Saturday, November 16, 2019

Joseph Smith, Principles and Meeting the Dilemma of the “Growth of Ignorance”©

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was a Prophet of God: 

Evidence Sixty-Two:
“Joseph Smith, Principles and Meeting the Dilemma of the “Growth of Ignorance”© 

I have opined about the hubris of modern youth in the face of their pervasive ignorance. Several years ago at a family reunion I took the opportunity one afternoon to gather my grandchildren and teach (well ok, lecture them) that they really didn’t know very much. I explained that they were born totally ignorant. Yes, they could cry and suckle, but beyond that they were pretty much a blank slate.  Given that, to think that a few classes in the basics in elementary and middle school, and deeper study in high school that they knew very much when compared to all the knowledge available in the world, was monumental hubris and stupidity. And it didn’t get much better after earning a bachelor’s degree.  I asked them–most in middle and high school–what any of them knew about how the atom bomb works, why the world considers William Shakespear’s plays or Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, great art. I ask what any of them knew about astrophysics, the history of Europe, molecular biology, or even how their smart phones worked. My motives were pretty good, but my method was probably pretty lousy–at least my oldest son thought I could have done better, and though my sweet wife didn’t say anything, her silence made me suspect she agreed with him.

Recently I encountered an idea that builds upon this gloomy notion of how much we really know–or rather don’t know. In the last quarter of the last century a Nobel Prize winner in economics named Frederich Hayek, though talking about economics, made an interesting point in several of his writings about the subject. He argued that with a rapid, almost exponential expansion of knowledge, one person cannot know much, and in fact, the percentage of what one can know in this period of rapidly growing knowledge, is actually getting smaller.(1) This phenomena is what some have called the “growth of ignorance.” Introducing this subject in his recent book, George Will said, “Everybody knows almost nothing about almost everything.”(2)

This epistemological issue raises an interesting problem for modern man. That is, what is mankind to do in the face of this “growth of ignorance”? Hayek suggested that individual men can do little.  Perhaps he may become an expert in a given slice of the total watermelon of knowledge but it is a losing battle given what appears to be mankind’s limits on learning, and even in interest.The expansion of human knowledge is not an unmitigated blessing. Though one must acknowledge the near miraculous things that have been achieved from the time of World War II, that and more recent conflicts demonstrate what President Hugh B. Brown once taught: “With every gift of power that comes to us, there comes a temptation to dishonor it, abuse it.”(3) So, how does the average citizen of the world deal with this dilemma of ever increasing knowledge and his own limited interest and capacity? If one is forced to set priorities on what to learn, how does one go about doing that?

Enter Joseph Smith, and other wise men. The Prophet Joseph Smith made many important statements about the importance of knowledge and man’s responsibility to learn. Among them are two that I believe give us a clue to the problem of the “growth of ignorance.” John Taylor, a close associate, reported that the Prophet Joseph said when asked how he governed the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”(4)  In a sermon in Nauvoo in 1842 Joseph spoke of “certain decrees” of God “which are fixed and immovable” and he was talking about the commandments of God.(5) In October of 1843, in a funeral sermon he returned to this idea.  He said:
We are only capable of comprehending that certain things exist, which we may acquire by certain fixed principles. If men would acquire salvation, they have got to be subject, before they leave this world, to certain rules and principles, which were fixed by an unalterable decree before the world was.(6)
Here the prophet speaks of both rules and principles which are fixed by an “unalterable decree,” and it is necessary to know and be subject to these in order to “acquire salvation.” It appears from these two important statements that the Prophet believed that some knowledge was more important than others. “Correct principles,” “fixed” “immovable” principles, established by an “unalterable decree” before the world was created, are essential for self-government, order in society, and salvation.

What are principles? An online dictionary defines principle as: “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.”(7) Another online dictionary adds these ideas: “a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived;” and “a fundamental doctrine or tenet;” “a basis of conduct or management.”(8) Elder Packer gave the following definition:
A principle is an enduring truth, a law, a rule you can adopt to help you in making decisions. Generally principles are not spelled out in detail. That leaves you free to adapt and to find your way with an enduring truth, a principle, as an anchor.(9) 
Elder Richard G. Scott add these important insights:
Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and challenging circumstances. It is worth great effort to organize the  truth we gather to simple statements of principle.(10) 
John Silber, formerly president of Boston College agrees about the nature and importance of principles in daily life.
It is the nature of general principles that their application to particular cases differ with circumstances. Specific requirements of justice or duty may be dramatically different in different cultures, just as Newton’s general statement of the Law of gravity (still sound for objects in space neither too small nor too large) must be applied differently as variables in equations are given specific values. Although the application of fundamental ethical principles differs depending on contingencies, the principles themselves are universal.(11)
In 1956, the editor of the newsletter of the Royal Bank of Canada wrote:
Some people confuse principles with rules. A principle is something inside one; a rule is an outward restriction.To obey a principle you have to use your mental and moral powers; to obey a rule you have only to do what the rule says. Dr. Frank Crane pointed out the difference neatly: "A rule supports us by the arm-pits over life's mountain passes; a principle makes us surefooted."(12)
Some years ago, before he was president of BYU, professor Kevin Worthen related a story that gave BYU students an elevated view of principle. He told of “a rather ordinary 40-year-old Catholic priest,” who was living on an estate in Cuba in 1514. His formidable name was Bartoloméé de Las Casas. Though a prosperous university graduate, Las Casas showed little interest in academic things, but by the time of his death over fifty years later, he was “one of the greatest scholars of the Spanish empire.” He had written thousands of pages on history, law, political theory, anthropology, and theology. In 1550, Spain convened a conference to consider “the most pressing issue of the day”– how the Spanish should deal with the indigenous population in the New World–and Las Casas was one of two scholars invited to debate the matter. Clearly, he was a bright and wise man and near the end of his life he wrote something that itself exudes light and wisdom: “For forty-eight years I have studied and sought to make clear the law; I believe, if I do not deceive myself, that I have penetrated to the pure waters of principle.” Ah, “the pure waters of principle.” That is what Joseph Smith was after. Professor Worthen concluded the lesson with a question: “How many of us can say that we have worked hard enough on a subject that we have penetrated to "the pure waters of principle"? If we have not, perhaps we need to work as hard at acquiring more charity as we do at gathering more factual data.”(13)

