April 6th, 2008

In Opposition to Evil


photo credit: Victor Ngo

In the First Presidency message for the September 2004 Ensign, President Hinckley wrote of the evil that exists in our world:

The flood of pornographic filth, the inordinate emphasis on sex and violence are not peculiar to North America. The situation is as bad in Europe and in many other areas. The whole dismal picture indicates a weakening rot seeping into the very fiber of society.

Legal restraints against deviant moral behavior are eroding under legislative enactments and court opinions. This is done in the name of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of choice in so-called personal matters. But the bitter fruit of these so-called freedoms has been enslavement to debauching habits and behavior that leads only to destruction. (Gordon B. Hinckley, via Quoty)

Moral agency is given to each of God’s children. While personal actions can result in its loss, as can the intervention of immoral government, the choice is nevertheless ours how we will act in response to what we are confronted with. Evil surrounds us on every side, and the tolerance and permissiveness of society encourages and promotes it.

While the role of the prophet is to speak out against sin and illuminate the evil that exists, he is not to be left alone in this duty. Towards the end of his article, President Hinckley emphasizes the role that we also must play:

The tide of evil flows. Today it has become a veritable flood. Most of us, living somewhat sheltered lives, have little idea of the vast dimensions of it. Billions of dollars are involved for those who pour out pornography, for those who peddle lasciviousness, for those who deal in perversion, in sex and violence. God give us the strength, the wisdom, the faith, the courage as citizens to stand in opposition to these and to let our voices be heard in defense of those virtues which, when practiced in the past, made men and nations strong, and which, when neglected, brought them to decay.

God lives. He is our strength and our helper. As we strive, we shall discover that legions of good men and women will join with us. Let us begin now. (Gordon B. Hinckley, via Quoty)

How chilling it is to think that we have “little idea” what evil exists in the world, and to what extent Satan has a stranglehold upon God’s children. Secret combinations are alive and well in our day, dealing in “perversion, in sex and violence.”

But this fact does not mean that we should remain idle, pessimistic, and unsure. Instead, a prophet here urges us to stand in opposition and let our voices be heard in defense of virtue. The promise extended indicates that we shall discover others who will rally around the same cause, help shoulder the burden, and add their voices to our own.

What are we doing to oppose evil? Are we being buffeted around by its changing currents, or are we remaining steadfast and immovable? Are we practicing tolerance, indifference, or political correctness? Or are we boldly defending virtue, promoting good values, and living as an example of a follower of Christ?

It is not enough to exert a minimal effort to get by in life, attempting to endure to the end with little to no concern about the world around us. As Joseph Smith said, a person filled with the love of God is eager to bless all of God’s children. As a people blessed with gospel truth and a divine moral standard, we must spread the light and truth we’ve been given.

In a world filled with evil, the voice of virtue and morality is needed now, perhaps more than ever. We have a prophetic mandate to rise and speak out; will you let your voice be heard?

17 Responses to “In Opposition to Evil”

  1. Clumpy
    April 8, 2008 at 4:52 pm #

    True comments.

    I have a question, though: do you have issue at the statements made by President Hinckley implying that there should be “legal restraints against deviant moral behavior”? I’m a libertarian at heart and have never been sure how to incorporate this statement.

  2. Connor
    April 8, 2008 at 5:01 pm #

    I have a question, though: do you have issue at the statements made by President Hinckley implying that there should be “legal restraints against deviant moral behavior”?

    I think a couple things should be considered with that quote.

    First, he didn’t specify at what level of government the issue was occurring. If morality is to be a legal issue, it is one reserved for the states or municipal governments. So, while legal restraints against deviant moral behavior are not the best way to go about promoting morality, if they are legislated by men, it is best done at a local level.

    Second, he wasn’t necessarily endorsing legal restraint. He was simply observing the trend of modern society: to degrade into amorality and sin. So, while he opposes these trends, I don’t see him necessarily advocating additional restraint through law.

    I’m reminded of a quote by Madison in the Federalist Papers:

    If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

    Ideally, people would be living moral lives regardless of legislated enforcement, so such enforcement would be entirely unnecessary. The obvious question is, are we morally justified in enforcing morality through law? I don’t think we are (that was Satan’s plan, after all), and I don’t really believe that President Hinckley believed that legislation was necessary to maintaining morality.

  3. Mormon Paleo
    April 9, 2008 at 6:17 am #

    Good comments, all.

