Apr 24, 2009

"I See Dead People."

One of the main reasons why I am able to maintain my faith despite doubt is because I believe very strongly in life after death. Exactly how the next life will be, I do not claim to know. I do, however, believe that there is one. I've tried to imagine sometimes that this life is really all there will ever be. But even on my most cynical days, I just cannot convince myself of it. A major reason for that is because of some amazing spiritual experiences related to death that I've heard from certain family members, close friends, or other sources. They've come in different forms: dreams, visions, feelings, and other experiences. I'm only going to list a few of them here.

I think that most people, religious or not, believe in something after this life. I've wanted to do a post like this for some time, but it always got pushed aside until I was reminded by it after having a conversation with a very good friend of mine from my home ward in Canada (I'll call her Virginia) about some amazing spiritual experiences she and her siblings experienced after losing each of their parents. When her mother died, Virginia had a very detailed dream about her mother, in which her mother looked the way she did when she was younger. They embraced and she recalls vividly how it felt and how her mother smelled. Her mother told her that she was happy and well. Later on, Virginia was talking to her sister, who told her of a dream that she had had herself about their mother -- which turned out to be the exact same dream that Virginia had had, right down to the details.

When Virginia's father died, he was an old man and had been ill for some time. As each of the sisters took turns sitting by his bedside, each one of them "heard" a special message from their father -- even though he was lying unconscious in his bed. The only one who didn't get a special message was Virginia (who is, incidentally, the only one in the family who was active in the Church along with her father). At first she was a little disappointed, but accepted that it wasn't meant to be. Their father passed away just a few hours later.

Later that evening after leaving the hospital, Virginia settled down to bed. At about 3 am, she suddenly awoke to see the room light up like day and a vision of her father, dressed in his nice dark suit and looking exactly like he did when he was in his 40's, stepping down through a sort of "portal" and walking towards Virginia's bed. He was smiling and he looked "radiant," as she described. But Virginia was so shocked by this vision that she freaked out, hid her face under the covers and yelled "NO!" And then he was gone.

Before I got married, I became good friends with an older woman in my ward. I'll call her Mary. When I was 18, she had gotten the news from the doctor that she was terminally ill. She had a bad heart but was not a candidate for a transplant because she was not strong enough to survive the surgery. I'm now 31 and Mary finally died just a couple of months ago. Over the years, I had many conversations with Mary, who talked openly about her impending death, what she imagined it would be like, and some interesting spiritual experiences she had had -- particularly concerning her husband, who died back in the 70's. Especially these last couple of years, Mary had a strong feeling of his presence on several occasions and even had a beautiful vision of him, much like Virginia had of her father.

My husband's father died during heart bypass surgery just after we met. So unfortunately, I never knew my father-in-law. However, I'm close to my mother-in-law (I'll call her Brita) and she told me an interesting story. My husband's family is not particularly religious, but I know that they believe in "something," and that there is "more between heaven and earth," as Norwegians like to say. One day a few years ago I was helping my mother-in-law dust the tops of her kitchen cupboards. As I carefully dusted a small porcelain music box, she told me a very interesting story. Her husband (I'll call him Rolf) had received that music box as a gift from either his mother or grandmother (I can't remember). It was one of those that you have to twist in order for it to play.

Shortly after her husband's death, Brita said that she was alone in the kitchen one evening and started to think out loud: "Rolf, if you're really out there somewhere and listening to this, let me know somehow." Then, to her astonishment, the music box started to play. I cannot believe that this was simply a coincidence because:

a) the music box is out of reach without a chair or a ladder

b) it won't start playing if simply touched -- it's needs to be twisted

c) it's never played on its own, before or since that particular occasion

d) Brita is one of the most rational, level-headed people I know and I KNOW she would not make up something like this

Not only do I believe in spirits, I also believe that certain people, so-called "mediums" have a special gift in making contact and relating messages between the living and the dead, much like some people have the gift of tongues or healing. I'm not talking about the type of people who place ads in newspapers and charge you 10 bucks a minute to call a 1-900 number. I'm not talking about those who are obviously frauds or who use sneaky tactics to make money off their supposed "gift." I'm talking about those who are sincere and who really appear to have a gift, those who make stunning connections that have to be more than coincidence, and offer their services not to get rich, but in order to bring comfort to those who are grieving over a loss or feeling burdened by a presence that is "haunting" them.

My parents have a copy of Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie. Even though it's been almost 15 years since I've read that book, a lot of things have never been forgotten -- mostly negative things, unfortunately. I've been home for a visit and after that conversation with my friend Virginia, I was reminded by some of the things that McConkie wrote in that book concerning spirits and mediums. I found the book buried beneath a pile of stuff in an old bookshelf and started to re-read the passages on a variety of topics that were burned in my mind all these years. I remember my mother telling me years ago how she never liked that book. I feel the same way. I get such a negative feeling when I even think about it. But because McConkie provided an opposing viewpoint to my own, and since his is most likely accepted as truth by most Mormons, I decided to cite his writings on the subject in this post for the sake of the "spirit" of discussion (no pun intended).

