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Atheists are God’s whistleblowers

November 7, 2009

There’s this quotation that I’ve seen twice now…first from a USAToday article, and then from the New York Times. Samir Selmanovic, who I have previously never heard of, writes that:

Atheism at its best grabs us by the collar and throws us to the ground, demanding to see lives well lived, forcing us to dig deeper and live up to the best of our own religions…Atheists are God’s whistleblowers.

What a job, what a job.

But again, let’s take it in context…it’s not really for God. At least, not for God as any externally existing thing. Rather, it is for God as an idea propagated by people who have the chance to get things rather counterintuitive if left to their own devices. I have seen a similar sentiment yet again (so I guess the third time truly is the charm and this is why I’m making this post), at the blog Young Stranger.

John writes:

I love and feel affinity with atheists and agnostics. In fact, in many ways I feel as though my faith is much closer to the disbelief of atheists than it is to the lazy, hypocritical, legalistic, intolerant religious culture in which today’s America is saturated. American “belief” is too much like Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statute. America’s self-appointed spokespeople for God are too much like Nebuchadnezzar’s priests, demanding obedience, and threatening lion’s dens and fiery furnaces for those who don’t bow down. To the extent that God is identified with American nationalism and American wars and the American dollar, that god I want no part of. That kind of theism is nothing but filth and idolatry. And when the predominant culture is idolatrous, atheism is the beginning of faith.

In the faith that I embrace, God speaks to us not in the storm and whirlwind, but in the still, small voice. The voice that is so quiet it can only be heard in the silence. God does not compel, God persuades. God loved us into being, and loves us into motion. In the Mormon theology that I embrace, God purposely created a universe for us to live in that appears to be godless. God deliberately sent us into this dimension with no recollection of him. We live in an apparently godless universe, with no overt memory of God, in order to be tested, to see if we will live lives of compassion, justice and mercy even when we are free to live lives of greed, injustice and hate. No compulsion, no force should be used to require faith. That’s the way of Satan. That is the way, incidentally, of the culture we live in.

The “believer” who is intolerant and mean-spirited is like the son in Jesus’ parable, who promised his father he would come and labor in the vineyard but then reneges. The “unbeliever” who is kind to the stranger and merciful to the widow and the orphan is like the son in Jesus’ parable, who told his father he would not come work in the vineyard, but then showed up anyway. I’d much rather have the latter kind of faith than the former. So, apparently, would Jesus (Matthew 21: 28-32).

I particularly like his final paragraph, with scriptural backing. But still…I don’t know if it’s enough. For example, John’s post ultimately is to raise up faith, and he goes into what he finds to be a spectacular example of faith through Contact (relating to SETI). But what if we aren’t seeking extraterrestrial intelligence in the same way we aren’t seeking God? (Because unlike John, it’s not the case that I’m seeking a God that is separate from the idolatry, separate from the storm and whirlwind…no, what I’m seeking, I don’t feel I should call “God” at all, or else I will twist language beyond utility.) Is it enough to show up to the vineyard even though we said we would not? Even though we call the vineyard something else? John raised Matthew 21, but I also wonder about Matthew 25…

34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

What, then, does it mean, to bend a knee? That every tongue will confess? Which concepts from the scriptures are more representative of the idea? Socially oriented religion sounds good, but I am always aware of the body of believers who are strongly opposed to the idea of religion just being about being a more compassionate person. I think I have to agree with them that religion — or if not religion, then especially theism — requires a bit more than that.

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  1. We live in an apparently godless universe, with no overt memory of God, in order to be tested, to see if we will live lives of compassion, justice and mercy even when we are free to live lives of greed, injustice and hate.

    I like this. But to me it’s asking if we can live good lives for no reward, simply for the sake of compassion, justice, and mercy. Without God standing over us, threatening destruction for wrong choices. That is a form of compulsion.

    One thing I have never understood… Why is faith a virtue? Why do we admire those who believe in something for which there is no evidence if they call it God? Wouldn’t such a belief be considered gullible or crazy if it were in any other apparently non-existent person or object? And yet people will admire the faith of those who believe without question, even if they completely disagree with that belief. Why?

  2. The questions you ask in the last paragraph are some of the questions I ask. I’ve been looking for an answer that doesn’t reduce to, “Because faith is culturally acceptable and historically enshrined and other kinds are not.”

  3. My husband just recently brought up some of the same issues you raised in this post, Andrew. He was reading “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” and it has some interesting statistics about the relationship between Christians and Christian living (basically suggesting that the more dogmatic religions create individuals who are less tolerant). It does seem like the “idea” of Christianity – and most other “do good” religions – has become bastardized in the name of God. That said, I don’t know that I am personally on board with it being a reason to be atheist, which it seemed like this particular book was trying to suggest. It certainly doesn’t do theism a whole lot of credit, however.

    My husband, however, was rather moved by the facts in the book, and is looking for a compelling book on non-belief, so if you have any good ones you can suggest, I would appreciate it. I think he prefers books that are somewhat less emotional pleas and more rational in their approach.

  4. Madam Curie:

    I’m a bit embarrassed to say I’m notorious ill-read on good books for non-belief (for me, it doesn’t seem like something I have to read more about, since I’ve been forging my own way…does that make any sense?)…so I guess I’m at a loss.

  5. Siamang permalink

    What about those of us who toil in the fields regardless of the existence of a father or not…. because the fields need tending?

    We serve the field, not the farmer… if there even is a farmer.

  6. Siamang, but that’s just it. That’s what we are doing, right?

    The only thing is that eventually, we either will or will not determine if the field “belonged” to anyone. If it did belong to someone, then would it matter that we toiled in the field because it needed tending, rather than toiling in the field because of the field’s owner?

    I would like to think that if there is going to be any reward — and of course, we don’t work for reward other than having a field that produces fruit — then this reward goes to those who toiled, regardless of what they believed

  7. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    When john writes: “In the Mormon theology that I embrace, God purposely created a universe for us to live in that appears to be godless.” I must confess, this sounds like a different Mormonism than the scriptures declare.

    Alma 30:
    43 And now Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words.
    44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of aall these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

    48 Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.
    49 Now Alma said unto him: This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be astruck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance.
    50 Now when Alma had said these words, Korihor was struck dumb, that he could not have utterance, according to the words of Alma.

