This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice ( Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.

“There are many members who share their testimonies that the Spirit told them that they were to marry this person or go to this school or move to this location or startup this business in this investment. They rely on the Spirit in making critical life decisions. When the decision turns out to be not only incorrect but disasterous, the fault lies on the individual and never the Spirit.” (CES Letter)

Why Would God Make Your Critical Decisions For You? Why would someone rely entirely upon the Holy Ghost for critical life decision? Do people do that? That would be a foolish thing to do. That is not what Mormons do and that is not what I have heard Mormon leaders teach. Mormons believe in self-improvement and personal development to make ourselves capable of making our own decisions, and then if we fall short we can ask the Holy Ghost for help. We do not believe in dumping our problems on the Holy Ghost or relinquishing responsibility for our decisions.

So what is the purpose of prayer then? The scriptures tells us to “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror.” These prayers are to be strengthened and inspired to avoid evil, not to have God make all of our decisions for us.
The Book of Mormon likewise tells us to be “drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.” Specifically, pray for forgiveness, for our homes to be protected, for our business to prosper, and to conquer Satan. I don’t find anything in the scriptures or from modern prophets telling us to pray for what decisions to make.

There are plenty of instances when the Holy Ghost does inspire our decisions. Missionaries pray for help to find people who are receptive to hearing the gospel. Missionaries are unable to read peoples minds so they require divine help to find converts, and this prayer is therefore appropriate. But when a guy prays about which girls to ask out and then hardly ever talks to girls? God does not inspire people who don’t first put in the work.

So when it comes to who we should marry, or where we should go to school, or business decisions–decisions we are perfectly capable of making ourselves– I don’t see why God would tell us what to do. It would not be helpful to our faith for the Spirit to just answer all questions and solve all of our problems for us the moment we ask. Does a good father do his son’s homework for him? Does a school tutor just give all the answers? The purpose of life is to pursue exellence by the sweat of our brow and to develop faith, and this does not happen when someone else is telling us what to do. We learn by self-discovery, and maybe we can get some tutoring and help along the way, if we ask sincerely. But if we fail a test, it is not fair to blame the tutor.

Subjective Choices – What makes a decision about school, marriage, or business “incorrect?” Some decisions are more effective than others for whatever we want to achieve, but these are subjective issues that do not have a binary “correct” or “incorrect.” There is no one spouse or one school that we must pick or else we failed. We are not fated to attend a certain college or marry a certain person.

If you don’t like the consequences of your inspired decisions, several things could be the case:

  • The consequences are unpleasant but it is what is best for you, because it makes you grow as a person. This can apply to business, education, and even failed relationships. The lessons you learn can make you more successful in the future. Or maybe the results are in some other way good even if you don’t like them.
  • The decision was the best of two bad options. If someone prayed about which stock investments to make at the start of the 1930’s Great Depression, how could God give a positive reply? We need to widen our perspective, get out of our tunnel vision, and allow for more possibilities to choose from. If that is not possible, then we must admit that we got the best answer we could.
  • It was a stupid question. Like praying to get a sports car for Christmas or to get accepted into a university that you clearly are not qualified for. Sometimes we forget in our prayers that we are praying to the Grand Creator of the Universe and that a 2% drop in our AT&T stocks don’t matter.
  • You heard what you want to hear. This happens a lot, like a kid who thinks he got permission from his parents to do something that they clearly do not want him doing. It is human nature, and it is a very difficult thing to look at the situation objectively and be as receptive to answers we don’t like as to answers we do. Even the prophet Joseph Smith lost the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon because he didn’t like the answers God gave to his prayers.
  • You listened to the wrong voice. God isn’t the only spirit answering your prayers, after all. It is evident from CES Letter‘s question that they want to dump their issues onto someone and relinquish their responsibilities. Who would be interested in answer that kind of prayer? That is the perfect prayer for Satan. The Plan of Satan is all about asking about which stock investments to make, which shoes to wear for the day, and which person to ask out on a date, and then giving Satan all the glory when those decisions turn out to be good. These are prayers that Satan would be very eager to answer, and the Spirit not so much.
  • You didn’t listen close enough. The Holy Ghost speaks with a still small voice. It requires fasting, meditation, and some degree of exomology to hear the answer, often over the course of years. We develop self-control by being forced to listen closely for the right answer instead of having it handed to us right away. It dismantles our pride and makes the answer truly change us into better people. Be patient.
  • You didn’t do enough to solve the problem yourself. A father will give his son advice about which friends to choose at school, but a good father will not tell him what to do, even if he is picking bad friends. Would you ask your father about every single friend you hang out or girl you date? Likewise, the Holy Ghost will help you take responsibility for your life but won’t live your life for you.
  • You weren’t worthy of an answer. Nobody wants to think they are unworthy of the Holy Ghost’s voice, but it happens. Every missionary knows how it feels to talk to an investigator who just wants to argue or rationalize their sins. How do you think the Holy Ghost feels? It is good to approach God in prayer when you have sinned, but you must be humble and seek forgiveness or the conversation won’t go anywhere. Do you want your business to succeed to feed your family or to make yourself look good? Do you want to find your spouse to start a good family or because you want to have sexual relations?

Look Beyond Emotions – So if God won’t make our decisions for us, then why do we need any inspiration at all? We need help because we are never going to get a 100% on the test and we must have a 100% to get into heaven. It’s as simple as that. We need tutoring, we need help studying, and we need someone to atone for our mistakes. The challenge, of course, is finding the help.

Inspiration affects our emotions but it is not the same thing as emotion. A person who equates emotion with the Holy Ghost will always just go with whichever choice they want more. That’s a given. So when the choice leads to failure, it takes introspection to determine if they were following emotion or the Spirit. Enlightenment widens our emotions and intellect but does not make them infallible. We could be inspired and still make the wrong decision because of the way we handled it. Or the emotion we feel when it comes to things like marriage can easily overbalance our intellectual input, and camoflauge as divine inspiration.

Both emotion and intellect are vital components of any decision, and it is foolish to try to pretend like they don’t influence us. But great wisdom is in the ability to truly objectively consider how each influence our bias, and look for divine inspiration and enlightenment deeper inside. If there were some easy trick to doing this, it would be nice. It takes humility, hard work, personal responsibility, and faith.

CES Letter Logical Fallacies

FalsehoodMormons do not rely on the Holy Ghost in making critical life decisions. They certainly ask for help but they also accept responsibility for themselves. CES Letter says, “if individuals can be so convinced that they’re being led by the Spirit but yet be so wrong about what the Spirit tells them, who can they be sure of the reliability of this exact same process in telling them Mormonism is true.?” Who said inspiration about whether Mormonism is true is the exact same process as help about school or business? Those are very different issues and handled by the Spirit in very different ways. Now let’s think, who else claimed that he was only doing the “exact same” thing as what has been done in other cases…? It is foolish, and frankly prideful post-rationalization, to say you should have gotten the same result in a totally different circumstance.
Non SequiturA teacher, tutor, or parent could tell you something is true and yet refuse to make your decisions for you. They are allowed to do that. Why would the Spirit’s eagerness to confirm the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, yet refusal to make your decision about which stocks to buy, make Him untrustworthy?
Subjective FallacyJust because one person had emotions that they mistook for inspiration–perhaps they married someone that did not fit well with their personality–does not mean this happens all the time for the rest of us. We all have our own problems in our struggle to hear the voice of the Spirit. One person might hear what they want to hear and another person might not do enough for themselves.
False DilemnaSo much of this argument stuffs the issue into an incorrect “black” or “white” frame. Decisions about education or relationships are not either totally “correct” or “incorrect.” You don’t either get inspired about exactly which choice to make or receive no inspiration at all. You don’t either rely on the Spirit completely in everything or not ask for help at all. An individual does not even bear all the responsibility for the consequences of bad decisions. The scriptures tell us that with sinners “Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom.” Satan is responsibile for inspiration that leads to doom the same way God is responsible for inspiration that leads to success.
Strawman FallacySkeptics often compare the Holy Ghost to a vending machine that we go to for blessings, or a Magic Eight Ball that we go to for answers. But Mormons go to the Spirit for support and help, not for free handouts.
Confirmation BiasEverybody remembers that time they prayed to find their lost wallet and it didn’t happen. Psychologists have proven that people remember negatives much more than positives. But isn’t just one case of answered prayer proof of God’s existence?
Ambiguity FallacyCES Letter talks about “the Spirit,” which we assume refers to the Holy Ghost. But “spirit” refers to a lot of things; there’s all kinds of spirits.

Why doesn’t CES Letter give examples? A personal example? We all have them. From what I have observed, anti-Mormons are most likely to go apostate because of divorce, whether their own or their parents’. The next most likely cause is some miracle they prayed for, and perhaps which was promised to them, but which didn’t occur. The interesting thing is that with almost every case I hear about, the miracle did occur and it is obvious to me, but apparently not obvious to them.

“Well, you just are rationalizing anything that happens as an answer to your prayer,” they would respond. Perhaps that happens. I’ll admit it. Maybe bad consequences just happen and they were never meant to “build you up as a stronger person”–maybe they were just bad things that happened. Okay, but there are certain miracles that can’t be coincidence. It is foolish, and frankly evil, to discount these inexplicable miracles and undeniable experiences of enlightenment just because you lost your wallet once and didn’t find it even though you prayed. No, it is not “the same exact process.”

CES Letter is setting the expectation that spiritual communication should be a magical oracle or genie that gives us whatever we want. If people still take personal responsibility for things, then the problem of human fallibility continues, doesn’t it? Satan’s solution is to force people to make all the right choices, or at least make the right choice plainly obvious. If we have to get a perfect 100% score on our test, how can we possibly excel if we are not carried there by someone perfect? CES Letter‘s expectation perpetuates Satan’s solution where all our decisions are made for us and salvation is universal. The essence of Satan’s plan is universal salvation.

The essence of Satan’s inspiration is that we are fated to make choices. There is only one possible “correct” choice and if you don’t pick it you are a failure. This may sound counter-intuitive considering how skeptics so often talk about “shades of grey” and moral relativism. But just look at any of the social issues that Mormons get attacked for in the church, from racism, to sexism, to homophobia. Skeptics are always telling us there is one prescribed path to follow for all of these issues, while we recognize issues are complex and require individual tailored care. CES Letter talks about the “individual” in this argument, but paint a broad stroke that must cover every individual case. Mormons recognize that the gate is narrow and the path strait, but we don’t say that there is always one prescribed solution for everything to cover each individual. People are not robots that react the same to each condition. This is why God sends out individual missionaries to talk to people one-on-one while Satan broadcasts programs on TV and messages in the media to millions of people at a time. It is the fate of machines to receive the same programming as if every other machine is built the same way. But we are not machines. We are men and women, and the Holy Ghost talks to us individually on a case by case basis, and most of the time there is not one single “correct” choice that we must make.

The godly decision is not to hand out the answer that God would choose but to help us improve ourselves so that we can excel as men and women. This is the process of repentance, and it should constantly be working when it comes to all personal issues, big and small. We work to change whatever inside ourselves is holding us back, and we get help and assurance that our mistakes are no longer remembered. The best thing the Holy Ghost can do is act as Comforter and tell us that we are children of God with a divine purpose and we deserve to love ourselves. We need that assurance to build confidence and take the leap of faith.

Faith precedes the miracle, and a demonstration of good behavior precedes the revelation, as tests make us more confident in our abilities. We can be sure of the Spirit’s witness of Mormon doctrine because it aligns with our good works, works that consistently lead to final success, and it continues to enlighten and improve our lives. Then, we know it came from a good source. Bad fruit will never be given to us by God, even if someone decides to ruin things for us later along the way. It is also important to remember that bad fruit is not from our own doing, or an indication that we are cursed to be failures. Our stumbles despite our own weakness are the work of Satan and they can be overcome. If someone exercises their agency to cause us pain, that is on them.

It is painful to watch anti-Mormons spiral in a hole of hopelessness and self-pity. They beat themselves up over their parents’ divorce, as they likely did since they were little kids, and they refuse to let go and accept people are free to make bad decisions, or that Satan is the source of temptation and doom. They are stuck in this cycle that leads to their own divorce when they get older, and will likely lead to the same for their kids. They build this confined box in their minds where their parents had to make this choice, where they had either married the “right” or the “wrong” person.

I sense an incredible amount of torture behind the claim: “The individual didn’t have the discernment or it was the individual’s hormones talking… this poses a profound flaw and dilemma.” I sense the tragedy behind this–maybe the most raw and real part of CES Letter. Yes! We are profoundly flawed! That’s what makes us human! But the dilemma they pose is a false dilemma. Maybe the person mistook their hormones talking for inspiration, yes, but there are plenty of other possibilities. Maybe they even married the best possible person in the world and it was the best marriage that ever happened like in The Princess Bridge but the two people simply drifted apart over time. That happens. There are so many countless possibilities for what went wrong, and the knee-jerk reaction to place the problem into the same box and try to make it fit for everyone is not productive. God does not work this way. Lehi’s advice for Laman and Lemuel was to not think about the gloomy place you are now but to focus one the direction you are headed and be firm in faith on the source that guides you. This is ultimately how prayer and the Holy Ghost delivers us from the problem of human flaws. We improve day by day as the Holy Ghost tutors us and we gain mastery over our intellect, emotion, and spirit. It can happen, and it can be as small and simple as a child praying to find a toy that they lost the previous day.

Categories: Apologetics