77-78: Recognizing “the Spirit”

March 7, 2012
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Most of us were raised with the idea that even amidst all of life’s confusion, if we live in a certain way and follow clear steps to put ourselves in the right frame of mind and heart, we have the right and ability to know for certain God’s will and wisdom for us through communication via the Holy Ghost/Holy Spirit. For many of us, however, as we grow older and encounter various findings in science and psychology about biological and sociological biases, or as we experience disappointments and other types of complexities, our confidence in this simple formula for recognizing and hearing the Spirit, and sometimes even the very existence of this promised Comforter and Guide, begins to wane. Can we ever truly “know” what is true, or what is best for us? If so, how? If not, how can we still live richly and with confidence in the choices we make, as well as our decisions about what life means?

In this two-part episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Kristine Haglund, Scott Holley, and Michael Ferguson explore these questions and much more.

In Part 1 (Episode 77), they introduce and discuss findings from brain science and other academic disciplines about how “experience the world.” It might be considered the more “educational” half of the podcast–lots of fascinating information to take in and consider, but until near the end not a lot of direct consideration of the Holy Ghost dilemma.

In Part 2 (Episode 78), they add in an overview of LDS teachings regarding the processes of receiving “personal revelation” and about whether or not we can truly have certainty when we are experiencing a prompting or message from the Holy Spirit versus something more mixed up with our emotions, hopes, dreams, and various cognitive biases. In the final section, the panelists also all share some about how they personally work through this challenging issue of knowing when/if they are experiencing “Spirit,” why even in awareness of all the complicating factors they still don’t move into full-on skepticism, remaining alive to the possibilities for rich and deeper living that are there for exploring in what might be considered the “realm of Spirit.”

We would love to have you join in the conversation in the comments section below!

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55 Responses to 77-78: Recognizing “the Spirit”

  1. Tim
    March 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    “Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil. . . When a man enquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if he is deceived
    by his own carnal desires, and is in error, he will receive an answer
    according to his erring heart, but it will not be a revelation from the
    Lord.” — Joseph Smith

    • Scottholley
      March 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      Thanks Tim!  Since everyone has carnal desires, how does one know when they are being deceived by their carnal desires?  Doesn’t seem like a real workable model in telling the difference between a revelation of God and a revelation of man/the devil.  

      • CliffB
        March 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm

         Is the carnal desire driven by biology alone, or is there a mental component to it?  Therein lies the solution to your question.  He who hath clean hands and a pure heart, you know. 

    • Ray
      March 9, 2012 at 4:06 am

      Tim,

      Just wondering if you are familiar with the context in which that quote was uttered.

      Ray

      • ff42
        March 9, 2012 at 6:20 pm

        IIRC this was in response to the failed effort to sell the Book of Mormon copyright in Canada.

        • Ray
          March 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm

          Yeah. That’s it. I can see many people using this quote without realizing that it is in response to a failed prophecy. Without the historical context, the quote really loses something.

          • March 31, 2012 at 6:08 pm

            I disagree, Ray. The proper context is exactly as it should be and it doesn’t take away anything from the quote. Even prophets are human. I can speak from personal experience of living life two different ways and the difference in what I felt and experienced through the spirit and how it manifests. And looking back I could see easily when I was misguided. .But thankfully even when I was led astray by the Adversary, or the Flesh, I was always brought back to the truth and the right path because of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Anonymous
    March 8, 2012 at 2:32 am

    Good podcast. Thanks to the panel.

    This discussion deals with a lot of ideas that are common in Mormonism, but pretty unusual in traditional Christianity. For example, non-Mormons are often taken aback by the idea that anyone has a right to revelation. Most non-Mormons believe, at least on a theological level, that humanity has no right to receive revelation or anything else from God — i.e., that everything is a gift from God, and that anything to which we have a right cannot, by definition, be a gift.

    Another idea (or at least an implication) that non-Mormons sometimes resent is the idea that only Mormons believe in revelation. There are a lot of missionaries who have had the experience of announcing to non-Mormons that “The heavens are open!” and receiving in response, “Well, I’ve never heard anyone say that they were closed.”

  3. March 8, 2012 at 3:15 am

    Can we create mind robots?

  4. March 8, 2012 at 3:45 am

    “The gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be… experienced as a sensation or emotion [which] are merely the response of your nervous system.”

    That’s C.S. Lewis, who once worried about someone’s conversion, precisely because she was “a trifle too excited”, he said in a letter to her. The rest of the letter is actually a pretty insightful commentary about the difference between “the Spirit” and “sensation or emotion”. Here it is:

    “The only unfavorable symptom is that you are just a trifle too excited. It is quite right that you should feel that ’something terrific’ has happened to you …. Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean that it is not the sensations that are the real thing.”

    “The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be – perhaps not ever – experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once again emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be operative when you can feel it least.”

    “Don’t imagine it is all going to be ‘an exciting adventure from now on.’ It won’t. Excitement, of whatever sort, never lasts. This is the push to start you off on your first bicycle: you’ll be left to lots of dogged pedaling later on. And no need to feel depressed about it either. It will be good for your spiritual leg muscles. So enjoy the push while it lasts, but enjoy it as a treat, not as something normal.”

    [Source: Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. W.H. Lewis (New York: Hartcourt, 1966) 241]

    • Michael Ferguson
      March 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks for bringing this up, Joe. This begs a series of interesting questions. For example, how do we know C.S. Lewis got it right? What if the reason he felt the “dogged pedalling” and the loss of adventure was because he had somehow stepped outside the full gale force wind the Spirit can blow? I’ve wondered this before, too, in regard to the idea of a “dark night of the soul.” Does this concept of a “dark night of the soul” really reflect something necessary in the spiritual life? How does one discriminate between a “dark night” brought on by God hiding his light from them, versus the more likely scenario of our own unwillingness or shyness from the full brightness of heaven? Some food for thought!

      • Tyler Renshaw
        March 13, 2012 at 6:57 pm

        Good thoughts, Michael. (Also, I really appreciated the perspective you brought to the podcast; the brain-talk provided some good food for thought!) Yet given what you say above, I’m left wondering why it matters so much, if at all, that Lewis (or me, or you, or anybody) “gets it right” regarding explanations for why we’re “feeling the Spirit” (or not)? And if it really does matter, is there a method for figuring out if we’ve got it right or not? Like usual, I’ve got no answers here, but I’m interested to hear any thoughts you might have on it!

        Descriptively speaking, it seems that the experience of the Spirit involves both bodily feeling and cognitive sense-making, and that you can’t have one without the other. But how do we *explain* it? I don’t know. Maybe John 3:8 is the best answer?

    • Tyler Renshaw
      March 13, 2012 at 6:35 pm

      Very interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing, Joe. 

      Although fun to think about, Lewis’ idea leaves me a bit dry. My take on the spirit is more pragmatic, more experiential. Lewis seems to be saying “it’s there even if you can’t feel it’s there,” suggesting that the real thing is something bigger, or underneath, or behind what we experience. And I tend to lean more towards “it’s there *only* when you feel it’s there”–meaning that the real thing *is* the experience itself, the felt feeling–whether emotion or some other bodily experience. 

      This leaves me wondering if Lewis was just not very keen on the idea of “spirit as excitement”? (Or happiness, or joy, or any other short-lived, pleasurable emotion.) Because if he thinks the Spirit’s still there when the pleasurable emotion leaves, he’s got to have some reason for thinking that–and it seems plausible, to me, that it some other kind of felt experience he’s going off of–some other kind of *feeling.*

      So the question that interests me is, “What is that feeling he’s grounding his experience of the Spirit in, if not pleasurable emotion? Or, in other words, what’s the Spirit *feel like,* besides just good?” I personally don’t have any answers for that, but I’d sure be interested in others’ answers!

