There Has to Be Error

In a recent post on blessings, Heather notes that sometimes blessings promised don’t happen and that there can be several reasons why this doesn’t occur. I’d like to extend off that idea to note that, if we are to work by faith and not knowledge, things have to not work right sometimes.

Thus I am highly skeptical of any evidence that shows too incontrovertibly the Book of Mormon is a historical record. I assume that someone will raise plausible objections to any such evidence given a little time. This is because I don’t believe that most of us now on the earth are ready or best-served by factual certainty of many elements of the Gospel. If that were the case, then God would have left the plates here or sent them back to show around. If paying tithing always made you rich; if blessings that promised complete recovery always worked; if everyone who obeyed the Word of Wisdom was healthy until their death at age 120; if gender confusion never happened; if life just plain couldn’t have evolved without a sentient being organizing it; if bishops always got the right answer; if Brigham Young never said wacky things, then the space for faith would be diminished by the presence of certainty. Certainty is a great thing when we are ready for it. But I don’t think we are. Thus we have a religion that accommodates our mortal needs by not being too reliable or too perfect.

Obviously, by demanding that religion have things that don’t always work as the manual says or don’t work out perfectly every time, we are saying that the religion is not falsifiable. If healing works, it’s a miracle. If not, it’s God’s will or our lack of faith. But using signs to test the validity of the Gospel is not a fruitful strategy for spiritual development anyway.

So I’m arguing that anomalies in the gospel and our Church history don’t just happen; they are, in this day and age anyway, essential.

63 comments for “There Has to Be Error

  1. Amen, Frank! You make a point that needs to be reiterated frequently. Bruce R. McConkie made it a major theme of his famous letter on Brigham Young’s strange ramblings. What gets to me is that some members, after years of Gospel blessings in their lives, will throw it all away because of some “sign” that suddenly “proves” the Church isn’t true anymore. Just what are we expecting of God, anyway? If faith is essential, then some uncertainty must exist. (So with all due respect to the good people at FARMS, whose writings I thoroughly enjoy, I really don’t think we’re going to dig up any Nephite cities in MesoAmerica anytime soon—in fact, if we came close to doing so, I’ll bet you God would cause an earthquake to bury that stuff even deeper!)

  2. Gary,

    Just to play devil’s advocate here…

    The Church recommends a personal “witness” to the truthfulness of these things, particularly the Book of Mormon. A personal witness is received through prayer (as opposed to logical reasoning). Why couldn’t someone receive a witness that the Book of Mormon is in fact, false? In other words, a sign?

  3. There is a passage in the humorous science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that deals with a simnilar point.

    In the novel, the characters place a small fish (called a Babel fish) into their ears. The fish allows the characters to understand anything said in any language.

    Since it is mind-bogglingly unlikely that anything so useful could have evolved by chance, the Babel fish was used as a proof of the non-existence of God:

    “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
    “But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. Q.E.D..”
    “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
    “Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

  4. Frank: Could you explain what you mean by “essential”? Are anomalies deliberately built into the plan, or they are simply unavoidable? Many people seem to trip on these anomalies. They conclude that the Church is not true, or that Christianity is not true, or that God does not exist because they are persuaded that some of the “anomalies” demonstrate that it is unlikely that the conclusions reached by the faithful are indeed correct. These apparently reasonable conclusions bring damnation to their souls. Why would God design a plan, an essential element of which is a number of “anomalies” which are capable of misleading reasonable people acting in good faith?

    Furthermore, if we really believe that there must be uncertainty and anomalies, why do we place so much emphasis on “knowing” that the church is true?

  5. I have often wondered why we place so much emphasis on “knowing” the truth, and even testifying about it. Methinks one doth protest too much…

    As I’ve stated before, I think a difficulty arises in our Church concerning the different powers of persuasion of faith vs. knowledge. The Book of Mormon may be a book of faith, but it is a book which presents histories with facts, and facts want observation and proof. And the Church wants us to believe the facts (as well as the religious theories) as true without proving them. It’s a conundrum.

    If Joseph had simply written a book of doctrinal theories, and then asked us to rely on these words as having been inspired, it might be easier for us. Instead, we have this real artifact, translated from gold plates buried for hundreds of years, and written in a civilized language, concerning the real history of real people that really lived, and yet we cannot prove it, which is frustrating to many people (including myself, unfortunately).

  6. Great post, Frank.

    I think that we are promised intellectual dissonance:

    “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.”

    Mosiah 4:9

    We never take that last line seriously: we’ve been told that we just can’t and won’t comprehened everything.

  7. Gary Lee,

    Eventually, faith is supplanted by knowledge. But this is something that is a consequence of personal revelation. So certain individuals may well know the Church is true. This is information they acquire through individual pondering or sacred experience, as opposed to easily replicable experiments. I am arguing that there should not be such readily replicable and foolproof experiments because they would give us a knowledge that would be damning to us.

    I am further arguing that, although this may not be the case all the time and everywhere, I would not be surprised if anomalies are essential in that they are, in some sense, needed. That those who trip over anomalies may be facing, in some cases, a needed test. For some people, overcoming these anomalies is akin to the Abrahamic sacrifice.

    In addition to testing some people, they force people to develop faith itself, as opposed to the knowledge we all enjoyed in the pre-existence. As I understand it, the purpose to the veil through which we passed at birth was to create conditions of uncertainty. I have trouble reconciling notions of the Premortal Veil of ignorance with the idea that the Gospel can be proven true to the exclusion of the need for faith. Doing that would seem akin to piercing the veil, which we are all to do at the appropriate time, but most of us not yet.


    That passage was actually one of the things that got me thinking about this issue, many years ago. Score one for the Hitchhiker.

  8. Julie in Austin,

    I get tangled up in the reasoning that I understand to be implied by the scripture you quoted. Any help in sorting out the right answer(s) to the following questions it raises in my mind would be appreciated:

    Accepting at face value that there are things which we cannot comprehend, what course of conduct does that suggest to you?

