Of Christmas and More than an Infant

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This Christmas many people will sing and speak praises of a baby born in Bethlehem 2021 years ago.  Unfortunately, too many people never get past that story of the “Babe of Bethlehem.”  It is sweet, it is joyful, but it is not enough. 

The birth of Jesus, the Son of God, was miraculous.  Unlike the birth of anyone else, his birth was prophesied over thousands of years, with prophecies fulfilled in every particular, and prophecies that are continuing and accelerating in their fulfillment today.  What does that mean for us?  It means that this is all part of a very big deal.  It is what the prophet Alma said “is of more importance than” all (Alma 7:7).

We love to sing Christmas carols.  The words of carols, however, can at times challenge the vocabulary of little children.  In my younger years of singing “The First Noel” I was certain that the word “certain” in the second line was a verb, not an adjective.  “The first Noel the angel did say/ Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay. . . ”  In my young mind “certain” described what and why the angel was speaking to the shepherds.  The angel appeared in order to certain the shepherds.

Today I am not so sure that I was wrong in hearing a verb.  The angel wanted those shepherds to know, to understand, to be certain of what they saw, and thereby to become witnesses of something extremely important.  The angel explained what was happening, what it meant, where it was happening, how to recognize the marvel, and then the shepherds quickly went to see for themselves, personally.  Immediately afterward they shared with others what they knew.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy . . . . For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. . . . And they came with haste, and found . . . the babe lying in a manger.  And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2:8-17, emphasis added)

Following His resurrection, Jesus was careful to make His disciples certain of His resurrection so that they might witness to others of what they knew, enabling others at first to believe and then come to know for themselves by the testimony of the Holy Ghost.

The Father and the Son want us to know so that we might understand—actually, so that we might not misunderstand.  They appeared to Joseph Smith, such that Joseph’s knowledge was, from the first, certain.  He then could testify, “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me . . .” (Joseph Smith History 1:25)

I have gained my own witness that Joseph’s certainty was true.  I, too, have been certained by the power of the Holy Ghost.  I know for sure that God is real and that Jesus Christ is the resurrected Savior of the world.  God has given certain witness to Joseph Smith and the prophets since then, including the prophet today, Russell M. Nelson.  Many have believed and had belief confirmed into certainty by the assurance of the Holy Ghost.

The words to the carol, “What Child Is This?” are a soul-deep meditation on why the birth of this Baby is so important.  The musings lead to an answer found in what this Child would later do

I fear that many modern renditions of the carol miss—or perhaps even avoid—the point. Among the dozen or so recordings of that carol in my possession, I discovered to my surprise that all but maybe four leave out the second of three verses written by William C. Dix, the one that holds a central place explaining why this birth was important.  Some repeat, again and again, the true declaration that this Child is “Christ the King.” Recognition of that reality is essential, but how far does it get you?  Even Herod believed and feared that prophecy, a belief that goaded him to destroy all the babes of Bethlehem that his soldiers could find.

Why did Christ the King find it necessary to lower Himself to be born among men?  That is the central question, the answer to which converts our attitude toward Christ from reverence for a Divine Monarch into deeply felt love born of joy and boundless gratitude.  The second verse, too often skipped, explains what is at the heart of Christmas.  Here are the words.

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,

The cross be borne for me, for you.

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The babe, the Son of Mary.

This little Child would be pierced by nails and spear when He was older but no less innocent.  Why would He submit to that?  Why would the King submit to that?

Among the beautiful carols of Christmas there is one that surely seems odd and out of place. The haunting melody is in significant measure responsible for its lasting popularity, but the words are anything but joyful for a joyful celebration. Rather than recount the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, the song expresses the inconsolable sorrow of a mother of Bethlehem mourning the cruel murder of her little child. Popularly known as “The Coventry Carol,” it includes these words:

O sisters, too, how may we do,

For to preserve this day;

This poor Youngling for whom we sing,

By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day;

His men of might, in his own sight,

All children young, to slay.

