Archive for July, 2010

My actions are my only true belongings.  I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.  My actions are the ground upon which I stand.  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s been a wee bit of a delay since I was last here (**cheers from the crowd heard in the background**).  And, I’ve been thinking on this issue of Karma, but that will only briefly cover what this article discusses.  What is it, where does it hail from (originally), where does it belong in today’s society and, truly , do I believe in it?  Those seem to be the questions mulling around my brain.

My first experience with the word Karma probably came from Jim Rome, king of the “jungle karma” which stated, more or less, if you take time out for the jungle and the clones, then the sports gods will smile down on you and you’ll be successful.  It’s probably even more superstitious than that, but you get the gist.

A simple google search for the term “karma” will yield some 64 million results.  According to one of the top search results, Basic Buddishm (and, really, who’s in need of a more basic approach to Buddhism than yours truly?  After all, I’ve been schooled in some of the worst schools in the western hemisphere and taught anything and everything which promotes a lifestyle entirely contrary to Buddhism), Karma is simply, or not, the law of “moral causation.”[1] As I read further on through this passage on Karma, I found myself half believing what was being said, and half disagreeing.  In the end, though, I was left further from my goal of understanding Karma.  More times than not, I’m looking for simple answers.  That may be because I’m little more than a simpleton, but I also hope it’s because simpleness contains its fair share of truth.  Albert Einstein, after all, said that “when the solution is simple, God is answering.”

There is a destiny that makes us brothers: none goes his way alone,
All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.
~Edwin Markham

And so I trudged on for a more simplistic view of Karma.  Further down my list of results I found a site that translated Karma, at its simplest, as “you get what you give.”[2] This perhaps will resonate with some as being truthful, as it’s been echoed throughout time, and is generally what I believe Karma to be.  Part of the trouble I was having with the first discussion on Karma was the discussion of the role it played in previous lives, and the role that it will play in future lives.  It’s not that I doubt that previous or future lives yet exist, as I think there’s ample evidence to suggest that there’s more than just one “mortality” in this great go round called life, but rather the fatalistic and meritocratic view it seems to take on.  Fatalistic in that we seem forever stuck in some sort of Karmic circle, continually suffering for what we do wrong or continually reaping what we do right, and meritocratic because it seems that we, as a people, are all too often attracted to the fruits and pleasures that attend merit based reward systems.  That is the tyranny of the favor line, after all, and perhaps our most favorite Despot.

Without going in to great detail, I think it’s safe to say that scriptures discuss Karma in numerous locations.  What I’d like to discuss has likely been discussed elsewhere (and indeed I’ll provide one link to one source), but perhaps bears further pondering.  Prior to continuing, though, I’d suggest we establish the “Golden Rule” (i.e. do unto others what you’d have done unto you) as our initial Karmic starting point.

Scripture 1:

“And many more such things did [Korihor] say unto them … but every man afared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and bwhatsoever a man did was cno crime.”[3]

Scripture 2:

“And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature? O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again aevil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.  Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal ajustly, bjudge righteously, and do cgood continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your dreward; yea, ye shall have emercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again. For that which ye do asend out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.”[4]

At first blush these two scriptures don’t entirely seem to provide equal comparisons.  One is clearly talking about a “to each his own” philosophy, while the second is discussing the law of restoration or karma, depending on what set of binoculars you’re looking through.  For the purposes of this article, I’m using macro binoculars, looking at the wider perspective and less on individuals, though certainly I think individuality applies here as well.

Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.  ~Edwin Hubbel Chapin

From the macro perspective, I think most people, especially most church members, wholeheartedly believe in Scripture #1, while more or less giving tacit approval to Scripture #2.  The general rule of thumb is to follow #2 while striving for #1.  How, you might ask, is this the case?  It should go without saying that the LDS Church teaches its members that the essence of scripture #1 is our imperative duty in a society such as ours.  The ranks of church leadership are largely filled with successful businessmen, doctors, lawyers and professors.  The ranks of church leadership stand before us bi-annually and instruct us to get as much education as we can.  Education which, mind you, will lead you to bigger and better jobs.  Don’t believe me?

