Why a Testimony of the Gospel is Not Enough

Jeff Spector Bloggernacle, Culture, faith, historicity, LDS, missionary, Mormon, testimony 98 Comments

I have been under the impression over the last 26 years in the Church that if one had a pretty strong testimony of the Savior, the truthfulness of the Gospel as restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith and other essential doctrines, that if would be enough for the average member to weather the storms of doubt, social rejection and, their discovery of new information that might come along from time to time.

The reason I believed it is because it was my own personal experience. As I learned essential Church Doctrines and Church History, I had to, as we all do, reconcile this new found information against what I already knew. In some cases, it fit perfectly with my understanding and, in some cases not. I was forced to study and pray about those new things I learned in order to put them in the proper perspective.

But I am a convert. An adult convert. I was not favored with simple “faith-promoting “stories in Primary and YM/YW taught while I was growing up. I learned the gospel on both spiritual and intellectual planes. I had to develop my testimony on my own and did not use the borrowed light of others .

Within the first few years of my Church membership, I joined an email list which discussed Mormon Doctrine and Church practices. We had a large number of true Anti-Mormons on the BBS. I also went to their BBS’s and downloaded their “information” about Mormons. One of the documents I found was53 False Prophecies of Joseph Smith,” written in the early 1980s by Dick Baer of “Godmakers” Fame. In it he explains why Joseph Smith was a false prophet. What I then did was investigate each point and write my own response to it. In some cases, I had to research for a while to get an answer with which I was comfortable. Most of Baer’s claims were nick-picky at best and just false at worst. Anyway, that exercise strengthened me a great deal because in some cases, I found out information that was not widely circulated in the standard lessons and materials of the Church. It bolstered by testimony a great deal to know that there was a reasonable and logical answer to the questions raised. In some cases, it required a spiritual confirmation of the truth, not just an academic one.

Now, why do I relate this story? I have come to understand, through my participation in the Bloggernacle that, many members of the Church have either left the Church, are in process of leaving or have serious doubts about doctrinal or historical issues. It seems that they were “surprised” by certain things which they had not known before.

They each had a testimony of some kind, but in these cases, a testimony of the gospel was not enough.

It was not enough to avert a crisis of faith. Some are able to recover from it, some are not. Some have come away with a diminished sense of the divinity of the Church itself and lost confidence in some of its leaders, past and present. Some have reduced their participation to perfunctory and lost faith in some essential truths of the restored gospel.

President Hinckley declared that new converts need,” a Friend in the Church, an assignment, and to be nourished by the Good Word of God.” Gordon B. Hinckley, “Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, May 1999, 104

Good advice for members who are fellowshipping new members, but what about the members themselves. Don’t they need the same thing?

We’ve all seen the situation where a convert comes into the Church and may be different than those in the ward or branch. Maybe they are of a different ethnic group, or are shy. Perhaps they are on a different economic level, speak with an accent or just don’t fit the Mormon mold. In many cases, the love of the members grabs a hold of them and they are successfully integrated into the congregation. But, many times they are not. They know the missionaries but never really know the members of their ward or branch who do not know them. And they fall away.

They had enough faith to join the Church, even developing a small, yet growing testimony. But sometimes, a testimony of the gospel is not enough.

Let’s turn our attention to the other members of the ward. Perhaps, they just moved in, had a life -changing event like a divorce or a death of a spouse. Perhaps they never married. Maybe they lost a child, or have some other problems. Even though they may be life-long members, maybe they never really fit in. Perhaps they have strong opinions and spout off in Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society. Maybe, someone just said something unkind at some point. No one talks to them, no one looks at them and, outside of church no one visits them. So they just stop coming and fade away from the scene. And no one notices.

They grew up in the Church, went to seminary, served an honorable mission and have a strong testimony of the Church. But, socially, they are nowhere. Again, having a testimony is not enough.

We come to Church each Sunday to partake of the Sacrament, worship the Lord and be uplifted and edified. But we come for other reasons as well. We come for some social interaction, affirmation of our common beliefs, values and testimonies. We come to be a part of God’s Kingdom here on this earth. And we want to fit it. If the arms of the Lord are large enough to embrace us, is not His Church?

How do we help these fellow Saints? We can follow the advice of John Dehlin in this podcast of a 2006 presentation. We can be sympathetic, understanding, and non-judgmental, reach out the hand of fellowship and try to answer any question or concerns expressed. For those who may be on the social fringes, we should seek them out and be a friend. Maybe, get out of our own “comfort zone.” Show genuine Christ-like love for that person.

It doesn’t help to be argumentative, confrontational, or just telling them to pray and read scriptures more (though praying about the situation to our Father in Heaven is never a bad idea).

For those finding themselves with a testimony and one foot out of the church, perhaps it should be handled like any other faith challenging event in our life. Set aside our intellect, our learning, our bitterness and pride and just rely on the love of the Savior to see us through the crisis. We must remember that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The Church is but His imperfect, human-led earthly organization full of people who are struggling as well.

“It is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Hel. 5:12).

So why isn’t a testimony of the Gospel enough?

Comments

comments

Comments 98

  1. This day and age is truly a magnificent and marvelous time, both for the Gospel and for the whole world. We are more educated today than ever before, and that education spans over a larger segment of the population than ever before. Because of our education, we learn to make sure everything fits logically and reasonably, which is why we get so nit-picky about this or that prophecy by Joseph Smith (or anyone else for that matter), or not even just the prophecies, but various points of doctrine. So we get to some doctrine that “surprised” us (my sister was surprised by the history of the church, which she never learned in Sunday School, and she left the church for it), when in other ages we would not even be searching deeper points of doctrine because we would be more worried about getting food on the table and such. This is truly a time like never before in the history of the world. And I am glad to have prophets today and God revealing knowledge to us today in our way and in our language (meaning culture and understanding). Having prayed to know if Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet (and having received an affirmative response), for most of the rest, I’ve come to accept that we’re all human beings who do indeed make mistakes and place our various and unique imprints on every institution, including God’s church. Brigham Young was a prophet, but he was also very racist. That’s okay by me. I’m glad I did not live in his age, or I would not have joined the church but have been in the worldly castle mocking and pointing at those going to the Tree. Actually, I’m glad I was born when I was (and not earlier, though maybe later), because I doubt I would have stayed in the church knowing of the bans on blacks in the priesthood. (I was baptized when I was twelve in 1987). Sometimes, though, I find that the more I know about the culture of Mormonism throughout its age, the less I want a part of it. I really cannot stand to be in Utah, for example. I hated it there. Out here in New York, I go to church because it’s true. But I don’t participate much in it beyond the normal stuff. Maybe it is how closely tied so many Mormons are to the warmongering going on right now. (I’m not trying to score political points here, but explaining my deep feelings, so please bear with me). I just cannot fathom and reconcile the Gospel that I’ve been taught in Sunday School (and the Gospel I learned on my mission—where I learned the most about the Gospel and the Church) and the outward nationalistic expressions I see in so many LDS in America. Maybe I need to move to Europe and go to church there.

    I want to (and need to) have a stronger connection to the church (because it’s true damn it) for my daughter’s sake, but not if I cannot enjoy it.

  2. I think I know what your are saying, but let me see if I understand this. You seem to think that in addition to a witness of the Spirit, we need to actually be doing something in the church (calling), have emotional and social connections (friends), and we need to be constantly strengthening our knowledge of gospel doctrine and church history?

    If you’ll allow me a bit of sarcasm here, PREPOSTEROUS! HOW COULD YOU SUGGEST THAT IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO MERELY SHOW UP ON SUNDAY AND LISTEN TO THE LESSONS? TO MERELY GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS OF YOUR CALLING? YOU MEAN I HAVE TO ACTUALLY BE ENGAGED AND CARE?

    /end sarcasm

    Actually, the problem is that the testimony, the witness is supposed to be a mere starting point, and then you build it up to something more. We use the words faith, testimony, and the slippery word know very sloppily in the church (and it hurts us), because we are trying to describe something very alien to our mortal and carnal experience. Spiritual experiences are so different from our mortal and carnal experience that we simply have not evolved an appropriate set of linguistics to deal with it, and when we borrow from everyday terminology it gets very murky.

    What we need is a lexicon that uses more precise language for these terms. It will never happen.

  3. Great Post Jeff.

    I think that cutting past the polemics and focusing on what really matters…applying religious and Christian principles into our lives. By doing so we can befriend the disheartened, weary, and disenchanted and help them to be less radical/fundamental both against or for the church.

    Thanks for the post Jeff. Made my day.

  4. Testimonies are enough, actually. You just have to have a more fully-developed, well-informed testimony also on obscure specific points that are not covered by the usual “testimony” when you become confronted with this stuff, so you are living on your own light. Unfortunatly, that is a fact that isnt taught in sunday school.

  5. “Maybe, someone just said something unkind at some point. No one talks to them, no one looks at them and, outside of church no one visits them.” Wow, that almost describes me to a ‘T’. I’ve been very depressed at church lately, watching others who have said very unkind thing’s to me and my wife. Ive been focusing on some of the same things you’ve said like working on developing a stronger testimony and focusing on the basics. But I still think if I stopped going nobody would care much. I’ve skipped EQ more often than not for months and nobody has said nothing, even when a member of the EQ presidency came for his first HT visit this year. But I keep going to church knowing that I should be there. Thanks for the article it makes me feel like there is hope out there.

  6. Jeff, great post.

    I have noticed that it is possible for someone to have, or seem to have, or to claim to have, a burning testimony of the truthfulness of the Church, but to not be a very nice person. In order to develop a TRUE testimony of the Church, we need to first develop testimonies of Christ and his Atonement and, specifically, to be committed to living Christlike lives, e.g., being nice to each other.

    Moreover, to be well grounded, a testimony of the Church needs to be preceded and based upon a testimony of Christ and a commitment to live by His Gospel principles. If we have a testimony of the principles of Christ’s Gospel, and are committed to living them, e.g., to be patient and forgiving of others, no look for others’ faults, try to work on improving ourselves and not others, don’t get angry, etc., then that foundation in Christ will help us weather the inevitable storms that we’ll experience as members of a Church full of fallible humans who will inevitably disappoint and frustrate us.

  7. I don’t mean these quotes to be an answer to anything. Just bringing them up to add to the discussion.

    D&C 33: 11-13

    11 Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
    12 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved;
    13 And upon this rock I will build my church; yea, upon this rock ye are built, and if ye continue, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.

    3 Nephi 18: 10-14

    10 And when the Disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.
    11 And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.
    12 And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.
    13 But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.
    14 Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall keep my commandments, which the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you.

    Matthew 7: 24-27

    24 ¶ Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
    25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
    26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
    27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

    ~

  8. Love it, Jeff! I have a lot of thoughts about this post.

    1 – the gospel is true; the body of the church is the whole world. It sounds like an easy distinction, but it’s hard to separate these in real life. If we could look around at church and really see people for who they are, their hearts, their thoughts, it would be quite different. But we can’t.

    2 – “testimony” describes a wide spectrum. For me, I can pinpoint the exact moment I gained a testimony. That has colored my perception going forward. Some have a “wishful thinking” testimony or they know gospel principles are true but don’t have a personal witness to call their own. It’s like the talk “It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else matters?” I still enjoy the questions, but I know what I know, and what I don’t know doesn’t change what I do know.

    3 – To further thought #2, people seek confirming evidence (for what they already believe). But if you don’t really understand what you (think you) believe, then you can easily fall away when you see evidence confirming something different. But you can’t prove or disprove certain things: the existence of God, how life is created, and even historical events which are totally subjective and have been altered by the authors of history because they sought confirming evidence for what they already believed.

    4 – Satan’s going to throw as many hooks at you as he can. Some of those hooks that don’t get me definitely get someone else. If I were going to change my beliefs, I know which arguments would not be compelling to me. But those arguments have worked on others in different circumstances.

    5 – Speaking of your example (researching the criticisms – how very FAIR of you), many people don’t do that because they are intellectually intimidated, daunted by the length of the task, or disillusioned because their foundation was flimsy.

    I expect to be slain for my very TBM response, but I did find the post engaging, FWIW.

  9. Jeff, your comment above says it all: “For those finding themselves with a testimony and one foot out of the church, perhaps it should be handled like any other faith challenging event in our life. Set aside our intellect, our learning, our bitterness and pride and just rely on the love of the Savior to see us through the crisis.”

    There are points in our lives when we’re faced with the decision to either believe and “rely on the love of the Savior” and believe in the atonement. Or not. Those points are usually painful, but they can be life-changing.

  10. Jeff,

    Nice post. I have thought about these issues a bit since the start of Mormon Matters.

    On the one hand, Mormons are supposed to have testimonies to help us weather the storms of life. On the other, we have had discussions on this site which confirm the “creedlessness” of Mormonism. So if one has a testimony, what is the content of that testimony? As an example, if one can answer yes to the first three “belief” temple recommend questions, does one have a testimony? We throw the word around as if one could have a testimony about isolated principles like tithing, service, the Word of Wisdom, but then also act as if such a thing as a capital T Testimony exists out there somewhere that we can throw a butterfly net over and bring home to mount on our wall.

    Is that what a testimony is? What are your thoughts?

  11. I’ve had trouble juggling the concept that testimonies can be gained and lost with the concept that those who stumble and commit a major transgression while actively participating in church were never truly converted.

    I come away from lessons on testimonies that if you don’t maintain prayer, scripture study, etc. that the witness you had of things true will dwindle. This makes sense, sort of like a muscle withering from lack of use.

    An excellent talk by D. Todd Christofferson, “When Thou Art Converted,” Liahona, May 2004, 11–13 has the following quote:

    “Years ago when I served as a stake president, a man came to confess a transgression. His confession surprised me. He had been an active member of the Church for years. I wondered how a person with his experience could have committed the sin that he did. After some pondering, it came to me that this brother had never become truly converted. Despite his Church activity, the gospel had not penetrated his heart. It was only an external influence in his life. When he was in wholesome environments, he kept the commandments, but in a different environment, other influences might control his actions.”

    Thus, I ask the same question Jeff is asking, “why isn’t a testimony of the Gospel enough?” How do you know whether you have a “testimony ONLY” or if you have become “truly converted”. If I go out and succumb to my favorite sins once again, does that mean that I have not been truly converted, even though I have a testimony? Can I ever then hope to be converted as I am very well aware that I will commit sin repeatedly?

