Zelophehad’s Daughters

What Sort of Trump Card is Personal Revelation?

Posted by Kiskilili

Thanks to our friends over at New Cool Thang, I’ve been provided with the stimulus to formulate more clearly, for myself, my position on the epistemological role personal revelation should play.

Like Geoff, I believe the individual’s personal encounter with the divine lies at the heart of Mormonism; I believe that personal revelation should occupy a position of primacy in the formation of individuals’ religious convictions and attitudes.

I nevertheless disagree with the extravagance of his claims on the following grounds:

Ambiguity in Personal Revelation

Personal revelation is not self-interpreting, and the process of extracting propositional truth claims from encounters with the divine is anything but straightforward. Revelation is ineluctably subject to the cultural and idiosyncratic predispositions of the individual through whom it is conveyed. As Geoff also concedes, some apparent revelation is better construed as psychotic episode:

Just because some people mistake their own psychosis for revelations from God does not mean there aren’t real revelations from God available to us. Sorting out the difference can be arduous but it also can be done.

The question is, how does one assess the validity of apparent divine encounters? Obviously personal revelation cannot serve as a check on itself–some independent epistemological check is necessary. The diversity of conclusions that have been drawn from individuals’ revelations make it clear that other additional sources of knowledge are paramount–granting charismatic authority a virtual epistemological monopoly cannot sustain the theological homogeneity necessary to maintain a community.

Personal Revelation and the Meaning of Sacred Texts

The issue rests, of course, on one’s understanding of the role the trump card plays in this pietistic game of cards. How exactly does the trump card function?

One possibility is that the trump card overrides conclusions drawn from other sources of religious knowledge, such as sacred texts. But an even more extreme model than this has been proposed, a rulebook granting the trump card licence to construct the very meaning of those texts. This approach suffers from at least two flaws:

First, it exploits the inherent instability of language without holding itself accountable to that very instability. The ambiguity of text is acknowledged only for canonized texts, not for charismatic conclusions formulated from personal revelation. But if these conclusions are articulated as propositional truth claims couched in language, they are every bit as subject to the same interpretive whims that are invoked to manipulate the meaning of canonized texts. Revelatory information cannot clothe itself in language and continue to lay claim to a higher epistemological plane than language.

(Hypothetical example illustrating the resultant instability: Brother J. believes God has revealed to him that women are equally valued. He then somewhat loosely interprets “possession” to mean “independent actor valued for her autonomy.” Sister Z. believes God has revealed to her that women are valued for their ability to facilitate men’s salvation. She then interprets “valued” in Brother J.’s revelation to mean “cherished as prized piece of property.”)

Thus, this model’s attitude toward text destabilizes the legitimacy of its own conclusions.

Secondly, logically, divine inspiration plays little role in constructing the meaning of a text. A text is a social artifact whose meaning is constructed in accordance with the reader’s linguistic competence and experience. To argue that we should resort to personal revelation to construct the meaning of texts is as nonsensical as arguing that when experiments are conducted using the scientific method, personal revelation should be relied upon to formulate conclusions. What then is the point of experimentation or text, once this epistemology as a category has been “trumped” and nullified by personal revelation?

This approach offers a patently ridiculous admixture of epistemologies. Personal revelation is used to neutralize texts as a valid, relatively independent alternative epistemological source. If we say that we only trust personal revelation when it accords with what the Church teaches, but we make sense of what the Church teaches by appealing to our capacity for personal revelation, we engage in circular reasoning–texts cease to function as a potential epistemological check. What texts mean can and should be evaluated independently of one’s experience with the divine.

The Role of Personal Revelation in the Community

Finally, personal revelation is just that–personal, individual, and ultimately unfalsifiable. It therefore serves as an important trump card of sorts when one is playing solitaire. But the community as a whole requires a less ambiguous, more communally accessible anchor on which to plant its shared truth claims. Admonishing others to incubate one’s own revelatory experience is not usually a productive conversational tactic and is likely to result in impasse as unfalsifiable individual revelations are pitted against each other. In appropriate circumstances, we can, and should, testify to our encounters with the divine. But unless we occupy positions of authority in the community, these experiences in and of themselves have little leverage in theological discussion.

78 Responses to “What Sort of Trump Card is Personal Revelation?”

  1. 1.

    “[T]he process of extracting propositional truth claims from encounters with the divine is anything but straightforward.” So very true, Kiskilili, not to mention the prickly question of distinguishing authentic encounters with the divine from spurious ones. Maybe it’s time for everyone to turn in those (problematic) trump cards and just play straight poker for awhile.

  2. 2.

    Kiskilili, you are the bomb.

  3. 3.

    Of course it should be noted that the whole missionary program of the church relies on the power of personal revelation as it’s central message, as does the Book of Mormon. So any invitation to play without trump cards is really asking us to play the game incorrectly.

    While it is understood that we can not have an empirical discussion, and I brought up a similar concern on Geoff’s thread. However, I will say some of the greatest moments in my life have been those amazing personal revelations I have experienced as shared experiences with others.

    And Dave, Trump cards are in Euchre, not poker.

  4. 4.

    it should be noted that the whole missionary program of the church relies on the power of personal revelation as it’s central message

    Matt, I agree, but I’d nuance that just a bit. I think our missionary work depends on personal revelation as the basis for one’s belief that the Church is true, or that God has called one to join the Church. When it comes to the question of exactly what LDS doctrine consists of, however, I don’t see personal revelation as the ultimate authority; for that, I think we have to turn to scriptures and so forth.

  5. 5.

    Kiskilili:

    I’m pretty dumb, so please either ignore me or be patient.

    If not personal revelation then what? It seems to me that within the church personal revelation on the general matters is much more consistent than – well – anything that would be put in it’s place. What would you propose replacing personal revelation with? If I missed that I apologize.

    Personal revelation seems a very important thing within the church. What would be so wrong in the grand scheme if people generally followed or believed according to their personal revelations. Those whose personal revelations were largely consistent with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would find the church and stay and be fairly happy with it. Those who felt they had personal revelations that were largely inconsistent with the church could follow those revelations wherever it was they lead.

    From my very limited experience and reading exegis and theological discussions are much less reliable and inconsistent than personal revelation. I may be missing huge chunks but I don’t see a whole lot ‘out there’ or outside the church that makes heavy claims on revelation. Most of what is ‘out there’ seems to deny revelation altogether.

    I’m not really trying to be disagreeable in any of this. Hopefully my comment is not to idiotic.

  6. 6.

    Matt, it’s true that the missionary program employs discourse and terminology that is centered around personal revelation and the prayer test. But in practice, anytime a sincere investigator develops a desire to join the Church — whether that results from intuition or a careful reading of the Bible or having a striking experience during prayer or just liking the people they meet on Sunday — it is subsequently described as “personal revelation.” Many times the actual experience has little relation to the words later used to describe it. That’s just the way Mormons choose to talk about the conversion process.

  7. 7.

    Lynette, I don’t disagree with you. I personally see personal revelation merely as one type of information communicated to us. I am going through a Widtsoe stage, as I have mentioned before. As I have also mentioned before I like to take the following view, as I believe Widtsoe did.

    The Gospel does not claim possession of ultimate knowledge . . . man is ordinarily allowed to work out for himself the truths of the universe and to organize them into systems of thought which he may follow profitably . . . Knowledge is given directly by [God] only when it becomes indispensable to do so. The distinguishing feature of the Gospel is that it possesses the key to the true philosophy of life. In outline it offers the entire plan if life in the universe(A Rational Theology, Chapter 2)

    Ultimately, for Widtsoe, it all comes down to our own ability to reason as the final stopping point in deciding what is and isn’t truth. All truth should be then accepted and no truth should be rejected.

    Of course, our abilities to reason are all different, and I don’t just mean “processing power.” We all have different experiences which frame our conceptions of the way things are. My personal experience, including my personal revelations, leads me to frame my perception of the reality the way I do. Others may have different perspectives. I do try to open myself up to the views of others, but I am not sure we can really see something with some else’s eyes without being them. (In some concepts of the atonement, this is what Christ did, I might add anecdottally.)

  8. 8.

    Dave: I am a convert to the Church. I joined the Church because I asked God if I should and I was granted a personal vision of what my life would be like if I joined the church. I had some doubts about this, as the going got tough, close to my baptism. I prayed, and the missionaries showed up and told me to do whatever I thought was correct, and that I didn’t have to get baptised if I didn’t want to. I relied on the promise of personal revelation and kneeled down and prayed and ask God if I should join the Church. The word “Yes.” came to my mind and heart in such a strong way I can never deny it.

    While I am aware this isn’t always what happens, and while I am aware it is often what doesn’t happen, ( I served a mission too, ya know.) I am also aware this is the ideal that we would like to happen. Isn’t it?

  9. 9.

