A Mormon celebrates "I believe" instead of "I know"

Today's guest blogger, an adjunct professor at BYU, tells of her frustration at not "knowing" that the Mormon Church was true. It was a long time before she realized that this absence of knowledge had left her something far more precious in its stead: faith. -- JKR

Brighton CapuaA guest post by Brighton Capua

Mormon testimonies are often communicated with the phrase, “I know.”

  • “I know Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God.”
  • “I know the Book of Mormon is true.”
  • “I know this Church is true.”

I can distinctly remember sitting in testimony meeting when I was a young Beehive when the thought crossed my mind, “When will I know the Church is true?” Through high school, college, and even the first several years of my marriage, I sought after this knowledge. Unfortunately, after doing all of the right things for years, I became increasingly frustrated that I still didn’t know that the Church was true, and eventually, I found myself in the midst of a painful faith crisis.

Exhausted from having my questions met with more questions, I began to find the demands of being an “active” Mormon too much for something that only might be true. I felt that if I couldn’t know for certain it was true, then I didn’t want to sacrifice my Sundays, 10% of my income, and so much of my time. It wasn’t until recently that I reconciled these feelings when I realized my quest for knowledge was stunting my spiritual growth because I was overlooking the central principle of religious testimony: faith.

When I started searching for faith rather than knowledge, I learned something important: We were never supposed to know, and we are not expected to know. As Christ said himself, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

In fact, if we did have a pure knowledge of God, His son, His laws, and the purpose of our lives in general, God’s plan could not be what we believe it to be. Our agency would be limited, and we would be unable to learn from our experiences, grow, and progress. If I knew for certain – “beyond a shadow of a doubt” – God’s nature and his requirements, choosing the path of discipleship would hardly be a choice, and I’m sure I would have no trouble being obedient.

But that’s what I wanted while walking on the dead-end path of seeking knowledge. I wanted to know my obedience mattered. In retrospect, I realize the irony in my desire: if I did know, my obedience wouldn’t matter. My actions wouldn’t require thought, sacrifice, work, or faith on my part. There would be no test. My understanding of God would remain stagnant, and as a result, my spirit would remain stagnant, too.

When we exercise faith in something uncertain, on the other hand, we are forced to make choices and interpret our experiences, enabling us to learn and change. If we knew for certain who and when we should marry, what career path we should follow, why we were given this or that trial, or what church is true, our mortal lives would be meaningless to us. We could not have agency, learn, or progress.

Uncertainty, then, must be a key component to the human experience and to God’s plan. As I’ve continued to develop my own belief through my ever-shifting and ever-growing understanding of God, I have come to appreciate uncertainty because it permits us to learn, to improve ourselves, and to become eternally better than we are today. As Elder Uchtdorf reminded us in General Conference a couple weeks ago, Heavenly Father has higher aspirations for us than salvation from our sins and shortcomings: “His aim is much higher: He wants His sons and daughters to become like Him.”

In a BYU devotional given in 2009, Elder Holland talked about the essentialness of becoming. He talked about Lot’s wife who was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back when leaving Sodom and Gomorrah shortly before its destruction. Elder Holland explains that her sin was more than looking back – she longed to go back, lacking faith in the future. She did not have faith in what was to come or in what she could become, and profoundly symbolic for us, her mortal progression ended because of her lack of faith.

Like Lot’s wife, we don’t know what our futures hold, but we should not despair over the uncertainties of this life as it is the absence of pure knowledge that allows us to learn and change. And as Elder Holland reminds us, it is our faith in Christ that enables us to look to the future with hope and to become what our Heavenly Father knows we can become.

As Mormons, our testimonies should embrace and celebrate faith. On May 3, the next fast and testimony meeting, I suggest that we all ponder faith’s role in God’s plan and celebrate the power of faith in our own lives by not shying away from the phrase, “I believe.”


Brighton Capua is an adjunct professor in the writing department at Brigham Young University.





  1. Great post! I agree wholeheartedly and went on a similar journey myself. Our Articles of Faith proclaim that “we believe.” The temple recommend interview questions don’t ask if we know, but if we have a testimony (two different things). At the last General Conference I don’t think a single member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve bore testimony using “I know.” Yet that’s almost all you hear over the pulpit in your ward on fast Sunday. It’s a cultural thing (that starts when our kids are tiny!), and in my opinion not a positive one.

  2. There is more than one kind of knowledge. The kind of knowledge that people speak of when they say they know the gospel is true is knowledge given by the Holy Ghost. I don’t think that kind of knowledge should be put down. It is more than just “belief.”

  3. A quick reading of Doctrine and Covenants Section 46 and we see that not all are given the gift of knowing, but some are. And, “to others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.” I do not know all things pertaining to God’s kingdom, but I do know some things. Other things I believe, and for some things I must simply have faith.

  4. I know that jesus is the christ and that he is the savior. I know the church of jesus christ of latter day saints is the lords authorized church that contains the ordinances that I need to stand before god. I know the keys of the kingdom are commited to man at this time through thomas s monson. I know these things because I know the lords voice. I am accepted by the savior in my weakness because only through him am I made strong doing nothing of myself living daily by faith. My prayer is that the lord will reveal himself to others in a way that will build the faith of them until they come to the same knowledge as myself having proven the word and tasted the fruit of which I open declare the fruit is a good fruit.