Under "Medium," McConkie writes:

"Mediums are witches; they are persons who have so trained and schooled themselves in sorcery and spiritualism that they have ready access to and communion with evil spirits. In modern spiritualism they are the ones who conduct seances and who profess to call back the dead and receive messages from them. In the main, of course, the messages received are from devils and not from the departed dead."
(Mormon Doctrine, page 473)

McConkie continues in a section called "Spiritualism."

"It is true that some mediums do make contact with spirits during their seances. In most instances, however, such spirits as manifest themselves are probably the demons or devils who were cast out of heaven for rebellion. Such departed spirits as become involved in these spiritualistic orgies would obviously be the spirits of wicked and depraved persons who because of their previous wickedness in mortality had wholly subjected themselves to the dominion of Lucifer. Righteous spirits would have nothing but contempt and pity for the attempts of mediums to make contact with them.

Isaiah's famous statement on the falsity of spiritualism is: "And when they shall say unto you: Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and mutter -- should not a people seek unto their God for the living to hear from the dead? To the law and to the testimony; and if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (2 Ne. 18:19-20; Isa. 8:19-20; Inspired Version, Isa. 8:19-20) Thus, no matter how sincerely mediums may be deceived into thinking they are following a divinely-approved pattern, they are in fact turning to an evil source "for the living to hear from the dead." Those who are truly spiritually inclined know this by personal revelation from the true Spirit; further, the information revealed from spirits through mediums is not according to "the law and to the testimony." Accordingly, though some true facts may be found in it, yet its acceptance and use has the effect of leading souls into the clutches of those evil powers which give the data." (Mormon Doctrine, page 759)

So here are some questions I have. Feel free to answer them all, or just the ones that you feel you can.

a) Have you or anyone you know ever had a mysterious experience with spirits, good or bad?

b) Do you believe that the dead can come back to comfort us or give us a message?

c) Do you believe in mediums? Do you believethat certain people have a spiritual gift that allows them to "see dead people" or communicate with them?

d) Do you believe in hauntings and do you believe that mediums can help these spirits to "cross over" and stop plaguing the living and/or relate a message of comfort to those who are grieving?

e) Do you believe, like Bruce R. McConkie, that all mediums are engaging in a sort of devil worship with evil spirits, whether intentionally or unintentionally?


Papa D said...

I'm kind of rushed, but I found Elder McConkie's use of the phrase "in the main" fascinating.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Does anyone know what that actually means? I haven't a clue to, be totally honest. :)

Hypatia said...

I had an experience where I thought I talked with a spirit for about an hour... it was right after I had surgery and I was on heavy medication. I was so sure I was talking to a ghost, or spirit, or whatever. But now I'm not so sure it wasn't just a hallucination induced by drugs. But, I believe it could also be possible that the drugs maybe facilitated my ability to communicate with spirits around me. I just don't know.

grannylaw said...

My father died homeless in a park. It was 3 months after he died before they notified us. He died in July and before I was notified in October I dreamed that my father was standing somewhere and telling me good-bye. I called my mother the next day and she said she had the same dream.

After I was notified of his death, I again dreamed about him. He told me he was ok -- that it was different than he thought but that he was ok.

Papa D said...

FD, "in the main" means "generally" or "usually". It's exactly like "in most instances" - which is what he says in the other quote about seances.

That's why I find it fascinating. I wouldn't picture Elder McConkie as one who would allow for exceptions with something like this. I would have thought he would have condemned such practices without exception. I think it's very interesting that he would use phrases like "in the main" and "in most instances".

Allie said...

More recent editions of Mormon Doctrine have a disclaimer in them, so I don't think what it says is necessarily "gospel", in the main. :)

To answer your questions,
a) yes
b) I wouldn't call it "coming back" but I think spirits can in some instances communicate with us.
c)No. I think that it's a kind of gift that can apply to anyone in the right situation, but I don't think it's a "full-time" gift given to people.
d)No, but I've had a couple of experiences where I am along at night and get a terrified feeling, which goes away after (a lot of) prayer- so whether that's a "haunting" or just my own issues, it's hard to say.
e) I couldn't say. I don't really believe in mediums, but my mom told me about an experience with a palm reader when she was in high school who told her that she would date a blond, a brunette, then marry a red head. Which was true, but could have been coincidence. :)

Anonymous said...

Another beautiful post, FD. I, too, believe very strongly in life after death. One of the most spiritual experiences I have had was sitting by my mother's bedside while she died. She turned to me and very lucidly said, "See your father and grandmother standing beside you." They had come to accompany her in her journey to the spirit world. She died shortly after that experience.

