The truth of the matter is, even though as Mormons we are not practicing science when we feel or sense the Spirit, we still have a methodology for doing so, according to our time-tested and proven epistemology. Even though Atheists and Ex-Mormons have no respect for what we are doing, we go forward anyway. Our epistemology that we accept is different from theirs, as would be expected.
The epistemology is clear to Mormons, that already know the Spirit by experience and feelings and manifestations. But to some Mormons, they simplify it too much. Because there is a flaw in the assumption that it is just manifest by sensations. It is by manifestations in general, in whatever shape or form the Spirit chooses to manifest them, and they come according to the various spiritual gifts people have. Only at certain times are "sensations" the actual manifestations I speak of.
Trying to help people interpret their sensations is only the beginning of the process. Somebody has to do it, and somebody has to try to get them to recognize their spiritual gifts through which the manifestations are manifest. While feelings are sometimes the way things are manifest in the beginning, because it is a common manifestation, especially among new members, as people gradually shift toward more spiritual discernment, the manifestations start to get more pronounced according to specific spiritual gifts that these people have.
For me, a number of times, I have had manifestations of the Holy Ghost through the gifts that are mine.
The readers of this article ought to familiarize themselves with the term Umwelt, as used by neuroscientists, a word that they coined from German:
If your mind is only tuned to what your senses sense in their "default" state, and you have not used your body and brain to attune yourself to the manifestations according to your spiritual gifts, you are constrained by the default state of what your biology will sample for you.
So I don't sit here and just presume that the sensory perceptions of mere "feelings," in every case is the Holy Ghost as some people do. This is the mistake that anti's and ex-Mormons have made, because the Holy Ghost that they criticize is actually a caricature of reality, a gross oversimplification that doesn't stand. And so, contrary to their almost childish representations of it, there is an actual process of figuring out the way that the manifestations are made to you personally by the Holy Ghost in the surrounding world, and by experience, this process is critical in the identification of those manifestations. If you are going to attune yourself to it, somebody has to train you in it in the first place. So, I realize that ex-Mormons and anti's have no respect for what missionaries are doing, but Missionaries are giving "babes" in the gospel real basic instruction in the science of the EXPANSION OF THE UMWELT, to recognize the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, and how it interacts with our senses.
And so, because each person's Umwelt is different according to their spiritual gifts, a good "common ground" to start with is feelings, because some spiritual gifts sometimes are manifest in feelings. But for those who do not have the good old "burning in the bosom" as their spiritual gift, this is not a one size fits all. Those people have a more difficult time identifying what part of their particular umwelt the Holy Ghost will use to speak to them, and how to sense those manifestations.
In the book Promptings or Me? by Kevin Hinckley, he shares probably one of the most critical insights I have ever come across about the Spirit where he shared an experience from his mission:
Elder Mark E. Peterson of the Quorum of the Twelve was touring our mission . . . [Elder Peterson] explain[ed]: "This section [i.e. section 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants], talking about the burning in the bosom and the stupor of thought, was meant for Oliver Cowdery in the process of the translation of the Book of Mormon. It was not meant for the members of the Church generally." . . .And yet another critical observation is made by Dallin H. Oaks, referring to the same scripture:
I have talked with many who have struggled mightily, trying to understand exactly what a stupor was or wasn't or why they hadn't gotten a burning response to their prayers.
What many of us forget is that we have all been blessed with various spiritual gifts. The Lord appears to have scattered those gifts among individuals in order for them to rely more on one another. Each gift is different. As a result, the way the Spirit works with us has been individualized . . .