  5. March 8, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Excellent podcast! One thing I wanted to add to the discussion of biases at the end is that we are biased towards simplicity by the physical universe itself. We do not have infinite time and resources with which to make our decisions. The decision making process is therefore an act of gathering as much information as possible within our constraints and then acting and hoping for the best. Those situations that I choose to call miraculous are precisely those times when, after having given it my best shot, I pray or hope for additional help and experience something serendipitous. Where I think faith in a higher power can come into this discussion over and over again is in our acknowledging that there will always be some occasions when our need (or at least our desire) for help is greater than our ability to produce it. On these occasions pretty much every human being exercises faith of some kind, even though he or she may not call it that.

    • Michael Adam Ferguson
      March 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Has there been a MM podcast focussed on the topic of miracles yet, Dan? That would be a fascinating discussion, IMO. Carl, re: the bias toward simplicity, let me chew on this for a little. I like the trend toward applying simple physical laws to higher order systems. Jeremy Rifkin discusses the relationships between entropy and empathy in his book “The Empathic Civilisation”–I perceive a parallel between his thoughts and the note you make regarding simplicity bias, but I’ll need to think through it more carefully. Great comments!

    • ®øß
      March 12, 2012 at 7:51 am

      I completely agree Carl. Fractals (like the Mandelbrot set for instance) are a case in point. I’m sure a great discussion could be had on this essential concept.

  6. Kristine Haglund
    March 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Joe, you’d think that in 3+ hours, I’d have managed to remember this, but now I’m sorry I didn’t mention a C.S. Lewis book that has been really helpful to me in navigating these questions–his novel Till We Have Faces. I won’t spoil the plot, but it portrays two sisters, with very different approaches to God, one seems cheerfully faithful and confident in the way one supposes Mormons “ought” to be, and the other is uncertain, full of doubt, angry at God, and resentful of her sister’s blithe certainty and joy. In the end, both sisters are redeemed, both of their struggles are worthy and faithful, and they realize they have been traveling the same path all along. I read it first when I was about 15, and I think I might not have made it through a lot of Youth Conferences if I hadn’t had that model of a different, less sunny sort of faith.

  7. Larrin
    March 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I would really like to get a list of all of the quotes read in the discussion

    • Scottholley
      March 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      Larrin – send me an email at scottholley at google’s finest webmail service.  :)

      • Anonymous
        March 10, 2012 at 2:10 am

        Scott, can you just post them here?

  8. Paula
    March 8, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    Wonderful podcast.  Dan summed it up well…”great minds and great hearts”.  As I trudge through my faith crisis,  I feel so betrayed by my “feelings”.  Mormon Matters and this episode in particular, provide a realistic mix of reason and feeling that is so helpful to me.  Thank you.

    • Kristine Haglund
      March 10, 2012 at 12:28 am

       So glad it was helpful, Paula. Thanks for your kind words.

  9. Jacob Brown
    March 9, 2012 at 3:25 am

    I really think y’all should have done two separate podcasts at least. One should have been about Mormon epistemology, and the other should have been about spiritual experiences. I know that modern Mormonism has entangled these two so much, but aren’t they really very different things?!?

    Splitting them up would at least given us a chance to process this overloaded podcast in two smaller chunks. I don’t even know how to respond to the enormous amount of material covered in this podcast. I have so much to say and discuss but I don’t even know where to start.

    Instead, I’ll just say that I personally appreciate Scott’s contribution. It seemed like he was always right there with a question that I was ready to ask. Oh yeah, and Kristine, you didn’t talk near enough! You’re gonna have to learn to plow through these chatty-box men! Just kidding. :)

    • Scottholley
      March 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm

      Jacob, I totally agree with you.  The experience of, telling of, and interpretation of spiritual experiences got very short shrift in this podcast and definitely deserves more attention!  Frankly I probably am in too ambiguous a position right now to be the best person to discuss these issues.  Glad that you enjoyed the commentary on the biases, etc.!

  10. Anonymous
    March 9, 2012 at 9:02 am

    I think I would have to conclude that there is no difference
    between spirit and emotions, but I don’t feel that has to negate our claim to
    being divine, or that we don’t posses a “spirit”.  My spirit is my body, and so are all my
    emotions and thoughts.   This seems like a much healthier approach
    because then we know not to trust anything with absolute certainty, even it’s
    accompanied by “the fruits of the spirit” or the “wisdom of man”.  

  11. Allen
    March 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    As a teenager I remember attending a
    fireside where Elder Paul H. Dunn spoke about his experiences as a soldier
    during WWII and as a baseball player for the St Louis Cardinals.  These
    same stories appeared in Dunn’s 50+ books and inspirational cassette
    tapes.  While reading or listening to many of these I remember distinctly
    receiving several spiritual witnesses verifying that what he was
    saying was true.  At least that is what I believed at the time.  These were among the first spiritual
    witnesses I experienced as a youth.  Elder Dunn’s stories elicited very
    strong emotions within me that set the standard for all subsequent
    “spiritual witnesses” that came later.

     

    In 1991 a story appeared in the
    Arizona Republic and Salt Lake Tribune listing BYU professor Lynn
    Packer’s research concerning Elder Dunn’s claims about his faith promoting
    experiences during WWII and as a professional baseball player. 
    The BYU professor found that none of these stories were
    true.  Dunn made them all up.  When Dunn was confronted about
    them, he acknowledged to The Arizona Republic that these stories and
    others were untrue, but he defended the fabrications as necessary to illustrate
    his theological and moral points.  He added that he was, “…simply
    putting history in little finer packages”.  Shortly after this story
    broke Elder Dunn was put on emeritus status for “health reasons” and
    moved quietly into the background.

     

    When I learned about Dunn’s contrived
    stories about two years ago, all sorts of questions and thoughts flooded
    into my mind such as:  How could I receive a spiritual witness of the
    truthfulness of a complete fabrication?  Was I manufacturing my own
    epiphanies to satisfy my strong desires to fit into a social
    organization?  Are these “burning-in-the bosom” emotions based
    on one’s desire for something to be true, rather than actual truth? 

     

    Sincere individuals in other
    religions claim to have experienced similar “feelings” about the
    truthfulness of their belief system just as I had with Mormonism.  If
    individuals in other religions are receiving “witnesses” that
    verify the authenticity of their convictions; which conflict with and
    contradict each another, then spiritual witnesses are an unreliable method
    of establishing truth.  These “witnesses” happen millions of times a day
    all over the world in dozens of religions.

     

    Throughout my life I have received
    the same kind of feelings/emotions/spiritual witnesses as those received with
    Elder Dunn’s stories.  If I am unable to trust the “feelings” I
    received with Elder Dunn’s fabrications, then neither can I trust those same
    “feelings” I have received since then. 

     

    What are these “feelings”
    we all describe and where do they come from?  Many get these feelings when
    their sports team wins, a baby is born or watching a very emotional
    movie.  In the movie Saving Private Ryan – as the WWII veteran
    falls to his knees at the grave of the man (Tom Hanks) who sacrificed his life
    to save Ryan’s, I got this warm, tingly feeling in my chest.  It was a
    psychosomatic response to emotional stimuli and was not an affirmation that the
    movie was true. 

     

    In evaluating my feelings/emotions I
    cannot determine the difference between:

    1.     
    My “feelings” while watching such
    movies as Saving Private Ryan and

    2.     
    My “feelings” while listening to
    Elder Dunn’s fabrications and

    3.     
    My “feelings” during numerous church
    gatherings and personal gospel study sessions. 

     

    They are all virtually identical.  My
    present conclusion is that all of the “burning bosoms” are emotion based
    and stem from meaningful situations based upon our experiences in life OR we
    just manufacture them ourselves (in our own minds) so that we can fit
    comfortably into a group.  This is why adherents to dozens of different
    religions can have their own “witnesses” to their beliefs.  This
    is why even atheists can have “tingling” feelings.  This is why
    some testify to obvious falsehoods.  This is why some get “false
    positives.”  This is why some can lie (Elder Dunn) and still produce
    the “spirit” in people’s minds.  

     

    I don’t believe God is so confusing
    and unreliable that He would use such a poor method to determine what is true
    and what isn’t.  If this is the way God
    works then all religious confusion and conflict that exists in the world can be
    blamed on him.  I cannot believe in a God
    like that.