    My presbyterian friend would easily tell me that the commission of a major transgression would be evidence that one had not been born again. Yet the steps he suggests to accept Christ and become born again seem overly simple to accomplish the effective removal of sin from one’s heart.

    Anyone able to help me with this?

  12. Rigel – “If I go out and succumb to my favorite sins once again, does that mean that I have not been truly converted, even though I have a testimony?” Testimony is a better protection from apostacy than it is from sin, IMHO. I prefer to think of sin and apostacy as very separate things.

    I think the best protection from sin is getting away from temptation, knowing what sins you are prone to and what environments pose the most danger to you. Sin is like an old knee injury–you are vulnerable to a direct attack on that front for the rest of your life, and the only way around it is to build up strength in muscles around the knee and know your limits with that knee.

  13. I’ve had trouble juggling the concept that testimonies can be gained and lost with the concept that those who stumble and commit a major transgression while actively participating in church were never truly converted.

    I think this seems too much like a sort of “neo-Calvinism.” In Calvinism, those who don’t embrace the faith “obviously” weren’t among the “elect” of deity. In the above statement, those who deconvert and/or commit major transgressions “obviously” weren’t “truly” converted.

    Those who’ve known me for many years would tell you that you couldn’t have found a more strident, nearly-militant, almost fundamentalist Mormon than I was. I could crow with some of the rest here, about how I “absolutely knew” that Mormonism was deity’s true faith. I was, dare I say it, even extremist Mormon in some of my views. Joseph Smith, despite his imperfections, was my one mortal hero. Yet, through my own life experiences and hundreds of hours poring through documentation all over the United States, I simply came to no longer believe. It was painful. In fact, the moment the balance tipped, I physically felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach, and had the wind knocked out of me.

    When you glibly conclude that those who “lose the faith” were never “truly converted,” I think you oversimplify and insult the very real, traumatic experiences of your fellow beings.

  14. I too appreciate this post. It seems like sometimes we hold our own fellow members to a higher standard and forget to treat them with as much love, care, and neighborliness that we would those not of our faith. It’s probably because we depend on each other so much in our various callings for things to get done–but since there are no “professionals”–we can’t let ourselves get too judgmental. As for my testimony–it really is my testimony that has seen me through the concerns and doubts that come as we learn of various uncomfortable facts of the past. But I dwell more on the good that I have found–especially the things and the times when the Spirit was/is too strong to deny it–that I do about the things that would cause some people to “leave the Church”. The fact that my faith in the Book of Mormon really is unshakable helps. Instead of getting too hung up on Joseph’s polygamy practices, I can fall back on the fact that the Book of Mormon is proof that he really was a prophet and all of the other amazing things he did. The work is true or it’s not. All around–there’s too much truth that I you can’t find anywhere else, and the restored gospel has deepened my testimony the most important thing of all–of the Savior and His Atonement. (Even if He does call imperfect people to do his work! 🙂

  15. I’ve been a life-long member of the church, which included Seminary, BYU, marriage in the temple, 3 kids and lots of callings along the way. Two years ago, I realized that there were too many doctrinal and historical issues that I could not reconcile. No one offended me, I just found myself disagreeing strongly with many of the talks and messages I was hearing at church.

    Though I don’t have much desire to self-identify as a Mormon, I’m still a member of my ward, and I’ve (thanks to John Dehlin) found a good niche as the choir accompanist. I don’t attend meetings other than those the choir is participating in. Here’s the thing, Jeff: if ward members made me a project of some kind, or insinuated that I was lacking in some way for not attending, it would be off-putting. I and many others like me, I’m sure, are trying to reconcile our love of the Mormon tribe and good memories of our Mormon upbringing with our new-found knowledge of Joseph Smith’s behavior, realization that institutionalized sexism is a shelf-breaker, etc.

    Anyway, I see where you’re coming from. Thanks for linking to John Dehlin’s presentation. I wish more LDS folks could see where I’m coming from.

  16. Each person needs whatever that individual person needs – and the individual needs are wide and varied. One of the biggest problems we have is the natural tendency to assume that whatever works for us will work for others – that, for example, Oliver’s burning and stupor are the standard for all. A testimony of the Gospel might be enough for some; it certainly isn’t for others – and I believe most. Most do need the sociality – to be converted to both the Restored Gospel AND the Church through which it is presented.

    If you analyze the comments in the Bloggernacle that express dissatisfaction and/or angst, they almost always focus on “teachings” or “policies and procedures” – and the one that doesn’t cause heartburn often is what keeps the person connected. When both cause indigestion, most people drift (or run) away.

  17. Nick (13): I appreciate you making the “neo-Calvinist” comparison. While Mormon theology has very little of similarity with Calvinism, the mental and culturally rational processes common to Mormonism has a lot of similarity as it seeks to justify its ideal exclusiveness. (But then it’s not just “Mormonism” and “Calvinism” but any extreme or singularly correct position within or outside these denominations.) I don’t think Jeff Spector was making his whole point through this lens, however.

    Still, people change denominations for all sorts of reasons, and many can be holy, authentic, good ones. At least when dealing with real humans, real experiences of people seeking authenticity, connectedness, God, spiritual identity, I think it is good to validate the trauma of anyone for whom, when following that truth in righteousness, it involves separation from one’s familiar faith tradition. With how “denominationally mobile” America is, that’s hardly a trauma found only for those who leave the LDS church.

    ===

    One thing I like that I see in Jeff’s post is a call for local connectedness. It’s something I see Mormonism often strives for very well. It has it’s own peculiar cultural manifestations, for sure, but I see that it has a lot to admire, too. In my present religious experience, it is common to find people “shopping for churches” so much that “shopping around” becomes the standard. Church-goers become so committed to finding an ideal place that fits all their needs that they just become “spiritual takers” week after week. Or they just give up seeking and attending since the ideal may never be found. Or they may even redefine worship into merely a personal, more nebulous experience like saying “my church is the mountains.” Such persons can forget to find a church that aligns well enough to be a place where they can be productive givers and sharers, and grow in mutual faith with others. Transformation in Christ is a personal, individual matter, of course, but it seems clear that Jesus wanted us to seek this spiritual life — God’s Kingdom and Reign — among a body of fellow believers: His Church.

  18. Beautifully said, B-F-A-M. The last paragraph, especially, is truly profound. If more people, no matter religion or denomination, understood “sharing” – as opposed to “giving” and “taking”, many of the “issues” we discuss would die a natural death.

  19. Re #12 “Testimony is a better protection from apostacy than it is from sin”

    I like that thought Hawkgrrl. Then would you also say that conversion is a better protection from sin than it is from apostasy? From the footnotes to Elder C’s talk that I mentioned in #11:

    “Ezekiel said conversion is like the Lord taking away our “stony heart” and giving us a heart that loves Him and His gospel (see Ezek. 11:19–20). Surely this is what happened to the people of King Benjamin when they said their hearts had been changed and they didn’t even want to do evil anymore “but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).”

    If testimony and conversion are two different things, does one necessarily “deconvert” when they lose their testimony? If I were to lose my testimony, I think they would go together. It would be, first, losing in my heart the desire to “do good continually”. Then I would simply start discounting my spiritual experiences as emotional responses to “a sentimental or uplifting story…that uses inaccurate or fabricated facts.”

  20. As a former TBM, I can agee with Nick’s analysis of no longer believing. Yes I “knew” the gospel was true. Unfortunately, as it was taught to me by the church for my whole life – it appears now the church lied, not once but many times – and still lies. That is a very difficult challenge to faith. If it is not true, I don’t care how much of a testimony I have of it. People “know” all sorts of things and have testimonies of all sorts of things that other people think are nonsensical. My muslim friend “knows with every fiber of her being” that Mohammed was God’s prophet, and there have been no prophets since, and the Koran came from God. Maybe it did. All I really know is that God gave me a brain as well as intuition, emotions, spirit, etc., and expects me to use it to sort out truth from lies. I am a recently released RS president, and still lead the ward choir and attend sacrament meeting, but I no longer believe, and do not attend SS or RS as I do not wish to listen to whitewash.

  21. 1. Testimonies can have a short shelf life.

    2. Some testimonies are borne of the Spirit, but are not “burned in” to the point of knowledge. IE, some are “I believe” type testimonies, and not really “I know” type testimonies.

    3. I read a reviewer on Amazon, who reviewed anti-Mormon books, and with each book he said “there goes my testimony of…” Well, if he let someone’s written words erase what he thought was a testimony, then it wasn’t a “burned in” testimony. Because, in my opinion at least, the convincing power of the Holy Ghost, when he “burns” it into you, is greater than the convincing power of any human. See page 38 of the current Gospel Principles. I think that reviewer just had “I believe…” type testimonies, not “I know…” type.

    4. Even a burned-in type testimony isn’t enough to guard against forces that would tear us from the gospel. What is needed after a testimony is _conversion_, and not just a surface conversion, but “deep roots” of conversion, that will anchor us against the storms. I think it was Pres Hinckley who used the “deep roots of conversion” phrase.

    Bottom line #1: Re: pressures from without. With a “burned in” type of “I know…” testimony about the foundational basics of the restoration (existance of God and Christ, the Atonement, Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s first vision and prophetic calling), one “should” be able to then at least logically deduce that any purported evidence contrary to those things can eventually be classified as either fabricated, false, twisted, or explainable, or relegated to the “Yeah, that’s correct, but that doesn’t mean the church isn’t true” column.

    Bottom Line #2: Re: Presures from within. The early history of the church shows that even those with burned in “I know…” type testimonies can leave: Martin Harris, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, Thomas B. Marsh. “Deep roots of conversion” are still needed.

  22. “I “absolutely knew” that Mormonism was deity’s true faith.”

    Nick Literski, you are always referring to God as “deity” or “Mormon deity”, with a lower case d. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I suppose, but would you please detail why you do this? What are your beliefs now that you are no longer in the Church? Do you not believe in the God of Abraham?

    “If it is not true, I don’t care how much of a testimony I have of it.”

    Wow, what does someone say to someone else in a loving way that they are oversimplifying something that is too complex to call a lie. Holding back information might not be the best thing to do. But I assure you that in messy situations as the Church has been in for its whole existence, I assure you that from my viewpoint, they have to do what they have to do. Is this making an excuse for it and trying to justify it? I suppose it is, but I am calling it as I see it, and I see it as a rational decision in a messy environment. Its one of those things, like how the Church owns KSL, but puts up with the garbage on the network that KSL belongs to. Its messy, and it isn’t perfect. Mischaracterizations of facts may not be the best thing, but permit me to suggest that the fact that you were able to find out the truth means that now you know more of the truth. Does that mean that you should throw out such truths that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet, just because of the messy environment that forces the hand of the Church to have to make messy choices? That isn’t really fair to the Church, and I don’t think it is fair to yourself either. Just because the situation is complex and messy doesn’t mean that given a more perfect and ideal situation that the Church would lie or misrepresent. I mean, think about that for a second. Think about the fact that I had to lie to my wife to tell her she wasn’t fat back in the day that she was fat before she lost weight. That’s a perfect example of a messy situation where you simply don’t have many good choices. That is the type of messy stuff that the apostates and Anti’s have constantly forced the Church into for its whole existence, and the Church has been in survival mode the whole time. I mean, really think deeply about that fact before you go making judgement calls on the failures of Church leaders now and in the past.

  23. I guess it would only be right for me to weigh in on this particular thread as I find myself being one who still participates but certainly not a totally believing Mormon. So what is a testimony? I’ve always been taught that testimonies are built line upon line and precept on precept. In other words, no-one has a testimony of every principle and doctrine embodied in Mormonism. Every member is at a different level of commitment, understanding, spirituality, and belief. It would seem very prideful to say that you “know” the church is true when that statement would imply that you have finished the journey and discovered all truth and now live by every word that proceeds forth from the scriptures, prophets, and local church leaders.

    We’re all living at some level on the grand spectrum of belief. Why would anyone decide his place is any higher or lower than another’s? Compared to what God knows, we’re all idiots. As John Dehlin stated in his essay about staying in the church after becoming disaffected, if you don’t like a particular doctrine, just wait, chances are it will change in the future. Has the church experienced a huge change in its beliefs during the past 180 years? Were there doctrines taught during JS and BY time that we find even humors today in light of greater knowledge and understanding? (If your answer to this question is no, then you are either not being honest or you just haven’t studied the doctrinal history of the church.)

    Did people during the first 100 years of the church have strong testimonies of what we now know to be false doctrines? (I could give you lists of things that fit this particular question but I would rather focus on the point.) Many things you believe today may change dramatically in the next forty or fifty years. Is that a bad thing? I don’t believe so nor would it be healthy to not expand your horizons and thereby change your world view as you go.

    Welcome to the journey of a life time. For me, it’s been a great adventure with thrills and disappointments all along the way. Realizing that what I believe today may actually be incorrect or incomplete and thereby being brave enough to take the next step on the journey is what makes life so worth living. Read “Jonathon Livingston Seagull” if you get the chance and then get off the beach and go fly…

  24. I do NOT want this to spark a political threadjack, so PLEASE don’t take it there, anybody. I am going to use this example only to illustrate a point:

    Two politicians in particular in the past decade has been brutalized by charges of flip-flopping – John Kerry and Mitt Romney. At the most fundamental level, they have been criticized for saying one thing at one time and a different thing at a different time. (***Valid or invalided, I don’t care for this comment.***) Otoh, there is one politician who has been raked over the coals explicitly for NOT flip-flopping – for holding onto one position in the face of contradictory evidence and not being willing to change his mind – George W. Bush. (Again, valid or invalid, I don’t care for this comment.)

    Frankly, I would rather support people who are able to think critically and change their minds when they feel they understand something better than they used to see it.

    I agree that a testimony of the Gospel is not enough *for some people*, but I also believe that a testimony of the Gospel is critical as a foundation. I can’t express adequately how often I hear someone explain why they left the Church and think, “But that’s not what the Church teaches as core Gospel principle. That’s just our best guess at the moment. Why would you leave over something that is subject to change as we see more clearly and understand a little more fully?” My answer always returns to our individual perception of the Gospel – and the human tendency to make things MUCH more complicated than they really are at heart – to “look beyond the mark” and rely on “the arm of flesh (or the brain of the natural man)”.

    As I’ve said in other ways, if we just focused on finding an organization that helped us in our quest to bond with God and quit tying to tear others away from the organizations that help them do the same, so much of the strife and ulcers in our lives would disappear. “Sharing (your sincere version of) the Gospel” and the joy you find in it is fine; trying to cram it down someone’s throat and, in the process, shattering their joy is something entirely different – and that’s true no matter what your personal “Gospel” is. I wish we practiced inviting more and challenging less – and I wish we respected individual testimonies of individual understandings of “the Gospel” more truly and fully – both inside AND outside the Church – TCM and DAMU and everyone else. I also wish these acronyms had never been coined.

    That’s just me, so take it fwiw.

  25. “Those who’ve known me for many years would tell you that you couldn’t have found a more strident, nearly-militant, almost fundamentalist Mormon than I was. ”

    Not to speak of you particularly, Nick. Or at all. Honest. Just this comment sparked something I’ve thought about for a long time.

    Is it that those who are most zealously Mormon have the most difficult time in leaving the church? They don’t have a lot of middle ground to fall into. It becomes an all or nothing game. Either it is true as they have claimed, every jot and tittle, defensible in every respect, or else it is false, there is no God, and I’m done, and let me explain what a fool I was. Doesn’t this make it difficult to learn? Because learning, by definition, means having a new, or broader idea. And if every idea is already on the table in its perfect spot, then any thought of rearrangment on the table is bad. What a lot of pressure to put on oneself. I’d walk away from that table and never come back, myself, feeling quite free, I’m sure.

    I have kind of wondered – because it was actually quite easy for me to leave the church, and when it was time to come back,- although it created a lot of problems in my life,- that was quite easy to. I never had hard feelings towards the church, although I had some real difficulties, some things to work around, and still do. I did not lose my testimony, although I came to disbelieve some things. (Most of which I’ve come to believe in again, some not.)

    Not to toot my parents horn – but although my family was orthodox in pretty much every regard, my father, especially, who was as loyal as a man might be, was a seeker type. It was always more than ok – it was fun, a real part of the fun of life – to ask questions, to stay up late at night mulling over contingencies. There was never lines drawn in the sand around what could or could not be thought around reasonably. There wasn’t any question about loyalty if you found youself thinking about something in a new way. I’ve also got to say there were a lot of real spiritual experiences with me and my dad talking late into the night about what may or may not be ture, or what might be true if viewed in a particular way, etc. There was never any cynicism. Always an assurance that we could come to a better understanding of whatever it was we were talking on, that the truth was out there, so to speak. I recall ideas I’d come up with – and although I’m sure they must have caused some concern, they were always just kind of absorbed. I’m very very grateful for it.

    ~

  26. John N. – “So if one has a testimony, what is the content of that testimony?” I think the content of it is whatever you asked for and received, and that’s individual. It seems to me that the clearest way to a testimony is direct communication with God. You can find out things about the gospel, about God, teachings, etc., or you can begin to “know God” directly as a person by drawing near unto Him. There is a lot of other stuff that is a distraction. I didn’t ask for a testimony of every point of doctrine (I suppose I could, but I didn’t). I asked for and received as much as I needed. I am sorry for those who have asked and felt they didn’t receive, and yet I am not one of them. If I need more, I will ask for it. Based on my previous experiences, I am convinced I would get what I need.

  27. “Holding back information might not be the best thing to do. But I assure you that in messy situations as the Church has been in for its whole existence, I assure you that from my viewpoint, they have to do what they have to do. Is this making an excuse for it and trying to justify it?”

    And WHY is the church in this messy situation? I think it is because lies beget lies. If I saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, you can be sure I would tell everyone that is what I saw right away, and write it down, not that I had a forgiveness of sins or saw one personage, etc., etc. So why did it take so many years for anyone to get the “right” version which is found in the PoGP (17 years or so)? And why do we have so many conflicting versions of it? The few very clear spiritual experiences I have had in my life are so burned into my brain that they never vary when I tell them, and I did write them down, and they are internally consistent. This really bothers me (as just one thing). I do not believe the church is in this messy situation because of “apostates and anti-mormons”, I think it is in it because there are problems with the foundational stories themselves. Not that I don’t have sympathy for the church leaders today trying to sort this all out and continue growing. And no, I am not throwing things out wholesale because of all the problems, that is why I still try to attend. But one of the problems is that no one will talk to me about these things without judging me as an apostate or accusing me of being anti-Mormon (which I am not). I think that is why a lot of people slip away. If you can’t talk about your doubts you can never resolve them so you just get tired of the whole thing and leave. And instead of getting fewer doubts as I get older, there are more and more, layers upon layers – short of completely just turning off my brain (which I am unable to do), there seems no way to resolve any of these doubts – the cognitive dissonance becomes a huge burden.

  28. Post
    Author

    John N.

    “Is that what a testimony is? What are your thoughts?”

    Well, I did a series on Testimony , and did try to outline in the basic sense what is testimony is. I would stand by that. But here a few other thoughts.

    A testimony must be fed. I think there was a earlier comment that a testimony that is not growing, stagnates. In my own experience, you must constantly reinforce your testimony through prayer, study, hearing others, doing service, etc. otherwise, it weakens. Maybe not of those purely fundamental things (God lives, Jesus is the Christ), but the testimony that drives us to action, attending meetings, studying, prayer, giving service.

    My whole premise was why a testimony is enough for some people to weather the crisis but not enough for others. Obliviously, the answers are individual, there is no one answer. We, as members need to be more sympathetic and not so judgmental. but, on the other hand, we should not have to put up with abuse from those, who feel so disenfranchised, that they lash out in anger and resentment.

    Working Mother (#28) – I, too wish there was more open dialog in the church about our doubts and questions. But, i guess people are afraid they may hear something that would shake them to their core. And, I suppose, we cater to the least strong, rather than the most strong. Plus sometimes debate gets contentious, and that is to be avioded, I guess. The only thing close to honest discussion i found is in High Priests. But, even that has its limits.

  29. working mother – Try to keep one thing in mind:

    It is easy to judge another time by the conditions of our own. We live in a day and age where many people, even common people like you and I, record our thoughts and feelings and impressions and experiences without giving it a second thought. We live in an information age, but this has not been the standard for most of human history – even as recently as 50 years ago. Up until the explosion of computer technology, in fact, the people who recorded even their most treasured experiences were the tiny fraction of the population – and an even smaller percentage of the “uneducated masses” did so.

    Until many years after the First Vision, there would have been no standard precedent or pressing need for Joseph Smith to record it. He verbally told his family and minister, at least, and that is completely consistent with the practice of his day for someone of his education. Only later, when others on a much broader level started asking about it would he naturally have thought to put it in writing – and, just like myself when recounting something from my past here in this forum, he would have picked and chosen what to share and how to share it based on the audience at the time.

    I personally have experienced retelling a story somewhat differently on different occasions in order to emphasize certain points and not share others. I have told some of my own experiences with the Spirit to various audiences, and occasionally I have totally glossed over others who were involved in those experiences – for various, legitimate reasons. I also have attributed statements and quoted teachings to my father in order to be concise (yeah, hard to believe, I know), when, in fact, those things were not actual statements but rather things I learned from the way he lived his life – kind of compiled summaries that made sense to me in statements of my own creation. I believe that is a common practice of nearly all of us, so I would be very careful about judging Joseph for what I believe is nothing more than acting like someone in his situation naturally would act.

    As to more open dialog, I agree that it should be encouraged, but if it’s hard enough in a forum like this (self-selected individuals who enjoy this type of conversation) to reach understanding and consensus, why do we think it should be easier in a forum like Church – where we have every imaginable degree of understanding and testimony and personality and perspective? I blog largely in order to have a PROPER forum for this type of discussion, since I truly believe church simply isn’t intended for that purpose – and making it fit that purpose would destroy the most fundamental reason for its organization. I can get my brain fed here and in other similar ways; I want my spirit fed when I am inside the church building itself. I get some overlap, obviously, but I want the focus to remain distinct and separate.

  30. Is it that those who are most zealously Mormon have the most difficult time in leaving the church? They don’t have a lot of middle ground to fall into. It becomes an all or nothing game. Either it is true as they have claimed, every jot and tittle, defensible in every respect, or else it is false, there is no God, and I’m done, and let me explain what a fool I was.

    I get that you weren’t targeting me with this comment, Thomas, but I thought it was well put. The vehemence with which I once believed in Mormonism has absolutely framed my present (future?) response to religion in general. Mormonism puts a huge amount of stock in the idea of being TRUE, and being the only true/authorized KIND of TRUE. I knew many years before I left the LDS church that I would never be able to join another christian denomination, because frankly, I found them so completely implausible. For me, if Mormonism wasn’t TRUE, and all other forms of christianity were comparatively false (or “less true”), then christianity as a whole was a falsehood. As it turns out, that’s exactly where I’ve ended up; I see christianity as a false religion. I see some admirable aspects of other religions, but after all the years I spent focused on having the TRUE ™ faith, it’s tough to invest in something that has “some truth,” or is “useful.”

    To complicate things more, because of my strong belief in Mormonism, I invested enormous amounts of effort in knowing that faith. I had a very substantial library of Mormon doctrinal and historical works, read voraciously, and I used it. I had file cabinets (plural) filled with unbound material on doctrine and history. I developed some real expertise. Now, imagine going to all that work, only to conclude that the object of your study wasn’t TRUE. How likely would you be to make such an investment in learning another faith? That’s where I sit now. I see aspects of Buddhism that really intrigue me, for example, but after my past experience, it’s difficult to bring myself to really study Buddhism, or any other faith that catches my interest.

  31. “We live in a day and age where many people, even common people like you and I, record our thoughts and feelings and impressions and experiences without giving it a second thought. We live in an information age, but this has not been the standard for most of human history – even as recently as 50 years ago. Up until the explosion of computer technology, in fact, the people who recorded even their most treasured experiences were the tiny fraction of the population – and an even smaller percentage of the “uneducated masses” did so.” To further this point, Jesus did not record his own thoughts (that we have on record), nor did his mother Mary, nor his father Joseph, nor his brothers and sisters. The years of Jesus’ life between age 12 and 30 are not represented, so what was he doing? Traveling to Japan (as has been suggested)? Yet we assume a lot, and in fact many Christian sects further assume that there is nothing more to the story of the gospel than what is recorded.

  32. Exactly, hawkgrrrl. I don’t remember the actual number, but I do remember the first time I read a description of just how little of the life of Jesus we have in the Bible. It puts the big picture into an interesting light to realize that of a 33-year life, we have the equivalent of a few weeks to examine. I would be wary of criticizing Joseph if the exact same criticism could be applied to Jesus.

  33. I think objective certainty is one of the false idols of religion. It’s common in the LDS experience, or at least appears to me by the word choices I’ve often heard, though definitely not confined to its borders. The Bible is said by Christians to rest on an objective certainty. I can’t disagree this could be true from God’s vantage point, but is it completely true for His followers — even His prophets, apostles and evangelists? I’m a more traditional Christian after all. I trust in the certainty of God. But even the Christian understanding of Him does not lead me to objective certainty. Even with my own experience, and the spiritual witness I gain from it, I am still relying a lot on the testimony of other mortals — the persuasiveness of words, actions, histories and tradition. Yet I only wish to profess my “capital-F” faith in the triune God. For the rest I have hope they are useful and trustworthy means to a saving faith in this.

    From my perspective if we are persons of faith then this should lead us to more humbly consider the value that faith has for those who believe fervently and differently from us. It probably should more often lead to productive interfaith (and intrachurch) dialogue than commonly results. Even where exposure to different perspectives, our own experience, or a great deal of study makes us more confident of our own faith (or lack thereof) I still think at best our faith appears certain enough to produce useful results in our life. In light of the results for which we hope, it, therefore, seems fair to question the veracity of things in which we and others place our faith, but can we do so without cludging the actual, personal faith of others? That’s hard to do. And often why it becomes challenging enough to find a useful forum here, not to mention in church settings.

    When I tried to define myself for years as a “deist Mormon,” and later as a “Christian Mormon,” I felt I had no place of official belonging. I was asked by bishops why I would not profess faith (sustain) in Joseph Smith as prophet or the church institution. That did not mean I thought either is/was summarily evil or anything. It just seemed an inappropriate request for me to define faith and loyalty in this way. It didn’t help — and probably followed from — that I didn’t find the evidence behind these contested professions of faith compelling, either. The “Mormon” aspect of my faith therefore largely became traditional, habitual and limited in how I participated (and was asked to participate). All “helped” to separate my heart from my “faith”. Faith at best became an intellectual and personal undertaking. Without a community of fellow believers, new faith did not root deeply and bloom in my heart nor bring connectedness. Until I reached the place so I could back on where I was, my former “faith” really didn’t feel much like faith anymore. My path obviously isn’t the path that all “DAMUs” must walk, which is to leave the LDS faith, and especially leave it for more traditional Christianity. It’s just what I had to do in order to find belonging, my heart, and a faith in Christ that I hoped for.

    Working Mother, if you are seeking, my hopes are with you that you will find a community, a place of belonging, acceptance, heart and faith, wherever that can authentically become so for you.

  34. Ray said, “I read a description of just how little of the life of Jesus we have in the Bible. It puts the big picture into an interesting light to realize that of a 33-year life, we have the equivalent of a few weeks to examine. I would be wary of criticizing Joseph if the exact same criticism could be applied to Jesus.”

    B-F-A-M: I often like your reasoning, but I think this is not a useful line of defense for Joseph. It is true that what we have for Jesus’ sayings and actions comes down to evangelists and Gospels (or even the probable early existence of oral instruction culture and teachings texts such as “Q”) and the historicity of some is definitely worth examination or questioning. Whether Jesus spent His absent years among the Essenes, or among Indian yogis, it really is not of foundational consequence for Christianity. The basis of Christian faith isn’t accepting Jesus as an enlightened rabbi, a travelled mortal man, mystic or prophet. He is God who descended, lived sinlessly, atoned, and rose from the grave. Sometimes the historicity is interpreted somewhat loosely by some Christians, but even then Jesus Christ is considered a divine standard to which no mortal has reached (or can reach). Otherwise, why identify as “Christian?”