Collector and publisher of literary wisdom, Samuel Smiles, also spoke of the importance of principles in positive terms:
Without principles, a man is like a ship without rudder or compass, left to drift hither and thither with every wind that blows.He is as one without law, or rule, or order, or government.  “Moral principles,” says Hume, “are social and universal. They form, in a manner, the party of humankind against vice and disorder, its common enemy.”(14)
President Wilford Woodruff counseled the young, 
Therefore neither you nor your parents can be too careful to see that your young and fruitful minds are fed and stored with good principles. You want to learn that which is true–when you learn anything about God, Jesus Christ, the angels, the Holy Ghost, the gospel, the way to be saved, your duty to your parents, brethren, sisters, or to any of your fellow men, or any history, art or science...
President Woodruff emphasized knowing “true” principles because they would have an important effect in the future of the youth he addressed:
I say when you learn any of those things you want to learn that which is true, so that when you get those things riveted in your mind and planted in your heart, and you trust to it in future life and lean upon it for support, that it may not fail you like a broken reed.(15)
William Elery Channing saw Christianity,
not [as] a system of precise legislation, marking out with literal exactness everything to be done, and everything to be avoided; but an inculcation of broad principles, which it intrusts to individuals and to society to be applied according to their best discretion. It is through this generous peculiarity, that Christianity is fitted to be a universal religion.(16)
In 2009, Elder Dallin and sister Kristen Oaks, observed in an article entitled “Learning and Latter-day Saints,” that in modern society we are “bombarded by popular talk show hosts, television psychologists, fashion magazines, and media commentators”–pundits all–“whose skewed values and questionable practices can drive our opinions and influence our behavior.” They went on to point out that this environment in which, as Ephesians 4:14 says, we are “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” can lead to confusion and discouragement and the erosion of faith. The solution?
Not influenced by popular opinion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches principles. The difference is profound. Trends, fashion, and pop ideology are fleeting and ephemeral. Principles serve as anchors of security, direction, and truth. If we fix our ideals and direction on doctrine and principles, such as faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and following the prophet, we will have a totally reliable, unchanging guide for our life’s decisions.(17)
Much earlier, Apostle John A. Widtsoe, gave the young some very sage advice about understanding the difference between principles and their varying and possibly changing applications over time and in various circumstances.
...two principles ... are fundamental in Mormon thinking. First, that there are certain changeless principles upon which the whole structure of Mormonism is built and second, that the application of these principles in human life change as human needs change. That is, the Gospel, as understood by the Church, is an unchanging system of truths ever changing in its application to the ever changing conditions of life.
Young college students frequently fail to make the discrimination between foundation principles and their application; between primary principles and derivative functions.
You draw some illustrations from the field of science. There we have the same distinction: facts of observation, correct as far as human powers go and inferences or the explanation of these facts changing with the increasing knowledge.(18)
Elder Scott gave further counsel about the importance and the challenge of inculcating true principles into one’s life..
Principles are anchors of safety. They are like the steel anchors a mountaineer uses to conquer otherwise impossible cliffs. They help you have confidence in new and unfamiliar circumstances. They will provide you protection in life’s storms of adversity.
... While easy to find, true principles are not easy to live until they become an established pattern of life.  They will require you to dislodge false ideas. They can cause you wrenching battles within the secret chambers of your heart and decisive encounters to overcome temptation, peer pressure, and false allure of the “easy way out.” Yet, as you resolutely follow correct principles, you will forge strength of character available to you in time of urgent need. Your consistent adherence to principle overcomes the alluring yet false lifestyles that surround you.(19)
Elder Scott’s counsel is similar to that given by the editor of the newsletter of the Royal Bank of Canada cited earlier. He noted “that there are three great questions in life which [one] must answer over and over again: is it right or wrong? is it true or false? is it beautiful or ugly?” He continued:
In answering these questions a man will find principles of far more value to him than a library of books, or a den decorated with diplomas. The principles contribute to his maturity by enlarging his thinking, by helping him to avoid confusion, by rescuing him from prolonged debate. They give him a base for decision and action. They are like the north star, the compass and the lighthouse to a sailor: they keep him on his course despite winds and current and weather.(20)
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, taught that there is an important distinction between choices governed by principles and those by personal preference.
In our personal choices we should be conscious of the important difference between choices that should be governed by principles (including the commandments of the Lord) and choices that can be based on personal preferences. How to recognize and apply this difference is something we learn by experience. The result of this learning is wisdom, which the scriptures teach us to learn and seek (Alma 32:12; D&C 6:7).
He went on to provide several interesting examples such as, 1) the distinction between family rules based on principle and those on personal preference; 2) dressing and grooming for the temple based on principle rather than personal preference; and 3) that if the same distinctions are considered when a young couple marries and melds two different family life-styles it will save them difficulty and heartache.(21) Author Tom Morris reminds us that “Aristotle once said that it is advantageous to anyone to come to know the most universal principles, because this puts us in the best position for specific applications anywhere.”(22)

Thus, a wise young person will place a high priority in discerning, learning and applying principles because they will guide how he lives, and become the superstructure upon which all other knowledge may be placed in building one’s physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual life.

One-time General Relief Society General President, Barbara Smith, counseled the students at BYU about living by principle. 
We rarely succumb to temptation in one overpowering moment. The strength of living by a principle is built line upon line, time upon time, of facing a moment of challenge and responding appropriately. Every important choice is the inevitable result of a hundred earlier choices.(23)
A very recent example of the Church’s ongoing emphasis on governing one’s life by the Lord’s commandments and true principles, may be found in the most recent edition of the Missionary Handbook issued to mission leaders in June 2019, and announced to the Church in the 17 November 2019 Church News. The Church News, general authorities, and authors of the book all mention the principle based nature of the handbook. The Church News characterized it as a “move from a rules-base manual to a principles-base one.” When mission leaders reviewed it in June, some were concerned about the nature of the change. The response, according to the Church News was “That’s what a disciple has to figure out,” said Elder Brent H. Nielson, executive director of the Missionary Department, “That will be a big change for us.  But I think everyone loves the overall principle-based concept.” The goal is to assist young missionaries to become life-long disciples of Christ by inculcating true principles into their lives. Elder Nielson said this change is one with other recent changes instituted such as the “ministering” concept, and home-centered Church-supported emphasis on worship and gospel study.(24)

Finally, I note that President David O. Mckay once gave a simple outline of four principles which he said will guide one to the realization of a higher life:
The guiding principles to the realization of the higher life are not many or complex. Indeed, they are few and simple, and can be applied by everyone in any phase of life:
1.  Recognition of the Reality of Spiritual Values
2.  Sense of Obligation to the Social Group
3.  Resultant Self-Mastery
4.  A Consciousness that the ultimate purpose of life is the perfecting of the individual(25)
That Joseph Smith stressed the importance of fundamental principles is not unusual among the wise men of the world and of itself only sets him apart from others because such understanding is rare. Nevertheless, from the numerous quotations cited above it is evident that he established the Restored Church of Jesus Christ upon fundamental principles and he instructed his leaders to do so. They took him seriously. That the present leaders continue to do so goes a long way in strengthening one’s view of him as an inspired prophet. And for this author, even more inspiring is the fact that Joseph Smith excelled in seeing and in elucidating fundamental religious principles, including important principles about principles! These concepts contribute greatly to my faith and conviction that the was a Prophet of God.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  See for example, Frederich Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” The American Economic Review, 34, no. 4 (4 September1945): 519-30; “The Pretence [sic] of Knowledge,” remarks when he received the Nobel Prize, 11 December 1974, available online at: www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economics/1974/hayek/lecture;  and The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011, 78.

2.  George F. Will, The Conservative Sensibility. New York: Hachette Books, 2019, 244.

3.  Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965, 126.

4.  John Taylor and George Q. Cannon, “An Epistle of the First Presidency to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in General Conference Assembled,” published 17 May 1886.  See, James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency. 6 vols. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1965, 3: 54.

5.  Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1967, 197.

6.  Ibid, 324.

7.  https://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=mcafee&type=E211US550G0&p=principle+definition

8.  https://www.dictionary.com/browse/principle

9.  Boyd K. Packer, "The Unwritten Order of Things," BYU devotional address, 15 October 1996, unpaged Internet version.  Available in several locations on the Internet.

10. Richard G. Scott, 21 Principles: Divine Truths to Help You Live by the Spirit. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013, 1-2. 

11.  John R. Silber, Seeking the North Star: Selected Speeches. Boston: David R. Godine, 2014, 137.

12.  “On Being a Mature Person,” Royal Bank Letter, 37, no. 12 (December 1956): 3.

13.  Kevin J. Worthen, “On Knowing and Caring,” Brigham Young University 1997-98 Speeches.  Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1998, 316-317, emphasis added.

14.  Samuel Smiles, Happy Homes and the Hearts that Made Them. Chicago: U. S. Publishing House, 1889, 65.

15.  Wilford Woodruff, in G. Homer Durham, ed., The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff.  Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, 266. Regarding the “truth” of principles, Elder Richard L. Evans offers the following scriptural test: “...one proof of any principle is what it does for people in their search for the ultimate objective of happiness. Significantly was it said by our Savior: ‘...by their fruits ye shall know them.’ After this is the demonstration of all truth–in science, in business, in education, in religious conviction, in political philosophies, in life– ‘by their fruits ye shall know them.’ And of everything that is offered, we should know what it does for human happiness, what it does for personal peace and progress–what it does, not only what it promises or what it purports; not theories that won’t work or convictions that crumble at the first obstacle, or philosophies that fall with the weight of reality, or beliefs that won’t stand the test of life, or weak resolution that straddles every issue. If a man thinks he has a superior faith or philosophy, a superior theory, a superior plan or process or program or purpose, let it be asked what it does, where and when has it worked? Let the fruits of the formula be judged by what it has done for people in terms of personal peace or real progress or enduring happiness. [Richard L. Evans, “The Triumph of Principles,” Improvement Era ,(September 1952): 693.]

Unfortunately, in today’s world the notion of truth, especially absolute truths, is under attack among intellectuals on college campuses and elsewhere. The concept of relative truth has filtered in to many areas of our social, cultural, and political philosophy. These ideas have been around a long time.  In 1998,Marianne Jennings, reports, “Another survey conducted by the Lutheran Brotherhood asked, “Are there absolute standards for morals and ethics, or does everything depend on the situation?”  Seventy-nine percent of the respondents in the 18-34 age group said that standards did not exist and that the situation should always dictate behavior. Three percent said they were not sure.” [Marianne M. Jennings, “The Real Generation Gap,” Clark Memorandum, (Winter 1998): 20.]

