Ep73-Mormonism and Other Faiths - Vol 5

Topics Discussed:
• Self Deception and the Corruption of Human Intellect
• The Relation of Experience and Interpretation to Spiritual Knowledge
• The Objection from Conflicting Religious Experiences
• The Relativity of Degrees of Light Theory of Religious Diversity
• The Argument from Arrogance

Show Notes:


The fact that there are intelligent, honest and committed individuals who have differing religious beliefs presents a challenge. At the very least such differing visions demand that we confront this question: what is it in this alternative vision that a virtuous and spiritually mature individual finds to be so valuable that he or she would dedicate his or her life to it? Only when we can answer this question will we e in a position to assess that alternative honestly and charitably. However, there is a different challenge posed when such individuals report that they have spiritual experiences that confirm to them the veracity and soundness of their commitment. The fact that intelligent, honest and virtuous individuals have such confirmatory spiritual experiences suggests that God may call others to differing religious visions. If there is a God, and if there is a single, unitary truth, then why would God confirm the value of another religious tradition – assuming that these experiences disclose something of God’s will for them? These are the questions that I seek to explore in this chapter

Self Deception and the Corruption of Human Intellect

In book 2 I discussed the risk that we take when we take on a body because we may be overwhelmed by the bodily senses such that we take the data of our senses to be all that there is. The sense data and information derived through our bodily sense experiences may be so vivid and overwhelming that we don’t remember how to experience through our more subtle spiritual senses. We may choose to ignore the still, small voice that speaks to us. We may ignore the knowledge that resides within our hearts because we choose to be hardened and to cease feeling and thus to become “beyond feeling.” The quiet whisperings in our hearts are often drummed out by the incessant beating of the loud drums of sense experience. Thus, we may deem the quiet whisperings in our hearts is not sufficiently loud and vivid to be trustworthy.

Summary of how we overcome that.

Nevertheless, why should Mormons believe that everyone but themselves continues to hide the truth from themselves so that they cannot feel the truth in their hearts? In fact, as I previously argued, there is no such claim.

The core hinge on which knowledge turns and authenticity is founded in all cultures on the human heart. It is perhaps the most universal epistemological commitment and doxastic practice in the history of human culture to regard the heart as the true seat of authentic knowledge and the core of what one truly is.

The Objection from Conflicting Belief-Systems.

It has been often argued that differing doctrinal systems demonstrate that spiritual experiences are not a trustworthy basis for beliefs. The argument is essentially that if there is really a god who conveys knowledge of the truth through spiritual experiences, then we would expect that his message to various people would be consistent. If God were really behind the various traditions of revelation that claim to have knowledge of the truth revealed by God, then they would speak the same truth.

Define: Religious experience vs spiritual experience

The basic argument from the incompatibility of belief systems is essentially as follows:
(1) There are many religions in the world.
(2) The teachings of these religions seem to be logically incompatible because they differ regarding whether: (a) God (the ultimate) is personal or impersonal; (b) whether there is one God or many; (c) whether the afterlife consists of many cycles of rebirth or a single, unending afterlife; (d) whether we ultimately lose consciousness and merge with ultimate reality or retain individuality and consciousness; (e) whether the locus of revelation is the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Upanishads, etc.; (f) whether the divine is incarnated many times, once or never; (g) the problem of the human condition is sinfulness, ignorance or desire; (h) the solution to the human plight is atonement and grace, a good life, enlightenment and action.
(3) Therefore, not all religious beliefs can be true in a literal sense. (From 1 and 2)
(4) Therefore, at least some religions have some false beliefs.
(5) Therefore, no religious beliefs are justified because it is impossible to determine which religious beliefs are true.
(6) It is impossible to tell which religious beliefs are true because evidence from conflicting spiritual experiences that supposedly occur in each religion to validate them as the one true way cancel each other out.

The first essential point is that praxis must have priority over doctrinal issues. That is religious observances, rites and participation in the spiritual life of a community are generally temporally prior in the life of the believer to constructing a doctrinal basis for belief or full-blown theology.

Rather, what matters is a charitable and open heart that willingly loves in action. That is another way of saying that what really matters is praxis or the actions of a community united to support and sustain one another’s burdens.

There are three basic positions that one can take regarding the relation between beliefs and salvation:
(A) Exclusivism or the view that salvation and truth are found in only one religion. This view comes in a number of different forms. There is Extreme Exclusivism that maintains that only one’s own religious faith is true and salvific and all others are inspired by evil or demonic forces. There is also Moderate Exclusivism that holds that there may be some truth in other religious views, but only one’s own view leads to salvation.
(B) Inclusivism or the view that while one’s own religious views are most correct, other religious views also have valuable truths that may, but are less likely to, lead to salvation.
(C) Pluralism or the view that that all religious views are equally true or valid within their own culture and lead to salvation.

