What ever happened to instantaneous healings?

January 7, 2005 | 77 comments
By

We read in the scriptures about people raised from the dead. We read of blind men and lame men instantly cured of their afflictions. And we read in church history of miraculous healings by early leaders like Joseph Smith.

Fast forward to the present:

When a family member of friend or ward member has a disease, we annoint and bless her. And then we wait. She gets regular medical care. Perhaps she gets better, perhaps she doesn’t. If she gets better, we applaud the miracle of healing. If she doesn’t we console ourselves that it must have been God’s will.

What is distinctly lacking is the instantaneous healing aspect of it all. We apparently don’t expect people to take up their beds and walk anymore. What ever happened to instantaneous healing?

It seems to me that there are a few different possibilities:

1. Germs these days are just too tough.

An unlikely reason. If we believe that the Priesthood really carries the power to raise the dead and cause the blind to see, then it ought to be able to get past antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Right?

2. Were things really instant, even back in the day?

Perhaps it’s always been this way. Perhaps the writers of scriptural accounts and early church history were condensing time frames, to achieve better dramatic effect.

3. Changed plans.

Maybe there is a Priesthood power of instantaneous healings, but at some point God decided to turn that power off. He’s given us a lot of other tools, and we should be happy to use them instead. Who needs instant healing when we have penicilling and quinine and AZT?

4. I’m not righteous enough.

Most instant healing is shown as being done by extremely righteous people. So perhaps the reason why I haven’t experienced it is because of my own lack of righteousness.

5. Well, we can’t heal everyone, can we?

Maybe we’re just expecting too much. Maybe instantaneous healing isn’t supposed to work very often. In the past, a high degree of infant mortality was accepted as normal. Nowadays, we seem to think that we can save everyone. But if priesthood blessings always worked, all the time, we would rapidly become overpopulated with healthy nonegenarians.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts on the subject. But I’m sure that there are obvious points that I’m missing. What does everyone think?

77 Responses to What ever happened to instantaneous healings?

  1. Jim Richins on January 7, 2005 at 12:16 pm

    Of course, #3 is not true. It is discounted in several places of the scriptures.

    I don’t believe #4 is completely true, as you have described it, either.

    Counter-argument 1: Even extremely righteous people in our day (Pres. Monson’s occasional conference stories come to mind) anoint, bless, and then wait for medical care to take it’s course.

    Counter-argument 2: Even though it is probably fruitless effort to compare across dispensations, one would have to work hard to convince me that our generation is instrinsically disadvantaged when it comes to righteousness.

    However, I do believe that in our day of technological miracles, the quality of our faith is probably different than earlier generations – even as recently as Joseph Smith. Perhaps quantitatively, we possess a substantial amount of faith, but it is a greenish-gray color, not the deep purple of Peter or the bright blue of Joseph Smith (my choice of colors is arbitrary).

    More concretely, maybe there is something about our socialization in this technological environment that hampers our ability to connect to the *kind* of faith that believes or empowers in instantaneous miracles.

    On the other hand, I will add a sixth option to your list: perhaps the medical technology is itself an administration of faith, or perhaps the vehicle through which healing power is employed.

  2. J. Stapley on January 7, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    This is an interesting post that ties into a lot different things. There are some other perspectives that I think are important:

    1) The scriptures and histories are highlights and are naturally going to delineate the extraordinary events. We still have instantaneous (i.e., within 24 hr) healings (I can think of a couple within my family alone), but they are rare. Maybe this relates to Kaimi’s #2.

    2) There’s Brigham Young’s council to get all the medical care possible, while asking for the Lord to intervene. Corollary to Kaimi’s #3.

    3) We have a cultural bias against instantaneous healings.

  3. J. Stapley on January 7, 2005 at 12:20 pm

    It looks like Jim hit on alot of what I was getting at before I made my comments. Cheers.

  4. Steve Evans on January 7, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    What about the argument that such miracles were required during the initial foundations of the kingdom, to lay the foundation, as it were, but that the big things aren’t necessary any longer?

  5. Charles on January 7, 2005 at 12:44 pm

    A couple of thoughts. Like several people already, Kaimi’s #2 is fairly likely. But his #3 is very possible to some extent. Not Kaimi specific but as such;

    The miracle of healing is two-fold. It is dependant on the ones giving the blessing as well as the one being blessed. You could also infer that the one who blessed the oil should be taken into consideration. Not that any of these people lack righteousness per se, but they must exhibit a perfect faith of what they are doing. Those giving the blessing must be righteous enough to follow the dictates of the spirt. If we bless a blind person to see and it is of our own doing and not because the spirit directed us to do so, is it a valid blessing?

    Another thing that this makes me think of is how do the blessings of the sick parallel other aspects of the gospel. The atonement and redepmtion are given to us after all we can do. If blessing the sick is similar, don’t we then have a responsibility to seek after reasonable medical help and after all we can do, exhibit faith and the blessings may work.

    Of course there must be some need of God or Heavenly Father’s plan for the blessing to work, hence obeying the dictates of the spirt.

    Lastly, do we need such concrete miracles today? If church leaders went around to hospitals curing the sick, would the missionary efforts of the church be helped or hindered? The faith people need to excercise without a perfect knowledge may not mean as much if they can point to specific examples.

    Just some thoughts.

  6. Russ Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 12:48 pm

    I think that there is related but separate possibility. When the apostles were attempting to oust an evil spirit without any success Christ cast it out and told them, “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matt 17:21). Is it possible that we don’t “study it out in [our] mind; then… ask [the Lord] if it be right, and if it is right [He] will cause that [our] bosom shall burn within [us]; therefore, [we] shall feel that it is right”? If we do so then we will have the faith to either heal or not because we will know if it is what is intended.

    I was also thinking that with the advances in medicine, there is not as much need for those types of miracles. Then I asked myself what is the purpose of the miracles. Is it to save a life or to increase the faith of those involved? If the purpose is to save a life then it is clearly not needed as often as it was in the past. But I have to believe that the primary purpose of any miracle is to increase that faith of the faithful.

    All of that having been said, I lean twords Jim’s color wheel of prophets and say that we just don’t exercise the faith that those great men did.

  7. Clark on January 7, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    The other alternative is that they do happen, and not just to some amazingly righteous crowd. (A lot of the examples I’ve heard 1st person accounts of didn’t always involve amazing people – same with tongues or other gifts) I think the bigger issue is that most people with amazing spiritual experiences don’t discuss them in public.

  8. David King Landrith on January 7, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    But what about what happened in “God’s Army�?

  9. Scott on January 7, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    Perhaps differences in manifestations of healings has to do with better knowledge, i.e. what seemed miraculous back in the day really isn’t.

    True story: I was at dinner with friends from another ward, and they mentioned a ward member who had undergone surgery for pancreatic cancer (5 year survival <5%) at the hospital where I work and low and behold, he was cured of this cancer. They were all grateful for the priesthood blessing he received, and credited his faith in being healed. I was intrigued, and reviewed his pre-operative films, and quite frankly there was nothing to suggest that he had cancer (and I am not going to go into all the reasons why the films didn’t suggest cancer, and I know that sometimes you cannot tell a patient’s pathology prior to surgery, blah, blah, blah), but the surgical resident who obtained his consent for surgery had emphasized that there may be pancreatic cancer, and that is what the patient’s impression was prior to surgery. Of course I am happy for the guy, but do I tell his ward members that it really wasn’t miraculous at all?

    (And of course I beleive in miracles and the power of preisthood blessings, and have been called upon many times to give blessings to ward members who show up in the emergency room.)

