“Knowing” It All

HawkgrrrlMormon 126 Comments

Mormons love to use the word “know.”  We say we know God lives.  We say we know that Jesus is the Christ.  We say we know that families can be together forever.  Some say that they know the church is true or that Thomas S. Monson is a true prophet (the middle initial makes him truer somehow).  People say they “know” a lot of things.  What does “know” mean in Mormonism?  Has it been overused to the point that its meaning has changed or that is has become meaningless?

According to the dictionary, to know has 6 different contemporary meanings (when used with a direct object): 

  1. to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty; e.g. “I have a clear and certain understanding of eternal families.  My dead grandfather came back and said ‘yup’ that’s the way it is.”
  2. to have established or fixed in the mind or memory; e.g. “I would be able to pick Jesus out of a line-up.”
  3. to be cognizant or aware of; e. g. “I am aware of their being a devil on my shoulder, prodding me to do evil; can you guys see this?”
  4. to be acquainted with (a thing, place, person, etc.), as by sight, experience, or report; e.g. “I have met Thomas S. Monson, and he sure looked like a prophet to me.”
  5. to understand from experience or attainment (usually fol. by how before an infinitive);  e.g. “I understand the gospel because I have lived it and it makes my life better.” 
  6. to be able to distinguish, as one from another;  e.g. “I know this church is the one that Jesus leads vs. those other false ones that Jesus merely dabbled with.”

To believe, on the other hand, has the following 5 meanings (when used with a direct object): 

  1. to have confidence or faith in the truth of (a positive assertion, story, etc.);  to give credence to; e.g. “I have confidence in the idea of the atonement and that it will apply to me.”
  2. to have confidence in an assertion;  e.g. “I believe that the church is a restoration of the early Christian church.”
  3. to have a conviction that (a person or thing) is, has been, or will be engaged in a given action or involved in a given situation;  e.g. “I believe Jesus was resurrected.”
  4. to suppose or assume; understand (usually fol. by a noun clause);  e.g. “I believe in the counsel that was given at General Conference.” 
  5. to believe in a) to be persuaded of the truth or existence of; b) to have faith in the reliability, honesty, benevolence, etc., of; e.g. “I believe I have heavenly parents who care about me.”

Ether 12:6 – I would show unto the world that afaith is things which are bhoped for and cnot seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no dwitness until after the etrial of your faith.

Alma 32: 18 & 21 – 18 Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to abelieve, for he knoweth it. 21 And now as I said concerning faith—afaith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye bhope for things which are cnot seen, which are true.

What do people at church mean when they say they “know” things they relate in their testimony?  Here are some possibilities:

  1. They aren’t certain, but they’ve decided to act on their hope (the first stages of faith).
  2. The language of certainty is the norm; they are simply spouting cliches or don’t want to sound “different” by expressing what they believe or hope.
  3. They haven’t questioned to this point in their life or experienced doubts; therefore, they are “certain” by default.  They still have the unblinking faith of a child.
  4. They have experienced a witness of a specific concept after acting on their faith.  They “know” this specific thing based on that witness.
  5. They have experienced some general sort of “witness” (loosely defined) that they are applying holistically to all concepts taught at church, assuming that one witness covers all points of doctrines (all win or lose together).

So, what do you think it means when people say they “know”?  Is it a cliché that is damaging to those who don’t “know” but assume everyone else does?  Is it dishonest?  Is it an act of faith to say we know when we only hope or believe?  Would you rather hear more accurate language in testimonies?


Comments 126

  1. People have various levels of precision when it comes to speech, and different meanings. That is why speech is imperfect.

    Personally, I doubt that I will ever be able to say that I “KNOW” that this Church is true. I have lived my whole life with the hope and belief that it is true, but it is going to take something pretty convincing for me to say I “KNOW”. I don’t know what form that might take, and I don’t know if it’s something that I will ever achieve in mortality, but I don’t think that I’ll ever “KNOW”.

    For me, even a “good feeling” isn’t enough. I have certainly had good feelings when I have read the scriptures or been in certain meetings, but I also have similarly good feelings when I have read in the Qu’ran, the Bhagavad Gita, or other Christian non-LDS situations. So if I base my “KNOWING” on those feelings about the LDS Church, why not also say I “KNOW” that Islam, Hinduism, and other Christian denominations are also true?

  2. From OED:
    believe, v.

    [Early ME. bileven, f. bi-, BE- + leven:{em}OE., Anglian léfan, short. f. {asg}eléfan, WSax. {asg}elíefan, {asg}elýfan, a Common Teut. vb. (in OS. gilô{bbar}ian, Du. gelooven, OHG. gilouben, MHG. gelouben, glöuben, mod.G. glauben (earlier glouben, Gothic galaubjan):{em}OTeut. *galau{bbar}ian to believe, probably, ‘to hold estimable, valuable, pleasing, or satisfactory, to be satisfied with,’ f. galaub- ‘dear, pleasing’; cf. Goth. liuban, lauf, lubum, lubans, Teut. root *lu{bbar}-, Aryan lubh-, to hold dear, to like, whence also LOVE, LIEF. The original {asg}eléfan, ileven, ILEVE, survived to the 14th c., and the shortened LEVE to the 15th; the present compound, which eventually superseded both, appears in the 12th. The historical form is beleeve. Believe is an erroneous spelling of the 17th c., prob. after relieve (from Fr.). Cf. BELIEF.]

    I. intr.

    1. To have confidence or faith in (a person), and consequently to rely upon, trust to. Const. in, and (in theological language) on (an obs.); formerly with into, unto, of (rare). On hine {asg}elýfan to believe in or on him, was common in OE. No difference can be detected between the use of ‘believe in’ and ‘believe on,’ in the 16th c. versions of the Scriptures, except that the latter was more frequent; it is now used chiefly (but not exclusively) of ‘saving faith.’ a. To believe in a person (also in Scripture in, or on, his name). [Cf. late L. credere in aliquem.]

    b. To believe in a thing, e.g. the truth of a statement or doctrine; also in mod. usage, in the genuineness, virtue, or efficacy of a principle, institution, or practice.

    c. Formerly with of = on, in.

    d. absol. To exercise faith.

    e. absol. To think. Cf. 7.

    {dag}2. To give credence to (a person, or his statement); to trust (from L. credere alicui). Obs. Replaced by 5, 6.

    3. ellipt. To believe in (a person or thing), i.e. in its actual existence or occurrence.

    {dag}4. To trust, expect, think to do (something). Obs. Cf. BELIEF 5.

    II. trans.

    5. To give credence to (a person in making statements, etc.). Object orig. dat.: cf. 2. Phrases. I believe you, an expression of emphatic agreement; believe (you) me, phr. strengthening an assertion.

    6. a. To give credence to, to accept (a statement) as true [cf. L. credere aliquid]. Also in colloq. phrases strengthening an assertion, as believe it or not, would you believe it? (see WILL v.1 43), you’d better believe (see BETTER a. 4b).

    {dag}b. To accept (a thing) as authentic. Obs.

    7. With clause or equivalent inf. phrase: To hold it as true that…, to be of opinion, think.

    {dag}8. To hold as true the existence of. Obs. (Now expressed by 3.)

  3. From OED:
    know, v.

    [A Com. Teut. and Com. Aryan vb., now retained in Eng. alone of the Teut. languages: OE. ({asg}e)cnáwan, pa. tense ({asg}e)cnéow, pa. pple. ({asg}e)cnáwen = OHG. -cnâan, -chnâan, -cnâhan, ON. pres. ind. kná, pl. knegum, Gothic type *knáian, *kaiknô, *knáians, a redupl. vb. not found in existing remains. Outside Teut., = OSlav. zna-t{ibreve}, Russ. zna-t to know; L. *gn{omac}-, whence the inceptive (g)n{omac}sc{ebreve}re, perf. (g)n{omac}vi, pa. pple. (g)n{omac}t-us; Gr. *{gamma}{nu}{omega}-, whence redupl. and inceptive {gamma}{iota}-{gamma}{nu}{gwacu}-{sigma}{kappa}{epsilon}{iota}{nu}, 2 aor. {elenisacu}-{gamma}{nu}{omega}-{nu}; Skr. jn{amac}- know. Generally held to be from the same root (gen-, gon-, gn-) as CAN v., and KEN. Already in early times the simple vb. had sustained various losses; in L. and Gr. the pres. stem survived only in derived forms; in Gothic the word is not recorded; in ON. the pres. inf. was obs.; in ON. and OHG. the orig. strong pa. tense and pa. pple. were lost; in OHG. and OE. the vb. was app. known only in composition, as in OE. {asg}ecnáwan, oncnáwan, tócnáwan. The first of these may be considered as the historical ancestor of ME. and mod. know, for although it came down in southern ME. as i-knowen, y-knowe, the prefix was regularly dropped in midl. and north., giving the simple stem form cnawen, knawe(n, knowe(n, which was well-established in all the main senses by 1200 (a single instance being known a1100). The verb has since had a vigorous life, having also occupied with its meaning the original territory of the vb. WIT, Ger. wissen, and that of CAN, so far as this meant to ‘know’. Hence Eng. know covers the ground of Ger. wissen, kennen, erkennen, and (in part) können, of Fr. connaître and savoir, of L. n{omac}visse, co-gn{omac}sc{ebreve}re, and sc{imac}re, of Gr. {gamma}{iota}{gamma}{nu}{gwacu}{sigma}{kappa}{epsilon}{iota}{nu} and {epsilon}{ilenis}{delta}{geacu}{nu}{alpha}{iota} ({omicron}{ilenisfrown}{delta}{alpha}). But in Sc. the verb KEN has supplanted knaw, and come to be the sense-equivalent of ‘know’ in all its extent of signification. As {asg}ecnáwan came down as late as 1400 in form iknowen YKNOW, the pa. pple in i-, y-, in southern ME., may belong to either form.]

    Signification. From the fact that know now covers the ground formerly occupied by several verbs, and still answers to two verbs in other Teutonic and Romanic languages, there is much difficulty in arranging its senses and uses satisfactorily. However, as the word is etymologically related to Gr. {gamma}{iota}{gamma}{nu}{gwacu}{sigma}{kappa}{epsilon}{iota}{nu}, L. (g)n{omac}scere and (g)n{omac}visse, F. connaître (:{em}L. cogn{omac}sc{ebreve}re) to ‘know by the senses’, Ger. können and kennen, Eng. can, ken, it appears proper to start with the uses which answer to these words, rather than with those which belonged to the archaic vb. to WIT, Ger. wissen, and are expressed by L. sc{imac}re and F. savoir, to ‘know by the mind’. This etymological treatment of the word, and the uses to which it has been put, differs essentially from a logical or philosophical analysis of the notion of ‘knowing’, and the verbal forms and phrases by which this is expressed, in which the word ‘know’ is taken as an existing fact, without reference to the history of its uses.
    Know, in its most general sense, has been defined by some as ‘To hold for true or real with assurance and on (what is held to be) an adequate objective foundation’. Mr. James Ward, in Encycl. Brit. XX. 49 s.v. Psychology, assigns to the word two main meanings: ‘To know may mean either to perceive or apprehend, or it may mean to understand or comprehend… Thus a blind man, who cannot know about light in the first sense, may know about light in the second, if he studies a treatise on optics.’ Others hold that the primary and only proper object of knowing is a fact or facts (as in our sense 10), and that all so-called knowing of things or persons resolves itself, upon analysis, into the knowing of certain facts about these, as their existence, identity, nature, attributes, etc., the particular fact being understood from the context, or by a consideration of the kind of fact which is usually wanted to be known about the thing or person in question. Thus, ‘Do you know Mr. G.?’, ‘Do you know Balliol College?’ have different meanings according to the kind of facts about Mr. G. or Balliol College, which are the objects of inquiry.

    I. 1. a. trans. To perceive (a thing or person) as identical with one perceived before, or of which one has a previous notion; to recognize; to identify. Sometimes with again; also, later, with for.

    b. To recognize or distinguish, or be able to distinguish (one thing) from (another) = OE. tócnáwan.

    (b) Phrases: not to know one’s arse from one’s elbow (and similar phrases): a coarse expression suggestive of complete ignorance or innocence; (not) to know from nothing (U.S.): to be totally ignorant (about something).

    c. intr. To distinguish between. rare.

    {dag}2. trans. To recognize in some capacity; to acknowledge; to admit the claims or authority of: = BEKNOW 3. Obs.

    {dag}3. a. trans. To acknowledge, confess, own, admit: = ACKNOW 2, BEKNOW 2. Obs.

    b. refl. To make confession, confess; also with compl., to confess oneself (to be) something.

    c. intr. (for refl.) Obs.

    d. pass. = b. Const. of, that. = ACKNOW 4, BEKNOW 4. Obs.

    {dag}4. trans. To perceive (with the senses). Obs.

    II. 5. a. To be acquainted with (a thing, a place, or a person); to be familiar with by experience, or through information or report (= F. connaître, Ger. kennen). Sometimes, To have such familiarity with (something) as gives understanding or insight. to know like a book (see LIKE adv. 1c).

    b. refl. To know oneself; esp. in imp. arch. phr. know thyself.

    c. To have personal experience of (something) as affecting oneself; to have experienced, met with, felt, or undergone. Also fig. of inanimate things. Chiefly in negative forms of expression.

    d. to know as, to be familiarly acquainted with under the name of; pass., to be commonly called.

    6. a. To be personally acquainted with (a person); to be familiar or intimate with; {dag}to become acquainted with (obs.).

    {dag}b. pass. to be known, to be personally acquainted or on familiar terms with. Obs.

    {dag}c. intr. Of two persons: To be (mutually) acquainted. (= F. se connaître.) Obs.

    7. trans. To have carnal acquaintance or sexual intercourse with. arch.
    Chiefly a Hebraism which has passed into the mod. langs., but found also in Gr. and L. So Ger. erkennen, F. connaître.

    III. 8. To have cognizance of (something), through observation, inquiry, or information; to be aware or apprised of (= F. savoir, Ger. wissen); {dag}to become cognizant of, learn through information or inquiry, ascertain, find out (obs.).

    9. a. To be conversant with (a body of facts, principles, a method of action, etc.) through instruction, study, or practice; esp. to have practical understanding of (a science, language, profession, etc.); to have learnt by study or practical experience; to be versed or skilled in; {dag}to acquire skill in, to learn (obs.).

    b. Phr. to know better ({dag}better things), to have learnt better from experience; hence, to be more prudent or discreet (than to do something).

    c. To have learnt by committing to memory; more fully, to know by heart: see HEART n. 32.

    {dag}d. refl. (in later use pass.) To be versed or skilled in. (= F. se connaître en.) Obs.

    e. to know one’s {emem}: to be well acquainted with something, to be well up in something. E.g. to know one’s business, onions (see ONION n.), stuff (see STUFF n.1).

    10. a. To apprehend or comprehend as fact or truth; to have a clear or distinct perception or apprehension of; to understand or comprehend with clearness and feeling of certainty. Formerly, sometimes, {dag}to get to understand, to find out by reasoning.
    When the feeling of certainty is emphasized, know is often contrasted with believe.

    b. absol. or intr. To have understanding or knowledge.

    11. To be cognizant, conscious, or aware of (a fact); to be informed of, to have learned; to apprehend (with the mind), to understand.

