December 14, 2007

The Devil's Microscope

Orson Pratt
April 6, 1856

We've heard of the Devil's looking glass, and Orson, the scientist-philosopher added his unique perspective to this parable. In his description of apostasy, Orson is a bit short-sighted, but nevertheless raises an important aspect. He believed those who received and recognized the blessings of the gospel ought not let doubt overcome their faith:

Who are there under the sound of my voice that doubt the divine authenticity of the great work in which they have enlisted? Who are there that doubt the divine authenticity of the Priesthood organized in this Church and kingdom? Are there any that doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon? You that have searched into the history of this Church1; you that have read the sacred, pure, and heavenly principles contained in the Book of Mormon, and in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; you that have heard the sacred principles proclaimed from Sabbath to Sabbath by the mouths of the servants of God, holding the authority of heaven, the living Priesthood in your midst-you that have seen the power of the Almighty working with an invisible hand among the nations of the earth, but very visible to you in bringing about His purposes, establishing you as a free people, organizing you according to the laws of the land, breaking off your yokes and enabling you to worship God according to the great revelations and commandments that He has given; you, that have been so highly blessed, ought never to doubt. What Latter-day Saint with all these things before him can be justified in doubting the divine authenticity of this work?
No one can.
Here Orson presents his view on those who allow doubt to lead them from the gospel:
I will tell you what makes people doubt; it is when they fall into wickedness; when the devil begins to enshroud their minds with a veil of darkness; when the devil presents to their eyes the great microscope that he has had in existence ever since the fall of man; when he magnifies the faults of their neighbors, and enlarges the weaknesses and imperfections of those holding the Priesthood, then they exclaim, "Oh; this cannot be the latter-day work, it is not the work of the Lord the Priesthood must be in transgression, they are all wrong." [Here it is recorded that President Young interjected: "that is the devil's looking glass." Orson then Prattifies the metaphor.]
Such is the devil's looking glass or microscope that is calculated to magnify everybody's faults but the individual's looking in it: and when he wishes him to see his own, he turns the glass the other way, so that his own faults can scarcely be seen. You know that when you look through the big end of a telescope, or when you look into a convex mirror you see objects diminished, and it is just so, when the devil presents your own faults and your own imperfections. It is then, Latter-day Saints, that you doubt; it is then that you feel miserable, and it is then that you are almost ready to apostatize and deny the faith.
It seems one signal that someone is teetering in their faith is fault-finding and criticism. Historian Richard D. Poll noted this attitude in regards to members who would like to see changes in the Church. Some exercise their desires by following appropriate channels, seeking to make a change rather than to merely make a point. Changers have, in fact, been made, Poll points out. Others respond to Church authority by "griping to peers or engaging in passive resistance." Poll continues:
While censuring these negative activities in a thoughtful address on "Criticism," Apostle Dallin H. Oaks recently endorsed the private communication of concerns and suggestions about church policies and programs to those who are in a position to act upon them.
"Our Father in Heaven has not compelled us to think the same way on every subject or procedure. As we seek to accomplish our life's purposes, we will inevitably have differences with those around us—including some of those we sustain as our leaders. The question is not whether we have such differences, but how we manage them.… By following these procedures, Church members can work for correction of a leader or for change in a policy."2

Without going into too much detail, I believe there are ways to appropriately disagree with Church authorities without apostatizing.3 Rather than using the devil's microscope, Orson suggests using the Lord's:
But when you can get the Lord's microscope and look into your own conduct instead of the conduct of others, and see your own imperfections and your own faults and can have a realizing sense of your own follies, of your own unworthiness before God, and begin to humble yourselves and repent and turn away from sin, then your doubts are gone; they have fled; they trouble you no more; you have an abiding witness in your own hearts, a greater witness than prophecy and its fulfillment, greater than the printed word, greater than the testimony of the servants of God. You have the testimony that assures you every moment that this is the work of God; you feel it; think it in every thought; your whole souls are swallowed up in the work in which you are engaged; you feel that there is nothing that you own or possess, nothing upon the face of the whole earth to be compared with the greatness of the value of the principles which dwell within your own bosoms. I am speaking to men and women who know by their own experience that these things are true; everyone of you can bear testimony of them, who have ever tasted the good Spirit of the Lord, and that have felt its influences upon your hearts. You very well know, that when you enjoy this good Spirit, you have no trouble, let what will take place, it is no trouble to you, so far as you are concerned. You feel resigned; you are in the hands of that Being who placed you here upon the earth; you feel strong in the midst of weakness; you feel that God is your help, and that He will succor you; you know that He lives and that He loves and cherishes you, and that He has a good feeling towards you, like that which dwells in the bosom of a tender parent towards his own child; you know that the Almighty God has this tender feeling towards you, when you do right; and therefore, you have no trouble.4 If you go hungry, you are not troubled; if called to sacrifice your own lives, you will not be troubled, but you would say, "Father, I have done thy will; if my work is finished let me come into thy presence; let me behold thy face in peace; let me dwell in the society of the sanctified; let me go where my works shall be continued, where I can accomplish more good, and do more for thy cause." These are the feelings of a righteous man and of a righteous woman (JD 3:299-307).