Gordon Hinckley, while serving as President of the Church and as the man most members look to as God’s only spokesman on earth, told us, “You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known.  All around you is competition.  You need all the education you can get.  Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world.  That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you can education and proficiency in your chosen field.”[5]

Let’s recap:  (a)  we need all the education we can get, (b) we should sacrifice “anything” to get said education, (c) we’re paid what people think we’re worth, and (d) our worth increases with more education and proficiency.  Sounds just like Korihor if you ask me – everyone prospers according to his or her own knowledge, strength and genius.  Perhaps we should make a mental note of this.

With this in mind, let’s turn to a recent CNBC snippet on Mormon missionaries in their “business” news section.  The snippet is about Mormons and success, and we’d do well to realize what the result of our Korihorian teachings are (as exemplified in this video):

Mormon Mission Biz

For some reason I couldn’t get that to embed in here, so you’ll have to follow that link.  What’s incredibly telling – to me at least – is how every church member and missionary in that video references the sharing of the gospel as either “selling religion” or “selling the church” … each time the statement was made, “selling” was/is the operative word.  It may be a minor faux pas, but to me it suggests this Korihorian doctrine that we’re to prosper according to the “management of our creature” based on our own genius, strength and courage.  These missionaries are only too glad to prosper financially and monetarily off their language skills, content to use their “talents” for profitable enterprises.  Ah, how not too long ago I was in a similar vessel voyaging into an abyss somewhere far away.  Now?  I may have changed vessels and directions, but don’t take that to signal that I have any idea what the hell I’m doing.  🙂

Many of my great mentors have taught me such lessons – work hard, go to the right schools, get the right degrees and you’ll prosper financially.  If you work hard enough and have enough brains, you are almost guaranteed to prosper.  Or so I was sold.  Sold up, down and across the river.  Each of my last two Branch Presidents have owned multi-million dollar homes, vacation homes that approached the million dollar level and more cars than they had kids.  They are truly great people – generous, down to earth, and as good a people as I could hope to find, yet here they are profiting from their own genius.  I cannot affirmatively say I wouldn’t do the same if I were in their shoes, though perhaps the following words of Nibley will bring me to my own senses and indict me of some things I’ve been needing.  And, disclaimer be raised, these are my senses.  What is mine is not yours.

Excerpts from Hugh Nibley’s “Approaching Zion”

“Today the beautiful word Zion, with all its emotional and historical associations, is used as the name Christian was formerly used, to put the stamp of sanctity on whatever men chose to do. The Hebrew word for financial activity of any kind is mamonut, and the financier is a mamonai; that is, financing is, quite frankly, in that honest language, the business of Mammon. From the very first there were Latter-day Saints who thought to promote the cause of Zion by using the methods of Babylon. Indeed, once the Saints were told to make friends with the Mammon of unrighteousness (D&C 82:22), but that was only to save their lives in an emergency. We have the word of the Prophet Joseph that Zion is not to be built up by using the methods of Babylon. He says,

‘Here are those who begin to spread out buying up all the land they are able to do, to the exclusion of the poorer ones who are not so much blessed with this worlds goods, thinking to lay foundations for themselves only, looking to their own individual families and those who are to follow them….Now I want to tell you that Zion cannot be built up in any such way.”

“Brigham Young explains: “I am sorry that this people are worldly-minded…Their affections are upon…their farms, upon their property, their houses and possessions, and in the same ratio that this is the case, the Holy Spirit of God – the spirit of their calling – forsakes them, and they are overcome with the spirit of the evil one.”

Every step in the direction of increasing one’s personal holdings is a step away from Zion…one cannot serve two masters…so it is with God and business, for mammon is simply the standard Hebrew word for any kind of financial dealing.

