I still remember it, the summer of 1977. As Luke’s x-wing sped toward destiny, Obi-Wan’s voice reminds him to ‘trust your feelings’ and to ‘use the force.’
That hit eight-year-old me pretty hard. As a soon to be baptized member of the LDS faith, feelings and this ‘force’ were things I really believed in. I left the theater like millions of others completely amazed at what I had just witnessed. As I grew older I received the force myself; in the LDS Church it is called the priesthood. All worthy males in the church get it in graduating levels starting at age 12.
I took the responsibility very seriously. In the Church the priesthood is believed to literally be the power of God and I got to hold it.1 Wielding the power of the priesthood was much like portrayed in the first (4th) Star Wars movie. You used your feelings to operate it. When you laid hands on a sick person to heal them, you let your feelings guide your words. This is known as listening to the spirit. I grew quite good at listening to this still small voice. On my mission I used to walk to an intersection and slowly turn till I felt the nudge of feelings the spirit would give me on what direction to go. I was sure it was the power of heaven and that it lead me without error in every way. For me, listening to my feelings and using the force of the priesthood was second nature by the time I was 21. I used this ability all the time, finding keys as well as healing the sick and afflicted. On my mission I had even given blessings on sick children that the spirit told me to bless them to die rather than live in their evil unbelieving family. I saw people healed and people die after I have given them blessings using this force that I held. I had unflinching confidence in the feelings of the spirit I was in tune with. 2
The first time I questioned the validity of these spiritual feelings was when my wife and I invited a really close family we were friends with over for a discussion with the missionaries in our home. We loved this family, our boys and their boys were best friends. Only a person that has felt the same deep beliefs will understand our desire to share the gospel we loved with others that we hoped could have it too. When the missionaries finished telling the story of Joseph Smith, they asked our friend how she felt about that. I will never forget her response. It hit me just as hard as that line in Star Wars so long ago. Likely because her answer was the last thing I expected.
She said, “I get this horrible sick feeling when I read about Joseph Smith.”
I was taken aback. Our friend was totally serious and you could see by the look in her eyes she was telling the truth. At that moment, for the life of me I couldn’t understand why her feelings weren’t the expected result. The Holy Ghost that I was so in tune with was clearly there in the room, I had felt touched. And yet what she felt wasn’t the same, in fact it was quite the opposite. I sat back and thought for a moment. Then suddenly I had it. I read the story of the first vision to her. Specifically the part where Satan tries to overcome Joseph Smith before God and Jesus show up. I testified to her that her negative feelings were just the evil one trying to keep her out of the true church.
We had a few more discussions, but our friend and her family never did convert. It didn’t diminish our friendship though. And I never forgot that moment. Because I even though I had come up with an explanation for her wrong feelings at the time, I knew deep in my heart while I had a slick answer for her. That was it, just a slick answer. “If she could be wrong about her feelings,” I pondered, “what made me so sure I was right about mine?” Over the following years, that experience went on my metaphorical shelf and I didn’t think much about it for a while.
Some time later I ran into that same issue again while studying Church history. I was a Sunday school teacher in our ward and we were into Church history at the time. A book I picked up to gain further light and knowledge on the topic was called Rough Stone Rolling, a biography of Joseph Smith by Richard Bushman. I chose this one because, well because I’d been warned about all the anti-Mormon stuff out there.3 As members you are consistently told to be careful about all the lies that were told about the prophet, and I didn’t want lies tainting my testimony. RSR was a gripping read for me.4 I think it was because I was getting a perspective on the founding prophet that I’d not even remotely expected. Things that I thought were always lies and propaganda about him were actually historically accurate. Bushman did a good job in his apologetic approach though. Justifying and humanizing the man in a way that my shelf didn’t collapse at that point. One thing I discovered was a bit of history around Joseph and the Book of Mormon copyright. You see, the prophet received a revelation to take the copyright to Canada to sell it to make some money. It didn’t sell. Later, David Whitmer 5 tells us that Joe said sometimes some revelations are from the devil. Indicating that was why this prophesy never came true.
“Wait a minute?!!! A prophet can get messed up on which revelations are legit and whaich aren’t!” I thought.
Please remember at this time I implicitly trusted my feelings like I’d been taught to. I was very much attuned to this stream of personal revelation in my life. So this was very disconcerting. It seemed even the original leader of the Church that was the most awesome source of truth on the planet sometimes got it wrong. I remembered again the missionary discussion with my close friend and how her feelings had entirely disagreed with mine. “Why was I so sure I was right about the feelings I trusted?” was the thought that ran over and over through my head. It all went on my shelf though and I continued to believe. Little did I know then how hard my next experience on this topic would hit me.
It was the morning of September 11th, the day before my second son’s birthday, 2001. I had the TV on morning news as I was getting ready for work. like millions of others I watched in horror as people who were so sure about their feelings from God, that they flew jet airplanes full of innocent people into the Twin Towers.
I just sat on the edge of my bed that morning and watched, forgetting about going to work, emotionally distraught as I watched the towers fall. That experience stuck with me. Because these terrorist were religious, they believed Allah had revealed to them truth, and their faith was so strong they were willing to die for it. There are a lot of similarities between Islam and Mormonism. Neither drink alcohol, both believe God reveals his truth to prophets. Both are 100% sure their religion is the right one. Both tell believers to submit and pray until they too know the truth. Both tell their followers if they don’t get the right answer (that the religion is true) they simply aren’t trying hard enough. It is no surprise to the student of religious history that Joseph Smith6 proclaimed the following:
“If the people let us alone, we will preach the gospel in peace. But if they come on us to molest us, we will establish our religion with the sword. We will trample down our enemies and make it one gore of blood…from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. I will be to this generation a 2nd Muhammad, whose motto in treating for peace was ‘the Al-Qur’an or the sword.’ So shall it be with us — ‘Joseph Smith or the sword!’ “7.
