Thursday, September 15, 2005
My Religion and Me
WHAT ABOUT THE FALLOF MAN?
The apostate doctrine of “utter depravity” condemns man even more totally. It teaches that before the Fall in Eden Adam was sinless and guiltless and incorrupt, bearing somehow the “image” of God. When Adam fell, he lost absolutely and irretrievably that “image.” He became utterly depraved. All of us born since have been conceived in sin. There is no good in us. We are all bad—mind, spirit, and body. Before God we are always in the wrong. By nature, by makeup, we are incapable of doing or being anything in any way good. Baptism is pointless. No man, regardless of what he does, is worthy of divine blessing or of salvation. If he is saved, it is through the “grace” of God which he does not earn but which is bestowed in “mercy” upon the “elect” (chosen few) by the God whom everyone, chosen or not, is supposed to love and revere. This doctrine has prevailed in all Protestant churches having a Calvinistic background and is a part of the stern heritage from our pilgrim and Puritan forebearers.
A third less literal point of view which is widespread rejects the story of Adam and Eve as a nonhistorical myth, true only in the underlying presentation it give of the awful dilemma of all men-- they are estranged from themselves, from their God, and from each other. In the most of the versions of this view an extremely pessimistic attitude about the nature of man is taken. He is compound of pride, lust, and evil intent and by nature is demonic. Here again the rule of God is to make up by his own supreme goodness and mercy all the lack in man.
THE MORMON VIEW OF THE FALL
The details of the entry of his spirit into his body and the entry of himself and Eve into the Garden are yet to be revealed. It is clear however, that his Fall did not consist in a rebellion against the Father like Lucifer’s in heaven. We are given some insight into his motives or Eve’s. The facts are that they were tempted, that they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that certain changes were brought about which were necessary for the whole human race:
- Adam and Eve and, therefore, all their posterity became subject to death, becoming mortal, where before they had been immortal. They suffered a “spiritual death” or banishment from the presence of God. Shortly, however, Adam was given the keys and powers and teachings to enable him to regain that presence, this time with knowledge, power, and an embodied personality like unto God’s .
- They put themselves in a position to learn some additional aspects of good from evil and become aware of the “opposition of all things,” spoken of by Lehi, and in so doing lost their primeval innocence or lack of awareness. (2 Nephi 2: )
- They became subject to illness, pain, fatigue, and all the miseries to which the flesh is heir.
- They were cast out of
into the world of thistles and noxious weeds where they had to work the soil by the sweat of their brows. We, as children of Adam, come into the world subject to these same conditions of mortality which open up for \us those same possibilities. Eden
All of us, with father Adam, as premortal spirits anticipated the unfolding of the plan just as it has unfolded. The overall plan had been prearranged and prepared. Theoretically Adam could have refused to bring mortality upon the world, but his Heavenly Father knew that he would not. That was presumably one of the reasons why he was chosen for the task. It is the same with each of us. Not that we are fatalists (whatever will be, will be) or predestinationists. There is no coercion—that was rejected. Rather, as Lehi suggested, “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” (2 Nephi 2:24.)
I am aware that these evils are not pleasant, and probably if we could understand and comprehend evil without coming in contact with it, God would never have placed us on this earth, so far from those with whom we dwelt in the eternal worlds. He never would have placed us here but for our own good.1
In proof of this I direct you to the lives of the saints and the prophets; but above all to the life of the Son of God himself. The life of the Prophet Joseph Smith is an illustration second only to that of the Messiah.3
Repeated questions arise as if people regret the bargain they make and are trying to find an easier way. Why are we going through all this? If God knows the end from the beginning, does he not know what we will do without our having to do it? Why could he not assign us to the appropriate level in the world beyond and be done with it?
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vol. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., ), 2:95-96
- B. H. Roberts, The Gospel and Man’s Relationship to Deity (
: Deseret Book Co., 1965), pp. 278-279. Salt Lake City
My Religion and Me
WHAT (WHO) IS HOLDING ME BACK?
Now that we are somewhat oriented in time and space and have begun a consideration of our relationship with our Heavenly Father, it may be well to investigate what the responsibility of each person is to himself and, through himself, to his Father in Heaven. By what are we bound. On whom can we lay the blame for our failures? To whom is the credit due for our triumphs?
There is a legend about a man who was convicted of a crime and sentenced to thirty years in prison. The turnkey who guarded the cellblock felt that the prisoner was innocent of the charge and therefore left the door to his cell unlocked, expecting the man to escape. Not wanting, however, to be charged with conspiring to aid the prisoner, he did not tell him about the door. He only hoped the prisoner would discover it. The door was unlocked for thirty years, but the prisoner never tried it and thus never escaped! He had made the false assumption about his chances for freedom.
There are at least three assumptions we make about the limits to our freedom that are like prison doors and confine us only because we think they do. Actually they are unlocked doors through which we could walk to claim our freedom and to assume our responsibility. Because we do not know it, we never try to escape. We stay imprisoned like tethered elephants, not knowing our own strength. The three false assumptions are:
1. The people around us make us what we are.
2. We are bound by the thoughts that come unbidden into our minds.
3. We are bound by our feelings which we cannot help.
Those with whom we live and to whom we are closely tied are our families. For years now you have been living in your families. For years now you have been living in your family and have been subject to your parents. You may feel that you are pretty well hemmed in by their rules and opinions. Do you ever hear sentences that begin, “As long as you’re living under my roof…”? You may recall the scripture that put the responsibility for teaching “their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord’ squarely on the shoulders of the parents. “The sin be on the heads of the parents” if they do not teach their children the first principles of the gospel—faith, repentance, and baptism. (D&C 68:25, 28)
Yes, that sin is upon their heads—the sin of failing to do their duty—but your sins are not upon their heads. “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins” (and not for parents’ transgression). Parents, too, will be punished for their own sins and not for their children’s transgressions. (First Article of Faith.) The knife cuts both ways.
Since you were born, you have been growing in freedom. To some degree you have assumed the responsibility for your own actions. At the age of eight, you passed some kind of landmark that marked you as accountable, for your understanding was then considered adequate to know the moral differences between right and wrong. Now you have probably already admitted that you are not a child any more and have become impatient at being treated “like a little kid.” Gradually you have come to feel, then, that ultimately you are your own “boss.” Implicit in saying that is saying, “I accept the responsibility for my own life, and I will take the consequences for what I do.” This is a large order, but each one has to grapple with it.
Your brothers and sisters may seem to interfere in your affairs, may seek to guide you or “boss” you around, may pray for you and wish you well, but they cannot be you. They have, each of them the responsibility for a life—and it is not yours. Your brother is your brother and possibly can be said to be your keeper, but for all his help he cannot accept your responsibility for you.
