FAIR Questions 1: Truth in other religions

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FAIR Questions features a question that was submitted to FAIR volunteers through the FAIR website at fairlds.org. The answer in each episode is compiled from the various responses provided by the volunteers.

And now for the question:

I am a life-long member of the Church currently preparing to serve my mission. I have studied other religions, mostly those that originate in India, and as I have read many of their texts and learned about their beliefs, I felt what I think was the Spirit telling me that what they were saying was true. Now it wasn’t on everything, it was more on a line by line basis. Like when I was reading the Bahagavad Gita, there would be passages that I found spiritually uplifting. The Church states that we are God’s Church and that only we have the proper authority to fulfill His mission. So how do I rectify this? On one side I have my testimony of the restored gospel, but then I read other material and I feel many of the same things. Now I’m not saying that I have a testimony of reincarnation or something, just that a lot of what I see in other faiths is good and pure. And I guess kind of a sub question, what am I to think of people of other faiths talking about their spiritual experiences?

And now for the answer:

We accept truth where ever it is found. Others having truth is not a problem as we make no claim to be the sole repository or source of truth. What we do claim is that only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can you find priesthood keys through which you can properly covenant with Heavenly Father so as to affect your return to His presence as a joint heir with Christ. We also claim to have that portion of light and knowledge necessary to affect the same, but this is NOT an exclusionary claim. So, do not be surprised to feel spiritual confirmations of truth from sources outside the Church, such as the Bhagavad Gita, as such confirmations in no way diminish the power of the priesthood keys you can only find here. There is nothing that says that God cannot speak to and influence peoples of all cultures. Nephi knew this. In 2 Nephi 29:12, he quotes the Lord in saying:

“For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.”

On February 15, 1978, the First Presidency released a statement titled “God’s Love for All Mankind” that says “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”

There is also an excellent article in the August 2000 Ensign that could give you insight on truth from other faiths, that is entitled, A Latter-day Saint Perspective on Muhammad.

God wants us all to have a rich existence. In order to accomplish His purposes he gives each of us gifts and it makes it so, in certain important senses, we need one another in order to be complete. He has given pieces of truth to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and He has given to this people the keys of the priesthood and the responsibility to serve and bless the whole earth. But that is something that should fill us with humility rather than cause us to think that because we have been given such a weighty gift and responsibility we have no need of our brothers and sisters of other faiths and their insight and inspiration.

In short, God does not reveal his word to just a small minority. Remember what President Hinckley said a few years ago: “We, in effect, simply say to others, ‘Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it’” (“The BYU Experience,” BYU devotional address, 4 Nov. 1997). That would be your task as a missionary. Not to denigrate other people’s beliefs and cultures, but to add to the good that they already have.

Good luck on your mission preparation, and let us know if you have any other questions.

If there is an issue that you have been wondering about, you can often find the latest answers at the FAIR wiki, found at fairmormon.org. If you can’t find your answer there, feel free to pose your question to the FAIR apologists by visiting the FAIR contact page. Occasionally, such a question will be featured on FAIR Questions. Before questions are used for this podcast, permission is obtained from the questioner.

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Music for this episode was provided courtesy of Lawrence Green.

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24 thoughts on “FAIR Questions 1: Truth in other religions

  1. Pingback: Mormons believe all religions contain truth? - Religious Education Forum

  2. Spencer Shellman

    What rubbish. If you “felt the Spirit” while reading the Bhagavad Gita, it only means that “the Spirit” is merely the warm tingly feeling you get when you read something that agrees with your preconceived notions and prejudices.

  3. SteveDensleyJr

    Spencer,

    If a manifestation of the Spirit is no more than a “warm tingly feeling you get when you read something that agrees with your preconceived notions and prejudices,” we should expect to observe that most converts to the Church would have preconceived notions and prejudices that have disposed them toward joining. We would probably find that most investigators who later join the Church already abstain from coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol, already obey the law of chastity and just happen to pay ten percent of their income to charity, since their preconceived notions and prejudices have led them toward that kind of behavior in the past and give them a “warm tingly feeling” when they find the Church.