“So money is the name of the game by which the devil cleverly decoys the minds of the Saints from God’s work to his.  “What does the Lord want us up here in the tops of these mountains?” Brigham asked twenty years after the first settling of the Valley. “He wishes us to build up Zion. What are the people doing? They are merchandizing, trafficking and trading.”…”Instead of reflecting upon and searching for hidden things of the greatest value to them, [the Latter-day Saints] rather wish to learn how to secure their way through this world as easily and as comfortably as possible. The reflections, what they are here for, who produced them, and where they are from, far too seldom enter their minds.”…”Are their eyes single to the building up of the Kingdom of God? No; they are single to the building up of themselves.” “Does this congregation understand what idolatry is? The New Testament says that covetousness is idolatry; therefore, a covetous people is an idolatrous people.” “Man is made in the image of God, but what do we know of him or of ourselves, when we suffer ourselves to love and worship the god of this world-riches?” Had the Latter-day Saints gone so far? They had, from the beginning; when the Church was only a year old, the Prophet Joseph observed that “God has often sealed up the heavens because of covetousness in the Church.” Three years later, God revoked that “united order” by which along Zion could exist on earth (D&C 104:52-53) – in their desire for wealth, the Saints had tried to embrace both Babylon and Zion by smooth double-talk…

It has been necessary to circumvent the inconvenient barriers of scripture and conscience by the use of the tried and true device of rhetoric, defined by Plato as the art of making true things seem false and false things seem true by the use of words…This invaluable art has, since the time of Cain, invested the ways of Babylon with an air of high purpose, solid virtue, and impeccable respectability…

“[Examples of using the rhetoric of wealth, i.e. free enterprise or capitalism, etc…]: …the work ethic…this is one of those neat magician’s tricks in which all our attention is focused on one hand while the other hand does the manipulating…Implicit in the work ethic are the ideas…1.) that because one must work to acquire wealth, work equals wealth, and 2.) that that is the whole equation. With these go the corollaries that anyone who has wealth must have earned it by hard work and is, therefore, beyond criticism; that any one who doesn’t have it deserves to suffer – thus penalizing any who do not work for money; and (since you have a right to all your earn) that the only real work is for one’s self; and finally, that any limit set to the amount of wealth an individual may acquire is a satanic device to deprive men of their free agency – thus making a mockery of the Council of Heaven. These editorial syllogisms we have heard a thousand times, but you will not find them in the scriptures. Even the cornerstone of virtue, “He that is idle shall not eat the bread…of the laborer” (D&C 42:42), hailed as the franchise of unbridled capitalism, is rather a rebuke to that system [capitalism, where the wealthy don’t have to work] which has allowed idlers to live in luxury and laborers in want throughout the whole course of history. The whole emphasis in the holy writ is not whether one works or not, but what one works for: “The laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish” (2 Nephi 26:31). “The people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches,…precious things, which they had obtained by their industry” (Alma 4:6) and which proved their undoing, for all their hard work.

In Zion you labor, to be sure, but not for money, and not for yourself, which is the exact opposite of our present version of the work ethic”The non-producer must live on the products of those who labor. There is no other way,” says Brigham, and he gives the solution: “If we all labor a few hours a day, we could then spend the remainder of our time in rest and the improvement of our minds.” That is the real work we are called to do and the real wealth we are to accumulate individually. “Work less, wear less, eat less, and we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier people than by taking the course we do now.” Work does not sanctify wealth: “I know that there is no man on this earth who can call around him property,…and dicker and work, and take advantage here and there – no such man ever can magnify the priesthood nor enter the celestial kingdom. Now, remember, they will not enter that Kingdom.” He gives a concrete illustration: “When the Twelve Apostles were chosen in this dispensation, they were told not to labor with their hands, but to preach the Gospel to the nations of the earth. Some of them before a year had elapsed were engaged in trade; they became merchants, and they apostasized.” “If we lust…for the riches of the world, and spare no pains [hard work] to obtain and retain them, and feel ‘these are mine,’ then the spirit of the anti-Christ comes upon us. This is the danger…[we] are in.”

“In Zion, all are “of one heart and one mind,…and there [are] no poor among them” (Moses 7:18), thus showing that equality extends into all fields, as it must also be in the preparation for Zion: “For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things. For if you will that I give you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves” (D&C 78:6-7). “And you are to be equal,…to have equal claims,…every man according to his wants and his needs,…every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:17,19).  Well, there is a great deal of this. In the words of the Prophet Joseph, “The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always come from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise” (a statement I do not recall having heard from the stand for some time).

The haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearance. The full-fledged citizen of Babylon is an organization map: Daniel was thrown to the lions before he would give up his private devotions offensive to the administration to which he belonged; his three friends preferred being cast into a fiery furnace to the simple act of facing and saluting the image [of the beast?] of the king of Babylon who had given them wealth, power, and position in his kingdom, to whom the owed all allegiance, when the band played in the Plain of Dura…” [end of Hugh Nibley excerpt from Approaching Zion]

President Kimball taught:

“Saints must keep the covenant of consecration. The Lord has blessed us as a people with a prosperity unequaled in times past.  The resources that have been placed in our power are good, and necessary to our work here on the earth.  But I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us.  Do we have more of these good things than our faith can stand?  Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life.  Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God—to further the missionary effort and the genealogical and temple work; to raise our children up as fruitful servants unto the Lord; to bless others in every way, that they may also be fruitful.  Instead, we expend these blessings on our own desires, and as Moroni said, “Ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not.” (Mormon 8:39.)  (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball,  p.357)

In the end, returning to Karma, perhaps we have what’s coming for us.  We’re mostly a selfish people, too attached to our personal holdings to ever hope for a Zion like society.  I know I am.  I don’t yet know how to trust some being I’ve never seen, only read about and not even sure if he’s really directed my paths.  I want to trust that I can let go of my desires for “security” and “stability” and trust in Him to get me to where I need to be, but that’s a tough thing to do.  I hope Karma brings me to Him and releases me from this pit I’m in.

One thing is for certain, though.  My genius will never prosper the management of my creature, so perhaps me hoping for a shortcut to Zion isn’t so misguided.  🙂

As the blazing fire reduces wood to ashes, similarly, the fire of Self-knowledge reduces all Karma to ashes.  ~Bhagavad Gita





[5] Gordon Hinckley, April 2009 New Era, page 17.  Originally from New Era Jan. 2001, page 8.

Never accept the proposition that just because a solution satisfies a problem, that it must be the only solution.

~Raymond E. Feist

Mormons and the 4th of July

I am writing this in advance of the 4th of July, as a portrait of where I am today in my belief system.  Where I am today in what I believe and know is clearly not where I was one or two years ago and, hopefully, will not be where I am in a year or three.  I truly hope that I will continue to grow, learn and avoid being one of those who profess “All is well,” or someone who merely suggests that we should just have more faith and stop analyzing so much.  I hope you are on a similar journey of learning, growing and experiencing the Universe, in whatever way it presents itself to you.

The 4th of July, as it is known today, is our general celebration of “independence,” however loosely that term may be defined.  Like many holidays, it’s used as an excuse to get an extra day off from work, to celebrate our “freedom” with barbecues, fireworks, picnics, parades and other frilly activities.  My goal in writing this is not really to analyze the history of the holiday, nor to treat the discussion as a research into its historical background.  Rather, my goal in writing this is to discuss how I feel with the modern celebration we’ve come to know and, for most of us, love.  More specifically, this is mostly going to be about the celebration of the 4th of July amongst Mormons.  Such is the angle from which I am approaching this subject.

Past 4th of July’s

Last year at this time I was living in Layton, Utah, in the shadow of Hill Air Force Base, a humungous swath of land, largesse and military force.  According to Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, Hill Air Force Base is the 6th largest employer in all of Utah, employing upwards of 15,000 people at any given time and only behind the State of Utah, Wal-Mart, Intermountain Health Care and both the University of Utah and BYU.[1]

Nearly one year ago (almost to the day) I attended the annual 4th of July celebration at the Ed Kenly Ampitheater, where the local orchestra played music to the firework festivities.  Each year, so far as I can tell, a prominent local citizen is brought forward to be the guest conductor for at least one of the arrangements.  Last year at this time it was Major General Andrew E. Busch who was introduced as the guest conductor.  Major General Busch had just been promoted to the commander (or whatever the chief leadership position is at each base) of Hill Air Force Base and was being celebrated at this function.  And so he stood, bowed and graciously accepted the overwhelming applause that those in attendance gave to/for him, it was evident that this man, and what he represented as a Commander in the military, was being celebrated for providing us all with the freedom we profess to have.  A few years earlier I would have been among those gleefully thankful for the wars promoted and directed all around us, wars which I had felt were responsible for providing me with freedom to do as I pleased.