Take the friends that you yourself have chosen and cultivated. Are they responsible for the kind of person you are becoming? They can be a help and they can be a hindrance. Friends will never matter more to you than they do in your teens. When you get down to it, though, they can do only so much and then you are on your own. They can study with you, but you must take your own final examination. If they could take it for you, what kind of “help” would that be?
Chances are that you are greatly influenced by your friends. If they smoke, you may want to join them. Whether you do or do not is up to you, not to them. It is your choice. There is, too, the possibility that you may influence some waiverer for good if you take a strong stand. Each person is an “I”; each is subject to suggestion; each is swayed by example. When you take charge of yourself, you may be helping someone else do the same thing for himself.
What about your teacher? Are they responsible for the kind of person you are becoming? Again, they provide the tools, expose you to secondhand learning, and even set you on the path to making firsthand discoveries, but they cannot experience life for you. During the time they teach you and ever after, you must plow your own furrow.
Is it true that there are no delinquent children but only delinquent adults? Nonsense. There are both. People can set you a bad or good example, but they cannot force you to imitate it. People can treat you like dirt, but they cannot make you become dirty. People can deny you love and return you evil for every good you do them, but they cannot prevent your giving love nor your returning good for evil. People can show up as phony as hypocritical, but they cannot force you to be phony and hypocritical. Each basic decision about what you will think, say, or do is yours.
One more person scapegoat is always lurking in the background. What about the devil? The Prophet clearly taught that “the devil has no power over us on [except] as we permit him.”1 He taught that God will not use compulsion over us and the devil cannot. Satan is completely shackled when we are righteous. He is rendered impotent as a whimpering child by those who worthily take upon themselves the name and Spirit of Jesus Christ. The prophet taught that God, man, and the devil are “three independent principles”—three active and , therefore, never wholly passive agents. “All men have power to resist the devil.”2
The adversary can rage and buffet, but he cannot possess and dominate unless we permit him to do so. This is likewise true of the whole realm of evil spirits. In the presence of a servant of Jesus Christ they have no overpowering influence unless we let them.
It is difficult, however, to endure in the presence of someone who is obnoxious or irritating or tantalizing. As long as you seek the influence and help of the Father and the Son, you can endure such people or spirits, if need be, forever. To develop that kind of strength is one of the most vital experiences in life. The immature go on in petty crabbing or surrender their standards to the “group.” The mature put such things under their feet. The mature have learned that freedom to become their best is infinitely more valuable than freedom from entanglements with people.
Is much of your quest for freedom a reaction rather than independent action? Do you let others decide how you will behave? Reacting is allowing yourself to be manipulated like a puppet on strings. Someone pushes a button and you grind out the exact reaction called for. A truly free person is not that controllable nor predictable. He decides on his own—independent of expected standard responses—how he will deal with others. Why not make your won definitions of “manliness” and “womanliness” and “courage.” Who is to say for you what is worth fighting for, and what is worth fighting against? Christ was not free from involvements, problems, buffetings, entanglements, but he never sacrificed the freedom of becoming—the carrying out of his mission – to a compulsive effort to free himself from responsibilities. He lived for others; he taught for their salvation; he worked for his Father’s purposes. He might have rescued himself from a challenging temptation, painful abuse, and embarrassing imprisonment, and ignominious death, but he was not concerned with himself, only with others.
Can thoughts ever really be controlled? Thoughts that “pop into our head” do seem to be involuntary. They seem almost as inevitable as the jerk-of-the-knee reflex. We see someone we do not like and are immediately inclined toward spiteful thoughts or a long list of grievances come to mind. Someone we know receives recognition of special honor, and we tend to start thinking jealous thoughts. We go to a movie full of crime and violence and our finer sensitivities are dulled. Immorality or perversion on the screen may make of our minds a sinkhole of fantasies and unworthy brooding.
Then we go to church and hear some quote the words of the Bible:
…whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her [or on a man to lust after him] hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
Does that mean that to think evil is just as bad as to commit it? No. Does it mean that we are supposed to be able to eliminate all such thoughts the way we can erase words from a sheet of paper? Yes.
Look at the passage again.
It is not the occurrence of ideas in the head, but their lodgment in the heart, their carry-over into one’s motivation and intentions, that degrades. “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) In the mind of one man a thought about evil is a cause of revulsion—he cannot even look upon sin except with abhorrence. In the heart of another a thought about evil becomes an evil thought because he cannot look upon sin except with haunted, lustful, unworthy desire.
Throughout the scriptures the heart is used to symbolize the seat of man’s most important desires. To “love with all your heart” is to love without reservation. The heart can also be the combustion chamber of all the degenerate drives of man’s life—anger, jealousy, lust, hostility, and all the rest. That is where the issue lies.
The warning of Jesus is that what we permit to enter our hearts will eventually lead us into action. One who has already committed adultery in his heart will commit it all to soon in fact. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matthew 12:34) That is the meaning of this statement that it is what comes from within that defiles a man. To the Nephites he made this even clearer: “[I would] that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart.” (3 Nephi 12:29)
How can we prevent evil thoughts from entering into our hearts? Thoughts that come to mind unbidden can be stifled or choked out. You can really hold only one thought at a time in the center of your mental stage. Temptation occurs when the thought turns into a feeling in the center of your heart.
All of us have seen the cartoons of the demon with the three-pronged shaft who climbs up on your shoulders and whispers evil thoughts into your mind and pushes, and needles, and goads, “Do it! Do it! It won’t matter once. Come on. You owe it to yourself.” The reason such pictures are still in circulation is that they do in fact reflect the kind of pressure we feel in the hour of temptation.
Whereas we assume that such demons, even if the “demons” be ourselves, put thoughts into our minds, the truth is that their most devastating success comes from getting thoughts out of our minds. One who is greatly tempted may develop an unrighteous interest or design in a girl which gives him little time to think about anything else. He thus literally loses thought of everything else—his past, his future, his better and more important commitment, the promises he make yesterday to himself, the resolves for self-control he made last Sunday in sacrament meeting, the dark nights of despair he has already known whenever he has yielded, the loneliness and unworthiness he has felt during time of temptation—all such considerations are driven out, forgotten, wiped out.
Hence the wisdom and power in the counsel of the Christ to our generation. “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” (D&C 6:36.) He might have added, “Forget not.” Does this mean we should look to him though we feel unworthy to lift our eyes?
Yes, in the darkest hour most of all. That is just what it means. Where else shall we find help? We must lift our eyes and our thoughts to heaven, or we can never lift ourselves from the various pits we dig for ourselves.