    * With various constructions: a. with dependent statement, usually introduced by that.
    {dag}Formerly sometimes passive, to be known that, in same sense.

    b. with dependent question, introduced by who, what, when, where, how, and the like; as I know who did it, I know where he lives. Often ellipt., giving rise to subst., adj., and advb. phrases, as I know not who, I know not how, dear knows where, etc. not to know what hit one: see HIT v. 8e. Also, you know: a phrase used with aposiopesis (the implication to be imagined) or const. what, whom, etc. (as a means of avoiding naming the person, etc., referred to).
    The fact known is the answer to the question directly or indirectly expressed.

    c. with accusative and infinitive, as I know him to be a friend; also in the corresponding passive, as he is known to be friendly.
    The infin. to be is sometimes omitted; its place may be taken by as or for.

    d. The perfect tenses with acc. and inf. have the sense, To have had perception or experience of something as a contemporary fact.
    Here the infin. to is usually omitted after the active voice (I have known them fall), but is retained after the passive (they have been known to fall). Cf. HEAR v. 3.

    e. absol. Often parenthetically, esp. in colloquial use, in you know (cf. ‘you see’; now freq. as a mere conversational filler.), we know, do you know. Also, don’t you know?, a variant of you know (cf. DONCHER).
    Grammatically the parenthetic clause is often the chief sentence, and the fact stated its object; but it can often be taken as = as you know to be the fact.

    f. with a word or phrase standing in place of a fact referred to.
    e.g. to know it, that, what has been said, the fact, all about it, the existence of the book, the goodness of his heart (= that his heart is good). (This last passes into 8). not if I know it, a colloquial phrase intimating that one will take care not to do the thing referred to.

    ** In various phrases, arranged in the chronological order of their first recorded use in English as far as this is determinable: g. to know little (or nothing) and care less: to be unconcerned about; to be studiously ignorant of.

    h. to know the reason why: to demand (and get) an explanation. Cf. REASON n.1 5.

    i. and knows (or knew, etc.) it: is clearly aware of (what has been stated).

    j. to know what one likes: a phrase used to imply that the speaker knows which works of art, poems, etc., he like without necessarily having an informed opinion to support his view.

    k. don’t I know it: I am well aware of it, you need not tell me.

    l. before you know where you are (and similar phrases): very soon, very quickly.

    m. not to know whether one is coming or going (see COME v. 27e). n. to know too much: used in a context of murder, or of a threat to kill, because the victim knows too much to be allowed to live.

    o. to know where one stands (or is) with (someone): to know how one is regarded by (someone); to know a person’s views (on an issue).

    p. (do) you know something?: shall I tell you this surprising fact?, I am going to tell you something.

    *** Misc. phrases in which know is used intr. or absol. (usually with something implied and sometimes with specific idiomatic force): q. I want to know: well, well! U.S. colloq.

    r. that’s all you know: you do not know the facts, you do not understand (used censoriously of the person to whom the phrase is addressed). Also, that’s all you know about it.

    s. what do you know?: used as an expression of mild surprise = ‘Isn’t that amazing?’ ‘Well I never!’ ‘Just fancy!’ Also, what do you know about that?

    t. wouldn’t you (or he, etc.) like to know?: I have no intention of telling you.

    u. you never know or one never knows: something unexpected or surprising may occur.

    v. for all I know (or he knows, etc.): as far as I am aware, since I know nothing to the contrary.

    w. I wouldn’t know: I cannot be expected to know, that is outside the range of my knowledge. Also, I wouldn’t know about that.

    x. wouldn’t you (just) know?: ‘just fancy!’ ‘imagine that!’; as one might have foreseen. orig. U.S.

    y. I don’t (or he, etc., doesn’t) want to know: I am not interested. Occas. const. with person as object.

    IV. 12. a. to know how (formerly also simply to know): to understand the way, or be able (to do something): cf. CAN v.1 3.

    b. ellipt. in colloq. phr. all one knows, all one can; also advb., to the utmost of one’s ability.

    {dag}13. To make known: a. To disclose, reveal, manifest; refl. to make oneself known; b. to make (a person) acquainted or (a thing) familiar.

    14. In biblical language, used to render Heb. yd{nfasper} in various inferential senses: To take notice of, regard, care for; to look after, guard, protect; to regard with approval, approve.

    15. Used (chiefly in sense 8) in various colloq. and slang phrases expressing sagacity, cunning, or ‘knowledge of the world’, as to know what’s what, to know a thing or two, to know the time of day, etc. to know it all: not to be aware of one’s deficiencies, to think one (or he, she, etc.) knows it all; cf. know-all, know-it-all s.v. KNOW-. Also to know the ropes (see ROPE n.1 4c); to know all the answers (see ANSWER n. 6b); not to know beans (see BEAN n. 6e).

    V. With prepositions.
    (For other constructions in which the vb. and prep. had their ordinary independent meanings, see the simple senses.)

    16. know about {emem}. To have information about. Often used to express a knowledge of externals, as opposed to real understanding or actual acquaintance.

    {dag}17. know for {emem}. To be aware of. Obs. rare{em}1.

    18. know of {emem}. {dag}a. In various obsolete senses: To be or become assured of, to have or obtain information about or experience of, etc. Obs.

    b. To be cognizant of (something as existing, an event as having occurred); {dag}to become cognizant of (obs.).

    c. Colloq. phrases. not that I know of, not so far as I know, not to my knowledge. {dag}not that you know of, an expression of defiance addressed to a person in reference to something he is about to do (obs.).

    {dag}19. know upon {emem}. To take (judicial) cognizance of. Sc. Obs. Cf. F. connaître de.

  4. I think it is a cultural thing. We just use the word that way, so it is acceptable and comfortable for me to use the word as I intend it. Believe sounds too light-weight to me. From scriptural accounts like the Brother of Jared down to Peter walking on water, we are taught not be be afraid of saying what we have faith in with absolute certainty (see Matthew 14:26–27).

    I think in part it is constricted in the English language. If we had as many words to express how we know or believe something like the Eskimos have for the word snow, we could distinguish a little more what we really believe.

    But without the need for it, saying “I know Christ lives” to me is just saying I accept that as much as I accept the world is round or that it revolves around the sun. As far as how I live my life…I know it and live that way.

    I don’t think I can tell someone else what they do or don’t know…I might challenge them on it or try to parse words to understand deeper levels of understanding of it…but I don’t see value in that.

    I would like to see more accurate language in classroom lessons where we can stretch the understanding of what Faith really is…but in a testimony meeting where someone speaks from the heart unscripted…I take it for what its worth and do not expect we overthink our heart-felt expressions, but try to understand the spirit in the message…which is what is important in a testimony.

  5. #1, I agree that speech is imperfect, but not just speech. Language in general, even written posts like yours…they are imperfectly trying to express what you have in your mind to words that I interpret and lead to ideas in my mind…much room for variation in that process.

    I would say that I beleive Hinduism is true and LDS theology is true, but now that takes us into getting into what we mean by “True”. Having people think about it deeply is interesting to me what they mean by it, but I don’t have problems with people using the phrases even if I put different meanings to it they do. That is just the exercise of communication, and what makes exchanging ideas back and forth meaningful, like blogs like this one.

  6. My faith could best be described as #9(To be conversant with (a body of facts, principles, a method of action, etc.) through instruction, study, or practice; esp. to have practical understanding of (a science, language, profession, etc.); to have learnt by study or practical experience; to be versed or skilled in; {dag}to acquire skill in, to learn.”

    The older I become, the more I realize that I believe things to be true and the less I know things to be true. As Alma taught,”Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.”

    We can know that the fruits or results of our choices are good or bad. We can know that we feel happy if we behave one way and unhappy if we make other choices. However, as I immerse myself in scripture study, I have come to know one thing: that God lives and that He loves all of His children–every single one of them. Right now, that keeps me sane and at peace much of the time. I discovered much truth in many religions and feel we shortchange ourselves and others when we proclaim that we have “all” truth and ignore the beauty and truth that other religions offer us.

  7. It doesn’t bother me when people say they know vs. they believe. I don’t get caught up in trying to decipher what that could mean or not mean or question every word a person chooses to use. I think we tend to read too much into things people say when the more important thing is to pay attention to what they actually do. I don’t really care if a person claims to know or believe something if they are a terrible parent or cheat people out of money. The best way for a person to bear their testimony to me is to live with integrity and to treat others with love, compassion and mercy. I can’t tell you how much more that speaks to me and renews me than to just hear someone get up and talk about what they believe or know on fast Sunday. When I watch others and the way they handle situations, it is much easier for me to see what they believe and/or know because the way a person lives their life is bearing their testimony and it doesn’t lie.

    So, let everyone stand and say they know or they believe, let them dance, sing out loud or do whatever they feel, but at the end of the day, I hope they live what they claim to believe or know and don’t just talk about it because that is what you do on fast Sunday.

  8. #4:
    I think it is a cultural thing. We just use the word that way, so it is acceptable and comfortable for me to use the word as I intend it. Believe sounds too light-weight to me.

    I think Heber13 hits the nail on the head here. According to LDS doctrine, everyone has the ability to “know” the truthfulness of a doctrine. Although the D&C refers to “believing on the words” of those who know, as a spiritual gift, it’s fair to say that most consider it a lesser gift–one preparatory to “knowing for yourself.” As such, “knowing” has become the cultural expectation, and anything else (such as “believing” or “hoping”) is seen as lesser. While I don’t want to unfairly generalize, many in LDS culture seem to consider the lack of “knowing” as evidence of sin, or sometimes even sinful in itself (i.e. the person is too lazy/unfaithful/etc. to go to “pay the price” to “know”). The person who uses “I believe” instead of “I know,” when bearing their testimony, is likely to get some raised eyebrows, at lease from more judgmental members of the ward.

  9. #10 – I agree wholeheartedly with this, Nick. For all intents and purposes, stating publicly that you “believe” something is true in the church, is tantamount to saying “I don’t know that it’s true.”

  10. Technically, if we were scientists or statisticians, we’d probably have to correctly state, “I can’t prove that it is not true” …but that just doesn’t have the same forceful impact to inspire us, does it?

  11. Ouch! If I didn’t know something, I certainly hope I’d have enough integrity not to tell you I “knew” it, just to “inspire” you!

  12. It’s a word just like “love.” When I first told a girl I “loved” her I thought I was going to throw up. It was strange and I was exploring the term, and I certainly felt different when I told my wife the same thing this morning. It was like a different word. Different emotions were associated with it. And I certainly meant something different when I said it to my Mom yesterday.

    Generally I avoid just saying “I know the Church is true,” because the nuance is pretty much gone nowadays. It’s just like saying “nourish and strengthen our bodies.” But when I do say I know the Church is true, it’s generally because of the principles contained therein. I love the Book of Mormon too. So if I gain spiritual insight from the Book of Mormon, it’s true. Could I be wrong? I guess. I can’t go back in time and see Joseph uncovering and translating the plates.

    But there was one day in my life when I realized, “God will not judge me based on whether Joseph Smith was a liar.” What kind of God would that be? So I know the Church is true in the same way I know that “freedom” is true. It’s a thing that makes me better when I believe in it.

  13. …Well, we just don’t talk that way. Scientifically, we may draw a hypothesis and null hypothesis to prove things out…but in conversation, we don’t talk scientifically…it is too technical. Common speach will allow for saying I know something, even if there is room for error. It is just how we talk culturally when we are really confident about something. Perhaps we need more words for “to know” to distinguish when we are 100% sure, 98% sure, 90% sure or have no idea but just hope.

  14. #14 – Arthur, I respect your position on a personal level, but obviously the Church’s (big “c”) position is not confined to subjective truth, and I don’t think the command to the members (or the promise from Moroni) is to gain a testimony that the church is “a” true church, but rather that it is the only true church on the earth. There’s not a lot of ambiguity in that position.

  15. If I could ban one word from the vocabulary of Latter-Day Saints, it most certainly would be “know”.

    Two things have I have always considered absurd about the use of the word “know” in the church are:

    1) Children bearing testimonies and saying “they know the church is true”. These kids don’t even know how to fix a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, yet we are to believe that the creator of all life has given them an assurance while billions (99.9%–literally–of mankind) remain wandering in the dark.

    2) Gain a testimony by bearing it. Say you know before you know and, by darn, you will know. Gain the truth by lying. Say you saw the car accident and you did see it.

    Somebody help me out with those feelings.

    My discomfort with the use of the word would be a lot less if I believed that members have these alternate meanings of the word in their minds as they “testify”. I believe most members really interpret the warm fuzzies as a true, unalterable understanding of our existence. The feelings that their born-again Christian neighbor has are mistaken, but most assuredly their are not.

  16. Post

    Heber13 #15 – Maybe we should just provide our confidence intervals and regression analysis when stating these things. “Based on a sample size of X personal experiences, which has a confidence level of +/- Y%, Z% of my personal experiences confirm its truth.”

  17. #17 – 2) – this has always been a huge problem for me. Members of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles have repeatedly stated that you should say you know something you don’t know, and that it will help you eventually come to know it. I was never able to find any way to make myself feel better about this. Is this really the way god needs to operate? The thing that bothers me the most about this is that this is used as a way to help other people to know. You’re encouraged to lie, and based in part on your testimony, others gain their testimonies. This is very disturbing to me.

  18. Holden (17): A point about which I also wonder and have a sincere question as I try to figure out things for myself:

    This is mostly directed to those on here whose “knowledge” is based upon a “feeling” / “warm fuzzy” / whatever personal feeling caused you to be able to say you “KNOW” that this is the only true church, with the implication that ever other denomination therefore isn’t the “only true church”. As Holden mentioned, what do you make of the same feelings that others have towards their own churches. And if they are “mistaken”, how do you know that?

    And on a more personal basis for myself (being selfish), what do I do with the same feelings that I get when I read scriptures or study things from other denominations (including things as disparate as Buddhism and Hinduism)? Any recommendations?

  19. #18: 😉 Well stated, Hawkgrrrl…yes, that is my point…doesn’t sound very natural someone would talk like that, huh? Because the common language is less scientific, we shouldn’t analyze people saying “I know” in their testimony with our set of rulers on what is “to know” and what is more “to believe”. We get what they’re saying without the precision.

    #17, #19, I agree it does sound absurd to gain a testimony in the bearing of it, but I think I have experienced it. It has troubled me some in thinking about it, but I think I’ve reconciled it and think it can happen. The way I think of it is, with faith and a seed of knowledge, I have started saying “I know [blah blah blah]” not because I was trying to deceive what I didn’t know, but I sincerely wanted to believe it and maybe I was a little bold in saying it, but it came into my mind and I said it. When I did, I really felt peaceful and it felt right saying it…and I thought, “yes, that is true…look how good it feels to say it.” It kind of sounds counter-intuitive now (even as I type it), but I really felt it was a witness. I have wondered why I would say something I hadn’t previously reconciled I knew it before saying it, but I honestly think it was an act of faith…I believed it and wanted to say I knew it, but couldn’t really tell until I heard myself say it. Then I knew. If it didn’t feel right when I said it, I’d have to correct myself or make a mental note not to say that anymore because I don’t believe it is honest. But it does seem sometimes that one can experience a witness that way, even if it sounds awkward in theory.

  20. #20, regarding feelings others in other denominations get…I say, they have had the same experience I have had.

    I strongly believe the Spirit testifies of truth, wherever that truth is found. I do not believe Mormons have a monopoly on the spirit. I believe the church leaders also teach this principle. We are not the only religious people to have spiritual experiences.

    I personally love Buddhism and have found this last year as I study it, it has increased my understanding of teachings I read in the Book of Mormon.

