Simple Testimony

Last week my bishop encouraged us to read M. Russell Ballard’s talk “Pure Testimony” from last General Conference. I did, and it has caused me to reevaluate how I share my own testimony.

Many people I respect have complicated testimonies, but mine is almost absurdly simple. It began with the Book of Mormon, which I read as a non-member freshman at BYU almost 25 years ago. Elder Ballard’s words reminded me of that time: “A testimony is a witness or confirmation of eternal truth impressed upon individual hearts and souls through the Holy Ghost, whose primary ministry is to testify of truth, particularly as it relates to the Father and the Son.” I have felt that witness, not just about the Book of Mormon, but about the Father and the Son, about Joseph Smith, and about Gordon B. Hinckley.

I have also seen this: “[T]estimony — real testimony, born of the Spirit and confirmed by the Holy Ghost — changes lives. It changes how you think and what you do. It changes what you say. It affects every priority you set and every choice you make.” Yes! My experience with the Book of Mormon changed me. As did many other experiences with the Holy Ghost. I am different now than I was 25 years ago, different even than I was 25 days ago because I am still working at this.

Then Elder Ballard turned to the topic of bearing testimonies, and he said this:

My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them. Our testimony meetings need to be more centered on the Savior, the doctrines of the gospel, the blessings of the Restoration, and the teachings of the scriptures. We need to replace stories, travelogues, and lectures with pure testimonies. Those who are entrusted to speak and teach in our meetings need to do so with doctrinal power that will be both heard and felt, lifting the spirits and edifying our people.

As I reflected on my own participation in testimony meetings, I realized two things. First, I don’t participate very often. Once a year? Maybe. After reading Elder Ballard’s talk, I feel the desire to bear my testimony more often. Second, when I describe my testimony, I rarely say “I know.” I often express gratitude for the Gospel, for the scriptures, for my family, etc., but I have moved away from the “I know” testimonies of my youth. Not because my conviction has waned, but because somewhere along the road, I decided that being cautious in my speech sounded … what? More mature, perhaps? Or thoughtful? Or sophisticated? In any event, it sounded less like the Primary children who unthinkingly parrot the testimonies of adults, even when I think they cannot possibly know what they purport to know.

God lives. Jesus is my Savior. Joseph Smith was a prophet. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet. Those are the foundation stones of my testimony, and I know that “[m]iraculous things happen when members join with missionaries and share pure testimony with those who are not members of the Church.”

69 comments for “Simple Testimony

  1. February 17, 2005 at 10:05 pm

    I also rarely bear my testimony, Gordon, and I also refrain from “I know” language (because I don’t know, or at least I don’t think I know–all I know is that I believe). I feel the force of Elder Ballard’s concern though. There has been some discussion about the virtue of “performing the part” in the priesthood blessing thread; perhaps we believers ought to be open to, on occasion, presenting our testimonies in accordance with Elder Ballard’s much simpler template?

  2. February 17, 2005 at 10:23 pm

    On my mission, I resolved to never bear a testimony without including a testimony of the Savior, of my knowledge of his existence, his love for me and the power of his atoning sacrifice. It has really helped me to focus the talks and lessons I prepare, knowing that I will bear that testimony at the end.

  3. Wilfried
    February 17, 2005 at 10:52 pm

    Thank you, Gordon, for this Back to basics reminder. As a convert myself, I feel close to your message. When one comes from another background and receives a burning testimony of the divinity of the Church and of the Restoration, the experience is unique. I have the impression it impacts on the way we give testimonies later in life. It is also telling, at least from my experience, that it much easier to stand up in a testimony meeting in the mission field, surrounded by other converts and with investigators in the audience, than in a large, settled ward where non-essential topics tend to dominate the testimonies. Elder Ballard’s talk is a timely reminder.

  4. Dan Richards
    February 17, 2005 at 10:59 pm


    Thanks for this post. While Elder Ballard encourages us to “replace stories … with pure testimonies,” I am usually most touched when people share experiences that underscore the impact their testimonies have on their lives. When you say “God lives,” the Spirit can testify to me of the truth of this “pure testimony”–but if you say, “This week I had experience X, which deepened my belief that God lives,” I have a lot more to work with, and I can more easily reflect on the analogous experiences that have convinced me that God lives. Is Elder Ballard really envisioning testimony meetings in which members state nothing more than their knowledge/belief in Gospel truths without any context? It would take you about 20 seconds to state your name, testify of the foundation stones of your testimony (the ones you mention in the last paragraph of your post), and close. A testimony meeting could thus consist of nearly 100 brief testimonies, assuming people were able to bear the monotony without heading for the exits. Or maybe it would be extremely spiritual–I’ve never had the experience.

    Probably Elder Ballard has in his crosshairs those testimonies which consist of *long* stories accompanied by tenuous links (if any) to Gospel truths. Brevity is crucial, even for testimonies firmly centered in eternal principles. For instance, I think it would be inappropriate for you to share a twenty-minute version of your conversion story in Fast and Testimony Meeting, although this might make a great High Council talk. Nevertheless, I would get a lot more from a four-minute testimony about, say, your experiences with the Book of Mormon than I would from the above-postulated 20-second recitation of what you know/believe to be true. If testimony changes lives, I want to hear your testimony *and* how it changed your life. Although I’ve never met you, I’ve reflected on your story (thanks for providing the link) a number of times, and it has stayed with me the way a “pure testimony” without context never could have.

  5. Doug Garret
    February 17, 2005 at 11:02 pm

    As a stake high councilman, I am assigned to speak this sunday on this very topic. Very timely and fortuous that I ” stumbled” onto your site. I agree with your observations. I have a knowledge of the saviour and his atonement for us. I think all testimonies should testify of one or all of the following point.
    There is a God
    His son Jesus Christ is our Saviour and the founder of this church
    Joseph Smith was called as a prophet of God to restore this,Christ’s church in these latter days
    We have had successive Prophets even until today’s Gordon B Hinkley.
    Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon through divine inspiration from ancient records as a second witness of Christ. It stands today as that witness.
    Thanks for your thoughts.
    Doug Garrett
    I try to bear that witness when I give talks or teach classes also.

  6. Emma Marsh
    February 17, 2005 at 11:18 pm

    Great topic…Exactly what is it about the church, its teachings, its culture, etc, that puts so much stake in the words “I know”? It seems like anything less than that is a sign of weakness. Or that by saying “I know” over and over again, you’ll feel the spirit and convince yourself that you do know. Just hearing person after person get up and say “I know the church is true” doesn’t convince me of anything (unless I have a personal relationship with them such that their opinion matters to me.) As you mentioned “how do these words alone tell you that the person actually knows what they purport to know”. Personally, to me, these words carry little weight unless I know why or how a particular person knows. For instance, I know the B of M is true because there’s no way JS as an uneducated, young boy could have written it doesn’t do much for me. Nor does, I know the B of M is true because they found some gold coins down in South America. So I would go even further and say “I know the B of M is *true* [aside: we could also analyze the word true in the same way we need to analyze how *I know* is used within the church] because I came to a point in my life when I was trying to decide whether I wanted to continue being part of the Church of not. And at that point I *had* to know. And so I started on page 1 and read the book. At first, as I read it felt as if I was reading a book by Joseph Smith. But as I read more I started to believe I was actually reading the words of ancient prophets. And as I read more I found answer to questions and problems and things in my heart that only God know concerned me. And when I got to the end I took Moroni up on his challenge (as cliche as it may be) to know that the book was true. And in heartfelt prayer I approached Heavenly Father with my plea, and asked, and he confirmed by his spirit in such a way that I cannot now deny that the book is true.”

