Meeting the Challenges of Today – Neal A. Maxwell

But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).

It may well be, as our time comes to “suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41), that some of this special stress will grow out of that portion of discipleship which involves citizenship. Remember that, as Nephi and Jacob said, we must learn to endure “the crosses of the world” (2 Nephi 9:18) and yet to despise “the shame of [it]” (Jacob 1:8). To go on clinging to the iron rod in spite of the mockery and scorn that flow at us from the multitudes in that great and spacious building seen by Father Lehi, which is the “pride of the world,” is to disregard the shame of the world (1 Nephi 8:26–27, 33; 11:35–36). Parenthetically, why—really why—do the disbelievers who line that spacious building watch so intently what the believers are doing? Surely there must be other things for the scorners to do—unless, deep within their seeming disinterest, there is interest.

Thus foreordination is clearly no excuse for fatalism or arrogance or the abuse of agency. It is not, however, a doctrine that can simply be ignored because it is difficult. Indeed, deep inside the hardest doctrines are some of the pearls of greatest price. The doctrine pertains not only to the foreordination of the prophets, but to each of us. God—in his precise assessment, beforehand, as to those who will respond to the words of the Savior and the prophets—is a part of the plan. From the Savior’s own lips came these words: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). Similarly the Savior said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). And further in this dispensation, he declared, “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7).

It does no violence even to our frail human logic to observe that there cannot be a grand plan of salvation for all mankind, unless there is also a plan for each individual. The salvational sum will reflect all its parts. Once the believer acknowledges that the past, present, and future are before God simultaneously—even though we do not understand how—then the doctrine of foreordination may be seen somewhat more clearly.

There are clearly special cases of individuals in mortality who have special limitations in life, which conditions we mortals cannot now fully fathom. For all we now know, the seeming limitations may have been an agreed-upon spur to achievement—a “thorn in the flesh.” Like him who was blind from birth, some come to bring glory to God (John 9:1–3). We must be exceedingly careful about imputing either wrong causes or wrong rewards to all in such circumstances. They are in the Lord’s hands, and he loves them perfectly. Indeed, some of those who have required much waiting upon in this life may be waited upon again by the rest of us in the next world—but for the highest of reasons.

Properly humbled and instructed concerning the great privileges that are ours, we can cope with what seem to be very dark days and difficult developments, because we will have a true perspective about “things as they really are,” and we can see in them a great chance to contribute. Churchill, in trying to rally his countrymen in an address at Harrow School in October of 1941, said to them:

Do not let us speak of darker days; let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days: these are great days

Full talk found here. Link thanks to Daniel Peterson’s blog here.

Forced speech is not free specch

The ruling in Northern Ireland yesterday – where the judge ruled that it was illegal for Presbyterian bakers to refuse to make a cake that said “support gay marriage” on it – has generated a lot of reactions. This article, however, gets to why this ruling in particular is so objectionable. Many of these types of cases represent infringements on freedom of conscience and association, and this case is particularly bizarre since same sex marriage isn’t even legal in Northern Ireland, but this case seems to establish that it is illegal to refuse to produce a message you oppose. The idea that people can be forced by law to promulgate views they disagree with strikes at the heart of freedom. Forced speech is not free speech.

The election and my discontents

I find politics very interesting. I can also find it extremely frustrating, particularly in view of the current UK elections and the likeliest results. I’ve spent the last few weeks muttering about politicians who can’t add up and about an electorate who’ll eagerly accept spending promises that will bankrupt the nation and incidentally destroy the very things they don’t want cut. But the truth is that the results are quite likely to please no one: those parties nominally committed to restoring financial sanity are throwing caution to the wind with their spending promises, while those who propose a massive expansion in spending in the name of fairness will find a) their policies won’t work, as they never do (they should really consider having a good look at the ideas in D&C 104 for something that might) and b) the eventual collapse will help nobody. When one adds the difficulty of finding honest rather than careerist candidates to elect… Oy vey!

Yet at such times it’s important to retain some perspective. I believe some of the issues the nation faces are existential, possibly even terminal, but things could always be worse. I fear a Labour-SNP coalition would cannibalize the nation’s finances (apologies to anyone who doesn’t, but I think you’re mistaken), but they’re not proposing actual cannibalism, as Mormon faced with his nation. I worry about the increasing erosion of freedom of conscience and religion at the hands of all the major parties, but it is not yet a crime to pray, with the penalty being thrown into a lion’s den. Things are not yet as bad as that, and while I do believe things will get worse, they’re not there yet. And even if they were, even when things actually become hopeless on a societal level, there are more important things to life and afterlife. There is always a reason to persevere in seeking to do good, for as Mormon states:

And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.

(Moroni 9:6)

Incidentally, noticing my longer posts may be related to the fact that it can take me months to update, I’m going to make a concerted effort to write shorter blog posts and hopefully update more often..

Render unto God the things that are God’s

A brief note on this one – Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is apparently of the opinion that religious liberty should make way before civil law.