16.  William Elery Channing, in Ella Dann Moore, Life Illumined By Some of the Leading Lights of Literature. Washington, D.C.: Ella Dann Moore, 1908, 290. Channing’s remarks echo those of President John Quincy Adams to his son: “It is essential, my son, in order that you may go through life with comfort to yourself, and usefulness to your fellow-creatures, that you should form and adopt certain rules or principles, for the government of your own conduct and temper. Unless you have such rules and principles, there will be numberless occasions on which you will have no guide for your government but your passions. ... you must soon come to the age when you must govern yourself. You have already come to that age in many respects; you know the difference between right and wrong, and you know some of your duties, and the obligations you are under, to become acquainted with them all. It is in the Bible, you must learn them, and from the Bible how to practise [sic] them. Those duties are to God, to your fellow-creatures, and to yourself.” [John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams, to His Son, on the Bible and Its Teachings. Auburn, NY: Derby, Miller, & Co., 1849, 17-18.] In a later letter Adams returned to this subject, this time contrasting the effect of Biblical principles on ancient Israelite society and those of the larger society around them. He said his motive for doing so was “to present to your reflections as a proof–and to my mind a very strong proof-of the reality of their divine origin....” [Pages 66-67.] Likewise, Elder Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency, taught, “the scriptures have been written to preserve principles for our benefit.” [“The Message of the Old Testament,” The Third Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium: A Symposium on the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979, 3.]

17.  Dallin H. and Kristen M. Oaks, “Learning and Latter-day Saints,” Ensign (April 2009): 24.

18.  John A. Widtsoe, in Alan K. Parrish, John A. Widtsoe, A Biography. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003, 573-574.  Elder Widtsoe was responding to a letter, and his subsequent remarks are reminiscent of things that are often said today about some academicians: “Mormonism invites examination, but it knows quite well that if friend or foe really wants to understand the restored Gospel he must look for its truths and not for its weaknesses in proclaiming or using that truth. The men within my acquaintance who, with academic training have drifted away from full practice of Church principles, have seldom thought the matter through. They have splashed about on the surface until the beauty of the depths have become obscure. As for myself, once having been established within my own mind the certainty of the fundamental principles of Mormonism I prefer to follow the Church.”

19.  Richard G. Scott, 21 Principles: Divine Truths to Help You Live by the Spirit. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013, 1-2. 

20.  “On Being a Mature Person,” Royal Bank Letter, 37, no. 12 (December 1956): 3.

21.  Dallin H. Oaks, Life’s Lessons Learned. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011, 133.

22.  Tom Morris, True Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994, 25-26

23.  Barbara B. Smith, “‘...For Such a Time as This,’” devotional address, 16 February 1982, in Brigham Young University Fireside and Devotional Speeches. Provo, UT: University Publications, 1982, 92.

24.  See two separate articles by the same author: Scott Taylor, “New Missionary Handbook Focuses On Joy, Discipleship,” and “How the New Handbook Differs from the Former,” both in the Church News, (17 November 2019): 4-6.

25.  David O. McKay, Pathways to Happiness. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1957, 89-90.  Note, the four principles listed are highlighted by President McKay and discussion follows each one. I have only listed them for brevity sake. The reader is encouraged to study his teachings on these points. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Evidence Sixty-One: Joseph Smith Gets All the Vital Little Things in the Story©

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was a Prophet of God:

Evidence Sixty-one:
“Joseph Smith Gets All the Vital Little Things in the Story”© 

Recently I added some new quotations to various files. One stood out that morning. Joseph Fielding Smith was explaining that when Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephite people in 3 Nephi, he had his leaders baptize the people and later after the Church was organized among them, they were rebaptized.  The reason?  President Smith explained that there are two purposes for baptism; to receive the forgiveness of sins and to become a member of the Lord’s Church. Their first baptism brought forgiveness of sin, but the church was not yet organized.  So, when it was they were rebaptized.

President Smith went on to explain that a similar thing occurred in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Aaronic Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by the ministration of the ancient prophet John the Baptist on 29 May 1829. Following his conferral of the priesthood on both men, they were commanded to be baptized by this authority. But, the Church was not yet organized. That took place almost a year later on 6 April 1830. As in The Book of Mormon, those who were baptized before the organization had to be baptized again to become members of the Church.

These stories are well known and the parallels are interesting from both a historical and theological perspective. However, it was not the history or the theology that caught my attention in President Smith’s remarks. It was a simple observation he made at the end of the recital that became a big insight to me. He said in reference to Joseph’s having those already baptized to be rebaptized after the Church was organized:
Suppose Joseph Smith had overlooked that. It is just a little thing, but how vital it is. You will find all through the ministry of Joseph Smith that all these little things are there: not a thing is overlooked that is vital to the story.(1)  
“You will find all through the ministry of Joseph Smith that all these little things are there”!  “Not a thing is overlooked that is vital to the story.” Though I had noticed that phenomena many times through my long teaching and study career, the formulation of that truth never reached a conscious and verbal level. When I read it in this statement, its truth was more than evident to me; reading it also impressed upon me the importance of the idea–nothing vital, no matter how small, is overlooked in the Restoration!

Indeed, I have to say that one of the enjoyable results of detailed study of the scriptures Joseph Smith produced and of his writings and teachings is the frequent discovery of innumerable details which, upon closer examination, prove to be of vital significance. If one were to go back and review the first sixty essays in this series, one would discover that many of the evidences which I have written about are in fact vital little things that have not been overlooked. However, I do not see this phenomena as a result of the watchful eye of a young genius-prophet. I attribute the vast majority of these things to the inspiration and revelation that was a near constant in his life. Instances of vital details included in the story can seemingly be multiplied infinitely.  This idea also gives added dimension to the meaning of the "fullness of the Gospel."

Here is one simple example. In the Sermon on the Mount at Mt. 6:33 Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  This passage did not escape the eye of the Prophet. He rendered it this way in the JST: “Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness.” Concern for the kingdom of God as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount is consistent with a similar interest expressed in the Lord’s prayer found in the same sermon.  In Mt. 6:10 the Savior teaches his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Doing the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven surely is seeking to establish the Lord’s righteousness.

One can seek the kingdom in several ways. First, one can seek for the kingdom, in the sense of desiring it to come.  Second, one can look for it, try to find it, and become part of it when one does. Third, once one has found the kingdom and become a part of it, he can then seek to make the growth and welfare of the kingdom a priority. A final way, is to live in such a way that one is constantly seeking to be prepared and worthy to eventually inherit the kingdom of God in the Celestial Kingdom.

In the JST the emphasis is to seek first “to build up the kingdom of God.” That clarification in emphasis is one of those details that is vital to the story. Jesus brought the kingdom of God to the earth in the meridian of time.  Once there, the emphasis is not on its coming, but on building it up.  A little thing in some ways, perhaps. But isn’t it interesting that when you look at it carefully, the sequence is correct.  Even in the little change of a word here and there note how many of them become vital to the story?  Those things are evidence of inspiration to me.

One might think this insight of President Joseph Fielding Smith is a little insight, but to me it takes on greater and greater significance the more one thinks about it and gathers evidence of its truth. The fact that the Prophet Joseph gets all the details, the little things, the little vital things that need to be in the story, that he gets them in the story, is, to me, a very big thing and one of the reasons I believe he is a prophet of God.  

What little things have you found that he has not overlooked, but which are part of the great story of the Restoration?

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:  

1.  Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955, 2:336.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Clarion Call for Free Speech and Freedom of Religion©

Today I’m doing something unusual for me. I’m reproducing nearly en toto the remarks of Mike Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City at the time, when he give this great talk at the 363rd Commencement Ceremony at Harvard University on 29 May 2014. I believe it deserves to be reproduced because it is a great, even masterful call for freedom especially on college campuses. It is a call to both liberals and conservatives to abandon the repression of views inimical to their own, and to promote free speech, freedom of religion, and free exchange and exploration of ideas, in the great tradition of American colleges and universities.  Enjoy!

******

Michael Bloomberg:

[I have edited out his introductory remarks which were not relevant to his message which begins here:]

"But the good news is, Harvard remains what it was when I first arrived on campus 50 years ago: America’s most prestigious university. And, like other great universities, it lies at the heart of the American experiment in democracy.

Their purpose is not only to advance knowledge, but to advance the ideals of our nation. Great universities are places where people of all backgrounds, holding all beliefs, pursuing all questions, can come to study and debate their ideas – freely and openly.

Today, I’d like to talk with you about how important it is for that freedom to exist for everyone, no matter how strongly we may disagree with another’s viewpoint.

Tolerance for other people’s ideas, and the freedom to express your own, are inseparable values at great universities. Joined together, they form a sacred trust that holds the basis of our democratic society.

But that trust is perpetually vulnerable to the tyrannical tendencies of monarchs, mobs, and majorities. And lately, we have seen those tendencies manifest themselves too often, both on college campuses and in our society.