The veil became very thin for her before she died. She could see her loved ones preparing a bedroom for her and had other beautiful glimpses into the spirit world.

I had not yet had the spiritual gift of seeing angels but have felt them at times. Many times, I have known that people who entered my life for a season were truly angels of mercy, serving as God's ministers to me in my time of need.

I have had some very horrifying experiences with evil spirits. My daughter was plagued with them after she was tortured and brutally raped. My worthy husband and his close friend used priesthood power to cast their spirits from our home.

I believe that some people have the gift of ministering of angels just as others have the gift of discernment, faith in Jesus, or speaking in tongues. The gift of the ministering of angels is a sacred gift and should not be used for profit, fame, or personal power.

I believe that Satan can help some achieve some success in reaching those in the afterlife. Whether we call these people "mediums" or "witches," we should avoid this type of darkness.

I know that family members have appeared to some of my close friends and family members to comfort them in times of great sorrow or need. My deceased grandmother appeared to my mother when my mother was single, very ill, and desparately poor and lonely. She told my mother that she had needed to get permission to visit my mother and came to let my mother know that her life situation would improve and that she needed to remain strong and of great courage. My mother was greatly comforted by her mother's visit.

Years ago I served as a RS president. A member of our ward, the wife of a distinguished college president, confided in me that she had been plagued by dark spirits since her college years when her roommates dabbled with seances and levitation. She said that these forces followed her everywhere she moved, that dishes would fall from her cupboards and other acts of mischief would occur.

On the other hand, your mother-in-law experienced a tender mercy when the music box started playing. Truly, the spirit world--both good and ill--is much closer than many of us realize.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"I believe that Satan can help some achieve some success in reaching those in the afterlife. Whether we call these people "mediums" or "witches," we should avoid this type of darkness."But what about when it's not "darkness?" I'm thinking about those who are grieving and need some reassurance and turn to someone who sincerely appears to have a gift and is able to relate a message to them that can only be for them and that brings them comfort?

Does anyone remember that show "Crossing Over" with John Edward back a few years ago? I used to watch it sometimes. People were obviously touched and comforted by his apparent ability to communicate with the dead. I have a hard time labelling that as a "seance" or communicating with evil spirits. If anything, these people were helped through a dark time in their lives and given reassurance that their loved ones were OK and happy.

I've really enjoyed reading all of your comments so far. I hope that many comment because I find this subject fascinating.

derekstaff said...
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derekstaff said...

I'm a bit agnostic when it comes to all things supernatural. I do believe in life after death and that the spirits of those who have died exist in some spiritual plane. I don't rule out the possibility that the spirit world can interact with the physical plane on some level. But I'm very skeptical about the probability. Here is where my deist leanings come to play. I just doubt that the spiritual world is allowed (whether by the laws of physics governing spiritual "material," or by God's decree) to interact with the physical plane in that way. In the Gospel theology, what would be the purpose of allowing this to happen? And if it can happen, why does it not happen more? Why do we not see more ramifications of the various meddling of spirits? Don't they have something better to do than wander certain locations and seemingly randomly appear to particular individuals? What is the purpose of rolling a ball around when coincidentally only one person is around to see it (a story passed around my in-laws)? If they can interact with us and physical objects, aren't we subscribing to an animistic view of the world? The whole thing seems to reek too much of superstition to me, of trying to explain very natural physical phenomena (the shooting of certain synapses in our brains) and give some greater significance to these perceived occurances. They are fun stories, but it just doesn't make sense to me.

I find it interesting that while earlier generations of Church leaders experienced frequent manifestations of spirit beings (one of my ancestors was the first president of the Logan Temple, and he related several experiences in which he visibly saw the dead, as well as Satan himself), we rarely hear of such experiences from our leaders now. They might talk about "feeling" the presence of spirits now, but not the very literal, visible manifestations. Is this because the Lord is allowing them less in order to test our faith? Or is it because our leaders are more sophisticated now, less apt to see minor events as spiritual manifestations? (Or, possibly, are our leaders just keeping those experiences to themselves more, because there are more skeptics like me in the Church, and the leaders don't want to cast pearls before swine?)

Regarding spiritualism, I think it's all just sleight of hand and card tricks--not malicious in most cases; the participants honestly believe in what they are doing, and are tricking themselves as much as others. I don't think that Satan, to the extent that he is truly an entity consciously seeking to entice us rather than just the personification of our natural selfish and self-destructive inclinations (a discussion for another day), has the ability to truly manipulate physical objects in that manner (again, if he did, why would it not happen more frequently). Satanism makes for very dramatic effects in movies and books, but I don't see much evidence in the real world. Spiritualism is nothing really beneficial, but nothing particularly harmful either.

But as I said, I'm agnostic, so I'm perfectly willing to admit I might be wrong.

