Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

For the discussion of spirituality -- from LDS and non-LDS sources
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Cadence
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Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by Cadence » 13 Mar 2010, 04:53

Is it really possible to get a spiritual witness of anything? Whether in the church or out people talk about how they know this or that based on a spiritual experience of some kind. Sometimes it can be very definite such as get out of the house now, and then the house gets hit by a meteorite. I would take that as a confirmation of a spiritual witness. But more common in fact almost exclusively it is so much more subtle, still small voice and all. So what makes this a spiritual witness. Could it not just as easily be a voice in your head confirming what you need to hear. Do we only take it as a spiritual witness because we have been taught that is what it is. Given what we have learned abut the human brain and its ability to play tricks on us how can we really know. MOst of us have experienced the same feeling we get at church watching a movie that moves us.

I have had 4 powerful witnesses in my life that altered the course of my life. Three of them turned out to be either entirely incorrect or at a minimum a mistake. The fourth I have yet to reach a conclusion on, but given my past experience I have begun to question everything. the Bishops answer was to not discount any witness even if it proves unreliable, huh? Whats the point of a witness then.

I have concluded so many people are able to believe in a spiritual witness because they have not experience a contradiction in their life. If say I get a confirmation that God lives I can spend my entire life believing that because I may never experience anything in my mind that rises to the level of contradiction. But if a get a witness of something more specific and the opposite happens why is that. Some people say the interpretation was not correct. But that seems misleading of God to make interpretation so difficult.

To this day I hope and pray for something that will override my doubts and be a witness to the degree I can not doubt. I hope it is not like a Korihor type witness. I will leave it up to God since I still want to believe he knows me best. What that is I do not know, but I am fairly sure it can not be an emotional feeling or thought that pops into my head.
Faith, as well intentioned as it may be, must be built on facts, not fiction--faith in fiction is a damnable false hope. Thomas A. Edison

“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

Curt Sunshine
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Re: Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by Curt Sunshine » 13 Mar 2010, 12:23

Yes and no. They are as valid or invalid as we make them, at the very least - and a handful of mine simply can't be explained rationally without a spiritual component.

I wish I had a deeper answer for you, but all I can say is that I believe in something outside ourselves that can, for some, to varying degrees of strength and frequency, open them up to things that can be explained only as "spiritual".

I also believe some people simply are not open to such experiences, for some reason - and I wish we respected that more in the Church. It's interwoven into various passages and verses in our scriptures, but we tend to accept the more black-and-white, all-or-nothing verses and ignore the implications of the others. I understand that's human nature, but I wish it wasn't so prevalent.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

nightwalden
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Re: Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by nightwalden » 13 Mar 2010, 13:50

I don't believe that living without doubt is a good thing. I just kind of think that ambiguity lends itself to greater power in choosing. If we only see one option or if we don't even consider other options then I think we lose the empowerment that can come through choosing for ourselves.

I choose to believe that God communicates with me through spiritual feelings. But I could be wrong. I don't think that there will be anything to prove one way or the other about it. For me, knowing that I have chosen to put faith in spiritual experiences give them power. I am happy to live my life this way.

Also, about interpretations of spiritual experiences, I feel spiritual feelings but I have to choose what those feelings mean. I don't think God gives us interpretations, I think we have to decide for ourselves what our spiritual experiences mean. I just choose whatever interpretation feels best, but I am not ever certain that the meaning I attached to the experience is of God. I have had things go badly when I believed that I was following a spiritual prompting. I don't know if that means that I chose the wrong interpretation or if God just wanted me to have a difficult time for a while to build my compassion. I don't know. But this is what I believe now.

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Heber13
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Re: Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by Heber13 » 14 Mar 2010, 01:37

Cadence wrote:Is it really possible to get a spiritual witness of anything? ... So what makes this a spiritual witness. Could it not just as easily be a voice in your head confirming what you need to hear. Do we only take it as a spiritual witness because we have been taught that is what it is.
Cadence, I truly believe in validity of spiritual witnesses as much as the validity of logical thinking or scientific proofs.

