The Mormon Piñata

Posted: February 7, 2016 in Fred Anson, Mormon Culture, Mormon Studies, Sociology, Testimony Bearing, Weak Arguments

Latin_America_Christmas_pinata_2013

A Christmas piñata in the historic Mormon Tabernacle during the annual Latin Christmas program in December 2013.

by Fred W. Anson
I cringe when I see it. It’s like watching a train wreck unfolding in slow motion. It’s never pretty but the result is always the same. It’s ugly and it’s painful. I’m talking about a Latter-day Saint publicly bearing testimony outside of the friendly confines of Mormon culture. Specifically, presenting their testimony as evidence for the veracity of Mormonism as if it were just as credible as dropping an apple as proof of gravity. They put it up like a bright and shiny new piñata and by the time outsiders are done whacking at it it’s nothing more than a broken mess on the floor.

How I pity the poor testimony bearing Mormon! After all within the comfortable confines of the Mormon Tank this simply doesn’t happen! Rather, in there, their testimony is greeted with smiles and tears from spouses, parents, and grandparents. I can see it now, grandma starts fumbling in her purse for a tissue whenever she hears a family member (especially a child) step up to the microphone and say:

“I know that God is our Heavenly Father and He loves us. I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth and translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church on the earth today. I know that this Church is led by a living prophet who receives revelation.”1

And, of course, this powerful emotional impact is just as our poor Latter-day Saint friend has been promised by their church:

A testimony is a spiritual witness and assurance given by the Holy Ghost. To bear testimony is to give a simple, direct declaration of belief—a feeling, an assurance, a conviction of gospel truth. Sharing your testimony often is one of the most powerful ways of inviting the Spirit and helping others feel the Spirit.2

Further, they have been promised that they should expect similar results when they bear their testimony outside of the Mormon Tank:

The power of the Holy Ghost. The witness that comes to sincere investigators before baptism comes through the power of the Holy Ghost. “The power [of the Holy Ghost] can come upon one before baptism, and is the convincing witness that the gospel is true. It gives one a testimony of Jesus Christ and of his work and the work of his servants upon the earth” (Bible Dictionary, “Holy Ghost,” 704). The Holy Ghost testifies of truth. All people can know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon through the power of the Holy Ghost. “By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).3

Further, their church teaches them that their testimony is unassailable – like a Royal Flush in a game of poker, or a flamer thrower in a knife fight:

People may sometimes intellectually question what you teach, but it is difficult to question a sincere, heartfelt testimony. When you testify, pray that those you are teaching will feel the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. When you testify, you help create an environment for investigators to feel the Holy Ghost confirming your witness of the truth.4

Finally, they have been assured by their church that if they can get outsiders to just follow the “Moroni 10 Formula” they will inevitably see the light and get the “right” answer. Here’s how the official, correlated LdS Church Missionary curriculum, “Preach My Gospel” instructs Mormon Missionaries to lead outsiders through this process:

Rely on the promise in Moroni 10:3–5. Every person who sincerely reads and prays about this book can know with certainty of its truthfulness by the power of the Holy Ghost. Do all you can to help investigators:

• Read the Book of Mormon and ponder its message concerning Jesus Christ.
• Pray to God with faith in Jesus Christ to receive a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration.
• Pray sincerely and have real intent, which means that they intend to act on the answer they receive from God.

You too should apply this promise regularly to strengthen and renew your own testimony of the Book of Mormon. This renewed testimony will help you maintain a firm confidence that anyone who applies this promise will receive the answer.5

So our poor, unsuspecting Mormon friends are ushered out of the Mormon Tank and into the real world with these tools and expectations. They’re filled with absolute certainty that’s fueled by religious zeal. After all, didn’t sixth LdS President Joseph F. Smith (1901–1918) commission Latter-day Saints plainly when he said:

“We have a mission in the world: each man, each woman, each child who has grown to understanding or to the years of accountability, ought . . . to be qualified to preach the truth, to bear testimony of the truth”
(Gospel Doctrine, 13th ed. [1968], 251–52; cited in “Preach My Gospel”, p.12)