That’s the bad news – and unfortunately, I think both Harvard, and my own city of New York, have been witnesses to this trend.

First, for New York City. Several years ago, as you may remember, some people tried to stop the development of a mosque a few blocks from the World Trade Center site.

It was an emotional issue, and polls showed that two-thirds of Americans were against a mosque being built there. Even the Anti-Defamation League – widely regarded as the country’s most ardent defender of religious freedom – declared its opposition to the project.

The opponents held rallies and demonstrations. They denounced the developers. And they demanded that city government stop its construction. That was their right – and we protected their right to protest. But they could not have been more wrong. And we refused to cave in to their demands.

The idea that government would single out a particular religion, and block its believers – and only its believers – from building a house of worship in a particular area is diametrically opposed to the moral principles that gave rise to our great nation and the constitutional protections that have sustained it.

Our union of 50 states rests on the union of two values: freedom and tolerance. And it is that union of values that the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th, 2001 – and on April 15th, 2013 – found most threatening.

To them, we were a God-less country.

But in fact, there is no country that protects the core of every faith and philosophy known to human kind – free will – more than the United States of America. That protection, however, rests upon our constant vigilance.

We like to think that the principle of separation of church and state is settled. It is not. And it never will be. It is up to us to guard it fiercely – and to ensure that equality under the law means equality under the law for everyone.

If you want the freedom to worship as you wish, to speak as you wish, and to marry whom you wish, you must tolerate my freedom to do so – or not do so – as well.

What I do may offend you. You may find my actions immoral or unjust. But attempting to restrict my freedoms – in ways that you would not restrict your own – leads only to injustice.

We cannot deny others the rights and privileges that we demand for ourselves. And that is true in cities – and it is no less true at universities, where the forces of repression appear to be stronger now than they have been since the 1950s.

When I was growing up, U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy was asking: ‘Are you now or have you ever been?’ He was attempting to repress and criminalize those who sympathized with an economic system that was, even then, failing.

McCarthy’s Red Scare destroyed thousands of lives, but what was he so afraid of? An idea – in this case, communism – that he and others deemed dangerous.

But he was right about one thing: Ideas can be dangerous. They can change society. They can upend traditions. They can start revolutions. That’s why throughout history, those in authority have tried to repress ideas that threaten their power, their religion, their ideology, or their reelection chances.

That was true for Socrates and Galileo, it was true for Nelson Mandela and Václav Havel, and it has been true for Ai Wei Wei, Pussy Riot, and the kids who made the ‘Happy’ video in Iran.

Repressing free expression is a natural human weakness, and it is up to us to fight it at every turn. Intolerance of ideas – whether liberal or conservative – is antithetical to individual rights and free societies, and it is no less antithetical to great universities and first-rate scholarship.

There is an idea floating around college campuses – including here at Harvard – that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.

Think about the irony: In the 1950s, the right wing was attempting to repress left wing ideas. Today, on many college campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas, even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species. And perhaps nowhere is that more true than here in the Ivy League.

In the 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96 percent of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama.

Ninety-six percent. There was more disagreement among the old Soviet Politburo than there is among Ivy League donors.

That statistic should give us pause – and I say that as someone who endorsed President Obama for reelection – because let me tell you, neither party has a monopoly on truth or God on its side.

When 96 percent of Ivy League donors prefer one candidate to another, you have to wonder whether students are being exposed to the diversity of views that a great university should offer.

Diversity of gender, ethnicity, and orientation is important. But a university cannot be great if its faculty is politically homogenous. In fact, the whole purpose of granting tenure to professors is to ensure that they feel free to conduct research on ideas that run afoul of university politics and societal norms.

When tenure was created, it mostly protected liberals whose ideas ran up against conservative norms.

Today, if tenure is going to continue to exist, it must also protect conservatives whose ideas run up against liberal norms. Otherwise, university research – and the professors who conduct it – will lose credibility.

Great universities must not become predictably partisan. And a liberal arts education must not be an education in the art of liberalism.

The role of universities is not to promote an ideology. It is to provide scholars and students with a neutral forum for researching and debating issues – without tipping the scales in one direction, or repressing unpopular views.

Requiring scholars – and commencement speakers, for that matter – to conform to certain political standards undermines the whole purpose of a university.

This spring, it has been disturbing to see a number of college commencement speakers withdraw – or have their invitations rescinded – after protests from students and – to me, shockingly – from senior faculty and administrators who should know better.

It happened at Brandeis, Haverford, Rutgers, and Smith. Last year, it happened at Swarthmore and Johns Hopkins, I’m sorry to say.

In each case, liberals silenced a voice – and denied an honorary degree – to individuals they deemed politically objectionable. That is an outrage and we must not let it continue.

If a university thinks twice before inviting a commencement speaker because of his or her politics censorship and conformity – the mortal enemies of freedom – win out.

And sadly, it is not just commencement season when speakers are censored.

Last fall, when I was still in City Hall, our Police Commissioner was invited to deliver a lecture at another Ivy League institution – but he was unable to do so because students shouted him down.

Isn’t the purpose of a university to stir discussion, not silence it? What were the students afraid of hearing? Why did administrators not step in to prevent the mob from silencing speech? And did anyone consider that it is morally and pedagogically wrong to deprive other students the chance to hear the speech?

I’m sure all of today’s graduates have read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. But allow me to read a short passage from it: ‘The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.’

He continued: ‘If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.’

Mill would have been horrified to learn of university students silencing the opinions of others. He would have been even more horrified that faculty members were often part of the commencement censorship campaigns.

For tenured faculty members to silence speakers whose views they disagree with is the height of hypocrisy, especially when these protests happen in the northeast – a bastion of self-professed liberal tolerance.

I’m glad to say, however, that Harvard has not caved in to these commencement censorship campaigns. If it had, Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston would not have had the chance to address the Education School yesterday.

Some students called on the administration to rescind the invitation to Johnston because they opposed some of his education policies. But to their great credit, President Faust and Dean Ryan stood firm.

As Dean Ryan wrote to students: ‘I have encountered many people of good faith who share my basic goals but disagree with my own views when it comes to the question of how best to improve education. In my view, those differences should be explored, debated, challenged, and questioned. But they should also be respected and, indeed, celebrated.’

He could not have been more correct, and he could not have provided a more valuable final lesson to the class of 2014.

As a former chairman of Johns Hopkins, I strongly believe that a university’s obligation is not to teach students what to think but to teach students how to think. And that requires listening to the other side, weighing arguments without prejudging them, and determining whether the other side might actually make some fair points.

If the faculty fails to do this, then it is the responsibility of the administration and governing body to step in and make it a priority. If they do not, if students graduate with ears and minds closed, the university has failed both the student and society.

And if you want to know where that leads, look no further than Washington, D.C.

Down in Washington, every major question facing our country – involving our security, our economy, our environment, and our health – is decided.

Yet the two parties decide these questions not by engaging with one another, but by trying to shout each other down, and by trying to repress and undermine research that runs counter to their ideology. The more our universities emulate that model, the worse off we will be as a society.

And let me give you an example: For decades, Congress has barred the Centers for Disease Control from conducting studies of gun violence, and recently Congress also placed that prohibition on the National Institute of Health. You have to ask yourself: What are they afraid of?

This year, the Senate has delayed a vote on President Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General – Dr. Vivek Murthy, a Harvard physician – because he had the audacity to say that gun violence is a public health crisis that should be tackled. The gall of him!

Let’s get serious: When 86 Americans are killed with guns every single day, and shootings regularly occur at our schools and universities – including last week’s tragedy at Santa Barbara – it would be almost medical malpractice to say anything else.

But in politics – as it is on too many college campuses – people don’t listen to facts that run counter to their ideology. They fear them. And nothing is more frightening to them than scientific evidence.

Earlier this year, the State of South Carolina adopted new science standards for its public schools – but the state legislature blocked any mention of natural selection. That’s like teaching economics – without mentioning supply and demand.

Again, you have to ask: What are they afraid of?

The answer, of course, is obvious: Just as members of Congress fear data that undermines their ideological beliefs, these state legislators fear scientific evidence that undermines their religious beliefs.

And if you want proof of that, consider this: An 8-year old girl in South Carolina wrote to members of the state legislature urging them to make the Woolly Mammoth the official state fossil. The legislators thought it was a great idea, because a Woolly Mammoth fossil was found in the state way back in 1725. But the state senate passed a bill defining the Woolly Mammoth as having been ‘created on the 6th day with the beasts of the field.’

You can’t make this stuff up.

Here in 21st century America, the wall between church and state remains under attack – and it’s up to all of us to man the barricades.