    Matt (#8), it’s wonderful when it works that way. But like you say, that’s not always how it happens. I don’t want people who don’t have experiences like yours to write off the Church, whether they be potential converts considering the LDS message or LDS youth considering whether to keep coming to church once they are on their own. The more forcefully the ideal prayer experience is held out as normative, the more there’s a message communicated to those without such an experience that they are less welcome in the Church.

  10. 10.

    I can agree with that Dave, but I still think that is we want to ultimately eventually happen for everyone. The question I hear in your postis a very good one. How do we keep everyone coming without the experience while still encouraging them to have that ultimate experience? Maybe this is why the GA’s don’t about their spiritual experiences in very generic terms. (Of course, that is a two edged sword, sometimes.)

  11. 11.

    I don’t know if this will be meaningful to anyone or not, but I recently posted on a standoff I had between my former Stake President, a High Counselor and myself here. In this episode the SP gave me specific minor instructions that I did not feel comfortable with. I prayed and fasted over it, and felt a confirmation not to do it. When pressed I chose to be obedient to the personal revelation I thought I received over his instructions. This was a difficult thing for me and I agonized over it.

    In a way this is the trump card of personal revelation. I felt I received personal revelation and I chose to follow it even though it went against instructions from the Stake. This is the only time I have felt a need to do such a thing. If you are sure that what you have received is revelation, perhaps almost as sure as Abraham was in his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, you should probably do it. You are a free agent, and FOLLOWING your personal revelation is your trump card.

  12. 12.

    A few brief thoughts.

    First, is textual revelations for personal revelation that common? I confess I’ve not gotten revelation like that. Mine are more conceptual where I have to struggle to put words to the concept. The concepts seem (relatively) clear. That’s not to ignore the problem of fallibilism or ambiguity which is always present. I just think that it’s a different beast from the ambiguity in say Biblical texts.

    Second, personal revelation can never be a trump card because it only applies to yourself. Everyone else can (and probably typically should) ignore it. If someone comes up claiming a personal revelation on some subject of relevance to me I’m probably apt to think them misled.

    So it may be a trump card, but on in the sense of my personal behavior.

  13. 13.

    Clark, unless that personal revelation is to the prophet and it is sustained by Commom Conscent?

    I have only had a few of what I think you are calling textual revelations (where I heard a voice or received actual words) The most powerful and common form of revelation for me is what I can only describe as an overwhelming feeling of love. I have only received inspiration or revelation on what I would consider doctrinal issues once(outside of the doctrinal issue of whether or not the church is true.) and I don’t share that with people, because I don’t know how to verbally express it. Most of the time my personal revelatory experiences are statements of what I should do, what I should say, where I should look, etc. (and of course the feeling of love and comfort.) It’s interesting but revelation is more pointed towards orthopraxy than orthodoxy, in my experience…

  14. 14.

    I think the problem is something already alluded to. Personal revelation is the ultimate self-guidance. In the end, your relationship with the Spirit is what you have to answer to. It cannot function in a vacuum, however. Stewardship revelation (as prophetic/ patriarchial/ priesthood) is to provide a framework for personal revelation. One cannot be completely functional without the other.

  15. 15.

    “Of course it should be noted that the whole missionary program of the church relies on the power of personal revelation as it’s central message, as does the Book of Mormon.”

    The Book of Mormon’s message of personal revelation may in fact involve experience and specifically not propositional knowledge. See my discussion here. In particular, it’s important to note that the Book of Mormon passages inviting us to learn truth through the Spirit also define “truth” as synonymous with “goodness.” In other words, the operational definition of “truth” in these texts is of a moral rather than a factual or logical nature — fictions can be good and therefore “true” in the relevant sense without being factual. So rather than an invitation to acquire correct interpretations of doctrine or philosophy, these texts are really an invitation to experience goodness.

  16. 16.

    RT, I am not sure if you are trying to politely put forth the concept of the Book of Mormon as fiction, but in any case(or just in case), I believe the Book of Mormon is not fiction, and I believe I have had spiritually confirming experiences which allow me that belief. I would agree that the most common occurances of the spirit are love and comfort, however, there are experience I have had where I have felt inspired to go a certain direction, to say a certain thing (ussually in a blessing), or to know something I otherwise would not have known.
    In any case, I believe your are correct that 99% of the time, the spirit isn’t going to whisper doctrinal truths to us. Like I said in a previous comment, I’ve only had one such experience where I felt like I received a doctrinal answer to prayer.

    I believe the most common experiences (maybe 99% of experiences.) of the spirit are
    1.) feelings of love, comfort. (maybe 70% of all experiences)
    2.) promptings of orthopraxy (like “Go visit Taryn.” or the answer “yes” to should I join the mormon church?)(25%)
    3.)feelings of affirmation (like hearing that families are forever and knowing the truth of it or “yes” to is the book of mormon true?)(4.999%)
    4.)revelation of doctrines and truths. (.001%)

    I feel like I am repeating my comment #7. Sorry about that.

  17. 17.

    Matt, I’m not talking about whether the Book of Mormon is fiction, but rather pointing out that the book’s definition of “truth” is such that truth can never be a trump card — because truth is defined as goodness, because goodness is situational rather than absolute, and therefore what is truth in the Book of Mormon’s terms for one person at one time may not be truth for another person at another time.

    On your list of what the spirit gives us, we have this difficulty. Experiences #3 and #4 (which I think are basically identical) may in fact be our misinterpretations of experiences #1 and #2. We feel comfort in our theological confusion and interpret that comfort as an affirmation of one resolution to that confusion. If God’s intent is to comfort us, rather than to clarify, then His purpose is met — but we have felt that we are in situations #3 or 4 when in fact we are in #1. The belief in question is our rationalization of the experience of goodness. In the terms of the Book of Mormon, that good experience and our subsequent self-constructed beliefs — if they reaffirm our faith in Christ — are true for us. But they are not necessarily true in the logical sense of being accurate sentences about God. Further, they may not be good for others who have different needs and situations.

    Kiskilili’s points about interpretation and language are an eloquent and powerful expression of one of the difficulties with personal revelation. We turn it into language and it therefore becomes in substantial part our own creation. I feel that there’s a deeper problem — which is that revelation is fundamentally a mode of experiencing the divine, and not a way of gaining propositional knowledge. The propositional knowledge we walk away from is thus, as Kiskilili points out, our creation. It may nonetheless be good for us and therefore true for us in a technical sense, but it need not be either for others.

  18. 18.

    JNS- For the 90 and 9, I would say you are correct, but then we also have Joseph Smith’s examples of revelations and the promise that we also can attain unto that. I believe we also have such examples from others throughout our history. We can second guess and doubt those situations (Did Spencer W. Kimball accidently give blacks the priesthood because he confused a good feeling with affirmation from God?), and we should in some situations. Eventually thoguh, we have to use our own agency and reason and make a choice whether or not to believe in what we think we are experiencing.

    Anyway, #3 and #4 are very different for me. If anything, I could say #3 and #2 are almost the same, and that #3 is almost swallowed by #2.

  19. 19.

    I should add that I totally agree that I think personal revelation should generally be kept private, if only out of respect for the clearly defined and written order of things in the church.

  20. 20.

    After reading this post and the first 13 comments last night, I was reading in 2 Nephi and came across the well known verse which ends, “for the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”
    Now I know this is an injunction to read the scriptures. Perhaps there is something to be said for revelation gained during reading of sacred texts, specifically. I have very clear memories of reading extensively and asking questions and having answers pop into my mind. I’m not suggesting that this solves any of Kiskilili’s problems regarding ambiguity or application, but it does make sense to me. Revelation recieved while reading scripture would seem to trump that revelation received elsewhere, or knowledge gained from scripture reading without revelation.

  21. 21.

    K – I somewhat disagree on your last point, on grounds that I think Dave is getting at in 6, that Matt W’s most recent post illustrates and that Geoff is basing his thoughts on. That is, personal revelation is integral to the Mormon community. We are taught that 1)it is a trump card, but 2)a trump card of a particular kind. That is, on certain specific issues – as well as on virtually all other questions touching on the validity of the Church’s claims – our personal revelations are all supposed to affirm the same things and overwhelm any doubt we have about the church. In many cases they are supposed to be a trump card for, rather than against, the church.

    We’re all supposed to have felt the Spirit testify to us of the “truth” (whatever, RT, the term means) of the Book of Mormon, the presence of God in our lives, the authority of prophets, etc. We’re all supposed to be able to participate in that particular discourse of testimonies that uses words like “know.” Personal revelation is not supposed to contradict these things, and, as your first point implies, we are (as Dave notes, not entirely unconsciously) guided to interpret our revelations in conformance with these expectations. So, though they may be too ambiguous in their own nature to serve as a community anchor, it’s my impression that we as a church invest a great deal of energy and interpretive power to overcome that.

  22. 22.

    Matt – The problem is not that personal revelation is relative, but that the communication of that revelation is relative. You are right in saying there are two kinds of truth. First, you have factual truths, secondly you have what is right or good for a person.

