Of Humanism and Religious Freedom

Can a creed that claims to be non-religious be itself a religion? Is the professed irreligion of the leading social elites not only a religion but America’s state religion, reinforced by Federal, state, and local governments?

Consider a typical school commencement ceremony, whether college or high school. A speaker declares that we must leave all talk of God behind, toss into the dustbin the dogmas of religion that divide us, and embrace a view of life that brings people together in a common cause of humanity, a village of fellow passengers on this tiny planet as it wends its course through the universe. At another similar commencement ceremony a different speaker declares that we should rise above the hates and lusts of mankind and embrace the love of God, join together in our common heritage as children of the family of God, learning to live with each other here that we may all the better live with our Heavenly Father in the eternities. Which of these, today, is likely to receive the greater applause and public commendation? Which of these speakers, on the other hand, is more likely to be censored and not even permitted to present his views, perhaps under threat of a lawsuit? Or, to make the question easier to answer, which is more likely to receive favorable coverage in the media?

Expressions of skepticism about God and His existence are embraced, praised, and rewarded in contemporary American society. Declarations of faith in God meet anything from patronizing smiles, to hostility, to punitive sanctions under the prevailing culture. The predominant American society, while professing to be neutral about religion, has some very strong opinions about religion and its expression.

In a land of constitutional free speech, that allows no state religion, this should seem an odd discussion, a throwback to history. Cursory familiarity with the historical chronicle would bring to mind other places and times when an incautious word on religion could earn a speaker severe punishment, not excluding cruel execution. Deviation from the local religion was certainly risky business anciently. We also may recall tales of the Spanish Inquisition and the bloody controversies of the Protestant Reformation, as well as the perennial anti-Semitism that has followed the House of Israel throughout its Diaspora. Social revolutions have dealt harshly with religion, from the French revolution to every communist regime, while clumsily endeavoring to create new secular religions (that failed miserably to engage adherents).

The malodorous plant of state religion followed the colonists to America, but it had trouble taking root, particularly among the English colonies. The freedom of wide open spaces, and the need for an armed populace, made oppressive government difficult to maintain. Thomas Jefferson considered the establishment of legal guaranties of religious freedom in Virginia to be among his life’s most important achievements (the other being the founding of the University of Virginia). The principle of that law was later made a part of the United States Constitution with the adoption of the First Amendment.

The public outcry from media and politicians (with little echo from the general populace) over recent efforts of states to reinforce freedom of religion against encroachments by regulatory dicta and court edicts strongly suggests that there is one—and only one—protected national religion in the United States today. It needs no protection offered by these state laws, because its tenets are the motivating heart of the government actions threatening all of the other religions. It goes by many names—as do many broad religions—and includes a variety of sects, also not uncommon among religions. For facility of discussion, I will refer to just one of its appellations, Humanism.

The religion of Humanism has a core belief—shared by all of its sects and denominations—that man is the measure of everything. Man decides what is truth, what is good, what is real. Yes, that is more than a bit narcissistic, which is probably the key to its attraction, particularly among the intelligentsia and the elites. The chief corollary to this main tenet is that God does not matter, whether you believe in Him or not (some Humanist sects tolerate a belief in God or some sort of Supreme Being for reasons of nostalgia and to broaden popular acceptance).

Humanism has an elaborate set of dogmas, commandments, taboos, and rituals. It has its own liturgical language, which is required to be used, for example, in all doctoral dissertations—especially those in the social sciences, though its linguistic hegemony is now reaching to hard sciences as well—and in more colloquial versions observed by all media outlets, especially broadcast journalism. Humanism has its sacred texts along with its college of revered and beatified Humanists of yore.

I was going to write that Humanism has its own seminaries, but, frankly, that includes nearly all colleges and universities in the nation. The clergy of Humanism is largely self-appointed, though it has intricate, Byzantine hierarchies, with no one at the top for long, though all presume to speak for everyone. The clergy are supported by varieties of orders of acolytes and sycophants, the gathering of disciples a key method of rising in Humanism’s hierarchy, and the loss of disciples a sure path to disfavor and obscurity.

