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.
"As a people," President Ezra Taft Benson once said, "we love sweetness and light—especially sweetness." In these few words, the human condition is pathetically summarized.
Sure, people watch the so-called “news” and are bombarded with one bad story after another—information that is bitter and dark. And they tolerate it so long as it doesn’t affect their lives, so long as their status quo is left undisturbed. And a complicit media conglomerate is all too willing to exclude information that would suggest that their viewers were just as guilty as the crooks they saw on TV.
What President Benson was referring to was not the crimes and accidents that happen daily, but the conscious and consistent actions of individuals who should know better. He was referring to people not wanting to be called out for behaving in a way that they shouldn’t, ever anxious to obtain carnal security by believing that all is well—that no significant changes are needed in one’s life.
The apostle Paul encountered this same trend in his day. Counseling young Timothy, Paul observed that people would reject the truth, and “after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” In other words, the people only wanted to hear what they liked hearing, and therefore rejected those who said anything uncomfortable. “They shall turn away their ears from the truth,” wrote Paul, “and shall be turned unto fables.”
Our day is no different; as the following comic suggests, and as a casual observation likewise demonstrates, most people prefer not to hear hard truths.
Samuel the Lamanite was even more direct in assessing the same situation in his side of the world. Rebuking the prideful, wealth-driven Nephites, he noted the exact same condition:
Behold ye are worse than [the Lamanites]; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.
It is human nature to grow comfortable to one’s preferred environment, and resist forces that would undermine that cultivated condition. We naturally resist those who say or do things that disrupt the status quo, even prior to researching and determining whether they may in fact be right.
Despite its being turned into a political slogan, people don’t like change. As one of countless examples, consider the recent political turmoil regarding cuts in Medicare. Both sides of the false left/right political spectrum are up in arms over $700 billion in cuts over 10 years, when that merely reflects roughly a 10% reduction in spending in a single federal welfare program (out of dozens)—hardly a steep cut that would create any significant change in the social welfare system. Even the smallest of threats to one’s situation is rejected outright.
George Washington once said, “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light.” Pains indeed—advocating truth can at times be like trying to encourage abstinence in a brothel, or well-rounded nutrition to drug addicts. The medicine is tough to swallow, and so people would rather avoid it altogether. Those who recognize the need for and potential benefit of that medicine are viewed by many not as a helpful friend, but an insensitive enemy.
The rejection of medicine does not mean that the medicine is ineffective. It simply suggests that the would-be patient is weak in mind and spirit.
As President Benson said, “The message I bring is not a happy one, but it is the truth, and time is always on the side of truth.” Abinadi brought such a message to King Noah’s court, and was executed for his supposed heresies. As he burned in the flames, one can only imagine what was going through his mind. Surely he considered himself a failure, not having persuaded anybody to change their ways and repent. He went to his death having obeyed God’s instructions to preach repentance, but in his mind, not having been successful in actually getting anybody to repent.
But, of course, he was wrong. Alma was listening, and would soon afterwards repent. He encouraged others to do likewise behind King Noah’s back, built up a following, founded a church, and built up an entire society of Christians—all because of Abinadi’s efforts. Abinadi was more successful than he could have imagined.
This story goes to show that while the masses overwhelmingly embrace only those who fill their ears with sweetness and light, there is always somebody who is receptive to the hard truth and willing to make needed changes. Our mission to preach repentance, spread the gospel, advocate the truth, and point out the threats to our liberty, must therefore not be deterred by its unpopularity. Though sweetness is seductive, the truth is essential.
Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act. ¡Viva la revolución!