  10. Frank on January 7, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    I agree with Clark. Instantaneous healings do happen today and that they are not limited to the “super righteous” or general authority sets. Accounts of such healings are obviously not recorded and diseminated in the same way as the scriptures and early church history incidents were/are.

  11. Jack on January 7, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    DKL,

    Judging by the fact that the scene in “God’s Army” was composed of a plurality of shots I would guess that the healing took anywhere between 14 and 48 hours.

  12. Christian on January 7, 2005 at 1:14 pm

    Another possibility—maybe this is a variant of Kaimi’s #2—is that there never were any miraculous healings at all, and there aren’t any today either.

    J. Stapley: “I can think of a couple within my family alone.”

    Probably so can many others of many faiths (or no faith). Hence attribution to the power of the priesthood is not at all obvious.

    Charles: “Lastly, do we need such concrete miracles today? If church leaders went around to hospitals curing the sick, would the missionary efforts of the church be helped or hindered?”

    I think it definitely would be helped.

  13. John Scherer on January 7, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    I think it is important to remember that the scriptures do not contain a record of every blessing perofrmed anciently. I don’t think we are supposed to believe that every healing performed anciently worked(otherwise no one would have died of illness in the primitive church). One reason that the accounts of the early church in the scriptures are put there is to teach us of god’s dealings with the church and to help us develop faith. I guess they didn’t see a lesson for us in recording blessings that were not successful in healing a person. On the other hand, instantaneous healing does still happen when their is faith. I have a fiend who in the middle of a high risk pregnancy, discovered that she had a hole in her heart. She followed James’ counsel and recieved a blessing by elders; the doctors never were able to find that hole again and the pregnancy went off without a hitch. Faith is extremely important to these matters, some of the last words given to us by Moroni teach us about faith and how it relates to the gifts of the spirit. Using ancient scripture as a yardstick to our ability to heal is unrealistic and will cause a person to lose faith in their god-given gifts.

  14. Christian on January 7, 2005 at 1:21 pm

    It would not surprise me if ordinary explanations (Scott’s #9, case in point) are in fact behind all supposed miraculous occurrences. Our tradition of treating things as “too sacred” to examine prevents honest examination—and also honest discussion, as also exemplified by Scott’s reluctance to talk to his friends about the matter.

  15. Rosalynde Welch on January 7, 2005 at 1:23 pm

    I I were to venture a guess, I’d say that most miraculous healings are facilitated by the placebo effect: that is to say, the faith of the person healed mobilizes the body’s ability to heal itself or to alter its perception of pain. This is not to say that such healings are not faith-promoting instances of miracle, but merely to specify the means by which the miracle is accomplished: rather than intervening in the body on a molecular level, faith-healing recruits the body’s own processes to intervene, to the same effect. (The placebo effect is a well-documented physiological phenomenon–I’m not saying it’s quackery or fraud.) In our current environment of rational, evidence-based medicine, I would guess that the placebo effect–which relies on complex psychological processes as well as organ-based physiology–is losing some of its power.

  16. Geoff Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    Christian,

    What’s the old saying? “We see the world not as it is, but as we are”…

  17. David King Landrith on January 7, 2005 at 1:34 pm

    Good thinking, Jack. That hadn’t occurred to me.

  18. Ebenezer on January 7, 2005 at 1:46 pm

    I agree with Clark and Frank. These sorts of things still happen, but the participants don’t go around casting their pearls as it were. Sacred experiences are not to be shouted from the rooftops. Haven’t you ever been about to tell someone else of a sacred thing that has happened to you and then had the Holy Spirit forbid you? I have.

  19. Marc D. on January 7, 2005 at 1:47 pm

    (Doctrine and Covenants 42:43, 48-52)

    43 And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy.
    48 And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed.
    49 He who hath faith to see shall see.
    50 He who hath faith to hear shall hear.
    51 The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap.
    52 And they who have not faith to do these things, but believe in me, have power to become my sons; and inasmuch as they break not my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities.

  20. Christian on January 7, 2005 at 1:47 pm

    I agree with Rosalynde that the placebo effect is a very important factor at work in most instances (unlike her I’m less likely to apply the term ‘miraculous’ to its effects).

    Geoff: Your quote is surely true of all of us. I would like to see us take strides towards getting past it by more open examination/discussion/appraisal of evidence, and I think that holding things ‘too sacred’ often prevents that.

  21. Christian on January 7, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    Ebenerzer: “Sacred experiences are not to be shouted from the rooftops.”

    Why?

  22. Kaimi on January 7, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    Ebenezer,

    I’ll agree with Christian — it seems that the entire early missionary models of the church consisted more or less in shouting sacred experiences from the rooftops. Why the change?

  23. Derek on January 7, 2005 at 2:03 pm

    I have an alternate theory. All the good faith healers are lured by the promise of wealth to those television evangelist networks. So faith healings still occur, just not within the LDS faith.

  24. Peggy Snow Cahill on January 7, 2005 at 2:05 pm

    I have heard of many, and have personally experienced, such instantaneous healing. But when we share those stories in the Church, they seem to get lumped into the Mormon Legends category. We will not see them if we do not believe they exist. As President Kimball said, “Faith Precedes the Miracle”! (Or as Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “you’ll see it when you believe it”!)

  25. Jack on January 7, 2005 at 2:08 pm

    DKL,

    Considering that most healings require a week+ to take full effect I thought the one in “God’s Army” was quite miraculous. What a special experience it was to witness in such an intimate way the healing of that poor young man. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the priesthood so efficacious with it’s anointing and special pronouncements all sealed in the Lord’s name. How marvelous…

  26. kris on January 7, 2005 at 2:31 pm

    Kaimi — I found your post interesting. Over the past couple of months I have been reading some of the word done by Claudia Bushman and Linda King Newel. I have wondered why women cannot participate in healing blessings anymore as they did in the early part of this dispensation. Maybe the whole nature of healing has changed?

  27. Ana on January 7, 2005 at 2:43 pm

    I can think of three instances that I would place in the same category as the healings in the scriptures and the early church. Two are individuals I’ve known personally and one was experienced by my uncle on his mission. One man recovered from debilitating depression and chronic fatigue on the occasion of a massive ward and family fast on his behalf. One infant girl experienced an inexplicable healing of her failing kidneys as she was undergoing treatment for leukemia, again on the occasion of a massive ward and family fast. One woman’s uterine cancer disappeared overnight after a priesthood blessing. I don’t think they share these experiences with everyone they meet. On the other hand, I know about them.

    I don’t think anybody ever healed everyone who wanted to be healed. Surely it’s possible that among the disciples of Christ while he was on the earth, some still experienced illness and pain and adversity. Those stories didn’t make it into the scriptures, true, but I don’t think that means we can assume they didn’t happen. I wish they were in the scriptures. It would be nice to know more about people who suffer and wonder and doubt, and then follow anyway.

  28. Geoff Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 2:57 pm

    Kaimi’s question is a good one — one that I have tried to sort out for myself over the years as well. I think the point that there are localized mighty miracles happening via the healing power of the priesthood that are not told beyond intimate circles (for fear of casting pearls before swine) is accurate. But to a large degree we, as Latter Day Saints, lean on most of the same excuses for not experiencing miracles that the rest of the Christian world uses (many of them are cited above).

    But isn’t this the same Church, with the same doctrine and same authority as the Church we read about in the scriptures? Well… yes. So what is the difference? It must be in the quantity and/or quality of our faith today.