Again, there are those for whom the confirmation/burning approach works on a regular basis. They can testify to its effectiveness in their lives. It is their gift. However if this is not your gift--and for most of us it is not--then coming to understand your particular spiritual gift is part of gaining spiritual maturity. (pp. 46-47)
This may be one of the most important and misunderstood teachings in all the Doctrine and Covenants. The teachings of the Spirit often come as feelings. That fact is of the utmost importance, yet some misunderstand what it means. I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom “burn within” them.In other words, yet again, as Elder Peterson stated, a literal burning is only some people's gift. And here we have another apostle re-interpreting the word burning as something even broader. Some people wonder what the word stupor is talking about. Well, in my experience, when I get a negative feeling where the Spirit is telling me not to do something, it is a feeling that I can only describe as a feeling of sickness or "ickiness" in the pit of my stomach, or in other cases, a feeling of discomfort toward something. For me, it usually has nothing to do with a feeling that causes forgetfulness. Nevertheless if you think of the word stupor as something that causes you to halt, coming to an abrupt stop in what you were doing, this is what the word describes for me, where the Spirit will not allow me to go forward. Nephi said: "And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance . . ." (2 Nephi 32:7). Even though this is from a different context, yet the Spirit stopped him.
What does a “burning in the bosom” mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word “burning” in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.
Truly, the still, small voice is just that, “still” and “small.”
“The language of peace, as spoken by the Lord, embraces a sense of quiet confidence, comfort, and warmth. It is gentle and calm, amiable and sweet; it is temperate and kind; it is orderly and identified by happiness, joy, and feelings of love” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, The Holy Ghost , 14).
A personal experience illustrates how the Spirit teaches us through our feelings, even those persons who may not be familiar with the process of revelation.
(Dallin H. Oaks, Teaching and Learning by the Spirit, March, 1997)
Hiram Smith, the brother of the Prophet also described the same type of thing this way:
A certain good sister came to my house and she was troubled because she heard so many big things. She thought it weakened her faith. I told her she had too much faith. She believed too much. I will tell you how you may know whether the thing is true or not. When any one comes to you with a lie, you feel troubled. God will trouble you, and will not approbate you in such belief. You had better get some antidote to get rid of it. Humble yourself before God, and ask Him for His Spirit and pray to Him to judge it for you. It is better not to have so much faith, than to have so much as to believe all the lies. (The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star, Volumes 5-6, p. 87)And so, if something such as feelings is not easily describable through words, and yet even manifests differently for different people according to differing spiritual gifts, you can see the difficulty in communication in conveying what someone ought to be trying to understand to be the Spirit in their case. And a lack of respect from the enemies of the Church on the matter, where they dismiss it out of hand, doesn't make the issue any easier to deal with.
Before, I referred the reader to Dr. Eagleman, a neuroscientist, and his concept of the Umwelt, and provided links for the reader. What he is doing with technology and how the brain interprets the data coming in, is precisely what missionaries are trying to do with people when they train them to recognize the Spirit. They are trying to give them basic training in how to get their mind and brain to recognize the part of their personal umwelt through which the Spirit communicates to them, and the patterns and principles used through which the communication and manifestations of the Holy Ghost comes.
If Atheists don't respect it, that doesn't bother me. I am comfortable with it, and I use it, and I train my children to discover their specific spiritual gifts through which the Holy Ghost is manifest to them, and it is not always the good ol' "burning in the bosom."
But I think that you can see here, that my analysis of the situation is not the naïve Mormon "feeling" argument only, but rather, I am trying to identify the manifestations of the Holy Ghost more broadly than that, and how people can detect them, so they can know how the Lord is specifically speaking to them.
So, if ex-Mormons, are going to properly address the issue of the Holy Ghost and how they don't believe it, they can't just address this by quoting once again the old cliché that feelings are not good indicators of truth, in order to try to get Mormons to abandon their belief. Rather, they need to address the fact that people who "never got answers" likely never were obedient long enough in order to finally encounter the precise way the spirit would finally manifest itself, or were never trained in such a way that they were able to find the precise spiritual gift through which the spirit would speak to them. And this is a flaw in the training aspect of how to understand the manifestations of the spirit, because many people in the Church concentrate so much on the "feeling" type of manifestations, that they miss other important ways that the manifestations occur.
More often than not, people that are confused because they have not "felt" a "burning" or even a "calmness" are people who do not have the burning of the bosom as their spiritual gift. And therefore, for these people, it is not as simple as never having had the feelings.
