Spiritual Experiences, Motivated Reasoning, and Objectivity

A sometimes-perplexing issue in Latter-Day Saint epistemology is the question of how we value what we call “spiritual experiences.” We believe that God can communicate to us through powerful feelings, which critics sometimes dismiss as the elevation emotion, as if they have somehow determined that God cannot or would not use the medium of emotion to communicate with us. I have a little more in-depth discussion of what we call “spiritual experiences” here in my post on epistemology, and I also recommend Blake Ostler’s FAIR presentation on that topic.

But for the sake of this discussion, I want to focus on the question of our feelings. Are they valuable in helping us to know what is true? And to what extent? Are they more or less valuable than reason?

Read more

A Love Note to the Universalists

For believing Latter-day Saints, universalism speaks to a legitimate problem and a legitimate yearning.

The problem universalism speaks to is as follows: exaltation is the product of choices in the direction of eternal life (God’s life) that are made by souls who see their options with clarity.  In mortality, many of us — to some extent all of us — have trouble seeing our choices with clarity.  Some of the reasons for this (sin, rebellion) are within our control, but other reasons for our inability to see clearly (culture, trauma, neurological wiring, lack of opportunity) are to some extent not within our control.  So after this life, there will be periods of time where people come to see reality with the clarity that has not been possible in mortality.  Universalists are confident that everyone who sees with this clarity will choose eternal life, or that God will somehow unilaterally impose eternal life on everyone, regardless of their choices.

The legitimate yearning that universalism answers is the desire to be with loved ones for eternity.  Latter-day Saint universalists see in the statement “families can be together forever” not a statement of possibility, but a statement of divine intention.  They view any possibility of eternal separation from loved ones as being contrary to God’s plan, and view the eternal gathering of our Heavenly Parents’ children as being an ideal that is fully within our Heavenly Parents’ power to achieve.

There is a degree of legitimate truth in these universalist ideas, and we would do well to honestly acknowledge that.

Read more

Responding to Jaxon Washburn’s New Critique of RO

Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled… (Isaiah 50:11)

Jaxon Washburn just posted here a lengthy critique of the Radical Orthodoxy position.  I won’t do a point-by-point discussion of all of his arguments; many of the objections to RO have been addressed thoroughly in other places.

But if I were to summarize Jaxon’s position, I might do so as follows:

Read more

That is Not Gaslighting.

That thing that really bothers you, doesn’t bother me is not gaslighting.  It’s expressing a difference in perspective.

I and many other people are aware of this thing that you find distressing, but we are at peace with it is not gaslighting.  It’s an affirmation that different people can process things in different ways.

Read more

President Nelson on Gospel Learning

In the Sunday morning session of April 2021 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson made some remarks on faithful inquiry — asking gospel questions — that have caused some consternation especially among nonbelievers. Let’s parse and explore his remarks here.

For each of these items, there are links to explore the concept in more depth.

Read more

Do You Understand The Plan?

In April 2019 and again in April 2020 General Conference, President Dallin H. Oaks offered members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints an insight into one of his assignments as a member of the First Presidency.  President Oaks said in his April 2019 talk on repentance:

My message today is one of hope for all of us, including those who have lost their membership in the Church by excommunication or name removal. We are all sinners who can be cleansed by repentance.

A year later in April 2020, President Oaks said in a talk on the Plan of Salvation:

In conclusion, I share the conviction that has come to me from many letters and by reviewing many requests to return to the Church after name removal or apostasy. Many of our members do not fully understand this plan of salvation, which answers most questions about the doctrine and inspired policies of the restored Church. We who know God’s plan and who have covenanted to participate have a clear responsibility to teach these truths and do all that we can to further them for others and in our own circumstances in mortality.

In light of what President Oaks said here, do we understand God’s Plan? Obviously there are a lot of aspects of it that we can’t understand, but what are the things we can understand from scripture, from prophetic teachings, and from our own experiences? The following is a set of questions we can ask to gauge our level of understanding of the Plan of Salvation.

Read more

Avoiding Spiritual Burnout

With all of the variety of things we are asked to do in our church service, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  We have

  • Our callings
  • Our ministering assignments
  • Requests to help out with our kids’ youth activities
  • Special assignments for ward activities
  • Encouragements to participate in missionary work
  • Encouragements to participate in temple and family history

…and more. It’s very easy to see these things as an impossible stack of chores that constantly looms over us and drains the joy out of our discipleship. And we know that church commitments are not supposed to be as high on our priorities list as our families and our employment, but it’s hard to draw those lines clearly sometimes when other people draw their lines differently and sometimes even apply social pressure to mirror the way they draw their lines. Sometimes we just need to say no to things, for the sake of our own well-being and that of our families, and it’s hard not to feel guilty in those situations.

Read more

Notes on Murder Among the Mormons

“But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter.” (D&C 10:37).

For believing-and-sustaining Latter-Day Saints, the Netflix special Murder Among the Mormons is a lot to process.  I was already familiar with the story from hearing it in various venues over the years, but for church members who operate with culturally-formed assumptions of prophetic infallibility, this series is going to be a hard dose of reality.

Read more

What is Discernment?

Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.
And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.
Behold, I, the Lord, have looked upon you, and have seen abominations in the church that profess my name.

Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed; (D&C 50)

How can I tell when my thoughts and feelings are my own, or revelation from God? How can I tell if an emotionally-satisfying narrative or activity is good for my soul, or would lead me away from God?

The answer to both questions is discernment.

Read more

Church History and the Present

I’ve had several periods of deep gospel questioning in my life, and one period a few years ago, of crisis-level questioning. But years before that, in college, I first got some exposure to more complicated church history. I took a class on the Doctrine and Covenants that showed me that early members and leaders of the church had 19th century worldviews, and that was something I had not ever considered up to that point. I also learned that church leaders were not always right, which was another thing that had not really disturbed me until that point. I was happy in the church, but I also had a constant nagging feeling of being unsettled.

After graduating, I spent a summer in Southern California where I grew up. In my younger years there in California, I hiked Mount Whitney, which is the highest mountain in the lower 48 U.S. states. I had always wanted to revisit that place, and in my summer after college, I had a short window of time to try. I contacted the ranger station and asked if they had any available permits, and they did. So I got some backpacking gear and drove up to the trailhead to begin hiking the 11 miles to the summit.

Read more