    I think positivism plays a significant role here. The idea that pornography is a right, protected by the first amendment and can thus be thrust upon unwilling individuals, is ludicrous. Instead of “I have a right to pornography, (or drugs, for that matter) and thus the government should facilitate my right,” we may say, “The government has no right to compel my child’s school to carry a book in its curriculum a majority of us find offensive and would rather not have.” After all, the first amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law…” Libertarian-minded individuals sometimes flip this around. In my mind, the first amendment refers to the federal legislative authority only.

    Certainly no federal judicial jurisdiction should be used to overturn local or state decisions. The idea that the heavy hand of government can reach into our schools and overrule decisions of local school boards (one line on the battlefront) is, to me, un-American.

    I personally see no problem with school boards banning certain books or movies from their campus if parents are so interested. Or local ordinances being passed to oppose certain sexually-oriented businesses. Perhaps this doesn’t make me a libertarian, which is a posibility.

  4. April 9, 2008 at 7:46 am #

    “The obvious question is, are we morally justified in enforcing morality through law? I don’t think we are (that was Satan’s plan, after all)”

    I think this is a serious misunderstanding of Satan’s plan. The devil does not want to force us to do good. The scriptures clearly teach the opposite: “Whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil. . . ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one” (Book of Mormon, Mor. 7:17). Leaders of the church have also clarified this doctrine. Bruce R. McConkie taught that the devil sought to save all men “without reference to their works . . . He offered a mortal life . . . of evil and crime and murder, following which all men would be saved” (Mormon Doctrine 667).

    Agency is very closely related to accountability. If our actions had no eternal consequences, then our choices would be meaningless, and agency would be destroyed. In order to have agency we need to be accountable to law. The devil was not cast out for wanting to use coercive methods to enforce moral law, but for rebellion against moral law. He wanted to do away with it. In other words, Satan’s plan would have destroyed our agency by making our choices meaningless.

    God uses laws to enforce morality. So obviously its not a bad thing to do. We didn’t fight a war in heaven for freedom from moral law, but for the opportunity to be able to make choices with eternal consequences.

    Now, all that said, I think the real issue is, do WE have the authority to enforce it? At this point I’m tempted to agree with you Connor, we sometimes take upon ourselves more moral authority than we actually have. The problem with enforcing morality is that we often lack authority to do so, not because enforcing morality is bad. It an issue of authority, not “Satan’s plan”. If we were living in a theocracy, where the government was led by a divinely authorized person, I think you would agree that said person could legislate any moral law God wanted him to. Whether that would actually happen, I don’t know, but we must recognize that the concept itself isn’t satanic.

  5. April 9, 2008 at 8:02 am #

    Here is a quote from Dallin Oaks:

    “Interferences with our freedom do not deprive us of our free agency. When Pharaoh put Joseph in prison, he restricted Joseph’s freedom, but he did not take away his free agency. When Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, he interfered with their freedom to engage in a particular activity at a particular time in a particular place, but he did not take away their free agency.

    During my nine years at BYU I read many letters to the editor in the Universe that protested various rules as infringements of free agency. I am glad I don’t see those funny arguments anymore, probably because I no longer have to read the letters to the editor in the Universe. The Lord has told us in modern revelation that he established the Constitution of the United States to assure “that every man may act . . . according to the moral agency which I have given unto him” (D&C 101:78). In other words, God established our Constitution to give us the vital political freedom necessary for us to act upon our personal choices in civil government. This revelation shows the distinction between agency (the power of choice), which is God-given, and freedom, the right to act upon our choices, which is protected by the Constitution and laws of the land.

    Freedom is obviously of great importance, but as these examples illustrate, freedom is always qualified in mortality. Consequently, when we oppose a government-imposed loss of freedom, it would be better if we did not conduct our debate in terms of a loss of our free agency, which is impossible under our doctrine. We ought to focus on the legality or the wisdom of the proposed restriction of our freedom.”

    In other words, if you want to debate against enforcing morality, feel free, but don’t the doctrine of agency or “Satan’s plan” to do so.

  6. Obi wan liberali
    April 9, 2008 at 2:15 pm #

    In what is referred to as “the hierarchy of law”, the U.S. Constitution is the highest law, right above federal statute. If a local government passes an ordinance that infringes upon someone’s first amendment rights as determined by the courts, the law cannot stand. Though the constitution grants much power to local and state governments, the constitution and it’s amendments are the supreme law and regulates what laws can be passed and enforced that would regulate morality.

