If you are young, uncynical, and idealistic, then in all likelihood your greatest concern is that much of this world is becoming a place of misery, discord, and destruction. To prove your point, you only need mention Vietnam, Czechoslovakia, the ghettos of our cities, our asylums, our prisons, and so on. There is nothing more evident to the morally sensitive person than that the selfishness, pride, lust, and greed of some persons have heaped upon the mass of men an inestimable burden of sorrow and suffering.
If you are young, uncynical, and idealistic, you are impatient with the listless response of many of your elders to these facts. You are troubled by the preoccupation of society with technological achievements, the cold efficiency of its institutions, elements of status and privilege, so that its members are insensitive to the needs and sorrows of other people. They don’t seem to share your desperate longing for a far better world than this one, a world in which every person can find peace, love, justice, enjoyment, and freedom.
If you are young, uncynical, idealistic—if you haven’t made your compromise with the shabby history of man—then perhaps you have thought of “dropping out” of society because to you the previous generation has done little to make this world morally better.
You may have been enticed by radical programs that promise to replace the present social order by one that will bring about your dreams. And you, like many, many others today, may have seen yourself making a choice between these two alternatives: On the one hand, a complacent, selfish, unloving, traditional, uptight, exclusivistic, and materialistic “establishment”; and on the other hand, a spontaneous, free, loving, honest, nonmaterialistic, and sometimes anarchistic New Left.
But, if you have been especially sensitive and honest, you have been bewildered at having been confronted with such an insane choice, for you have seen that those who pursue wholeheartedly the second, radical alternative—those in the vanguard of the social upheaval of our time—seem invariably to become just as selfish, exclusivistic, power-hungry, and complacent in the face of other people’s needs as the establishment they condemn.
You may have felt yourself in this intolerable dilemma: You can neither join the “establishment” nor simply “drop out.” Your conscience won’t let you cast your lot with the society you have inherited, in which the norm is to judge others by their socioeconomic standing, the color of their skin, the style of their clothes, and to help the hungry and uneducated and oppressed only when it is very convenient. Nor will your conscience let you ally yourself with rebellious contemporaries who, in spite of their love-slogans, seem to be guilty of the same vices: who denounce those who think differently; who often resort to bullying and violence to get their way; who in the name of love hate their brothers and sisters.
I maintain that there is a way out of this dilemma; you don’t have to make this choice. There is another alternative that is different from both joining the “establishment” and “dropping out.” It is the Savior’s alternative. If you are young, uncynical, and idealistic, it is the one way of living in which you can realize every worthy hope you have.
To exhibit this third alternative, I want to tell you of two young men, both raised in the Church, who “dropped out” of society in quest of a better mode of living for themselves and for those they love. One, cognizant of only the first two alternatives I mentioned, made a tragic choice. The other, happily, discovered the little-known alternative I have spoken of.
The first, Brent, grew up attending church and hearing daily sermonettes in his home on gospel subjects. In spite of this, he was deeply unhappy. He felt that he was fenced in by commandments and restrictions, supposedly imposed by God to dictate what he should not do, what he was forbidden to enjoy, and even what he must not think. Only a motivation to succeed, to have status in others’ eyes, kept him going in the Church. But “doing the right thing for the wrong reasons” brought him no happiness. He didn’t feel free.
He therefore began to seek happiness outside the Church. He discovered the “new morality” and became convinced that any suppression of or restriction upon his physical urges was wrong, that every commandment was a curse on life, that subscribing to religious and moral prescriptions was a way of hating one’s own body and the desires that affect it.
Tragically, supposing that all Church members obeyed the commandments for the same reasons he once did—out of selfishness or fear—he called them hypocritical and unloving. He told me that abandoning himself in total response to every physical desire was bringing him the first happiness he had ever known. Yet, even as he told me this, it was clear that his first exciting taste of what appeared to him to be freedom would turn bitter on his tongue. And I have learned since that, though it provided a momentary titillation of his senses, it is bringing him no peace. On the contrary, though he has tried to escape the guilt of disobeying the commandments by pretending that they are foolishness, that guilt is returning now to haunt him as never before.
What happened to Brent? Why did he leave the Church in order to find love, honesty, freedom, and happiness, the very blessings that others find in the Church? I think the answer is this: Even though Brent heard constant sermonizing in church and at home, he apparently never experienced much of the Spirit of God or tasted the joys of the gospel. Though bludgeoned all his life with words, he hadn’t felt the love and warmth that are fruits of the gospel. The words were merely meant to describe it. The words without the experiences were meaningless. Hence, when finally he encountered a way of life that promised to remove the restrictions that had condemned him and that he hoped would sweep away his guilt, his life in the Church seemed like a dingy black-and-white movie—the lamp of the projector being nearly burnt out—when compared with the technicolor of this alluring new way of life. The only version of the gospel he could compare to the luridly colorful worldliness that enticed him was pale and meaningless. Given these alternatives, how else could he have chosen?