     

    I still believe that feelings and
    emotions can and do serve a purpose.  My feelings play an important — even a critical — role,
    in the cognitive process. When I “don’t feel good” about something, a
    little thoughtful reflection will reveal those facts my conscious mind may not
    have picked up on.  Feelings seem to be
    an unreliable method for God to communicate truth to man.   However,
    feelings are a wonderful and somewhat complex tool that helps us sort through
    the barrage of life’s experiences we each encounter on a daily basis.

    • Anonymous
      March 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      Sorry, but I really like the idea of approaching God through a filtered lens.  I love the fact I can feel inspiration through all kinds of mediums, it really opens the world up for me.  I feel much more connected to the struggle of man via the arts. It makes me realize I am totally free to act on my own based on what I decide it right.  I think God is much more interested in my thought processes and what I choose to believe based on what I figure it then simple approach you outlined.  

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      March 11, 2012 at 12:52 am

      Hi Allen,

      Thanks for this great post!
      A few thoughts to throw out. Happy to engage you or anyone more on any of these.

      First of all, a link to a terrific article from my days editing Sunstone related to the question about God revealing different things to different people. It is by Charles Randall Paul, who has been a guest on several Mormon Matters episodes, most recently the one on communicating about the temple, and I think it has some great angles on the question. 

      http://mormonmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Paul_Does-God-Reveal-Same.pdf

      If we’d have had more time in our podcast discussion, I would have pushed more for a real discussion about what I see as the qualitative difference between the types of “energies” (here I am sounding all New Agey again!) that accompany different sorts of experiences. I’d love to have pursued whether there is a difference between energies that attend/accompany “truth” and those that accompany “goodness,” those that are affiliated with experiences of “beauty,” etc. (Ad infinitum: my sense is that everything might have its own energy signature. I feel as if I experience these things differently when I encounter them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if brainwave patterns/areas engaged, etc. might someday show this.) That aside, however, even if that never proves out, I have to at least disagree with you about Spirit feeling the same as the other things you say you have trouble distinguishing between. For me, there are times when I’ve been so overwhelmingly enlivened by Spirit (at least that’s what I think was happening) that I have been able to recognize just how qualitatively different it is from any kind of emotional or intellectual excitement. For one thing, the effects of these “big” experiences, I remained energized in all the “fruits of the spirit” ways Galatians articulates for days. The memories I have of these times are unforgettable. I am with you in often feeling as if the emotions accompanying a good talk and scripture reading and a good movie are pretty much indistinguishable. But then there have been those times when I have felt as if God/the universe were showing me something about myself and others in a qualitatively different way, and I just have to disagree that there’s not something “more” available. And even outside the wowie-zowies I am alluding to above, I also experience much quieter times that I also feel in which I’m in touch at a level beyond/below emotion and feeling moved, and those I tend to label as “spirit” as well. In those cases, it’s characterized by a great deal more subtlety, more “gist” and “aha” than when something is working on me more in the “emotion” realms, and definitely less wordy than intellectual insight. They are all mixed up together, for sure, but I do think we can tease them apart to at least some decent degree. That’s my experiences, anyway.

      Finally, just in the realm of Paul Dunn stories and the more clear “yep, made up” sort of examples, I’d jump off on my note above about energies that attend things and simply suggest that these were real energies that you felt, that they were good, that they shouldn’t be overly dismissed, etc. Whenever we play with stories that are aspirational or have the intent to lift us and others, there is a “spirit” to these. Even if it’s not the Holy Ghost (and perhaps the HG, whatever it is, still is involved), it’s a good energy. Hopefully we don’t get addicted to just that level of energy (I like the C.S. Lewis quotes early in this thread about this) or mistake it for “all” that’s ever available for humans to experience, but it’s not evil, and I see no reason to not trust ourselves as experiencing beings simply when we’ve been burned that something isn’t “just as” we’d once thought. Paul Dunn has perhaps served us well. Bad intent, smallness, rejection of connection, etc. also have their own energies with their own attendant power and attractiveness, too. I don’t sense any of those at play in the Dunn situation.

      Sorry for such long rambles! Let’s keep the discussion going if you’d like.

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        March 11, 2012 at 12:55 am

        In case anyone would like to really dig into the Paul Dunn stuff, here is a link to the Table of Contents of the September 1991 Sunstone issue that has a ton of stories on it. Really first rate exploration, including stuff from Lynn Packer. Anyway, from this link, you can click on any of the things you’d want to read.

        https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/issue-details/?in=83

      • ®øß
        March 12, 2012 at 8:34 am

        I think you’re on the right track Dan. I’ve also had clearly distinguishable experiences within the emotional range that were very unique to my spiritual life. I felt like Allen when I was in high school though, because I think I got caught up in the descriptions provided by others rather than discerning these spiritual levels in my own way and time. 

        I’ve explored several other religious traditions and have found a lot of spiritual value, esp within eastern traditions, but these energy experiences are always able to be distilled through my own spiritual language, which is how I’ve treated the LDS conversation as well. This discernment has been a fantastic tool in helping me navigate the spiritual crises of my own life and have kept me close to God, and grounded in my faith in Christ, even while exploring new ways of understanding various forms of spiritual energy and experience.

        Perhaps there is a place for emotional manipulation in religion, but I tend to agree with CS Lewis regarding the use of caution when dealing with emotion in matters of the spirit. It would be very useful for anyone interested in matters of the spirit to gain the skill to tell the difference between emotional impact and spiritual inspiration.

        My opinion on the human spiritual experience is that the spirit of God is always available to testify of true principles, no matter the external circumstances. I have been inspired by non faith-based film, literature, music, etc many, many, times. I think God intends this should be a type of  experience available to all who are willing and able.

      • Tyler Renshaw
        March 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm

        Great questions, Allen. And great reply, Dan. 

        Over the last couple years I’ve felt a lot like Allen–thinking there might not really be a difference between this or that good feeling that I experience in this or that good situation. But I’ve recently become more interested in the type of stuff Dan’s saying: that there’s not a democracy of good feelings–that’s there’s actually a difference in feeling quality that makes a difference in feeling meaning/interpretation. That said, I’d love to see another MM podcast that’s centered around discussing LDS persons’ qualitative experience of the Spirit and their meanings/interpretations. I’d also love to see some nice qualitative research addressing this inquiry. That’d be cool, no?

        The way modern psychology knifes things up, “feelings” are pretty much lumped into two camps: emotions (e.g., short-lived happiness) and moods (e.g., multi-day sadness). I’d love to hear more about other folks’ experiences with the Spirit, to see if they fit in the emotion or mood categories, or if they fall in some third-dimension of felt experience–something that still needs to be “teased out,” like Dan implies. I’d guess that folks’ experiences would fall under all three dimensions. An maybe even more (like strictly cognitive, non-felt experience, if there is such a thing)? Who knows!

  12. March 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Wow, what a compelling and powerful podcast. I was blown away by the insight, eloquence, and sheer usefulness of the discussion. I resonate with Michael’s views of the co-evolution of humanity and religion and am deeply invested in discovering the contours of that relationship. 

    I was deeply touched by Kristine’s conclusions, as well as the thoughts others shared. 

    Dan, with Scott I would challenge you on your final point about the leaders. I too trust they have good intentions and good hearts and that they are experiencing abundant good feelings and spiritual experiences. 

    But all those perceptions aside, ethics remain. People are being harmed day to day because of policies and approaches in the Church, just as they are being blessed and benefited by other policies and approaches. I feel it is imperative to call out and not let slide the many ways harm is being done, independent of how tapped in leaders may feel. And again, I believe in spirituality. I think there is power in turning our hearts and energies to the needs of others. I admire the loving service that the majority in the Church engage in. And yet…. I still feel the need to fight for the good and stand and speak out against the harm.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      March 11, 2012 at 12:09 am

      We’re closer than you may think, Jared. I’m a both/and on this one for sure. Somewhere I think I added in “if they truly knew” or “got it,” they’d (most of them) want to repent. Empathy for their not knowing does not, however, in any way diminish my determination (or my support for others doing it too) to speak up, share, teach, and do all I can to help them truly understand the harm. 