A simple “help me” spoken in silent prayer can break the compulsion of the temptation. Your ability to anticipate the long-range results of this present betrayal becomes as vivid as the thought of yielding to the present unworthy impulse. Anciently Paul said:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man [we are all in the same boat]; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
We are moving, then, from the area of the thoughts we think, into an area that is even closer to home—the feelings we feel. We now ask the question: “Can one control the feeling of his heart?” Are they not utterly beyond our control, rising and falling with the same inevitability as the involuntary pumping of our hearts?
Listen to the wise insight of a modern prophet:
In the first place the spirit is pure, and under the special control and influence of the Lord… Recollect, brothers and sisters, everyone of you when you are tempted, buffeted, and step out of the way inadvertently: when you are overtaken in a fault, or commit an overt act unthinkingly; when you are full of evil passion, and wish to yield to it, then stop and let the spirit, which God has put into your tabernacles, take the lead. If you do that, I will promise that you will overcome all evil, and obtain eternal lives. But many, very many, let the spirit yield to the body and are overcome and destroyed.3
The key word in that passage is “let,” not “make,” your spirit take the lead. To the degree that we reach for our better selves, for our spirits (and always we can reach for help), we find it deep within. At the edge of an abyss, we can always scramble back. The spirit within approves of the good and disapproves of the evil. It throbs with potential power a hundred times greater than that of the flesh. As the Prophet said, the affinity of our spirit nature is for divine things, and “those revelations that will save our spirits will save our bodies.” To be saved in the mortal sense is to be saved from sin and ignorance. To be saved in the eternal sense is to be saved for the wholeness and holiness of celestial life.4
What does it mean to be responsible, then? It means to accept this sovereign truth about yourself—that you are a product of your own freedom, ever being added upon—in charge of your thoughts, your feelings, and your reactions to others. Do not write your own book, One Thousand and One Excuses for School and Home Use. When improvement is in order, discover it, admit it, and look to yourself and to your God for help. This means you never shirk responsibility nor try to pin it on anyone or anything else. You are otherwise accepting a lie. If your life seems filled with misfortunes, failures, problems, you are not alone. Everyone has problems as a necessary part of free agency and personal development. Regardless of what happens outside you, you were and you are, and you will be, in charge of what happens inside.
By your nature, by your spirit birth, by virtue of your being a son or daughter of God, by your degree of knowledge and maturity, you are responsible for your own success or failure in life. This is true whether or not you are willing to face it.
1. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938), p.181
2. Teachings, p. 189
3. Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses, 26 vol. (London: Latter-day Saints’
Book Depot, 1855-86), 2:256
4. Teachings, p. 355
My Religion and Me
HOW CAN I LIVE MORE ABUNDANTLY?
The story is told of a ship becalmed in foggy waters off the coast of South America—a sailing vessel at the mercy of the winds. Several days went by and the men on the ship were dying of thirst when a steamship came into view. The captain of the stranded ship hailed the steamer and asked that some water be given to him and his dying men. In response the other captain cried out, “Let down your buckets. You are in the current of the Amazon River.” When the buckets were raised from the waters in which the ship was becalmed, they were indeed found to be full of the fresh water of the far outreaching current of the Amazon. So it is with many of us. We have the resources within ourselves or available to us which are untapped, and we fail to “let down our buckets”, often suffering unnecessary, but inevitable, consequences.
Each person is somehow gifted. It is true that “all have not every gift” (D&C 46:11-26), and some of us spend years lamenting the absence of gifts within us. Such a failure to know ourselves often results in our missing our missions. The prophets teach that we were trained, reserved, prepared, forearmed, and fitted to the time, place, generation, and conditions we now face. This is our generation and each of us will—if we will to do it – be raised up to our special work. This is what we were sent here for. It is all—important that we discover, which really means uncover or recover, the gifts that are part of our make-up both as spirits and as bodies.
There are many things that hold us back. We doubt ourselves; we are afraid to try; we feel unqualified; we think things come easily to others and are difficult only for us. We envy and repine and say there is “no way.” We watch others who seem to move easily from task to task. We aspire and dream, but we fail to dig in. The late John A. Widsoe used to say that one of the greatest problems in the
Church and beyond is the “aspiring spirit”, with which men gnaw their hearts out to be in one of the few positions of presiding and prestige. As a result an infinite number of crucial roles in the Church go begging. The whole body of the Church is like the whole wristwatch. It needs every tiny part. The face and hands are no good at all without all the little cogs and wheels, springs, and jeweled screws that make up the watch. One defect or omission of a part anywhere, and the watch no longer does the job. Many fail to appreciate the importance of each small role; many fail to understand that no person is unimportant. The worth of each soul is great.
Two kinds of help will be discussed in this lesson. The first is the kind of self-help which comes to one who has trained and developed his own internal resources to such degree that he can be his own initiator of help through his own creative powers. The second comes from the Lord as men seek to comply with the requirements to receive guidance either directly through his Spirit or indirectly through the prophets, alike in that they are only available to individuals who are open and flexible; in this sense both may be thought of as “creative.”
IQ means “intelligence quotient” and has long bee considered the measure of a man’s mind, constant and fixed throughout his life. The present view is that the IQ test measures some aspects of mental ability, but by no means all (and probably not even most) of the important ones. There is a new understanding today among those who seek to measure the mind, and many old ideas are being discredited.
First, it is completely erroneous that men are mere learning machines that stand empty, waiting to be filled by experiences and rote, as a computer waits to have its tapes filled with information. There are indications that man something going for him at least from the time of his birth, something innate or built-in in the psyche that may result in differences in the way information is received, interpreted, stored, and used. For example, some people seem to have a “feel” for order, harmony, logical sequences, and relationships; others may seize upon a certain set of facts and remember and build on them to the exclusion of other. Experts are still in the experimental stages in measuring inborn mental phenomena, but this much seems clear: All of us have flairs or streaks or flashes that are somehow part of our very constitutions. They need to be developed, but they can be turned on rather than having to be installed, nurtured rather than planted. The mind, in short, is not just a blank surface on which the finger of experience writes. It is more than that, but the “more”, is difficult for scientists to explain.
Secondly, IQ is not a fixed quanity, so that you have it or you do not. By application and effort,, a person can increase his IQ, which includes at least the facility of memory, imagination, and conceptual arrangement (putting things in order).
On the other hand, by neglect, by slovenly mental habits, by refusing to exercise and challenge the mind, we can lose or decrease our IQ. The rewards, nature seems to have decreed can come to those who persist and struggle, regardless of what they start with.
