I know that some of my readers are lawyers, some are philosophers and some are very active apologists of our faith. I know this because I read your blogs and am much impressed by your sound reasoning and logical approach to questions of religion, both doctrinal and practical.
I am not trained in rhetoric, argument or apologetics. I am just your basic, average member of the LDS church who loves his religion and finds great joy in attempting to understand and to practice it better each day of my life. I love the doctrines of salvation and of the restoration.
A common understanding
My blog attracts all kinds of readers: stalwart LDS members of pioneer heritage, enthusiastic recent converts, those who are trying to become more active in the faith, those who are leaving the church and even former members who are very much opposed to the work of the church.
My dialogs with those who are members of the LDS faith or those who are former members all seem to have one thing I can rely on: we are familiar with the idea of the personal testimony and what it means to Mormons as the fundamental basis for our firm commitment to our religion.
A foreign concept to some
But when it comes to dialogs with those who are not of our faith, never have been, and who state that they have no intention of ever becoming LDS, I find myself constantly having to explain how our testimonies color our world and why they are so powerful in driving our daily lives.
I’m beginning to suspect that the ideas of having a testimony, of holding it, feeding it, losing it and regaining it are foreign concepts to my visitors who are not LDS. I wish I could come up with an analogous experience that they would understand so I could compare apples to apples.
Even Ex-Mo’s understand
I mean, even the Ex-Mormons who now mock us and our testimonies know that it is a very basic part of our faith. They know that the whole purpose of Primary, Sunday school, Seminary and just about every meeting we attend is really to strengthen our testimonies of the restored gospel.
They may say they never had one or that they were the victims of mass hypnosis or that they are so over their participation in the church because they got a “real” education when they grew up. But do members of other churches not have a similar experience growing up in their religion?
Too much logic and reason
I’m thinking that everyone has to deal with how they feel about their faith at some time in their life. It can’t all be an intellectual exercise where you learn the doctrines and history, analyze it objectively for reason and then reject every semblance of emotion that may have been involved.
Is discussing religion and understanding theology only about being objective, reasonable and purely logical? How cold and sterile that seems to me. Perhaps avoiding dialog about the subjective feeling experience that makes religion come alive is limited to the male gender.
Feelings, passion and revelation
My most poignant and revelatory prayers are those that occur when my heart is broken and I am experiencing great distress over some trial or disappointment. It is when I am clearly feeling emotional about something that I seem to reach the deepest in my communications with God.
Likewise, some of the most powerful revelations I have received have come in those moments of passionate pleading when I am explaining to the Lord my need to understand a certain part of the gospel and how it applies to my life’s circumstances at that time. Such answers are powerful.
Revelation separate from emotion
However, on every occasion where I knew I was receiving revelation, when I knew my prayer was being answered while yet on my knees, the feelings of distress and discomfort disappeared. What flowed into my soul in those moments was accompanied with peace and deep satisfaction.
Because so much of my testimony has been gained in this manner upon my knees in conjunction with much pleading and asking, I have strong emotional memories attached to the revelation that has come as a result of my prayer. But I do not confuse the emotion with the answers received.
Revelation without distress
Thus, my faith, my testimony and my understanding of God’s love for me are increased with each revelatory experience. They are not as rare as they used to be. If I pay the price in intense and passionate effort, the revelation comes, and I know things that I did not know previously.
My prayers are not always answered while I am still on my knees. And not all my prayers are full of passionate, emotional pleadings. Faith does not need to be expressed in distressed, gut-wrenching importuning. A simple, quiet, yet powerful prayer will also lead to timely answers.
I know what I know
I long ago resolved any doubts about the church, the doctrine or the history. My prayers these days are more about understanding how I can be more effective in sharing the gospel with others. So I feel extremely comfortable in my knowledge and testimony of the basic tenets of my faith.
When discussing my religion with others not of my faith, I easily express that I know certain things when they come up in our dialog. It can be a shock when the other person responds with, “You don’t know what you think you know.” Excuse me? How do you know what I know?
Attempts to disprove
I suspect that such statements don’t come from those who are sincere in wanting to understand my point of view on things. For those who view religion as only logical and always reasonable, my assertion that I know something in my soul has often been challenged with a “prove it!”
When attempting to explain that this knowledge is a part of my testimony and that the knowledge was obtained through revelation, the charge is made that I have not really received knowledge and that my experience is totally subjective and therefore must be discredited and ignored.
Summary and conclusion
If you want an example of what I am trying to explain, go read the dialog in the comments of my essay on The Only True and Living Church. Especially note the comment about “retreating into the subjective bubble of your testimony.” How do you explain a testimony in a logical manner?
A testimony is not emotion, but it is accompanied by strong feelings. It is the result of study and effort to understand, and then confirming that knowledge in prayer. It is revelation and it is real. I wish I understood better how to explain it to those who have never experienced it themselves.