    A defense for Joseph I commonly hear is that even if he lived by a standard many of us moderns would consider troubling, immoral or untruthful (and sometimes not even to a degree this great though certainly ‘quite imperfect’), that God still worked thru him to give him the keys and divine efficacy to all he restored. Why are Mormons asked to place faith in Joseph? If this is a true expectation then it is fair to see how the record accords with his claims; at what point of his imperfectness and non-remorsefulness is it reasonable to part company; how restored is the Restored Gospel. I grant that others find in the Joseph narrative reasons for faith — I just struggle to understand why it is necessary to profess faith _in_ any more than Jesus Christ. That we know more about Joseph, but less about Jesus, it doesn’t follow we should treat them by the same historical standard unless one wants to dismiss the necessity for faith in Christ as literal Savior. As long as Mormons, IMO, say they are according to the reality of Jesus as Christ, then it makes it quite fair to judge Jesus and Joseph by different standards.

  35. I don’t disagree with that at all, JfQ – not at all. It is instructive that the temple recommend question does NOT say, “Do you have faith in Joseph Smith?” (or GBH or TSM or anyone other than the Godhead) Putting our faith in ANY (wo)man is a risky proposition, to say the least – even someone we believe to be a prophet. (It also is worth mentioning that it appears this tendency was what got to Moses’ head and kept him from being allowed to enter the Promised Land. It’s dangerous for both us AND our prophets.)

    My comment was VERY narrowly focused on the claim that if Joseph’s account were true, he would have written it down immediately. THAT particular claim could be made about Jesus, as well.

  36. Having a testimony is like climbing a mountain. As we ascend we can turn and view the vista behind us, and feel a sense of accomplishment at how far we’ve come. As we continue to climb we arrive at the top and feel a rush of accomplishment and growth. However, we soon become aware that there are towering peaks before us that need to be climbed. We know if we leave theses unclimbed we’ll be missing out on experience, experience that we need and should not put off.

    Not all who climb continue to climb, it is difficult and many chose to ignore the invitation of the inviting peaks. It is easy to plateau in our journey, especially when everything is going well where we’re at. This is when we begin to forget the Lord and take side paths that we can mistake for climbing towards the peaks. These side paths have many destination but none of them offer the rewards of climbing towards the peaks.

    The peaks represent the first and second comforter. The side paths represent the struggles we allow ourselves to wander into because we’re not staying focused on moving steadily towards fulfilling our baptismal covenant of receiving the Holy Ghost.

    We need to keep our eyes riveted on the purpose for which we are members of the church and that is receiving the Holy Ghost and then maintaining and growing in this gift. When trials come on us, we’re quick to take side paths and busy ourselves in things like learning, but never coming to a knowledge of the truth, or indulging in the things of the flesh that create chains of bondage, or idling away our time. The Lord provided us with the gift of repentance which allows us to get back climbing towards the peaks. His lament is that, “my blood shall not cleanse them if they hear me not”. We need to hear the Lord and move towards Him which means we need to start climbing towards the peaks.

    The scriptures are our map and compass. The church is our outfitter, and the living prophets are our guides.

    Why do we spend time criticizes our resources for the climb, even when it is justifiable, but forbidden by the Lord.

  37. Ray (36): I definitely see your point.

    It could be my experience, and that of my leaders, was more strict on this point than necessary. When asked if I had a “testimony” (is this faith or not?) of God the Father, Son and Spirit I eventually became, after some years following my initial, major crisis of faith, to say “yes.” When asked if I had a “testimony” of Christ’s atonement I became so I could say “yes.” When asked if I had a “testimony” of the restoration of the gospel in the latter-days, I couldn’t say “yes”. It always resulted in probing questions. I would explain something like I took this to mean they were asking if I had “faith” in this event, which I couldn’t because I couldn’t place faith in an event, and especially when I struggled with understanding what prophethood meant when it came to Joseph Smith. When they asked about this, the question was _always_ one of whether I had a “testimony” of Joseph Smith. After that I usually had a few issues upon which I based my struggle. Conversation was always friendly with each bishop — though sometimes more loaded and confrontational than others — and the result was always mutual understanding. Advice was always for me to gain a “testimony” of Joseph Smith and that until I had such, it probably was better for me to refrain from temple attendance. (They may have meant Joseph’s work alone and not him, per se, but I had difficulty separating that in my own heart.)

    So did I and my leaders take the questions to a level that was unnecessary? Possible. Did I and they misunderstand what the term “testimony” implies? very possible. So I completely see where you’re coming from when you say that members are not asked to profess “faith” in Joseph Smith. My experience is just that the questions and wording they asked led me to feel I was being asked to make that profession of faith. And until I did so my involvement and participate was limited. I don’t disagree with my past leaders’ decisions, and I’m thankful that resultant ward-level participation was more liberalized with some bishops more than others. Still I felt (and still feel) that the faith and testimony I was asked to hold was not sufficient (though certainly was never criticised) when I said it was in God alone, and not the LDS institution nor its leaders, particularly Joseph Smith.

  38. Ray,

    Just a point of order, I think we should stay factual in defending points during these discussions. For the most part, you are very good at walking that line and still defend your beliefs. However, this statement is false and has been discussed before at length.

    “ Until many years after the First Vision, there would have been no standard precedent or pressing need for Joseph Smith to record it. He VERBALLY TOLD HIS FAMILY and minister, at least, and that is completely consistent with the practice of his day for someone of his education.”

    According to scholars such as Richard Bushman and Michael Quinn, Joseph didn’t tell anyone about the first vision until well after the church was organized. Bushman concedes that it may have been possible for Joseph to have told a minister and based on the reaction decided not to tell anyone else. But even that’s speculation as there are no sources, except Joseph’s own testimony, that alludes to the meeting with a minister. If I and the noted scholars have missed this piece of history, please provide the source for your statement.

    This is some of the reasons people like “working mother” and I have problems with the First Vision accounts. You see, even in defending the event, you resorted to a falsehood to try and convince her that she hadn’t been fair in thinking Joseph should have written it down. If we have to make up history to explain it, then something is probably wrong. Please don’t be offended, I have the same gripe with the new Joseph Smith manual being used this year in RS and PM. It states that the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored sometime during May or June of 1829. This is another example of making up history as we go. Here’s the real danger. What happens if someone finds a document buried in the church archives that shows it actually was restored at the end of 1830? It’s that integrity thing again that I keep harping about. What would be wrong with saying; we don’t know when this event occurred, but the brethren believe it must have happened sometime before April 6th 1830. It least that statement would be honest…

  39. No, Doug G., I relied on the actual words of Joseph Smith. I didn’t say he told ANYONE except his family and minister. I have read Bushman; please provide me the source where Bushman said Joseph did NOT tell his family. The minister is a toss-up, since you just admitted it might have happened as Joseph claimed.

    Again, my source is obvious. Please provide yours, if you want to discuss this. Until we have discussed it, telling me that my statement is a falsehood and indicative of what drives people from the Church simply is unacceptable.

  40. Btw, “family” might be a tiny bit too broad, since I didn’t mean every single member of his family, including all brothers and sisters, but rather individual members of his family. Please, don’t nit-pick that.

  41. Also, “sometime in May or June of 1829” IS the best guess we have for the restoration of the MP, and I would be very surprised if it was outside that window. It might be, of course, but it would surprise me. You said:

    “I have the same gripe with the new Joseph Smith manual being used this year in RS and PM. It states that the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored sometime during May or June of 1829. This is another example of making up history as we go. Here’s the real danger. What happens if someone finds a document buried in the church archives that shows it actually was restored at the end of 1830?”

    First, how in the world is that “making up history as we go”? I was a history teacher, and our textbooks are FULL of similar statements – our best guesses within an accepted range of highest probability. It’s standard history, not made-up history.

    Second, if that were to happen (the discovery of a new document), we would correct the incorrect dates, thank the Lord for the discovery and not give it any thought whatsoever. If someone’s “testimony of the Gospel” can be shaken by such a discovery, it wasn’t very well grounded in the first place.

    I don’t mean this to be facetious, but what if a birth certificate was discovered for Joseph Smith showing that he actually was born the night before he recorded in this story and claimed all his life? Would that make his prophetic claim a lie? What if he was off by a day or two with other events he recorded in hindsight? I just don’t care at all about such discrepancies. If I were held to that standard, I would have to admit to being a damnable liar – since my long-term memory for details of my own life is terrible. If I have to provide dates, I do my best to estimate a general time frame and don’t worry terribly if I am slightly off. How is the MP restoration statement any different – **especially** if that’s what actually is believed? Again, that is standard historical reality, not made-up history.

  42. Would someone give me a concrete definition of a testimony? I have had “burning in my bosom” at a musical concert, at a wedding, and while reading a secular but very emotional book. Does this “burning in my bosom” mean the musical concert is true, or just that i connect to it on some emotional, physical, and/or spiritual level?

    Also, Ray, since we know the church has a lot more detailed history in its archives of the past 180 years than we could ever find of the Savior 2000 years ago, I don’t think comparing the standards of historical accuracy between the two eras is exactly apropos. We certainly know the date of the signing of the declaration of independence, so shouldn’t we know the date of the restoration of the Melchezedek Priesthood? Isn’t that just as important?

  43. Sorry, to belabor this, but as a history teacher by training . . .

    What if Jesus actually was 28 or 32 when his ministry started? What if he actually wasn’t born in Bethlehem, as many scholars assert? What if he really was married, but the record doesn’t tell us that? What if some of Paul’s epistles were “ghost-written” and only approved by him after the fact – as I have heard argued in theological seminars? What if evidence is found that the Nicean Creed actually was attended by two dozen more people than what has been claimed for centuries – and what if one of them turns out to be instrumental in the wording of the statement – changing the very foundation claims of authoriship? I could go on and on and on and on, but my point is exactly the same. That kind of detail would do exactly nothing to change my opinion, one way or the other, about the veracity of the events in question. If I believed them, I still would believe them; if not, I still would not. If I believed them, I would shrug and say, “Cool.” If I didn’t believe them, I might clap and say, “I told you so.” Either way, my basic belief wouldn’t change one whit.

  44. #43 – Why should we? I would like to know it, but why “should” we? I mean that in all seriousness.

    My own feelings are articulated in the last few comments.

  45. Ignore my last comment, and answer this question instead:

    If we had an exact date recorded for the restoration of the MP, would that fact alone convince you that it actually happened?

  46. Working Mother,

    I take a testimony to be a personal revelation by the Holy Spirit concerning the veracity of a pariticular thing. To have a testimony is to have had that revelation – and to grow one’s testimony in a thing is to continue in the Spirit and have many revelations concerning that thing. Ime, it is not a one time event, but is augemented many times over. It isn’t the emotional responces you are describing. We often in the church conflate a emotional responce with the thing itself – and that might create a lot of confusion. Receiving aid through the Holy Ghost will likely draw from you a strong emotional responce, especially if you are a very emotional person – but, as you’ve said, many things do. I would say that the experience of the Spirit is like the experience of being touched, or spoken to – only spiritually. It is not like the experience of being sad, or exultant.

    Joseph Smith says that it is a principle that we grow into. He also says that the first ‘intimations’ of it are recognized not by a feeling, but by having the experience of pure knowledge flowing into us. We develop a capacity for receiving revlation by overcoming our own ego and developing a willingness to surrender our will to Jesus. Moroni gives as prerequisites for receiving a revelation the willingness to ponder, a sincere heart, real intent, and at least some degree of faith: although no one ever questions another person’s sincerity,- it’s rude,- these are all difficult personality traits, not the kind of things we are likely to have been born with. My own difficulty in finding real intent, and my own laziness when it comes to pondering, tells me these aren’t something we should take for granted that we have. Unfortunately, in the church, we often speak as if all we have to do is pray and then ‘feel good about it.’

    Hope this helps.

    ~

  47. Ray, my point about the restoration of the MP is that, it would be nice to “know” that it was restored before the church was organized? No? At this point we do not know that. Of course one date doesn’t prove something is true, did I say it did? I am talking about a whole lot of vagueness about the foundational stories that just don’t seem to add up.

    And Thomas, thank you for trying to answer my question about testimony. It still seems very vague to me – seems to be anyone can identify pretty much any experience (emotional, intellectual, spiritual) as a testimony, should they choose to do so. I am back to some people choose to believe, some people don’t. And I really think this may be a function of the way the person is born, and may not be amenable to will.

  48. working mother, I guess we just disagree that it’s important enough to spend time talking about it.

    Also, you are correct that it comes down to what you believe you feel and how you interpret that. I feel comfortable saying “I know for myself,” but I don’t claim I know how anyone else makes that distinction for themselves. That’s one of the ambiguities that I actually like – that nobody but I can dictate how or be responsible for my feelings about God. One of my favorite parts of the Restored Gospel is the belief that that’s all that God requires – my best and most sincere effort.

    I know this sounds weird to those who see Mormonism as ultra-conservative and oppressive and restrictive (NOT pointed at you), but that type of freedom is liberating – and one of the reasons I believe the Restored Gospel truly is “Good News”.

  49. Working Mother–this idea of a “burning in my bosom” is, in my opinion, the lessor form of revelation that people generally experience. My testimony didn’t come this way. I’ve recorded how my testimony came to me at this site: http://www.ldsaliveinchrist.com/jareds-testimony/

    As for a concrete definition I don’t think you will find one. A testimony is, in my opinion, individually designed, even though when members attempt to express it they will use similar words. Those feelings that come to us at a “musical concert, at a wedding, and while reading a secular but very emotional book” create a “swelling motion” in our hearts, but lack the “spirit of the Lord” speaking to our minds.

    Experiences with the Spirit can be subtle at times, then on other occasions, when it is necessary the Spirit speaks to us like Enos. Elder Romney said:

    “Enos says, ‘The voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments’ (Enos 1:10.)

    I can personally testify to this form of revelation because I have experienced it…Now I know, my brothers and sisters and friends, and bear witness to the fact that revelation from the Lord comes through the spoken word, by personal visitation, by messengers from the Lord, through dreams, and by way of visions, and by the voice of the Lord coming into one’s mind.