    “Feelings” or inspiration from the spirit are personal and unique to each individual, as we need to receive them, as God leads us towards truth and light. The Church may be the one true church with authority to perform ordinances in God’s name, but it is not the only church with the Spirit of Truth. Those are 2 separate things.

  21. Replace the word “know” with “no longer question if” and things make more sense. I [no longer question if] the church is true. That is really what people are saying. By teaching little children to say “I know”, what they are being taught is “I don’t question”.

    Given that the purpose of personal testimony, and testimony meeting, is mutual affirmation, it would be counterproductive to express any level of uncertainty.

  22. Interesting…we had this same discussion in my YMs class this week, talking about testimonies and what does it mean to say “I know.” Is it cultural? Is it accurate? Etc…

    I KNEW things as a missionary.

    After having lived life for the past 15 years post-mission, I came to BELIEVE, HAVE FAITH IN, REALLY REALLY HOPE that they were true.

    But, I have now come full circle.

    Most of us are selective when we quote Alma and “knowing” things. He says that we can’t get a perfect knowledge — AT FIRST (which infers that we can obtain it eventually) — but, as you read on, he says that once we have seen the seed do its magic within us that our faith is dead on that issue and our knowledge is perfect ON THAT THING.

    To me it all boils down to how our natural man KNOWS things vs. how our spiritual self KNOWS things. As much as I demand a natural man knowledge on most of my daily issues, there are some things where it will NEVER be satisfied. As we learn the workings of our spiritual selves and how it obtains knowledge, I think we can, uncomfortably of course (because my natural man is a stubborn cuss), say that we KNOW ________ (fill in the spiritual principle).

    Now, add in the rejoinder, “beyond a shadow of a doubt…” and you lost me!

  23. I know the Church is true, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I can’t tell you what “know” and “true” mean, and I don’t know what the Book of Mormon is, or what it means that it’s the word of God. But I know those things nonetheless, and, as many times as it would have been nice to not know them, I have known them for 27 years now. When Joseph said “I knew it, and I knew God knew it, and I couldn’t deny it…” I have an understanding that’s similar to mine here. The attempts in this thread to define the word “know” in ways that diminish this do not approach what I mean when I say “I know” here. There is no lack of certainty, and the questions remain open in the sense that I really want to know what they mean. #21 and #24 above seem to get at what I’m getting at reasonably well.

    I can tell you that the word “understand” doesn’t approach what I mean here either.

    I don’t care that some folks don’t like the usage. Not remotely. No disrespect intended.

  24. I think this analysis should take into account what is meant by “know” from both an LDS intrinsic and LDS extrinsic standpoint. In other words, often times what a person is intending to communicate by saying that they “know” may be both genuine and honest, even though the communication may become distorted through language and culture. For example, a person may just be trying to say that they believe very strongly, and yet lack the instananeousness of more appropriate words from lack of thoughtful introspection, or it may just be thoughtless regurgitation of familiar phrases attempting define true emotion. In this case, while I think a person should place more thought into what they are saying, particularly and exploration of what the words could convey, I ultimately believe this is forgivable and behooves the listener to also contribute to the conversation by not “parsing” words too strictly, as some here seem all too apt to do, and rather try and understand the broader picture of what the speaker is actually trying to say. I admit, however that often times this is not easily done if the speaker cannot be questioned, such as in the case of General Authorities. What exactly did Bruce R. McConkie mean during his final talk, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”, for example.

    From the LDS extrinsic position I think it becomes important to understand why buzz word is “know” and not “believe”. Despite what an individual speaker may be trying to communicate, from an institution standpoint Nick Literski’s comment (#10) becomes quite relevant. It should be of little doubt that the onus on Church members is to come to “know” that the Church is true through revelation. While the mechanics behind this “experience” (ie, feelings) are a bit undefined, and vary from person to person, the general expectation is that God communicates both semi-tangibly and literally, through the Holy Ghost. This could almost be argued as empirical evidence, albeit non-communicable, and therefore the knowledge gained through such an experience could also be argued as empirical. Just this Fast and Testimony meeting at my Ward, several members spoke about how they knew The Book of Mormon was true because of the undefined experience associated with reading and praying about it. The manner in which they spoke led me to believe that they were trying to convey the idea that they had a knowledge that was absolute. Some time ago, a member of our Gospel Doctrine class mentioned how the Eternal destiny of certain of their family members had been revealed to them, through Temple service. She claimed that she had been “told” that a deceased child had accepted the gospel on the other side, through ordinances performed by living relatives. The manner in which the story was told was as-matter-of-fact, and seems to imply a knowledge of absolute fact. She did not say that she “felt” that way, but that she had been “told”. The point is, in the Church it is these types of experiences the members are striving for in order to satisfy their testimonies, and I would argue that is why the phrase “I Know” has become ever popular in The Church. The challenge is, it becomes very difficult to know what “knowing” really is. It should also be noted that the foundational story of the Church, The First Vision, appears to serve as the ultra-prototype for the ways of knowing of the average member. We are encouraged to do just as Joseph Smith is said to have done, “search/ponder/pray”, and just like Joseph Smith God will answer. Though again, it appears that even though God will answer the average member just like he did Joseph Smith, that does not mean he will do so in the same manner. Hence the ambiguity of “knowing”.

  25. “can’t tell you what “know” and “true” mean, and I don’t know what the Book of Mormon is, or what it means that it’s the word of God. But I know those things nonetheless, and, as many times as it would have been nice to not know them, I have known them for 27 years now.”

    Perhaps this falls into the category of inadequacy of words. The trouble I have with statements such as this is that how can someone say that they know something, and not even know what it means. Let me explain. Bruce R. McConkie some time ago gave a popular talk called the Seven Deadly Heresies, in which he intended to refute seven points of “false doctrine” that were in circulation among the Latter-Day Saints, and that were particular to LDS beliefs. Heresy one, he states is the idea that:

    “…God is progressing in knowledge and teaming new truths”

    As part of Elder McConkies refutation, he attacks the argument from the contrapositive by asking if god is in fact learning new knowledge:

    “Will he one day learn something that will destroy the plan of salvation and turn man and the universe into an uncreated nothingness? Will he discover a better plan of salvation than the one he has already given to men in worlds without number?”

    In other words, Elder McConkie is suggesting that if God has not reached the bounds of knowledge, and there are truths of which he has not learned, then it is also possible that those truths could demonstrate “our” plan of salvation inferior and therefore imperfect, and then God is imperfect. The correlation here is that, if we claim to know that something is true, though we don’t even understand what that thing is, or what it means, is it not also possible that contained within that thing are contradictions of what it is we think we know about what that thing means. To make a long argument short, sometimes people will say thing’s like Nephi, “I know that he loveth his Children, …Nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things” in order to be “humble”, and that is fine. But if someone is really trying to insinuate that they know something which they don’t understand, then I would challenge the credibility of this statement. A similar scenario to this was parodied on the movie Zoolander, where Hansel was giving an interview about his career in which he says:

    “I care desperately about what I do. Do I know what product I’m selling? No. Do I know what I’m doing today? No. But I’m here, and I’m gonna give it my best shot.”

  26. I read this tonight in FHE:

    “The Holy Ghost bears witness of the truth and impresses upon the soul the reality of God the Father and the Son Jesus Christ so deeply that no earthly power or authority can separate him from that knowledge.” President James E. Faust

    I like that quote and it made me think about this post so I thought I would share it.

  27. Post

    Heber13 – “I sincerely wanted to believe it and maybe I was a little bold in saying it, but it came into my mind and I said it. When I did, I really felt peaceful and it felt right saying it…and I thought, “yes, that is true…look how good it feels to say it.”” Actually, this is a great point. I do believe that we can become attuned to ‘hearing’ or ‘feeling’ the goodness of a statement, if that’s what is meant. There were things when I attended Evensong that gave me that feeling, and things that just didn’t pass the sniff test for me. We did an experiment in a French class at the Y in which people said different things that were there opinions and we were supposed to listen spiritually. It was interesting. There were plenty of things that people said with conviction, but then they said, “I don’t know why, but when I listened to what I said, I just didn’t believe it was true. Let me try again.” Then they would change the statement and see if it felt better. It actually reminded me a lot of the process E. Scott described at the last Gen Conf, taking notes during a lesson, then reviewing the notes for inaccuracies, then praying further on the revised version, until he finally had distilled out his wrong opinions and impressions.

    But what a laborious process!

  28. “What does “know” mean in Mormonism? Has it been overused to the point that its meaning has changed or that is has become meaningless?”

    No doubt we use the word “know” in a way that no longer has any meaningful relation to epistemology. I am just about always disappointed by all the things that church members say they “know”. Too often it seems they are just trying to turn assurances into certainties, which I see as cowardly, or at least artifice. They want to deny that its proper for us, that its good for us, to live in a place that is uncertain. Knowledge, the way it is often referred to in a church setting, is stagnant and dead. If (and its a big if!) I am going to know anything, I want that knowing to be a residue or a mold irregularly growing out of the cracks in the process through which I am continually differing, and different from my self.

    I really love and embrace the weakness and madness of FAITH, and I celebrate doubt and struggle. I’ll take weak faith over strong knowledge any day.

    The boldest testimony would be one in which the speaker says something like: “I don’t know the church is true, I don’t care to know if the church is true, for this is where my faith dwells.”

  29. 27 — It bugs me too. It’s one of the reasons why it would regularly be convenient if I didn’t know what I know.

    I think there is a limitation to language here, but there’s also a limitation in the capacity to understand what has been experienced. I’ve recounted pieces of my conversion experience twice in testimony meetings in recent months (in different wards), and I can’t even tell you when it happened, although I can narrow it down to a period of weeks, and that was about the time I was reading Alma 20 for the first time (give or take a few chapters). But there wasn’t a moment where I had an overwhelming experience and suddenly knew that I knew. It was more that, prior to that time, I more or less passively believed these things and went along with them, and, after that time, I came to realize that I knew that it was true, and was limited in how snarky I could be about it because I really knew.

    I am grateful that I am not asked if I understand what the Book of Mormon is, or what it means to know that the Church is true. I guess those things aren’t so important for right now — they are things I continue to explore and ponder about. Some day I will understand them. I know this too. I just have no idea when. The important thing is that I will, and that I continue working at it.

  30. How can you know something if you don’t fully understand what it means? Choosing to believe in something for better or for poorer is not knowing it is true. It really bothers me when people say this in F&T meeting. No one has a perfect knowledge in all things, and it is childish to proclaim so. I guess that just means one hasn’t left the Garden of Eden and experienced the lone and dreary world yet.

  31. Just as an aside, and I have not read the comments. Forgive my laziness. Sunday was fast and testimony meeting in our ward and I shared my struggle to have faith in the resurrection and how I feel that because of my fear of dying I have to choose to faith in the impressions (spiritual experiences) that I have had in this regard. Yet, I do not feel that I know there is a life after this one. My wife thought this is was not a good idea, for a number of reasons, but not least my current calling. No one really said anything to me about it, but I can sense what my wife is saying. If an apostle said that something like that a GC, people would be upset. Maybe it is just part of the culture which provides security and comfort to people at Church. let those who want to be more careful, be more careful and those who feel like they do know express that. I am not sure that I know enough to know that someone else does not know, or think they know (which is kinda the same thing).

  32. Some very thorough points have been made related to the LDS usage of the word “know.” To some degree I wonder if it is not the “word” that is being challeged but rather the context of “bearing testimony” as that is the way in which most have discussed it. While many faiths have parallel “testimony and witness,” I think the LDS version stands alone. I like Jen #9 comment on walking the talk but I do allow for the weaknesses of mortality. We live in such a scientifically demanding world where spiritual things are considered non-existant because they can’t be tested in a scientific way. I am happy to live my life in such a way as to seek for the spiritual and not “put my trust in the arm of flesh.”

  33. 34 # Rico,

    That is really brave I applauded you, addressing an entire congregation highlighting your uncertainty can bring significant social ramifications, which is why many use secret identities.

    I know the Church is true, however I try not to say it in F&T because others would interpret this as meaning The Church of Jesus Christ is “the only True Church”. I believe many other churches and non-church beliefs have sufficient capacity to help prepare Gods children for the kingdom of heaven, I don’t believe all the teachings of GA’s to be directly from God, and many other things can be automatically attributed to “I Know the Church is True”.

    I choose to say I Know Christ leads this Church (through those that will listen), I don’t believe this solves the issue but I’m more comfortable with it.

    My knowledge of spiritual things is like the knowledge I have of love. I know I love my Wife, however I appreciate this can change based on my attitude & actions. again I appreciate this approach is not infallible but I’m comfortable with it.

    I attempt to live my life according to my Faith, The Knowledge of the truthfulness of the Church. However if there is no God, Church, Life after Death then my Life will still be something I would be proud of.

  34. This topic has been covered many times in the ‘nacle. And, as with this post, it draws a lot of comments.

    In my opinion, to understand why members use the word “know”, it is important to realize that as children of God we are dual beings: intellectual and emotional. The scripture tell us the Lord communicates with our mind (intellect) and heart (emotions), this is called the spirit of revelation.

    Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.D&C 8:2

    Notice where the Holy Ghost dwells in us–our hearts, not our intellect. But we’re influenced in both our minds and hearts when the Holy Ghost is with us.

    The scripture additionally teach that when we’re influenced by satan he does so from our heart, but the scriptures don’t appear to teach that he influences our minds, at least, not in the same way the Lord does (let me know if you find a scripture that clearly says satan influences our minds in the same way D&C 8:2 teaches that the Holy Ghost’s does).

    With that said, when we’re in the setting of a testimony meeting we’re (at least we should be) in a revelatory state where we are communicating from the heart and mind. Conversely, when we’re commenting in the ‘nacle in a post that is purely intellectual, we are communicating in a setting where things of the heart are mostly absent. In essence, most of those who write turn off the Spirit. This may explain why scripture and GA comments are not used very often, in many blogs, in the ‘nacle.

    Therefore, when a worthy church member stands in a testimony meeting and declares they know, the source of their knowledge transcends that of the intellect alone, because of the influence of the Holy Ghost which dwells in their heart.

  35. I guess I still just find it difficult to understand how the term “know” can be used appropriately, when the person using that clearly admits all that they don’t know, even the point at which they came to know. After all, Joseph Smith could pin his knowing down to the First Vision allegedly. If that event really happened, then the claim to know is very relevant. “I know God lives, because I have seen him. I know The Book of Mormon is true because I have met Moroni, and I have held the plates. I know that Temple’s are ordained of God, because Jesus himself appeared upon the breastwork at Kirtland. Etc”. If such events happened, then knowledge can be pinned down to a “what”, it can be articulated, and it can also be traced to event/a time of learning. I believe this is the model for revelation advocated in the Church, i.e., tangible revelation. This is why I have trouble when someone claims to know something, yet they can’t articulate it, explain it, or trace it to a singular point in time. Instead, when the transformation occurs over time through study, pondering, etc, and it is not tied to an event of tangible revelation, it sounds like the person making the claim to have knowledge is just confusing that term with the process of developing faith and belief, but it is not knowledge.

  36. Jared:

    In just a quick count, I found that 15 of the comments in this post either quote or refer to scriptures, or refer or quote Church General Authorities. That’s just under half of the comments. Many of the other refer to gospel doctrine classes, or fast and testimony meeting, and some even bear testimony. I’m not sure your ongoing indictment is empirically supported here, that only snooty intellectuals participate here – thereby negating the spirit. Furthermore, I find the argument problematic, given that many of those who participate here are apt to bear testimony during the monthly Church meetings. Are you suggesting that knowledge of gospel truth is somehow only recalled at spiritual times. In other words, taking the First Vision at face value, could Joseph Smith somehow been unable to recall that this event ever happened? I would think that if a person acquires knowledge of those things which they bear testimony about, then it becomes a part of their store of information.