History in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been controversial for years. Charges of institutional white-washing and antagonistic over-exaggeration have been discussed on each side. It seems the Church is on a historical "up-swing" right now, which deserves fuller discussion elsewhere.  

Dallin H. Oaks, "Criticism," Ensign, Feb.1987, 68.

 Richard D. Poll discusses institutional changes, and the lack of a historical understanding of the Church in many Latter-day Saints as part of his essay "The Happy Valley Syndrome," History and Faith: Reflections of a Mormon Historian, 41-53.  

This concept ties in with Brigham's admonition to "weed your own garden." 

[5] Pratt concluded the sermon, mentioning he was about to embark on another mission abroad:
Perhaps this will be the last opportunity that I shall have as an individual of meeting in a general conference with you for-I was going to say, for a long period of time, but I will say, for the short period of two or three years. I know not how long it may be, before I shall have the privilege of meeting again with the Saints in these Valleys of the mountains, whether I ever shall, I do not know of a certainty, but I feel that I shall again behold the faces of the Saints in Utah; I feel that I shall again lift up my voice upon the mountains and in these Valleys and bear testimony of the great and important truths which we have received; I feel that I shall again meet with you to rejoice in the flesh, in this mortal tabernacle. [President Young interjects: Prophesy!] I could almost prophesy that I shall, but when it comes to prophesying about myself, I feel a little delicate in doing so; but if the Lord will, I wish to live upon the earth to do much good.

He prophesied and fulfilled the prophesy.
This remarkable man, after all he had done for the gospel thus far, still believed he could have done more:
I have been in the Church almost twenty-six years, lacking about four months, and I have endeavored to do some little good; but really when I look back upon the twenty-six years of my life, or nearly that, which I have spent in this Church, when I look back upon my feeble labors, and my feeble endeavors, they seem to have been very small.
And although I have traveled much, and preached much, and written much, and tried to do some little good, yet after all, when I compare that which I have done, with that which it seems to me I ought to have done, in days gone by, I feel very weak, and am anxious that I may not be taken from the earth, until I have done more. I feel willing to perform any mission, whenever the First Presidency of this Church require it of me. If they say go to China, East Indies, Australia, Europe, England, or wherever it may be upon the face of the whole earth, I hold myself in readiness. These have been my feelings from the commencement; I do not know that I have ever backed out from any mission that was given to me; but have always rejoiced in every mission up to this time.
I am sometimes troubled lest I may not be able to retain a sufficiency of the Spirit of the Lord and the power of the Priesthood, to accomplish the work required of me acceptably before God. I believe that I am troubled about that more than anything else, and especially when there is a mission which places a great weight of responsibility upon me, where it is expected that my brethren will require a great deal at my hands. But inasmuch as you have lifted your hands to sustain me, in connection with my brethren that have been appointed to various nations, I feel to say before you, brethren and sisters, with uplifted hands, God being my helper, that I will endeavor with humility and untiring obedience to the commandments of God, to do some little good; I will try to carry out the counsels and instructions of the First Presidency of this Church, as they shall give them from time to time.
And inasmuch as I feel to bear this humble testimony, not in my own strength, not in my own name, but in the name of the Lord, I feel also to crave your assistance and your prayers and supplications that the Spirit of the Lord may be poured out upon brother Benson, and upon the other brethren who are appointed as missionaries, and upon your humble servant, that we may perform a good work—a work that shall be acceptable to you, to the Presidency of this Church, and to God, and return heavily laden with sheaves, which is my earnest prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pratt gave one more discourse on April 13, 1856 in the Tabernacle before departing on his mission to preside over the England mission. He returned to the valley in 1858, addressing the congregation on January 24 of that year.

December 13, 2007

Gathering to Utah

Part 1 Orson Pratt April 6, 1856 Orson began this discourse stressing the importance of missionary work. The more missionaries, the more the gospel could be preached:

These are the things [preaching to all continents] that each one alone could not do; hence the more there are engaged of the Saints of the living God, having the same faith, bound together by the same great principles of righteousness, being of one heart and of one mind, the greater will be the works which can be accomplished in the earth; because such a people can spread forth on the right hand and on the left, and can proclaim to millions and millions of people, the glorious tidings of salvation at the same instant of time; while one man alone, though he have power to work mighty miracles, could only proclaim them to a few. In this respect, then, we are blest and we rejoice. Again, we rejoice, in another respect; the Lord our God has clothed His servants with power to bring the honest in heart together from the various nations and kingdoms of the earth, so that their strength might be collected in one, in order that their union and power might be greater, for the accomplishment of that which could not be accomplished in a scattered condition. In this respect, then, we are favored, as well as being favored with the privilege of spreading out our missionaries to the four quarters of the globe.
Part and parcel of the missionary message of former years was the great gathering; converts were urged to make the journey to the Utah Territory. (You thought getting people to make it to Church in their own location was difficult!) But why the gathering? Pratt emphasized unity and power in numbers:
But it may be asked, "What can be accomplished by a concentration of Saints, in one Territory, that could not be accomplished by them while scattered here and there?" I will answer you. If we were scattered forth, only among the people of the United States, instead of over the nations and kingdoms of the earth, we could not organize ourselves, so as to be governed by our own laws; but by a concentration of the Saints from the distant nations of the earth into one Territory their numbers give them power which they never could gain in a scattered condition. By their numbers, they can appeal with faith and confidence, and with a degree of assurance to the parent government of the United States, and say, "Give us a free and independent State." Without sufficient numbers, it would be useless to ask for admission. Hence, in the concentration of numbers, we are blest, as well as having power to preach to millions in all parts of the earth at the same time.
Orson discussed what he saw as the benefits of obtaining statehood; something the Saints had been aiming for since they first arrived in the valley in 1847. He believed their movements were directly fulfilling prophecy:
In what respect would it be a favor and a privilege for the inhabitants of this Territory, composed mostly of Latter-day Saints, to be organized into a free and independent State of this great republic? Among the many privileges resulting from a State government, I will mention one, namely, we should then have the privilege, according to the great principles contained in the Constitution of our country, of electing our own officers. The people would have the privilege of selecting those whom they desired, instead of being ruled over by those whom they desired not. Would not this be a favor? It certainly would. We should have the Constitutional privileges, as a free, sovereign, and independent State, which are enjoyed by all other States of this Union: in other words, we should more fully be made partakers of the blessings which our Lord promised to us, more than twenty-five years ago, which I will repeat from the Doctrine and Covenants, sec. 62, paragraph 2;- "It shall come to pass that they (my servants) shall go forth into the regions round about, and preach repentance unto the people; and many shall be converted, insomuch that ye shall obtain power to organize yourselves according to the laws of man; that your enemies may not have power over you, that you may be preserved in all things; that you may be enabled to keep my laws, that every band may be broken wherewith the enemy seeketh to destroy my people." [D&C 44:3-5] In other words, that you may not be tyrannized over by unrighteous governors, judges, and officers, that you have no voice in electing or appointing who may, according to their own will, trample upon your rights as American citizens. The prophecy which I have quoted has been fulfilled in part, indeed it has been fulfilled to a very great extent. True, we are not a free and independent State; but we are organized according to the laws of man; we have the privilege of making laws, not for one little village, or to govern one little city, or only a few miles square, but we have already the privilege of making laws, the influence of which extend over many villages, cities, valleys, settlements, and counties. All this has come to pass in fulfillment of the prediction, uttered more than a quarter of a century ago, [February of 1831] when the Church was not a year old, and very few in numbers. Have we not a reason to rejoice in the high and inestimable blessings, already received in fulfillment of the word of the Lord, especially when compared with the few privileges enjoyed by all the other nations of the earth?
The Church believes in the literal gathering of Israel, but also in a preparatory "spiritual" gathering.[1] According to the Gospel Principles manual:
The physical gathering of Israel means that the Israelites will be “gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise” (see 2 Nephi 9:2). The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh will be gathered to the land of America. The tribe of Judah will return to the city of Jerusalem and the area surrounding it. The ten lost tribes will receive from the tribe of Ephraim their promised blessings (see D&C 133:26–35).

When the Church was first established, the Saints were instructed to gather in Ohio, then Missouri, and then the Salt Lake Valley. Today, however, modern prophets have taught that Church members are to build up the kingdom of God in their own lands.[2]

Orson Pratt emphasized the strength stemming from a fundamental principle of the restored gospel: unity.
If all our ancient fathers who died in faith, holding the power of the Priesthood and the blessings of the celestial kingdom, are to be engaged, as the powers of heaven, to bring about and accomplish the purposes of the Lord in the last days, in the establishment of this kingdom, we may be sure that their united faith, together with the faith of the Saints here upon the earth, will bring to pass and accomplish that which could not be brought to pass in any former dispensation; for faith is a powerful principle-it comes by hearing, it increases by union, and it is made stronger by numbers... We are instructed to send for two or three Elders, because it is supposed that two or three will accomplish more than one can by officiating singly. Again, we are told that where two or three are assembled to worship the Lord in the right and proper way, they have claim to greater blessings than the man that bows down to worship by himself; and why is this? It is because, if united and pure in heart, their faith is greater. What mighty faith and greatness of power will be in exercise when all the ancient fathers, Enoch and all the inhabitants of his City, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph who was sold into Egypt, Moses, and all the ancient and modern men of God upon both the eastern and western hemispheres, are met together with one aim and with one object in view, to bring about and accomplish the great purposes of the latter days? Something will have to move when so great an amount of faith is united before God. No wonder, then, that the Lord has said that He has put forth His hand to exert the powers of heaven to roll forth this kingdom in the latter day! No wonder, then, that the Lord, through His servants, has predicted that the glory of Zion should become greater and greater, until the nations of the earth should fear and tremble because of her. No wonder, then, that there should be power enough centered among the Latter-day Saints to excite the distant nations of the earth, and cause many of them to come from afar to worship in His house upon the tops of the mountains!

