After someone recently tried to convince me that Harry Potter was as good an example of literature as anything, I turned, for the first time to the pages of Herman Melville for comparison. There was none. For all her superb story telling, J.K. Rowling doesn’t come close. In the first few lines of Moby Dick you’re swept away to a salty reality that feels true in every sense. You long to escape the tyranny of the shores and embrace a mortal challenge in a much more visceral way than you want to watch Harry escape the Dursley’s to attend magic school.
The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. …
All deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore.
Sometimes a question is the best response.
Answer: I am a true solipsist. (Gorgias)
Question: So why tell me?
A: There is no truth. (Gustave Flaubert)
Q: Is that true?
A: Knowledge is unknowable. (Francisco Sanches)
Q: How do you know?
A: It is irrational to assume that tomorrow will be anything like today. (David Hume)
Q: So you learned to speak, read, and write because…?
A: All cultures are equally valid. (Franz Boas)
Q: Including those that teach that all other cultures are invalid?
A: Truth is created, not discovered. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Q: Did you just make that up?
A: There is no free will. (Baron d’Holbach)
Q: What makes you say that?
You see, every one of the “answers” above follow from valid, methodically reasoned logical arguments. But these narrow conclusions cannot stand beyond the boundaries of the premises that lead to them.
It is the duty of the rich Saints every where, to assist the poor, according to their ability, to gather; and if they choose, with a covenant and promise that the poor thus helped, shall repay as soon as they are able.
It is also the duty of the rich, those who have the intelligence and the means, to come home forthwith, and establish factories, and all kinds of machinery, that will tend to give employment to the poor, and produce those articles which are necessary for the comfort, convenience, health and happiness of the people; and no one need to be at a loss concerning his duty in these matters, if he will walk so humbly before God as to keep the small still whisperings of the Holy Ghost within him continually.
– Brigham Young, General Epistle, 1847
As rivers flow into the ocean but cannot make the vast ocean overflow, so flow the streams of the sense-world into the sea of peace that is the sage. But it is not so with the desirer of desires.
They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego-cage of “I,” “me,” and “mine” to be united with the Lord. This is the supreme state. Attain to this, and pass from death to immortality.
The Bhagavad Gita, The Illumined Man, 2:70-72
Those who achieve holy indifference will remain unchanged even by a flood of “wealth.” He will not be spoiled who truly consecrates all his possessions to God.
PS: Any suggestions for a good translation of the Gita? The version I have was fine when I was 14, but I find the clumsy language more distracting now than I did then.
The Kingdom of God consists in correct principles; and it mattereth not what a man’s religious faith is; whether he be a Presbyterian, or a Methodist, or a Baptist, or a Latter-day Saint or “Mormon,” or a Campbellite, or a Catholic, or Episcopalian, or a Mohametan, or even a pagan, or any thing else, if he will bow the knee, and with his tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ, and will support good and wholesome laws for the regulation of society, we hail him as a brother, and will stand by him while he stands by us in these things; for every man’s religious faith is a matter between his own soul and his God alone; but if he shall deny Jesus, if he shall curse God, if he shall indulge in debauchery and drunkenness, and crime; if he shall lie, and swear, and steal; if he shall take the name of the Great God in vain, and commit all manner of abominations, he shall have no place in our midst, for we have long sought to find a people that will work in righteousness, that will distribute justice equally, that will acknowledge God in all their ways, that will regard those sacred laws and ordinances which are recorded in that sacred book called the Bible, which we verily believe, and which we proclaim to the ends of the earth.
Millennial Star, March 15, 1848
We could use some of this old-time Mormonism to overcome many of today’s struggles.
A conversation I had with a friend today reminded me of an Ann Althouse blog post I read a while back. She’s responding to a Gary Willis article in the New York Review of Books. Mr. Willis is uncomfortable with the fact that Mormons believe the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were divinely inspired. It is somehow indefensible to believe that something so hotly debated, amended, and changed could be divinely inspired. There are a few major problems with his objections.
First, Christians in general and Mormons in particular should have no problem believing that something can be divinely inspired AND alterable. Take the Law of Moses, literally written in stone. It was a preparatory law meant to point the children of Israel towards the Lamb of God, that they might be ready to receive the higher law rejected at Sinai.
When Christ took the believing children of Israel into a different mount during His earthly ministry and declared, “it is written by them of old time…But I say unto you…” He was effectively giving the higher law. And the New Law of the Gospel was to be written upon our hearts. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews put it,
11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
Second, Mr. Willis clearly has a different understanding of God’s dealings with His children. See here for more about Providentially directed chaos. And as Joseph Smith once said,
I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priest-craft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women—all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.