  5. My guess is that you know some things about Jesus Christ and God the Father, and that you know why you trust them–have faith in them. My guess is that you know why you trust them, and why you trust the words of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and the words of the modern prophets. My guess is that you recognize the goodness and desirability of teachings you have been taught, and know why you want them to be trustworthy.

    Everyone is on a continuum between minimal knowledge and much trust, and increased confidence in what we think we know and continuing trust in God beyond that. We are promised that our knowledge is not going to become full until some point in the eternities, after our resurrection. In the millennia until then, we will always be learning new things, things which confirm and reward our trust. We will always need faith.

    If our own knowledge is limited, we certainly can’t declare that someone else cannot really know.

  6. I have learned to rarely be surprised by anything I read on Jana Reiss´s blog. Today is the exception. Quite frankly, I am surprised that a BYU professor has the courage to publish such utterly false doctrine, in any forum. Maybe it is because she works in the writing department and not in religious studies, she gets a pass.

    I don´t doubt Sister Capua´s sincerity, or her belief. But it does not make her statement true, and it certainly is not based on LDS doctrine, by any stretch of the imagination. Faith is not an end in and of itself, nor is it the end of all knowledge. It is quite possible “to know”, and many people do. Don´t get me wrong, I am not criticizing her because she just believes, and doesn´t know for sure. But just because she doesn´t know, does not mean that no one can know. Such a conclusion is logically, doctrinally, and historically flawed.

    Interested parties are invited to read a more complete response at http://www.carymartinez.net/defending-the-faith.

  7. What an excellent post! I agree with you. I think we choose to believe, in many cases. We consider what we know and feel. And then we make a choice.

    Alma 32 says we can have “perfect knowledge” about some things, and I agree, we can. But we have to choose to believe and act in faith in order to get perfect knowledge about certain specific things. And we aren’t going to get perfect knowledge about most things.

    It is absolutely true that we are going to walk by faith in this life in many ways. Anyone who says they have a perfect knowledge that everything they have heard spoken or written by a GA is true does not have the same definition of perfect knowledge that I do.

    Thanks for your thoughtful, faith-promoting post.

  8. Thanks for this post. I recently bore a similar testimony about how when I choose to believe my faith is strengthened. My coming to church is an act of choosing to believe, so is reading my scriptures, fasting, etc. I feel like my spiritual experiences could testify to me enough to say that I know that God lives and loves me and that my Savior died for me and through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved. The rest I choose to believe. Whatever works for you.

  9. Man, talk about angels on the head of a pin! One of the greatest challenges we have in the English language (it may be present in others, but I don’t have enough experience or knowledge to say), is that our language is so imprecise. To really get meaning, we have to listen (or read) very carefully to the words, how they’re said or written, and try to decipher the clues present in the context. But when we focus on words alone, we so easily lose the meaning of what is being said vs the what is being said. In other words. listen (or read) for meaning, not just response.
    This blog is pretty obviously a follow up to the modesty blog from a week ago where a subtopic got started on knowledge vs faith. In most cases, people we’re arguing about differing interpretations of words (kind of like the folks using different dictionary definitions of modesty to fuss over it). The point being, that often the language is more flexible than we want to believe when we’re defending our points.

  10. To continue, Brother Cary makes an assumption on Sister Capua’s meaning, that I’m not sure is really what she was saying. I don’t think she is saying it’s impossible to develop knowledge of Gospel principles, but all encompassing knowledge of the “pure knowledge of God, His son, His laws, and the purpose of our lives in general” is something we will likely strive for all of our mortal lives. And yes, you may get attain a substantial amount of knowledge in this life, even having your calling and election made sure, but there will still be knowledge to attain. I can apply the principles of Alma 32 to develop a knowledge of tithing – which is likely to be that an investment in tithing is a good thing to do for many reasons – a testimony we gain by applying the principles and gaining experience of it.

  11. Rick,

    She wrote, “We were never supposed to know, and we are not expected to know.” I think she was pretty clear, I mean, how else does one interpret that. She made it clear that not only does she not know, but that nobody can.

    Later on she wrote about the “dead-end path of seeking knowledge”. There really is no question about what she meant. And like I said before, I do not criticize belief, only her assumption that no one can do more than believe. What I am calling her out on is her statement that we are not supposed to know and we are not expected to know. This is the doctrine of anti-Christ (Jacob 7:6-7, Alma 30:12-17) How can she presume what I or anyone else can or cannot know. We can know, and many do.

    The only limit to the knowledge that we can obtain in this life, are the limits we place on ourselves. God limits what he reveals only to the extent of our individual ability to receive and comprehend, Moroni 10:5.

  12. I think ultimately Rick is right–it all depends on how you define the word “know.” I think we’re probably all talking about the same thing, we just are operating with different definitions. Sister Capua is operating from a very strict and limited definition of the word (as I was in my post above). By that definition there are spiritual things (like knowing Joseph Smith was a prophet, that Christ was resurrected) which are unknowable in this life. Even if God himself appeared to you, there is still room for doubt (a lot of people “know” that God has appeared to them, but I imagine most of us would agree not all of them have met Him).

    But by a different, more expansive definition, you can know those things. Through spiritual knowledge.

    The tough part for me is the fact that there are millions of people who “know” that their religion is true, and are just as certain as we are. I imagine Sharee and Cary would say they don’t REALLY know, they just believe. And they…

  13. “The truth lies in whatever framework of reality you subscribe to, or have created for yourself.
    There is no ‘one truth’.”