    I remember Elder Ballard’s talk and I think the church as a whole needed this type of ‘setting straight’ when it comes to testimony meeting and testimony bearing. Perhaps his intentions included these:

    1. Making sure that testimonies are actually testimonies and not just travelogues, etc. (which we all know is so true).

    2. Challenging those who can’t yet say I know x, y, and z, to work towards that, and perhaps in the mean time get up and say “I know God loves me, and I have felt his love in my life on such-and-such occasion…”

    3. Encouraging those that have a testimony to come out and say that they do know, and in a way making them responsible for sharing and uplifting those mentioned in number 2.

    Ideally, when we bear pure testimony I guess I would say that we’re supposed to be talking ‘spirit to spirit’. And, if we’re all at different stages in our spirituality that’s just fine. It’s too bad that a convert/investigator, etc, might leave thinking that we’re all brainwashed, cookie-cutter mormons who believe in x, y, and z, because people won’t give up and say exactly what they do believe and WHY (or even what they don’t believe ‘yet’..which would be interesting).

  7. February 17, 2005 at 11:41 pm

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone.

    Russell, interesting question. I suppose I would be reluctant to testify of a knowledge of things if I didn’t feel I had that knowledge. I relate very closely to Emma’s words, and I think it is worth reflecting on what we intend when we speak of “knowledge.” That said, I have been quite moved and inspired and strengthened by testimonies of those who are struggling merely to believe.

    Thanks, Bryce and Wilfried. Very nice thoughts.

    Dan, Elder Ballard’s story comment was something that gave me trouble at first, and I went through pretty much the same thought process you describe. Like Emma, I often don’t get a lot out of people just saying I know, I know, I know … but that is a good punchline.

    Doug, I am glad that you stumbled on our site, too. Good luck with your talk.

  8. Bill Schroader
    February 17, 2005 at 11:54 pm

    Any of us remember what it was like to bring an investigator to fast and testimony meeting for their first time? You’re putting so much faith in the members that someone doesn’t stand up and recite a day in the life of brother or sister so and so. Deep down you wish that the finest, most eloquent testimonies would be born in hopes that it will inspire.

    I’m certain that Elder Ballard as well as other seasoned General Authorities have “suffered” through many a testimony meeting. I know that more than once I have been in a word in which the hair on the back of your neck would begin to stand at the sight of seeing the same man or woman get up month after month blabbering on and on about the least inspirational things.

    So far as placing an emphasis on using words like ‘I know’, etc., too me is to build on the effectiveness of a testimony meeting. I feel that in order for the Spirit to be able to actually witness of truth, that truth must be espoused. I don’t believe that the deliverer of a testimony should speak things that they don’t truly believe, but if a testimony is to be born of one that truly believes, then say it. Shout at the tops of the rooftops. In doing so, we give opportunity to the Spirit to reaffirm that which has been said.

  9. Adam Greenwood
    February 18, 2005 at 12:07 am

    I know too, Gordon, most of the time. Thank you. Thank God.

  10. Jed
    February 18, 2005 at 12:12 am

    I find myself agreeing with much of what Dan Richards (#4) says above, but I am not willing to let go of the simple testimony quite yet. In the extreme case, the testimony bearers are all automotons and stand up affirming the truth of the same core elements in the same way: God lives, Jesus is the Christ, the Book of Mormon is the Word of God, JS is a Prophet, GBK is a Prophet. But how many testimony meetings are like that in actual practice? People are not machines; most testimonies have some narrative shape to them, a beginning, middle, and end, with the beginning often an ice breaker or story of some sort and the end with the “I know” statements. I don’t think Elder Ballard is saying do away with narrative any more than he is saying Elder Monsen should stop telling stories. He seems to be saying stories without attestation is not testimony.

    I think Dan makes a good point about relating testimony to life. The abstract without the concrete can sound a little hollow at times. People can more easily find themselves in the “fruits” of Mormon living than in theological abstractions. I once had a learned man tell me after I had borne my testimony, “I don’t want to know _that_ you know. I want to know _how_ you know.” He wanted the pragmatic method. I learned something about expectations in that moment. Functionalism and pragmatism run deep in American intellectual circles, and academics can sometimes find Mormon testimonies wooden or empty on those counts.

  11. Jack
    February 18, 2005 at 12:16 am

    A friend mine told me that when (back in the 80’s) he was student at BYU the Bishop of his ward would set a timer at two minutes (equiped with a loud buzzer I presumed) at the beginning of each testimony. He said that no one ever let the timer go off and as a result the testimonies were direct and more powerful than they might have been otherwise.

  12. Mark
    February 18, 2005 at 1:08 am

    Russell Arben Fox: “I also refrain from “I know” language (because I don’t know, or at least I don’t think I know–all I know is that I believe).”

    “It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?”

    Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man,” as the scripture says, indeed”is the candle of the Lord.” (Prov. 20:27.)

    It is one thing to receive a witness from what you have read or what another has said; and that is a necessary beginning. It is quite another to have the spirit confirm to you in your bosom that what you have testified is true. Can you not see that it will be supplied as you share it? As you give that which you have, there is a replacement, with increase!

    The prophet Ether “did prophecy great and marvelous things unto the people, which they did not believe, because they saw them not.

    “And now, I, Moroni, . . . would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not; for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” (Ether 12:5-6.)

    To speak out is the test of your faith.

    The skeptic will say that to bear testimony when you may not know you possess one is to condition yourself; that the response is manufactured. Well, one thing for sure, the skeptic will never know, for he will not meet the requirement of faith, humility, and obedience to qualify him for the visitation of the Spirit.

    Can you not see that that is where testimony is hidden, protected perfectly from the insincere, from the intellectual, from the mere experimenter, the arrogant, the faithless, the proud? It will not come to them.

    Bear testimony of the things that you hope are true, as an act of faith. It is something of an experiment, akin to the experiment that the prophet Alma proposed to his followers. We begin with faith-not with a perfect knowledge of things. That sermon in the thirty-second chapter of Alma is one of the greatest messages in holy writ, for it is addressed to the beginner, to the novice, to the humble seeker. And it holds a key to a witness of the truth.

    The Spirit and testimony of Christ will come to you for the most part when, and remain with you only if, you share it. In that process is the very essence of the gospel.

    Is not this a perfect demonstration of Christianity? You cannot find it, nor keep it, nor enlarge it unless and until you are willing to share it. It is by giving it away freely that it becomes yours.”

    by Elder Boyd K. Packer
    Ensign, Jan. 1983, pp. 51-56.

  13. jed
    February 18, 2005 at 1:24 am

    Emma Marsh (#4). The reason why Mormons value “I know” is a very interesting question. Protestants do something similar when they stand to witness of the work God has done on their souls, but Mormon testimonies are not nearly so soul wrenching and shift the emphasis to historical events outside themselves. The five main points of a Mormon testimony work on a cosmic level as much as a personal level. Our testimonies affirm God’s plan for world history.

    I do think the tension between knowledge and belief that Russell speaks of (#1) may have something to do with struggle against the dominance of logical positivism in the 1920s and 30s. The belief vs knowledge debate was heating up then on college campuses. The demand for empirical proof put inordinate pressure on religion, and Mormonism may have stonewalled with a formula for testimony bearing that protected our most sacred historical events from public ridicule. I don’t see the emphasis on “I know” in the nineteenth century. Perhaps someone else does.

  14. Emma Marsh
    February 18, 2005 at 3:34 am


    I’m unclear as to whether your entire comment was a quote or not, but whether I’m responding to your opinion or to a 20-yr-old statement by Elder Packer my opinion is the same.