    I don’t believe that truth is relative in either case, however. For example – one woman suffering with infertility might be told she needs no children in this life, while another is told to have 17 children. Both of these revelations are true for the respective women. The first should have no children, the second should have many. Neither invalidates the other. Neither contradicts God’s eternal Truths (what I think you mean by factual representation) either. The problem arises when one tries to apply their answer to the other. The only reason things appear relativistic is because we don’t have perfect understanding of what is true.

    Jessawhy – that doesn’t preclude, however, a need to know whether or not words are from Christ. Or, indeed, whether or not Jesus is the Christ to the people of His day. That can only be testified by the Spirit.

  23. 23.

    …we also have Joseph Smith’s examples of revelations and the promise that we also can attain unto that. I believe we also have such examples from others throughout our history. We can second guess and doubt those situations (Did Spencer W. Kimball accidently give blacks the priesthood because he confused a good feeling with affirmation from God?), and we should in some situations.

    OK, let’s slow down a bit and take these examples seriously. Kimball’s revelation regarding race and priesthood didn’t contain theological content. Instead, it was an instructed course of action. It’s category #2 in Matt’s 4-kind typology. The Spirit says “do X.” That this message is compatible with a wide (indeed, nearly boundless) range of theological positions is evident from the persistent diversity of Mormon ideas about race and lineage. This clearly isn’t an instance of the Spirit giving propositional truth — as opposed to marching orders.

    Joseph Smith’s revelations also differ in kind from the kind of personal revelation we discuss most of the time. Some were explicitly textual, and others involved visits from or visions of heavenly beings. True, such messages share a source with the experiences we receive through the Spirit, but they are also profoundly different. We shouldn’t assume that the difference is irrelevant.

    In today’s church, personal revelation is almost without exception a description of the kind of experience Moroni discusses — experiences in which we learn truth as goodness, not truth as factual theological propositions. The other kind of revelation, the kind that produces scripture, is just different. It doesn’t interpret itself (just as personal revelation doesn’t), but it does serve as an explicit message regarding theology in a way that personal experiences of God’s goodness simply don’t.

  24. 24.

    You are absolutely correct on the Kimball example, of course. That was a poor choice on my part.

    On the bigger picture, I think we are totally agreeing. Personal Revelation is of all types, but the vast majority of the time it is of type #1 or #2 or #3 and not of the type which JS had. That does not however mean that we can never have the type of experience that JS had, does it?

  25. 25.

    RT: In today’s church, personal revelation is almost without exception a description of the kind of experience Moroni discusses, experiences in which we learn truth as goodness, not truth as factual theological propositions.

    While I would never want to devalue to privileged position of practice in our faith, I’m just not sure the above is true. Of course there’s also a lot of middle ground between “true propositions” and “goodness” (as ethical actions). Consider a person who sees at the temple his dead ancestors he did temple work for. This is neither “goodness” nor “true propositions” although it can be read to entail aspects of both.

  26. 26.

    This is a bit of a repeat of what others have said, but I’ve been thinking about when I would in fact see personal revelation as an ultimate trump card, and I would say that in situations when you’re seeking guidance about what to do regarding a particular situation in your own life (e.g. Matt W.’s type #2 or SilverRain’s example of women receiving guidance about how many children to have), it’s fair to make that case. My impression is that that’s how we as Mormons generally use it; if a General Authority gives a talk giving general guidelines, but you have a revelation that you personally are supposed to do something different, then the latter trumps the former.

    However, I’m less persuaded that personal revelation can trump scripture in the sense that you can use it to ascertain the definitive meaning of scripture (which I think is Kiskilili’s major concern in this post). No matter how strongly you might feel because of personal revelation that God supports egalitarian marriage, for example, I don’t think you can on that basis conclude that when Paul instructs wives to submit to their husbands, what he really meant in that passage was for husbands and wives to work together in an equal partnership. Similarly, as is being discussed at length over on the Thang thread, I think it’s problematic to read D&C 132 as a treatise on egalitarian marriage solely on the basis of one’s personal revelation that God values women equally. I see religious texts as an independent source of truth, one which we have to examine on its own terms. (If we’re going to take an approach in which we assume on the basis of personal revelation that we already know what they mean, I’m not quite sure what the point is of even having the religious texts, since we’ve effectively precluded any possibility that we could learn anything new from them.)

    Admonishing others to incubate one’s own revelatory experience is not usually a productive conversational tactic and is likely to result in impasse as unfalsifiable individual revelations are pitted against each other.

    I agree. I see it as somewhat of a misuse of personal revelation to appeal to it in a way which effectively shuts down the conversation. I might be convinced on the basis of how I’ve interpreted my personal religious experience that when Nephi says his father dwelt in a “tent,” he actually meant “spaceship,” and have gone on to conclude that the Book of Mormon is a record about extraterrestrials. But if I were to introduce this viewpoint in a discussion of this verse, I think it would be fair for others to expect me to come up with independent support for this perspective, rather than appealing to my personal revelation as the ultimate trump card and telling everyone else that they simply need to get a similar revelation for themselves.

  27. 27.

    I might be convinced on the basis of how I’ve interpreted my personal religious experience that when Nephi says his father dwelt in a “tent,” he actually meant “spaceship,” and have gone on to conclude that the Book of Mormon is a record about extraterrestrials.

    But isn’t that what the Prophet Orson Scott Card already told us?

  28. 28.

    Ziff, lol. I knew I’d gotten that idea from somewhere!

  29. 29.

    I’ve also heard that we have the opportunity, even the obligation to take the counsel from the prophets and recieve personal revelation that the counsel is of God and we are intended to follow it. As it applies to the discussion of marriage, an example could be a husband who is normally controlling over his wife who prays about guidance to create a more equitable marriage and receives a confirmation. Does it follow that he would change his reading of the texts (Paul and D&C 132, let’s say) that seem to contradict his revelation? If it doesn’t, it seems that he could change his behavior, while still holding the view that his wife is his property (in some sense) and that he can give or take her, or whatever, even if the current teaching from the prophet is equality in marriage.
    For me, the texts would have to be discussed as incorrect to rule out situations like this.

  30. 30.

    Lynette: No matter how strongly you might feel because of personal revelation that God supports egalitarian marriage, for example, I don’t think you can on that basis conclude that when Paul instructs wives to submit to their husbands, what he really meant in that passage was for husbands and wives to work together in an equal partnership.

    Who cares what Paul thought if you know what God thinks? Can’t Paul (or our records attributed to him) ever be wrong? Joseph thought so — see the JST.

    Similarly, as is being discussed at length over on the Thang thread, I think it’s problematic to read D&C 132 as a treatise on egalitarian marriage solely on the basis of one’s personal revelation that God values women equally.

    Actually, the claim was the section 132 certainly does not contradict the notion that celestial marriage between an exalted wife and husband is egalitarian. There is no claim that the latter half of section 132 (which deals with the earthly administration of plural marriage) was some kind of “treatise on egalitarian marriage”.

    I see religious texts as an independent source of truth

    What makes them independent? They claim to be revelations from God. How can we know if they really are that? I submit that the only way to know is that God must reveal that to us himself.

    Obviously I agree that people can abuse the notion of personal revelation. But it seems to me that more often we seek to make excuses about why we don’t get any.

  31. 31.

    Thanks for all of the civil and interesting comments!

    I should clarify that the question which forms the title of this post was meant sincerely, not rhetorically or sardonically–my intent was that the post itself respond to the question. That is to say, I do believe personal encounters with the divine should form a central role in shaping our religious attitudes. So, Eric, to answer your question (which is certainly not idiotic!) I think we’re likely in at least partial agreement, which is why I said personal revelation is probably the trump card when playing solitaire.

    But in community discourse, like Clark and Dave, I’m wary of the uses “personal revelation” serves. In answer to the valid concern Matt B. raises, I think I would say that, to my mind, it’s appropriate to share spiritual experiences in a context and with the intent of building other people up; it’s inappropriate to discuss one’s own relationship with God as a way of scoring points in a debate by buttressing one’s claims (“Me and God are right and you’re wrong”) or asserting one’s spiritual superiority. Invoking one’s personal spiritual experiences should not be the equivalent of saying “checkmate.”

  32. 32.

    I should add that I’m very much in the rationalist camp that engendered historical-critical biblical exegesis, whose underyling assumption is that sacred text is not qualitatively different from other text, and can be examined using the same tools.

  33. 33.

    What makes [sacred texts] an independent [source of truth]? They claim to be revelations from God. How can we know if they really are that? I submit that the only way to know is that God must reveal that to us himself.

    What makes them an independent source of truth is that they claim to be revelations from God to other people, distinct from our own experience with God.

    My argument is that, if I’m religius, or even if I’m just a responsible reader, I’m obligated to take sacred documents seriously, which means attempting to understand them on their own terms rather than reinterpreting them to conform to my expectations or needs. Responsible reading requires me to consciously separate my personal views from my attempt to make sense of the text. Rather than using my experience with the divine to eisegete the text, I can use that same experience to critique the text (or conversely, use the text to critique that experience). Exactly because revelation is ambiguous, taking both personal revelation and texts seriously need not lead me ineluctably to reinterpret texts to fit my experience or else reject them wholesale–the alternative is to disagree with them.

