One day, at or near the close of the twentieth century, my son Todd made a comment about that century, the one many of us spent the bulk of our lives in (therefore it’s “our” century), remarking that it was in so many ways a dark century. I suspect that in terms of world-wide destruction, no period has seen more bloodshed. The harnessing of nuclear energy seems more of a bane than a boon so far. Mentioning this in Church one Sunday, I unleashed varied reactions. Maybe I can articulate my views a little more clearly here than I did there.
It’s true that the philosophy that excludes God is not new. The atheist and anti-Christ are concomitants of every century and every society, but I believe I perceive a historical movement that has all the earmarks of organization and sequential empire-building. The Middle Ages seem, from our perspective at least, a bit chaotic, from both the light and dark viewpoints. Step by step, though, we know the Lord was moving toward the restoration. The reformers were all a part of His plan. Satan too was gathering his forces and resources, not the least of which was the notion advanced by Pope Gregory I when he borrowed certain anthropomorphic and zoomorphic characteristics from sundry pagan deities that gave the devil a somewhat bizarre identity among fundamentalists (horns, hooves, tail, smell, etc). In an unenlightened, benighted Middle Ages, this concept of the evil one may have served to identify him as evil and as an entity to be avoided, but time and enlightenment would expose the lie in his zoomorphic characteristics, and if an enlightened populace can reject the traditional trappings, they can also reject the entire concept of a devil with a real existence. The poet Baudelaire once remarked that “The devil’s neatest trick is to persuade us that he does not exist.”
The nineteenth century gave us the restoration, but about the time Joseph Smith preached a new concept of God and warned that the old concepts were false, another, Friedrich Nietzsche, proclaimed simply that God was dead. As I acknowledged earlier, there’s nothing new in this, but Nietzsche had an audience. He came in the wake of Darwin, whose theory of natural selection and the notion that we are all products of heredity and environment plays neatly into the hands of Nietzsche’s followers. Auguste Comte’s positivism, which exalts science (the entity that can provide humanity’s panacea by discovering ways to control heredity and environment), evolves into other brief philosophies and everything seems to wind up in the epidemic triumph of existentialism, an atheistic philosophy that swept our century.
What we have in the twentieth century then (as I see it, of course), is a building toward a showdown. There is much of polarization in the great scientific enlightenment of our twentieth century, much (certainly not all) of which rejects the spiritual dimension of life. A much less spectacular factor in our century is the growth of the Kingdom, the stone cut without hands that is rolling and gathering size and momentum that the world does not recognize. This too is a part of our twentieth century, and it is the light. It has made strides at least as phenomenal as the dark, and there is much good in the very elements the devil uses to advance his cause. He uses television, internet, electricity, radio, mechanical advances—everything, in fact, that the Lord uses to propagate the truth—and he even tries to duplicate the workings of the Spirit for his lies. So our century is a marvelous admixture of light and dark.
COMPETITION IN THE WORLD
I am persuaded that the world we live in is not what the Lord originally planned for His children. I look for a world where there is universal trust, love, fellowship, and goodness. I have not seen such a world. The Lord has suggested that the terrestrial condition is glorious beyond our imagination, and since I can easily imagine a world far more agreeable than this one, I must conclude that better things are possible even within our present telestial circumstance. History seems to repeat itself as we practice predacity (predatoriness—both are legitimate words, even if my spell-checker doesn’t recognize either of them, but predacity is shorter) and selfishness, with civilization falling, disintegrating, and disappearing all about us. Destruction of our own system in this great nation is, according to prophecy, only a matter of time. Why? The Lord is constant, unchanging in His righteousness, and of His dominions there is no end. Why may we not expect some of that rich stability, if we are His?
We have distanced ourselves from Him, and He is therefore unable to give us all that He intended. We choose not to receive it, and indeed fail to grasp the concept of the superior system that would give us access to peace, harmony, and trust. We perhaps doubt that such a world exists. Is it possible to walk so long in a winter wasteland that we doubt the coming of spring? Or that spring ever was?