    “It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?”…

    “The skeptic will say that to bear testimony when you may not know you possess one is to condition yourself; that the response is manufactured. Well, one thing for sure, the skeptic will never know, for he will not meet the requirement of faith, humility, and obedience to qualify him for the visitation of the Spirit.”

    I consider myself a skeptic, and at least for me, in the end, it’s made my testimony stronger (so a skeptic, although not a contentious agonistic skeptic can receive a witness of the spirit). IMO, testifying of something you do not previously have a testimony of is dishonest. Gaining it while you’re speaking doesn’t count. And, yes, if you repeated tell yourself something you hope to believe, you will end up believing it.

    However, there is something to be said in putting your testimony into words. Sometimes by expressing our testimony we strengthen it or learn something new or think about it in a different way. Also, some people, I suppose don’t make purposeful conscious decisions about whether they believe something or not. Something like Gordon’s story of himself on the plane (see his 25yrold BYU student link at the top of this blog), the spirit can ‘touch’ you and change you…and you just know after that you can’t deny what you felt. But even then you should be able to point to the moment it happened.

    Which leads me to a question: I’ve always been perplexed by those that grew up in the church and simply say that they have always known the church is true. If anyone here describes themselves in that way — would you mind sharing a bit of your story? I mean, can parents really raise their children in a way that “if they are brought up in the way that they should go, they will not depart from it” (2 Ne 4, I think). I grew up in a half-mormon family so I wouldn’t necessarily know…in my opinion I just made my own decisions and mistakes, and found my way via experience. Because of that, I have the opinion that no matter how I raise my children, they will still have to question and have their own ‘conversion’ experience and develop their own testimony. Any thoughts on that?

    Jed-I’ve never looked at the five main points of a mormon testimony by parallelling them to history but now that you point it out it seems so obvious. By saying those five, we’re also saying we know God’s plan and purpose for us, we know God created the world, etc.

    Here’s an interesting question for everyone…There are always discussions about how you gain a testimony and once you have a testimony of the Church, the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith the other two must follow. So, here’s a question… Given the 5 main points of a mormon history as gordon layed them out is his beginning post…What order did you gain a testimony of them in?
    (I’m not simply asking this as a ‘survey’ question, but because I’m interested in what the order tells me about myself and my testimony…)

    A. God lives.
    B. Jesus is my Savior.
    C. Joseph Smith was a prophet.
    D. The Book of Mormon is the word of God.
    E. Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet.
    F. The LDS Church is the *true* church or Christ’s Church upon the earth today. (I add this just because I think this comes first for some people or third after A and B)

    For me, it would go A, B, D, C, E, F. I’ll add that I didn’t really trust that President Hinckley was a prophet until I saw him speak (in person) three times in the course of a year. Never shook his hand or anything, but just felt that he was inspired and led by God. Since then I actually try to pay attention at General Conf.

  15. February 18, 2005 at 7:25 am

    “The skeptic will say that to bear testimony when you may not know you possess one is to condition yourself; that the response is manufactured. Well, one thing for sure, the skeptic will never know…”

    There’s something circular in Elder Packer’s comments here, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth in them as well. Thanks for the reproof, Mark. Like Emma, I suppose I’m something of a skeptic, but as she also suggests, putting what you do know into words will likely strengthen that knowledge, or even cause it to expand. There’s a lot to be said for testifying of what I do know (or rather, that which I know I know): that there is a God, that I feel the Savior’s love in times of trial, etc.

    Also, I agree with those who suggest that Elder Ballard’s real target are those notorious travelogue testimonies, where we learn more about the testifier’s trials (or his aunt’s, or friend’s, or dog’s trials) than his beliefs, and time is wasted. Obviously, he’s being missionary-minded. I doubt he wants us to get rid of narrative entirely (assuming we even could, which is doubtful).

  16. Lamonte
    February 18, 2005 at 8:18 am

    “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

    “To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.” D&C 46:13-14

    This scripture was quoted by a member of the stake presidency immediately after I bore my testimony in a college ward. At that time my testimony only consisted of the “I believe” statements and I was bolstered by the words of this brother who seemed to be saying that it was OK to have that kind of testimony. As a fifth generation Mormon I had grown up in a small Mormon community and had listened to the testimonies of ward members, most of them pillars of the community, and I had learned to “believe on their words.”

    I will also say, however, that not too many years after this experience in college my faith was tested when I found great comfort in the words of a fellow ward member who had left the religion of his birth (his father was the local Methodist minister) and joined our church. This fellow would stand and bear his testimony whenever the opportunity presented itself and I found strength in his words. Then, almost overnight, he had a change of heart and not only left the church, but began to work feverously against the church. I felt betrayed by this man but later came to realize that we all must come to know for ourselves the truths of the gospel.

    I have found that actively saying the words out loud in a testimony meeting actually strengthens my testimony.

  17. Lamonte
    February 18, 2005 at 8:48 am

    Oops! I think that word should have been “feverishly.”

  18. Last lemming
    February 18, 2005 at 9:26 am

    For what it’s worth, I am another “believer” who felt considerable pressure to say “I know” as a missionary. I ultimately resolved my dilemma by saying “I testify.” I taught the TFOT lesson on Elder Ballard’s talk back in December and they all thought that to be a fine solution.

  19. February 18, 2005 at 9:57 am

    Emma, Interesting question about the order of receiving testimony. I think mine would be A, D, B, C, F, E. FWIW.

  20. February 18, 2005 at 10:00 am

    LL, What is the different between “I know” and “I testify”? You seem to imply that “I testify” can feel like “I believe” to the speaker, but might sound like “I know” to the hearer. Or is “I testify” a middle ground?

  21. Jack
    February 18, 2005 at 10:01 am

    D & E are the only ones keeping mine alive at the moment.

  22. February 18, 2005 at 10:09 am

    I think my beliefs run A, B, D, C also, Emma. E and F are in there as well, but for me they don’t seem to follow from the others quite as logically as some suggest they should.

  23. Mark B.
    February 18, 2005 at 10:26 am

    Great post. As long as we’re at it, though, can we also get rid of that lousy word “share”. Or “compartir” or “wakachiau” or whatever it is in your favorite language. “Bear” “declare” testify” “declarar” “akashi suru” –anything but that mealy-mouthed “share.”

    Reminds me of when the world really went off the tracks: when “show and tell” became “share”.

  24. annegb
    February 18, 2005 at 10:31 am

    I have struggled with my inability to say “I know,” and I remember feeling guilty when I heard Elder Ballard’s talk. Then I decided “I believe” isn’t so bad. I can’t explain it, but something in me rebels against that I know. I can say “I am convinced” or “I believe with all my heart” but I know, can’t get there. So I give myself permission to do the best I can.

    Because I am still NOT convinced that we are all not just hooked up to virtual reality machines, each having our own experience to help us grow and learn. In your virtual reality, I am the smart articulate wise dignified one and you are the slightly loopy big mouth.