    Or, how about Mormon 9 where Moroni is quoting from the last chapter of Mark:
    24 And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover;

    Martin Harris certainly took this promise seriously:
    “Martin Harris having boasted to the brethren that he could handle snakes with perfect safety, while fooling with a black snake with his bare feet, he received a bite on his left foot.” History of the Church Vol. 2, pg. 95
    Also, Moroni 7:
    35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
    36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
    37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.

  8. I agree with what you’re saying, GW, but also, some of those very passages cut against your point.

    After all, Alma originally balked at showing Korihor a sign, being incredulous that he would need one. So, God isn’t this kind of person who initially is flashy (although, Alma eventually relented…being struck dumb is kinda flashy.)

    And as Moroni mentioned, it is really by *faith* that miracles are wrought. Faith comes from an environment where you don’t know…where miracles don’t just happen (to give you easy reason to believe them.) You believe because of something in spite of the normal way of the universe.

    • FireTag permalink

      I think this particular example of Korihor is not the best to draw from for info on this issue. Isn’t Korihor the one who was told by an ANGEL that there was no GOD? That would be an interesting cosmology!

  9. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    My point is just that the Mormon God claims to be a God of miracles. Sure, except for a few exceptions (Alma the Younger, Korihor, etc. ), they are signs that follow faith, follow the believers. (Another example might be Moroni’s Challenge.) But John IS a believer. If he has gone to a belief system where God does not express himself in the objective world, but rather hides himself, then those scriptures seem to be calling him out on his own faithlessness. Either John is lacking in faith or there is something wrong with the scriptures.

  10. Mormons also believe that people must endure to the end, and that a sign will only come at the end of one’s trial.

    So, it’s not that the scriptures seem to be calling him out on his own faithlessness. Rather, it’s calling him out that he has not completed his trial of faith. Most people haven’t. This is uncontroversial for Mormonism. It is the way things are.

    So again, no cigar…

  11. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    But it appears he doesn’t expect (have the faith?) that such miracles will happen- End of trial, beginning of trial, whenever. To have scriptures like, “And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover;” but then say God “created a universe for us to live in that appears to be godless” seems to be an odd mix to me. I agree with John that the universe appears godless, but I wouldn’t agree with him so readily if those scripturally-promised signs actually did follow some set of believers. In fact, I would find them a rather convincing argument for the truthfulness of any group actually performing them.

  12. If you have no reason to believe that someone’s trial of faith doesn’t end until, say, death and the after life, then *obviously* you could say that God created a universe for us to live in that appears to be godless.

    It’s trivial from here to reconcile the fact that people’s “trials of faith” in the past seemed to be over in a few short days whereas nowadays, it is pushed back and back until after death.

    If you don’t see signs, it is because you haven’t completed the trial of your faith. You seem to want to see the signs of the completion of others’ trials of faith…you say that would be a rather convincing argument for the truthfulness of any group performing them. But this would negate faith. You have to believe in a group not based on the signs…but based on faith. Great copout answer, I know. But that’s really how it works. These signs shall follow them that believe.

  13. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Wait, so you think (or know) that some members are taking these signs as something that won’t happen (picking up snakes, drinking poison without harm, speaking in tongues) until death and the afterlife?

    I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see these signs,as an unbeliever, but I would expect to hear about these miracles in testimony meeting.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Ha ha. Actually, I can see drinking poison as happening at death.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      P.S. Sorry if I derailed the discussion you were trying to have. That part just struck me as odd. When I was a believer, I thought that a lot of that stuff must be going on all over the world, it just hadn’t happened around me for some reason and I thought that it must have gone on around some of the adults around me, they just didn’t talk about it. I never thought, the scriptures being true, that stuff really didn’t happen amongst true believers everywhere.

  14. GW800+

    I *know* members who believe this. Except for some very zealous members, I would say that most of the members I know accept informally that “enduring to the end” means to the end of our lives. I’m incredulous that you wouldn’t agree that this is the norm.

    NOW, to the extent that there ARE zealous members, you DO also hear stories about fantastic signs from God. The issue is…even when you hear these things, you (or at least I) begin to wonder about the veracity of these stories, precisely because of the zealotry of the person who testifies about them.

    Never apologize for commenting *more* on my site. I would like 800 comments on a single post if I could pull it off…

  15. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    There has been a bit of a misunderstanding. Enduring to the end has always meant to the end of our lives, definitely. There is no surprise there. When I asked the question, I meant, do you know members that believe that those miracles won’t happen till death? That seems like a very strange time to suddenly start holding serpents, drinking poison, speaking in tongues, etc. Yes, the scriptures talk about enduring to the end, but I have never heard someone combine that with the scripture about having signs that follow the trial of ones faith.

    The fact that John seems resigned to a world that appears to be godless, seems to indicate that he does not expect to see any whiz-bang miracle in his life. If I were still a member, I wouldn’t have dared say to him, but would have thought to myself, “It only appears godless to those without faith.” Stronger faith reaps miracles: “For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith… And neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their faith; wherefore they first believed in the Son of God.” Ether 12: 12,18 So, just believe in the Son of God and obvious, godly miracles will follow.

    “NOW, to the extent that there ARE zealous members, you DO also hear stories about fantastic signs from God.”
    This is true, but they are often just subjective experiences. For example, my father- All my life he has told me about visions that he has had. Most of them, I later found out, were while he was sleeping, but he also claims one “waking vision.” In fact, it was one pertaining to me and I spend 8 months of my life torturing myself trying to make what he saw happen. One of the hardest parts about letting go of the church after I was convinced it wasn’t true was coming to terms with the idea that my father may very well be a little off in the head. What he had were subjective experiences that I could no longer value higher than objective evidence. However, the miracles I have listed above are more objective and would be very interesting to have as a sign of the believers in the true faith.

  16. No, there was no misunderstanding. The average member does not believe flashy miracles will happen, or if they will happen, not in this life. The average member DOES believe in the “still small voice.” The average member DOES believe in “tender mercies of the Lord.” The average member believes in a subtle God that isn’t flashy.

    So, really, you’re trying so hard to describe this Mormonism that the average, common member does not believe. You want to establish this Mormonism to try to put John G-W in a bad position…but it’s not working. You can’t strangle him in a position that doesn’t represent a radically faithless position.

    It’s just that you’re expecting too much from Mormonism.

    I know, I know, you point to scripture after scripture. But the simple fact is, we don’t live in those times. We haven’t lived in those times for a while. We don’t have several hundred year old people. We don’t have God showing his might through deluges. We don’t have resurrections. Religion has openly progressed to less flashy miracles to accommodate.