    Allan Macdougall

  14. Cary,
    Did you really mean to say “JUST believes”? Will you climb to the top of your tower of Rameumptom on May 3rd and “thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people” because we have perfect knowledge and we are not like our foolish Brethren who “JUST believe”?
    She isn’t preaching doctrine, she is telling her story which I BELIEVE (sorry that on just believe) can and will help many who struggle.
    President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
    “The Church is not an automobile showroom—a place to put ourselves on display so that others can admire our spirituality, capacity, or prosperity. It is more like a service center, where vehicles in need of repair come for maintenance and rehabilitation.”

  15. One can know things, such as that God lives and is real, the Book of Mormon truly is a testimony of Jesus Christ, etc. The whole point of Mormonism, for the individual, is to see Christ – to have one’s calling and election made sure. We forget this today, but in the past one had to have seen Jesus to be a Stake President. Now it would seem one doesn’t even have to see him to become an apostle. We are members of the only church to hold the priesthood, yet we reject its powers. We are lead by a prophet, seer and revelator that rejects his own keys to these powers. There is no perfection in this life, but you can know things are true once you accept that you have the faith. Faith builds into knowledge. Just be happy you are willing to admit you don’t know rather than just repeating what you hear, like everyone else is doing.

  16. This message is so important. There are so many of us sitting in church every Sunday who do not “know” and who don’t understand that it’s okay to simply believe. Believing and having faith in something takes much more courage and dedication than “Knowing.” I do think that there are people who know. The problem is that everyone thinks they NEED to know to be a good/worthwhile member of this church. Everyone says the same. things. every. Sunday. and it needs to change.

  17. Cary – I think invoking the anti-Christ is unnecessarily combative and potentially hurtful. I think what she’s saying is actually very valuable. When I served as a bishop I heard a few things several times: “I don’t want to bare my testimony because everyone in this ward knows the church is true except me!” Or, on the flip side, “I say I know the church is true but I really don’t.” Both of those statements are sad and they reflect an unhealthy cultural expectation that everyone must KNOW. In fact, in my experience, very few people know anything at all about the spiritual world. Instead they have spiritual experiences that they trust and hope are reflections of a deeper reality. In other words they have faith, just like Sister Capua said. Knowledge of some things is certainly possible in a limited sphere, but what Sister Capua points out is that we need to be comfortable with faith and we need to recognize that faith is what makes obedience meaningful!

  18. RonB

    Your comparison of my post to the Rameumpton story from the Book of Mormon tells me:

    1-You did not read my full comment.
    2-You did not read my full response at http://www.carymartinez.net/defending-the-faith

    I did not criticize Sister Capua´s belief. Up to a certain point her story mirrors my own. I criticized her assertion that we are not meant to do more than believe. Please don´t try to tell me that wasn´t what she meant. That is exactly what she said. She is a writing professor. If she had meant to say something else, she would have written it.

    Your Rameumpton comparison doesn´t hold water. I never said that those who do know are any better than those who do not yet know. I rebuked those who criticize or doubt members who have succeeded in gaining real knowledge. Read my comment, read my web post. Then comment.

    Maybe those who say “I know” on the First Sunday do so, not out of pride, but because of joy and desire to share that knowledge with those who, yes, just…

  19. Erin,
    I disagree. I think this is a horrible message. don´t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful thing to believe. Faith is the first principle of the gospel. The first. Not the last. Sister Capua´s article postulates that we cannot do more than believe, that we were never meant to. This is telling us to stop in the middle of the climb before we reach the mountaintop. Knowledge is attainable. If it were not, there would not be so many scriptural mandates to obtain it. There would not be so many who have obtained it.

    I laud all who believe. Don´t be discouraged because you cannot yet say “I know”. Stop and rest awhile. But please don´t stay there. There is so much more climbing to do, and the views from here on out are breathtaking.

  20. JCT

    I agree with most of your comments. It is important that people distinguish between knowledge and belief, and many members do not. It´s okay to say “I believe” rather than “I know”, if that reflects your current testimony. What I do not agree with is Sister Capua’s statement that, “We were never supposed to know, and we are not expected to know.” It is interesting to me that so many commenters are trying to read some softer meaning into these words, or say that this college writing professor meant to say something else. As a certain obnoxious radio talk show host use to say, “Words have meanings.” And, the words she wrote, and published in this very public forum are false doctrine. I do not intend to be hurtful or combative, but apostasy must be responded to as publicly as it was presented.

    Once again, I in no way criticize Sister Capua´s, or anybody else´s beliefs. Belief is essential. But when false doctrine is taught in a public forum, it must also be denounced…

  21. To Cary: I had a very wise institute teacher who taught us to separate our understanding of doctrine within the Church into truth, apparent truth, speculation, and falsity. As we studied the Book of Mormon over two semesters he showed us that every prophet with enough writing to draw a conclusion from did the same, as is illustrated particularly well in Alma 37. I believe that everything that Brighton has said in this essay is doctrinally sound. It is also important to note that she didn’t say or imply that “no one can know.” She implied that if you know, then you cease to have faith, which is supported by Alma 32. Of course when that knowledge motivates you to act on a future which is by definition unknowable, it does promote faith, but that is outside of the scope of her discussion. All I believe she is saying, is that we often look down on “belief” unfairly, which is true.

    To Ron: While you probably meant well, your argument is based on fallacies and is unhelpful.