  25. Steve L
    February 18, 2005 at 11:08 am

    “I doubt he wants us to get rid of narrative entirely (assuming we even could, which is doubtful).”
    On the contrary, I think that was one of the biggest targets of his talk. As if the general authorities don’t want us to have decent, enlightened meetings just because it’s “doubtful” it could ever happen. Remember meetings being led by the spirit? I think the talk is directed at the sort who get up during testimony meeting (sharing time) but never bear their testimonies. I suspect the reason people like that don’t actually give testimony is they are afraid of their own lack of faith and don’t think they have strong testimonies. That’s why they’re always beating around the bush, “I’m GRATEFUL for Joseph Smith, the atonement, adversity, my goldfish,” etc. Although many will not, hopefully a few will get the message that if you can’t bear testimony, you need to get one and start sharing it. Isn’t it strange that a testimony, something that should be shared as often as is appropriate, is not really shared much in the ONE meeting it’s SUPPOSED to be shared?
    I find the skepticism floating around here a bit disconcerting. (Not troubling or scary, just disconcerting. Just a little.) What is it about testimony and certainty we find so disconcerting? Why can’t we realize that our spiritual selves are more real than any other part of us? Why can’t we just take the gifts of God and be grateful? I seriously doubt that those here who can’t/won’t say “I know” have had spiritual manifestation particularly weaker or less often than your average Saint who will say “I know.” Although certainty isn’t the greatest virtue and by no means the only one, to spend a lifetime wallowing in uncertainty and never progressing in that direction seems very dangerous to me. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!!!

  26. Kevin Barney
    February 18, 2005 at 11:12 am

    I too say “I believe” and avoid “I know” statements. I don’t mind that others say “I know,” and I understand what they mean, but it just doesn’t work for me, because as a matter of semantics I feel the need to express that my testimony is a matter of faith and trust, and not some sort of empirical “knowledge.”

    People definitely notice when you don’t use the formulaic “I know,” and occasionally I have been asked about it, but no one has ever given me any real grief over it. (And I don’t bear my testimony often, either, largely because it seems that there are others who feel the need to do so much more strongly than I do.)

    Perhaps part of the reason that I don’t personally put much value on “I know” statements is that I have known people who gave those kinds of strong, simple, pure testimonies, whose faith in reality was really quite shallow, and shattered like glass when they learned some disquieting thing about Church history or practice. My faith may be unfortunately complicated, but at least I am familiar with every major criticism ever leveled against the Church, and so my complicated faith isn’t going to wilt very easily.

  27. Frank McIntyre
    February 18, 2005 at 11:14 am

    Thanks Gordon. I just got done reading that talk and though it excellent. Elder Ballard seemed to be sensitive to many concerns raised here. When he says “too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, ‘I know.'” I think it is clear he recognizes that some people aren’t there yet. On the other hand, his story from Brigham Young is very supportive of Elder Packer’s statements about finding testimony in bearing it.
    So that’s Brigham Young, Elder Ballard, and Elder Packer– there’s your 2 or 3 witnesses!

    I haven’t gotten up to bear my testimony for years. I used to get asked to speak annually so I just counted that, but that is no longer the case so I need to gear up.

  28. annegb
    February 18, 2005 at 11:14 am

    Yeah, Kevin, you’re right about that. I’ve heard a lot of testimonies, certain, and sure, “I knows” from people who later left the church or got excommunicated for cheating on their wives, or never do their visiting teaching.

    Talk is cheap.

  29. Jim F.
    February 18, 2005 at 11:19 am

    I wonder what those who have difficulty with “I know” think that means, whether they aren’t putting more weight on the phrase than it will bear by giving it a meaning in a church context that it doesn’t have in other contexts.

    When I say that I know the Church is true, I don’t see any clear distinction between that and saying that I strongly believe the Church is true, just as when I say I know lots of other things there is no real distinction between saying that and saying that I strongly believe those things. That, in fact, may be the most common way of using the word “know.” If it is, then it is a legitimate use of the word. Perhaps “know” does not usually mean “am indubitably certain.”

  30. jed
    February 18, 2005 at 11:41 am

    Russell (#15), Emma #6), and Annegb (#24): What do you make of the the “swelling motions” mentioned in Alma 32:28? Does affect count as knowledge? Alma seems to think so. If the seed swells, sprouts, and grows, according to Alma, “ye must needs know that the seed is good” (Alma 32:33). Moderns expect to see the word “true” in place of the word “good,” but they are not the same words. The word good, it seems to me, reminds us that knowledge can be measured by its results. Alma uses the word “delicious” as one of the measuring rods.

  31. jed
    February 18, 2005 at 11:50 am

    Kevin: “At least I am familiar with every major criticism ever leveled against the Church.”

    As Kip says, “Like anyone could ever _know_ that, Napoleon.”

  32. MDS
    February 18, 2005 at 12:03 pm

    Bryce’s resolution to share testimony of the Savior is right on target. In light of the truth that all other aspects of the gospel are appendages to the doctrine of the Savior and his Atonement, I think it is important to make the connection between the other things we bear testimony of and Christ. It is because the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and Gordon B. Hinckley teach me so much about the Savior that I am grateful for them and have a testimony of them.

    A few years back, a priesthood leader, concerned that there was too little of the Savior in our testimony meetings, asked me to “keep score” during the meetings. Each time someone mentioned someone or something, I assigned a point to that person or principal. The hope was that the Savior would “win” by being mentioned more than any other aspect of the ward’s “testimonies.” The Savior didn’t “win.” He came in a close second to President Hinckley. I’m not saying President Hinckley is a bad thing to have a testimony of, but I am confident he would want the Savior to “win.” The sad part was that there were people who clearly shouldn’t have gotten any points that did, i.e., Michael McClean and David Hasselhoff. I don’t officially keep score anymore, but I am very conscious of who is “wins” any particular meeting. There are meetings where the Savior doesn’t do very well at all. I have seen him lose to the pioneers, Nauvoo (has anyone noticed that many think you can’t truly have a testimony without trips to both Nauvoo and Palmyra?), Girl’s camp, EFY, and other things that are clearly secondary appendages to the central doctrines of the gospel. Any of these things could be an appropriate part of a testimony if they were talked about in the context of what they have taught the bearer about the Savior, but too often, if any attempt is made to state the value of these things, it is just that they have some sort of spirit about them. We can do better to place the Savior where He belongs, squarely in the center of our meetings (and all else we do).

  33. Wilfried
    February 18, 2005 at 12:21 pm

    Jim F. (# 29) draws our attention, rightfully, to the semantics of “to know”, which has indeed many connotations, from ultimate “scientific” certainty to simple discernment and trusting recognition.

    The etymology of “to know” brings us to the Indo-European root “(g)no”, which has given dozens of words, in so many languages, dealing with awareness, perception, conscience, discernment. “Notice” is part of that group of derivatives, so “to know” also means “to notice something as…” — as real, or as valuable, or as helpful. Nuances are filled in according to the intention. It is also interesting to “note” that the root “(g)no” is the basis for words such as notorious, noble, normal.

    But if you refuse or reject a no-tion presented to you, then you i-gno-re it.

  34. Ben S.
    February 18, 2005 at 12:32 pm

    Jed: Of all people, Kevin probably does. So go back to your cage-match training, Kip :)

  35. February 18, 2005 at 12:35 pm

    Jim and Jed,

    Putting your comments together underlines an important point: there are lots of different kinds of knowledge, and the meaning of “knowing” something differs in different contexts. I definitely consider “affect” a form of knowledge–Joseph was speaking rightly when he associated his knowledge of the truthfulness of a doctrine with the “simple” fact that it “tasted good” to him. (That is, it “felt good,” and so was surely correct.) When we make claims about knowledge, belief, faith and what have you, all we’re really doing is situating ourself in relation to a set perspectives which may or may not be available to our listeners, depending on their own experiences and sentiments. Ricoeur talked about a couple of different ways in which we might perform such claim-based situating: we can present our “idem-self,” which presumes a hierarchy of references, fixed in time and unvarying across persons; or we can present our ipse-self,” which involves know such presumption. Affective or intuitive “knowing,” what the romantics (and others) called Verstehen, is very much the latter type of declaration.

