The missionary personal testimony is the foundation of his beliefs. When confronted with evidence counter to what they believe, LDS missionaries are taught to continually repeat their personal testimonies. This is the toughest obstacle to overcome in a discussion because testimonies are subjectively based on personal experience. These cannot be refuted and they know it. It would be similar to telling a person your favorite flavor of ice cream is wrong; that would be silly. All you can do is try to weaken the importance of the testimony. Over the years I have used many tactics. Our approach this day was to get into a discussion of truth.
Week 3: Dylan joined the discussion with our 2 missionaries. I asked them, why did you become a Mormon? Each gave his personal testimony. They both grew up in Mormon families and reached an age where they knew they needed to make a decision whether or not to follow Joseph Smith. Both had some struggles with their faith but they eventually prayed and received confirmation in their hearts that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon was true.
Dylan and I then pursued a discussion on belief. I asked them what truth is and they defined it as something that is the same yesterday, today, and into the future. I added truth cannot be a contradiction and it has to correspond to reality. They agreed with this definition.
I then asked, can we could know religious beliefs in an objective sense? Is evidence important? They said no. At this point both Dylan and I knew we were in trouble. He then quoted the Book of Mormon passages on faith (Alma 32, Ether 12, Moroni 7 & 10). He talked about how belief comes down to a “leap” and when it comes to religious beliefs, we have to exercise “blind faith.” They said true faith is verified by good works.
Dylan then asked, what defines what is good and what is evil? They said that is a good question and one they had never thought of. They tried to answer but seemed to move in a circle. They said “good” is the feeling from the Holy Spirit in their heart. Dylan asked, how do you know this is God’s Spirit? They couldn’t answer. He said what's good for one person might not be good for another. I then asked, does society define what is good? I was hoping to get them to eventually agree the Bible is the ultimate standard. They didn't bite and said God speaking to their hearts is the standard. Dylan continued, what makes your good works based on your faith any better than another belief system? Why is your faith superior? If both belief systems say theirs is right and the people live good lives, then what else do you use to measure truth? Dylan was trying to get them to say evidence. They said they just know their testimonies are true.
As our conversation was winding down they said they hoped we would find the truth like they had. It sounded like this was going to be our last meeting. I then asked them to write down the passages on faith so we could study them. They agreed and we set the day and time to meet next week.
My plan for our next meeting would be to define Biblical faith. It is possible this might be our last meeting, so we might have to press the issues. We prayed for them all week.