Question: How do Latter-day Saints respond to arguments from diversity against the use of spiritual experiences in their epistemology?

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Question: How do Latter-day Saints respond to arguments from diversity against the use of spiritual experiences in their epistemology?

Review of the Criticism

As a part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and/or belief may be established by spiritual experience. This experience is known as having an experience with the Holy Ghost or "Holy Spirit."[1]

Primarily Secularist critics of the Church and other Christian critics of the Church have charged that this mode of receiving knowledge is challenged by the existence of competing religious claims or spiritual experiences had by those adherents of other faiths. If they are to receive spiritual experiences motivating them to believe in the validity of their sacred texts, religious structures, and so forth, what makes the Latter-day Saint claim to knowledge unique? What is the basis for claiming that one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is from God?

This argument is simply the version of the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations against the claims of religious truth (AKA the "avoiding the wrong hell problem") that is applied to Latter-day Saint beliefs. This problem in philosophy of religion is one with which all religions must deal.[2]

This article examines that charge in depth. First, those parts of Latter-day Saint pneumatology relating to epistemology will be set forth as a groundwork for more comprehensible and responsible discussion and then a more detailed discussion.

Basis of Response

When any critic of Latter-day Saint epistemology shows the experiences of other people in other religions, they are not simply showing a person the experiences but trying to get them to process those experiences through a certain framework. That framework is usually that spiritual experience is unreliable, probably comes from natural sources, and/or that they aren't unique and thus can't lead one into truth.

How does one respond? To respond and to respond adequately, we have to provide a comprehensive, coherent, theologically whole framework that can observe, absorb, and understand all spiritual experience. If we can do that, then the argument essentially becomes nil since we have a framework through which we can faithfully, charitably, and comfortably view the experience of people in other religions.

Moroni's Counsel for Discerning Good from Evil - A Framework Through Which to See Spiritual Experience

What is that framework and how is it developed? The prophet Moroni had very interesting words to say on this subject. Moroni 7:12-25

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.

20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?

21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.

22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.

23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.

24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.

25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.[3]

Thus according to Moroni, if we can develop a theology that understands spiritual experience through the revelation that prophets have given to us, then we can comfortably understand what God's will is and choose to understand spiritual experience in the way it's supposedly been revealed.[4]

The Immediate Problem of Circularity

There is immediately a problem with Moroni's argument that needs to be dealt with. If we are to have a framework that we believe to be revealed by God, and God is yet empirically unverifiable, and the Spirit through which he reveals that framework through to the prophets is as of yet empirically unidentifiable, then isn't it simply circular reasoning to claim that the experiences and the framework they're processed through comes from God? This criticism has been dealt with elsewhere on the FairMormon wiki.

Theological Point of Departure

We should now lay the basis for the theological framework through which Latter-day Saints might see spiritual experience outside of the faith.

The Latter-day Saint Conception of God, the Devil, the Holy Ghost, False Spirits, Good Angels, Bad Angels, and Light

Latter-day Saint theology teaches that there is a spectrum of light (understood to be synonymous with "truth" by faithful adherents) that one can receive in this life that comes from God. This light is known in Latter-day Saint vernacular as “The Light of Christ."[5] When one receives more of God’s truth, one receives more Light.[6] When one rejects Light, is persuaded towards rejecting the truth that one has already received, or one deliberately chooses to remain without the Light that God has revealed, one stays away or moves away from Light.[7] This is seen as sinful. The Holy Ghost and many righteous angels are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the Light.[8] The Holy Ghost works through the Light of Christ—which is believed to be given to all people before they enter mortality.[9] The Light of Christ is understood to give a spiritual energy and life to all things.[10] Since it gives this life to all things, it follows that the Holy Ghost, working through this Light, can work on our spirit and/or our body in order to produce phenomena which are connected to both heart and mind.[11] The Holy Ghost works in unity with God's purposes. Satan, false angels, and many false spirits are seen as those beings that move God’s children further and further into the darkness.[12] As one receives more Light, one is more receptive to receiving additional Light and is seen as more sensitive to the Holy Ghost and the truth that God has revealed through prophets. As one moves away from the Light, they are less and less able to perceive Light. If a person has gained Light but subsequently loses it through sin or being persuaded by a false spirit to accept darkness, it is difficult to regain it. It can become progressively more difficult to regain the Light once lost depending on how much Light receives and how much they give up when moving into the darkness.[13] The amount of Light one has and the ability to perceive it can ultimately be diminished entirely.[14] As Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taught:

As we yield to that influence, to do good and become good, then the Light of Christ increases within us. As we disobey, Light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished within us.[15]

Thus these spirits are acting on both our body and our spirit, connected together intimately (called the “soul” in Latter-day Saint theology), to persuade us to accept, reject, or stay indifferent to Light and truth. When these spirits act on us, they produce physically felt sensations. Latter-day Saints believe that all human beings have the ability to perceive that which is of God from that which is of the devil through the same power given by the Light of Christ.[16] It is generally believed that what God has revealed to prophets is good and will inspire one to love God and serve him.[17]

The Priesthood

Latter-day Saints claim to hold special authority from God that authorizes them to perform special ordinances in his name. This authority is called the "priesthood". Latter-day Saints believe that this priesthood authorizes prophets to reveal God's covenant truth—thus making it so that Latter-day Saints remain at the most bright end of the spectrum of Light that one can receive in this life.[18] Latter-day Saints believe that this priesthood existed primitively in the organization of believers that Christ established.[19] That authority was lost for a time known after the death of Jesus and the Apostles but restored through Joseph Smith in our day via angelic visitation by John the Baptist, and apostles Peter, James, and John. That priesthood authority is believed to have been passed down in an uninterrupted line of prophet-successors of Joseph Smith to the current President of the Church. This succession has followed detailed instructions given in the official scriptures revealed to Joseph Smith. As the ultimate, convincing evidence of his calling as prophet and as evidence of receiving that authority, Joseph Smith was given power by God to translate gold plates which contained the record of what we know today as the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon is true, then it logically follows that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, that he received the priesthood, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if God's true church today since it alone holds that authority. The experiences of others lead as stepping stones to having that great and final confirmation given to them of the Book of Mormon's truthfulness and by the same token the truthfulness of the Church.

Experiences Seen as Positive in Latter-day Saint Scripture

With all this established as groundwork, a more comprehensible and thus responsible discussion of the theology can take place. The next step in our discussion is to outline those experiences that move someone further towards the Light in Latter-day Saint theology. There seems to be four such experiences that Latter-day Saint scripture positively envisions people having.

A Softening of Heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Gospel, or Religion in General.

Alma 16:16-17 states that:

16And there was no inequality among them; the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming —

17 That they might not be hardened against eh word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.

The first experience that the Latter-day Saint scriptures envision as positive is a softening of heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Gospel, or religion in general. Notice how this scripture does not connect any truth claim of the Church's to the experience. It seems as though the experience of the Spirit is one that all people should feel at some point and, in a remarkable way, that experience doesn't have to be explicitly tied to a proposition from Latter-day Saint doctrine. People need to experience this softening of heart. It is imaginable that these experiences can be triggered by anything that is good.[20] This softening of heart is preliminary to receiving a full conversion to God, Christ, and/or the Restoration for Latter-day Saints.

Some people may be able to recognize that this experience comes from God and others--not. Some may feel stirrings of the Spirit trying to soften their heart or convert them to God, Christ, and/or the restoration but not recognize it as such. Such is a testament to the Book of Mormon's assessment that we have an ability to judge spiritual impressions that is apart from the impressions themselves.[21] Consider a case from the Book of Mormon:[22]

20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

Or this case of a convert from Mexico recounted in Preach My Gospel (Chapter 9):

As a child, I was never taught to read the Bible. I went to church on Sundays, but I contributed nothing and felt nothing in return. I was disillusioned. … I searched for … God—wanting to know if He even existed. I thirsted to know Him and His words. But I could not seem to find what I sought.

