LDS Missionaries Bearing Their Testimony in the Hollywood, CA Ward
(click to watch video)
“Bearing testimony is ‘Declarationism’.
And ‘Declarationism’ is the last bastion of the unreasonable fanatic.”
— Lyndon Lamborn, ExMormon Foundation 2008 Conference Keynote
by Fred Anson
Mormon Testimony bearing is the cornerstone of Latter-day Saint (LdS) Theology, culture and experience – it is the “lens” through which the world is perceived – the very core of LdS epistemology. As composer, free thinking Latter-day Saint, and cultural observer William Call explains:
“A Mormon’s ‘testimony’ feigns certainty via a supposed knowledge that negates real understanding. He who knows ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’ has no need to comprehend, discern, or master . . . Both rank and file Mormons and their leaders are dependent on their testimonies. They cannot question what they already ‘know’ is true. And so it is that a Mormon testimony is more than a denial of life’s uncertainties; it is a denial that a critical evaluation of any kind is effective or necessary so far as discovering religious truth is concerned.”
(William Call, “The Cultural Revolution”; Freethinkers Press, 2000)
It is also the primary means of converting others according to The Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
“Spoken testimony is the foundation of faith and with written testimony becomes the essence of scripture…
Latter-day Saint missionaries, in particular, rely on testimony bearing, rather than on logic or artifice, to reach their listeners.”
(Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Testimony Bearing)
Thus Mormon Testimony Bearing does many things including:
1) The Mormon Testimony acts as a “trump card” that over rides logic, reason, even physical evidence.
Which explains why so many non-Mormons have observed that when trying to reason with Mormons about their religion that any evidence – Biblical, historical, archaeological, scientific, psychological, or otherwise that contradicts their “testimony” gets trumped by it. Others have described trying to use reason and logic with True Believing Mormons as, “like talking to someone behind a wall of glass.” Jerry Benson, a Pastor involved in outreach to Mormons in Southern California describes the phenomenon like this:
“To the Mormon, the ultimate test for truth is an “INNER FEELING” or a “BURNING IN THE BOSOM” which tell him that every facet of Mormonism is true.”1
2) The Mormon Testimony acts as a metaphysical “panic room” that the Latter Day Saint can retreat to should anything get in that unsettles them or causes Cognitive Dissonance.
For those unfamiliar with the term or concept, Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a fundamental cognitive drive to reduce this dissonance by modifying an existing belief, or rejecting one of the contradictory ideas. Once the Mormon retreats to this “panic room” nothing gets in (like new disturbing evidence) and nothing gets out (like old comfortable beliefs) until the crisis has passed and/or Cognitive Dissonance has dissipated. Again, Jerry Benson:
“When the Mormon is confronted with scripture from the Bible that refutes the teachings of the Mormon Church, or when he is faced with documentation proving the unreliability of the Mormon books of scripture, or when you have shown him a dozen absolute contradictions from Mormon sources, you will probably be treated with ‘THE MORMON TESTIMONY.'”2
3) The Mormon Testimony acts as the active agent in converting others to the Mormon religion.
As President James E. Faust Second Counselor in the First Presidency stated in a March 1997 Ensign article:
“Perhaps we do not always remember that it is the power of the Spirit that carries our testimony into the hearts of others. Our testimony is our own. It cannot be challenged by someone else. It is personal and real to us. But it is the Holy Spirit that gives a similar witness to another.”
(James E. Faust, “First Presidency Message: The Importance of Bearing Testimony”; Ensign, March 1997)
However, Ex-Mormons – including Returned Missionaries and Stake Mission Presidents – have suggested that quite another force is at work here – human psychology. In fact, these Ex-Mormons assert that one of the LDS Missionary’s core tools – the so-called, “Book of Mormon Challenge” is nothing more than emotional and psychological manipulation. For those of you unfamiliar with “The Book of Mormon Challenge” (also, and often more commonly known as “The Moroni 10 Formula”) it’s as follows:
The Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:2-6:
And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you.