      At the same time, I’m also hoping they can feel safe to “go there” in their hearts and minds rather than reject letting this full awareness sink in. Once in this heart space, I know they’ll find God as both judge and comforter, God as alerting them to how serious this harm is and has been but encouraging repentance and change of heart. What I fear is if we who recognize the harm (and, of course, we’re always in need of being taught ourselves where our attitudes and ways of teaching/leading harm in different ways), they will simply out of stubbornness, out of “ef-you trying to tell me what to do”-ness never enter that place where change takes place. The more I hang around trying to be a witness for the things I’m alerted to, the more I’m convinced that “charity never faileth” actually IS the key (always remembering that love of God does NOT mean being supportive of bad thinking and harm inducing behavior), as are exemplifying the virtues and methods taught in the final verses of D&C 121 and being in alignment and embodiment of the fruits of the spirit as outlined in Galations 5. I recognize that there’s a place for more frontal attacks, that any campaign for change needs both agitators and mediators/reconcilors. If one is called to the former, great. Still I hope those who are will do it with as much love as possible. Who knows what messed up forces created in me a temperament for the latter approach, but that’s where I landed. Still, I fully recognize it’s all the same team.

      • Tyler Renshaw
        March 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm

        Jared & Dan,

        Yeah, I tend to think you’re both on the same team, too. Maybe we could call it “Team Love”? (I know it sounds cheesy and a bit silly, but let me explain).  Given you’ve comments above, you both seem to represent two distinct yet complimentary aspects–like the yin and the yang–of Team Love. Jared seems to advocate for “compassionate love,” the kind of love that comes from a breaking heart–love that reaches out to the oppressed and the wounded to help free and heal them, to right wrongs and turn bad things good. Dan, on the other hand, seems to advocate for “celebratory love,” the kind of love that comes from a overflowing heart–love that appreciates, seeks out, and cultivates the goodness in all people for goodness’ sake, to edify not just persons but also the community as a whole. Both are good; both are needed; both are love; but both are different.

        Now, I’m pretty sure my overly simplistic analysis here is, well, overly simplistic. I’m pretty sure Jared has a lot of celebratory love (as he mentions several things related to this aspect in his comments), just as I’m sure Dan has a lot of compassionate love (as he also references some things in this domain). So I guess all I’m trying to say is that the *gist* of your comments felt different to me. It felt like you were emphasizing different aspects of the team–one yin, the other yang–yet still love, nonetheless.

  13. Jacob Brown
    March 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Telling 5- to 8-year-olds that a Princess Alice is
    watching them would reduce the incidence of cheating just as much a
    telling grown adults that someone is watching them via a hidden camera. (I think this is what Scott was trying to say.) Children
    don’t distinguish between the natural and the supernatural. My kids believe(d) in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny because we as parents taught them those things.

    There is a
    division that modern humans have constructed to hold on to the mythology
    that we have inherited that we don’t want to let go. And it is a
    construction that people on both sides of the atheism debate have been
    willing to accept for good reasons.

    I fail to understand how the
    experiment demonstrates humans are innately religious as Michael asserts. How does the experiment show anything
    other than that when people have a high chance of getting caught, they
    are less likely to cheat?

    Furthermore, what about the other Princess Alice experiment that Bering did in 2005? It goes completely against the idea that humans are primed for the otherworldly. It seems to demonstrate that only older children recognize the possibility that agents outside the natural world can inform their lives in useful ways. That experiment would been a much better discussion for this podcast about recognizing the spirit.

  14. Allen
    March 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Hi Dan,
    I appreciate the link you included to the Sunstone article.  Although I do not doubt that you have received these wowie zowie spiritual experiences, I never have,  Now something that might come close to what you described is as follows: while meditating I clear my mind of all past and future thoughts while concentrating on the present moment. I also do something else with my mind that is difficult to put into words. The best description is I force from my mind the ego or surpress the egoic part of my mind and just let the part of me that is God, that the ego has veiled, fill that void.  When I do this I feel an intense joy that seems to be all encompassing.  I can only do it for a few minutes and then the egoic part of my mind exerts itself and resumes control.

    When I say the egoic part of one’s mind I mean the unconscious compulsion to enhance one’s identity through association with something.  That could be race, nationality, religion, social status, belief system, or my sex.  It could be a role such as an employee, lawyer, soldier, father, mother, brother, sister or friend.  It could be an object such as a car, house, cellphone or clothes.  When the ego identifies itself with something, it makes itself special in some way.  It makes itself an individual of one, separate form everyone and everything else.  When I temporarily clear the mind of the ego I loose my identity for a brief moment and become one with God.  That is the best way I can describe it.

    Now this experience cannot in any way be used to justify a certain belief or morality.  Nor can it be used to determine what is true.  It is just a temporary connection with the God within each of us.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      March 12, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      Sounds really cool, Allen. And I love the idea of experiencing “God within” and not feeling the need to move beyond that to implications for the truth of any particular thing. The truth is that we experience and whatever the energy that is alive in that experience creates effects in us. In that way (following William James), the energy is “real” as it produces genuine effects in this world.

      My most paradigm-blowing experiences have not been through meditation of the sort you describe, so I can only believe (and envy) you and others who report having experienced cessation of personal identity in union with God. All but one of mine have emerged during times of intense outward focus, either in prayer or service, and my experience was not of union in an identity-subsuming sense but more of an alignment with powerful loving energies–feeling caught up in a stream of sorts. The other huge one arrived during deep turmoil, worrying that I’d really messed up and had blown up a bunch of chances to serve in ways I was called to. That experience was of having all that loving energy beaming straight into me. Unforgettable, all of them. Effects lasting and lasting many days after the “in the moment” parts passed.

      My guess is the two of us are illustrating in our experiences the very real but different kinds of energy that animate eastern and western religious sensibilities. BOTH are aspects of whatever it is that is the grounding of all existence. Glad that both are being explored by millions and that more and more folks who are deeply experienced in each type (and I’m sure there are many variations besides just eastern/western as well as many within even these broad categories) in dialogue with each other, truly listening and being taught by one another. Every profound experience type available to human beings needs championing!

      A few years ago I wrote something about this for a Sunstone speech series called “Why I Stay” about this. An excerpt if you or anyone else ever feel like diving into it:

      ____

      As I reflected on the invitation
      to be on this panel, it occurred to me that if I weren’t happy in my
      day-to-day Church relationships, the only real reason I’d still probably choose
      not to stay would be because I found
      somewhere better to go, some other tradition that contained more of what I
      considered truth or that was a much closer fit for my spiritual and
      intellectual temperament. In short, the only real reason I can think of that
      might ever lead me to leave Mormonism rather than simply slip into inactivity is
      because of my keen awareness of all the wonderful truths and gifts practiced by
      other religions. 

       

      Some years ago, this was indeed an
      issue.  As a student of other faiths and
      thought traditions, in several cases I dove so deeply into the beauties and
      insights of these faiths to such a degree that I was, at times, quite tempted
      to jump. I was then, and still am, suffering from what Krister Stendahl calls
      “holy envy,” the feeling that there is something in this other religious
      tradition that I really value and wish my tradition had, or at least developed
      and emphasized it more thoroughly it.

       

      At times, this envy takes on added depth of feeling
      to become what Stanford religion scholar and ethicist Lee Yearly calls the
      emotion of “spiritual regret,” the realization coupled with feeling that it’s
      impossible to be more than one person at a time and yet still wish we could. It
      is the mixed experience of joy and regret at being given the life we have been
      given, and knowing that even though there are so many wonderful forms of human
      flourishing out there, neither you, nor any one person, can exhibit them
      all. 