The song helps retell when jealous King Herod, fearful of even rumors of potential rivals for his throne, ordered the slaughter of all the children in Bethlehem of two years old and younger. Herod had been advised by the wise men of the birth of the future King of the Jews, in fulfillment of prophecy.  Herod missed his mark, for Jesus was no longer there. Joseph, warned by an angel, had taken his little family away to Egypt.

Among those who take it upon themselves to second guess God there are those who would question why God would save His Son, while allowing all those other children in Bethlehem to be slain. Again, these critics miss the mark. They get it wrong by failing to consider the whole picture.

God the Father did not spare His Son from the slaying of the children at Bethlehem. The unfair and cruel carnage begun in David’s city was finished on Calvary. Jesus’ life was spared only momentarily so that it could be offered as the last sacrifice for all. That seemingly doleful song points us to the full meaning of Christmas as part of a story that winds through Bethlehem and leads through sorrow in Gethsemane to death on Calvary.

Importantly, the story continues on from there to a glorious resurrection morning on the third day. Christ was born to save us, in spite of the evils of the world that He most of all could not escape, a salvation that extends especially to the children of Bethlehem and to all the little children of the world.

I conceive of a day, a moment, when those very men who pounded the nails into the Savior’s hands and feet come personally to realize, come face-to-face with what they have done.  What depth of grief that this knowledge will cause to the hearts of those men—when they become certain of the meaning of those moments in that day—I can imagine in only the smallest degree.  They will be the only men, among the billions who have trod the earth, who with hammers in their fists drove nails into the hands and feet of the Creator and their Savior.  What will that certainty mean to them?

Perhaps the Savior’s plea from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34) will be the beginning of some healing solace when they do know what they personally did.  I suspect that this is not the limit of the mercy that the Savior will extend to these, His brothers, who were so close to the Son of God in this horrible way.

Then I am drawn to consider, how will we feel when our day comes, and it surely will, when we stand face-to-face and see those wounds in His hands and feet?  How will we feel when we come to understand perfectly, as we will, that our own, personal sins made those wounds necessary, that because of what we knowingly have done there was no other way, that we helped to make those nails unavoidable?  More, how will we feel, looking in the Savior’s eyes, when we fully understand that depending on our repentance the suffering that we personally caused was entirely and eternally worth it, or in absence of our repentance for us for naught?  At that moment our joy and our love or our grief and pain will be without measure.

Let us decide now, for we may, to let our loving hearts enthrone Him.  May we decide now, today, that we, when brought into the personal presence of the Savior, will be like the ancient Nephites, who did “bow down at his feet . . . and worship him; and . . . kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.” (3 Nephi 17:10)

Of Majority Rule and Minority Freedom

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The majority rules, the minority be damned.  That is the heart of a democracy.  The Founders of the United States wisely chose a different course.  They recognized that popular majorities are inherently unstable, ever shifting, never constant, with little patience for the minority.  Each of us, however, is always and ever part of some minority.  The Founders sought a durable nation that would accommodate variety, so they established a republic.  More precisely, they established a democratic republic, where representatives are chosen by democratic action.

A republic works, and can only work, by respecting and accommodating one another sufficient to find agreement, which is often elusive.  A representative legislature by definition gathers delegates who have their own minds, who carry with them divergent views and interests, and who cherish rights to be respected.  From my personal experience I have observed that no one in Washington is your ally or your opponent all the time.  I find that reassuring, and occasionally surprising.

This structure accommodates several things that we hold dear.  Our republic accommodates differences of opinion, or even better said, varieties of opinion.  I have rarely been in a conversation with more than two people where all were in agreement on every point raised.  I have similarly rarely been in such a conversation where I did not benefit from the interplay of ideas.  We often can reach a consensus, but it is not consensus on all things.  A republic embraces this. 