Brent had never really tasted of the gospel; he had only heard descriptions of it. A man can learn all there is to know about water, that it is composed of molecules made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen bonded together by a certain kind of chemical bond, and so on; but no matter how much he knows about it, unless he drinks of it he will die. So with Brent: he has never tasted the waters of life. And now he is headed on a collision course toward certain disaster, tragically, not knowing that he is.
Now let me contrast Brent with Jeff, who also had turned away from the established values of society, seeking in the hippie mode of living an identity and code of conduct. Like others whose hair grows long and who sometimes leave their shoes at home, his belief that “establishment” personalities care more about appearances than about people seemed to him confirmed wherever he turned, for he was often met with scorn and rejection. He wondered in his heart how he could ever cast his lot with a society whose members seemed to care little about what he cared for, namely, the love of individual for individual.
I tried to show Jeff point by point that every good hope that he nourished for mankind could be realized only in the Savior. One day Jeff came to me utterly crushed. He had, because of his hair length, been treated with scorn and derision by a man in a position of authority. Crying softly, Jeff said, “How can I cut my hair now? I have been thinking about doing so, but if I cut it now, it will be like groveling at his feet. It would be like saying ‘I have no backbone or integrity. I am willing to do anything just because I am threatened.’ How can I cut my hair? That man has made it impossible for me to do it now.”
I offered Jeff no advice. I simply read him the following passage from First Corinthians in which Paul counsels that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating meat offered to idols, except as it would offend a brother’s conscience. He says:
“… take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours becomes a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
“For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
“And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
“Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (1 Cor. 8:9–13.)
Jeff brooded about these passages. They said to him: “Even though there may be no intrinsic reason why shorter hair is preferable, there is nevertheless a good reason for cutting your hair. You should cut it so you won’t be a stumblingblock for others. You should cut it so you won’t be the reason for this brother to be angry. You should cut it so others who see you won’t think you join with the general hippie culture in repudiating the morality of Jesus Christ and be encouraged, by what they think is your example, to repudiate it themselves. You should cut it for the same reason that you don’t dress in gaudy and patently materialistic clothing—because by your appearance you don’t want to encourage others in a way of life that is contrary to their consciences.”
To cut his hair under threat was one of the hardest things Jeff could have been asked to do, because in the eyes of his peers he would be seen as yielding to the threat of a member of the “establishment.” Nevertheless, the next time I saw him, his hair was cut. This was a magnificent Christian act, done wholly for others. It won’t surprise you to learn that Jeff is now on a mission, delightedly introducing to others what he has discovered.
What is the difference between Jeff and Brent? It is this: For Jeff, the gospel suddenly became a technicolor production. He had tasted its spirit. His love for the Savior had been stirred. He perceived the magnificent possibilities involved in treating other people in the way the Savior would treat them. For Jeff, the marvelous alternative of the gospel made Satan’s way of life pale by comparison. He had found another alternative besides the two choices that Brent had known. He didn’t have to choose, as did Brent, between the exciting rebelliousness of sin and the restrictions of a black-and-white, letter-of-the-law version of religion.
Suddenly for Jeff there were immediate opportunities for realization of his dreams. Suddenly the commandments of the Lord were no longer restrictive to him, for his desires, based primarily on selfish satisfactions that had put him in opposition to the Lord’s commandments, seemed to have been purged out of his soul. His will was no longer in conflict with the Lord’s; because of the power of God that had come into his heart and had purified him from selfish desires, the way was cleared for love and selflessness to become the dominant motivations of his actions. In this way he experienced for the first time the only real freedom that men can know: freedom from one’s inner enemies, one’s evil and selfish desires.
Jeff was now preoccupied not with a conflict with commandments that hedged his actions about, but with blessing people, in the course of doing which he automatically kept the commandments. In the words of the scripture, he had been dead to the spirit and alive to the law; but now he was “dead to the law” and to sin and alive to the Spirit and to the Savior. (See 2 Ne. 25:23–27.)
With this spirit, Jeff became a new person, and the fellow who used to sleep in his bed and wear his clothes—the fellow full of resentment and guilt and discontent—had somehow disappeared.
Leo Tolstoi wrote:
“Jesus Christ teaches men that there is something in them which lifts them above this world with its hurries, its pleasures, and fears. He who understands Christ’s teachings feels like a bird that did not know it had wings and now suddenly realizes that it can fly, can be free, and no longer needs to fear.”
What Jeff had discovered can be detailed in part as follows:
When men commit sin, they cause damage in the lives of others. That is one reason why sin is evil. And when men are hurt, they invariably turn and hurt others, and this hurt is passed on to still others. Thus, when a person commits a sin, he initiates a chain of suffering and sorrow in the lives of others that grows like a pedigree chart, in geometric expansion. In a few generations of social interaction, our having hurt another person may have filled the whole community with vengeance and sorrow.
Thus, when I commit a sin I say, in effect, yes to the condition the world is in. Despite any morality I may profess, if I commit a sin I join hands with all who have helped to make this world a theater of sorrows. With all my energy at that moment, I say in my act that I would rather have the world be a place in which people have to sorrow than a place in which I go without my momentary gratification. In that act, I become a party to Satan’s program for making all men miserable.
On the other hand, when I face a moral choice for action and do not yield to Satan’s enticements but rather to the Savior’s, I effectively say no to a world in which other people must suffer, even if it causes me inconvenience and self-denial.
Consider why the Savior is able to forgive those who sin. He can forgive me because he has suffered the pain, grief, and remorse that I will suffer in this life and because he suffers all of the pain and grief and sorrow that I inflict upon other people. He empathetically bore their sorrows in the garden, including those sorrows which I cause. He has a right to forgive me on condition of my repentance, for he has been the recipient of what I, in sinning, inflict.
It follows from this that in committing a sin I not only say yes to a future filled with other people’s suffering, I also say yes to the Savior’s suffering. I say, “I care about myself more than you. I esteem your suffering as nothing and hold my gratification to be all that is important to me.”
Now if you are young, uncynical, idealistic, you have yearned for this selfish way of living to come to an end, for the doctrine of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” to pass out of fashion, for what is called the “law of retribution” and the “law of the jungle” to cease to govern society.
How can this way of living be brought to an end? I believe it will end as priesthood holders and their families determine never to yield to Satan’s blandishments; as we determine always to suffer rather than cause harm, absorbing within ourselves any hurt done us instead of passing it on and, thereby, obliterating a potential, exponentially growing, causal chain of sorrow in the lives of other men.
In the millennium Satan will be bound, as the scripture states, by “the righteousness of the people.” (1 Ne. 22:26.) When he tries to entice them to hurt one another, they will not yield. When he seeks to use their bodies and their lips as instruments for spreading sorrow among men, they will ignore him. And thus will he be rendered impotent. Oh, he may go off in some corner of the universe and throw a tantrum, but he cannot cause havoc in men’s lives, because his primary instruments for doing so are our physical bodies.
One day I hope to meet the Savior and he may well ask me why I was the agent of sorrow for my brethren and for him. What shall I say? “I was caused to do it. I got off to a bad start. My brothers beat up on my sisters and my sisters beat up on me and we didn’t even have a dog. I had acne when I was a kid and couldn’t get a date. My parents were so poor that they couldn’t send me to college, so I had to work at a menial job. I could never get myself called to a leadership position in the Church. Other people inflicted trouble upon me. I only passed on the sorrows.”
What will the Savior say to me? I think he will say, “Each of us had cause to do harm to others and I more than anyone, for I suffered more than anyone. But I expected more of you, my son. I expected you to return good for evil. I expected you to lay your life upon the altar, not of Satan’s program for the destiny of men, but of mine.”
Listen to the Savior:
“And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
“And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake;
“For ye shall have great joy and be exceeding glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.
“And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;
“But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;
“And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy;
“But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
“That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven. …” (3 Ne. 12:9–12, 38, 39, 43–45.)
If you are young, uncynical, idealistic, then the warning that “what the world needs now is love, sweet love” means something to you, because to you the Savior’s teachings truthfully suggest that no force, no vengeance, no psychological or social pressure exerted on other people can result in good. Good can only be wrought in the lives of others by the power inherent in the act of returning love for hate and kindness for hurt.
When we have the power to abuse another, or to retaliate or to take from him, and yet refrain from doing any of these things, we make the greatest impact possible upon his conscience. We stir in him a desire, if one can be stirred, to return kindness for kindness.
The Savior’s gospel is not merely a code of restrictions. If that is all one can see of it, he hasn’t seen it in technicolor. The gospel is a positive enterprise, an active quest of liberating and blessing and healing others and thereby irrevocably altering what would otherwise be a tragic future; for when we engage in this enterprise, we give others courage to be better—a courage that could not be awakened in any other way.
If you want to alter the world’s course for good—for the realization of your dreams—the most powerful force at your disposal is love.
If you, like Jeff, have tried to become an agent who, by his free act, makes this world a better place, you will have discovered this: As a person pours out his heart in prayer for help in blessing other people and then tries with all his power to bless them, he finds that joy begins to flower in his soul. He becomes emboldened to plead for relief from his own backlog of guilt and evasion. And if he is faithful in this undertaking, he will, in the Lord’s time and way, be wholly cleansed and made new. The truth of this we all know. We know that yielding to the appeal of conscience, acting out of love for other people, making the world a better place, and tasting of a new, spiritual, and delicious quality of life are all intimately connected with one another.1
Consider this matter of becoming dead to the law and alive in the Lord. You may have at one time or other perceived the Lord’s emphasis on sexual morality and the emphasis by others on the length of skirts and hair as fencing in your freedom. Perhaps because of this you may have felt an urge to repudiate the Lord’s system and, with Brent, pursue a will o’ the wisp freedom, which can only end in the collapse of your dreams. As you examined the issues, you might have found yourself unable to discover any ultimate, soul-satisfying reasons for denying yourself and abiding by the rules that pertain to these three matters. But if you think deeply enough about the third alternative, the Savior’s alternative, you will see that it alone provides ultimate, soul-satisfying reasons for keeping these rules.
As you act upon them you will find yourself acting not because the rules are dictating what you should or should not do, but because of love for other people. You will be honoring the rules, but not because the rules are being imposed. And when you make this discovery and become motivated by love, you will learn what freedom is, for freedom is not the absence of such external restraints as rules and laws; it is the presence of such internal factors as selfless desires.
Fellows, consider what it means to a girl when you treat her immorally. You are treating her like an object instead of a person, for what you desire is not to bless her but to gratify yourself at her expense. You exploit her longing to have your attentions by asking her to degrade herself, to yield what in her integrity she wants to keep, to become an object for you. You ask her to live with guilt for the rest of her life, or to pass through an excruciating crucible of repentance, simply to provide yourself a momentary titillation. If there were no other reasons for denying yourself here (though there are), wouldn’t it be reason enough that otherwise you will, perhaps permanently, scar her soul? Isn’t the true act of love in this case one of self-denial? It requires sacrifice, but that’s just the point. You must choose whether to be a party to Satan’s program or the Lord’s, and you cannot do both.
You girls who see no ultimate, soul-satisfying reason for wearing modest clothing, consider this. You live among brothers whom you once knew and loved in a heavenly society, brothers who embarked with you upon the great adventure of life on this earth. Many of these men, youthful or mature, are trying to be pure in their hearts. Isn’t it reason enough to dress modestly so you won’t burden them with disturbing desires that may, like time bombs, go off later in critical temptation situations and destroy their souls? If you don’t think this can happen, you are exceedingly naive. Isn’t it a true act of love to help relieve your brothers of these burdens by dressing modestly, even though it means you may have to pass up a chance to prove your independence and fashionableness? It requires sacrifice on your part; but again, that is just the point.
Indeed, this is an excellent opportunity for you who determine to act out of love rather than out of selfishness.
You who like to wear far-out hippie fashions, consider this. Those young people in Brent’s position who are in the process of choosing among alternative courses of life don’t know that you know Christ and have tasted of the third alternative. Instead, they see only an outward exhibition of your allegiance to a different alternative. You represent yourself in their minds as committed differently from the way you really are. Don’t you subtly encourage and embolden others to partake not only of your dress, but of the way of life that Brent fell prey to? And by emboldening them in this way, aren’t you being an offense to the conscience of weak brothers for whom, as the scripture says, Christ died? Once again, to cut your hair and dress less spectacularly may require sacrifice, but that is often what is necessary in order to make life better for others.
If ever a people had a good chance at living in a heavenly fellowship on the earth, we Latter-day Saints have that chance. To do so, we must dedicate our energies to perfecting the future in some way for every person we meet. Put it into your consciousness, write it on your bedstead, post it by your desk: your act can change the world, irrevocably. When you show unexpected kindness, express unsuspected love, or proffer forgiveness, it can continue through generations of similar acts into a future that increasingly realizes your dreams.
If you are young, uncynical, idealistic, you will see this point and it will thrill you.