    Who cares what Paul thought if you know what God thinks? Can’t Paul (or our records attributed to him) ever be wrong? Joseph thought so, see the JST.

    I believe all prophets can be wrong–but this is exactly my point. I’m arguing that it’s more responsible to attempt to genuinely understand Paul and then disagree with him–critique what he says–than to reinterpret his language to make it accord with what I already think, or what I believe God has revealed to me.

    But it seems to me that more often we seek to make excuses about why we don’t get any [personal revelation].

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone make an excuse along these lines, so I’m not sure of the context to which you’re responding.

    I don’t think, however, that we should necessarily assume that people have never had valid spiritual experiences if they fail to interpret their experiences the same way we’ve interprted ours, or if they’re reluctant to discuss them.

  34. 34.

    Who cares what Paul thought if you know what God thinks? Can’t Paul (or our records attributed to him) ever be wrong? Joseph thought so, see the JST.

    You might well ultimately decide that since there is a conflict between your personal revelation and a particular passage from Paul, the latter is wrong. What I’m arguing here is that is that it would be problematic to use that personal revelation to discern what the text means. In other words, I can see a role for personal revelation in our decision whether or not to believe the doctrines being put forth in our texts. But I’m less convinced that we can use it as a tool to figure out what those texts are saying.

    And then once again we’re back to the question of what one happens when one’s interpretation of scripture contradicts one’s interpretation of one’s personal revelation. Since both are fallible, I don’t think we can assume either that revelation automatically trumps scripture in such instances, or that scripture automatically trumps revelation.

    Actually, the claim was the section 132 certainly does not contradict the notion that celestial marriage between an exalted wife and husband is egalitarian. There is no claim that the latter half of section 132 (which deals with the earthly administration of plural marriage) was some kind of “treatise on egalitarian marriage”.

    You’re right; that was an overstatement. Apologies for mischaracterizing your position. I do, however, disagree that section 132 doesn’t contradict an egalitarian model of marriage.

    What makes them independent?

    When I say independent, I simply mean that scripture and personal revelation have the ability to serve as real checks on each other.

    But it seems to me that more often we seek to make excuses about why we don’t get any.

    I don’t think that’s fair. The fact that people disagree about the epistemological priority one should give to revelation doesn’t necessarily mean that some of them are merely looking for excuses as to why they don’t get any, and I think we’re probably better off avoiding speculation about the motives behind people’s positions on this question.

  35. 35.

    Kiskilili,

    It doesn’t appear that you are really disagreeing with any of my intended points in that comment. I mostly was pointing out that with the scriptures from dead prophets there are two distinct questions to be answered:

    (1) What does God really think about the subject being discussed.
    (2) What did the author (Paul or Joseph or whoever) mean/believe when the texts were written.

    In my experience it appears that most people assume (2) is always the same as (1). I think that is not a safe assumption.

  36. 36.

    Lynnette: What I’m arguing here is that is that it would be problematic to use that personal revelation to discern what the text means.

    Yup, I agree.

    I do, however, disagree that section 132 doesn’t contradict an egalitarian model of marriage.

    I agree here too — the latter half of section 132 paints a picture of earthly marriage the is not really compatible with modern egalitarian notions. But again the subject I was arguing over was never earthly marriage — it was over the nature of eternal exalted marriages. And my point was a pretty defensible one I think: Nothing in the latter half of 132 precludes the possibility that exalted celestial marriages are egalitarian in nature.

    When I say independent, I simply mean that scripture and personal revelation have the ability to serve as real checks on each other.

    Ahh — thanks for the clarification. I agree.

    I don’t think that’s fair.

    I think you are reading too much into that. I think God wants us all to be better at personal revelation so that was mostly a “we all can do better at this” comment.

  37. 37.

    I think God wants us all to be better at personal revelation so that was mostly a “we all can do better at this” comment.

    Okay, I can certainly agree with that; it looks like I read an intent into your earlier comment that wasn’t actually there. Thanks for clarifying.

  38. 38.

    Eric Russell (#5) noted:

    From my very limited experience and reading exegis and theological discussions are much less reliable and inconsistent than personal revelation.

    I’ve been thinking about this, because it raises an interesting question. Do some sources of religious authority produce more reliable and consistent answers than others? I’d certainly agree that theological discussion rarely (if ever) leads to a clear interpretation about which all participants agree. However, at least in my experience, stirring personal revelation into the mix usually only adds to the confusion.

    For example, take the ever-exciting issue of women and the priesthood. I’ve seen people report personal revelations to the effect that women will never have the priesthood (sometimes complete with explanations as to why). I’ve also seen people report personal revelations which have communicated to the recipient that women already have the priesthood, and they just need to start using it, or that if they wait patiently, female ordination will eventually take place. And I’ve observed similar kinds of conflicting reports with many other religious questions.

    Obviously we’re only accountable to our own revelations. But I have to admit that seeing this kind of thing has made me a bit more cautious about drawing theological conclusions on the basis of my own personal spiritual experience. It seems all too easy to fall into self-deception here.

  39. 39.

    I mostly was pointing out that with the scriptures from dead prophets there are two distinct questions to be answered:

    (1) What does God really think about the subject being discussed.
    (2) What did the author (Paul or Joseph or whoever) mean/believe when the texts were written.

    That’s helpful; I think I’ve been interpreting your comments as conflating (1) and (2). But I think we’re in agreement that they’re not necessarily the same.

    So this is the situation as I see it. Scripture is limited in its ability to convey the will of God, given the limitations of the human beings who write it. Personal revelation is likewise limited, given that it’s also interpreted by fallible human beings. Where does that leave us? Perhaps just seeing through a glass, darkly; I’m not sure there is a trump card which can definitively extricate us from our situation of ambiguity. (But maybe I’m feeling excessively skeptical today.)

  40. 40.

    Kiskilili – Interesting stuff.

    I agree that our goal is not to “reinterpret the text to conform to our expectations/needs”, but what does it mean to “take sacred documents seriously”? Put another way, what is the purpose of our focusing on the text? Is it to understand the author’s intent? Meaning that our goal is to understand what it is the author is attempting to communicate to us? This is what you appear to me to be saying. I think we do want to understand the author’s intent, but I think that we also want more than that – - we want to understand Truth (with a capital “T”), “things as they really are”(in Jacob’s words), or what God’s will or intent is on a particular matter or principle.

    In many ways, this seems similar to the legal theory called “original intent”. From our dear friends at Wikipedia: “Original intent maintains that in interpreting a text, a court should determine what the authors of the text were trying to achieve, and to give effect to what they intended the statute to accomplish, the actual text of the legislation notwithstanding.”

    There are powerful critiques against the original intent theory by smart law professor types (e.g., there is no one “intent” of a large legislative body and even if there were, it’s often impossible to determine what it was) that pose similar problems for someone trying to understand the intent of the author of scripture. In some ways our problem is even greater because we are not just concerned with authorial intent, we are concerned with the Truth / “things as they really are” / God’s Will. However, in this situation it seems to me that revelation can (and must) play an essential role in helping me determine both what the author intended in a particular passage and what the underlying Truth or Principle is.

    Let’s take for an example D&C Section 74:4-5, which I have always found interesting (and a bit troubling). In this revelation, the Lord tells Joseph that in 1 Corinthians 7:14, Paul “wrote unto the Church giving unto them a commandment, not of the Lord, but of himself, that a believer should not be united to an unbeliever.” Here’s a situation where it’s important not only to know the author’s intent (“Paul wants you to do X”), but also to know what the Lord’s will is on the matter or what underling true principal we should glean from the text; there’s clearly the possibility that if we limit ourselves to the author’s intent (assuming we can nail that down) we may still miss something very important.

    Here’s where I part with Lynnette. She says: “What I’m arguing here is that is that it would be problematic to use that personal revelation to discern what the text means. In other words, I can see a role for personal revelation in our decision whether or not to believe the doctrines being put forth in our texts. But I’m less convinced that we can use it as a tool to figure out what those texts are saying.”

    I believe that if we really want to know “what the text means”, we have no other choice than to rely on personal revelation. Otherwise, you’ve got logic and historical, psychological research, etc. and you put them together for your best guess. (I’m not saying we ought not to use those things – - on the contrary – - just that that the most important element is the Spirit). If you want to really know what God wants you to take away from the text, you get that direct from God through revelation. I think it’s clear from the scriptures that this is how the scriptures are supposed to work. As with all things, the Holy Spirit teaches the truth. In the Gospel context, we don’t have to throw our hands in the air like Justice Scalia and say “how can we ever understand that this text really means!” because through the Holy Spirit God can reveal this to us directly.

  41. 41.

    Addendum:

    I’ve hesitated to address D&C 132 since I’ve not been able to slog through all 350+ Thang comments and 200+ ZD’s comments on the general debate. However, lest I run the risk of not actually addressing the issue everyone is really talking about, I’ll add a couple of thoughts to my late night missive.