Life Outside the Mormon Tank
But instead, and all too often, it’s … WHACK! Sadly what happens in the real world outside of the Mormon Tank is typically very different than the warm, cozy promises that they were given inside that tank. For example, millions of people have faithfully applied the “Moroni 10 Formula”, gotten very different results and are not only not afraid to talk about it but are eager to do so. I am one of those millions. I have faithfully applied this formula not once, not twice, but three times and each time I have gotten the same answer:

I would like to bear my testimony…
I have diligently sought God regarding whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true or not. To that end, I have studied the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon and I have prayed consistently for over 30-years. I have taken the “Moroni 10 Challenge” and I have felt an intense “burning in my bosom” many, many, many times in my life — in fact, I carry it with me every day of my life.

… and my testimony is this:
I am utterly convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a non-Christian cult, that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, as is Thomas S. Monson. Further, I am utterly convinced that the Book of Mormon is an uninspired, man created work of 19th Century fiction.

Here I stand before God and before men – I can do no other.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, amen.

Of course the common Mormon response to this contra-testimony is, “You clearly didn’t do it right!” In other words, there’s only one right answer – the one that they got. Problem Mormon friends: I did. So did the millions of others who got a different answer than the “right one” that you did. Doubt me? Keep reading.

Moroni's Grammatically Correct Promise

WHACK! Here’s hard reality: This type of spiritual experience is hardly unique. Please consider this post from a Muslim women on a Catholic discussion board:

“For me, I believe that Muhammad was a prophet because of the Qur’an–because I read it, and in my own estimation after reading it, reflecting on it, and praying about it, I found in myself an unwavering belief that the Qur’an is without a doubt revealed by the Lord of the Worlds, by the Almighty God.”6

Sound familiar? Just substitute “Joseph Smith” where it says, “Muhammad” and “Book of Mormon” where it says “Qur’an” and you have the archetypical Mormon Testimony which simply mirrors the “stock” Muslim Testimony known as the Shahada:

“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Mohammed is the servant and Messenger of Allah.”
(the “Shahada”)

So, I’m sorry Mormon friends but the infamous “Mormon Testimony” – the one that so much Latter-day Saint corporate epistemology and cultural identity is based on – simply isn’t that unusual or unique. In fact, it’s common. There are millions of testimonies from those of other faiths that are very similar, and in some cases exactly like, those of Mormons. Please consider this sampling:7

“I felt a burning in my heart, and a great burden seemed to have left me.”
(Protestant)

“But what can I say? How can I describe an experience so profound and so beautiful? Shall I say that it was the most blessed experience of my life? Shall I say that [God] touched my heart and gave me a feeling of peace I had not known before? Shall I describe the tears that flowed freely from my eyes, affirming my . . . faith, as I . . . beg[ged] [God’s] blessings for myself and for those I love?”
(Islam)

“The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.”
(Protestant)

WHACK!

“As I read these books in a . . . bookstore, . . . I felt a burning in my heart that I should come and investigate.”
(Catholic)

“[Even as a child], [w]ithout understanding much about the complex [doctrine] . . . he was attracted to [church]. There he often felt a strong feeling of peace flowing through his body.”
(Hindu)

“I was praying . . . when I felt a burning shaft of . . . love come through my head and into my heart.”
(Catholic)

“I truly [sic] wanted to know [the truth]. After a few weeks, I stumbled onto [texts] which . . . answered my questions in a way that I had not heard of before. I read everything . . .and I even tried the experiment of asking [God] for . . . his divine love. After about 6 weeks, I felt a burning in my chest and a sensation that was unlike anything I had ever felt. It was pure happiness and peace. I knew then that [God] had sent His love to me.”
(New Age)

“A feeling of peace and certitude would tell me when I had found the answers and often after people would help me by pointing in the right direction.”
(Islam)

“We gave up a lot of things. What did I get in return? I received a feeling of peace, hope and security. I no longer lay awake at night worrying. I stopped cussing. I became much more honest in all aspects of my life. [God] has changed my heart and my life. My husband’s heart is changing also. We pray all the time and really feel [God’s] presence in our marriage. My perspective has changed. My view of life has changed about what is truly important.”
(Protestant)

“Many women described a feeling of euphoria after they committed to following [God] . . . . One woman described a feeling of peace; she said: ‘It is like you are born again and you can start all over again, free from sin.'”
(Islam)

“A feeling of peace seemed to flow into me with a sense of togetherness . . . . . I felt very peaceful from inside and also felt [warmth] . . . .”
(Hindu)

Boy hitting pinata, explosion of candy

WHACK!