Like you, I have wondered at times how much is spiritual witness and how much is just my thinking in my head, and at times I feel I can go in circles thinking about it. But after much study and meditation, I believe my spiritual experiences are valid, mostly because I cannot prove to myself they are invalid. I have had them and don't find value in talking myself out of those feelings I had, they are just as valid as my logical thinking in my head in directing my life.

I like the way Lowell Bennion approached the subject in his book, "Religion and the Pursuit of Truth":
Reality as a whole is a wonderfully intricate, complex, beautiful, mysterious, orderly, and yet an awesome thing to contemplate. How could man, from his limited position comprehend the whole of it? Man's ignorance need not, however, deter him. From the beginning of his life on earth he has been looking , listening, feeling, praying, searching, and reflecting in an effort to know reality. His efforts have been fraught both with success and with failure. Both truth and error have been his reward. Man is confident that he has found some true knowledge and that more can be known. And, though error remains an unwelcome guest, eventually it will be driven out by the truth, even as light dispels darkness. [p.21]

Reality is what it is, but each human approach to it is not only partial, but different. To illustrate, permit another analogy. Consider the Salt Lake Valley. The valley is what it is, we assume, and one might think that it looks the same to every man. But men approach it through devious ways: through the mountain pass, through the broad valleys, and through the air. The view varies greatly, depending on the position of the viewer. One's first look at the valley from the point of the mountain to the south is not the same as one's look from the avenues to the north.

Just as one man may view the Salt Lake Valley from several different approaches, so may one look at the whole of reality in at least five different ways. [p.45-6]
He goes on to pursue the different approaches being:
1. Science
2. Philosophy
3. Art
4. Everyday Life
5. Religion

I believe there is a good argument made by Brother Bennion that one is not "better" than the other, they are all just different viewpoints to help us try to view reality.

In that thinking, Science is not more valid than Philosophy just as Everyday Life is not better than Art...they just are different approaches to us viewing reality. Likewise, Religion is not less valid than Science or Philosophy...just a different approach. I believe we are spiritual beings, and experience spiritual witnesses that are difficult to explain through other approaches (science, philosophy, art, or rational thinking).

From all of this...I believe my spiritual experiences are valid, and I have proved them and tested them and found them to be just as valuable to me in providing me answers and comfort and direction in my life as what I see with my physically flawed eyes, or my mentally flawed thoughts...but I do not believe I can make career decisions or money investments or other decisions purely through this one approach of spiritual witnesses. Sometimes other approaches are needed, and all are just as valid...my logical thinking as well as my intuition and my spiritual witnesses. Perhaps there are only different applications of when some are to be used, like tools in a toolbox to help get the job done...not everything is a nail...so hammers don't work for everything, yet that does not lessen the need for me to still own a hammer.

I think the end goal is finding truth...finding answers that work for me and that help my life, however I come to that knowledge. I cherish my spiritual witnesses, even if they have changed drastically over different periods of my life, just as my thoughts have changed over my life span as well.
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

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allquieton
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Re: Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by allquieton » 14 Mar 2010, 11:32

Cadence wrote: Given what we have learned abut the human brain and its ability to play tricks on us how can we really know.
How can we know? I don't think we can know with our logical brain--b/c like you said, it's flawed. So the answer I think is to remember to rely on God, and not ourselves. I tend to rely on my logical brain--even though I know logically that I can't trust it. (Which is illogical.) It's just difficult to let go of...
Cadence wrote:MOst of us have experienced the same feeling we get at church watching a movie that moves us.
I don't get mixed up with this one. I find the witness of the Spirit to be a very distinct feeling. It feels just like a burning in the bosom. Never felt it during a movie--even a Church one. I know mostly everyone disagrees, but I think it's the same feeling for everyone. And of course I know I could be wrong--it's just what I have surmised so far.
Cadence wrote:To this day I hope and pray for something that will override my doubts and be a witness to the degree I can not doubt.
It occurred to me once while reading the scriptures that if a person has faith they must also have doubts. Otherwise they have some kind of sure knowledge and it's not faith. And they are not trusting God, which is hard to do.