    So, no, the miracles are not “handling snakes” or “drinking poison.” This is just a strawman, a false expectation. Heck, speaking tongues is for Pentecostals, not Mormons (although, I will grant that there are enough faith-promoting rumours about missionaries who somehow became so overpowered with the spirit that they became fluent in a language they didn’t know.)

    Your average member *does* think a miracle achievable in this life is a “tender mercy of the Lord.” It’s “hearing the still, small voice.” But as for flashy stuff, like seeing something incontrovertible of God…yeah, people only think they are going to see that in the afterlife.

  17. madamcurie permalink

    Your average member *does* think a miracle achievable in this life is a “tender mercy of the Lord.” It’s “hearing the still, small voice.” But as for flashy stuff, like seeing something incontrovertible of God…yeah, people only think they are going to see that in the afterlife.

    I think I would disagree with that statement – I think that the average Mormon DOES expect to have major miracles in his or her life, but that with time, they come to lose such expectations. I say this based on things I have heard of missionaries in their letters home or later stories. For example, my husband tells me of how he fully, completely, 100% believed he would see God in the temple as a missionary. If not then, then for certain after he “returned with honor”. The MTC spirit was what drove this expectation – I believe one of his teachers actually told him, “If you have enough faith, you may even see Christ in the temple.” He prayed about it, and even thought he would see Jesus. And then didn’t. It was a minor faith-rocking moment of sorts for him.

    I also admit that I was brought to believe I would see Jesus in the temple, and was devastated when I didn’t. After all of the discussion in D&C of angels attending the Kirtland dedication, I fully expected to see something – my ancestor dead, Jesus telling me all was well, SOMETHING.

    So, I think that the idea that one will witness mighty miracles is alive and well, at least among the more naive and optimistic of the Saints. True, as they age they may develop a more mature idea of what a “miracle” is. But that is far from saying that the average Mormon doesn’t expect to see miracles.

  18. I dunno, MC. All the members I know seem to recognize that those faith-promoting story goldmines were things that happened 200 years ago, not necessarily to be expected nowadays.

    So, I don’t see most people getting their faith rocked when things like this don’t happen. Because they don’t expect it. And in fact, for people who do get their faith rocked…don’t “average” believers now like to say, “You were taking it too seriously”?

  19. madamcurie permalink

    My husband was about as “average TBM” as they come, Andrew. And he insists that it was his MTC teachers that told him to expect such visitations. And that his companions had similar expectations. I wouldn’t have even responded to this thread so late in the game if my experience wasn’t so atypical from the one you described, in terms of members not expecting these things.

    I frequently hear stories in fast and testimony meeting – not faith-promoting rumors, mind, but straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth testimonies – of people seeing their ancestors in the temple, having visions of God, or having Satan binding them. And other such nonsense. Given, some of them are from pentecostal converts (I am in an urban east-coast ward, mind, that has a high population of evangelical christian converts). But my husband and I certainly don’t fall into that category.

    I think people *do* believe in earth-shattering miracles. As part of the Stage 2 faith process, I have found that the church ENCOURAGES them to expect it, particularly from children and missionaries. And then the individuals grow out of it, and they come to realize that miracles are in the smaller things. Or they become skeptical of those who do see such things. But generally speaking, its only because they expected to see a great miracle, and did not.

  20. madamcurie permalink

    I guess the one thing that does make my experiences atypical is the fact that in my 10 years of being Mormon, only 3 months of them were spent in the BoM Belt of Utah/Idaho/CA/etc.

    And the fact that I was a convert, so all such stories stood out in my brain.

  21. I dunno, I guess we are both going off of anecdotal data. (I must also admit that my years of being Mormon were spent in *very* atypical areas…Canada…Korea…and Oklahoma…each military base installations with military base wards, for whatever that’s worth.)

    But I’d make another argument in the same vein. If your husband truly is/was the typical Mormon, then wouldn’t we expect other typical Mormons to be disappointed without seeing such fantastic experiences? And yet, we don’t see that. I think the reason we don’t see such disappointment is because the average member doesn’t *expect* such fantastic experience. Surely, they can talk the language and they know the cultural lore, but I don’t think we should confuse this with more than it is (even if it’s saying something that appears to be more.) Consider how LDS culture emphasizes saying, ‘I know…’ We wouldn’t be so trusting as to truly believe they know…we intuit that we should take their message with a grain of salt…because that’s just the cultural norm.

  22. madamcurie permalink

    Because this is all anecdotal data, what it indicates to me is more the bias of the reporter. I suspect from our respective responses that you are probably skeptical in general, and more likely to question things of a paranormal nature. Whereas my husband and I are probably less skeptical (more gullible?), and therefore more open to such psychic happenings. You would, perhaps, discount such things in your mind or tune them out as out of the ordinary, where the less skeptical nature might listen specifically for such experiences and use them to bolster their faith.

    Just a thought.

  23. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    My MTC sounds experience sounds similar to that of madamcurie’s husband. Over and over in those months they would talk about angels walking the halls of the MTC and how some of us would actually see them. I, still having doubts of the strength of my testimony, desperately sought some kind of spiritual confirmation to qualify me for the work ahead. I was on the top bunk in our dormitory and after lights out in our rooms, I would look out of the vent above the door hoping to catch a glimpse of an angel or two. I never did, but wanted to so bad.

    Perhaps my expectations were accentuated by a father that was a huge church history buff. The stories weren’t just of times long ago, but of latter-days as well. The visits of Moroni; stories of the saints in Kirtland seeing hundreds of angels and speaking in tongues; an early saint coming across Cain who has been wandering the Earth with his curse for thousands of years; Joseph healing the sick in the swamplands of Nauvoo; the miracle of the seagulls; a few 3 Nephite stories here and there, more recently was one from a close friend in high school. Also, my dad liked teaching the D&C section that explained how to tell the difference between an angel sent from God and one sent from Satan. All you have to do is try to shake their hand and you will have your answer. Now, how someone is supposed to muster the courage to stick out their hand when a being of light is standing before them is a question I always had.

    Going back to the mission, a few elders in one of my zones mentioned how they cast an evil spirit out of a person, but it didn’t stay out very long, so they had to do it a few more times. They told the person that they need to make an effort not to let the bad spirit back in. Can’t remember how that ultimately turned out.