       

      I have been helped to transform
      this feeling into something less painful and even to the point where I now find
      it an exhilarating proposition through my work with Randy Paul at the
      Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy. 
      One of the questions that naturally comes up for theists who ponder the
      existence of and flourishing of other religious traditions, especially
      non-theistic ones, is why, God would design the world this way—to have many,
      many religions—and if not design it, at least allow it and seemingly even encourage
      this diversity through giving people such strong spiritual confirmations about
      the truth and importance of their own tradition’s truths.  If God is love, in what way is it loving to
      individuals or the world, to run things or allow things to run this way?
      Wouldn’t it be more loving to tell everyone, once and for all, what is what?
      Surely God is powerful enough to do that.

       

      In our musings together on this
      subject, Randy and I have come up with a speculative position on this question
      that I’m kind of excited about.  I’ll
      share only a small portion of what we’re working on, but it begins with the descriptive
      fact that no human being, given the limits of humanness, can possibly grasp every
      truth.  Every moment, we choose to pay
      attention to this or that, and it’s impossible for any human to truly focus on
      multiple things. Hence one might consider it loving of God to only ask us to
      truly learn and inhabit a small portion of the wondrous truths that make up all
      reality. 

       

      But there’s another angle on this
      issue, and that is to ask how it might also be important and honoring to the
      different truths themselves for God to encourage the full flourishing of many,
      many faiths.  In taking our thought in
      this direction, I was nudged by a statement by Krista Tippett in her book, Speaking of Faith.  In conversing with hundreds of amazing
      religious folk, she says:

      I began to imagine
      religious truth as something splintered and far-flung—for good reason, [as it
      was] too vast for one tradition to encompass. I saw [Christian] reformers
      across time as people who noticed a scattered piece of the Christian truth that
      the church itself was neglecting. They picked it up and loved its beauty, and
      saw it as necessary, and embodied its virtues. The Anglicans saw common prayer,
      Lutherans saw the Bible, Mennonites saw pacifism, Calvinists saw intellectual
      rigor, and the Quakers saw silence. And the multitudinous traditions I haven’t
      named in that inadequate summary see nuances of those pieces of truth and other
      aspects altogether, all of which make the whole more vivid, more possible, in
      the world.

       

      She continues: This
      analogy holds as I now [go deeper into] explor[ing] the splinters of all of the
      world’s traditions. The gentle single-mindedness of Zen complements the
      searching discipline of Theravada Buddhism. The exuberant spirituality of
      Sufism rises to meet the daily lived piety of Sunni and Shiite Islam. [And so
      on.]  (Speaking of Faith, 178-79)

       

      From this entry to the idea of
      reformers seeing some piece being neglected and therefore picking it up, and
      loving its beauty, and seeing it as essential, and embodying its virtues, I
      want to take this motivation even deeper and suggest it as even being God’s
      will:  God would not want ANY truth to be
      neglected, but not only would God not want it to be neglected, God would want
      it to be as loved as possible, as deeply explored as humanly possible, as
      presented and defended and put into the ongoing human conversation as possible,
      etc.  To get to this point, the truths
      would have to be lived, explored deeply from the inside, explored in comparison
      with others so that aspects that can’t be spotted by insiders will be brought
      out through the comparative encounter, so that strengths it possesses will be
      made even more brawny through individual and communal wrestle, both internally
      and in contestation with others. 

       

      In these and other ways, it makes a
      great deal of sense to me that it is absolutely God’s will that there are many,
      many religions, and that there are great diversities of individuals and
      temperaments within each tradition, that the Holy Spirit (or whatever else any would want to name it) would
      testify and intensify our individual commitments to the truths that we hold and
      love and explore.  It is truly an act of
      love that God doesn’t have us be all religions at once, as we’d fail in
      that.  It is an act of love by God to the
      truths themselves (and hence to the world) to allow, even encourage, deep,
      soulful commitment to very particular truths.

       

      I have been exhilarated thinking
      along these lines.  Perhaps it’s true,
      perhaps not. But whatever the case may be, it has made me excited to stay and
      truly try to make my contribution to the world by fully inhabiting and
      championing those pieces of neglected truth that Joseph Smith picked up on and
      that God has perhaps assigned Mormonism to develop and make as robust as
      possible. In this quest, I am encouraged by the wonderful call made by B.H.
      Roberts a century ago (and which also served as an early inspiration for Scott
      Kenney as he founded Sunstone).  Roberts
      stated that the “crying need” of Mormonism is

      for thoughtful
      disciples who will not be content with merely repeating some of its truths, but
      will develop its truths; and enlarge it by that development. Not half – not
      one-hundredth part – not a thousandth part of that which Joseph Smith revealed to
      the Church has yet been unfolded, either to the Church or to the world. The
      work of the expounder has scarcely begun. The Prophet planted the germ-truths
      of the great dispensation of the fullness of times. The watering and the
      weeding is going on, and God is giving the increase, and will give it more
      abundantly in the future as more intelligent discipleship shall obtain. The
      disciples of ‘Mormonism,’ growing discontented with the necessarily primitive
      methods which have hitherto prevailed in sustaining the doctrine, will yet take
      profounder and broader views of the great doctrines committed to the Church;
      and departing from mere repetition, will cast them in new formulas; cooperating
      in the works of the spirit, until they help to give to the truths received a
      more forceful expression, and carry it beyond the earlier and cruder stages of
      its development.

       

      Yes, I’m happy in the Church.  But why do I stay? Because I have a job

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      March 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm

       Sounds really cool, Allen. And I love the idea of
      experiencing “God within” and not feeling the need to move beyond
      that to implications for the truth of any particular thing. The truth is that
      we experience and whatever the energy that is alive in that experience creates
      effects in us. In that way (following William James), the energy is
      “real” as it produces genuine effects in this world.

      My most paradigm-blowing experiences have not been through meditation of the
      sort you describe, so I can only believe (and envy) you and others who report
      having experienced cessation of personal identity in union with God. All but
      one of mine have emerged during times of intense outward focus, either in
      prayer or service, and my experience was not of union in an identity-subsuming
      sense but more of an alignment with powerful loving energies–feeling caught up
      in a stream of sorts. The other huge one arrived during deep turmoil, worrying
      that I’d really messed up and had blown up a bunch of chances to serve in ways
      I was called to. That experience was of having all that loving energy beaming
      straight into me. Unforgettable, all of them. Effects lasting and lasting many
      days after the “in the moment” parts passed.

      My guess is the two of us are illustrating in our experiences the very real but
      different kinds of energy that animate eastern and western religious
      sensibilities. BOTH are aspects of whatever it is that is the grounding of all
      existence. Glad that both are being explored by millions and that more and more
      folks who are deeply experienced in each type (and I’m sure there are many
      variations besides just eastern/western as well as many within even these broad
      categories) in dialogue with each other, truly listening and being taught by
      one another. Every profound experience type available to human beings needs
      championing!

      A few years ago I wrote something about this for a Sunstone speech series
      called “Why I Stay” about this. An excerpt if you or anyone else ever
      feel like diving into it:

      ____

      As I reflected on the invitation to be on this panel, it occurred to me that if
      I weren’t happy in my day-to-day Church relationships, the only real reason I’d
      still probably choose not to stay would be because I found somewhere better to
      go, some other tradition that contained more of what I considered truth or that
      was a much closer fit for my spiritual and intellectual temperament. In short,
      the only real reason I can think of that might ever lead me to leave Mormonism
      rather than simply slip into inactivity is because of my keen awareness of all
      the wonderful truths and gifts practiced by other religions.

      Some years ago, this was indeed an issue.  As a student of other faiths
      and thought traditions, in several cases I dove so deeply into the beauties and
      insights of these faiths to such a degree that I was, at times, quite tempted
      to jump. I was then, and still am, suffering from what Krister Stendahl calls
      “holy envy,” the feeling that there is something in this other religious
      tradition that I really value and wish my tradition had, or at least developed
      and emphasized it more thoroughly it.

      At times, this envy takes on added depth of feeling to become what Stanford
      religion scholar and ethicist Lee Yearly calls the emotion of “spiritual regret,”
      the realization coupled with feeling that it’s impossible to be more than one
      person at a time and yet still wish we could. It is the mixed experience of joy
      and regret at being given the life we have been given, and knowing that even
      though there are so many wonderful forms of human flourishing out there,
      neither you, nor any one person, can exhibit them all.