    Most often, however, revelation comes to us by means of the still, small voice” Marion G. Romney, “Prayer and Revelation,” Ensign, May 1978, 48

    Elder Romney was an Apostle and served in the 1st Presidency. I have never held an important position like him yet I have had some of the same experiences. When the Lord, on two occasions, thought it necessary to speak to me like He did Enos, I heard a voice and there was no feeling of the Spirit whatsoever. It wasn’t subtle at all, and in both instances what I was told was fulfilled to the letter within days.

    I hope what I have related will help move you towards acquiring a testimony that is genuine.

    In the bloggernacle we encounter all kinds and degrees of faith and faithlessness. Out of all these voices, which will you chose to embrace?

  50. Ray,

    Why do we always do this? In the interview on mormon stories #48, John Dehlin asks Richard Bushman why we don’t have any sources stating that someone heard JS talk about the first vision prior to 1832. Richard’s answer was that he didn’t believe Joseph told anyone including his family. Now I’ve done my part, about you do yours.

    “Again, my source is obvious. Please provide yours, if you want to discuss this.”

    I asked for a reference showing where Joseph told any member of his family about the first vision prior to 1832. The statement that your source is obvious, doesn’t work for me. Statements made by Joseph himself about the First Vision in the 1830’s don’t provide any evidence that he told his family so stating that he did is making up history in my opinion.

    On the restoration of the MP thing you said:

    “First, how in the world is that “making up history as we go”? I was a history teacher, and our textbooks are FULL of similar statements – our best guesses within an accepted range of highest probability. It’s standard history, not made-up history.”

    Not in my book. If you don’t know then you say you don’t know. I have no problem making a statement like the one I put forward in my original post about this but that’s not what they did. It’s just my opinion, but making the statement as if its fact when no-one actually has any idea of when it happened is disingenuous and leads people like me to not trust other things that are stated as fact. By your own admission, the May/June timeframe is just a guess, to bad it wasn’t taught that way. And Ray, don’t even get me started about how history is taught in our schools.

    “I was a history teacher, and our textbooks are FULL of similar statements – our best guesses within an accepted range of highest probability. It’s standard history, not made-up history.”

    You and I both know the kind of dishonest rhetoric that most history books are full of. Like what Christopher Columbus actually did after discovering America as opposed to what my high school text book taught. Are you saying that kind of deception is acceptable in the school system and therefore we should be ok with our own historical deceptions? Come-on man, you as a history teacher should be more offended by this invented history then me…

    Your turn…

  51. William Smith’s book “William Smith on Mormonism” seems to provide a testimony that the family was told of all of the visions after the second vision of Moroni which occurred in the field. (Although he uses the word “angel” to describe the visitation in the woods, and dates the grove experience as the timing of the first Moroni visit.) He further describes the family reaction:

    “He continued talking to us sometime. The whole family were melted to tears, and believed all he said. Knowing that he was very young, that he had not enjoyed the advantages of a common education; and knowing too, his whole character and disposition, they were convinced that he was totally incapable of arising before his aged parents, his brothers and sisters, and so solemnly giving utterance to anything but the truth. All of us, therefore, believed him, and anxiously awaited the result of his visit to the hill Cumorah, in search of the plates containing the record of which the angel told him.”

    http://www.olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1883Wilm.htm#pg08a

    I am definitely NOT a history teacher, so I’m assuming that the internet version of this book is transcribed correctly.

    I also wonder just how much of the overwhelming information was digested at the grove experience. He went into the prayer not having an understanding of what kind of being God was and saw a fiery vision with indescribable beings that gave limited introductions. Did he immediately have the concept of Godhead? Could he have written it down at that time with the closest descriptive words that would provide the best fit…even if he had received the common education that William said he was lacking? I assume that the religions of that day associated Angels to be of humanoid form, even if they had a more nebulous image of God. Angel would have been a reasonable term to use in the immediate post grove experience years to describe the personage. Even now, it is still appropriate with a doctrine that an Angel is a resurrected being.

    So, if William’s account reports that he kept the grove experience to himself until 1823, then told his family about 3 visions at one time, wouldn’t those visions tend to blend together? The term “The First Vision” was not yet coined. Even years later, printed material was not readily available to many. William Smith’s account advises the reader, “A more elaborate and accurate description of his vision, however, will be found in his own history.” I would take this to mean that he was writing his history without referring to the account he describes, thus admitting that his account may not be as accurate.

    If God wanted each event of the restoration to be documented, the why did He choose a servant who was uneducated? If He wanted a church that was free from messy situations, then why did He allow Joseph to give the manuscript to Martin Harris instead of continuing to tell him “no” with each request?

  52. Good post, and I believe that if you believe a testimony is all that is required, then no amount of church history or DNA, or lack of Book of Mormon evidence will change your mind. However, I believe that a testimony is insufficient for many people today and here is why:

    We live in a scientific time, which means people are more skeptical, ask questions and want proof. I believe that people are believing less and less in the supernatural. I also believe that people were much more superstitious in the past. Before, if you told a story, people believed it, simple as that. Now, you tell a story and people question you and ask if you have any evidence to back it up. It is a shift in the way people come to know what is true.

    The holy ghost is also not a very good barometer of what is true, because if it was, everyone in the world would be of the same church, be it LDS or whatever. The truth is that less than 1% of the world’s population is LDS, and less than half are inactive. That would tell me that the Holy Ghost isn’t a very efficient system.

    I have spoken with members of the FLDS that bear their testimonies about Warren Jeffs, with the same conviction. They have prayed to the same Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ and receive the same confirmation that Warren Jeffs is the true prophet on earth. One might say that they aren’t really feeling the Holy Ghost, but that is exactly the point, how do you know what they are feeling? You don’t, and that is the fundamental flaw, the spirit is something personal and completely subjective. A Muslim prays and has the same conviction about the Koran.

    My point is that I believe church members require more than just the spirit, since it is such an inaccurate method for determining truth.

    And the church is doing a disservice to its members by purposefully hiding things of church history. The reason why members are so shocked is because they have never heard about many of the things that John Dehlin mentions. When they hear about it, they don’t believe it, then, when they realize that many of the criticisms of Mormonism are true, the feel betrayed and lied to by the church. That has been my experience.

  53. Post
    Author

    Wow, I am impressed by the number and quality of the responses here. Also, the relative civility as well. We all seem to have a hard time focusing on the main topic at times as we use points to prove some idea that we have. Then the points themselves become the topic. that’s fine, because that’s what happens in normal conversation.

    I think there is a very fundamental difference between “having a testimony” and “being converted.” It is somewhat easy to obtain a testimony of some kind about the Savior, about the gospel, about the church. Depending on the person, the testimony can be very deep or very shallow. It can be accompanied by a profound spiritual experience or it can be based on social relationships and “good feelings.” The later may not last or needs to be followed up by the former.

    Having a profound spiritual experience associated with gaining a testimony, for me, helps me weather those storms we’ve been discussing. It is not for me to judge whether the testimony of others is, in fact, strong enough.

    I always been amused by the people’s reaction both in the church and within Christendom, that if someone falls off the deep end, for some reason, the statement is made that they were “never really converted or saved” or whatever terminology you use. I suspect most of us are not yet “converted” in the truest sense of the word and could “fall off” at any moment, if we are not careful and diligent.

    I also can’t quite understand why it is those members, former members and upset members use terms like “the church lied,” “misled.,” or “made up history,” when I never really heard or read a respectable historian or life-long student of the Church say these things. it seems a rationalization to support their disenchanted position.

    But maybe I am just one of the naive sheep, in spite of having studied for 26 years now.

  54. Zelph said: “My point is that I believe church members require more than just the spirit, since it is such an inaccurate method for determining truth”.

    Zelph–sorry, but I have to disagree with everything you said, and so do the scriptures. The problem isn’t with the Spirit, the problems is within the seeker. The Lord requires us to diligently seek. To diligently seek means more than to merely seek. When the word diligently is used to emphasize the kind of seeking the Lord requires before a desired blessing can be obtained, it’s telling us it won’t be easy. Obtainable, yes, but the Lord will make the judgment when we have risen to the level of “diligently seeking”. Then, and only then, will a blessing be granted.

    23 And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.
    24 Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
    25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.
    26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
    27 My asheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they bfollow me:
    28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
    29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

    (New Testament | John 10:23 – 29)

  55. Jeff makes a good point about being naive after studying for 26 years. I have spent over 30 years truly trying to learn the doctrines and history of the church. How is it possible that people can spend a life time learning and still be wrong? How can we still be naïve after years of activity and service in a church? Perhaps the same questions could be asked by Catholic or protestant ministers who go thru many years of college in-order to even be considered for pastoral duties. How do intelligent God fearing individuals work their whole life at studying a particular religion and still get it wrong? Jeff, I’m sure in your estimation the other 99% of the worlds religious scholars are wrong and naïve about many truths you hold dear. Guess what my friend; it is actually possible that you’ve got it just as wrong as they all do even after 26 years of learning.

    Perhaps Rigel Hawthorne gives us a clue about how to stay naïve. Rigel quotes a piece of William Smith’s book that is obviously referring to Moroni and somehow tries to twist it into covering the visit of God and Jesus. When you have the ability to read into history what you want it to mean, I suspect anything becomes possible. Look, I’m not saying that just because JS didn’t tell his family about the first vision is not in and of itself, proof that it didn’t happen. I’m just saying that making statements about his family knowing when we have no evidence that JS ever told them, is making up history. It’s trying to provide evidence to the event that doesn’t exist. In my mind, that’s dishonest and should be avoided.

    BTW, Zelph makes a very good point about basing everything you believe on a feeling which goes along with what I’ve been saying. I would suggest reading that post again as it gives some good insight into how each of us have stayed naïve after all these years…

  56. Post
    Author

    Doug G. “How is it possible that people can spend a life time learning and still be wrong?”

    The same way scientists get it wrong. Or not exactly wrong, but not quite right. The key word you use is “intelligent.” People that use intelligence to determine spiritual things are bound to get it wrong. “….for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 16:17)

    “I’m sure in your estimation the other 99% of the worlds religious scholars are wrong and naive about many truths you hold dear. Guess what my friend; it is actually possible that you’ve got it just as wrong as they all do even after 26 years of learning.”

    The thing that is amusing about your statement is that I and “99% of the worlds religious scholars” would agree probably more than we disagree. So that argument doesn’t stand up too well. Sure, we have some fundamental disagreements, but using the science example, scientists look at the same evidence and sometimes come to different conclusion. There is room for honest disagreement in the field of religion as well.

    What has happened here is that you’ve made a decision about the church and now use all available resources to prove your point, just as we as believers use ours to support it. You certainly can speak to your own experiences but not for mine or any other person’s. If I claim to have had a spiritual experience which has convinced me of the truthfulness of the Gospel and the Church, it is mine, no one can take that from me or dispute it.

    I don’t seek to do that for anyone else. If someone tells me they got a witness that the church was not true, I accept it and move on. I don’t try to convince they they are wrong.

  57. I too think Zelph had some very valid points. My Muslim friend certainly has just as much conviction about her beliefs as any Mormon I have heard stand up in testimony meeting and say “I know.” She certainly lives her religion with as much or more conviction than many of my Mormon friends, and she has been very diligent in trying to convert me to Islam. She is totally convinced she is doing what Allah wants, and that she is trying to save me. I appreciate her efforts, but thus far have not managed to get all the way through the Koran. I have had other friends and associates try to convert me to their form of Christianity, because they love me, and do not want to see me go to hell for my apostate Mormon beliefs. It all seems so subjective. As a scientist (sort of) I prefer to have some evidence, and there seems to be precious little of it to back up the church’s claims to be the one and only true church on the face of the earth. That being said, there is much to value and love about the church – but IMHO we need to be a little more humble about that one and only true thing. My biggest problem with the church’s claims are not that there is no wonderful warm feeling there, nor that you can’t get wonderful warm feelings and inspiration and insights reading the BoM and other scriptures, etc. – but rather that you seem to be required to check your brain and ability to analyze even simple evidences at the door of the church. That does not work for me.

    Additionally, whether or not the church “lied” seems like a moot point – what is the church? It can’t be just the General Authorities, is it God, or is it all of us? I think there is a church heirarchy, but I also think it is all of us, so maybe the church heirarchy lies, but all of us probably do our own share of lying or wishful thinking, or preaching of false doctrine, or spreading church folklore, or whatever. However, it is clear the GA’s are uncomfortable when actual truth comes out, as opposed to whitewash and myths that have been built up during the years. (ie JS polyandry as one example among many). If I were in their shoes (unlikely as I am a woman, and not a very good member) I think I would have difficulty in knowing how to handle all the amazing contradictions and elaborations of church history, as well as challenges to the BoA and BoM that have appeared over the past decade or so on the internet. They can hardly come out and say “well I guess we did lie so believe what you choose” – but in essence that is what many members are choosing to do – it is hard to trust when things you have been taught were rock solid truth from the time you were a little child, have now been proven to be problematic at best and utterly false at worse.

  58. >>> but rather that you seem to be required to check your brain and ability to analyze even simple evidences at the door of the church. That does not work for me.

    How can you justify such a statement?

    In fact, I am willing to bet that a good many posters and commenters right here on Mormon Matters (to say nothing of the bloggernacle as a whole) can and do utilize their brains every bit as much as you do.

    What I want to know is how you can make a comment like the above, which to me smacks of intolerance, when it seems to me that there is a great deal of counter envidence right in front of you.

    Would you be willing to consider a more tolerant rephrasing and instead say that you personally don’t understand the many intelligent people you see that utilize their brains fully but somehow come to a different conclusion than you?

  59. Workingmother,

    It also seems to me that you are not even opening your mind up to the possibility that there might be more than one interpretation of history. This seems a bit odd to me as it’s clearly true that different people will interpret it in different ways.

    While I don’t blame you for your negative interpretation of Mormon history (I once held such a negative interpretation myself) I do have to take issue with you building it all into a lie or conspiracy theory when in fact most of the difference can be explained as honest difference in interpretation.

