Feeling Truth

Two nights ago, I sat in a small auditorium waiting for my daughter to perform in her end-of-the-school year dance program. I don’t know much about dance. If the dancer’s movements are in sync with the music I’m satisfied.

My daughter’s group finally strolled onto the stage and began their routine. As they began dancing I noticed a smile grow across the face of my daughter. She was in her element, beaming ear-to-ear. As the rest of the girls stood back, Anna came to the front of the stage and performed while the spotlight shined on her face. She twirled, spun and floated across the stage and then faded back in with the rest of her group.

I felt a surge of pride inside my chest. But it was more than just pride. I felt immense joy watching my daughter do something she loves. Although I didn’t understand every technique or action she performed, I was moved to tears as the routine ended.

I’ve thought about this experience for a couple of days now and compare it the feelings I had when I was active in a church where I was told that feelings can confirm the truth of anything. Have questions about the Book of Mormon? Pray and ask god and he’ll tell you it’s true through a feeling. The same goes for any question I might have. Or so I was taught.

I spent two years in Germany as a missionary challenging people to join my church because they felt “good” when we visited their homes. I manipulated their feelings for my own benefit. Any feeling an investigator had, I attributed to the spirit confirming the truth of our message.

While in Germany, I studied many aspects of the church that I hadn’t been taught before. The story of god commanding Abraham to kill his son, Isaac, disturbed me. What kind of god would do that? I discovered that early Mormon prophets practiced polygamy, several taking as many as 50 wives, some as young as 14-years old. I wrote my grandfather and asked him to help me understand. I prayed that I might understand the reasons behind these actions that seemed cruel and immoral to me. But I never received an answer. If anything, pondering my concerns only made me more depressed and confused. There’s little patience inside a church that claims to be the only true church on the face of the earth.

What does all this have to do with watching my daughter dance?

Well, I no longer believe that feelings confirm truth. The good feelings I had while attending church or the temple were no different than those I had while watching my daughter dance. I feel good listening to my spouse play the piano or while skiing down the mountain with my son at my side. Good music, a play or even a good movie can bring feelings of joy. But those feelings don’t mean what I’m doing or hearing is true anymore than having a good feeling while reading the Book of Mormon means it’s true.

Today, I don’t dismiss my feelings, but I’m aware of what they represent and what they don’t. I no longer attempt to justify the behavior of early Mormon prophets or worry about why a god would command a father to kill his son or why this same god would flood the earth, killing every man, woman and child.

With a wonderful spouse and five kids, I appreciate opportunities to share in their passions and feel of their love and warm spirit. I’m thrilled when they are willing to share their talents with me.

Maybe the “truth” lies in those small moments.

One thought on “Feeling Truth

  1. A Muslim’s Testimony

    When I was a missionary for the LDS church in Sweden, a Muslim who we were teaching bore his testimony of Islam to us. I could tell that his testimony was as equally sincere and heartfelt as any Mormon testimony. I remember wondering how this could be possible, how two people could have equally heartfelt testimonies of mutually-exclusive faiths. This was distressing to me, and unfortunately the way I coped with it was to mentally shove it under a rug where I wouldn’t have to confront the implications… which were that I could be fundamentally wrong and that the huge investment I had made in Mormonism could have been misguided.

    I had thought that these profound feelings of religious conviction were the sole privilege of Mormon believers. The reality is that they’re a common aspect of the human experience:

    http://testimoniesofotherfaiths.blogspot.com/

    It would be helpful, I think, for many of us to better understand why we feel the things we do, and what those feelings mean, and also what they don’t mean. When we stand back and look at the broad spectrum of religions and mutually-exclusive ideologies, in which the many adherents experience such feelings, it’s clear that these feelings are not proof of truth. It’s wise for us to understand our own weaknesses, and by understanding them to avoid fooling ourselves.

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
    -Richard Feynman

    Without this understanding, we more easily fall prey to those who are trained to manipulate us. A technique we LDS missionaries were trained to use was to:
    1) Tell a person that emotions were proof of truth (an effective fallacy if they’ll buy of on it, or not give it much thought)
    2) Show them a warm/fuzzy video that would cause any normal human to have an emotional reaction, where the video or the subsequent discussion would have ties to Mormon doctrine
    3) Ask them how they’re feeling. Normal humans will respond emotionally to emotional stories, and so many would say they “Felt good.”
    4) “Identify” their feeling as the “Spirit” and claim that this was proof of our teachings

    I followed this pattern without even realizing how I was manipulating our investigators. That was wrong, and I’m sorry I did that.

    This morning I read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune about a Sunday school teacher who was dismissed for teaching using official LDS materials taken from lds.org.

    http://www.sltrib.com/lifestyle/faith/2475803-155/mormon-bishop-dismisses-teacher-for-using?fullpage=1

    The thing that struck me about this incident was the following exchange between the Bishop and the Sunday school teacher:

    “If the [Holy] Spirit guides me in a way that involves these multitude of documents,” he asked the bishop, “who am I to resist the enticing of the Spirit?”

    The bishop replied, according to Dawson, “The Spirit is telling me to tell you not to use those documents.”

    The Sunday school teacher is in a bind, asked to simultaneously trust and ignore what he perceives to be spiritual promptings. One could argue that his promptings are false, and that the Bishop’s are genuine, as the Bishop has higher authority, however as the materials were sanctioned by church leadership, their authority preempts the Bishop’s. But wait, we can take this even further, because the referenced materials on lds.org have no clear author, and so ultimately this leave a smidgen of doubt as to just how sanctioned they actually are… and this provides an out, an avenue of deniability, at this highest level. How convenient for the highest, but how unfortunate for the lowly Sunday school teacher.

    Like

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