Detailed response to CES Letter, Testimony and Spiritual Witness

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Detailed response to CES Letter, Testimony and Spiritual Witness



A FAIR Analysis of: [[../|Letter to a CES Director]], a work by author: Jeremy Runnells
Chart CES Letter testimony.png

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

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


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

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

Every major religion has members who claim the same thing: God or God’s spirit bore witness to them that their religion, prophet/pope/leaders, book(s), and teachings are true.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This is not a characteristic of "every major religion". Latter-day Saints have a theology that can reconcile the reports of spiritual experiences of people among other religions. Latter-day Saints believe that truth can be found in every religion and that God can work through these religions to bring individuals unto him gradually.

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

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


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "Let's play a game! Try to match Atheism and these 8 religions to the following 21 quotes."

The author(s) of Debunking FAIR's Debunking, June 2014 make(s) the following claim:

Let’s play a game! Try to match Atheism and these 8 religions to the following 21 quotes. The answer key is below the last quote:
  • Atheist
  • Buddhist
  • Catholic
  • Hindu
  • Islam
  • Mormon
  • New Age
  • Protestant
  • Universal Unitarian

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

“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?”

“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.”

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

“[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.”

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

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.’”

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

“I felt a burning sensation in my heart.”

“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.”

“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.”

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

“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]...”

“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].”

“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.”

“[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.”

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

“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.”



Author's sources: "How Can We Find Truth? Part 4," Amateur Thinker, February 2011, http://www.theamateurthinker.com/2011/02/how-can-we-find-truth-part-4/.

FAIR's Response

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

The author links to an article by "The Amateur Thinker" and the list of "spiritual experiences" that people have felt. At this moment[1] the sources for these experiences are missing. The video makes interesting claims. It focuses specifically on the argument from diversity (the one made just above by the author of the CES Letter) against the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology and argues for a "pragmatic approach" which includes evaluating empirical evidence first and then seeking spiritual experiences. It sounds awfully like D&C 9:7–9. Regarding the list of spiritual experiences in this claim specifically, it is interesting that none of these experiences deny God but help people to come unto him. The atheist was the one converting to religion (D&C 84:46-47). The video from Amateur Thinker also claims that people feel what is called the "elevation emotion" when claiming to feel the Spirit. We've already discussed experiences of those in other religions. The elevation emotion and other neuroscientific explanations for spiritual experience are discussed here for those that are interested in learning more.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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

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

it would likewise be arrogant of a Latter-day Saint to deny their spiritual experiences and testimonies of the truthfulness of their own religion... Only .2% of the world’s population are members of God’s true Church. This is God’s model and standard of efficiency?

FAIR's Response

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

Latter-day Saints are not taught to deny the spiritual experiences of others. We are taught to understand them in certain ways as is demonstrated by the article above responding to claims of spiritual experiences of people in other religions. The Gospel teaches us that not everyone will be a member of the Church in this life but that is okay.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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

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

If God’s method to revealing truth is through feelings, it’s a pretty ineffective method.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Gospel does not teach that one should make decisions regarding the truth of something simply through "feelings". Moroni tells us to ponder (Moroni 10:3-5). Oliver Cowdery gave us studying it out in our mind and then asking (D&C 9:7-9). Scripture admonishes us to seek wisdom out of the best of books for those that do not have faith (D&C 88:118) and to use all scientific disciplines to better understand the Gospel (D&C 88:77–80).


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Response to claim: "Even prophets are often wrong."

The author(s) of Debunking FAIR's Debunking (June 2014) make(s) the following claim:

Even prophets are often wrong. Brigham Young, for example, taught now-repudiated doctrines of racism, Adam-God, and Blood-Atonement. Moreover, prophets and scriptures sometimes conflict with one another. Not only do Prophets sometimes conflict with scripture, they conflict with each other. Yesterday’s doctrine is today’s false doctrine and yesterday’s prophet is today’s heretic, remember? Pointing to prophets and scriptures as a standard of “confirming” your feelings again not only does not answer the question, it creates more questions than answers.

FAIR's Response

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

Yes, prophets are fallible. There are times when they have taught now repudiated concepts, but it doesn't follow that it therefore makes revelation an unreliable source of knowledge. What would bring it more into question would be if the prophet claimed direct revelation for some concept but then physical evidence didn't support such a concept.


The reason we have scriptures is so we can test the prophet's word since they are the "standard works". The author makes a broad claim about the scriptures without supporting evidence. The best way to test such an assertion is to read the scriptures contextually and holistically which we have tools for.

Longer response(s) to criticism:

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

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

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

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The account by Whitmer (who did not go on the trip) does not correlate with the accounts by those who actually went. There are ways to understand whether something came from God or Satan.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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

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

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

FAIR's Response

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

The mention of the "correlated narrative" is a reference to popular ex-Mormon complaints about the correlated curriculum. A testimony is more than just spiritual experiences and feelings - the author neglects to mention other important elements in Latter-day Saint epistemology. Logic and reason are important elements along with a spiritual witness.


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

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

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

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Simply receiving a warm feeling about a speech or article is not enough to call it revelation or a confirmation of the spirit. There are perfectly sound ways to make sense of the Spirit's presence while watching, reading, or listening to fictional material.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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

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

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

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

FAIR's Response

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

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


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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

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

There are many members who share their testimonies that the Spirit told them that they were to marry this person or go to this school or move to this location or start up this business or invest in this investment. They rely on this Spirit in making critical life decisions. When the decision turns out to be not only incorrect but disastrous, the fault lies on the individual and never on the Spirit. The individual didn’t have the discernment or it was the individual’s hormones talking or it was the individual’s greed that was talking or the individual wasn’t worthy at the time. This poses a profound flaw and dilemma: if individuals can be so convinced that they’re being led by the Spirit but yet be so wrong about what the Spirit tells them, how can they be sure of the reliability of this same exact process in telling them that Mormonism is true?

FAIR's Response

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

There are a number of things to consider when faced with the type of situation that the author describes besides those claimed. Confirmation of the spirit requires sincere questioning and study before receiving a witness. The most important thing to remember is how this process has provided blessings and even miracles in our lives. We shouldn't discount the process when we're meant to be tested and when we've already seen blessings of this same process in our lives. Our testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something that is casually obtained. It requires sincere study, prayer, and nourishing our testimony through both intellectual and spiritual means throughout our entire lives.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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

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

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

FAIR's Response

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

There are perfectly sound ways to make sense of the Spirit's presence while watching, reading, or listening to fictional material.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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

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

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

FAIR's Response

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

There are plenty of ways to make sense of feeling the spirit during this time.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

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Response to claim: "This thought-provoking video raises some profound questions and challenges to the Latter-day Saint concept of "testimony" and receiving a witness from the Holy Ghost..."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (March 2015 revision) make(s) the following claim:

This thought-provoking video raises some profound questions and challenges to the Latter-day Saint concept of "testimony" and receiving a witness from the Holy Ghost or Spirit as being a unique, reliable, and trustworthy source to discerning truth and reality:

FAIR's Response

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

The author uses a video that basically summarizes his claims regarding the Spirit. The video includes several clips of people describing spiritual experiences. One includes a young man's brother who prayed about The Book of Hagoth from the Mentinah Archives and claims to have received a confirmatory witness of its truth. The video also includes an unverified recording--supposedly from a member of the FLDS church who claims she received a witness from the Holy Ghost that polygamy was a true principle and that that church was true. Since the recording is only vocal and not visual, the provenance remains slightly dubious. It includes members of Islam who state their confidence in Islam and one woman in particular of her impactful witness from God. It also includes a woman from the Heaven's Gate cult who expresses deep feelings about her being a part of it. There are ways for Latter-day Saints to make sense of this.


Longer response(s) to criticism:


Notes

  1. This response was written 25 February 2019


A FAIR Analysis of:
[[../|Letter to a CES Director]]
A work by author: Jeremy Runnells
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