There were moments when I felt close to quenching my thirst. When I held my first child, a daughter, in my arms for the first time, I had a feeling that God really did exist. Many years later, when her sister was born, I experienced the same feeling. … Most of the time, however, an inexplicable tiredness weighed upon my soul. I was spiritually thirsty and could find no place to drink.

In April 1994 I was living in the city of Monterrey, Mexico, earning a living as a taxi driver. One day it rained for hours, sending water cascading down the mountainsides. After driving around in the rain for hours, I found myself in a little town about eight kilometers (five miles) from Monterrey. It was about … nearly time to go home. Suddenly I saw two young men on foot. They were wearing dark trousers and white shirts, and they looked drenched from head to foot. When I approached them, I opened the door of the taxi and called, “Get in! I’m going to Monterrey.”

The taller one … replied, “We don’t have any money.”

“No charge,” I replied.

They quickly got into the taxi.

As I drove, we talked. They asked if they could share a message about Jesus Christ with me. I agreed and gave them my address.

When I got home, I woke my wife and told her about the two young men. “What a coincidence,” I said. “One is Mexican and the other is American, and they are both named Elder.”

“Elder means missionary,” my wife answered, knowing just a little about the Church.

From deep within me, I felt something stir. These young men had left a feeling of exquisite wonder in my heart. I felt that I was close to finding the water that would quench my thirst, that it was within reach.[23]

Notice how the man felt “something” stir in his heart but that he couldn’t identify it as the Spirit. Many people are having these experiences but aren’t able to identify it as God working with them and don’t have the framework provided by revelation in order to recognize it.

A Conversion to God

The next type of experience envisioned as positive is conversion to God. The Book of Mormon teaches that anything that inviteth and enticeth one to love God and to serve him is of him.[24] The Doctrine and Covenants similarly teaches that when one feels the Spirit, they are coming unto God.[25]

This experience may come because God needs someone to serve him, even if it isn’t in his Church. Elder Orson Whitney stated:

Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” [26]

Even the Lord seems to be okay with this as portrayed in Luke 9:49-50. Certain men were casting out devils in the name of Jesus even though they didn’t follow Jesus nor have the authority that he gave the apostles:

49 And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.

50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

It should be mentioned that people can also be converted to certain principles of truth found in other Churches. Latter-day Saint scripture and even the Bible affirm the presence of beauty, truth, and goodness in other churches.[27]

Preach My Gospel, the Church's official manual for missionaries, states the following:

Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, "Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ"

Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, (2004)
Just as the Christian world was blessed by the courage and vision of the reformers, many other nations and cultures have been blessed by those who were given that portion “that [God] seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8). Teachings of other religious leaders have helped many people become more civil and ethical.

Buddha (Gotama): Born in 563 B.C. of a Hindu chieftain in Nepal. Concerned with the suffering he saw around him. Fled from his father’s luxurious palace, renounced the world, and lived in poverty. Seeking enlightenment, he discovered what he called the “path of deliverance.” Claimed to reach Nirvana, a state of oblivion to care, pain, or external reality. Became a teacher for a community of monks.
Confucius: Born in 551 B.C. Orphaned as a child. China’s first professional teacher. China’s greatest moral and social thinker. Said little about spiritual beings or divine powers. Believed that heaven had entrusted him with a sacred mission as champion of the good and true.

Mohammed: Born in 570 A.D. in Mecca. Orphaned in childhood. Lived a life of poverty. Gained reputation as a trusted peacemaker. Married at age 25. In 610 prayed and meditated on Mount Hira. Said the angel Gabriel appeared to him and delivered a message from Allah (God). Claimed to receive communication from God through Gabriel from 620 to 632. These communications, which he recited to his disciples, were later written in the Koran, the sacred book of Islam.

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Along with the scripture from Alma 29:6, we might include 2 Nephi 29:11-12 that may be interpreted to mean that God has inspired the texts of many religions:

11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.[28]

Thus, there are those that may be converted to God and not necessarily through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this life. They may have experiences even that don't allow them to accept the Gospel in this life because they have to be the "partners" of Latter-day Saints in building the kingdom while remaining within their current faith traditions. That's okay for members as the official scriptures tell us that all will have the opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel whether in this life or the next.[29] It also tells us that all people, no matter what faith they choose to follow, will be saved in a degree of glory and will not be cast off to an eternal hell as some religions have conceived of it.[30] Some may even receive multiple opportunities to accept or reject the Gospel. This shows just how well-prepared Latter-day Saint soteriology and epistemology is in accommodating people's diverse religious experience while also preserving the justice and mercy of God in a fine, well-designed balance.