“I felt a burning sensation in my heart.”
(Protestant)

“That inner light, that we all have or had at some time in our existence, was nearly burnt out for me. But in the [church] . . . I found a feeling of peace, inner solitude and quietness that I’d also found in reading the [text] and pondering over its meaning and trying to practice what it tells us.”
(Islam)

“For the first time I not only felt accountable for my past sins but I had to fight back tears. I knew that I had let down [God] [and] my family . . . . However, I also knew I was forgiven! [It] gave me a feeling of peace that I have never felt it in my whole life. I felt like I had a huge weight lifted off of me and that I was finally home and free . . . . I felt like a new person.”
(Catholic)

“Every time I am there [at the church building], a feeling of peace overcomes me.”
(Buddhist)

“About 10 years ago, when Jenny and I decided to start a family, we began looking for a spiritual community for our kids. During my first service at [the church]. . . I was hooked. I recall the feeling of peace that I felt when I was attending [services].”
(Universal Unitarian)

“The power of [God] came into me then. I had this warm and overwhelming feeling of peace and security. It’s hard to explain. I had to . . . stop myself from falling backward.”
(Catholic)

“[The religious leader] looked into my eyes deeply for a moment, and I experienced a feeling of peace and love unlike anything I had ever experienced before.”
(Hindu)

“[After praying,] [i]mmediately I was flooded with a deep feeling of peace, comfort, and hope.”
(Protestant)

“I recently spent an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon. . . . As I sat and gazed upon the surrounding hills gently sloping to an inland sea, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self—an “I” or a “me”—vanished. . . . The experience lasted just a few moments, but returned many times as I gazed out over the land where Jesus is believed to have walked, gathered his apostles, and worked many of his miracles.”
(Atheist)

Smashed donkey pinata on floor with candy

Smashed donkey pinata on floor with candy

SPLAT! Down comes the The Mormon Piñata
When we examine, analyze, measure and observe the above data points what they tell us is this:

  1. Because the results are so wide and varied this method of discerning “God” is clearly unreliable.
  2. Likewise, and for the same reasons, this method of discerning “truth” is also unreliable.
  3. This method of epistemology appears to be confirmation bias driven. That’s because the conclusions appear to be predetermined by the person’s presuppositions. That is, the person investigating Hinduism is just as likely to be persuaded that Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti is speaking to them as the person investigating Mormonism is convinced that the God of Mormon is.
  4. In a similar vein, borne testimony tends to reinforce the presuppositions of the audience. Stated simply, those who already hold to the same presuppositions as the testimony bearer will enthusiastically support their testimony and those who don’t will either challenge or ignore it.
  5. Therefore, objectively speaking, and in conclusion, testimony bearing ultimately proves nothing.

This is exactly as Clinton Wilcox pointed out in his superb article, ‘Weak Arguments #8: “I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.”‘

In short, it’s [that is, giving a counter testimony against Mormonism is] a weak argument because it is subjective and inconclusive. It doesn’t give any actual reasons for why Mormonism is false and orthodox Christianity is true. It’s a bad argument against Mormonism because it’s a bad argument, period – which makes it a bad argument even when the Mormon uses it…

Testimonies are not inherently bad things. Testimonies are used in a court of law as evidence. But testimonies are given regarding a certain event that somebody witnessed. You can’t rely on your own subjective experiences to convince somebody else of the truth of your beliefs. The major problem is that in the Mormon’s testimony, they don’t give us any reason to believe Mormonism is true. A subjective experience may give you a reason to believe but it doesn’t give anyone else a reason to accept your beliefs as true. Arguing that it is the correct church doesn’t help. I need to know why it is the correct church….