  37. Cowboy – “This is why I have trouble when someone claims to know something, yet they can’t articulate it, explain it, or trace it to a singular point in time.”

    There are many things in my life “I know to be true” that I can’t trace back to a singular point in time. My fear of spiders, My sexuality, Love, even my own existence. I know I’m scared of spiders, I know I’m Heterosexual, etc however I can’t trace them to an exact point or experience. Regarding Tangible experiences I have never been to Niger or know any one who has been or come from there. Despite being cliché I still think it is relevant.

    So really I’m not convinced by your argument, I find it a null point by normal human existence.

  38. In many ways the “know” versus “belief” to me is semantically hair-splitting. First of all, what can you really “KNOW” for sure? Most of what we call personal knowledge is nothing more than faith-based anyway. For example, I’ve been married for almost 27 years, so I KNOW my wife very well, but I don’t know everything, so do I really KNOW her? Also, I KNOW that 1 plus 1 equals 2. But I know this because I taught this universal convention and not because I KNOW beyond any shadow of a doubt that it is true.

    I have had a number of spiritual experiences that have convinced me that the LDS Church is the true Church , but…… I still based most of it on pure faith.

    I think that in the Church will use Know and Believe interchangeably for the most part. There are probably some who really do KNOW.

  39. I think an interesting corollary to this conversation is the scientific principle that something cannot be known to be true unless it is able to also be proven to be untrue. I realize that this will not resonate with most of the people here, but I think we would all agree that it’s not currently possible to conclusively disprove the existence of god or the truthfulness of the church. So that, of course, creates a no-fail situation for those advocating or seeking the truth of such things, because they can be proven, but not disproven. Many feel that the evidence of god or other spiritual matters go to proving their existence, but the absence of any evidence supporting such contentions does not in any way disprove their existence. This comment is not meant to be criticial of anyone individually, as I believe that every individual’s experiences are just that, and can’t really be judged by anyone else. I’m not suggesting that those who feel they know something are mistaken or disingenuous. I think ultimately things of the spirit are exempt from the normal rules of evidence, proof, criticism, etc., at least in the minds of those who are experiencing them. I think that makes it kind of difficult to have a discussion about what people “know” and why they know it, and leads to the chasm in perspectives that is typified by Cowboy’s and Blain’s comments. I don’t know that it’s possible to bridge that gap.

  40. MrQandA:

    You comparison is flawed. Does your fear of spiders represent a truth independent of your emotion? Does it bespeak some absolute truth independent of your secondary qualities about it? The same questions could be asked about your feelings towards your wife. Your emotions do not verify any independent truths, rather just characterize your orientation towards percieved externalities. Jeff Spectors point is spot in this regard, that we cannot really know very much, however avoiding the philisophical excercise where we begin to challenge our own existence, what I am really getting at is that far more important than empty claims of LDS to “know”, should be the emphasis on “how”. It is an odd thing that an emerging characteristic of the Mormon testimony, is the “too sacred to share” position, or the “I just can’t explain it but take my word for it”. In either of these two cases the repetition of I know is empty and meaningless, even more so if a case for why cannot be made. What is a “witness” if not an account of how one came to such conclusions. Unfortunately the double edge to offering real witnesses is the propensity for outside scrutiny to test the validity of extreme claims. This is as it should be, however I think that this has also created the LDS knee-jerk response of “too sacred to share” which allows the believer to go forward with the insistance that such is the case, but no true testing of claims and really offering little value beyond reinforcing the group.

  41. I think comments #38 to #42 establish that there is a spectrum of experiences that individuals have that are unique to them when it comes to their reason for believing or knowing regarding things of the Spirit.

    Cowboy points out that a person needs to have a defining experience to use the term, “I know”. I’ve said before, and will say again, I’ve had that kind of experience so I think and speak from that perspective. Yet, I have no doubt that many who stand in testimony meeting and say they “know”, without having had a defining spiritual experience, do in fact know by the influence of the Holy Ghost, as I related in comment #37.

    I agree with Jeff about hair-splitting. If someone genuinely feels that they know, who am I to judge different.

    I think the real issue is what we do with whatever level of knowledge we have been given. None of us arrive at a point where we don’t have room to progress to a new level of “believing” or “knowing”.

    Those who haven’t had a defining experience should seek for one. Those who have had a defining experience should seek for whatever the Lord has in mind for them. The message of the prophets to all those pressing forward is to keep on moving towards the Lord–endure to the end, even when the opposition we’re encountering is formidable.

    I say to all, don’t give up. Hold on!

  42. #44 Jared, great response.

    #42, brjones, see post#15. I agree with that logic, but it is not what is common in speech, like what is used in a F&T mtg.

    I enjoy the discussion and the exercise to really understand what faith, truth and “Know” means to me, and does impact how I can carefully choose my words in the future.

    However, we must remember, that for most people, they are just sharing their feelings and are not giving so much thought around differentiating belief, knowledge, or hope … they are just stating their testimony and since I have been in the church my entire life, I am most familiar with “I know the church is true” and I know I should end in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. I don’t think many think deeply enough about the meaning of each word, as expressing feelings.

    Evidence for my point…how often do you hear people close their testimony “I say these these things in the name of THY son, Jesus Christ, Amen.”

    Now that always bothers me. What? THY son…is this a prayer or a testimony? Do people even know what they are saying?

    I just smile when I hear this and remember that you get pretty emotional and some get very nervous, and so sometimes words come out that are just out of habit…even if the heart is in the right place trying to express itself.

    I try not to get caught up in correct grammar or correct words of others’ testimonies as much as get the spirit of what the testimony bearer is trying to communicate (which many times I can’t get, but I try).

  43. I know that the atonement of Jesus Christ has the power to change lives, because my life was changed by the atonement of Jesus Christ.

    I know that I am not in a mental institution or dead by my own hand because, and only because, of the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ in my life.

    I know that our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ live and love me, and by extension, each of us, because I have experienced their love, asked for their help, and have experienced their loving interference in my life, not once, but multiple times.

    I know this as I know the sun rises.

    (although, to use specific, scientific language, it is the horizon that sets)

  44. Post

    Cowboy – “I’m not sure your ongoing indictment is empirically supported here, that only snooty intellectuals participate here – thereby negating the spirit.” Hear, hear. I’m neither snooty nor intellectual. I can’t even remember the last time I snooted. Frankly, I don’t think my post was terribly intellectual either. I raised the question because it’s a cultural quirk to say “know,” it has certainly increased in my lifetime to say “I know” rather than “I believe” or “I have faith in” (which back in the day was heard much more commonly). My question was what people really mean by it. It seems many take their words at face value, but that they are probably most commonly a cliché. Words are one of the most important tools we have to express our feelings and to communicate soul-to-soul. Saying you know when you really just believe matters to some – to those who think you must really know and therefore they must be inferior or who then foster unrealistic expectations of their own ability to “know” things. Lack of spiritual confidence is probably just as difficult as dealing with the side-effects of too much confidence. Human dynamics matter in human organizations like the church and planet earth.

    Our focus on “testifying” has created this problem. There are probably similar problems in other churches: those with a “witnessing” culture, those with creedal recitations as part of the liturgy, those with pre-written prayers. Repetition means to prescribe meaning, but over time it alters the meaning of words. We do have some vain repetitions in our church. This is probably one of them. Along with being grateful for moisture (what are we, farmers??).

  45. On a personal basis, I have served in many callings in the Church, yet have never been bishop. I have always had a temple recommend. I would, for all intents and purposes, be considered by those that see me at Church a TBM. I don’t discuss many of the issues I wonder about at Church, because it would just add confusion and it’s not really the forum.

    So my question: I can’t say I KNOW the Church is true, and as I mentioned above don’t know that I ever will be able to. I have certainly lived my life for decades with the faith and belief that it is true, and still do. Not that I’d ever really be considered for it, but does anyone think a ward could have a bishop who can’t get up and say that they “KNOW” the Church is true? What would happen if a bishop got up and said “I have faith that this is all true, and live my life this way, but I can’t say I KNOW it is true”? How would that go over?

  46. Re: #48

    Thirty years ago the bishop of our ward bore his testimony to the congregation and plainly said that he didn’t “know” the church was true. He went on to explained his belief and faith in Christ. As a teenager with a lot of doubts, I remember his testimony as comforting, rather than shocking. It may be the only testimony from my youth that I can remember in detail. His testimony provided motivation to seek faith in Christ and worry less about knowing.

  47. #45 – I don’t completely agree with this. I would have no problem with this line of reasoning if this were confined to personal experiences and feelings, but it most definitely is not. The church’s official line is that although good and truth, in a measure, can come from varying sources, the church is the only true church and its ordinances are the only ones on the earth that are done by authority recognized by god, and the prophet is the only person authorized to speak for god on the earth. The church’s policy is to be very aggressive with this position. This includes not only proselyting full-time missionaries, but also a commandment to all members to do missionary work in their personal lives. This missionary work includes attestations that the church is “true” and that it is the “only true church” and even includes quotes from Joseph Smith describing the inadequacies and corruption of other churches. I think somewhere along the line the fallback of “well, it’s more of a cultural/dialectic issue” loses some of its credibility. People are being encouraged to join the church and make serious, life-altering decisions, based in large part on others’ heartfelt declarations that they “know” the church is true. I think this language should be held to a higher standard than many are advocating here.

    I also disagree that in general people don’t really use any kind of evidence-based logic when they use words like “I know.” In civilized discourse, even casual conversation, if a person made a declaration, they would generally be willing to offer evidence or at least rational reasoning to support such declaration. I don’t believe that people go around saying things and when asked to support it they respond “well you know, when I say I know something I really just mean I have a feeling about it.” In fact, I can’t think of another context outside of “spiritual” matters, where anyone would attempt such line of reasoning. And I don’t think I know of anyone personally who would let someone get away with that.

  48. ” I have certainly lived my life for decades with the faith and belief that it is true, and still do.”

    Buy why even bother to describe your faith in these terms. I do realize that the central experience we are “supposed” to have is a knowledge or witness that the church is “true” with a “T” in a western, pre-modern sense. nonetheless, Just because that is what many proscribe does not mean that it is, should be, or will be a universal experience for members. What is hard for many to understand is that the “T” of truth and the “K” of knowing have certain cultural, ideological, philosophical, and historical origins and implications that are not necessarily the same as faith, even though many feel they are well served by insisting upon such a relationship as being the only possibility for true Mormons. I reject such a notion. Being Mormon does not necessitate a pre-modern, western, essentialism.

  49. #51 – Douglas, I personally agree with your reasoning, but this begs the question: who gets to decide what constitutes “being mormon” or what that necessitates? I would argue that in a top-run organization such as the LDS church, the brethren, who are not shy about reminding everyone that the church is not a democracy, are the ones who determine what is and is not required to be a “true” or at least a “righteous” mormon. This is a comment that I’ve made many times on this site. People are obviously free to live the mormon church’s program to the degree and in the way that they like, but they don’t get to decide that their way is the, or even A, correct way. I think that determination is solely within the purview of church leaders who decide what the program is, and that by design.

  50. #50 bjrones: “This missionary work includes attestations that the church is “true” and that it is the “only true church” and even includes quotes from Joseph Smith describing the inadequacies and corruption of other churches….This missionary work includes attestations that the church is “true” and that it is the “only true church” and even includes quotes from Joseph Smith describing the inadequacies and corruption of other churches.”

    I’m not sure I understand your point…Mormons believe the church is true and can declare they “know” it and they have a testimony of it. Catholics can say the same thing. Why are you wanting Mormons to be held to a higher standard in the language they use?

    The Church boldly declares it is the true and living church, but it never declares others are all false, and it NEVER declares a monopoly on the Spirit or spiritual experiences for its members. Ordinances are different than spiritual experiences.

    Elder Bangerter wrote in a church magazine:
    “President Gordon B. Hinckley was greeting a group of ministers during the open house in the Jordan River Temple several years ago. … Two or three in the group, forgetting their manners as guests in a warm and friendly situation, asked some sharp and antagonistic questions. Central to their criticism was a demand for President Hinckley to justify the declaration mentioned in Joseph Smith’s testimony, as he beheld the Father and the Son, that those professors of religion were all corrupt. President Hinckley responded that the Lord did not say that.

    As I have pondered the same question, I have wondered: Do we really believe that all ministers of other churches are corrupt? Of course not. Joseph Smith certainly did not intend to communicate that. By reading the passage carefully, we find that the Lord Jesus Christ was referring only to that particular group of ministers in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s community who were quarreling and arguing about which church was true.

    Are ministers of other churches inspired of God? Of course they are, if they are righteous and sincere. Do they accomplish good? Certainly.

    Does the Spirit of God bless people who are not members of the Church? Of course, when they seek him in faith and righteousness. “For,” as our doctrine states, “the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”
    [source: Wm. Grant Bangerter, “‘It’s a Two-Way Street’,” Tambuli, Mar 1987, 30]

    I do not see your point that Mormons are supposed to “know” more so than any other religious group “knows” their church is true. I think people can “know” their church is true until they find greater light and knowledge that then pursuades them they “know” something new.

    Knowing isn’t a one time experience. It builds and builds as knowledge and faith grow in a circular pattern. One does not have to wait until they get to the apex to declare, “I know” …we are taught line upon line, and can know truth in pieces as we are climbing.

    Regarding your other point, I think people in civilized society use the words “I know” all the time and we never challenge them for improperly using it. I know the Yankees will win the world series, you can’t convince me they won’t. In my place of business, managers say they know what the problems are all the time, when how could they really KNOW?

    No, I think you have to realize that people are more comfortable saying they know things besides just talking about testimonies, and we need to not look beyond the mark on the purpose of someone bearing a testimony.

  51. #49 Regarding knowing and believing and church callings.

    I think the wording church leaders use for determining worthiness for temple recommends and for callings to leadership positions is, “do you have a testimony”. That circumvents the believe, know issue. I’m sure there are many church leaders at all levels that appreciate not being pinned down with using the term believe or know. I noted that President Hinckley used both terms in his talks and writings.

    “I believe without equivocation or reservation in God, the Eternal Father. I believe in the grace of God made manifest through His sacrifice and redemption, and I believe that through His Atonement, without any price on our part, each of us is offered the gift of resurrection from the dead.” Ensign, March 1998.

