Mormons are brainwashed – lying for the Lord

Kalvin, a fairly regular visitor to my blog, recently wrote, “You have no rational defense of your religion. It’s clear you’ve been brainwashed, just like every little kid who’s told to bear testimony until they have a testimony.” As this is a common accusation that is much repeated on various Internet forums where Mormonism is discussed, it is worthy of consideration and response.

I suspect that the source of this claim of brainwashing is from an address by President Boyd K. Packer to new Mission Presidents back in June of 1982 as they prepared to lead their missions and help their missionaries be effective and productive. As is common in any mission, or at least it was in mine, there are always some missionaries who are still solidifying their testimonies.

President Packer’s remarks are found in the January 1983 Ensign article, The Candle of the Lord. He relates, “It is not unusual to have a missionary say, ‘How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?’ Oh, if I could teach you this one principle:

“A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!”

He continues, “Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that ‘leap of faith,’ as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. ‘The spirit of man,’ is as the scripture says, indeed ‘is the candle of the Lord.’ (Prov. 20:27.)

“It is one thing to receive a witness from what you have read or what another has said; and that is a necessary beginning. It is quite another to have the Spirit confirm to you in your bosom that what you have testified is true. Can you not see that it will be supplied as you share it? As you give that which you have, there is a replacement, with increase!

“The skeptic will say that to bear testimony when you may not know you possess one is to condition yourself; that the response is manufactured. Well, one thing for sure, the skeptic will never know, for he will not meet the requirement of faith, humility, and obedience to qualify him for the visitation of the Spirit.” And that, of course, is the key to testimony – the Spirit of God.

Bear testimony to receive testimony

A testimony is one of the hardest things to define. For some, it will never seem to be rational. “Can you not see that that is where testimony is hidden, protected perfectly from the insincere, from the intellectual, from the mere experimenter, the arrogant, the faithless, the proud? It will not come to them. Bear testimony of the things that you hope are true, as an act of faith.

“It is something of an experiment, akin to the experiment that the prophet Alma proposed to his followers. We begin with faith—not with a perfect knowledge of things. That sermon in the thirty-second chapter of Alma is one of the greatest messages in holy writ, for it is addressed to the beginner, to the novice, to the humble seeker. And it holds a key to a witness of the truth.

“The Spirit and testimony of Christ will come to you for the most part when, and remain with you only if, you share it. In that process is the very essence of the gospel. Is not this a perfect demonstration of Christianity? You cannot find it, nor keep it.” Many years of experience with this principle have taught me that this is true. My testimony is strengthened only as I share it.

Lying for the Lord

For some reason, apostates are appalled at this process of bearing testimony of things that you hope are true. They call it “Lying for the Lord”. I think this misconception comes from our use of the word testimony in the church in a manner that is different from how it is used in society and especially in a court of law. In a legal testimony, you only state facts as you know them.

That is not how we define the word testimony in the church. From the glossary on Mormon.org, we read that a testimony is “Knowledge, received by revelation from the Holy Ghost, of the divinity of the Savior and of gospel truths. Members regularly take the opportunity to share individual testimonies for the purpose of strengthening one another.” It is an awesome thing.

I can always tell when something is really important by how viciously it is attacked in writings of the apostates. Satan knows that testimony is the key to conversion and the key to faithfulness. If he can cast doubt on testimonies, especially in the area of how they are received, then he can make inroads in defeating that soul. Yes, the method of receiving a testimony can be illogical.

A rational defense

I’m not sure if I don’t disagree with Kalvin. I’m not sure that I can make a rational defense of my religion or of my testimony. There are so many parts of it that are not logical. No matter how hard I try to explain the logic behind my reasoning, someone will always be able to shoot holes in my logic. So why try? I know some will disagree with this, but to me, faith is not logical.

That doesn’t mean that faith, religion and testimony are not desirable. They are, at least to me. I love my faith. I appreciate my religion and am eternally grateful for my testimony. They mean the world to me. It’s just that I can’t always explain them to others in such a way that they are as desirable to them as they are to me. You see, my testimony is not transferable even when shared.

In the words of President Packer, I have tasted salt, spiritually speaking, and cannot explain to you adequately enough that you will understand unless you too have tasted spiritual salt as well. Many who read this will understand. Others will not. It is not something that can be explained by any rational method. The only way that you will get it is if you do as President Packer taught.

Summary and conclusion

I can appreciate that to some, the idea of teaching and bearing testimony of something that you do not completely yet know to be true can be illogical and bearing false witness. In the course of my church service, I have done as President Packer counseled many times. I studied something out and then taught it, not knowing for certain that it was true. That changed as soon as I did.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been fed by the spirit of the Lord as I stood and taught the truths of the restoration, not yet having a perfect testimony of their reality. In fact, most of what we teach cannot be proven from first-hand knowledge. I wasn’t there when Joseph said he was visited by the Father and the Son, nor was I there when Joseph said he was visited by angels.

Nonetheless, I can and do bear witness of the reality of these events just as surely as if I had been there. How can I do that? Because as I have done so, I have received knowledge into my soul directly through the Holy Ghost, bearing witness to me that what I was teaching was true. That is not brainwashing. That is spirit washing and to me, it is one of the most desirable of all things.

