Thursday, July 28, 2005

Too much personal revelation...

I think the concept of "personal revelation" is quickly wearing out its welcome in the Flanders' home. Everywhere I go in the bloggernacle, all I hear about is personal revelation. Apparently, if I want to drink a Coke or watch Schindler's List or jay-walk, I have to receive personal revelation that it's alright.

If I want to deviate from the Proclamation of the Family and stay at home with the kids or have my wife wear pants, we'd better start praying to secure our exemption from this draconian document.

I for one say, NO MORE! No more personal revelation about cooking with wine! No more asking about career choices. Do it or don't. Stop bothering God! He doesn't care! I just don't understand the compulsion to clear every single decision we make in this life with the Almighty. We've been taught correct principles (hopefully), now let's govern ourselves, people! Seriously.

It probably won't shock anyone that I'm not a huge Bruce R. McConkie fan. The excerpts I've read from Mormon Doctrine sometimes make my blood boil. That's why I was surprised to read about the following talk Bruce gave once at BYU:

...[E]xamples of what [McConkie] called "extremism" among both students and ecclesiastical leaders which he counseled avoiding: giving excessively burdensome callings...; prohibiting students from studying on Sunday; allowing students to seek "special blessings" ("These tend to... encourage undue reliance upon divine intervention in mundane matters"); praying on dates; choosing a marriage partner (he encouraged using "personal judgment, not requiring a heavenly revelation"); making no long-term goals in the mistaken belief that the second coming of Christ is imminent; lacking discretion in ecclesiastical interviews...; and avoiding "a witchhunting attitude when discussing which sins should be confessed to a bishop." (source)

What's this? A talk by Bruce R. that feels like a breath of fresh air? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

If something as important as choosing a marriage partner should be decided using "personal judgment, not requiring a heavenly revelation" then why are we pestering the Lord about things much less momentous?


Ann said...

Amen, and amen.

W. Lyle Stamps said...

So, does that mean folks should instead say:

"I don't like policy X [or Proclamation Y] [or Revelation Z] [or Prophetic Counsel A] and I'm just not going to do it, with God as my judge." ???

Pris said...

Lyle, Yes, I think it does. If God really does care if I cooked with wine or married X, then I'll accept those consequences.

I've always wondered if the reliance on "personal relevation" is meant to assuage feelings of personal guilt.

Rusty said...

This is an interesting post in the midst of the other ones right now. You ask an excellent question, especially when leaders give contradicting council (this BRM quote contradicts what other leaders have said).

It's easy to agree with you when you make the strawman arguments with Coke, R-rated movies and jaywalking because those are pretty small things. If your point is that we needn't bother the Lord on small things, fine, I'm with you. However, I think what Lyle is alluding to is that when we need to make bigger decisions (like when/how many kids to have) the Lord should probably be a part of that decision (especially considering the fact that the council is that it's between husband/wife/Lord).

Where do you draw the line as "important enough to bother the Lord with" and not?

lchan said...

I don't have a problem with praying about little stuff. And, whatever label people want to put on their prayers and the decisions they make is fine by me.

I myself have never received what I would call "personal revelation" about anything. The one time I really felt like I received a strong answer, the answer was: IT DOESN'T MATTER.

That may sound like a joke, but I do mean it seriously and feel like that was the real deal - I had an overwhelming peace that I could make the decision on my own and either way it would be alright.

(ps: I find that lawyers love the word Draconian - is this a Maude-inspired word choice or do you use it yourself often?)

will said...

Bless you, Ned. I think that Elder McConkie's points were mischaracterized by the Mormon Alliance, but the fundamental principle of avoiding extremism is accurately conveyed.

Unfortunately, extremism is built into Mormonism. We Mormons give a huge chunk of our income to the church, we reject tea, we swear off premarital sex, and we wear religious garments every day. To be a mainstream Mormon, you have to be a fanatic.

NFlanders said...

I think Laura summed it up much better than I could have. I think you should pray about life choices (even if I haven't always) but I think we've fallen into a very dangerous rut of saying, "oh, God himself approved of my wife and where I went to school and how many children we have." That level of detail just doesn't jibe with my experience.