(FWIW, I believe the exact same thing about the various "weird science" stuff--UFOs, Area 51, Mothman: I won't absolutely rule them out. Maybe we are getting visitors from Kolob or what have you. But the prospect seems incredibly dubious to me.)

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with people making a lot of money using their "medium" abilities to comfort people. If they truly care about people, they would use this gifts to bless others. At best, it is a form of priestcraft. At worst, it can be a form of satanism.

Anonymous said...

I meant, they would use these gifts freely (or without compensation) to bless others...

Chris said...

It has been reported that John Edward charges $750 for a short reading.

"Times" Leon Jaroff(2001) wrote: Now suspicious, O'Neill recalled that while the audience was waiting to be seated, Edward's aides were scurrying about, striking up conversations and getting people to fill out cards with their name, family tree and other facts. Once inside the auditorium, where each family was directed to preassigned seats, more than an hour passed before show time while 'technical difficulties' backstage were corrected."

New York Times Magazine reporter observed Edward "hitting well below 50% for the day" at a recent episode of Crossing Over. He twice spent upwards of 20 minutes stuck on one person, shooting blanks but not accepting negative responses."

When the episode finally aired the failed readings were edited out, along with all other second-rate offerings. The only things remaining were the 2 best readings of the show. Confirming the allegations in the TIME article that episodes were edited to make Edward seem more accurate, by splicing clips of one sitter nodding yes "after statements with which he remembers disagreeing."(Jaroff 2001).

The Faithful Dissident said...

Derek, those are all great questions and I've wondered about some of them sometimes as well.

I've also wondered about is why those who "come back" have never said which religion was the "right" one. If we're wasting our time, wouldn't it be nice to know? If I were to "come back," that would be the first thing I'd want to tell a loved one. Like, "Everything's OK up here, but St. Peter really is guarding the pearly gates, so start going to mass." :D

Actually, it would be interesting to compare stories of spiritual visitations between the different religions. We hear stories of Mormons who get messages from behind the veil about doing temple work, etc. Surely Mormons aren't the only ones getting such messages. But what are people in other religions hearing from behind the veil? I sometimes wonder.

Papa D said...

FD, the following experiences don't deal directly with the point of your post, so I didn't share them initially. However, I felt tonight like I should, for some reason, so . . . here goes:

I have an uncle who was medically dead and returned to life. He tells a fascinating story of being given the choice to remain dead or return to his mortal life. He said there was no comparison between the two existences as to his overall feeling of peace and contentment, but he said he also was allowed to see what would happen to one of his sons if he didn't return. He says he chose to return largely because of that "vision" while he was dead.

Otoh, I have an aunt who died at the dinner table one night, choking on a piece of meat. My uncle was a bishop - a good, humble man. He sent one of the kids to call 911 and immediately tried to bless her to live. He said he couldn't say a word, so he broke contact and tried again - but he still couldn't say anything. He finally cleared his mind, took a breath and blessed her to die quickly and painlessly. The paramedics declared her dead when they arrived shortly thereafter.

I have no clue why these situations ended differently - no clue. I am baffled in some ways by them, so I choose to put this one on a shelf and leave it until I understand some day.

djinn said...
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djinn said...
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The Faithful Dissident said...

Ray, thanks so much for sharing that. Sometimes the only thing we can do is put these things "on a shelf," as you said, and that's OK. I think it's probably better than trying to answer everything with our limited perspective.

Anonymous said...

When my father in law passed away a little over a year ago a couple of months later he was in my house. My kids were downstairs playing in the basement and as I was reading I looked up and saw a grey shadow like figure of him step into the kitchen from the basement steps. He looked much healthier like in his youth. He arched his back as if taking a cramp out and continued to walk through my kitchen to the door and disapeared.

I never experienced anything so real in my life and it changed me. I believe strongly of the afterlife.


Anonymous said...

I was convinced he was visiting the children.

Andee said...

a) yes. Many of my friends, family members, and I myself have has both good and bad experiences with spirits. Whether they are the spirits of those who have passed away or of those who will never gain a body, I can not say. I would guess that I have met with both.
b) absolutely. I have seen it.
c) yes, I believe in Mediums. I may be taking my life into my hands by admitting this, but I see spirits with my waking eyes. I have had to get priesthood blessings to diminish this ability, as it can be quite creepy and distracting. Someone earlier said that they didn't believe that it was a full-time gift. How I wish that were the case. Ignorance could be bliss. If only I didn't have to see the faces of every spirit or demon I pass.
d) uhhh, yes. Although sometimes they're not interesting in crossing over and just need to be cast out.
e) No. What I do has nothing to do with the devil, other than the efforts I put forth to protect my loved ones from his advances. I can see with my waking eyes the evil spirits which are sent forth to torture my loved ones and myself. I have seen them since I was a very small child. Of course, no one has a good explanation for me, but I know in my heart that this thing, whatever it is, can not stem from Satan, since I use it to fight him.