    Best regards.

  7. Connor
    April 9, 2008 at 9:05 pm #

    Mormon Paleo,

    Certainly no federal judicial jurisdiction should be used to overturn local or state decisions. The idea that the heavy hand of government can reach into our schools and overrule decisions of local school boards (one line on the battlefront) is, to me, un-American.

    While I agree with you in principle (the best government is self-government), our government has strayed far more towards nationalism and centralized control. Take, for example, the First Amendment. While it says “Congress shall make no law”, it has been turned around by the courts to apply to the states as well. Dave Barton explains in his (wonderful) book Original Intent:

    Nearly every First Amendment case appearing before contemporary courts contains a phrase declaring “the First Amendment made applicable to the Sttates by the Fourteenth Amendment . . .”

    By using this phrase, the Court is invoking its decisions from the 1940s which reinterpreted the Fourteenth Amendment. That reinterpretation created a mechanism for the Court whereby, for the first time, it could intervene in virtually all practices of States and local communities, including religion.

    Or, for a more local example, study the issues surrounding the UTA and Bluffdale. The state stuck a big middle finger up to the municipal government.

    The sad fact is, government tends to become more centralized as it ages. Du Bois agreed:

    It is the growing custom to narrow control, concentrate power, disregard and disfranchise the public; and assuming that certain powers by divine right of money-raising or by sheer assumption, have the power to do as they think best without consulting the wisdom of mankind.

    Jeff,

    I think this is a serious misunderstanding of Satan’s plan. The devil does not want to force us to do good.

    Let me try to explain my thoughts further, since I think that we’ll ultimately agree; perhaps I didn’t clarify well enough in the post.

    Inalienable rights are those given to us by God. As such, only God can take them away. It is outside of our moral authority as men to do so ourselves.

    Similarly, morality (like anything good) comes from God. He indeed can “force” us to comply (through an imposition of penalties), since He is the one who created the rules. But it is immoral for His children to force each other to obey. This is why Satan’s plan was so wrong—he was removing agency in the issue of obedience. He, as one of God’s children, was trying to force the rest of them to (allegedly) be good.

    In other words, Satan’s plan would have destroyed our agency by making our choices meaningless.

    This leads us to agreement on this issue, I believe. Satan’s force, while outwardly claiming to force people to be good, would have done no such thing. As Eve learned, we cannot be good unless we know evil. His forceful compliance would have removed agency, which would have created a bunch of mindless automatons.

    Obi wan liberali,

    If a local government passes an ordinance that infringes upon someone’s first amendment rights as determined by the courts, the law cannot stand.

    This is not entirely true. As noted above to Mormon Paleo, the 14th amendment turned the First Amendment around to the states. But local governments have often suppressed freedom of speech, whether it be in banner placement, political advertising, pornography distribution, etc. Heck, several of the states that ratified the Constitution had state religions themselves. Local government still has a lot of wiggle room in First Amendment issues.

  8. April 9, 2008 at 9:31 pm #

    Connor,

    You are right that, as always, we’ll eventually agree on the issue. A couple clarifications are first needed:

    True, the devil takes pleasure in getting some men to exert malicious and coercive authority on others; but I disagree that he does so because it takes peoples agency. Dallin Oaks, Bruce McKonkie, and others have made it clear that isn’t the case… “Interferences with our freedom do not deprive us of our free agency” (Oaks). He does it because he takes pleasure in getting us to disregard God’s laws, one of which is not to inflict harm on others, via coercion or otherwise.

    The only real way to take away agency is to remove moral law, therefore stripping our choices of their eternal consequences. That can never happen to us in mortality.

    So again, I agree with your position, but I side with Dallin Oaks when he says, “when we oppose a government-imposed loss of freedom, it would be better if we did not conduct our debate in terms of a loss of our free agency, which is impossible under our doctrine.”

  9. Curtis
    April 9, 2008 at 10:43 pm #

    Ha! Jeff,
    Good quote from Elder Oaks. I agree completely. Our agency is God-given and cannot be taken away no matter what law is being enforced by a government. It gives me such an empty feeling whenever a member of the Church tells me that a socialistic type of law is Satan’s way of doing things. Viva agency and down with stereotypical mormonism!