In a republic no majority mandates our tastes.  Our republic, for example, allows for an assortment of cultures.  It had to or would never have been created.  I like to bring flags to our family reunions, symbolizing our cultural heritages, from my parents’ families to those of the new in-laws as our children have married.  With preeminence for the Stars and Stripes—reminding us of the attraction of this nation—our family unity makes enjoyment of those cultural influences an enrichment, in our clothes, in our menus, in our games and sports, in our traditions.  I see that in other families.  In much the same way, the constitutional foundation of our republic fosters a commonality upon which a cornucopia of good things thrives.

A republic requires several things that we find necessary, embedded in our Constitution.  It requires freedom of religion, free speech, private property, a market economy, separation of powers, a federal system of government, among other things.  God Himself implores freedom of religion on His earth, free hearts with devotion to be freely extended to Him and expressed in love to His children.  A market economy means that we are free to exchange our time, talents, and resources with one another, without being limited to choices that only the majority favors, hence the incredible selection of goods and services, often some only favored by a few (like my argyle socks).

The Founders understood a principle of governance also articulated in scripture:

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:39)

Best to reduce the chance, especially should one profess to represent the majority of the people.  Safer, as in our federalized republic, to divide such power.  I recall Senator Phil Gramm, for whom I worked for many years, saying how frustrated he was when first elected to Congress at how little one person could accomplish in Washington.  He added that after a while that gave him great comfort.

Of Trains and Autumn Kindness

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Autumn, mountains, and a slow train ride:  lovely.  I have been ready for such a calmly pleasant excursion.

That was our recent experience aboard the Potomac Eagle, departing from Romney, West Virginia, for a three hour tour along the South Branch of the Potomac River.  What could be lovelier?  I will tell you:  the people.

You arrive early, to get all things in readiness for a promptly on-time departure.  To a person, each member of the crew was genuinely friendly.  They did not look to be manufacturing a happy face; their amiability was easy.

While the South Branch flows into the Potomac, there is no sign of partisan backwash way upriver.  We could not have felt farther from the rarified atmosphere of today’s national capital.  Whether employees or passengers, I could not guess for you the political persuasion of anyone I met.

The most refreshing air on this autumn day was that we were spared exposure to any of the fissures that some are trying to foster—or foist—upon most Americans.  There was a natural sense of community that comes when genial people gather. 

The tour narrator, who described points of interest as we proceeded along the tracks, did display a hometown sense of veneration for Romney as the oldest town in West Virginia, a claim resting on the evidence of having the oldest municipal charter, by a matter of hours.  Shepherdstown makes a claim to be older, although the record is that the governor signed the legislation establishing the town of Romney before lunch on December 13, 1762, and after lunch signed the legislation establishing the community that became Shepherdstown.  Such are the documents of local history.  (For those interested in such matters, I refer you to the well-written and documented, “The Founding of Romney:  West Virginia’s Oldest Established Town,” at http://www.HistoricHampshire.org.)   

I will add that the little town of Romney exhibited no signs of the “privilege” that critics say is rife among the population.  You can count the houses as you drive through.  I saw none either auspicious or dilapidated.  The homes and the cars and trucks parked in the driveways were not the late model foreign luxury wheels prevalent inside the Washington beltway.

I wish that what I say of the people I met that day in Romney could also be said of others with whom I have associated around the country this year.  I have to report that I could say that.  People seem to enjoy being in each other’s company, friend, family, or new acquaintance.

By the way, the valley of the South Branch of the Potomac is well known for its many bald eagles.  Sit on the riverside of the train for the best eagle views, wooded mountain slopes on the other.

Of Demagogues and Ideologues

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The demagogue has ever been the bane of democracies.  By definition, democracies rest upon the choices of the people.  When wisdom guides, democracies prosper.  As history shows, wisdom does not always prevail, and it never does when demagogues do.  Since the demagogue seeks his own power by taking power from others, once the people give him their voice they will be hard-pressed to get their power back; the democracy deteriorates into dictatorship, invoked in the name but never the reality of the rights of the people.

