Facts, Feelings, and Faith

By Eric Johnson

Back in 2003, I was selected to serve as a juror on a federal case in San Diego. It involved a Mexican national who was allegedly attempting to enter the United States from Mexico by crossing the Tijuana River on foot. Six Border Patrol agents on four-wheelers were sent to the area, so when the five Mexican nationals heard the commotion, they began to slosh through the river back to their country.

The alien on trial was cut off at the shore by one officer, who slipped and fell down the muddy embankment. As the officer was getting back onto his feet, he claimed that the Mexican national—who stood about eight feet away—reached into the murky water and pulled out a large rock, lifting it behind his back. The officer pulled his gun, yelling “Alto, alto” (“stop, stop”), before shooting the man in the hand and apprehending him.

Questions from the case included: Was the Mexican national attempting to enter the United States? Did he pull a rock out of the water? If he did, was he planning to use it as a weapon on the fallen officer? And was there enough available light enough to see this event clearly?

After a week of trial, the jurors were sent to a room to begin deliberations. I volunteered to be the foreman and was elected. The next three days involved intense debates. One female juror insisted on the defendant’s innocence. She pointed out how the officers had inconsistent testimonies—each one saw the events from different places on the river—even though I felt the minor discrepancies showed how collusion was not in play.

At one point, I asked this middle-aged lady, “Since the evidence seems clear that this man picked up a rock, why do you doubt it?”She replied, “Border Patrol officers are racists.” “All of them?” I asked. She answered, “Yes, and this would explain why they are all lying, to protect one of their own.” “And what would it take for you to vote for conviction?” I continued. “Video evidence,” she responded. “There is no video evidence,” I replied. She smiled and said, “I know. That’s why I will never vote to convict this man.”

In my opinion, her presuppositions—and her apparent control over two other jurors with whom she ate lunch every day—caused a hung jury, even though the evidence seemed clear to the other nine jurors that the charges were valid.

Facts

The facts in any court case are vital to determine whether or not something is true. To determine the case for Christianity, Paul provided evidence in 1 Corinthians 15. To support the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul showed how Jesus “appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”’ If the resurrection is not true, then Christians “are of all people most to be pitied,” Paul argued in verse 19.

An honest look at the evidence could be dangerous to anyone’s presuppositions. Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may” (History of the Church 5:499). Second president Brigham Young explained, “Our doctrine and practice is, and I have made it mine through life—to receive truth no matter where it comes from” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 11).

It was this same Brigham Young who laid out an appropriate challenge: “Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 126). Each person ought to ponder the claims of the Bible and see how its teachings coincide with one’s personal presuppositions. Other faith systems, including Islam, Buddhism, and even Mormonism, ought to also be considered. Everyone should make a critical examination of the different faiths, taking into consideration the history and doctrines. Is the religion under scrutiny internally consistent? Does it coincide with the way things really are? And does the evidence point to the truthfulness of this particular belief system?

Feelings

Using James 1:5 as a cornerstone verse, LDS missionaries tell prospective converts how important prayer and the ultimate feelings that can be received are vital to determine truth. Moroni 10:4-5  instructs the reader to ask God “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” and “he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

Another often-used passage is D&C 9:8-9, which says, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.” A missionary manual states,

“In order to know that the Book of Mormon is true, a person must read, ponder, and pray about it. The honest seeker of truth will soon come to feel that the Book of Mormon is the word of God” (Preach My Gospel, 2004, p. 38).

Mormon leaders stress belief through an intuitive inner feeling. Speaking at the April 2013 general conference, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland explained,

“A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, ‘Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.’ I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for ‘only believing.’” (“Lord, I Believe,” Ensign, May 2013, p. 94).

Psychological desires to accept the LDS gospel—such as wanting to please LDS friends and family—could lead someone to accept a religious system that is not supported by the evidence. Is it possible that good feelings could contradict what God has already provided in His Word? If this is the case, shouldn’t these subjective feelings be questioned? Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their hearts.

Faith

A person who bases his or her entire belief system on the facts—including the juror who insisted on video evidence—is a Rationalist. This means that nothing can be accepted as true unless the facts can be empirically proven.

Some may argue that by focusing on the evidence, Christianity stresses Rartionalism and thereby minimizes faith. This is not true. Hebrews 11:6 says,

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

It is impossible to support the existence of God, the veracity of the Bible, and the belief that salvation comes by grace through faith based on empirical (sensory) testing. As one philosopher put it, a “leap of faith” is required.

Referring to a court case in his book The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel writes,

“Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of jurors to reach a verdict. That doesn’t mean they have one-hundred-percent certainty, because we can’t have absolute proof about anything in life. In a trial, jurors are asked to weigh the evidence and come to the best possible conclusion” (p. 18).

  Some people—including the juror I described above—seem to be fideistic in their outlook. Fideism can be explained as a faith that ignores any evidence that may contradict a religious system. Having a faith that is limited to the conclusions of a particular religion is a difficult position. The Mormon is required to insist that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and the Book of Mormon is historical scripture, even though the evidence seems strong in opposition to both of these assertions. While the Bible encourages faith, it must be understood that “blind faith” is not required. Paul admonished the believers to “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21) and emphasized studying the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11). By considering the evidence, it is possible to possess a reasonable faith.

Conclusion

Without discerning the evidence, it would be impossible to determine if a system is true or false. But our understanding of information should never be the final step in accepting truth. And the here-today-gone-tomorrow feelings that everyone has should never be the litmus test for truth. Unfortunately, Mormonism requires its people and potential converts to accept the LDS gospel despite the fact that its foundations appear contrary to the truth. As Christians, we are commanded to have a reasonable faith that coincides with truth and the way things really are. This truly is a leap into the light and is a faith worth having.


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