    “My brethren and sisters, I invoke the blessings of the Lord upon you as with certitude I give you my witness of the truth. I know that God our Eternal Father lives. I know that. I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, the author of our salvation. I know that this work of which we are a part is the work of God; that this is the Church of Jesus Christ. Great is our opportunity for service therein and strong and certain is our faith concerning it.”
    “Faith: The Essence of True Religion,” Ensign, Oct 1995, 2

  52. #53 – Heber13, my point wasn’t to hold the church to any higher standard than any other church (or any other group for that matter) that makes similar declarations. I guess my point was more in response to your comment that when people say they know, they’re really just sharing their feelings. I think that is inaccurate. I think the culture as well as the more formal “church program” (if you will) goes far beyond that. I don’t think there’s any question that when the church and/or its members declare that the church is true, that they are also saying that other churches that contain conflicting authority or doctrine are untrue. There is no other way to interpret this. The LDS church and the Catholic church cannot simultaneously be the only church on earth with the authority to act for god. I agree with you that the church does not claim a monopoly on spirituality or even on truth, but they do claim a monopoly on authority, and they claim a monopoly on institutions that are authored and led directly by deity. Because the statement “I know the church is true” means so much more than just “I believe that the church is true for me” I think it’s appropriate that those espousing such a view be called to account for how they came to such knowledge, and I believe this is even more appropriate when someone is specifically attempting to convince another person of such things. I also think this issue ties in with something that has been discussed here many times before; namely the difference in the way testimony is apparently gained and definitely how it is borne in the modern church, when compared with the early church. I can’t imagine JS or any other of the early brethren advocating a position whereby a member makes bold and audacious assertions, and when asked to explain or elaborate, simply responds that they just feel it is true. There were purportedly miracles galore in the early church, on which testimonies were based, and about which testimony was repeatedly and openly borne. Furthermore, many of the early intellectuals in the church advocated every member being sufficiently prepared to field and answer the most difficult questions from critics and investigators of the church. This seems to be much different that what happens today, where nothing is quantified and everything is explained and justified (even by the prophet) by feelings.

    With respect to the external use of the word “know,” I don’t think there’s really any comparison between someone claiming to know the Yankees are going to win the series or what the source of a problem at work is, and someone claiming to know definitively the secrets of the universe and eternal life and the will of god for him or herself, as well as for other people. The reason loose usage of the word “knowledge” is not a problem in civilized society in other contexts is because in non-religious contexts there is a mutual understanding of the relevant importance of the knowledge being claimed. I would be more interested to hear of an instance outside of religion wherein someone claims to have absolute knowledge of a fact or event of which there is great difference of opinion or debate, where that person is not challenged or criticized to provide more than a bald assertion. I think you’d be hard pressed to come up with a correlative example.

  53. brjones: “I would be more interested to hear of an instance outside of religion wherein someone claims to have absolute knowledge of a fact or event of which there is great difference of opinion or debate, where that person is not challenged or criticized to provide more than a bald assertion.”
    **hey…watch the bald jokes, I’m sensitive about that**** jk

    I think this is all rooted on understanding what truth is, what faith is, and what the context is that we are discussing.

    This is a testimony, not a claim of absolute truth in a court of law or a proof in a science lab. Its religion. I can believe something to be true, and I can believe that you believe the opposite is true. I’m ok with that. I am only focused on MY testimony of MY faith in God. I know it, and you can’t tell me I don’t know it.

    Here is the definition of Testimony from the church:
    “A testimony is a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost. The foundation of a testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves His children; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the infinite Atonement; that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel; that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior’s true Church on the earth; and that the Church is led by a living prophet today. With this foundation, a testimony grows to include all principles of the gospel.”

    I’ve had a spiritual witness. What more is required for me to say I know it? Nothing, that is my testimony. You may wonder how I can know it, but you can’t tell me I don’t know it.

    Also note, nowhere in the definition of testimony does it say the spirit will witness to me all other churches are false. The spirit witnesses of truths, not of falsehoods. Just because I believe the LDS church is Christ’s church does not mean I believe all other churches are false. I don’t.

  54. #56 – Heber13, I don’t disagree with anything you are saying. And I hope you don’t think I’m attacking your or anyone else’s testimony. I’m honestly not. I also believe that I can believe what I want and someone else can believe the opposite and we don’t have to try to disprove each other. My point is just that I don’t think that’s as far as the church goes. I know that your bearing of your testimony is not an indictment of others’ testimonies of their religions, but I disagree that, when taken in a broader context, there is more to it. Certainly the testimonies of the general authorities, who are specifically called to be witnesses to the world, are meant to be bold and unequivocal. In keeping with the theme of this post, I think we need to admit that words have meaning, and sometimes the claim of absolute truth for one thing carries the implication of falsehood (or at least the lack of absolute truth) of something else. This is why missionaries are instructed not to feel sheepish or “ashamed” of the gospel, because it’s true, and that’s ultimately the message. I’m ok with that, but again, I think we need to be honest about the implications.

    In any event, I don’t really have any issue with the position that you are taking for yourself, Heber13.

  55. Fwiw, a couple of months ago, I began my testimony with the statement, “There are lots of things I know and lots of things I believe.” I then went on to testify of one thing in particular that I felt I could say I know. I’ve done that, essentially, multiple times in multiple wards and stakes – and I’ve done that in meetings with multiple levels of Priesthood and other leadership.

    Not a single person in any congregation and not a single leader has so much as blinked or mentioned it to me in any negative way. I’ve said it in front of leaders who subsequently have called me to positions of visibility – knowing I probably would say it again in that position. I understand there is social pressure to be able to say, “I know” – but I’ve never seen ANY negative reprecussions for saying, “I believe.”

    The only way to lessen the natural social pressure is to mention belief and faith in testimonies in direct opposition to that pressure – but to do so in a gentle, non-confrontational, non-judgmental way. It helps to find some things you personally feel comfortable saying you know (since then you and those who hear you can distinguish between faith and knowledge) – and there are LOTS of Gospel principles that are broad enough to warrant such a statment for anyone.

  56. “who gets to decide what constitutes “being mormon” or what that necessitates?”

    In some ways I experience this as a wonderful question, or actually more of an invitation than a question. Part of our practice of being Mormon should directly address such questions.

    Moving on, in a certain type of theory your thinking is valid, but notice that in your last sentence you change the topic entirely by bringing in the idea of the program. To be clear, at the level at which I am describing truth and knowledge, there is a program to the extent that the notions exist within a certain context but that kind of program is not one that can be decided upon, specifically by those who embrace a pre-modern, western notion of “K”nowing and “T”ruth. Its not a decision that such folks are equipped to make, because they do not know that such a decision is possible. We are all subject to such blindness but it expresses itself differently, but it always lies in the realm just beyond our individual perception of knowledge.

    There is also the bland level of pragmatics, on which such an immense labor of enforcement, is quite impossible. The effort needed to insist on such fine details of how we experience knowledge, and truth, and how that plays out in each individual’s expression of his or her Mormonism in unimaginable.

    So there is the level on which we can agree that those at the highest levels of a patriarchy have the power and the will to insist upon what it means to be Mormon. But pragmatically speaking, this is at the same time impossible. Each of us, including the patriarchal authorities only become Mormon through the act of living. Each and every individual under the name of “Mormon” has an experience that is similar to and different from the experiences of others living under the name of Mormon. The idea of, or Meaning of, the truth (small “t”) of and the knowledge of (small “k”) Mormon is continually differing from itself, is over determined, and can not be settled upon once and for all. We are all subject to something like the play of the signifier.

  57. As I have thought about what it means to really know something, I realized that we know many things and have known them for a very long time, but we just can’t remember clearly because of our veiled minds. If things really happened in the pre-existence the way we have been taught, then we know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ exist and that there was a plan in heaven set forth for us. I have heard different people say that when they first heard the gospel, it seemed very familiar to them or they felt like they were just remembering something they had forgotten, rather than learning something new. I have a very strong belief in the life before and the life after, so I believe that we know many things and are just rediscovering them here. Maybe it would be a nice twist to throw in something like “I remember that the gospel is true or I have rediscovered the truth of the plan of salvation” in testimony meeting instead of the old “I know or I believe.” Why not mix it up a little.

    Anyway, I am very comfortable saying I know something to be true, because I know that my spirit within my body is much more knowledgeable than my short lived mortal mind. I know that I existed long before this life and will continue to do so and I know that I know many more things that I can’t wait to remember once I stop forgetting. 🙂

  58. Re: #43 and the statement “I can’t it explain it, but it’s something I can’t deny,” or the suggestion that a spiritual witness is “like salt,” i.e., you can’t describe it to someone who hasn’t tasted it, here’s a scripture:

    “And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.” (D&C 50:23.)

    Nobody is edified by a person’s declaration that he “knows” something, but is unable to state the basis for his knowledge. Nobody can measure whether the basis for the person’s purported knowledge justifies his statement; nobody can even know quite what he means by the word “know.”

    I believe most people use “I know” as an equivalent to “I am convinced.” It’s said that when a person “knows” something by the Spirit, this knowledge is superior to ordinary human reason. And yet, when I probe for what people mean by their statements that they “know” something on the basis of a spiritual experience, I hear that what they actually know (with every fiber of their being, without a shadow of a doubt, etc.) is that they have experienced some intense, profound, personal sensation.

    Fair enough. It’s not my business to question whether this is the case. But that’s not the end of the analysis. From the known fact of having experienced what was experienced, the person then *draws the conclusion* that the concept or doctrine that he was contemplating when the experience occurred, is literally true.

    And if human reason is a flawed method for discovering truth, then revelation — or at least *our* ability to use revelation as a guide — is also flawed. Because the process involves reason, if only to draw the conclusion that because I received a spiritual prompting in connection with something, that thing is true. Maybe that’s so, but there are a lot of assumptions packed into the syllogism.

  59. Given that the Church maintains an aggressive missionary program which teaches 1) a universal apostasy 2) restored priesthood authority necessary for saving ordinances 3) is led by Modern Prophets, Seers, and Revelators to whom God makes his will known; it should be incumbent upon those claiming to know to specifically clarify what, and more importantly how. After all the relevance behind saying something like “I know this Church is true”, is not to just point out one truth in an assortment of truth’s, but to specifically address a superior truth, and by extension it is a missionary invitation for others to join. After all, theres no point in proselyting if the Mormon Church isn’t at least superior to the other “true” Churchs, is there Heber13. I served my mission in the bible belt, and the message I got from my mission leaders was that all the other Church’s, as good as they may be, were still remnants of an apostate Christendom. We profess that the heavens are open, why not provide a few examples of how.

  60. #62 Cowboy,

    I think the missionary program is ample evidence of the “fruits” of a true church. Add to that the fruit of the Book of Mormon, D&C, PoGP, living prophets, and temples and there is much visible “evidence” of something special. The growth of the church is a wonder to those who observe from an academic point of view. The tithing paid by members is an absolute miracle that other churches wish they could inspire their members to follow.

    But even with all that, the Lord gives more. He invites us to seek for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. This is an individual exercise in faith and works. And as the parable of the 10 Virgins teaches the gift of the Holy Ghost can only to obtained in one way. In other words, those who have it, can’t share it expect to give testimony of what they’ve experienced–and as the arithmetic of the parable teaches, only half of those who start out will obtain/experience the gift. The rest will, according to the parable, will be shut out and when they ask why, the Lord replies, “I know you not.

    I hope with all my heart I won’t ever hear those words.

  61. #63–“I think the missionary program is ample evidence of the “fruits” of a true church.

    The growth of the church is a wonder to those who observe from an academic point of view.”

    The wonder of the growth is a thing of the past from when it was thought the church would continue some geometric expansion. LDS church growth has slowed. Seventh Day Adventists, on the other hand, added 1 million members for the year ended June 30, 2009. It was the sixth year in a row they added one million people. Seems the fruits of their true church are “more ample” and more of a wonder.

  62. #64 Holden Caulfield–

    Be fair in your comparison. 😀 The growth of the LDS church is but one indicator of fruit. What about all the other things. Where else do the 7th DA out do the LDS?

    1. Book of Mormon
    2. D&C
    3. PoGP
    4. Temples
    5. Tithing
    6. Missionary force made up of 19 and 20 year olds

    This is just a few of the things that can be listed.

    Of course, the Book of Mormon teaches that the church among the Nephites had seasons of success and seasons of difficulty. I’m sure the modern church won’t be able to avoid seasons of challenge.

  63. re 65:

    Jared, that’s a surprisingly weak argument for you.

    We could cherry pick plenty of unique features of the 7th Day Adventists as you have done with the LDS church. It would say just as much (i.e., little to none) as your list of the LDS things does. (The issue is all of us here are biased, knowing the talking points of the LDS church, but probably not being familiar with the details of the 7DAs.)

    Not to mention, these aren’t necessarily “good” or “bad” fruit. You’re biased to say these are good fruit because you self-reference LDS beliefs on what good fruit are. A non-LDS Christian, on the other hand, would just as easily point to all the things you mentioned as exemplary the LDS church’s “bad” fruit. And the they would point out that it’s very easy to account for why “churches of Satan” have lasted so long. This argument is ultimately just as inconsequential, however.

  64. Jared–

    I would say they all indicate goodness, not necessarily the one and only true church, which is the church’s claim.

    as for your “….The rest will, according to the parable, will be shut out and when they ask why, the Lord replies, “I know you not. I hope with all my heart I won’t ever hear those words.” I hope that for you as well. I know you are well-intentioned.

  65. 38 — Sorry that my experience is beyond my understanding. I’d prefer you not be too conclusive about the meaning you’re choosing to impart to that. And I’d prefer you not be too hasty to read what I said — the experience happened across a period of a week or so while I was praying and reading the BoM. And I’m not telling anybody they should accept what I’m saying as definitive proof of what I’m testifying about. Anybody who wishes to is free to repeat my effort, but I can’t guarantee the result.

    Again, I’m not saying anything here to convince you of anything. I’m sharing an experience that I find a bit perplexing myself. You’re not showing me any particular insight that’s helping me better understand it, and, with less information to go on, I’m not sure it makes sense for you to be more confident in characterizing it than I am.

  66. Andrew S & Holden Caulfield (two of the best thinkers in the ‘nacle)

    I don’t want to get into a protracted discussion, but I do want to state that I think the Book of Mormon is the fruit of fruits. It will not be universally seen that way because to experience its nectar requires a journey not all are willing to embark on. Additionally, the day of the Gentiles may be coming to a close (1 Nephi 14:6, 3 Nephi 16:10-16). If we, indeed are at the end of the days of the Gentiles, we’ll be entering the “days of sorrow”. In the days of sorrow, the church and its members (D&C 112:23-26) will undergo a purging along with the rest of the gentile nations. With the demise of the USA as a world leader there will rise other world powers that will fulfill Lehi’s prophecy (2 Nephi 1:6-12). It will be a day of the three Woes for many.

    In my opinion, in this season, and at this time, offers the perfect opportunity to make a worthy effort to seek for a God given testimony of the Book of Mormon by setting aside unbelief; and approaching Heavenly Father in humble, contrite prayer, and ask for a manifestation from heaven regarding the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. If it is true, and I know it is, then all the other troubling issues disappear as the hoar frost when the sun rises.

    It’s a nice place to be! I hope all who read this will join me (and many others).

  67. In reading #69 it seems to me that a person who has had a good supply of what they feel are spiritual experiences doesn’t feel the need or inclination to deal with the concerns that those who have lost faith have. The “troubling issues disappear” but is it becuase they don’t matter or don’t have merit or because we just don’t care? The truth of the gospel whether one is speaking of the restored gospel or christianity in general needs to be sustainable apart from a reliance on some spiritual manifestation. I agree that reason by itself is not enough by itself to maintain faith but I also don’t think it can be set aside. As somebody famous, I think, said once, “having faith doesn’t mean checking your head at the door.”

  68. 70 — Or, perhaps, they deal with those concerns as they can, without the concerns overcoming the spiritual certainty they have. I don’t expect Mormons to be perfect, and they aren’t, and I don’t expect any of them ever were, and they weren’t. I don’t expect them to live, or to have lived, the way I think they ought to have, because I don’t either. There are things I don’t understand that I wish I did, but not understanding them isn’t a deal breaker. There are things I see that concern me, but they don’t make true things not true.