    Instead, what we find is that people usually make dramatic changes to their behavior when they join the Church. They often change their lives in ways that are surprising even to themselves. The fact they do so is evidence that the Spirit has manifested itself in their lives and actually changed their preconceived notions and prejudices. A powerful manifestation of the Spirit can change people’s hearts so that they have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2)

  4. Spencer Shellman

    So, do the world’s 700 million Hindus also “feel the Spirit” when they read the Bhagavad Gita? And if they do, then isn’t God sabotaging his own work by making them think they already have the truth?

  5. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    Where there is truth in the Bhagavad Gita, God can confirm that truth in the hearts of anyone who reads it. Revealing to His children where truth lies does not sabotage God’s work. Leading His children to truth is an essential part of God’s work.

  6. Spencer Shellman

    If someone reads the Book of Mormon and “feels the Spirit”, then reads the Bhagavad Gita and “feels the Spirit”, then for all they know, it’s the Bhagavad Gita that’s the true word of God, not the Book of Mormon.

    As for the “powerful manifestation of the Spirit”, I never obtained one, in spite of all my efforts and everything I endured. I went on a mission, I got sick on my mission, I stayed sick after my mission, and in spite of all my prayers and pleading, God did not help me one bit, and wouldn’t even keep up his end of Moroni’s promise.

    Now you’ll probably tell me that I’m “being tested”, or that I “received an answer but didn’t recognize it”, or other such bologna.

  7. S Goodman

    Spencer Shellman, it’s always very helpful to understand the background behind a given point of view. You wrote, “As for the “powerful manifestation of the Spirit”, I never obtained one, in spite of all my efforts and everything I endured. I went on a mission, I got sick on my mission, I stayed sick after my mission, and in spite of all my prayers and pleading, God did not help me one bit, and wouldn’t even keep up his end of Moroni’s promise.”

    Now I can understand the frustration and eventually the anger motivating your remarks. Alma wrote “… yea,
    even if ye can no more than adesire to believe, let this desire work in you,…”. I would say that you and I both seem to fit into this category and would encourage you to keep at it. A lifetime’s effort would still be worth it if it resulted in the testimony you’ve been looking for.

  8. SteveDensleyJr

    I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita and had a very different experience than when I’ve read the Book of Mormon and have felt that the implications of the truths of the Book of Mormon are very different than the implications of any truth I may have felt in the Bhagavad Gita. (Incidentally, I’ve also read the Koran and the Tao te Ching.) Of course, we will all be judged on the basis of the way in which we acted in relation to the truth we received.

    And yes, you are being tested. We all are. I can’t say why you have not obtained a spiritual confirmation of the truth of the Book of Mormon. It took Brigham Young two years before he came to believe that the Book of Mormon was true. I recently heard the testimony of a woman who has been a faithful member of the Church all of her life, and she only recently received a spiritual confirmation of its truth. She is 44 years old. However, in order to receive such a spiritual confirmation, I would think it would be necessary to remain open to the possibility that revelation is a legitimate source of knowledge. I think it would be very difficult to receive revelation if one has decided that revelation does not exist. I therefore hope that you will allow yourself to remain open to that possibility.

  9. Spencer Shellman

    S. Goodman wrote, “A lifetime’s effort would still be worth it if it resulted in the testimony you’ve been looking for.”

    I should not have to wait an entire lifetime. No one should. If the church is really true, then God should tell me so promptly; otherwise I may conclude that the lack of an answer indicates that the church is not true after all.

  10. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    God knows better than I do when someone should have their prayers answered. But it occurs to me that if it were as formulaic as you suggest, (e.g., I ask and God promptly answers), it would circumvent two of the great purposes for this existence: experience that is gained as we struggle to find the truth, and our opportunity to demonstrate faith while we are tested.

  11. Spencer Shellman

    So what do you expect people to do while they are trying to get a witness of the Mormon church? Follow it anyway, despite the chance that it may prove to not be true after all? Follow it anyway, even though the promised happiness and blessings are not materializing? Any REASONABLE person who went through what I went through in regards to the church, and was still denied a witness, would conclude, “It must not be true after all.”