    For what it’s worth, Jim, I’m sure you wouldn’t disagree that the reigning disposition of the majority of those primarily responsible for establishing and maintaining the “church context,” as you put it–or, at least, the majority of those few who bother to think about these things–looks poorly upon ipse claims. The idea that “knowing God loves me” doesn’t necessarily involve a fair amount of unvarying content, the possibility that what I know to be true about God and what Moses knew to be true about God can be quite dissimilar, even though God is the same and makes Himself known in the same way, isn’t exactly getting taught in CES conferences and in the MTC. Should that matter to me? Everyday usage doesn’t demand philosophical explication, so why not let things slide? I suppose I could. Or (and perhaps this is what you do Jim) I could simply privately resist, and affirm that my knowledge is just as much knowledge as someone else’s knowledge, even though by their lights my claims are not sufficient rigorous to qualify, depending as they do upon moments of emotion and hope rather than propositional revelation, and hence are merely “belief.” Maybe that is the route I should take. However, I feel a little dishonest claiming to “know” something when I know at least some in the audience may take that to mean a kind of “knowing” that I know I don’t have. (You know?) Anyway, I respect what Elder Ballard and others are getting at, even if I can philosophically poke holes in it. Hence, I rarely say “I know,” reserving it for such topics as I mentioned above (God’s existence, Jesus’s love, etc.). When in Rome, do as the Romans do (and we’re all in Rome, aren’t we?).

  36. Bill
    February 18, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    Jim F.,

    perhaps the addition of the habitual “without a shadow of a doubt” is what makes some people squeamish.

  37. February 18, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    “I have seen him lose to the pioneers, Nauvoo (has anyone noticed that many think you can’t truly have a testimony without trips to both Nauvoo and Palmyra?), Girl’s camp, EFY, and other things that are clearly secondary appendages to the central doctrines of the gospel.”

    Brilliant observation, MDS; funny, and much too often true. “I have a testimony of the Boy Scouts/the Young Ambassadors/Primary/Utah/Orrin Hatch/Janice Kapp Perry/BYU football/the Relief Society/etc., etc.–I’ve heard all of the above, and probably said similar things myself on more than a few occasions. It’s a sweet and necessary part of narratives of faith, when taken in the particular. But in the long run, it seriously cheapens testimony bearing. If Jesus isn’t being referred to more often than President Hinckley or “Time Out for Women” or the Salt Lake Temple, something is going wrong with the focus of our faith.

  38. jed
    February 18, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    Bill (#36): The counter is a classic like from Mormon folklore: “I know with every fiber of my being. It’s just that some fibers know less than others.”

  39. Kevin Barney
    February 18, 2005 at 1:08 pm

    OK, you guys have shamed me into it. I freely affirm that I know David Hasselhoff is true. (See #32)

    If I know anything, it’s that *Germans love David Hasselhoff.*

  40. annegb
    February 18, 2005 at 1:21 pm

    I think I’m a lot like Laman and Lemuel. I’ve had hard evidence that God lives, that He cares about me, that He is involved with His children, that life goes on, that the church is true, and that if I am obedient, I am blessed. Still, I bellyache and complain and lack faith at the first sign of trouble. I’ve always felt like God’s stepchild, and continually doubt the genuine-ness of my experiences.

    But, yeah, I’ve felt that swelling in the bosom, I’ve had streams of pure intelligence that were undeniably personal revelation, that, when I’ve acted upon, have never failed to bless my life.

    And still I find myself wondering, and inconsistent in my expression of faith, and leaning upon others to shore me up.

  41. Emma Marsh
    February 18, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    Mark B. (#23)

    Amen to getting rid of ‘share’! If only there were a way to implement your suggestion.

  42. Nate Oman
    February 18, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    I very seldom bear my testimony in sacrament meeting, but I always try to end my Elders Quorum Lessons with a testimony. I honestly cannot recall if I say “I believe” or “I know.” I suspect that I say, “I know,” but I am sure that I say “I believe” from time to time as well. In part this may be a product of the fact that I was first introduced to epistemology by Jim Faulconer. I have all sorts of doubts or questions about the Gospel or the Church. On the other hand, almost without exception they don’t really bother me at all. I think of them rather like the doubts that one can generate about the existence of the world by reading Descartes. The simple fact of the matter is that I always act as though I know that the world is there, and I pretty much always act as though I know that the Church is true (although this generally means that I feel that I sin for failing to do as I ought). Could well be mistaken on both fronts, but I am not sure that I care all that much.

  43. Keith
    February 18, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    Isn’t there a sense in which to say “I know” means to say “I’ve received revelation from God”– God has manifest himself in some way to me and I know/believe that this really came from God?

  44. February 18, 2005 at 2:14 pm

    One of my bishops in Ann Arbor always attempted to have us use this form when bearing testimony: “I know X, because…” It seemed like a good idea to keep testimonies simple yet inspiring. But there were too many forced “I know X, because…” where the because didn’t really seem like a real because, but a “because” because it was supposed to be there.

  45. Last lemming
    February 18, 2005 at 2:37 pm


    You have correctly identified the ambiguity associated with my formulation.

    Jim F,

    You said

    when I say I know lots of other things there is no real distinction between saying that and saying that I strongly believe those things.

    I cannot think of an occasion when I use the word “know” outside of a church context to mean “I strongly believe.” For example, I would never claim to “know” that the Heisenberg principle is true, although I strongly believe it. (In fact, I would probably just say that I “accept” it as true.) When I have independent empirical evidence of something, I am more inclined to say “my experience tells me.” Saying “know” in such cases doesn’t work for me because either the person I am talking to has had the same experience, in which case my declaration is redundant, or he has not had the same experience, in which case my declaration can be interpreted as a claim of superiority. All of which makes me a terrible conversationalist, which I guess creeps over to my church experience.

  46. JKS
    February 18, 2005 at 3:46 pm

    I know my children were sent to me from Heavenly Father. I also know that their bodies were created using a sperm and an egg.
    I never saw either the sperm or the egg. Didn’t watch the fertilization process. But I know it happened.
    Knowing something is true does not always mean having a full understanding, full experience, etc.
    People used to “know” things that were incorrect. The sun used to circle around the earth.
    I’m sure things that I “know” might someday be disproved. In fact, occasionally I know I’m right in an argument (just ask my husband) and later I find out that I was mistaken.
    The things that we know, we know because we continue to feel that they are right. The more information, experience and understanding we receive, the more it feels right. The more we know it is true.
    Even when we receive data that seems to contradict, we don’t abandon what we know to be true. We assume that they are additonal truths that we don’t understand that would shed light on the apparent contradiction.
    A testimony is a living thing. You don’t just “know” something and then close your mind and never think about it again. A testimony is such a part of us that we continually refer to it, and we continually feed it. We want to know more. If we just put it on a shelf and never feel it anymore, it will disappear.

  47. February 18, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    Maybe it was meant to prevent instances like one witnessed by me in testimony meeting:

    The person bearing testimony made an analogy between a recent trial and childbirth. The punchline was that sometimes the Lord has to grasp us, kicking and screaming and bloody, with the “forceps of the Spirit” from our “womb of comfort” into the cold world of reality. It was pretty gross.

  48. Kaimi
    February 18, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    Awesome, Jordan. That’s the perfect combination of cringe-inducing, yet very funny. Yech!

  49. Steve L
    February 18, 2005 at 7:15 pm

    Folks, this is all crap. It has less to do with words than it does with spiritual cowardice. Why is certainty something to be avoided rather than sought after?

