A Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience

Jan 25, 2015
4 min read

Here are a few excerpts from a document titled A Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience by Kevin Christensen. It’s pretty fantastic and has some wonderful things to ponder and many interesting observations. I highly recommend a reading of the entire thing because it’s all really great stuff, these are just a few of my favorite parts. I’m definitely interested in reading more Kevin Christensen!

Numinous Experience p. 3-4
In a classic study, The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto studied the characteristics of a type of religious encounter that he named the numinous. Ninian Smart sums up numinous experience as “a mystery which is fearful, awe-inspiring, . . . and fascinating.”

“But above all, the sense of presence which confronts a person in the numinous experience is majestic: marvelous power and glory; in their rather different ways, the experiences of Arjuna, Isaiah, Job, Paul, and Mohammed are all numinous in character.” (The Idea of Holy, Rudolf Otto)

Combining Numinous and Mystic Experience p.6
Here, I believe, is an essential distinguishing characteristic of Mormonism—the blend of the numinous and the mystic. This explains the Orthodox discomfort with the Mormon idea of deification (something quite unthinkable to one caught up in a purely numinous tradition), as well as the Eastern discomfort with our literalism and personal God (again, something quite unthinkable to one caught up by the emptiness of pure mysticism). For the same reason, the blend in Mormonism explains Nephi‘s insistence on combining grace and works—”By grace we are saved after all we can do.” Our need for grace offends the self-reliant mystic, and our effort towards perfection offends those who depend on pure grace. By pointing out the experiential roots behind such doctrinal disagreements, I feel that we have much to gain. Against the background of comparative world religion, Mormonism appears as the more comprehensive and inclusive faith.

Answering through actions p.11
…you begin to interpret external events as God speaking to you, and you answer through your own actions…These matters cannot objectively prove the existence of a God (whether personal or impersonal), but, as I hope to demonstrate, they do constitute the core of religious experience for believers. They provide the ground of experience on which reasoned and feeling assessments of the validity and worth of faith are based. They encompass the ways in which spirituality is manifest in history and symbol. They are the wine—and doctrine the wine-bottles. To argue and contend about doctrine is to emphasize the wine skin over the wine. In Alma’s terms, it is to emphasize what you think you “know” over what ultimately gives “cause to believe” (Alma 32:18).

One mythology with inflection to culture p.12
In trying to orient ourselves when confronted by the bewildering variety of religions, we can take some comfort in the surprising discovery that all religion gathers around common symbols and rituals. Emphasizing the mythic side of things, Joseph Campbell has been very effective in popularizing the notion that humankind shares “one mythology.” The same themes, “creation, death and resurrection, ascension to heaven, virgin births,” are retold everywhere with “inflection to culture.”

The myths of faith are not lies, but are metaphors p.13
Some people may despise the symbolic and inner aspects of religion, but they are really no less significant than the literal and historic aspects. As the writer of the Gospel of Phillip says, “We enter by means of despised symbols.” The symbols guide us through the transitions and passages in our own lives and provide a means to point beyond literal meanings to truths that cannot be expressed or apprehended in any other way. The myths of faith are not lies, but are metaphors—models that point beyond themselves, paradigms that define a community. The archetypal unity of world mythology invites humankind into a single community. I believe that ultimately, all myth points to Christ.

History and myth p.14
Some people may see particular historical events as having mythic or symbolic significance, and subsequently record them in mythologized terms. This means that some events may be both historical and mythically significant.

Nevertheless, “What distinguished Mormonism,” writes Richard Bushman, “was not so much the Gospel Mormons taught, which in many respects resembled other Christians’ teachings, but what they believed had happened—to Joseph Smith, to Book of Mormon characters, and to Moses and Enoch [and later to the pioneers, during their archetypal Exodus to the west]. . . . The core of Mormon belief was a conviction about actual events. . . . Mormonism was history, not philosophy.”

When does a sense of moral obligation become a truly religious experience? The essential “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” makes good sense in any society that expects to thrive. Certainly one could feel far more secure in such an environment than in pecking orders that adopt Korihor’s “Every man prospers according to his strength” and “whatsoever a man did was no crime.”

Reorientation and reconciliation p.16
Notice that Reorientation is a Thinking process, turning the mind, and Reconciliation is a Feeling process, turning the heart.

Dialogue with God
“One understands oneself to be addressed [by God] through events … A person replies through the speech of his life; he answers with his actions. Events in daily life can be interpreted as a dialogue with God.” (Quoting Ian Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms, 55.)

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