You see, I had studied Islam a bit in a college LDS institute course on comparative religions. So this attack caused me yet again to ponder what made me so sure I was right in trusting my feelings about the Church being true. Here were people who clearly had more faith than I. I would never do something so drastic for my beliefs. So having more faith surely wasn’t the answer to this question that sat ever heavier on my doubt-laden shelf. But heavy though it was, my shelf was still up, I was still sure my feelings were the right about this.
The next time I ran full force into the question of trusting my feelings was when I understood the breadth of the polygamy and polyandry of Nauvoo. You see, I already knew that Joe had extra wives. And to be honest, the whole idea of more than one wife kind of appealed to me.8 But when I started into that area of research in LDS history, I came away again shell-shocked by what I learned. It wasn’t consensual interpersonal relationships like I had assumed. Turns out Joe would often tell women they had to marry him or God was gonna kill him. 14 year old girls felt like they went as a sacrifice to God like Isaac of old in becoming his wife. He married women in complete secrecy telling them to not tell his first wife Emma about the tryst. In short, although I had no issues with polygamy the way it was defined in D&C, it turned out that was not at all like it was actually practiced. Emma didn’t want any of those extra wives and for that the Lord (via Joe, go figure) condemned her for not doing it. This background of threats and secrecy was revolting to me. It FELT wrong. I have since heard this expressed verbally in much the same way it hit me then. Listen to the end of this video to hear the Swedish member express his feelings about it.
My spiritual feelings and sensitivities also screamed wrong, wrong, wrong! I totally understood how that Swedish LDS brother felt when I heard that because I felt the same way. And his question is exactly what I’d faced so long ago when my friend had a completely different feeling about Joseph Smith than I did. In fact, in that mysterious way the Fridge seems to act, here I was overwhelmed with negative feelings about a person I had so tried to emulate my whole life. All along I trusted my feelings and clung to the faith, but what now? Should I now, out of the blue, start ignoring them? Because just like my friend, my gut reaction to the angel enforced pedophilia was very negative. I’d told her then that negativity was the influence of Satan. Was I now under the influence of the devil because I felt the same feeling about Joseph Smith that I’d felt about Warren Jeffs?
It is not easy to accept that you might be wrong. Especially when you have invested so much into your beliefs that you were so sure about. But I finally realized I couldn’t have it both ways: Either my feelings were always from God and the spirit always told me the truth, or I was wrong about them. Somehow assigning validity where there was none. Exactly like I was sure a fellow Muslim or another person might be when they attributed an experience to the validity of their particular faith. I came to realize that attribution was completely arbitrary. My feelings were not a guaranteed stamp of reality. No matter how much I wanted them to be. Eventually my shelf collapsed and I discovered the light of the Fridge. I realized that feelings shouldn’t replace honest inquiry and brutal truth. Not that you should ignore them. Instead, listen to them and realize what they actually mean, not what you want them to mean.
Think about that wonderful spiritual enlightenment you feel when you are reading scripture. Is that because the moral of the story is something you agree with? When you feel this spirit, is it because you feel empathy and compassion for your fellow being? Are leaders asking you to shelve your own internal moral compass because God said so? Are they using your previous feelings as leverage over your decision now? Do you feel like you are being manipulated and marketed to? Because if you do, maybe that is when you should trust your feelings. Maybe you should think a bit more more about it when somebody told you a really good story and then assured you those feelings you had meant the story was true. Because guess what. I to this day I still feel inspired and spiritually moved when I watch Star Wars. Does that mean Luke really existed and Obi-wan is a talking ghost? You see, after all these years I still feel.
I still feel the strong spiritual experiences when I look up at the night sky. I still feel deep emotional connection during a moving song or a stroll though the forest. I do trust my feelings even now. I just know what they are actually testifying about, not what someone else tells you they mean. That, my friends, is how I know the Fridge is true. And if you smiled, even laughed… that means you know the Fridge is true too.
In the name of Frozen Ice,
- Girls get to hold it if they hug you. Seriously that was a common phrase in in the Church when I was younger. Oh how my perspective on that has changed! ↩
- I have since found out that many, if not most, people don’t have such intense spiritual feelings as I did. Turns out many people don’t feel it at all. ↩
- I still haven’t read No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie, if that means anything to you 🙂 ↩
- I am not into biographies either, I have read 3 in my whole life, one on Joe Smith, one on Nikola Tesla and one on Steve Jobs. ↩
- Yeah, one of those three witness guys. If you happen to follow the link to FAIR and read their apologetic take on this, they tell you the whole deal was years after the fact and basically say Whitmer made up a false memory about the event. Here is the rub about that though, the First Vision is recorded 12 years after the fact, and that version doesn’t remotely agree with the one canonized over 18 years after the fact. Why randomly pull out the false memory card and stick it wherever you want? Even the discourse Whitmer gave in which this ‘false memory’ happened is also the same one where he says the BOM is true even though he thinks Joe is no longer a prophet. Why is one memory in that statement challenged and the other accepted as truth? FAIR doesn’t play fair, remember that and check all their sources! ↩
- He was not only a self-proclaimed prophet, Joe was also the mayor of Nauvoo and the general of the local militia, the Nauvoo Legion. ↩
- See History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 167 ↩
- Not to mention becoming a God as well. But we will save the personal narcissistic tendencies for a topic on another day. Until then read this if you can’t wait for the way I see that bit of doctrine! ↩