During the Holiday season, I witnessed the innocent joys and excitement that accompany Christmas morning. I recall with pleasure the anticipation on Christmas Eves when I was a child. It can be such a joyful time.
This Christmas I stayed with a family with several young boys. The parents encourage belief in Santa Claus, and spent several days before the holiday reinforcing this belief. They told the stories, they showed the movies that encourage faith in him even when others doubt, the kids even received emails regarding their status on the "naughty or nice" scale. It is quite the elaborate scheme to keep a false belief alive in children who are so eager to accept the fantastic.
Christmas morning, when all were awake and the children were noisily attending to their presents, one of the younger boys approached me and told me that he was sure he had heard Santa's sleigh during the night. I asked him to tell me more, and he told me that he had heard some taps from somewhere above him, so he was absolutely sure that it must have been Santa's sleigh and reindeer. I smiled and he moved on to his presents, but I found the experience applicable to this blog. My interpretation is this; the young child had been taught a lie since he could speak, and had been taught from other sources that his reward would come if he believed even when others did not. He was eager to take part in the fantasy because it is an enjoyable story that teaches us to be mindful of others and to be kind to our neighbor, and because he was promised a reward for believing. Naturally, after being told that a supernatural being would visit that night, he listened carefully for any sign at all of his coming. Because normal household noises were all that came, he insisted that these must be the evidence of the supernatural being's presence, and the truthfulness of the premise upon which his belief was built.
I cannot help but relate this experience to the LDS faith. Children are taught the Book of Mormon stories from birth, these stories are reinforced through books and movies throughout their lives. At several points, they are promised rewards for belief even when others doubt, and even when there is clear reason to doubt. They are told that a supernatural being will visit them to confirm their belief, and so they search for any sign at all that he has come. Any naturally occurring positive emotion is labeled as evidence that the supernatural being is present, and so the belief is emotionally validated.
It appears to me that emotional validation is what both examples are really about. We train children to want to believe in Santa because if they do they will get a toy. Similarly we train children to want to believe that the Book of Mormon is sacred because if they do they will get special powers (e.g., the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the priesthood, etc.), they will gain blessings (e.g., joy, knowledge, etc.), and ultimately, they will receive mansions in the highest glory imaginable for eternity. Why would one not want to believe that? After instilling this desire to believe, they search hungrily for any validation of that belief, whether it be tracks in the snow that might be interpreted as a reindeer's or whether it is something pleasant happening that can be interpreted as a "tender mercy" from God.
Indeed, it seems that what the LDS call "the Spirit" is not necessarily anything more than the feeling of validation. Any word or song that sends the message that it is okay to believe what you do, and you are not the only one, is described in the LDS world as "the Spirit". Members often speak of attending church to be edified (e.g., D&C 84:106); in other words, having gone through a trying few days between meetings, members need a spiritual uplifting. I have heard on more than one occasion a member say something like, "I really need to feel the Spirit today." Perhaps the more accurate statement would be something like, "I really need to feel validated today." In many ways, an LDS testimony meeting does not appear to be much more than a series of like-minded people validating each others' beliefs. Once a member feels validated, he or she describes it as feeling "the Spirit".
While beliefs may offer comfort and hope, and anything providing validation of that belief is held as sacred, isn't it reasonable to expect the LDS teachings to be backed up by some logic and consistency? If it is not, why would it be unreasonable to bear testimony that Santa Claus is real?