Unfortunately, the same elected officials who put ideology and religion over data and science when it comes to guns and evolution are often the most unwilling to accept the scientific data on climate change.

Now, don’t get me wrong: scientific skepticism is healthy. But there is a world of difference between scientific skepticism that seeks out more evidence and ideological stubbornness that shuts it out.

Given the general attitude of many elected officials toward science it’s no wonder that the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to invest in scientific research, much of which occurs at our universities.

Today, federal spending on research and development as a percentage of GDP is lower than it has been in more than 50 years which is allowing the rest of the world to catch up – and even surpass – the U.S. in scientific research.

The federal government is flunking science, just as many state governments are.

We must not become a country that turns our back on science, or on each other. And you graduates must help lead the way.

On every issue, we must follow the evidence where it leads and listen to people where they are. If we do that, there is no problem we cannot solve. No gridlock we cannot break. No compromise we cannot broker.

The more we embrace a free exchange of ideas, and the more we accept that political diversity is healthy, the stronger our society will be.

Now, I know this has not been a traditional commencement speech, and it may keep me from passing a dissertation defense in the humanities department, but there is no easy time to say hard things.

Graduates: Throughout your lives, do not be afraid of saying what you believe is right, no matter how unpopular it may be, especially when it comes to defending the rights of others.

Standing up for the rights of others is in some ways even more important than standing up for your own rights. Because when people seek to repress freedom for some, and you remain silent, you are complicit in that repression and you may well become its victim.

Do not be complicit, and do not follow the crowd. Speak up, and fight back.

You will take your lumps, I can assure you of that. You will lose some friends and make some enemies. But the arc of history will be on your side, and our nation will be stronger for it.

Now, all of you graduates have earned today’s celebration, and you have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be grateful for. So tonight, as you leave this great university behind, have one last Scorpion Bowl at the Kong – on second thought, don’t – and tomorrow, get to work making our country and our world freer than ever, for everyone.

Good luck and God bless.”

******

Let’s think together again, soon.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Improving Our Prayers©

I have an idea to help Latter-day Saints improve our prayers. Prayer is one of the main ways to improve one’s spirituality.  I believe that in this time of rapid technological change, abandonment of time tested values and truths, and growing political and social turmoil, deep spirituality is one of the greatest bulwarks an individual and community can possess. Improving my prayers (among other things) has long been an issue which has now taken on a sense of urgency as I’ve grown into old age and I more frequently catch a whiff of the Grim Reaper’s icy breath. That urgency is heightened as I  study prayer and collect scriptures and quotations about it. A couple in particular have urged me forward. In 1980 Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote:
One can pray and yet not really pray. Prayers can be routinized and made very superficial.  When this happens, there is very little communication and very little growth. Yet, given the times in which we live, improving our prayers should be one of our deepest desires if we are genuinely serious about growing spiritually.(1)
A second one, comes more recently from President Russell Nelson who was encouraging the brethren to grow and increase in priesthood power. He said:
Polite recitations of past and upcoming activities, punctuated with some requests for blessings, cannot constitute the kind of communing with God that brings enduring power. Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power? The Lord will teach you.(2)
With these two injunctions, the first instructing us about the importance of improving our prayers as part of our spiritual growth, the second suggesting we may need to learn how to pray regarding some things, I started aggressively studying prayer, especially how to pray, and what to pray for. The latter is particularly important to me, initially because I needed help in my daily prayers to get out of the rut of saying the same things repeatedly. But something interesting happened as I gathered quotations and reviewed some of them prior to my personal prayers. I began to realize that the scriptures and living church leaders have given us a great deal of instruction about what to pray for and without this collection most of those suggestions have gone by the wayside because I forget most of them soon after hearing or reading them.

My idea is: make a collection of statements of the scriptures and Church leaders about what we should be praying for, review those statements regularly and include the appropriate suggestions in your prayer as prompted by the Spirit.

The remainder of this blog is devoted to several examples to give emphasis to the general idea as stated above.  

Scriptures frequently teach us both principles of how to pray and what to pray for. The most obvious example is what the Christian world calls “The Lord’s Prayer,” found in the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount in Mt. 6:9-15. Verses 9-13 give the core of the Savior’s directions as to what to pray for.
9)  After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10)  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11)  Give us this day our daily bread. 12)  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13)  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
I do not intend to give a lengthy exposition of this prayer, I only want to call attention to two or three simple things. First, many commentators consider the phrase “Hallowed be thy name” as the first of the Savior’s petitions. Perhaps this is a surprise, because many people consider that part of the prayer as an introductory salutation and move ahead without much further thought. My second point is, however, when you consider that as a petition things change. What does it mean to request that the Lord’s name be hallowed? If we consider it to mean, honored and/or held sacred, then we are asking that the Lord’s name be held sacred. By whom? By ourselves certainly, but is it not in the context of the petition in verse 10, a petition that the Lord’s name may be honored and held sacred throughout the world? If so, how is that to be accomplished, and what is our individual role in that effort? Ah!  Lots of things to think about in one simple petition. My third point is, now that the Kingdom is come on the earth in the form of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, how does this instruction apply in this situation? And doesn’t the Lord’s kingdom imply lots of things that come along with it?  One huge example being the laws of the kingdom. Consider what it means to pray that the laws of the Lord’s kingdom will come. How are they to be implemented and what role should they play in society?  When was the last time you prayed that the Lord’s name would be hallowed among the people of the world and that the laws of his kingdom would come upon the earth and bear sway in the societies of mankind?

Another familiar example from scripture is James 1:5, the first part of which says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God....” Who among us does not lack wisdom in something, if not in many things? Is a request for wisdom, perhaps regarding a specific issue, a regular part of our regular prayers?

Another great scriptural example is Alma 34:18-25:
18) Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save. 19)  Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. 20)  Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. 21)  Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. 22)  Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. 23) Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. 24)  Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. 25)  Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
Alma instructs us to pray for at least half a dozen substantive things. As one studies prayer in the Standard Works, the list continues to grow and eventually becomes quite extensive.

Living prophets, apostles, and authorized general authorities of the church, both men and women, have over the years given a great deal of instruction about what to pray for. I distinctly remember during President Kimball’s administration he admonished the Church to pray that the national, local and personal barriers, curtains, and walls that prevented the Gospel being taken into some countries and to some people would come down and the “doors would be opened”. In the October 1978 General Conference and numerous times thereafter, he asked the Church to unite in these prayers. Following are two excerpts from this sermon. 
I hope that every family will hold home evening every Monday night without fail.  Missionary work will be one of the strong points that will be brought before it; and the father and the mother and the children in their turns will offer prayers which will be centered around this very important element--that the doors of the nations might be opened to us and then, secondly, that the missionaries, the young men and women of the Church, may be anxious to fill those missions and bring people into the Church
...
So I'm hoping that, beginning now, the prayers of the Saints will be greatly increased from what they have been in the past, that we will never think of praying except we pray for the Lord to establish his program and make it possible that we can carry the gospel to his people as he has commanded. It is my deep interest and great prayer to you that this will be accomplished.(3)
Consider this list from President Ezra Taft Benson in 1977:
For what should we pray? We should pray about our work, against the power of our enemies and the devil, for our welfare and the welfare of those around us. (Al. 34:20, 22-25, 27.) We should counsel with the Lord pertaining to all our decisions and activities. (Al. 37:36-37.) We should be grateful enough to give thanks for all we have. (D&C 59:21.) We should confess His hand in all things. Ingratitude is one of our great sins.
The Lord has declared in modern revelation: “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.”  (D&C 78:19.)
We should ask for what we need, taking care that we not ask for things that would be to our detriment.  (James 4:3.) We should ask for strength to overcome our problems. (Al. 31:31-33.)  We should pray for the inspiration and well-being of the president of the Church, the General authorities, our stake president, our bishop, our quorum president, our home teachers, family members, and our civic leaders. Many other suggestions could be made; but with the help of the Holy Ghost, we will know about what we should pray.  (Rom. 8:26.)(4)
As I analyze this statement I listed seventeen things he suggested could be included in our prayers, and then he added “Many other suggestions could be made”! Two considerations arise when contemplating this list. First, how can we remember it unless we either memorize it or copy it into a notebook or file on prayer? Second, is it reasonable that each of these items should be part of every personal prayer? If no, then how do serious Saints use the list? Doesn’t that require reviewing it regularly and including the items that the Spirit may prompt for that particular prayer?  