    My mind remains open on quite a few questions, and, as I said before, I do have faith that those questions will be answered in time. But God doesn’t run things on my schedule, and that’s a good thing.

  69. So, I studied the BOM for years and prayed to “know” if its true and received a definitive answer that it is a work of fiction. In fact, I felt that God opened my eyes and, very clearly, showed me all the reasons the book is not what i claims to be and can easily outline those reasons. This revelation brought me significant understanding and peace and has helped me come closer to God as i believe he finally helped me through this cloud of confusion created by the mormon church and its claims of “truth”. The fact that anyone uses the word “know” in this context is incredibly troubling to me considering their God-given “knowledge” completely contradicts the answers others have received (including myself) – it really makes no sense and leads me to believe that some people have never really though about what they are saying. I KNOW the BOM cant be true AND false….

  70. “the Book of Mormon is the fruit of fruits. It will not be universally seen that way because to experience its nectar requires a journey not all are willing to embark on. ”

    It will also not be universally seen that way because many people have taken the journey, and have nontheless concluded that the book of mormon is not the fruit of fruits. I realize that you don’t believe this to be true, Jared, but ultimately you can’t question others’ experiences any more than they can question yours.

  71. #72: “I KNOW the BOM cant be true AND false…”

    I think that most certainly the writings in the BoM can be empirically, historically “false” (as in, did not happen) and still be “true” from a metaphorical standpoint. We don’t for one second believe that the prodigal son was a real person, but the story speaks truth about forgiveness and love.

    I agree with your overall comment, but just wanted to point out that truth has more meanings than its observable scientific evidence definition. Opening oneself to greater possibilities of meaning makes room for valuable insights to enter. The trouble, I think we can agree, comes when people claim that words written in scripture represent historical, objective reality, and treat them as needle-eyes through which all other scientific observation of the world must fit.

  72. #72 – I also think it’s fair to point out that you seem to be saying that you “know” it’s not true, which may be troubling to others, since your God-given “knowledge” also directly contradicts the answers others have received. I don’t think this means you haven’t thought about what you are saying, as you clearly have. What it indicates is that everyone has their own experiences and perspectives, and it’s important to recognize that whatever answer a person receives, that answer is for him or her only, and should not be foisted on anyone else. The problem comes when people think they have the right to tell others what they should or should not be feeling or experiencing.

  73. #69 Jared & #72 alas

    I also have a comment regarding the statement: “…a journey not all are willing to embark on…”. I take great issue with the implication that anyone who hasn’t received the same experience as you hasn’t been willing to go on the journey.

    I have been in the Church my whole life for 40+ years. I served a mission including ZL, AP, etc. I was married in the temple. I have served in numerous callings. I have always had a temple recommend with all that that implies. I have probably read the BofM at least 15 times, including in at least 2 languages. I have followed Moroni’s promise probably at least 100 times, with all sincerity. Yet, at the end of it all, I have never received an answer that it is true. I think there are true principles in the Book of Mormon, and have felt good feelings when I have read it. But I feel the exact same feelings when I read the Bible, Hindu teachings, Buddhist teachings, the Qu’ran, etc. In some cases, I get an even better feeling and understanding of life when I read many Buddhist sutras than in the Book of Mormon. So how can these “feelings” be used to justify a knowledge of the “truth” of the Book of Mormon but just be “misleading” when they are with anything else.

    Yet, probably out of inertia and a hope that someday I will get an answer, I persist in the journey and am still “active”.

  74. #70 GB Smith– I agree with much of what you said. I’m all for using our head to navigate through life. I am also all for obtaining the guidance and blessings the Lord is willing to extend to me.

    #72 Alas– Your experience is an enigma to me, so I can’t say much about it.

    #73 brjones– I agree with most of what you wrote. Additionally, I feel that you’ve given an honest report in the time I’ve known you. Therefore, from my perspective, I believe the time will come when you will receive a very clear answer from the Lord. Something that apparently has been denied you for reasons known to the Lord.

  75. “The growth of the church is a wonder to those who observe from an academic point of view.”

    Maybe but unfortunately the retention rate is not. We tend to focus on getting people baptized which we do well, but very few of these folks become long term involved members. We are also loosing the girls at a very high rate when they finish the young women’s program. The well know BYU study of a few years ago put active membership in the church at about 40%. So if we want to make that case that the growth of the church is proof of it’s truth, we have a problem.

  76. #76 Mike S.–

    In the two plus years I’ve been hanging out in the ‘nacle I’ve had to change my point of view on a few things. What you, brjones, and a few others have related has been on my mind. I don’t claim to have any special insight into why an honest, diligently seeking individual would be denied an answer to their prayers regarding the Book of Mormon. But apparently it happens.

    I am of the opinion that the time will come when you will receive the answer(s) to your prayers.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Because of the experiences I’ve been given I feel it is important, even critical, that I wisely share sacred experiences. I don’t intend to stand before the Lord at the judgment day and have Him disappointed in me because I wouldn’t open my mouth and testify of the things He, for whatever reason, has given me.

    For any who wonder what I am referring to, click my name and read Jared’s testimony.

  77. #63: “…as the arithmetic of the parable teaches, only half of those who start out will obtain/experience the gift. The rest will, according to the parable, will be shut out and when they ask why, the Lord replies, “I know you not.”

    I say that’s Calvinist predestinarianism, and I say the heck with it.

  78. Jared:

    I will give you this, in sincerity, you seem willing to put your money where your mouth is. As far as testimonies go, I can appreciate that you have clearly stated “why” you know, rather than just pounding the assertion “that” you know. While I am not personally persuaded by your claims, I at least appreciate your boldness. I make these remarks in response to your gesture that we would probablly agree on many issues other than religion, we probablly do.

  79. #81 Cowboy–

    We’ve traveled enough roads in the bloggernacle together that I count you as a good internet friend even though we don’t agree a lot–I’ve learned to respect your pov.

  80. I know that God loves me. I believe this is His gospel.

    I also believe that it’s not really my place to determine what “know” means to anyone else. If someone says in testimony meeting that they know the church is true, who am I to question that? It’s doesn’t matter what “know” means to me- it’s what it means to them that’s important. Telling someone that their testimony is faulty because they don’t come up with unique language seems kind of holier-than-thou. (which I’m guilty of more than I ought to be)

  81. #62 – Cowboy: “After all the relevance behind saying something like “I know this Church is true”, is not to just point out one truth in an assortment of truth’s, but to specifically address a superior truth, and by extension it is a missionary invitation for others to join.”

    I don’t agree. You can call it a “superior truth” if you look at it that way, I choose to call it “more complete truth” which may be saying about the same thing, but I find it more accurate. More truth does not mean that lesser truth is false. Do you see my point?

    “After all, theres no point in proselyting if the Mormon Church isn’t at least superior to the other “true” Churchs, is there Heber13.”

    Yes, I think there is a point to proselyte to those who are searching, not knowing where to find the answers to their questions. I strongly believe the purpose is to preach the word to those God has prepared…not go out and prove to the world the Church is superior, and all must get on board or be damned. If we all lived in the exact same circumstances, perhaps we could make that statement…but life is not like that and the plan of salvation and the Atonement are grand enough to cover all individual circumstances, despite what I think is true for me…I leave God to provide guidance and truth to others in their circumstances, and let the plan of salvation work out the eternal details.

    I follow the admonition of Joseph Campbell, who said: “Preachers err by trying to talk people into belief; better they reveal the radiance of their own discovery”. On my mission, I chose to show others the light as I see it, not convince them they were wrong.

    “I served my mission in the bible belt, and the message I got from my mission leaders was that all the other Church’s, as good as they may be, were still remnants of an apostate Christendom.”

    Perhaps all other Christian religions are remnants of an apostasy (not all religions, of course), but that doesn’t change my argument that there is truth to be found in them and that a member of those church’s can have a spiritual witness of truth. LDS members can have witnesses of more truth, but not the only truth.

    My problem is the tone used by many that “the only true and living church” also means all other churches are false. The fruits of all those wonderful religious people around the world do not support that statement to me, and the problems I have witnessed with mormons do not support that either.

    Authority and ordinances are different, we’re talking about people testifying of truth…and I see the truth in other religions, and I have a testimony my mormon faith has truth in a larger area of topics than can be found in other religions. But that doesn’t mean others are false or bad or not containing the spirit or not leading people to God and happiness.

    I particularly like the way Allie said it in post#83. A testimony is a personal thing, and should not be made to make judgments on what others’ testimonies are.

  82. “Telling someone that their testimony is faulty because they don’t come up with unique language seems kind of holier-than-thou. (which I’m guilty of more than I ought to be)”

    There are some who would never think to speak in that manner to another, but that notice the use of stock language and see it as a loss to that person and to the community. It signals that many in the church seem to be unable to articulate those things that define their individual spiritual experience as such.

    Its not a problem with language as has been stated many times in this thread. Our shared language is dynamic and beautiful. Its a matter of culture, and of how engaged one is with one’s faith and experience.

  83. #85 Douglas: “Its a matter of culture, and of how engaged one is with one’s faith and experience.”

    Douglas, well said. I agree with this..

  84. “I also believe that it’s not really my place to determine what “know” means to anyone else. If someone says in testimony meeting that they know the church is true, who am I to question that? It’s doesn’t matter what “know” means to me- it’s what it means to them that’s important. Telling someone that their testimony is faulty because they don’t come up with unique language seems kind of holier-than-thou.”

    Unfortunately, when I hear someone say “I know the church is true” the feelings I get from that is “if you don’t think it is true, then you need to change/learn.” That is not the sentiment being expressed, but since I am now on the outside looking in that is the feeling I get. I love hearing people say I love the gospel. I love the church. I believe with all my soul that the church is true. To me, that is wonderful and even uplifting. And I am now a non-believer. “I know the church is true” affects me like fingernails across a blackboard. My problem, I know.

  85. My 5-year-old came home with a twist on “I know the church is true”, whatever they taught him in primary, he came home saying in his prayers, “and thank you that we know the church is true”. 🙂

    I agree that we all ought to be a little more conscious of the words we use, and make sure that what we’re saying means something to us and we’re not just repeating the usual phrases, testimony meeting would certainly be more interesting, I just think we need to be careful not to discount a testimony just because of the way it’s given.

  86. Cowboy – #43

    you may see flaws in my Argument, and I agree many truths are independent and can be analysed and criticised by an unbiased individual. The D&C even states that Truth has been placed in it’s independent sphere. However my journey is personal to me, my path of self discovery is one that is littered with great personal experiences that I choose to interpret as I will. If your asking have I seen God ? my answer would be yes ! If your asking have I had experiences that can be answered in no other way but God ? then my answer is no! Doctors can make the wrong diagnosis, coincidences do happen; feelings, emotions and thoughts can be manipulated. My choice is clear I can be cynical or embrace that which welcomes me and brings me joy. My knowledge is based from many insignificant notes that combined fill my life with beautiful sound. I’m fortunate to have key points in time I can identify as “seeing the Hand of God in my life” But I believed and could say I knew before those key moments.

    In my life there is much room for doubt because most of my experiences are not free of emotion or coincidence, I’m comfortable with my doubts they help me analyses my actions, Helping someone in need because of genuine reasons and not because it will earn me a better place in heaven or simply to please God.

    I’m not sure if this is much of a rebuttal to your argument, I think rather I’m echoing your point but what I’m getting at is I’m comfortable with that.

  87. MrQandA:

    I can’t see that I would have really much of an objection to your comments (#90). Our disagreement was based on Blaines comment in which he suggested that he “knows” certain things, while in the same breath he admits that he does not know what knowing these things mean. The statement seemed like an attempt to be humble, but nonetheless contained the apparent contradiction. On the other hand, recognizing the subjectivity of certain religious experiences and choosing still to believe, such as you are claiming, really comes down to the individual so I have no objection to that perspective. I think the underlying theme to this conversation is that inspite of our claims to “know”, what do we actually “know”. Recognizing such as you have that your belief is somewhat dependent on our interpretation of subjective events is, in my opinion, a much more sincere testimony – because it has been more carefully thought out, rather than the spontaneous regurgitation of familiar phrazes during testimony meetings, that are all too comon.

  88. 91 — I didn’t suggest that I know things. I stated that I know things. And you don’t begin to have evidence that contradicts that. I really don’t understand how you continue to try to delegitimize my experience without bothering to engage any of my points, getting only hung up on the fact that I know statements are true that I don’t really understand the meaning of. You brought up that Joseph could hang his hat on his First Vision, but seem to miss the fact that he didn’t preach the First Vision as we understand it until 1838.

    My event that led to my testimony was reading the Book of Mormon, praying before and after my reading to know if it’s true. I can tell you it happened while I was reading Alma, and I’m pretty sure it took place by the twentieth chapter. The important part isn’t the time, and it isn’t the details of the experience — it is the witness I have that these things are true. I don’t know what kind of precision you are looking for, and I really don’t understand why you seem to think your opinion on this matters. This is between me and God, and God doesn’t seem to be upset about this, and I only find it mildly annoying. In time, with effort, my questions will be answered.

    So let’s get down to it. Put your cards on the table. On what basis do you get to judge my experience, or the validity of my testimony? What evidence can you present to show that the things I’m saying are incorrect? If you’re just finding the cognitive dissonance that I can both know something and not understand what it means, that’s not evidence of anything. If that is challenging to you, or makes you uncomfortable, that’s not my issue. If you just want to own that part, then that’s fine, and I’ll drop the matter. But you’re talking about something very important to me, and casting aspersions on its legitimacy is a very big deal to me. I am not saying I know things because I’m mindlessly regurgitating something I’ve heard other people say. I’m saying I know things because I’ve had experiences that leave me without doubt concerning them.

  89. “On what basis do you get to judge my experience, or the validity of my testimony? What evidence can you present to show that the things I’m saying are incorrect?”

    Not speaking for MrQandA but while many think it is possible to know God, others think it is impossible. If my assumption is that God doesn’t communicate with man, you can’t know him or the truthfulness of a church. What evidence can you present to show MrQandQ that you are correct?

    “But you’re talking about something very important to me, and casting aspersions on its legitimacy is a very big deal to me.”

    Religion is a big deal to all of us. That’s why we are here and not on some other site. There are many people (billions) who would say you can’t know what you say you do. Even though this topic gets beat to death, it’s why I like it every time I see it. It goes to the very heart of LDS religion. We all have intense feelings, one way or another.

  90. I probably didn’t think much about the distinction growing up, though very clearly recall the explicit admonition in the MTC not to say “I believe…” but rather “I know…” so that your testimony would sound stronger.

    Active members use these phrases enough that neither really phase us. But “I know…” is much more arresting to non-members, who in my observation are much more careful with this distinction.

    Of course, shocking (or impressing) them with the “I know” was the whole point. It’s a tactic to give you more leverage in the doctrinal conversation.

  91. “On what basis do you get to judge my experience, or the validity of my testimony? What evidence can you present to show that the things I’m saying are incorrect?”

    On the basis of a presumption that claims to an exclusive revelation — that is, one that by its nature implies that other revelations are false — should be treated as false until proven otherwise.

    The vast majority of claims by people to have received exclusive revelation, are false. They must be — because they all contradict each other. If Muhammad was the last prophet, then Joseph Smith and Thomas Monson by definition could not be prophets — or Warren Jeffs, or James Strang, or whoever the CoC chief is these days, or the several dozen lunatics in Utah alone who think they’re the true prophet. Your revelation of the truth of Mormonism is in inherent conflict with the mystical revelations of any number of adherents of other faiths.