    J. Stapley points to modern culture as one of the culprits. I think he is really on to something. In that discussion I wrote:

    You have a point about culture having a bearing on the nature and regularity of our spiritual experiences. I think it was one of the Pratts (or was it one of the Orsons?) that said something about our faith being a function of the “evidence to our minds� we get. If this is true then if a man was keeping temple covenants and living in a culture where revelatory dreams, visions, and prophecies were fairly common, he might receive enough of the needed evidence to his mind to generate the amount (and/or type?) of faith required to receive such manifestations himself – simply as a result of seeing it happen in his daily life to others like himself. However, if that same person lived in a culture where spiritual experiences were rarely or never discussed (or experienced), it seems less likely that he could gather enough evidence to his mind to ever go beyond promptings – too hard to see himself as so different from those around him.

    If the above is true, it might help explain why we have such difficulty establishing Zion while living in spiritual Babylon. And it explains why the Lord is so interested in separating the two: Go ye out from Babylon. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. A true Zion culture (untainted by Babylon) would provide us with so much evidence to our minds of powerful communications with Heaven that it would probably be like a spiritual chain reaction. Of course the end result is described in the scriptures: We’d all literally be translated… (See Moses 7)

    Perhaps more than anything it gets back to taking the Lord more seriously and literally when he tells us “Go ye out from Babylon�. It is nearly impossible to go out of Babylon physically right now, but must we join in with behavior/cultural Babylon so eagerly? President Kimball might have our explanation to our faith problem today:

    Spencer W. Kimball
    But when I review the performance of this people in comparison with what is expected, I am appalled and frightened.

    …I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us. Do we have more of these good things than our faith can stand?

    As the Lord himself said in our day, “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own God, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.� (D&C 1:16; italics added.)

    In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.
    First Presidency Message, 1976

    So since we Mormons are, “on the whole, an idolatrous people� why should we expect (as a people) to be able to develop the same quality and quantity of healing faith displayed by less modern, less idolatrous, less Babylonian saints described in the scriptures.

  29. Clark on January 7, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    In opposition to the claim that spiritual experiences were shouted off the rooftops, I offer this quote by Joseph Smith. “The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us is because we do not keep them but reveal them” I’d note that even the paradigmatic example of a spiritual experience shouted off the rooftops, the first vision, was never so treated by Joseph Smith. Rather others made use of it. I’ve often wondered what Joseph would have thought of our use of that sacred experience.

  30. XON on January 7, 2005 at 3:20 pm

    Another side-branch of this inquiry is something that I am at a loss over. The best example is the sick man at the bubbling spring. The context of the scripture implies that the place must have been literally thronged with the ill and infirm, yet Jesus only went to the one man.

    This, and some personal experiences with a chronically ill father, point me toward an explanation that the ‘mere’ healing of the sick is not the primary purpose of this exercise of priesthood power.

    Although, if it’s not, I’m at a complete loss as to what the point would be. . .

  31. Greg on January 7, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    Clark wrote: “I’d note that even the paradigmatic example of a spiritual experience shouted off the rooftops, the first vision, was never so treated by Joseph Smith.”

    I think this is a slight overstatement. Joseph published the canonical version in Times and Seasons in 1842, and that same year described the experience in the Wentworth Letter (i.e., sent to the editor of a big city newspaper). Late, but not never.

  32. Ryan Bell on January 7, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    Rosalynde, I think your explanation is unworkable. Sure, there are probably people getting better because of the placebo effect sometimes. But the placebo effect can’t explain all priesthood healings, because those who receive such healings receive them based on their faith in Jesus Christ, not just their faith. In other words, anyone who believes hard enough in anything can get a placebo blessing. Believe that your cat will heal you, and it’s the same effect as believing God will do it. Do you really think that we gain no advantage by having faith in Jesus Christ, and receiving a Priesthood blessing, over those who faithfully seek healings from their cats?

    As to Kaimi’s post, Moroni wrote the answer to this exact question: And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust. Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask in the name of the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him, and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth.

    Summary of Mormon 9: Miracles don’t cease, God doesn’t change. To the extent that miracles do cease, it’s always because people lack faith or righteousness.

    My theory is that miracles do continue, privately. But to the extent they don’t continue in our own lives, it’s because we’ve all come to believe that God doesn’t work them anymore. It seems Mormon 9 was written to speak specifically to this question.

  33. Rosalynde Welch on January 7, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    Interesting point, Ryan. From my perspective, faith in Jesus Christ is far more compelling–and thus far more effective in mobilizing the placebo effect–than faith in one’s cat. But the issue of authority is a good one: am I willing to write off the faith-healing experiences of non-LDS because their faith is based neither in true doctrine nor catalyzed by true priesthood authority? No, not fully. I guess I look at it like I do witnesses of the Spirit: the Spirit often testifies by means of an overwhelming emotional response that is catalyzed physiologically by the release of happy hormones and the firing of certain synapses. Does everyone who has the experience perceive the witness of the Spirit? No. But does the Spirit often work by mobilizing that response? Yes, just as he produces feelings of peace, and elation, and confidence, and other emotional states.

  34. Martin James on January 7, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    I also think Mormon 9 sums it up nicely.

    However, I’m disappointed that the apparent criticism by the commentors is concentrated on individual faith and practice. It seems to me that like the Book of Mormon, there is definitely a group or cultural practice aspect also.

    I think there is a desire to believe in miracles but not to push it by trying them too often.

    We don’t see ourselves as the type of people who turn water into wine.

    What I find doubly tragic is that I think Mormon culture is also ambivalent about scientific research and curiosity about the cosmos. (Not wholeheartedly against, just not particulary inclined to value research and innovation above tradition.)

    The bias seems to be that, if one tries to do miracles every day, one is a fool. If one assumes they are impossible, one is a heathen. If one goes muddles along with the crowd, one stays part of the crowd.

    In crass terms, “no guts, no glory.”

  35. Janey on January 7, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    I believe the miraculous healing by Joseph Smith that Kaimi mentioned in his original post was when the Saints were suffering from malaria on the banks of the Mississippi, shortly after their expulsion from Far West. The history states that after several weeks of illness, Joseph arose and rebuked the sickness and many arose from the sickbeds and were healed. Brigham Young was among those healed. (See 1971 New Era at page 16.) But six weeks later, when Brigham left on his mission with Heber C. Kimball, both of them were so sick they couldn’t even sit up in the cart, and Brigham’s family was terribly sick. (See 1995 Ensigh at page 41.) So there may have been a miraculous healing, but it sounds like there was certainly a relapse afterwards. Maybe we just don’t have epilogues for many of the healing miracles that have been recorded.

    Sorry I don’t know how to link to specific articles at lds.org.

  36. Ryan Bell on January 7, 2005 at 4:16 pm

    Yes, Sister Welch, but now you’re begging the question by simply assuming that the believer in Jesus believes more than the cat-worshipper. Assuming that both believe with equal intensity, they should have the exact same placebo gain. The point is that belief in Jesus Christ certainly gains one more healing possibility than the exact same amount and intensity of belief in one’s cat. Even a very good cat– admittedly not a likely creature.

    I can’t be confident that I’ve understood your second point, about authority. But basically, I don’t reject the idea that the placebo effect makes a difference. But it seems that a testimony of Priesthood power necessitates a belief that a person who exercises great faith in Jesus Christ and recieves a Priesthood blessing receives benefits far greater than the person who simply gains placebo benefits from strong, disembodied belief.

  37. Rosalynde Welch on January 7, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    Oh dear, I’ve never been able to handle the “begging the question” tactic, so I will have to leave that one alone. I think we’re basically in agreement, though: the priesthood blessing, facilitated by faith in Christ, does confer greater benefit to the recipient than the blessing of, say, the adored cat precisely because the priesthood power more effectively (even miraculously, supernaturally) mobilizes the placebo effect–whereas faith in one’s cat would only evoke the placebo effect only by “natural” (and not insignificant) psychological means.

