The Grand Key of Discernment

(Note: this a repost from Latterdaycommentary June 11, 2015)

One of the most challenging aspects of this new movement toward Zion is trying to determine which way is the true way and which way is false. This is critically important, because we do not wish to see ourselves following an apostate belief system or idea, for “if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” This is a frequent clarion call against all those who are following the remnant movement and not the authority of the Church. Likewise those of this new movement see deception with those that still place man between themselves and God. Actually, it is more frightening than either of these accusations. Who are the elect? Are they not those that have had their calling and election made sure? They have received baptism, are in the straight gate, and have been baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost, yet it is THEY that have the warning that THEY can be deceived. This is not a warning to your garden variety mainstream, super religious, super obedient Mormon, it is a warning against those who have qualified themselves even through sacrifice, to obtain the prize. Yet . . . if the very ELECT can be deceived, how much more can we . . . the un-elect (for I put myself in that category), be deceived, whether we are awakened or not, whether we are mainstream LDS, or following a different path. Deception can happen at any step of the way. Imagine how far Lucifer had to have traveled up Jacob’s ladder, only to descend to where he is today. Yet I believe that the solution to discernment works at every level, and is devastatingly simple, meekness and Charity. For “all things faileth, but charity faileth not.”

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I have resolved upon the term Mormon traditionalist, or mainstream Mormon for believing members of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, believing in the sense of the temple recommend questions. As a former traditionalist Mormon, I think I have a good idea of how they define truth. Much of it is still useful for me. When any question is put into my mind, as D&C 9 states, I am to study it out in my mind and in my heart, and ask the Lord, and if it is true, the Lord will cause that my “bosom shall burn.” This has always worked for me as a basic principle, but as we can see later, there must be more to this process. What I have recently learned is that there are four stumbling blocks that the Church teaches that can be roadblocks to this foundation:

  1. Obedience Doctrine – Obedience to the law has a place. It is useful for young people, new converts, and new missionaries. But if we refuse to ask certain questions, or follow certain promptings, simply because it goes against what the line authorities say or ask of us, or even what we perceive in scripture, we could be short-changing the truth-gathering process for ourselves. We set ourselves up potentially, as Nephi states, to be “blinded by the craftiness of men.” Obedience is a great virtue, but when employed inside any system that is flawed, can be used to do great evil. Many Germans were obedient to Hitler and it availed them to no end. Obedience to your own inner guide, when employed with certain measurable outcomes, on the other hand, can be great measure of truth!
  2. Infallibility Doctrine – This is an insidious doctrine. Short of not being supported by scripture, the infallibility doctrine results in a person taking no responsibility for his or her own beliefs or actions, resting accountability upon the Church, knowing that as long as the Prophet says to do SOME thing, and that thing is indeed done, that we can rest assured of our salvation. How many of us have taken the time to even ask the Lord if this is a true principle? My question has led me through scriptures that not only condemn such a thing, but even predict the opposite for the Church in the last days . . . fallibility AND apostasy! But to noodle this correctly for our purposes, if I believe something is infallible, I have no motivation to ask ANY question of the Lord about any direction in my religious life, save one or two (see Domino Doctrine).
  3. Security Doctrine – Teaching that following Priesthood leaders, staying in the Church, “Good Ship Zion,” inflating growth numbers, all to entice followers to stay loyal, is a pernicious way to keep people from asking truth-oriented questions. People are then content to rest upon the greatness of the Church. They infer truth in opulent buildings, Priesthood leaders of high stature, and marketing efforts. They feel content and at peace with things and see no need to rock the boat by asking potentially upsetting questions. They feel that no matter what, the Church will take care of them. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, but it is also fallible and can easily be compared to comfort. There is never any indication in scripture that feelings of security, comfort, or safety are indicators of truth. In fact, terms such as “lulling them down into carnal security,” or “All is well in Zion,” are used to counter such claims. True peace takes place in the fury of darkness, when one is unsure of where to go, but one feels confident that the Lord will provide.
  4. Domino Doctrine – This doctrine states that if one piece of the puzzle is truth, it must all be true and all the dominoes fall. We use this on the mission with investigators. We ask them to pray about the Book of Mormon. They do. They receive a witness that it’s true. We then say that if the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and that all men who have replaced Joseph Smith are prophets, and the Church is true and infallible. Now . . . imagine if we said the same thing about the Bible. If I were to pray about the Bible in 1300 AD, the Catholic Church could make this same claim, because at that time they had a monopoly on the Bible, and since IT was true, THEY were also true. The LDS Church has a virtual monopoly on the Book of Mormon. Now ask yourself, does that mean that all other claims, scripture, processes, decisions, doctrines, leaders, manuals, etc. since 1830 are true because the Book of Mormon is true?