  22. I agree with BOTH the article and almost all comments, because Rick and Fred are correct about terminology.

    “Knowledge,” as used in Mormonism, means that (1) you accepted doctrine(s) to be true (belief), then (2) you enjoyed a spiritual experience (personal revelation), and (3) you came away with a feeling of certainty. Am I wrong?

    Remember too, that, in Mormonism, saying “I know” may signify a simple ACT OF HOPE — faith that, because you were willing to speak in terms of certainty, “knowledge” may later come. In the words of Elder Packer, “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!”

    Accepting that “knowledge” has a nuanced definition in Mormonism might alleviate the concerns of those who think “belief” is the more appropriate term under common usage.

    It also might help keep dialogue civil if orthodox members would consider that we use “knowledge” differently in the Church, and that we might be talking past each other.

  23. Ultimately it does not matter what you know, what you think you know or what your believe. What matter is how that knowledge and or belief changes the way you act towards your fellow man. Faith, Hope, Love and Charity. Knowledge is not part of the equation. There was a time in the church about 20 years ago or so where kids would get up in Testimony meeting and declare their knowledge of the truthfulness of the church. Did those kids have a knowledge? No they were just parroting what their parent told them to say. I appreciate this post especially as a Mormon who continue his struggle of faith versus knowledge. Thanks Brighton for you thoughts.

  24. Thank-you Brighton, for such an honest, thoughtful and inspiring post. I am so happy that you have arrived at this place of having peace in your faith and belief, rather than being uncomfortable and pressured by the cultural demands that we publicly testify to “knowing”. It’s clear from many of the comments posted here that you have struck a nerve within the community of “believers”. I have often thought that belief is a rest stop on the road to knowledge, and I continue to support the idea that knowledge is the goal that we must continually pursue. But who knows when that knowledge will ultimately come? It has been my repeated experience, both in and out of the church that claiming knowledge, when it’s only really belief is setting yourself up for a big fall. There have been times in this church and many others when it has been required, in order to stay firmly in tune with the main stream and the words of the prophets, that it was required to declare “knowledge” (next…

  25. or “faith” in things which have been later shown to be untrue. All of the prophetically declared doctrinal basis for racial discrimination with regards to the temple and the priesthood have now been disavowed, like blood atonement, the Adam is God doctrine, or the requirement to participate in plural marriage in order to achieve exaltation. What of those who stood in testimony meeting at the relevant time and place and declared that they “knew” that these were true doctrines? Would not a position of honest and humble belief be stronger in the long run over an uncompromising and somewhat elitist statement of “knowledge”? I would rather put all my faith, devotion and striving for knowledge towards the Savior, the one and only path of salvation, and reserve all my hope and charity for my brothers and sisters in and out of the church. Thanks again for sharing!

  26. Amen Chris and thank you. I apologize to Cary and all others for the unhelpful rant.

  27. Cary – I’m sure we won’t convince each other, but let me just throw out one more quick response. Rush Limbaugh was always wrong in spirit when he said “words have meaning” because words mean different things to different people in different places. When I hear Sister Capua say “We were never supposed to know” I don’t hear the same thing you do. I hear that it is part of the plan that we don’t know and that we instead have to rely so heavily on hope and belief. God intended for us to struggle in the dark. If we came to earth and knew that the gospel was true our choices wouldn’t be choices and our obedience would be meaningless. Lack of knowledge is part of the plan and it’s supposed to be that way. That’s what I hear, and I think more people should say things like this. I applaud Sister Capua for having the courage to say it publicly.

    But I am comfortable agreeing to disagree. I sincerely hope you have a great day!

  28. … of course we can know some things and eventually we may know all things. But not knowing many things while on this earth is part of life by design.

  29. The last time I bore my testimony (some time ago) I used the phrase “I choose to believe.” The next testimony bearer was emphatic about “knowing.”

    But in my earlier, younger years I said, “I know.”

    I don’t know how people repond to “choosing to believe” rather than “knowing.”
    Age has caused me to realize I have more questions and fewer answers. I now interpret for myself, knowing as conveying certainity and requiring little in the way of exercising of faith. Others may interpret it differently. Probably we should just appreciate where people are in their life journey. I hope people don’t/won’t judge me because I don’t say “I know.”

  30. Changing the words from “I know…” to “I believe” is like putting a band-aid on a compound fracture. If you want to fix the problem, learn to say this:

    “Here’s what I believe, here’s the evidence for why I believe it, and here’s a description of the evidence that (if this evidence actually exists) would change my mind.”

    The ability to change one’s mind when the evidence demands it — *that* is something that is rare indeed! Belief and faith are as common as dandelions, and just as fickle.

  31. Tim

    In daily life, do you accept the fact that “there is such a thing as getting it right”? If you turn a standard right handed screw clockwise, it will tighten. SInce almost all screws are right handed, this is a good thing to know when dealing with daily life.

    Material reality is actually there, and physics is a pretty good model for trying to understand it. Most of us do not create our own reality, we get it from the work of lots of very smart people.

    best wishes

  32. I do understand the point of this article but want to add my two cents. First, there is no shame in the process of coming to a knowledge. It’s a wonderful process. But I disagree that we cannot KNOW the church is true. There are over 20,000 references in the scriptures to “know” or “knowledge”. Alma 32 provides a fairly clear description of how our faith grows up to a perfect knowledge.

    When I bear my testimony that “I know”, I make no claim to have seen God. But I have planted, nourished and discern that the fruit of the tree is good. I’m sure there are many assumptions I have that are wrong and my knowledge is far from perfect, but at the same time, it exists because I can measure the effects of the Holy Ghost in my life. I absolutely have a certain knowledge of the truth of the gospel.