  38. Ryan Bell on January 7, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    Wow, so you’re saying that you think the way the Priesthood and faith in Christ work is that our own faith simply mobilizes us psychologically—->physiologically to heal ourselves? No actual spiritual agent outside ourselves gets involved? Not sure what basis we could have for believing that.

    (P.S., I understand the difficulty of arguing a minor point with me here and simultaneously defending yourself against accusations of being in thrall to the entire violent feminist p.c. movement on a different thread. Feel free to devote your resources where they are most needed).

  39. Rosalynde Welch on January 7, 2005 at 4:41 pm

    Yes of course an actual spiritual agent gets involved, Elder Bell–I’m suggesting that, in most cases, it gets involved precisely by mobilizing the placebo effect (which seems perfectly suited to being susceptible to spiritual agents, as a complex psycho-physiological process) rather than by interfering directly with, say, molecular signalling pathways. Both placebo and molecular signalling are real physiological processes, and the intervention into either by an external, supernatural agent is equally miraculous–but it seems that the placebo response is the more likely candidate. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, I’m not denying the miraculous, supernatural, or external influence of faith-healing–although I have suggested that because evidence-based medicine may reconfigure the psychological matrix of the placebo effect modern faith-healing may be somewhat suppressed (even though strong faith in Christ remains, and, as Mormon 9 suggests, will be manifest miraculously, but perhaps in other ways).

  40. Rosalynde Welch on January 7, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    And don’t worry about occupying my attention… as must be obvious by now, I’ve written off the day for anything other than blogging and the bare necessities (and the small ones are napping now, to boot!).

  41. Ryan Bell on January 7, 2005 at 5:18 pm

    Lol– you’ll notice that I called you Sister Welch, giving you the heightened respect of an adult female member of the church, rather than Sister Frandsen, referring to you in your youthful missionary state. I feel so . . .patronized to realize that you’re thinking of me as a hubristic, moralistic 20 year old when you call me that! :)

    So I guess what I’m asking is whether this is simply a pet theory of yours that you enjoy believing, or whether there is some actual authority that you rely on in holding it. Why should God act on our brains, and require our brains to do all the healing work, when he could act simply on the part that needs to be healed?

  42. Rosalynde Welch on January 7, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    Well, of course there’s no scriptural support for either of our positions–placebo or molecular pathway! It’s Occam’s razor, I guess–it’s not that God couldn’t intervene in the infinitely complex and interrelated molecular processes of the body, but why should he need to when there’s a ready-made response that he can activate, like a macro function key on the computer? If one is to look to the scriptures, one would have to conclude that God seems largely reluctant to intervene in the physiological processes that sustain and contain life, even when great good could result, so in this sense my explanation might accord with that understanding of God.

  43. Ryan Bell on January 7, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    I’m surprised to see you invoke Occam’s Razor in your support– when I was just thinking how much it favors me. How much more complicated to heal the body indirectly through chemicals in the brain, than to simply tranform the injured cells? Besides, while I understand the value of brain chemistry in healing the body, do you think it’s really naturally equipped to heal all maladies? Does the brain have the necessary ingredients on hand for repairing a cleft palate, repairing nerves in the blind eye, or eliminating tumors througout the body?

  44. Russ Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    I find it very dificult to believe that there is any placebo effect in the raising of the dead.

  45. Clark on January 7, 2005 at 6:02 pm

    Doh. I’m an idiot. Yeah, the Wentworth letter. But (to slightly redeem myself from a complete brain freeze) weren’t his comments on the first vision already being used by missionaries and that led him to start speaking of it more openly in the 1840’s as opposed to 1830’s? My question remains though. What did he think of this change? But I suspect that if ever I got “12 Questions” with Joseph Smith I’d have quite a few I’d ask first.

    Regarding the discussion of the placebo effect. Given D&C 46, I don’t see how the placebo effect wouldn’t count as the faith to be healed – a free gift some manage and some don’t. The mechanism of the placebo effect is still mysterious – but even if it lurks buried within our DNA, I don’t think that means it isn’t somehow surprising or amazing. The only difference between technology, science and miracles is how familiar we are with the phenomena and how much we take it for granted.

  46. Kaimi on January 7, 2005 at 6:05 pm

    Russ,

    What if they aren’t all the way dead, just mostly dead?

  47. Russ Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    Kaimi,
    Then all they need is a Miracle Pill.

  48. Geoff Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 6:13 pm

    Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk (Nice, Russ & Kaimi)

    Yeah, what if they said “To Blaaaaaave” when you made them exhale? I’ll bet the placebo effect could help those dead folks.

    It seems Ryan has more of a case to cite Occam’s Razor in this case. God heals people and God raises people from the dead. Why not assume He uses the same mechanism for both? But if we do, the placebo effect is out.

  49. Ethesis (Stephen M) on January 7, 2005 at 8:29 pm

    The best example is the sick man at the bubbling spring. The context of the scripture implies that the place must have been literally thronged with the ill and infirm, yet Jesus only went to the one man.

    This, and some personal experiences with a chronically ill father, point me toward an explanation that the ‘mere’ healing of the sick is not the primary purpose of this exercise of priesthood power.

    Although, if it’s not, I’m at a complete loss as to what the point would be. . .

    Well put.

    On my mission we had a guy with bed sores that was in for an amputation. You know the drill, gangrene, they probed the mess clear through to the bone and broke off a small sample to confirm that it had to go. He was blessed before surgery, they wheeled him out, told him that there were no bed sores and that it had all be a hip joint out of its socket, so sorry. Well, no bed sores. That was instant, complete healing (though his severed spinal cord remained severed).

    I kind of expected to see more of that. Heck, I had a mis-step in a karate practice and got kicked in the face had enough to stop me from moving forward and rock me back. Not even a bruise.

    On the other hand, I’ve gone through the opposit, where people died.

    I’m not sure why God acts as he does, I do not know the meaning of all things, but I know he loves his children.

  50. Ethesis (Stephen M) on January 7, 2005 at 8:33 pm

    For that matter, my daughter Heather hurt her abdomen muscles. She woke me up for a blessing.

    Later she asked me about it. She had woken up in terrible pain and felt that she should (a) take an aspirin and (b) ask for a blessing. She took the medicine, then woke me up, on the completion of the blessing the pain completely passed and in the morning the injury was gone.

    But she wanted to know why the asprin? Did God need help, especially meaningless help? We talked and she realized that the process required more exertion on her part, including doing something she felt was meaningless but did because the Spirit moved her.

    It was interesting to discuss.

  51. Blake on January 7, 2005 at 8:41 pm

    Kaimi: Your assumption that there are not instantaneous healings is not accurate. Perhaps they are not as common as they once were (perhaps they are). I was honored to be an instrument of the Lord when a young lady was healed from cancer (bone marrow cancer) — immediately. I was in a branch at the UofU MedCenter for three years while I was in law school (there were six of us that were permanent members in that branch, the 3 members of the branch presidency and the 3 members of the elders quorum presidency). In that position I gave literally hundreds of blessings. I saw young children immediately relieved from pain. I saw those who suffered from terminal illness healed — and I saw a lot of people that we blessed that didn’t get better and some died. I can’t say why this one was healed and that one wasn’t. But I’ve seen the priesthood in its power and authority bless the lives of people and heal them instantaneously on several occasions.