Finally, Orson believed the unity of the Saints would span all who had ever lived:
The faith of the ancients was exercised to bring about this event-the ushering in of the latter-day work. They not only exercised faith to accomplish and bring about the purposes that pertained to their own day; they not only exercised faith to preach glad tidings of salvation to the generation in which they lived, but their faith reached down to the latter-day, as the day of rest. Through a long period of darkness of many generations which were to intervene between their day and the latter time, they saw that day of redemption when they should reign most gloriously on mount Zion with immortal bodies. They felt interested, then, in the sceneries that were to come to pass in the latter days; they felt interested in the glories that were to open upon the world, when their children should be made partakers of all that their fathers desired to accomplish and bring to pass in their own day, that which they sought for and found not, because of wickedness. If we had to depend upon our own faith alone, to bring about this latter-day work, it would be rather discouraging. The powers of darkness are so strong that our weak human natures might be overcome were it not for other powers that have great influence to aid and assist us. There are evil influences that are ever ready to throw iniquity in our path, and unless we were assisted by beings more powerful than we are, we should most certainly fail to accomplish the work assigned to us. Consider all these things, Latter-day Saints, and be filled with joy and give thanks to that Being who has thus gathered and established you here in these peaceful Valleys.
Footnotes: [1] President Joseph Fielding Smith discussed the spiritual gathering:
There are many nations represented in the … Church. … They have come because the Spirit of the Lord rested upon them; … receiving the spirit of gathering, they have left everything for the sake of the gospel.
(Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:256.) [2] Chapter 42: "The Gathering of the House of Israel," Gospel Principles, 271. According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the physical gathering petered out around the turn of the century when most land in the west was spoken for:
By the 1890s the Church, with its base in America secured and most good land in the West occupied, discouraged immigration and asked overseas converts to build up stakes in their homelands rather than gather to Zion.
See William G. Hartley and Gene A. Sessions, "Church History c. 1878-1898, Late Utah Period," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, History of the Church. In 1977 Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
“Every stake on earth is the gathering place for the lost sheep of Israel who live in its area. The gathering place for Peruvians is in the stakes of Zion in Peru, or in the places which soon will become stakes. The gathering place for Chileans is in Chile; for Bolivians it is in Bolivia; for Koreans it is in Korea; and so it goes through all the length and breadth of the earth. Scattered Israel in every nation is called to gather to the fold of Christ, to the stakes of Zion, as such are established in their nations”
(Bruce R. McConkie, “Come: Let Israel Build Zion,” Ensign, May 1977, p. 118).

The physical gathering of Israel will not be complete until the second coming of the Savior (see Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:37; Chapter 42: "The Gathering of the House of Israel," Gospel Principles, 271). For more on the gathering, see: Reflections on Gathering and the Prophet Joseph Instructions to Newcomers Omnipotence? of God

December 12, 2007

Priorities and Rejoicing in All Circumstances

Orson Pratt February 10, 1856 During a brief stay in the valley before returning to the mission field in England Orson Pratt explained his apparent willingness to preach the gospel above practically everything else:

I esteem the privilege of proclaiming salvation above any privilege that may be named. The subject of salvation is one of far greater importance than any other subject which can or does interest the human family; although, apparently, we might suppose that the accumulation of the comforts of this life was the one that most interests mankind, judging from the actions of men.
By valuing life as a part of the process in eternity, our perspective can help us avoid the distraction of merely "accumulating comforts," as well as temper our feelings in times of trouble. With the famine of 1856, Pratt encouraged the Saints to remember they really weren't so bad of, and in the long run, these inconveniences shouldn't cause them to lose sight of the greater purpose of life:
If our hearts were supremely placed upon this subject we should converse most about those things that pertain to salvation, instead of being all the time fearful that we were going to perish so far as this mortal life is concerned. Instead of being afraid that we were going to suffer a little inconvenience, we ought to consider the life of the body in the light that our Saviour speaks of it in one of the new revelations, "Care not for the body, nor for the life of the body; but care for the soul and for the life of the soul," or in other words, care most for the future salvation and everlasting life that are in store for mankind. Suppose we should be brought to such extremities that we should all perish with starvation, what of that? If we have done our work may we not as well perish in that way as in any other? Is there any great difference in the kind of death that we die? Does it matter much whether we perish for want of food, or whether we are martyred, or whether the great change which we must all undergo comes in a more common way? In my opinion, it does not make much difference which way that change comes, but we ought to be in such frame of mind that we can rejoice in all circumstances. If we all knew that we must perish under our present scarcity of food, what of that? Ought we not to rejoice in the privilege of exchanging this present life for one which we hope to be more happy, for one where we shall receive greater blessings, greater privileges, where we shall have more solid enjoyment, and where our intellectual faculties will be far more expanded? Instead of exercising so great an anxiety as to where we shall get a little flour, a little corn meal, a few potatoes, or a little beef with which to nourish these bodies, our inquiries should be: are our hearts right before the Lord our God, are we keeping His commandments, are we living up to our privileges? Do we esteem all the words of the Lord as we ought, or are we a little careless and indifferent?[1]
Orson was worried the every-day circumstances were leading to spiritual apathy. He noticed while traveling to various conferences in Utah the Saints hadn't constructed proper meeting places, many didn't attend meetings, many were breaking the Sabbath.[2] While exercise, dancing, and other wholesome activities were strongly urged on the Saints, Orson emphasized moderation in all things. This shouldn't be viewed as a condemnation of good activities, but as an admonition not to give higher priorities to lesser pursuits:
I will mention another practice that in my opinion is often carried to excess, though of no harm in itself; it is a pleasant exercise, but may be so indulged in as to bring condemnation. I have reference to dancing and dancing schools; I do think that these things, and occasionally our parties, are carried to excess. I will include myself in these matters, and consider that my remarks also apply to myself. Some may ask why I deem these matters carried to excess; because often the minds of the young are not only thus unduly placed upon the follies and vanities of this life, but these things have a tendency to draw their minds away from the things of a hundred times more importance. What particular advantage would it be to this generation, if you should spend twenty years in learning all the technicalities of gracefulness? It might be of some use, but of very little in comparison to a well informed and instructed mind. I do think that our minds are too much taken up by these things, but I would not have you to understand by my remarks that we should entirely deprive ourselves of these pleasures.
In LDS theology, there are spiritual benefits to such innocuous things as dancing and playing games, to be sure. There were practical and spiritual reasons Brigham Young instructed the Saints by revelation to "praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving" (see D&C 136:28). However, these things require a balance, and Orson found part of that balance coming from, among other things, books:
Suppose that you and I were deprived of all books,[!] and that we had no faith to get revelation, and no disposition to understand that which has been sought out, understood, and recorded in books, what would be our condition? Suppose that we had not sufficient faith and application to acquire information concerning mathematics, astronomy, geography, mechanism and their kindred branches, or a knowledge of the elements and materials of our globe with their various combinations for useful purposes and their application to machinery, and also of the laws by which machinery acts, and the laws governing motions; then suppose that the present knowledge was all shut out, it would, under these conditions and independent of the aid of the Almighty, require an indefinite period in which to make any great progress in the knowledge that is even now extant. I am speaking upon the principle naturally, upon that which is revealed without the Holy Ghost to inspire us. Now suppose that we have books to enlighten us upon useful knowledge, how much more easy it is for us to get knowledge that has been systematized so that we can obtain in a few minutes, that which would otherwise take us years to acquire. This is the benefit to be derived from the use of books; hence when we say that books are useful we have reference to books that contain useful sciences and knowledge; those facts that are demonstrated by experiment, and not to books filled with the wild theories of speculative men, for those books are laden with humbug in lieu of knowledge. Who does not know that fifteen minutes' study would acquaint persons with discovered and recorded laws which might otherwise take a series of years to become familiar with? By reasoning and trying to generalize our ideas we may gain much useful information, but shall we therefore consider books of no use? Is there no wisdom in availing ourselves of the labors of those who have developed truths? It is still knowledge, notwithstanding it has been discovered by others. Truth is truth, and take it wherever you may find it, or from whatever source it comes, it was truth from all eternity, and it will be truth to all eternity. There is a great fund of useful information laid down in books.
Indeed, we almost have too much opportunity to learn these days that we may become lost in the deluge of information. Elder Dallin H. Oaks discussed the need to temper our efforts so as to not become lost in this vast age of information:
We have thousands of times more available information than Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. Yet which of us would think ourselves a thousand times more educated or more serviceable to our fellowmen than they? The sublime quality of what these two men gave to us—including the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address—was not attributable to their great resources of information, for their libraries were comparatively small by our standards. Theirs was the wise and inspired use of a limited amount of information. Available information wisely used is far more valuable than multiplied information allowed to lie fallow... Overarching all of this [new information] is the importance of what the Spirit whispered to us last night or this morning about our own specific needs. Each of us should be careful that the current flood of information does not occupy our time so completely that we cannot focus on and hear and heed the still, small voice that is available to guide each of us with our own challenges today.
Elder Oaks goes on to advise how to selectively use information wisely (See "Focus and Priorities," General Conference, April 2001).
Latter-day Saints believe in seeking after everything that is virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy.[3] This indicates seeking something more than the average television fare, indeed.[4] Culture involves searching for virtue in art, music, science, among other things. When asked if he believes the arts are an important aspect of life, President Boyd K. Packer said
"Well, just erase them, and what do you have?...It would be intolerable, insufferable."[5]
Gerrit de Jong called culture the ability to see life "whole":
To be familiar with the best that has been thought and the best that has been done in the world- that is culture.[6]
Orson would agree; he believed that is what constitutes culture:
What constitutes civilization? The acquirement and correct application of useful knowledge (JD 3:291-298).
Being culturally aware requires effort, however. Typically more than we are willing to expend when instead we can plop down on the couch and watch some TV. Being well-rounded, however, is a principle of the gospel, it allows us to avoid becoming contracted, keeps us seeking, and will enhance our ability to "rejoice in all circumstances." Footnotes: [1] Contrast this view with the temporal practicalities as preached by Brigham Young and George A. Smith. Hence, another paradox of the gospel is apparent. [2] Orson specifically mentions Ogden, among other places: I have from my observations last fall and this winter, and from observations previously made, been firmly convinced that we have all been a little unfaithful as a people. This is my opinion according to the light and knowledge I have upon the subject, and it has been more fully impressed upon my mind since last Conference than during any other period of our sojourn here, for I have traveled in most of the settlements to hold Conferences; in connection with my brethren of the home missions, and from the little observation I have made, I am convinced that we have not all fully lived up to our privileges as Saints of the Most High God. For instance, at a place north of this city, and containing almost inhabitants enough to fill this house, a Conference was lately appointed. Several went from here, according to the missions given us, and when we got there, instead of finding a place suitable for the people to assemble in, we found a very small log building which, perhaps, by crowding, might contain a hundred persons; and it was also quite dilapidated, having scarcely a whole pane of glass in any of its windows. We stopped near this log building and waited until half an hour after the time, as we did not see many passing to the meeting, and then we went in and found about twenty persons sitting in the cold room, which had scarcely one window but what was more or less destitute of glass. After a while we opened our meeting, and those few individuals sat shivering while we addressed them. The remaining portion of the citizens were busily engaged with the care of their cattle, and in other occupations, and with them the Conference was only a secondary consideration. The few who attended our first meeting went and persuaded a few of their neighbors to come and after holding a few meetings we succeeded in getting this very small house pretty well filled; whereas, if the people had come out as they ought, the place would not have held a quarter of them. Ogden City is the place I have alluded to. We found that instead of the people's assembling at the proper time they came about an hour after, and instead of keeping sacred the Lord's day they worked at almost every kind of labor. I have also observed in other places that the Lord's day is scarcely regarded at all. Perhaps the people would attend meetings at times, but often after it is over, "hurrah for the horses, mules, and carriages," and directly six or eight young men and women are in each carriage riding out for pleasure. This does look as though they did not rightly value the Lord's day, it looks as though they did not care whether they went strolling over fields and prairies, or how they spent their time. I mention those things in order to show the recklessness and carelessness manifested by some of the young people who are growing up in these valleys of the mountains. [3] Articles of Faith 1:13 [4] The difference between what I call "lowest common denominator" entertainment and wholesome entertainment is discussed wonderfully in an article by Travis T. Anderson, in which he makes a strong case for seeking the virtuous. See "Seeking After The Good," BYU Studies, 46 no.2 (2007) pg. 231-246. [5] ibid. pg. 242. [6] ibid. page 244.