  12. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    I would expect a reasonable person to observe the fact that the fruit that comes from living as Mormons live is good and desirable. I would hope that at least on this basis, if not on some other, this person would maintain a desire to believe and would endure his or her trials in patience while nourishing the seed of faith and waiting for spiritual confirmation of the truth of the gospel.

  13. Spencer Shellman

    You don’t know many reasonable people, do you?

    Can you seriously believe that the rest of the world is looking at the Mormons and wondering how they can obtain the “good and desirable” fruit that comes from living the Mormon way? They have their own religions, any one of which can make a person just as happy as Mormonism can. The Mormon church simply has nothing to offer them, except for extreme demands on their lifestyles. No one, I repeat, no one is going to go to the effort of adapting to Mormonism if they’re told that they may not know for sure if it’s true until they’re 70, 80, or dead.

    Steve, I’m beginning to wonder if you’ve ever had a thought in your head that wasn’t put there by the Mormon church.

  14. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    I’m not sure why you have felt a need to resort to a personal attack. Perhaps you feel that I have attacked you by inferring that you are not reasonable. If so, I’m sorry. I should clarify that I can understand how a reasonable person could decide, in the absence of spiritual insight, not to join the Church. However, I also believe that it is quite reasonable to commit oneself to the Church even in the absence of a spiritual manifestation.

  15. Spencer Shellman

    “I also believe that it is quite reasonable to commit oneself to the Church even in the absence of a spiritual manifestation.”

    I’m getting the feeling that all of your sentences implicitly begin with “Mormonism is true, therefore…”

    If you remove the assumption that Mormonism is true to begin with, your statement becomes ridiculous.

  16. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    I think you have missed my point. But you do not seem interested in mutual understanding, so there seems to be no point in continuing this discussion with you.

  17. Celestialbound

    Steve,

    If you are the author of the above answer/article, I would suggest that you have missed a very important point. To important to miss. And that is spiritual revelation that leads to diametrically opposed truths to LDS revealed truth.

    Take Christ is not divine for example. Or the many that pray to know if the BoM is true and recieve the answer through revelation that it is not. My favorite example is the lady my friend was teaching who had Jesus appear to her and tell her that the church would serve god’s purpose, but that it was not true; silly, pesky, anecdotal evidence ;)

    Revelation has led to many, varied, and contradictory truths throughout history and in our day. A seeker of truth would be unwise to rely on such demonstrably unreliable methods for determining such important questions about reality.

    The only attempt I have seen to address this issue at all in any type of LDS literature is from Ostler, and while a valiant effort, it fails under scrutiny (willing to discuss the Ostler FAIR talk/article).

    Can you suggest any other reading on this important point, other than the Ostler article? If not, why is such a key, fundemental point so under discussed in LDS literature?

  18. S Goodman

    Celestialbound, you said, “Revelation has led to many, varied, and contradictory truths throughout history and in our day.” I would disagree. You cited several seemingly contradictory instances of revelation to support that statement but each example was a unique individual.

    Revelation is personal and unverifiable. Though I have received a personal witness of the Book of Mormon I can’t use it to prove anything to you. Your lady friend’s revelation can’t be used to contradict mine, nor can mine be used to contradict hers. I’m not saying you can’t try, I’m just saying it’s futile.

    You said, “A seeker of truth would be unwise to rely on such demonstrably unreliable methods for determining such important questions about reality.” A seeker would be unwise to rely on somebody else’s personal revelation for determining such important questions about reality and that truth is something you have heard discussed in depth in LDS literature. How often have we been counceled to develope a personal testimony.

  19. S Goodman

    Spencer Shellman,

    You said, “Can you seriously believe that the rest of the world is looking at the Mormons and wondering how they can obtain the “good and desirable” fruit that comes from living the Mormon way?”

    Yes, we have have over 300,000 convert baptisms a year and for a vast majority of them that “good and desirable fruit” plays a large role in their conversion.

    You said, “The Mormon church simply has nothing to offer them, except for extreme demands on their lifestyles.”

    Thay obviously would disagree about what the Church has to offer them and they seem willing, even at time eager, for those “demands on their lifestyles”.