    “Taking the text seriously” must mean trying to understand the author’s intent. It seems to me that it must also mean trying to understand and take into account the author’s social, historical, political, regiligious context. The fact is, we understand that sometimes the Lord revokes commandments, reveals new truths that show earlier truths as clearly incomplete, commands prophets to do things that completely violate clear existing commandments. Taken these two things together (the “time bound” nature of the text/author’s intent and the “moving target” of the Lord’s will), I think we are forced to a situation where we view the scriptures as one of the most important sources of truth, but one that has severe limitations and cannot be the sole authority. Without inspiration from the Spirit, there’s little hope of getting from what the Lord wants us to get: an understanding of how He wants us to live and act and believe TODAY.

  42. 42.

    Travis, the trouble with Justice Scalia isn’t that he throws his hands up in the air at the prospect of divining original intent from the Constitution. The trouble with Scalia (trouble with a capital “T”, I might add), is that he’s so confidently wrong in his interpretations of textual constitutional and legal history. No doubt driven by his own blend of personal revelation, bravado, and myopia.

  43. 43.

    Did any of you lawyers see what Justice Roberts said yesterday about some previous Supreme court decisions concerning the death penalty? He singled out a decision written by justice Stevens and called it a dog’s breakfast of conflicting ideas and said that he doesn’t blame lower courts if they couldn’t make sense of it, because nobody else can either. lol. It’s probably a good thing Stevens is so old, otherwise he might have invited Roberts to step outside.

    You make a good point, Travis, but I think your comparison with the Law breaks down. Judges are free to interpret the constitution in whatever way they think is correct, but their decisions are subject to review and and reversal, and sometimes even ridicule by their peers. Since no judge wants to have a reputation for having lots of decisions overturned, they behave with a sense of caution. A judge who thinks of his opinions as trump cards is probably a bad judge.

    I favor more, not fewer, checks on personal revelation. We are probably all veterans of some pretty hair-raising testimony meetings where our fellow believers have born fervent testimony of batty ideas. I’m always astonished at how much more the people in my ward know than the prophet does. Many testimonies, including my own, can fairly be described not only as Fido’s breakfast, but his lunch and dinner also. If we weren’t constrained by sacred texts and church authority, it would be even worse.

  44. 44.

    Hi, Travis–thanks for your thoughtful critique. Text is of course complicated because our religious assumptions and encounters with the divine already influence how we read. I think I’m in general agreement with you up until your final paragraph:

    I believe that if we really want to know “what the text means”, we have no other choice than to rely on personal revelation. Otherwise, you’ve got logic and historical, psychological research, etc. and you put them together for your best guess.

    Is the assumption behind this–the reason that we have no choice but to rely on personal revelation to interpret the text–that God is in some way the author of the text, and that where authorial intent may be a red herring in secular documents, it’s recoverable in the case of God, by approaching God?

    (Presumably we don’t look to God, for example, to discover what “Hamlet” “means,” or even Paradise Lost, which is after all a religious text. Or should we? Bizarre hypothetical situation: let’s say God reveals in quite unequivocal terms to me, as I’m reading Paradise Lost, that the Fall was good. Am I then obligated to find a way to read the text such that it “means” this? Is the situation the same or different if I’m reading the Bible, or a General Conference talk, or listening to a talk in Church?)

    If you want to really know what God wants you to take away from the text, you get that direct from God through revelation.

    I think where we’re disagreeing is that I don’t believe “what God wants you to take away from the text” need necessarily be what the text says.

    As I said in #32, I’m operating under the assumption that sacred text is not qualitatively different from other text, and can be analyzed similarly, although I realize this is nothing more than an assumption (one that, you could argue, threatens to collapse the sacred as a category). I freely admit that I’ve been influenced enormously by discussing the Bible in an academic environment, in which religious epistemology is bracketed partly out of pragmatism. But my view is that God is not the author of any of our texts–if the text is “inspired,” it is because it is the product of someone’s interpretation of their encounter with the divine. Thus, I can bring my own encounter with the divine, among other things, to bear on my reading of the text, but in the end, if my intent is to encounter the text as honestly as possible, my reading must be internally plausible.

    It’s interesting to me, for example, that some of my students are extremely resistant to the idea that God might be portrayed anthropomorphically in certain passages of the Old Testament. They hasten to reassure me that what the text “obviously means” is that God metaphorically interacts with the world as though he had physical form or emotions, which he clearly does not. I’d go so far as to say it’s possible some of them have had genuine religious experiences that lead them to read this way. But I’m not convinced it’s the most honest reading.

    Similarly, my students are turning in papers right now arguing (among other things) that the Bible never actually condemns homosexual sex between males. I suspect the reasoning that underlies such arguments goes something like this: (a) God inspired the Bible; (b) my experience with God/understanding of God leads me to believe he would not be opposed to such a thing, therefore (c) the text must not oppose it either. It’s simply a matter of figuring out how to make the text say what I already know it says.

    Claims of this nature are problematic for a number of reasons, one of which is my own (admittedly subjective) reading of Leviticus 18:22, whose text I don’t feel is adequately being accounted for. A more pragmatic problem goes back to the ambiguity in divine encounters–since we’re all bringing different religious assumptions to the text, it’s helpful when discussing the text as a community to foreground our theological biases and attempt to separate them from our reading of the text.

    If we let this genie out of the bottle and argue the meaning of sacred texts is discovered in consultation with the divine, we effectively have no texts, except as conduits to facilitate divine-human interaction. That may certainly be one value of sacred text (in the same way certain Transcendentalist literature intends to lead the reader to an ineffable experience), but I still see value in examining texts on the level of language, etc. One could argue that the text has no meaning of itself–it is simply an empty vessel in which God can manifest his will–but this is utterly at odds with our understanding of language and is not likely, as Mark IV has reiterated, to result in a community with any theological coherence.

    The obvious counterargument to this is that we have the spirit, unlike the poor shnooks outside the Church, so the spirit tells us how to interpret where they’re left in the dark. But I’m of the feeling that people outside the Church can also have genuine religious encounters, as well as that the spirit is ambiguous enough that, even in the Church, we’re never going to reach consensus on what texts say if the spirit is our primary hermeneutical key. This is why I believe, for both philosophical and pragmatic reasons, that we should start with the text on its own terms and then, when appropriate, tentatively critique what the text says on the basis of our religious experiences, conscience, etc., rather than harmonizing our religious assumptions and interpretations of experiences with the text.

  45. 45.

    Also–thanks, Bored in Vernal! :) [Author of post beams radiantly at the prospect of being "cool".] And by the way, I’ve loved your comments on the other thread.

  46. 46.

    ECS: I think Scalia is a jerk, but I get a real kick out of him! Using him as an example, I agree that the scary thing about my view of all of this is that when we rely on personal revelation that means we’ll unavoidably have people who are “confidently wrong” because of their own “blend of personal revelation, bravodo, and myopia.” This is a fact of life and, in my opinion, one of the drivers of our spiritual growth (i.e., it forces us to deal with uncertainty and rely on faith). It also makes for a wonderfully diverse set of views on our sacred truths. If we all accept this premise, then we’d all have to be much more tolerant of diversity in religious thought. I think that would be a wonderful thing.

    Mark IV: I agree that the law analogy is of limited use in this context. However, I think that the original intent theory is a useful foil for our discussion of what we are to do with the scriptures.

    Kiskilili:

    “Is the assumption behind this, the reason that we have no choice but to rely on personal revelation to interpret the text, that God is in some way the author of the text, and that where authorial intent may be a red herring in secular documents, it’s recoverable in the case of God, by approaching God?”

    Yes, absolutely. I actually think that authorial intent can also be a red herring in sacred (i.e., inspired by God) documents as well. The real goal is to understand Truth (with the capital “T”, God’s Will For Us Today, etc.). Understanding authorial intent in the scriptures is only useful in so far as it gets us to Truth. If understanding authorial intent doesn’t get us all the way to Truth, we need to bridge the gap by revelation.

    “(Presumably we don’t look to God, for example, to discover what “Hamlet” “means,” or even Paradise Lost, which is after all a religious text. Or should we? Bizarre hypothetical situation: let’s say God reveals in quite unequivocal terms to me, as I’m reading Paradise Lost, that the Fall was good. Am I then obligated to find a way to read the text such that it “means” this? Is the situation the same or different if I’m reading the Bible, or a General Conference talk, or listening to a talk in Church?)”

    This is a useful example. Paradise Lost does deal with religious themes, but I wouldn’t call it a sacred text, at least not in the same way we think of the LDS canon of scriptures. I love using analytical tools from other disciplines to help illuminate the scriptures, but that said, we still have to treat the LDS scriptures differently at the end of the day. These are the words of prophets authorized to speak on behalf of God who are inspired by God to write things down for the benefit of people who would come later, i.e., us. I’m not saying there’s not a lot of “noise” in the text (especially, but not exclusively, the Bible). There certainly is. But these texts are fundamental different than any other religious literature (even such that is otherwise inspired or contains many useful insights or truths).