While most religions preach exceptionalism, exclusivity, or preeminence, whether in faith or favor with God, Humanism may be the most intolerant of all. Being the state religion, it uses the full power of legislatures, regulators, law enforcement agencies, and the courts to advance its cause and bring in to line people who disagree with its tenets and prescriptions, who violate any of its taboos—particularly who utter any of its taboo words—or who remark on the foibles of its revered demigods. Significantly, any practice by any other religion that interferes with Humanism must yield to Humanist demands, not excluding the profligate use of federal, state, and local moneys to fund its projects, prescriptions, and priests.

Therein lies the explanation for both the desire of various state legislatures to reaffirm religious freedom and the inveterate and fierce hostility to these efforts from the media and a bevy of national celebrities. Freedom of religious belief and practice is a threat only to an established national religion, erecting obstacles to forced conformity with the state church. Failure of efforts to reaffirm the protections of the First Amendment will result in an increasingly intimidating society, constraining intellectual freedom and unauthorized religious observance to a degree unseen in the United States since 1787.

In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Those words are the most prominent inscription in the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson might get into trouble saying such a thing at a modern commencement ceremony at the University of Virginia.

Of Old Time Religion and What’s Good Enough for Me

Is there a revival or camp meeting song more popular than “Old Time Religion”? Maybe, but few, and few serve so well to stir up so quickly good feelings about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Try getting the song out of your head after singing or even listening to it for a while—not an easy task. It is bouncing around in my head even as I write.

Like a good campfire song, it lends itself easily to new verses improvised on the spot by each singer in turn. Because of that, I do not know that there is an official set of lyrics.

All of the variations you might hear or sing begin with—

Now give me that old time religion.
Give me that old time religion.
Give me that old time religion.
It’s good enough for me.

That lead verse sets the pattern. After it come verses like the following:

Makes me love everybody.
Makes me love everybody.
Makes me love everybody.
It’s good enough for me.

I particularly like that thought, because the religion of Jesus Christ is designed to change us so that we do love everybody. The greatest gift of God is charity, the pure love of Christ. If a religion is unable to bring about that change in people, then it is not the religion taught by the Savior.

Here is another verse that I like:

It was good for the Hebrew children.
It was good for the Hebrew children.
It was good for the Hebrew children.
It’s good enough for me.

Some modern religions seem to have forgotten the Hebrew children. You cannot have the true “old time religion” without including them. As Moses and the other Old Testament prophets taught, the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was the religion of Jesus Christ. It was Christ—referred to as the Messiah and as Jehovah in the Hebrew scriptures—who as the God of the Old Testament gave the Hebrews their religion, the religion of direct revelation from God that brought them out of Egypt, and it was good enough to bring them prosperity whenever they followed it.

Of course, the old time religion of God is even older than the Hebrew children, since it was the religion taught by God to Adam and his descendants, observed by Noah and his family on the Ark. There were other old time religions, but they were not good for anybody, with no power to save in heaven or on earth.

And when the Hebrew children forsook the old time religion and instead embraced the pagan religions of their neighbors, the Lord could not protect them. Many rediscovered God’s old time religion once they were in exile in Babylon. That lies behind another stirring verse:

It was good for the prophet Daniel.
It was good for the prophet Daniel.
It was good for the prophet Daniel.
It’s good enough for me.

It was good for all of God’s prophets and taught by them. That included the prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles and prophets of the church Jesus established during His mortal ministry. This verse captures that spirit:

It was good for Paul and Silas.
It was good for Paul and Silas.
It was good for Paul and Silas.
It’s good enough for me.

That old time religion, of Apostles and prophets who spoke directly with God, and through whom the Father continued to speak regularly to His children, had power to save. As the song continues,

It will take us all to heaven.
It will take us all to heaven.
It will take us all to heaven.
It’s good enough for me.

I am very grateful that God’s old time religion of prophets and Apostles of Jesus Christ is on the earth once again, just as it was anciently. I will add my own verse:

It will help us follow Jesus.
It will help us follow Jesus.
It will help us follow Jesus.
And that’s good enough for me.