Where did it start? God gave Adam a different system, a different world at the beginning. Adam was obliged to abandon that system when he left the Garden, and perhaps that was the beginning of predacity. In the Edenic harmony, I doubt that predacity prevailed. I suspect that the millennial world we glimpse in Isaiah’s prophetic poetry, when God’s children, walking in the light of the Lord, shall beat swords into pruning hooks, and shall learn war no more, when the cow and the bear shall feed while their young lie down together and the lion eats straw like the ox, is much closer to what the Lord intended when He put us here. No one blames the lioness that kills the wart hog to sustain her own life and feed her young. Nature teems with species of life that depend for their sustenance on the ruthless ability to prey upon another species. We can’t blame them, but need we imitate them?
How do we imitate? I suspect that we have lived so long with predacity that it has become commonplace. We are still capable of mild outrage when it goes beyond the norms we have come to accept, but we have gone so far in certain cases as to glorify it. What are competitive games but the reflex of the predatory world about us? Consider the innocuous game of chess. It is a war game, played with symbolic warriors whose objective is to kill. We regard the Romans’ treatment of gladiator slaves as barbaric, yet we continue the basic format, countenancing competitive sports that cast a thin disguise over the concept. How far-removed are football and boxing from the rules followed by the gladiators?
We seem to believe in the world of competition. There is no dearth of defenders who will laud the sports arenas as builders of character. We organize and effect beauty pageants that pit young women, whose attributes they can scarcely take credit for, against each other. I know the argument that defends the practice as an opportunity for well-formed maidens to demonstrate other skills that enhance their physical attributes, but what growth comes from the competition?
I know that by now I have made myself quite offensive to a great many, who probably suspect that I am an utter wimp who never knew the thrill of combat, never understood the glory of victory, and probably never raised his voice to cheer a favored team. I’m afraid it isn’t really like that. What I am is a person who has felt all of those things. I have competed—I confess, with less success than many of you—in many sports. I have played a great deal of basketball and football, and engaged in wrestling, and I have enjoyed it all. I have lost my voice in my frenzied zeal to urge victory upon my favored team. I have even felt the exhilaration of victory, personal and collective. But my introspective character always forces questions upon me. When I am victorious, at whose expense do I achieve victory? And why must my victory always spell defeat for a fellow human being, a friend, a brother? And why must I ever make another man my foe?
I am not advocating a revolution. I’m not that ambitious. But maybe we can contemplate the possibility that there is a better method, a better guidepost for us than competition, and work slowly to discover what might replace and eventually surpass the joys of competitive encounters. I don’t pretend to know how to do it, but I have a personal experience that suggests something to me.
One of my sons loves sports. The other is quite indifferent to them. With the one, I used to play basketball with some frequency. When he was fourteen, a lad from Mexico came to live with us, and we would play together, the three of us. Both young men were adept and agile, but at that point, I could still win against them consistently. Then the Mexican lad went back home, and my son (Shawn) and I didn’t play together for a couple of years. On a 24th of July, my son-in-law arranged for a group of us to meet at his ward cultural hall for a game or two. Shawn was by then sixteen, and when we divided up for a three-on-three skirmish, we wound up on opposite teams, guarding each other. I discovered what two years can do in the development of a youngster. My discovery led me to the humiliating conclusion that I would never beat him again. But the amazing thing in that experience was that I felt no humiliation. I was more exhilarated in my son’s progress than any win of mine could have achieved. And I love to win. Defeat offers no comfort to me. Why, then, did I exult with the other team’s victory? Easy answer: Shawn had a great deal to do with their success, and my love for him was greater than my need to win. His sturdy development, his progress, meant more than my own ability.