    “I think where we’re disagreeing is that I don’t believe “what God wants you to take away from the text” need necessarily be what the text says.”

    No, no, no! I agree that “what God wants me to take away from the text” isn’t necessarily “what the text says”. I guess I’m actually trying to advocate for our approaching the scriptures with two questions in mind: (1) What is the author trying to say?; and (2) What does God want me to take away from this? If (2) ever conflicts with (1), then we go with (2) every time. I suppose in this way this puts both you and me in the camp that says that revelation is in fact the trump card. ;) No?

    “I’m operating under the assumption that sacred text is not qualitatively different from other text”. We can’t take this view of the scriptures. It’s not a problem to look at them through the eyes of an academic (on the contrary!), but I’d see that only as helping you to answer question (1) above. If you want (2), then you have to rely on the Spirit.

    “But my view is that God is not the author of any of our texts, if the text is “inspired,” it is because it is the product of someone’s interpretation of their encounter with the divine. Thus, I can bring my own encounter with the divine, among other things, to bear on my reading of the text, but in the end, if my intent is to encounter the text as honestly as possible, my reading must be internally plausible.”

    I don’t have a problem with your statement above. I think that viewing scripture as someone’s interpretation of their divine encounters makes some sense. But it doesn’t follow from this premise that we cannot also rely on revelation through the Spirit to understand Truth.

    You say “I can bring my own encounter with the divine, among other things, to bear on my reading of the text, but in the end, if my intent is to encounter the text as honestly as possible, my reading must be internally plausible.” I agree that your reading must be internally plausible, but only so far as it relates to question (1) [i.e., authorial intent]. There are myriad things that could also affect the Truth of the matter. There’s no reason why the actual “meaning that God wants us to take from it” need be limited by the “internal” elements of the text. On the contrary, where we begin with the premise that there is “noise in the system” (my words) or “scripture is the product of a prophet’s interpretation of his encounter with the divine” (your words), I think we must be open to the possibility that factors outside of the text may really have an impact on the Truth of the matter, what God wants us to take from the text, etc.

    Bottom line: I think you are placing too many constraints on the exercise, too much emphasis on the text. I agree that we must treat the text “honestly”, but at the end of the day we shouldn’t care “two hoots” about the text. We should care about what God wants us to get out of the text.

    “If we let this genie out of the bottle and argue the meaning of sacred texts is discovered in consultation with the divine, we effectively have no texts, except as conduits to facilitate divine-human interaction.”

    Agreed. But I think this is true of how we as LDS should approach the scriptures. I think this one of the most troubling aspects of our religion for people who are passionate about the text of the Bible. We toss things out, completely mis-read, “retranslate” portions of the text without actually translating, modify our reading of the text based on other new scriptures. It’s chaos! And I love it. And I think it gets us exactly where we ought to go: each of us must individually take the text seriously and honestly enough to really dive into it and get the best of it we can AND each of us must care about what God wants us to get of the text enough to go to Him and ask Him what he wants us to get out of it. For Latter-day Saints, if the latter makes no sense compared to the former, no big deal. We go with the latter.

    I completely see how this is maddening for an academic who is trained, among other things, to focus on the text. Of course this is how it must be. You’re not going to get a class on “exegesis through the whisperings of the Holy Spirit” at the Div School. Yes, this is the obvious counterargument. It also happens to be the right one. ;) I don’t think this means that people outside the Church can do the same thing – - learn truth from the scriptures as led by the Spirit.

    I think we should not do all of this “tentatively”, but aggressively. This will, of course, lead to divergent views and beliefs. I think this is wonderful. I think it’s a huge mistake for us to be shackled by the text. I think we should accept that our religious assumptions and experiences will affect each of us, but still press forward feasting on the Word and seeking to get as much of it as we can – - through standard analytical tools and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

  47. 47.

    Just re-read that and saw a zillion typos. Apologies!

    I’ll corect this one, which should read: “I don’t think this means that people outside the Church CAN’T do the same thing – - learn truth from the scriptures as led by the Spirit.”

  48. 48.

    PoD: Faith and Fundamentalism…

    Post of the Day: Fundamentalism and Historical Criticism at FPR (from a few days back) by TT at FPR, arguing that fundamentalism (or, more generally, the conservative approach to religious belief and practice) is as much a product of the…

  49. 49.

    The secularization of personal revelation is merely another salvo in the Adversary’s continual bombardment against righteousness. What side of the battle are you on?

  50. 50.

    SEK III, LOL. “The secularization of personal revelation”–is that like the Donald Barthelme story about what the angels do after the death of God? (Among other things, they invent five proofs of the existence of chaos.)

    Here’s my attempt at secular personal revelation: a first principle came down from heaven on a giant flaming roll and made it clear to me that the Enlightenment was self-evidently true. Unfortunately, since this revelation could be neither replicated nor verified by any other observer, it’s since been tossed out on its head on the authority of the very best Enlightenment doctrine, and I have been forced to declare the underaking a failure.

    So much for my attempts to find myself on the wrong side of the wrong side of the ongoing War in Heaven.

  51. 51.

    Eve, I am not familiar with Brother Barthelme’s so-called story. I was taught by goodly parents (and Sunday School instructors) from a very early age that my mind is like one of those empty cardboard toilet paper rolls, and my thoughts are like clean cotton balls inside it. If you take dirty cotton balls and push them in, pretty soon the clean cotten balls will fall right out (it sounds like you may know all about that). I do not pollute my mind with non-Mormon stories — especially ones about a supposed death of God. Clearly the missionaries need to be knocking on that door.

    By the way — you do know that “Eve” was the perpetrator of original sin, don’t you (she was married to Adam in the Garden of Eden — she was the one who yeilded to Satan’s temptation and lies)? I hope you are not choosing that name on purpose.

  52. 52.

    What side of the battle are you on?

    Personally, I’ll go for the side which offers the best pastries. And I must confess that I’m rather fond of the pastries of man, mingled with scripture–a truly delectable combination.

  53. 53.

    Stephen Erastus Knudsen III,

    You’re not going to last long in a post-Banner world, but I commend you for all the work you’ve apparently put into it. Not as funny as Brother Cox, but not bad.

  54. 54.

    Stephen, “Eve” is what’s left of my name after the profane and potentially Darwinian elements (the “Gene”) and the “vi” (one of the sixes of the sign of the beast, no doubt) have been extracted.

    I consider Eve the, shall we say, think-outside-the-box aspect of myself. (Surely one bite won’t hurt. And everyone’s doing it, or will, after I start the trend and get that Adam out of the stolid, bland obedience thing he’s got going.) But in the finest tradition of original sin, I must finally lay the blame at the feet of my parents. They’re the ones who buried the female perpetuator of same (i.e., original sin) in my name.

    But looks who’s talking! Stephen Erastus Knudsen III? What sort of a name is that??

  55. 55.

    It’s so hard to tell on these threads who is serious and who is joking. Any guesses with SEKIII?
    PS, I like the description of your name, Eve. Very clever. BTW, do friends and family call you Eve as a nickname or some other abbreviation of your given name?

  56. 56.

    Jessawhy, I have the same problem with myself–half the time I don’t know how serious I’m being. I’m just an incurable goof-off. (But your BIL might be able to shed some light on the degree of seriousness of some of the comments above.)

    As far as my name goes, I’m in the funny situation of going by my full name in my real life and by my nickname Eve only online. It’s a weird feeling, honestly. Sometimes I look at my postings and comments and wonder who this Eve person is, anyway. She doesn’t feel entirely coincident with me. It’s not that I write anything manifestly untrue about myself–it’s just that Eve is only a virtual, linguistic me, so to speak. I find expressing myself online relatively easy. In real life I’m much more reserved and private. (Since childhood I’ve been shyer than my younger sister Lynnette, for instance, who used to brazenly volunteer to give talks in Primary while I looked at my toes in misery and prayed to be passed over.)

    Honestly, I sometimes find the sense of noncoincidence between my offline self and my online self disconcerting. Sometimes I worry that I’m excessively split into two lives which are largely unaware of each other. (Meeting your BIL and finding some Bloggernacle-real life crossover has been healthy for me for this reason.) I think posting under my real name would alleviate some of that split (and you can easily figure my real name out from the hints above), but I’m unwilling to for reasons of professional privacy and to avoid scary online stalkers.

    I don’t know if you find a similar split between “Jessawhy” and your offline life?

  57. 57.

    Eve, as long as you recognize the connotations and are prepared to accept the consequences. She was, afterall, our first earthly mother, and a fine example of repentance and dutiful subservance (a wonderful help-meet), and therefore worthy of at least partial emulation. As for my name, I was named after the martyr in Acts who, while being stoned to death, looked up and saw the Father and the Son. I would prefer to not reveal the meaning behind my middle name, as it is sacred to me, and I do not cast sacred things about willy-nilly. Knudsen has a hard “K” — it is not “noodson” but “ka-noodsen” which keeps me and my family, I like to think, farther from the profane.