Third, IQ is expressed in a variety of ways that are dissimilar. A poet has one kind of mental knack, an engineer another, a business executive still another. How these come out in practice depends not alone on IQ, but on other talents a person may have.
Both in America and Europe, partly doe to the so-called “space race,” there has been in recent years a tremendous amount of research done on “creativity.” What is wanted is not just people who can absorb other people’s ideas, readymade into their own minds, but people who can rework, add to, invent, discover, and travel to new mental horizons. One “shock” is that such creative people are not necessarily those who show up well on IQ indexes. Another shock is that, in one sense of “creative,” each of us has much to offer. We may be subdued and intimidated geniuses, but geniuses just the same in spirit of our self-doubts and reluctance to trust ourselves.
So now, instead of measuring IQ in the old-fashion way, psychologists are applying tests that spot individual talents along a spectrum of six major fields of endeavor.
This falsifies the traditional idea that if a person is good in one thing, he will be good in everything and the corollary (which is a depressing influence on our secret aspirations) that “if I’m not good at this, I won’t be good at anything.” Each of us can be great at something and may be dismal at something else—depending on the field.
Someday each of us should take an aptitude test to show us more about ourselves and to reveal where our strengths really are. Several advantages would result for each one such as increased confidence, and sense of purpose, an exhilaration in work, and ability to cope with one’s other failures, etc. All there arise from the clear and confirmed recognition of one’s latent abilities. Nothing is more frustrating than banging your head against “limits” which, for all your effort, go forcing you into the mediocre range. Psychologically and spiritually all of us need the sweet taste of success before we can take in stride some of the bitterness of below average performance. The Father of us all wills that each of his children experience that sweetness.
Let us now look at some descriptions of the general makeup and attitudes of “creative” people together with an indication of the way in which our Heavenly Father, by means of the gospel plan, has arranged to bring the creativity of all his children to the surface. Between the lines of gospel teaching is the expectation that each of us will grow into creative living.
The parable of the Talents clearly indicates that when we magnify our abilities the Lord will bless us with increased abilities. (Matthew 25:23)
The spiritually sensitive, it can be shown, are more inclined to be sensitive in other ways to their environment and especially to the other people. The person with the soul of a poet feels the heights and depths and life’s experiences; he can have exquisite pleasure and exquisite pain in ordinary living that leaves many others untouched.
On the other hand, the kind of behavior that most petrifies feeling most dulls and dims our capacity for alert and keen awareness, is sin, the trampling of the sacred and the breaking of the law. The gospel is given us to increase our spiritual awareness and to lead us from the deadening paths of sin. It is to make bad men good and good men better. Better men tend to be more sensitively observant men, more creative men.
Examples of the sensitizing effects of the gospel can be observed in many lives. One, in particular, comes to mind: Here is a man with only an eighth-grade education, with longer experience among the dregs of society where most of the conversations were in one-syllable, four-letter words, and most of the people were as amoral as the horses with which they worked. This man, after he rounded the corner onto the gospel road, became a real gentleman, developed a greater appreciation for the beauties of nature and a love for growing things, and reached out to the Lord and gratefully accepted the priesthood which he fully honors. He has become a necessary member of his community, unfailing sensitive to the needs of others, untiringly responsive to the,. The gospel did not make a different person of him so much as it game him the opportunity to become all that he had it in him to become.
The gospel of Jesus Christ exists to make us all “prophets,” possessed of the testimony of Jesus which is the spirit of prophecy, not just alerted, as some suppose, to the future, but to the whole sweep of time and space; stimulated to find divine meaning and divine purpose in the whole pattern of history and life.
Creating people see things as others do, but also as others do not. Take the following gems of insight that we come out of modern revelation.
It is no more incredible that God should save the dead than he should raise the dead.1
How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri River in its decreed course… as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints. (D&C 121:33)
The gospel and the spirit of God are the spirit of truth. They enable us to see with fresh eyes. They transform us so that “old things shall pass away” and all things become new. (D&C 29:24.) The barrier of gap that ordinarily cuts us off from seeing others “from the inside” is overcome. He that speaks and he that received understand one another and “both are edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50:22) The mind and heart are both quickened, and we see the old mind and the heart are both quickened, and we see the old and the new with the “renewing” spirit of Christ—eventually to “see as [we] are seen, and know as [we] are known.” (D&C 76:94)
Said the ancient seer, “Your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28) This is occurring all around us today. The knowledge that unlocks treasure houses of truth has given us a veritable “explosion” of scientific knowledge in the past ten years, more than in all the centuries since Aristotle. These are the outgrowth of the restoration of the priesthood and the inspiration of God. Several of our own Mormon scientists (Joseph F. Merrill, John A. Widtsoe, Henry Eyring, Armin J. Hill, Tracy Hall, etc.) and artists and technicians credit the crucial ideas and impulses that have led to their most significant discoveries to the same ultimate explanation: the enlightening influence, the creative influence, of the Father of mankind.
Critics of Mormonism decry our involvement in “strange health codes.” There has always been, also, criticism of ancient Hebrew dietary restriction. How can one achieve effective mental processes in a body that is deteriorating? The Word of Wisdom is not an arbitrary interdiction of the pleasures of the world, nor is it a delusive promise conjured up like magic for no reason. Its promises are, it should be noticed, triple in nature; promises to the physical, the mental, and the spiritual person.
The promise is of health, of stamina, of vigor to “run and not be weary, and … walk and not faint.” (D&C 89:20) To this can be added by implication to sleep and not have need of tranquilizers, to awake without hangovers and depression or pep pills. The gospel allows us to tap the bounteous reserves, so often only partially tapped, with us. We can “let down our buckets” oftener and over a longer period of time than other people.
But that is only the start. Also promised are “treasures of knowledge” (D&C 89:19); learning functions of the brain are aided, stimulated, enhanced by the health of the thinker. Conversely, they are broken down irreparably by harmful or hallucinogenic substances. Medical students cannot even for an idea of the structure of the brain when doing autopsies on alcoholics, the breakdown is so extreme. The mental powers of one who honors the revealed laws of health is greatly magnified, and his physical energy is added upon.
As for the spiritual, the spirit itself is nourished and toned by health; and vice-versa. The whole gospel exists to achieve the “renewing of [our] bodies” (D&C 84:33) and thus “enliven the soul.” (D&C 59:19)
Some books on scientific method speak of “serendipity” (the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for). This kind of occurrence is fairly common and brings together otherwise unrelated ideas or combinations of ideas which turn out to be both new and useful. When men report their findings, the whole process sounds logical, ordered, careful, almost like a regimented march of soldierly thoughts through the brain. Most discoveries are not like that. Rather they grow out of intensive and difficult preparation and effort and then playing with some equipment or asking, “what would happen if? ...” Or sometimes when a man is working very hard on one idea, some unexpected side effect occurs, or some related ideas swim into his mind unbidden, and a new discovery is made.