So I wrote some time ago.  Experience since then has reinforced the points I raised.  I wish that it had not, as such experience is painful.

On the early side of Summer an insightful essay in the June 2021 edition of The New Criterion illuminated the companion to the demagogue, the ideologue (see, David Guaspari, “Ideologists amok”).  Sometimes they can be the same person, as ideologues frequently employ demagoguery.

Reflecting on demagogues and ideologues, I more recently imagined a conversation with someone who displays characteristics of such a one.  As with a similar conversation of which I wrote in the past, I refer to my interlocutor as Burning Cynders, to preserve the fanciful nature.  I will leave it to you to imagine whether this reminds you of anyone.  It went something like this.

WAA:  I understand that you consider the United States to be a horribly oppressive place.

Cynders:  Horribly oppressive, and practically everyone is a victim.

WAA:  How can everyone be a victim?  If there are victims, there must be oppressors.

Cynders:  There are, but they are victims, too.  The oppression is systemic, that we all inherited.  Even the victims help maintain it.  I pause to allow you to grasp the vastness of the subject.

WAA:  Thank you.  Does that mean that you help to perpetuate the system, too?

Cynders:  I did, until I figured it out.  Now that I understand, I am trying to liberate people from it. 

WAA:  Are the millions of people immigrating to the United States coming here to be liberated from this oppression?

Cynders:  They are coming here because they know that I and those who are with me are working to throw off the oppression.

WAA:  Like why the Founders first came here.  I thought that people want to come to America for a freer, more prosperous life.  Which problems did they miss?

Cynders:  You don’t understand; your thought is distorted by the system.  No single problem can be solved without solving all problems.  You are part of the problem.

WAA:  That might be debatable.  How about we discuss what this land offers that attracts so many people.

Cynders:  The debate is over.  I’m here to teach you.  I know why they are coming.  They sense that I am working to throw off the oppression, to change the system, to change America.  Traumatized by their journey, the trauma raises their consciousness to the need for transformation.

WAA:  What key reforms do you have in mind?

Cynders:  I’m not interested in reform.  You cannot reform this system.  It is fundamentally corrupt and oppressive.  It must be torn down and built anew.  There will be a new system, without oppressors or oppressed.

WAA:  It seems to me there was a lot of tearing down in the twentieth century by the Lenins, Stalins, Hitlers, the Mussolinis, the Maos, Pol Pots, and many others.  History shows us the ruins, but I don’t see the end of oppression in the experiments in bread-rationing socialism.

Cynders:  There were bold efforts, but they didn’t try hard enough or long enough.  As I said, oppression is in the whole system.  It’s in our culture, our religion, our laws, our families, our healthcare, our schools, in the language we use. 

WAA:  What will this new world look like? 

Cynders:  No one knows.  No one can tell you.  It may take generations to break down and build right.  This generation may not see the fruits of its work; still, it will bless future generations.  But can there be any sacrifice too great for a world without any oppression, with no victims, no oppressors?

WAA:  Sounds like you are out to alter the very nature of humanity.

Cynders:  You are not as hopeless as I feared.  Maybe you can be educated yet.

I pause the conversation there.  Time to play with my grandsons.

Of Sincerity and Talking with God

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In the 1700s, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, referring to times of personal stress, wrote, “I turned with my request to my Invisible Friend.  I was received so kindly, that I gladly came again.”  Speaking with God is simple.  It may not always be easy.  A basic requisite is sincerity.  When we share with our Heavenly Father a sincere message from the heart, He is eager to listen. 

That is also a basic criterion for us to hear God.  Our Heavenly Father is eager to speak with us when we are sincerely listening.  That means sincerely wanting to know what our Father wants us to know, and being sincerely willing to do what He asks us to do. 

This is prayer and revelation.  Such prayers are answered, and our lives can be made happier.