    Let me use Doug G’s comment as an example (which will also allow me to respond to it): “Perhaps Rigel Hawthorne gives us a clue about how to stay naïve. Rigel quotes a piece of William Smith’s book that is obviously referring to Moroni and somehow tries to twist it into covering the visit of God and Jesus. When you have the ability to read into history what you want it to mean, I suspect anything becomes possible”

    Doug G is in fact insulting Rigel for honestly interpreting history differently than him. But I can see both sides of the argument, personally. Maybe it does seem a little weird that Joseph didn’t run home and tell his whole family about the first vision. Heck, *I would have* right? And yet, there really is nothing particularly weird about it at all. The fact is that Joseph rarely mentioned the first vision to anyone prior to 1839. However, it is not true that he made it up then, as Fawn Brodie once tried to claim prior to the crushing evidence coming out that proved her wrong beyond doubt — such as an identifiable 1832 account done by Joseph Smith.

    Now did William Smith know about the first vision? Well, he sort of did, and sort of didn’t. He was pretty young when the Church was founded and he seems to have conflated the first vision and the Moroni visit together or at least made them much closer together. For example, see if you can pick out the hidden first vision details in this quote from him: (hint: I’m being sarcastic… they are pretty dang obvious.)

    At length he [Joseph Smith] determined to call upon the Lord until he should get a manifestation from him. He accordingly went out into the woods and falling upon his knees called for a long time upon the Lord for wisdom and knowledge. While engaged in prayer a light appeared in the heavens, and descended until it rested upon the trees where he was. It appeared like fire.
    But to his great astonishment, did not burn the trees. An angel then appeared to him and conversed with him upon many things. He told him that none of the sects were right; but that if he was faithful in keeping the commandments he should receive, the true way should be made known to him; that his sins were forgiven, etc.

    To make things more interesting, William says that this is a separate vision from the famous Moroni visit. That is to say, he definitely says there were two completely different visions. But he put them very close together in time. (Days, actually.)

    But here’s the issue: How in the world did William get the details of the first vision so exactly if Joseph just made it all up later? I mean if it’s all fake and Joseph never mentioned it at all until 1839, and William was colluding with Joseph, then William was pretty stupid to not just follow Joseph’s party line. On the other hand, if Joseph started with the visit of Moroni (which is amply attested to in multiple sources because the whole family was involved) then why does William know about the first vision so well, even if he’s conflating events?

    Simply put, there is no easily explanation for this either way. We are forced to interpret events and there is no provable right or wrong way to interpret things. So that means that two intelligent human beings (Rigel and Doug) may come to completely opposite opinions on this subject.

    Interpretation 1: William was told about the first vision, but he was very young and remembered parts of it wrong and conflated it to the Moroni visit somewhat. This is the approach Elden Watson uses at http://eldenwatson.net:80/wmsmith.htm

    (Note: For some reason people struggle to realize how messy history is. Having conflicting accounts is completely normal in history. Heck, I can’t get a straight story out of my developers (I’m a software project manager) 10 minutes after the event. I’m not certain why disaffected Mormons feel the need to make wild and ultimately unrealistic claims that the conflicting accounts in Mormon history some how prove it’s all fake. If that were true, then every story I’m told by my developers would prove that the events they tell me about never happened either.)

    Interpretation 2: A disbeliever is free to say that Joseph made up two visions — told William about them — and then decided to chronologically move the first one back a few years and then decide it was cooler to make up that the first one was about God but forgot to tell William to change his story to the new story.

    The easy interpretation that Joseph made the whole thing up later is not available to us because the sources do not allow for that as a realistic possibility. Incidentally, you may want to look at Elden Watson’s first vision page to get info on the different accounts of the first vision. I find it enlightening: http://eldenwatson.net/harmony.htm

    But I hope you see what I am saying. These two theories both fit the facts of the historical record perfectly. Choosing which one to believe is really a matter of faith. Doug G is, if you will, reading in what he hopes to find there as much as Rigel is. Nothing wrong with that. But since Doug G sees this as a problem then at a minimum we have to accept that Doug is wrong to be so harsh on this topic to Rigel.

    The simple truth is that what you are calling the “whitewashed history” of the LDS Church is actually not more (or less) “whitewashed” then the unbelieving view of history that you are expressing. Both are “whitewashed” in that they emphasize the points that support their position and explain away the points that don’t.

    I think one of the most problematic views I know of is the idea that history is factual. It is in reality interpretative, I’m afraid. We need to start understanding that fact and letting people have differing points of view without accusing those that disagree with us of lying or covering up.

  60. Jeff said:

    “I also can’t quite understand why it is those members, former members and upset members use terms like “the church lied,” “misled.,” or “made up history,” when I never really heard or read a respectable historian or life-long student of the Church say these things. it seems a rationalization to support their disenchanted position.”

    and

    “I don’t seek to do that for anyone else. If someone tells me they got a witness that the church was not true, I accept it and move on. I don’t try to convince they they are wrong.”

    and

    “ The thing that is amusing about your statement is that I and “99% of the worlds religious scholars” would agree probably more than we disagree. So that argument doesn’t stand up too well”

    Jeff, you certainly like to dish it out with statements like the ones above and yet you don’t see why folks, such as myself, get offended at your tone and want to bring you down a notch or two. You are certainly free to believe whatever you like but the first statement above makes you guilty of the very thing you’re complaining about. So let me had one more barb to the discussion, I think your actions here are hypercritical. Now that we have that out of the way I feel better…

    “The same way scientists get it wrong. Or not exactly wrong, but not quite right. The key word you use is “intelligent.” People that use intelligence to determine spiritual things are bound to get it wrong. “….for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 16:17)”

    I hope you can take this in the way its intended without getting all offended again. There is a huge difference between learning spiritual truths about salvation as opposed to discussing what did or did not happen in history. See that’s the problem here, you and many like you want all of us boarderlander type Mormons to just believe based on feelings and ignore the actual historical record. I have no problem with believing in God and accepting many things on faith alone as that is what’s expected. I do have a problem with being asked to believe a whitewashed history that I’ve been fed all my life and told that to question it is apostasy and the fast road to hell. (Now please don’t tell me what I’ve been told all my life is not whitewashed history as you don’t have any idea what I’ve been taught.)

    Here’s the big picture Jeff, I’m not your enemy nor is my position any less valuable then your own. Of course we both can’t be right and so we take advantage of this form to discuss it. If my lack of faith in the historical facts surrounding the restoration is offensive to you, how would you propose we discuss it? I don’t think starting a fight is going to be very fun for anyone, what do you think?

  61. The more time I spend in the Bloggernacle the more I wonder if God can be found by using our minds; our reasoning faculties, alone without the Spirit. I used to think that was a given. I’m beginning to doubt that using our power of reason is sufficient to find God and stay with Him. When the Savior came among men He didn’t try to reason with them so much as to present evidence in the form of miracles. Many were intellectually convinced by the evidence of miracles, but it took conversion by the Holy Ghost to make them “true followers”.

    I’m certain I wouldn’t be active in any church if it weren’t for the manifestations of the Spirit I’ve been given. The social aspect of the church is nice, but this alone is insufficient.

    “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, except he has the Spirit of God”. JST 1 Cor. 2:11

    Jeff–thanks for an interesting topic and thanks to all who made comments. I thought the discussion was elevated by the kindness exhibited by people who disagree, yet were respectful to others points of view.

  62. I just got back. The discussion is both fascinating and extremely disheartening.

    One point only: We don’t believe what we see; we see what we believe.

    I think both sides are saying the EXACT SAME THING at the most basic level – namely, “This is how I see it, and I believe you are wrong.” The only difference is that Doug is saying, “This is how I see it, and you are stupid (or lying) if you don’t understand that.”

    Fwiw, Doug, I don’t think you are stupid or a liar. I just think we believe differently, so we see differently.

  63. Bruce,

    I apologize. I should have said that it seems to me I am required to check my brain at the door – that does not work for me. I did not mean to imply that everyone has that same experience, or that it is not possible for equally or more intelligent people than myself to have a very different experience. In fact I imagine most people attending church don’t feel that way.

    Believe me when I say, I wish I did NOT feel that way – but I do – and there seems to be no way for me not to feel that the church at the least has not whitewashed history. However, if you reread what I stated, I in no way accused the church of a conspiracy here. Myths and whitewashing built up over 200 years is not the same as a conspiracy.

    As to the rest of your comments, they don’t seem to shed any light on the first vision for me – I have read all that – and am still not convinced. I think it is highly unlikely a 14 year old boy saw what he saw and never told anyone until at least three years later. I am the mother of 5 children, and have had some spiritual experiences myself, and it is just not human nature not to tell at least someone something about something so powerful. It seems more probable to me (and believe me I do not take any joy in thinking this – I preferred the whitewashed version), that he probably had some sort of a spiritual epiphany but that it may not have been all that he later said it was. Just my take. Please do not be offended.

  64. # 58 working mother-

    You draw an excellent point regarding what is the church? Is it a building, is it the leaders of the church, is it the Jewish PR firm that the church hired, is the church all the members?

    I should clarify when I say “the church”, I am referring specifically to the church leadership. My experience has been that the things that the church leadership has taught me through official publications and lesson manuals is incongruent with history, or I feel that they have purposefully left out important information.

    For example, let’s say the early leaders of the church were 30% good, 30% bad and 40% “normal”. A historian could sift through the historical documents and pluck just the good 30% and make it seem like it was 100% of the time. Then, another historian could use the SAME historical documents and make it look like the bad 30% was 100% by intentionally leaving out all the good things, or all the things they did that were good.

  65. >>> Believe me when I say, I wish I did NOT feel that way – but I do – and there seems to be no way for me not to feel that the church at the least has not whitewashed history

    Workingmother, your point is well taken. As a personal statement I see exactly what you are saying.

    >>> I think it is highly unlikely a 14 year old boy saw what he saw and never told anyone until at least three years later.

    I am certainly not offended by your opinions or take. But I think I will add that I find this emminently believable. In fact, it seems downright human to me. If Joseph and family were colluding together we’d have exactly one story and it would always be the same. But if we have a 14 (or 16) year old boy that had an incredible experience and then told a preacher about it and got laughed at, I think we’d probably find that he wouldn’t tell anyone else about it for a long while. In fact, this explain precisely why Joseph was so scared to tell his father about the visit of the angel and had to be commanded to do so. (A striking fact that never made sense to me until I had this perspective.)

    You see, it fits so well that I can’t even begin to believe in collusion.

    Now as for you theory that maybe he had an epiphany and then enhanced it over the years, well, that’s a viable theory, of course. But it’s just one theory and it’s frankly no more viable then mine or any one else’s.

    (I should also through in that your theory has no way to prove or disprove it — or even find support really — from the historical record and thus we can’t really call it “historical” in any meaningful sense. However, it is certainly a plausible explanation of why we have differing views. Also note, you just came up with a conspiracy theory on the part of Joseph. This is what I really meant.)

    This just proves my point. Since history is so dang interpretative, there is no rational reason for you to feel like you have to check in your brain on what will ultimately amount to a pure matter of faith (either faith that it did happen or faith that it didn’t happen) either way. Indeed, both possibilities fall within the realm of complete plausability.

  66. Bruce: “Having conflicting accounts is completely normal in history. Heck, I can’t get a straight story out of my developers (I’m a software project manager) 10 minutes after the event.” Your statement reminds me of what I always hear from techies whenever I question whether the completed project works and does what it’s supposed to: “It’s working as designed.” Maybe this conflicting evidence setup is working as designed because as Ray points out, we don’t believe what we see; we see what we believe, or as Malcolm Gladwell put it: “We seek confirming evidence.” Does that mean you have to check your brain at the door? No, but you do have to keep your brain in check. Science has still not proven the existence of God, yet billions believe in God. Faith doesn’t come through analysis, but it sometimes exits that way. People of high intellect like to rely on their powers of analysis out of comfort. But I have to believe God chuckles at our self-importance as we note differences in intellect that to Him seem trivial.

  67. Bruce,

    I’m a reasonable guy; the initiation of this whole discussion was my request for Ray to provide a reference to someone in the Smith family having knowledge of the first vision prior to 1832. I think it’s interesting that you use William Smith’s book to defend Rigel here when his book is used to discredit JS by anti-mormon folks so often. Having said that, I certainly respect your right to read into the history anything you wish. For me, a visit of God Himself to JS wouldn’t get written as an angle especially when William’s timeframe is the very day of Moroni’s visit repeating Joseph’s claim that he had a vision in the field in which Moroni repeated everything he had told him the night before including the forgiveness of his sins. As Joseph was very open about this vision, I think it’s fair to say that William is referring to the angle Moroni or Nephi or whoever the heck it was in this account.

    All I’ve done is asked you good folks to think about what you use as defense when trying to make a point. We are not going to agree about history as we are looking at it from different world views. I totally accept that no-one here has the complete truth including me. I do apologize if my viewpoints come across rather strong. I certainly don’t wish to offend anyone nor do I believe that you, Rigel, Jeff, Ray, or any of the other folks commenting here are deliberately trying to deceive anyone. I just ask for the same consideration. I’m not out to deceive anyone either or try and make converts to my particular religious beliefs. In the case of religion, I completely agree with Jeff, it’s a very personal thing based on spiritual experiences and backgrounds.

    Bruce, I’ve taken my fair share of whippings here and usually deserved, but I’m not the only one who has instigated discussion with the premise that I’m right and therefore anyone that doesn’t agree is wrong. BTW, I am right you know…(grin)

  68. >>> I think it’s interesting that you use William Smith’s book to defend Rigel here when his book is used to discredit JS by anti-mormon folks so often

    I didn’t use it as a defense, per se. I was defendings Rigel’s right (and intelligence) in using it that way. I did, on the other hand, point out that Williams book makes collusion with the family very unlikely. (A point you didn’t make so I wasn’t talking to you on that.) I think I’m correct on this point. If you have a counter interpretation, feel free to explain yourself.

    >>> All I’ve done is asked you good folks to think about what you use as defense when trying to make a point

    Doug, I think that is the issue. The fact that this statement implies (or might imply) we aren’t thinking or at least not thinking as well as you.

    I feel that Rigel’s point was more valid that you are giving credit for due to your own biases. (I’m not suggesting you are MORE biased than someone else. I’m just saying we are all biased.) The William Smith account has always struck me as highly confirming of much of the restoration precisely because he was hostile to the LDS (Utah) Church.