A Conversion to Christ

The next experience is the experience that converts a person to Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches that all things that invite a person to come unto Christ are from the Spirit of Christ.[31] This conversion can come through Christian theologies other than that of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

By adopting the framework that has been established up to this point in the article for understanding religious experience, Latter-day Saints adopt “religious inclusivism” where they seek to understand the spiritual experiences of religious persons outside of their faith in light of the Plan of Salvation without adopting “religious exclusivism” nor “religious pluralism”. It softens the load that they have to explain and additionally can show them, perhaps in a new and enlightening way, the love God has for all his children and how he seeks to include everyone of them in the Plan.

Latter-day Saint philosopher and theologian Blake T. Ostler expressed similar sentiments along with a few cautions:

Now we may be called into question if somebody has a vision, for instance, of the Virgin Mary; because I don't believe that the LDS believe that the Virgin Mary puts in many appearances. However I suggest that we look beyond what divides us and look to "inclusivism," and that is, "What is it that they learned? What does their religious experience teach them?" Because God will adapt his message to any culture, and any means that He can, to increase the light of a person (see Alma 29:8). So I suggest that by adopting "religious inclusivism" we minimize the challenge from "religious pluralism."[32]

Conversion to the Restored Gospel

The last type of experience that Latter-day Saints envision (hopefully for as many of God’s children as possible) is that of being converted to the Restored Gospel. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni teaches that one may come to learn of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon by reading the book, pondering its message in our minds, and praying about the book with a sincere heart, real intent, and having faith in Jesus Christ:

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

Praying about the Book of Mormon thus brings one a testimony or conviction of the Church since the Book of Mormon encompasses several propositions relating to the truthfulness of the Church including God being sovereign over the whole earth,[33] God creating the earth,[34] God having a body of flesh and bone,[35] the prophecy from the Book of Mormon of Joseph Smith being the one to bring it forth implying his prophethood and calling from God,[36] and the existence of the priesthood and its necessity in knowing how to find salvation in Christ through ordinances.[37] Thus when one "knows" that the Book of Mormon is true, one "knows" that Joseph Smith is a prophet since he claimed to translate the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. If Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, this strongly implies that God exists. If God exists and he called Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, then it follows that the priesthood is real since the Book of Mormon is true and that that priesthood is on the earth today. That priesthood is claimed to reside only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Inclusivity of Experience

All of these experiences should show that the Latter-day Saint approach to spiritual experience is inclusive. It should be remembered, however, that the use of spiritual experience to establish the basis for commitment or belief is not a mode of epistemology used/favored by all or even most religions. Thus its doubtful that they are accessing the Spirit at all as a major means of converting to any doctrine.

Some Transitivity Between Experiences

The effects of these experiences have some transitivity. All experiences can function as softening one's heart more and more to receiving God. Some experiences have only that purpose. Others can function with multiple purposes. Also, it should be remembered that these experiences aren't singular, mutually exclusive events. This theology should not be viewed as a ladder with distinct rungs that one climbs up. This should be seen more spectrally with some steps forward and sometimes steps backward in the quest to draw nearer unto God and find the truth that he has revealed to us.

Experiences Envisioned as Negative in Latter-day Saint Scripture

Now, the preceding outlines positive spiritual experiences. The official scriptures and the experience of Latter-day Saints have demonstrated that there are times when the experience (or claimed experience) isn’t supposed to be understood positively:

Intentionally Lying About the Reality of an Experience

Some people intentionally lie to try and hurt member testimonies. There are those that claim that a spiritual experience has taken place (when it really hasn’t) that proves to them the falsehood of the Book of Mormon or who propose other scenarios that supposedly defeat the use of spiritual experiences as a means of knowing truth in Latter-day Saint epistemology. These people are who the Latter-day Saint scriptures might describe as those that "pervert" the Gospel.[38]

Experiences Caused by the Devil

Some experiences are caused by the devil.[39] For Latter-day Saints, anything that entices one to worship him or to do evil is of him.[40] Latter-day Saint scripture contains procedure for discerning the Devil as an Angel of Light from a true angel.[41]

Experiences Caused by False Spirits

Some experiences are said to be caused by false spirits. D&C 50: 31-33 gives us a way (following the counsel given in 1 John 4:1-2) to test the spirits. See also D&C 52:15-19.