Can that happen now?  Can I speak with God and get a personal answer?  Yes.  The Lord has given us a prophet today, Russell M. Nelson, who reminded us, as prophets have often taught, that the “privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children.” 

The Lord has never desired that His prophet be the only one to receive revelation.  When Moses led the children of Israel through the desert, he replied to a complaint about someone in the camp receiving revelation, “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29).  Our Father does not want us to wander in the dark, not knowing how to cope with life’s problems.

We are all in the process of dying.  That is why this existence is called “mortality.”  But until we reach the end of that process, we are also in the process of living.  Our Father likes to help us to live well, so that when we die we will be able to live with Him eternally.  He will show us how if we sincerely want to know.

When I was a child, I wondered what it would be like to live in the day when Apostles of Jesus Christ walked the earth.  Some years later I came to know that I was living in those days, that once again Jesus Christ has called Apostles, from ordinary professions, to follow Him in teaching the Father’s children how to live with joy. 

One of these Apostles of Christ is David Bednar.  He recently spoke with a young man whose wife, just a few months before, died from cancer.  The man asked, “What can we do to understand God’s will for us in our personal life?”  With great tenderness Apostle Bednar addressed the question.  He said that he knew that the man’s departed wife was “a righteous woman, and no righteous man, no righteous woman passes before his or her time.” 

Turning to the question of God’s will for this young widower, he recounted a similar conversation with a young girl at a funeral for an older brother.  She had asked, why would God let this happen?  This Apostle of Christ candidly said to her, “I don’t know, but I know God knows, and because I know God knows, I’m O.K. not knowing right now.”  So, he invited this son of God to listen to the revelations from the Lord and, while yet in this life, press on to do what his loving Father inspires him do. 

The gift of personal revelation continues available to this young man.  It is available to each of us, too, as we sincerely seek it.

Of Civil War and National Unity

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At a sesquicentennial distance the Civil War can become too easy to romanticize.  We can be tempted to envision some charm in it.  From a prolonged study of the Civil War, via many sources and a variety of formats, I find little romance in it.  The brutality and misery of that war have not been overstated.  Fortunately, there was work that was noble and heroic, such as the ending of slavery.    

A more peaceful solution, in hindsight, was available and likely, as the operation of the Constitution was steadily bringing about.  Perhaps it took a civil war challenge to that Constitution to make people recognize—the slaveholders especially—that a peaceful end to bondage would have been preferable.  Abraham Lincoln, a casualty of the war, perceived in a few words at the Gettysburg commemoration, that the Civil War was “testing whether [our] nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

To what conception and dedication did Lincoln refer?  “A new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

It must be understood that Lincoln observed that this nation had not fully achieved those principles.  He called it “unfinished work.”  Building on how well that work had begun, Lincoln praised how far it had been “so nobly advanced.”  Our nation, conceived in liberty, embraced a dedication to which our Founders bound themselves and their posterity, to achieve the proposition that each of us was created equal.  As the price in blood and suffering mounted, he was asking whether such a dedicated nation, still in its adolescence, could continue.

Through the 21 months following Gettysburg, the price would grow higher and more horrid while the people of that day persevered and demonstrated that the nation would endure, as it has to our day.  Further headway was made to fulfill our founding principles.

Today is a time for our dedication to be tested, as such a nation will always be.  Loud, magnified voices—there were those in Lincoln’s day demanding to end the effort (he nearly lost his reelection to some who preferred a compromise with the slavocrats)—today parade the obvious that our nation has not yet achieved all of our Founders’ ideals, and so demand that we abandon those ideals.

They prescribe a return to the age old pattern whereby in exchange for our liberty the self-selected few are elevated to mold the rest, prescriptions that somehow end up profiting the new bosses.  As in the past, while dressed in varieties of costumes, the chieftains, kings, czars, fuehrers, commissars, and other ugly monsters reshape societies that eventually devolve into ruin.