At this time last year I did not and could not join in the celebration.  Instead, there I stood merely observing the crowd and the individuals making up that crowd.  That’s the stance I usually take these days, no matter the situation – merely observing what is going on around me.  You see, I don’t really fit in with today’s society, neither amongst the church nor amongst the general populace, or so I think.  Perhaps I do, but then perhaps I don’t want to.  I don’t think I really know.  It’s just a feeling I get – one of being a fish out of water.

Taken for Granted

My view of the 4th of July changed a few years ago as I began to put a few question marks on those things to which I had previously taken for granted.  The thing about taking something for granted is that it’s rarely known that it’s being taken for granted…typically it’s only realized in hindsight.  Bertrand Russell once summed this up nicely:

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

And so it was with me.  I began to put a few question marks on a few things I had always believed and slowly my worldview began to change.   One of these things was the use of war as a policy decision and the use of war to justify freedom for myself, but not necessarily for those where wars were being fought.  And perhaps it’s only fitting that, as I write this, news reports are coming in on how Iran is currently surrounded by US troops in no fewer than 10 countries and pointing out the near inevitability of escalation in that part of the world later this year.  Perhaps, as some suggest, that conflict will escalate into a global thermonuclear war.  Perhaps it won’t.  Odds are, though, that if (perhaps when) that happens, the false priests of the media will be those spinning the biggest yarns while their loyal listeners will be parroting those lines to their friends across the world.  War will once again be used as a policy decision, and Americans far and wide will support the war, don bumperstickers and continue the rhetoric that urges more fighting, more war, more violence.   For a country that professes to follow a constitution that Mormons profess to be “inspired,” I find it increasingly ironic how much and how frequently we, as Mormons, profess gratitude to some God for protecting our freedoms throughout the world.

LDS members, by and large, will support and honor such decisions.  As Spencer Kimball noted many years ago, war seems to be one of our favored idols.  Though I don’t necessarily agree with everything Kimball noted in his discourse, The False Gods We Worship, this following bit I do agree with:

I am reminded of an article I read some years ago about a group of men who had gone to the jungles to capture monkeys. They tried a number of different things to catch the monkeys, including nets. But finding that the nets could injure such small creatures, they finally came upon an ingenious solution. They built a large number of small boxes, and in the top of each, they bored a hole just large enough for a monkey to get his hand into. They then set these boxes out under the trees and in each one they put a nut that the monkeys were particularly fond of.

When the men left, the monkeys began to come down from the trees and examine the boxes. Finding that there were nuts to be had, they reached into the boxes to get them. But when a monkey would try to withdraw his hand with the nut, he could not get his hand out of the box because his little fist, with the nut inside, was now too large.

At about this time, the men would come out of the underbrush and converge on the monkeys. And here is the curious thing: When the monkeys saw the men coming, they would shriek and scramble about with the thought of escaping; but as easy as it would have been, they would not let go of the nut so that they could withdraw their hands from the boxes and thus escape. The men captured them easily.

And so it often seems to be with people, having such a firm grasp on things of the world—that which is telestial—that no amount of urging and no degree of emergency can persuade them to let go in favor of that which is celestial. Satan gets them in his grip easily. If we insist on spending all our time and resources building up for ourselves a worldly kingdom, that is exactly what we will inherit.

In spite of our delight in regarding ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we align ourselves against the enemy instead of aligning ourselves with the kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)

We forget that if we are righteous, the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us—and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7)—or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do, for as he said at the time of his betrayal, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53.) We can imagine what fearsome soldiers they would be. King Jehoshaphat and his people were delivered by such a troop (see 2 Chr. 20), and when Elisha’s life was threatened, he comforted his servant by saying, “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:16). The Lord then opened the eyes of the servant, “And he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kgs. 6:17.)

Enoch, too, was a man of great faith who would not be distracted from his duties by the enemy: “And so great was the faith of Enoch, that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions were heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch.” (Moses 7:13.)

What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is positive: to forsake the things of the world as goals in themselves; to desist from idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.

We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the “arm of flesh,” for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” (D&C 64:24.)