      I have been helped to transform this feeling into something less painful and
      even to the point where I now find it an exhilarating proposition through my
      work with Randy Paul at the Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy.  One
      of the questions that naturally comes up for theists who ponder the existence
      of and flourishing of other religious traditions, especially non-theistic ones,
      is why, God would design the world this way—to have many, many religions—and if
      not design it, at least allow it and seemingly even encourage this diversity
      through giving people such strong spiritual confirmations about the truth and
      importance of their own tradition’s truths.  If God is love, in what way
      is it loving to individuals or the world, to run things or allow things to run
      this way? Wouldn’t it be more loving to tell everyone, once and for all, what
      is what? Surely God is powerful enough to do that.

      In our musings together on this subject, Randy and I have come up with a
      speculative position on this question that I’m kind of excited about. 
      I’ll share only a small portion of what we’re working on, but it begins with
      the descriptive fact that no human being, given the limits of humanness, can
      possibly grasp every truth.  Every moment, we choose to pay attention to
      this or that, and it’s impossible for any human to truly focus on multiple
      things. Hence one might consider it loving of God to only ask us to truly learn
      and inhabit a small portion of the wondrous truths that make up all reality.

      But there’s another angle on this issue, and that is to ask how it might also
      be important and honoring to the different truths themselves for God to
      encourage the full flourishing of many, many faiths.  In taking our
      thought in this direction, I was nudged by a statement by Krista Tippett in her
      book, Speaking of Faith.  In conversing with hundreds of amazing religious
      folk, she says:

      “I began to imagine religious truth as something splintered and far-flung—for
      good reason, [as it was] too vast for one tradition to encompass. I saw
      [Christian] reformers across time as people who noticed a scattered piece of
      the Christian truth that the church itself was neglecting. They picked it up
      and loved its beauty, and saw it as necessary, and embodied its virtues. The
      Anglicans saw common prayer, Lutherans saw the Bible, Mennonites saw pacifism,
      Calvinists saw intellectual rigor, and the Quakers saw silence. And the
      multitudinous traditions I haven’t named in that inadequate summary see nuances
      of those pieces of truth and other aspects altogether, all of which make the
      whole more vivid, more possible, in the world.”

      She continues: “This analogy holds as I now [go deeper into] explor[ing] the
      splinters of all of the world’s traditions. The gentle single-mindedness of Zen
      complements the searching discipline of Theravada Buddhism. The exuberant
      spirituality of Sufism rises to meet the daily lived piety of Sunni and Shiite
      Islam. [And so on.]”  (Speaking of Faith, 178-79)

      From this entry to the idea of reformers seeing some piece being neglected and
      therefore picking it up, and loving its beauty, and seeing it as essential, and
      embodying its virtues, I want to take this motivation even deeper and suggest
      it as even being God’s will:  God would not want ANY truth to be
      neglected, but not only would God not want it to be neglected, God would want
      it to be as loved as possible, as deeply explored as humanly possible, as
      presented and defended and put into the ongoing human conversation as possible,
      etc.  To get to this point, the truths would have to be lived, explored
      deeply from the inside, explored in comparison with others so that aspects that
      can’t be spotted by insiders will be brought out through the comparative
      encounter, so that strengths it possesses will be made even more brawny through
      individual and communal wrestle, both internally and in contestation with
      others.

      In these and other ways, it makes a great deal of sense to me that it is
      absolutely God’s will that there are many, many religions, and that there are
      great diversities of individuals and temperaments within each tradition, that
      the Holy Spirit (or whatever else any would want to name it) would testify and
      intensify our individual commitments to the truths that we hold and love and
      explore.  It is truly an act of love that God doesn’t have us be all
      religions at once, as we’d fail in that.  It is an act of love by God to
      the truths themselves (and hence to the world) to allow, even encourage, deep,
      soulful commitment to very particular truths.

      I have been exhilarated thinking along these lines.  Perhaps it’s true,
      perhaps not. But whatever the case may be, it has made me excited to stay and
      truly try to make my contribution to the world by fully inhabiting and
      championing those pieces of neglected truth that Joseph Smith picked up on and
      that God has perhaps assigned Mormonism to develop and make as robust as
      possible. In this quest, I am encouraged by the wonderful call made by B.H.
      Roberts a century ago (and which also served as an early inspiration for Scott
      Kenney as he founded Sunstone).  Roberts stated that the “crying need” of
      Mormonism is

      “for thoughtful disciples who will not be content with merely repeating some of
      its truths, but will develop its truths; and enlarge it by that development.
      Not half – not one-hundredth part – not a thousandth part of that which Joseph
      Smith revealed to the Church has yet been unfolded, either to the Church or to
      the world. The work of the expounder has scarcely begun. The Prophet planted
      the germ-truths of the great dispensation of the fullness of times. The
      watering and the weeding is going on, and God is giving the increase, and will
      give it more abundantly in the future as more intelligent discipleship shall
      obtain. The disciples of ‘Mormonism,’ growing discontented with the necessarily
      primitive methods which have hitherto prevailed in sustaining the doctrine,
      will yet take profounder and broader views of the great doctrines committed to
      the Church; and departing from mere repetition, will cast them in new formulas;
      cooperating in the works of the spirit, until they help to give to the truths
      received a more forceful expression, and carry it beyond the earlier and cruder
      stages of its development.”
       

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      March 12, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      Sounds really cool, Allen. And I love the idea of
      experiencing “God within” and not feeling the need to move beyond
      that to implications for the truth of any particular thing. The truth is that
      we experience and whatever the energy that is alive in that experience creates
      effects in us. In that way (following William James), the energy is
      “real” as it produces genuine effects in this world.

       

      My most paradigm-blowing experiences have not been through
      meditation of the sort you describe, so I can only believe (and envy) you and
      others who report having experienced cessation of personal identity in union
      with God. All but one of mine have emerged during times of intense outward
      focus, either in prayer or service, and my experience was not of union in an
      identity-subsuming sense but more of an alignment with powerful loving
      energies–feeling caught up in a stream of sorts. The other huge one arrived
      during deep turmoil, worrying that I’d really messed up and had blown up a
      bunch of chances to serve in ways I was called to. That experience was of
      having all that loving energy beaming straight into me. Unforgettable, all of
      them. Effects lasting and lasting many days after the “in the moment”
      parts passed.

       

      My guess is the two of us are illustrating in our
      experiences the very real but different kinds of energy that animate eastern
      and western religious sensibilities. BOTH are aspects of whatever it is that is
      the grounding of all existence. Glad that both are being explored by millions
      and that more and more folks who are deeply experienced in each type (and I’m
      sure there are many variations besides just eastern/western as well as many
      within even these broad categories) in dialogue with each other, truly
      listening and being taught by one another. Every profound experience type
      available to human beings needs championing!

       

      A few years ago I wrote something about this for a Sunstone
      speech series called “Why I Stay” about this. An excerpt if you or
      anyone else ever feel like diving into it:

       

      ____

       

      As I reflected on the invitation to be on this panel, it
      occurred to me that if I weren’t happy in my day-to-day Church relationships,
      the only real reason I’d still probably choose not to stay would be because I
      found somewhere better to go, some other tradition that contained more of what
      I considered truth or that was a much closer fit for my spiritual and
      intellectual temperament. In short, the only real reason I can think of that
      might ever lead me to leave Mormonism rather than simply slip into inactivity
      is because of my keen awareness of all the wonderful truths and gifts practiced
      by other religions.

       

      Some years ago, this was indeed an issue.  As a student of other faiths and thought
      traditions, in several cases I dove so deeply into the beauties and insights of
      these faiths to such a degree that I was, at times, quite tempted to jump. I
      was then, and still am, suffering from what Krister Stendahl calls “holy envy,”
      the feeling that there is something in this other religious tradition that I
      really value and wish my tradition had, or at least developed and emphasized
      more thoroughly.