And so, because of these factors, I agree that feelings are not necessarily always a good indicator of truth for people that do not have that gift, since, it is only that way for those with that type of gift, and more often, that is not their only gift. So they ought to move forward to a better indicator if they can. A good indicator of truth is to identify in a particular case what a person's spiritual gifts are, to have them exercise themselves in those gifts, and finally for them to be able to discern those indicators. This is not a simple problem. And so, the oversimplified criticism of the feeling by the Ex-Mormons is indeed an oversimplification.
Yes, the Holy Ghost speaks through spiritual manifestations, not always feelings in particular. And because of that fact, dismissing it on the issue of feelings is not a good thing to do, because it cannot address the bigger problem that if people are not "feeling the spirit," maybe they aren't supposed to "feel" the spirit in the first place. Maybe they are supposed to sense the spirit in some non-conventional way. Maybe they are supposed to see a spiritual manifestation before their eyes. Maybe they are supposed to witness a spiritual manifestation in action. Maybe they are supposed to hear a voice. Maybe they are supposed to dream a dream. Maybe they are supposed to see angels. Maybe they are supposed to witness meaningful disconnected occurrences that some would supposedly call "coincidences." Maybe their gift is more "spooky," where they are supposed to dowse to get their answer, like Heber C. Kimball with a rod. Maybe they are supposed to perform bibliomancy with the scriptures to get their answer. Maybe they are supposed to see a spirit to get their answer. Maybe they are supposed to miraculously heal someone as a sign to get their answer.
In other words, let's boil this down. What kind of sign from heaven are people supposed to have in their particular case? Because more often than not, yes, a feeling is not necessarily their gift. They must identify their gift with faith.
I don't see in Moroni's promise a promise of a burning in the bosom. I see a promise of a manifestation according to the gifts of the spirit that belong to an individual. That is not a simple thing, but is a promise of an eventual manifestation if the person holds out long enough to figure out what it is, and if the person is in the right mindset of "true intent, having faith in Christ," etc. Therefore, it is not a valid thing to say that somebody did not or will not get a manifestation just because they did not get a burning in the bosom. Did they truly recognize what it is, and did anybody help them try to figure it out beyond the burning thing? And to train them to expect that they should get a burning in the bosom as their manifestation is a disservice to them if it is not their gift. To try to figure out one's spiritual gift is not a simple proposition if it does not come as a burning.
I know truth by the Spirit, and someone over-analyzes that, and can't accept that I know it by the Spirit, then so be it. Someone may say, how do you know that this sign is the spirit? It is by long experience, until the manifestations become so intense that they cannot be denied.
How do you know that it is a sign of the Spirit of Truth? Because it harmonizes with everything that through long experience through many people's lives is the way that brought them happiness by living according to the things that it leads to.
Not everybody on the path of Mormonism has cognative dissonance who know of complexities of Church History, as Ex-Mormons try to claim. It may be true for some that merely see a light at the end of the tunnel, but who are still in that tunnel. I have no cognative dissonance personally, because I have sampled a few things where I have emerged from the tunnel entirely, and know what the light is at the end. There is no cognative dissonance after one emerges from the tunnel. Yes it is difficult for those who are still in the tunnel entirely, and when they don't have perfect knowledge of any one thing, it is a trial of their faith. Once they emerge and have perfect knowledge of certain things, then it becomes more comfortable and tolerable that one is still having to have faith in other things.
After a certain amount of time, certain things in life after long experience are crystal clear and become anchors to the soul. That is as perfect as knowledge needs to be in order for it to be functional as a rock on which to build one's reality. This is pure experience in the living of one's life where certain things after a certain number of years harden like cement in one's perceptions, after every aspect of these things has been examined from every fundamental angle, and after attacks from the outside on these facts have been examined from every fundamental angle. When all attacks on these "facts" (as close to facts in one's perceptions as can be) have failed to budge the "facts", then the facts are basically facts, and are known as perfectly as they can be known, and there is nothing fundamental left to be known about them. Anything else to be known about them is not something fundamental to them. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, there is fundamental, perfect knowledge about that fact, and there is nothing else that is useful that could be known about it that would change its nature, or what is known about it.
