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.