The system God gave Adam is probably the circumstance we will return to when the Lord comes again. I can’t imagine a predatory Garden of Eden. We can glimpse a return to the Garden in Isaiah as he describes the world of Christ’s coming:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
The goal must be to build the Lord’s kingdom. When the vision of that glorious necessity dawns upon us fully, we will be able to exult in every person’s ability to contribute and we will rejoice in everyone’s talents without resentment or concern that they may exceed our own. Our personal growth will not depend on our ability to ascend over a foe; there will be no need to prove superiority, but the impetus for growth will come from our desire to be the best we can be in order to contribute to the growth and welfare of everyone.
Joseph Smith had an experience so transcendentally sublime, so sacred, that he probably felt it would be best to savor that moment in silence and solitude, but he could not. We may have similar moments, probably never so supernal as his, but deeply personal and sacred, which we protect from public scrutiny that might include ridicule, holding them too sacred to put on display. That is appropriate and proper, and we are free to make that choice. Joseph, however, did not have that luxury; he was, with his vision, also called as a prophet, and was compelled to share his story and let the world know it should receive it. He could not choose to protect himself from ridicule, or protect the sacredness of the experience with his silence.
I can make the choice to protect the details, but I too am compelled to share testimony of the results of those moments in my life. I can tell you, and the world at large, that God lives, and I must never deny that He knows me by name. I bear witness of it. I know my Savior. I hope to know Him better. My acquaintance can improve. I hope it does, every day, but I am grateful that at this moment, I know Him. He is Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world. I love Him, and have felt His love. I bear that witness in His name.
I also bear witness of the reality of the spiritual dimension of mortal experience. If I say “I know” that God lives, “I know” that the Book of Mormon is true, or that the Church is true, am I arrogating to myself a knowledge I cannot prove? What I know is that I needn’t prove it as I would be obliged to prove a scientific theory. I do not know it as I know that, in a base-10 system, two plus two equals four; I know it because the spiritual world is as real as the one that relies so heavily, or perhaps exclusively, upon the five senses. I know it because the Spirit is real, and I have had the Spirit’s confirmation. What has been revealed to me is true. The Church, as revealed and established by the prophet Joseph, is indeed true.
Why do we feel the urge to “testify” that the Church is “true?” What is so necessary about “witnessing” that the Book of Mormon is a ”true” book? What, incidentally, is a “false” book as opposed to a “true” one? I don’t sense any personal requirement to answer those questions, but I do acknowledge personal need to speak of, or “bear testimony” of my own conviction, notwithstanding the fact that bearing testimony has its confrontational aspects, and I detest confrontation.
Confrontational? How? As a point of departure for that assertion, an example:
Without having been in the recent High Priests group meeting on a particular Sunday when a very well-respected friend of mine taught the lesson, and another very close and revered friend was present, I understand that the class period was consumed in an effort to absorb all the teacher intended to convey regarding his disrespect and severe criticism of Richard Bushman’s book, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. As I have already confessed, I was not there to protest, but from all I can gather from the information that dribbles down to me, the teacher, whose intellect I have always admired, must not have read the same book I had read by that author and under that same title. The one I read was admirable in every substantial way. Bushman’s approach—scholarly, historical, thorough and inclusive—drew me closer to the Prophet as a human being, a man called out of obscurity to restore Christ’s Church, notwithstanding incredible challenges—rejection, persecution, false accusations, not to mention severe limitations in his educational, economic, and social circumstances. How can one read Bushman’s work with even minimal objectivity without occasionally pondering the question, “How is it remotely possible for anyone with Joseph Smith’s limitations to accomplish all he managed in one foreshortened lifetime?”
Bushman never interrupts his narrative to “bear testimony;” in fact, he reacts to that absurd expectation, given the scholarly venue he has adopted. (The article I quote from is one printed in the Deseret News “Mormon Times” section for Thursday, January 21, 2010. Its title: “Critics Couldn’t Touch Nibley’s Faith.”) The article quotes Bushman’s lecture honoring the centennial of Hugh W. Nibley’s birth and his monumental contributions, noting that Nibley took arguments against Joseph Smith and turned them around. “Nibley wanted to change the intellectual agenda. . . . He apparently came to the conclusion that vindication of the Prophet before authenticating his work was the wrong tactic. . . . and so we have the anomaly: Nibley battling ferociously to demonstrate the historical validity of the Book of Mormon, and yet apparently subordinating historical inquiry to a little-mentioned realm of faith that hardly ever entered his public discourse.”