In the religion of the Latter-day Saints such procedures and events turn out to be facets of the life of the spirit. Inspiration is “given;” it is not clear always whether it comes from “way up” or way down” inside. To use the careful preparation, and training as a springboard—to be capable of disciplined, controlled procedure and receptive to flashes of insight—is what a solid Latter-day Saint should have going him in his inner life. To “mount up in the imagination… as upon eagle’s wings”—a promise in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 124:99)—and to be touched by the Spirit with the power of remembrance—a promise in the New Testament ( John 14:26)—are both possible through the Spirit. One needs in addition to take time to meditate and follow one’s impressions and have the courage to execute them. This is to grow up into the spirit of inspiration and revelation—to “let down the buckets” into the living waters all around us.
Young people are heard to say and to seem to mean it, “I have nothing to live for. The more I live, the more problems I have. And then I die.” This attitude is incomprehensible in a Latter-day Saint. It is indeed dying of thirst with life-giving water within reach.
One hundred and fifty years ago, one of the closet associates of Joseph Smith summed it up:
The restoration of these pure laws and practices has commenced to improve or regenerate a race. A holy and temperate life, pure morals and manners, faith, hope, charity, cheerfulness, gentleness, integrity, intellectual development, pure truth and knowledge, and above all the operations of the divine Spirit, will produce a race more vigorous and better prepared, for long life and good days in their mortal sojourn.2
The gospel sets us free to be creative—and sets us creative to become more free. It is the “perfect law of liberty.”
1. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938), p. 191
2. Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1965), p. 167
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
My Religion and Me
WHY IS A FAMILY? (Continued)
- D o not store up resentments. In connection with home night or family hours, a family council provides an excellent opportunity to talk out grievances and generate solutions. Letting a backlog accumulate and pretending it isnt there only worsens things. Let your concern out all the appropriate time, and let then out honestly, on the level.
- Seek counsel with others who are trustworthy. A third party a biship, a teacher, a wise friend can often help restore perspective when two family members are grappling with each other. Teenagers (despite what cynics may say) are greatly influenced and greatly inspired by others. They are natural hero-worshipers. If you have found a person who brings out your best self, let him or her make a contribution, hearing your troubles and giving you unprejudiced counsel. This is not a sign of weakness. It is a fact of life that all of us need one another. It is a fact of life, too, that all of us, sometimes are so down that others who are up are desperately needed.
- Try wearing other shoes. One of the most helpful questions you can ask yourself about misunderstanding with your parents is this: How would I deal with myself if I were my father? Or ask: How would I deal with my own children if they were like me? Depending on how well you know yourself, these questions can open up some real insight. You will find that, if you treat parents with the respect you would like, you will find a return wave of mutual regard and concern. Tell your parents occasionally, though you have not said so for a year, that you really appreciate them. Wouldnt you like to be told that? Say, for a change, You know, I see your point. I really am hard to live with sometimes. Some depressing day approach each parent and say, Ive made up my mind that I want to do at least one thing just for you today. What will it be? Such gestures are but a reflection of the golden rule. This attitude will take from the scrapping mat to genuine understanding. Try, in sum, a hug, a pat, a kiss, an arm in arm. There is often more lift in this than in words; and you will get one, too.
We have been saying that independence develops normally in the home stresses. Why cant parents give more freedom more easily?
Define it correctly. Freedom is responsibility. Responsibility in homes patterned in the divine blueprint is the ability to stop just reacting feverishly to everything. It is the ability to respond with mature consideration and patience, to endure sustained pressure to achieve long-range goals (and not to say, as we all do in our childishness, If you really loved me, youd let me do this idiotic thing.)
My Religion and Me
Of all the creatures of the earth, the human infant is the most helpless for the longest time. The mother conceives bears, nourishes, and protects the child, meeting most of his basic survival needs. Every child has an incredible ability to make his needs known, a power which from the earliest days borders on genius.
The total dependence of the newborn baby drastically curtails his freedom. His simplest bodily needs have to be met by someone else, and he can do little for himself to maintain his own life. No normal child, however, is content to remain so dependent any longer than necessary. Only a crippling of his powers through illness or injury can keep him dependent. Some may be more passive than others, and the maturation process is not exactly predictable--different "buds" of our nature come to flower at different times. There is a certain schedule, though, for physical growth, motor ability, language development, and mental and emotional stability. Physical and psychological maturity are reached at about the age of twenty to twenty-four years, a span of infancy unprecedented in the animal kingdom.
WHAT ARE PARENTS FOR?
Experts in the field of human relations point out that maturity is many sided and individuals develop at very different rates in the various facets of maturity, Our bodies need physical health. Our minds need knowledge, goals, a philosophy of life, discipline, and training in creative self expression; our spirits need vital, practical faith; socially we need to express and receive love, acceptance, and a feeling of worth. In each of these there is need of developing strength self-direction, and self-discipline.
Many things in our environment affect our degree and speed of maturity. We draw upon many things, we may rebel against some the relationship we establish may make us hero or heel in the sight of others and may result in happiness or misery in our own lives.
Let us now look at a few of the problems that parents face in their monumental responsibility in the home and consider how you might help your parents, rather than frustrate them in their efforts to bring you safely to maturity.
Home is the place where you learn to live with people learn it in all the moods and struggles of learning. Home is where in bitter moments you wonder why you are stuck with each other and in your happy moments you wonder how you could have been so lucky. The latter mood is almost always more lasting and true than the first.
The experts on home conflict list four major areas of frictions:
Such an attitude bred in a child shows up not only in his relationship with his parents, but in his relationship with God. He drudges through duty, hating every minute of it. He can't even pray well, uncertain, often, whether there's anyone there to whom to pray. He does not want to risk getting to close. He would rather go his own way, with a closed in form of emotional independence. The truth is that his need is compounding. His relationships with everyone, including himself, are forced instead of free, choked and partial, instead of outgoing and whole. The longer this pattern persists, the more it breeds distrust, hostility, suspicion, and a refusal to recognize or listen to love. No matter what language love speaks or who speaks it. It does not get through to him.
Some families have a quiet time just before bed when the day's toughest experiences and the happiest ones are reviewed. Others do the most important talking over the table or in the midst of chores. It is a sad day when we start going it alone, storing up a variety of feelings that we reserve for others and fail to express at home. The tragic line of youth is, "Oh, I can't tell Dad. It would tear him apart." The relationship between youth and parent should be the last one to tear anyone apart. The communication of the real man-to-man or woman-to-woman truth should be there. You should be able to say it like it is."