Therefore, for all intents and purposes, this is perfect knowledge about a fundamental. And this is all I need to move forward and continue on as I am, without "cognitive dissonance." Cognitive dissonance is real to be sure, but only for those I suppose who do not have perceptions of perfect knowledge about a certain set of fundamental facts.
And so, there is a certain experiential type of perfect knowledge after long experience. And then there is empirical, hands on knowledge like the brother of Jared had. It is nice if someone can have both, but one can live life enduring to the end with just the first type if necessary, and the first type is for all intents and purposes, perfect knowledge as well.
Through long experience, one comes to know with more solidity that certain intuition, call it thought, call it dreams, call it feelings, call it manifestations, whatever one's gift happens to be, whatever the manifestation happens to be, comes from the spirit. And that discernment comes only with that experience. Some people want people to boil down long experience and mental effort and subjective acceptance of intimate facts of the heart and mind into something that is easily described. But only the analogies are suitable, yet don't entirely suffice. The more a radio is tuned, the better and clearer the reception. And through experience with the patterns and instructions that come via this channel that result in good and correct choices with obedience to it, the more clearer it becomes that it is indeed what it was claimed to be.
Yes, some people that are in the Church have a hard time. That eventually passes if they stick to the correct set of choices. I don't need to go into the rabbit hole of the exceptions to the rule that people who generally make correct choices generally experience good outcomes.
And then finally someone continues on in faith until they finally rend the veil and the Savior stood before them, and they know without faith. And then, some of them like the Brother of Jared may have been allowed to share it. Most do not, and keep it to themselves to have a Second Comforter.
The ultimate proof of truth is when the veil is lifted and you have a Brother of Jared experience, and this is only offered on his timetable under appropriate conditions where you have fully submitted to all of the Lord's requirements. The separation between those that get this and those that do not are those that choose to continue on in spite of Atheists and people in the great and spacious building. Since proof is not offered at first, however, people need to figure out what their spiritual gift is.
Well so, if someone want empirical evidence, they won't mind subjecting themselves to the lifelong test of faith to get their second comforter experience with the Savior. They will know for a surety when they actually touch the marks in his hands and feet and see for themselves.
The requirement for calling and election is that you will serve Christ at all hazards. That means that he has viewed your behavior and your intent and judged it such that if you never have calling and election in life, you would continue on faithful anyway even if you never got it. The hazard or risk or cost or price you take or are willing to pay by your continued faithfulness is that you will continue anyway even if you may never get it. And so, for all those that have given up, yes, they will certainly never get it until they repent and show that they will serve him continually at all hazards. And then, after that, only on his timetable and kindness, as I said.
Everyone at some point in their existence with continued faithfulness gets calling and election, and then Second Comforter, in this life or the next. That is a consistent promise for those willing to endure. But the faithless will never know for themselves until they see Christ in a not-so-favorable circumstance, and then too late, like the five foolish virgins.
I can be proved right or wrong by the fact that life goes on eternally after death, and the experiences we have here only continue on there, and so, I will be proven right or wrong with time. I'm not bothered by the fact that it is something that is not falsifiable empirically at this time. But ex- and Anti- Mormons in general do seem to share one trait. They are unwilling to endure or have patience for answers and proof. They want the result all right now, and if they don't get it right now, they are unwilling to continue. And so for those who say, well I waited this long and nothing happened, so I finally gave up, and that I truly wanted to believe but never got anything and so forth and so on... Well, if you didn't wait long enough to figure out what your spiritual gift is for the Spirit to manifest, and you give up, there is nothing to be done for you. You must come back for anything to be done for you.
And so, here is the thing. Literally, for all of you that think that God owes you something, he is not bound by any promise to give you anything unless you are in fact serving him in such a way that you will continue on regardless of what proof you may ever get out of it, and come to him in such humility that you are willing to take whatever he will give you, and never demand anything from him, and are willing to do it entirely on his terms. So if you think that giving up is the answer, it is actually the sure fire way that you will *never* get the proof you seek until it is too late for you.