Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Holy Ghost: A False Positive?

I was sharing the gospel with my friend and trying to tell him about how the Holy Ghost can reveal truth to people.
He asks me what the Holy Ghost feels like. I tried to explain the different ways people experience the Holy Ghost.
He then says, "What if what you are feeling is just a false positive? What if its just a false positive?"
I didn't have a response to that. 
How do you explain to someone that feeling the Holy Ghost isn't a false positive?


Emilieruth said...

false positive....meaning like false hope?

J said...

No, a false positive means that a result or response from a certain situation that is incorrect because the result of that situation indicated a condition or finding that does not exist.

Basically, what's he's saying is that the Holy Ghost could cannot be used as proof to verify a gospel teaching because its people think that what they're feeling is the spirit when all they're really feeling is some natural chemical response in their body.

Emilieruth said...

J, that makes more sense. Thanks! In other words, I have no idea how to respond to that. Something to think about.

olmy said...

I suppose a few thoughts come to mind:

(my caveat to these statements is that I'm a relatively new convert having been baptized last July, but here goes!)

first, faith, prayer, and discernment are the primary means we have at our disposal for recognizing the promptings of the holy ghost.

I want to elaborate a bit on this seeming obvious point. faith is one of the key ingredients here -- we're never going to have objective physical proof in the scientific sense of the holy ghost's gifts. therefore, there isn't an objective way to distinguish between the Holy Ghost's promptings and a "false positive" -- a thought, impulse, or feeling born of our own intellectual and emotional make-up. however, the more we know, the more we improve upon our knowledge of the gospel, the wider world, and our own psychological make-up, the more we improve our ability to discern and use judgment as to the source of these promptings. As is the case with being receptive to the soft, quiet voice of the Holy Ghost in the first place -- we need to be in a state of calm, quiet contemplation in order to make that discerning judgment. You're likely not going to do it in the middle of a loud concert or football game. And finally, when in doubt, pray about it!

second, we do know how to recognize when a prompting is NOT from the holy ghost -- he will never testify of something that is contrary to gospel teachings, scripture, etc. in other words, we can gain some confidence of his promptings when it conforms to the gospel. I understand that many will view this as circular logic: "how do we know the gospel is true? the holy ghost told us. how do you know that was the holy ghost? his prompting is consistent with the gospel." a logician may cry "foul" at this. I tend to view it, though, as a feedback loop and a virtuous circle, rather a fallacious case of circular logic.

last, bear witness of others' testimonies re: the holy ghost and don't be afraid to do so yourself. the pooled knowledge and insight you gain from the experience from others is invaluable. again, a logician may cry "foul" and speculate that "groupthink" is likely to emerge from this type of activity. perhaps. that has undoubtedly happened quite a few times. but that is, again, why prayer, faith, and discernment have to be mustered in order to understand these promptings.

having said that, the fear of groupthink should not prevent us from the collaborative and communal aspects of worship in the Church -- that was one of the radical elements that Joseph Smith brought to our Church -- our lay priesthood and the saving ordinances we receive from that lay priesthood, our organization, our fast sundays where we share our testimonies, etc. through and through, we understand the gospel and attain salvation in the context of a community, our relationship with God and eternity is not an exclusively individualistic relationship, but is set in context with the organization and community of the larger church.

Jennifer said...

false positive: I would hope that I would act upon it anyway. I figure that God gives us the holy ghost feeling and knows exactly what we will do as a consequence of that feeling and we ultimately do what we should do anyway.

Besides, if a patient got a false positive on a test, usually the next thing to do is to re-test or treat for it? So really, false positive or the "real" holy ghost feeling... both right. Gets us acting on it.