Of Commandments and Happiness

Nothing out of date with these observations made more than five years ago.

We sing a hymn, “How Gentle God’s Commands,” the first two lines of which proclaim—

How gentle God’s commands!
How kind his precepts are!

I suppose that the Ruler and Creator of the world, who offers us all that He has, eternal life (“the greatest of all the gifts of God”—Doctrine and Covenants 14:7), could require from us anything in return. What He asks of us is that we be happy, and He shows us how. Every commandment of God (here I speak of God’s commandments, not the commandments of men) is calculated to promote our happiness and guide us away from unhappiness.

Let us examine a few to illustrate. The Lord commands that intimate sexual relations be reserved for a man and a woman within the bonds of matrimony. This commandment, much disparaged by popular voices, would if followed virtually end all forms of venereal diseases, including the modern scourge of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and the heartbreaking and life-ending consequences they bring. Abortion would also nearly end, since the vast majority of abortions are performed on unwed women. The social and economic trauma of children being born into one-parent households would similarly be dramatically reduced. And the deadened emotional wasteland caused by promiscuity would be avoided.

The Lord has commanded that we observe the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. The Sabbath is a day to gather with fellow believers in the worship of God. It is also a day to refrain from usual activities we would call work and focus instead on rest and acts of service to one another. Perhaps less observed today than ever before by the world in general, this commandment is particularly suitable for modern times. Increasingly, people are cut off from one another, associations reduced to momentary casual encounters. The Sabbath brings people together in pleasant association and sharing, with a focus on what uplifts one another. Furthermore, it offers a pause from the daily routine, giving opportunity for mental rest and perspective, a time for pondering, meditation, and preparation for renewed and more thoughtful endeavor.

A third example I would choose is the law of the tithe. The Lord commands the saints to donate one-tenth of their income. At first view, this commandment might seem all loss. Is not a person better off with 100% of his income than he is with 90% of his income? The answer to that is undeniably yes, particularly if that income were forcefully taken away, as in excess taxes. The tithe, however, is purely voluntary. The Lord requires it, but He does not take it. You still have all of your income, for it is by your free choice that you make a donation or not, much as with any other way in which you would choose to dispose of your income. That is important, for by making a freewill donation, you give of yourself and receive all of the moral benefit that comes from such a voluntary gift. That gift is not diminished if you, like I, have noticed that you have always received more back in services and blessings than you have ever given. After all, you could choose to be a free rider and never contribute a dime. Moreover, the law of the tithe is eminently fair. All are asked to donate 10%, rich or poor. Those who earn more contribute more, those who earn less donate less, but all are subject to the same rate. Through the tithe—together with the voluntary labor of the membership of a church without a paid, professional clergy—all have full opportunity and satisfaction of participation in the most important work and activity in the world today: sustaining the work of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

These are but three examples of many. I chose them, because they are among the commandments that some today might consider onerous. These, like all of God’s commands are rich and generous in their benefits. I have merely touched the surface of the benefits from observance of each of these commandments. God loves us, and His commandments are a bounteous example of that love.

(First published March 1, 2009)

Of What I Believed and What I Found

Until the day that I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ I had not affirmatively adhered to any of the various creeds of the denominations of Christendom, none of them in particular, but I have always had faith in God and Christ. My parents, acting upon the best knowledge and light that they possessed at the time, had me baptized when but a few days old into the Lutheran church (I think that it was the Missouri Synod, but I am not sure of that). I was quite short of sin at the time of my infant baptism, a claim that I confess I could not make when I approached the waters of baptism on my own volition later in my youth.

Also upon the initiative of my parents, and without any resistance on my part, I was a regular and active attendee at the protestant churches my parents attended. I sang in youth choirs, and I tried to pay attention to the weekly sermons. Often I would sit by myself on the front row, right in front of the minister’s podium, and watch him go page by page through his text. I regularly attended Sunday School and was involved in the lessons. It was at one such Sunday School where as a little lad I was taught by the Sunday School teacher, my mother, to build my house upon a rock.