~History of the Church, 5:401
We believe in progress, in improvement, and that that process is not neatly linear. Part of the majesty and inspiration of our Magna Charta is that it can be changed, perhaps even improved. That process may look like mad chaos, but polishing stones is brutal business. There’s plenty of room for disagreement about what constitutes improvement to the Constitution, but hot disputes might be just the friction required to make this country better. Despite popular belief you’ll find Mormons standing on all sides of those debates, and yet they remain faithful Latter-day Saints.
Creation is about inflicting order on chaos. It can involve assembling raw materials, formulating coherent thoughts, inventing characters, weaving novel melodies, or capturing emotions with paint, stone or film. In small but meaningful ways creation combats the ever-present march towards oblivion. In whatever from it takes, creation is an act of True Faith.
Of course, not all creations are created equal. There’s enough chaos and destruction built into the cosmos to have it consume creative resources. Good creation improves, inspires and enlightens. It requires overcoming insurmountable obstacles…at least if you’re creating anything worthwhile. In fact, the worth of creation is probably proportional to the effort required to produce it. By that standard, Twitter feeds have to be on the lowest end of the creative worth scale. And on the opposite end, a notch above creating an empire…establishing a righteous family.
What greater act of creation could there be than to bring new beings into the world and raise them to be righteous, educated, well-adjusted contributors to civilization? And what could be more difficult? To sculpt such a family requires skills, patience, longsuffering, and love that far transcend the steady hands and imagination of marble workers. Stone doesn’t talk back, have its own opinions, and is not endowed with a sovereign free will.
No work of art or business or political accomplishment can compare to a posterity that continues a legacy of virtue. In a few short generations the influence of a mother and father trying their best, with the help of Heaven, will have legions of little ones making the world a better place. You will not only have done something great for its own sake, but you will multiply your influence over the world in a way that Alexander the Great would envy.
Those of you with young children will also attest that there is no better practice at inflicting order on chaos than trying to keep a house clean while kids enjoy summer vacation.
Testimony, conversion, and being born again are distinct but related principles. When we first come to suspect that there is a God, that He sent His Son to redeem mankind, the Holy Ghost begins to work within us. As Alma taught in the Book of Mormon, the Word “begins to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves–it must be that the…word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it enlighteneth my understanding.” This is testimony, the beginning of knowledge that the Word of God is good. It’s not a perfect knowledge by any stretch, but it is enough to act on.
Testimony will lead to a mighty change of heart provided the Word falls not on stoney soil and we permit the Holy Ghost to work within us. This mighty change of heart leads to a desire to shed the sins of our former lives and be born again. But as the name implies, rebirth is the first not final act. We are still spiritually young.
Conversion is the transformation process where our fallen selves are literally converted into new creatures in Christ. It is a process of becoming, of sanctification. This conversion from sinner to saint can only occur by the power of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. This is perhaps why the Lord, in His final hours, said to Peter, chief Apostle and witness to all of Christ’s ministry and miracles, “when thou art converted….” Peter and the Apostles had not yet received the Gift of the Holy Ghost or partaken of its transformative power, though they had felt His influence.
Through the process of testimony, new birth, and conversion our natures are changed into a state of glory, a process completed not begun at resurrection. Effort is required but powerless to purify. That cleansing comes through the merits of Christ, and Him alone.
Weary of the unsubstantiated whispers of white horses that are passing as journalistic scholarship, I thought I’d share some of what Joseph Smith actually said about the US Magna Charta and his bid for President. As I’ve said before, LDS appreciation of the Constitution stems from a love Liberty of conscience and adequate protection of such.
On defending the Constitution:
It is one of the first principles of my life, and one that I have cultivated from my childhood, having been taught it by my father, to allow every one the liberty of conscience. I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights.
On his candidacy for President of the United States:
I would not have suffered my name to have been used by my friends on anywise as President of the United States, or candidate for that office, if I and my friends could have had the privilege of enjoying our religious and civil rights as American citizens, even those rights which the Constitution guarantees unto all her citizens alike. But this as a people we have been denied from the beginning. Persecution has rolled upon our heads from time to time, from portions of the United States, like peals of thunder, because of our religion; and no portion of the Government as yet has stepped forward for our relief. And in view of these things, I feel it to be my right and privilege to obtain what influence and power I can, lawfully, in the United States, for the protection of injured innocence; and if I lose my life in a good cause I am willing to be sacrificed on the altar of virtue, righteousness and truth, in maintaining the laws and Constitution of the United States, if need be, for the general good of mankind.
We have as good a right to make a political party to gain power to defend ourselves, as for demagogues to make use of our religion to get power to destroy us. In other words, as the world has used the power of government to oppress and persecute us, it is right for us to use it for the protection of our rights. We will whip the mob by getting up a candidate for President.
It was never about theocracy; it was about protecting liberty, freedom of conscience, and protection of those rights for all.