    Should we then stop trying to understand?

    If not, should we do things that we believe are wrong because, if we were able to understand more than we can, it might turn out that those things are right after all? Is there any way to discern between “wrong, but might be right with more information” and “just plain wrong no matter what”?

    Should we decline to make decisions for ourselves other than the decision to do what another person recommends to us?

    If so, aren’t both that other person as well as our own decision to rely on that person still subject to the “uncertainty principle” built into the scripture you quoted? Couldn’t our decision to defer our decisions to someone else be just as subject to flawed decision making because we do not comprehend all things?

    With these questions, I have a hard time utilizing that scripture for more than fostering basic humility and open-mindedness (neither of which I view as a bad thing, FWIW).


  9. Gary said: “I really don’t think we’re going to dig up any Nephite cities in MesoAmerica anytime soon—in fact, if we came close to doing so, I’ll bet you God would cause an earthquake to bury that stuff even deeper”

    In the 1950s a series of dams constructed on the Grijalva River in Mexico flooded large parts of what many think was the land of Zarahemla.

  10. Remember the Salamander Letter? At the time, there were news articles quoting members of the Church who had lost faith in Joseph Smith because of the contents of that letter. Who knows if they ever came back after the letter turned out to be a forgery?

    The Church initially accepted the opinion of experts that the letter was genuine. Why didn’t God just tell the prophet it was a forgery, thus avoiding all the controversy?

    It seems to me that God allowed the confusion to continue as a test of faith for the Saints.

    And it seems some failed that test.

  11. greenfrog–

    Hmm. Good questions. I think I’d focus my answer on humility and teachableness, esp. as we formulate our personal positions on certain issues.

    But mostly, I think this scripture is talking about not flipping out every time you find some statement from BY or PPP that makes your hair curl (have you seen my pic on my bio page ;) ), or don’t understand a personal trial, or can’t reconcile the Church’s position on an issue with your own. Expect that you will not understand things, and don’t run around acting like you’ve been robbed every time you don’t understand something.

    We make decisions based on the best information we have available, while not being so dogmatic as to hamper our ability to recognize that new info (from the prophet, from science, from life experience, whatever) might prompt us to change our minds.

  12. In fact, the only people in the world who questioned the authenticity of the Salamander letter before it was revealed to be a hoax were the Tanners.

  13. So God allows deliberate hoaxes to test us? Couldn’t the Book of Mormon then be a hoax, maybe the hoax with the greatest power of all?

  14. The cases don’t compare, D. Fletcher. No one I know ever recieved a divine witness to the authenticity of the Salamander letters. I certainly didn’t.

  15. D. Fletcher,

    I really doubt that no one else questioned the authenticity of the Salamander letter. But the Tanners may have been the only ones who had a pulpit for such questioning.

    Further, I was talking about how anomalies preserve a space for faith to operate. How would the Book of Mormon as a hoax be useful for that? The idea of such anomalies would be to encourage seekers to ponder and pray so they receive the answer if they are ready for it.

  16. I was mostly commenting on Eric’s post about the Salamander hoax being used to “test” us.

    The thing about the Salamander letter is, the intelligentsia ranks of the Church immediately valued it as genuine, including scholars like Leonard Arrington and Jan Shipps. I heard Jan’s piece at the Sunstone Symposium. And the Church itself (somewhat later) published the Salamander letter in the Church news, not as a hoax, but as an authenticatable historical artifact, which it did not turn out to be.

    So, if you consider the Church leaders to be the side of “Faith,” and the intellectuals to be the side of “Knowledge,” both sides approved this letter. Only the “unfaithful,” i.e., the Tanners, publicly proclaimed the letter false (before it was proved to be).

    Now, the Tanners also don’t believe the Book of Mormon to be true. What if it was proved to be false, somehow? or at least, created under false pretenses. How would we proceed? Would the Church simply say, it was meant to test our faith, and that is all? I think that the suggestion that things are murky by God on purpose is rationalizing an uncertainty — “I don’t understand this and therefore it must be murky on purpose to test me.”

    The real truth to be gleaned in the Book of Mormon isn’t its historicity (which doesn’t exist). Its truth, its only truth, is the power to convert.

  17. Jan Shipps is not a member. So now you’re down to Leanard Arrington. Surely he is not required to be infallible. The fact that the Tanners were right once should be impressive? They talk enough that presumably they are right about little things all the time.

    I am not impressed by your argument that “Faith” held this letter to be true. Mention in the Church News does not truth make. Adding the Salamander Letter to the canon would be a good argument, but I don’t recall that happening. We’ll have to get somebody in here who knows the history better than me, but what evidence do we have that the Church claimed to have any sort of inspiration or revelation about this letter? Where are the legions of members who received confirmation of the truthfulness of the Salamander letter? Where are the confirmatory angelic appearances? Where is the martyrdom to seal the testimony? And where is the emphatic testimony of prophets and apostles for 150 years? The Salamander letter was a comparative blip.

    Also note the resolution. The Salamander letter was shown to be undeniably and irrefutably a fabrication. As an anomaly it had its day, but perhaps God, in answer to prayer, made sure that it did not linger as a challenge that would be too much for too many people.

  18. Jan Shipps isn’t a member, but she is the pre-eminent Mormon scholar–I used her name in connection with “knowledge” only.

    There was great excitement at the time about the publication of the letter in the Church news, because this meant the brethren considered it genuine. No, no doctrine was altered because of the letter, and it wasn’t canonized immediately, though neither was the revelation giving the priesthood to blacks canonized for several years. There were no dissenters in the authenticity of the letter except the Tanners, though one could say that the Brethren dragged their feet about it (it took more than a year for it to be published).

    Curiously, (to me), there was little gloating about it after the hoax was revealed. The only gloating came from distant writers like the guys who wrote “Mormon Murders.”

  19. Thank goodness for some ambiguity. I would go crazy if I had a clear knowledge of everything I ought to be doing and/or believing. It’s difficult enough to live up to the few things that we do know. The burden would be crushing.