Does faith in being obedient to the infallibility of the secure domino theory make one more likely to be meek, humble, and compassionate? Are they more likely to think of themselves less than the dust of the earth? Or are they more filled with the vanity of their own conceit and sure of their own salvation? Are they more like the Zoramites or the anti-Nephi Lehites? Are they more likely to be heading towards the comfort of great and spacious buildings or the tree of life?

I stated that I used a process of asking questions and using D&C 9 as a basic primer for truth claims. One thing I’ve learned is to be very precise with the Lord. Don’t assume anything, and don’t let anybody else teach you that it’s okay to assume anything. You cannot. The best way to begin this process is to take every belief about the Church you have and place it on the floor. It may be helpful to write it out. Use the temple recommend questions to start. Pray, for example, about the doctrine that “Thomas Monson is the ONLY person on the face of the earth with all Priesthood keys.” Do the same thing with Brigham Young and the succession crisis in Nauvoo. Study the process of how he may have obtained them. Read the histories of this process. Inform yourself about LDS Church succession. Then ask the Lord. You may be surprised at your answer.

The Skeptic

The skeptic, agnostic, or universalist argument is a very powerful and pervasive argument today, particularly among the disaffected of the Latter-day Saints. I do not wish to engage in polemics against these sorts of arguments. In fact, much of what they contain IS true and is useful in helping us find the truth, with some adjustments. Let’s take them one on one.

  • Truth must be founded in scientific and rational processes. I believe this is true. The concern I have with rationalism isn’t the premise but the application. Who do we trust to perform rational processes? Many who follow agnostic or universalist thinking have complete trust in man’s scientific and academic procedures to vet such processes, even as they have no faith in religion. They are content with the current scope of checks and balances that assure that what is considered scientific truth is indeed truth. I would gently contend that the skeptic’s logic in the first instance is sound with respect to their distrust of religious institutions because of the fuzzy outcomes of their proclaimed mystical inferences of truth . . . but I say take it a step further. Is it possible that scientific and academic institutional processes could be hampered by the exact same line of thinking as orthodox religious persons? The scientific institution may on the surface, seem more rational and less driven by the whims of men, at least that is the stated aspiration. But is it true? Are scientists less apt to be concerned with egos, pecking orders, tenure, financial compensation, being right, simply because they are scientists? Does the institutional processes such as study funding, data mining, publishing, peer review, and scientific journalism control for all of these biases? Does science, faced with strange, completely foreign concepts react with curiosity and a healthy skepticism, or does it often circle the wagons around a protected branch of knowledge that can often have financial and economic repercussions? Are new ideas quickly dismissed as quackery or pseudoscience, or are they thoroughly vetted? When new knowledge is discovered, does the branch of science seem more sure of how the universe works, or do they wonder in awe at the immensity of the universe and how little has been discovered? Is science completely free to come to factual conclusions, or can they be subverted by other controlling forces that don’t like the outcomes, like big business or big government? Can research and conclusions be squelched? Can input data be deliberately incorrect or altered for a more beneficial outcome? I believe that there are all kinds of reactions in science and academia to the human condition, some good, and some bad, just like in any other institution. Unless one has the capability of directly observing the data and outcome of a study, as well as the inferences and inputs into the study, one should be careful at using A study to come to conclusions about THE truth, or even a consensus of studies. I find that consensus can often play victim to digging in the same part of the sandbox, and indeed scientific systems are set up that way. The problem is that there are other areas of the sandbox thousands of miles away left untouched with glittering truths buried underneath. As long as science is part of Babylonian business processes (corporate or academic) the cost/benefit structures combined with risk aversion will play a heavy hand against digging deep. If you combine THAT with the need for many scientists to be the next Einstein, the temptation to dig too deep without the proper tools, skipping steps, or fudging the figures, can all play into scientific fraud. Furthermore, modern peer review has a sort of “trust me” mentality. I’m not sure I can guarantee that a peer reviewer will BE unbiased in his or her review. Finally, I believe that a healthy sense of awe in the universe and understanding that “we don’t know what we don’t know” is the best approach to rationalism and modern scientific processes, in essence, meekness. When we are scientifically meek, we are less likely to simply dismiss spiritual processes as a knee-jerk emotional reaction that has no basis in real truth. We can look upon spirituality as a series of concepts in the universe that have yet to really be touched by science, that we haven’t even scratched the surface, and therefore, we just don’t know. It is an area of the scientific sandbox with extreme potential.
  • Spiritual processes cannot be observed, and therefore cannot be tested – It would be mostly correct to say that spiritual processes are difficult to observe. That WOULD make it difficult to test, at least from a third party observational platform. Most spiritual processes at this time in the world, require a participatory process, empirical and anecdotal. This may not be as robust as an observational platform, but it doesn’t mean that it’s without merit. Science seems OKAY with accepting self-identification processes in human sexuality, and some accept it with aplomb. If we’re going to be fair, we ought to be just as accepting of self-identification processes in human spirituality. We at least ought to be more comfortable in experimenting with spiritual processes until we do have a way to better neutrally observe.
  • Spiritual processes lead to different conclusions, which means that they cannot be trusted to determine truth – This is also true, but incomplete. Not all spiritual processes are made equal. Furthermore, it’s possible the spiritual effects of the processes may be employed by different systems of competing interests in the hidden side of the universe, just as they are on the observational side. Outcomes of spiritual processes are a critical component to comprehending truth by the Spirit, not just the feeling of the Spirit. This is part of the grand key that I will now explain

