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The first time I tried Adderall was at BYU-Idaho before my Book of Mormon class. (Which I loved.) I completely forgot about taking the little blue pill as soon as I swallowed it, and I knew very little about the drug’s euphoric effects, so when it kicked in while my professor was teaching, I thought I was feeling the spirit really strongly because of the Book of Mormon.

“The Spirit” is a sensation all human beings experience, and we now have the brain scanning technology to identify where and how it occurs. Scientists have even invented a “God Helmet” that can induce a person to feel the presence of God!

[READ MORE: The Brain During Religious Experiences]

All religious people ultimately experience “The Spirit” the same way, but they assign different narratives to it depending on their specific beliefs. If you’ve been raised in Mormonism, you’ll likely feel “The Spirit” while singing Mormon hymns, because your brain finds meaning in them and they’re an important part of your religious tribe’s familiar and sacred coming-together rituals. (Community bonding rituals = oxytocin fest!)

Because “The Spirit” can feel so amazing (Who doesn’t love a good boost of dopamine/serotonin/oxytocin?!), many religious people view it as a special experience not found in the same way outside of their religion. Mormons believe you can only have “the Gift of the Holy Ghost” by being baptized in their church, and that it “will guide you into all truth.” Other religions teach similar things. That’s why people from all kinds of faith traditions “know” their church is true—they’ve assigned their particular religious narratives onto a universal human experience, because that’s the lens they see the world through.

One night while Joseph Smith and his followers were in Independence, Missouri, there was a meteor shower that could be seen in certain parts of the country. In his journal, Joseph Smith wrote that the event was a literal fulfillment of the word of God, and a sure sign that the coming of Christ was close at hand. The Seventh Day Adventists had their own (similar) interpretation of it, and believed it to be a “striking and impressive” fulfillment of Christ’s words in Matthew 24:29:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”


Seventh-day Adventist depiction of an 1833 meteor shower

Scientists who understood what meteor showers are and why they happen would have interpreted such an event very differently. (Just like we interpret things like weather very differently now that we did before we understood it—people used to think drought was a sign of God’s displeasure with them! People also believed that Joseph Smith translated Egyptian papyri into a book of scripture before we had the Rosetta Stone, which showed the papyri to be ordinary funerary texts completely unrelated to anything in The Book of Abraham.)

When I was investigating the LDS Church, I spent one Sunday with the wonderful Mormon family I knew. They’re lovely people and I had a great day full of love and peace that wasn’t normally present in my 16-year-old life, so naturally I felt really good. Because of what I’d been learning about “The Spirit”, I naively believed that how good I felt was confirmation from God that I was going down the right path. It wasn’t, but I wouldn’t understand that for another 6 years! (They should teach a lot more psychology in schools.)

The experience of “The Spirit” can make us feel connected to something greater than ourselves, and help us sense the interconnectedness of all things. (Nothing on our planet exists in a vacuum—energy can only be transferred from one source to another and our human existence is reliant on the complex ecosystem of the earth, as well as other people.) In that sense, it’s special, but it’s not unique—even if people’s individual interpretations of it are. As an atheist, I experience “The Spirit” most strongly when I’m witnessing incredible sights of nature, which make me feel awe and wonder. Those feelings are important and valuable to me. Nature is the “higher force” I feel connected to, and I love life a lot more when I am regularly in touch with it, because “awe” and “wonder” are incredibly fulfilling parts of the human experience.

Belief in shared myths (religion) helped us evolve as a species, because it fostered co-operation between tribes. Oxytocin is the hormone that makes us feel good when we help others, and it played an important role in the evolution of Homo sapiens. We are a social species, and it was our ability to work together in large numbers that helped us get this far. Feeling “The Spirit” was evolutionarily advantageous, and scientists say that some of us are more genetically predisposed to “sensing God” than others.

[BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari]

There’s an article on about depression, written by a woman whose postpartum depression affected her spiritually. She says, “It seemed as if the Lord had abandoned me and for some reason I didn’t qualify for His love.” She kept her feelings hidden from everyone for a while because she felt so worthless, and when she finally confided in her husband and got a priesthood blessing, she felt better than she had in a long time. (How shocking that sharing your mental health struggles with a loving  spouse can provide so much relief!) When she found out that she was suffering from depression brought on by hormone changes after childbirth, she initially struggled to accept that her problems weren’t spiritual—because Mormons have historically been taught to associate positive mental states, particularly the sensation of “The Spirit”, with righteousness. “What I felt was spiritual in nature, not mental,” she writes. (She later accepted that it was very much mental, but her initial resistance to that idea is very telling, as is’s statement that “Depression makes it difficult to feel any of the fruits of the spirit.”)

It’s important to understand what “The Spirit” actually is, because you can read all the evidence of the church’s falsity in the world and still be convinced that Mormonism is “true”—because you don’t understand that your spiritual experiences aren’t the evidence of truth you’ve been taught to believe they are. (And you’ve been taught that anything contradicting the truth claim’s of the church is from Satan and/or is not to be trusted.)

An understanding of neuroscience is fatal to religious belief. I’ve had many conversations with Mormons where they’ve been backed into a wall by the sheer volume and validity of evidence that the church isn’t true, and their final defense is always something along the lines of, “I just can’t deny the experiences I’ve had.” They’ve been taught to believe that their experiences with “The Spirit” (or, “The Gift of the Holy Ghost) are special or stronger or different in some way to the experiences of other religious people, and are therefore evidence of the truthfulness of their religion. They also believe that in leaving the church, I have given up the gifts of “The Spirit”—not knowing that thanks to my interest in neuroscience and mindfulness, I enjoy them now more than ever!