December 10, 2007

Avoiding Annoyances

George A. Smith
April 6, 1856

Terryl Givens' People of Paradox examines LDS culture in terms of the seeming incongruities inherent in the gospel as restored through Joseph Smith. One particular paradox involves Joseph's collapsing together of the temporal and spiritual; what Givens calls the "blending and blurring of sacred and secular categories." He cites Brigham Young as explaining the paradox in these words:

When I saw Joseph Smith, he took heaven, figuratively speaking, and brought it down to earth; and he took the earth and brought it up, and opened up, in plainness and simplicity, the things of God; and that is the beauty of his mission.1
Givens concludes Americans were "not ready to disregard the boundaries that kept heaven and earth apart."2 Combining the heavens and earth flew in the face of the conventional dualism of Joseph's day; that heaven and God are "wholly other," the earth and mankind eternally different in fundamental ways.

Part of the combining of the sacred with the profane within the gospel framework lies in practicalities: avoiding distractions. By keeping our house in order we allow for more reflective time. We are less apt to be drawn from thoughts of higher things by knowing the dishes haven't been done yet. Additionally, mingling the sacred and profane combines with the paradox of Church authority and individual agency. Even more-so in the early days of the Church leaders were apt to offer counsel regarding temporal matters.

George A. Smith lighted upon the subject after Heber C. Kimball asked that he offer some temporal counsel to the conference.