    Thus, strictly as a matter of mathematics, a person who claims to have received a revelation of a specific, sectarian religious notion, is more likely to be in error than to be right. Under those circumstances, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on the person claiming the revelation?

    There is an inescapable conflict here: A person who honestly believes he has not received a revelation, per Moroni 10:4 or otherwise, cannot avoid at least considering the possibility that a person who believes he has received such a revelation, is misguided. And conversely, a person who honestly believes he has received such a revelation, cannot help but wonder whether I, or another person claiming not to have received the right answer, is lying, or just doesn’t recognize the answer he truly did get, or is insincere in seeking it, or so forth.

  92. Post
  93. 93 — I’m talking to Cowboy, not MrQandA. Just to be clear.

    My evidence is that I was there and am telling you what happened. You weren’t there, and don’t know one way or the other. I’m not insisting you accept that the experience is what I say it was, but you have nothing with which to challenge it other than your own assumptions which are unproven and unprovable. But I also wasn’t talking to you at this point in the conversation. Those people are welcome to speak for themselves, and you’re welcome to speak for yourself as well.

    95 — “Should” according to who? I’m not making any claim to anything other than what I experienced. Your presumption is neither evidence nor proof, nor is it definitive. You are welcome to reject the content of it — I couldn’t care less what you believe — but you are in no position to challenge the validity of it. You wouldn’t even if you had been present when it took place, because it took place inside me, but you weren’t present and you don’t know me. And your argument isn’t gaining any traction with me soever.

    If I were saying “I had this experience, I know that I’m right, and you must/should accept my word that I’m right,” your argument would work. That would be an appeal to authority that I don’t have. But I’m not. I’m saying “I had this experience, and I know that I’m right. Believe what you want and do what you want, but I know this.” I’m not making an objective claim — I’m making a purely subjective one, and you don’t get a vote in my subjective experience, anymore than I get a vote in yours.

    Primarily, I was talking to Cowboy, who continues to denigrate my experience, but if y’all want to jump on that bandwagon, bring it, and let’s go. But bring actual evidence that I didn’t experience what I say I did if you want to play. I’ve got the choice of believing the witness of the Holy Ghost or your words on the screen, and the Holy Ghost is going to win that one every time.

  94. Blaine:

    1) “I didn’t suggest that I know things. I stated that I know things.”

    If I understand this statment correctly then your stating as matter of fact you possess a certain knowledge of God and the Mormon religion which exists independent to your/mine/anyones perception of it. In other words you are making a hard case for “I know”.

    2) “I really don’t understand how you continue to try to delegitimize my experience without bothering to engage any of my points, getting only hung up on the fact that I know statements are true that I don’t really understand the meaning of.”

    The logical question here Blaine, and this is where the contradiction lies, what things are true? After all you claim to know that “something” is true, and yet in the same sentence claim not to know the implication. What does it mean to know that the Church is true, and yet not posses a cognitive understanding of “how” it is true, or what the relevance behind such knowledge is. Can you know that electricity is true, to use an old example, if a basic understanding of what electricity is including it’s cause and effects. Bear in mind, you can certainly take someone at their word, or you can observe it’s effects (a situation however that would immediately begin to give meaning) when the lights turn on, but you have clarified that you are stating as matter of fact you know, which doesn’t lend to uncertainty.

    2 B) “You brought up that Joseph could hang his hat on his First Vision, but seem to miss the fact that he didn’t preach the First Vision as we understand it until 1838.”

    I am well aware of this fact, but do not see the relevance for this discussion. You should be aware that this example is often used to challenge the credibility of the First Vision and many Church apologists have gone to great lengths to show that Joseph Smith was talking about this event much earlier. But another issue for another discussion.

    3) “The important part isn’t the time, and it isn’t the details of the experience — it is the witness I have that these things are true.”

    I come from the school of thought where a “witness” is exactly those things you consider unimportant, i.e., the time and deatails. As I have said elsewhere, there is nothing valuable about a witness that cannot also explain itself, in other words how it came to be. My point about Joseph Smith was that, taking the account at face value, he could explain an event which would clearly give his claims credibility. After all, the First Vision would be hardly ambiguous, though I am aware that some would question whether the event was literal. It either happened or it did not, but it at least explains why Joseph would claim to know rather than just, again, pounding the assertion that he does.

    4) Blaine Comment #68 – “And I’m not telling anybody they should accept what I’m saying as definitive proof of what I’m testifying about. Anybody who wishes to is free to repeat my effort, but I can’t guarantee the result.”

    I also come from the school of thought that knowledge/law would be testable, repeatable, and somewhat demonstratable. I am willing to make a special concession for religion, where the experiment would be demonstratable in a class per se, but that if God truly is no respector of persons, and The Book of Mormon is true – including the famous promise in Moroni 10: 3-5 – and that the Church is true in that the heavens have been opened enabling all those who are humble and penitent to seek the presence of The Lord, then I would expect that anyone who reads The Book of Mormon and prays (sincerely?) to God will get the answer. Yet, you are unwilling to guarantee the result. If you know that it is true, remember you do not make this suggestion but state it rather, then why wouldn’t you guarantee the result?

    Long story short, you have not professed a belief, but stated your unequivocal knowledge about something you can neither explain, nor trace to an event that provided you with this certain knowledge, and you are not willing to guarantee results to anyone else who would seek to acquire this same knowledge. My cards are on the table.

  95. “On the basis of a presumption that claims to an exclusive revelation — that is, one that by its nature implies that other revelations are false”

    That sums up my fingernails on the chalkboard feelings. Thanks, Thomas.

    “But bring actual evidence that I didn’t experience what I say I did if you want to play.”

    I’ll meet you at high noon with that evidence the day you can bring actual evidence that you did experience it. I don’t mean that to belittle your experience. It’s the nature of the beast. You are asking for evidence that doesn’t exist on either side of the fence.

  96. “You are welcome to reject the content of it — I couldn’t care less what you believe — but you are in no position to challenge the validity of it.”

    I’m not sure I see the distinction between the two. If we reject the content of your experience, such as it is, then we are going to challenge the validity of it pretty much as a matter of course, unless you’re looking for us to concede that it was “real to you,” and I don’t think that’s necessarily what you’re looking for. Clearly you are not comfortable with anyone challenging your experience at all, as evidenced by your comments. That’s fine, as it is your experience and you can do what you want with it, but don’t then say that you “couldn’t care less” what others believe, because you clearly do. Which begs the question why you would share your experiences in a thread that is all about whether or not it’s even possible to know such things, and then get bent out of shape when people question whether you know what you are claiming to know. I honestly don’t think anyone is trying to get personal with you or your experience, nor does anyone, probably, doubt your sincerity. However, your comments kind of opened the door for discussion about your experience in the first place. If you don’t like having the validity of your admittedly subjective experience questioned, then I wouldn’t share it in this forum.

  97. 98 — My claim is a fact. The content of that claim is not a fact. It is a statement of personal certitude which is nonprobative, as it is entirely within the realm of faith.

    You are bringing a school of thought to a question it was not designed to answer nor address. It is as inappropriate to apply standards of repeatability and precision to questions of faith as it would be to follow D&C 9 to determine the validity of a scientific hypothesis. Both processes share some key principles, but they are different processes designed to address and answer different kinds of questions.

    Now, we’re wandering from where this started, and I want to get back to what I said. Way back up there I said “I know the Church is true, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I can’t tell you what ‘know’ and ‘true’ mean, and I don’t know what the Book of Mormon is, or what it means that it’s the word of God.” I’m not saying I have no idea what the implications of those statements are. I’m acknowledging the difficulty in trying to precisely define how those words apply to the experiences I’m describing. That comes (as I said before, and you never addressed) from both the imperfection of language and from the difficulty in grasping all the meaning from an experience with such profound impact on my life and how I see the world (and, well, everything). Perhaps this means that I am claiming humility, as you mentioned before, and that’s all that’s going on here.

    Moroni does seem to guarantee that others who go through something like my process (mutatis mutandis) will get something like my result. I am not Moroni, and I will leave those who believe they have repeated my process and have had a different result to discuss the matter with him. I will tell those who have come to a contrasting conclusion that I disagree with them, but I am not going to tell them that my experience invalidates theirs, and I will not accept that their experience invalidates mine. I am not responsible for their experiences. I can’t attest to the sincerity with which they have carried out their process, nor can I verify what answers they may have received. Thus, I lack a standing to dispute their experiences. I will stipulate the possibility that either or both of us my not fully comprehend the detailed meanings of our experiences, and how the truths within those experiences should be applied.

    I am not called, as was Moroni, to preach to the whole world and tell them what they will experience. I’m just a schmoe on a blog, trying to describe things that go beyond my capacity to entirely grasp. If you want to talk, elsewhere, of what my understandings of those things are, we can do that. I am testifying both to what I know, and to what I don’t completely understand. I am not claiming complete ignorance, just imperfection. I guess I haven’t mentioned here my standard disclaimers of YMMV, FWIW, and “take what you like and leave the rest.” I don’t know what more I can tell you at this juncture to help you understand what I’m trying to mean. I’m not thinking you’re reading what I’m saying to try to understand what I mean — I think you’re getting caught up in some of the words and how they don’t fit the standards you want to apply to them.

    The relevance of Joseph’s not teaching about the First Vision as we have it now until the last few years of his life would seem to me to indicate that he did not instantly understand the full scope of the experience or its meaning. He never did, to the best of my knowledge, record everything he was told in that experience, and even that account indicates that he only had a few conclusions to tell his family from that experience at the time. I am not better than he. Some people have angels strike them mute, or to lay on the ground as if dead. Some people have visions. Others have identifiable flashes of understandings. I am not one of them. That does not make me or my experience inferior or less conclusive.

    What I would like from you (to be clear) is for you to stop casting aspersions on my experiences and understandings due to my imperfection. If you want to say that you don’t know what to do with my statements, or that they don’t fit your standards of proof, or whatever along those lines, I’m fine with that. But imperfection is the nature of us beasts, and I’m not likely to get perfect while I’m reading this blog.

    99 — My evidence is real and existent. I was there. It happened. Testimony is evidence. You were not there, were not subject to the experience, and can not provide contrasting testimony. It’s high noon. You lost. Thanks for playing.

  98. #101 – Blain, your claim is a claim of fact, but that doesn’t make it a fact in and of itself, necessarily. That is, I’m not saying it is not a fact, but just because you declare it to be a fact does not make it a fact. There are obviously people all over who claim knowledge of things that are demonstrably false. Just because they are completely convinced of their knowledge of something does not change the reality that their “knowledge” is not a fact. Again, I’m not suggesting that you don’t know what you say you know. But this speaks to the very point of this thread. Fact can’t be fact for some and not fact for others. If you “know” the church is true and the church is true then it is a fact. But if you “know” the church is true and it turns out the church is not true, then you were mistaken and that which you thought was factual was not. This is somewhat of a pointless discussion because, as has been pointed out many times, none of this is objectively provable. My point is that I don’t think anyone is questioning your integrity or the subjective reality of what you are claiming. I think everyone would likely even concede that what you experienced is very possibly objectively real and true. But just because you are completely convinced of something doesn’t make it a fact. It either is or is not a fact, and your or my or Cowboy’s feelings about it are ultimately irrelevant.

  99. #101–“It’s high noon. You lost. Thanks for playing.”

    This is more fun than I usually have at the office on a Thursday afternoon.

  100. Testimony is *not* evidence. This line of reasoning has spread through the blogernacle and been repeated as if self evident. It is not. If it were, then *everybody’s* subjective spiritual experiences would point to the same conclusion. They obviously do not.

    We are imperfect. We are fallible. And because of that, we cannot accept as fact any experience that cannot be independently verified. Welcome to being human. It doesn’t mean everything we think or believe is wrong. Just that everything we think or believe should be held to honest scrutiny. Even our religious beliefs.

    If I claim direct knowledge from a supernatural being, I had better be prepared to provide objective evidence to that effect or be seen as delusional, not in just the world’s eyes, but my own as well.

  101. “My evidence is real and existent. I was there. It happened. Testimony is evidence. You were not there, were not subject to the experience, and can not provide contrasting testimony.”

    This is not particularly compelling. Yes, (first-hand) testimony is evidence, but it is notoriously unreliable evidence, and it is not remotely the best kind of evidence. Additionally, your statement that Holden Caulfield cannot provide contrasting testimony is simply false. Obviously he can’t provide eye-witness testimony, but so what? If only those who were present at an event were allowed to provide testimony regarding that event, trials would be considerably shorter. To the extent that Holden, or anyone else, has some degree of expertise or information respecting to the kind of experience that you had, then that testimony is certainly relevant. By your rationale, if only one person is present at an event, then that person’s testimony is necessarily true and unassailable. Obviously this is not the case.

  102. #104 – I agree with you, Imperfection, except with respect to how Blain, or anyone else, should view themselves. Blain is not necessarily wrong to trust his personal experiences, even in the absence of objective evidence (at least with respect to religious matters). However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to criticize others for not accepting the truth of your experiences when there is no objective evidence to support them.

  103. #101: “Testimony is evidence.”

    Yes. You can testify that you had a certain experience. You can describe what it was like.

    But of course not all evidence is admissible. Only relevant evidence is admissible. In order to admit your testimony as evidence for the proposition “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church on the face of the whole earth, having been restored by miraculous means including the ministry of angels in the manner described by its founders and the literal translation of actual ancient records,” you have to lay a foundation that demonstrates some connection between your mystical experience, and the proposition asserted.

    So what is that foundation, Counsel? Why is it more likely than not, that when a person has a mystical experience in connection with a religious notion, that the notion is literally, factually true? Haven’t we just demonstrated that a substantial portion of mystical experiences are experienced in connection with religious notions that are not factually true?

    If you can make a persuasive case that mystical experiences are relevant to establishing the factual truth or falsity of religious claims, then yes, your testimony could be evidence. I’m interested in hearing that case made.

  104. #101

    “That comes (as I said before, and you never addressed) from both the imperfection of language and from the difficulty in grasping all the meaning from an experience with such profound impact on my life and how I see the world (and, well, everything).”

    See my comment, #26. I have more or less addressed this. Blaine, you should first know that my comments have not been personal. However, you have attempted to clearly state that you know that the Church is true, including The Book of Mormon. Your follow up comments included caveats that would call the supposed independant truths that you know, into question. Your most recent comments have even conceded the subjectivity of your experiences. I am simply challenging how it is possible for you to have sure knowledge about obscure unprovable independant truths, while at the same time expressing reticence over the certainty that others also can acquire this same knowledge, or as in at first, what exactly this knowledge means. If you are not suggesting that you actually possess certain knowledge, but based on personal experiences you strongly believe The Church is true along with The Book of Mormon, then I have misunderstood and I am sorry.

  105. 100 — Now you’re distorting the context in which my original statement was made. Kindly knock that crap off. The thread (oh, no! context!) was addressing the question: “So, what do you think it means when people say they ‘know’?” I made my contribution as an example of the complexity of that question. Not as a claim that my understanding is Universal Truth that all must bow down to. Not to have it challenged and ridiculed in what the thread later became.

    When I say that I don’t care what you believe, I mean that about your belief in general. I do think it rather rude to treat a powerful personal experience with the contempt being shown to mine, and thought that others, when given notice they were appearing rude thusly, might reconsider the tack they were taking. It remains to be seen if my thought was correct. I’m not aware of having met a person in this thread, and have no reason to particularly value the opinion anyone here has of me, or much of anything else. I will take the outcome of this thread into account before sharing any personal experience I value here again.