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God] that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
This formula is intermingled with Missionary Coaching as Jerry Benson points out:
“In the Mormon Missionary handbook in the mid 1980’s, “The Uniform System for Teaching Families,” instructions were given to the missionary on how to “bring the people you teach to a knowledge and conviction of the truth” effectively. (Page A-l) “Keep in mind how you want the family to FEEL… help them FEEL GOOD ABOUT THE GOSPEL.” (Page A-l, No. 4)
Further instructions encouraging this FEELING were given:
“As the Spirit confirms to you that those you are teaching are receiving a witness of the Spirit, pause in the discussion and say, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Brown, what you are FEELING right now is the Spirit of the Lord testifying to you that we are teaching you the truth. You are beginning to receive YOUR OWN TESTIMONY of the truthfulness of this message.” (Page A-3, No. 4)
NO LESS THAN 84 DIFFERENT TIMES in the series of missionary lessons given to “Mr. Brown,” the missionaries were instructed to “TESTIFY” of the truthfulness of their message. Over and over and over again, they reinforced virtually every point they make of a personal assurance that it is true–that the Book of Mormon is true, that God did speak to Joseph Smith, that the true church was restored, etc., etc.
Although modern missionary handbooks [editor’s note “The Uniform System for Teaching Families” was replaced by “Preach My Gospel” in 2005] have removed these embarrassing statements, they are still encouraged to “bear witness” to the truthfulness of their message as they feel the spirits prompting.”3
Benson’s outsider’s voice is joined by a multitude of former Mormons who have analyzed deconstructed this approach to “revelation”. Consider the cases of Bob McCue (a former Bishop and Stake Mission President, and now an agnostic) and Shawn McCraney (a former Born-into-the-Covenant Mormon, Returned Missionary, Temple Mormon, and now a Born Again Christian). Their methods and styles are as different as these ExMormon men are. McCue, a Canadian Tax Lawyer, has written a series of calm, even toned articles on the Mormonism. Excerpts from his most comprehensive article on the subject of Mormon Testimony Bearing comprises a major part of this paper’s final section.
McCraney, on the other hand hosts a popular Salt Lake City based television program where he has been passionately – even aggressively – outspoken in his criticism of Mormon Testimonies. There was no better example of this than the August 26, 2008 show entitled “By Their Fruits – Part 3 – Revelation Unsupported by Scripture” where @13:01 into the program McCraney slowly and methodologically deconstructs not only how he developed his own Mormon Testimony but the techniques that he and his fellow Missionaries used to induce those investigating the LDS Church into developing a personal Testimony experience.
One of the keys to this proselytizing process, according to McCraney is that if an investigator’s testimony that doesn’t produce the desired result is simply rejected as either “false” or the investigator is told that they didn’t fully meet the requirements of The Moroni 10 Formula – such as praying with real intention or real faith. Therefore, and this can’t be emphasized enough, in Latter-day Saint culture only one result is valid when it comes to Mormon Testimonies!
This moved from abstract to real for me when a Mormon on a now defunct internet discussion board challenged me when I bore my Mormon Testimony which went like this:
“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 read the Bible and prayed regularly for over 30-years. I have also studied, sought God and prayed about the veracity of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, as well as many other official LDS Church documents. I have felt an intense “burning in my bosom” many, many, many times in my life — in fact, I carry it with me everyday of my life. And it is that which I feel when I testify to this:
I bear witness that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a man made religion synthesized by Joseph Smith, a false prophet. To that end I also bear witness that all the Mormon “living prophets” that followed Joseph Smith up and until today have been false prophets. Further, I bear witness that the Book of Mormon is a work of non-inspired 19th Century fiction. Finally, I testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as well as all it’s splinter groups are non-Christian cults.
Here I stand before God and before men. Thank you for letting me share what I know to be true.”
Ironically, I was only one of five board members who bore similar testimonies as a result of taking “The Book of Mormon Challenge”. Every single one was rejected as “invalid” by the Latter Day Saint thread participants. In the lightly edited board exchange that follows you’ll find my deconstruction of the psychological dynamics underlying the typical Mormon Testimony as well as the typical LDS reaction to it.
“When you took the Book of Mormon challenge did you go in skeptical or did you think as I did, “How could this book come from anywhere but God?” That is what I asked myself, and that was the beginning of a revealed testimony which transcends the arguments of Man!”
What you’re describing is what’s known as a “presupposition”:
verb (used with object), -posed, -pos-ing.
1. to suppose or assume beforehand; take for granted in advance.