On a recent Banner of Heaven thread, someone was defending his decision to seek an advanced degree by saying it was personal revelation. I'm sure he did feel inspired to seek his education, but when someone defends their choices with "personal revelation" it implies that everyone without similar divine intervention is somehow lacking. That is what bothers me. It also bothers me that some people think we need permission from God to live our lives as we judge best.

No, Laura, I didn't get draconian from Maude, but I'll be watching her like a hawk to see what legalisms she's exposing me to.

NFlanders said...

Will-- It's funny, I was reading that website ready to condemn BRM, and I was surprised because he sounded so reasonable. So, in fact, the Mormon Alliance may be backfiring a little here.

RoastedTomatoes said...


I agree! Let's take responsibility for our own decisions. How can we become moral adults if we require instructions for every choice and never exercise our own judgment? How can we even learn from our mistakes if we never consider them our own?

Anonymous said...

The reliance on personal revelation, and I'm not saying this is always the case, can be a subtle way of abdicating responsibility for our actions or an unwillingness to make choices on our own. My wife and I bicker over whose turn it is to decide where to go for dinner. It's much easier if we get a revelation from God saying, "Go to the Thai place. I have work there for you to do."

Getting married, going to graduate school, these are daunting choices and anyone making them wants some assurance that they are doing the right thing. And "personal revelation" in areas related to church doctrine (whether legitimate or goofy as a circus clown) can ease an individual worried about their un-cookie cutter life in a cookie cutter church.

I'm not saying it's a good way or a bad way, it's just a way.

--The Angry M

NFlanders said...

I am taking this as a sign that I should get Thai tonight.

That is a good theory, Angry M, (BTW, it's nice to see you around). I think if we didn't put so much pressure on people to fit into the cookie-cutter lifestyle, they wouldn't have to go looking for these reassurances.

Susan M said...

Hmm. Well I'm someone who's received a lot of personal revelation. (Not to brag or anything) And it feels really good to get an answer for something you really want an answer on. So I've been known to fall into the hole of asking about every little thing, just because I want that feeling to continue.

Steve EM said...

Some context and background is needed here. The point on the Alliance site isn’t want BRM said, but that G. Pace was publicly blindsided by BRM w/o privately being called to repentance first and there was no later apology from BRM to Pace that the matter could have been handled better. I think that is a valid point. Pace’s kid on the same site goes through the horrible impact those events had on the Pace family.

I'm really dating myself, but I was at the Y when BRM gave that speech. It was a rebuttal to a book and preaching by Pace and others that in a nut shell said everyone could develop a special relationship with Christ if they prayed enough, were righteous enough, etc. The satanic book Drawing on the Powers of Heaven is an extension of the Pace crap. Their doctrine implied that if you were receiving inspiration of the HG only, you weren't living up to your full potential. On my mission, we had a Pace groupie that I later learned was actually praying for a visitation from Christ and became suicidal because Jesus wouldn’t come! (he's no longer LDS, joined an evangelical church and took a lot of other missionaries down with him). Even some GA’s got sucked into this crap.

Anyway, I wasn't living the gospel at the time of BRM speech, but in my mind Pace and his groupies were an out of control borderline cult akin to the Church of the First Born in France circa 1960. At the time I was also no fan of BRM, but my feeling after the talk was it was about time someone from SLC came down and disbanded that groupie cult. It was a dirty job and BRM did it.

However, I also wrongly assumed at the time that Pace had been given a chance to retract his teachings, refused and BRM then had came down to publicly denounce the man before Pace would retract the stuff. The point of the Alliance thing is BRM abused his authority by not so giving Pace such a private opportunity. I think they have a point.

Septimus said...

Hey there, my mustachioed, yellow-skinned friend. Check your e-mail.


Nice post, BTW. I'm going to go pray about it.

mellancollyeyes said...

i think personal revelation is a loophole that we can use to jump through things that don't apply exactly to us. While God is the same "yesterday, today, and forever" we aren't and we aren't all the same people, either. The little stuff, crap that really, RELLY doesn't matter, doesn't need to be "personally revealed" to each person. I'd agree with you on that. But, there are some cases where it's a big thing, something huge, that needs to be something that really is taken to HF to deal with. For example...