  20. D.

    So from your account, I can’t say the Salamander letter is much of a comparison case to the Book of Mormon. It was a test for some people, but differs from other tests because we actually now know it was a fake.

    I suppose when we have more faith as a people we’ll be able to handle foregeries that we can’t prove are fake within a year or two. Or maybe the Salamander letter will prepare us for coming forgeries, so we’ll be a little more resilient when given these tests.

  21. Frank,

    You wrote, “I am further arguing that, although this may not be the case all the time and everywhere, I would not be surprised if anomalies are essential in that they are, in some sense, needed. That those who trip over anomalies may be facing, in some cases, a needed test. For some people, overcoming these anomalies is akin to the Abrahamic sacrifice.”

    I agree, and in particular your other statement that there may be some who, having exercised great faith, have now received revelations that have proved certain truths to them. (I would be thinking here about the kind of revelations one receives upon having one’s calling and election made sure, but that’s speculation.) In other words, God seems to be saying, “I refuse to prove my existence to the whole world—But I am willing and desirous to prove myself to individuals, when and if they exercise faith like Abraham’s.”

    Fletcher, I think the reason a person could not receive a witness that the BoM is false is because the BoM is, in fact, true. :) Actually, I think Frank’s points adequately respond to your concerns. In fact, I’m thinking of the various occasions in the Scriptures where an event takes place, which would presumably be the type of “proof” you mention, but where the Lord tells those who witness such events not to tell anybody! Again, God seems to insist that He simply will NOT permit His existence to be “proved” to the entire world at once—but only to individuals, and only those who exercise mighty faith (or who benefit from the prayers of others who exercised that faith, think of Alma the Younger).

  22. I don’t understand why God would condemn somebody for failing a test of faith, when their failure consists of their drawing an incorrect conclusion based on the available evidence. For example, I have a friend who decided to leave the church after many years of faithful service. He made this decision because his studies convinced him that his previous faith was misplaced. In what sense has he failed a test of faith? Does faith mean that one must continue to hold to a belief after becoming convinced that it is incorrect? Why would God expect us to hold on to beliefs which we believe to be incorrect as a means of testing us? I can understand a test of faith which consists of God requiring me to do something that is difficult or even painful, because it is the right thing to do. I understand that being a disciple of Christ comes at a cost, and that we demonstrate our faith by paying that price. I have difficulty understanding a God who tries our faith by requiring us to affirm propositions which we do not believe to be true.

  23. Why would God need to condemn them, Gary Lee? They’ve already punished themselves by leaving the church. It isn’t that God requires people to believe what they don’t believe, or only to walk when they’re not walking, or anything else contradictory. He expects people to change their beliefs to conform with the Truth and the Restored Gospel.

    A person may be a genuine apostate–amost apostates probably are–but they’re still apostates. The circumstances of their loss of faith will vary and may have bearing on the degree of culpability involved but they’re still cut off from the blessings of the faith by their own choice.

  24. I suspect the problem Gary is that while some Protestants (not all) see faith as believing in the absence of evidence (and often when there can be no evidence) Mormons see it as faith in revelation. i.e. acting on a particular *kind* of evidence.

    So tests of faith, as I see them, are not believing against the evidence, but rather seeing what value you place revelation.

  25. Adam: If God expects us to change our beliefs to conform to the truth, and if our failure to do so has eternal consequences (whether you call it condemnation by God or self punishmnent makes no difference to me) then presumably the failure to believe correct doctrine represents some kind of moral failing. I don’t understand how one can be guilty of a moral failing for failing to believe in the face of evidence that is ambiguous. Why would God punish people for reaching the wrong intellectual conclusions when he has withheld the very evidence that would have convinced them? The only answer I can think of is that all sincere, honest people will in fact come to the right conclusion. Since I don’t know the hearts of all people, I can’t judge, but the evidence I have suggests to me that this is not the case.

    Clark: If we are given tests of faith to see what value we place on revelation, don’t we first have to know that something is in fact a revelation before we can be so tested? The question for an unbeliever is not whether he or she values revelation. The real question is whether there has been a revelation at all. Until that question has been answered in the affirmative, there is no point discussing the relative value of revelation.

  26. Gary Lee,
    your original quandary was about church members who leave based on an honest doubt. While I can’t pretend to know every heart, i am inclined to think that a number of these people are leaving because the intellectual and evidentiary problems they currently face aren’t sufficiently balanced with the remembrance of the spiritual witnesses they had recieved and with attempts to seek new witnesses. Clearly God does ask us to walk by faith, which means we are sometimes tested by being asked to act or believe where empirical evidence or received wisdom seems ambiguous or even contrary. Lack of evidence is no excuse. We don’t need evidence. If we want it bad enough, He’ll speak to us himself.

  27. Gary, as you say, test of faith only make sense for those who already have received revelation. I don’t think the term makes sense in other contexts, except perhaps as a catalyst to get us to seek revelation.

  28. “I suspect the problem Gary is that while some Protestants (not all) see faith as believing in the absence of evidence (and often when there can be no evidence) Mormons see it as faith in revelation. i.e. acting on a particular *kind* of evidence.”

    I don’t believe this like I used to. I used to think of faith as a logical conclusion drawn from spiritual experiences. I think that is still part of or a type of faith. But I think there is another thing which is also faith, and I don’t know if it is more or less important, wherein one’s belief is a gift from God. It is almost a kind of emotion. One believes simply because one has been given the gift to believe. I think that gift operates in the lives of many people. But not all people. I think it may be something we should seek out through prayer and obedience.

    Such a faith is no worse than any other, logically. All faith will come down to some set of untestable assumptions in which one simply believes. For some people, they simply believe in GOd and in the Restoration. They may have spiritual evidences that confirms their emotional faith, but that evidence is not the prime mover. It is the emotion that is their bedrock and their foundation against temptation and doubt.