  52. Christian on January 7, 2005 at 9:30 pm

    Rosalynde (#33): “… the Spirit often testifies by means of an overwhelming emotional response that is catalyzed physiologically by the release of happy hormones and the firing of certain synapses. Does everyone who has the experience perceive the witness of the Spirit? No.”

    This is something that has greatly exercised me. I have of course had such responses many times, some in circumstances we would interpret as the Spirit, but other times in reponse to music, movies, etc. that might even be against Church standards. This seems to make it impossible to judge the source as being “the Spirit.” And if your only guide to which occasions are “the Spirit” are the occasions in line with “the standards,” the experience loses all meaning as an independent evidence of truth.

    Because of this I have become more and more perplexed when it’s claimed that the Holy Ghost is strongest possible witness there could be.

  53. Larry on January 7, 2005 at 9:51 pm

    Christian,

    This could possibly be the reason so many people have prayers answered in a faulty way. They are so enamoured with the concept or idea or whatever that they are praying about, they answer their own prayers.
    To my mind, the inspiration of the Spirit is different and recognizable, and probably is not given as often as some might think. This because we have already made up our minds, or feign that we haven’t, and claim any feeling that we have as inspiration.
    Rosalynde has a point regarding the release of hormones or pheramones or whatever in response to whatever they ask. Sometimes they feel good just for asking. The proof is in the fruits.
    As for the exercise of the Priesthood, there is real power in it and I have seen it move. The reality of all the promises and experiences of the scriptures is alive in it today and will get stronger. It is a real and living power. I know from experience.
    As I observe the young men today I am amazed at the depth of faith they have. We will see these young men and the sons they raise, exercise their priesthood in magnificent ways. And none of it will be broadcast.

  54. Rosalynde Welch on January 8, 2005 at 10:03 am

    Hi Ryan (by the way, to address you as “Elder Bell” is not to patronize–I thought you were smart and cool as a missionary, as I do now!)– sorry to abandon the conversation; real life demanded attention. Yes, it’s always lovely to claim Occam for oneself, isn’t it? (smiling) Since both kinds of healing, understood physiologically, are infinitely complex, Occam may not clearly favor one or the other in this case. It does strike me, though, that the kinds of physical processes that occur in faith-healings are those more susceptible to placebo–that is, those processes which the body itself, properly induced, can accomplish on its own: the alleviation of pain, the mobilization of the immune system, the alteration of mental states like depression, some nerve regrowth, and so forth. If God acted directly on the tissues and systems of the body independent of the body’s own capabilities, why wouldn’t we see things like amputated limbs regrown, or reattached?

    And to Christian: Of course, the emotional sensation of the witness of the Spirit is only one of the ways in which the Spirit communicates; I have had different kinds of experiences in which information was communicated much more directly. But no matter how the Spirit communicates, some interpretation on our part is required: there’s no such thing as entirely unmediated communication–between humans, or between the divine and the human. That we should have to exercise judgment in discerning meaning and context when listening to the whisperings of the Spirit shouldn’t surprise us.

  55. Geoff Johnston on January 8, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    Christian,

    You ask a good question. How can we discern when the Spirit is actually communicating with us? How can we know if the good feelings we have are actually coming from an external, Celestial source? I think lots of saints mistake what I like to call the “Old Yeller� feeling (you know, the powerful and teary emotional response you got when they had to put Old Yeller to sleep at the end of the film) with actual communication from Deity.

    I know you are well read so this may not be useful, but since here are some sources that I have found helpful in understanding the difference:

    1. Actual promptings from God communicate some actual intelligence and quicken our intellect:

    “This first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence�
    (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 149).

    “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus�
    (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151).

    “[His influence] quickens all the intellectual faculties…�
    (Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, p. 101).

    “There is a power of communication as real and tangible as electricity. Man has devised the means to send images and sound through the air to be caught on an antenna and reproduced and heard and seen. This other communication may be likened to that, save it be a million times more powerful, and the witness it brings is always the truth.
    There is a process by which pure intelligence can flow, by which we can come to know of a surety, nothing doubting.�
    (Boyd K. Packer, “The Spirit Beareth Record,� Ensign, June 1971, 87)

    2. It is not at all necessary to have a physical response to such revelation:

    “All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract … revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all; and those revelations which will save our spirits will save our bodies.�
    (Teachings, p. 355.)

    So to me it’s not the “tingles� that signify revelation, it is the pure intelligence we get. I envision God unscrewing the top of our skulls and dumping light and knowledge in. I suspect that outside the Church they call this experience a muse or an epiphany.

  56. David King Landrith on January 8, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    Scott: (Re: comment #9): Of course I am happy for the guy, but do I tell his ward members that it really wasn’t miraculous at all?

    This is a difficult question. On the one hand, we’re told that anything that leads someone to God is good. On the other hand, I’d wince every time I heard the story retold. Surely many of the instant healings from times past (when medicine and diagnosing were more primitive) are of the same character as the cancer cure that you describe. Personally, I’m convinced that much of what occurs under the auspices of miracles is explicable in mundane terms, be it the placebo effect, as Rosalynde Welch mentions, or reasons closer to the ones in your example.

    Even so, it takes some humility and faith to ask for a blessing and attribute some success or breakthrough to it. Surely, this is an excercise that is good for us regardless its efficacy.

    Christian (Re: comment #14): Our tradition of treating things as “too sacred� to examine prevents honest examination.

    This is a very difficult question. On the one hand, I can recognize the need for faith. But it seems that being intellectually honest requires us to ask what kind of truths posit events that elude serious scrutiny by definition. I’m reminded of something Bertrand Russell said in “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish�,

    [given the proper resources, anyone could make people] believe that two and two are three, that water freezes when it gets hot and boils when it gets cold, or any other nonsense that might seem to serve the interest of the State. Of course, even when these beliefs had been generated, people would not put the kettle in the ice-box when they wanted it to boil. That cold makes water boil would be a Sunday truth, sacred and mystical, to be professed in awed tones, but not to be acted on in daily life.

    Is there a difference between seeking doctor’s care and refusing to put the kettle in the ice-box to boil? I certainly hope so. I do, however, find it comforting that only a few paragraphs later, he adds,

    Some “advanced thinkers� are of the opinion that any one who differs from the conventional opinion must be in the right. This is a delusion; if it were not, truth would be easier to come by than it is. There are infinite possibilities of error, and more cranks take up unfashionable errors than unfashionable truths.

    I take this to apply equally to skeptics of Mormonism and of science.

    Rosalynde Welch: It does strike me, though, that the kinds of physical processes that occur in faith-healings are those more susceptible to placebo–that is, those processes which the body itself, properly induced, can accomplish on its own.

    This idea that effective blessings some how activate some latent mechanism or process is interesting. I think we can take the placebo effect (and the examples you site) as evidence that such a mechanism is present. Incidentally, there is no reason why the mechanism must be purely physical. In fact, if we take it to involve the spirit operating upon the body, then it can explain bringing people back from the dead as well (or for that matter, bringing people back from a coma). Of course, once we make it a process of spiritual influence upon the body, there’s no reason to suppose that such an influence must originate with ourselves.

    Even so, I agree with Clark. Miracles happen.

  57. Christian on January 8, 2005 at 1:42 pm

    Rosalynde, I stipulate that ‘manifestations of the Spirit’ could come in many forms; and further, that inevitably we must exercise independent judgment to derive meaning from these ‘manifestations.’

    But any such judgments must be based on some criteria (even if the existence and use of the criteria are largely subconscious). What are those criteria, and how do we know they form a sufficient basis for factual claims about cosmic realities (e.g. existence of God or life after death)?