    I consider it a false doctrine to claim that we cannot know. Korihor used the same argument in the BOM against Giddonah and later Alma. Study the scriptures and see what they say about…

  33. Excellent response to Tim. I was wondering what would be the best way to answer his comment. You nailed it!

  34. “How we know what isn’t so,” by Thomas Gilovich.

  35. Chris Skillings,

    When anyone, member and non-member alike, makes a statement similar to yours, “All of the prophetically declared doctrinal basis for racial discrimination with regards to the temple and the priesthood have now been disavowed” it demonstrates that the person has either not read or does not comprehend the statement published by the church on the Gospel Topics page of its website, Race and the Priesthood, or possibly is simply distorting the statement. Please, just read the article before you make such statements. I also invite you to read the commentaries, “Throwing Brother Brigham Under the Bus”, Parts I through Iv at http://www.carymartinez.net/defending-the-faith.

  36. Don,

    I love Alma 32. It’s kept me in after losing faith. I particularly appreciate the reasonableness of its suggestion: “give place for a portion of my words” (32:27), “do not cast it out by your unbelief” (32:28), give it fair nourishment and see what happens. I can do that. It also encourages patience; it takes years for a seed to become a tree.

    But the analogy demonstrates the limitation of our knowledge too, doesn’t it. Assume everything goes according to Alma’s prediction. What do we know? We CAN know that the tree provides fruit. And we can know that it tastes delicious.

    Yet, how do we know that ours is the only tree that brings forth good fruit, or even the best fruit. I know that oranges are a true fruit. And I like them. But it’s a big leap to conclude that oranges are the only true fruit. And how can I even say that they’re the most delicious fruit when I haven’t tasted all of the others?

    In all honestly, this is the step I can’t get passed.

  37. Doctrine and Covenants 46:13-14
    13 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.
    14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

  38. Your comment reminds me of a similar one made by a former US President a few years ago: “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” I have read and re-read Sister Capua’s post, trying to see if I missed something, if there could be any other meaning to her words. Her story is compelling, and her belief is sincere. I don´t think there is any ill will or intentional insult to others in anything she said. But it does not make what she said true. How can she, or even you Fred M, decide what some one can or cannot know. Just because you may not, don´t presume to think that no one can. Many have known, and many more will.

  39. And as far as your imagining about what I believe or know, you are way off base. I do not intend to imply that I have a perfect knowledge of all things relating to the gospel. Converting faith into perfect knowledge is a long process, and I am progressing just like everyone else. There are things I don´t have a clue about. There are things that I only believe in, and some in which I have a deep and abiding faith, And there are a handful of things that I know to be true, not beyond a reasonable doubt, but beyond any doubt.

  40. Cary, your inflexible world must be painful to live in. My world is much more gray scale than yours.

    God loves all his children. He is happy when we have faith in him.

    Your implication that your concept of “knowing” works for u. Please do not impose your views and judgments on those who see things from a little different.

    As true follower of Christ, who “knows” Him, why would u not want to follow His example of compassion and love to reach out in kindness to a sister trying to find her way?

  41. Memba,

    I really don´t understand how you can say that I live in an inflexible world. I wasn´t the one who stated that God does not want us to know truth.

    I identify with those who doubt; I have doubts. I am happy for those who believe; there is much that I believe in. I rejoice with those who have faith; I too have faith in many principles. But that is where Sister Capua draws the inflexible line, not me. Along with doubt, belief and faith, I also allow for faith growing into knowledge, both limited and perfect. Sister Capua stated, “We were never supposed to know, and we are not expected to know.” Who is the inflexible one?

  42. I am not trying to impose my beliefs on anyone. I simply object to Sister Capua imposing her beliefs on those who have succeeded in obtaining greater light and knowledge, claiming that they cannot know.

  43. “… regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”
    President Uchtdorf, October 2013 GC

    I find it interesting to see some of the member-on-member comments here. There is clearly a disconnect between the vision that President Uchtdorf has and in actively pushing down and teaching this mindset to the rank and file membership.

    We should commend Sister Capua for her honesty and courage to come forth with such a frank and reasonable position. Clearly, when an individual claims to “know” something, there is an inference of something in the real and provable sense – like gravity. However, when church members claim to “know”, they really mean that they believe… and in most cases, their belief is rooted in the circular reasoning (and non-repeatable/provable) physiological feeling of what they’ve been told is “the Holy Ghost”.

  44. Also, one should consider this testimony of Martin Harris, in describing his witness of the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was dictated by Joseph:

    When Martin Harris was asked, “But did you see them [plates] with your natural, your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Martin answered, “I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.”

    This is only one of several accounts that tell the same story – the witnesses of the golden plates “saw” them with their spiritual eyes or an an enhanced state (trance) and not in the way that one immediately is led to believe without further inquiry.

    Word definitions that shift raise suspicion: “know”, “saw”, “hefted”, “translated”, “by his own hand”, “marriage”, “wife”, “Urim and Thummim”, etc.

  45. That particular quote came from Origin and History of the Mormonites, p.406 (http://books.google.com/books?id=NXzQAAAAMAAJ&lpg=PA406&ots=XhCR8inBiq&pg=PA406#v=onepage&q&f=false).

