Do Mormons Bear A Testimony Before They Actually Have One?

Knowledge Develops Gradually

You don’t either know everything or nothing. A spiritual testimony is not a light switch that you flip on or off, but more like a dimmer switch that gradually grows brighter or darker. Everybody knows some truth. It starts with something as simple as a child saying God is true.

But what about claiming to know specific events that we don’t really know, such as saying we “know” Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God? Do Mormons repeat things until they convince themselves?

“In other words, repeat things over and over until you convince yourself that it’s true. Just keep telling yourself, ‘I know it’s true… I know it’s true… I know it’s true’ until you believe it and voila! You now have a testimony that the church is true and Joseph Smith was a prophet.”
(CES Letter)

False. Alma 32 says we gain knowledge beginning with hope and by testing a hypothesis. This is a long, gradual process where one proves every claim through testing cause and effect.

“Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words….

And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good… for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good.”

In this explanation of faith turning into knowledge, we find a complex and profound process which applies to all knowledge. This is the nature of a testimony of anything. It is alright to bear a testimony of something you only “hope” for, because that is the beginning of the process.

Plato’s Degrees Of Knowledge

Greek philosopher Plato said there are four degrees of knowledge, which he explained in a parable:

In his parable, Plato said knowledge starts with mere allusion to truth like a puppet show casting shadows upon a cave wall. This is the “hope” Alma speaks of. Then, a person turns around and sees the fire projecting the shadows. This is when a person gains a rhetorical belief or conviction of the source behind allusions. Next, they walk out the door of the cave they are in and see how the same principle of light and shadow operates all around us. When Plato calls this a “mathematical” understanding, he means this is a person understanding the nature of operation. As Joseph Smith put it, this is understanding the character of God and a knowledge that your own character is in alignment with it. Finally, a person fully understands that the sun is the source of all visible objects. This is the use of reason with which we approach divinity. Mormonism is different from Platonicism in that the visible realm overlaps the invisible realm. The allusionary puppets that we started out with are not tossed aside as we exit the cave, but kept as the seeds of knowledge.

So when a young child gets up in Sacrament meeting and says they “know the church is true,” this is not a false statement. Alma even says there are cases where “little children do have words given unto them” that can direct people to “the first place” of gaining knowledge or the first stage of hope. Children are indeed able to visibly see the cause and effects of the church’s truth and have a simple understanding, like a puppet play. They can experience how following commandments lead to blessings and see how gospel principles make people virtuous.

Alma says enlightened understanding and expanded intellect are the final degrees of knowledge. Like Plato, he says this gives us the power of discerning things and we see light for what it is. When it comes to right and wrong, or moral truth, Mormons look for a spiritual source with which to discern. We understand the principles behind spiritual cause and effect until we are able to frequently excercise them, and we use the spiritual source like a flashlight. Marxists, on the other hand, approach dialectic by deconstructing things that contradict with their ideology of universal salvation. This is the big difference between us. They alter their environment to fit their ideology; we test dialectic and nurture the source of enlightenment within ourselves to discover truth.

Nobody Is Given Lines – The LDS church does not feed people what to say. The LDS church does not tell people to repeat things over and over. We do not have prayer books or memorized scripts. People “bear testimonies” by talking frankly about personal thoughts and feelings however they wish. Certainly, nobody is told to say anything they think is untrue.

The only thing church leaders want is for people to talk about their thoughts, so that they think about it more and develop their ideas. The point of bearing a testimony is to help the process of developing knowledge along.

Actually, the reason why I decided to answer CES Letter in the first place is because I noticed lots of people on the internet were repeating lines out of Antimormon writings instead of thinking for themselves, and I noticed today’s Antimormon rhetoric is basically the same as Antimormons who have come before. In the history of the world, has an apostate or skeptic ever come up with and developed his “faith crisis” entirely on his own? Don’t people typically read something on the internet or hear something from a friend and it sparks a bunch of other concerns? So why are Mormons being attacked for starting our process of knowledge with a seed of hope when that is also how ex-Mormons lose their faith?

When have you ever seen a Mormon read a script while bearing testimony in church? When has a leader ever told someone to testify of a specific thing that the person didn’t really know to be true? The only time I ever saw this happen was when an Antimormon read a script for their “testimony,” attacking the church.

Testimony Is A Public Presentation

Aren’t testimonies like what you do in school? You present subjects to the class in order to gain a better understanding of it yourself. When the teacher asks you to solve a math problem on the board, do you tell her, “But I can’t because I don’t know that this math principle is true”? That is the whole point of solving it on the board! We publicly bear our testimonies in order to better understand our testimonies.

Likewise, scientists gain a better understanding of their science by “bearing testimony” of their hypotheses in research papers and review journals, even though they don’t start off “knowing” it without a shadow of a doubt. Journals and studies help them develop their ideas, because public presentations help us focus and frame the issue in a logical, clear way, and allows us to receive public feedback. Like anything, it is hard to truly understand the gospel until you can explain it to someone else. We do not make vain repetitions. We boldly declare what we know is right.