The article goes on: “Bushman understands this anomaly and runs into it when he speaks to Mormon audiences about the history of Joseph Smith. Often someone will ask him to bear his testimony. ‘I am a little put off by this question,’ Bushman said. ‘The whole story of the Prophet, as I relate it, is a testimony of the truth.’ But Bushman said behind the request for a testimony performance is the real question: ‘All right, you have proven yourself to be a scholar . . . now we want to know if you are one of us . . . use our kind of speech and show yourself to be a brother as well as a scholar.’ To Bushman, however, it would be like having an attorney who is representing the LDS Church in court suddenly bear his testimony of President Thomas S. Monson to prove his point. It would have the opposite effect. Even though the testimony may be the lawyer’s deepest conviction, it is presented in the wrong venue and is connected to the wrong type of presentation.”
This is not the only kind of confrontation one can expect when he/she bears testimony. I have in mind one more personal. As a missionary, I have had many rejections, both from within the Church and from members of other faiths. If I affirm that I “know” the Church was restored as Joseph Smith said it was, I may—as has happened before—expect a reaction something like this one: “You know your church is “true,” do you? Tell me, how can you arrogate to yourself that knowledge? How can you hold a straight face and tell me you know that, knowing as you surely do that what you’re saying makes you right and me wrong?”
Even when my affirmation that includes the word “know” was, as I thought, offered gently and mildly, the reaction seemed explosive. Then, of course, I am hard-put to explain something that may never reach even minimal recognition: I do not know as I may know the accuracy and validity of a mathematical formula. I know, as I know the quality of friendship. I cannot explain how, or why, I am drawn to one individual and repulsed by another, neither of whom I perhaps know well, but it happens, and I would misrepresent myself and my feelings if I represented it otherwise. (I concede, the prudent measure would perhaps be to withhold any comment,) But when I speak of the Church, I must acknowledge a conviction. I can try to explain that there is a world beyond this sphere of physical perception. Intuitive? Perhaps intuition is related. But there is a spiritual world, not usually perceived with the senses we rely on here. If I have received something I cannot deny from a source I cannot see, I must acknowledge it, because I have received it. I must acknowledge my conviction that Joseph Smith’s mission was divine; the Church he was the instrument in restoring is also divine. Its management is entrusted to us mortals, and therefore may not always appear divine, since our imperfections may well obscure the Church’s true nature, but my conviction must stand, because it is as real as my need to take nourishment, to rest, to exercise, to breathe, to associate with family and friends, and to communicate.
Born in Mesa, Arizona, Harold K. Moon has lived in varied circumstances and far-flung places. He spent several years pursuing university credentials, earning a BA and MA at BYU and a PhD at Syracuse University, and serving his church as a missionary. He then spent the bulk of his life teaching Spanish (occasionally French) at BYU. The happy husband of Mayva Magleby and the doting father of nine noble and productive children, he now enjoys the fictitious leisure of retirement in Orem, Utah.
“During my professional career,” he writes, “I often felt that I lived in a house divided. I loved, believed in, and practiced scholarship, publishing numerous articles (I don’t remember the number, which is unimportant anyway), books (three, as I recall) pertinent to my fields of study, and textbooks (at least two). But I was inexorably drawn by the tug of creativity, publishing a volume of short stories, four novels, and several poems and stories that appeared in various magazines. At least one more novel is still in gestation, and unpublished poems are strewn about my none-too-tidy office. Some of these promise to be collected in a single volume to be published (it is hoped—and expected) before I draw my last breath. I wrote a few plays (unpublished), directed and presented many plays by Spanish authors and one of my own. I read numerous papers, and generally enjoyed the dialogue of professional commitment.”
Posted August 2010