    102 — My claim is a fact. It can be proved or disproved. It objectively happened. You can look right up and see it for yourself. What it is claiming can not be proved or disproved. Facts are not all true. They are just provably true or false. Thomas, who seems to think he’s in court, should be able to attest to that usage. I am not intending in any way to persuade anyone to accept my belief, to say nothing of trying to bludgeon people into admitting the obvious superiority of my point. Accepting my experience requires (and means) nothing more than admitting that you can’t prove otherwise without prejudice.

    And I don’t have a clue how anybody could conceivably prove the Church isn’t true — I don’t know how you’re going to even get a consensus on what “true” means in that context.

    103 — With this, I think we’re starting to understand each other.

    104 — Good luck with that “testimony isn’t evidence” thing. Testimony has always been evidence. It’s rarely conclusive evidence, and is not the best possible form of evidence in a perfect world. Sometimes, it’s all you have. This is such a case. There is no other possible evidence that can be provided.

    I think you’re confused about what I’m labeling fact and what I’m not. Hopefully, by this point, you are less confused.

    105 — You seem to think I’m trying to compel you or persuade you. You’re far from alone in that, from what I can see. I don’t know how to say more clearly that I do not care to do either, nor have I, even once, tried to do so in this thread. With that understanding, is there anything in this comment that I need to address?

    107 — Move that you get over yourself. This is not a court. If it were, I’d sentence you to a course on reading for comprehension and listening to understand, since you show no apparent understanding of my participation in this thread or the nature of any of my claims. Look for alternative possible meanings to ambiguous words and pronouns whose referent might not be what you initially though, just for starters. People don’t say things that don’t make sense to them, so see if you can find the way in which what they said might have made sense, instead of trying to make them look stupid.

    All — I’m going to take a break from responding to people who aren’t understanding what I’m saying. I’ve told Cowboy what I’m looking for from him. I’m not asking anybody to endorse my beliefs. If somebody needs to feel like they’ve won a fight, they’re welcome to do so. Except for HC, who lost.

  106. 108 — “I am simply challenging how it is possible for you to have sure knowledge about obscure unprovable independant truths, while at the same time expressing reticence over the certainty that others also can acquire this same knowledge, or as in at first, what exactly this knowledge means.”

    I’m not sure there’s a point to further clarifying what you seem to not be understanding. I have no doubt that others can also acquire this same knowledge — I know quite a few who have done so. I have said that I am not the guarantor that all who might seek to have the same experience will. That isn’t my job — that’s the job of the Holy Ghost. I think you’re seeing my acknowledgment of my own personal limitations as something they are not — I think this has been the entire problem you and I have had in this thread quite possibly. I’m not going to hand someone an opportunity to say “I tried Moroni 10:3-5, and I got no witness” or “and I was told it wasn’t true,” and “therefor, you’re wrong.” In the realm of faith, the subjective experience is the king, and I can’t challenge someone in their own subjective experience. Neither am I going to accept challenges to my own subjective experience.

    Let me explicate just a little of what my original comment meant. The Book of Mormon teaches me how to get closer to God. I do not know specifically which historical groups of people it refers to, although I’m rather certain it isn’t talking about common ancestors of all pre-Columbian people in the Americas. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its priesthood, ordinances teachings are the path to God, but I don’t know what it means to say that it is “true” with regard to every word of every manual or every statement of every leader or member it has ever had, or to what anyone else might have in their mind when they use the word “true” in this context.

    My belief is not some gauzy bundle of nothing but vagueness and ambiguity. It just goes beyond my capacity to fully comprehend.

  107. Post

    Not trying to threadjack what has been an entertaining disagreement, but I often wonder about this practice of bearing testimony. It seems that listening to testimonies monthly (and more frequently in some cases) is a practice that is not documented in the NT (although very few specifics about what early Christian worship services were like are – it seems they mostly read letters from traveling leaders). It was introduced into our church probably as a best practice taken from the Methodists of the 1830s era who did something similar. But it is now so central to our practices that it has become a sort of litmus test for everything related to individual worthiness. It’s an interesting practice. I’m not sure how much I like it on the whole. Jury’s out for me. I am usually more touched by a talk or a lesson than a testimony. Perhaps for me testimony-bearing is part of “enduring to the end.”

  108. Blain, I’m not sure why you feel that your experience is being treated with contempt. I think that most of the comments here are not intended to speak qualitatively to the experience you shared. I know I have not intended to impeach your integrity or the reality of your experiences at all, in fact I have tried to be careful not to do that. We’re talking about those experiences in a larger, and more objective, context, and I’ve tried to qualify my comments along those lines. I have never and would never tell someone what they did or didn’t experience. As you said, I don’t know you and was not with you when you experienced the things you did. I think this conversation has been more along the lines of a discussion about where purely spiritual things fit in an intillectual or logical framework, and your experience seems to have become an example of that, and within that context perhaps you feel that your personal experiences have been diminished or profaned. That was not my intention, and I apologize if that’s what I’ve done. Most of the people I care most about in this world have had experiences similar to yours, and I have no desire to disabuse them of their feelings or beliefs, or to belittle them, and I would not intentionally do that to you either. Again, I apologize if that’s how my comments have been received.

  109. Blain,

    I haven’t commented here for a bit, but I do appreciate you sharing your feelings, along with everyone else’s. I am always interested in the wide variety of people’s results from sincere seeking for truth. They range from absolute certainty that the LDS Church is true, to absolute certainty that the LDS Church is false and a cult, with many, many grades in between. In fact, on a continuum, we’re all probably at different spots.

    My two comments relating this back to the original post:

    – A basic problem is that it seems like much of the continuum has been “chopped off” when it comes to testimonies. Unless someone is willing to go to the end where they state that they “KNOW” the Church is true, it seems there isn’t much room for that in a public meeting. It may just be an impression, but I have the feeling that if I were to stand up and say that I don’t really know that the Church is true, but I’m willing to continue going forward with faith, it wouldn’t go over well and some people would consider it near the opposite end of the continuum.

    – Saying that you “KNOW” the LDS Church is true implies many, many things, including that presumption that essentially every other church is NOT true. Sure, they may have some truth, but in reality, it’s an exclusionary viewpoint. How does anyone reconcile this with the hundreds of millions who KNOW equally well, according to their experience, that Catholicism, Islam, or Hinduism are the one true path? Or does the fact that hundreds of millions of people who have equally valid subjective experiences of KNOWING that their path is correct imply that all of the paths ultimately lead back to God?

  110. “Testimony is evidence.”

    Wandering into the field of quasi-legal evidentiary language wasn’t my idea.

    What you are being asked to do is show your work. Get from “I had a mystical experience,” to “…and therefore the Church is true.”

    If I am less deferential than you would like concerning your beliefs, it comes from seeing people make similar arguments as yours in unfriendly contexts — to suggest, for instance, that those who do not have similar beliefs are not among the “honest in heart,” to use just one phrase. I have come to suspect — based on my appraisals of the character of people who act this way, who I know more familiarly than you — that a lot of these guys are bluffing. There is no “and therefore.” There is only faith — a decision to choose to believe that the mystical experience confirms the truth of the Church. Fair enough.

    But the unexplained “I know” gets thrown around too often as a sectarian missile to be treated as if it’s beyond critique.

  111. 111 — Yes. I think we’re definitely coming to an understanding.

    112 — Jacking your own thread? What will the lurkers say?

    (Trick question: Lurkers don’t say anything — if they do, they stop being lurkers.)

    I like testimony meetings, but not always. My favorites aren’t fast and testimony meetings, though. I like testimony meetings in other contexts. I like people sharing what’s important to them, especially when moved by the Spirit. I don’t like it as much when it’s Mormon Open Mike, home of the gratimony, travel log, medical report and that-talk-I-haven’t-yet-been-asked-to-give.

    I’m thinking it’s more of a Quaker thing, especially after the Keithite schism, when things settled down considerably. Their meetings, by my understanding, did not have sermons, but everyone would sit in silence until the Spirit moved someone to speak, and then they would speak.

    113 — Where I saw contempt was in the condescension of describing my knowledge as something other than certain knowledge. I think Cowboy and I are getting closer to some understanding, and that this was more a matter of misunderstanding and a bit of semantics than it was open contempt. The rest, from what I can see, was a basic misunderstanding that I was trying to claim that my testimony was objective truth. I’m not sure how willful this misunderstanding was — I think some were just having some fun, and, as much as I enjoy having fun, this is not an experience I have fun with. I wasn’t sharing it to be persuasive, but neither was I sharing it to have fun poked at it, and I didn’t appreciate that.

    I did not see your comments as contemptuous, nor did I see them as poking fun. I do not accept your proffered apologies because I don’t see that they are needed, but I appreciate their offer.

  112. 115 — Evidence isn’t just a matter for courts and law. My testimony that I have used as evidence in this thread probatively is that I had the experience I had. That is all. I have not attempted to prove the validity of the Church based on my spiritual testimony. For those who may not have gotten this point solidly enough yet, I do not insist that anybody agree with my spiritual testimony, nor that they rely upon it — I prefer people get their own, and accept whatever conclusion they come to.

    I’m not someone who beats people up for disagreeing with me about spiritual things, or challenges their sincerity for coming to different conclusions. This shouldn’t be taken as any lack of devotion on my part. I would just rather people be good Catholics or Muslims or Buddhists than bad Mormons. I don’t see how I show my discipleship for the Master by treating people like crap for any reason.

    And, like everything else, I’m imperfect at this too.

  113. #117: “My testimony that I have used as evidence in this thread probatively is that I had the experience I had. That is all. I have not attempted to prove the validity of the Church based on my spiritual testimony.”

    Cf. #25: “I know the Church is true, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I can’t tell you what “know” and “true” mean, and I don’t know what the Book of Mormon is, or what it means that it’s the word of God. But I know those things nonetheless….”

    I didn’t read #25 as simply declaring that you’d had a certain experience, but rather that (in addition) you drew from that experience that the conclusion the Church is true. I’d like to understand the logic between A and B, but if it wasn’t your intention to make that connection, then I misunderstood the original item. Pax.

  114. So after all this discussion we have arrived at quoting “I know the Church is true, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I can’t tell you what “know” and “true” mean, and I don’t know what the Book of Mormon is, or what it means that it’s the word of God. But I know those things nonetheless….”

    The real question to me seems to be why do we bother? Seems like a good place to end.

  115. 118 — I offered the earlier of those quotes to state where I’m at. It’s not negotiable. I had the experience. The content of the experience is the knowledge that the Church is true and the BoM is the word of God. Not sure exactly how it works, but, whenever I revisit the question in my mind, the answer stays the same — Church and BoM remain true. Have been known to swear when the answer stays the same — it’s not always the answer I want. There isn’t more detail I can give you than that. This isn’t wish fulfillment. It’s beyond explanation. And periodically annoying in the extreme. If you’re not yet in a place where that rings bells, I hope you get there.

    119 — Why do we bother what? Try to explain spiritual knowledge? We most often don’t try. I think because it’s a pain in the butt to try. Words don’t successfully carry spiritual details. It’s the reason we (or, at least, I) pray for the Spirit to be present in our meetings where we are speaking of spiritual things, to convey the correct understandings of those things. The words can get you into the general neighborhood, but it takes the Spirit to get it right.

  116. Excellent post. It is a human condition to want to “know”; we are terrified of NOT knowing. I think in Mormonism, “knowing” something is true is a cultural as well as personal phenomenon.

    My husband went to Japan on his mission back in the day; in Japanese there is no way to say “I know”. I told me he was always grateful for that since saying he “knew” made him uncomfortable. So the only way to say “I know this Church is true” was to substitute “know” with “believe”.

    Once upon a time I thought I knew. Once upon a time I told myself that knowing was being faithful. In fact, knowing was a great way to stay single of mind and not allow anything new or divergent to sully my conviction.

    Now I “know” one thing for sure; it came time to move on. And I upgraded my belief system.

  117. Fwiw, again, I have never heard or seen anyone in any of my multiple wards in very diverse states ridiculed or mocked or looked down on for saying they believe from the pulpit – and I’ve heard it from many people, quite a few of whom were serving in positions of leadership at the time.

    If you don’t feel honest saying you know, then by all means say you believe – or even that you desire to believe (and maybe that you want to hang on to the type of faith Alma describes until someday, perhaps, you can say you know).

    To those of you who say you never hear it, maybe that’s because you never say it – and nobody else who feels like you do follows you and says it also. “Be the change you desire” sounds trite to many people, but it’s wonderful advice. If you only believe or desire to believe, say so. I’ve done it from the pulpit one more than one occasion, and most people in the Bloggernacle (and in my wards) see me as a TBM – albeit a generally nice one. 🙂

  118. “I think some were just having some fun, and, as much as I enjoy having fun, this is not an experience I have fun with. I wasn’t sharing it to be persuasive, but neither was I sharing it to have fun poked at it, and I didn’t appreciate that.”

    For what it is worth, I certainly was not attempting to “poke fun” at your testimony, or to be light about it any regard. I agree with Thomas however, that testimonies are not beyond critique. I agree that it needs to be respectful, and in retrospect I may have charged a bit more aggressively than I should have. At any rate, I think we are at a point of better understanding.

  119. >> “They haven’t questioned to this point in their life or experienced doubts; therefore, they are “certain” by default. They still have the unblinking faith of a child.”

    THIS. Thank you so much for this.

    An event in my life this year, during a missionary discussion with an investigator of the church had affected me so much that I have lately been questioning doctrinal matters of the LDS theology. For the first time ever last week, I bore my testimony that doesn’t consist of the saying, “I know” because truth of the matter is, I don’t know. Saying “I know” did not feel right; it would be lying; I would feel like such a fraud. However, last week, I truly had the urge to say something, to share what I truly know what I am grateful for (the church, the Book of Mormon, living prophet). Interestingly, I thought it was more satisfying to say “I am grateful for…” than “I know…” It was a remedy to the tried times and struggles I have been facing in questions of the doctrine. TMI, I know; but I just want to thank you for this post, especially for the part that I pointed out. It makes me feel better about about not knowing, and I think it is okay to doubt because lately I have found myself being more diligently at searching the scriptures, church publications, and especially at praying. It has definitely strengthened me and increased my knowledge and faith in the restored gospel.

  120. 122. Thanks for that last commment Ray. I am at the point where I can only say that I desire to desire to believe, if that makes any sense. All that I know about church history and other doctrinal difficulties make it hard for me to want to believe because to some degree I have to accept things that don’t sit well with me without any satisfactory explanations from the Church or the Holy Ghost.

    I have thought about getting up in fast and testimony and “telling it how it is.” I just don’t think that people would understand me unless I went into considerable detail. Those details would likely hurt many peoples’ faith rather than build it and that is not the purpose of testimony meetings.

  121. 123 — Yes, I think we’re good now. Or better, anyhow. Thanks for this.

    125 — I like where you’re at with this, because it’s real. Desiring a desire to believe isn’t a bad place to be, particularly if you pursue that desire. I think there is a place for letting people know things that might be harmful to their false-faith, and that that is a good thing, but over the pulpit in testimony meeting isn’t it. It’s not Mormon Open Mike — it’s a place for sharing what you have learned through the Spirit by means of the Spirit. Taking a sympathetic friend to lunch might be a better place.

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