc.

There are so many problems with the church history that are deserving of real answers by our church leaders. Merely mentioning you have a subjective testimony doesn't make them all go away. Having a feeling that the church may be true is fine but don't dismiss credible arguments that may cast doubt on the church merely by saying you have a testimony.

Testimonies by members of other religions

I watched a news special that featured the followers of Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the FLDS Church (Fundamentalist Mormons). The members all bore testimony that Warren Jeffs is a real prophet, despite the criminal allegations against Jeffs. Their testimonies could have been taken right from any LDS Testimony meeting. They sounded so similar if you just changed the names of the prophets.

We can convince ourselves of a lot of things - just look at what 19 young Saudi Arabians felt was true on September 11, 2001? Do you think they are in heaven with 72 virgins now? It strains reason, but they too had a testimony. And how about the many other Christian and non-Christian religions that also say to go with your feelings? Obviously all of these religions can't be correct yet millions of people follow the same advice and end up joining different religions. So how can you trust your feelings and be assured you are making the correct choice using feelings alone?

Holy Ghost or warm fuzzies?

If testimonies are so fragile perhaps it's because they are not real. That's the reason we have Fast & Testimony meeting every single month. If they were really powerful events then we would never have to fear losing them.

We do believe that some people actually have felt a physical sensation when praying about the Book of Mormon. But we question if this feeling came from outside of your body via the Holy Ghost. We do not believe that it is a reliable guide to know whether or not a book is fiction or historical in nature. The church did not plant those feelings in you. What they did plant in you was the association of those feelings with the confirmation of truth. It's not a universally accepted means of determining truth like many in the church would have you believe

Many people get this feeling when their sports team wins, a baby is born or watching a very emotional movie. In the movie 'Saving Private Ryan' - the guy falls to his knees at the grave of the man (Tom Hanks) who sacrificed his life to save Ryan's. I got this warm, tingly feeling in my chest. It's a psychosomatic response to emotional stimuli and was no indication as to whether the movie was true or not.

We are told that we need to "work on our testimonies." This seems to be a tacit admission that a testimony is nothing more or less than a decision a person makes and has no necessary connection to ultimate reality.

Our conclusion with our observations and study is that virtually all of the "burning bosoms" are emotion based and they stem from meaningful situations based upon our experiences in life. That is why the many thousands of different religions can have their own "witnesses" to their beliefs. That is why even atheists can have "tingling" feelings. That is why some testify to obvious falsehoods. That is why some get "false positives." That is why some can lie and still produce the "spirit." We don't believe God is so confusing and unreliable that He would use such a poor method to determine what is true and what isn't.

A test proposed to see if the spirit is reliable?

We propose the following two tests to attempt to examine how accurate listening to the spirit by faithful members may be:

TEST #1)

Stake Patriarchs are generally considered some of the most spiritual people in the church due to the nature of their calling of being guided by the spirit to give patriarchal blessings. Although we would expect patriarchal blessings to vary depending upon who gave them, there is one thing that should not change. Everyone receives the tribe that they are descended from. The tribal designation appears to be spiritual label as opposed to actual genealogy as members of the same family can come from different tribes. However, the tribe given should not change if you received a second patriarchal blessing.

Almost everyone is from the tribe of Ephraim, however perhaps 1 in 20 people are from the tribe of Manasseh or another rare tribe. We propose finding 50 people from a tribe other than Ephraim and have those people obtain a second patriarchal blessing from a different patriarch and see if they give them the same somewhat uncommon tribe that they each received when they got their first patriarchal blessing.

Naturally both patriarchs should give everyone the same tribe if they are really getting the information using the spirit. If these are really just random picks then the odds of picking 50 correctly would be astronomical. If the chances are even 10% of someone being from a non-Ephraim tribe then having 50 patriarchs choosing the same correct tribe again would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Those odds would be so far above chance that everyone would have to conclude that the patriarchs are getting their information from some unearthly source. Of course it would have to be controlled so that the patriarchs would have absolutely no knowledge that the members already had been given patriarchal blessings. This would be a fascinating study and a real opportunity to test the spirit.

If you are a faithful Latter-day Saint would you be at all apprehensive about a study like this being performed? Why? Do you perhaps suspect that the Patriarchs are not really getting accurate inspiration from God? This study has never been performed (to our knowledge) but we suspect that many apologetic-type of members would already be trying to think of ideas to explain why the patriarchs did not give the members the same patriarchal lineages that they received the first time. An experiment like this would go a long way to validate the patriarchal blessings that many people take so lightly.

TEST #2

Find 50 good, spiritual Latter-Day Saints who are very righteous but do not know the more disturbing details of our church's history. Ask each one to pray about whether or not certain events really happened and see if the spirit guides them to the correct answer. The questions would have to be ones that the answers are definitely known and agreed to by the church leaders but seem very unlikely to the faithful members. It would also have to be established that these members don't already know about the actual history of the events being asked about.

For example a question might be to ask somebody about the temple ceremony before 1990 and see if they would correctly answer whether or not the saints really performed those rituals. Or say that some critics contend that Joseph married some women that were already married and see if they agree with those statements.

If the members were really inspired by the Holy Ghost to answer the disturbing questions correctly, that they would have otherwise thought were in error, then this would lend credibility to the idea that the spirit can really help people ascertain the truth.

We personally have witnessed faithful members saying such things as 'they know' Joseph didn't marry 14 year-old girls and women already married to other men because they received a confirmation of the spirit as such. Yet, they were wrong. A more formal study using this approach would be very interesting.

 

"Reason may treacherously deceive a man, but emotion is always sure and never leaves him."

Adolph Hitler

Links

Supporting the critics:

Supporting the church:

Neutral (non-LDS)