Many people I know have been told by their priesthood leaders that "we don't believe in ghosts." These same men have refused to bless home which the owners believe to be haunted. It makes me angry that a priesthood holder, because he personally does not believe in this, would withhold the blessings and power of the priesthood from people who need it. They are real. I see them always. The power of the priesthood is stronger than I am at protecting people from the demons that taunt them.

And for the record, I have never even thought about requesting compensation for anything I do. It would be morally repugnant.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Andee, thanks for your fascinating comment! I don't think I've ever come across any Mormons who have this "medium gift." It's interesting how it began when you were a child and has never left you.

How would you describe the spirits that you see? Do they look anything like they're portrayed in movies and shows? Do they ever try to communicate with you? Do you see good spirits, such as guardian angels, or only bad ones?

Also, have the priesthood blessings helped you in "diminishing" this sixth sense of yours?

Andee said...

I can agree that Mormons are not the most likely group in which to find mediums...or at least none who'll admit their gift. It's an awkward thing to talk about. Only my very closest friends have any idea; I only share here because of the blessing of anonymity.

There are elements from films which reflect reality. I find that the stronger the spirit is, the more corporeal the image. For instance, if the spirit is weak, confused, or lost, then it is likely to seem wispy. However, if it is a powerful spirit (most likely evil), it can be almost as real and solid-looking as any person. This can be somewhat disconcerting...

My abilities are not diminished, exactly, but the emotional strain it used to cause is much reduced. I still see and hear everything I've always seen and heard, but I have strength from HF to bear this burden, blessing, calling or whatever you want to call it. He has granted me the strength to see what I see and understand and not think that I've gone crazy.

Andee said...

I just realized that I failed to answer all of your questions! So, to continue:
I get the sense that they, particularly the lost, are somehow drawn to be because they know I can see them. I have no idea how they would know this, but is neither here nor there. I don't make a point of regular communication with any of them, but if a good one has something to say, I'll always listen. My brother sometimes comes to me, but we'll often communicate without words; I'll just get a sense of why he's there. Evil ones mostly make threats, and I do my best to protect myself from them. I'm not interested in hearing the nasty things they have to say.

It seems to take more effort to see guardians than other spirits. I feel them first, and then I have to consciously look for them. Even still, they are a joyous and a comforting sight!

Angel of Delusion said...

This is really a fascinating thread. I've had dreams that I know are more than just dreams but I also don't talk about it very much because of the general feeling that I would be throwing my pearls before swine.

I had a dream in high school that directed me away from a relationship that would have gotten me into a lot of trouble. I also had a dream about my husband before I met him and was able to recognize him as "the one" because of that dream. This dream got me through a bumpy relationship (although not a bad relationship) that has blessed both of us. Most recently, I have had dreams about the two children I miscarried which has brought me such an enourmous amount of comfort.

I have my questions about why. Why did I start having dreams that brought me direction and comfort after I'd already gone through the worst experiences of my life? I have to take Papa D's tactic and put it on a shelf.

I do feel that spirits can visit and communicate although I don't know what conditions allow it to happen. I would desperately like for a loved one to "come back" and give me some direction as to whether or not I'm doing what I should be doing.

Given my last statement, I also have to believe in mediums of a sort. Obviously in order for spirits to communicate there has to be someone to receive that communication. However, I do feel that anyone who tries to make money off their gift is not to be trusted.

natalie said...

I'm pretty much inclined to agree with Derek on this one. Mostly, it just doesn't make sense to me, and is too easily explained by other things.

But I have one real-life counter example that I can't dismiss. When I was younger, my father was emotionally and abusive and controlling of my mother, and they had a horrible marriage, especially after he started his descent into weird, crazy, evil stuff. One time, I was watching him as he stood up to go over to her and yell at her and threaten her (I was 12 at the time), and his eyes left me with no doubt that he was actually possessed. An evil that was independent of him was within him. It was and still is the most terrifying moment of my life.

Then again, he was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. Perhaps it was all just signs of severe mental illness that my young mind didn't have any other way of explaining.

To the shelf for me too, I guess.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Angel and Natalie, great comments! Thanks so much for sharing!

It's interesting how you had that experience with your dad, Natalie, who was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. I've always wondered whether those who were described in the scriptures as being possessed by an evil spirit actually had a mental illness. If not, then does that mean that those who have a mental illness now are "possessed?" I wonder at what point in history it changed.

The Silent Observer said...

a,b,c,d) Yes. e) No. I'll explain in a minute. But first I want to tackle some of derekstaff's questions.