  • When an experience caused by the devil or false spirits occur and it invites someone to do evil then it must be rejected.
Consider what Joseph Smith told Brigham Young:
Tell the brethren to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, that it will lead them aright. Be careful and not turn away the still, small voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their heart open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits—it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts, and their whole desire will be to do good.[42]

Being Persuaded By False Christs

Some are envisioned as having been deceived by false Christs. There have been many people that have claimed to be Jesus Christ returned in the flesh. Some have had spiritual experiences that draw them towards these false Christs. Some claim to be the risen Savior but violate some of the counsel recorded in the Bible that he gave to his followers to know how he would come. There are many scriptures that can help us to discern between the true Christ and False Christs.[43]

Being Persuaded by False Prophets

Some are envisioned as having been deceived by false prophets. These include people of Latter-day Saint breakoffs and others that don't look to proper authority to receive revelation. The official scriptures give us many warnings of false prophets and ways to discern them.

Being Mistaken About the Reality of a Claimed Spiritual Revelation

Since Latter-day Saints believe that the body and spirit are intricately connected and when thus connected are called the soul,[44] it is not surprising that a thought, warm feeling or heart tremor can be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. This is what the scriptures might call having "foolish imaginations of the heart." [45]

Concerning conflating emotion and thoughts with the spirit, President Howard W. Hunter said:

Let me offer a word of caution. . . . I think if we are not careful . . . , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself.[46]

We will all eventually remain among a final resting point along the spectrum of Light (as described above) at judgement day. We're promised that the light can continue to grow until the perfect day.[47] As we seek the light, we are promised it.[48]