  10. Connor
    April 10, 2008 at 5:29 am #

    Jeff/Curtis,

    How do you reconcile Elder Oaks’ quote with the following from Pres. Marion G. Romney?

    Thus in both implementation and ownership and management of property, the United Order preserves to men their God-given agency, while socialism deprives them of it.

    (4) The United Order is non-political.

    Socialism is political, both in theory and practice. It is thus exposed to, and riddled by, the corruption that plagues and finally destroys all political governments that undertake to abridge man’s agency.

    Or this:

    “[If] we yield to force or give unwillingly obedience to law which of necessity must be obeyed then the liberty of free agency is at the zero point.”
    (Prophecies and Promises of the Lord as Recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, Improvement Era, 1919, Vol. Xxiii. December, 1919. No. 2.)

    Or this:

    “…the Latter-day Saint belief in man’s uncreated individuality and in the sanctity of his agency—an agency so sacrosanct that God himself will not infringe upon it—denies the legitimacy of force as a means of attaining the community’s ends. Man’s goal is seen as being the perfection of his individuality in the image of his Heavenly Father, until he is able to enjoy a celestial community. The attainment of such a goal, however, can only be accomplished by loving persuasion, not by force.”(Edwin Brown Firmage, Ensign June 1976)

    Or this:

    “The central issue in that pre-mortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed Him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force. The war that began in heaven over this issue is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments.” (BYU devotional held Tuesday, 16 September 1986, President Ezra Taft Benson)

    Or this:

    “The difficulty with all governments, and one to which our own has fallen heir, is that the majority, by virtue of its right to place limitations on man’s free agency, has undertaken to infringe upon the rights reserved to the individual, for the direct and immediate benefit of law and order. For example: the Constitution expressly prohibits taking of personal property for public purposes without just compensation. Under the guise of taxation, the Constitution is violated and property is taken from one and given to another.”(Elder Henry D. Moyle, Relief Society Magazine, 1957.)

    And finally (though there are more):

    “The history of the world with all its contentions and strife is largely an account of man’s effort to free himself from bondage and usurpation. Man’s free agency is an eternal principle of progress, and any form of government that curtails or inhibits its free exercise is wrong. Satan’s plan in the beginning was one of coercion, and it was rejected
    because he sought to destroy the agency of man which God had given him. When man uses this God-given right to encroach upon the rights of another, he commits a wrong. Liberty becomes license, and the man, a transgressor. It is the function of the state to curtail the violator and to protect the individual.(President David O. McKay, Oct. 1965)

    Now, I don’t desire this to be a war of words, with each side pulling out quotes to defend their position. I merely want to illustrate that this issue is not so clear cut as you might hope it to be.

    Ultimately, I believe that there is harmony between the words of Elder Oaks and his contemporaries; it’s up to us to put our brains together and figure out what that is.

  11. April 10, 2008 at 8:42 am #

    I think the solution lies in Oak’s distinction between “freedom” and “agency”. I’m not sure those two words were always so carefully distinguished. However, I think a careful consideration will show that it is more logical to do so. This is because, as we both recognize, while our freedoms may be curtailed, our agency always remains intact. Viktor Frankl in the death camps realized this; no man can take from him the power of agency.

    Ever since I read Leadership and Self-deception, I think of agency not as the freedom to move around as we please, but as the ability to live truthfully or falsely at any given time. Our agency consists, ultimately, in being able to recognize and respond to the humanity of others and thus have/see the world truthfully, or to resist the humanity of others and have/see the world falsely. The status of our heart would then have eternal consequences for us as individuals.

    Of course Satan has always planned on using coercive governments, because when men do so they abuse their moral authority and damn themselves as far as gospel progression is concerned. When men exert coercive powers on another person, they are resisting the truth of the other’s humanity and are living a lie. So yes, it is Satan’s plan to use men to restrict the freedom of others. And if the terms agency and freedom are not carefully distinguished, then it would make sense to say that Satan wanted to restrict the agency of man using coercive governments.

    It just doesn’t make sense at all to me to interpret the scripture that says that Satan wanted to “destroy man’s agency” to mean he wanted to coerce everybody to do exactly right, particular if you consider agency to be something much deeper and more subtle than merely the freedom to move as we please. This hasn’t been his pattern of behavior for even a single moment in the history of the world. It makes a lot more logical sense that he wanted men to be able to live a carnal life without consequence, thus stripping ourselves of the opportunity to choose anything of lasting value, as this plan would genuinely destroy our agency, while the other would not.