  50. Jim F
    February 18, 2005 at 7:31 pm

    Steve L, you might explain yourself a bit. Your point isn’t exactly obvious.

  51. Julie in Austin
    February 18, 2005 at 7:43 pm

    Re #47–

    As a woman, a mother, and a feminist I am offended that you would assume that

    no, wait a minute. That really is gross. Maybe we should start a worst analogies thread.

  52. Jack
    February 18, 2005 at 7:59 pm


    I think Steve L meant to say:

    “Folks, this is all crap. It has less to do with words than it does with spiritual cowardice. Why is certainty something to be avoided rather than sought after?” ;)

    …to which I would respond:

    Steve, some folks are very sensitive about being completely honest with themselves–sometimes to a fault. Perhaps it might be better to praise them for their integrity rather than criticize them for their apparent lack of commitment

  53. annegb
    February 18, 2005 at 9:43 pm

    You know, I think we’re being too judgemental here. God looks at the heart, He loves all of us (my complaints to the contrary), and He isn’t taking apart a testimony, saying “they didn’t say know, they didn’t do their visiting teaching, they didn’t word that right, that is not acceptable to me.”

    Heck, He knows what we’re about. How important is it, except to impress the world?

  54. Jim F.
    February 18, 2005 at 11:43 pm

    Jack, I know that you meant to lighten to tone, but repeating the point with a smiley face doesn’t make it any less obvious. It isn’t obvious that Steve is right to say that this discussion isn’t about what we mean when we say “I know” or “I believe,” in other words about words. But Steve not only disbelieves that those on the thread are talking about what they think they are–in other words, he not only thinks they are self-decieved–he accuses them (or at least some significant subset of them) of spiritual cowardice. You are kinder, but you essentially agree, saying they lack commitment. What justifies either conclusion?

    Those kinds of accusations require more than accusation. They require explanation. If I’m going to accuse a person of some spiritual fault in public, without authority with respect to the person I’m accusing, then I at least owe an explanation of my accusation, as well, probably, as an explanation of why my accusation ought to be made in public rather than in private. Without an explanation, the accusation is just a condemnation, one that as far as I know, no one on this thread has the right to make.

    A good part of the discussion has, indeed, been about what it means to say “I know the Church is true,” and similar statements of testimony. Some people don’t feel comfortable saying that, so they say “I believe,” instead. On top of the fact that it isn’t obvious that one of these groups is less committed than the other, it isn’t obvious that they agree about what “I know” means. If they don’t, then contrary to what you and Steve assert, this is about words.

    Like JKS (#46), my guess is that at least some of those who are concerned about saying “I know” are using the word “know” too narrowly, using the word unproblematically in other contexts where they could have hypothetical intellectual but not practical doubts, but being too scrupulous to use it in a gospel context where they have hypothetical intellectual but not practical doubts. Skeptics have famously argued that we can’t have true certainty about very much, perhaps no more than the truths of internally consistent logical systems and the fact that I am presently having sense perceptions. The 18th-century philosopher, David Hume, is perhaps the best example of someone who has made that argument. His argument is very difficult to get around.

    Obviously, however, we never or almost never use the term that narrowly in ordinary discourse. I know that my daughter is alive in San Francisco, even though it is conceivable that I am wrong. If someone said, “Do you know where Rebecca is?” I would say, “Yes.” Only if I begin to reflect on that claim do I then begin to wonder whether I really know. Similarly, I know that my car is in the garage right now, and on and on. In all of these cases, unless there is a reason to think otherwise, I call what I have knowledge rather than belief, and usually there is no reason to think otherwise. (Philosophy, the art of raising the possibility of thinking otherwise, introduces the problem; it is not a “natural” problem.) So, I think sometimes people who are hesitant to say “I know” (or object to those who claim to know) are requiring more of the word “know” in a religious context than they require of it in other contexts.

    There may be people who genuinely can only say “I believe,” whose epistemological scruples are not too strict in this case. As someone has already pointed out (I can’t find the comment), the Doctrine and Covenants identifies the ability to believe as a gift, alongside the gift of knowledge from the Holy Ghost (D&C 46:13-14). I see no reason to insist that only the gift of knowledge is a gift, as we do when we denigrate those who believe but don’t have knowledge. Nevertheless, I think that there may be a significant number of members who have the gift of knowledge but don’t understand that they do because they have allowed “the philosophies of men” (i.e., common sense ways of talking about things that we inherit from our culture) to influence their understanding of what it means to say “I know.”

  55. February 19, 2005 at 12:56 am

    Well said, Jim. Thanks.

  56. Arturo Toscanini
    February 19, 2005 at 2:25 am

    Jim F, you seem to imply that people who can only say “I believe” are unlikely and few in number, that most people are being overly (or perhaps unreasonably) strict in their usage of the term know. I agree with you that there’s little sense in defining the term knowledge such that the proposition “I know x“ is seldom satisfied, but I do think that there is more room for doubt and confusion than your emphasis seems to suggest. (And in fairness to Hume, he’s railing against a view that is no longer adhered to; specifically, that empirical propositions can be ascertained with something like mathematical certainty.) I’d like to focus on the theme of your last paragraph, offer my reason for preferring “I believe” over “I know,” and hopefully avoid being a spiritual coward in the process (or at least put forth a reasonable argument on behalf of us cowards).

    It’s true that I know things like, “the Indian Ocean is not made of Jello®,” and, “the Moon isn’t made out of cheese,” even though I’m at a loss to explain this knowledge without a pretty blind appeal to authority. But these are straightforward truths. There is much that is bewildering and baffling about the Gospel, and sometimes it seems quite a lot just to have a concrete, intelligible proposition to believe in (or have faith in, as the case may be).

    Gordon, you mention the notions that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that Jesus is my Savior, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. These are tremendously abstract to me. And I have found that trying to arrive at a set of concrete truths that lead to these conclusions is a difficult process. Having been born and raised in the church, struggled for years with atheism, and finally returned to the fold, there is still much that I find utterly baffling. It’s not that I don’t seek after certainty. On the contrary, I stay the course, continue to serve, and keep plugging away. Often things get clearer and there seems to be progress. Sometimes it seems like I’m just treading water. That’s life.

    When I must describe my convictions, I just don’t think it’s realistic or completely honest for me to say, “I know…” Nor do I begrudge anybody else their knowledge. For me, when I’m pressed, it’s a shrug and “I believe…” But generally, my testimonies are mercifully short, and I skirt the entire issue by saying that I’m thankful for all the things that everyone says “I know” about (“I’m thankful for Christ’s atonement, a living prophet, etc.”), thereby using the entailed truths as operational assumptions without having to go into the gory details. I look forward to a day when I have more.