CES Letter Logical Fallacies

Falsehood CES Letter says: “What kind of advice are the Apostles giving when they’re telling you that if if you don’t have a testimony, bear one anyway?” This is false. Apostles have never told people to say things they don’t know are true. They simply say we should talk about what we do know. Everyone has some sort of spiritual testimony.
False Dilemna You don’t either “know” an ideology or gospel is true or don’t know it. We all know it to some degree.
Tu Quoque Sketpics often say in order to see why the church isn’t true we need to take a leap and look at the world as if Mormonism weren’t true. Isn’t that the same thing? CES Letter repeats themselves over and over throughout their PDF so many times about so many issues, yet they get on our case about repeating until you believe. Who is trying to convince themselves here? Who is repeating themselves over and over here?
Repetition CES Letter uses several redundant phrases in this argument. “Repeat things,” “over and over,” “just keep telling yourself.”
Strawman Fallacy It is incorrect to portray testimonies as statements only of what you “know is true.” A testimony can be only what you believe or hope for. Who is CES Letter to tell me what my testimony has to be?
Burden Of Proof Why do I need to try to convince CES Letter that the testimonies I bear are from sincere knowledge or belief? The burden is on skeptics to prove that Mormons lie about what they know. It is not up to Mormons to convince you of truth. Find it out yourself.
Poisoning The Well This argument against testimonies is insidious because the more we defend our beliefs fromthe attacks, the more skeptics can ridicule us for ‘repeating’ ourselves ‘over and over until you believe it.’

Difference Between Faith & Superstition – The question of how we gain a testimony or knowledge of truth is an interesting and important issue for discussion. I don’t see how a person can go through life thinking they need to have a concrete knowledge of something unseen before they could support it as truth. At what point do skeptics hear enough evidence for something they haven’t seen, such as evolution or global warming, before they decide it is either true or false? How do they know Mormonism is false?

Well that is the whole point of Antimormon writings, I suppose. It is a collection of evidence they have found that Mormonism isn’t true. Many seem willing to believe fringe quotes that they read on the internet that Joseph Smith used magical rocks to translate the gold plates are real legitimate quotes, but when it comes to spirituality, suddenly knowledge cannot cross over to the realm of invisible truth? I mean, why is a quote that splinter-sect members fabricated decades after Joseph Smith’s lifetime more reliable than something we read in the Book of Mormon? Also, have they really thought through the dilemma their belief in this quote poses: If Joseph Smith was witnessed using magic rocks, how did he produce the Book of Mormon with his head in a hat? So there seems to be a bias about what many skeptics are willing to allow as evidence. When it comes to anything spiritual, it is usually dismissed as superstition.

The difference between faith and superstition is very obvious. Superstition takes a visual phenomenon and gives a scientifically implausible spiritual explanation. Zeus throws lightning bolts to the ground when he gets angry. Faith is the other way around. It starts out with a spiritual explanation and is confirmed with a physical phenomena. Abraham reasoned that his father’s idols were phony, and then he prayed for deliverance and God saved him in a wonderful physical miracle.

Power Of Suggestion? – Is a testimony based on other people’s testimonies, like some kind of urban legend that spreads among the gullible? A memetic phenomenon? A testimony is a spark that helps people plant the seed of faith, yes, but a testimony does not last long unless it comes from their personal relationship with God, as any missionary will tell you. Those testimonies is a shadow play on a cave wall to convince the audience to look into the issue themselves.

What do skeptics want as a method for discovering truth? Well, just look at how many present the “facts.” They tell us DNA analysis shows Native Americans originated from Asia rather than Israel–no explanation. Just accept it. Elephants and goats did not exist in Book of Mormon times–no explanation. Just accept it. Skeptics often appeal to truths they think are self-evident or the ‘scientific community consensus’ rather than really explaining it or providing evidence. It seems to me these kinds of people want a prayer book, a script, a school textbook of beliefs to believe and behaviors to follow instead of discovering and reasoning through truth for themselves. Maybe all American DNA did come from Asia and maybe elephants didn’t exist in America, but you can’t say you “know” these things until you have enveloped yourself in the evidence and you can stand in front of a crowd and “bear testimony” about it.

Of course, discounting the Book of Mormon based on a few cherry-picked “anachronisms” isn’t real science. The scientific thing to do would be to find an object in ancient America that the Book of Mormon claims was never there and then prove that it was in fact there. That would be a solid argument. Actual science should be investigated and celebrated by Mormons and non-Mormons alike, instead of just generalizing from cherry-picked data–because the scientific method of developing a hypothesis is almost exactly the same as the Alma 32 method for gaining spiritual knowledge. The only difference, really, is Alma 32 is a test of people’s words or of a spiritual claim, and science is a test of a physical claim or physical phenomenon.

Knowledge that is based on just what everybody tells you does not advance you toward godhood. That line of thinking points toward the Plan of Satan, where everything is spelled out for us to follow and salvation is universal. This argument boosts the narrative that we should follow Satan’s plan. In God’s plan, we gain power through faith and gain knowledge of the vast universe of invisible truth–not just the truth of the church or that Joseph Smith was a prophet, but of anything that is invisible but useful for our progression. We have the fortitude to plant the seed and nourish it until we receive the liberating fruits of faith. Then we don’t need to rely on the ‘consensus.’

(All claims in this article are personal opinion and speculation. Quotes regarding CES Letter are derived the March 2015 version of CES Letter and may not reflect more recent versions.)

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