2. (of a thing, condition, or state of affairs) to require or imply as an antecedent condition: An effect presupposes a cause.
The problem that I see here is that when you took the “Moroni 10 Challenge” you didn’t read the Book of Mormon objectively simply reading and considering the words on the page you presupposed that it was from God and guess what – that’s exactly what you found!
This is a known psychological phenomenon called a “gestalt closure” where your mind “closes the loop” with a known recognizable object, desired or predetermined conclusion. This is normal and natural – we all do it. It’s actually it’s an indicator that God is a God of order because He designed our minds to seek out order even in the midst of randomness or even chaos. Here’s an example:
GESTALT PRINCIPLE OF CLOSURE
The Gestalt principle of closure means that the mind is able to derive meaning from objects or pictures that are not perceived in full. For example:
I-m s-re th-t y-u w-ll be a-le to und-rst-nd th-s s-nt-nce
Most people are still able to read, “I am sure that you will be able to understand this sentence”, in the above sentence although nearly 25 percent of the letters have been omitted.
That’s because the mind is quite able to bridge the gaps that were left in the sentence. That’s due to Gestalt Closure. Here’s an example: In the figure above you should see an integrated figure thanks to Gestalt Closure:
An example of gestalt closure. The mind bridges the gap to fill in or complete the “white” figure in the middle.
Gestalt Closure and Snapping
However, Gestalt Closure also has a dark side. For example, in Mind Control Cults it’s used to guide the investigator to a “snapped” psychological state as their mind projects into, or brings to closure a predetermined conclusion that they conditioned to “presuppose” by the person in the cult guiding them to “snap”.
Such as, “If you will read the Book of Mormon with an open heart and open mind then I’m sure that you too will see – as we do – that an inspired book like this, revealed to an ignorant, uneducated farm boy, could have ONLY come from God!”
So you dutifully go off and start reading the same Book of Mormon and guess what, you’re sudden struck with the new “reality” is no ignorant, uneducated farm boy could write this great book of inspiration – it could have ONLY come from God!
Yet, others who just read the book without any Mormon preparation think that it’s (take your pick):
What’s the difference? One person reads the book with presuppositions and see inspiration and another takes it at face value and doesn’t. Same book, completely different results.4
“For the record (and good laugh) could you please explain, or give us a practical example of a ‘stereotypical Gestalt Closure/Cult Snapping experience?'”
Sure let’s look at the infamous ‘Moroni 10 Formula’ that’s at the core of ‘The Book of Mormon Challenge’ shall we?
STEP 1: The “Moroni 10 Formula” is introduced to the Investigator/Born-Into-The-Covenant-Mormon (I/BIC).
Look at the language of the passage it’s quite interesting – note, in particular, the bolded words and especially the bolded and redded words.
2 And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you.
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
6 And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
These instructions implant random patterns into the subconscious of the I/BIC:
This book will open me to “wisdom”. […if it be wisdom in God…]
This this book will open my memory […ye would remember…]
This book will cause me to receive some things. […ye shall receive these things…]
This book will open my “heart” […and ponder it in your hearts.]
If I do the above I will receive something as it says, “And when ye shall receive these things”. Not“if” but “will” – an absolute emphatic.
Once I receive that “something” I must seek “spiritually”, (not intellectually) as it says, “I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true;”
However, if I want to keep the things that I’ve received my “heart” must be sincere as it says, “. . . and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart . . “
And I have to be intentional or I’ll not only not receive but not keep what I receive, as it says, “. . . with real intent . . . “
So if I don’t receive anything it’s my fault – I wasn’t sincere or intentional enough in my heart.
Or I didn’t have enough “faith”. [. . . having faith in Christ . . .]
But if I’m really sincere and really intentional and really have faith then I will have truth revealed to me, [‘…he will manifest the truth of it unto you . . .
And it will be from God [. . . by the power of the Holy Ghost…]
And if I’m “good” I will acknowledge this “truth”, if I’m “bad” I will “deny” it! [“…whatsoever thing is good is just and true…”]
And if I do deny it, I am denying Jesus Christ Himself! [‘…wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.’]
Again, these random prepositional parts and pieces are called “implants” – they create random but concrete forms so that Gestalt Closure can fill in the gaps via psychological projection.