4. Value conflicts. There is a long list of things about which you care about most and about which your parents care, too. Here you overlap and mesh with little trouble. Every new generation, however, establishes its own patterns and preferencesmusic, dress styles, dancing, painting, cars, teen idols and preferred personalities, whatever is stylish. You have to realize that your parents parents were as bewildered as their children are now by the patterns their children set a generation ago; but that, it they had seasoned judgment, they opposed and drew the line only where soul-growth could be stunted. Wisdom should assure you that within years, believe it or not, you will not fight for the same fads or styles which seem so important today. It will not matter nearly so much then. It never has been possible to make all generations agree perfectly on such matters, but they have been committed to something more inclusive and more important”the gospel. On things that matter less, parents and children often agree to disagree.
My Religion and Me
ARE THERE ETERNAL LAWS?
And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. (D&C 88:34)
FREEDOM AND THE LAW
Thus far we have discussed your individual position in eternity. We have described the power and promise of the freedom of becoming. We have spoken of the limitlessness of your potential, of your responsibility for developing it. Let us return now to an idea mentioned in the first lesson and discuss some of its meanings and significance to us. You will remember that we discussed things which are eternal—intelligence, God, certain laws, etc. We have discussed to some degree how God brings blessings to us. Let us now discuss how law is also a source of great blessing. We may well ask ourselves if there is anything besides God upon which we can depend—anything permanent we can count upon which is not subject to anyone’s whims. Are there any laws that everyone—even our Heavenly Father—must respect? What is the relationship between freedom and the law?
THE POSITION OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY
The standard position of Christian orthodoxy is that God is the source of law (as of everything else). He “made” the laws, and they (even, some say, the laws of logic) are binding only because he has so decreed. This view has resulted in at least one controversy: Are the laws right because God wills them, or does he will them because they are right? In other words, is God responsible for the laws or to them? The traditional Christian solution is this: God wills them and thus makes them right; and his will is unchangeable. God is not finally responsible to anything except himself.
Thus the view of many Christians if that God is the “author” of the ( 1 ) natural laws (gravity, motion, and energy), (2 ) metaphysical (supernatural) laws, (3 ) mysterious laws governing his own relationships to the universe; and finally, (4 ) moral laws.
THE PROPHETIC PICTURE
Again the prophets present a different picture: Law is as eternal as God. There are laws that govern, control, and condition things animate and inanimate, spiritual and temporal. God himself works within the framework of thee laws. In fact, it is by his understanding, abiding, and fulfilling these conditions that he has gained his dominion, exaltation, and glory. The principles of the gospel are eternal.
It is the reverse. If there were no laws, nothing would be possible; we could not do anything. Every purpose would be in danger of being thwarted; there could be no constancy of expectation, a possible different result from every act. This, of course, would be an impossible situation.
Thus law is the guarantor of freedom; it assures us that when we know and understand eternal laws, and abide them—when the “mystery” of law is replaced by “mastery,” we can us them to our everlasting happiness and progress, and no sudden intrusion of lawless chance can spoil it.
The revelation further says:
That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin. Cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice nor judgment. Therefore, there must remain filthy still. (D&C 88:35.)
Notice the word cannot—“cannot be sanctified.” This is not a decision that God has made and refuses to change. It is an announcement of an unchangeable fact. One can so abuse his freedom, both his innate capacity and his gift, that he cannot receive the benefits of obedience. If you disobey you take the consequences.
Why should God not have mercy and sanctify the sinner anyway? Restitution comes through the application of another law, through repentance. The only avenue to the result is through the law. To receive the glories, one must abide the laws of those glories. We cannot offer an education to anyone by handing him a diploma. You work to become educated or you do not become educated. Abide the conditions to become a competent physician, or you do not become one. No power in the universe can pat you on the head and confer upon you any competence. So it is with the highest award of all. Godliness cannot be conferred, but must be acquired. That is one of the eternal principles that God himself cannot change. The enlightenment of knowledge cannot be bestowed. (D&C 93:28-29)
We may hesitate to acknowledge the importance of eternal laws because in our experience some laws change. Even some laws of nature seem to change as scientific knowledge increases. So it is with all areas of our understanding. For example, it was universally believed that matter could not be changed, until Einstein showed the inter-relationship between matter and energy. The laws of nature do not change, but our understanding of them does.
Man-made laws are often adjusted to suit changing conditions. For example, there are traffic laws which are enforced as they are written to meet a present need. These are just statements of what orderly people should do and are not based on some eternal condition. If the need changes, the law changes.
Eternal principles are inescapable; they bind all of us; and they free all of us. Temporary laws that help us to live better lives together are important. Change in these laws should not lead to some misunderstanding which would keep us from recognizing the eternal, unchanging laws. If we seek to become perfect as our Father is perfect, and if we yearn for eternal life, which is his greatest gift, the unchanging, eternal laws of the universe must be taken into consideration. We must understand and obey them if we want to be successful. They do not cease to exist if we ignore them; we are bound by them even though we may try to work against or around them. The downward path is outlined in the above scripture: (1 ) we break a law, (2 ) we abide it not, (3) we seek to become a law unto ourselves, (4) we will to abide in sin, and (5) we abide in sin and cannot be made holy unless we repent (which would involve obeying a law.)
It is better far to be preserved by the law by willingly letting ourselves be governed by it in every way we can, to have it going for us instead of against us. To do this, we must learn what the various points of the law are. All that we need to know for our salvation and exaltation has been revealed to us. If we will allow ourselves to be thus governed, the law will perfect us and sanctify us (make us holy.)
We can put ourselves in harmony with all things in heaven and in earth if we will conform our lives to the pattern set by eternal law. In even beginning to realize the great truth of our need for unchanging law, we are taking a step toward conformity with it. We are moving closer to our Father in Heaven and the path he trod. These principles, clearly understood, affect our attitudes toward God.
We must not assume that man-made laws are bad because they change. Our parents make rules for us to obey because they love us. Often these rules may be changed because they were not carefully thought our or are difficult to enforce. If so, they should be changed. We all grow together as a family, and the fact that rules may change to meet growing needs does not detract from the unchanging love our parents have for us.
Our greatest opportunities arise when we learn the relentless and eternal principles. The Lord knows what we are to learn. Eternal laws neither wait nor bend for any man. Everlasting principles can bring enduring deprivation or enduring glory.
Any discussion of freedom that does not recognize this fundamental fact about man and the pattern of his life is based on something other than the whole truth and can lead only to confusion and misunderstanding.