  12. April 10, 2008 at 9:00 am #

    It also makes logical sense to distinguish between freedom and agency because if agency = freedom, then ANY government restraint, however righteous, is an encroachment on the sacred gift of agency. If we were to make that distinction, then we can easily see the reality and possibility of righteous legislation that, while curtailing freedom by a small amount, does not touch agency. (I’m a libertarian at heart, so don’t worry)

    Also, I think this is the most compelling reason: if we believe that government legislation takes away agency, then we have defined agency as the freedom to act without penalty. This is because despite whatever laws there are against a certain behavior, I can still do it, I just have to face harsh consequences for doing so. I am not sure that you want to define agency that way, because then even God’s laws take away agency. Rather, it is the consequences to our actions that give us agency in the first place… if they didn’t have consequences, they would be meaningless. All the quotes you produced could easily be understood as talking about freedom from the malicious coercion of others, which is almost as valuable as agency in the eyes of God.

  13. Clumpy
    April 10, 2008 at 11:21 pm #

    I agree that socialism does not take away our agency, in the sense that we still have full freedom to act regardless of the oppression leveled at us.

    From a secular standpoint, I oppose complete socialism on the grounds that it is the epitome of inefficiency and demolishes most market and labor incentives. Proponents of socialism cannot argue it on an economical level, so they resort to the same “class warfare” / “oppressive ruling class” rhetoric that we’ve been hearing from Marx to Allan Ginsberg to Rage Against the Machine and back again.

    From a religious standpoint, I opposes socialism on the grounds that it attempts to force a “moral” behavior upon a society, removing all benefits and blessings from upright behavior. It is my gut feeling that enforced “morality” (particularly when the moral principles involved are so subjective) can lead to no good. It’s like forcing everybody at gunpoint to be nice and kind to one another and treat everybody equally. Does that solve the problem of wanting to run over your neighbor’s dog with a riding lawn mower?

  14. Curtis
    April 10, 2008 at 11:27 pm #

    I agree that we shouldn’t equate freedom with agency. I had a good Bishop once that explained to me that we have agency because we are agents. An agent represents someone in performing a duty. Who then do we represent? Who are we agents for? You can take this for what it is worth, but he then explained to me that we are agents of our premortal selves. We represent our premortal selves here on the earth and our actions reflect on he for whom we are agents. That is the meaning of our agency in his words. No matter what situation we are placed in, whether we are under a coercive government or live in a liberal society where there is hardly any government or other interference, we retain our ability to act as agents. Freedom is another matter. I like this viewpoint and am interested to see what others here think of it.

  15. April 11, 2008 at 8:21 am #

    While I see a connection, Curtis, between our freedom to respond to truth as agents, and our capacity to act as an agent for someone else, just because the words are the same doesn’t mean their meaning is identical. While the idea sounds good, it is very hard to reconcile that definition of agency with the teachings of the scriptures about the subject. It may work, but you’d have to justify it, so don’t think I’m completely discounting it. If that were a way to think about agency, I’d rather think of us as agents of Christ, not our past selves. To reify some past version of the self as something real that we represent honestly doesn’t seem right to me at all. It muddies a previously clear and distinct doctrine with a vague notion the we are somehow distinct from our past self. Our Master, Him who we represent, is and should be the Savior. In that sense, to the extent that we do right, we represent are are agents of Him, and to the extent that we do wrong, we represent and are agents of the Adversary. We don’t represent ourselves because, in a way strange to the philosophically minded, that divides us in two.

  16. April 11, 2008 at 8:30 am #

    “It’s like forcing everybody at gunpoint to be nice and kind to one another and treat everybody equally.”

    Precisely… its wrong because #1 you are not being nice when you do that, and #2 you are abusing your moral authority, and #3 you are restricting their freedom, which has been condemned by God. So doing so would be satanic. However, their agency is still intact because they can still react how they please. They could respond humanely, with a heart at peace, or respond inhumanely, with a heart at war, and experience the immediate and eternal consequences of that choice.

  17. April 20, 2008 at 3:50 pm #

    Mr. Boyack, would you consider polygamy evil? How about the involvement of 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old girls in polygamous marriages and their consummation?

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