In my childhood I grew up in suburban communities, richly endowed with a wide variety of Christian churches and sects, and when as a youth we moved to western New York I became acquainted with still others. My experience was that people chose their protestant church in accordance with what suited them as to location, music, oratorical powers of the minister, the fellowship of the members, the physical facilities of the local building, worship customs and practices, meeting hours, and a variety of other factors. Whether one denomination was “true” in comparison with another was not a question that I recall ever being raised. The general attitude that I could discern was that each and all of the denominations were recognized as possessing no more or less truth of consequence as any other.

I do not remember a beginning to my faith in Christ or my assurance of the presence of God. I recall them as much as I can recall anything from my earliest memories of my earliest thoughts. What I was taught in my childhood reinforced that faith. Indeed, if the churches taught anything, it was to have faith in God and in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, I thought of more. More than occasionally I pondered why the churches of the day were so different from the Church of Christ as described in the New Testament. None of them was even close in resemblance. I imagined that it would have been marvelous to live in the days when Apostles of Jesus Christ walked among men and when the gifts of the Spirit were abundant. I also pondered, even as a child, the situation of people in China and elsewhere who had little knowledge of Christ and no access to His saving ordinances. The churches offered no solution to the problem of these people other than to try to reach them by missionaries as much as possible. But what was the fate of those who missed out in the meantime? I never heard the question asked or an answer offered.

I was also taught by my mother to pray. Prayer was a part of my daily routine. I had a deep reverence for the Holy Bible, a copy being one of the first books I ever “bought” (by redeeming a book of green stamps). The churches I attended taught from the Bible, particularly recounting the stories. As I got older, I sensed, however, a hint of embarrassment on the part of minister and teacher about relying upon the Bible too literally. We were not encouraged to bring a copy with us to church or class.

All of that changed after my mother invited the Latter-day Saint missionaries to come by and tell us something about their church. She really had my brother in mind, since at the time he was wrestling with all of the distractions of young manhood. She felt that they might do him some good. When the missionaries arrived, I was home and he was not. I listened and learned.

What the Latter-day Saint missionaries unfolded to me was the ancient Church of Christ in its fullness, all restored on earth today. Once more living Apostles walked among men, with all the same gifts and powers of the Spirit manifested as they were nearly 2,000 years before. The scriptures came alive, the Holy Bible resumed its place as a standard reference for daily living and communion with God, its messages and miracles embraced into real life rather than mere moral tales of antique lore. As they did anciently, the living prophets and Apostles were revealing more from God, guidance directly relevant to our current and modern conditions, all fully in harmony with what God had always said.

One example I learned and had until then never been taught was news of the work to spread the message and redemption of Christ to all people, wherever and whenever they lived. As the Bible taught and as modern prophets taught, those who left this life without access to the gospel of Christ would hear that message in the world of spirits, where they lived and waited for the day of resurrection to come when the Savior returned to the earth, as He promised. None were to be left out, all to have as full a chance to receive God and Christ as would any other.

Echoing what I had always believed, the Latter-day Saints proclaimed that Jesus Christ was the Savior of all the world and of all mankind, His religion not just a faith for a segment of the population in one part of the world. Together with the Holy Bible of the ancient east The Book of Mormon was a testimony from the ancient west that salvation is in Jesus Christ and in Him alone, proclaimed by two societies of antiquity separated by an ocean but united in the same witness from God of the divinity of His Son.

To these ancient testimonies of Christ were added the modern testimonies of men and women who knew. The Latter-day Saints gained through their faith personal knowledge born of personal revelation of the Savior Jesus Christ. Through prayer and many personal unimpeachable experiences their faith had grown to solid assurance.

To their witness I add my own, gained in the same way. Building upon my own faith in Christ, exercising the familiarity with personal prayer taught me by my mother, I acquired just as the saints of old days and modern times a deep personal knowledge and assurance that God is real, that Jesus Christ is resurrected and the Savior of all, and that His Church is on the earth again possessing and manifesting all that it had anciently.

