Faith Crises, Table-Pounding and Mechanical Rabbits

Faith Crises, Table-Pounding and Mechanical Rabbits February 9, 2016


[This is another addition to our ongoing General Conference Odyssey — which project you can also check out via our facebook page. To learn a little about the reasons which motivated this project, you can visit this  article at Meridian Magazine.]

Among “Mormon apologist” friends we were recently discussing how best to avert or to respond to the famous “faith crises” that now seem to surround us — more than ever, or so we are told. (Our day surpasses the dark past in every category, and faith crises are just one example of our exceptionalism. Nobody can doubt like these kids today! How could a generation of savvy I-Phone and Facebook users be satisfied with old “testimony-building” formulae of an earlier day – you know repent, obey, pray, and all that!?) Many reasonable suggestions were proffered concerning Church curriculum and other sources of information or disinformation regarding Church history and scriptural interpretation, etc. But then one killjoy, citing a national study of youth losing their religion, observed that the oft-cited issues of academic scholarship do not seem to be the root of the problem.

The habits of hand and heart–weekly Church attendance, daily prayer, regular scripture study, and obeying the law of chastity–together provide the best bulwark against apostasy…. According to the data, the big intellectual issues that lead people out of the church are (a) moral individualism, the notion that we, not God, get to decide what is right or wrong, (b) moral relativism, the notion that there is no absolute right or wrong, (c) that making or pronouncing judgments is evil and intolerant, (d) confusion about what the sources of our moral stances and reasoning are, and (e) casualness in our commitments to the gospel and our covenants…

I could not help but be reminded of arguments I have made here and here.

Our Church leaders in October 1971 have much to offer of relevance to our “faith crises” – though not always much that will be welcome or easy to take. As I have noted in an earlier post, much of what is most directly relevant to us appears as dated and quaint, because the cultural upheaval our prophets were addressing 40+ years ago has now become routine, established, “politically correct.”

Thus, Elder Stapley of the Twelve:

… All standards that were so sacred in the past are crumbling under the pressure of the ungodliness of agnostic, atheistic, subversive, and radical groups. Evil designing people get financial gain from trafficking in drugs, alcohol, prostitution, pornography, and dishonest schemes regardless of the destruction to the moral, ethical, and spiritual values of life.

No individual or people can be in rebellion against God’s commandments and be in harmony with him. Today there is open rebellion in many areas of the world against the established order of decency and obedience to the laws of God and man.

It seems ridiculous today to refer to such subversion and radicalism, because the subversion is now the establishment and the radicals are long-tenured (or retiring) professors.

The now-established radicalism (see this masterful account by James Ceaser of the University of Virginia) has produced concrete effects in our social order. These were already matters of prophetic concern in 1971. Consider these warnings from President A. Theodore Tuttle of the First Quorum of the Seventy (“The Things That Matter Most”)

The world is full of foolish schemes. They contravene and hinder the purposes of the Lord. Some seek to change the God-given roles of the sexes. Some invite mothers to leave the home to work. Others entice fathers to find recreation away from their families. These questionable practices weaken the home!

Some fathers provide a good house, clothing, cars, and food, and forget what real fatherhood is. Fatherhood is a relationship of love and understanding. It is strength and manliness and honor. It is power and action. It is counsel and instruction. Fatherhood is to be one with your own. It is authority and example.

Elder Packer has counseled: “Most fathers concentrate on material security for their children. Security stored up for this lifetime with the world’s situation as it is, could, and probably will, vanish. To really secure one’s children, give them the memory of a happy home life. This is a pattern, a blueprint for them to follow, an image for them to create, an ideal for them to realize.”

Mothers sometimes turn to the business world for their own selfish purposes—sometimes due to necessity. Again the home is weakened. Face the fact that true fatherhood and true motherhood are fast disappearing. The failure of fathers and mothers to assume their rightful responsibilities actually creates the disturbed conditions we face. As Latter-day Saints, we must resist the thrust of the world against our homes. Repentance is in order for many of us. We must put our values in proper perspective. Put time and attention and means on the things that matter most. Few, in their more sober moments of reflection, do not know where true values rest. It takes a reminder, however, to keep them properly in focus.

…For instance, in a society that tolerates divorce as the inevitable result of 50 percent of its marriages, there is great difficulty transmitting the principle of family solidarity. Children from broken homes seldom carry the idea that the family is an adequate problem-solving organization. Children whose entertainment comes largely from television find their needs for involvement in life frequently frustrated. Where a doctor who stops at the scene of an accident may be sued for administering aid, it is difficult to transmit to children the idea of service and responsibility.