For example, the law of gravity, a natural law, is one commonly given as an example of an unchanging eternal law that if anyone tries to flout or to ignore they do so at their peril. In modern days, science has put other natural laws into effect to make it possible to raise greater-than-air craft to great heights and to protect the occupants of the craft with parachutes should they fall. Any skydiver knows well the fate that awaits him should his chute fail to open, and some have plummeted to that fate by toying with the immutable law of gravity.
The consequences are just as predictable with the law of repentance, the law of chastity, the law of consecration, or any other of the great laws that form the basis of the gospel plan. Anyone who toys with them, procrastinates or rationalizes about any one of them does so at the risk of his eternal happiness. The choices are made individually, even doing nothing is making a type of choice, a choice by which to be bound.
My Religion and Me
WHAT IS FREE AGENCY?
We have been discussing the preface to this life, the pre-mortal existence, or what some have called the first in the three-act drama of life. We have touched on the eternal nature of our Heavenly Father and ourselves, as his spirit children. We have mentioned the spirit world and some of the preparations that were made there for our coming to the earth. It becomes necessary now to consider the matter of our freedom, without which the whole gospel plan would be meaningless.
Agency is the ability and freedom to choose good or evil. It is an eternal principle which has existed with God from all eternity. The spirit offspring of the Father had agency in pre-existence and were thereby empowered to follow Christ or Lucifer according to their choice. (Moses 4:3; D&C 29:36-37.) It is by virtue of the exercise of agency in this life that men are enabled to undergo the testing which is an essential part of mortality. (Moses 3:17, 4:3, 7:32; Abraham 3:25-28.)
Four great principles must be in force if there is to be agency: 1. Laws must exist, laws ordained by an Omnipotent power, laws which can be obeyed or disobeyed; 2. Opposites must exist—good and evil, virtue and vice, right and wrong—that is, there must be an opposition, one pulling one way and another pulling the other; 3. A knowledge of good and evil must be had by those who are to enjoy the agency, that is, they must know the difference between the opposites; and 4. An unfettered power of choice must prevail.
Agency is given to man as an essential part of the great plan of redemption. As with all things appertaining to this plan, it is based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ. As Lehi expressed it: “because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great mediation of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:26-30, 10:30;
Agency is so fundamentally a part of the great plan of creation and redemption that if it should cease, all other things would vanish away. “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” (D&C 93:30.) Expanding and interpreting this revealed principle, Lehi said: “It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so,… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one: Wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things mush have vanished away.” (2 Nephi 2:13; D&C 29:39)
Agency is the philosophy of opposites, and because these opposites exist, men can reap either salvation or damnation by the use they make of their agency. If it were not for the law of agency, there could be no judgment according to works and consequently no rewards or punishments. “Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who make you” (Moses 6:33), is the voice of the Lord to all people of all ages. (Alma 30:8; Joshua 24:15.)
Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3), an eventuality which would have made the attainment of salvation impossible, and accordingly he was cast our of heaven.1
FOUR EXAMPLES OF FREEDOM
What is this liberty, whose very name makes the heart beat faster and shakes the world? Is it not the union of all liberties—liberty of conscience, of education, of associations of the press, of travel, of labor, of trade? In short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so?2Mr. Bastiat’s definition has merit for our purposes here, for he mentions or implies four freedoms which most of us presently enjoy and , generally speaking, take to much for granted. These are:
1. Freedom of decision
2. Freedom of action
3. Freedom of inaction
4. Freedom to become
FREEDOM OF DECISION
Suppose you are in prison bound with cords, straight jacketed, and surrounded by vicious people who are seeking to manipulate you in every way contrary to your won desires. Notice you still have a measure of freedom. Inwardly you can agree or disagree with anything they say or do! We may keep our thoughts to ourselves.
What we decide to approve or disapprove is up to us. In our premortal state we made at least one big decision to stay with our Heavenly Father and his Son in defending the principle of free agency. Even in such situations as the one described above, though you were forced to say things you did not mean or to do things you would never do if your were free to choose—even then no one can reach into your mind to see what is there and set it in order according to his will. What you decide to think is eternally your decision.
FREEDOM OF ACTION
A certain man was trying to demonstrate that we all do what we are caused to do and that there is no freedom. He held up a candle before his audience. Extending his right hand, he said, “I put my finger in the flame, it burns, I pull it out! This is cause and effect, not freedom.”
An opponent, who believed in genuine freedom, arose took the candle, and said, “I put my finger into the flame, it burns, I grit my teeth and hold it there! THAT is freedom!”
A man who spent a few weeks behind the iron curtain in the rural areas of East Germany returned recently (before 1972) to tell of his impressions. He said that there was a feeling of death. “It’s stable,” he said, “but so is death. There were no cars on the road, no people in the fields, no visible signs of life, and many signs of decay.” Where freedom of motion is greatly restricted, death ensues, the death of a person or of a nation.
The story is told of a little girl who, watching a moth attempt to struggle from the cocoon in which it was imprisoned, felt sorry for it. Getting some scissors, she cut the confining strands of the cocoon to release the struggling moth. To her startled concern, the moth ceased it struggle and died. When, sobbing, she told her father what had happened, he said, “Now you know that often life itself depends on putting forth effort and having to exert oneself against things that are in the way. The moth instinctively fought to break open the cocoon because in so doing, he gained the strength he would need to live, to fly, to find food. You tried to help him but you robbed him of his one big chance to make himself free.” So it is with many people who are straining against the confines of their lives. It is best, beyond seeing that they don’t hurt themselves, to give them freedom of motion to a successful breakthrough.
FREEDOM OF INACTION
“I can, not do, anything I choose to not do.” Inaction sometimes seems the easiest course, but there are limits. You cannot cease to exist. The essential intelligence mentioned earlier is indestructible and therefore unavoidable. Among the impossibilities, therefore, if your mental health is sound, are: becoming someone other than yourself; destroying all consciousness by relapsing into the condition of a billiard ball without freedom or individuality. You cannot cease being, in some measure at least, an active agent.
There is however, still an open area of inactivity that we are free to enter, though it be dangerous. It has become the common practice in the Church to speak of people who do not come to the meetings, who do not have Church jobs, but who are nevertheless members, having been baptized, as inactive. Active membership in the Church implies motion, effort, growth. It is desirable if one wishes to make progress, for that is what the Church is for. Nevertheless inactivity is permitted; a person is free to do nothing if that is what he wants, and there are many who do.
The most basic inaction of life is this:
Behold, here is the agency of man (freedom to act for itself and at the other side of that, freedom not to act), and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. (D&C 93:31.)