    My ex-girlfriend told me of a time where an evil influence had her under control and she called out to God in Jesus’ name and was released.

    Sure most believe that the “still small voice” is the modus operandi, but they harbor the idea of an occasional “real” miracle occurring at any moment. My grandpa reported that he saw Jesus at one point in his life. When I graduated with my bachelors from the U of U, an old man spoke that went way off topic and talked about talking with Jesus when he was in his early 60s. The non-LDS (including evangelicals) talked about how crazy he was, but the LDS students talked about how cool that was and a few mentioned how they are working on becoming worthy enough for that experience themselves.

  24. madamcurie:

    …you lost me. That doesn’t even make sense. My skepticism would only explain why I have not been disappointed when I haven’t seen x miracle or y miracle. But my skepticism doesn’t explain why most Mormons are not disappointed when they don’t see x miracle or y miracle. My skepticism doesn’t explain why your husband is obviously not in the majority, because he is disappointed. Apparently, for whatever his problem is, many members do not also share it. Is it because they *have* had tremendous miracles in their lives, or is it because they know not to expect such?

    Is my skepticism catching? Am I contagious?

  25. madamcurie permalink

    LOL, no Andrew, you are not contagious. I must not have explained myself well.

    What I mean is, your impression is that most Mormons do not expect miracles. My impression is that they do. Our relative impressions are what is being affected by our respective worldviews. In other words, I am biased to notice others who believe in miracles or discuss them. You are biased to not notice them (or so goes my theory).

    Does that make any better sense? Neither of our conclusions as to what “Mormons in general” think or feel is objective, because both of us are using anecdotal evidence seen through our subjective biases.

  26. re Guest Writer 800+:

    So, when you hear everyone saying how they “know” the church is true, did you really believe — and do you believe the average member really believes — that everyone else “knows” the church is true. Do you think that most members despair because they don’t really “know” the church is true, and yet every fast and testimony Sunday, they continue to say it?


    do you think that they recognize that that is the cultural norm, and they go along with it?

    And couldn’t it be that the telling of faith-promoting stories is the SAME way.

    By the way…your dad’s latter-day history stories…that’s precisely what I mean by a hundred years. That’s ~180 years ago.

    I mean…ultimately here, I’m just going against anecdotal data. And truly, in this case, it’s really hairy because it is people you know. I’m not going to call them liars or deceivers or whatever else. I just think that for most members, they do not really see 2009 as a year in which crazy stuff that could’ve happened even ~180 years ago.


    I would again then back up that most Mormons don’t seem to be too disappointed. So, do you believe that most Mormons do see the miracles (or rather, things they construe as such), and that is why they are not disappointed?

    I don’t think so. I think the case is that most Mormons don’t really believe that they needed to see those kinds of miracles, so the lack of these kinds of miracles isn’t disappointing.

    If that’s the skepticism coming into play, then I guess I’ll have to call a spade or spade. But I just think that this is inconsistent with how the members I know actually act.

  27. madamcurie permalink

    I wasn’t actually addressing the question of disappointment – just of expectation. However, to answer the disappointment issue…

    I would again then back up that most Mormons don’t seem to be too disappointed. So, do you believe that most Mormons do see the miracles (or rather, things they construe as such), and that is why they are not disappointed?

    I would predict that they were disappointed at some point, but have move passed that, and have come to accept that miracles don’t happen (or happen in smaller ways). I would also predict that most members traverse between belief in big miracles (childhood faith) to healthy skeptism (adult faith) relatively unscathed – namely, they won’t seem too disappointed overall at the age of 35 that they never saw Jesus in the temple.

    How someone sees or remembers their past, and the level of disappointment they felt, is largely affected by the narrative that they made for themselves. For example, my husband as a faithful TBM might have looked at the experience of not seeing Jesus as a childish thing on his part to have expected. As an faithful TBM adult, he might have blown it off, not being too disappointed in retrospect, LOOKING BACK ON IT (I didn’t know him as a missionary).

    However, because he went on to have GREATER disappointments with the church, and ultimately became disaffected, he then maybe remembers the experience with more acuteness than he would otherwise.

    Its sort of like when you have a crush on someone and find out they don’t like you as a pre-teen. You are crushed and you write in your diary how your life is over and you will never recover. Then you grow up, have adult experiences, and forget all about that unrequited love. If you are never really exposed to it again, you can pass it off as a “Oh, boy, was I foolishly idealistic and smitten in those days. How embarrassing.”

    However, if instead you do nothing but experience disappointment after disappointment in your love life, you might remember that time as the harbinger of disappointments to come.

    Your narrative defines the story. I think a lot of mature Mormons probably don’t expect huge miracles. But I think that we are conditioned as missionaries or children to have a different level of faith that does.

  28. FireTag permalink

    The anecdotal experience that matters most is always our own — and then we elevate or discount the anecdotal experience of others accordingly.

    I had a dream that directed my career choice. It worked; so it reinforces my belief. If it didn’t work, I’d react in the opposite way. My sister in law had a dream I would have a red-headed son; incorrect, so it is discounted.

    I embed my notion of visions in a theory that the evolution of spiritual sight is a process that may be as unreliable and as long term as the evolution of physical sight was. And I move on.

    What the “still small voice” has been telling ME for a while now is that my church is supposed to support people, rather than people supporting my church. And that I should support that principle even when those people aren’t in my (or any) church.

  29. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I am trying to go through my own thought process here. I think there is often a strange dichotomous relationship (probably related to cognitive dissonance) that develops within people of faith. I have always been a skeptic deep down inside, but I also believed that whiz-bang miracles were going on everyday, I just hadn’t seen one yet. Even when people would testify of those experiences, I would say to myself, ‘*Suuuure*, that happened.’ I would find myself doubting. However, I would still believe that that sort of stuff was going on around the world, just not around me and not to them. Strange.

    Another example of a mix of “still small” and “whiz-bang” might be the 2001 movie “The Other Side of Heaven” that told the story of Elder Groberg (sp?) on his mission to the pacific islands. In one part, he and an islander get stuck in the middle of the ocean because the wind stopped completely and there was nothing pushing the sails. They pray and pray, but nothing happens. Finally, the islander starts rowing and says something to the extent of, “God will make me your wind.” However, in another part of his mission, a girl is brought back to life that had been dead for like 12 hours. It’s a mix of the “still small” and the “whiz-bang.”