The Grand Key

There are some truths we find self-evident. We can generally accept as a society that kindness, compassion, forgiveness, charity, and love are all worthwhile things. They are true in that they make mankind happier individually, and better off collectively. There is another virtue I call meekness, that is critical to this list. What is meekness? I define it as humble, teachable, patient, long-suffering, with an eye single to following ideas courageously that are obedient to principles of love and charity. It is the power of Godliness with great patience. We find these fruits beneficial as a society, and I find them delicious to me. That combined testament has allowed me to conclude that this is good and right as a second witness. Furthermore, I can test spiritual processes against those outcomes. Does a belief in an idea make me more meek and charitable, or does it make me more conceited and sure of myself? Does an action on a belief make me more humble and aware of my weakness, or does it set me against my fellow man? Does it make me want to seek control, compulsion,or leadership over others, or merely a sweet desire to serve? As I describe a third way to test spiritual truth, keep this all in mind, because it applies in all the points I have just made and will make.

Spiritual Fuzziness

In the beginning, we discussed D&C 9 as the basic primer for understanding spiritual truth. Yet by itself it has proven to be inadequate. People from all over the planet have felt “burnings of the Spirit” and yet have gone into diverse paths. I believe spiritual feelings come from four different sources, only one of which I think comes from the Good source, or from God. I believe the burning in the bosom, as described in D&C 10 is partly an emotional reaction to a true principle. Because it is emotional it can give us false negatives. Here are some such false negatives:

  • Reaction to what WE want – We dwell upon a concept that will give us what we want, whether it be true love, more money, greater status, comfort, or even simply to be right. When we think about such things, we feel good about them. They can give us a similar feeling to a burning in the bosom. We can feel good, warm feelings in the chest. Yet they can be completely evil and of the devil. They can lead people into grand assurances that justify mass murders and warfare, just as we see with ISIS, or simple ways that carefully lead us to hell, like feeling we are justified in buying that big home on the hill.
  • Reaction to a stumbling block – This is a concept all over scripture. The Jews had this happen to them. I think early Mormonism also fell prey. It goes that when a person asks God for something that God has revealed to them, and the person rejects and asks again, or . . . they ask for a predetermined thing not in line with God’s will, but man’s idea, and they are simply seeking approval . . . God gives stumbling blocks. Moses law was all about stumbling blocks. It’s also called “asking amiss.” Think of it this way as a parent. Your child asks to have ice cream, but he has not had his dinner. Even though dinner first is the better way, parents will often honor the agency of their children and give them what they want, sometimes because the parents are weak in their resolve, but sometime they do it for wisdom’s sake. Some children need to learn the hard way through experience that dessert before dinner can make them sick. The sickness of the experience can make one humble, and turn to the Lord for the true course, which the Lord is happily ready to give.
  • Reaction to truth – When an idea is true, the reaction to it can cut to the core. It has a slightly different feeling than the first two, the biggest difference is that it isn’t always pleasant, it isn’t always expected, and it cuts deeper. It is always accompanied by an increase in intelligence, with a burst of knowledge into the brain. Often, the enjoyable fruits of the Spirit: peace, love, and joy come later AFTER a belief is adopted and tested. This is why the Spirit is often referred to in the scriptures as the “sword of truth.” The trick with this type of spiritual experience is to ask the Lord’s Will, to have Him give it to us straight, frankness, boldness, questioning even the very existence of God with an accurate desire to know and ACCEPT the truth. Preconceptions get us nowhere. We must be open to walking into the dark, changing course, tamping down ego to go in different directions, etc. Only then can we have this sort of feeling in our lives.