    It would be one thing if this claim came from only one source. But the “spiritual eyes” concept was repeated by more than one of the witnesses. Here is a summary: http://mormonthink.com/witnessesweb.htm#actuallysee. Of course when you pray to see the plates and an angel shows them to you only after a long time in prayer, it raises questions – not the least of which is how an angel (without a body) could transport a physical object. I think that Dan Vogel had a YouTube video on this topic too if memory serves correctly.

    This isn’t a huge surprise as all of the BoM witnesses were superstitious. They were involved in treasure digging and had their own “seer stones” just like Joseph Smith. Martin Harris has a long list of superstitious claims, even of Jesus Christ appearing in the form of a deer…

  46. So if a Muslim told you he “knows” Islam is true with the exact same certitude that you know Mormonism is true, would it be wrong to question him? Or would you feel in that case that he couldn’t possibly know, that he only believes? If so, how can you “decide what someone can or cannot know”?

  47. I question the reliability of some of GP’s sources and interpretations.
    1. “The Origin and History of the Mormonites” (1850) begins by categorizing Mormons as “crowds of deluded fanatics” which sounds pretty biased (see GP’s source).
    2. MormonThink calls itself “accurate, consistent and empirically valid”, much as Fox News calls itself “fair and balanced.” I encourage readers to look at a selection random articles at the actual site to get a first hand feel for objectivity and to also consider the review at http://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink .
    3. Martin Harris does indeed write of seeing with spiritual eyes, but most of the other witness say they actually saw and/or held the plates (see Wikipedia)
    4. The view of the witness and others as “superstitious” is largely unfounded and based on Mike Quinn’s “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View” which is quite speculative in spite of his copious references. (see Wikipedia on D…

  48. Cary! Dude, relax. Through an erudite discussion about faith, belief, and knowledge accusations of apostasy are made!? Seriously, if we really knew the depth of our Fathers love, our only thoughts for others trying to define their faith would be gratitude. I believe, no I “know” that Sister Capua is thinking right now “I will never share my intimate thoughts about my faith in God in a public forum again.” And for sure all of us except perhaps Cary would then be deprived of a beautiful testimony of our Fathers love and hope for us all. I am a father of 6 children ages 25 to 38, who are all married to 6 other children of parents who have taught them in the best way we knew how of faith, belief and knowledge of the grace of Jesus and the wondrous mysteries of our Father’s love and forgiveness. If Brighton was mine I would fall to my knees in humility knowing that at least one out of 12 was moving closer to a very real and obviously intimate relationship with the Savior. Brighton…

  49. Thanks for posting this, Brighton! This was a much needed post and I am so grateful that I ran across it!

  50. GP,

    I spent 20 years in law enforcement. A very important part of my work was evaluating the credibility of witnesses and their testimony, The least credible were those who had a bone to pick with those against whom they testified. And, Oh my goodness! Your witnesses don´t even come close to passing muster! These are all apostates who either left the church or were thrown out, who hated Joseph Smith and everything he stood for. Please.

    Martin Harris, as well as the other two witnesses, whatever their failings may have been, went to their death beds insisting they had seen and held the plates, and that they had done so in the presence of a heavenly messenger. They repeatedly rebuked all those who claimed they had said otherwise.

    As far as the whole angels carrying physical objects thing, D&C 13 and 129 should clear that up for you. Not all heavenly messengers are disembodied.

    By the way, RNS, your new reCAPTCHA verification: Are you serious? Is this some kind of demented…

  51. Cary,

    Seriously? As a lawyer who’s had to defend shoddy investigation, I would hope your investigations weren’t driven by such confirmation bias — much less deference to supernatural explanations. Were you really predisposed to disbelieve informants, whistleblowers or defectors from conspiracy?

    The point is that if you’re examining a religion from an objective standpoint, why do you start by assuming it’s true and discounting naysayers? Be honest, do you look at Catholisim that way, giving it every benefit of the doubt, assuming that the least credible commentary would be James Talmage’s “The Great Apostacy”?

    My guess is that you brought much better objectivity to your investigations than you apply to the evaluation of your own religion. In other words, I doubt your comment today, not that you were a good officer.

  52. Joel,

    You assume too much, for a defense attorney.

    1-A good investigator is predisposed to disbelieve EVERYBODY! I worked for a federal law enforcement agency that is obsessed with winning every case it tries. If there was any witness even slightly questionable, we verified with a lot of additional evidence. If we still weren´t satisfied, we did not pursue the case. That is why I had a 100% conviction rate on my cases that made it to the courtroom, either in trial or pleas.

    2- I applied the same standard in my religious pursuits as well. The problem is that all religious witnesses are flawed, even the most well meaning, save one. We can find fault in every religion. I myself am predisposed not to believe in God at all. But the one witness that trumped the case for me years ago was the Holy Ghost. When you succeed in hearing that one witness, you can excuse all the rest. I don´t need to keep trying the same case again day after day. Holy Ghost re-confirms my original verdict,…

  53. I was a prosecutor.

    “Predisposed to believe EVERYBODY.” Nice. I supposed you were a solid officer/agent. But that seems to be a different position than your comment to GP.

    I get point about spiritual confirmation. But (1) that is a personal, subjective reason that you happen to have for preferring faith-promoting LDS sources. (2) Again, I’m curious, do you approach other religions the same way? Do you always give more weight to the proponents of a religion, rather than it’s detractors? Do you seek out theologians at Notre Dame and dismiss Talmage’s book as ax-grinding? Unless you do, I can’t reconcile your criticism of GP.