    @ Andrew
    I believed that some of them ‘knew’ due to amazing experiences (like my dad), but most were just following the norm. I think I believed that the adults knew, especially the ones that had served missions- because the mission field is where God was showing his powers most grandly.

    How does my knowing the people make the stories more “hairy?” If anything, I trust the word of people that I know and have more reason to trust much more than the testimony of strangers.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Oh! Wait! I get what you mean. It’s hairy because you don’t want to offend me by calling into question their integrity. Gotcha. Yeah, I believe they are being honest. My dad is extremely honest…just delusional.

      Still, though. I remember the conversations in the days after the graduation speech where a lot of the Mormons would talk about how they hope to see Jesus one day, just like the old man. I think those same people would doubt a lot of the miracle claims that exist in the world, even scoff at them, but find a strange place in their brain where they believe that that stuff is going on. Like with the old man and with the GAs and such. ‘It happens, just not to me.’

  30. 7Watts permalink

    Andrew I guess I grew up in a very different Mormon Church then you did. I was taught that miracles do exist and are going on right around us. They are not publicized for the world to see as proof but they do happen. Healings and speaking in tongues were talked about all the time. Not the kind of tongues were someone speaks in an no one understands but one in which someone speaks a language they do not know in order to communicate with native speakers; in times of emergency, to save a life or in order to teach them of the gospel.

    When I did the endowment for my grandfather I waited for the miracle. I did not think it was a miracle but an event but in your words what I was expecting was a miracle. I was very close to him before he died, when I was about 10. In my 20’s I did his endowment and felt very close to him. Afterwards I waited for hours in the celestial room to talk to him. I wasn’t asking for a miracle and I did not need to see him as proof. I knew what I was doing, had been taught was true. I simply wanted to talk to my grandfather again, to know he was doing well. I would not have been surprised if he sat next to me, in fact I expected it, waited for it. I wanted to see his eyes again and tell him how much I missed him. I don’t know what kind of faith the brother of Jared had but if it was anymore complete and childlike then mine was that day then I don’t even think I can conceive of it. I was deeply disappointed. If for some reason my grandfather could not come then someone else could have to tell me he was fine, to comfort me. It would not even have had to be someone from beyond the vale. If the miracles I had been told about were true any temple worker could have received a tiny revelation and said one sentence to me that would have left me feeling exhilarated. I did not judge, did not criticize I simply went home saddened, empty.

  31. 7Watts:

    Actually, that proves my point. These kinds of miracles are not “handle snake” miracles. They are not “drink poison and live” miracles. They are not “rise up from the dead after being dead long enough to stink” miracles.

    They count as the “tender mercy of the lord” miracles. I mean…really…our speaking in tongues has simply become someone becoming more fluent in a language in a pinch.

    I do not doubt that people talk about very toned down miracles (these “tender mercies of the Lord.”) ALSO, I don’t doubt that people talk about faith promoting stories (such as seeing/hearing/feeling long lost loved ones at the temple). ON THE OTHER HAND, whereas you went home “saddened, empty,” most members, I think, do not have such a reaction. Why? Because although they talked the talk, they truly didn’t expect such things in reality. If more people expected such occurrences, I would expect more people to be disaffected OR, at the very least, identify with the struggles of disaffected members.

    However, members either say two things to the disaffected (and the second thing is VERY telling). The first thing they say is, “Endure to the end and you will see a sign.” (The question here is, hmm…when is the end?) The second thing, the damning thing, that they will say is, “You have had too great of expectations. The Lord works in a still, small voice, through tender mercies, etc.,”

  32. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Hmm….interesting. So, you don’t put seeing a dead relative as “whiz-bang” miracle, but a “still small” miracle? I guess it would depend if you were the only one seeing that person. I always took the visions as very physical, as D&C 131 says, “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;” Anyone sitting in a Celestial room would have been those of “purer eyes” in my mind. Also, the scripture I mentioned above about physically shaking hands with an angel to find out if it is from God or not, makes it seem very solid, real and non-subjective in nature. I think that is why the artwork depicting Joseph Smith in bed being visited by Moroni, never shows him with all the other siblings in the room. Such a vision would obviously wake them up due to the light and due to the conversation between Joseph and the angel. A subjective vision, would not need the rubbing out of the siblings…or maybe I’m just reading too much into the artwork. Either way, I always took the ministering of angels to be a very solid, physical experience. I would have never put a visit by an angel or spirit in the “still, small” category, but perhaps you are right. Perhaps most people, when they hear about those, just imagine them to be something that only the person who had the experience could see…….hmmm……that does seem to fit some of the accounts of the “visions” received in the Kirtland Temple as well as the three witnesses who sometimes referred to their experience in seeing the angel and the plates as not with their natural eyes, but spiritual eyes…

    Still, though, do you feel that when blessings for the sick are given, people have given up on the idea of any sort of instantaneous healing? I bet we would get a very different answer from the different age groups. The children would probably mostly believe the big stuff is going on. They are being raised on stories of lions’ dens and living in whales and a single person chopping off dozens of men’s arms. I think those are the stories that capture the mind of a child. But, I am sure that you would see a drop off in “whiz-bang” belief as people went through their teen years, a slight peak around mission age, more deterioration as life continues and then maybe a slight rise towards the end of a persons life. I would also expect the expectation to be higher in certain 3rd world countries where I have found the general population to be a bit more superstitious than ours.

  33. GW 800+

    No, I put seeing dead relatives in the category of “faith promoting stories that people truly don’t expect in reality.”

    That is why, when it doesn’t happen (ASSUMING that most people don’t see dead relatives in the temple), most people don’t get discouraged. Because they never expected it — even though they used the language to promote faith — to begin with.

    When we talk about “miracles” that can and have been vouched by people, then we come to realize that they are surprisingly coincidental. Tender mercies of the Lord. Seeing dubious patters and interpreting them a certain way.

    Shaking hands with an angel to test if he is of the devil is a faith promoting rumor. Most people don’t expect to see angels…and they don’t become surprised or discouraged if they don’t. My argument is that if they did, then we would see a lot more disaffected people (or, at the very least, people who could understand where disaffected members were coming from). Since we do not see this, we can either conclude 1) that they are seeing miracles (ask yourself if you want to accept this…because this has ramifications on ex-members…) or 2) that they never expected to see such miracles to begin with, so if they don’t, it is no big deal.