    “Why would God punish people for reaching the wrong intellectual conclusions when he has withheld the very evidence that would have convinced them?”

    As has been noted, God will answer sincere prayer. He will respond to the petitioner if they are sincere in their request. But he may not respond this decade. Some prayers are answered only long after they are prayed. Further, God has repeatedly made it clear that certain kinds of evidence are of low value. Thus if one receives a spiritual witness but have intellectual reasons to doubt, it is a moral failing to chuck the spiritual witness in favor of doubts because of the Salamander Letter brouhaha or whatever. In that case, one has rejected the light in favor of the arm of flesh (or the eyes of flesh). This is a failing that hurts our progression.

  29. Frank,

    You made exactly the points I was about to. I think you are absolutely correct that Faith is a gift of God. In fact, the Scriptures speak of it as such. (Russell Arben Fox spoke of this gift of Faith very eloquently and beautifully in an earlier post here at T&S.) My own reading of the Scriptures and observations tell me that this comes to the “believing obedient”, though at times their obedience may be tentative or initiatory (I’m thinking here of many new converts, and less active members returning to activity).

    I will also chime in with you and Adam on the issue of one’s rejection of previous revelation in favor of intellectual doubt. If this isn’t “trusting in the arm of flesh”, I don’t know what would be. I’ve never been able to understand this strange phenomenon; why on earth should I consider intellectual doubt, which by definition rests on conclusions that can only be tentative at best (given that no man knows everything), as more “real” and “compelling” than genuine spiritual experience? Why should I throw away what I *know* (by experience, though I may not understand all of the meaning and ramifications of said experiences), for what I *suspect*?

    Something else I would point out is that my own observation of those who leave the Church for intellectual reasons (and I have known many members who have left for such reasons) is that, invariably, the process of their embracing doubt and rejecting faith and testimony involved a gradual abandonment of those activities which would tend to strengthen faith and invite more spiritual experiences, while at the same time spending more and more time feasting on that which cast doubt. Scripture study, the strongest lifeline I can think of, was always the first to go, then prayer. It’s not that these folks are always breaking serious commandments (in fact, they usually are obeying the basic “don’ts”), but rather somehow neglect the two most important “do’s”—prayer and Scripture study.

    I guess I just don’t get it, and I have to admit that it’s a little difficult for me to be as charitable as I should be towards such folks. I’ve seen the same stuff they have, read the same books they have, experienced the same things they have, but I never have considered leaving the Church. Sure, there have been times when I’ve seen some aspect of Church history or practice that has given me pause—but everytime something has caused me to think, “Why did they do that? Why did they say that? Why on earth would God permit that?”, I’ve always immediately thought, “Yes, but how do I explain the miracles I’ve seen? The revelations I’ve recieved? How do I explain encountering and rebuking evil spirits (in the presence of others, no less)? Were all these things some sort of mass halucination?

    I really get a kick out some ex-members talking about “scientific evidence” “explaining away” visions and revelations, etc. Wow! And I suppose that explains not only “positive” spiritual experience, but “negative” as well? It’s just hard for me to imagine the Church can’t be true and it’s all a product of brainwaves when an articulate being, with visual, audial, and tactile components, clearly not bound by conventional laws of physics, appears on more than one occasion, and in the presence of my entire family, physically throwing objects in the room and outside the house, and issuing threats, then suddenly leaving upon my use of the Priesthood. If I’m supposed to believe that we all just imagined it, it sounds like some kind of science fiction story. Are some people “believing” enough to cause events to take place? Heaven help us if someone like that “imagines” a nuclear war, and beleives it so much it actually happens!

  30. I think what I am hearing from a combination of the comments made by Frank, Gary, Clark and Adam is the following:

    1. God does always answer the prayer of the sincere truth seeker, even if those answers are sometimes delayed. He does provide the evidence necessary for faith, even though such evidence is spiritual in nature. Therefore, nobody is unjustly condemned for lacking faith.

    2. When we are weighing the evidence, we should give greater weight to the spiritual evidences than to our own intellectual conclusions based on the physical evidence that exists and our ability to draw conclusions from that evidence. To do otherwise is to rely upon the arm of flesh rather than the Spirit.

    My concern with point 1 above, is that I see no evidence that it is true. Not everybody has spiritual experiences. Not everybody receives a spiritual confirmation that the Church is true. What do I say to such people? Of course, I have no way of knowing that for sure, so I can’t disprove the statement. However, it sure looks that way to me. Maybe the people I know in that category will someday receive a spiritual witness, but for some it will have to be pretty dramatic, because at some point they quit trying. Why would we expect somebody to keep praying for years to know whether the Book of Mormon is true? At what point is it reasonable for a person to conclude that they should start to look elsewhere?

    With respect to point 2 above, I think this position glosses over an important issue. For most people, the spiritual witness which they receive is fairly subtle. It is seldom as dramatic as the experience Gary has referred to. It consists of spiritual feelings or impressions whose meaning must still be interpreted. Is it a psychological reaction? How different is that feeling from other feelings I have experienced as a result of reading great literature or listening to great music? How different is it from the feelings my friends experiences as Catholics, Lutherans and Baptists? Is this a reliable means of knowing something? Is God telling me that this is the only true church, or is he telling me that this is a good way to live? These are all questions that people must answer. And the answer to those questions is an answer based on that individual’s own reason and experience. They are relying on the arm of flesh–their own mind, in deciding how to interpret the experience and what weight to place on those spiritual experiences versus the other evidence that has created doubts. The question for them becomes not whether to rely on God’s word rather one’s own intellect, but whether a particular experience really was God speaking or was it something else. To tell them to rely upon and to be satisfied with a spiritual witness for their answer simply begs the question.