Hugh Nibley, in briefly responding to this discourse in his Leaders & Managers article, replied with the following:

Most of you are here today only because you believe that this charade will help you get ahead in the world. But in the last few years things have got out of hand. The economy, once the most important thing in our materialistic lives, has become the only thing. We have been swept up in a total dedication to the economy which, like the massive mudslides of our Wasatch Front, is rapidly engulfing and suffocating everything. If President Kimball is “frightened and appalled” by what he sees, I can do no better than to conclude with his words: “We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the ‘arm of flesh,’ for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, ‘I will not spare any that remain in Babylon’ (D&C 64:24).”10 And Babylon is where we are.  In a forgotten time, before the Spirit was exchanged for the office and inspired leadership for ambitious management, these robes were designed to represent withdrawal from the things of this world—as the temple robes still do. That we may become more fully aware of the real significance of both is my prayer.

On one side, war is continued because of the financial ramifications it has for certain circles of influence, and on the other side many of us, especially Mormons, support war because we hold on to war as our only pillar of support in a society that, we feel, requires it.  When 9/11 happened, instead of decrying the obliteration of individual freedoms, we clamored for increased unity and support for a President thrust into an unimaginable role.  That increased support, it seems, served little purpose other than to embolden certain circles of influence to further destroy individual freedoms.  Freedom, it seems, is a thing greatly misunderstood.

Full Disclosure

In an effort at full disclosure I should probably admit a couple of things:

(1)    I almost joined the military.  More than once.  It was never so close as to ever enter some recruiter’s office, but as recently as this past year it was a path I was semi-seriously considering.  I even spoke with a recruiter or two over the phone to ask some preliminary questions.  The first time was shortly after my Great Deception (i.e. 9/11).  The second time was this past year, following a year of unemployment and nary a job offer on the horizon.  The Great Deception was avoided because I felt like I couldn’t really join the “cause” as I then called it because I had a young child and didn’t want to leave my wife and child alone.  The second time (this past year) I couldn’t go through with it because I’m leery of the future and didn’t want to get caught somewhere I didn’t want to be, to say nothing of other untenable positions I’d be forced to support in one way or another if I joined.

(2)  While I’m adamantly opposed to war – and may very well find myself walking out of church this coming Sunday if the warmongering continues – I empathize with the individuals involved in that part of our world and have no beef with them on an individual level.

(3)  My favorite hymn used to be the Battle Hymn of the RepublicUsed to be.  I even went so far as to play it at my mission farewell in the middle of January.  Then, while in the MTC serving my 10-week penance for being called on a foreign mission, I made some attempt to translate it into French.  It was probably an awful attempt, though I know of no tangible proof of what I translated other than some vague imagination.  I still love the music, but can’t stomach the message behind the words or the events which inspired its creation (I’m referring to the Civil War, not slavery.  The Civil War was the single greatest reason for the creation of our current federal government, in my opinion, and the single greatest reason for abolishing states’ rights).  It was sung this past Sunday during Priesthood opening exercises and I couldn’t manage more than a half-hearted, pathetic attempt at singing.  In fact, that’s how I treat most songs about America are treated.

So, What’s My Beef?

Valid question, that.  Looking at the 4th of July, I see the same nationalism that presented the Great Deception in my own life.  Following the events of 9/11 I remember writing my brother, then on his mission in Brasil, lamenting how these “gadiantons” had somehow bypassed our security measures and attacked our motherland.  I remember exactly where I was that day, the emotions I felt and the images on the screen.  It was one of those days that left something of an imprint both on and in my system.  Those beliefs remained in my system for several years.  Several years too many.

I had been like those who both wrote and adamantly supported the Battle Hymn of the Republic, convinced that a certain path was right, even when it wasn’t.  What on earth am I talking about?  Well, Lincoln and the Civil War were both about far more than the abolition of slavery.  Among other things, Lincoln suspended the Constitution and habeas corpus, used the military to invade the southern states without the consent or approval of Congress, imprisoned thousands of Northern citizens without trial, shut down opposition newspapers, censored all telegraph communications, nationalized the railroad industry, confiscated firearms, interfered with elections using federal troops and deported outspoken critics…among other things.  It sounds eerily similar to the deteriorating process we’ve been witnesses to for the past 20 years, or more, and yet somehow we continue to support the same system decade after decade.  Yes, it was during this time that our country went from “these united States” to “these United States.”  And it was done under the guise and belief that what they were doing was God’s will.[2] The author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic wrote the song as a warning of God’s judgment – the Civil War being God’s judgment.  Apparently written in response to a dream/vision, the Hymn would become both Lincoln’s “best loved marching song” and the marching song of the Union troops.