Their “modern” strategy is similarly old:  divide and conquer.  Rhetorical crossbows aim darts first at the failings of the very human Founders, to whom they assign blame for anyone unhappy with himself.  Next they guide their unhappy victims against our founding ideal, “the proposition that all men are created equal.”  Their bizarre assertion is that any failure in the ideal’s complete achievement justifies its trashing, the more violently the better.  Upon the ruins of civil disorder, disunion, and violence, they would build in the name of “equity” where they have destroyed fundamental equality. 

That is the program of those positioned to claim to be more equal than others while they rake in a bigger share of the proposed “equity.”  It is all old naked ugliness when denuded of the costumes.  In time it has always failed, but not without putrid fruits of misery.

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln appealed to his hearers for increased devotion to ensure that our nation, governed of, by, and for the people, should not perish.  Succeeding generations have united to nurture the nation.  It is our task to answer the divisive calls with our dedication to advance the work so nobly begun.

Of I and We

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Perhaps you have been chary of letting other people speak for you.  I know that I have.  I tend to bristle when someone announces what “we” are going to do without consulting with the “I”s in the “we.”  I feel much the same when I hear someone declare what “we” think without caring to learn what I and the other components of “we” think. 

Sometimes it is necessary or unavoidable to have someone speak for me.  I think of representative government.  A Congress of 330 million people will either get nothing done, or it will devolve into rule by a dictator who has, as an effective demagogue, arranged for enough of all of us to cede to him their will.  The city states of ancient Greece experienced both failings of genuine democracy—mob rule and dictatorship—and displayed how it never worked for long.

The Romans, inhabiting a city state governed by a king, threw off their king and created a democratic republic that flourished for several hundred years.  They elected Senators to represent them.  The Romans did not like a king who spoke for them without asking, but they thrived under a system of Senators who spoke for them, but only after obtaining the Romans’ permission.  That worked for centuries until the process of gaining permission—elections—became corrupted.  The Senators concurrently became corrupted, unwilling to face blame for making decisions.  The democratic republic was replaced by a government of emperors and Caesars.  Rome afterwards oscillated between civil strife and dictatorship on the way to collapse and invasion.

In the years following 1776 we, as a people of free individuals, united to shake off our king who claimed the privilege of referring to himself as “We” when speaking.  In 1787 “We the People,” through our chosen representatives, also established a democratic republic.  That followed the formation of democratic republics in each State.  Both sides in the debate to ratify the new Constitution emphasized keeping representatives tied closely to the represented.  Skeptics wondered whether that would actually happen or long endure if it did.

Individual people, representatives and represented, are imperfect, as the Founders understood.  We each prize our individuality and the liberty to live it.  We each can also be tempted to exert our will over others.  Consider the occasional neighborhood “WE BELIEVE” yard signs.  Are these an expression of personal faith or a declaration that you and I ought to consider ourselves included in the “WE”?  I wonder about the latter when I see decrees by federal officials, state governors, and local mayors extending government force to the seemingly anodyne slogans ornamenting the signs.  The man who today sits in the oval office, who would not dare to call himself a czar, has appointed a man (previously rejected by a national election) to be the nation’s “Climate Czar.”

We are scheduled to reach 250 years of our democratic republic when the 17-year cicadas next return.  Will they emerge in a nation still governed by “We the People”?  Or might they come out of the ground where the voices of the I’s have been subsumed by other Czars who announce what We think, do, and say?  Creeping political correctness, which has been chastising free speech for decades, telling us what not to say, has lately become enforced by governments, workplaces, media, and schools.  As the prophet Isaiah warned, a man is made “an offender for a word” (Isaiah 29:21).

By the way, the titles “Czar” and “Kaiser” are derivatives of the Latin title “Caesar.”

Of Firearms and American Democracy

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A commentator on a Washington-D.C. area Spanish-language radio station was declaiming at unusual length against private gun ownership. What caught my attention that morning was his expression of wonder at the deep and widespread interest of people in the United States in owning firearms. He could not understand or explain it. He was lost. The interest in private gun ownership was a new cultural phenomenon to him.