In a home where the accumulation of worldly goods has become so important that the father works inordinately at providing financial security at the expense of spending time with his children and sharing his counsel and encouragement; and in a home, likewise, where the mother forsakes her children in order to get more “things,” it is a poor place to teach the worth of a human being in terms of love and sacrifice.

Elder Tuttle likens us to dogs chasing mechanical rabbits – all the lures of the world that drive our frenetic activity, to the point that we would not know a real rabbit, a real source of satisfaction and happiness, if we saw one.

Is this not what really underlies the “crisis,” that is, the weakness, of our faith: technology and the market-place offer us ever more hi-tech mechanical rabbits to distract us, to motivate our high-speed chase for success and approval, while at the same time, our political and intellectual and media elites bombard us with the dogma that there is no such thing as a real rabbit, a real moral truth — and so no need for repentance?

Sterling W. Sill of the First Quorum of the Seventy (“Thou Shalt Not”) reminds us that the answer to any personal crisis must begin with obedience to commandments. He recalls the story of the chief engineer of a certain company whose services had been dispensed with. He asked the president why he had been dismissed. The president said, “You let us make a mistake which cost us a lot of money.” The engineer replied, “But certainly you must remember that I specifically advised you not to do that.” The president replied, “Yes, I remember that you advised us not to do it, but you didn’t pound the table when you advised us.”

The basic commandments he likens to a kind of table-pounding counsel that leaves us without excuse. But already in Elder Sill’s day, as in our own, there were many who thought such table-pounding a little off-putting and preferred a softer, less offensive approach to moral instruction:

The kind of emphasis that is given to an idea is sometimes about as important as the idea itself. Recently a minister on the radio said that he never talked about the Ten Commandments in his church anymore because they were too far out of date. He also said that their language was too harsh for the weak sensibilities of our day. This minister felt that instead of using such strong terms as command and Thou shalt not, the Lord should have employed some softer words such as I recommend or I suggest or I advise. But soft words frequently produce soft attitudes with weak meanings and built-in violations.

This modified code says: Thou shalt not kill unless someone gets in your way, or thou shalt not commit adultery unless you like your partner, or thou shall have no other Gods before me unless you get a better idea. And some have gone so far as to repudiate their own God-given sense of responsibility.

…One young woman was recently asked by a reporter for Look magazine if she thought it was wrong to break the Ten Commandments. She said, “Who am I to say what is right or wrong?”

And one of the things that we should very frequently do is to go in the strength of the Spirit and again stand before Mount Sinai while we take stock of those things that God himself has placed out of bounds. And the emphasis of a little table pounding will help us to more securely make up our minds to eliminate those things that must not be done under any circumstances.

Do we not do our brothers and sisters a disservice when, in responding to their “faith crises,” and fearing to offend relativist sensibilities of “non-judgmentalism,” we accept at face value the assumption that their crisis is the Church’s fault and fail to “pound the table” a bit concerning basic truths and basic commandments? “Certainly,” Elder Sill writes, “we place a serious handicap upon ourselves when we neglect to definitely make up our minds about those important questions of morality, honesty, integrity, industry, and religion.”

Of course, the efficacy of “pounding on the table” – of emphasizing basic and sometimes hard truths about repentance, commandments, etc. – depends on some pre-existing respect for the views of those who are “pounding” (parents, Church leaders, etc.).   If this modicum of respect is missing among our youth, then we have no right to be surprised if the path to a firm and steady faith is at best a long and winding one. Few have ever found faith in God who did not have the advantage of beginning with faith in some worthy authorities closer to them. A generation distracted by ever more refined mechanical rabbits and lorded over by masters of moral deconstruction is bound to face many crises until it is ready for a “faith crisis” concerning those very rabbits and the masters.

I conclude with the bracing and very relevant exhortations of Elder Cullimore of the First Quorum of the Seventy (“Confession and Forsaking: Elements of Genuine Repentance”) and Elder Stapley of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (“Our Responsibility: To Save the World”):

Through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ our sins can be washed clear. In the words of Amulek: “… he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.”

Unfortunately, we have not fully kept Satan out of our—or more appropriately, the Lord’s—church. We have not all, by righteous living, protected ourselves against the powers of Satan and his hosts. I sincerely testify that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the last bulwark for everything that is decent, spiritual, worthwhile, and good in life. It is up to all of us members by our example and good works to prove this statement to be true.

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