    Your last statement was, “No one, I repeat, no one is going to go to the effort of adapting to Mormonism if they’re told that they may not know for sure if it’s true until they’re 70, 80, or dead.”

    The missionaries made it quite clear to me that a testimony of the truth would take effort, that faith preceeds the miracle, that I would have no witness until after the trial of my faith, and that faith was not a perfect knowledge. You’ll recognise that all these are often quoted scriptures. This isn’t buried in the small print.

  20. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    Celestialbound,

    You raise an important point. The primary problem with revelation as a mode of epistemology (way of knowing things) is how to know the revelation is from God. Of course, each various method we have of knowing things has its shortcomings. For example, an authority on a subject may give me incorrect information, the premises upon which I base a logical conclusion may be faulty, and even my eyes may deceive me. I think a seeker after truth is most wise to employ a variety of methods. Among these might be: rational thought, empirical analysis, pragmatic application, sensory perception, reports from authorities, revelation from God, etc. At some level, with respect to religious questions, we must rely primarily on revelation. So, again, how do we know the revelation is from God and not generated by our own thoughts, emotions, chemical reactions in our brain, or from Satan? I’m actually working on a couple of articles that will address these questions. To give you a short answer, I think it helps to use other modes of epistemology to help one to recognize the voice of the Spirit. (For your information, I do not write the FAIR Questions articles all myself, but rather edit them from responses given by various FAIR volunteers.)

  21. Celestialbound

    Steve,

    Thanks for your reply. I will be very interested to read your articles. How and where will I be able to access them?

    Steve, I agree that, when the human condition is taken into consideration, that any epistimology can be brought up short. I would suggest even the cogito is unsound. However, given that we are humans, we cannot escape the human condition.

    Understanding that it is understandable that some, albeit as few as possible, axioms are accepted.

    However, I see no reason to accept the god hypotheses or revelation as axioms. What reasons, if any would you suggest for these as axioms?

    If there is no reason for either of those to be axioms, then they must be derived from knowledge following the other axioms. Given the massive amounts of new evidence in modern psychology and neuroscience, it is far more likely that such experiences are the product of the mind. And those that currently cannot be explained cannot be used as evidence as such reasoning commits the argument from ignorance fallacy and is a non-sequitor. Well, if you care that your reasoning in non-fallacious that is ;)

    Either way, I would love your thoughts on my small ramblings if you have time, as well as a way to access your articles when they are published.

  22. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    I don’t think God expects us to accept either His existence or the reality of revelation as axiomatic. However, so far as I have been able to observe, I would not concur in your conclusion that “it is far more likely that such experiences are the product of the mind.” You may be interested to learn that I am also preparing an article on whether or not revelation can be explained in terms of a naturalistic process. The articles to which I am referring will be published here as FAIR Questions episodes.

  23. Celestialbound

    Steve,

    Do you have time to expound upon your oppossing conclusion to mind that the best explanation to revelation is not that it is just the mind, with modern psychology and neuroscience being the evidence behind such conclusions.

    Do you believe that the one making the asserion of a proposed entity/realm is the one that bears the burden of proof?

    Do you believe that extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary evidence?

    Are you planning to address Ockham’s Razor in your upcoming article about the spirit operating through naturalistic means? What I mean by this is that if it can be explained by naturalistic means, wouldn’t Ockham’s Razor come down strongly the simpler explanation that it is purely a natural phenomena and therefore have no need to introduce any further entities?

    Further, does it not begin to bring the attribute of perfect justness of the LDS god into question when the evidence for him is of a highly debatable nature, and sincere seekers of truth can come to honest, sincere conclusions that sin is not real and therefore not repent, and therefore suffer as horrendously as Christ (D&C 19:15-19), and recieve a reward thousands of magnitudes less than those who also honestly came to the opposing conclusion?

    Looking forward to your thoughts if you have time.

  24. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    “Do you have time to expound upon your oppossing conclusion to mind that the best explanation to revelation is not that it is just the mind, with modern psychology and neuroscience being the evidence behind such conclusions.”