    If we give a blessing to the sick…people have expectations proportional to the sickness. If it’s a flu, then of course, when someone recovers, it’s a miracle! (But is this really a miracle? Or could it be that the flu passed on its own.) However, if someone has debilitating cancer, then we will see interesting things. 1) if the person dies, then most people won’t get angry at God. Because they will realize that they never should’ve expected such a grave condition to be cured by faith. or 2) if the person survives, then people will claim it is a miracle. Is it a bona fide miracle? It may not be. But there’s confirmation bias.

    Of course, we would see different age groups saying different things (and also, different people from different parts of the world). But for the average, adult, west-civilization believer, they “know” better than to expect “whiz-bang” miracles. They can talk the talk, and they KNOW about faith promoting rumors…but if these things don’t come into their lives, then they don’t become disappointed. They don’t have their faith shaken.

  34. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I think I mostly agree with what you just said, especially since you used the words expectation. I never had any expectations for seeing or being a part of those types of miracles and don’t think that most people in the church do either, but it didn’t mean that I didn’t suspend reality to some extent and say that God, of course, can and probably does do those things every once in awhile. So, while I had no great expectations for much more than the “still, small” “tender mercy” miracles since 99.99% that is how the world worked, I still held out some hope of witnessing one of the more extravagant miracles at some point in my life, believing that .01% of the time they did actually happen.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that is how it is for a large portion of the members. God is the same yesterday, today and forever and Moroni makes it clear that God is a “God of miracles.” So, while they may not expect to ever see one and will not be disappointed if they don’t, they believe that some of those big miracles are still going on, as a sign that follows the believers.

    So far, in my asking more people around me, that is what I am hearing, but…my sample size is small so far and skewed since many of them are former Mormons. Like you mention, (internet) Mormons will say that their expectations were too high. It, however, seems most prevalent that, across the board, people did or do believe that the apostles and prophet have and do talk directly with God and maybe walk the halls of the temple with Jesus. I wonder if that’s how many make it fit, they say that stuff only happens at the tippy top of the church hierarchy…

  35. GW800 ,

    If you can concede that it wouldn’t be surprising that a large number of members do not expect more than “still, small” “tender mercy” situations, then John Gustav-Wrathall’s comment of an apparently godless universe should be controversial…

    Now, let’s get to the next part of your speech. Mormons believe that God eternally progresses. That doesn’t sound like God being the same today, yesterday, and forever. In fact, this latter idea is what non-LDS Christians like to use against Mormon ideas of eternal progression…so it doesn’t make sense that you would use this idea – that is hostile to Mormonism – to try to classify Mormonism.

    Mormon belief is that God changes the way he interacts with humanity based on the given dispensation. So, any member could say that today’s dispensation has different miracles (the still, small, tender kinds) than past dispensations…So I still think you are creating a straw man of Mormonism…

    It really seems to be the former Mormons who don’t get this…we want to make the religion more than it is.

  36. madamcurie permalink

    Mormons believe that God eternally progresses. That doesn’t sound like God being the same today, yesterday, and forever. In fact, this latter idea is what non-LDS Christians like to use against Mormon ideas of eternal progression…so it doesn’t make sense that you would use this idea – that is hostile to Mormonism – to try to classify Mormonism.

    Actually, Elder Bruce R. McConkie in June 1980 taught that this is one of the seven deadly heresies, namely, the idea that God can progress.

    Here is the full quote of his text, in italics below:

    Heresy one: There are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge and is Teaming new truths.

    This is false-utterly, totally, and completely. There is not one sliver of truth in it. It grows out of a wholly twisted and incorrect view of the King Follett Sermon and of what is meant by eternal progression.

    God progresses in the sense that his kingdoms increase and his dominions multiply-not in the sense that he learn new truths and discovers new laws. God is not a student. He is not a laboratory technician. He is not postulating new theories on the basis of past experiences. He has indeed graduated to that state of exaltation that consists of knowing all things and having all power.

  37. Madam Curie:

    But Bruce R. McConkie spoke (AND ADMITTED THAT HE SPOKE) with limited understanding. This limited understanding was addressed to specific things, I understand, but c’mon…seriously now. Who takes this guy seriously?

    Now, I will say this. I am biased here. I have written off McConkie nearly totally. That’s what I did to “survive” in my faith long ago. I would just say, “McConkie is non-authoritative and has been PROVEN to have gotten some things wrong, so everything he has written or said is suspect.” I was incredibly surprised to hear my seminary teacher still held him in high regard. But I really don’t think this means we must accept McConkie as the perfect interpretation of Mormonism.

  38. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    @ Andrew

    I think that many members don’t expect to see the more overt miracles in their day-to-day lives, but that does not mean that they never expect to see one, nor does it necessarily mean that it isn’t seen more commonly in the lives of other. ‘Well, I haven’t seen anything, but THESE people must be seeing and experiencing things for them to all appear so certain.’

    Say a person’s life is filled with what they consider “tender mercies” but one day, later in life, they receive a visit from Jesus. Does it matter that it was only a 5 minute episode out of a life made up of close to a million hours? I would think not. I would think that a single miracle like that in their life would be enough to say, “This world appears far from godless.” Since we are are now using the term “tender mercy” it seems fitting to site Elder Bednar’s cousin who lived in my previous stake. He was in the High Council and spoke to the young single adults. He mentioned a time when he saw Jesus in the Bountiful temple. Afterward, I heard quite a few members discussing how righteous he must be to have seen Jesus, as well as vocally hoping that they would have the same experience some day.

    Even though I never had an experience like that, those are the experiences that I, as a member, was taught to seek after. D&C 46 says to earnestly seek after the best gifts. There were many church lessons teaching this through the years and many of the listed gifts in that section are of the more grandiose type. It is hard for me to believe that there aren’t a great deal who have taken that to heart like I did. Again, it wouldn’t have been terribly frustrating for me to not have one of the grandiose miracles in my life, but I still would have kept trying to live up to the full extent of my potential, leaving the door open as best I could for such an experience if God deemed it right to bestow one upon me. So, the expectation of such a miracle was not there, but the possibility was always there. Not only that, but I think I assumed that members throughout the world were maybe having an experience or two during their life span, like the ‘other Bednar.’ And, again, while the vast majority of the time is filled with “tender mercies” I would have still found it odd to be talking to a member who said that the world appears godless. I might have asked him, “But don’t you think that you might witness a miracle in your life at some point? What about all those others who have testified of having such experiences?”

