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.


  1. The falsehood or truthfulness of a certain religion or set of doctrines is utterly and completely irrelevant. Ultimately, faith is a way of life, and even if one were to know and believe the truth, it is pointless unless one is willing to live it, and become one with it. People choose in accordance to that which is in them, in their being. And that which is there, and which motivates their choice, ultimately bears fruit. And the name of that fruit is either heaven, or hell, which are ways of life or existence, whose nature is as everlasting as the soul itself.

    1. Thank you for your contribution. While I agree that truth is irrelevant if one is not willing to live in accordance with it, that by no means undermines the value of truth. If one fails to seek what is true they are doing themselves a disservice and living in a manner that is not intellectually honest. We should not fall into the trap of thinking truth is only important if it has utility, either. Pursuing truth for its own sake is a noble endeavor.

  2. This has always been something that I have wondered about. How do we know when its the Holy Spirit or a delusion since different people are convinced of different things? It makes it hard to know if one is on the right path since we cant trust ourselves.

    According to the Fathers praying for a spiritual experience is the quickest way to delusion. The path to true knowledge of God is one of humility and repentance.

    Father Seraphim Rose put this really well:

    The same striving for "holy and divine feelings," the same openness and willingness to be "seized" by a spirit, the same seeking not for God but for "spiritual consolations," the same self-intoxication which is mistaken for a "state of grace," the same incredible ease with which one becomes "contemplative" or "mystical," the same "mystical revelations" and pseudospiritual states. These are the common characteristics of all who are in this particular state of spiritual deception … Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Orthodox spiritual discipline will see that [the] pitiable "Christian yogi" has fallen handily into a trap set by one of the lesser demons that lie in wait for the seeker of "spiritual experiences:" he has not even seen an "angel of light," but has only given way to his own "religious fancies," the product of a heart and mind totally unprepared for spiritual warfare and the deceptions of the demons.