|This is one of a series of web pages I created between 2001and 2006. I was angry and frustrated at the LDS Church. Since then I have moved on and calmed down. So please remember, if you read these pages, that they reflect my past and not my present feelings. Thanks for your understanding! - Chris Tolworthy|
Mormons say they should not have to explain why they believe. Because you cannot explain what salt tastes like. Having a testimony is like tasting salt - once you have it, you know, but you cannot explain it to others. That's is what Mormons say. And they are wrong.
Salt tastes like any of numerous compounds that result from replacement of part or all of the acid hydrogen by a metal or a group acting like a metal. Directly on the tongue, salt tastes biting and puckery. In your eye or on a broken skin part it can sting fiercely. On french fries or popcorn it increases the existing taste. On watermelon in the right amounts it makes the melon taste sweeter. (As explained by "Jrmh" and others at 2think forums):
The false salt analogy comes from Boyd K Packer's famous talk, "Candle Of The Lord." He recalls a debate with an atheist:
...he said, "you don't really know. If you did, you would be able to tell me how you know."
...I said to the atheist, "Let me ask if you know what salt tastes like."
"Of course I do," was his reply.
..."Then," I said, "assuming that I have never tasted salt, explain to me just what it tastes like."
...After several attempts, of course, he could not do it. He could not convey, in words alone, so ordinary an experience as tasting salt. I bore testimony to him once again and said, "I know there is a God. You ridiculed that testimony and said that if I did know, I would be able to tell you exactly how I know. My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like. But I say to you again, there is a God! He does live! And just because you don't know, don't try to tell me that I don't know, for I do!"
But with a little thought, we can describe the taste of salt. It is biting, puckery, savory, zesty, piquant. But the salt analogy raises other, more serious issues, as we shall see.
If you read the whole speech, you will see that the atheist is described as "sneering, condescending," "ridiculing" and treating Packer "with contempt." That is probably not true. I was an active Mormon for 34 years. But now that I am an ex-Mormon, and do not believe in the Mormon idea of God, every time I ask a question of a Mormon I am treated with suspicion. This is hardly surprising, since Mormonism (to a Mormon) represents all that is good. So anyone who embraces an alternative view must be embracing evil. It has been my experience, and the experience of every exMormon or atheist I know, that the simplest question to a believer is interpreted as mean spirited.
Salt is not like belief. Unlike belief, you can simply hand some one some salt and say "Here - taste it." Then you, me, and everybody else on the planet knows what salt tastes like and agrees. Religious belief just doesn't work that way, because nobody on the planet agrees on it. (As pointed out by fh451 of the Foyer.)
There are thousands of different religions, of which Christianity is just one. There are thousands of different flavors of Christianity, of which Mormonism (arguably) is just one. There are dozens of different flavors of Mormonism - Brighamites, Strangites, RLDS/CofC, Fundamentalists, etc. Even within the largest group, the Brighamites (the one based in Salt Lake City under Gordon B. Hinckley), there are varieties informally known as "iron rod" believers, "liahona" believers, "liberal Mormons," "True Blue Mormons," and so on. Even within a single family who all seem to believe the same, the actual experience will be different. There are as many different kinds of testimony as there are people in the world. And none of them can prove to the other what their experience is like. But there is only one sodium chloride, and proving its taste is the easiest thing in the world. Testimony is not like salt.
It is true that the simplest way to understand the taste of salt is to taste it. In the case of salt there are no bad side effects (if it is taken in small quantities), so that is the end of the matter. But in the case of Mormonism, having a testimony means giving ten percent of you money to the church, giving up large quantities of your time, generally changing your whole life and how you think, and making covenants that will tie you and your children to the church forever. This may be simple but it is not easy. Describing a testimony may be more difficult, but it is much easier in the long run.
A testimony is like a drug. Taking drugs is simple, and to some people it gives instant benefits. But for those who have seen the harm that drugs do, it is better to understand them through study and observation. Don't take the salty pill!
Insofar as Packer's argument has any merit at all, he is appealing tot he concept of unique personal experience, known to philosophers as qualia. Every aspect of Qualia has been studied and discussed in detail, as you can see from reading books or philosophical papers on the subject. This undermines Packer's point about not being able to explain. Even though a personal experience may be personal, almost every part of that experience can be understood and explained.
The more that we understand the physical and philosophical basis for qualia, the less important the differences become. Once we understand the experiences that link to salt in our mind, the physical mechanisms of the tongue and brain, the chemical role of salt in our bodies, and the evolutionary reason to be attracted to (or repelled by) salt, then the actual difference (if any) between individual experience is unimportant. Even though we do not understand any of these things perfectly (nothing outside of simple mathematics is ever understood perfectly by anyone), we can understand them sufficiently to explain behavior and predict the result of using salt in the future.
A believer may respond that there will always be some part of qualia that cannot be shared. This is the age old appeal to the god of the gaps. Put simply, God exists in the gaps between our knowledge, in this case qualia. As science progresses, those gaps become smaller and God must hide in smaller and smaller corners. This is why arguments from ignorance (such as "you cannot know unless you experience it") have more impact on those who are ignorant of that field of study.
The salt argument works both ways. A not-Mormon could say, "I know that the Mormon church is false. I know it is as surely as I know the taste of sugar."
If the Mormon was a convert, they could reply that they have tasted both the sweet (not being a Mormon) and the salt (being a Mormon), and the salt tastes better. But they are falling into a trap. By this answer, the salt argument is fatally wounded. It is lost. It dies. You can simply reply,
"Some people have tasted the salty taste of Mormonism and the sweet taste of non-Mormonism. Those people are converts, investigators, less-actives and ex-Mormons. Many people who take the missionary discussions and "feel the spirit" do not join the church. Of those who join, between six and eight out of ten stop attending. They have tasted both and they know the difference. For every one person who believes that the salt is better than the sweet, there are ten who believe that the sweet is better than the salt."
To see the danger of the salt argument, you just have to agree with the Mormon.
"Yes, I am sure you are right. When you feel something that strongly then you know it is true. And Brigham Young KNEW that Adam was God. And Joseph Smith KNEW that he had to have sex with other men's wives and daughters. And Osama Bin Laden KNEW that America was the great Satan. And Neonazis KNOW that Hitler was a good guy. We should respect their knowledge, we should not tear it down or expect them to justify it. Don't you agree?
As a metaphor, salt is not a good choice.
A very small amount of salt tastes very nice. But in large quantities it tastes disgusting. Is a testimony like that?
Health experts say that too much salt is harmful. Is a testimony like that?
Salt was used in medieval times to preserve old carcasses that would otherwise stink. Is the Mormon church like that?
If someone's language is salty, it should not be shared in polite company. Is a testimony like that?
Are Mormons "the salt of the earth"? In Bible times, the Romans spread salt on the ground of a defeated city (like Carthage) so that nothing would grow. Is that how a testimony works when a new convert's mind has been purified?
Finally, let us get very serious about the church. I did not leave the Mormon church because it makes no sense. I did not leave because they lied to me. I did not leave simply because the church is obviously not true. I left because I was idealistic, and the church cannot save the world.
Packer said he was unable to tell others why his church is true. That would seem to be a major weakness of the church. After 175 years of being the Only True Church you are still fewer than 4 million active members (out of a world population of six THOUSAND million), and I hear that your growth rate is slowing. Mormons are simply not changing the world. Being unable to share their great knowledge means their church cannot save the world. If you want to do the most good you can in the world, you had better look elsewhere