Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Spirit by any other name

What really did me in, in regards to the church, was realizing that the spiritual experiences I considered noetic were 1) experienced by other people in relation to mutual exclusive ideas and 2) replicable using psilocybin.

I've told this to a number of still-believing Mormons. It doesn't phase them at all. I find this very curious. To me, it is like growing up in a family in which we call a certain color red. As I meet more and more people, I find them referring to other colors, such as my yellow or green, as red. At the end of the day, I have to question what it means for something to hold the property of redness. I will certainly reject that an objective redness exists.

So, too, goes the Spirit. I have come across so many recorded instances of people having "spiritual" experiences, I have read testimonials from participants in the Good Friday Experiment (who's drug trips were profoundly meaningful decades later), I have felt similar feelings when passionately discussing humanist principles. People use the same words and describe the same things as a typical Mormon speaker in F&T meeting. I cannot discern some consistent difference between what Mormons (including myself) appear to be describing and what others are describing.

Some people have suggested that I weight my own spiritually noetic experiences (of which there have been several over my life) with more significance. That seems distorted to me--when I think about those experiences, it wasn't that I knew something as much as I felt a profound sense of love. That's a great thing, to be sure, but doesn't have anything to do with knowledge. At least not in any way that I can tell.

I certainly don't think that personal meaning has to coincide with objective reality. It's similar to how my love for my wife and kids is real, but doesn't tell me the state of some extra-subjective thing. They're important to me but they're obviously not important to most people in the world (who are unaware of their existence), so to state that the universe somehow dictates their importance is a great myth (which I subscribe to!), but that's all. I can see the boundaries on the myth without deflating its personal meaning. I can confidently say, "I matter," or "My wife and kids matter," as a statement that transcends myself. For some reason, God doesn't work like that. If I think that God is just my God, but not other people's God, then it doesn't seem like God's really THE Judeo-Christian God anymore. Same for the truthfulness of a church that claims other churches cannot by true.


Blogger C. L. Hanson said...

True, it's kind of strange that in a church whose truth claims are based on spiritual witness, people wouldn't be bothered by evidence that spiritual witness gives contradictory results. For me, this was essentially the sticking point that ended my belief in Mormonism: the tipping point.

September 18, 2007 at 5:02 AM  
Blogger paranoidfr33k said...

Well said. This is a topic I've been most interested in since my "tipping point". Its something that has intrigued greatly. The claims of being able to gain "proof" from praying and getting a spiritual witness are so subjective and seem to have no basis on religion at all. If these same experiences can be had outside the confines of religion, and also outside the confines of the LDS Church, that says a lot regarding the "one true church" model.


September 19, 2007 at 8:54 AM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

hmmm. Not sure exactly what you mean here. I guess I'm not "intellectual" enough to get your drift. = )

I'm guessing that you are pointing out that because of the ability to replicate the feelings of the "spirit" outside of the confines of the Church be it through mind-altering drugs or just "feeling the Spirit" in another church, you are able to say that those in the Mormon religion who claim to have a testimony because of their spiritual experiences, in reality have not experienced anything unique.....even though they think they have.

Is that what you're saying? If not then my following response might be completely off topic.

First off, I don't think one has to be a Mormon to experience feeling The Spirit, so it doesn't shake my testimony in the least to hear of someone who has recieved testimony of Jesus Christ while attending their Methodist service. I know that hardly gets into the full arguments, i.e. a suicide bomber blowing himself up in the name of Allah.

I am sure the suicide bomber has a "testimony" and spiritual convictions of his actions. Who am I to say where he recieved his testimony to blow himself and others away right? So if his beliefs were so strong in such madness, then how do I know my own testimony isn't based on some similar insanity, no matter how strongly I feel or what spiritual experiences I've had? The suicide bomber is so sure in his beliefs....am I just as blind?

You know I really don't have a solid answer to that question. I can just say that for myself conversion is much more than just spiritual experiences. It requires faith, and study along with seeking The Spirit. It's such an individually personal journey that we are all on in the end. It's really impossible to debate. LIke your analogy. How do you argue the color of red? Or the taste of salt? To borrow an analogy I've heard before. It's impossible to describe the taste of salt to someone who has never had it. But, if you have tasted it, then you know what it tastes like even though there really is no words to describe it. For me that is similar to true conversion. You can aruge this point and that, but it does no good until the salt is actually tasted.

September 20, 2007 at 12:00 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

SS, I particularly appreciate the final paragraph of your response. It's a very different tone than I would have anticipated when you first started responding to my blog way back when. No, you cannot argue what the color red is with someone. And while the triggers can be precisely described (the wavelength of light, the chemical reaction with sensory nerves in the tongue) the quale can only be described by the word itself. Salty is the description for the quale.

The question is, what can be inferred from this experience? There is no indication (to me, at least) that people can somehow "naturally" identify the Spirit. (In fact, we might say the "natural man" is intrinsically unable to identify the spirit.) Even people with extensive experience in the church will admit that they struggle with identifying when they are feeling the Spirit and when they are feeling something else. (In this case, a circular filter is applied--if the feeling is congruous with the teachings of the Church, it is the Spirit.) This is unlike red or saltiness: kids learn the name for the quale, but not "how to identify it." Even more complex emotions, like anger or sadness are known and felt universally, without learning how to "identify" them. Missionaries learn how to teach converts what the Spirit is, and what its epistimological implications are. So there appears to be a very significant amount of "cultural" shaping to the meaning of the Spirit. This is not the case with salt or color. Because the epistimological implications are learned, rather than intrinsic to the quale, they must be considered in light of other cultural interpretations.

September 20, 2007 at 6:37 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

This post reminded me of my post a year ago that I wrote after speaking to my sister about the things you described here...

It's interesting to open up your mind and consider how other people of completely different faiths have the same type of spiritual feelings they consider to be a witness. How can God witness two opposing ideas in the same way? Why would he? Which is why I don't think I believe God exists in the first place.

October 8, 2007 at 11:50 AM  
Blogger new deep said...

I hope you don't mind a stranger making a comment.

A few months back I had an old girlfriend from high school give me a call while she was in town for her 20th year reunion. I had the exact same feeling while talking with her that I used to equate with the spirit. If I had still been a TBM how should I have interpreted that feeling? I would have been confused to say the least. As it was I recognized it as an emotional feeling of excitement and fond memories of a great relationship, nothing more.

December 13, 2007 at 10:06 PM  

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