    Certainly mental and emotional processes can be mistaken for revelation. I am, however, convinced that there is often something distinct from mere naturalistic processes that manifests itself in my heart and mind that is from God. Again, I’ll be posting a couple of episodes of FAIR Questions soon that expands on this.

    “Do you believe that the one making the asserion of a proposed entity/realm is the one that bears the burden of proof?”

    Yes.

    “Do you believe that extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary evidence?”

    What qualifies as an extraordinary claim? What qualifies as extraordinary evidence? This is not an objective standard for proving the truth but, so far as I can tell, is simply a phrase used by atheists to justify their failure to accept the testimony of believers that God exists. (Interestingly, the claim that God does not exist would require an impossible amount of evidence. But this does not seem to concern them.)

    Atheists assume that the claims of religion are extraordinary and want to impose a higher standard of proof for those who make religious claims than the standard that applies to any other claim. However, outside the religious context, atheists will accept ordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. The claim that men landed on the moon is extraordinary, in the sense that it never happened before 1969. Yet, when it happened, nearly everyone was convinced of this claim with the ordinary evidence of television footage. I’ve never heard of a person who rejects the extraordinary claim that Alexander the Great conquered the known world at age 32. However, this is supported by the ordinary evidence of historical documents.

    Also note that what makes a claim itself extraordinary depends upon a person’s experience. For example, I personally do not find revelation from God to be extraordinary. I think it is a very common and ordinary event. It seems to be a bit more extraordinary when people recognize the revelation and give God credit for it. For someone who assumes that God does not exist, and hopes that He does not, it may require an extraordinary amount of evidence to meet an ordinary burden of proof. They may doubt the veracity of the witnesses, or chalk everything up to naturalistic explanations or to coincidence. This partly seems due to the fact that people tend to believe what they want to believe. This is evidenced when attorneys on opposing sides of a lawsuit, who may both be perfectly reasonable, intelligent, and honest people, draw diametrically opposed conclusions based on who they are working for. If you are one of those who assumes there is no such thing as a perfectly reasonable, intelligent, and honest attorney, consider the fact that the justices on the United States Supreme Court often enter split decisions. Justices are not paid more or less depending upon which side they take. So a financial incentive does not explain in this instance how reasonable people can look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions. We usually are able to explain their differences in conclusions by looking at their differences in worldviews. In other words, since they tend to assume that the world works in a certain way, or simply want things to be a certain way, they will look at a certain set of facts, and draw conclusions that are most consistent with the way in which they expect or want the world to be.

    To some degree, our willingness to accept a proposition depends upon what the implications are for us personally. I am more willing to accept a proposition that does not affect my life. However, religious propositions often pose challenges to the way in which I live, so I am naturally more skeptical. This says more about me and my desires than it does about religious claims.

    “Are you planning to address Ockham’s Razor in your upcoming article about the spirit operating through naturalistic means? What I mean by this is that if it can be explained by naturalistic means, wouldn’t Ockham’s Razor come down strongly the simpler explanation that it is purely a natural phenomena and therefore have no need to introduce any further entities?”

    I will not be addressing Ockham’s razor. However, I do not think Ockham’s razor always undermines claims of divine events. For example, I think the simplest explanation for the existence of the Book of Mormon is that it came to us in the way the Joseph Smith described. Alternative explanations seem to rely on much more complicated schemes. Another example, related directly to personal revelation, is the story Blake Ostler tells in the talk you referenced. As you will recall, he approached a girl as school, to whom he normally would not have spoken, and told her that God wanted her to stop thinking about suicide. The next day, she told him that he saved her life. The simplest explanation for this is that he received revelation from God. See http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2007_Spiritual_Experiences.html

    “Further, does it not begin to bring the attribute of perfect justness of the LDS god into question when the evidence for him is of a highly debatable nature, and sincere seekers of truth can come to honest, sincere conclusions that sin is not real and therefore not repent, and therefore suffer as horrendously as Christ (D&C 19:15-19), and recieve a reward thousands of magnitudes less than those who also honestly came to the opposing conclusion?”

    No. We will all be judged according to our knowledge.

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