    (3) Following analogy, it seems you found corroboration for one witness’s testimony, causing you to reject others and close the case. I imagine you’ve faced situation of two contradictory witnesses who both have alibies. Have you really considered other religions with the same degree of faith and prayer, to see if you’d get similar…

  54. Correction: I meant to quote you accurately. “Predisposed to DISbeleive everyone…”

  55. Correction: I meant to quote you accurately. “…disbelieve everyone…”

  56. Wayne – I agree with your points #1-3 and somewhat #4. I hope that nobody takes what I say at face value and instead does their own research from apologetics and critics alike and comes to their own conclusion. I have done my research and am quite satisfied with my conclusions. On point #4, there are a few of Quinn’s claims that are on shaky ground; however, by and large his works are well-referenced and do have basis.

    But really the substance being discussed here (and my point) is #3 from your list. Martin Harris and David Whitmer were both quoted as seeing the plates with their “spiritual eyes”. They did not dispute these quotations.

    And the real key is the context. All of the three witnesses had some ties to superstitious thinking and were steeped in a magical worldview (David Whitmer’s seer stone, Oliver Cowdery’s divining rod, Martin Harris’ wild claims of visions and messages from God). The 11 witnesses were essentially from two families and harbored similar…

  57. Fred, you nailed it. Such claims are subjective and use circular reasoning. If people want to believe, then fine. But it is fallacious to think that their subjective confirmation is superior to that of others – especially when such methods are used for answers to falsifiable questions.

  58. Cary, I pretty much agree with Joel’s position, so I won’t rehash what he said too much.

    In short, you are giving too much weight to the source of the information to fit your own conclusion. I was in your shoes once as I desperately wanted the church to be “true”. However, the evidence presented (not just here but on many, many, more topics) clearly tells a very different story than the divine faith-promoting ones we hear in church. The evidence was so compelling that my confirmation bias was overcome and I realized that there was no way I could believe the true accounts of church history. You will probably blame me for being weak in faith or never having a testimony, but I assure you that those in my ward and stake knew my heart well as I served faithfully in leadership callings… I doubt that one could go so long under the radar of “discernment” without a testimony.

    As for the Holy Ghost revealing truth and trumping everything else, see Fred’s comment. That claim…

  59. Cary,
    I urge you to close your browser. I found the article to be encouraging and well-written. But your comments come across discouraging and demeaning. I’ve denied myself a temple recommend for two years because I can’t say “I know”. I continue to search and serve faithfully hoping I’ll be rewarded with knowledge in exchange for my obedience. This article made me think about making a temple recommend appointment and your comments have left me with the feeling of “not good enough”. I’m not saying you are incorrect, only insensitive.

  60. Could I redirect us back to the actual article? This article by Brighton Capua is excellent. Mormon Culture may stress the importance of knowing, but in the Gospel Culture faith is crucial and belief is just fine. Within the gospel we encourage all to gain a genuine spiritual witness from the Holy Ghost. That is one valid way of “knowing,” that still involves faith that the witness of the Holy Ghost was, and is, real. Ideally, sensing the whispering of the Holy Ghost should become quite frequent. However, Mormon Culture encourage all to say “I know” when some only “hope.” Hope is a critical part of faith. I welcome the encouragement toward integrity in testifying. “I hope, I believe, and I have faith” are also genuine ways to share our deepest feelings.

    Personally, I testify that the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ began through the prophet, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be. I witness that God lives and Jesus is the Christ.

  61. Jen, if you are serving faithfully then those actions are the fruit of your faith then ask yourself if those fruits taste good. If your actions are sweet to the taste and provide you joy then please dont delay and march yourself right into the bishops office and declare your knowledge of the faith youve tested. I think you know more about the knowledge of your faith then you are aware of… just taste the fruit and declare your feelings. Get your temple recommend asap because your service in the church can be fruits you can placed on the holy altar of the temple.

  62. Joel, I appreciate your comment and don’t really disagree with any of your experience.

    Joseph Smith once spoke to a man who had been critical of himself. Many people were being baptized and many of them were coming out speaking in tongues, witnessing marvellous things, etc. Joseph explained that he had more believing blood than many of those who needed such things.

    I don’t think this is to say that belief is superior to knowledge or knowledge to faith. They’re different components of an eternal makeup. Eventually, those who receive exaltation will possess a fulness of both.

    Finally, consider the promise of the BOM. “By the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may KNOW the truth of all things.” Not some things. All things. No timeline is given but I think the promise is clear. Keep the faith brother.

  63. Joel, I re-read your comment and I probably wasn’t specific enough.

    The best way I can answer your question is to refer you to 2 talks. I recommend that you read them several times with an open heart and with prayer.

    The first is one given by President Uchtdorf in a 2006 General Conference. He gets very specific. Here’s the link. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/10/the-power-of-a-personal-testimony?lang=eng

    The second is one given by one of my personal favorites. My dad sent it to me while I was on my mission and had written to him asking how I could understand the Spirit of the Lord better. For me (and for him earlier) it was revolutionary. It was life-changing as what he taught sunk in deeply. Here’s a link to YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zpf6p9b6RfQ.

  64. When I would occasionally sit in LDS pews before I was baptized, I, too, was put off by “I know …” Now it bothers me not at all. To some extent, it is just cultural. But is also underscores a particularly Mormon concept of epistemology, which warrants attention. I also think it speaks well of us, not poorly.