More examples of the mind gestalts to create a unified whole out of bits and pieces of information.
So with these implants rolling around their subconscious, the I/BIC trots off to seek this transcendent experience. And very often they find it . . .
Then all these, loose, random, implanted patterns work until a recognized pattern merges and concertizes in the conscious mind and “BAM!” the I/BIC “Gestalts” the desired result: An emotional, non-intellectual, irrational witness that Joseph Smith is a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is from God.
OPTIONAL LOOP BACK TO STEP 1:
AND if they don’t receive it, per the Moroni 10 Formula, the I/BIC knows to do it again until they “get it right” and do it with enough. . .
- Intention, and
. . . to achieve Gestalt Closure. And this step is often done repeatedly until the I/BIC “gets” a Mormon Testimony that they can bear. Even if the Moroni formula isn’t fully understood, or only partially understood, or not understood at all, the I/BIC still has the random implanted thought, “There MUST be something here! The Missionaries/My Parents/My Friend/The Internet/etc. told me that there’s something here so there MUST be!”
The Mormon preparatory technique is a fine example of how to create a situation where Gestalt closure has a high probability of success.
But probably the most telling evidence that The Mormon Testimony is a guided Gestalt event is the uniformity. Sit through the typical (3-hour) “Fast and Testimony” meeting at your local LDS Ward Meeting House and nearly all of the testimonies given will match the following template with only the slightest modification:
“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.”
(“Testimony Glove”, Friend magazine, October 2008)
As Jerry Benson says plainly from years of working with Mormons, “Almost all Mormon testimonies are identical.”5
Were this truly a “personal” testimony rather than a “implanted” testimony based on a corporate template that has been reinforced by Gestalt closure wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect less uniformity and more originality? Just compare and contrast the heartfelt but often rambling, disorganized, fragmented, even confusing testimonies given in Churches, 12-Recovery Groups, even ExMormon groups to the equally heartfelt but neat, concise and formulaic Mormon Testimony and the contrived, induced nature of the latter becomes even more apparent.
“You claim that when overwhelmed with evidence, logic and reason, a Mormon will retreat into their testimony like someone retreating into ‘A Panic Room’. This ‘Panic Room’ concept is a crock and just show how truly ignorant and uninformed you really are!”
Well, I’m not the only person who’s seen this behavior from Mormons – it’s nearly universal.
When the facts, evidence, and feelings of Cognitive Dissonance get too hard to process Mormons retreat into the “Panic Room” of their “Internal Witness/Testimony” until they feel safe and settled enough to come out again.
I’ve seen it so many times that I’ve lost count – so have many others.
Former LdS Bishop Bob McCue
From A Former Mormon Bishop
The insight and observations from former Latter-days has been remarkable. Bob McCue (a former Mormon Bishop and Mission Stake Mission President) had far more to say about how this works than I ever have. What follows are excerpts from a lengthy 128-page paper that he wrote on the subject which validates much of the above.
Nowhere is the “saying is believing” paradigm more visible in Mormon culture than in the Mormon custom of “bearing testimony”. Young people who were raised as Mormons but do not “have a testimony” are encouraged to “bear their testimony” until the find it. That is, they should publicly state that they believe Mormonism to be God’s one and only true religion, etc., or that they want to believe this, even if they do not. This is the one of the primary techniques used by missionaries and members of the Mormon Church to “strengthen the faith” of prospective members and young Mormons, including Mormon missionaries who do not yet believe. A large percentage of the Mormon missionaries who started their missionary service with me in 1977 fell into this category.
Mormon Apostle Russell Ballard referred to this practise by telling a story that dates to Brigham Young, near the beginning of Mormonism, that is fair to assume has been told many times since then. He told this story at a Mormon General Conference on October 3, 2004. It is important to note that anything said by a Mormon Apostle at a General Conference is more important than scripture from a Mormon point of view. That is, to the extent that it does not contradict scripture it is on par with it, and to the extent that it contradicts or “clarifies” scripture, the scripture is overridden. Ballard’s remarks were as follows:
My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them.