But this isn’t the end of the lists we have. President Hugh B. Brown added four unique items in the following statement:
We must remember that religion is action, no diction. Let us pray that God will deliver us from our dullness of conscience, from a feeble sense of duty, from thoughtless disregard of others, and from all halfheartedness in our work.(5)
Or consider President Hinckley’s recommendation in 1980: “A worthy daily prayer is one asking for the power to be faithful under all circumstances.”(6) Or we can go way back to President Brigham Young who said,
Say your prayers always before going to work. Never forget that. A father–that head of the family–should never miss calling his family together and dedicating himself and times to the Lord of Hosts, asking the guidance and direction of his Holy Spirit to lead them through the day–that very day. Lead us this day, guide us this day, preserve us this day, save us from sinning against thee or any being in heaven or on earth this day! If we do this every day, the last day we live we will be prepared to enjoy a higher glory.(7)
I call attention again to the uniqueness of most of these suggestions. The list can be multiplied and if I did so, we would also see that a number of suggestions, such as praying for the Spirit, for church and civic leaders, for the missionaries and their investigators, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers for the poor and needy, prayers for inspiration, guidance, and revelation, prayers over our family and business, are all repeated often. Common sense tells us that among seven or more billion people, the kinds of things people pray about are infinite, and we Latter-day Saints should be open to the Spirit to inspire our individual prayers in whatever direction the Spirit sees fit. But it is also helpful to be reminded about some of the things we have been and continue to be asked to pray about as a Church and people.  I’ve found it helpful to maintain a list of those instructions for regular review and more frequent inclusion in my petitions. I would also add that the more familiar you are with the list of things we have been asked to pray about, the more likely some of them will come into your mind and heart as you are called upon to offer public prayers.

My prayers have been improved and my life blessed by collecting the counsel of the scriptures and church leaders into a file labeled “What to Pray For,” printing it out and making a habit of reviewing portions of it prior to each private prayer. Quite often something will stand out and I include it in that morning’s prayer. As I have become more familiar with this counsel, I have also noticed that some portion of it not necessarily reviewed that morning may come into my mind as I prepare for prayer.  The process has helped make my prayers more meaningful and personal. I pray that the process also helps me grow spiritually. And I hope this brief review may be of some help in improving your prayers and spiritual growth.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980, 91, emphasis added.

2.  Russell M. Nelson, “The Price of Priesthood Power,” Ensign (May 2016): 68, emphasis in the original.

3.  Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, October 1978, 65-66.

4.  Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1977, 45-46, emphasis added.

5.  Hugh B. Brown, Vision and Valor, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971, 50.

6.  Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, October 1980, 84, emphasis added.

7.  Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arrange by John A. Widtsoe.  Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969, 44.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Melvin J. Ballard's "Struggle for the Soul."



Recently I ran across an amazing talk by Elder Melvin J. Ballard who served in the Quorum of the Twelve during the early to middle part of the Twentieth Century.  It was given in 1928, just prior to the Stock Market crash.  Though some of the things he said were relevant to the crash, his discussion of the growing influence of Satan and the antidote are profound, timely, and very relevant today. He also teaches some very interesting (and I believe, important) doctrine.  Note his explanation as to why fallen man is so susceptible to sin --because the origin of his physical body is "unredeemed dirt."  In my mind this classifies as one of the "classic sermons" in the Church and should be made available as far and wide as possible. It has only been reproduced once, as far as I know–in the March 1984 New Era.  Read, ponder, and enjoy.  As always, your reactions are welcome.

********

Three weeks ago this afternoon during the general session of the conference, I had the privilege of calling attention to some items of interest to the Latter-day Saints and to the world, coming from that inspired prophet of America, Nephi, who some 600 years before Christ’s birth delivered a message to this generation. I desire to continue, if I may, in the spirit of those instructions and for that purpose wish to read a few paragraphs from 2 Nephi 28:
“Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.
“And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Ne. 28:7–8).
I read starting from verse 19:
“For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;
“For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
“And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and this he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Ne. 28:19–22).
Two years ago I was laboring with Elders Wells and Pratt in South America, opening a mission for the Church. I had during that period of time opportunity to read and to study. It is said that “distance lends enchantment to the view” and, I believe, sometimes clearer understanding. I was 11,000 miles away from the headquarters of the Church, far enough away to get a good view of things. I had passed out of the world I knew, into a new and different world. The language was different; the customs of the people, the heavens, and the earth—all appeared strange and different—so that I was as one who had left the earth and had many of the thoughts and reflections that I am sure I shall have when that time does come to me. I had the opportunity to read very much, not only in my study of the Spanish language, but indeed I read everything in English that I could obtain, including the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the six volumes of our own Church history. While in contemplation of the Church’s progress, its present position and the future that awaits it, there came to me very distinctly some impressions concerning a period that would come full of danger to many, and feeling an anxious desire for the well-being of the membership of the Church, and indeed for my fellowmen, I promised the Lord that if he would give me the wisdom and the strength, I would lift up my voice in warning to the children of men concerning a peril that was threatening them.

I see the evidence of approach of that period of danger. It was to come in the time of peace and prosperity—by the way, the most dangerous time that any man or any people can pass through. Many a man has stood firm and true to his principles in the time of his struggle, but when the time of his independence, his prosperity comes, how easy it is to forget these high standards and to feel the power that prosperity and success bring, to gratify one’s will and appetites. So it is with nations.

I have felt therefore very keenly that the whole world was approaching a period of its self-indulgence wherein a new order of things would arise, and I have seen most clearly that the Church itself would be affected by this new period through which we were to pass. I can see clearly, however, that it is not altogether the forces of men that are to be reckoned with, but there are powers influencing the hearts of men, moving them in the solution of these problems that are arising before us.

When the first of the Father’s faithful sons and daughters were about to come into earth life, they were undoubtedly warned and cautioned; for we were to have two new experiences. First, we were to come into possession of a mortal tabernacle. Never having had one before, it was all strange to us. We were charged that we were to take possession of that mortal tabernacle and make it our servant, and were to be master over it, to honor it and yet to subjugate it.

[Second,] we were to be in the presence of the enemy who was now a majority. If our eyes were only opened to see the powers that are about us, that seek to influence us, we could not have the courage to walk alone and unassisted. These powers are about us, using their influence for the accomplishment of certain well-defined ends to win the coveted place for their chief, the fallen son of God. When he fell the heavens wept over him, and he became Lucifer, the devil.

His purpose is clearly shown in his own activity. Take for instance the temptation of the Master. While no man knew where he had gone, following his baptism, this envious, covetous brother knew and met him in the moment of his physical weakness and tempted him. The great question, however, involved in that temptation was not so much the turning of stones into bread, nor casting himself down from the pinnacle of the temple—that was but a prelude to the great question at issue.  There passed before the mind of Jesus Christ, like a panorama, the kingdoms of the world, and the tempter offered them. He knew that in part it was to gain the right to rule over them that Jesus Christ had come into the world, and that he proposed to die, to give his life to earn the right to be King of kings and Lord of lords.

But the tempter offered to Jesus all these honors and privileges on easy terms, merely to fall down and worship the evil one. And, said he, “I will give them all unto you. No need of dying on Calvary; just worship me. They are mine, and they shall then be yours.” If there was ever a moment in that temptation when Jesus was in ignorance concerning who it was that was laying snares for his feet, all doubt had now disappeared, for he said, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” [Matt. 4:10]. And Satan left him.

It is true that he who offered the kingdoms of this world was temporarily, at least, ruling over them, but his was a squatter’s right. His title was not valid. Jesus Christ, had he accepted such a title, would have been defrauded and presently would have found that the title was worthless. So to procure a genuine right and title to rule over the kingdoms of this world the Master gave his life. But the question was not settled, for it still is the purpose of the rejected one, who was defeated in the beginning and baffled by the Lord Jesus Christ while in his ministry, to gain that right to rule over the kingdoms of this world, and that is his business here.

So in the spring of 1820, when the time had come, known beforehand of the prophets, when the angel should fly through the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell upon the earth, when the hour approached that Elijah should return to the earth before the great and dreadful day of the Lord, when the prophetic message contained in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, interpreted by Daniel, was to find its glorious consummation in the establishment of that kingdom that should never be thrown down nor left to another people—when that hour had come it was not only known by God in heaven, but it was also known by the powers that rule in the earth. So before the Lord manifested himself, the devil was present and seized the youth who was to be the instrument in realizing those promises and sought to destroy him.

It was no imaginary ruin that seemed impending, but a real, tangible power had taken possession of him for Satan hoped to curtail God’s work, to postpone the evil day for himself by bringing to pass the death of the emissary whom God had sent into the world and who was about to be visited in connection with the inauguration of a gospel dispensation, even for the last time—a work which should roll forth until it should fill the earth. It was the beginning of the end. No wonder the powers of evil sought to check its progress, its growth and development.