To “receive not the light” which would tell us ceaselessly that we are free, that there is more we could have done, can now do, and may yet do, is to give favor to the darker aspects of the soul, which are found in the heavy down pull of the body. It is to flout, ignore, harden ourselves against the lightful elements, our spirits, which are glory laden and innocent when we enter mortality. They may encourage and persuade, but no one will force us to do otherwise if we choose to be inactive.
FREEDOM TO BECOME
This is a fourth kind of freedom, the most vital and most exciting and most enduring freedom. We hide it from ourselves and try to convince ourselves that our guilt feelings and anxiety feelings are all over the first three. You know what we are talking about here if you are a writer with a message in your heart who never sits down at the typewriter; a musician who can not discipline himself to practice or to master the mechanics; an artist who shies away from brush and canvas; a cook, mechanic, inventor, physicist, genealogist, a whatever, who backs off hardest from the thing he could become best qualified to do.
To be fully free is to unfold all the strains, facets, and functions latent within us which help us become what God created us to be! We are enslaved to the degree that we fall short of that self-realization. That kind of freedom, like the eight-day flowering of a bud into a rose, is the genuine freedom, the freedom to become what is in us to become. This is what Bastiat called “the freedom… to make full use of his faculties.”
There are Latter-day Saints in parts of the world who are meeting the challenge of becoming Saints in the midst of political tyranny. It is sometimes more possible to become in the midst of greatest difficulty. In fact, sometimes we need to be blessed with problems to make us put forth enough effort to become more than we are. While we stand pat in defending and scrapping over the first three freedoms, this one may be slipping from our fingers. We may paradoxically be digging the grave of freedom or losing it by default.
DIFFERRENCES BETWEEN MAN AND BEAST
We can get at what this freedom is by asking, what do we have that animals do not? Pressed to distinguish man’s advantages over other forms of life, those who study such matters often mention four qualities:
1. Man’s power to think in abstractions. A house pet can see the marks “7 plus 5 equals 12” and can be trained to understand the formula in the sense that he reacts to it: taps his paw, or learns to take it as a sign of forthcoming food. He does not, however, understanding the seven-ness, five-ness, plus-ness, or wquality. Those are all abstractions.
2. Men are equipped with the amazing power of language. Shakespeare knew and used some 25,000 words. The rest of us have about 5,000 on the average. Beyond his verbal powers, man has the fantastic ability to communicate his feelings, responses, needs, and subtlest shades of thought by facial and symbolic means and be understood as if by magic.
3. Men “tie together” their past and futures. These ideas have no other relationship, apparently, except in men’s minds. We are uniquely the “time-binding” species, capable of ever-increasing expansion of memory and thus of imagination and projection. We can think a million miles ahead, or imagine a million years back, or picture what it would be like to be on the other side of the moon. Man can. Can other animals? Apparently not. Decisions, projects, and plans can be infinite in scope—not so for the squirrel who at best plans for next winter. Man can build on the experience of all men in all ages.
4. Man is capable in a measure of predicting and creatively controlling his environment. The best of dogs or birds have not learned interplanetary travel, nor written poems and symphonies, nor filled other lives with expressive, creative activities.
5. Man is the spiritual offspring of God. This is the most important difference of all. Through the restored gospel we learn this most basic truth and become aware of the spark of godhood within us. From the very beginning man was given dominion over the beast of the field who do not share man’s spiritual heritage.
God will assist us to magnify the freedom of becoming by increasing these qualities of life to their fullness, to intensify our mental life, to intensify our communication with ourselves and with all other kinds of intelligence, to increase our mastery of earth as preliminary to our mastery of the universe, to increase our creative abilities. One step forward in any of these areas increase our freedom. Thus it is important, as the scripture says, to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause (D&C 58:27-29) and to be involved in something greater than we are which causes us to extend ourselves.
One step backward diminishes that freedom. The divine way for increasing our freedom by increasing our capacities is through “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” (D&C 121:41-43.) The opposing method is that of Lucifer—force. We opposed force as spirits, and many of us continue to oppose it here.
God gave us a privilege to advance like himself. He made his work the fulfillment of our purposes. “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) Every step of the way our Heavenly Father has plans laid to help us, but not to interfere with our freedom—not to cut us free and destroy us, but to give us difficulties with which to cope and thus to grow.
Let us now turn to what it means to say “we make ourselves.” How much really depends on us?
HAVE YOU REALLY ACCEPTED FREEDOM?
It is common to suppose that all of us want more freedom. We pay lip service to the idea. As a matter of fact, though, a little serious and quiet “in looking” will show that we have deep longings in the opposite direction. All of us want an escape from freedom. Freedom can be frightening. How can this be?
Fatalism, behaviorism, predestinarianism, and mechanism all say: Everything that happens has to happen and whatever is, is right. Nothing is avoidable. Few of us believe or even seem impressed with these doctrines. Yet we sometimes seek a permanent, unanswerable, and effective excuse that says, in effect, “You couldn’t help it.” We want to escape from the responsibility of having to say, “I could have done something about it.” We see freedom as what it has always been—responsibility.
It actually is a great enticement, a great comfort, if we can believe (or at least have others believe,) that when it gets right down to it, we are not responsible for what happens. “I can’t help,” we say, or, “It’s not my fault.”
A felling of fatalism is reflected sometimes even within the Church as people try to shirk responsibility: “Why worry about a graduate degree? The world will be blown up by then, and it won’t matter.” “Don’t plan. Just get a bomb shelter and a year’s supply of food.” There is a tendency to regard a patriarchal blessing as akin to fortune-telling—saying what will happen to you instead of what can happen, still leaving it up to you.
The fact is that a certain relief is felt when one can finally say, “It is my fault. I could and should have done more, and I am still trying.” There is more to be done. This is true, not just in the sense that if things were different and you were different, more could be done. With everything just as it is, there is still more you might do if you want to do it as much as you want to avoid doing it.
“I cannot do otherwise,” we say. Why not? Someone else, looking the situation over, not unkindly, might say, “What about doing this? Have you tried that?” until we wonder whether we have done anything at all.
“The world has need of willing men,” says the hymn. (Hymns, no. 206.) It means men who are willing to accept the responsibilities of freedom, to ride the waves in, like a skilled surfer, risking a dangerous fall, but steadily, practiced, and surefooted. He knows a thrill and the senses of accomplishment that is never known by the lazy beachcomber who grudgingly moves up the beach as the tide comes in and never dares to try.
We are not alone. God is not dead, and he will help us however badly we may feel we have failed. The only real failure is not to try, not to become, not to extend the bounds of our freedom and our responsibility. Knowing your own weakness, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.” (D&C 112:10)
1. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966,) pp. 26-27
2. Frederic Bastiat, The Law (New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1964), p.51