We’re told that we need to have a testimony of the gospel. And we’re told that we can’t rely on anyone else’e testimony — we must develop our own witness of the truth.

It’s a formulation which is surprisingly consistent with the legal guidelines on testimony that one gives in a court case. Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 802 is clear: “Hearsay is not admissible.” [subject to certain specified exceptions].

Thus, my testimony has to be based on a personal witness of the truth of a fact — I know that Jesus is the Savior, I know that the church is true, I know that the scriptures are true. If I defer to others — “Nate Oman told me that the church is true” — my testimony will be inadmissible under Rule 802.

Of course, this approach does create a few wrinkles. For one, there are 20-odd exceptions to hearsay contained in the Federal Rules, and it’s kind of amusing to think how they would play (“No, this hearsay _is_ admissible — it’s a statement of then-existing mental state”). And a second wrinkle is that across-the-board application of the hearsay rule might exclude some legitimate testimony — for example, I might be excluded from saying “I know that God told Joseph Smith not to join any church.”

But setting aside those wrinkles, I find the comparison apt in my own legally trained mind:

Of course I can’t rely on anyone else’s testimony. That, after all, would be hearsay.

12 comments for “Hearsay

  1. April 8, 2005 at 3:26 pm

    How does that square with:

    D&C 46:13-14
    To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

  2. April 8, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    I’m with Grasshopper. I feel that since the teleological argument is an “unstable appeal to ignorance” we should place our hope in believe other people’s testimony regarding what they have seen and heard. Now I’m sure somebody will say that “this is why we have the HG.” Well, how do we know it is the HG if not by believing hearsay? It could be real testimony, in that a person is describing what they really saw and heard, thus making it not hearsay, but how many times have you heard somebody give testimony like that?

  3. April 8, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    Hmmm… if we believe the testimony of the Holy Ghost, is that hearsay?

  4. April 8, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    Our interpretation of experiences with the Holy Ghost derives, in a sense, from hearsay.

  5. April 8, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    Not to sound too metaphysical, but to the degree that our experiences with the Holy Ghost involve it resonating with that Light which we already possess, such experiences would not be hearsay.

    One rationale for the many exceptions is that when the declarant is available in court for cross examination and explanation, the usual hearsay concerns are not applicable. If we posit that some great day of reckoning or judgment is THE proceeding, then I think the witness of the Spirit is admissible, as He will surely be on hand to clarify. The same could be said of the testimony of the prophets. Those “to whom it is given to believe on their words” will not have their second-hand testimonies barred, as the first-hand witnesses will be there.

    And to what extent does “having a bright recollection of all their guilt” impact our analysis? Another rationale for barring the out of court statements is our distrust of mortal memory. If there is some form of quickening of memory, perhaps the reason for the rule is not as present.

    Do we need a universal (federal) standard, or could each dispensation (state) have its own rules?

  6. April 8, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    “You are sightseeing with a loved one in a foreign land, and your loved one is brutally murdered in front of your eyes. At the trial it turns out that in this land friends of the accused may be called as witnesses for the defense, testifying about their faith in his innocence. You watch the parade of his moist-eyed friends, obviously sincere, proudly proclaiming their undying faith in the innocence of the man you saw commit the terrible deed. The judge listens intently and respectfully, obviously more moved by this outpouring than by all the evidence presented by the prosecution. Is this not a nightmare? Would you be willing to live in such a land?” – Dennett

  7. Soyde River
    April 9, 2005 at 10:00 am

    As I understand it (not being a lawyer), hearsay is generally not admitted because it is not the “best” testimony. The presumption is that the court can find the original speaker, and get “best” evidence. However, under certain conditions, hearsay IS admitted, such as deathbed statements, etc.

    In the absence of any better evidence, I am willing to accept (among others) Joseph and Sidney’s statement in Section 76 as the “best” evidence available, subject, of course, to the fact that I have my own witness. Which I do.

  8. Ivan Wolfe
    April 9, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    Also – military courts are more open to hearsay than civilian courts, aren’t they?

  9. Shawn Bailey
    April 10, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    I don’t know a great deal about military courts, Ivan, but generally hearsay is meant to keep evidence considered unreliable for a variety of reasons from exerting too much influence over juries. When the fact-finder in a case is a judge, hearsay and other evidentiary rules are relaxed. Judges are presumed to understand the problems with hearsay and give such evidence the weight it deserves depending on the circumstances, credibility of the witnesses, etc.

    As the agent charged to “judge wisely” the matters of one’s own life, one can take precautions to mitigate the dangers of relying on hearsay without abandoning such reliance. Thinking in this manner applies not only to evaluating orthodox truth claims, but also calculated attacks that rest on fact assertions.

  10. Dan Wenger
    April 12, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    The court that you must bring your testimony to dose note worrie about Rule 802.

  11. April 12, 2005 at 3:51 pm

    > And we’re told that we can’t rely on anyone else’e testimony – we must develop our own witness of the truth.

    But we are also told:

    13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

    14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

    (D&C 46:13-14)
    From verse 14, it appears that a hearsay testimony is acceptable.

  12. Stone Squisher
    April 14, 2005 at 12:20 pm

    Kaimi’s post makes perfect sense to me: We should have our own testimony to stand on and hearsay is not terribly useful. After all, isn’t hearsay (primarily parents teaching children) what has kept many religions (Catholicism, Buddhaism, Hinduism, etc.) alive and thriving for so long.

    However, Eric brings up a valid point. What are we to make of D&C 46:13-14? While on a mission we were often counseled to follow Boyd K. Packer’s words and bear testimony if even we didn’t have one (a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it). How is this different from bearing false witness or repeating heasay as fact? I admit I’m at a bit of a loss on this.

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