Thursday 3 October 2013

Blake Ostler on the vital importance of personal spiritual experiences in conversion

Re-paragraphed and with emphasis added, from: 

What I am going to discuss today I consider to be sacred. In fact, what I am going to discuss today is at the very center of life for millions of people. It’s the lifeblood of the church when we get right down to it.


Isn’t it interesting? When we approach people who are not LDS and ask them to consider what we have to offer, we don’t suggest that we offer a superior theology of axioms and propositions (though I would suggest we have a compelling and beautiful theology and we may even share with them our best take on how our theology works for us).

And we don’t try to persuade them through arguments from scripture that we can read the Bible better than they can, or that we have the best reading of scripture based on the most recent biblical scholarship (though we definitely will share our scriptures with them and will do our best to get them to read scripture, and I believe we have a persuasive reading of the texts).

In fact, the last thing on earth we would do is send out a bunch of 19 year olds to argue with people about the Bible if that’s what we were serious about!


Now, we don’t try to persuade them that we have overwhelming empirical evidence to demonstrate that we’re right (though we may offer them empirical evidence).

Rather, what we offer is a way to enter into an interpersonal relationship directly with God to get answers directly from God. 

We don’t say, “Trust me and my brain and how well I can argue;” we say, “Despite the fact that I’m not such a great instrument, you can get it for yourself and you don’t have to rely on me.”


Today I address the very heart of Mormonism–the human heart as the basis of religious knowledge and commitment. Now let me make clear that I am speaking of the heart, not as a muscle in the chest that pumps blood, nor merely as an emotional experience. I speak of the human heart in the fullest Hebrew sense, of laybab, that denotes what we now associate with something that we bifurcate in our own culture, Mind and Emotions. I speak of the heart in the fullest Hebrew sense that includes both cognitive and affective functions, in fact, is the very center and seat of spiritual life.


Now let me be up-front about what I won’t do, because I can’t, and because it trivializes what I want to focus on.

I will not give some argument or evidence to try to persuade you or anybody else that your spiritual experiences are valid and trustworthy.

If I were to attempt to argue with you to prove that to you, I would only show and prove (quite conclusively) that I believe that in reality there is something more basic and trustworthy than spiritual experiences; that is, the arguments I would give you.

If I were to argue in that way, I would show conclusively that I really don’t believe what I am about to tell you.


Now in saying this I’m not stating that I won’t give reasons, or that I won’t do my best to reason with you. I am saying, however, that at bottom, these arguments are not what is most trustworthy and basic in Mormonism.

What is most basic in Mormonism is the individual experience of the Spirit.


Now, I will also argue that it is a mistake to take spiritual experiences as evidence for anyone but the person who has the experience.

The fact that I’ve had an experience doesn’t mean that you have some reason to believe. It only means that to the extent that you find that I might have something useful to say, that maybe you could do it too.


I will, in fact, suggest that to see these experiences as evidence for other people misunderstands the role they play in our lives. In fact, I will argue that that would be like, well in a sense, idolatry, or trying to commit adultery, as bad as that is.

However, I will also suggest that these spiritual experiences are so powerful that they reorient everything in our lives, they become the bases through which we see.


Also this talk can be heard and seen at: 



I posted this because it cuts to the heart of the conversion experience - and clarifies that conversion is necessarily (although far-from entirely) a matter of the heart, and a change of heart.

Ostler clarifies that the heart is the basis through which we experience the world - so that is what needs to change. And what needs to happen is for us each individually: receiving and establishing communication with God.

The center of life is not like law or science or the mass media - that is, a matter of public discourse, what we can persuade other people to believe (using certain types of rules or tools) - the center of life is what we personally believe, what we are convinced of. 

Conversion is blocked for some people because they get mixed-up between what they believe in their hearts, on the one hand; and what they can persuade other people to accept, on the other - yet these categories are distinct.

What works in one arena does not usually work in the other - what makes you personally believe is not what persuades other people to believe, and what works rhetorically in the public domain is seldom convincing to the heart. 

And these things are not symmetrical - the heart matters more than public rhetoric; the heart is the basis of the Good: or truth, beauty and virtue - and this is the case even (especially) when such essentials are excluded from the public domain, or inverted.

You see how modernity has worked to prevent conversion? It says that the only valid evidence for God is publicly admissible evidence; and then it declares this evidence unadmissible!


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