Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pessimism Is More Damaging Than "Secular Humanism"

I like the Sunday School teacher in our current ward. He is always extremely well-prepared and encourages class discussion. He tries hard to cover the material, but not so hard that he overlooks spontaneous teaching moments.

He is, however, occassionally more political that is to my taste. I love the Book of Alma, but I think too many people read it as a treatise on theocracy, capitalism and war. It is true that these elements are there, but the spiritual richness in it should not be thrown out in exchange for Sunday School lessons that are thinly veiled as platforms for the Republican party.

The last few weeks have been fairly frustrating for me.

When we studied the Nephites living in the Lamanite lands under King Zeniff our teacher said, "Fifty percent doesn't sound too bad. At least for their 50% they are left alone. For my 50% the government wants to tell me how to run my life." (insert Appreciative Chuckle here, which was loud enough to drown out the clenching of my teeth) Two minutes later he goes on to tell the real story without retracting the comment--for their 50% they received NO services, but actually supported another nation (they were never PART of the Lamanites) as well themselves. In addition, the Lamanites set guards over them to make sure they didn't escape. They were riduculed and their workload was constantly increased. I don't know about you, but this sounds a lot more like Eastern Germany in the late 20th century than modern America.

Then last week we began the lesson talking about Alma the Younger's conversion from his perspective, both immediately following the event and then years later as related to his son. These scriptures are beautiful, telling us that any person with a sincere desire to repent can be forgiven, his sins washed clean by the blood of the Savior, and returned to the fold. I think that Alma and the sons of Mosiah lived their lives the way they did because they wanted to show God in every action that they were grateful for their incredible second chance. People CAN change. People DO change. We cannot reject this premise without rejecting the core of the gospel.

The problem is that we do it al the time. I'll explain what I mean.

Immediately following the discussion on these poetic, redemptive chapters, we began talking about four forms of government--theocracy, monarchy, republic, and democratic. The general consensus was that theocracy was ideal. At which point I raised my hand and pointed out that the only theocracies in the world today were in the Middle East. Just as Mosiah determined that a democratic republic was the best possible system for imperfect people, our own government follows this model. I added that as frustrated as we are when non-religious people complain and even sue over outward displays of religion in public places, it is actually the separation of church and state that allows our own religion to flourish. Indeed, there would be no LDS church if it was not a for a nation founded by men with no interest in organized religion.

While there was agreement about the theocracy part, there were several hands defending the general goodness of the founding fathers and their receipt of inspiration. (Which I had never denied.) The resounding agreement then in the class is that there are simply NO good men (nobody said women) running for public office anymore. "It is nearly impossible to vote for a candidate who is honest," declared our teacher who made a less than oblique reference to Bill Clinton. He reduced the state of our country to an us (I'm assuming members of the church and conservative Christians) and them situation.

I felt aghast. Yes, our country has problems. Big problems. But don't the leaders of our church teach that at the time of greatest evil, the greatest good will also be on the earth? Never before in the history of the world have women been given the opportunity and equal-ish status that men have always enjoyed. For all of our faults, people of all colors and cultures generally try to live together. There is more opportunity now for higher education than ever before. We generally have the easiest lifestyle ever conceived in all of human history. In most places, kids are safe, educated, fed, nurtured, loved--spoiled even. Child abuse and drug use are still decried by the population at large. Could an evil-to-the-core society (as we are to often told we live in) have created so much good?

I don't think so.

I am not a moral relativist. (Relatively speaking.) I think there are things that are right, and things that are wrong. But I don't think it is fair for us to judge the "rest" of the world by our own standard. I agree that people are born with the Light of Christ, but it is NOT the same as the Holy Ghost. And even it cannot compensate for a lack of teaching and instruction in things that are right and good.

The founding fathers were smart men. They were moral men, in the sense that they believed in equality and fair play as they understood it. But if these men were suddenly dropped into our neighborhoods, they would probably seem like a rather "unrighteous" lot--cross dressers, adulterous, steeped in worldly philosophy, cantakerous, elitist, smokers, drinkers, slave owners. . . .

To declare a politician to be "good" or "bad" is perhaps not as helpful as asking if he or she will be good for the country. Will that person listen to a variety of opinions and advisors before choosing a course? Will that person recognize the human rights and dignity of ALL people, not just citizens of our country? Will that person be careful before committing to an ideal, but then put their full efforts into a committment once made? Will that person consider both the lessons of history and the ramifications for the future before deciding on a present course of action?

Our two current presidential candidates have each done something very appealing, in my mind. John McCain told a group who isn't necessarily likely to vote for him that he knew his life was different than theirs, but if he was elected in the end, he wanted to be a president for ALL the people. Not just red states. Not just Republicans. Not just those who agreed with him at ever turn. And when Obama talks about hope, I think he is trying to say what I'm trying to say here. There IS good in people. People do want the same general things, and when they are listened to and helped to the right path, there can be real consensus. His message of hope and change is not that America is evil, its that America is the greatest country in the world and we need to start seeing that good in each other too. Either of these men could usher in a new, better era of American politics. Let's pray for these men. These good men. Even if they don't always remember to pray for themselves.

People CAN change. People DO change. Let's stop thinking in terms of "us" and "them" and think instead in terms of being children of God. After all, we all chose to come here. That single act gives us more in common than any of us can truly realize.


Janssen said...

Oh how I love it when someone in church assumes every person in the room has the same political viewpoints and talks accordingly (and then the laughs and nods convince them they are correct in assuming so and so they keep doing it forever).

Great post.

FoxyJ said...

Nice. The other day I was driving behind a car that had a "glad I live in a blue state" bumper sticker, and it made me feel sad. I wish people weren't so divise about politics, especially at church. Our ward is actually really good at keeping stuff like that out of the discussion and I'm going to miss it.

Z. Marie said...

Oh, so very true all around.

Suburban Hippie said...

I agree and I agree.

Doreen said...

You know, I just realized just how conservative this place is last Sunday at church. It was, well, interesting. Same kind of discussion. Except I was so shocked by what I was hearing that I didn't know what to say. And so said nothing at all. I mean, really. It was awful...

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I think many saints are so scared of being "of the world" that they avoid being "in the world," just to be safe. Consequently, they don't befriend many people with different views, and it's tempting for them to lump all such people into a "wicked scourge of the last days" category. It's easy to fear and stereotype someone you don't know.

While I admit I often struggle with that mentality myself, one of the great blessings of my life has been a friendship with someone whose views differ widely from mine. Though we embrace very different principles, we each do so out of a wholehearted desire to do what's right, to the best of our understanding. My conversations with her have convinced me that there are some good principles and good people in both parties.

And hey, if the Democratic Party was good enough for James E. Faust, it's good enough for anyone.

EmAndTrev said...

Mmhmm!! Excellent post. We had the same lesson and there were a few moments where I caught myself smirking a bit. Sigh--long story short, I agree with you. Did I hear you're going to be here in July for book group?