Well, I empathize with you much Cadence. I feel like I'm coming out of the same corner.
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Euhemerus
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Re: Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by Euhemerus » 14 Mar 2010, 15:33

I'm going to likely be the heretic in the group here. What brought on my disaffection was my doubt that spiritual witnesses, as I interpret them, are an effective means to gleaning truth about reality.

For a while I felt certain that anyone who trusted such witnesses were simply deluded. I do not believe that anymore, although for me, I do not believe that my spiritual witnesses provide any reliable mechanism of determining truth about reality.

Upon my disaffection I studied a fair amount about psychology, even talking with a good Mormon friend who is doing a PhD in psychology. Often times we as humans use "inference to the best explanation" when deciding what to believe. We even do this at a sub-conscious level sometimes. As I learned about psychology, I felt there were simply too many experiences, too many things going on, too much genetics, and too much baggage in our mind to be able to properly conclude anything without some sort of formalization. For me, even when something appears to be irrational, it doesn't mean there isn't a perfectly reasonable physical explanation for it that I simply haven't thought of. For me, the best explanation is that such witnesses are a product of our mind, experiences, childhood, conditioning, genetics, etc. I leave the possibility open that there could be some outside influence providing such answers, but I don't think it is the best explanation of such events.

This does not mean I think science is perfect, or that logic and reason are the only valid approaches for learning about our world. However, I dispute Heber's claim that
Heber13 wrote:In that thinking, Science is not more valid than Philosophy just as Everyday Life is not better than Art...they just are different approaches to us viewing reality. Likewise, Religion is not less valid than Science or Philosophy...just a different approach. I believe we are spiritual beings, and experience spiritual witnesses that are difficult to explain through other approaches (science, philosophy, art, or rational thinking).
I do think that the scientific method provides better answers than other methods. I think it's easy to claim that "better" is an arbitrary metric no matter what it is. But I think our psychology demands the kind of answers that the scientific method produces. That is, we expect our answers to be consistent with what we observe, to be repeatable, and to be able to use these answers to predict future outcomes. This is exactly the sort of rigor through which scientists put their various hypotheses. This is what allows us to make advances in medicine, technology, and other areas.

For me, if my spiritual witness was to provide me with a reliable mechanism of understanding reality, I would need to be able to characterize it, understand how it feels, predict when I would get an impression, and it would have to demonstrate correctness in the face of observable reality. But that's not what I got with my spiritual witnesses. Like you, they were oftentimes wrong, and sometimes just plain silly. Perhaps I did not know how to properly distinguish emotion from a spiritual witness. I'm open to that. If that's the case, however, then I would ask what good is it to me?

Perhaps I misunderstand the purpose of spiritual witnesses. I'm open to that as well. But in Mormonism, we make a mighty high demand on such experiences - namely we expect them to confirm the absolute truth of a religion, organization, book, and a prophet that had an experience nearly 200 years ago. I can't characterize my spiritual experiences properly enough to be able to use them in such a high demand application.