But God also knew that the hour had come. He and his Son Jesus Christ visited this boy and inaugurated this great gospel dispensation that has as its ultimate end the winning of the world for Christ and his establishment to rule in the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.

So the process of conflict has ever been around the Church from the day of the Prophet’s first struggles. We have fought our way through under all sorts of adverse circumstances. Realizing that it was not possible to destroy it by the means that had been employed to check it—through mob violence, murder, persecution, bonds and imprisonment, disfranchisement, various woes and troubles—Satan is about to employ new methods.  That is the point that I wish to emphasize, because I saw most clearly that the enemy was not satisfied, nor had he quit the field, but by new methods he would seek to destroy this work. For I want to say to you that he is vain enough to think, and he believes it confidently, that in the end he will be victorious and become king of this world.

The prophets of old foretold the time to come when this question would be settled. Some of them called the conflict Armageddon. Whatever the name is, there is coming a time when the question as to who has the right to rule and reign will be settled. Every righteous man, living and dead, will be interested and engaged in that conflict, and so will every wicked man, living and dead.

What will the end of the matter be? How soon it will come I do not know, but this I know: that evidences of the approaching conflict are speeding on, and come it will, and the days are being employed in preparation for it by such activity on both sides that we would be astonished if we knew that we are going to be the center of great interest in the universe, because we are approaching great and important and critical days in the history of this world.

Mighty forces are being arrayed on the one side and on the other for this approaching conflict that will settle the question of who shall rule and reign. In the meantime—and I speak of the devil as a personality, as a reality—there are those who are denying his existence, even as Nephi said that the devil would inspire people to say, “there is no devil,” and he would whisper to them, “I am no devil.” So far as the Latter-day Saints are concerned, we never conceived that the devil was a monstrosity, that he had long horns and a tail and forked hoofs. No sir, he is a gentleman in outward appearance, and if you were to see him you would turn around to look at him. He is more knowledgeable than we are. He is a reality. I am as sure that he has a personality, I am as sure that he lives as I am that God lives. Although he may seek to deceive men and to persuade them that he does not exist, he does exist, and he never was so active as he is today. In the meantime what is his business today? I declare to you that he has his recruiting stations everywhere in the world and that they are armed. He has soldiers, and he has plenty of them. He is enlisting men and women on his side in preparation for the great conflict in the vain hope that when the struggle ensues he will have a majority and thereby be successful.

I am not prepared to say who will be on his side or how many he will have, but I am as sure as I live, by the inspiration of the Almighty, that the end of the conflict is as certain as the result at the beginning.  That he fell in the beginning and was routed from heaven is a fact, and it also is a truth that no matter how many he shall gather on his side nor how bitter the conflict, he shall be defeated and banished from the earth and cast out of his own place. Christ will come to claim his own, to rule and reign.

But in the meantime, it is not the outcome of the conflict that I am concerned about but rather whether I shall be on his side or on the Lord’s side. It surely is a good time for every man and woman to examine themselves and discover whether we are on the Lord’s side or not. I should like to say to you, my brethren and sisters, that all the assaults that the enemy of our souls will make to capture us will be through the flesh, because it is made up of the unredeemed earth, and he has power over the elements of the earth. The approach he makes to us will be through the lusts, the appetites, the ambitions of the flesh. All the help that comes to us from the Lord to aid us in this struggle will come to us through the spirit that dwells within this mortal body. So these two mighty forces are operating upon us through these two channels.

How is the battle going with you? How is it going with men and women in the world?  That is a very important question. The greatest conflict that any man or woman will ever have (I care not how numerous their enemies may be) will be the battle that is had with self.

I should like to speak of spirit and body as “me” and “it.” “Me” is the individual who dwells in this body, who lived before I had such a body, and who will live when I step out of the body. “It” is the house I live in, the tabernacle of flesh; and the great conflict is between “me” and “it.”

I used to tell missionaries with whom I was identified for many years that it was an excellent thing once a week to go by themselves and examine themselves, find out how the battle was going, who was winning—“me” or “it”; to pass judgment upon one’s self, correct one’s mistakes and weaknesses, set one’s house in order. You do not have to make that kind of an appointment. The Lord has made it for every member of this Church. It comes on the Sabbath day. It is at the sacrament meeting, when you see the emblems of the broken body and the spilt blood being prepared—that is the time for every man and woman to go into secret conference with himself or herself and discover whether or not they are in sin and transgression, whether they have yielded to the tempter, whether there are things that they need to repent of, and if so, to cleanse themselves and purify their souls and make peace with brethren and sisters and with the Lord, lest we should stretch forth our hands and eat and drink of these sacred emblems unworthily.

Another period which the Lord has appointed to members of this Church to determine who has gained the mastery of this struggle, “me” or “it,” is the first Sunday, wherein we are to abstain from food and drink for two meals. When that period approaches, “it,” the house I live in, is complaining that it will not be possible thus to deny oneself of food: “My head will ache; my knees will quake; I shall feel faint; I cannot fast so long; I must eat a little.” Are you yielding to it? If so, I can tell you who is being boss in your establishment, who is gaining the mastery. It is a splendid thing, at least once a month, for “me” and “it” to come into a real settlement of the question, and for “me” to say to “it,” the house I live in, my servant: “You can do without these two meals; it will not hurt you. Indeed it will benefit you. And though my head may ache and my body may feel faint, I will not die; I am bigger than you are, and once a month I will show you that I am master.” What strength that will give you to resist tomorrow when some other craving arrives! It may be for liquor, tobacco, or some other craving of the flesh—and I have gained strength to say to the house that I live in: “You cannot defile this tabernacle; I will have it clean; I will not have the windows darkened, I will not have this body defiled; it is my servant, and it must be kept clean.”

But you never can tell how the battle is going to go unless you are taking good care of the spirit. We know that unless one takes proper food and exercise, speaking physically, there is no growth. If you would have a strong spirit which has dominance over the body, you must see to it that your spirit receives spiritual food and spiritual exercise.

Where do you get spiritual food? I have just mentioned that once a week members of the Church are invited to go to the sacrament table where they eat and drink the emblems of the broken body and the spilt blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, blessed to their spirits—not to their physical bodies, for he who eats and drinks worthily, eats and drinks spiritual life. We are also charged to seek the Lord daily in prayer, secret prayer and family prayer. What happens then? We close our eyes and shut out the physical world, we open the windows of our souls and draw unto ourselves spiritual blessings, spiritual powers. And there flows into our spiritual life this strength. So these and other opportunities are offered for spiritual food, and spiritual exercise comes through service in behalf of our fellowmen.

The man or woman who is taking neither spiritual food nor spiritual exercise will presently become a spiritual weakling, and the flesh will be master. Whoever therefore is obtaining both spiritual food and exercise will be in control over this body and will keep it subject unto the will of God.

I said that the assault that the evil one will make upon us to capture us will be made through the body. That is the line of contact. You have all heard the adage that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. It will break at its weak point. Generally we will observe that our weak link is in the flesh. The devil knows the weak link, and when he undertakes to capture a soul he will strike at the weak point. There may be strength elsewhere, but he never attacks us where we are strong. He attacks where we are weak.

On one occasion I was on a trip through the great forest of Oregon and saw a great giant lying low for no apparent cause, while all its companion trees were standing. On close examination I observed that for a long period of time a process had been going forward under the bark, out of sight. An insect was making a hole no larger than a pin, but cross sectioning through the great giant. A weak link had thus been created, and under some small pressure the giant went down and its weakness was exposed. I have been led to say how that is like human life. There are many men and women who seem fair above board, who seem from all outward appearances strong, but who are tolerating secret weaknesses and practices, thereby creating weak links that may be their undoing, leaving an open door for the enemy to assault them.

When Goethe wrote his Faust, I believe he was inspired to utter some truths about the method of attack by the enemy of our souls. You recall that the man Faust, an old man, was anxious to be made a youth again. He prayed for such a transformation. But the thing he sought for was unlawful, and the Lord had no answer for him. But he persisted in his prayers, and when we persist, not willing to say “Father, thy will, not mine, be done,” it is quite possible that the devil may answer us, as he did Faust. And so the devil said: “I will do this thing for you. I will make you a youth, and when you are a youth you will want a maiden.” And a vision of the beautiful Marguerite was shown. “But if I do this for you I want you to sign a contract that when you are done with this body your spirit belongs to me.”

It is not bodies, it is immortal spirits that the devil wants. And he tries to capture them through the body, for the body can enslave the spirit, but the spirit can keep the body a servant and be its master.