    “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men? …And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men. For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.” Moroni 7:27,29-30

    Why did I talk about an unchanging god? Because that’s what the Mormon scripture says:

    “And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues; Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them. For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles. But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.” Mormon 9:7-11

    My original point was just that Mormon scriptures teach that God is a God of miracles. Those scriptures also list many of those types of miracles in the BofM and D&C and also that one should seek after those things in their own life. For this reason, it is surprising to me that he would say that the world appears godless. It seems that he not only does not expect such miracles to occur in his life, but he does not believe that they are happening in anyone else’s life.

    “In the Mormon theology that I embrace, God purposely created a universe for us to live in that appears to be godless.” This just doesn’t seem to fit Mormon scripture to me.

    And while “any member could say that today’s dispensation has different miracles” I would wonder why they would even say that considering the scriptures, the claimed miracles of the early days of the church (which is part of this dispensation), and the occasional, contemporary claims.

  39. GW800+

    But until someone has that 5 minute encounter with Jesus (that, as you’ve conceded, “they do not expect to see in their day-to-day lives”), yes they do live in a world that is apparently godless. The visit from Jesus is unexpected, and why is it unexpected? Because people don’t expect to see Jesus! Because that goes against their expectations of an apparently godless universe.

    Certainly, expectation doesn’t rule out possibility. But *expectation* is what determines if you see the universe as *apparently* godless or *apparently* miraculous.

    You pick out two scriptures from the Book of Mormon. But don’t you realize how much of the LDS doctrine doesn’t come from the Book of Mormon. As you very well should know, this is something ex-Mormons and anti-Mormons call Mormons out on all the time…the Book of Mormon is surprisingly protestant on a number of big-ticket issues, and it is surprisingly silent on some of the more big ticket items. This conversation is actually getting just too META, haha. How can we talk about Mormon doctrines when we don’t even know where they come from? Do they come from a book called “Mormon Doctrine” (or from its author, who later recanted some of his positions?) Do they come from the flagship Book of Mormon, which to any person who reads, seems to tell a vastly different story than the one Mormons actually believe (And I’m sure our Community of Christ brethren and Firetag in particular, who are *not* sullied by many of the doctrinal expansions that *we* are sullied by, could point out many of unique LDS teachings that seem utterly foreign to him.)?

    I dunno. It’s like pinning jello on a wall, as they say…

    It just seems like it’s not worth getting into a conflict on prooftexting, when I could point out many scriptures in the BoM or D+C that don’t represent LDS beliefs today (specifically for the BoM, because the BoM was always surprisingly protestant…very tame.) So the scriptures you point out make God seem more protestant than the average member would functionally believe him to be.

  40. 7Watts permalink


    I think you are making excuses for the church. It is either true and everything they claim really happens or it is a sham. I walked away from the church 17 years ago because I could no longer deal with the inconsistencies. You say that people don’t really expect to see angles or talk directly with god. I believe you and I find it is a total lack of faith on their part. Either believe it and seek it or say it is not logical and can’t be tested and admit the church is false.

    Look, Moses talked with God face to face as one man talks to another. Apostles saw Jesus after the resurrection. After his resurrection (i.e. he was dead and now is alive) he visited the Americas. The brother of Jared had such faith that god could not hide himself and he saw his finger. When I was in the church we were taught, very plainly, that the living prophet and apostles had their calling and election made sure. And that meant that they talked with god as Moses did. These are not small voices these are pretty direct, as direct as is possible.

    So how are these people different? The only thing I could find was their faith. At the time I went to the temple to talk to my grandfather I had no doubt I could talk to him. My faith was perfect. I even asked to talk to God right before my mission. Why not? I had no doubt in his ability to talk to me. It was my opinion at the time that people did not witness miracles because they lacked the faith. We were taught that a time would come that we would not be able to eat dinner without blessing it for real as we would die. Is that not a real miracle?

    You can excuse what you would like but the church teaches, and taught, in real honest miracles and they just do not come to pass. Some people claim that they do but won’t talk about them. I submit that if you look at real honest miracles you will see that they don’t look any differently then chance. They are not statistically significant.

    I did not leave the church because of a lack of miracles I left because the questions I had about the church became unsupportable. Now I see the church for what it is. There are no miracles because Joseph Smith was a liar. God does not exist. Churches in general set up circular reasoning so that anyone who raises a valid question is wrong for asking the question. Religion is the story of the Emperors New Clothes.

  41. 7Watts:

    I’m only making the excuses for the church that the church makes for itself. Because these excuses represent what the average member would believe.

    Of course, *we* see the inconsistencies. But for most members, these inconsistencies aren’t problematic. Apparently, most members do stay within the church, whereas we are the outliers who leave. So, how can we say this is faithlessness on their part, when the body of faithful members who stay determine what faithfulness is?!

    I’m absolutely sure you were taught faith promoting stories. I’m not absolutely sure that everyone buys into the faith promoting language to similar degrees. The reason I’m not sure about this is because of the various reactions. For you, it is an unbearable inconsistency that you leave the church over. For others, there is no problem. So it seems that, for whatever interpretation you took, this interpretation is not the norm. There is some difference.

    I have presented several ways to account for the difference…why some people leave and others don’t. Since I don’t believe that faithful members routinely talk face to face with God, then I think that the reason they aren’t driven away from the church by the inconsistency is because *they never expected to talk face to face with God*. Because although they knew the stories and knew how to discuss them in public — although they knew how to raise a good facade — they didn’t really take stock into those stories. So, when these stories didn’t replicate, it didn’t shake their faiths.

    Or, do you want to accept the alternative? Do you want to accept the alternative that faithful members DO expect such miracles, and they do not leave the church because they *experience* such miracles? Consider the ramifications of this. This suggests that your faithlessness is a problem with you.

    I would not accept that alternative if I were you.

    In fact, you don’t even accept that alternative. Even you say that “real honest miracles…just do not come to pass.” So, now we have to account for why the vast majority of Mormons stay in the church — and don’t even UNDERSTAND the plight of disaffected mormons and ex-Mormons — if real honest miracles do not come to pass.

    I think it is because the vast majority of Mormons don’t expect real honest miracles to come to pass in the first place. So when they don’t, there is no let down! There is no questioning! There is no inconsistency! Things are going just as planned!

