Friday, July 17, 2009

Mormonism's central tenet: If you believe it's true, then you will believe it's true

So I was raised Latter-Day Saint, and I haven't blogged about that at all yet. I guess now is as good a time as ever.

Something that has always bothered me is the passage in the Book of Mormon that is always presented to potential new members (the church refers to them as "investigators") as a litmus test they can use to determine whether the things they are being told are true or not. The passage reads as follows:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
---Moroni 10:4

Okaaaaay.... so let me get this straight: I should ask the voice in my head whether these things are true or not, and if I approach the question already having faith in the teachings, with a real intent to have the voice in my head tell me it's true, and with a sincere heart hoping for it to be true.... then the voice in my head might tell me it's true? Shocking!

I'm pretty sure that if you try hard enough to believe in anything, you can make yourself believe it. This is not exactly an earth-shattering observation. And yet, it's supposed to be one of the most convincing "proofs" of the validity of the Book of Mormon.

If the BoM had been written a century later, this verse probably would have recommended clapping your hands too.


  1. "he will manifest the truth of it unto you..."

    It presumes the conclusion (that BoM is "the truth"). And it infers that if you don't get the message it's because you didn't ask with a sincere enough heart (you didn't have enough faith--and you're probably a sex fiend too).

    The most virulent of religions all engage in this bias confirming meme... it's the equivalent of blaming the parade veiwer for not being "pure" enough to see the emperor's new clothes. Woo "wins" either way, and the delusional get the glory. The truth tellers are shamed or bullied into silence.

    The fact is, faith, burning bosoms, and feelings are not avenues towards truths.

    There are lots of similar stories out there:

  2. It's from the book of Moroni? Yup,sounds pretty moronish.

  3. Yeah, I had a couple elders come to my house when I was a teenager and try to convert me. Their whole schtick was to have me read bits of the book of mormon and pray about them to see if they were true (The whole "burning of the busom" thing). Even as a baptist, I wasn't about to buy that.

  4. Didn't Boyd KKK Packer once say something to the extent of "a testimony is found in the bearing of it"? It's even better: you don't even have to believe it's true, you just have to say it. It might take a little time, but you'll eventually brainwash yourself (and others, bringing more tithe payers in) into actually believing it.

    He's next in line for being the profit. That ought to be at least mildly entertaining.

  5. That passage is really an invitation to play a willfully self-deluded game of "Let's Pretend".
    The tricky part though, is pretending not to notice you are pretending. After all, if you can make it to to your dying breath with your fingers firmly stuck in your ears and with Pascal's wager aforethought, then it might actually work out for the best.
    La La La! I'm not listening, 'cause Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.

  6. potential new members (the church refers to them as "investigators")

    I can't believe other religions haven't taken this and run with it. "Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and get this super cool decoder ring!"

  7. This is not an uncommon view in religion. I was raised fundamentalist christian, and it was always taken that if you approached the lord with an "earnest spirit", the truth would be revealed.

    It tortured me. I believed with every fiber of my being. I had the most earnest spirit ever. But I never felt the holy spirit. I rededicated myself to god daily. I studied the bible, memorizing huge swaths of it. But still nothing. I decided I must be too sinful. I destroyed anything I owned that did not glorify god. I began evangelizing, and trying to bring everyone around me to god.

    And yet, there was still nothing. Eventually, one of the friends I was evangelizing to started asking me questions I couldn't answer, no matter how much I studied the bible. I eventually, after many years, was able to get past my paralyzing fear of hell and damnation, and admit that I felt nothing because there was nothing there to feel.

    Now, when evangelists try to say that god will reveal himself to those that approach him, I'm a good counterargument. I spent the majority of my life doing exactly that, and there was never any answer.

  8. "Well, Ananda, if it does not make sense to you do not believe it. No matter who said. Not even if I said" from dialogues of the Buddha. A much better test that will never fail you.

  9. @CM: Yeah, the whole bearing your testimony thing is a pretty ingenious brainwashing technique. Let's see, we're going to have everybody go 24 hours without eating, and then once their minds are nice and lubricated we are going to start peer-pressuring them into taking turns going up and saying how intensely they believe in this stuff. Oh yeah, and little children that are too young to understand the whole rigmarole? Have mommy whisper in their ear.

    @JohnKing: Hrm, I had forgotten about the times I earnestly prayed hoping to "feel the spirit" and not actually having it happen. Yeah, that sucked.

  10. Faith: The voice in your head that tells you to trust the voice in your head.