First, George A. felt the difficult tasks that plagued life of early settlers served as a sort of filter; a mechanism to separate the wheat from the chaff. Their very location in the territory of Utah became a part of the gospel plan:

The condition of our Territory, the nature of our soil, the peculiarities of our climate, appear as if designed expressly by the Almighty for the fulfillment of this prophesy, and the upbuilding of the kingdom of heaven in the last days. It matters not what corner of the earth men come from, unless they possess the spirit of the leaven of truth, they will remain but a short time in these mountains before they begin to consider it the wrong place, for the leaven is working, they cannot quite endure the climate and the peculiarities of the country, or something of the kind, and off they go. On account of our altitude we are most advantageously situated for the drainage of the filth, scum, and corruption, when it accumulates to a certain extent, for it flows off in different directions, thus leaving the people of the kingdom remaining as it were alone.
As time passed, Utah became less exclusionary, as industry, railroads, and expansion changed the face of the West. Still, every-day tasks seem to form a part of the gospel plan to Latter-day Saints. Temporal arrangements are necessary; the gospel is not an all-encompassing transcendent event that leaves the reality of life behind; it combines the two. This was described by editor James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald in 1842, who said the Mormons

are busy all the time establishing factories to make saints and crockery ware, also prophets and white paint.3
Again, one reason Elder Smith mentioned these matters was for the practicality of avoiding annoyance:

There are many here, as religious as this congregation looks, who have not got a good fence around their farms, yet they will kneel down in the mornings, perhaps, to offer a prayer. By the time they have got one knee fairly to the floor, peradventure somebody thunders away at the door and cries out, "Neighbor, there are twenty head of cattle in your wheat; they have been there all night, and are there now."

The man of no fence is roused up, and instead of praying he is apt to think, "Damn it," and to start off get the cattle out and put them into the stray pen. Perhaps another neighbor has not been quite as wide awake in the morning, and had prepared no place in which to secure his cattle: he is about ready to say his prayers when his ears are saluted with, "Neighbor, all your cattle are in the stray pen, and $100 damage is to pay."

Thus you must see that some temporal arrangements are necessary, to enable men to enjoy that quiet which would be desirable in attempting to worship our Heavenly Father.
These temporal realities can be a proving ground; George A. related the story of the milk strippings which he said led to the apostasy of Thomas B. Marsh. George Albert emphasizes only one part of the story, the seemingly silly milk incident, and employs it homiletically to teach a principle. While he oversimplifies the reasons for Marsh's apostasy, he admonished the Saints to "avoid annoyances":

You may think that these small matters amount to but little, but sometimes it happens that out of a small matter grows something exceedingly great. For instance, while the Saints were living in Far West, there were two sisters wishing to make cheese, and, neither of them possessing the requisite number of cows, they agreed to exchange milk. The wife of Thomas B. Marsh, who was then President of the Twelve Apostles, and sister Harris concluded they would exchange milk, in order to make a little larger cheese then they otherwise could. To be sure to have justice done, it was agreed that they should not save the strippings, but that the milk and strippings should all go together. Small matters to talk about here, to be sure, two women's exchanging milk to make cheese. Mrs. Harris, it appeared, was faithful to the agreement and carried to Mrs. Marsh the milk and strippings, but Mrs. Marsh, wishing to make some extra good cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow and sent Mrs. Harris the milk without the strippings. Finally it leaked out that Mrs. Marsh had saved strippings, and it became a matter to be settled by the Teachers. They began to examine the matter, and it was proved that Mrs. Marsh had saved the strippings, and consequently had wronged Mrs. Harris out of that amount.

An appeal was taken from the Teacher to the Bishop, and a regular Church trial was had. President Marsh did not consider that the Bishop had done him and his lady justice, for they decided that the strippings were wrongfully saved, and that the woman had violated her covenant.

Marsh immediately took an appeal to the High Council, who investigated the question with much patience, and I assure you they were a grave body. Marsh being extremely anxious to maintain the character of his wife, as he was the President of the Twelve Apostles, and a great man in Israel, made a desperate defense, but the High Council finally confirmed the Bishop's decision.
Marsh, not being satisfied, took an appeal to the First Presidency of the Church, and Joseph and his Counselors had to sit upon the case, and they approved the decision of the High Council.

This little affair, you will observe, kicked up a considerable breeze, and Thomas B. Marsh then declared that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it.
Then the President of the Twelve Apostles, the man who should have been the first to do justice and cause reparation to be made for wrong, committed by any member of his family, took that position, and what next? He went before a magistrate and swore that the "Mormons" were hostile towards the State of Missouri. That affidavit brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 Saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering the exposure consequent on this state of affairs.

Do you understand what trouble was consequent to the dispute about a pint of strippings? Do you understand that the want of fences around gardens, fields, and yards, in town and country, allowing cattle to get into mischief and into the stray pen, may end in some serious result? That the corroding influence of such circumstances may be brought to bear upon us, in such a way that we may lose the Spirit of the Almighty and become hostile to the people?

And if we should not bring about as mighty results as the pint of strippings, yet we might bring entire destruction to ourselves. If you wish to enjoy your religion and the Spirit of the Almighty, you must make your calculations to avoid annoyances, as much as possible.