    Jessawhy, I applaud your quest for a keener sense of discernment.

    Eric, if my posts are banned, then they are banned. I am, afterall, named for a martyr — it goes with the territory. But out of the a geniune respect that I have for all righteousness, I will promise you and others that I will in deed look for the good. I have read the comment policy for this site and believe that I can and will abide within those terms with the same fervent dedication I devote to the principals and ordinances of the gospel. I must admit my ignorance for Brother Cox, but as I prefer to not be laughed at or scorned I will take your observation as a compliment.

    My original post was only meant to add to the fine conversation on personal revelation, which I beleive has a great value as long as it is not placed in the secular world (and by that I mean that it is not misused to justify worldly desires, etc).

    And finally, Eve – Gene? VI? LAying blame at the feet of your parents? (seriously, that rocked)

  58. 58.

    Kiskilili, Reading your post reminds me why I struggled so much in graduate school, so forgive me if this question reveals (personally or otherwise) just how much of what you said went right over my head, but the discussion raises some questions that I can’t seem to kick, questions that stand in the way of my own personal acceptance of personal revelation/communion with the divine, questions that have been the source of much personal discomfort.

    I should probably state that in my experience I have seen many people close to me duel for supremacy with their personal revelations. This has made me very suspicious of most claims to personal revelation, including, unfortunately, my own (I used to be so confident in my ability to commune with the divine, but now I lean more towards the cynical “mistake their own psychosis for revelations from God” side of this) and, truthfully, what my frivolous mind would really like to see is for someone more clever than myself to develop the rock-paper-scissors trump-hierarchy of personal revelation. But really, I don’t see any way to check the validity of a personal revelation (it’s a faith-exercise, right?). Here are a few questions I frequently ask myself that keep me in a rather uncomfortable state of limbo on this (in no particular order):

    A) Does “personal revelation” always mean something that was “revealed” from the divine? There surely must be a number of other valid sources (and I’m not suggesting “satan”) from which something can be revealed or realized, i.e. the recollection of a childhood memory, the earnest desire for affirmation, an appreciation for the kindness of a friend, the interpretation (or reinterpretation) of a personal experience, the scent of blueberry muffins on conference weekend, the hue of a sunset at the end of a hectic day, etc etc.

    B) What role does personal desire play in the epistemological formation of personal revelation?

    C) Anyone familiar with the work of Elizabeth Loftus? Does the suggestibility and malleability of memory play a role in any of this?

    D) If we are all God’s children, and if his work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of every woman and man, and if the power necessary to perform saving ordinances is only found in this one true church, then wouldn’t every person who received a personal revelation from God be lead, as in Matt’s case (#8), closer towards joining this church? But I see people of many cultures and many faiths claim many personal revelations that lead them in many different directions. Yes, it’s the “how many paths to the top of Mount Fuji” question, but it’s a tricky one for me as I try to locate myself on that path.

    E) What happens when one person knows through personal revelation that the Book of Mormon is historically true, and another person knows through personal revelation that the Book of Mormon is fictionally good, and another person knows through personal revelation that the Book of Mormon is vile and false (and the possibilities could go on)? In other words, how do we reconcile conflicting personal revelation without simply trashing someone else’s perspective?

    F) (related to the previous question) How do we follow the eleventh article of faith and truly respect and allow women and men to worship (and believe) as they will when it differs from what has been personally revealed to us?

    G) Does personal revelation become part of our own creation when we apply language to it, or does it happen earlier than that? Are we applying language because it has become a meaningful creation?

    Sorry for carrying on for so long and asking so many questions that have already been touched on by others in this thread. Consider this the depth to which your posts have touched me.

  59. 59.

    Eve, I do see what you mean about being a different person online and in real life. The difference really bothers me, to the point that I walked out of Gospel essentials during a (typical) lesson on the priesthood because I was about to say something that should be confined to blogging. I think my perspectives are changing and it’s hard for me to maintain integrity between the person I am at church and the person I am online. I was discussing this frustration with a friend who pointed out, “it’s because you care so much!” It’s true, I do. And I hope I always will. Personal revelation, saving ordinances, the Word of God: It’s all so important. So, to have it complicated and contradictory really bothers me. I’m still working on cognative dissonance. Perhaps developing an alter-ego would help me solve that little dilemma. . .
    (As for the handle, it was given to me as a child by my cousin who thought this was clever, “Jessawhy? . . . Jessacuz!” I’m not worried about anonimity, about half the girls my age share my name, but even so, I prefer the nickname online.)

  60. 60.

    Not sure if you’ve all seen this post at Mormon Mentality, but this paragraph was directed to the sisters over here, so I thought you might be interested.

    My personal advice to Zelophehad’s Daughters- your questions and concerns as articulated on your various postings are 100% valid. The problem is, as far as I can tell, you’re using one tool (logical argument) to solve a problem for which that tool is not well suited. These are issues that require equal parts logic, imagination, philosophy, creativity, hope, humility, intuition, faith, skepticism, and courage, plus a little bit of recklessness.

    The post is about diversifying our interests in life. He has some good points, although I’m not sure I think any of the qualities he identifies in the quote are lacking over here . . .

    PS. I had to ask MBA-student hubby what a hedge fund is :)

  61. 61.

    Stephen Erastus Knudsen III, I’m convinced you could give Aaron Cox a run for his money any day of the week! Perhaps the two of you should stage a personal-revelation duel . . .

    Thanks for your comment, Glenn. (I myself can attribute at least some of my struggles in graduate school to the fact that I’m here goofing off online rather than doing the Very Important Work of Some Stripe that I should be busy with.) I, of course, have no idea how to answer your questions. I’m also intrigued by the problems you raise in D and E especially, though: if personal revelation is as clear and readily available as it’s sometimes presented, why did it take almost 2000 years for the Restoration? Why did people in the Middle Ages continue to claim they could converse with God, and sometimes even have elaborate visions of Jesus? Why are people having revelations that lead them out of the Church? Why are people having contradictory revelations? What does it mean that other individuals living in the time and region of Joseph Smith experienced similar visions? What does it mean that Harvard Divinity School students in the 1960s or so who were given psychotropic drugs in a religious context almost all reported “revelatory” experiences of the divine? I’m left scratching my head.

  62. 62.

    Travis,

    I think we’re mostly in agreement. I would personally love to see a reconceptualization of scripture in which it is regarded as a conduit to divine encounters rather than an outline of doctrinal truth, but I wonder how far those two positions can theoretically be separated. (What are the implications of claiming that God is opposed to statement x, yet reading it will bring you closer to him, for example?)

    Perhaps where we disagree is on the issue of what canonization entails: I see canonization as a process enacted by the community (which does not preclude the possibility that the text results from a genuine encounter with the divine). Thus, the authority for a particular text derives from this status which the community has granted it, and ultimately, the community is accountable to the texts it canonizes (I place emphasize on texts because they’re canon–thus the community has placed emphasis on them). You see canonized texts as qualitatively different from other texts, whose status as such is perhaps recognized by the community rather than assigned, and since you do not regard them as “texts” in the traditional sense, you see no reason for the community to be accountable necessarily to what its canonized texts say? (Sorry if I’m putting words in your mouth–I don’t mean it that way! I’m only trying to articulate where we disagree, if anywhere! :))

    Also, as a sidenote, I see ritual in a different category from canonized scripture. I’ve personally sworn before God to accept certain principles as outlined in ritual. I’ve made no such commitment to the Standard Works. I thus feel personally responsible to examine what these obligations mean. It’s hard for me to dismiss as unimportant something I’ve sworn to do personally, or to accept that the text of such oaths is not text in the regular sense of the word.

  63. 63.

    Kiskilili: if personal revelation is as clear and readily available as it’s sometimes presented, why did it take almost 2000 years for the Restoration?

    That’s certainly a question you can ask God… But as I think you noted — personal revelation existed throughout the Great Apostasy in Mormon thought. The things that were restored were authority and ordinances etc. When it comes to personal revelation the most important thing restored was probably the Gift of the Holy Ghost which opens the possibility of us “always” having God’s spirit with us.

    Why are people having revelations that lead them out of the Church?

    This is an issue that would have to be looked at on a case by case basis don’t you think?

    What does it mean that other individuals living in the time and region of Joseph Smith experienced similar visions?

    Not much as far as I can tell. Though I will say that a good case could be made for revelation being more likely for those who _expect_ it rather than those who deeply doubt it will happen to them. It’s the whole “faith precedes the miracle” thing.

    What does it mean that Harvard Divinity School students in the 1960s or so who were given psychotropic drugs in a religious context almost all reported “revelatory” experiences of the divine?

    Mostly that “say no to drugs” was good advice even before Nancy Reagan made it so popular…

  64. 64.