Gifts of the Spirit

Enjoying a spiritual test of truth should not be an end, but a beginning. Other gifts that follow are a second witness to truth. Does it grow and swell within you as Alma teaches? Can you start to see possibilities and anticipate fruit, and in the end, can your faith be made whole by the end product, the fruit of knowledge? Seeing faith grow after a test of truth should be accompanied by certain gifts that continue to attest to that truth. These include dreams, visions, angelic visitation, prophesies, miracles, healing, etc. Another great Gift of the Spirit is being able to discern and hear the voice of God (or His servant) speaking to you, first in your mind, and later, audibly. This doesn’t come without practice or work, but it also cannot be rushed. The end result would be to see and visit with God, and have him explain the universe. The reason that’s an expected end result is because others in ancient history and modernity have testified that this was their end result. That’s why scripture is critical because it allows us to study their processes. If it worked for them, we can anticipate it possibly working for us, or in fine, we can have faith in it, if we take the same steps, just like science.

The Grand Key, Part Two

Even after having such experiences, we still must circle back to the grand key. Does such an experience, gift, or visitation cause us to be better to mankind, less concerned with self, even having the desire to condescend the self to exalt another? Does it cause you to be meek? If so, you can rest assured, it is TRUTH! Furthermore, when you comprehend the truth, you are less concerned with being right, even though you have a perfect knowledge that you are. You simply invite! If such an invitation is rejected, you can sorrow over the choice, but you have no ego lost in the decision. No amount of real truth is enforceable. The fact that we have wars over concepts of truth is a testament that those arguments were never true because they did not elevate mankind to the self-evident principles. Christ taught this plainly as “if you wish to know my will, do my words.” This is a very simple way of saying the exact thing I have been teaching in this post.

Beware of Rebellion

I want to add one more caution, particularly to those that are awake, and it brings us full circle. One can understand and comprehend truth, be correct, and be wrong altogether. Imagine a person who has been abused by the Church, and wanders upon this new movement. It may give them the freedom to leave the Church, as well as to give the Church leaders the proverbial middle finger. I have seen this infrequently among remnant posters. They are angry with the Church. They feel a sense of injustice. They are cultivating a spirit of rebellion. There is a difference between rebellion and courage. Courage is doing the right thing, against incredible odds, and should accompany with that person an increase in love, pity, and compassion for those that do not “see.” Rebellion is the opposite. It is enmity. They wish to see the Church be done harm, to descend into confusion and chaos. Their interest in the remnant movement is more motivated by diminishing the LDS Church, and less about building a better spiritual house for themselves. Rebellion is the spirit of perdition. If one has such a spirit, he is better to remain in the Church and submit himself to abusive authority. He would be better of in the next life to do so.

In fact, I think the sermon on the Mount is a perfect way to apply what we in this movement should do with the Church. It is a perfect way to practice principles of Zion-like behavior. When the Church or Church members belittle you, castigate you, shun you, ignore you, and excommunicate you, are you to cultivate the attributes of Christ, what Christ would do? How did Christ react to Caiaphas? To the chief priests? To the soldiers? Do we say in our hearts, forgive them, for they know not what they do? When they take our cloak (or membership) do we return with anger and vitriol, or follow the example of others, who continues to attend their wards and win them over with kindness and service (it’s the attitude, not the attendance I’m talking about here). Do we really understand this movement? Do we understand the principles of the five wise virgins, and the five foolish? Do we understand what it means to be” blinded by the craftiness of men?” Do we understand what our mission would be were we to rise up and be sealed by the Lord to be the Church of the Firstborn? Do we understand that we will be required to do more, not less? If not, we may as well go back to bread and water and temple recommend interviews. We would be better off to have the millstone of the Church hung about our necks, then to subject ourselves to the possibility of perdition.

So be meek, learn charity, and test all ideas against those standards and you’ll be okay!  For it is the meek that will inherit the earth, or in fine . . . Zion.

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