However, the scientific method is not good at increasing spirituality - and for that I use religion. I am very keenly aware of Ray's precaution
Ray Degraw wrote:I also believe some people simply are not open to such experiences, for some reason
and I try very hard to remain open to such experiences. During my disaffection, and still, I say that should God decide to grant me an unmistakable witness of some sort, then I will most certainly jump back in the ship. I have never dictated what "unmistakable" meant, but it seems like a reasonable expectation to me. It's clear to me that some people do get such witnesses. Until that happens, I will focus on using the church as my tool for helping me spiritually nourish my mind and body.
Don't believe everything you think
- bumper sticker I saw one day

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allquieton
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Re: Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by allquieton » 14 Mar 2010, 16:48

Euhemerus,

It seems to me that if spiritual witnesses were as you wish, then faith would be out of the equation. And I don't have all the pieces of the puzzle, but I do believe faith is a critical part of the plan for us. Just from what I've seen and experienced. It has occurred to me too that God purposefully set up our world and lives so that we are encouraged to turn to him for answers. But there's a price you have to pay for the answers. Which eventually turns out to be not a price, but a burden off your back and a mote out of your eye.
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Euhemerus
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Re: Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by Euhemerus » 14 Mar 2010, 21:22

allquieton wrote:It seems to me that if spiritual witnesses were as you wish, then faith would be out of the equation.
Perhaps so. This is the great paradox of faith for me. However, one can have faith that Islam is the correct path, and it could still be dead wrong. What does that mean about our faith? Unless of course one's path doesn't matter, then I would have to conclude that faith is merely something we convince ourselves of in order to show dedication to that which we deem important.
allquieton wrote:And I don't have all the pieces of the puzzle, but I do believe faith is a critical part of the plan for us. Just from what I've seen and experienced. It has occurred to me too that God purposefully set up our world and lives so that we are encouraged to turn to him for answers. But there's a price you have to pay for the answers. Which eventually turns out to be not a price, but a burden off your back and a mote out of your eye.
Fair enough. I see your point. We will just have to agree to disagree.

Besides any of this, although I hear what you're saying, I'm not convinced that "faith" in this context is being used properly. Faith is something I have yet to fully understand, but here's a definition by Elder John A. Widstoe. In his book "A Rational Theology" page 42-43 (a book used in the church for Sunday School many years ago) he said
Such a law, for instance, is faith, which, in its simple, universal meaning, is man's certainty that in the universe is found everything he may desire for his upbuilding and advancement, and that the eternal relations of universal forces will prevail in the end for his good.
Note there is nothing in there about believing the unbelievable, relying on a spiritual witness, standards of evidence, etc. etc. According to this definition of faith I would say I have plenty! I'm not sure I buy into the argument that having some arbitrarily high standard of evidence destroys faith. If such were true then one could make a case that those who believe have lower standards of evidence (but still arbitrary) and hence their belief doesn't require faith. It doesn't make sense. We all have various standards of evidence for which we will reject and accept various claims. I don't know of anyone that sets a bar on some standard of evidence in the spiritual world, and upon reaching that bar all faith is destroyed, knowledge sets in, and faith is no longer required.
Don't believe everything you think
- bumper sticker I saw one day

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Re: Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by hawkgrrrl » 14 Mar 2010, 23:18

There are some reasons to be cautious about spiritual witnesses:
- Alma 32 sounds like a recipe for confirmation bias.
- Beware of seeking a sign. It's really just a way to absolve yourself from having to make decisions; one "sign" and you no longer have to use your discernment or your judgment in future situations. Plus, if you don't like the outcome, you can absolve yourself of responsibility for your decisions. It's appealing, especially when we feel tired, but it's got its own set of risks.
- Be careful of calling your own wishes and instincts "spiritual witnesses."
- The answers you get are a by product of the questions you ask. Instead of thinking in terms of "true" or "false," think about how something will be useful. What is the witness of? Is it all or nothing? Is it too vague or too specific?
- Time of life has a lot to do, IMO, with one's susceptibility to different types of spiritual experiences. When the NT asks "Can you feel so now?" I think it's also a question about how we will experience things. Likewise, we are told that different people have different spiritual gifts.

Having said that, I find the notion of faith (belief in God), hope (belief in self), and charity (belief in others) very appealing. I also love the idea that faith is something true that can't be proven, since there are many things that are true but can't be proven. My own view is that spiritual witnesses and experiences are only relevant when viewed subjectively and in a very personal context, like dream interpretation or therapy. I think it's valuable to get in touch with our inner discernment and to tap into our insight and wisdom, and I do believe we have greatness within us.