Many years ago Brigham Young told of an early missionary in the Church who was asked to share his testimony with a large group of people. According to President Young, this particular elder “never had been able to say that he knew Joseph [Smith] was a Prophet.” He would have preferred to just say a prayer and leave, but the circumstances made that impossible. So he started to speak, and “as soon as he got out ‘Joseph is a Prophet,’ his tongue was loosened, and he continued talking until near sun-down.”
President Young used this experience to teach that “the Lord pours out His Spirit upon a man, when he testifies that [which] the Lord gives him to testify of” (Millennial Star, supplement, 1853, 30).
The lesson, I believe, is clear: having a testimony alone is not enough. In fact, when we are truly converted, we cannot be restrained from testifying. And as it was with Apostles and faithful members of old, so is it also our privilege, our duty, and our solemn obligation to “declare the things which [we] know to be true”
Brothers and sisters, join together with the missionaries in sharing your precious testimony every day, witnessing at every opportunity the glorious message of the Restoration. The fire of your testimony is all that you need in order to introduce the gospel to many more of our Father’s children. Trust in the Lord, and never underestimate the impact your testimony can have upon the lives of others as you bear it with the power of the Spirit. Doubt and fear are tools of Satan. The time has come for all of us to overcome any fear and boldly take every opportunity to share our testimonies of the gospel.
So, Ballard is saying several things. First, Mormons have a duty to say they “know” the Mormon Church is true more often. Second, they should say that even if they don’t believe it is true. Third, they should ignore the feelings of fear and doubt that indicate they do not know the Mormon Church is what it claims to be. And fourth, the act of saying something is true will cause them to “know” that they did not previously know.
And most of all, Ballard is saying that the basic premises of Mormonism are sacred, and hence unquestionable, as far as Mormon leaders are concerned.
I recall being told that story, and others like it, when I was a young person and did not believe that Mormonism was “true”. However, my testimony did not spring from saying things I did not believe. Rather, the dynamics described by the short story “The Missionary” are closer to what I experienced. And so, I was never a fan of the “say it even though you don’t believe it” philosophy that is prevalent within Mormonism.
As noted above, when I served my mission a large percentage of the missionaries who entered Mormon missionary service do not have a “testimony”. It is commonly believed within the Mormon community that young men are sent into the mission field first and foremost for their own good ? that is, to get their own testimony and become firm in the faith. And, they are encouraged to find their testimony by bearing it. That Ballard would say this at a Mormon General conference is not surprising since he has been a key player in the formation of Mormon missionary strategies for decades and has consistently taught this principle in that context at least since I was a missionary in the late 1970s.
Think of how the principles Aronson outlined above would be likely to apply to one of the many Mormon missionaries who starts his missionary service without a testimony. He doesn’t yet have a testimony of his own, and many times each week for two years he stands in public wearing an authoritative looking suit and bears solemn testimony in God’s name with regard to the truthfulness of the Mormon Church. He is not paid to do this. In fact, he knows that he is sacrificing his and his family’s money and time in order to have the privilege of bearing this testimony. So, either what he says is true, or he is a liar (or fool) to have said it. Since few people like to admit that they have been fooled or are a liar, the easiest conclusion to reach is that the statements made must be true. He also knows he is encouraging the people who hear him to make a commitment that will absorb a huge percentage of their lives and will change the course of their lives in dramatic fashion. This situation is calculated to produce the maximum attitudinal change in those young missionaries.
Something similar happens when regular Mormon members bear testimony to their friends and neighbours, and it is intensified if any of those friends become Mormons as well. This is why Mormon leaders like Ballard are constantly after the members to do missionary work with the friends, and to bear their testimonies. That is not to say this is a conscious strategy on the part of Mormon leaders. Rather, there is a strong correlation between members who bear regular testimony and members who remain faithful, hence testimony bearing is encouraged. Cognitive dissonance theory and the principle of insufficient justification in particular provide a cogent explanation as to why this is the case, and it has nothing to do with the truth of Mormonism’s claims. Not surprisingly, a similar strategy works well for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and many other religious groups.