  57. Steve L
    February 19, 2005 at 3:57 am

    Only a philsopher could doubt the integrity of a simple emoticon.
    “Kann ein Esel tragisch sein? — Dass man unter einer Last zugrunde geht, die man weder tragen, noch abwerfen kann? . . . Der Fall des Philosophen.” -F. Nietzsche
    Though surely guilty of the crime of taking himself too seriously, Dr. Faulconer has hit one of the nails on the head. As Nietzsche has said, the philosopher is the bearer of a burden he can neither carry nor throw off — this is the burden which every philosopher feels epistemology has placed on him. This is the unfortunate intellectual heritage carried on by those who don’t think they can say they know. Dr. Faulconer has, however, missed the point, that while half the problem is indeed an overly narrow conception of “knowing,” the other half is uglier and more serious: fear. The epistemological burden becomes an EXCUSE for a lack of faith, which is the true problem. Just as when you or I may have argued with an anti-Mormon and we talk of polygamy, godhead and exaltation, but those are NOT the true issues. The issue is an unwillingness to get to know God on his own terms, an unwillingness to listen (to the Holy Ghost, a missionary, whomever), an unwillingness to submit. The language of certainty is powerful and deeply effects the human mind and heart. The GA’s teach over and over again about testimonty because the members DO NOT get it. That includes those who consider themselves unable or unready to “know” and those who use the language of certainty in place of genuine certainty. The former invariably notice the shallowness of the latter’s spiritual knowledge and sometimes, I think, suppose that to speak like them would be to be like them. I suggest that that is not the case. I suggest that we take our cue from the GA’s and share true testimony as often as appropriate (and that of course has nothing to do with standing behind a pulpit). This reminds me of how Elder Eyring recounts hearing his father speak at a scientific conference and told him afterwards, “Dad, you bore your testimony,” to which he replied, “Did I?” (April 2003 general conference) If we are filled with spiritual knowledge, we would not even be able to resist letting it out as testimony. We would be as obnoxious as Martin Harris, who couldn’t keep his mouth shut about plates and angels and other such nonsense.
    Dr. Faulconer, I accuse (and Anne, I judge) no one–especially since I don’t really know any of the posters other than you. I was just the first one to acurately perceive the nature of this discussion and comment on it. Whether or not anybody’s conscience is pricked is between him/her and God. If I’m not afraid of pithy truth (like our friend Nietzsche), expressed without elaboration and badly, it’s because I am a mere juvenile and no beast of burden (read: venerable philosopher).
    “Was liegt daran, dass ich recht behalte! Ich habe zuviel Recht. — Und wer heute am besten lacht, lacht auch zuletzt.”

  58. Jack
    February 19, 2005 at 4:22 am


    I agree with Gordon — well said.

    However, I don’t think you understood my response to Steve. This is what I said:

    “Steve, some folks are very sensitive about being completely honest with themselves–sometimes to a fault. Perhaps it might be better to praise them for their integrity rather than criticize them for their apparent lack of commitment”

    Perhaps I should have applied scare quotes to the word “apparent”. I was really (vaguely) suggesting to Steve that there might be a virtuous reason as to why some people prefere to steer away from saying “I know”. And, rather than condemn them as cowards (of which I might be–according to Steve), give them the benefit of the doubt and view them as sincere in their desire to understand what it really means “to know”, though they may for a time be uncomfortable verbalizing it.

    That said–let me throw in my own two cents on this topic. First of all, we must know SOMEthing in order to build our faith. Secondly, we must exercise our faith in order to grow in knowledge. As someone already mentioned, we must sense that the “seed” is swelling in our breast. We then can ask ourselves as did Alma, “oh then, is not this real?”. We are then in a position to continue the experiment and thus increase our knowledge by faith. Thereby, we become familiar with a pattern. And, though we may not know all of the ins and outs of the pattern, we’ve had enough experience with it that we can say “I know”. (I know that God answers prayers–for example) That’s the first of my two cents.

    The second is this: at rare intervals (for me at least) the Spirit may pour into one’s soul a rather large quantity of pure intelligence all at once. We sense it as knowledge–pure and unmistakable. There’s no other way to explain it–we know because we have received the gift to know. (that thing–whatever it may be)

  59. Arturo Toscanini
    February 19, 2005 at 7:11 am

    Steve L: I was just the first one to accurately perceive the nature of this discussion and comment on it. Whether or not anybody’s conscience is pricked is between [him] and God.

    Are you as sure of this as you are of your testimony? Perhaps you’d do well to take the “epistemological burden” a tad more seriously.

  60. February 19, 2005 at 8:48 am

    Steve L.,

    I can assure you that, unless his personality has radically changed since the last time I spoke with him, Jim Faulconer most certainly cannot be accused of taking himself and philosophy too seriously.

    There is one line in your critique of those us who rarely bare our testimonies, and who prefer to use “I believe” when we do, which really stands out to me:

    “The epistemological burden becomes an EXCUSE for a lack of faith, which is the true problem….The issue is an unwillingness to get to know God on his own terms [italics added]….The language of certainty is powerful and deeply effects the human mind and heart. The GA’s teach over and over again about testimonty because the members DO NOT get it.”

    The assumption which you make, and which you assume general authorities also make (and I think for the most part you’re correct there, unfortunately), is that “certainty,” the kind of knowledge that “deeply effects the human mind and heart,” involves a set of propositions about God: “God on His own terms,” as you put it. In other words, there is knowledge of God as He Is, data which defines and characterizes Him as He knows Himself, and then there is everything else: “feelings,” “beliefs,” whatever, all of which is less than certainty. This is what I referred to in #35: some knowledge claims present themselves as idem, true because they involve a content which is unvarying and which can be identified with across times and space, whereas others take an ipse form, in which truth adheres to a context or perception of relationships which varies from person to person and time to time. Both are “knowledge,” but your assumption about what we need to know about God when we testify that we “know” He lives, loves us, etc., is entirely of the idem kind.

    Does Jim “know” his daughter Rebecca is in San Francisco? Of course he does; she was there last time he talked with her. Does Arturo know “the Indian Ocean is not made of Jello?” Of course he does; no one has ever told him otherwise, and knowing what he does about the world, it doesn’t make any intuitive sense for him to think it might be made of Jello. As Jim makes clear, that’s more than good enough knowledge for everyday conversation; we really don’t assume or expect people to have what you might call technical knowlege of such things on a day-to-day basis. And I value the kind of affective, “believing,” trusting knowledge claims which this partakes of. However (and I guess this is where I have a disagreement wih Jim, though I’m not sure how significant that disagreement is), for better or worse (probably for worse), I think various “philosophies of men” have thoroughly shaped our thinking as a church about testimonies and testimony-bearing; I think, in other words, that you’re entirely on the money when you assume that what the church expects and assumes, however unreflectively, when the issue of testimonies come up is knowledge of God “on His own terms.” We are to “know” propositional data about God, His character, His acts among His children, His loves, etc., and we are to gain that knowledge through revelation–not mere trust, sympathy, intuition, or affectivity (which is what I assume Joseph Smith meant when he said a doctrine “felt good” to him).

    Honestly, I’d rather we didn’t have an empiricially oriented church in an empirically oriented culture; if that wasn’t the case, then I think your argument against Jim’s defense of alternative ways of using the word “knowledge” wouldn’t have any force. Unfortunately, I think it does. Philosophically speaking, Jim is correct; there’s no reason why saying “I know the church is true” in testimony meeting should be expected to be an idem claim. Knowledge is a more fluid a concept than that. However, I tend to feel that you’re probably closer to the philosophical assumptions (to whatever extent they exist) of Elder Ballard’s sermon than Jim is, and consequently, given prevelance of those sorts of expectations, I feel like I need to watch my speech accordingly.

    I know that I believe; belief seems to be one of my gifts. And I think (hope?) that gift is sufficient to save. But I know it’s not the same as other gifts, and I don’t see how to get around that the idea that it is a different gift which Elder Ballard (and you) want and expect the saints to cultivate. That may be intellectually flawed, but I think it is also a social fact.

  61. jed
    February 19, 2005 at 10:17 am

    Russell says: “I’d rather we didn’t have an empiricially oriented church in an empirically oriented culture.”

    The way I see it, we have an empirically oriented church in a doubting, skeptical, anxiously-oriented culture. The importance of saying “I know” stands in relation to a dominant secular worldview that says “I do not know” or “I do not believe.” The “I know” statement defines itself against this secular worldview, another way for Mormons to be a people apart, like W of W or chastity. I do not think the importance of “I know” surfaces at other times and places when agnosticism and atheism are not real concerns.