I do NOT want to have kids. Ever. I want to be a lawyer for the federal circuit court, build a youth center, work to improve my city, and start a scholarship fund for poor kids who want to go to college. Can I do any of that while I am at home with three kids? No. But, the church constantly, CONSTANTLY says that all I should do is want to have a million, bazillion babies and raise them and bake cookies and sew and make crafts. I couldn't reconcile how I felt and what I wanted with the Church's teachings. I prayed and prayed and prayed about it, and finally, one day, my bishop started talking to me about it out of the blue, and he let me know that while motherhood is a good path for most women, it's not for ALL women.

The Lord, in my opinion, uses personal revelation as a way of getting people where they need to be and where they wouldn't get if they were to follow the "rules" 100% like everyone else. My bishop told me that when he heard I was going to law school, he thought to himself that that was exactly where I needed to be and what I needed to do and that I would make a terrific lawyer and do a lot of good. And I believe that my lot in life is to be a lawyer. Maybe a mom as well, but certainly not now. So, do I care that everyone I know is married at 22 and starting families? No, because I know I have something else to do right now.

Personal revelation isn't supposed to be for the little stuff...should I watch an R rated movie, etc. We all know what we;ve covented to do and not do and we are all (hopefully!) capable of making intelligent decisions when given the right informaiton. PR is meant for the things that are bigger, the things that there doesn't appear to be an answer to that we've heard of. In my opinion, we get personal revelation after we've done our own digging around, researched, struggled, and really thought about it and we are still stuck. Believe me, being the ONLY girl in the singles ward who didn't want kids was quite a struggle. I've battled with it for years. PR comes when we've put in the effort to figure it out for ourselves. So it's pointless to ask, in my opinion, about the little things. I'm sure HF is up there, head in hands, like, "What did I give you a brain for?!"

NFlanders said...

Great comments, Sue and Adrianne. I was venting and I certainly didn't mean to discount anyone else's personal revelation (and I apologize if I did so).

What concerns me is that this seems to have become the new standard (in the bloggernacle, at least) for judging other people's choices. You can't deviate from the norm unless you are granted special license. I suspect that some people want to raise the bar for non-conformity so high that no one can pass over it.

Frankly, it's not weird not to want kids at 22. It's not wrong to be a stay-at-home dad.

Susan M said...

Well I think the whole judgmentalness issue is bizarre. It's just very foreign to me. I was raised by the most accepting people there are. My parents are the epitome of unconditional love. And I've inherited their tendency to just accept people the way they are and not judge.

I'm also so far outside the norm for Mormons that I've never fit in and it's just never bothered me. I have a hard time relating to people who care about not fitting in. But I never really fit in *anywhere,* and sometimes *that* bothers me. But not the fact that I don't fit into the traditional Mormon mold.

Stephen said...

it implies that everyone without similar divine intervention is somehow lacking.

I never saw it that way, but more that the person getting guidance had special needs.

The Lord, in my opinion, uses personal revelation as a way of getting people where they need to be and where they wouldn't get if they were to follow the "rules" 100% like everyone else. My bishop told me that when he heard I was going to law school, he thought to himself that that was exactly where I needed to be

Nicely said.

BTW, I was there when the BRM talk was given as well, and took a class from Pace.

Stephen said...

the Mormon Alliance ... I was bothered as I read through the postings, especially by the consistent voice.

I'm all for editing, but strong enough editing that the writers voice between stories blends, I'm not certain about that. In addition, the one "constantly offended" person reminded me of a couple of mentally ill clients I have had.

Which made me sad.

John W. Redelfs said...