    For many, the first rough and ready criterion (again, typically subconscious) probably is, ‘Does the thought/emotion/feeling keep me in sync with the sensibilities of my Mormon culture?’ For being being ‘out of sync’ with one’s primary society is rather uncomfortable—a state opposite to the ‘peace’ expected from ‘the Spirit.’ If this discomfort is sufficiently strong, it can cause us to interpret our ‘manifestations’ more ‘appropriately.’

    For various reasons one may wish to move beyond this first criterion—which could merely represent arbitrary culture (or even ‘groupthink’)—to a second criterion for evaluating whether their thoughts/emotions/feelings are from the Spirit: ‘Does it conform to the official teachings of the scriptures, apostles, and prophets?’ For it is uncomfortable to differ with those in power over us; again, this discomfort may be sufficient to shade our interpretations ‘appropriately.’ The discomfort of differing with authority is heightened when we have publicly committed loyalty by sustaining them as prophets, seers, and revelators; for then not only are we vulnerable to punishment by authority, we experience guilt for violating a public commitment we’ve made.

    For various reasons the strength of our thoughts/emotions/feelings may be such that it overcomes even the discomforts of nonconformity to this second criterion—which after all may represent only tradition, or arbitrary authority—and move to a third criterion: ‘What is the basis of the authority of these leaders to make factual assertions about cosmic realities?’ And ultimately this boils down to physical proofs connecting those authorities to cosmic realities: angels, plates, handling the resurrected Savior, fiery destruction of competing false prophets, dramatically silenced antichrists, glowing stones, Liahonas, floating axes, suns halted in their path, parted seas, burning bushes, audible voices from the Garden, etc.

    Well, who could want more than such an impressive list? For me, the available testimony of these physical proofs is too distant in time and space to take too seriously; the statute of limitations has passed.

    If I were the divinity in charge, at the very least I would renew the physical proofs in every generation to chosen vessels commanded to testify and demonstrate. More likely I would make the cosmic realities open and obvious to all my dearly loved children, so they could get on with the serious business of testing and developing their ability to live appropriately in harmony with those cosmic realtities, instead of being left to bicker and wonder in the face of inadequate evidence just what those realities are.

  58. J. Stapley on January 8, 2005 at 1:51 pm

    Geoff: 1. Actual promptings from God communicate some actual intelligence and quicken our intellect:

    And this is why Yoda is true.

  59. Sheri Lynn on January 8, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    My daughter was so sick when she was an infant that feared we’d have to take her to the ER and see her admitted for IV antibiotics, as nothing doctors had done helped. (It’s a testiment to the blessings inherent in our time that I didn’t really fear her dying.)

    It was in the middle of the night. A friend’s husband called and said he thought we needed him. We told him about the sick baby. He drove thirty minutes to come, during his very precious sleep time (he had two full-time jobs, six kids, and a wife who wouldn’t drive a car.) He and my husband blessed our daughter while I held her. I felt the fever being pulled from her body and up into their hands during the blessing. Their hands became hot to the touch for a few minutes, much warmer than the baby had been. She was completely well after that blessing–she didn’t throw up, didn’t cry the way she had been, was completely normal. I can’t prove this to anyone who wasn’t there so I don’t talk about it very often, but it’s true.

    Later his wife (my friend of the time) told me she believed he was guilty of a terrible sin: downloading child pornography. I prayed about it and KNEW it wasn’t true; if that stuff was on his computer, it got there some other way. He was a worthy priesthood holder. To know that someone is innocent of a disturbing crime is as much a gift as instant healing.

  60. Sheri Lynn on January 8, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    One more thought, and I hope this is not too cryptic. When you make jello, if you add 2 cups of warm water and stir, you’ll be disappointed with the result. I don’t expect that scientific analysis of spiritual experiences will ever build a testimony.

  61. LoneWriter on January 10, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    I realize I am a little late here, but just wanted to affirm that instantaneous healings do take place today (or at least within my lifetime — some of the following happened many years ago).

    1. A brother, at the age of 4, contracted shingles (I know, almost unheard of, but he had chicken pox at the age of 5 months). A blessing cured him of his pain instantly, and he fell asleep under the hands of a worthy priesthood bearer.

    2. Another brother lost his hearing to the measles, and had it restored instantly.

    3. My first son was near death due to a blood disorder at birth, and he recovered nearly instantly.

    4. My other son had a tumor in his lungs (a complication from a rare cancer); the tumor disappeared.

    These are some of the more dramatic healings that I have seen. Certainly, there are many more out there. Has every blessing I have seen resulted in an instant healing? No, but that doesn’t change my testimony of the priesthood. Sometimes, God has different plans for us, and allows bad things to happen to strengthen our faith.

  62. Rosalynde Welch on January 10, 2005 at 3:56 pm

    First of all, I feel I should respond with thanks and respect to Sheri Lynn and LoneWriter for sharing their experiences, which are clearly personal and heartfelt.

    Now, Christian, if you are interested in continuing the discussion… I think your account of the “thoughts/emotions/feelings” that color one’s apprehension of the Spirit is far too totalizing. Neither the sensibility of Mormon culture nor the psychological authority of orthodoxy is so hegemonic as to render the possibility of an independent spiritual witness either fully contained or utterly fabricated: furthermore, such a mechanism is unable to account for the experiences of countless converts who, influenced by neither cultural sensibility nor familiar orthodoxy, apprehend the witness of the Spirit.

  63. Rosalynde Welch on January 10, 2005 at 4:30 pm

    Sorry if that sounded curt, Christian–I’m paranoid about tone after the last few days around here; I was merely trying to be efficient. I think your questions are thoughtful and worth considering (which is why I responded in the first place!) :)

  64. Jason Johnson on January 11, 2005 at 1:35 am

    I agree that instantaneous healing do take place today, like some of the others I have been involved with or witnessed a few.

    I seem to remember that Hugh Nibley in one of his books pointed out that the gifts of faith to be healed and faith to heal are both common in the church while some of the other dramatic spiritual gifts are rarely seen. His explanation (again, if I remember right) was that people ask for the healing gifts and don’t ask for the gifts of prophecy, tongues, etc.

    Anyone else remember better or know where Nibley’s comments were made?

  65. Christian on January 11, 2005 at 12:00 pm

    Rosalynde, your tone is fine. I wish I could make points so concisely. (BTW, your response to DLK the other day was priceless—well worth the minor misunderstandings that may have followed.) I do want to continue the discussion (and will below), but wasn’t available to respond last night (the gym, family home evening, back-to-back episodes of `24,’ and time with my wife kept me away).

    J. Stapley, you also have a gift for making points concisely—a gem of a one-liner in #58.

    Geoff, I think you can see from my #57 that I agree thoughts and ideas may be interpreted as coming from the Spirit, and not just emotion.

    David, I enjoyed the pertinent quotations from Russell and think there’s wisdom there.

    I also appreciate those who shared their experiences.

    Back to Rosalynde (#62): I would agree that the dynamics I described are not all-powerful in practical terms; if they were, no one would ever go inactive or leave the Church. But surely the social conditioning of our interpretations of our experiences is much more important than generally recognized. I’m not arguing that the experiences are ‘utterly fabricated’—they can be very powerful—but I do worry that the _meaning_ of those experiences might be _socially constructed_. I suspect most members view their personal witnesses as being nearly `objective’ in character, but this is wrong: We are _socialized_ into recognizing what is a valid witness and what isn’t, and what they imply about cosmic reality (think for example of missionaries `helping’ investigators ‘feel and recognize the Spirit’—was that still part of the missionary training when you served?).

    That brings up converts, a very good point you raise. I’ll say a more about that when I have some time later today.