No doubt it was, but he was correct to identify the passion for gun ownership as an element of the cultural life of the United States that is not only deep, but deep-rooted. Those roots go back to the very founding of North America by the first colonists, reinforced by subsequent waves of immigrants. The very first North American colonists had guns, as essential to survival as seeds and shovels. As Germans joined the English, the Scots, and the Dutch in the new land, followed by Irish, Swedes, Italians and others, guns traveled with the pioneers west.

Western European society invented common firearms and spread them among the commoners. By means of firearms the commoners won their new land. With their firearms those commoners also won their freedom from the lords and ladies who could no longer control the armed rabble, particularly in the English colonies, and particularly in the colonies that became the United States. Guns in the United States have been instruments of survival, physical and political.

What the kings and nobles of Europe could not know was that there is something powerfully democratizing in gun possession. Firearms ended the reign of the mounted knight and made it hard for kings and emperors to keep their thrones. No aristocrat in any palace was invulnerable to the meanest peasant armed with musket and ball. Guns have been an historically powerful equalizer and defense against tyranny and pillagers.

That democratizing process worked further and faster in America, where courage and a gun could tame a wilderness and provide freedom for the family. Far from the reach of government, and unanswerable for the pretended protection of the manor house, the typical American could take immediate responsibility for himself and his own security and that of his wife and children, backed up by the very real ability to assert that security. No one seems to know the origin of the proverb, “God created men, but Sam Colt made them equal,” but the armed nation builders of the American West understood and believed it.

That is to say that, in the United States at least, people have not needed government, and especially government protection, all that much. Gun ownership has always been at the core of American independence and democracy, essential from the founding up into modern times. It is a symbol of American freedom, but more than that, ownership of firearms is a tangible expression of the independence and self-reliance that are at the core of American citizenship, a culture of freedom sometimes new to people hailing from other parts of the world. It is not accidental that not only the right to keep firearms but the active right to bear them is recognized in our Constitution as fundamental, alongside freedom of expression, free exercise of religion, the protection of private property, trial by jury, and other cornerstones of our liberty.

As the dangerous frontiers of violence encroach again on families beyond the timely protection of law enforcement, that innate American self-reliance is reenergized, and well it should be. The examples of people saved by their guns from robbery, murder, and worse, are legion if little noted by the establishment media reporting from their armed security zones. In the face of increased violent criminal activity—whether from terrorists or thugs—why does it make sense to weaken the defenses of law abiding citizens? Why would the government of a free people impose regulations to expose those who live peacefully to the barbarous cruelty of those who consider a regulation no barrier to preying upon the disarmed? I do not understand it. As an American, I do not understand it at all.

Of Good Leaders and Society’s Safety

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The story is told in The Book of Mormon of a society in ancient America that was under constant threat and frequent attack from another people who were fierce and far more numerous.  They were also related, which made hostility acute and seemingly ineradicable—save one should eradicate the other.

Like everyone in the western hemisphere their roots were planted by immigration.  These immigrants from the Old World were largely from two interrelated families.  They barely got along while the founding patriarch, Lehi, lived.  When he died, leadership succession threatened bloodshed.  Rather than fight it out, one group, led by a younger son, Nephi, left.  The other group, which over time became larger, was led by the eldest son, Laman.

The two societies could hardly be more different, because their leaders, though brothers, could hardly be more different.  Laman was opposed to emigrating from the Old World.  Lehi was given a prophetic charge to leave.  God told Lehi (who like his contemporary, Jeremiah, was a prophet of Christ) that his city, Jerusalem, was doomed, descending into social disorder and vulnerable to predictable conquest.  Laman doubted the prophecy.  Nephi, supporting his father, was given divine confirmation of the Lord’s warning.

