Monday, February 17, 2014

Personal revelation (subjective experience) as the basis of conviction.

Living in an area where much of the population is LDS provides a unique atmosphere where discussions on topics related to religious belief often arise. A few of my closest LDS friends and I have pressed one another on such matters to points that might make others feel uncomfortable or violated. Both sides usually begin these conversations by appealing to less subjective factors like history, science, and philosophy. Occasionally, though, a Mormon friend eventually claims that their primary, and sometimes only reason for believing rests on what they call a personal revelation or personal witness. I can sympathize with such claims since I too see experience as essential to one's spiritual life; however I am convinced that insurmountable problems arise for those who rely on subjective bases alone or when other factors clearly contradict their interpretation of their subjective experience.

For instance, imagine there are three women, one Muslim, one Christian, and one Jewish. They all claim that they know their religion is true because God has shown this truth to them through personal revelation. However, all three of these faith traditions have competing claims. If Jesus is in fact the divine Son of God, then Islam and Judaism are, at least in this regard, in error. Likewise, if Muhammad is God's last prophet, then Judaism and Christianity are in error. Put simply, not all of these women can be equally correct in their convictions. Figuring out whether a faith tradition is true can be difficult (some might say impossible) work, so the three women might settle for saying "my faith is right for me, but maybe yours is right for you." Under such a view religious affiliation becomes little more significant than one's preferred color or food. Additionally, the claim of the LDS faith and many other faith traditions is a strong, authoritative one. The LDS faith, according to its official doctrines, claims not to be just one of many different-but-equal options, but the most true religion. Such a claim, as any good debater or philosopher knows, places the burden of proof on the LDS faith.

"The LDS church is true because the Holy Spirit revealed to me that it is so" and similar claims cannot be used to surpass this burden of proof since such a claim is relevant only to the subject making the claim. One can always fall back on "try it for yourself and then you will see," but what if the individual challenged does try and still isn't convinced? I doubt members of the LDS faith would be comfortable concluding that this disproves their faith tradition.

Authoritative claims require proofs or arguments that are understandable and sound to all parties involved in a dialogue. I invite LDS voices to respond to my post so that I might better understand why Mormons stay Mormon and so I might be corrected where I have made errors in this post.