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  1. Moroni 10:3-5.
  2. This argument stated in Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 131-133. Palmer cites William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (New York: New American Library, 1958), 362-66, 387-88. Palmer writes: "American psychologist William James in his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, studied hundreds of people including religious founders, who claimed to receive inspiration from the Spirit, from revelation, visions of angels, and from face to face appearances of God...He concluded that while their experiences and feelings were real to them, they could not be a valid source for determining truth because their claims were doctrinally incompatible." For a good introduction to James' work from a Latter-day Saint perspective see M. Gerald Bradford, "William James on Religion and God: An Introduction to The Varieties of Religious Experience," Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen eds. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2014). Palmer also claimed that "[d]espite the church's claim to exclusive recept of the Holy Ghost as a gift, a 1985 Gallop Poll reveals that over 40 percent of adults in America claim the same variety of spiritual feelings and experiences enjoyed by Latter-day Saints. Their most common denominator is not religious affiliation but the conviction that 'religion is very important in their lives.'" Palmer cites George Gallop Jr., "Forty-Three Percent of Americans Admit to Spiritual Experiences," Salt Lake Tribune (15 May 1985): 1-2. A similar argument to Palmer's is presented in Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to my Mormon Doubts, (American Fork, UT: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 75-6. Palmer misconstrues Latter-day Saint theology about the Gift of the Holy Ghost. As this essay will demonstrate, the manifestations of the Holy Ghost are available to all people in Latter-day Saint theology; otherwise no one would be able to receive the Spirit to testify to them of the Book of Mormon's truthfulness, for example.
  3. Interesting to note in this passage is Moroni's emphasis of non-subjective revelation giving this to prophets i.e. "he sent angels to minister unto the children of men. God declared unto prophets, "by his own mouth" that Christ should come.He is responding to those that might claim that all revelation was simply subjective to him and other prophets.
  4. 2 Nephi 2:27-28; Joshua 24:15.
  5. Moroni 7:16. Here the term used is “Spirit of Christ”. It is understood that this is synonymous with “Light of Christ”. See Alan L. Wilkins, “The Light of Christ,” Book of Mormon Reference Companion ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2012), 521. See also D&C 84:46.
  6. D&C 50:24; D&C 84:45.
  7. See “Darkness, Spiritual in the Scripture Index on
  8. 2 Nephi 32: 2-3; D&C 84:47.
  9. Moroni 7:16; D&C 84:45-46.
  10. D&C 88: 11-13.
  11. D&C 8:2.
  12. Moroni 7:17;D&C 50:2-3.
  13. Alma 24:30; Alma 47:36.
  14. 1 Nephi 17:45;Jacob 6:8.
  15. Elder David A. Bednar, “Patterns of Light: The Light of Christ,” <> (5 October 2019).
  16. Moroni 7:14
  17. Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37.
  18. Doctrine and Covenants 123:12-13.
  19. For a discussion of evidence of this claim, see Robert S. Boylan, After the Order of the Son of God: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Latter-day Saint Theology of the Priesthood, (Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2018).
  20. Articles of Faith 1:13; Moroni 7:12
  21. Moroni 7:14
  22. 3 Nephi 9:20
  23. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service - Chapter 4: How Do I Find People to Teach?" (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004) <>
  24. Moroni 7:13
  25. Doctrine and Covenants 84:47
  26. Elder Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (April 1928): 59. This was cited in Elder Ezra Taft Benson, "Civic Standards for Faithful Saints," General Conference (April 1972). He offered Thomas L. Kane and Alexander Doniphan as examples of people who would pray about the Book of Mormon but not be converted in this life.
  27. Amos 9:7; Jonah 1; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8. These four are affirmed to mean that God inspires other nations and people with light in James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 44. See also Alma 29:6-8; D&C 134:4; Articles of Faith 1:13; 2 Nephi 29:11-12; Moroni 10:7
  28. There is some caution to be taken in approaching the question of which books and even what particularly in those books may be inspired, though the general principle of religious inclusivism still holds and helps us to understand religious experience outside of our faith in a positive light.
  29. Doctrine and Covenants 137; Doctrine and Covenants 138.
  30. See Gospel Topics, "Kingdoms of Glory," on
  31. Some may argue here that the experiences that convert a person to Christ and God are one but the Book of Mormon separates the clauses with verse 15 and “For behold, my brethren…”. The beginning of verse 15 starts a new clause in which a different type of experience is described—one that brings a person to Christ
  32. Blake T. Ostler, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment," FAIR Conference 2007.
  33. 1 Nephi 11:6
  34. 2 Nephi 2:13
  35. 3 Nephi 28:10; D&C 93:33-35
  36. 2 Nephi 3:14-15. Brant Gardner has brought up some valid issues about the specificity of this prophecy (especially the inclusion of the name of the prophet being the same as Joseph of Egypt) in translation of the plate text at this point of the Book of Mormon—attributing it to Joseph Smith. The verses surrounding v. 15 are enough however to establish that Lehi is looking towards the future and that he has a specific person in mind. There does not seem to be any other viable fulfillment of this prophecy than the translation of the Book of Mormon through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This gives us the proposition ready to be verified by revelation that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. See Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:55-9.
  37. Alma 13
  38. Alma 30:60
  39. Alma 30:53.
  40. Moroni 7:17
  41. Doctrine and Covenants 129:8
  42. Quoted in Juvenile Instructor, 19 July 1873: 114.
  43. Matt 24: 5, 24-28; Mark 13:22-29. Some may claim that the Gospels aren't historically reliable enough to count these scriptures from Jesus as reliable epistemological axioms. For demonstration of the Gospels as reliable see Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering Challenges to Evangelical Christian Belief, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006); Most recently and persuasively, see Craig S. Keener, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019). See also D&C 45:36-44; 52:15-19.
  44. D&C 88:15.
  45. Helaman 16:22; 3 Nephi 2:2; Moses 8:22.
  46. Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 184.
  47. D&C 50:24
  48. Matthew 7:7