In Lehi’s day the differences were occasionally resolved, but only superficially.  Laman, and those who listened to him, having little faith in his father’s prophecies, only with reluctance cooperated.  Nephi believed.  With that faith, confirmed by his own communion with the Lord, Nephi was instrumental in facilitating the pilgrimage to what the Lord vouchsafed Lehi and his family would be a promised land.

For centuries following Lehi’s death, both sides tried, in their characteristic idioms, to bridge the schism.  The people of Nephi, according to the record, devised “many means to reclaim and restore” the people of Laman “to the knowledge of the truth”.  Their record reports, on the other hand, that the people of Laman “sought by the power of their arms to destroy us continually.” (Jacob 7:24)

Which would prevail?  In terms of reunification, neither succeeded for more than four hundred years.  Measured by prosperity, the people of Nephi flourished.  While the chronicle is brief, it describes a society as advanced as any global contemporary of the fourth century B.C.:

And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich in gold, and in silver, and in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel, making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war. . . and all preparations for war. (Jarom 1:8)

Compare that with the description of the people of Laman, who fell into degradation:

. . . they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat . . . (Enos 1:20)

By one gauge, the people of Laman exceeded the people of Nephi, “they were exceedingly more numerous”.

The moral of the story is this.  The people of Nephi prospered, not only materially and socially, but they also succeeded in holding their enemies at bay, enemies whose hostility was implacable, constant, and fierce, and who were “exceedingly more numerous”.  How so?  The crowning message inscribed in the ancient records of the people of Nephi was that their kings and leaders “were mighty men in the faith of the Lord”.  Thereby the people were led in safety.  That is a vital message for our society, or any society.

Of Inflation and Borrowing

Photo by Mar Cerdeira on Unsplash

Inflation is good for borrowers?  Really?  So some say.  The case goes like this:  when the borrower receives his loan for so much, he promises to pay it back with money that would buy so much, but after inflation the money he uses to repay the loan will buy less.  He repays with cheaper money.  The lender gets his money back, but it is worth less than it was when he lent it.  Hold that thought, because that is the weakness in the case.

This inflation “benefit” may work for borrowers who already have loans, with a fixed rate that they can handle.  For all others, however, inflation raises the costs of everything, including borrowing.  How long will lenders be willing to lose value in the loans they make?

Think of it this way.  Does inflation work for people who sell things?  Maybe for their current supply, but their new supply will cost them more, eating into what they earn and raising the cost of what they try to sell to the next potential buyer.  The same reality is true for people who “sell” money, which is what lenders do. 

As we buyers know, inflation does not work well for buyers.  We face ever higher prices for the same things.  The same is true for people who “buy” money, which is what borrowing is.

New borrowers will find interest rates, the price of borrowing, rising with inflation, too.  That could put borrowing out of reach for some, just as it does for buying a house, a car, or work tools.  Businesses that need to roll over their existing loans could find the new loan more expensive, maybe even too expensive.  People who want to refinance their mortgage may find the new rate makes that much less attractive.  Floating rates, like credit card rates, will rise, so the cost of the products charged to the card will not be the only higher costs that card users face.  In short, only some borrowers, a declining some, may benefit from inflation, and only for a time.

Today’s money rests on trust, whether we talk of paper money, coins, or financial accounts.  We sell our time, our goods, our services in exchange for money.  That money is a promise that we can use it in trade with someone else for something of comparable worth.  When we accept money in payment, we in turn are making a loan to someone who has already received our goods, or services, or time.  All we got was a promise, which we trust we can exchange with someone else.  Inflation undermines that trust.  We receive a $100 payment of money which because of inflation may soon buy only what $95 used to buy.

Even governments will face the challenge of higher costs.  Sure, they will be paying back existing government debt with devalued money, but their new borrowings will carry a higher price tag, as will the things that governments buy.  I was going to say, look in the mirror if you want to know who will pay that higher cost of government debt, but if you do, have your children looking with you.

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