       

      At times, this envy takes on added depth of feeling to
      become what Stanford religion scholar and ethicist Lee Yearly calls the emotion
      of “spiritual regret,” the realization coupled with feeling that it’s
      impossible to be more than one person at a time and yet still wish we could. It
      is the mixed experience of joy and regret at being given the life we have been
      given, and knowing that even though there are so many wonderful forms of human
      flourishing out there, neither you, nor any one person, can exhibit them all.

       

      I have been helped to transform this feeling into something
      less painful and even to the point where I now find it an exhilarating
      proposition through my work with Randy Paul at the Foundation for
      Interreligious Diplomacy.  One of the
      questions that naturally comes up for theists who ponder the existence of and
      flourishing of other religious traditions, especially non-theistic ones, is why
      God would design the world this way—to have many, many religions—and if not
      design it, at least allow it and seemingly even encourage this diversity
      through giving people such strong spiritual confirmations about the truth and importance
      of their own tradition’s truths.  If God
      is love, in what way is it loving to individuals or the world, to run things or
      allow things to run this way? Wouldn’t it be more loving to tell everyone, once
      and for all, what is what? Surely God is powerful enough to do that.

       

      In our musings together on this subject, Randy and I have
      come up with a speculative position on this question that I’m kind of excited
      about. I’ll share only a small portion of what we’re working on, but it begins
      with the descriptive fact that no human being, given the limits of humanness,
      can possibly grasp every truth.  Every
      moment, we choose to pay attention to this or that, and it’s impossible for any
      human to truly focus on multiple things. Hence one might consider it loving of
      God to only ask us to truly learn and inhabit a small portion of the wondrous
      truths that make up all reality.

       

      But there’s another angle on this issue, and that is to ask
      how it might also be important and honoring to the different truths themselves
      for God to encourage the full flourishing of many, many faiths.  In taking our thought in this direction, I
      was nudged by a statement by Krista Tippett in her book, Speaking of
      Faith.  In conversing with hundreds of
      amazing religious folk, she says:

       

      “I began to imagine religious truth as something
      splintered and far-flung—for good reason, [as it was] too vast for one
      tradition to encompass. I saw [Christian] reformers across time as people who
      noticed a scattered piece of the Christian truth that the church itself was
      neglecting. They picked it up and loved its beauty, and saw it as necessary,
      and embodied its virtues. The Anglicans saw common prayer, Lutherans saw the
      Bible, Mennonites saw pacifism, Calvinists saw intellectual rigor, and the
      Quakers saw silence. And the multitudinous traditions I haven’t named in that
      inadequate summary see nuances of those pieces of truth and other aspects
      altogether, all of which make the whole more vivid, more possible, in the
      world.”

       

      She continues: “This analogy holds as I now [go deeper
      into] explor[ing] the splinters of all of the world’s traditions. The gentle
      single-mindedness of Zen complements the searching discipline of Theravada
      Buddhism. The exuberant spirituality of Sufism rises to meet the daily lived
      piety of Sunni and Shiite Islam. [And so on.]”  (Speaking of Faith, 178-79)

       

      From this entry to the idea of reformers seeing some piece
      being neglected and therefore picking it up, and loving its beauty, and seeing
      it as essential, and embodying its virtues, I want to take this motivation even
      deeper and suggest it as even being God’s will: 
      God would not want ANY truth to be neglected, but not only would God not
      want it to be neglected, God would want it to be as loved as possible, as
      deeply explored as humanly possible, as presented and defended and put into the
      ongoing human conversation as possible, etc. 
      To get to this point, the truths would have to be lived, explored deeply
      from the inside, explored in comparison with others so that aspects that can’t
      be spotted by insiders will be brought out through the comparative encounter,
      so that strengths it possesses will be made even more brawny through individual
      and communal wrestle, both internally and in contestation with others.

       

      In these and other ways, it makes a great deal of sense to
      me that it is absolutely God’s will that there are many, many religions, and
      that there are great diversities of individuals and temperaments within each
      tradition, that the Holy Spirit (or whatever else any would want to name it)
      would testify and intensify our individual commitments to the truths that we
      hold and love and explore.  It is truly an
      act of love that God doesn’t have us be all religions at once, as we’d fail in
      that.  It is an act of love by God to the
      truths themselves (and hence to the world) to allow, even encourage, deep,
      soulful commitment to very particular truths.

       

      I have been exhilarated thinking along these lines.  Perhaps it’s true, perhaps not. But whatever
      the case may be, it has made me excited to stay and truly try to make my
      contribution to the world by fully inhabiting and championing those pieces of
      neglected truth that Joseph Smith picked up on and that God has perhaps
      assigned Mormonism to develop and make as robust as possible. In this quest, I
      am encouraged by the wonderful call made by B.H. Roberts a century ago (and
      which also served as an early inspiration for Scott Kenney as he founded
      Sunstone).  Roberts stated that the
      “crying need” of Mormonism is

       

      “for thoughtful disciples who will not be content with
      merely repeating some of its truths, but will develop its truths; and enlarge
      it by that development. Not half – not one-hundredth part – not a thousandth
      part of that which Joseph Smith revealed to the Church has yet been unfolded,
      either to the Church or to the world. The work of the expounder has scarcely
      begun. The Prophet planted the germ-truths of the great dispensation of the
      fullness of times. The watering and the weeding is going on, and God is giving
      the increase, and will give it more abundantly in the future as more
      intelligent discipleship shall obtain. The disciples of ‘Mormonism,’ growing
      discontented with the necessarily primitive methods which have hitherto
      prevailed in sustaining the doctrine, will yet take profounder and broader
      views of the great doctrines committed to the Church; and departing from mere
      repetition, will cast them in new formulas; cooperating in the works of the
      spirit, until they help to give to the truths received a more forceful
      expression, and carry it beyond the earlier and cruder stages of its
      development.”

      • Tyler Renshaw
        March 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm

        Dan, this is really lovely. Thanks for sharing it. The Krista Tippett quote is awesome, as is the B. H. Roberts quote. And your idea about cultivating particular truths in service of the Grand Truth rings so true to me–in fact, it seems like a “spiritualized” version of William James’ paradoxical “pluralistic universe” idea (that diversity can bring about unity). Good stuff!

        Although your idea feels good to me–really, it does–I’ve got this nagging thought that I just can’t shake. Here it is: My mind keeps comparing your view of God lovingly withholding truths from other faith traditions to Bott’s recent (and infamous) statement regarding God lovingly withholding priesthood privileges from Blacks, for their good. Although these statements certainly don’t *feel* the same to me, they do *sound* very similar. That said, I wanted to throw it out here, not to criticize, but to get your thoughts on it. 

        Anything?

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          March 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm

          Thanks, Tyler! Got what you mean by its not “feeling” the same, though “sounding” the same. Glad to have a chance to hopefully flesh out differences. 

          Truth be told, my preference would have been to not use God language at all in that excerpt from my “Why I Stay” talk. I believe in God, even as a personal being, but my strong sense (that it isn’t always convenient to share in something fast and public like a talk, hence use God language) is that however God works, it is in alignment with and response to truth and energies that exist independently and have their own power. D&C 93:20 talks about truth being “independent” and acting for itself”–it adds “in that sphere in which God has placed it,” but I see that more the way I see Moses 7:32 where Enoch says that God says he gave humans their agency in the Garden of Eden. I don’t think it’s Mormon theology that God “gives” agency (rather that it is a self-existing fact of the universe). In the same way, I simply see “in the sphere in which God has placed” truths that act for themselves as a way of naming that this particular world was organized by God(s) with Godlike lures calling all things into order (Abraham 4 stuff), but with the existents themselves (eternal and free) doing the actual acting. God does not “create” but simply influence/call eternally existing things with their own agency to join in a cooperative effort, if their willing to. And God gets surprised–sometimes delightfully, other times desparingly–at what these entities do.