  31. As to point 1, Gary Lee, I reemphasize that your initial question and our responses were in the context of people falling away from the truth, people who presumably have already had revelation.
    It’s hard to say that people who haven’t recieved anything lack faith. Maybe some do–maybe some just refuse to believe that its even really possible that God exists so they refuse to say, lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief–but for others there are lots of different reasons and I don’t think we need to decide necessarily what the reasons are or what we need to do about them in particular. Its enough taht (1) we oursleves know God and (2) we trust him to reveal himself when he deems fit and (3) we pray on their behalf and hold ourselves out to say or do what he needs to be done to prepare them.

    As for your point 2, certainly the more subtle the spiritual confirmation a person has recieved the less condemnation they might recieve for doubting it or not recognizing it, but some condemnation still lies because they have recieved some influence of the Spirit. I don’t think we have to explain what people tell us about emotions or what Catholics et al. tell us about their own spiritual experiences. We know what’s happened to us and that’s enough.

  32. The Church initially accepted the opinion of experts that the letter was genuine. Why didn’t God just tell the prophet it was a forgery, thus avoiding all the controversy?

    It seems to me that God allowed the confusion to continue as a test of faith for the Saints.

    And it seems some failed that test.

    Comment by: Eric James Stone at June 28, 2004 04:03 PM Permanent Link

    I can’t believe the degree you guys go to in twisting common sense in order to retain faith in your outdated victorian church…you talk about intellect and spirituality as if they are two entirely seperate human functions, if you believe we are created by god then every function of our spirit mind and body is intrinsically linked, rather than thinking that some saints failed the test, maybe the truth is they passed with flying colours, to open their minds, to see clearly, to use their powers of discernment, using their God given intellect, the combination of spirit and mind.
    How many times are you going to look at the many idiotic things Brigham Young said, the huge lack of archaelogical evidence to support the BOM.
    The lying polygamus activities of Joseph Smith with girls as young as 14 and some still married to others, etc etc etc and say “Oh, its a test of faith” I did recieve a spiritual testimoney that the BOM is nothing more than a product of Josephs Smiths mind. and Gary…all religions have the power to cast out bad spirits and do regularly, infact many folk who are not connected in any way to any specific religion do it regularly, we all have the powerto overcome bad spirits, if not we would all be constantly getting possesed. Unfortunately with the exception of the North American Shaman most folk don’t know what the hell they are dealing with and should leave well alone. and please…don’t fall into the trap of thinking that members leave because they are seduced by the dark side and start to fail in their church duties…its quite the opposite, they start to wake up from the matrix like church indoctrinated crap and start seeing and feeling and experiencing all the spiritual wonders of this planet for themselves.

  33. Whiskas (and any others lurking on this site who share Whiskas’ emotions and outlook),

    I have often wondered why it is that some folks just can’t stand the idea that there are Mormons out there who actually beleive in their religion. I mean, I know there are Catholic blogs out there, and blogs that cater to Evangelicals, charismatics, etc., but it has never even once ocurred to me to go to such sites and then post on them derogatory comments about their religious beliefs. Yet, it happens on Mormon sites, such as T&S, all the time. And we’re supposed to smile and say we like it!

    My own personal experience tells me that people who are entirely comfortable with their own spiritual walk seldom feel the need to hunt down others who feel differently and insult their beliefs. Oh well, I guess it comes with the territory—we claim to be the “only true and living church”, so we should expect that others will go out of their way to attack that claim. Still, does that justify going to a website devoted to believing adherents of a different religion than one’s own, and calling their religious beliefs, “crap”?

  34. Gary,
    I don’t think Mormons do it, but people do in fact go to evangelical websites and Catholic blogs to say spiteful things. They’re usually people like Whiskas who hate organized religion or else fundamentalist secularites.

  35. With any luck, the Whiskas silliness is behind us.

    Adam: I recognize that my initial comments were in the context of people who leave the faith, although I am not sure that I see a large difference between them and others who never embrace it. I am not comfortable accusing those who leave the faith as having rejected God or the testimony of the Spirit thereby meriting some level of condemnation. I don’t see how a person who, in good faith, after study, pondering and praying changes her mind about her former beliefs is guilty of sin. It is one thing to reject God and his teachings. It is quite another to come to the conclusion that a certain set of teachings do not come from God. When we tell people to rely upon their spiritual experiences as evidence of the truth claims of the LDS church, we are telling them that these experiences are a better way of knowing truth than is the rational process of studying and evaluating the existing objective evidence. That teaching itself demands a rational proof. How do we know that a burning in the bosom is a more reliable means of knowing truth? What exactly is a spiritual witness? How should we interpret the spiritual experiences we have? Are there other explanations for them than the explanations we once gave them? These are legitimate questions about which reasonable people can disagree. I have trouble accepting the proposition that a person who, after a process of study and prayer, comes to the conclusion that previous spiritual impressions should be reinterpreted, is guilty of sin. I would think differently if I thought that God had communicated his will unambiguously and perhaps he has done so for some people. I do not believe that he has done so for a great many people, and as long as the evidence is ambiguous I can’t be too critical of those whose conclusions are different from my own.

  36. Gary,

    You should not be critical, nor need you accuse, anyone. From your post it is clear that you do not. God is in charge of all that.

    You seem to think that it is an innocent and therefore uncondemnable error to take sight or argument over faith. You want faith to be supreme based on some “rational argument”. This is to once again put rational argument in the commander’s chair. We return to God because we are “filled with light”. Tha light is a love of God and Truth. Although reason is one way to figure out that truth, it is not the only way. God can give faith, not as an experience that is analyzed, but as a gift in response to prayer.

    There are many very dumb people out there who are going to get to heaven. Their lack of understanding of even a simple syllogism is not relevant. So I don’t see that rational discourse is neccesary or sufficient for exaltation.

    All reasoned conclusions are based on some set of untestable assumptions anyway. So faith not only precedes the miracle, it precedes reason.

  37. We may be misunderstanding each other. Perhaps an answer to this question will clarify our respecitve positions. If two people, Mr. Apples and Mr. Oranges, have recieved a spiritual witness from God in the form of a burning in the bosom, and later they run across intellectual problems or what not, and after a period of reflection and doubt Mr. Apples decides to stick with the faith and Mr. Oranges does not, both making their decisions sincerely and in the service of what they see to be truth, do you think that God is equally pleased?