I call the peculiar Mormon version of other religions “open inclusivism” because it acknowledges that salvation is open to all and that truth is open to all religious traditions in that sense it is acknowledged that all religions have some valuable truths that lead to greater light and thus to greater divine glory and progression.

Strengths and weaknesses of exclusivism, pluralism, and inclusivism

Mormonism is the “fullness” of the gospel – which I take to mean that all that is necessary for both salvation and exaltation has been revealed and is available in the Mormon religion. However, no Mormon could possibly claim that all revelation has been revealed. Such a view would conflict with the express practice and doctrine of continuing revelation which is hallmark of the restoration. There is a great deal that is unknown and perhaps unknowable by mortals. It may be that other religious traditions have received divine revelation or enlightenment about truths that have not been revealed to Latter-day Saint prophets. Thus, study of other religions is valuable and instructive. It also entails that others in other religious traditions, even non-Christian traditions, may have veridical and valuable religious and spiritual experiences from which Mormons can learn regarding divine revelation. Thus, the fact that others have religious and/or spiritual experiences outside of Mormonism is not a challenge to Mormonism – except to the extent such experiences claim to reveal cognitive content that directly conflicts with Mormon revelations.

Thus, the resolution to the argument from conflicting religious beliefs is to reject the erroneous assumption that differing religious beliefs entail that all religions must be false. It is true that not all can be literally true given their conflicting beliefs. However, the fact that religions differ does not entail that all are false; only that one or more of them is not entirely true.

The Relation of Experience and Interpretation to Spiritual Knowledge.

Peter Moore has developed a typology of religious experience that suggests that there are primarily four possibilities for the role of interpretation in relation to spiritual experiences. We can parse the relations as follows:

(1) After the fact interpretation: Doctrinal interpretations are formulated after the spiritual experience. Thus, there is an experience at time T1 and at a later time T2 it is interpreted to be an experience of God or some truth.
T1 Experience T2 Interpretation

(2) Before the fact interpretation. One has doctrinal beliefs that cause or condition one to have an experience interpreted through the categories and noetic structure consisting of the prior beliefs. At a time T1 one exists within a community of discourse and tradition which conditions what it is possible to experience when one has spiritual experiences later at a time T2:
+---------------------------------------------------------* T1 Interpretation T2 Experience

(3) Interpretation given in experience. One has an experience which is “experienced- as” or mediated through conceptual categories as a certain thing and thus the interpretation is spontaneously formulated in the experiencing of the experience. At a time T1 one has a spiritual experience which is experienced at T1 as a spiritual or religious experience in the experiencing of it.
>--------------- +------------------< Experience = Interpretation

(4) Experience without interpretation. One has experience that is “raw experience” unaffected by either prior beliefs or interpretation inherent in the categories of experience or later added onto the experience to make sense of it. At a time T1 one has a bare experience:
>------------*--------------< Experience without interpretation

Brian Birch (writing in the Wittgensteinian tradition) argues that “there is necessarily a social dimension to human experience and self-understanding that prevents one from disconnecting a personal religious experience from the wider practices of the community within which the concepts, distinctions, and criteria that are mediated in the life of the religious community.

He thus denies that there is such a thing as “self-authenticating” spiritual experiences because we must employ criteria to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate spiritual experiences. However, these criteria will themselves be socially determined and thus the very meaning of the experience itself will be determined by this social dimension. He argues that these criteria will be provided by the social authority of the religious organization or tradition in which the one having the experiences resides.

JS story

Birch believes that he is following Wittgenstein by asserting that spiritual experiences derive their experiential meaning from rules of language games and forms of life that derive meaning from the self- referential culture in which they are found. Yet if this view is adopted, then the meaning of our language is not merely relative, but also viciously circular and self-referential because our culture constitutes the “forms of life” that give rise the language games played within the culture which also form what the culture of linguistic usage consists in.

Yet there are numerous counter-examples to such theory-bound predictions. There are instances of individuals who encounter the Book of Mormon and know that it is from God, know in their hearts that God-is-in-this book from the experiential knowledge derived in encounter with the book in the process of reading, without ever meeting missionaries who explain the correct rules of the “language game” supposedly necessary to make sense of the experience – and without being a part of the “forms of life” of Mormon culture which supposedly provide the meaning necessary to legitimate their experiences.

Stephen Katz...Katz argues that the interpretation given by one’s prior religious tradition and culture dictate the nature of the kinds of experiences that one can have. Just as one who has reached a certain age cannot learn a foreign language without an accent determined by one’s native language, one cannot have certain kinds of religious experiences foreign to one’s religious community.