I found the true and living Church of the true and living God. The interaction has made my life richer and better, deeper and full of value. Since and from that discovery I have been gaining every good thing.

(First published March 10, 2013)

Of Personality and Order

While making no personal claims to psychological insight, I have found great value in the Jung-Myers approach to understanding human personalities. Part of that approach identifies four major personality temperaments toward which each of us gravitates to one degree or another. The work of Carl Jung and Isabel Myers—and many others building on that work—has elaborated the theory that in the world of people there is a variety of personalities all interacting and contributing to the social richness of humanity. None of these four temperaments is “right” or “wrong.” They are just different, and that difference is valuable and, moreover, worthy of understanding so that we can get along better in our interactions with each other.

I have seen all four of these temperaments in my small family of a mere 7 souls. I consider the variety enriching to our family more than frustrating. This insight has helped me understand where my children are coming from when I might otherwise think that any one of them has been replaced by a space alien.

Using that framework and watching my fellow travelers through life over decades of interaction, I have personally found it useful to describe the four temperaments in the following way, with regard to each person’s approach to his environment, or the world around us.

• First (in no order of priority or relative value), there are those who come to grips with their world by seeking to be in harmony with their environment. My wife is in this category.

• Second, there are those who primarily seek to enjoy their environment. I believe that two of my daughters are in this group.

• Third are those who seek to organize their environment. I think that I would consider myself as being in this group, along with perhaps a son and a daughter.

• And a fourth group would be those who seek to protect themselves from their environment. I believe that one of my sons would be found here.

Again, I emphasize that no temperament is better than the other. They are just different. And we need them all. Moreover, some of each can be found in the attitudes of any one of us from time to time. The point is which approach is dominant in the way we each live our lives. Together, they all contribute to the success of our society. That is to say, that whatever our temperament, we rely upon our brothers and sisters who have different temperaments to help make us and our society complete.

I do not consider this to be an accidental development but an essential element of God’s plan for the society of His children. In several places in the scriptures God reminds us of the variety of gifts that He has given, emphasizing that we can and need to embrace and profit from each gift, all taken together. “For the body is not one member, but many,” the Apostle Paul explained, and no part of the body can say to the other, “I have no need of thee” (see 1 Corinthians 12:14-21).

But does not all of this difference lead to disunity and perhaps even chaos? It can, and has, but it does not need to. Any personality trait, any temperament, any gift, if taken to the extreme or out of balance can result in harm to others. There are plenty of examples in the long history of mankind of one taking advantage over another, either into anarchy or tyranny. This is one of the structural failings of absolute monarchy or dictatorship, where too much of the society is guided by one person and his or her approach to the world. The temptation to fit all of the people into that mold is natural and hard for the dictator to resist (if he even recognizes it). On the other hand, there would be chaos if all had full license to live their preferences in disregard of others.

Many of the commandments of God are intended to help us to keep our differences in balance and to maintain the close society that allows us to be fully enriched by one another. One of the chapters in The Book of Mormon explains this process as being the establishment of order by means of the ordinances of God (see Alma chapter 13). The similarity in the words is not accidental.

Entering into the kingdom of God is nothing more nor less than making a solemn covenant—pledged and witnessed by the physical ordinance of baptism by immersion—to accept God’s commandments for a society of order as defined by God, an order that accommodates all human gifts and temperaments and organizes them into an harmonious whole. The two greatest commandments of the kingdom of God are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Matthew 22:37-39). In this system there are universal standards to bind us to one another by binding ourselves to our Savior Jesus Christ, who sacrificed to give us all the freedom to choose and be what those choices make us.

This verse from Alma chapter 13 describes the matter this way:

Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord. (Alma 13:16)

Within the Savior’s order of peace there is full room to be at harmony with one’s environment, to enjoy it, in a well organized whole, where all are safe and at rest from fear. Indeed, in the Kingdom of God is the one place where we all can have it all. There is nowhere else like it for any of us.

(First published April 27, 2013)