    It is a tenet of Mormon epistemology that knowledge can be received. Empiricists naturally scoff at this, but empiricists and everyone else make a priori assumptions on the subject of what is known and knowable. Since they are a priori, no set of assumptions is logically any better than any other set. The only test is the pragmatic one: what works and what doesn’t?

    The whole concept of a testimony is to declare what knowledge the testifier has received and that it works in his or her life. There is nothing odd or wrong about that.

  65. (Gosh, I wish it were possible to edit posts here.) The URL posted in my earlier comment was incomplete but I’m sure that those who are interested can track it down. Those with “confirmation bias” probably won’t. 😉

  66. GP, I understand why it is important to you to assert that “the evidence clearly tells a different story.” But, you should understand that you’re mistaken about that. it’s only “clear” to you that way because you want, need or expect it to be that way. For other people, clarity points in the opposite direction. How to resolve the difference? Well, you know the answer to that one without me having to tell you.

  67. Oh, I’m susceptible to confirmation bias too. Once again, I implore folks to do their own research and draw their own conclusions. By all means, visit both FairMormon and MormonThink. Look at original sources. Then decide on your own. The rabbit hole only gets bigger.

    Prayer and meditation can be helpful to individuals and perhaps evoke a different perspective on a topic (even if it requires entering the supernatural or metaphysical space), but prayer does not change science or history. If I told you that I prayed and received confirmation that some other religion was “true”, you’d likely dismiss my confirmation as being wrong or perhaps of the devil. But that thinking is circular in nature – in other words, that line of thinking comes from being told by someone else the feeling received is a mechanism for determining truth – but without logical basis. Other religions use the same tool to confirm their own beliefs… it’s really not that much different.

  68. GP, it’s good of you to admit susceptibility to confirmation bias. It can apply to any of us, and it is helpful for any of us to be aware of it. But you too easily dismiss the idea of spiritual confirmation, which is more unique to Mormonism than you’re crediting. Jana’s article is all about the peculiarity of Mormon epistemology. I don’t think it’s fair, on one hand, to say that Mormons are oddballs on the issue of what they know vs. believe, and on the other hand claim that all religions do the same thing. You sort of need to pick one story and stick with it.

  69. Google for the testimony of other latter-day splinter groups and compare it with your own. You will find very little difference in substance and style. The claims of spiritual confirmation are the same. Do the same for Islam. These folks are very serious about having a confirmation stating that their own religion is “true” and they “know” it.

  70. GP,

    I take it that you and I have had similar paths.

    The biggest contributor to my testimony colapse was not learning the complexities about Church history. It was reading William James’s “Variety of Religious Experience,” and especially about new developments in the field of positive emotions, like elevation.

    The sensations we attribute to the Holy Ghost are universal. No doubt, they’re enjoyable and seem transcendent. I value those I’ve experienced. But given how common they are, it’s hard to tell what conclusions you can base on them.

  71. Hi Joel – I completely agree with you that the feeling is enjoyable. I attribute it as part of the human experience… something unique for all humanity yet triggered is so many different ways… mostly in concepts or actions that resonate deep within our being. In the past, I’ve felt it during “spiritual experiences” in church, when giving blessings, and surprisingly (at least for my cognitive dissonance at the time) – in many patriotic or otherwise secular scenarios. I still feel the “Holy Ghost” at times even since my disaffection.

    One concern that I have though is when people are told that this feeling confirms truth of something in the literal and tangible sense. I get the concept of faith for the unknown, but replacing scientific proofs with a feeling is a tall order, especially if such a substitute is required so often.

  72. Brighton, you indicate that you did all the right things for years. Unfortunately, some of the right things are missing from the correlated instruction manuals, and that might explain why your mind is darkened:

    “President Joseph Smith said the people were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves.” abbrv., -TPJS, 237-38.

    More to the point: “Every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” -DC 93:1

    It is possible for each of us to see God in this life, in the literal and physical sense. God wants us to keep striving for that until we are worthy of it. Joseph Smith mourned that the Saints relied on him rather than getting their own revelations. Resigning yourself to the idea that such experiences are impossible or that it will destroy your agency is not right…

  73. “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 345)

  74. I think its great you didn’t know it was true, it shows you were being honest with yourself. All your peers who “knew the church was true”, probably knew deep down that it was false but they gave in and decided to block that part of them out that wants to tell the truth. The truth is that the church is false, sadly.

  75. Fred M,

    I respect your opinion, and understand a little of what you mean about the definition of “know”. Each of us moves through this life with his own paradigm. We each see the world a little differently, and we operate under our own interpretations of that which goes on around us.

    However, I must draw the line at you guessing what I might say or know. You don’t know me, and you have no idea what I know. As I have previously stated, there are things that I believe, and there are things that I have great faith in. There are things that I know due to a witness of the Holy Ghost. And contrary to what some have stated here, that is much more than a good feeling. It is impossible to explain to someone who has never experienced it, but believe me, all doubt is instantly swept aside. And finally there are things that I know absolutely, due to my own personal witness. And these are things that, other than my statement of knowledge, I do not discuss in such a public forum.

  76. Hmm. I like your thoughts and post a lot. I agree this is what the church SHOULD teach. However, one of the most used (and planned) scriptures in missionary work is Moroni’s Promise, which is that by the power of the Spirit, you can KNOW the truth of all things. I think (though I know this is four years old, and you’ve written much more) without mention of this within the discussion, you are not fully addressing the issues and stress you had while coming to the conclusion you only need to believe.

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