The whole thing seems to reek too much of superstition to me, of trying to explain very natural physical phenomena (the shooting of certain synapses in our brains)Many of these experiences could have natural explanations, but not all. On my mission a theosophist investigator invited us to her church that met in the Quakers' building downtown. We arrived late and went into the first room we saw people, but it turned out to be a spiritualist prayer meeting. After an unspectacular John Edwards' style reading my companion and I got up to leave. As we went towards the door, the medium turned to me and said, "Jen wants you to know that she's ok, and she can breathe now." I nodded my head yes and kept going, a little freaked out to say the least. No amount of synapse-firing could have informed this total stranger of the name and means of death of my sister who died of asphyxiation on the operating table the year before, 3,000 miles away. Could be a coincidence, but how many deceased people named Jen do you know had a breathing issue? I'm unable to come up with a naturalistic explanation for this. Let me know if you have any ideas.

And if it can happen, why does it not happen more? What is the purpose of rolling a ball around when coincidentally only one person is around to see it?No one can really know the answer to this, but I have some ideas. Ultimately the devil is contained by God. But there are accounts of him showing up at various times in the scriptures, for various reasons. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan as part of the plan, Moses, Jesus, and Joseph Smith were all attacked by the devil, perhaps God was allowing them to see what they were up against? When Joseph Smith sent Heber C. Kimball and Wilford Woodruff to England as missionaries and got word they were attacked by legions of devils in Preston, he knew that good things were about to happen, and they did. After my own experience I started to keep an ear out for others, trying to make sense of things. One guy told me about how he believed there was "something" out there because one time he and his friends were messing around with a Ouija board and it was able to tell them the exact number of matches in a matchbox. Now why did it work for him, but Ouija boards are notorious for failing under scientifically controlled conditions? I think the devil has much to gain by keeping the vast majority of people in the dark as to his existence. I think it's interesting that in the case of your in-laws, a ball rolling around on its own was one of the "disgusting" spritual phenomena that inspired D&C 50 (I can get you the source for that if you want).

The Silent Observer said...

Sorry for the length...

Or, possibly, are our leaders just keeping those experiences to themselves more, because there are more skeptics like me in the Church, and the leaders don't want to cast pearls before swine?)I think you're onto something here. The "General" authorities have to keep things basic and general for a variety of believers and various levels of skepticism. Although I have had other experiences than the one I detail above, there's nothing about them that couldn't be explained away. I wouldn't share them on the internet because it'd be too easy for someone to crap all over them, and there would be no point, since we all know signs never convert sign-seekers.

I've also wondered about is why those who "come back" have never said which religion was the "right" one. Mormons believe that in the spirit world there is missionary work still going on, so it's probably not obvious to them which is the true church just yet. Sure, you can immediately rule out some like the Jehovah's Witnesses who don't believe in a spirit world or atheists who don't believe in a hereafter, but that would only indicate that they were wrong about that one thing, not the whole of their belief system. Maybe the atheists say we were wrong about that, but there's no reason to believe in any future kingdoms beyond the spirit world. I could totally see Richard Dawkins saying that. Being in the spirit wouldn't change things a whole lot.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Silent Observer, no need to apologize for the length. I enjoyed your comment very much. Thanks for sharing your interesting perspective!

Anonymous said...

I think we misunderstand the relationship between the spiritual and physical; it's much more complex than simply between the living and the dead.

Preexistence, life on earth, and spiritual immortality don't happen in linear sequence. We're trapped trying to describe non-temporal events using the only language (and mental images) available to temporal beings like us. The language obscures as much as it illuminates.

But the spiritual is very real and the physical and spiritual are "inseparably connected". All things are spiritual, and , if you connect the dots, that kind of suggests that all spiritual things have physical manifestations as well.

(That does not suggest that even most things we claim as manifestations of the spirit need be so -- just that some manifestations will be genuine and many manifestations may never be noticed.)


derekstaff said...

Fire, while I'm skeptical about a lot of supposedly spiritual manifestations, I do very much agree with your point. I think that there is much about the nature of the eternal world which our mortal brains simply cannot fathom, and about which our language has no ability to express. I doubt that the nature of time, space, etc in the eternal world work anything like we imagine.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I agree. I mean, just trying to fathom what "eternity" really means is mind-boggling. I remember reading in Rough Stone Rolling about Joseph Smith's theory of intelligence being eternal. We can attempt to think about what that means -- I think it's a fascinating idea -- but with our limited perspective here on earth, we can't really appreciate what it means.

Anonymous said...

But I think we can take some steps forward toward that better understanding of the eternal starting with the 21st Century models of the physical universe
than we could using the 19th Century physical models.

I think a great deal of unnecessary suffering is going on within the LDS among those whose nature doesn't fit well with 19th Century understandings of the eternal, but who really do have a wonderful place within the plan of salvation for which God made them. I mean suffering by singles, women who long to express their priesthood, those who suffer miscarriages, those who are gay -- and those are just topics on the bloggernacle this past month -- and anyone who is not made the same as those who now form the majority of the Restoration movement.