Katz assumes that such mystic experiences are determined in their entirety by the learned concepts of a tradition and thus constitute nothing but interpretation as such. Thus, it seems to follow that either: (a) there are no given data of mystical experiences apart from the interpretation learned in one’s prior experience and culture, or that: (b) any linguistic expression of the experience must be reduced to concepts that are entirely determined by one’s prior experiences and culture. Thus, it also seems to follow that either mystical experiences are not insights into the nature of a mind-independent reality such as a personal God or that we cannot learn anything from such experiences that are not merely a regurgitation of what is determined by one’s culture and prior experience.

John Hick has recently proposed an essentialist view of mystical experience which holds that there is a single Reality that is experienced that constitutes the essence of the spiritual experiences. He argues that the diverse interpretations of mystical experiences are like a Rorschach test variously interpreted.


I suggest a picture of the spiritual experience of the burning in the bosom or heart that looks something like this visually:
T1 manifestation or expression / T2non-cognitive response confirming truthfulness / T3 interpretation given in language

The newness and exploding of prior paradigms function of revelation is evident in Joseph Smith’s revelations. His revelatory experiences exploded the prior paradigm of the received tradition and created an entirely new way of experiencing reality. His explosion of the prior ontotheology by new concepts expressed in revelation in revelation of the still, small voice completely reoriented prior experience into a new tradition of experience.

The Objection from Conflicting Religious Experiences.

(1) Mormons claim to have spiritual experiences.
(2) Non-Mormons also claim to have spiritual experiences.
(3) Both (1) and (2) cannot be true and therefore at least one of them is false.
(4) Premise (2) is simply true given the claims made by those who have religious experiences who are not Mormon.
(5) Therefore, it is false that Mormon religious experiences can be a trustworthy basis for knowledge of the truth.

If that is the objection, then it does not present any problem at all. Premise (3) is false. It doesn’t follow that if those outside of the LDS tradition have genuine and valuable spiritual experiences that the Mormon tradition is therefore called into question.

it may well be that there are some persons in other religious traditions outside Mormonism that have greater light than some persons within Mormonism. They may be more spiritually sensitive and even more spiritually advanced than some who are members of the Mormon faith – though in spite of that fact rather than because of it.

A revelatory tradition is more than just a set of propositions or truth claims, but also a system and tradition of rituals, symbols, and ordering a way of life in relation to the world and thus entails an entire world-view. But world-views don’t so much contradict each other as provide different ways of viewing the world that may be largely complementary even if they appear to affirm different truths.

First order logic: is a collection of formal systems used in mathematics, philosophy, linguistics, and computer science.

Do such claims constitute a conflict if they both claim that there is only one God and that Allah is not the God revealed in Christian revelations? In first order logic it would be easy to generate a seeming contradiction: (1) there is one God; (2) Allah is that one God; (3) the trinity is not Allah. But if we assert that the one God both are referring to is the same God that spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, albeit under different names, then there is no conflict.

Instead of a doctrinal conflict, perhaps it could be claimed that there are those who genuinely and sincerely ask about the truthfulness of, say, the Book of Mormon and they tell us that the answer they got from God is, “no, that is not from me.” How can we assess the claim made by such a person?

What is the evidential status of religious experiences that may genuinely clash with my own? My spiritual experience is not evidence for her that my religious tradition is true. By parity of reason, her religious experience is not evidence for me that my religious tradition is false. Unless I can stand in a place from which to have a perspective on the experiences of another to in effect have the same experience that she had, then I cannot be in a position to assess the experiences of another. Her contrary religious experience is merely a subjective claim that cannot be experientially tested or validated in my own experience. However, I have already validated in my own experience the very contrary of what she claims. It follows, that not merely is her experience not evidence against my experience; but that, given my own experience, it cannot be.

The Relativity of Degrees of Light Theory of Religious Diversity.

Thus, the differences in knowledge of spiritual truth is referable to a combination of: (a) access to the revelations that have been given in the tradition(s) which an individual stands; (b) willingness to accept the light which emanates from such tradition(s) and (c) one’s openness to further light and knowledge through personal revelation. The reason that individuals have varying and sometimes conflicting religious beliefs and confirming spiritual experiences is a function of at least these three factors. Both willingness to accept new light from other tradition(s) and openness to personal revelation are impaired by being closed to new light by having a hard heart.

However, given these considerations it follows that no individual is in an epistemic position to assess or judge the degree of light possessed by another individual. An individual cannot know what has been revealed to another.

Relativity example

Krishna experience example

The Argument from Arrogance.

The argument goes like this: it is arrogant to believe that one has or possesses the truth or is more favored than any other religious tradition. With the sheer number of religious traditions, the chances of being born into the true religion are minuscule and insisting that one has the truth smacks of simple cultural imperialism and arrogance.


Popular Posts