    P.S. I don’t know how much this affects your point, but I think I disagree that direct spiritual experience is a kind of input that needs to be rationally analyzed. When the Spirit has rested on me, it seems to me that I didn’t need to analyze what the experience meant. I simply knew, directly, as part of the experience. These moments of grace, for me at least, seem far more primal than any other kind of input, so instead of weighing them in the balance together I view the latter through the lens of the first.

  38. I agree that God can give faith as a gift, and I think I lean toward the view that this is the only way to get it. Frank, I don’t know that I want some rational reason to support the primacy of faith, but I probably do want some rational reason to accept the proposition that spiritual experiences are a reliable means of knowing certain things. For example, is a burning in the bosom experience a reliable way to know whether there were real Nephites? Why or why not? If somebody does not accept that, or does not believe that a burning in the bosom should be interpreted as a confirmation that there were real Nephites, why would such a person be condemned by God for their lack of understanding?

    In answer to Adam’s hypothetical, yes, I think God is equally pleased. I don’t think that God can ask for more from Mr. Oranges. Now, if Mr. Oranges leaves the faith because he chooses not to conform his life to what he knows or believes to be God’s will, then he is to be justly criticized. However, if he is doing what he genuinely believes is right, I don’t believe that a just God will condemn him for that choice.

  39. well, nice reply folks, firstly let me answer some of your comments, Adam ” I don’t think Mormons do it” sorry guys absolute twaddle, I have read so many incredibly rude messagaes from angry mormons on other sites because someone dared to suggest mormonism might not be %100 true.
    Gary…”With any luck, the Whiskas silliness is behind us.”
    Gary rather than being rude you could have attemted to reply to some of my ( not so silly ) comments, I was attempting to point out that the reason some people leave the church is often a combination of spiritual and intelectual reasons, and conclusions drawn following the heart, mind and soul.
    I very briefly listed a few reasons why people might struggle with the church, each one containing a thousand details, eg. how can you reconcile the fact that Brigham Young said blacks will never recieve the blessings of the priesthood untill all the descendants of Able have recieved the priesthood?
    The Farms answer is something along the lines of he was’nt speaking as a prophet when he said that. hmm…convenient.
    And Adam, I don’t hate organized religions…just arrogant ones who profess to have the…”only true and living church”. Yes and sadness at the wealth of God given spirituality your missing out on, have you ever been taken on an upperworld shamanic journey? have you ever felt the joy of dancing the 5 rhythms? have you ever felt and seen your soul whilst meditating in the peace and tranquility of a Buddhist temple?
    Don’t call me silly.

  40. Thank you for that answer, Gary Lee. I think that clears up where we disagree.
    For me, what Mr. Apples does must be more pleasing to God than what Mr. Oranges does or I don’t see why God would ask us for faith at all. Mr. Apples chose to have faith, Mr. Oranges didn’t, and that must matter somehow. I think the reason is that the burning in the bosom isn’t just an experimental result. Tossing a pebble in a well, hearing a splash, and concluding there’s water is different than praying about the Book of Mormon and getting an answer. The second is a communication from God that impinges on you directly. You dont’ need to make connections or causal links or analysis. So when God gives us trials or tests of faith he’s trying to see if we’ll rely on analysis or on our experience of Him. That’s why faith matters.

  41. Gary Lee,

    I agree with Adam’s comment. Let me add another view on the same thing. Suppose God judges us based solely on what we do given the faith we possess. Then what you are saying makes perfect sense. To whom much (faith) is given, much is required.

    But suppose our level of faith is something we have in fact determined by our actions or lack of action. Then we can be condemned for a lack of action that stems from a lack of faith that stems from our failure to get the faith.

    Both of these cases occur. Only God can tell them apart. So he is the one to condemn or reward. But our level of faith is something for which we are at least partly responsible. To the extent that this is true, we can be punished or rewarded based on our faith or lack of faith.

  42. Adam and Frank,

    Have you ever been mistaken about whether an experience was actually revelation? Have you ever known someone who has been? How do your views account for such cases?

    It seems that the consequence of your views is that a person is justly condemned by God just in case they move from belief in something that is true to something that is false, regardless of whether and how they come to those beliefs.

  43. Mr. Grasshopper,
    We’re talking about a narrower set. Not every move from truth to falsehood, but the move from recieving revelation to rejecting it.

  44. Adam and Frank: It is Grasshopper’s questions or variants thereof that prompted some of my own. I have been mistaken in the past. I know others who have. I don’t believe that spiritual experiences are as reliable as I believe you do. I believe that we do have to make connections or causal links, to use Adam’s terms. For example, suppose I sit in general conference and feel peace as I listen to the prophet speak. Suppose I am moved to tears by feelings of love, or joy or even sorrow for sin. What does that mean? I don’t think those experiences are self interpreting. There is no unmediated and unfiltered communication from God, at least not in my own experience. It all ends up in my brain for processing, so I can avoid relying upon the arm of flesh to make sense of it all. So when Adam says that God gives us tests of faith to determine whether we will rely on our own analysis or on him, I don’t see how the test of faith actually accomplishes that result. I don’t see it as a test of whether I will rely upon him. Instead, I see it as test of my loyalty to God, but of my preferred epistemology. If I don’t know whether those feelings we ascribe to the Spirit really come from the Spirit, and if I don’t really know what they mean, then my conclusion that other objective evidence is to be preferred to spiritual evidence should not be considered a rejection of God himself.

    I acknowledge that there is a certain tension between my opinions and scripture. I am trying to resolve this tension. It does seem that we are commanded to have faith and to be believing. I just don’t yet see the connection between lack of faith and a moral failing and I don’t understand why a just God would condemn us for our good faith beliefs. I know too many wonderful people who have no faith and too many not so wonderful people who do. Perhaps Frank is right that our actions determine our faith. I think that is certainly true to some extent. However, I still think I observe too many people who have no faith, but whose actions are at least as good as the actions of many who do. Maybe Calvin was right–some are the elect and others are not, and that is just the way it is.