    That being said, perhaps what you are really getting at is that you want to put alternative interpretations out there as food for thought. Since this is what I’m doing… guess I have no right to complain, now do I? 😉

    >>> Bruce, I’ve taken my fair share of whippings here and usually deserved, but I’m not the only one who has instigated discussion with the premise that I’m right and therefore anyone that doesn’t agree is wrong. BTW, I am right you know…(grin)

    ROFL 😛 😛 😛 I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of this many times and that I really don’t know anyone that hasn’t. That being said, that just means we all need to improve in this regard.

  69. >>> People of high intellect like to rely on their powers of analysis out of comfort. But I have to believe God chuckles at our self-importance as we note differences in intellect that to Him seem trivial.

    *Bruce whistles innocently and pretends like he didn’t hear* 😛

  70. One of the best definitions of being “merciful” is “forbearance to inflict harm under circumstances of provocation, when one has the power to inflict it.”

    Doug, I will be merciful toward you. *huge, tongue-in-cheek grin*

    Seriously, thanks for the clarification in #68. I disagree a bit with the *way* you made your earlier points, but if you meant only what you said in #68, please be merciful toward me. *grin*

  71. One last thing…

    In reference to William Smith’s book, did anyone read the preface?

    “If the story of the angel’s visit to Joseph Smith, was so enormously strange as to excite the priesthood of the age to all this calumny upon the character of the prophet, why should we believe in the angel stories that are told us in the Bible. Bible believers should know that the whole Scripture Revelation is founded upon visions and dreams, and angel visits to man. And why should not God send angels to deliver messages to his servants in these latter days, as well as in olden times. Readers, read and ponder these questions and answer them for yourselves, God helping you to choose the right and to give a righteous judgment, as honest men and women should do. The strange inconsistency of persons professing to believe the Bible and still denying what they profess to believe, is plainly seen; for angels, saith the Scriptures, are ministering spirits to those that are heirs of salvation. Heb. 1:14.
    In conclusion, the Church now presided over by Joseph Smith, the son of the martyred prophet, has no sympathy nor connection whatever with the Church of Polygamous Mormons in Utah.”

    Gentlemen,

    Here we go again with the” I’m right and so obviously your all wrong” thing. If you read at least through page 13, it becomes quite obvious to me that the angel he’s referring to is Moroni….

  72. Okay, let me make my point in a slightly different way.

    What I am saying is that the fact that Joseph apparently didn’t talk to his family about the first vision tells us nothing about whether nor not it happened. There are two possibilities that are both equally possible:

    1. He didn’t have the first vision and made it up later
    2. He did have it and didn’t tell his family.

    See, it tells us nothing at all. And yet some people (such as workingmother) feel very comfortable holding that fact up as a counter evidence to the existence of the first vision. But that doesn’t compute. That’s not evidence that the first vision didn’t happen, it’s simply lack of evidence that Joseph told his family before 1832.

    Actually, I’m not sure he told his family after 1832 even though he had written it down by then. I’m not sure his family every did know about the first vision prior to the published 1839 account (which I believe came out in 1840.)

    I see nothing unreasonable about this at all. Workingmother and Doug are free to dream up their own non-historical explanations such as “I think it is highly unlikely a 14 year old boy saw what he saw and never told anyone until at least three years later.”

    Such statements go so far beyond the reality of history that it’s strange to even say it. It’s really just a very personal non-historical opinion. The fact is that we just don’t know if Joseph told someone until years later or not. If, for example, he really did tell a minister that attacked him over it, that minister didn’t leave a record so we have no way of verifying it. Workingmother is extending well beyond reason in expecting anyone to accept this as a “historical” view.

    But again, for all I know Joseph did not tell anyone for a long while. I just don’t know. But I’m perfectly willing to entertain that idea. In fact, it used to be my prevailing theory, it’s just that I assumed he told a minister and then felt attacked and clamed up and had to be commanded by Moroni to tell his family about the Moroni visit.

    HOWEVER, the William Smith book really makes me rethink that theory. Here is a guy who was actually quite hostile to Joseph in a lot of ways and certainly hostile to the LDS Church, yet he has all these memories of essentially the first vision story. He’s clearly not colluding on the Joseph Smith account, so I can rule that out. In fact, I think we can pretty well assume he’s telling the truth because of that. So here we have almost in it’s entirety the first vision story coming from essentially a hostile source — and one that anti-Mormons try to use to disprove the first vision story… And YET he’s confirming almost all the details from it…

    Do you see my point?

    Finding out about the William Smith story forced me to rethink my opinion that Joseph didn’t tell his family. I think he probably did now. I’m not saying it was that night, or even that year, or even within three years. But it’s clear to me now that at some point he told them something very close to the first vision story and William (ignoring Joseph’s later accounts, perhaps not even aware of them) knew about it.

    Now the fact is that he conflates the two stories, as Doug points out. So is this a proof for or against? Really neither. Conflating is a reality of history. We’d be amazed how much we do it (if we had proof of it). On the other hand, the facts also fit the theory that Joseph improved upon the story over time and William is giving us an earlier view.

    It’s a matter of faith either way because frankly both stories are just so dang plausible.

  73. Bruce, Ray

    For what it’s worth, I always enjoy your take on things and the way you present them. You know we seldom agree, but that shouldn’t prevent us from being friends…

    Thanks,

    Sorry, that was one more then one last thing…

  74. >>> Here we go again with the” I’m right and so obviously your all wrong” thing. If you read at least through page 13, it becomes quite obvious to me that the angel he’s referring to is Moroni….

    Doug, you aren’t undertanding. No one is arguing this point with you.

    There are two theories on the table, neither of which is what you claim we are saying:

    1. William conflated the first vision with the Moroni visit (i.e. he’s talking about both but thinks he’s talking about the Moroni visit)
    2. William Smith is correctly reporting a made up account of his brother that hadn’t yet emerged into the first vision (i.e. he’s talking about an early version of the Moroni visit that at that time had elements of the first vision that later separated into two distinct accounts.)

    Either way, you are correct that he’s talking about the Moroni visit… and yet, that was never the point being made. You have misunderstood what we are saying. (Or at least what I am saying.)

  75. Sorry,

    I posted that one before I read your response.

    On your other point about the whether the event actually occured. I think if you go back and read my past posts, you’ll see that I already made that very point. I’ve never made statements on this thread about whether or not the vision occured. That’s a job for another day…

  76. Bruce, what is your take on why JS and OC first history of the church in 1935 completely failed to mention the first vision in 1820. In fact JS says his first spiritual experience was in 1823 in bed while praying and the visitor was an angel who forgave his sins? This was written to believing members of the church, so fear of persecution if he owned up to seeing the Father and the Son does not seem to have been an adequate motive for suppressing this amazing experience of incredible importance to the church. At the least, it seems like JS was leaving out very important stuff, for whatever reason – sorry if this seems like conspiracy theory to you.

    Also, where is your evidence that he told the first vision to a minister, was persecuted for it, so shut up about it? There are absolutely no contemporary accounts that I am aware of that indicate this was the case.

  77. “But one of the problems is that no one will talk to me about these things without judging me as an apostate or accusing me of being anti-Mormon (which I am not).”

    May I respectfully ask, why do you want to talk about these things to uninformed people who can’t help you anyway? You have now joined the ranks of people such as us who are really the only type of people that can even fathom what you are saying. Forgive me but the bottom line is, 99% of Church membership are naive, and most don’t care anyway. It seems to me that you have already found people like ourselves that are on blogs such as this that can even deal intellectually with what you are saying, and now you are talking to us. It sounds like you have found somebody to talk to, and I think if I were in your shoes, I’d stick to talking about these things with people online. If you have doubts about foundational stories, then I suggest that you seek revelation from the Spirit of the Lord on the foundational stories. Perhaps not about each and every detail of these things that are somewhat contradictory. But why don’t you ask simple questions to God and simply try to get testimonies of each question, like “Did Joseph Smith really see both Elohim and Jesus?” That is a very simple question to test with the spirit, and if you get a positive answer, all the details and contradictory garbage in the historical accounts doesn’t mean a hill of beans. This may not help you, but this is the way I see things from my point of view. You need specific questions answered about historical quagmires, or at least, I know some people do. I don’t know whether you fit the description of one of those that do.

  78. Guy, my bishop is my spiritual advisor, no? Also an educated college professor. When I told him I had doubts about the historicity of the BoM, and also questioned the polyandry of JS, he just looked at me and said “even the very elect shall be deceived” (and I do quote). He did not say it nicely either. Since then I have not spoken to him or ANYONE at all about my doubts, except online. The bishop looks at me askance since that time (3 months ago), but I am careful to never speak up in class, etc., so unless he talked noone else in my ward knows about my doubts.

    BTW, I did ask God if Joseph saw Him and Jesus. I did not get an answer – just nothing. Are you just going to tell me to keep trying until I get the right answer (which I guess by definition is a positive answer)? I am almost 60, have read the BoM daily for years, have always been active, have served as RS president twice, and many other callings, etc., etc. I am not any more of a sinner than most other Mormons out there (TR worthy I think the term is).

    I wonder if your answer to just pray about it, is any better than what I am getting from my bishop.

  79. Doug G,

    I do, in fact, consider you a friend. Do you, by any chance, live in Utah so that we can meet and do lunch?

    workingmother asks: “…motive for suppressing this amazing experience of incredible importance to the church.”

    Workingmother, I’m afraid I am out of my alloted time. I suppose the short answer is that I have strong reason to believe Joseph was indeed trying to supress the first vision exactly as you indicate… just not for the reason that you indicate (i.e. that he was making it up.)

    And while we are on the subject, how in the world do you explain that he had already mentioned the first vision twice by then, once in 1832 and once in 1835. Doesn’t sound like your interpretation fits the facts, to me. I can’t even begin to figure out how you fit those facts into your concern that Joseph Smith might have made it up. The simple fact is that Joseph had already reported the first vision by then so it’s obvious he chose to not include it. Your theory that he made it up after that point simply cannot be true. At a minimum he must have made it up prior to that point.

    The real question you should be asking is why would Joseph supress the first vision to his 1835 Church. If you ask that question without assuming it’s fall false (and do so prayerfully) you’ll find it an incredibly enlightening questions worthy of your time.

    Workingmother, I have enjoyed this conversation. If you are serious about wanting to know my take on why Joseph Smith would want to supress the first vision, I would have to write to you privately. With your permission I will (and I’ll then later turn it into a post.)

    But for now, let’s just say that I feel you are starting with the assumption that if history didn’t unfold the way *you personally* think it should have that it must all be made up. I think this is a groundless assumption. In fact, I don’t see why you would assume that… it just doesn’t make any sense at all.

  80. Bruce, I indeed would be interested in why you think JS suppressed the first vision to his 1835 church. I do take exception to some of the tone in your last letter. “If you ask that question without assuming it’s fall false (and do so prayerfully) you’ll find it an incredibly enlightening questions worthy of your time.” This sounds pretty judgmental and arrogant to me.

    Your last paragraph was also unwarranted IMHO. You put words in my mouth that I never said, then insulted me by saying that it doesn’t make any sense at all.

  81. “hey can hardly come out and say “well I guess we did lie so believe what you choose” – but in essence that is what many members are choosing to do – it is hard to trust when things you have been taught were rock solid truth from the time you were a little child, have now been proven to be problematic at best and utterly false at worse.”

    I don’t think that many members are choosing to do anything other than just stand fast in the faith. The majority are not confronted with these things. And I can assure you that from what I have seen, they wouldn’t care even if they were confronted. It is only the overly curious or overly intellectual that even care about these things. The majority of people that go inactive go inactive for much more mundane things that this sort of stuff. Not to say that any soul isn’t precious. Maybe I’m wrong, but this is my perception.

  82. working mother, I cringed at your Bishop’s response, but “pray about it” is about the only answer possible. This really is an individual thing, and there is no intellectual answer that will take the place of a spiritual witness. If you don’t get an answer, there are two options: 1) stay anyway and focus on living the principles of the Gospel as you understand them – since that really is the heart of the teachings of Jesus anyway; or 2) leave and focus on living the principles of the Gospel as you understand them – since that really is the heart of the Gospel anyway. If you get an answer of “it doesn’t really matter, since they all are the same in my eyes”, then it’s still up to you whether to stay or go. I don’t meant that to be harsh at all; to me, it’s incredibly benign and gentle. Essentially, I am saying that you have the right and responsibility to make your own decision. If you like the Church but don’t feel you have a testimony that it is the “one and only true and living church”, why leave? There probably will be continued dissonance occasionally, but you’ll still like the association. Exercise your mind here.

    Your Bishop might or might not be correct; he might or might not be insensitive; he might or not be a good man *and* a jerk. I don’t know, but all I can say is, “Follow the dictates of your conscience. You don’t have to “know” nearly as much as most members assume. You can believe those who feel they know, or you can not believe and still participate in the organization and try to become more Christ-like.

    Suffice it to say that many of us have considered and studied everything you have considered and studied and have chosen to remain and believe – and even believe we “know” some foundational things. Deep down in your heart, what do you want to DO? Figure that out and then do it – whatever it is. It is your choice – nobody else’s.

    Fwiw, my views on many things are not common in the Church. I hold a visible calling of relative authority in the Church, so I’m sure most members believe I am a standard, ultra-conservative Mormon – but that’s because I am able to address my unique perspectives from within a scriptural framework, so my unorthodox beliefs sound orthodox. (I think it helps that they are correct, and so the Spirit testifies when I speak from the pulpit, but that might simply be hubris. *grin*) I would never dream of discussing things like some of the topics on this blog, since I don’t see Church as the proper venue for these discussions. I see Church as the place to strengthen understanding and conviction of basic Gospel principles and to help people commit to LIVE the Gospel more fully. If many members knew how I view some of the more esoteric doctrinal questions of the Church, they would be shocked. I’m fine with that, since I probably would be shocked at many of theirs.

  83. Post
    Author

    Doug G.

    “Jeff, you certainly like to dish it out with statements like the ones above and yet you don’t see why folks, such as myself, get offended at your tone and want to bring you down a notch or two.”

    I don’t choose to be offended by the things that get said here. And I try to be straight forward in my writing as I would in a conversation. If that is offensive to you and others, I am sorry about that.

