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To Acquire Spiritual Guidance, by Elder Richard G. Scott

October 9, 2009
Elder Scott

Elder Scott

The next talk I wanted to discuss in my General Conference series was Elder Richard G. Scott’s Saturday morning one — To Acquire Spiritual Guidance. I admit I’m not going in any particular order…I have a few I want to specifically address (like Hales’s, which I just covered), but I decided to cover this one because of the title alone. Despite my unscientific selection process, I don’t think I was let down.

As is the case with the last talk, I want to provide an upbeat turnaround to the message for nonbelievers instead of just criticizing and denouncing. As is the case with the last talk, many bloggers have previously blogged (and podcasted) about this talk.

Going into this one, I can easily recognize the generally applicable message and the specific conclusion. And as is the case with the last topic, I tend to agree with the generally applicable message — this is wisdom for all of us, even non-believers. But, I understand that as a General Authority, Elder Scott must present this message in a faith-promoting way, so I have to cut away the faith bias from the rest.

The general message is simple: in life, there are so many challenges that we cannot always find someone who has been through the exact same situation. So, we need a way to find personal revelation or personal inspiration…some sort of guidance. But not just any guidance. We need guidance that will truly enrich and uplift us into becoming the best people we can be.

Elder Scott specifically refers to such guidance as that which comes from the Spirit. This is his specific conclusion, and so I of course anticipate how it could bristle non-believers and ex-members.

But still, I think his general message is sound. Let’s take a direct quotation:

What may appear initially to be a daunting task will be much easier to manage over time as you consistently strive to recognize and follow feelings prompted by the Spirit. Your confidence in the direction you receive from the Holy Ghost will also become stronger. I witness that as you gain experience and success in being guided by the Spirit, your confidence in the impressions you feel can become more certain than your dependence on what you see or hear.

Spirituality yields two fruits. The first is inspiration to know what to do. The second is power, or the capacity to do it. These two capacities come together. That’s why Nephi could say, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.”2 He knew the spiritual laws upon which inspiration and power are based. Yes, God answers prayer and gives us spiritual direction when we live obediently and exercise the required faith in Him.

At first read, I kind of glossed over the message because he was speaking to spirituality — something I don’t necessarily identify with. But I read again and realized that his underlying message is salvalgeable.

I anchored this quotation to a previous quotation in the talk: this talk is about seeking personal inspiration in life’s important decisions. Personal inspiration is a term that I, even as an atheist, can be comfortable with. So if I look at spirituality without the “magical” connotations and instead with “practical” connotations of being aware of myself and what will yield the best choices, this message is a no-brainer.

I can’t say I’ve had a “magical” experience with the Holy Ghost, but I can say that I’ve been able to navigate through my problems, ponder about them, and make the decisions that were most beneficial to me and the others I dealt with. And over time, yes, I have become more confident with my intuitions about what I should do in repeated and even novel situations…and I have become more able to do the right things.

What I love about Elder Scott’s focus on personal inspiration is that it is subjective. Now, Elder Scott (as Elder Hales before), has a conclusion that the “right” personal inspiration should lead one to the gospel, to God, and the church. But I don’t have to be constrained to such advice if my inspiration leads me elsewhere. (And the believers gasp! How could I follow inspiration that leads me away from God?! I must be letting myself be deceived by Satan!)

Elder Scott speaks later on about the sign we can watch for: the feeling of peace. EVEN if we face temporary unhappiness…even if we face strife with the external world, when we are on our proper track, we can always focus inward for just a moment and determine whether inside we feel peaceful and comfort. Do we feel that we are doing what’s right for us?

The inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit can be overcome or masked by strong emotions, such as anger, hate, passion, fear, or pride…strong emotions overcome the delicate promptings of the Holy Spirit.

I agree with this general message. How can we focus inward and evaluate if we have peace? We have to be able to shut out the noise outside. But again, I’d note that this is subjective…when did I most often fear? When did I most often feel angry? It was when I was in the church. It was when I was grappling with my inability to believe. It was when I felt so utterly inadequate.

And I understand that this is a process…so some people will say, “Well, ex-mormons are angry, so they are extinguishing the promptings of the spirit.” But let me tell you…ex-mormons aren’t angry because of their apostasy. Ex-Mormons are angry because of the church and the gospel. Their anger persists as they untangle themselves from the church — which is no easy process. As they realize that the misery, the deceit, the self-denial that they’ve lived with for a substantial part of their life didn’t have to be…if only they would’ve realized sooner that they were not made for that — that’s why people are angry. To find peace, they must find a way to separate from the harming church. It’s not an instant process…because how can one detach from his embedded culture? How can one extract the poison imbued in one’s bloodstream without dying first?

Near the end, Elder Scott remarks:

An individual with foundation standards and an enduring commitment to obey them is not easily led astray. Someone who is increasingly repulsed by grievous sin and who exercises self-restraint outside human influence has character. Repentance will be more efficacious for such an individual. A feeling of remorse after a mistake is a fertile soil wherein repentance can flower.

I agree. But from a different vantage. My point is that our “foundation standards” need not necessarily come from the church. Our definitions of grievous sins need not be church’s definitions. So, we can exercise self-restraint, but we need not do it for what the church says we should restrain. Instead, I believe that grievous is the sin of prostrating ourselves and our values for the sake of some organization…and this is what I see so many people doing — people who don’t believe commit violence against themselves and their beliefs by entangling themselves with an incompatible institution.

But I believe that even these individuals — or perhaps especially these individuals — can become attuned to the personal inspiration they need to cease annihilating and destroying themselves — since they are already acquainted with misery — and then they can seek peace and joy.

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5 Comments
  1. Thanks for interpreting the talks from an atheist perspective. I’m enjoying this series of posts. 🙂

    I have been amazed at the peace of mind that has come from disentangling myself from church teachings that go against my conscience. Being able to be true to what I believe instead of what the church tells me I should believe has allowed me to find those foundation standards, and as a result my determination to live with integrity and have compassion for others has only increased.

  2. philomytha:

    And isn’t it interesting how it ends up? I saw your post “Agnostic Morality” on your site and your quote by Elder Christofferson. And he had an interesting line:

    They should not have to learn by sad experience that wickedness never was happiness.

    But our experiences in the church — being expected to accept an entire package of beliefs, including those that go against our consciousness — were how we learned that wickedness never was happiness. So, as a result of these sad experiences (which Christofferson says are NECESSARY), we have found it necessary to disentangle ourselves. And it doesn’t have to be this way. The church could let people follow the dictates of their consciences.

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