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Why subjective experiences are not enough to base one's salvation on. By Ian Mander, Feb 2009.

A Mormon I was recently talking with tried to explain the "burning in the bosom" experience by likening it to the feeling a father has when he holds his first child in his arms. His point was that the "burning in the bosom" is a wonderful feeling, and so good that he simply knows that it's right.

It's a good illustration that helps non-Mormons to understand where he is coming from (and helps explain why Mormons are so hard to convert from Mormonism) but while the "burning in the bosom" may well be a wonderful feeling, he really just feels that the feeling is true; he doesn't have any objective reasons to support its truth. Are there any examples of really great feelings that aren't actually good?

Debbie Boon sang "How can it be wrong when it feels so right?" in the song You Light Up My Life. There are many things that produce intensely good feelings, and yet are not actually good for us.

  • Sex feels absolutely incredibly wonderful, because that's the way that God designed sex to feel. When sex is misused – surprise, surprise – it still feels great. But sex according to Hollywood is not how God wants sex to be used.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse provide many intense experiences, and often they feel great. Unfortunately for the (ab)user those great-feeling experiences are causing harm, whether they realise it or not.
  • I have seen a video of a large group of people all jumping up and down (in pastel pink/orange clothing) and shouting "HOO!" After doing this for perhaps an hour they suddenly stop and everyone is quiet and still. The feelings produced by this were said to be euphoric and intense; in other words it feels great. But it's not of the spiritual value they think it is – it's just an example of how intense feelings can be produced on demand.
  • Surfing. Some people even say that it can be better than sex.

Many of these feelings come and go. Is that the case with the "burning in the bosom"?

Also, importantly, whether the Mormon I spoke with feels sure of the feeling or not is completely irrelevant to the vital issue of salvation. What if some sort of deception was involved and the feeling, while seemingly good in itself, misled him into having a false sense of security in its validity? Remember, truth needs to be supported by objective evidence, not subjective feelings. Let's extend the same analogy of the father and child to illustrate this.

Many years later the father learns that he has a disease that requires a certain transplant. For the operation to be successful he needs a donor who is a close relative. (It might be bone marrow, or part of a liver, or one of a pair of kidneys, whatever; it's a non-terminal donation.) His child is willing, and now an adult, consents to donate. That's all fine, and they inform the surgical team. The team responds that they'll need to run a simple test to check that the donor is indeed the man's offspring and therefore compatible. He assures them that it won't be necessary, and tells them of the feeling he had many years ago when he first held the baby in his arms. The surgical team is not impressed. If the donor isn't a close relative the transplant will kill him and be a pointless sacrifice for the donor. They have to be sure. The father is annoyed by this. The feeling he had experienced was intense, and he just knew that the baby was his own.

Being professionals, the surgical team is unmoved by the man's experience all those years before, profound though it may have been. The feeling he had may have made him a more loving and dedicated father, but the subjective experience is completely irrelevant for the purposes of objectively knowing that the donor is suitable. They run the test. It comes back negative – they are not related. Thus the truth is at last revealed – the man's wife had slept with the milkman, and she had been deceiving her husband all these years. Sure, the feeling he had when he first held the baby in his arms was a real feeling, and a good feeling, but it wasn't a reflection of the truth because it was based on a lie.

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