So the contract is entered into. Then as Faust is made a young man he remembers the promise of the virgin, the maiden, and the two go in search of her. They find her as she enters the church. Suddenly Faust rushes forward to seize her, but the devil holds him back and says: “Not so fast, not that way.” Here is a truth. The devil cannot capture any man or woman that way. He cannot suddenly sweep them off their feet and bind them as his slaves against their wills. The power is given to every man and woman that lives to speak as Christ did: “Get thee hence, Satan;” and he will leave you as quickly as he left the Master. He cannot capture a single soul unless we are willing to go. He is limited. He must win men and women.

So with Marguerite. He must win her. They study her and find her weakness. She is a chaste, virtuous, wonderful girl, yet she has a weakness. It is vanity. So they play upon that weak link. Jewels are placed in the garden, and with them the mirror. She discovers these things. Vanity prompts her to put the jewels on and suggest she look in the mirror and see how beautiful she is. At the psychological moment the tempter appears and offers them as a gift from her would-be lover. She is prompted to keep them.

The lovers spend the afternoon together, and the mother’s voice is heard calling Marguerite to come in from the garden, but she is loath to leave her new-found lover. Again at the psychological moment the tempter, the devil, appears, placing a pill in the hand of Faust with the assurance that if this is placed in the mother’s evening drink the mother will soon be asleep and the lovers will be undisturbed. As I have listened to the sad stories of more than one girl who has stolen away from her mother’s influence and come to sorrow and distress, I wonder why the warning is not sufficient to give every girl the assurance that the safest place in the world for her is as close to her mother as she can get.

The mother takes the potion and goes to sleep. The lovers spend the night together. Early morning brings the brother Valentino upon the scene, and he finds his mother—dead for it is the sleep of death—and a stranger in the house with his sister Marguerite. A quarrel follows, and a duel is fought in which Valentino, the brother, is slain. Now Marguerite comes to an awakening sense of her full situation and the consequences of her own act. She has slain her mother, brought the death of her brother, and—worse than her own death—she has lost her virtue. She is next seen weeping and tearing her hair, and the devil comes laughing upon the scene. He has captured another soul. Strongly fortified as she was, she had one weakness, and through that the enemy entered her citadel and she fell.

That is the process by which secret weaknesses and vices leave an open door for the enemy of your soul to enter, and he may come in and take possession of you, and you will be his slave. After he has entered, he will lure away his victims into a sense of security, whispering to them that they can lie a little, steal a little, commit sin a little, and that they will be beaten with a few stripes and it will be all right.

It is one of the devil’s methods to keep the door open so that he may enter. I declare to you that this is the process by which he is seeking today to capture souls. While there is no particular mortal enemy or movement arrayed against this Church, the enemy of our souls is alert and awake. He is trying by new methods to corrupt men and women. There is not a man or woman who lives that shall not be tried, whose position shall not be assailed, and if Satan can make an entrance he will endeavor to capture that soul.

It is the individual testing time that I see approaching, so that it is well to know the forces and the powers that are arrayed against us, and their purposes, that we may close our ranks and fortify ourselves. Being forewarned we should be forearmed, and I declare to you that every gospel principle which the Church has received is calculated in its very nature to steel and armour us against the assaults of the enemy of our souls. A man or woman who can keep the Word of Wisdom, for instance, will also be fortified in keeping himself clean and undefiled from the sins of this generation.

The most favorite method the enemy of our souls has employed in ages past and that he will employ today is to capture souls by leading them gently, step by step, towards the greatest and most destructive sin against spiritual life—immorality, the ultimate end of self-indulgence. No nation has ever survived or ever will survive the age of immorality. The tempter is today inducing men to wink at sin, and even individuals in high places are seen to discard the virility and the power and the strength of the Ten Commandments, and to look upon the illicit and improper association of the sexes as no sin at all. I declare to you that it is a deadly sin against spirituality, and it is a deadly sin against the life of men and nations.

Someone will say: “Oh well, I may have my sins and weaknesses, but after a while I will overcome them, when I get to be an old man. I will eat and drink today and I will put it off until tomorrow, but before I die I may repent.”

I should like to say to you that there is no time, and there never will be a time, when men and women can conquer and master and overcome the flesh and the devil as now in mortality. I will say to you also that the best time is in youth. We speak of the power and influence of habits and often excuse sinners because they are the victims of bad habits. I would like to say to you that good habits are just as powerful to control the actions of men and women as are evil habits.

Oh, that men and women would learn in youth to serve the Lord and to establish good habits, virtuous thinking, righteous acting, honesty and integrity! If they did this, when they came to the time of their strength and power, instead of using the major part of their strength to correct the evils of youth, instead of battling to conquer that which ought never to have come into their lives, they would use that strength in going forward to “build more stately mansions, oh my soul!” Men and women do not go far wrong in an instant. It is by slow degrees, step by step. It is a blessing that it is not with rapidity that men can depart from the path of virtue to become immoral.

This body is like clay, plastic and pliable, and when the clay is soft and pliable how easy it is to mold it, to alter it, to change it! en when it becomes hard and set, how difficult this is! Similarly, men and women who go through their entire lives forming habits of viciousness, of wickedness, find it exceedingly difficult in old age to modify and change their course. And yet even for them it is easier to change their course of life in old age than it will be after death.

Some folks hope they may lose their sins in the grave. There is no hope that sins will be lost in the grave, for “as we lay our bodies down so shall we take them up again,” it is written.

What we will discover is this, that the spirit takes upon itself the habits of the body. There are many spirits that have come into mortality free, that have become enslaved through yielding to the cravings of the flesh. They will find when they come out of the body that they are tainted and tinctured with all the lust and desires of the body. Instead of being free to rise to glorious heights, they are more or less earthbound, craving the things that they have yielded to in the flesh, and they will discover too that after they have stepped out of this life they are separated from the body and have no power over that element, but the reformation will have to go forward in the spirit. They will also discover that every emotion and feeling will be intensified when they have passed out of mortality, so that it will be much more difficult to conquer and master and overcome when we go out of this life than here and now.

This is the one and only time most fitting and appropriate. Now is the time to repent.

Another thing we will discover is that when we are separated from this body we will feel in bondage. The Lord revealed that to the Prophet Joseph Smith, also to the late President Joseph F. Smith in his vision of the redemption of the dead [see D&C 138:50]. The latter saw the spirits of the righteous, who looked upon the separation of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage, and they longed for the termination of that bondage. Why? Because when we are out of this body we will long to do the things we can’t do without the body. The men who choose to put off until the next life the mastering, the conquering, the overcoming of the devil and sin are deliberately sentencing themselves to long years of bondage.

Man and woman will not come up in the resurrection of the dead until they have conquered and mastered and have overcome.  That is why it will take some a thousand years longer to get ready for their resurrection than others who will come forth in the morning of the first resurrection. So there is not only safety and protection against the assaults of the enemy of our souls here and now by adhering to these simple gospel principles which the Master has given. Such adherence will not only steel and fortify us against all the assaults of the enemy of our souls and protect us in this present conflict but will also bring us eternal joy and happiness; for blessed is he that overcometh, for unto him shall all things be given.

Let us therefore uphold these standards. Let us cleave to them and we shall discover that though Satan shall rage in the hearts of men—and he will—we shall stand in holy places and shall not be moved and shall be with the victorious.

Although there are days of trouble ahead in the coming conflict, I have no fear of the outcome. For while Satan is here on earth, seeking to win the hearts of men, so is the Lord, and his power is here, and he is here with his Church. It is the day of their victory, and they shall triumph. And every man or woman who will adhere to gospel principles shall find himself qualified to stand and not fall, and to escape the plagues and perils of this hour. These shall come out victorious. For the Lord Jesus Christ is coming to rule and reign over the earth.

There is only one condition absolutely essential for days of peace and happiness to the world and that is keeping the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, through which peace will come. Without it there will be no peace. There will be peace with those who serve God and keep his commandments. So we shall see days of sorrow, days of distress; yes the very earth shall feel it, and sorrows and distress will be experienced among the nations of the earth by the cyclone, by pestilence, by the storms and by earthquakes; for this conflict will involve the very earth itself in a gigantic struggle for supremacy.

Who fears the outcome? Only he who is a deserter. But those who are on the Lord’s side will close the ranks, fortify themselves, adhere to the standards, live in harmony with those blessed principles of the gospel which Christ has given, depending absolutely upon his leadership. And as sure as we live, victory shall come for Christ and his own.

God give us the strength and the might and the power of the righteous, the victorious, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Lets think together again, soon.

Source:  Melvin J. Ballard, “Struggle for the Soul,” The New Era (March 1984).