Listening to the Spirit

Viktor Frankl was a very important influence on my worldview in my adolescence. I found this clip the other day and it seemed to be a very good explanation of my view of religion as a Mormon. You could quite comfortably be LDS and believe everything Frankl says here.  Toward the end of the clip, he explains that if God is anything, he is not a fossil. (also an important theme in the LDS worldview).

The first part of the interview gives what amounts to a Mormon idea of the Spirit—which he refers to as “intuition”—and a fairly passable view of why the Spirit is so important in the LDS Religion and its spirit-based epistemology.

To those who can’t listen to the video, Frankl’s position is that intuition is the primal source of truth in human situations because cognitive capacities cannot deal with the absolute uniqueness of the situation in front of us, that requires intuition, which also includes conscience and access to a divine nature.  He says in the beginning of the clip:

“Intuition is the only way to arrive at truth, even when rational concepts, or intellectual capacities fail; because you can rationalize into rational terms only what is not absolutely unique.But if you are confronted with a phenomena which is unique, which never will recur, which only once appears and confronts you, you have to resort to intuition, because intuition can handle the unique things that only once and only here and now are confronting you. “

Frankl’s religion and Mormonism bear some characteristics of undifferentiated God-belief that springs up all the time. (see Insane Clown Posse)

The Apostle Paul: the first Mormon?

St. Paul on road to Damascus

St. Paul on road to Damascus (Photo credit: bobosh_t)

Christian J pointed out in the discussion of my last post that he thought the Mormon model of seeking spiritual confirmation of doctrine was biblical. I think he is right. When I was LDS, I was very impressed by Paul’s discussion in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 2.  It captured perfectly my view of the core of Missionary work.  Those interested in Mormonism would do well to understand how Paul’s words are lived by LDS today.

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The Spirit of God — What is it?

Pentecost & The Holy Spirit

Pentecost & The Holy Spirit (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

I have been thinking an awful lot lately about Mormonism, how to explain it, what it is in the grand scheme of things.  I think the most difficult questions surround what the LDS call the Spirit. Nothing is ostensibly more important to Mormons than the Spirit.  Feeling the Spirit is the central experience of Mormonism. It is enshrined as THE only legitimate tool for conversion, it held up as the guide for every decision in life, and is considered the driving force behind the Church and its mission. 

When I was an LDS missionary in California, I participated in the conversion of about two dozen people.  Some of these conversions had an absolutely magical quality to them. I saw dramatic personality transformations. Over and over again, I felt an overwhelming emotional and spiritual response from those I was teaching.  It was like falling in love– an experience equally filled with magic.  It seemed that those I was teaching, my companions, and others involved felt something very real and very similar. The Spirit would seem to fill the room like a thick mist. It was gripping and energizing. The peculiarity and reality of the experiences were unmistakable.  These feelings convinced me of an unseen world and they were the bedrock of my belief in the Church and in Christianity.

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Explaining Jesus to a child: the witness of the spirit.

I put my six-year-old son to bed the other night and reminded him to say his prayers.  ten or fifteen minutes later he came down with a huge smile on his face, he wanted to call his mom and tell her something (his mother and I are not married anymore). It was too late so he went back to bed. First thing the next morning he came directly downstairs and called his mother to tell her about the feeling he had when he was praying.  He explained to her, and later me, that he had this amazing feeling when he was praying and could not stop smiling about it.  Watching this experience–like so many I have had as a parent– was like looking into a mirror reflecting myself at his age.

Of course this experience raises so many questions for me, and for perhaps should raise this questions for all Christians: How do we explain the witness of the Spirit to a child.

I actually do not have a good answer– a satisfactory explanation of spiritual experience like this is perhaps the biggest question I have in life. I know there are all kinds, including those that do not involve belief in God, but my son deserves one.  And he deserves one in language he can understand.  I reject many aspects of the explanation he is routinely given at LDS church, and I am not satisfied with what I did tell them.  So I put it to anyone who reads this–how would you explain this experience to my son, if he was yours?

So, so you think you can tell . . . .

Evangelicals consistently criticize Mormons for relying too much spiritual experience to tell them the truth of things. This is understandable given how tenacious the belief in the Book of Mormon is amongst the LDS.

In the  previous post Cal commented:  

Kullervo said, “. . . . subjective mystical experiences are not a reliable indicator of objective truth.”

Since we’re straying from the topic, I’ll be as brief as possible. My dictionary defines “subjective” as “of, relating to, or arising within one’s self or mind in contrast to what is outside.”

When I move toward spiritual truth and consequently feel the peace of God come onto me, that’s from outside. It is as real as anything physical. It doesn’t come from any bias I have.

I like Cal’s point,  He is telling us feels the influence of God in the same way that he feels other external phenomena. I think we should be able to accept this in a common-sense way without argument. I personally have experienced such feelings.  I firmly believe that what I call God has had a direct influence on my life, in some way.

The issues that remain are two: verification and interpretation.

Cal’s word alone does not verify that he is experiencing an outside influence, even if we believe he is honest, because he could be fooled. He admits that people are fooled all the time, Mormons in particular.  Mormons believe that Evangelicals are fooled.  Indeed, Christians believe that there is an active unseen force specifically trying to fool everybody all of the time.

More importantly, even if we concede that Cal’s experience is external, it is clear that he is not giving us a narrow, scientific interpretation. He is interpreting the experience within a huge framework of Christian ideas. We know that people that experience the same thing often interpret the experience very differently based on their experiences and mindset, brain chemistry and genetics.

The problem of course, is that for the religious, the interpretations become more important than the experiences.  We are told to listen and learn from what God tells us, so long as it doesn’t tell what is too different from what other, more trustworthy sources tell us.  Mormons allow for leeway in spiritual interpretations son long as they don’t threaten the authority of the church, and Evangelicals allow for leeway so long as it fits neatly within their creeds.  Both sides tell us to both trust and distrust what seems to come from God.

Its hard for me to see which view has any chance of getting a handle on the external spiritual forces that effect human beings all the time. Most atheists seem to have given up on the conundrum, believers seem comfortable with blinders on.

Who is trading heroes for ghosts here?

Ignoring the reality of the supernatural doesn’t seem the answer, but boxing it up in a theology also seems very problematic.  I worry that trying to see all my experiences through some lens will invariably lead to some sort of blindness to what is really going on.  This leads me to an strong distrust of most all theology.  How does your brand of Christianity deal with this problem?