I think a great deal of unnecessary suffering goes on in my own denomination (Community of Christ) because many of us can't integrate a theology of eternal life into the day-to-day struggle for peace and justice we now emphasize.


derekstaff said...

I agree that modern scientific theories and models open up new glimpses of understanding. I've found that String Theory (still very controversial, I understand) seems to cast new light on various religious concepts.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Firetag, would you say that the LDS Church and CofC (FYI for those who don't know, Community of Christ was formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) share the same struggles and tensions when it comes to homosexuality, women and the priesthood, gender rolls, etc? Are there any major differences between the two denominations in how they handle these difficult subjects?

Anonymous said...

I owe Mormon Heretic a guest blog on these same differences, which I'm hoping to get to next week, but since the CofChrist is far to the "left" of the LDS, there are profound differences on these issues.

One-third of the First Presidency and Apostles are women, for example. We have been actively considering on an official level how to address the issue of gays, but have concluded that we do not yet know how to address the issue without fracturing the church like the Anglicans have fractured between the African and North American churches. We are now engaged in a formal "discernment" process to consider conditions of membership (i.e., whether other Christians are to be adopted into membership without rebaptism) for consideration at the 2010 World Conference, and on and on.

Yes, the two denominations have grown in very different ways from the same 19th Century roots.


Anonymous said...

Derek, string theory is an example of how new ideas about the structure of the universe affect religious concepts, but far from the only one (and one of the hardest to explain WHY it affects religion -- it's sort of the topping on the dessert.)


derekstaff said...

Fire, I'm curious what other modern scientific models you feel help you understand the nature of eternity and religion? I'm a humanities person, not a hard science guy, and String Theory is the only one I'm aware of. The idea of others fascinates me.

Anonymous said...


I'll try to answer at length with detailed posts in my own blog (part of the reason I created the site in the first place), but MANY of the most fundamental theories of modern physics struggle with the nature of time itself.

We don't know what time is, but we do know enough to say that time is NOT what we have imagined it to be in our common everyday life. So when we project that everyday understanding of time as sort of an interval within eternity, we've already gone wrong.

Here's a hint of another aspect of how modern physics effects the concept of eternity. Pick up the vision of Moses that JS recorded and reread about the many "earths". Now, instead of thinking that means new planets, think "parallel universes". Parallel universes have been popping up in lots of places in physics for decades.


The Faithful Dissident said...

Firetag, so a woman could potentially become president/prophetess of the CofC?

Also, since CofC has taken a much sharper turn to the left than the LDS Church, would you say that there has been a resistance among conservative members to go that way? Did you lose a lot of members?

derekstaff said...

I'll have to start following your blog for the more detailed picture. Yes, one of the most fascinating aspects of String Theory (again, the only one I know about, because it's the only one Nova had a show on...) was the concept of "branes," which definitely seemed to provide a different perspective on the spirit world, the kingdoms of glory, and other realms in which God's children exist. And it certainly gives an idea of how God could be the God of all existence (ie, this universe) while still allowing for other deities ruling their own existences.

I'm not sure how these sorts of scientific models help deal with the concepts of women and homosexuals. But I think it's great that the CofChrist has been more progressive in that way.

Anonymous said...


I must admit that that interpretation of string theory branes as having separate Gods had not occurred to me, but there are several types of parallel universes within each brane arising from an entirely different mechanism or mechanisms that do not have sharp boundaries where one god could take over from another. Stay tuned.


To your first question, definitely yes, although we'd probably use some gender-neutral term rather than Prophetess. When the first call to Patriarch came, we found the term Matriarch to be DOA and started calling the entire office "Evangelist".

As to your second question, I can say with high statistical certainty that NOTHING the Community of Christ has done has affected our membership growth since at least 1880. What we do has a profound effect on WHO joins the church, but not HOW MANY. Within a matter of a few years, we return to the exact same membership trend with a different cast of characters. We are simply too small to grow (or shrink) independently of the larger spiritual trends in society.

Please note that I have no evidence that the same will hold true for the LDS because you are large enough to operate in a different statistical regime than we do.


derekstaff said...

I must admit that that interpretation of string theory branes as having separate Gods had not occurred to me, but there are several types of parallel universes within each brane arising from an entirely different mechanism or mechanisms that do not have sharp boundaries where one god could take over from another.Whoa! Now you're talking about God Wars? "The Olympians are starting making incursions on Valhalla! Sound the alarm!"

That was honestly the first thing which came to mind when I learned about the concept of branes: it seemed to provide a possible explanation for the concept of multiple gods who could each be Lord of everything within their own universe.

Forgive my ignorance; does the CofChrist believe in a concept of eternal progression similar to that of the LDS?

The Faithful Dissident said...

