What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: valooran
In the past couple of weeks I’ve been pondering the general reaction to the Kirby Heyborne Miller Lite commercial. It’s been interesting to witness the entire gamut of responses, ranging from stinging rebukes to absolute indifference. One of the responses that most caught my attention, however, was authored by Orson Scott Card.
A syndicated columnist, his article was featured in the Deseret News “Mormon Times” section. The title, “Heyborne in the age of purity” paints a picture of the basis of Card’s arguments. Essentially, Card uses the excuse mastered by young children the world over: “Well if Johnny can do it, why can’t I?” This appeal for equality in opportunity has long been a tool used by kids to get their parents to lower their chosen standards or amend their rules. After all, Johnny’s mom is a great woman, and if she lets her child do X, then X really can’t be all that bad, right?
Card’s satirical suggestions offer a number of examples in which Saints might likewise be participating in things they shouldn’t, all in the pursuit of financial gain. Some examples include the Marriotts selling alcoholic beverages in their hotels, public servants in states in which the lottery is legal, or advertising agents using seductive models to market their products.
Reading the article, it seems that Card is arguing for the bare minimum, and nothing more. Since we don’t publicly excoriate the Marriotts, Steve Young, and all the other nameless hordes who participate in questionable activities for a living, Card implies that we therefore should have no moral right to comment on Kirby’s decision.
Whatever happened to aspiring to be a moral, virtuous, and Zion people? Are we lobsters in a bucket—trying to pull down any who aspire for higher ground—or are we Saints trying to become increasingly righteous? Do we try to defend and justify our actions based upon those that others have made, or upon the ones the Lord has counseled us to make?
Though Card does not use the word, I believe that his article’s main message is that the reader should not cast judgment, in this case upon Kirby. Others have made similarly questionable choices in their career, argues Card, and so who are we to judge what Kirby has done?
In a wonderful discourse on the nature of judgment, Elder Oaks taught that we are actually directed to make certain judgments based on principle:
In contrast to forbidding mortals to make final judgments, the scriptures require mortals to make what I will call “intermediate judgments.” These judgments are essential to the exercise of personal moral agency. . . .
The Savior also commanded individuals to be judges, both of circumstances and of other people. . . .
We must, of course, make judgments every day in the exercise of our moral agency, but we must be careful that our judgments of people are intermediate and not final. Thus, our Savior’s teachings contain many commandments we cannot keep without making intermediate judgments of people: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine" (Matt. 7:6); "Beware of false prophets. … Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:15-16); and "Go ye out from among the wicked" (D&C 38:42).
We all make judgments in choosing our friends, in choosing how we will spend our time and our money, and, of course, in choosing an eternal companion. Some of these intermediate judgments are surely among those the Savior referenced when He taught that “the weightier matters of the law” include judgment (Matt. 23:23).
The scriptures not only command or contemplate that we will make intermediate judgments but also give us some guidance—some governing principles—on how to do so. (Dallin H. Oaks, “Judge Not” and Judging)
Disagreeing readers might in defense suggest Jesus’ teaching of “he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” But in making an intermediate (temporary) judgment on an issue, in no way are we condemning the individual or suggesting (nor executing) a punishment. Opining on the morality of the action itself does not indicate one’s thoughts regarding the person involved, nor should it. We should restrain our conversation and observation to principles and issues, not individuals and their personal lives.
Thus, I feel it is entirely appropriate to comment on the action Kirby made. I believe that a people (ideally) progressing towards Zion should analyze actions, their involved principles, and their consequences, in order to better understand the best and most appropriate way to continually increase in righteousness. Such scrutiny does not necessarily engender a “holier than thou” attitude (though many may be guilty), nor does it imply that the person judging is free from sin himself.
Living the bare minimum of the gospel—and excusing one’s actions on account of others’—is, to me, the sign of an individual content to mix Babylon with Zion. As a peculiar people with the charge to be a light unto the world, the last thing we need to do is find (and attempt to justify) ways to let the slow stain of the world make their mark.
Elder Ballard commented on the importance of seeking righteousness when he said:
We cannot ignore keeping the commandments of God. We cannot excuse ourselves or rationalize or justify even the smallest things in our lives that we need to master. We must work to overcome them. We can become the masters of our own destinies by practicing self-discipline and by setting worthy goals that will lead to higher ground so that we can become what our Heavenly Father wants us to become. (M. Russell Ballard, The Message: Go For It!)
Brother Card may feel that as long as there are imperfect people doing improper things, that we are likewise to be accepted and excused. As for me and my house, we will let (correct) principles guide our actions, and not seek to use our neighbor’s choices as a reason to feel good about lowering our own standards.