George A. saw that many problems in the Church could be avoided by following his practical advice on fence-making; an odd topic for a religious gathering, to say the least:
Brother Kimball requested me to preach on matters of policy, and I have come to the conclusion that the best policy is to undertake to cultivate a little land, and to fence and cultivate it as it should be, and to only keep as many cattle as we can take care of, and keep from destroying our neighbors crops. In that way I believe we will be able to avoid a good many annoyances, and to adopt a great deal better policy than we now have in those respects. In the City of Provo, there has been more grain destroyed, every year since I first went there than has been saved, and the main cause has been the want of proper fences.
If anything, George A. quipped, you ought to have a good fence so as not to insult the cows, who might be offended enough to challenge you to a duel after seeing your weak and feeble fence.4 George A. felt that by being frugal and industrious, one could avoid annoyances, and also help Zion itself grow into the ideal community they were seeking:

In this way Zion can be made to blossom as a rose, and the beauty of Zion will begin to shine forth like the morning, and if the brethren have not learned by experience that this is the course to pursue, by that time they will learn it. I presume a great many have become satisfied that it would be better to avoid many of these annoyances.
The bretheren preached a self-sustaining principle, where the Church could produce their own goods independent of any outsiders; they would rely on no one but themselves and the mercy of God:

Good domestic policy requires us to be careful in providing such comforts and necessaries as we can produce within ourselves. If we let our sheep perish our clothing will be scanty, or we shall be forced into the stores to support distant producers. If we let our cattle die we shall not only lack beef, but our home made leather will be missing. In short, the difficulties and wrongs which may grow out of such carelessness are numerous. It should by all means be our policy to produce every article, which we can, within ourselves.
Again, blending the sacred and profane, George A. asserted these principles were a part of his faith, and would lead to temporal and spiritual prosperity:

These sentiments are strictly within the scope of my religion, and those comforts and conveniences, which we are constantly in need from day to day, are necessary to enable us to perform the duties God requires at our hands. One of those duties is, to take a course that will enable us to enjoy the blessings and comforts of life, that we may preserve our health and strength to labor for the upbuilding and spread of the kingdom of God.
These temporal matters have instilled Mormon culture with emphasis on personal responsibility, work ethic, and the reinforcement of the saying "cleanliness is next to Godliness" as referring to physical, as well as spiritual hygiene. While sometimes it is a metter of practicality, Saints continue to find the gospel in everyday living. Givens concluded the thought:

Those inhabiting the theological universe [Joseph Smith] created find themselves in a place where the sacred, the human, and the divine find new meanings and require new orientations.5
George A. concluded:
I have offered these remarks, on the subject of policy, in rather a rambling manner, something like the parson, who was told that he did not speak to his text, "Very well," says he, "scattering shots hit the most birds." May the Lord bless us all, and prepare us to enter His kingdom. Amen (JD 3:280-291).


Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13:3352

Terryl Givens, "The Paradoxes of Mormon Culture," BYU Studies 46, no. 2 (2007): 191-192. In his interview on Helen Whitney's documentary The Mormons, Givens explained:
One finds in the revelations of Joseph Smith an immense range of subject matter. One can go to the Book of Abraham, where he describes in vision pre-mortal councils where God himself participated, and we were present as unembodied spirits. One can go to section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was called just The Vision, in which he describes the glories of the celestial world and the inheritance of those who go to the celestial or the terrestrial kingdoms. Those are examples of revelations that are about as exalted and transcendent as one could ask for. Then one can also find a number of revelations in which he tells people that they should open a print shop on this property, or they should sell this property here, or that they are called to New York to do this. His revelations range from the sublime to the mundane. And yet I think that there's no contradiction there.
Interview located at (last accessed 12-14-2007).

James Gordon Bennett, New York Herald, August 4, 1842 (as cited in Givens, ibid).

George A. jested:
There has been a constant complaint about selling the land for fencing, quarreling here and there about cattle doing mischief, and they have become thoroughly converted to the doctrine I recommended. Experience had to teach them the lesson, though it was not so much experience with me, for my father taught me that a man could not raise a crop with any certainty unless he first fenced his land, and it was considered one of the most ridiculous things a man could be guilty of, in a new country, to plant a crop and let the cattle destroy it for want of a fence. Some settlements have made tolerably good fences, but as a general thing the poles are stretched too long for their size, the points sag down, and should a cow or an ox happen to pass by such an apology for a fence, and understand that it was designed to keep out animals, they would be insulted, and, were it not against the law to fight a duel, you might expect such a cow or ox to give you a challenge for such gross insult (JD 3:285).
Terryl Givens, "The Paradoxes of Mormon Culture," BYU Studies 46:2 (2007): 192. A subsequent sermon by Brigham Young demonstrates the blending, especially in the early territorial Church when a Zion society was an immediate goal:
Our preaching to you from Sabbath to Sabbath, sending the Gospel to the nations, gathering the people, opening farms, making needed improvements, and building cities, all pertain to salvation.
The Gospel is designed to gather a people that will be of one heart and of one mind. Let every individual in this city feel the same interest for the public good as he does for his own, and you will at once see this community still more prosperous, and still more rapidly increasing in wealth, influence, and power. But where each one seeks to benefit himself or herself alone, and does not cherish a feeling for the prosperity and benefit of the whole, that people will be disorderly, unhappy, and poverty-stricken, and distress, animosity, and strife will reign (JD 3:228).