Hope you don't mind us bombarding you with our questions, Fire Tag. :D

In your opinion, would you say that the changes in the CofC came about after pressure to create a more liberal and all-inclusive church (either external or internal), or do members regard the changes as having come as a result of divine inspiration?

Anonymous said...


Simply put, no other God but God. Just like most main-stream Western Protestants and Catholics, we're Trinitarians. We do not accept the Book of Abraham as Scripture, although other parts of The Pearl of Great Price are separately included in either our D&C and/or JS's translation of the Bible.

The Community of Christ formed among those Saints in the mid-west who during (basically) the Nauvoo period grew leery of the doctrines being introduced into the church and basically remained apart from the "succession struggles" following Joseph Smith's death as local branches under their local priesthood until "Reorganizing" around Joseph's son once the latter grew up.

But, more interestingly to your original question, we don't THINK about the afterlife. It's what I meant in an earlier response to FD when I said the CofChrist has problems with integrating any theory of eternal life into the day to day struggle for peace and justice. We do share many scriptures about the nature of eternal life with you, but they stopped playing any more role in our daily life than something out of Leviticus a generation ago. No decision. No revelation. It just happened and nobody cared (or at least cared and stayed in the church). Looking back, it's bizarre.


As you can see from the above, we were "apostate" before we were liberal. :D

The actual sequence of events was that from 1880 to about 1950 we grew EXACTLY fast enough to maintain our leadership base in stable equilibrium, despite our best intentions to build the Kingdom. But after WW2 socioeconomic trends in North American society began to require us to convert more people to maintain even stability.

We sought to fulfill our mission by reaching out to non-Christian cultures abroad -- and got our theological heads handed to us. So much of what we had thought was essential to the gospel turned out to be pure Americans to other cultures, at least in the minds of the Apostles directly in charge of those missions. Led by the First Presidency and the Twelve, we began to reexamine our identity.

But in the meantime, demographics rolled on relentlessly. Liberals came in, but not fast enough to replace conservatives who left or died off from age. That accelerated the very trends that had started us evolving toward the left to begin with.

I have every reason to believe that our objectives to pursue peace and justice are inspired, but I'm decidedly skeptical that our assumptions about our methods or institutional relevancy to what God has in mind meet that standard. (What can I say? We come from a long line of dissidents dating back to Lehi or farther!)

God has not abandoned us, but he's not waiting for us to get our act together either.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Fire Tag, would it be safe to say that CofC does not consider itself to be "the one and only true church" like the LDS Church? How does the CofC view other religions?

Anonymous said...

Yes, that would certainly seem to be the case -- another thing that has happened gradually over the last generation. There is a total loss in the belief of our "exceptionalism", at least among the leadership class, EXCEPT when trying to rally the people to support with finances or time the latest institutional priority of HQ. Then there seems to be at least a sub-conscious tendency to rely on church authority rather than reasoned persuasion.

We definitely are trying to move into a leading role among peace and justice churches of the Christian left in American terms. And that requires at least a public face (which I think the leadership probably shares in private) of "we're just Christians like you." We haven't even begun to address the theological implications of trying to be Christian in a world church context if you accept the cultural norm of "multiculturalism".

I read some Mormon article that said "Mormons are Christians, but different". The CofChrist isn't happy with the "different" part.

I personally think that there are sound theological reasons to believe that the work of the Lord is unimaginably larger than the work of "one true church" institution. A God who builds galaxies can walk and chew gum at the same time. :D

The Faithful Dissident said...

That's a good way of putting it, Fire Tag. :D

The way I feel about it personally is that the LDS Church may or may not be the "one and only true church." I don't know whether it is or it isn't. But given the tiny fraction that Mormons make up in this very big and very complex world, focusing too heavily on the notion of being the "one and only true church" does us more harm than good, in my opinion, because we have a tendency to "write off" others too easily. As flawed and prideful humans, I think the first mistake we make is believing that we're any better or any more right than everyone else -- especially when we have a limited perspective on the world, our fellow man, and deity.

I'm sure there are others who feel differently about it, but it's just how I feel.

SimplyMe said...

I went to CofC a few months ago with a friend. I met her through another group that we attend together and I love how open minded and free she is to share her thoughts and curiosities. That is what motivated me to ask about her church. She was raised in CofC and she currently travels 2 hours most weeks to attend. When I went with her a few times it was quite liberating to be offered the sacrament by the hand of a woman in an institution that is so closely related to the LDS faith. The motivation for peace and justice and much that I have read on CofC's website looks alot like the United Church only without apostles and evangelists. They, too, have a strong desire for championing the causes of peace and justice.

Anonymous said...

Faithful and Derek:

I promised above some posts on my own blog about how 21st Century physics may influence LDS and CofChrist theological understandings. The first is up now, and I hope it adds a new perspective to the discussion of the relationship between the physical and spiritual realms.



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