Monday, October 26, 2009

A witness from the Spirit is not proof.

For almost as long as I can remember, I was aware of certain incongruencies or gaps in logic in the doctrines of my religion. But I learned not to worry about it, because I had a testimony, based on personal spiritual experiences. I felt the presence of the Holy Ghost fairly frequently, when I prayed, when I was in seminary, and more than anything when I sang or listened to music. It was a warm, peaceful feeling that seemed to emanate from somewhere inside my rib cage, and I interpreted this feeling as a witness from God that I was doing his will.

I remember a couple of analogies that I read and heard as I was growing up. One was: "The Gospel is like a big jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes when you're working a puzzle, you can't see how to make all the sky pieces fit right away. That doesn't mean that you throw up your arms and say, 'This puzzle isn't true!' Sometimes you have to fit in other pieces first before you can see how it all fits together, but if you just have enough faith and keep trying, eventually, it will all fit." The other was: "Well, I don't have the slightest idea how a computer works, but that doesn't change the fact that it does work."

The message was, "Don't fret about the stuff that doesn't make sense. We can't possibly understand everything about God. As long you feel the Spirit, you know it's all true." 

In his recent Ted talk, physicist David Deutsch defines a bad explanation: it is one that is too easy to vary. As soon as we have another explanation that could account for the experience of "feeling the Spirit" (and I believe that there are other explanations and intend to explore this topic in the future), the entire justification for believing in religion breaks down.

I've noticed something interesting since I quit believing in God: I still "feel the Spirit," or at least, I still have the feeling that as a Mormon I called "feeling the Spirit." I feel it when I'm holding one of my children, when I'm out in nature, sometimes when I'm doing yoga, and frequently when I'm creating or listening to music. 

I do believe that it's a real experience. I don't believe that religion has a monopoly on it.


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3 comments:

  1. I’m glad you wrote this one. I’ve had similar struggles; particularly after I came out of the closet. When I first came out my parents implored me to resist the urge to engage in homosexual activity and for their sakes and for the sake of my belief in God I obliged them for a time. However after a few weeks the pain of loneliness set in once again and I searched out some one online to try dating.

    It wasn’t long before I had found someone to go out with and not long after that we went met and went on a date. I was anxious yet excited. During the date I felt comfortable and natural, as if this was the way my life was meant to be. By the time I got home however the reality of what I had done set in. I became immediately concerned about my standing with God, and being a good Mormon I decided to kneel down and pray so that I could ask God what to do.

    I started by explaining to God my feelings, and how I felt dead without even the option of perusing a relationship. I then asked if it were right for me to seek after a relationship with a man. When I asked this question immediately I was filled with a warm good feeling. Just as I had before I had prayed and received an answer. Indeed it felt the same as it had when I prayed to know the truth of the Book of Mormon, or of any other religious principle.

    This was odd to me because I knew that homosexuality was against the teachings of the Church that I also knew by the spirit was true; a church that supposedly had the teachings of an unchanging God. While this contradiction of spiritual witnesses troubled me I continued knowing that I had an answer from god.

    When I told others of my spiritual witness about homosexual relationships they told me that I must of have been deceived. However I was unable to judge one as true and the other as false, for I could not tell the difference between the two witnesses. I was left to believe that they were either true or both false together. Someone then suggested that I felt good about having homosexual relationships only because I wanted to feel good about them.

    On this last suggestion I reflected on greatly. I had I only wanted to feel good about having a same-sex relationship, and therefore made myself feel as if I had a spiritual experience? If so could all of my spiritual experiences be explained the same way? This introspection held me for several days but eventually I came to the conclusion that I could not know if a god had influenced my experience or if it had only come from me.

    I have since leaned that through simple exercises I can manufacture many emotional responses, and to not take to take them as evidence of a god or gods. This process of course took me a long time, and is evidenced by a history of my own blog posts.

    Anyhow I hope you don’t mind me sharing this longish story, but when I read your post I could help but share my own experiences on the subject.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. I think there are probably many of us who "feel the Spirit" in circumstances unrelated to religion, or even, as in your case, in direct violation of our particular religion. And you make a very good point regarding those who tell you, Well, you were deceived because that was what you wanted. If they can make that claim, then the experience loses all legitimacy as a witness of anything.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I’m glad you wrote this one. I’ve had similar struggles; particularly after I came out of the closet. When I first came out my parents implored me to resist the urge to engage in homosexual activity and for their sakes and for the sake of my belief in God I obliged them for a time. However after a few weeks the pain of loneliness set in once again and I searched out some one online to try dating.

    It wasn’t long before I had found someone to go out with and not long after that we went met and went on a date. I was anxious yet excited. During the date I felt comfortable and natural, as if this was the way my life was meant to be. By the time I got home however the reality of what I had done set in. I became immediately concerned about my standing with God, and being a good Mormon I decided to kneel down and pray so that I could ask God what to do.

    I started by explaining to God my feelings, and how I felt dead without even the option of perusing a relationship. I then asked if it were right for me to seek after a relationship with a man. When I asked this question immediately I was filled with a warm good feeling. Just as I had before I had prayed and received an answer. Indeed it felt the same as it had when I prayed to know the truth of the Book of Mormon, or of any other religious principle.

    This was odd to me because I knew that homosexuality was against the teachings of the Church that I also knew by the spirit was true; a church that supposedly had the teachings of an unchanging God. While this contradiction of spiritual witnesses troubled me I continued knowing that I had an answer from god.

    When I told others of my spiritual witness about homosexual relationships they told me that I must of have been deceived. However I was unable to judge one as true and the other as false, for I could not tell the difference between the two witnesses. I was left to believe that they were either true or both false together. Someone then suggested that I felt good about having homosexual relationships only because I wanted to feel good about them.

    On this last suggestion I reflected on greatly. I had I only wanted to feel good about having a same-sex relationship, and therefore made myself feel as if I had a spiritual experience? If so could all of my spiritual experiences be explained the same way? This introspection held me for several days but eventually I came to the conclusion that I could not know if a god had influenced my experience or if it had only come from me.

    I have since leaned that through simple exercises I can manufacture many emotional responses, and to not take to take them as evidence of a god or gods. This process of course took me a long time, and is evidenced by a history of my own blog posts.

    Anyhow I hope you don’t mind me sharing this longish story, but when I read your post I could help but share my own experiences on the subject.

    ReplyDelete

Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism