As activities go, I usually find reading the letters to the editor found in the Daily Universe both entertaining and educational. As an example, in the most recent batch [they’re on page 4], you will find two letters written in response to an earlier letter that expressed some form of disagreement with the church’s public stance on SSM. In both letters, the obedience of the author of the original letter was questioned, primarily on the basis that one cannot disagree with the leadership of the church and be considered a member of good standing in the church. Now that is just silly and we all know it.
As an example, the first letter mentions a quote from N. Eldon Tanner, purporting to quote him saying “When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over.” Curious at this poor mistaken child’s attribution of the quote to President Tanner, I looked at Marc Bohn’s recent post regarding such thinking. “Ah-ha,” I said, “I can safely believe that this kid heard this dubiously attributed to Pres. Tanner in a seminary class somewhere.” I began to engage in back-patting, happy in my superiority of knowledge and devotion. However, the specificity of the quote toyed at the back of my mind and I looked it up again. The second time, using a more accurate version of the quote, I found it, attributed to President Tanner, on an anti-Mormon site. But those guys distort all the time and quote out of context, so I looked up the original article.
“The Debate is Over” was a First Presidency message written in the August 1979 and, as it turns out, that first letter writer got the quote and the context right. While President Tanner does encourage us to confirm choices with the Holy Ghost, he does say (twice) that when the Prophet speaks, the debate is over. Heck, it’s in the title!
Originally, this post was going to regard the glibness with which those letter writers dismiss and condemn another letter writer. Instead, it is now about me and my tendency to do the same.
We all love to be right. We love the feel of it, the power and confidence it conveys. We like to believe that we have done the thinking and we have the answers and that those who disagree are simply mistaken or misinformed. If others simply understood the world or the Gospel as we do, they would be better off.
As another example, we have the Zoramites in the book of Alma. This people believed that they were God’s own chosen people. As a result, they gathered each week to celebrate their chosenness. They were certain that they were right and, amongst other things, this led them to disregard those who disagreed or who failed to meet their standards. The Zoramites appear to have come to Alma’s attention after trodding Korihor to death. They disdained their poor, driving them from the synagogues the poor helped build. The Zoramites’ intense focus on their chosen state appears to have compelled them to subject themselves to a series of purity tests and to purge their ranks as a result. Only the best need apply.
I believe that this kind of action can only occur amongst people who are absolutely convinced of their correctness. Even those rejected by the Zoramites were convinced by the effectiveness of their arguments; they approach Alma asking that he provide them a place to prayer for salvation, something they apparently believed was only possible on the Rameumpton. The Zoramites’ conviction of their own belief leads to yet another purge and then their betrayal of Nephite society.
As a product of an academic, critical background, I am deeply suspicious of certainty, particularly my own. At least some of the world’s great atrocities have been committed by people certain of their cause, their fight, the justice of their acts, and their God. On a smaller scale, I knew those letters were flawed just as certainly as their authors knew the original letter was flawed. We all three together condemned an other, because we each were completely right. As a result, we were all wrong.
If there is a lesson to be learned from all this, I suggest that it is that the certainty that breeds condemnation is not for the likes of you and me. We’ve too many beams and too little judgment. If you would prefer a positive message, I’d suggest you’d find it in the form of those poor Zoramites listening to Alma and Amulek on the hill Onidah. It was because they had given up defending their position and condemning others that they were able to listen to Alma. Having been cut off from God as they understood him, they turned to Alma, fallen prophet of an abandoned religion, in the hopes of re-establishing communion. And, even though they had been idolatrous and apostate, God brought them back into his fold.
Ground rules for any discussion to follow:
1. No SSM
2. No discussion of brainwashing or institutional groupthink