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Heber13
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Re: Are Spiritual Witnesses Valid?

Post by Heber13 » 15 Mar 2010, 10:12

Euhemerus wrote:I do think that the scientific method provides better answers than other methods. I think it's easy to claim that "better" is an arbitrary metric no matter what it is. But I think our psychology demands the kind of answers that the scientific method produces. That is, we expect our answers to be consistent with what we observe, to be repeatable, and to be able to use these answers to predict future outcomes. This is exactly the sort of rigor through which scientists put their various hypotheses. This is what allows us to make advances in medicine, technology, and other areas.
I know you have a greater appreciation for science than I do, since you work with it everyday. But I still think there are things out of the realm of science, and trying to cram those elements through a science shaped hole doesn't seem to fit, and therefore doesn't seem to me to produce the best answers or predictable outcomes for an individual situation.

Hawkgrrrl, I like the way you put it:
Hawkgrrrl wrote:I also love the idea that faith is something true that can't be proven, since there are many things that are true but can't be proven. My own view is that spiritual witnesses and experiences are only relevant when viewed subjectively and in a very personal context
I think there are many things in our lives that can't be proven, and for those things spiritual witnesses are truly valid to me.

I believe this because I don't think it is always about reaching the one true (or "best") answer for a situation. There could very well be multiple paths to a solution and multiple needs that fulfill the seeker. In many cases, it is less important what the "correct" answer is, as providing faith to move a person to action in whatever direction they spiritually/intuitively feel is right, and if that leads to a wrong outcome, you have proven it through personal experience and can now more correctly choose another form of action to continue to learn more. Perhaps that is a form of the scientific method, such as Alma 32 where you test things...but you do it through personal experience and some people benefit from spiritual guidance to move ahead without knowing the outcome for sure. I think that is faith...confidence in something when you can't prove it...but you just have confidence it will be for the best for you, and when you have proven it, then you continue learning and having confidence in the next thing that is unproven. And so knowledge and faith coincide and feed off of each other.

If we are talking mathematics or technology or health issues...I'd go with science to provide best answers to complex situations.
If we are talking my relationship to my wife...there is little scientific approach to how I develop love for her, IMO. She is so unpredictable...I have to try to move away from "If..then.." thinking, and turn to charity and feelings to establish a strong relationship. Even psychology can only go so far in helping, because the individual feelings are unique to the individual circumstance and person, and while there is value in studying psychology to help my relationship...it still comes down to my actions. There is no book to prove how to be a great husband, parent, or friend. My relationship to God is even more complex.

I would prefer a proven scientific answer that always holds true for everyone in the universe at all times...that sure thing would be a great thing to know. I believe this world was designed so that we purposely don't have that situation. When we don't have that, we can still avoid stagnation by using other tools to get us to move ahead with confidence that the outcome will be ok, regardless if that decision is different for every person in the universe. It is moving, experiencing, acting that can lead to happiness or sadness. In that pursuit, we find joy.

I think religion and spiritual witnesses are great tools in those situations, I think the scientific method is sometimes limited in those situations, just like Art has its place to provide enrichment in living that science cannot provide alone.

Over the past 18 months I have seriously thought of dismissing all spiritual witnesses as created in my own mind and worthless. I think after much study and meditation about what helps me the most, I have come back around to believing they could very well be all in my mind, but very useful in helping me feel at peace, and perhaps an outside force is putting those spiritual witnesses in my mind. I can't prove it, but I find validity in my life when I believe it, based on personal experience. And so, if it helps me...why talk myself out of believing it, even if I don't fully understand it? I choose not to. I choose to value scientific explanations, and I choose to appreciate good art, and I choose to place my faith in spiritual witnesses. It just seems to help me be a more peaceful person that way.
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

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