Today I want to speak about two very special evenings of my life, as a precursor to a new project on which I am about to embark.
Evening 1, sometime late 2008: The most powerful spiritual experience of my life
I still remember it vividly, I will never forget it.
I was serving my mission in an area named Chorley, in England. I was on exchanges with another missionary. We had scheduled an appointment with a new investigator, I don’t remember his name. We went to pick up a young member to join us for the appointment, he was about to go on his own mission.
As we were driving in the car to the new investigator’s house, in the cold of the Chorley winter and the dark streets around us, I could feel something stirring deep within me. I had an inkling, a deep feeling that I was about to go through a massive positive spiritual experience. There was a kind of “build up” sensation while we were driving to his house.
The Holy Ghost.
We arrived at the investigator’s house. We sat down and started to teach him the Gospel. I don’t remember a word we said but I will never, ever forget the feeling I had. I experienced a massive, positive spiritual rush. Even as I was experiencing it I knew this memory would be indelible; it was the most transcendent spiritual experience I ever had in my life, nothing before or since was as incredible as that.
I remember writing a letter to my mission president that week — and I explained to him:
“The Spirit of the Lord was poured out in abundance on us.”
Evening 2, Saturday night 20 June 2015: The night my heart crashed
I still remember it vividly, I will never forget it.
I had made a choice several months before to re-evaluate my belief system. I knew I’d always had doubts, but I wanted to conquer them once and for all so that my faith could be stronger than ever before.
I had read far and wide already by this stage. I had read all sorts of discussions and debates about the LDS church, God, theism, philosophy, psychology, and so on. But I still believed. Because I had had spiritual witnesses many times in my life that I could not deny. I knew that God had spoken to me, and confirmed the truthfulness of the Gospel to me.
And then I watched a video. It was about 11:00 at night. I will never forget this video, it changed my life. I watched it on my tablet lying in my bed.
The video? 8.0 – My LDS Journey – Follow the Spirit
There is no way to describe how I felt except for saying that my entire world crashed down around me. My heart sank into the deepest recesses of the abyss.
I realised something deeply profound and profoundly simple: Mormons are not the only religious people in the world to have spiritual experiences, and not the only people in the world to interpret those experiences in favour of the truthfulness of our respective belief systems.
Soon after this event I would make a journal recording that said the following words:
“I was hit, so immensely hard. Struck, so hard by that video. I don’t think I’ve been as struck by a video before [in my life]… I couldn’t sleep. I was awake till 2 o’ clock [pondering]”
The Spiritual Witness
I have gone far and wide in the ex-Mormon community. I have chatted with a variety of people who were bothered by a variety of things; some with polygamy and polyandry, some with the blacks not being able to receive the priesthood, some with the Book of Abraham translation, and many others. I think for each of us different things bother us to different degrees. For me, many of the above mentioned things are issues that I agree with. However for me there was nothing quite like the massive significance of the Spiritual Witness.
Because it is the formal narrative of the church. It is the church’s own explicitly chosen foundation:
“All objections, whether they be on abortion, plural marriage, seventh-day worship, etc., basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation. … The only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true.“
>> Book of Mormon introduction page:
“We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost.“
It all comes down to this simple, profound area; the spiritual witness.
Announcing the Spiritual Experience Odyssey Project
About a year ago now I discussed this exact topic on my blog at length. I came to the conclusion that I reject the hypothesis that the spiritual witness is a reliable source of truth.
But just because one discovers one model is broken does not mean one has created a superior model to explain reality. Following the evidence and discovering that spiritual witnesses are not reliable sources of truth does not automatically mean that I now have a decent replacement theory. I have to go back to the drawing board and discover a new model.
And so I am announcing a new project:
The Spiritual Experience Odyssey Project: an effort to explain spiritual / religious experiences in human beings from the secular frameworks of science, biology, psychology, anthropology, etc. These explanations preclude the existence of God as an explanation, and look to see if other good explanations can be found, with greater explanatory power and greater accuracy.
This is my chosen speciality area. It “calls” out to me. It is the burning question (no pun intended) that I must answer. I must build a superior model and this is an area that people tend to spend less time in overall (in fact, there’s a serious lack of apologetics in this area, most apologetics is focused on historical controversies).
Since writing that article a year ago I have read and researched much into spiritual experiences, and even had a few different kinds myself — (a key requirement of having one is believing that you can have one). and so I have much to write about and much to research.
This project will take time and many blog articles in the series. I am not as obsessed with research as I was in the past and so I will be approaching this in a more gradual way. I invite anyone, (believing LDS, ex-LDS, or anywhere in-between) to contribute to this project if you want to. Believing LDS members: you can challenge me, my assumptions and my conclusions. Ex-LDS, you can help contribute from the many hours of time you personally have spent in research. Discussion and debate all contribute to our discovering better models of reality. You can help by contacting me directly if you are interested in contributing (and thus discussing ideas with me), or just following my blog (subscribe on the right hand side with your email) and commenting on my articles as they come out.
Spiritual experiences are a massive area and I feel a big project worthy of intense study. I feel they are neglected in the ongoing Mormon debate from both sides: (believers just state that you need a witness, non-believers just point out unreliability, but few non-believers seem to be building good models to explain them). As mentioned, almost all formal discourse, debate, controversy etc. mainly dwells in LDS church historical areas.
I have created a new section of my blog entitled “Spiritual Experience Odyssey Project”. All articles related to this subject will be placed there as they come out.
Looking forward to the project and sharing some of the interesting things I’ve learned along the way!