  62. jed
    February 19, 2005 at 11:11 am

    Arturo (#56). You mention the “abstract” nature of several of core points of Mormon testimony. I think they much more flesh on them when we unpack the implications. I see them as a kind of shorthand for much larger themes and issues and problems–especially modern problems. When someone says “I know” the Core Six (Emma, #14), they affirmi a host of assumptions our dominant secular culture does not affirm. These assumptions point beyond the specific content of JS or GBH as prophets, to take two examples. By testifying of these two, we are also testifying of the possibility of the categories under which they fall: extra-biblical prophets, prophets in modern times, prophets in America, prophets who look like you and me but speak for God, the continuity of God’s operation across time and space under a biblical category (“prophets”) found many miles and years away, etc.

    These possibilities ring intuitively true for some but sound outlandishish to many; indeed, one could argue the core points of argument between Mormons and Evangelical Christians hinge on the possibility of these issues. But my main point is the act of the act of testifying of these things is quite concrete and vivid, enlarging the possibilties for God as involved, loving, interested, present. The positing of such a God is relevant to the here and now, in an age when many people deny a God of miracles (as the B of M prophesied) and, further, mock God and his commandments. Even the implication that prophets act through institutions, at a time when institutions are mistrusted and ridiculed, looks concrete to me.

  63. Jim F.
    February 19, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    Arturo Toscanini: I didn’t mean to suggest anything about the numbers of people who say “believe” but could legitimately say “know,” nor about those who can genuinely say “I believe.” I have no way of judging those numbers with any reasonable degree of accuracy. But I have had experiences with individual members that lead me to think that there are a significant number of people in the first group, though perhaps still a minority.

    Steve L: I accuse (and Anne, I judge) no one–especially since I don’t really know any of the posters other than you. I was just the first one to acurately perceive the nature of this discussion and comment on it.

    I don’t see the difference between accurately perceiving the nature of the discussion as a demonstration of spiritual cowardice and accusing the people in the discussion. It is one thing to point out, quite accurately, that one explanation for a hesitancy to say “I know” is a lack of faith. It is quite another to suggest rather strongly and quite explicity, as you did, that those in this conversation are spiritual cowards.

    Jack: we must know SOMEthing in order to build our faith. Secondly, we must exercise our faith in order to grow in knowledge. As someone already mentioned, we must sense that the “seed” is swelling in our breast. We then can ask ourselves as did Alma, “oh then, is not this real?”. We are then in a position to continue the experiment and thus increase our knowledge by faith. Thereby, we become familiar with a pattern. And, though we may not know all of the ins and outs of the pattern, we’ve had enough experience with it that we can say “I know”. (I know that God answers prayers–for example) That’s the first of my two cents.

    This is a better way of of putting the matter. Indeed, I take Alma’s point to be that we can know, but that knowledge is something that grows slowly and may not be recognized.

    Russell: In spite of the fact that I appreciate the position you take, I think we do disagree. Like you, however, I’m not sure how significant that disagreement is. I see the situation as one in which, having been influenced by various worldly, skeptical ways of talking about religious knowledge, we are sometimes afraid to say “I know” when it is reasonable to do so.

    Jed: I think you make an important point. To say “I know” is not only to identify the particular propositions I have learned to be true. It is also to affirm a way of understanding and being in the world, and the act of bearing that testimony opens up possibilities for those who hear the testimony, possibility that the world denies.

  64. annegb
    February 19, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    Wow. Jim, I loved your last paragraph. It defines my dilemma, which may be thinking too hard. Although, in this forum, who doesn’t?

    I have grown from this thread. I didn’t realize there was an issue of spiritual cowardice. I do realize now that I have had that problem. I almost think, that for me, it’s been easier to question, to be the iconoclast in this predominantly Mormon community, than to be more fearless in expressing my faith. I tend to always play the Devil’s Advocate.

    Very good food for thought.

  65. February 19, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    This has been excellent. Thanks to all who have participated. Although I find myself most closely aligned with Jim and Jed, I have benefited greatly from the other contributions.

    The discussion of knowledge v. belief contains an ambiguity that Russell may be addressing through the idem/ipse dichotomy, but I would like to explore further. I begin by referring back to Elder Ballard’s talk: “A testimony is a witness or confirmation of eternal truth impressed upon individual hearts and souls through the Holy Ghost, whose primary ministry is to testify of truth.” Steve L.’s spiritual cowardice claim implies that some people have not experienced this “confirmation of eternal truth,” and thus cannot say “I know.” On the other hand, Jim’s argument implies that many people have experienced the “confirmation of eternal truth,” but do not say “I know” because they have been “influenced by various worldly, skeptical ways of talking about religious knowledge.”

    Sometimes we assume that those who feel this “confirmation of eternal truth” necessarily know with certainty what they are feeling and that all doubt should thereafter vanish. My experience does not jibe with that assumption. Alma’s seed metaphor seems more apt, and the occasional waterings required to make the seed grow are like repeated confirmations. At some point during the growth process, we recognize the seed as good. I assume that some people come to this realization more quickly than others.

  66. Eric Soderlund
    February 20, 2005 at 1:08 am

    47– Jordan, I hope that never happens in the Plano 5th Ward. Yikes.

  67. Robert
    February 21, 2005 at 11:35 am

    I know Gordon has already given a nice conclusion to this thread, but this is a question I’ve been chewing on for years–esp. since reading an Ensign Oct. 1995 hometeaching lesson where President Hinckley uses the term ‘certitude’ as essentially synonomous with ‘strong faith’. I agree w/ Jim that we can use ‘know’ and ‘strongly believe’ synonomously, but ‘certitude’ and ‘strong faith’?? This challenges my belief about the difference between ‘honest faith’ and ‘blind faith’.

    Below are the opening paragraphs to Pres. Hinckley’s article. Note particularly how Pres. Hinckley seems to deride ‘vascillating leaders’, something I couldn’t dismiss this last election, even though Pres. Bush’s ‘certitude’ often makes me very nervous. I appreciate all the insight I’ve gained from this thread–I would be especially appreciative for anyone who can help allay my fears about the type of conviction Pres. Hinckley advocates, given how easily I believe such conviction can lead to hubristic leadership and blind/immature faith….

    “Some time ago I read the newspaper report of the remarks of a prominent journalist. He is quoted as having said, “Certitude is the enemy of religion.” The words attributed to him have stirred within me much reflection. Certitude, which I define as complete and total assurance, is not the enemy of religion. It is of its very essence.”

    “Certitude is certainty. It is conviction. It is the power of faith that approaches knowledge—yes, that even becomes knowledge. It evokes enthusiasm, and there is no asset comparable to enthusiasm in overcoming opposition, prejudice, and indifference.”

    “Great buildings were never constructed on uncertain foundations. Great causes were never brought to success by vacillating leaders. The gospel was never expounded to the convincing of others without certainty. Faith, which is of the very essence of personal conviction, has always been, and always must be, at the root of religious practice and endeavor.”

  68. Mark Martin
    February 21, 2005 at 6:43 pm

    The conviction and certitude that President Hinckley emphasizes deals with the foundational principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can have that certitude (by witness from the Holy Ghost) and be filled with love, and be firmly grounded. The scary and misguided (and false) “certitude” can deal with particular approaches or policies or tangential items or opinions. I don’t hear any of the brethren counseling us to express our conviction about anything other than the clear saving principles.

  69. February 21, 2005 at 6:45 pm

    Wow- Eric! Didn’t realize you were aware of the bloggernacle…

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