    But here I want to make one last point about the socialized nature of our intrepretations of ‘the Spirit.’ While we’re taught that the Holy Ghost is the most powerful and sure witness possible, in practice it is anything but clear and unmistakable. As evidence I point to the necessity of strong enforcement of the concept of `revelation within stewardship': If the meaning of experiences were so obvious, this principle would be superfluous. And even at the highest level a requirement of unanimity is imposed. The necessity of these social regulating mechanisms upon interpretations of spiritual experiences may be a red flag indicating `social construction.’

  66. Sheri Lynn on January 11, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    Christian said, “While we’re taught that the Holy Ghost is the most powerful and sure witness possible, in practice it is anything but clear and unmistakable.”

    When missionaries visited me the first time I was will, and they gave me a blessing. I had been raised to see religion as a crutch for the weak and as being superstitious nonsense. Yet, I felt the Spirit very, very strongly. Unfortunately, they hadn’t told me I might feel that or what it might feel like, and it frightened me. (Isn’t that awful!?) I was unfamililar with the sensation of having another Presence inside me and privy to my thoughts and feelings. The feeling so terrified me that I begged it to depart, which it did, immediately, and so it took me years to join the Church. If they had only explained what it was…!

  67. Sheri Lynn on January 12, 2005 at 12:00 am

    Typo in previous: “I was will” should read “I was unwell.” This is my first day on percocet; I apologize for typos and rambling.

  68. Rosalynde Welch on January 12, 2005 at 8:36 am

    Christian, I knew there was a reason I liked you: back-to-back episodes of “24”!

    I think I understand better what you’re saying now: social conditioning can compromise our interpretation of the whisperings of the Spirit. You’re right, of course; it can. But I suppose I’ve reached a tentative detente with social construction: any sort of knowledge that really matters in our lives, that shapes our choices–understanding of gender, or of what it means to be a wife or a father, or of one’s life trajectory–is bound to be socially constructed, at least in part. Our communities simply have too much at stake in these crucial matters of social living to allow each individual to start from scratch. Inasmuch as these constructs foreclose certain worthy possibilities, they can be limiting, even damaging (although all society needs to do is to appoint me chief architect and engineer in a thoroughgoing remodeling of those social constructs, of course!). But in matters ecclesiastical, at least, it’s my personal experience that such social strictures do more good than harm, though the calculus is complex and certainly susceptible to improvement: the ways in which my own choices, guided by the Spirit, might have been curtailed are less significant than the ways in which social expectations shepherded me during periods when I didn’t seek the Spirit.

    As for the epistemological problem of individual versus institutional knowledges, it’s been a fundamental problematic of the western organizations since the Reformation, at least, that has never been fully resolved. As an organization, the church is certainly not immune. Personally, I feel that the stewardship solution is at least workable, engaging as it does individual consent, will and responsibility as much as rights, coercion and privilege.

  69. Christian on January 12, 2005 at 9:05 am

    Sorry I didn’t post my thoughts on the case of converts yet—I will get to that! (In the meantime, it was interesting to hear part of Sheri Lynn’s conversion experience.)

    By coincidence, I came across a passage yesterday that I think can be read in terms of the dynamics I described in #57 above. It’s by Virginia Pearce (from a talk my mother-in-law sent me to read ;) ):

    “Last Monday night my husband read aloud a talk given by one of the brethren. I must admit that in my mind I began to carry on a Laman and Lemuel conversation—questioning some of the conclusions with my limited vision. When I had done some of that my husband quietly said that he really didn’t believe one of the brethren would be wrong in his assessment of the situation. I felt somewhat ashamed, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I was willing to Go to the Lord myself.

    “And guess what? I understood what was meant, spiritually. My little opinion was off just a bit. Not only did I understand the truth of the matter, but I lost those negative argumentative feelings. In hindsight, it seems like a no-brainer that we would all like to live like Nephi rather than be miserable like Laman and Lemuel, but in my experience it somehow seems ever-so-important for us to hold onto our little assessment of things and not want to admit that we could be wrong. Small comfort, holding out against the Lord and his spiritual confirmations. Quite pitiful. Really, who wants to feel that they are RIGHT when the tradeoff is living with the vision and happiness that the Spirit provides! Go to the Lord yourself.”

    The full talk is at http://www.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2004_02_03_Pearce.htm
    (I don’t know how to do links, or italics, or boldface in these comments—is there a FAQ somewhere?)

    Notice the role of feeling `ashamed,’ a critical mechanism of social regulation, induced by a even a mild reminder of being out-of-step with authority (and one’s spouse). Notice how a simple question is pejoratively identified with Laman and Lemuel, and labeled in hindsight as ‘limited vision’ and ‘negative argumentative feelings,’ reinforcing her shame and priming her audience to experience the same should they ever have a question. Notice the willingness to sacrifice being right on the altar of `peace’—a feeling identified with the Spirit by the author, but which in reality may simply be the relief attending social conformity.

    If this is in fact what goes on much of the time, notice the supreme irony of her labeling the acceptance of a socially conditioned response as `Going to the Lord for yourself.’

  70. Rosalynde Welch on January 12, 2005 at 9:18 am

    Nice reading, Christian. Yes, that passage makes me cringe a little, too. Of course, she was presenting this over the pulpit at a BYU devotional, it seems, so one would hardly expect her in that context to argue against authoritative discourse; indeed, such an argument would make little rhetorical or ideological sense–the idiom of Westminster is really the only one that resonates in the halls of Westminster.

    But one could try reading the passage a little more strenuously, against the grain. Does she really suggest that she changed the substance of her position? It seems to me that she emphasizes the change in her *attitude*– “I understood what was meant, spiritually. … I lost those negative argumentative feelings.” Once she becomes more general near the end of the paragraph, she certainly does suggest a complete relinquishment of one’s position–but it seems that in the description of her personal experience she stops somewhat short of that. She seems more concerned with maintaining a christian community of fellowship than in stripping away any shred of heterodoxy–and I think a strong case can be made for the value of Christian community being at least equal to the value of unfettered thought.

    Still, though, I can see how this gift from your mother-in-law might not achieve her desired result… (rueful smile)

  71. Christian on January 12, 2005 at 9:32 am

    Rosalynde,

    I appreciate your thoughtful #68. I agree social constructions are necessary and important, and certainly ought not be dismissed lightly. But I think it’s worthwhile to examine them critically, and recognize that many things in principle might be up for negotiation or reworking. This is not easily accomplished in the Church, where members are accustomed to the idea of absolute unchanging truth revealed with objective clarity. The historical reality, of course, is that our leaders—usually by operating under the aegis of ‘continuing revelation’—have been remarkably agile when the survival or well-being of the Church is at stake, even while give lip service to the `objective ideal.’ (Well, it’s probably more than lip service; they probably really believe in the `objective ideal.’)

    I gather from your expertise I don’t really have anything to teach you about social construction. ;) My training is in physics, so I’m being an utter dilettante, and probably saying many obvious things (maybe both obviously right and obviously wrong!). Thanks for indulging me.

  72. Christian on January 12, 2005 at 10:11 am

    Rosalynde, it’s true she doesn’t say she changed the substance of her position. Perhaps she just puts it on the shelf, or (maybe like you) is able to come to a conscious value judgment that the ramifications of resistance warrant detente. But honestly, I think such responses are by far in the minority (a profound and valuable minority, to be sure). I think in the vast majority of cases the ‘manifestations of the Spirit’ are taken as objective confirmation of objective truth. But it sounds like you’re saying something more profound: that it may in fact be the Spirit’s role as the Comforter at work, enabling you to accept the community with charity even if you suspect it may not yet be completely based on truth.