    Whiskas: I apologize for my rude comment. However you might want to reconsider your general approach. You seemed rather insulting and not terribly interested in contributing to this discussion in a substantive manner. I don’t think this is the thread to address the particular objections you may have to the church.

  45. I missed a couple of “nots” in my last post. I meant to say that I can not avoid relying upon the arm of flesh.

    I also meant to say that I see it, NOT as a test of my loyalty to God, but as a test of my preferred epistemology.

    Sorry about that.

  46. Gary,

    Actions relevant to developing faith are largely unobserved. So the fact that you see people observably the same with different outcomes is to be expected, since their unobservable actions may be wildly different. This is, of course, one of the reasons why we cannot condemn others. Let me reiterate that I am only saying there is some link between actions and faith, not that all faith stems from specific actions. Like you, I only believe the faith/action link explains faith “to some extent”.


    I don’t have to account for “such cases”. God does, because God does the punishing and rewarding. He gets to determine when we have failed and when we have not. He determines what constitutes an acceptable error in judgement and what is a failure to love God and believe in Him. I am arguing that there exist tests of faith and that our level of faith is in part a consequence of our “actions and obedience. Thus there is some part of our faith level for which we are accountable. See Alma 32 for the well-known discussion of this process, or note this interesting passage in D&C 63:9-12.

    Perhaps this does not answer your question about what Adam and I are claiming. In which case I am missing something in your post.

  47. Frank, perhaps I have misread you and Adam. Here is what I understand you to be saying:

    If a person has received true revelation and later sincerely concludes that it was not true revelation after all, that person is under condemnation, whereas the person who has received true revelation and never concludes that it wasn’t is not under condemnation. (cf. Adam’s Apples & Oranges comparison)

    Is this an accurate restatement?

    I agree with you that God “determines what constitutes an acceptable error in judgment and what is a failure to love God and believe in Him”. But it seems to me that the claim above takes this role in determining that concluding that true revelation wasn’t really true revelation after all is not an acceptable error in judgment.

    I agree with you also that there exist tests of faith, but agree with Gary Lee’s comment above that such tests make sense when they deal with doing something we believe to be right, even when difficult, rather than doing something we believe to be wrong.

    (The issue of changing beliefs at all is somewhat problematic, because it likely entails going against what we previously believed to be right, but if we are to view conversion to the truth positively, we must accept such a change as at least potentially positive.)

  48. I think “sincerely” is a weasel word. If Cain “sincerely believed” that Abel should die and that it was best to follow Satan, I would still not be inclined to say that made his action okay.

    But I agree that many people may not follow the gospel because “they know not where to find it”. This gets them a Terrestrial glory. Are you arguing that they deserve more? If so, please help me understand the meaning of the scriptures I have just linked to.

  49. Frank: I don’t know about Grasshopper, but I would argue that they deserve more. I don’t think it would be just for God to withhold eternal blessings from somebody for the sole reason that they knew not where to find the gospel. Do you argue that this would be just?

    With respect to your point that faith is, to some extent, determined by our actions, does it then follow that we are really judged for our actions and not our faith? To the extent that faith is a consequence of moral conduct, then it is not lack of faith, but our failure to act morally that is the real problem.

  50. Gary Lee,

    Are you saying you don’t understand the scripture on terrestrial glory or that you don’t believe it? Presumably you believe it but are wondering why it should be so.

    I think your second paragraph suggests one reason. I also think that we don’t really have a very good grasp on what makes one person accept and another person reject something. Since this is the case, it is not implausible that God sees in these failures what we cannot, namely evidence that the person loves things more than they love God. Or they are not “full of light” sufficient to seek out the truth, or whatever.

    I think this is a very interesting topic, but I am in the middle of something so I’ll have to flesh out my thoughts some other time.

  51. Whiskas: Has the entire christian community run a-muck because it holds to the basic tenant that the Savior is the Way the Thruth and the Light and that no individual can know the Father except through Him?

  52. Whiskas: No, but have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon, or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins? I don’t think so, Mr. Smarty Pants. Just kidding–joke–etc.

  53. Gary…I was contributing to the discussion, I was a member of your church for 9 years and was replying to the thread of people falling away from the church and where faith fits into that decision, I feel fairly well qualified to comment on that subject, however unfortunately you choose to ignore the meat of my email and concentrate on the fact that I said crap in the last sentence.
    Spirituality is a beautifull thing, I constantly strive and search for experiences of the soul, being a spiritual soul means having the ability to see spirituality in others…not ignoring and being rude to them…I do have comments to give to the thread, however you and your colleagues have made it perfectly clear I am to be ignored.
    So be it.

  54. Frank: “Are you saying you don’t understand the scripture on terrestrial glory or that you don’t believe it?”

    Is there another option, or do I have to choose one of the above? I choose neither (a) nor (b), but (c). I don’t believe that the scripture teaches that those who did not accept the gospel for the sole reason that they know not where to find it are confined to the Terrestrial Kingdom. The scripture in Section 123 which describes these people says nothing about their eternal destiny, so I am not sure why you believe that they will go to the Terrestrial Kingdom. (In case you are wondering, I don’t think that being blinded by the craftiness of men, which is the term used in Section 76, is the same thing as not knowing where to find the gospel.)

    I hope you don’t think I am being too bone headed about this. This issue is part of a bigger issue which I am struggling to understand, and that is what is the nature of faith and why is it important. I am leaning to the view that faith has very little to do with one’s beliefs, and that one’s beliefs are of no particular concern to God. That sounds a bit odd, I know, but I can’t make sense of the alternative. I look forward to your further explication.