Samantha Shelley
Samantha Shelley
Samantha is a freelance writer from England, known in the Mormon blogosphere for co-founding Millennial Mormons and Whatsoever is Good. She has guest blogged for LDS Living and Mormon Women Stand, and worked as a social media intern for Deseret Book. She hated writing all of that in this bio. You can Venmo her money for sandwiches using @Samantha-Shelley-1, and follow her on Twitter @TheSamspo for half-assed jokes and opinions.
  • I’m a TBM as the ex-Mormons call it, but I feel opened-minded enough to look past my own biases. I would be intrigued to know the author’s thoughts on things that go beyond “feeling the spirit?” Specifically miracles. For me specifically, I have experienced things that even science and even metaphysics can’t explain. Situations where I would say I didn’t even feel the spirit in the moment, but was more awed by the miracle.

    • Ethan Hansen

      Personally, I accept miracles, including the possibility of miracles happening in LDS contexts. I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, but I believe God loves all His children and tries to draw them to Him wherever they are, including by using miracles. Because we cannot put limitations on God, I personally don’t think miracles should be taken as evidence for the truth of the belief system that shapes the context of the miracle, because miracles seem to take place in many different religions. Whatever else they may signify, to me they are evidence first of God’s mercy, love, and power.

    • i can explain all miracles with my version of metaphysics, but all those explanations are unprovable.

      • FUBECA de Primeiro

        Quite interested to know: what were these miracles?

    • Seek no more. Professor PEDRO himself is going to teach you the truth, kid.
      I got a PhD.

      Why do you seek for miracles? Why do you seek for metaphysical experiences?

      It feels like you want to find the Spirit in external events. YOU want a date, just like a special day, think of the Independence Day. The Spirit doesn’t have such nature, it’s not restricted to “the solstice” or “the time when you got married”. No. Because the Spirit does not belong to the physical world, and therefore it’s not bound to TIME, my friend. Spirit doesn’t understand of dates, events, special evenings, that’s too poetic and religious.

      Spirit is a massive amount of conscience, it’s the essence of truth itself. The essence of an authentic being, someone who has never lied, someone who has never felt fear. That’s a real Spirit.

      I could say: “The most divine being in the universe has never felt fear”.

      And I would be right.

      Because fear is the consequence of ignorance, and ignorance is the consequence of the tangible world, FIVE senses. A person who is bound to the FIVE senses is scared of dying, is scared of physical pain, believes in a false god who needs to be “worshiped and adored”. Aren’t most “human” beings like that? How ridiculous. A person like that is nothing more than clay, no conscience, no truth and therefore no Spirit.

      A Spirit isn’t going to ask you for blood, offerings or conquest.
      A Spirit doesn’t need anything that is material.

      can truth “find you” anywhere and anytime? of course it can.
      can truth exist within yourself? If you allow it, it will be.

      If you allow the truth, the Spirit will be by your side. The Spirit does not deny the truth to anyone.

      Then we could say a Spirit can exist within human beings, not in mere events or special experiences.

      And we will be right with that statement.

      That’s right, David Anderegg.

      And that’s why Professor PEDRO IS..the..BEST!!! That’s why professor PEDRO is..the chosen one! and that’s EXACTLY WHY! professor PEDRO is.. (without a shadow of a doubt..) THE BEST BLUE SUITED CHAMP THAT EVER WAS!.. and therefore, the most fitting candidate to be president of the world, of the earth and of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE!!!!

      Please, do subscribe to
      PEDRO Victor is the truth.

  • Ethan Hansen

    One thing I would say is that not every religion relies so heavily on feelings as confirmation of truth. Mormonism is pretty unique for the degree to which it relies on emotions and cultivates them. In Eastern Orthodoxy, for example, the teaching of the Church is to be suspicious of “spiritual experiences” and feelings and not pursue spiritual “fantasy”, because these are dead-ends and possibly traps.
    Unlike Mormonism which teaches that “research is not the answer,” many religions (Orthodoxy, Judaism, Catholicism, etc.) encourage study, debate, and rational inquiry as a means of recognizing truth.

  • for me, neuroscience can provide interesting/inspiring information, but it is also a belief system just as deluding as any religion. it is so easy to claim one study or a series of studies and make false assumptions during extrapolation of data. it requires trusting the scientist’s, and our own belief system isn’t reflected in the data when we speak of it as fact. …and then there are collective agreements that further edge the data into dogmatic belief.

  • PEDRO Victor

    If you don’t have a conscience, you don’t have Spirit. You are a mememaker.
    A bread, a cookie.

    It’s easy to understand, not much blah blah needed.

    How do you know you have “no conscience?”

    When you don’t want to accept the truth and you spend most of your lifetime trying to create your own. Easy to digest.

    When you look for answers in a dumb cult that worships the Moon. Easy to digest.

    When you want to ruin everyone’s lives while promoting deception, trying to create your own world of lies.

    In envy, lies the BIGGEST PROOF of ARTIFICIAL intelligence.
    Some say robots don’t have Spiritis, that they are doomed to die.
    But it feels they choose to die as well, they choose to be mortal, ignorant fools.

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