I don't think one has to ask for all of the personal revelation that he receives. Or to be more precise, I think a person can ask Heavenly Father for wisdom, and the Holy Ghost will provide an ongoing flow of personal revelation that will provide that wisdom over time. Because of this, I think a lot of people receive personal revelation, even about the little things, that they don't even recognize as revelation. Revelation doesn't always have to be a burning in the bosom, or a dream, or a strong emotion, or hearing a voice from heaven. While it can be any of those things, it can also be nothing more than inspired clarity of mind, or a flow of understanding as you read a passage of scripture that you never understood the previous times that you read it, or an inspired ability to see through the obscuring verbiage of human language in order to learn the fundamental principle behind it. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught,

"The first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence. It is more powerful in expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge, of a man who is of the literal seed of Abraham, than one that is a Gentile, though it may not have half as much visible effect upon the body; for as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene;" (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols. 3:380)

Any member of the Church who has been baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost is entitled to the companionship of the Holy Ghost according to his faithfulness. And that companionship is accompanied by this flow of "pure intelligence."

I think that many Church members have enjoyed this "spirit of revelation" or this "pure intelligence" and didn't even realize they were receiving revelation. And used in this sense of the word, revelation can inform all of our choices both great and small. Many saints seem to think they need to get down on their knees and pray for some kind of divine manifestation in order to receive personal revelation. I don't think that is true. I think that when a person is doing his best to repent and keep the commandments, the Holy Ghost just makes us smarter and wiser than we would be without Him. He fills us with light and truth. He makes it possible for us to discern truth from falsehood and to recognize truth when we hear it or when we read it in the scriptures. That process is personal revelation too.

Using this definition of personal revelation, I think it is possible to ask for it once and receive it many times, often over an extended period of time.

Once after I had been dating my wife for many months and a great friendship had grown up between us, I began to wonder if I should marry her and whether or not I should pray and ask for a revelation. So I prayed. And instead of getting the answer I expected, which was a confirmation or a denial, an idea just filled my mind that I was asking a stupid question. Of course I should marry her. I already had the Lord's revelation in scripture and prophetic teachings that I should get married. And I already knew that she fit the definition the Lord gives in Proverbs 31 of a "virtuous woman." I would be a fool not to marry her. As I got up off my knees I felt a little foolish that I had bothered to ask for additional confirmation. I already had years of revelation educating me for making that choice. Why did I think it was necessary for me to ask the Lord to repeat himself?

There is a verse in the 88th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants that I think refers to this kind of personal revelation:

"And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;"(D&C 88:11)

As I read this passage, and the verses immediately preceding it, I understand the Lord to be referring to the Comforter or Holy Ghost without making any distinction between the various members of the Godhead. And "the same light that quickeneth your understandings," is the personal revelation that comes from God by the power of the Holy Ghost.

To say that a person can have too much personal revelation, is to place too narrow a definition on the term "personal revelation." It is like saying that a person can be too wise, or too intelligent, or too enlightened.

Anyway, I'm actually a pretty stupid person naturally. I get confused easily. And I need all the personal revelation I can get. The more of it the better.

Jason King said...

Great post, Ned.

If God doesn't care about our career and he doesn't care whom we chose for our spouse, what the hell does he care about? Those two things have the highest impact on an individual's life, and yet, God says it's all up to us. What the hell?

Really though, if you pray over these decisions and you feel that you received confirmation by the spirit to go ahead with it, who is really making the decisions? Who are you really living for? How can you ever develop as an ethical individual if all of your decisions are made by a spirit?

Give us correct principles, and then let us govern ourselves (oh, except for the mission; we're really to stupid and young to understand how to live during that time. We actually need all the authorian control we can get. Viva les regles!)

Hellmut said...

Great post. Your argument can explain why white collar crime is so high in Utah and why so many Mormons fall prey to scams so easily. The reliance on personal revelations undermines people's sound judgement.

It would seem to me that personal revelation is a derivative problem. The primary problem is authoritative revelation. The "revelations" of Church Authorities, some of which turn out to be personal opinions once they have been proven misguided, claim to represent God's will. That is the source of conformist pressures, which cannot be legitimately resisted without personal revelation.

OTOH, where would Mormonism be without personal revelation? Bruce McConkie refers me to my feelings as manifestation of personal revelation when his envoys asked me to antagonize my friends and family and dedicate my time and money to the LDS Church. I agree with McConkie that Pace's view is problematic. But so is McConkie's because he wants to have it both ways.

fMhLisa said...

Oh yes, this is a lovely post. Thank you.