    My point is merely that I’m not sure exactly how to legitimately approach the problem of others’ (unverifiable) religious experiences–and particularly the sheer variety of those experiences: for example, I’m not entirely comfortable accepting that Jesus was appearing to medieval mystics and French kissing them, as some claimed. I’m equally uncomfortable rejecting this outright as mass delusion simply because it does not remotely accord with my own experience. Where that leaves me is in a state of absolutely fascinated confusion.

  65. 65.

    I’m not sure exactly how to legitimately approach the problem of others’ (unverifiable) religious experiences

    I think the question is why we even _should_ approach this problem in most cases. If some medieval mystic claims some odd revelatory experience I don’t have any reason to pay attention to it at all. It has nothing to do with me. I’m trying to work out my own salvation, as Paul says. They had a chance to work theirs out already.

    Of course if a leader of our church, which we freely choose to belong to, claims a revelation from God we are instructed to go ask God ourselves for verification. But ultimately we all have to trust the personal revelations we get and in the end we will have to answer to God for the revelations we have (or for the lack thereof). So I see no reason why I need to “legitimately approach” the unverifiable religious experiences of most other people at all. They probably are none of my business in most cases.

  66. 66.

    I agree. :) I see no obligation to approach them whatever. I just find them personally interesting, and potentially illuminating regarding the problematic nature of revelation.

  67. 67.

    That’s a good point in abstract, Geoff, but here’s the thing that makes me identify with K’s issue; that is, that while powerful and visionary, historical religious experience frequently demonstrates how bound they are into the cultural constructs of their times; they reflect expectations, they follow convention. Medieval nuns had visions of Christ as lover; Puritans experienced assurance of salvation. While I have no doubt many were genuine (rather than epiphenomenal), this makes me question what exactly “genuine” means. How unfiltered can our encounters with the divine really be? Where is the line between expectation and experience? These are the sorts of questions that people like Julian of Norwich and Cotton Mather can help us think about.

    So I see no reason why I need to “legitimately approach” the unverifiable religious experiences of most other people at all.

    What about those experiences that are explicitly evangelical in nature, like Ignatius of Loyola’s or Muhammad’s? Or for that matter, twentieth century evangelicals who feel prompted to preach to Mormons? These are an example, I think, of the sort of historical religious experience that do interfere with our Mormon understanding of the way the religious world is supposed to work.

  68. 68.

    My point is merely that I’m not sure exactly how to legitimately approach the problem of others’ (unverifiable) religious experiences

    And part of my point is that I am not sure how to legitimately approach the problem of my own (unverifiable) religious experiences

    I think the question is why we even _should_ approach this problem in most cases. If some medieval mystic claims some odd revelatory experience I don’t have any reason to pay attention to it at all. It has nothing to do with me.

    Well, I do think that it has something to do with me as I am certainly an “other” to somebody else’s religious worldview. And if I am truly going to respect their right to “worship how, where, or what they may” (AoF 11) I must allow for the possibility that our religious experiences are similar, even if they are interpreted to mean very different things.

    Where that leaves me is in a state of absolutely fascinated confusion.

    Amen Sister. Confusion with conviction. The epitome of faith.

  69. 69.

    I happen to think the Lord is waiting to give us all the knowledge we can bear. What we can bear is often going to unavoidably be shaped by our culture. I like to think that in this manner the Lord is guiding all cultures toward him over time, inasmuch as they are willing to let him. To me, the open mind is the key. Hence, I feel no need to question anyone’s spiritual revelation, only to seek more and more for myself. I think dicounting the experience of others will more often than not lead to apostasy and pharasical practices.

  70. 70.

    Matt: Medieval nuns had visions of Christ as lover; Puritans experienced assurance of salvation.

    I don’t understand why any of that matters beyond clinical curiosity to you… You are responsible for your own personal relationship with God. When you meet him at the judgment bar (assuming you believe that will happen) you will have to answer for your own personal revelation or lack thereof. Medieval nuns and Puritans are in the same boat so why worry about their relationships with God or lack thereof? Personal relationships are just that — personal. So in the end why should I be concerned about the claimed revelations from those people. God has told me that Mormonism is where he wants me and if I got that message wrong then it is my problem that I’ll have to answer for when I meet him. (If you are wondering, I am not at all worried that I am wrong on that point.) So I don’t worry about my cultural filters too much — God understands them so he can speak to me in my language and according to my filters just fine.

    What about those experiences that are explicitly evangelical in nature, like Ignatius of Loyola’s or Muhammad’s? Or for that matter, twentieth century evangelicals who feel prompted to preach to Mormons?

    Again, those experiences ain’t my problem. God and those people can work that out at judgment day just like God and I will deal with our relationship. My goal is simple — I want to avoid him saying “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity”.

  71. 71.

    Test

  72. 72.

    Anyone know what happened to my response to Glenn and Doc? I submitted it several times to no avail.

  73. 73.

    Glenn : I am not sure how to legitimately approach the problem of my own (unverifiable) religious experiences

    It ain’t easy. But Mormonism, more than most religions, has texts and techniques designed to answer this question. I think that the Enos story is the archetypal story though. It seems to me that most people give up too soon. I posted on the “how to’s” of personal revelation in Mormonism once. See here.

    Doc – Amen

  74. 74.

    I’ve liberated your comment, Geoff. It was The Bouncer’s fault.

  75. 75.

    Thanks Ziff. Feel free to delete 71, 72 and this one. I hate to disrupt the flow of a thread.

  76. 76.

    When I was in the MTC, I decided that I needed to become 100% in-tune with the spirit so that I could be lead to all of the Japanese people who were ready to accept the gospel.

    I remember praying very diligently about this one night, and in the prayer I promised that I would faithfully follow any thought that came in to my head, no matter how strange or random it might seem. I would be like Nephi, being lead by the spirit without knowing where it was guiding me — just trusting that it was.

    So, after the prayer as I lay there trying to fall asleep, the thought came into my mind: “get up.” As usual, I started to ignore it. But then I remembered my promise, so I got up.

    Then the thought came to me: “walk to the wall.” So, I walked to the wall. And I stood there, in the dark, my nose an inch or so away from the wall, holding completely still for probably five minutes, just faithfully waiting for the next thought to come into my mind. Nothing. So I finally gave up and went back to bed.

    I think someone was having a little fun at my expense that night. And I think that someone was me.

    Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that personal revelation is bogus — I’m just saying that there have been enough experiences in my life to make me really question how much of this is being manufactured from inside of me, and how much is being wraught upon me from an outside source.

    I’m at a point in my life where absolute conviction frightens me for many many reasons. I am thankful for faith — that I can hold on to things that I am unsure of solely because of my hope and desire for those things to be true.

    Mormonism, more than most religions, has texts and techniques designed to answer this question.

    Maybe — I’m not sure. But one thing I am sure of — I have seen pieces of a very big world out there — a world that is full of good people with firm convictions (and texts and techniques to arrive at those convictions) in their own belief-systems, whatever they may be.

    It makes me uneasy to think of my own religious experience as having some sort of trump power over anyone else’s, and I don’t like it when others try to excercise their trump power on me. There are many questions, and I have admitedly become far too suspicious of many of the answers (and yet, I want to make it clear that I continue in my choice to believe — and it is a conscious choice based on faith — but not without its doubts).

  77. 77.

    Glenn: I’m just saying that there have been enough experiences in my life to make me really question how much of this is being manufactured from inside of me, and how much is being wraught upon me from an outside source.

    Again, our texts and teaching have a solution to that. Since the standing against the wall experience wasn’t God, you file that voice away as”not revelation” and adjust your spiritual ears for next time. I have said that it is not unlike ear training in music. Some people know a C when they hear it and others don’t. It takes a lot of time and training to know a C when you hear it but it can be done. With regards to revelation you go with trial and error with the “promptings” you get. It is all part of our spiritual ear training. After some time and some trial and error I think we can all get good at discerning the real promptings from the false ones.

    I am thankful for faith, that I can hold on to things that I am unsure of solely because of my hope and desire for those things to be true.

    Being confident in one’s personal revelatory relationship with God doesn’t do away with faith in the least — it just changes the nature of the thing we have faith in.

    It makes me uneasy to think of my own religious experience as having some sort of trump power over anyone else’s

    Who ever said you were ever going to have trump power over someone else? Not me. My post was saying that when it comes to our own decisions our own personal revelations should win out for us. Meaning, if God tells me that I should be a Mormon then that’s what trumps all the other competing churches for me. They might be well and good for someone else but God told me to be here and that’s what wins.

  78. 78.

    Geoff,

    Maybe it’s the links that are being bounced — a hazy mystery.

    I read your “how to” and responded to it on that thread (even though it has been inactive since Jan 06). I found it to be genuinely touching and inspiring. Unfortunately (for me), as you will see when you read it, it still raised many questions for the skeptic in me — the skeptic who does not allow the believer to rest on any unchallenged assumptions (he really is quite a burden to my believer — but I think/hope that their many battles make me somehow more well rounded).

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