          So how does this relate to your question? Given what I just shared, I think my whole riff could even more faithfully (more faithful to the metaphysics of eternal energies and God(s)’ actions as organizing, calling, luring, and modeling but never coercing) have been rendered as it being the “universe’s will” or the universes natural state that all truths, wherever found, would flourish, have a chance to gain full expression, etc. In my theological system, no Being actually “directs” or “controls”things. God enjoys flourishing and watching truths unfold and show their full richness; God does not (and in my theology “cannot”) manage the details. At best God models and calls everything to joy and fullness; God is an attractor; there is “power” and influence in having a self-organized being present in the mix of options for existents to embody, but just as in the LDS case about priesthood in which I don’t think the ban was God’s will, I don’t think it’s God’s will that any particular religion gets organized. As religions take shape and go in directions that lead to higher flourishing, God is there as cheerleader and modeler of ways to even more joy. But even when religions act against greater flourishing (Mormons included as it, for instance, instituted a unwanted-by-God ban and continues to do a lot of other things today that acted against the increase of joy) God as a influencing presence and exemplar never ceases to be God and to act to call and encourage them/us getting back into the current leading toward God(s) type of life and relationality.Make any sense at all?! To me, this loving, influencing, calling, modeling but never coercing God is the only kind of being I’m willing to call God. Anything with God more “in control” than this (if God were any of the “omnis” except omni-benevolent) and I would be forced into full battle with this being over the existence of evil and suffering and all the other charges leveled against the idea of God. In the model I hold, I hate those evils and smallnesses and sufferings with all that I am, but instead of railing against God, I feel called into cooperation with God in trying to encourage the flourishing impulse of all existence. (I have faith that God hates those things, too, and is doing everything possible to relieve them given the freedom of everything and everyone to act for themselves.)  Maybe there is a God, maybe not. Maybe there are other beings doing the same kind of work and that someday I’ll join with someday in the highest kind of sociality. Even if not, though it still “feels” like the best kind of work for me to be involved with.

          • Tyler Renshaw
            March 15, 2012 at 5:33 pm

            Wow, Dan. I appreciate that major fleshing out. I must say, I get a very different view of God from what you’ve *just* said above (compared to what you said in the excerpt posted above that). And I’m very intrigued with your view of “God-as-Lurer-of-Goodness.” Yet it raises lots of interesting questions for me. Instead of clogging up this thread, though, I think I’ll contact you backchannel with my questions. Feel free to reply or not, and please know I appreciate you engaging me so far. 

            Peace. 

  15. CliffB
    March 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Excellent!  I really enjoyed Robert Burton’s book on certainty and the sub conscious mind: 
    On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not .   I have to say most of my personal journey resonates closely to the discussion y’all present in this episode.  Great job. 

  16. BWR
    April 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I just listened to this episode. Everyone did a great job and I was deeply enlightened more than once. Kristine’s comments were just gorgeous pretty much every time she opened her mouth. Thanks.

  17. Jessica Bischoff
    April 9, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Interesting topic on Fresh Air today about “feeling the Spirit”:
    http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=149394987&m=150145634

  18. NM
    April 26, 2012 at 9:34 am

    It seems the question of the podcast is: If the Holy Ghost is infallible, then how can one know infallibly when we have its promptings?  After a good discussion on biology and biases (part 1) Conclusion in Part 2 is that you just can’t know until it happens.  You just have to leap and see what happens. If it plays out to confirm your promptings, then you can conclude post-dict that it was the spirit.  If not, it was just your emotions.   They agree that at least we get negative feelings to ward off bad directions.  That following your heart, whether it is just you or some spirit, is still probabilistically your best bet.

    I see so many logical fallacies in the discussion that I will list only the ones that are obvious to most listeners.  First: begging the question and second cherry picking the results.   It’s assumed in the question that any decision you make based on promptings that results in a correct prediction is from god.  Anything that does not result correct is from you.  Then they go back in their past to re-evaluate a match and then conclude what they asked in the first place. Others include genetic fallacy, the B&W fallacy, the bandwagon, the gambler’s fallacy, the anecdotal fallacy, etc.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      April 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks for joining in the discussion, NM, but I’m having difficulty recognizing what you claim were the panelists’ positions. I haven’t re-listened this morning, and the conversation was more than a month ago, so perhaps I’m forgetting a few minutes that may have led you to conclude what you have, but given my memory and friendships with the panelists, I don’t recall anyone saying during the discussion or holding the position now that the only way one can know if or if it’s not a prompting is after the fact. Given that, I can’t see fallacies you list as tracking well for this particular discussion, though they certainly are fallacies that are important for everyone to be aware of. 

      As I recall the discussion, no one offered any easy answers. If there were any conclusions made, they were more along the lines of most of the panelists thinking that there ARE spiritual experiences that are quite different from emotional experiences or the kinds of pleasure one feels when something strikes him or her as “true,” but that it still often isn’t clear which is which and whether the HG is the source in some stronger than average way that “the Spirit” works in people’s lives likely never can be known for sure. But whatever affirming of these kinds of experience was done, I do not believe anyone was claiming the only way to know was ex post facto. And if so, it would be only in the trial and error way that all learning that comes via experience happens. Once someone has had a lot of experience with the HG, there’s not a lot of “let’s wait and see if I was really right” kind of stuff going on. At a certain point, one simply knows the way a lamb knows the voice of the shepherd.

  19. cwinchesteriii
    May 23, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    How would one go about falsifying the idea of “the Spirit”? How would one go about differentiating it from ordinary emotion? 

  20. C B Hilton
    August 5, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    I thought of an authoritative quote while listening that doesn’t resolve the issues at hand, but acknowledges them, at least providing more reassurance that even those in positions of authority within the Church understand that emotion and the Spirit are not always equal. “Let me offer a  word of caution…I think if we are not careful…,we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself.”- Howard W. Hunter, (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 184)

    • JT
      September 8, 2012 at 10:30 am

      “Perhaps the single greatest thing I learned from reading the Book of Mormon is that the voice of the Spirit comes as a feeling rather than a sound. You will learn, as I have learned, to “listen” for that voice that is feltrather than heard.” Boyd K. Packer , 181st Semiannual General Conference

  21. Joshua Brunette
    October 2, 2013 at 10:31 am

    The revelation has already been given through the Word of God. Jesus was the word made flesh or the exact representation of God in human form. Discernment is maturity and this comes from the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth, the spirit of Christ. Romans 8:9 tells us that the Spirit of Christ causes us to walk in the realm of the spirit and and leave the carnal nature or the realm of the flesh behind. The Holy Spirit was in Christ without measure because Christ was God with us “Emmanuel”. How do we know what is truth, it must align with and only with the Bible. Anyone who preaches a gospel other than (changing what was already given) whether it be a man or an angel will be accursed Galatians 1:8. So we were commanded to “test the spirits” any spirit that denies that Jesus is the Christ is not of God. Any “Revelation” that subjects Christ to a lesser nature than He is (God almighty) is a deception from Satan who is described as a deceiver and an “Angel of Light”.

  22. Joshua Brunette
    October 2, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Many talk about the Holy Spirit, and have never received God’s power. I testify that I have received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. Now this is not the extent of the baptism in the Holy Spirit but only the beginning as Jesus said He would give us “Power to be a witness” We should display the reality of His resurrection. The early church displayed this truth and the world marveled and responded. Peter spoke on the day of Pentecost that the promise of the Holy Spirit baptism was for everyone and “as many as the Lord would call”. Which is easier to tell someone Christ is alive in you or to demonstrate with power by “healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, prophesying the mysteries of a man’s heart.” these are things all disciples of Christ should do. We are first disciples of Jesus Christ and His kingdom before we are adherents to a particular theology. Jesus said “Our traditions nullify the word of God bringing it to no effect”.

  23. John Rarere
    February 5, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    The irony of this topic is that we will never reach a definitive answer to what is truth as we do not….as mortals….have the purity required to answer definitively any question at all…hence the Atonement of Jesus Christ….which act in itself filters All untruth and unanswerable questions to the minutest quanta Literally perfecting terrestial and telestial matter including thoughts deeds time and space through repentance and humility.Sometimes understanding scientific processes gives us the thought that maybe we can outsmart the process.The most uneducated man on earth may inherit all that He has and is through living a good life and receiving of the sacred ordinances and apparently that is all that is required…dont quote me tho Im only a mortal!