    That makes me feel good. I could almost say I feel the Spirit. (Seriously, with a little twinge of humor.)

    You make a very good point about weighing the value of our community vs. unfettered thought. But the drive to seek the real, naked, unvarnished truth is sometimes very strong… To know the world as it really is, not as we would like it… What Really Happens: nothing beats it, nothing more exciting.

    Perhaps there are good reasons, though, that (hu)mankind’s interest in unfettered thought—and in really getting to the bottom of things—is intermittent at best. It may in fact be maladaptive—for communities, interpersonal relationships, and individuals.

    (Can you tell I like dashes? I think I got it from John Trimble’s `Writing with Style’ in freshman English, and haven’t grown up since.)

  73. Geoff Johnston on January 12, 2005 at 12:11 pm

    Christian,

    Regarding Sister Pearce – It seems like you are making your own leap of “faith” in your interpretation of her story. Even if she did change the substance of her position, why shouldn’t we take her at her word when she says that she was wrong but the Spirit led her to the “real, naked, unvarnished truth”? Is there some evidence that she is feeble minded or undiscerning? Why should we assume she was either duped (by social conditioning) or is duping us? If she did in fact receive intelligence from the Spirit then according to Jacob she adjusted her view and began seeing things as they really are and as they really will be.

    BTW – One good way to learn basic HTML tricks used on posts is to view source on some of these posts and grab the italics, bold, and linking tags from them – try this post and you’ll get all three. (I like dashes too…)

  74. Rosalynde Welch on January 12, 2005 at 12:46 pm

    And that, Christian, makes me feel good.

    (By the way, no need to apologize for your use of social constructionism, you’ve clearly got a good grasp of the discourse; would that I could talk physics as articulately! And yes, Trimble, muse and nemesis of English majors the globe over… but I like your dashes!)

  75. Christian on January 12, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    Geoff, thanks for the tip on the HTML tags.

    I definitely would not use language like “feeble minded or undiscerning” to describe Sister Pearce. Our social constructions are necessary, mostly fruitful, and deeply ingrained. Living in accordance with them is as natural as falling off a log, and a very large part of our automatic daily functionality. We can hardly blame ourselves and others for being slow to recognize and change them (when warranted).

    You’re right that accepting the interpretation I suggested requires its own `leap of faith.’ The reality might be as you describe it. But the possibility of ‘manifestations of the Spirit’ being misinterpretations of evolutionarily driven social capacities strikes me personally as a parsimonious hypothesis. I confess a bias toward pushing naturalistic explanations are far as possible for before pulling the lever that lowers the Deus Ex Machina; In this I guess I run afoul of D&C 59:?? on acknowledging God’s hand in all things. I am suspicious of your hypothesis because of the spotty track record of obtaining truth through the Holy Ghost (how many felt the Spirit during Paul Dunn’s stories?) and the necessity of the artificial regulating mechanisms I mentioned in a previous post.

    Of course this is not proof; for me, recognizing the `leap of faith’ should lead to something of a truce in which we recognize that the cosmic realities are beyond our reach to verify with much certainty. This recognition leads to mutual respect for the choice of worldview we each make. I am saddened by the account circa the Sons of Mosiah saying there was peace in the land (only) because everyone was converted to their doctrine. I am saddened that President McKay asserted in the first lesson that there will only be peace when the world accepts Jesus Christ. I am saddened because it’s really not that easy to verify our doctrine. And not necessary: all it would really take is the golden rule.

    When we say only the righteous can feel the Holy Ghost and therefore verify truth, we’ve set up a situation that’s ad hominem by construction. This has the unfortunate result of making Sister Pearce feel ashamed until she gets the `right’ answer to her question, and dividing the world into camps that each believe others must be vanquished for the sake of their take on cosmic realities. Maybe Christ will come do that vanquishing as advertised. Or maybe we’ll learn to recognize that, needing _some_ working view of our place in the cosmos, we all ultimately _choose_ what to believe in the face of inadequate evidence, and stop shaming each other into adherence to a hegemonic party line.

  76. Geoff Johnston on January 12, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    Christian, it’s always fun to have exchanges with you.

    the cosmic realities are beyond our reach to verify with much certainty.

    This sentence encapsulates to fundamental difference in the way you and I see existence. I would counter that the cosmic realities are the only thing that I can verify with much certainty. For instance, I am much more certain of the reality of a living and responsive God than I am of my own name. I could be convinced with the proper paper trails, testimonials, etc. that my real name is something other than Geoff Johnston. But the reality that there is a God who interacts directly with me has been seared so deeply into my core (by that God) that it probably now rivals my sense of the reality that I am.

    I sympathize with the “can’t we all just get along” sentiment you eloquently close with, but not on the same premise you rest it on. You claim that since there is no way of really knowing the cosmic realities we ought to be more patient with those who don’t believe as we do because they might be right anyway. I think that since there is a way to understand cosmic realities we ought to be more patient with those who don’t believe as we do because the truth won’t change and perhaps they will sooner or later come to recognize it as such.

    Based on our fundamentally different paradigms of existence, it is probably no surprise that I draw different conclusions than you do on several of the things you mentioned above.

    1. Lots of people felt the Spirit during Paul Dunn’s talks because the Spirit of Truth testified of the true principles he preached. I never heard anyone say “the Spirit manifested to me that Paul Dunn really did play in the Majors.”

    2. What you call artificial regulating mechanisms in revelation I call “real, naked, unvarnished truth”. The Spirit really does give revelation within stewardships and if people started thinking they were getting revelation outside of their stewardship it makes sense that God would tell His prophet to inform them of their error. I don’t claim that all members are good at discerning between real revelations and false — I just claim that they both exist. Many members are very good at telling the difference.

    3. I’m with the Sons of Mosiah and President McKay on this subject. The rock of truth is the rock of truth and we can either build on it or risk dashing ourselves against it.

    4. Who says only the righteous can feel the Holy Ghost? Or rather, what definition of righteous are you assuming? Moroni said that whoever reads the scriptures, ponders them in their hearts, and asks God with real intent, having faith in Christ will know the truth about the validity of the scriptures via the Holy Ghost. Further, he says we can know the truth of all things via the Holy Ghost. I believe him.

    That, of course brings us full circle to your original open complaints about not having much luck with the Holy Ghost telling you the truth of anything. I’m sure you’ve probably given some thought to the standard approaches like fasting, and study. (Perhaps pulling an Enos would help…) I don’t know if you’ve thrown in the towel on trying to really know via the Spirit about these cosmic realities, but I am certain that there is nothing more important in life to do…

  77. Kelly Knight on January 16, 2005 at 11:25 am

    In every instance of intantanious healing performed by the Savior, there as a higher purpose for that healing. Some lesson taught, some faith bolstered, some meaning for us to derive. Additionally, it was the very framer of the universe performing those miracles, One who understood the elements and had governance over them. Joseph Smith, and others of his day, no doubt understood likewise. And there are many today, average men, nothing to shout about priesthood holders who have performed miracle healings. I can thing of at least 2 occasions where I have been called upon to bless another where the blessing I offered, by the Spirit, was brought to pass instantley.

    Where it is the will of the Father, and the one pronouncing the blessing listens to the Spirit, miracles can and do happen. However, when doubt creeps in with the caveat “if it be the will of the Father”, miracles seldom happen. If I am a worthy priesthood holder, and I prepare myself properly, and I listen to the Spirit direct me in the blessing, it is the will of the Father and He has worked a miracle through me.

    We must also remember that “Faith Precedes the Miracle”….