Finally, this testimony can be turned right back around on the Mormon (or on you). You can just reply with, “I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a false church. I know that Joseph Smith was a false prophet,” etc. Then you’re left with the dilemma of whose testimony is correct, or even which is the more powerful testimony? This can be rhetorically effective, but it offers no grounding for the claim that your respective beliefs are true.8

And a Latter-day Saint peer reviewer of my article, ‘Weak Arguments #15: “How to Make Weak Arguments for Mormonism – A Primer”’ seemed to agree with Mr. Wilcox when he said:

The witness of the spirit while not great evidence for convincing others is a fine answer to: Why do you believe this? Also it is a good lead in to, ‘And you can receive the same witness.’

Mormons need to keep in mind however that a personal witness is not meant for convincing others, its personal and should be kept out of debate except in answer to the above question or proceeding the invitation. It should also be kept in mind that inviting someone to seek their own witness from God does not win the argument, as some Mormons seem to believe.9

Put the Piñata down!
In other words my Mormon friends, put the Mormon Piñata down! Or as Clinton Wilcox said so well in his article:

Give reasons, not testimony.

He then goes on to explain:

We do not have to pray to test truth claims. We have the Scriptures given to us so that if we come across a particular idea, we can test it against Scripture to see if it holds up (1 Thessalonians 5:21). All over Scripture we are told to use our faculties of reason. If Mormonism is false, it stands or falls on its teachings, not on whether or not I believe it to be true. And more generally, Christianity, itself, is a religion that is based on evidence, not “blind faith,” as atheists tend to allege. We are told to “love the Lord your God with…all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NASB). God told the Israelites “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV, emphasis mine). And as C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, has observed, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than he is of any other slackers.”10 The Christian life is one marked by reason and reflection. It is not based on feelings or emotion, which are not accurate guides for determining truth. We read in Scripture that “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?”(Jeremiah 17:9, NASB).11

And, I will end with this paraphrased version of the closing paragraph of Mr. Wilcox’s classic article. Please note, that it has been modified to fit our context here:

If you believe the Mormon church to be true, you need to point out which doctrines are true and explain why they are true. If you believe Joseph Smith to be a true prophet, point out reasons why you believe so…. The bottom line is, if you want to be able to convince a non-Mormon of the truth of Mormonism, you need to give arguments for it.12

But whatever you do my Mormon friend: Put that Mormon Piñata down and don’t pick it back up! If you don’t, it will be just like you’re queuing it up for your thinking, bat toting non-Mormon friends like a piñata on a zip line.

qzvrvctik6rsbmcjqnor“Wrecking Ball  Piñata” shot in Salt Lake City at the Utah State Fairgrounds.

NOTES
1 “Testimony Glove”, Friend magazine, October 2008
2 “Preach My Gospel” official, correlated LdS Church Missionary curriculum, p.198
3 Ibid, p.90
4 Ibid, p.199
5 Ibid, p.111
6 Sister Amy, “The Koran and the Book of Mormons”, Catholic Answers website, February 21, 2008
7 While this sample of testimonies was compiled from the Mormon Think website, an even fuller collection of indexed testimonies can be found on the Testimonies of Other Faiths website.
8 Clinton Wilcox, ‘Weak Arguments #8: “I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.”
9 Fred W. Anson, ‘Weak Arguments #15: “How to Make Weak Arguments for Mormonism – A Primer”’, footnote 4
10 C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)”, (p. 78, Kindle position 1071). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
11 Op cit, Wilcox.
12 Op cit, Wilcox. Please note that I have paraphrased from the original to fit the context of this article. The original was addressed to non-Mormon Christians and reads like this:
“If you believe the Mormon church to be false, you need to point out which doctrines are false and explain why they are false. If you believe Joseph Smith to be a false prophet, point out reasons why you believe so. Show some prophecies which have failed to take place (the Bible in Deuteronomy 18:22 says that if even one prediction fails, that person is not a prophet of the Lord). The bottom line is, if you want to be able to convince a Mormon of the truth of orthodox Christianity, you need to give arguments for it.”

Again, I apologize to Mr. Wilcox for abusing his fine prose like this but, frankly, since I couldn’t top it I used it instead!

The story behind the animated GIF above – this is just fun!

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