It’s an age old struggle, of course – one thinks of Daniel 3 and Daniel 6, where Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego and Daniel all had to choose between God and obeying the law. Likewise, it reminds me of the previous incidences I’ve already highlighted here where freedom of worship or religious toleration is substituted for freedom of religion. The thing that most stands out for me in the debate, however, is the lack of concern for freedom of conscience, and any notion that there should be any limitation on the State’s power. The State should have no power, and should make no law, that compels someone to act against their conscience, nor should the law be propelled into every sphere of life.

Unfortunately, the idea that liberty and limited government go hand in hand with rule of law seem to have been forgotten.

"The key to rubbing along in perfect harmony – shut up and do what I say!"

I haven’t updated this in a little while, and was expecting to write on a slightly lighter topic, but again this topic rears its head. I’m not sure what The Times has against religious liberty anymore, but this article here seems to support my thoughts last time. I had several reactions to this piece:

1) “Decent Muslims, undoubtedly a majority, opt like Jews and sane Christians for the minor key and the modesty of a settled faith which resolves neither to despise nor proselytise.”

It’s interesting that Libby Purves feels that denying the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is necessary to be decent and sane. It gets worse.

2) “If society must tolerate diverse faiths, so must faiths return the compliment and pragmatically avoid clashes.”

Again notice the shift from religious liberty – an inalienable freedom belonging to the individual, to a grudging tolerance extended by society – one that carries a price. Due to the wide range of her examples, the nature of that price is unspecified. She mentions the Fort Hood shooting, but few engage in gunning down their fellow citizens. However she also mentioned proselyting – is that to be forbidden so that tolerance be extended?

3) “Equally, on a lesser matter, it seems obvious that when her country’s law brought in civil partnerships, the Islington registrar who huffily refused to perform them on Christian grounds should just have sighed, muttered a prayer and found another job. One makes sacrifices for one’s beliefs, surely? ”

It ill behoves anyone to demand others make sacrifices as a sign of “respect”. One can only notice the lack of reciprocity that runs through this – believers are to accept marginalisation and loss of jobs without complaint, to avoid bothering “the secular majority”. The same runs through the whole premise – believers of all stripes are to shut up so that others won’t be bothered by their opinions, but the same is not applied to secular newspaper commentators.

4) But the most truly awful, blindingly stupid part of the whole column comes with its essential premise – that Judaism learnt to “sing in a minor key” and that this “once it has been learnt, as Judaism has found, it brings great rewards.”

Really? Really?!? REALLY!?!?!

Which part of the last two thousand years does Libby Purves see as that time of great rewards? For fear of godwinning this post, I’m not going to bring up the obvious example, but the repeated persecutions in Jewish history of the last two thousand years can hardly be seen as a “great reward”. Jews learned “to sing in a minor key” to avoid being noticed out of fear. Worse, that didn’t even work, as sadly a lot of Jewish communities discovered. I presume Ms Purves merely chose an unfortunate example, and wasn’t seriously advocating that the “respect” demanded by the “secular majority” was sheer terror, but such idiocy doesn’t exactly help her point.

I find this worrying. Now noone is yet seriously advocating the state suppression of religious liberty. Noone outside of internet comments threads anyway, and you can find any barmy opinion espoused in those. Yet I find it increasingly worrying that the terms of the debate have so shifted. The principle of religious liberty – that men (and women) are free to worship what where and how they may – is being increasingly forgotten, in place of the idea that grudging tolerance may be conditionally extended – or refused.

Religious Liberty to Religious Tolerance

Tolerance is regarded as one of the great virtues of the age, and is also one of those convenient terms where its actual meaning can encompass a number of difference concepts. Thus in certain social fields (such as same-sex marriage), the exercise of ‘tolerance’ has come to mean the acceptance, and even endorsement, of practices that previously attracted social stigma, and conversely an increasingly intolerance of the previous view. This tolerance is actually a bludgeon, intended to mandate acceptance.

However ‘tolerance’ can work another direction, and it is this that attracts my thoughts today – that is the apparent use of the term religious tolerance instead of religious liberty. Neither of those are particularly new terms, of course, and religious tolerance was and is an improvement on most of history. What concerns me is that there is a subtle difference between the two terms. Religious liberty appeals to and stems from individual freedom, to declare that everyone is free to worship how, where and what they may. Religious tolerance, however, seems to move the emphasis to the rest of society – rather than being a question of how one chooses to exercise their freedom it becomes a question of what the rest of society is prepared to put up with. Rather than liberty to be exercised it is a case of permission – sometimes grudgingly, or not at all – to be extended.

I have little beyond personal perception to determine if one term is gaining ground, but articles like this in the Times concern me. It’d be a lot harder to declare that religious liberty has gone too far, but religious tolerance can sneak in the assumption that it’s not for the individual to decide, but rather somebody else. If I am to take seriously the concept that freedom of conscience is inviolate, and I do, it is unacceptable for this to depend upon the whim of others, especially a set of others who (as the article well shows) are becoming increasingly hostile to the display of religious faith.