9 thoughts on “Mormons are brainwashed – lying for the Lord”

  1. Tim, You and I do not always agree. But I must compliment you on this little essay. You’ve summed up the process very well. I totally concur.

  2. I have a precious example of the principle. As you know, I didn’t grow up with teachings of the gospel, and I only got the foundations of a testimony as a 19-year old when I was learning about the Restoration.I was set apart as a missionary almost exactly two years after my baptism. I thought I had a fairly solid testimony. As I got more experience about sharing the gospel with others, I realized that I felt my own testimony every time, even if people did not accept it.Then, almost a year into my mission, one day a woman cut me off as I was introducing myself. Her words, “Jesus Christ is dead!” were almost shocking to me, so filled with disdain they were. I was a pretty temperamental guy when I was young, so my instinct was to tell her something quite sarcastic. Instead, I said, “but I know Jesus Christ lives”.That moment has been a milestone for me. I can still feel the awesome spiritual uplift in that moment. It was not a vague, warm, fuzzy feeling that I felt. It is impossible to describe, but the impact on the woman was remarkable. She was in the middle of slamming her door, very hostile, when I said that, and her motion stopped and she was drained of hostility. She looked me in the eye and I could see a conflict of feelings behind. She eventually decided to close the door, but she did it slowly, softly, and kept looking me in the eye all the way. She felt the Spirit, too, but she was not ready to let all her defenses fall down. Who knows what she had been through.Now I was not lying in that statement. Or at least it was a statement of my heartfelt conviction, that he lives. But I was taken by surprise by how strongly that simple sentence impacted me, my companion and her.I have ever since been looking for a good way to explain that experience. How strongly I felt that there is nothing I would not give up to keep that sensation with me. Sometimes I think the gospel is totally logical. But it does require that “leap of faith”.

  3. I had someone once tell me that the only reason I believe in Joseph Smith was that I was taught about him as a kid. I replied, “I had never heard of him until I was 21 but when I read his testimony I joined the Church.” I think that some people are afraid of the truth of the restoration of the Gospel so they have to put you down anyway they can. As far as brainwashing is concerned consider:The idea is to break down the psychic integrity of the individual with regard to information processing, with regard to information retained in the mind, and with regard to values. Chosen techniques would include dehumanizing of individuals by keeping them in filth, sleep deprivation, partial sensory deprivation, psychological harassment, inculcation of guilt, and group social pressure (Wikipedia).When I lived in England the only method that could have been used would be inculcation of guilt. Group social pressure was exerted to leave the Mormons (including from family). To cause someone to go against their values would stress them so much that it would show. Mormons do not exhibit the symptoms of brainwashing. So brainwashing isn’t really viable as an explanation as to why Mormons believe as they do. Any other explanations?

  4. Hi Rickety,Thanks for stopping by my blog and reading my essay written in response to Kalvin. I suspect that he was just repeating what others have said and written. I also read that entry on Wikipedia about brainwashing. I can understand the idea of social or familial pressure on children to get up and bear their testimonies. Some kids love to get up there. Others are reticent and quiet and don’t feel the desire. I can appreciate that.Some people thrive on this method of gaining a testimony – studying it out and then teaching it with the faith that the Lord will bless you with a witness as you teach it that it is true. I am one of those people. My son is not. He learns from life’s experiences. Truth is gained in different ways for different people. So I would say that not every Mormon has gone through this process described by President Packer.So that doesn’t explain why some people are faithful and live the restored gospel as taught in the LDS Church. Brainwashed? I don’t think so. Family tradition. More likely. But everyone has to decide at some point in time if they believe it and will live it. It’s hard to say you believe something if you haven’t studied it out. I think the beauty of President Packer’s method is that it accelerates the process of gaining a testimony. It works for me. Does it work for everyone who tries it? Open question…

  5. Tim, I think the confusion is strongest among those who feel that it is impossible to KNOW anything – that it is lying to say, “I know . . .” The issue to me is how we define “know” in the Gospel context – and how that relates directly how we view bearing a testimony. Nephi said that he “knew” because of what he had “experienced”. (My paraphrase) Alma said the same thing about his vision. He said, “I know this **of myself**.” I tend to translate this as, “I know this **FOR myself**” – meaning nobody else has to know it, but I have had experiences that I simply can’t deny. The things I learned from those experiences are things I can say that **I know for myself**. I have had numerous experiences that really are impossible to explain without God being real and the Priesthood providing abnormal insight. I mean that, knowing full well the arguments of the skeptics. If I shared the details, it would be possible to reject them, but it would be impossible to say that my conclusion is not valid, logical, reasonable and possible. I believe Elder Packer was saying that we need to express those things that we believe with all our hearts – that we desire to be true. I also never read anything in the talk that said we need to exaggerate or couch things in specific ways. Bearing a testimony can be as simple as saying, “I believe with all my heart” – and it is that type of statement that can bring surety through spiritual confirmation. In velska’s case, it can be no more than the willingness to open your mouth and experience it being filled – being willing to let the Lord speak through you without anything being planned in advance, and then realizing what you said was inspired and exactly what the other person needed to hear.

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