Mormon leaders justify the practise of encouraging people to say things that they don’t believe on the basis that those things are certain to be true, so even if the person saying them does not believe them to be true, she is still telling the truth. So, testimony bearing is a fundamental part of the Mormon culture. Each meeting, class, Mormon activity, etc., is opened with prayer. Most Mormon prayers are an implicit bearing of testimony; a certification that the Mormon Church is the Mormon Church’s God’s true Church. From the time they are able to speak their first words, little children are encouraged to utter such prayers. They do so at their meetings on Sunday, and at home on a daily basis with their families. Those occurs both in private, with Mom and Dad initially saying the words for the child, and in public before family members in the home each day and later in larger groups at Church. Formal testimony bearing is part of every lesson presented at Mormon Church or activity, and every speech (talks by Mormons) presented in Church services. Young people, again, begin to give these talks on a regular basis starting at age three or four. They are encouraged to bear their testimony each time they stand up and give a talk. Most adults have teaching responsibilities within the Mormon Church. They also bear their testimony each time they stand before the congregation to teach.
Mormon hymns are another form of testimony bearing. Starting at age 18 months, Mormon children are taught to mouth the words to songs that testify to the truth of the Mormon message. Each week these songs are sung at Mormon worship services for children, teenagers and adults. Mormon are encouraged to sing these songs in their homes during weekly Family Home Evenings and to have them playing in the background at other times.
Once a month, each Mormon congregation has a “fast and testimony” meeting. This is a meeting held at the end of a Sunday on which food and water are abstained from for a period of 24 hours by faithful Mormons. Toward the end of that period, the testimony meeting occurs. Going without food weakens body and the intellect, making it more susceptible to emotional experiences. These meetings are intended to provoke emotional experience. Feelings are shared with regard to the importance of family, community and a part of every testimony is a formula which has been laid down by Church leaders respecting belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the current prophet (whoever he may be) is also God’s only prophet on Earth and that the Mormon Church is the one and only true Church of God on the Earth. No dissenting opinion is permitted. And a steady stream of members approach the pulpit to express their faith in public. It is thought “cute” to have small children to stand up before the congregation to utter the words “I know the Church is true; I know the Book of Mormon is true; etc.” Special, and highly charged testimony meetings are held for teenagers at “Youth Conferences” and other special youth meetings which for many young Mormons is where the first visible glimmers of testimony are felt, and magnified. The short story “The Missionary” explores this process.
The “Testimony Glove” a mnemonic device used in the LdS Church to teach Mormon children how to bear testimony.
A variety of other similar examples from within Mormon culture could be described. I do not accuse Mormons of consciously planning to brainwash their children and those who investigate the merits of the Mormon Church; however, the system just described could hardly be better designed for that purpose. Again, I do not accuse Mormons of dishonesty or deceit. There may be a few at the top that are guilty of this, but the vast majority are certainly not.
Other Mormon Behaviours Related to the Principle of Insufficient Justification
Mormon culture includes many other behaviours that are likely to bring the principle of insufficient justification to bear on the creation of belief in the key tenets of the Mormon Church. For example, Mormons go through odd temple rituals that require promises of faithfulness and obedience to be made in front of other members of the community of faith; Mormons act as lay leaders of their congregations and commit enormous amounts of time and effort to Mormonism in this way; Mormons spend two years as full time missionaries while bearing testimony daily and baptizing new members who look up to the missionaries as their literal saviours; Mormons hand out Books of Mormons to their friends and otherwise encourage their friends to join the Mormon Church because it is God?s one and only true Church; and Mormons engage in many other behaviours that are part of Mormon culture and that publicly commit them to the Mormon Church. In each of these cases, the principle of insufficient justification will kick in to make Mormons feel that the Church must be ?true? and otherwise more valuable that it should objectively or rationally seem in their lives. Were this not the case, they were either liars or fools to do and say the things they did, and it is hard for most humans to consider that as a viable alternative.
I engaged in many of the behaviours just indicted while I was a faithful Mormon. The principle of insufficient justification would predict that this behaviour on my part would have created a powerful cognitive dissonance barrier to any information that indicates that the Mormon Church is not “true”. This is because if the Church is not true, I have been either dishonest or foolish by virtue of having done what I did, and I “know” that I am neither dishonest nor foolish! And, as noted in greater detail below, the more important to me is my image as a smart person, the more effective that cognitive dissonance barrier will be.
(excerpted from “Do Smart Mormons Make Mormonism True? And Answers to Other “Tough Gospel Questions” in Reply to a Faithful Mormon Scholar’s Defence of Mormonism”; Bob McCue; June 20, 2004; Version 3)
What Does The Bible Say About The Mormon Testimony?
