Nearly all humans recognize that some kinds of transcendent experience open our minds to new ideas and perspectives. While a theist typically believes that the most important revelation originates from a divine source, all humans are united in seeking revelation, broadly defined—all of us value insight into our nature and connectedness with one another and the universe regardless of our belief in God(s).
Like “love languages,” sources of revelation can be thought of as “spiritual languages.” Some people may receive more revelation from one source than another, and perhaps the volume of revelation from different sources may change over the course of a person’s life. There is probably value in trying to understand which sources others resonate with most and occasionally exploring or revisiting sources that we may have neglected in our spiritual development.
Six Sources of Revelation
- Personal Revelation: Personal revelation is arguably the most important source of revelation, because it emphasizes personal responsibility for discovery and growth. Benjamin Franklin once wrote “God helps those who help themselves.” Personal revelation encourages a person to learn as much as they can and sift through ideas to find what resonates most with them and what they view as being most grounded in transcendent goodness.
- Teachers: Life is a very difficult journey for all of us. Going to those who are personally trusted for guidance often makes life easier to navigate. Those whom we seek guidance from can have many different titles and can include family, friends, or spiritual leaders.
- Community: Talking and serving with others helps us learn and build connection. Some find community in formal groups dedicated to spiritual growth. Formal groups create space for sharing personal revelations, discussing scripture, and performing rituals. Others may find community in less formal associations (e.g., a group of close friends with whom spiritual insights are shared).
- Scriptures: Scripture may be viewed as sacred writing (typically, but not necessarily, from past generations) that convey valuable lessons or reveal truths about our nature or inter-connectedness. These writings may be fiction, non-fiction, or somewhere in between.
- Tools: Tools are often used as a reminder of something or are used to produce greater understanding. Tools may include things like jewelry, symbols, clothing, grooming styles, names or titles, food, or entheogens. Tools may also include places of worship or reflection such as churches, temples, or being in nature.
- Rituals: Rituals are formalized and/or symbolic actions that are based in tradition. They often mark a milestone in life, symbolize a commitment, give advice or comfort, or convey a desire for things to change. Formal religious rituals might include things such as prayer, fasting, baptism, or weddings. More secular (but still sacred) rituals might be graduation ceremonies and memorial services.
Typical sources for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Latter-day Saints may receive revelation during or through the following means (not meant to be exhaustive, merely suggestive):
- Personal Revelation: Latter-day Saints view the most important sources of personal as the Light of Christ, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and perhaps for some the Second Comforter (i.e., personal visitations from Jesus Christ and maybe even God the Father).
- Teachers: The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, other General Authorities, parents, Sunday school and quorum teachers, quorum and class presidencies, and peers.
- Community: Latter-day Saints belong to a ward that is itself part of a larger stake, region, and area. Individuals are part of quorums and classes throughout their lives. Students attend seminary and institute together. Ministering assignments and other activities (like basketball or zumba) also create cross class relationships.
- Scriptures: LDS scripture includes at least the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. General Conference is viewed as a kind of living scripture that may update or supersede past scripture or conference with the expectation that it will always harmonize. Patriarchal blessings and journals may be viewed as personal scripture.
- Tools: Oil for blessings, conservative business apparel (especially white shirts), garments, ceremonial temple clothing, appellations like “brother”, “sister”, “President”, and “Bishop” may be viewed as tools that call to remembrance or help in the reception of revelation.
- Rituals: Latter-day Saints engage in fasting, prayer, blessings on food, annual tithing settlement, baby-blessings, baptism, setting apart, conferral of priesthood and ordination to offices. In temples, publicly recognized rituals include washings and anointings, the endowment, the sealing ceremony, and baptisms for the dead.
Typical sources for a secular humanist
Secular humanists are not tightly grouped as a culture, so any representation will be vastly inadequate. I will speak from my own experience as a secular humanist as to sources of revelation for me, but that is admittedly only one possible instantiation.
Perhaps the major difference between my past time as a devout member of the LDS faith and my current perspective is that I am much more eager now to embrace widely different sources for inspiration/revelation. While I certainly appreciated alternative perspectives as a member, I put LDS sources on a bit of a pedestal in how I viewed them as capable of bringing the best or purest forms of inspiration.1 Now, I see deep/inspiration at almost every turn—I had to stop myself listing examples because I view most of these lists as having hundreds of diverse influences within them now.
- Personal Revelation: A secular humanist might view the process of concious and subconscious engagement with a problem or theme a source for generating new ideas and sudden strokes of insight. Understanding new or different models of reality and comparing their ability to capture and predict data often produces new insights.
- Teachers: Without necessarily fully adopting a single philosophy, thought-leaders, commentators, or other individuals across the professional, religious, and political spectrum may contribute important spiritual insights to my life. For example, at one point or another I found some inspiration in the thoughts of:
- Sam Harris
- Jordan Peterson
- Ezra Klein
- David Brooks
- Katie Porter
- Jorge Bergoglio
- Thomas Jay Oord
- Jana Spangler
- Natasha Parker
- Dan McClellan
- the Dalai Lama
In addition, virtually every individual has some perspective on life—whether fully verbalized or not—that is probably unique in some fashion and worthy of reflection and introspection. Everyone is a teacher in some way.
- Community: [to do]
- Scriptures: So many kinds of media may seek to provide profound lessons on how to live life and the consequences of certain choices. Some of these are recognized as scripture by various religions, but many of them are categorized as popular media. Nonetheless, modern media productions may be grappling with existential questions, questions of meaning and purpose that are as profound in their own right as any texts written anciently.
- The novels of Jane Austen
- The Lord of the Rings
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- Brandon Sanderson novels
- Everything Everywhere All at Once
- Jet Li’s Fearless
- The Avengers
- Avatar: the Last Airbender
- Saving Private Ryan
- The Tao Te Ching
- The words of Jesus
- Some teachings from the Book of Mormon
- The Triple Path
- Tools: [to do]
- Rituals: Barbecue night with neighbors, dinner with family and extended family, skiing together, cleaning the kitchen, doing the lawn, playing ultimate frisbee together, going to school performances, attending rock/classical concerts together, doing holiday celebrations with the neighbors that always include graham cracker houses, gathering around the gas fire for smores all provide a time to enjoy being together, working towards a common end, and reflecting on life, its challenges, and its joys.
The 6 sources of revelation were first compiled by Gileriodekel here. This presentation follows closely after his. I originally copied the post, but I have made fairly extensive modifications over time.
It was natural to view LDS sources as having the ability to produce better/more revelation since they teach that “God communicates to the Church through His prophet[s]” and that they have access to the most truth of any religious group on earth since they were the recipient of direct revelation and additional scripture that is not honored by most other religions. ↩