  42. FireTag permalink

    I’ll date myself yet again: there is a classic TV commercial showing an opera singer singing a top-of-range note that shatters glass. The tag line is “Is it real or is it Memorex (a tape recorder, young’uns)?”

    If the glass shatters, the answer may not matter. At least that’s the new thought that just struck me this afternoon reading your dialogue.

    If we interpret an act of nature as a miracle, and act accordingly, history is altered accordingly. The altering of history is directly observable: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, etc. exist, whether or not their founding inspirations were “real or Memorex”. We can subjectively make their interpretation according to our own experience and worldview.

    My grandfather was converted by some internal conviction during a preaching service.

    My grandmother, adamantly opposed to the Restoration, began her conversion when she heard an audible voice in an empty kitchen ask her why she condemmed these people when she didn’t even know their beliefs. (Her subsequent search for the voice through the house with a carving knife for protection is now a family legend.)

    My decision to study physics rather than journalism came because I had a dream in which a personage commanded my to study science. I’m a physicist whether the dream was sent from God or I merely believed that He had done so.

    Life is mathematically chaotic. Events that are far below the level of statistical significance, and therefore unprovable, can still tip history into entirely unanticipated paths.


  43. FireTag, we are on the same track here…I’m not worried about whether it is real or if it is memorex. I am fully aware that it’s all in the subjective interpretation.

    Nevertheless, it doesn’t exactly change things. The question is whether people expect to have the subjective experiences (and corresponding interpretations) and if, in the absence of these experiences, their faith breaks. I still think not. In factl, your grandmother highlights my point. She did NOT expect a voice…the perception of a voice was surprising enough to make her reevaluate things. The lack of perception of a voice wouldn’t have been shattering to anything, though.

  44. Guest Writer 800+ permalink


    You keep using the word concede on my part, but I have not changed positions. I am just voicing the opinion that I held when I was a member of the church. I am still surprised that he worded it the way he did because that is not how I would have worded it when I was in the church. While the expectation was never there for me, the possibility (and maybe a little hope) was there. If I had never experienced or seen one of the grandiose miracles in my life, it wouldn’t have upset me, it would not have shaken my faith because, statistically speaking, for some it just might not happen, but for others, it might be more common occurrence. After all, not everyone is given the same gifts. To some it is given the gift to heal and to others it is given to speak in tongues and to others it is given to discern spirits and to others it is given to prophesy, but others just have the gift of knowledge or wisdom or other, less supernatural gifts. So, still, for me I thought that maybe I just had gifts in different areas but it didn’t mean that someone out there in the world wasn’t curing all sorts of stuff while a few other Mormons and faith-filled non-Mormons were onlookers; it didn’t mean, like on my mission, that more missionaries besides the ones I spoke about weren’t casting out demons; it didn’t mean that the apostles and prophet weren’t walking and talking (in a very physical way) with Jesus.

    One example may be my ex-girlfriend. I was telling her about an hour-long meeting I recently had with M. Russell Ballard. A few things upset her. One was that he was unfamiliar with the history of church origins (or at least plead ignorance), another was that he never had any specific answer for any of my concerns and, what upset her the most was revealed when she asked, “Well, didn’t he testify to you of the amazing things he has witnessed?” He had not. Instead, he just mentioned how he knows of no other church that has such a clear picture of where we come from, why we are here and where we are going. To which she responded, when I was relating it to her, “But, there ARE other religions that are very specific about that stuff.” For her, I don’t think she had any expectations of seeing one of those grandiose miracles in her life, but that doesn’t mean that she would say that the world appears godless, it does not mean that she didn’t believe that that sort of stuff wasn’t going on in other people’s lives, especially the lives of those at that top of the church. So, while never seeing a miracle would not shake her faith, it would shake her faith to find out that the apostles make no such claims to having witnessed anything spectacular either. Another example from her might be how much she buys into those shows of ghosts and hauntings. She has never seen a ghost and probably does not expect to see one in her life but believes that there are totally ghosts out there. It’s an interesting disconnect that people sometimes do to make what they have been taught and fed all their life fit the reality that they observe.

    Let me go back to my percentages for an example. While I was a Mormon, my view was that 99.99% of the time, the “miracles” were “tender mercies.” That still means that one in ten thousand miracles is a “whiz-bang” miracle. Perhaps completely unexpected by that individual, but not to be taken as entirely unexpected when taking the body of the true faith as a whole. Let’s pretend that there are only 1 million members of the LDS church and that each of them claims to witness one miracle a month, small or great. Statistically speaking, that means that over a thousand “whiz-bang” miracles occur worldwide every year. Relatively small, but still enough to say, “Wow, look at the mighty works of God for those with the eyes of faith. Look at the signs following the believers.”

    Now, we got off on another track of is the way I viewed this subject when I was in the church commonplace or is John’s view more commonplace? This I do not know, but have started asking around, because I was surprised by John’s words. I think my view is quite common, but wouldn’t be surprised if John’s view is relatively common as well.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Ha ha. Look at my completely failed attempt at using italics. I saw what looked like the right method in my email feed and thought that I would give it a try. It appears that I made a mistake of some sort.

      Oh! I see. I missed the / before the second i.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Testing testing one two three

      • wow, you really DID mess up those italics…I went and corrected the first one, but was surprised when there were two other incorrectly closed tags…but I got them all…I’ll get to your message (and 7Watts’s) eventually…things are getting pretty busy.

  45. 7Watts permalink

    I just have one last point. It is rather difficult for an ex-Mormon to talk about the times when they were Mormons because we feel so differently today then we did when the story we are relating took place. Often I find people will point to the fact that I left the church as to the reason I did not see my grandfather, etc. I don’t think that is a fair comparison. I was a completely different person when I was in the church as far as religion goes. I really truly believed and no one could shake my faith back then. The fact that later in life I came learn the truth about god does not relate back to an earlier time and I atribute to His mercy (ha ha).

  46. 7Watts permalink

    I just have one last point. It is rather difficult for an ex-Mormon to talk about the times when they were Mormons because we feel so differently today then we did when the story we are relating took place. Often I find people will point to the fact that I left the church as to the reason I did not see my grandfather, etc. I don’t think that is a fair comparison. I was a completely different person when I was in the church as far as religion goes. I really truly believed and no one could shake my faith back then. The fact that later in life I came learn the truth about god does not relate back to an earlier time and I attribute to His mercy (ha ha).

  47. 7Watts permalink

    I stuttered can someone delete the first one for me?

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