    One person’s history is another person fairy tale. I like how Ray and Bruce put it. And you didn’t address the example about scientists looking at the same data and drawing different conclusions. That is equally valid here as well. i choose to put my trust in what I have studied and the spiritual witnesses I have received.

  84. Just to clarify and avoid misundersatnding: I meant “exercise your mind here on this blog” – nor as some condescending dictate. I apologize if that was not clear.

  85. Guy I think you are wrong about why some go inactive, and it certainly wouldn’t be why I might go inactive. I have made it through some very challenging times with my testimony, and I have been a ward stalwart for many years, but this is just flooring me. How many inactives have you talked to recently? There are a number in my ward who have gone inactive for doctrinal/historical reasons and because they couldn’t find any answers to their questions about some really serious stuff. They did not leave for hurt feelings, or being too lazy, or for sinful reasons, or disagreements with local leaders. Although I know there are many who fall away for these reasons, not all do, and please at least allow me to maintain those would not be my reasons.

  86. “If you ask that question without assuming it’s fall false (and do so prayerfully) you’ll find it an incredibly enlightening questions worthy of your time.” This sounds pretty judgmental and arrogant to me.”

    I apologize. I re-read and I can see what you mean. I feel very bad about the way it came out. Please accept my apology, workingmother.

    Please allow me to explain myself more fully now that the kids are in bed and I’m not in such a hurry.

    Yes, I most certainly think starting with the assumption that if Joseph didn’t mention the first vision at first that it must have been made up later does in fact cause a person to fail to see other completely legitimate possiblities. And yes, I am of the opinion (I’m entitled to my opinion) that this is what you are doing.

    However, if you read much of what I say, then this next statement won’t shock you: I do the same thing only in reverse. We all do. We see what we want to see in history… or more to the point, once we’ve been shown a pattern, it’s really really hard to break it.

    I’m going to venture a guess that you didn’t find out about JS not mentioning the first vision in his 1835 account in a pro-Mormon book. And I’m going to venture a guess that once you had the thought stuck in your head (from wherever you originally found out about it) that this might be evidence that it never happened, that you couldn’t help but see it that way even if you wanted.

    Meanwhile, I found out about that same fact in a pro-Mormon book that was not trying to hide that fact at all because they used it as proof of the first vision (complicated to explain. If you let me write to you I will.)

    So my mind latched on to that pattern and I have a hard time breaking it (and don’t want to anyhow.)

    We both latched on to patterns and we couldn’t help it. Our choice was which books to read and how to receive the information.

    *whew* that was a lot to say…

    So in other words, what I meant by “ask that question without assuming it’s fall false (and do so prayerfully) you’ll find it an incredibly enlightening questions worthy of your time.” was simply that if you start to recognize that there are multiple possible reasons for a set of facts, you’ll find your mind is very good at coming up with alternative possiblities. But! you have to want it. If you don’t want it, it can’t happen. (thus the reference to prayer.)

    “Your last paragraph was also unwarranted IMHO. You put words in my mouth that I never said, then insulted me by saying that it doesn’t make any sense at all.”

    This was bad of me too. I am sorry.

    Again, I didn’t take enough care on how I worded things. What I meant here was it would never make sense to assume that if something didn’t happen the way we thought it should have to have the first thought be “it’s all made up.” Can you think of any case where this would be true? Would, for example, coming to realize that Columbus didn’t really prove to the world that the world was round mean that Columbus made up his voyage altogether?

    History just doesn’t work that way. History rarely if ever unfolds the way we expected it or the way it was “whitewashed” for us as children (or even as adults that didn’t bother to look into it further). There is nothing in American history, for example, that you have learned that coulnd’t be challgened by an anti-American scholar. If you were, you’d quickly find that you have a “whitewashed” view of American history.

    But this would rarely mean that it’s all made up. Instead, it forces us to understand the great complexity of life and humanity.

    I think Church history is exactly the same way. Joseph Smith did indeed supress the first vision for years. We know this factually because he wrote it down in 1832 but didn’t publish it and then OC left it out in the 1835 history even though he was aware of Joseph’s written account. Presumably OC was asked not to include it.

    I’m asking you to start with the assumption that there might just be a reason for the supression and it might be a really good reason. It might even be a reason you’d agree with.

    I can only tell you my theory as to why (which I personally think is pretty dang good! 🙂 ) but I can’t tell you the REAL reason, and I and know one on earth can tell you with certainty the real reason. Such is how history works. It’s all guess work.

    But why start with the assumption it’s all false and never even explore any other possiblities? That would be a “groundless” assumption in the case of Columbus, wouldn’t it? (Don’t read too much into my “groundless” wording. I should not have said it that way.) I just meant that in the case of JS it’s insufficient to make a case by itself.

    (Update: Saying your assumption is ‘groundless’ makes it sound like I’m saying you are saything unreasonable or stupid, which is not what I meant. What I really meant was that your assumption that this means it’s made up and not a historical event is no better or worse an explanation than simply treating it like a real historical issue — history is full of such things that seem odd to us because life is just that way — and making an attempt to come up with an explanation. Also, the only reason you are considering this evidence of non-occurance is because it’s a religious truth claim instead of a more objective seeming non-religious event. So your view is certainly not “groundless” but there are not “stronger grounds” for it compare to just assuming it happened as JS said it did and then looking into reasons for the surpression.)

    Again, I apologize for my bad use of words. I really was in a hurry and I woulnd’t have made that mistake (or needed to give you this long explanation) if I had chosen my words better.

  87. Jeff,

    “I don’t choose to be offended by the things that get said here. And I try to be straight forward in my writing as I would in a conversation. If that is offensive to you and others, I am sorry about that.”

    It’s all good, don’t lose any sleep over it and I won’t either.

    Bruce,

    I live in Northern Utah and I think it would be great to meet you. I believe you have my e-mail address, go ahead and send me a note and we’ll set something up…

    Thanks,

  88. Workingmother,

    Intensity of belief has nothing to do with accuracy of perceptions – if anything, there is a reverse corollary. And as I said before, intensity of feeling, so easily manipulated by religious and political ideas, has nothing to do with testimony. The difference I see in where you and I are is that I take the Holy Spirit as a source of truth, and you rather take it to be an emotional experience analagous to any number of others. It is right enough to say that there is a subjective element in all our experiences. However, in the end, it is up to us individually to determine how and where and if we will seek, and we are answerable to God and not to the religious experiences of other people – for which we neither can nor can be expected to give an account. From an outside perspective, with all the systems and variations on belief, what is the chance that the one you’re following has any claim to exclusiveness in any respect? The answer is none. All the same, straight is the way and narrow is the gate and few there be that find it.

    ~

  89. Re #54 “I suspect most of us are not yet “converted” in the truest sense of the word and could “fall off” at any moment, if we are not careful and diligent.”

    I was just studying more on conversion during a Saturday stake conference meeting when the talks were starting to make me drowsy, and I agree with you here. In the LDS scripture Bible Dictionary, we are taught, “complete conversion comes after many trials and much testing.” So what is “complete conversion”? (The type that “will change a natural man into a sanctified, born again, purified person–a new creature in Christ Jesus”?) Studying this concept makes me well aware that this is a level of conversion I have yet to acheive. Coming to this conclusion is, for me, a good thing! It helps me see that quote about the brother who had never been truly converted in a new light.

    Matthew 18:3 refers to the level of conversion needed as becoming as a little child, and verse 4 expands that it involves “humbling himself as this little child.”

    Re 56 “Perhaps Rigel Hawthorne gives us a clue about how to stay naïve.”

    You made me grin with this comment Doug. I almost find it a compliment that you find my attitude naive. I know a wonderful woman who has a strong faith that Joseph Smith had a vision of Deity. She chooses not to research historical details, and with young kids, barely has time to check her own email. In fact, I should probably be helping her fold clothes right now rather than blog! One could consider her faith to be naive, but hers is the type of faith that I aspire to.

    I decided once that I no longer needed to read every document about why the church couldn’t be true in order to have a testimony of the church. If you call that “the ability to read into history what you want it to mean,” I wouldn’t say that is unfair. I believe that Joseph did learn line upon line, and that sometimes he was allowed to learn some doctrinal details incorrectly before later gaining better light, as part of his progression. This doesn’t make him a false prophet, IMO. It actually deepens my respect for his challenges, and it is something I relate to.

    I once asked my mission president why a verse quoting Isaiah in 2nd Nephi (the purer translation from the brass plates, as I learned in seminary) was different than the same verse of Isaiah in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament. Why wouldn’t they be the same, by nature of his prophetic ability? His answer was not helpful to me, but the still small voice whispered an answer that was what I needed.

  90. “Although I know there are many who fall away for these reasons, not all do, and please at least allow me to maintain those would not be my reasons.”

    Whatever your reasons are, they are certainly real to you, and certainly nobody here wants you to fall away or go inactive. My words are observations, and aren’t judgements of your situation. They are what I see, not what you see, and certainly you can see something I don’t, especially if your ward is different than my ward, since I certainly don’t live in your ward, and perhaps not in your area. But really all we can do is make suggestions to you, and you would have to act if any of this is of help to you. And, aside from what I have already said, I would suggest that you seek the Spirit, and try to find good reasons to stay if the old reasons you have no longer work for you.

  91. Ray said “Your Bishop might or might not be correct; he might or might not be insensitive; he might or not be a good man *and* a jerk”

    I think part of the problem is that local leaders are simply not always equipped to deal with some of the questions. Maybe we catch them on a bad day. In my case I can assure you that my bishop thought I was crazy when I said I struggled with woman’s role. He could have handled me having lots of promiscuous sex, stealing money, etc. but to have an issue with a core issue in the gospel was beyond what he could deal with. Anyone not knowing him who heard the conversation would have thought he was a first class jerk, and at first I did. Then I realized with time that my questions were so outside his grasp of understanding that he didn’t know what to say. After much thought I also realized that “men can just do some things that women can’t” was not something God would have said to me. At that point he was not representing God, but simply a man doing his best when he was beyond tapped. And I think the fact that he couldn’t solve this one scared him.

    I think part of the struggle is finding where we can go with our serious questions. Many local leaders don’t know about aspects of church history and docterines that make some of us feel uncomfortable. They are so busy with their 4 millions hours a week of meetings-of the husband/wife in the abusive relationship, the family who has someone with cancer, the family that cannot pay their bills, the teenager in to drugs, etc-not to mention their own family concerns and their own career. If they haven’t devoted time before their calling to understand all of the this, they simply may not be able to deal with this one. The question is where can people go with their questions to someone who can genuinely relate and do their best to explain, offer insight, or just plain be compassionate.

  92. Tanya Sue, I love your message. I think this is really valuable thought. Part of my testimony was letting go of the “people” aspect; gaining a testimony required understanding that the people trying to live the gospel are all fallible, and that they are doing the best they can for themselves and their families and the others in their charge. Even sometimes prophets which is easiest to see from the lofty tower of historical perspective. But at the end of the day, it’s not the purpose of the gospel to prove or disprove anything but ourselves.

  93. Re 56 “Perhaps Rigel Hawthorne gives us a clue about how to stay naïve.”

    “You made me grin with this comment Doug. I almost find it a compliment that you find my attitude naive. I know a wonderful woman who has a strong faith that Joseph Smith had a vision of Deity”

    Rigel, I suspect I owe you an apology for my posting above. I do need to learn to put my comments in a less offensive way. While it is true that I think most of you good folks are naïve or perhaps even deceived, that doesn’t mean you’re not good people or that your heart isn’t in the right place. I also think that believing JS had a vision of Deity isn’t going to affect your salvation one way or the other. Salvation, IMHO, is based on much more important things such as loving God and your fellow man. All the rest of this is just trappings…As I’ve stated before, I think God just barely tolerates religion in general…

    The real question is, does your particular religion provide you with meaningful opportunities to provide service and does it charge your spiritual battery by participating. If you can answer yes to these questions, then why would someone even care if any of the restoration claims of the church are true? I think someone already made this point earlier. Most members haven’t looked into the history and they don’t want to. Trust me on this point, if you don’t want to know, nothing in this world is going to make you study and find out.

    For me, and this is just for me, church stopped filling my spiritual battery years ago. I found meetings focused on anything but the Savoir and lots of assignments that didn’t seem to be making a difference to anybody. Don’t get me wrong, I always had more than enough to do, but none of it was truly helping anyone. Home teaching families that almost cheered if we were out of their home in 10 minutes or less. Sunday school classes with youth that didn’t want to be there and made it their goal to disrupt the lesson. Lots of trips to the temple doing work for the dead, at the expense of doing things for the living. (In the grand scheme of things I can’t believe in a God who would hold someone back because I was too lazy to do their temple work.) The list goes on and on, so finding out that the restoration claims of JS were questionable, it wasn’t a big leap for me to decide that this was just another man made religion with a mixture of good and bad people, just like all the rest. For others, it is all they could have ever hoped for and a bag of chips. I don’t want to ruin it for them, so I take out my beliefs on you folks who for whatever reason, want to look into the mouth of the tiger.

    Sorry this was long…Again, please except my apology for calling you naïve. The fact that you’re here means you obviously are not…

  94. “I don’t want to ruin it for them, so I take out my beliefs on you folks who for whatever reason, want to look into the mouth of the tiger.”

    Fwiw, Doug, I wish everyone had that same attitude. Just remember that it would be nice if tigers brushed their teeth. *grin*

    “While it is true that I think most of you good folks are naïve or perhaps even deceived, that doesn’t mean you’re not good people or that your heart isn’t in the right place.”

    Interesting. That’s how I view most non-Mormon Christians. *huge grin*

  95. Doug G. – I agree with your statement that God barely tolerates all religions. I can’t see that we are much better than the Pharisees sometimes. I am a believer in “Love the Lord thy God with all (etc) and Love thy neighbor as thyself.” To me if you spend your whole life doing this you will be fine. I also agree that most of what we do in the church doesn’t help people – I tried so hard as RS pres to make a difference, but found I did much more good taking in the young pregnant woman with no family. Sometimes I think I just believe what the Dalai Lama said “my religion is simple – my religion is kindness.” All the rest of it seems like how many angels can dance on the end of a pin.

    To everyone else who so kindly tried to help me on this blog, I say thank you. It is wonderful that you are willing to let people express their true thoughts here – it is a good place to be able to vent a little.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *