Ask Mormon Girl: What does it mean when a Mormon says, “I know the Church is true.” It creeps me out. Help?

Greetings, readers—and I’m pleased to announce the launch of AskJewishGirl by long-time AMG reader Sharon Goldstein. Please stop by and offer Sharon a hearty mazel tov, and send her a question while you’re at it.  Meanwhile, the women of AskCatholicGirl are tearing it up.  Don’t miss their posts last week on why Catholics might stick around despite conflicts with and misgivings about the Church.  Moving stuff, and instructive to each of us who wrestles with our faith.

Now, for this week’s question:

Dear AMG:

I’m a newcomer in a high-density Mormon area. Often, I hear people say, “I know the Church is true,” “I know Heavenly Father loves me,” “I know that families are forever.”  I’m not a religious believer, but I can at least respect a comment that begins, “I believe in God,” or “I believe God is love,”  “knowing” these things strikes me as nonsense at best, potentially destructive at worst.

Do Mormons have a different definition of “knowing” something that non-Mormons.  Do they “know” these religious issues the same way they know their addresses or their names, for instance?  Do you view this as a problem or am I making a big deal out of this?  As you can probably tell from my question, I find it totally creepy.

 Thanks so much for your blog.  It’s helping me come to grips with my new reality.


Dear PJ:

Welcome to the Book of Mormon belt!  Enjoy the superior white bread, gorgeous outdoor scenery, and easy-to-navigate street numbering system.  And rest assured that you’re not alone in your discomfort with the robust use of the phrase “I know” in Mormon communities.

A few weeks ago, I was on a Mormon Matters podcast with Phil Barlow, a truly marvelous human being and Chair of Mormon Studies at Utah State University, and Phil said, “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt.  The opposite of faith is certainty.”

Food for thought, that.  And still, professing certainty is an important feature of Mormon religious life.  Attend any chapel service (yes, they’re open to the public) the first Sunday of every month, and you’ll see Mormons of all ages line up at the podium to share stories from their lives—some faith-related, some, well, sort of faith related–and then conclude with the words, “I know the Church is true.”  It’s what people say in when they’ve had spiritual experiences they interpret as confirmation of the rightness of Mormon doctrine and the power of Mormon institutions. But I’ve been in wards where kids who can’t even color in the lines yet are led by the hand to the podium as their parents coach them, whispering in their ears, to say that they too “know the Church is true.”

I tend not to use that particular phrase.  By personality, I’m more of an “I believe” kind of person.  But I also tend to avoid assessing what other people actually know or don’t know and trying to hold them accountable for it.  I have enough matters of my own to sweat out in the back pew. If someone says, “I know the Church is true,” I don’t make it my business to second guess them.

But as someone who studies language and culture, I am alert to the history and context of that particular phrase.  For specific cultural values are at work when Mormons opt to say, “I know the Church is true.”  The value of professing certainty is deeply rooted in Mormon history.  The founding story of our tradition is that a young Joseph Smith wanted to know which church to join and so after studying his scriptures went into the woods and prayed to ask God directly.  His prayer was answered with a visitation from God, who directed him not to join any existing churches.  Smith wrote, “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it.”

Since then, it’s been an against-the-odds story for Mormonism.  We are a minority faith, and a young one at that.  Some of what Momons believe the rest of the world thinks is pure “nonsense,” as you put it.  So professing that one “knows the Church is true”—in addition to being a culturally-traditional mode of expressing belief—can be a way of expressing solidarity with the whole Mormon enterprise. It’s like saying, “I’m in—100%.”

Mormons being humans, using the phrase “I know the Church is true” can also be a way of strengthening one’s position in the community.  It is a way of bonding with other Mormons and perhaps even establishing a bit of authority or status in the community.  A very natural inclination, that is.

What else is happening when someone says, “I know the Church is true”?  The whole gamut of human emotions.  Some people are saying it because they are happy, or sad, or lonely, or angry, or hungry for attention, or feeling uncertain and hoping that stating certainty will get them through another day.  Yes, PJ, there is a whole range of human longing and aspiration bound up in that apparently simple phrase:  “I know the Church is true.”

Given the chance, there are Mormons who will state their beliefs another way.  There are Mormons who will say, “Life is difficult and confusing, but I find comfort in prayer, and I’m humble enough to say I could be totally wrong, but I sure feel like good things have come to my life through prayer, and that’s enough reason for me to place my hope in the existence of God,” or “Mormonism has taught me a great deal, and it’s been an experience I’ve wrestled with, but after a great deal of wrestling, I find myself still here—still learning—still serving.”  Those tentative voices tend not to be the ones that rush the pulpit on the first Sunday of the month. But these voices have always had a place in Mormonism.  Stick around, dial down through the loudness of certainty, and you’ll learn to tune into the quiet ways in which a good number of Mormons—being human beings, after all—live their faith with as much longing, nuance, struggle, and uncertainty as anyone else.

Readers, what do you think? Are you an “I know the Church is true” person?  Or have you another way of stating your beliefs?

Send your query to, follow @askmormongirl on Twitter, or read The Book of Mormon Girl.


Filed under belief

102 responses to “Ask Mormon Girl: What does it mean when a Mormon says, “I know the Church is true.” It creeps me out. Help?

  1. mtomm

    Two comments.

    I used to be “I know the Church is true” kinda girl but not anymore. I’m in the “church has done a lot of good things for me” camp now. I’m certainly in (my husband is my bishop) but my world view has certainly changed and I’m really comfortable with just believing things now, and liking things. PJ, it kinda creeps me out, too!

    Joanna: I just finished your book. I finished up the last bit on the treadmill getting through a difficult run (large print on e-books is a life-saver). I got to the part where you say, I’m paraphrasing: To the Idaho boys on missions who are homesick for their video games…” Wow, how did you know? My son, now serving (79 days left but who is counting) is just that missionary! Thanks for the big smile and a bit of a cry.

    • Mtomm: yup, that one–i wrote it just for you!

      • Jason


        I was born as a sort of Heritage Member of LDS having tied into a Mormon historical lineage going back to the first year of the church. My ‘knowing’ the Church is true is predicated on this and it was affirmed to me by my family and the spiritual roadmap Patriarchal Blessing linking my royal ancestry (a literal priesthood pedigree of a line that ‘can be traced back to the first prophet Adam’) to my chosen mortality and place in the Kingdom and eventual conditional prize of eventual Godhood. These things proved the ‘firm foundation’ of Knowing that faith in all things LDS can then be built upon. I also come from a rich history of ‘Jack-Mormons’(occasional adherents) that provides a ying-yang balance and harmony to me beliefs. The later, paired with a lifetime of struggling with ultimate questions (why, then why?) I hope gives me an understanding of what you mean by a ’I know this Church’ very assertive individual and collective consciousness, is “totally creepy.”

        My personal struggle with Church truthfulness and epistemological logic began with the early onset of skepticism with my five year old mind asking in primary, “who’s God’s God and what was before God?” I hope that this skepticism will help to answer your question of the LDS version of Knowing. It seems that the ‘other’ religions I have experience with just leave it at ‘we don’t know’ and this is where I fully agree with you that “I Believe” is much more palatable seemingly more representative of Faith to the outside observer. Like those posting and AMG response to your question, I find more comfort in Believing than Knowing. I also agree in the “nonsense”, the circular reasoning of those who profess to Know, how they can Know, and how that what they say they know is True. From its proselytized test given in the Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:3-5, the LDS version of Knowing is you have to believe in the answer being true prior to an affirmation from God. For a missionary running into a logical person, this can go nowhere. It is my belief and observation that Barlow’s “…opposite of faith is certainty” is a fair assessment of Knowing in regards to the spiritual journey of self, existence enlightenment, and comfort in a challenging world. Most importantly, an uncertain Faith leaves the most room for growing and is, as a principle, paramount in Christ’s teachings.

        There is a functional purpose of Truth and Knowledge, by administrative design, or sprung from an organic grass roots belief, of cementing church members to the social, cultural structures of the religion. AMG and many respondents have identified what appears to be two distinguishable parts of the Church and that is the Faith as an ideology and the Church, as a religious organization. In other words there is a whole belief system centered on the teachings of “Jesus Christ” that is to be facilitated by the “Church…of Latter-Day Saints.” Although it is the Kingdom of God, the Church holds its Keys. This is a lofty charge in both matters of the spirit and of the world. To receive this designation, power and authority must be authored and endorsed by God (in this case vie J. Smith), asserted by Living Prophets and Missionary program, maintained by Church organization, and sustained by its members through ritual that includes the sworn raising of the right hand, Temple ceremonies, and a Sunday worship filled with affirmations of the Truth and Knowledge of the all things LDS to cement the Church by individuals of Faith through the Bearing of Testimony.
        Testimony is the most important possession of the individual LDS. It provides them authenticity, adherence, purpose, relevance, acceptance, authority, strength, comfort, but perhaps more than anything it provides an identity and a kind of public proof of their faith and solidarity of the Church. In a way a testimony takes on its own ego within the individual as an innocent child to be dearly, tenderly and sometimes overly protected and yet at the same time ritualized through wrote affirmation to be broadcasted and displayed for others acceptance and approval, adoration, and acceptance. The Testimony is used as a meter of one’s commitment not only to God but, from at least an outside—Your PJ perspective, a commitment to be Mormon, in every way. It also measures obedience to official and grass-root laws and morays and is the default reason that by the lack of a Strong Testimony, one sins or ‘falls from the Church.’ Framing this as a functional ego, you might appreciate why Mormons seem so defensive, easily offended, and judgmental.

        Hopefully, PJ, these things add up to the peculiarity of Mormon Knowledge and Truth vs. traditional Christian or evangelical Belief and Faith. It is, as so many leaders have emphasized over the pulpit—An All or Nothing Proposition. There is no reason to be Mormon without a Knowledge of the Truthfulness of the Gospel (Church). It is more than imperative, it’s a requirement to gain and maintain that Special Witness- A Testimony that is meant to be more than a belief more than a Christian Faith—it’s Everything to be Mormon.

  2. Susan

    I saw your tweet about this today. In my opinion, based off of a few extremely spiritual experiences in my life, a member of the church has every right to say that they KNOW the church is true, because they can KNOW that the church is true through the Holy Ghost. I KNOW the church is true because the spirit has born witness of that, so powerfully, that it has overcome me. I appreciate the response that Joanna gave, using experiences that Joseph Smith went through. Did Joseph Smith KNOW the church was true? You betcha! How else would he have been able to restore the gospel and ended up dying for it? After the experiences I’ve been able to witness and be apart of…I couldn’t ever use the word believe, because I know.

    • jace

      I go up and down a scale my friend gave me when I was in YW. It has been great to kind of see where I am with my faith and different topics of the gospel. First you have Faith that faith turns into Belief then you Know then Understand. It is akweird when people say they “know” unless your around it alot, but you get used to it.
      My biggest pet peeve on Fast and Testimony sundays is when people get up and begin with “I’d like to bare my testimony…” NO DUH! Why else would you be standing up there? Just seein how many people came to church today?

  3. Mark

    I am also one of the minority members of the congregation that struggles with the words “I know” used by everyone. In reality most members don’t “know” they have faith and believe what they are saying but don’t know with surety. But it has become a Mormon cultural phrase and unfortunately it has lost its power in my opinion. It can come across as insincere by those who aren’t used to it, because most likely the child being told what to say into the microphone doesn’t “know the church is true.” For the most part many of those LDS members expressing their faith are sincere people who have had some very personal experience with God. They have been taught from the time they were a small child to use the word “know” instead of “believe” and don’t even think twice about using such strong language when talking about their faith.

  4. Linda Strickland

    As a convert this phrase has always been a frustrating part of hearing testimonies. When I first heard it, I literally leaned forward expecting a single word BECAUSE to accompany that phrase. I know this church is because….. What a disappointment I have experienced each time the sentence was left hanging. I can’t change others but I can model the way I wish I could hear it.

    • I loved your comment and had to add my own! I too am a convert going on 9 years now, and I am one to say during testimony meeting “I know the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true BECAUSE….” I love being able to give examples in my life of the Holy Ghost keeping my family safe, or being led to someone who needed help, or having someone knock on my door in a time of personal need or reading that scripture that touched my heart that day. My friend and I discussed a few years ago the phrase, “I know the church is true…” one could argue that the church in a whole is imperfect, because people are imperfect, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored to the earth today, now that is something that I believe and know to be true! Because of my own testimony growing through trials of infertility, chronic illness, death of loved ones, and the joys in this life like becoming pregnant, teaching Sunday School girls who are going throug their own challenges. There are many phrases people can use, but actions speak louder than words, knowing people by their good works is what shows the Gospel is true!

  5. This is an interesting question and I really appreciate it. I’m a mormon, but definitely not a Book-of-Mormon-belt one. I’m from Chile and lived in Utah for 4 years while attending school at BYU. My parents were converts here in Chile since the 60’s, and I was born in ’85 so you could say that I was “born into the church”. I had a pretty strong “Chilean Mormon” background, my dad was a lifelong Church Educational System Coordinator and Institute Director, my mom a super-active Mormon leader serving in Area committees, etc. I used to say–and still do say often–“I know the church is true”, and I really mean it. However, after my experience in Utah and my previous experience as a missionary, I’ve learned that that phrase, which is so familiar to Mormons around the world, is very foreign to people of other faiths or non-religious people.

    In fact, when I first went to Utah in 2007 I knew that I would have to adjust to the American culture and values, but I thought that being a Mormon would be a great catalyst. I need to admit that my Mormon faith did not work out as a catalyst and that I felt like an outcast, pretty much all the time. I found that the Book of Mormon belt has developed its own subculture based on Mormon values but that do not quite represent the doctrine or beliefs of Mormonism; this subculture is not inherently bad, but I do believe that it is potentially confusing and damaging; I think this subculture is the source of most of the prevailing stereotypes regarding our faith: it has permeated politics, family values, education, work, across all levels of society. And worst of all: this subculture has acquired “doctrine status” in this geographic area. All of a sudden I felt like I could not support a left-wing politician without feeling that I was betraying my testimony of the gospel, that supporting Mormon candidates to office was the natural thing to do, and that even saying the word “socialism” was sinful (In Chile the Socialist Party and the left-wing coalition “Concertación” are quite strong, and a plurality of Mormons identify themselves as “concertacionistas” or “socialists”), just to give you a couple examples.

    That’s when I started to realize that, maybe, many of the things I used to do and say and that made so much sense to me may have sound very foreign to other people, even in my own country. I came to realize that I needed to avoid the self-righteousness of the Book-of-Mormon belt culture, that at least for me this wasn’t particularly “virtuous, lovely… of good report or praiseworthy”, and that I should not quite “we seek after these things.”

    So, even being a lifelong, active Mormon, I totally understand PJ. Let me also add that not only non-Mormons feel awkward in the Book of Mormon belt, some Mormons like me do too. It is an interesting place full of awesome human beings that I deeply love and appreciate because I lived with them and mingled with them between 2007-2011, but I think that they’ve been isolated for too long and what has happened there is similar to a “population bottleneck.”

    To finish, I think Joanna’s reply was very good. May I just add a bit of the doctrinal background behind saying “I know”, in addition to the historical/cultural reasons Joanna described: We believe that faith is not a knowledge of things, but only a hope in things that are unseen but that are true and good. That faith leads to action, to committing to follow God’s commandments and to follow Jesus’ example the best we can. However, we also believe, and it is a core part of our doctrine, that we can obtain “certainty” from God through the Holy Ghost, when one asks in prayer and has done all one can do to know of the truth regarding something–the truth about whether the Bible or the Book of Mormon are true scripture, to know whether Jesus lived and was our savior or not, etc–, and the promise is that God will answer these questions and prayers through certainty from the Holy Ghost. That’s indeed a different definition of knowledge or certainty that what’s used outside the Mormon Church, but for us it has the same and sometimes even more weight than knowing something through the scientific method or through actually seeing something. I’ve done that; I read the Book of Mormon very skeptically even though I grew up in a Mormon home, but then I proved God and his promise and I can say and testify that I did receive an affirmative answer that that record of scripture is not fake and that it is indeed revelation and inspired by God. How do I know it? through the Holy Ghost. Can I effectively convey it with words to a non-believer? probably not, and THAT’S WHY the words “I know” sound so foreign. Still, take it as an “I deeply believe”, and do the same thing if you want: find out by yourself why Mormons say “I know” by following the same pattern: 1) Read about it (the Book of Mormon or other material) 2) Ponder, meditate, let what you learn simmer in your mind, and 3) ask God, if there is a God, whether he can give you an answer or certainty about these things. That’s the only final way to know why Mormons say “I know”.

    Thanks for the question and for the post!

  6. Alan L hunter

    I am a convert (a little over 10 years ago) and I personally find the “I know the church is true” the lazy mans testimony. It seems like a catchall to me.
    I know with every fiber of my being that prayer works; That God is in Heaven; that Jesus is the Christ; that the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints is the closest thing going to the Church Christ would have today; and therefore that Joseph Smith was a prophet; and that the Book of Mormon is as much the truth of God as anything else ever written.
    These things and more I know because I believe that they have been personally revealed as truths to me by the power of the God I believe in.
    My knowledge comes from my faith, not from dogma or doctrine. My faith is in God and Christ and would exist without the LDS Church. The LDS Church just happens to express ideas and practices which come the closest to the ideas, practices and beliefs that my faith creates. So that is where God led me in order that I might continue to learn and grow in my personal faith.
    In the LDS Church I have served as Elders Quorum Counselor and President, as a counselor to 3 Bishops, as High Priest Group Leader and am currently on my 2nd 2-year stint as a Church Service Missionary in the LDSFS Addiction Recovery Program, so I have been afforded opportunities to learn the spiritual value of service in the name of Christ. I also have facial hair and have remained single this entire time, so I have learned something of the spiritual value of diversity.
    I know that I am not alone in having opportunities to gain first hand spiritual knowledge, but I suppose that on Fast & Testimony Sunday it just might be easier to say “I know this Church is true”.

  7. I wish I could “know”, that would be nice. But right now, even saying “I believe” seems to strong. I find hope in Mormonism, I looked elsewhere thinking I’d leave my Mormonism behind, but in the end it is where I find hope and so I’ve returned.

    • Anna

      Me too. I hope.

      • beccasmile3

        Me too….and I have found new meaning in hope from a talk given recently by my bishop. He said that hope is knowing (I’ll go with believing) that God keeps his promises and looking forward to the day that He does. That has stuck with me and I find it a beautiful way to look at hope.

    • David Bartosiewicz

      Lindsey, you don’t need to find “hope” in Mormonism, you find “HOPE” in Jesus…Jesus is the Head of the Church..We who are believers are apart of His Bride. We are the body..He’s the Church not a system. I pray that you’ll understand this.

      • northernlight

        Lindsey — My heart reaches out to you. Your Savior wants you to find the answer. Jesus Christ in His fullness has provided some guidance for us to follow. Read the “words of Christ” as they are in the holy scriptures, from any source you can. The words of Christ will tell you and give you peace as you have “pure” intent in knowing something.

  8. As a newly baptised member of the Church, I had a great experience with this “knowing”. In fact, the first time I went up in the front to share my testimony, I explained it as follows:
    Do I believe? No, if believing is like hoping that something is true.
    Do I believe that 1+1 equals 2. No, I know that. Do I know that the thing we sit on is a chair? Yes, I know. Knowing is a certainty because other people share that certainty. What if tomorrow a bunch of people come along and say that 1+1 now equals 3? 1+1=2 is nothing more than a widespread mutual agreeing. An axioma.
    So I know that God exists etc…

    Other question.
    Do you believe your husband/boyfriend/child loves you? Or do know that as a certainty? Is knowing only valuble for something you can scientifically prove?

    Is knowing the same as 100% believing? And is believing something like not knowing 100% sure?

    As you can see, a lot of grey fields, and not that black and white.

    As I testify: I know that God lives. I know He loves us. I only have to look around to know that.

    • I loved your comment. I like how you frame your argument, and I think it’s a necessary comment in this discussion. I think most people here are focusing too much in the etymology of the word “know” and derivatives, and not on what’s in my view truly the issue here, which is how non-Mormons perceive the bold “I know the Church is true” statement so often uttered by sincere (and sometimes not-so-sincere) members of the church. That is the real issue here I think, not to figure out what “knowing” means or what it does not mean.

      • Thank you. Also loved your comment. Didn’t know about the subculture. Here in Belgium we don’t have that at least: most of our ward are converts and maybe that’s why we have “the other look” as majority look.

    • smilingldsgirl

      Brilliant comment. I totally agree. Plus, we should look at the heart of what people are trying to say. Its a lay ministry. We don’t always get the perfect words out of the congregations lips. We should give people the benefit of the doubt when they phrase something in a way we wish was different.

  9. Libby

    This issue has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I have certainly said in testimony meeting that “I know without a shadow of a doubt…” that the Church is true, but I really don’t. More recently I have used terms like “believe” or “I have faith that…”, because that is more honest. I don’t KNOW the LDS Church is true, I don’t KNOW that my Heavenly Father loves me, or that Jesus Christ loves me…but I certainly hope so. I try to hold on to my faith that they do.

    As far as Church goes, I have none of the “knowledge” that I had before regarding its truth…it’s kind of a slippery slope right now for me. If it were in fact knowledge, I probably wouldn’t be experiencing doubts. I KNOW 2+2=4, and I probably won’t ever doubt it. I KNOW the location of my apartment, I KNOW how much milk I have in my fridge. Those may be trivial comparisons, but I don’t KNOW the Church is true; I don’t believe anybody can know it, but I believe people can have faith that is true, and that’s really all that is required or asked of us.

    • I certainly agree with the essence of what you’re expressing. I think that from a doctrinal standpoint and to avoid using the word “knowledge” in an absolute sense, a more appropriate way to say that would be “I know from the Spirit…” I do agree with you that nobody can “know” the church or the Book of Mormon or any Mormon or Non-Mormon doctrine is true or not when the word is used in isolation and in its literal sense, but when it is put in context and accompanied by what the very doctrine claims is the source of such knowledge, I don’t see it as inappropriate or inaccurate.

      I’m being 100% honest when I say that I do not know that the Book of Mormon is true from the scientific method or from first-hand observation, but I think I’m being 100% honest too when I say that I do “know”, somehow, of its truthfulness from or through the Holy Ghost. Of course such a statement does not convey anything to a non believer and it may be meaningless for them (and I don’t expect it to be otherwise), but depending on how it’s framed and conveyed [and in this case the phrase “from the Holy Ghost” puts it in a more doctrinal frame of reference], I think it is completely valid and precise.

      • jason porter

        I really thought your better “I know from th
        e Spirit…” is agreater Truth for those who have experienced a spiritual confirmation. I would also enjoy hearing about what that experience felt like- all consuming, tingling stomach, comfort, warmth, whatever feeling and emotion proved to them or at least bolstered their faith. How much more spiritually uplifting would that be? Perhaps the Bishop could come up with a theme to gather in thoughtful expression instead of a FaTM free-for-all. I once had a bishop say to keep things focused on Faith in Christ and avoid ‘share-amonies.’

        Thanks for your candor regarding the Book of Mormon. Since Feb. 2004 L.A. Times story about DNA disproving the historical claims made in the BOM, by leaders of the Church, missionary discussions, and by most members, that Hebrews settled in the Americas and that the Aboriginal American are decendants of Laminites one would think that by now no such claim could be made and it would be a lost, forgoten doctrine. But Southerton’s Silver Bullet has done nothing, which was noted in the article, that ultimately, the issue would fade away as religion relies on spiritual experience and not science. And to my shock and dismay, in 2012 friends and relatives ontinue to ask me about ancient BOM archaeology and for some reason dinosaurs (although interesting, I have yet to dig a dinosaur…but who knows). I was always of the OK there were never horses and chariots, or Jews in the old New World school of thought and that all the dates noted at the foot of each page should be deleted. And the cool but not even BOM accurate Freiburg paintings as visual pretext to the stories should also be removed. Not that it could have happened that way, it didn’t, and if someone could explain why thhere is still emphasis on this please explain it. For me time and energy could be better spent on the wisdom of the text instead of the historocity of it. There are much more enlightening and better stories than the “Book of Mormon Stories that my teacher taught to me (hold the tom-toms, please).
        Nonetheless, my wife when investigating (I’m so proud of her brave and brutal honesty) the Church brought DNA, the missionaries asserted with all authority that no, you do have to believe that the Book ACTUALLY took place in the Americas to be baptized, because if it didn’t, Joseph Smith is not a Prophet. I wish the Church would allow for some flexibility here or just delete it from the doctrine. Her point, that was shot down, is actually more sort of spiritual perspective to the text: one should be able to believe that there are good messages of wisdom and enlightment in the BOM alone to have a testimony of its goodness. But steel swords and and swift chariots prevailed and she had to mentally skip that part of the truthfulness of the BOM in the baptismal interview. Daniel, I hope someone, somewhere in the COB reads your thoughts and takes your point upstairs and that there might be heard by someone brave enogh to make some changes.

  10. Ryan

    Great column, Joanna. I agree with many of your ideas on this topic. I’m a pretty orthodox Mormon but also a student of language and an attorney. So words are important to me. I think the words and phrases beginning and ending with “I know…” and “…are true” have cultural meanings and context. I think when most Mormons say phrases like that, they really mean, “I have faith in…” But Mormons definitly like to be emphatic. And I don’t think most people think about the words they choose when bearing testimony. They are all motivated by different things (e.g., the Spirit, a need to talk, a need to vent, or a need to be admired, etc…). So more than the words, I try to quiet my mind and find the spirit of the speaker’s testimony. I think habitual language is a problem in our church and it confuses people who are not part of the culture but I have also witnessed power in the bearing of a testimony where its bearer used the crutch language of “I know…” and “is true.”

  11. Personally, I think “I know _____” is a linguistically erroneous sentence. In statements of faith, I like “I believe.” “I know” implies some sort of indisputable proof. And in matters of faith, usually the best you can get is, faith and what is perceived as blessings (which is really anecdotal, testimonial, and/or personal experience). “I know” [to me] implies scientific evidence. You can’t scientifically prove God’s existence, but you also can’t scientifically prove his non-existence. So it’s a matter of faith. What does the best evidence at hand suggest to you? That doesn’t mean it’s a diluted belief. Not at all, but I like trying to use the right words to try to describe my relationship to it. Great question & answer though. Thanks AMG!

  12. cldstar

    I’m a Mormon boy. A friend of another faith recently sent me a note asking is she could pose some of her questions about the LDS faith to me. One of her questions is, “Who do the LDS believe that Jesus Christ is?” That’s a core question about my faith, to be sure. As I try to say something about that question (though it also has a simple answer– He is the Savior of all the world, including me), I am brought face to face with the question of belief and how I articulate it.

    I don’t yet know precisely how I will respond to my friend, but it almost certainly be something like: “I believe in Jesus Christ as much as I possibly can on any given day. Some days are better than others. I make plenty of juvenile mistakes, but my experiences with Jesus, through His word and through the deepest feelings of my heart, bring me back to Him over and over. More than anything else, I want to be a ‘man of Christ’.”

    I try to take the question of how I phrase my belief seriously. Like Joanna, I believe in the power of words, and I believe that a nuanced and careful profession of my beliefs should be honest (including the fact that I DON’T know lots of things), declarative, and should be part of a dialogue. I believe that declaring my belief is an expression of faith, both for me and for those I am declaring to. We bind our friends to us with hoops, not of steel, but of hope, and together we continue “trying to be like Jesus.”

    In other words, I believe in Jesus Christ, and I hope that all the things I’ve learned about Him are true enough for me to find Him, but there’s lots of room in my belief for what other people believe about Him.

  13. Lance

    I’m a committed member of the church. I was born in the church but during my life I’ve looked and asked about others….many others. I to believe it to be true…..I can’t say I know but I can say that in al my seaching I’ve never found one that makes more sense. As a leader of an organization in the church, one of my counselors bore his testimony and said…”I hope the church is true”….I think that is where I am.

  14. Rachel

    Recently a young woman came to my wards fast and testimony meeting. She bore her testimony that she “knows without a shadow of a doubt” that the church was true and that if we, the congregation, did not we had some work to do so that we could know too. This bothered me tremendously. I am an active member of the church. I have no idea what anyone else said that day at church because I was so frustrated with what she said. I know that this reflects strongly on my beliefs, but I also know that there were others who felt the same way about her testimony (3 of us all with leadership callings in the ward). I wonder how it would have made a non-member or someone seriously struggling with their own testimony.

    The use of the words “the church” has always really bothered me. The church is an organization. What does it even mean to say the church is true? The church is a tool to bring us the gospel in an organized and centralized way.

    Personally I’m grateful for the church, and I believe in the gospel. I hope and believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored through revelation to Joseph Smith. I don’t know that it was.

  15. R.O. Despain

    When I was a kid (I’m 72 now), I would go to Fast Meeting every month and hear many of my friends and relations say “I know the church is true,” but on Monday, they were not acting as if they knew any such thing. I know about gravity, I know about kinetic energy, so I don’t jump off buildings. Just about everyone who “knows” the church is true on Sunday have done something by the next Saturday that they would never do if they knew the church the way I know gravity.

    “Actions speak louder than words.”

  16. To “know” something is true in the sense of unshakable certainty can be a very dangerous place to be for any person. I, as did the original questioner, write from the perspective of non-Mormon thinking, but with generous curiosity about both Mormon thought and the whole issue of certainty.

    I recently posted on my blog my thoughts on this in a post called “The Delight of Doubt” ( where I also mentioned briefly what is going on in this blog.

    In my experience, and in my days when certainty was a necessity to me in order to hold onto my faith and to fit within my faith group, one who admits no doubts is also one who is nearly immune to the prospects and challenges of growth. Healthy growth, spiritual or any other way, demands change and much rethinking of previous certainties.

    If the Mormon community cannot find space for good doubts and honest questions, then it must be a very closed and insular community. If, however, the words, “I know” really do mean “I believe at this point in time,” then I, as have some others here, encourage people to be aware that words matter. They create our reality in many ways, and these words suggest a reality that is rigid and inflexible.

    Is that the case?

    • northernlight

      In every community there is always room for “good doubts and honest questions”, if that community is based on the good of the community. When we focus on words we sometimes can get lost from the discussion and the good that can come from it. The guiding principle with “Mormons” is the claim of worshiping almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, and they allow all men and women the same privilege…allowing everyone the same privilage, let them worship how, when, and what or whom they may. Whether that worship is based on a knowledge or a belief it is theirs to own. We all want value in the being we worship…at least I hope we all have common ground there.

  17. Eric G.

    Thanks for the post and the thoughtful analysis. I think a helpful part of this issue to consider is what Linds hints at above: what is the epistemology embraced by Mormons, either individually or as a group, who say “I know the church is true”? While most Mormons might agree that there is little scientific evidence in the sense Linds discusses, there is certainly encouragement for the process of discovering truth to be a scientific one. Traditionally in the Gospel confirmation from the Holy Ghost is the evidence used to produce knowledge on spiritual matters, rather than something tangible. It’s not irrefutable in that no other person can benefit from it. Missionaries across the world teach every day a simple recipe of (sincere prayer) + (direct question to God) = (Holy Ghost confirmation of yes or no) (see Moroni 10:3-5). I don’t deny that for myself and others stating “I know the church is true” can be, at times, a plea, an aspiration, a social conformity, or any of the other explanations that AMG outlines in her Mormonalysis (I think I ought to trademark that word, btw), but I think it also needs to be mentioned that for some it’s an honest declaration from someone for whom spiritual evidence is a basis for truth.

  18. Carole

    Do I know “the church is true” in the same way I know my address or my name? I guess so. I’ve memorized my address and my name. I’d actually say my level of conviction in the gospel, as taught by the Mormon church, probably goes deeper than either of those things.

    I agree with Rachel’s comment about “the church is true” being sort of meaningless. It’s like saying America is true. What would that even mean? I absolutely believe (and on good days, yes, even know) that the gospel is true. To me, the gospel is 2 things:
    1. The love of God for his children, as expressed through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and
    2. The ordinances/sacraments that are available through the Mormon church.

    The church is the institution where the gospel lives, and it definintely isn’t a perfect embodiment of that perfect gospel. But it’s the best we’ve got for now. If we’re a people that believes in eternal progression, then I think it’s okay to accept that the church still needs to make progress in some areas.

  19. I’m a mostly-Evangelical Christian engaged in friendly interfaith dialogue with Latter-day Saints (I love reading your blog, Joanna!), and this kind of “knowing” has often frustrated me. Especially in my interactions with missionaries, I’ve often heard the phrase “I know” used as a conversation stopper, a cop-out answer to tough questions. It’s the trump card: bearing one’s testimony means he or she always gets the last word.

    But in my own Evangelical tradition I’ve been similarly frustrated by our propensity to profess, often and fervently, the extent of our love for God. To me it seems prideful to declare that I love God above all else, that no matter what I will serve and follow Him. It’s another kind of trump card: how can you criticize the teachings or actions of someone who passionately says that what they do is because of their love for God?

    I hope that I’ll be faithful, I pray that my love for God grows more and more each day, but I hesitate to say I “know” that I won’t stumble, and I’m all too aware of my own inordinate loves. Even Peter denied Christ three times the very night he declared he would follow Him to His death.

    I empathize with the desire to “know” (and “love”) in order to declare loyalty, to express commitment. I think I’m doing something similar when I say the Nicene Creed at my church: I acknowledge a reality I don’t fully understand that, nevertheless, shapes the story of my life. Exaggerated “knowing” and “loving” both seem to be refusals to think critically about our beliefs and practices, but there’s a way to humbly, faithfully, with quiet confidence, express both our honest questions and our willingness to set aside complete epistemic certainty, even certainty about our own motives, for the sake of practicing our faith.

    • Bethany


      YES. I love your thoughts. You’re “trump-card” comment is so dead on! As a missionary I remember doing that all the time. Your last paragraph is pure gold. Its good to know, though, that other faiths have a similar “I know/I love” issues. Thanks for your post.

  20. northernlight

    Some very insightful postings. Know vs. believe. That is the question. Rather than fill these lines with “the world according to me” let me share just a few action steps for all of us to follow. Please take the time to read from the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, and specifically Alma 32: 26 – 43. Apply it. If you feel that your testimony is slipping…apply this test. If you want to know…apply this test. If you “know” then please re-read these versus and visit again whether you “know” something.
    Joseph Smith spoke from his lifes’ experience. We were be mistaken if we try to second guess his statements. We can have our own experiences if we apply correct principles to that which we seek. And from those very personal experiences we can speak from the heart.
    God does love us and He seeks our happiness…yes even to our own level of understanding.

  21. Steve P

    An important addition to this discussion is the text from Moroni 10:5: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” When LDS people say I “know” they often say it in reference to this statement (and others like it). It stems from the understanding that it is possible to “know” something through the Holy Ghost (spirit to spirit) and that this conviction doesn’t necessarily imply knowing it in a physical sense. Surely LDS people use “know” in a broader sense, but this reference is important to consider.

    I can sincerely say that I’ve felt confirmations through the Holy Ghost that help me “know” that I am on a good path, even though there is much about the gospel that I will never “know” in this life. And I am OK with that.

  22. Irwin

    As a practicing Mormon, I agree with the above comments. I want to touch on the writer’s question of whether Mormon’s have a different definition of “knowing” than non-Mormons. In my view, there is.

    From my perspective as an attorney, if someone says they know something is true they are setting a very high bar. Since conclusions are often based on information that is filtered by perception or are subject to underlying assumptions, attorneys get paid to challenge what people in claim to know. I say this to point out that even in non-religious matters there is a continuum of certainty within which people may claim knowledge of something.

    Still, when you compare the type of evidence that most Americans would require to be comfortably claiming that they know something is true, with the type of evidence that many Mormons would say justifies professing knowledge that the church is true, there is a distinction worth noting, and another reason worth citing (in addition to those cited by Joanna).

    Most Americans won’t say they know something is true unless they can prove it, or unless they are so confident that they’ve correctly perceived something that there is no doubt in their mind about it. When Mormons say they know the church is true, they aren’t saying they can prove it, but that they are so confident in their belief that the church is true that they no longer have doubts about it.

    I want to point out another significant reason (besides the ones Joanna gave) for the common practice among Mormons of claiming that they know the church is true. There is a chapter in the Book of Mormon that is a dissertation of sorts on faith, and it significantly influences the Mormon view of faith. That chapter (Alma 32) explains that faith is not knowledge, but rather hope for things that are not seen but that are true. It goes on to say that if you exercise faith, you will discover by experience whether the thing that you placed your faith in is good or not. If you continue to exercise faith in that which is good, your faith can eventually turn into knowledge that the thing is true.

    Thus, the pinnacle of Mormon faith is knowledge. As a Mormon I interpret the statement “I know the church is true” as a declaration of a high degree of faith, not as an ability to prove the church is true. Unfortunately, the “I know” phrase has become so culturally ingrained that it is not often used in place of “I believe” even when the latter more accurately describes the profession of faith. In that regard, I echo the comments above in that I hope that Mormonism begins placing more emphasis (it seems to be, slowly) on accurate and honest declarations of faith that are followed up with “because …”.

  23. Ashley

    I wish I had time to read through all of these replies along with your post! Maybe someone else already mentioned what I’m going to write. I am also more of an “I believe” kind of girl. As an LDS woman, I have a harder time hearing people say things like “I know this is the only true church.” I don’t want to sound like I’m judging others’ testimonies, but I squirm in my seat a bit when I hear it because it sounds so exclusive. There is so much truth out there, and Mormonism certainly doesn’t have dibs on it all. I don’t know how to reconcile these feelings with what others say about the necessity of Mormonism having all of the pieces of the puzzle, if we’re claiming to have what we say we have, which to them means that it is the only completely “true” and whole church. Does anyone else have thoughts on this? I haven’t come to terms with how to deal with it.

  24. terrylinden

    Couldn’t “I know” just apply to the person professing, as a personal statement, rather than something that needs to be applied to everyone? I’ve always been more convinced by proof (scientific, reason, logical) rather than by just a profession of “I know.” And yet, there are things that I really do “know.” I know my husband loves me. I know there’s more to heaven and earth than are dreamt of by any of us. I know we create miracles.

    And as a sidebar, I absolutely LOVE Mr. Barlow’s statement that the opposite of faith is certainty. That’s going on my Inspiration Card above my computer.

    BTW, I’m listed as “terrylinden” for lots of reasons, but it’s Sharon Goldstein, really. As soon as I figure out how to fix it, I will.

  25. Dani Lofland

    When sharing my testimony I have used all these words in sincerity; hope, believe, and know. I have different degrees of faith in what I have witnessed, experienced and learned, and these things also change in intensity of faith as I meander and stumble through this life.

    I must say also that I find using the term “Mormonism” creepy. I can easily accept the nickname “Mormons” because of The Book of Mormon, but somehow the natural next step to “Mormonism” just doesn’t ring of any truthfulness. The church is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so that would be Christism? Please help me out on this one….

    • Dani Lofland

      I have never heard this “ism” (Christism) ever used for obvious reasons…please, do not think I meant it as something I think we should refer to. I meant no offense to any one and certainly did not mean to be irreverent.
      What would the factual “ism” be?

  26. Steve

    The church really needs a policy on the kids in testimony meetings. I cringe every time when there’s a string of kids who get up and regurgitate “I know”. It’s so off-putting and yes, even “creepy”.

    • Irwin

      +1. Church leaders have addressed it before, but it continues to be a problem in some congregations. Admittedly, it’s a difficult issue to address in a comprehensive manner. Kids should of course be just as free to express their feelings as adults, but it’s counter-productive to have kids getting up and repeating the same things that others do. So, I too would like to see a policy to provide some guidance.

    • NG

      Our ward finally did implement a policy: children must be unassisted when they come up to bear their testimonies. Before this, people were bringing their babies up to babble into the microphone, expecting us to “feel the spirit” of what their child was trying to say. It was a ridiculous waste of time. The older primary children still come up and regurgitate the “I know” stuff, but at least they can be understood. Sheesh.

    • Technically, the church has a policy on it. I remember a letter being read from the pulpit when *I* was young, saying that anyone who could not share their testimony on their own, without being prompted, should not be speaking on F&T Sunday. Clearly, this needs to be reiterated.

    • Jason

      Also not a good practice to counter the Rev. Robert Jeffresses of the world to use as fodder. Additionally, a sweet primary song instead, accompanied by a violin– come on– ushers in The Spirit and swelling tears more than just about anything.

  27. Postivism Is Not the Only Valid Epistemology

    I think some of PJ’s confusion comes from our societies complete reliance on positivism (if I can’t sense it it doesn’t exist) for establishing any truth. It’s hard for many of us to even fathom that there are other ways of “knowing” besides recording what we can empirically observe or measure. But that is really only one way of gaining knowledge. The enlightenment has got most of us pooh-poohing our emotions and feelings as immeasurable and therefore non-scientific and therefore proof of nothing and better avoided.

    I really don’t understand the adjective “creepy” in this context but I think what you might mean is that it is outside of direct observation and therefore must be linked to things we’ve been taught to be afraid of like the occult, or ghosts or fairy tales (which seems to be a very popular word to describe the gospel in post- and anti-mormon communities).

    Scientific observation is a great way to know things about the world, but it is not the only one. On top of that, it is fraught with it’s own problems, just like our messy ideas of faith, testimony, and belief.

  28. I’m a Lutheran. We use Martin Luther’s Small Catechism as a teaching book about the faith. In the book, Luther offers explanations and ends each explanation with, “This is most certainly true.”

    That phrase bugged me as a teen, and now reading the book as a parent with my teen, it still bugs me. But, like you said, I do think there is a bonding element of using words such as these – I feel a connection to others who read and believe the same thing. Still….the phrase does bug me and I can see how outsiders would be put off by what seems like arrogance (or as ignorance, I suppose).

  29. Native_American_LDS_Woman

    I read this site on occasion and I sent a couple of emails to Joanna “anonymously”…I never post on this site but Daniel Yanez’sreply caught my attention.

    I too am a convert. I’m Native American and I live in the southwest.

    My experience–I am a product of the LDS Lamanite program…where I taken from my home and I was placed in a white mormon foster home…and so began my indoctrination into the LDS faith in the “BOM-belt.”

    Having grown up in Salt Lake I can honestly say that I agree 1000% with what Daniel had to say.

    As soon as I graduated from High School I fled Utah and only looked back once..and that was to prepare for my mission…Glad to say I haven’t looked back since and do not miss it at all. Today I avoid Utah like the Plague and have disdain (to put it mildly) for the Mormon culture which has sprung up around LDS doctrine.

    Ironically, I am a strong member.I have a strong testimony. And while things in the church can creep me out…and I certainly not one of those that throws around the term “I KNOW” I have used it on occassion…ie..I know the BOM is true and is another testament of Jesus Christ. I am endowed and I teach Sunday school for the teens . In fact, I just submitted my grandmother’s name today…in hopes that she will accept the gospel and progress–on the other side.

    I am a proud democrat and I love my president…Barack Hussein Obama.

    I am grateful for diversity.!!!!!

    But most importantly I love my Savior–Jesus Christ. And HE is the reason I stay in this church…despite my strong aversion to the “mormon subculture.”

  30. Helen

    I am not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and have always been a confused as to whether the term “Mormonism” was offensive. I too would like to know a better term to use.

    As for the “knowledge” issue being discussed, I find that some people think in black and white, insofar as it brings them comfort to have certain issues such as their faith and their beliefs definitely resolved in their lives. Others see faith as a journey and can tolerate many shades of gray. This is by no means limited to people who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I do hope that those who find solace in the certainty of knowing also have the capacity to evolve and change as they take their journey.

    • Meidi

      The whole name issue with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or the LDS church or the Mormon church is kind of a moot point to me, but many people care deeply about what the church is called or what the members of the church is called. It’s kind of like how you call a secretary an administrative assistant now or a stewardess a flight attendant etc. It is old-fashioned terms verses new ones. I do get it, as a massage therapist, I get annoyed if people call me a masseuse because it just doesn’t sound as professional! And terms like “Moronism” can similarly sound old-fashioned or disrespectful to some people. For the sake of saving time, just use the acronym LDS and no one should have a problem with it!

      I too see faith as a journey, and a testimony (of anything really) must evolve over time, my testimony of the gospel has certainly changed over the years.

  31. PJD

    The church is merely a vehicle driving down the highway of faith.
    Sometimes it speeds effortlessly, other times it sputters and stalls.
    The gospel is eternal, the church someday may be left behind.

  32. Paul

    I greatly prefer the statement, “I believe” to , “I know”. But I question the centrality of belief too. It is simple and obvious to me that I can believe things that are false. More importantly and almost certainly, I misunderstand or inappropriately contextualize those things I do believe. Faith is the principle here. Faith. As many have pointed out, faith is not based on understanding or certainty. I also think it profoundly important to acknowledge the importance of faith outside of an LDS context, not only in other sects and other religions, but outside of religion entirely.

  33. Ryan R

    I don’t know if I have much to add to what’s already been said. I think this has been a good thread with a lot of good comments. A close friend and I have talked a fair amount about this very topic. He doesn’t like the idea of someone saying “I know” when it comes to matters of faith and religion. I differ somewhat in my opinion, although I do tend to avoid “I know” when I share my testimony. I’ll use terms like “I have a testimony or a witness that…” or “My deep belief or conviction is that…”. I think these kinds of words are true to the feelings that I’ve had, the spiritual confirmations or witnesses. Like the first Ryan above, I just try to listen to feelings that people are trying to convey through inadequate language. These things are hard to explain in words and I appreciate the spiritual emotions that people attempt to convey. I think “I know” is often used a little too tritely, but I don’t want to trivialize the experiences people have had that motivate them to bear their testimony of things that they know or feel deeply. All of these things come in degrees, and when we experience things of a strong spiritual nature, in that moment, we want to use language that matches the intensity and certainty of that spiritual impression. Maybe in that moment we do know. And these are not just feelings. They’re also, in the same moment, “intellectual” confirmations. Truth confirmed in our hearts connects or draws things together and leads to additional insights and understanding. Our heart and our mind tells us that these things are true.

  34. Wow! I happened to fall upon your site. It is wonderful. Keep up the good work. It is so important to people to ‘know the truth’ (lol!) about what being ‘Mormon’ is all about. There is so many misconceptions floating around. The internet is doing both. I’m glad people like you are taking a stand.
    Choose The Right! 🙂
    Warmly Pattie

  35. Laura

    Hello. I have never commented on anything like this, so we’ll just see what comes out of my mouth here….

    I’m a 19-year-old college student currently living in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was born and raised a member of the church, and I was also born and raised in northern California. When I first moved here (only a few months ago), I found a far different atmosphere than what I am used to, and it was unnerving.

    But that’s not what I’m talking about here (man, I could write a book on that all by itself). You have a good point in what you say, about people saying they ‘know’ the Church is true. I may be only 19, and maybe not the most responsible or most knowledgeable member, but I can tell you that while what you said is true, there is one thing you left out: There are people who DO ‘know’ that the church is true. Like, you look at them when they’re saying it, and you can tell that they’re stating it as simple fact. My mother is one of these people – she converted to Mormonism at the age of 18, and she’s one of the strongest members I know. Yes, she’s had her doubts and uncertainties, but she never, ever backed down from saying ‘I know this Church is true’. She only ever said it when she felt it needed to be said, which wasn’t too often, but it was always with absolutely ‘certainty’.

    Of course, I might just be saying this because she’s my mother, and we all love our mothers and think they’re the most amazing people in the world (most of the time), but it’s not just her. I’ve met people who have said they ‘know’ the Church is true simply because they want attention, or they’re saying they’re not going to leave it, etc., but I’ve also met people who DO know. When they say they know, they’re being straightforward and honest. I do know the difference. I grew up in a community where it was really easy to fall away from the Church, and so most of my ward was either one or the other.

    I may only be 19, but I know how important it is to tell the truth, and to stand by your words. I would never say I knew the Church was true unless I DID know it was true. No ifs, ands, or buts. All the way.

    And, well, if people are creeped out by that, I’m not going to modify my words to make them more comfortable. Granted, I wouldn’t say it unless I felt it needed to be said, which isn’t going to be every day, or even every Sunday or testimony meeting. It’s a phrase that I agree is overused. It only needs to be said once, to get your point across. But I will say it, when it needs to be said. I think there are times when you can’t bend to accommodate what other people are comfortable with (as I’m sure you know). These times are rare, but they are there. Call me idealistic, but that’s what I know. ‘Know’ can be interpreted to mean a lot of things, but the basic definition still stands, always.

  36. Taylor F

    Personally, I am LDS and I feel comfortable flinging around the term, “I know…” before sentences that can be known. For example, “I know that when I am having a hard time I find peace in prayer or reading the scriptures”. I drop the phrase ‘I know’ before all those kinds of things and usually finish off with, “All these things I DO know have lead me to believe that this church is indeed true”.

  37. Bethany

    PJ and Joanna,

    THANK YOU thank you thank you for bringing this weird Mormon cultural quirk out in the open! A couple of years ago, I was sitting in the back of my singles ward relief society meeting. I can’t remember what the lesson was about, but I remember this girl (who I later came to know and really admire, she was a feminist, really sharp, great gal) raised her hand and very matter of factly said something to the effect that “Well, I don’t really think anyone can really “know” anything. I think it’s more of a belief, I believe the church is true”. All the sudden my wandering mind snapped into focus on what she said. I could not believe what I had just heard. Was anyone else listening to this?! I remember the teacher just kind of glossing over her comment, not really picking up what she was trying to put down.

    It was the first time EVER that I had heard someone unapologetically give permission to deliberately not to employ the “I know” phrase when bearing a testimony.

    This fantastic sister was really active, taught Sunday school, loved the church, etc, etc.– but recall she was never shy about boldly saying “I believe” when bearing her testimony.

    This was so freeing to me. I was conditioned, just like most Mormons to say “I know”. It wasn’t until towards the end of my mission, after saying “I know” about a bajillion times, that this punk college kid cut me off right in the middle of my testimony and said, “So do you HAVE to say “I know”? Do they teach you to say that?” I really taken back by his comment. I felt convicted, like has seen right through me.

    I was taught (and this is REALLY drilled into you at the MTC) that you have to say “I know” because doing that brings “the spirit”. If you say anything less, you are wimping out, aren’t being bold enough or are not spiritually strong enough. Saying “I know”, those words alone are somehow magic and will deliver the spirit into their hearts like no other words are capable of.

    All of the sudden though, right there on that sidewalk with that punk college kid, his comment made me realize for the first time bearing testimony the way that I did was well….creepy. CREEPY! There I said it.

    Another AMG reader by the name of Jake (don’t know you, but you’re great) posted something on another blog conversation that I really liked:

    “When a person bears their testimony and doesn’t sound like themself (gramatically, lexically, etc.), it weakens the power of that testimony.” Now that is something I can say “AMEN” to.

  38. Meidi

    People can “know” things in different ways, just as you may not really be able to KNOW that there is oxygen in the air, but you can know that you are breathing and receiving the oxygen that you need to stay alive. Do you know whether or not your parents love you? Do you know that your husband or wife or child loves you? You may believe that the soap you wash your hands with or the sunscreen you put on your skin helps to keep you healthy, but do you know that is true? Do you really KNOW anything? There is evidence, but how can you really KNOW? The answer is that if you believe something strongly enough, then you feel like you KNOW it to be true.

    I will say this; vain repetition is no better in testimony meetings than it is in prayers. I try to bear my testimony in different ways so that I do not fall into the trap of simply parroting words that have lost their meaning.

    I can bear testimony to you of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I KNOW that the Lord loves His children deeply and individually, and I KNOW that He wants us to love one another and care for one another. And I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me to try to live up to what I know and be the person I should be. In the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.

  39. There seems to be a lot of presumption in some of the statements made in the article and comments. I question the assertion that the opposite of faith is certainty. The opposite of certainty is uncertainty, doubt, dubiety, skepticism… not faith. (Yes, I acknowledge that there’s a certain acerbic nuance to be found in the original observation, but it’s hardly a reliable jibe when seeking clarity. It muddies the water.)

    The Saviour himself was fairly clear on the importance of knowledge, as distinct from faith, belief or hope. (Emphases are mine.)

    John 17:3
    And this is life eternal, that they might KNOW thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

    John 8:32
    32 And ye shall KNOW the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

    Doctrine and Covenants 6:11
    11 And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt KNOW mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the KNOWLEDGE of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways.

    Doctrine and Covenants 50:21
    Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and KNOW, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?

    Pehaps the best explication of the differences, where no substitution of these words for each other will work effectively, lies in Alma’s remarkable discourse on hope, belief, faith and knowledge:

    ALMA 32

    17 Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall KNOW of a surety; then we shall BELIEVE.

    18 Now I ask, is this FAITH? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man KNOWETH a thing he hath no cause to BELIEVE, for he KNOWETH it.

    21 And now as I said concerning FAITH — FAITH is not to have a perfect KNOWLEDGE of things; therefore if ye have FAITH ye HOPE for things which are not seen, which are true.

    26 Now, as I said concerning FAITH — that it was not a perfect KNOWLEDGE — even so it is with my words. Ye cannot KNOW of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than FAITH is a perfect KNOWLEDGE.

    27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of FAITH, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to BELIEVE, let this desire work in you, even until ye BELIEVE in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

    29 Now behold, would not this increase your FAITH? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect KNOWLEDGE.

    33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs KNOW that the seed is good.

    34 And now, behold, is your KNOWLEDGE perfect? Yea, your KNOWLEDGE is perfect in that thing, and your FAITH is dormant; and this because you KNOW, for ye KNOW that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also KNOW that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

    35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must KNOW that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your KNOWLEDGE perfect?

    36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your FAITH, for ye have only exercised your FAITH to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to KNOW if the seed was good.

    The first principle of Christ’s gospel is obedience.

    Doctrine and Covenants 130:20
    20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated —
    21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

    By obedience to his commandments, we exercise our faith in him. By this we experience the promised blessings… and our faith is fulfilled and becomes knowledge. If not at first, then by continued exercise of our faith through obedience to the commandments until our knowledge becomes perfect, in much the same way as Alma explains that this path to perfect knowledge is a series of stages, beginning with hope, then belief, then faith until we attain sure knowledge.

    Moroni 10:5, 7
    5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may KNOW the truth of all things.

    7 And ye may KNOW that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the FAITH of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.

    • northernlight

      John Counsel — I love the way you have expressed yourself. It is comforting that the God of Heaven and earth, and all things that in them are, cares deeply for the eternal wellness of us, His literal spirit children. What is good for one is good for the other meaning that if He performs an act for one of His children He will do the same for another as He is “no respecter of persons”. All may come to a knowledge of the Lord if they pursue Him with real intent and a PURE heart.

    • jason porter

      John, I appreciate the exmples you provided to describe your understand of Faith and Knowledge in terms of your interpretation of the quoted scripture included with your comments. The great thing about scripture is there are many was to not only provide for personal translation of the text but also meaning and enlightment that can be internalized through that translation.

      After reading not only your comments but also the scriptures noted in the whole of the context those scriptures are originating from.

      Although my interpretation provides me a different meaning of what Knowledge and Faith is, I think that all readings of scripture enlihghtens, for prompting me to read, and be edified as you have benn, thanks.

      One of the things I love about the New Testiment is that it was originally written in Greek. This means a word like “know” can mean at five different things. Luckily we have been given direction on the meaning of ‘life, eternal’ or Eternal Life as most comonly referred to, as Exaltation.John 17 we find Christ offering His intercessory prayer that through Him man may be forgiven of sin and receive exhaltation. So in verse three, a definition of Exaltation is given, to Know God and Christ, my understanding of Exaltation is to be in the literal, physical presence of God in a perfected, resurrected state. So at least in this example to say, even with all the confidence and understanding and experience one could claim, “I Know that God Lives” is perhaps, an overstatement or unintentional hyperbole of one’s faith without having their election made sure or have some other Special Witness.

      My understanding of of the teachinngs of Alma in chapter 32 is an outline of the Plan of Salvation and to know it by its fruit, using faith as a vehicle to exaltation and a sure knowledge.

      The First Principle of the Gospel as I understand is Faith, and not obedience as read in the 4th Article of Faith.

      But that’s just my view.

      • Thanks for your comments, Jason. Yes, I understand the multitude of meanings possible in the original texts. I usually keep my 1880s edition of Young’s Analytical Concordance of the Bible beside me when studying for that reason — checking the original Hebrew and Greek words and their possible meanings can be very enlightening. The Joseph Smith Translation of the bible can be clarifying, too. As a final arbiter for accuracy, I prefer the process outlined in D&C sections 8 and 9.

      • Sorry — I omitted my response to your final comment:

        Yes, the fourth Article of Faith lists faith first in the list of principles and ordinances of the Gospel, but exercising faith is typically a form of obedience. James wrote in James 2 that faith without works is dead.

        James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

        It could also be argued that, since we so often speak in terms of “having faith” and “being faithful”, there is a strong inference that true faith is about action, or works — a response to a desire to obey that may be subject to fear, doubt or uncertainty. In this context, faith is the antidote for fear.

        “Our doubts are traitors,
        And make us lose the good we oft might win
        By fearing to attempt.”
        William Shakespeare, “Measure for Measure”, Act 1 scene 4

        Like hope and charity, faith is a primary human motive: hope moves us from fear to desire; faith is hope in action, turning desire to obedience and fulfilment which, in turn, lead to knowledge, trust, joy and the unconditional desire to share our experience, knowledge and achievements… which is charity, or the pure love of Christ and the ultimate motive of God.

        While motives may be unconditional, actual results are usually conditional, hence the need to obey the conditions that govern fulfilment — and the need for a Plan of Salvation and an atonement.

        Abraham 3:25-26 suggests obedience as the first principle:

        25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

        26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

        In principle, the process is quite simple. At its simplest, in daily practice, it suggests that we really only have to accomplish two things in life: obey and endure.

        WHAT we have to obey and endure are quite different matters, of course. As always, “the devil is in the details”.

  40. tammy

    I am a “less-active” member of the LDS church. I was born and raised in an active Mormon home. My husband is Irish Catholic and we have four little children. I am extremely uncomfortable with the formulaic phrase “I know the church is true” and always have been. In fact, such phrasing is likely the reason that I am “less-active.” Like the commentator above, I believe that formulaic speech reduces discourse to rhetoric inspiring the hearer to question the sincerity of the speaker. I do not “know” anything, (beyond my name, age, address) and I find comfort in uncertainty. I believe that knowing is an impediment to humility and that knowing and faith are mutually exclusive. I believe in the majesty of faith and in each person’s right to believe according to their own conscience. Yet truth, based on knowing, is an epistemologically challenged notion that ought to be overturned. What “native mormon speakers” need to consider is whether or not their intended audience will understand their intended meaning or not. Within a cloistered meeting of believers such phrasing is expected and largely unoffensive, but when in the presence of “others” such phrasing often does far more harm than good.

  41. tammy

    Point of clarity – “native mormon speakers” is a made-up category meant to signify those who speak from within a tradition either as a function of birth or conversion.

  42. Jessa

    As a child growing up in the church I “knew” the church was true because everyone else “knew” the church was true. My family and friends all “knew” and that was enough proof for me… I guess that as I grew older that is where the trouble started… I realized I didn’t “know” nor did I agree with the things I had once so strongly believed I knew. As an inactive member I am often visited by some young eager beaver missionaries who are very quick to answer my doubts with because ” I know the church is true.” I can no longer accept someone’s faith as my own. I have felt great comfort in the scriptures, but have always felt guilty that I cannot say ” I know”. My conflict comes in with the fact that I can’t reconcile my conscience with the position of the church on many social issues. I am glad I found JoAnna’s blog. It is nice to know I am not alone in my conflict.

  43. GMP

    I had a friend who was very antagonistic towards my testimony whenever I said that I knew that God loved me. He said that there’s no way that I could possibly know that God even existed, much less that he cared about me. But just like I can’t prove that God exists, my friend can’t prove that I don’t know that he exists.

    And I resolutely agree that in times of fear and doubt and when the whole world is crumbling around you, saying that you “know” God loves you feels a lot better than saying that you “believe” God loves you. That sometimes-unsupported “knowledge” gets me through the worst of times.

  44. Shaun

    All I have to add is… the church must be true or all us Utah Mormons would have distroyed it long ago!! Seriously though, we’ve all said it and if we were honest with ourselves we’ve all wondered at times….do I really “know” the church is true? I have personally recieved that “burning” of the Holy Ghost speaking to my spirit concerning many things including the first vision, the Book of Mormon, each prophet as they have been sustained, etc. That burning causes me, I have to admit (I am a Utah Mormon after all) to use that dreadful word KNOW when I’m in the security and comfort of my home ward. Have I doubted, you bet. What!! How can I use that WORD and say that I have had doubts. I guess because that “natural man” Mosiah speaks about keeps reminding me I’m human. I sincerely appoligize to any I have offended by saying I know the gosple is true, with my non-LDS friends I always say believe, so as not to offend. It is deffinately a cultral thing. I’m going to try and be more sensitive to the feeling of others, and find words that will convey my deep belief less offensively. Sometimes when I hear people bear testimony that they KNOW something is true, the spirit bears whitness to me that “they really do know” other times I think give this guy an academy award. I know the word is used way too often and as was already mentioned, it has lost most if not all it’s punch.

    • Perhaps we can take a cue from Joseph Smith: in writing the Articles of Faith, for consumption by newspaper readers presumably not members of our faith, he begins each Article with the words “We believe…”.

      When bearing testimony to those not of my faith, I often couch it in more understandable language, such as “our church teaches that…” or “we believe that…”, concluding with the observation that the Spirit witnesses and reveals all truth, that in this way I have come to know these things to be true in my own life, and then invite them to experience the same for themselves.

      I can’t recall any objections or reservations to this approach. Quite the opposite.

      • jason porter


        I was hoping you can elaborate on this more distinctly. As I read your comment I am unsure if your point is to not throw pearls (to some, of great price) before the swine? That non-members have not yet been prepared to receive the Truth and not able to understand or discern it, without immidiate objection or offense? Are you also not saying that the Articles of Faith have no audience in the Church, and were a watered down version of the principles of LDS doctrinal Truths that we as members in the safe harbor of our peers are to supplant the word Know for the word Believe or Faith with Knowledge? In other words I read in your suggestion that The Articles of Faith that were indeed written for and published in a newspaper are obsolete, or inferrior to the knoeledege professed over the podium.

        Help me to know how my understanding of your latter words are not in harmony with AMG’s thoughts, wich you articulated a compelling argument against in your prior post.

      • Jason, I’m not in a position to offer a definitive answer on Joseph Smith’s intentions. I’m surmising from the available evidence and prevailing conditions that he was writing — under the influence of the Spirit — what was to become a defining document: a succinct summary of the Church’s core teachings.

        I suspect that he was writing for everyone, including the Church. My observation and experience, over the course of 57 years as a Church member since meeting elderly missionaries shortly after my ninth birthday, has been that members vary widely in their conviction, influenced by a broad range of factors. Many believe only. Others have spiritual experiences, usually in fulfilment of desire and obedience, that lead to knowledge of the truth of specific aspects of the gospel, while other aspects have not been subject to personal revelation for them and remain belief.

        My intention was not to decry anyone’s uncertainty, doubts, misgivings or lack of spiritual experience. And certainly not their sincerity and honesty. I don’t know the circumstances of their lives and I decline to judge. I only seek to share what I have found to be true and reliable, personally. I’ve had my own share of uncertainty at different times, leading at one point in my forties to excommunication, repentance and reconciliation. (This was more to do with uncertainty over my personal worthiness rather than about doctrine, personal offense or anything else. I needed to be absolutely certain of my standing with God, despite assurances from local leaders. In hindsight, it was a flawed perspective, but symptomatic of what turned out to be a turbulent mid-life crisis.)

        So your question about casting pearls before swine, while valid, is not really applicable from where I stand. Joseph was simply representing the broad membership of the Church. That’s not to imply that belief is undesirable, any more than that it’s enough to sustain us in the face of often prolonged trials and adversity. I prefer the perspective that belief is a necessary pre-cursor to faith and eventual knowledge. In the end, we each need to seek and receive the spiritual confirmations that the Gospel is true in every respect.

        As an impressionable teenager, hungry for truth, I was reminded by a wise, older man that, while the gospel is always true, the Church (meaning the members) isn’t always as true as one might wish. That, for me, is fair comment. I’ve seen my three youngest daughters become inactive, in part due to insensitive, fear-driven, thoughtless or unkind words and actions — or inaction — of auxiliary and priesthood leaders. But that’s people, not principles, doctrines and ordinances. However well-meaning, none of us gets it right all the time, including me.

        In terms of how we bear testimony to non-members, I’m always mindful of the admonition of the Saviour to avoid contention and offense. I once listened to a rivetting two-hour missionary training address by Elder Gordon B. Hinckley in 1967 on the theme of Proverbs 15:1-2…

        1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

        2 The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.

        He also quoted the following scripture as a guide for the eager young missionaries:

        63 And this I do that I may establish my gospel, that there may not be so much contention; yea, Satan doth stir up the hearts of the people to contention concerning the points of my doctrine; and in these things they do err, for they do wrest the scriptures and do not understand them.

        64 Therefore, I will unfold unto them this great mystery;

        65 For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts;

        66 Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely.

        67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.

        68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.

        69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

        I try to be guided by the Spirit, and the “still, small voice” is usually a pretty reliable pattern for bearing witness, I find. Yes, on occasion, I have felt moved by the same Spirit to speak boldly to individuals who turned out to be exceptionally valiant and in need of boldness. But I didn’t know that at the time.

        That said, there is a difference between following the advice of the Saviour and the guidance of the Spirit and being timid and hesitant for fear of offending someone. Consideration and respect are always called for, but as I learned a long time ago, “you cannot please God without offending the devil”. He makes very effective use of fear of loss and other forms of emotional blackmail — including “political correctness”.

        As Moroni teaches us in Moroni 7, it’s wise to examine our motives for doing anything related to the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we do only the right things, for only the right reasons, we have true integrity and are entitled to the Spirit’s constant guidance and companionship. There’s no more useful compass in life, I find.

        I hope this (again) rambling reply clarifies my intentions for you. 😀

      • jason porter

        John, I thought I should digest everything awhile before reponding because you certainly were well thought out and personalized your message in a way that prompted me to pause. Thanks for your thoughts, no doubt reflecting true feelings; your wisdom, unique experience, and personal enlightment reminded me that things of the spirit are just as real a human experience as any other to be had.

        Sorry to hear about your struggle with personal forgiveness. Although we may differ on other things, I definitely connected with your story. So I guess you got me on that because I know that’s true, that it’s a difficult.

    • SharonGoldstein

      If “…the church must be true or all us Utah Mormons would have distroyed it long ago” then I guess Judaism must be true because look what we’ve been through over the past 2000 years, and we’re still here. But also seriously, if faith doesn’t include doubt, even if it’s intermittent doubt, then I would worry that the believer hasn’t taken the time to examine her/his religion, and that always troubles me. I think doubt keeps us honest. A truly inquiring mind is a blessing to everyone.

      • tammy

        I agree wholeheartedly. I think that doubt keeps us honest and humble, which is a virtue sadly lacking in a world so deeply divided between those who have and those who have not Having doubt is a way of acknowledging diversity and demonstrating an open mind. I am thankful to you and Joanna and the “catholic girls” for providing a lay forum for interfaith dialogue.

      • SharonGoldstein

        Thank you and God bless, darlin’.

  45. Ryan R

    I think we’re asking the wrong question. The question should be, do you believe the Book of Mormon and other scriptures contain the truth? If you answer no, then let’s continue this debate. If you answer yes, then you haven’t taken a careful look at what it says in the scriptures. A purely secular debate on this subject is reasonable. If you don’t believe the scriptures, then there’s little reason to believe in any spiritual sensitivity human beings possess to be able to know things without seeing with their natural eyes. But I know that a number of people who have commented on this thread (perhaps most), claim some belief in scripture and in this church. So to those, just look up “know, knew” in the index, read through some of them, and then ask yourself again, “do I believe these scriptures?” If you answer yes, then there is only one answer to this debate. So here’s a sampling (although these first two aren’t in the index): “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things”, “I know that [God] loveth his children”, “ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led”, “by Spirit all things are made known unto prophets”, “I know in whom I have trusted”, “because of revelations, Nephites know of Christ and his kingdom”, “Nephites write so that those to come will know that they knew of Christ”, “no man knoweth of God’s ways save it be revealed unto him”, “how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served or who is far from his thoughts”, “seer can know of things past and future”, “these things are made known by Spirit”, “given unto many to know the mysteries of God”, “to those who harden hearts is given lesser portion of word until they know nothing of mysteries”, “none knoweth these things save the penitent”, “unto those who repent, exercise faith, bring forth good works, and pray continually, it is given to know mysteries of God”. And on and on and on. So again, perhaps we should be asking a different question.

  46. Malik

    I haven’t read the whole post or any comments because I’m running out of time this morning. But on Friday, 17 October 1969 my father and 13 other young black men were kicked off of the University of Wyoming football team for wanting to wear black armbands to protest the LDS priesthood ban. On Friday, 01 October 1999 I was baptized a member of the church. The ban has been a part of my life longer than I’ve been alive! 🙂

  47. Just reading along. It’s easy to see why democracy can’t work. Religion poisons it with the easy road to comfort — believing absurdities in order to bond with others who believe them.

  48. jason porter

    Writing replies on an android touchscreen phone is a regretable and hopefully repentable offense, please forgive me.

  49. Jen

    First off, I am truly enjoying your blog. I am a quiet person be nature, not by influence. And I am a dedicated LDS but I also am an independent thinker and I love to question things. It is so refreshing to find there are many other Mormon women who don’t necessarily take things at face value but question and analyze.

    In answer to your question, I “know the church is true” about 70% of the time. This may sound strange but as most of us know in the church, the spirit is not always strongly felt or present. There are times when I haven’t prayed for a while or maybe haven’t been inspired at church for a couple weeks and my certainty starts to dwindle. This does not mean that I think the Gospel is false, but I more just “believe” in the teachings. There are times when things are said and done in the church that I don’t personally agree with, but my testimony is strengthened by that voice in my heart saying: “These are just people. Human beings capable of error or misinterpretation or miscommunication. Every one of us is capable of misinterpretation. Regardless of its members, the Gospel is still true.” In my case, the certainty definitely is there when I pray with a sincere heart and I feel the spirit. I do not know if this is true of others. Maybe they always “know” or maybe they don’t “know” they just say they do. It may sound bad, but I don’t care either way. Who am I to question the faith of others? If my children want to go up to the pulpit and say they “know” the church is true, I won’t stop them. But I won’t tell them to do it either. I hope to encourage them to think and feel for themselves. I am a member with a strong testimony, and I try not to let others influence my faith, because my faith is between me and the Lord.

  50. Erin

    I find it extremely interesting that so many out there are bothered, “creeped out” even, by someone else expressing that they “know” something. Would this even be an issue if it were not relating to religion? If you were to ask someone if they knew if there was a restroom around, would it be creepy to have them say, “I know there is one around the corner?” Do we say, “How do you know it’s there?” Do we make them qualify their knowledge of an existence of a restroom around the corner? Is it that people just feel much more comfortable always using “believe” when it comes to religion? If someone chooses to say they “know” something is true, that should be enough for all of us. They probably have or have had enough of their own doubts, they don’t need us doubting them too.

    That being said, I do think our culture (especially the Utah Mormon culture) gets too caught up in jargon. The “That’s what everyone else says so I’m going to say it too”. We say it as children and teenagers, following our parents and/or teachers until we have come to the knowledge ourselves. There are a great many who continue to use these phrases, for one reason or another, based upon their childhood learning. Mormons also tend to believe that their testimonies need to be eloquent and profound. Thereby using the phrase as something defined that they can always fall back on when they get nervous and loose their train of thought. I for one, have no problem discerning when a person uses the “I know” phrase as a declaration of their our personal quest for knowledge or simply as a culturally defined wrap-up to their public declaration. I do think our religion, as a whole, would do well to step away from the culturally bred jargon. Testimonies don’t need to be perfect and they most certainly can contain your own phrase of belief.

    • Alice

      I find this completely bizarre.
      “I know there’s a bathroom around the corner because I’ve been into it, or because I saw a sign saying there was a bathroom. You can go and see the sign. Here are other people who have used that same bathroom. Everyone who goes into this bathroom can count the same number of toilets and sinks.”

      “I know that there’s a great guy in the sky who created a special way of interacting with him with secret ceremonies so we can receive special spiritual goodies” is totally different. At the very least you can notice that people all over the world who profess to believe in this being “know” that he wants different things, has different rules, expectations, etc.

      Totally separate from the reality of the bathroom. Besides, if I were looking for a bathroom, I wouldn’t say, “how do you know there’s a bathroom there?” I’d just take your word for it and go relieve myself. If you were just offering that information out of the blue, I’d think you were a creeper.

      If you told me that there was a great invisible man who wanted me to worship him if I wanted to be truly happy, I’d certainly be interested in how you came to believe such a thing.

      If someone told you they “knew” that your god was a bunch of bullarky because they had studied a lot and god said so, would you accept that as “knowledge”? If so, your knowledge is no better than that other person’s, and you have no grounds to say yours is any more reliable than his. If not, you’re not being honest about how you’re presenting the concept of knowledge in your post, as all being equal by virtue of a person’s inquiry, and how it’s supposed to be “good enough.”

      What I’ve gathered from this thread is that many religious equate feelings, bias-confirmation and wishful thinking with observable,verifiable reality.

      That explains a lot.

      • Erin

        Alice, you are exactly making my point! “…your knowledge is no better than that other person’s, and you have no grounds to say yours is any more reliable than his.”

        Who are you to say that I am not capable of arriving at my own knowledge? If is your knowledge just better than mine? Just because you only base your knowledge on what you can see and touch doesn’t mean that others aren’t allowed to base their knowledge upon what they feel! I find it extremely interesting that you would happily accept someone’s explanation of a physical, tangible thing but immediately balk at the reality of something unseen. Is it not possible for others to have different knowledge then yours?

        You expect people to only accept YOUR knowledge or to only accept knowledge that was gained by YOUR approved means. This is a very bigoted view.

        Not only that but you have completely misunderstood the topic of this discussion. This is NOT a discussion of whether or not someone believes in God. It is a discussion regarding how believers express their belief in God.

  51. Ann

    I’ve never commented on a blog and am not even a big blog reader, but I came across Joanna’s a few weeks ago and I’ve found this chain of comments to be interesting and thoughtful on a subject that has always perplexed me. I appreciate all of your varying perspectives and insights. I will confess, I’ve cringed at the automatic “I know this church is true” declarations on Fast Sunday from a young age (I’m now forty-ish) and even wondered at times if I should doubt my own firm testimony, only because I refused to phrase it in that way. I truly believe it is simply a cultural quirk that we have adopted this overly used and inaccurate phrase, as the problem in my opinion is not in the word “know” but in the word “church”. I personally have gained a sure knowledge of many spiritual truths throughout my life. I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet who restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth in these latter days. I know that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. I also know President Monson is a prophet today. How do I personally know all of these things and many other spiritual things to be true? Because, through my asking, wondering, thinking, reading, listening, learning, praying, pondering and meditating on these subjects, the Spirit bore witness to me of their truthfulness, through a peaceful, comforting and joyful feeling that flooded my very being, my heart and my soul. I know I am blessed to have such a surety and I hold it sacred, to the point that I don’t verbalize it aloud as often as I maybe should or could. Even though I “know” all these things to be true, would I ever stand up and say “I know this church is true”? No, a “church” is an earthly institution, an organization, a group of people, a building where we worship. I wish the phrase would at least evolve to “I know this gospel is true”, as that feels more authentic to me.
    I might add, that these truths, which may seem like basic tenants of our faith to many, came to me line upon line, some even only in the last couple of years. Even though I have never doubted my faith or the feeling of the truthfulness of the gospel, gaining sure knowledge is a continual process for me and I hope that it will be throughout my life. I am comfortable with the fact that I don’t have a sure knowledge, or testimony, of every single minute detail of the gospel yet. I think that is why I appreciated the quote one of you shared about certainty being the opposite of faith. For me, having an open heart and mind and continued faith, is what allows the rich, beautiful layers and textures to be added to an already known truth or to a truth that I am still seeking to fully comprehend. For example, even though I know with certainty Jesus Christ is my Savior, it is my faith that allows me to grow closer to Him, and my open heart that allows me to get to know Him and love Him more deeply each day as a personal friend and brother. That feeling of closeness and love is what comforts me during some of life’s most challenging moments. I hope any of what I said makes sense, as sometimes I find it difficult to even put such intimate feelings into words.

  52. David Jones

    Certainty is not the opposite of faith, it is the result. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is faith’s companion on the road to certainty. They part ways upon arrival.

    • SharonGoldstein

      If this were Facebook I’d click on the little “Like” icon. Nicely put, David. Sidebar: how many “Davy Jones’ locker” jokes have you fielded in your life?

    • Agreed — although I’d suggest that, along that journey, doubt and faith alternate as circumstances arise. In that sense, they are less opposites than absences: doubt is the absence of faith, while faith is catalyst for seeking certainty to replace that doubt.

      Nice perspective. 😀

    • Dani Lofland

      David, I “LIKE” this one too.

  53. Tiffany

    I know the catholic church is true. I know the baptist church is true. I also know the Jewish faith is true. All churches have some element of truth to them, or they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. So what is so wrong with saying I know the church is true. There are true and good things about all religions. If you don’t know your church is true, why are you wasting your time going? I personally don’t get up and say I know the church is true, because there is more to it than just truth. I prefer the words, I know this is the only church with the fullness of the gospel. And yes I KNOW that. When members use the phrase “know” how they know can often be traced back to this scripture:
    Moroni 10:4–5
    4 And when ye shall receive these
    things, I would exhort you that ye
    would ask God, the Eternal Father,
    in the name of Christ, if these things
    are not true; and if ye shall ask with
    a sincere heart, with real intent,
    having faith in Christ, he will
    manifest the truth of it unto you,
    by the power of the Holy Ghost.
    5 And by the power of the Holy
    Ghost ye may know the truth of all
    Pretty specific that we CAN KNOW what is true!

  54. Alice

    Why isn’t there a reply button for me to reply to Erin.

    1. I did not misunderstand the meaning of the original post. It is not merely about expressing “knowledge” but how one comes to it, and what it means. (This is clear from the “do they mean it in the same way they know their address or name”? question)

    2. Even so, do you mean to say we can’t deviate from the original OP’s question? You certainly did in your first response.

    3. I’m sorry that we can’t come to an agreement on what knowledge is. I think it’s being able to independently verify facts. You think it’s feelings. You don’t seem to understand that many people come to completely contrary religious beliefs than you do. They come to them the same way you do. If they are opposite, how can they both be the same. And then how can you identify that as knowledge? Unless knowledge is essentially meaningless and has no connection to reality?

    I don’t think for a second that “feeling” is equivalent to “knowledge”I You’re saying that there are other ways to know things than by reason and trial and independently verified and widely agreed upon observation. I don’t agree. I’ll go with the scientifically tested medicines every time, over the crystals and magical oils and the fervent testimonies of those who use them and “know” they work.

    It’s _you_ who is claiming they are the same.

    People can give their testimony about the “Church” all they want, but I give it the same credence I’d give to someone telling me that they “know” they’ve been abducted by aliens or people who “know” there are fairies. Again, this is not the same as agreeing on where a bathroom is located. To you all of these things are knowledge. They aren’t to me. I don’t think conflating the word “knowledge” to include every idiotic imagining a person can have is helpful.

    Just because a person believes something doesn’t mean it’s actual “knowledge,” by my understanding of knowledge.

    And yes, I think reason is superior to “feelings” (“spirit” “testimony” “scriptures”) when we are trying to determine truth.

    I think we must agree to disagree here.

    • Erin

      Alice, yes, I agree that we disagree. But, you won’t let me disagree!

      I’m more then willing to admit that people have different opinions then me. They are allowed opinions and beliefs. You said: “You don’t seem to understand that many people come to completely contrary religious beliefs than you do. They come to them the same way you do.” No, I understand perfectly well that others don’t believe the same way I do. I also understand that those same people came to that conclusion based upon their own research, studying, etc.

      You also said: “You’re saying that there are other ways to know things than by reason and trial and independently verified and widely agreed upon observation.” Yes, I am! Every person who believes in (any) God is also saying the same thing! And believe it or not, those people are allowed to believe that! Just because their knowledge can’t be tested in a lab does not mean that it is any less true to them. Just because it doesn’t coincide with way you think doesn’t make it any less real.

      Finally, I get it, you don’t believe in God. And you think that believing in God is equitable to believing in “fairies”. Fine. But allow people their own beliefs! People who believe in God are not stupid and don’t deserve to be treated like they are children who don’t understand the difference between “idiotic imaging” and reality. Do you even realize how insulting and demeaning these statements are?

      I certainly DON’T believe you are stupid for not believing in God.

  55. David

    I guess that I’m still deep in the “I know..” camp. But it’s not so much about sharing that testimony with others as it is reminding myself that I’ve already “tested the waters” so to speak, and proven to myself that it’s true. I’m far from perfect (just ask my wife or any past room-mates), and I have days of stronger and weaker faith. However every time I’ve gone out on a limb and lived the doctrine when it would have been much easier not to, I’ve seen the results in my own life. I’ve proved to myself, and to own satisfaction, that it’s true.
    I was a convert and I understand that what is proof enough for me might not meet anyone else’s standards for demonstrable “proof”. But I’ve met mine. Sometimes I need to say it aloud to remind myself, and “I think, I hope, I believe, etc” just don’t resonate with me in the same way.
    When I teach or testify and I whip out the dreaded “I know..”, what I guess I’m really saying to them is “I’m convinced, and satisfied that it’s true…..and there”s a way that you can find out to your satisfaction too, but only you can do it.”

  56. Emma

    All my life I have been taught to say that I know the church is true… But I don’t feel comfortable saying that. I know God loves me, that this earth isn’t “it” that we lived before and will live after this life…. But with all the problems I see in the church I believe the church is true but I don’t know… I love in the movie Singles Ward where they say that the church is true but the people aren’t.

    • Hi everyone. Sharon “AskJewishGirl” Goldstein here, recovering from matzah overload. The question of which religion is REALLY TRUE is as old as religion itself. I have an image of two tribes from two different caves coming to blows over whose fertility god(dess) is the real one.

      A saying I heard many years ago, I believe attributed to Hinduism, is simple and to the point: There are many paths to God. If God is infinite, then the ways we find to worship Him/Her/Whatever will be, perhaps not infinite, but many and varied. True, most of us follow the religion into which we were born, but many do not. We may find a religion which is more fulfilling than our birth religion; we may discover a spiritually fulfilling life unaffiliated with any religion. We may become atheists.

      And alas, there are churches (and synagogues and mosques) which preach intolerance, exclusion and even outright hate. Humankind is fallible, and history is littered with examples of this, from common or garden bias, to the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide.

      So does God love you? Yes. Me? Yes. Joanna? Yes. Is the LDS Church true? Yes. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (my synagogue)? Yes. The Temples of my Buddhist friends? Yes. Is all this contradictory? Perhaps, but I believe it’s the result of infinite humans trying our hardest to comprehend an infinite God.

      I realize this post is a little disorganized. This is a huge question, one which has exercised theologians and thoughtful people for millennia (see Cavemen, above), and it won’t be resolved here, unfortunately. But we can all make the attempt to understand each others’ spiritual yearnings, and doubts, and beliefs and say, even if a particular faith is not to be ours, “God bless you on your journey, and if sitting down with a friend for a cup of coffee and a talk will help, here I am.” Particularly if the coffee includes non-matzah-based cupcakes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s