Just as it was a deception to destroy states’ rights at the feet of a soon-to-be giant federalism, it was an even greater deception in my life (if only because it was so much more personal this time) to believe that a war was a justified reaction to what happened that fateful day in 2001.  I managed to justify civilians, soldiers and others being killed, maimed, bombed, plagued, castrated, pummeled, humiliated, and relegated to a life in shambles, all in the name of conquest.  Conquest by any other means is still conquest.

Then, as time slowly passed from 2001 to 2007-ish, a question mark began to be placed on a long held belief.  Not by me, mind you, but by someone, or something.  I didn’t set out to challenge the status quo on 9/11 or my belief that wars such as the “war on terrorism” were divinely justified, but rather was led to some information that challenged the status quo as I began to study alternative topics.  One thing led to another and I began to realize that I had been played.  I had seen the Great Deception and that Deception had played me like a fiddle for a number of years.  Played so long that I’m still surprised the strings didn’t break earlier.  I had supported and voted for a president after president as they all, regardless of party affiliation, dismantled both my rights and my privacy; I had supported ideologies which told me that there were people I could legitimately hate and I had embraced a perspective that created a self-righteousness in my own heart (i.e. since I’m better than some poor Afghani or Iraqi who’s been buffaloed by some crazy fanatic, I deserve to live and they deserve to die).  I was better than them and that meant that I could both hate them and persecute them by my words and by my beliefs.  And, just as described in D&C 121, I did so without fully knowing just how wrong and misguided I was.  Only in hindsight could I see what I had become.

Now, in hindsight, I can’t really understand how I could be someone who supposedly valued his own right to pursue his own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness and yet could not afford the same privileges to other individuals around the world, regardless of nationality. God is no respecter of persons, so why should I be? Any loss of or damage to life should be avoided and opposed, and not simply excused when it supposedly becomes necessary to “save American lives”.

And yet, here I sit, knowing that come this Sunday (the 4th of July, ironically enough), I’ll be all too privileged to sit inside church, listening to testimonies given on how grateful we should be for our freedom, for our troops defending said freedoms the world over.  And, on the back end, I’ll sit here fully knowing that these same people would likely run me out of town if they knew just what I believed on this, and other issues.

As I right that, I’m faced with another dilemma.  My daughter’s favorite story in the Book of Mormon is of one Teancum.  A rather inconsequential fellow, only mentioned in a smattering of chapters in the book of Alma, easily lost amongst the 500+ other pages of that divine tragedy.  He, like many today, was a soldier of some sort.  Friends with Lehi and Moroni, and described as no less than a “true friend of liberty.”[3] The record we have on him seems to suggest that he didn’t like fighting anymore than myself, and yet there he was right in the middle of the fight.  His way of ending the fighting was to steal away into the opposition’s camp long after it was dark and kill the leader.  One time, it worked marvelously.  So marvelously, in fact, that he tried it a second time.  Same plan, same method.  Sneak away by himself, find a way into the opposition’s camp, find the king’s tent, throw the sharpest object he could find or bring with him at his heart and hope for the best.  Somehow he thought this single death would end the fighting, that the remaining fighters would be forced to surrender.  His goal was liberty, his method to get liberty and end the fighting was by killing the enemy, or at least the leader of the enemy party.  Somehow, amid all this, he was still regarded as a true friend of liberty.

So, was Teancum wrong to do what he did?  Was his support for the war, and his actions justified, because the war he was fighting wasn’t the result of the corporate interests which largely rule our world today?  Am I wrong to distance myself from it all and settle into the role of a mere observer?

Whatever the answers to those questions, I may just walk out of Fast & Testimony meeting the minute the testimonies start spilling out in gratefulness for the wars, anger and fighting that litter our world.  If not, well, idol worship is the next best thing.

People still retain the errors of their childhood, their nation, and their age, long after they have accepted the truths needed to refute them.

~Condorcet, Progress of the Human Mind, 1794



[3] See Alma 62:37.