For the Christian, Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (NIV) is as good a description of The Mormon Testimony as you could hope for. It says:
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.
Perhaps the most interesting phrase in this Bible passage is, “. . . if the sign or wonder of which he was spoken of takes place . . .” In other words, God, through the human instrument Moses, was saying, “There will be false prophets who can produce signs and wonders!” But then God goes on to explain how you can tell what criteria for veracity you’re to use when you’re confronted with one of these false but able to produce signs and wonders Prophets, “. . . and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,'” God says (paraphrasing), “Regardless of what signs and wonders the prophet produces you are to judge him by his behavior and on the content of his words. Specifically, does this prophet push you toward Me the true God of Israel or does he push you away from Me and toward other gods?” So at the end of the day, the issue with anyone who claims to be a divine prophet isn’t miracles or how the prophet makes you feel, it’s what he says and does – it’s it’s behavior and content not feelings, signs, or wonders!
So I have no doubt that Mormons and Investigators really do feel something when they apply The Moroni 10 Formula. I have no doubt that the infamous Mormon “burning in the bosom” is real. In fact, Christian Apologist and Ex-Mormon Timothy Oliver to this day says that the “burning in the bosom” that he felt as a Mormon was undeniably real! In fact I have felt that same sensation myself and I know for a fact that it’s real! It is a legitimate sign I do not deny or denigrate that fact at all. It is indeed a legitimate wonder. However when we apply the Biblical test these very real, undeniable “signs and wonders” are irrelevant because Joseph Smith:
Folk art painting of Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.
- Prophesied another God
- Prophesied another Jesus
- Prophesied another Gospel
- Prophesied using Biblical words but changed their meaning
- Prophesied new revelations that are not in the Bible and, in fact, are contrary to it
Nowhere was this call to “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” from Smith clearer than in the King Follett Discourse when he said:
I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to inquire after God; for I want you all to know Him, and to be familiar with Him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of Him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am His servant; for I speak as one having authority.
I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of a being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man.
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.
(“The King Follett Sermon”, Ensign, April 1971, italics added for emphasis)
Though I have had Mormon after Mormon deny it, the content of what Joseph the Prophet preached in the King Follett Discourse was clearly, “‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known).”6 As a result he was clearly a False Prophet. Therefore, the church that he founded are based on false revelations from a False Prophet. And we have been specifically commanded by God not to join institution that holds to “other” gods. This is called “idolatry” – and dear reader, the Bible is clear what the consequences of following a false prophet into idolatry are dire both in this world and the next. If you have any questions, just see Revelation 21:7&8 which says:
“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
(Joseph Smith Translation, italics added)
The Mormon Testimony experience is a real phenomenon. However, applying the Gestalt psychological model to it, the experience and sensations surrounding it are easily explainable. Further, and to review, the Biblical witness is that Joseph Smith was a false prophet. Therefore a Mormon Testimony event is ultimately an emotionally induced psychological experience accompanying a testimony to a false prophet and other gods whom God has commanded His people not to follow. To do so is to take your fate upon yourself.
1 Jerry Benson, “The Mormon Testimony: ‘I Testify to You…’“.
4 My LdS Brother – who had been “prepped” by my Mormon Uncle – felt the infamous “burning in the bosom while my other brother – who had not been prepped by my Mormon Uncle – just picked it up and read it. He called it, “Like reading a book about a bunch of Jews on the Planet of the Apes.”
5 Op Cit, Jerry Benson.
6 And subsequent Mormon Leaders have further validated this by explicitly acknowledging that the Mormon Church follows another Jesus. Since the Bible is clear that Jesus Christ is God, this Mormon Jesus is also another God.
“In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints ‘do not believe in the traditional Christ.’ ‘No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages’”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the LdS Church, “Crown of Gospel is Upon Our Heads”, Church News, June 20, 1998, p. 7)
“As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the LdS Church, “We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, p. 90; )
“It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”
(Bernard P. Brockbank, LdS Seventy, “The Living Christ”, Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1977, p.26; )
(This is the Second Edition of this article. The First Edition was originally published on September 26, 2008 on the now defunct Concerned Christians discussion board)
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