  55. I can’t believe I wrote *tenant* instead of *tenet*! Oh well, I guess “there has to be error” sometimes.

  56. Frank wrote:

    I think “sincerely” is a weasel word. If Cain “sincerely believed” that Abel should die and that it was best to follow Satan, I would still not be inclined to say that made his action okay.

    But if Nephi “sincerely believed” that Laban should die, then his action is okay, right?

    The difference here seems to be just that one action actually was right and the other wasn’t. As I said above, a person is condemned just in case his belief is actually incorrect.

    The other alternative is to say that Cain didn’t really believe that killing Abel was right, and that he did it, believing that it was wrong — and thus failed the test.

    In addition to the scriptures you cited, there are those that teach that those without the law are not condemned and that he who sins against the greater light receives the greater condemnation.

    In a sense, this goes against our intuitions. If something is wrong, then it’s wrong, even if the person doing it doesn’t think so, and he’s responsible for it. But it seems that the above scriptures teach differently. We are taught also that each person will be judged according to the light and knowledge she has received, not the light and knowledge somebody else has received.

    Gary, I’m not sure I agree that “one’s beliefs are of no particular concern to God.” I think it’s possible for God to want people to hold certain beliefs and adhere to them, while still holding people accountable only for the limited light they have received. That is why the scriptures applaud those who seek further light and knowledge and condemn those who say “we have enough.”

  57. Grasshopper: Fair point. Correct beliefs are always better than incorrect beliefs, and God wants us to hold to correct beliefs. All I really meant to say was that we are not judged by our ability to arrive at correct conclusions. As a result, I don’t think that God tests our faith by asking us to believe in certain things against our best judgment. I am not sure that is even a logical possibility. How do I have faith in something which my best judgment tells me is not true? I think that the faith which God requires of us must be something else.

  58. Grasshopper,

    I am sorry if my comments are so badly written that you think I don’t agree with everything you just said :) I most certainly am not saying that we are accountable for our entire endowment of faith and knowledge. Some of it is environmental or whatever. That’s fine. That is what the scriptures say and I totally agree (how could I not?).

    The point I am trying to make is that, in addition to what you have said, some part of the light and knowledge one possesses is a function of one’s actions. In that case, one is responsible for believing incorrectly when those incorrect beliefs are the result of one’s failures to develop light.

    I looked into the two stories and I think the differences are worth reading about. The difference between Cain and Nephi is that one courted the light, and so believed truth and could receive it. The other, apparently, courted darkness, and so, perhaps, believed lies.

    Even if Cain sincerely believed he should kill Abel, he was wrong. And that matters because he had the opportunity in his life to learn a different path. Cain had the greater light and he turned from it. His later sincerity or lack thereof then loses its importance. He can be justly damned for his actions, regardless of his current beliefs, because he had been given the light and turned from it. His current state of darkness is no defense. It is a defense for those who have always been in darkness but will accept the gospel given a chance.

    Gary Lee,

    Sorry about my failure to include option c). I though of it and then got distracted. Take a look at the two scriptures I cited. Both use the phrase “blinded by the [subtle] craftiness of men”. This is the phrase that shows that one’s blindness is related to one’s salvation. I take this to mean that it is possible to be held accountable for failing to know things (for being blind). Obviously, we are only accountable if we, in fact, could have known those things but failed to seek truth (or whatever). All I did was note the cross reference between the two. Also, note the separate case of Section 137 (linked in my comment to Grasshopper) where the Lord discusses those that never get a shot at the truth.

    I think I might try to put together a seperate post on developing faith because it is an interesting topic worthy of many threads…

  59. Frank,

    one is responsible for believing incorrectly when those incorrect beliefs are the result of one’s failures to develop light.

    I would rephrase this slightly: “One is responsible for believing incorrectly when those incorrect beliefs are the result of one’s failures to strive to develop light.” I don’t think the Lord condemns those, who in their earnest striving, are mistaken. And that’s the key distinction I see between what I have been trying to articulate and what I have understood you to be saying.

    Then the question becomes: Is it possible for someone who is earnestly striving to mistakenly fall away from truth they have received?

  60. “strive to” is fine.

    If you thought that _I_ thought God condemned us for not developing what we didn’t really have the ability to develop I can understand why you would find that a peculiar view.

  61. Whiskas: Has the entire Christian community run a-muck because it holds to the basic tenant that the Saviour is the Way the Truth and the Light and that no individual can know the Father except through Him? Comment by: Jack at June 30, 2004 06:24 PM

    Jack as radical as this may sound…”yes”…but before you dismiss me as being flippant please listen to my reasoning, it is of no news to any one, that religion has been the cause of wars, deaths, tortures and just about every human form of physical and mental abuse throughout the centuries…and why?
    Because every member of every religion wants to sincerely believe they belong to “The One” that is to say the one true religion that is closest to God, So the Arabs argue with the Jews that Ishmael and not Isaac was “The One” the Christians argue with both that Christ was “The One” therefore they are closer to God, within the Christian denominations the Catholics argue they are the closest to God because they can trace their lineage back to Christ, yourselves, (and I don’t wish to sound disrespectful ) insist you are “The ones” because you have the “restored truth”…
    I had a holiday in Turkey last year, we visited an old castle, inside the castle it told the story of how during the Christian crusades they were invaded by Christian soldiers who slaughtered and maimed men women and children…in the name of God…because the Turks were the infidels…because the Christians were “better”…closer to God…the chosen ones…I remember watching old black and white films as a young boy about the crusades, those tall strong handsome young men dressed in white, ridding the world of bullies and tyrants…but I later came to learn it was in fact the Christian Crusaders who were the bullies and tyrants. You see it is all this insistence that “we are the ones” that creates the hatred, the jealousy, the fighting, the pain and suffering…all in the name of God.

    So yes, I would love to see all religions put down their differences and for the sake of world peace…stop trying to be “The One”.
    And yes I truly believe as long as Christians or any faith keeps saying you have to abide by my religions set of rules in order to get into heaven, then we continue to perpetuate jealousy and hatred amongst one another. We must stop saying “We are right”, above all others.

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