Q&A: Questions and Answers


Answers are for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine

“Is there any similarity between existentialism and the gospel?”

Answer/Sister Mae Blanch

Existentialism, the philosophy that has dominated modern Western thought since World War II, shares at least one important tenet with the gospel, although they differ sharply on their views on the nature of man. There are almost as many versions of existentialism as there are existentialist philosophers, but the one principle that they all start with can be summed up in the statement, existence is prior to essence. That is, the existentialists believe that man has no essence, no inherent eternal nature that defines him, prior to his existence. Thus man has the sole responsibility for determining through thought and action what his essence will be; man, through the exercise of his free will, defines himself. Existentialists claim life has no meaning except that which man gives it, and it is therefore essential that man enjoy complete freedom to create his life so that it is a reflection of the truth as he has discovered it. To find his own truth, then, is an obligation no man can escape, and he must accomplish this with no outside help. Since in existential thought truth is relative, each man must determine his own; he cannot borrow that of someone else or even receive help from someone else in finding his own.

Mormon philosophy differs sharply from the existentialist in its view on the nature of man. Man is an eternal being; his nature already exists when he is born into this world and has existed for eternity. The highest potential for man has been defined by God through his prophets: “… as God is, man may become.” The purpose of his life is to provide him with the opportunity to grow toward this goal. Life has a meaning, a meaning ordained by God.

But like the existentialists, Latter-day Saints also place great emphasis on the necessity of freedom. Man must be free to make the choices that will lead him toward godhood. The Latter-day Saint does not determine his essence through thought and action, but he does determine his ultimate fate by these same means—and the sole responsibility is his. However, help is available to him in making these crucial choices. He has the help of parents, teachers of the gospel, leaders in the Church, the scriptures, and most important of all, the Holy Ghost.

The differences between existential and Mormon views on the nature of man and the purpose of life are irreconcilable, but for both philosophies, freedom is essential, free will a reality, and choice an imperative. But for the Latter-day Saint, a loving Father in heaven offers help and direction.

Associate Professor of English, Brigham Young University

“What effect should my religious commitments have on my vocational behavior?”

Answer/Brother Noel B. Reynolds

In the beginning the Lord told Adam, “By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread. …” (Moses 4:25. See also Gen. 3:19.) The commandment to work is universal, and the Lord expects it of all men. The prophets have continually admonished us to work and to provide for our own. Prophetic teaching has always sympathized with the popular maxim that “no one owes you a living.”

But as one surveys the economic world around him he is quickly impressed with the variety of ways in which an income can be obtained. In the world of commerce one soon discovers a prevailing attitude of “every man for himself” and the idea that “the buyer should beware.” It is almost universally accepted that whatever is allowed by the law of the land is morally acceptable.

But the Latter-day Saint has made a commitment to take the name of Christ upon him and to be known as a son or a daughter of Christ throughout his life. He has accepted the injunction to be in this world but not of the world. This means that in every action he will be guided by the highest of moral standards. Integrity will be his hallmark as he operates in the marketplace, even as in his Church service. As an employee he will give his employer “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” As a businessman he will give his customers a fair value for the price they pay. As a salesman or a promoter he will not sell just anything for the income but will only promote a quality product that is fairly priced. His internal standards will constantly govern his actions and protect him from cheating an unwary soul for economic advantage.

Not only does our commitment to Christ require us to be honest, but it requires us to seek excellence in all that we do. We should seek to attain the highest quality possible in all our work and continually seek ways of improving our performance. We cannot be satisfied with inferior or even mediocre output.

Furthermore, as disciples of Christ we accepted the opportunity and responsibility to love all our Father’s children—to seek to be a blessing to them and to share with them the testimony of Christ in all that we do. If we are prayerful the Spirit will guide us to know how this can be appropriately accomplished in any circumstance. Many times it will only mean that we should consistently exemplify the standards of the church of Jesus Christ. Other times we will be called upon to go beyond example and be messengers, inviting our acquaintances to come to know of the restored gospel.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is given to us to change our very souls—to make new men and women of us. If we have truly embraced that gospel we will no longer be capable of following the ways of the world. Earning a living is not a worldly activity—or at least it should not be for the committed Latter-day Saint. Like any other aspect of our existence it presents opportunities for growth and service and demands our constant attention to the guidance of the Holy Ghost who can lead us to moral perfection.

Chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Brigham Young University

“Under what circumstances do we reprove sharply?”

Answer/Brother Paul G. Grant

To answer this question we must first return to the ultimate basis of life. Our purpose is to find the truth, live the truth, and share the truth with our fellowmen.

To reprove comes within the last of these foundation principles. To reprove is a very common human experience. It occurs as an informative or disciplinary measure to correct the actions of another. No one enjoys being told he is wrong, so it is in this area that the greatest strain exists between people.

Our ability to recognize when we need to reprove another is limited only by our lack of knowledge of the truth. The greatest problem in “warning our brother” is not when but how.

A person does improper acts for one of two reasons. Either he doesn’t know better, or he rebels against that which he knows to be right. It is absolutely essential that the reprover knows into which category the wrongdoer falls.

Everyone has heard “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Under such circumstances it is generally sufficient to inform the wrongdoer of his erroneous behavior and, where applicable, to provide him with the opportunity to repair the damage and make restitution.

The Lord instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith to reprove “with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 121:43.) I am sure “with sharpness” does not mean yelling and carrying on in a highly emotional manner. When the Savior reproved, he did so with clarity, exactness, and calmness. Consider his reproof when the senior apostle challenged his prophecy concerning his crucifixion. “Get thee behind me Satan.” Why the sharpness? Because Peter relied upon the things of man instead of God immediately after testifying by the Spirit of the divinity of Jesus. (See Matt. 16.)

Or consider one of his many reprovals of those who sought to destroy him.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” (Matt. 23:27.) As you can see, some of the Savior’s sharpest rebukes were for hypocrites.

The voice of the Lord is described at the time of the attempted slaying of Nephi and Lehi when they were protected by a ring of fire.

“… it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul—

“And notwithstanding the mildness of the voice, behold the earth shook exceedingly. …” (Hel. 5:30–31.)

We must follow the example of the Master, speaking calmly and mildly but with plainness and with the power of truth ever present.

Reproving with sharpness is necessary for one or more of the following reasons:

1. Men often rationalize and need to have a clear confrontation with the truth to recognize the folly of their own mental inconsistencies.

2. In our time the standards of truth are becoming very hazy, and a decisive, clear statement as to proper action acts as a beacon to those in troubled waters.

3. There are those who act with such persuasiveness that many are led astray; thus the truth must be strongly asserted for the protection of the unwary.

4. Some need to be warned of far-reaching consequences that will result from current actions that cannot be perceived because of the inexperience of the actor.

5. It is needed as a basis for judgment so that the wrongdoers may not stand without guilt before the bar of justice on judgment day.

May I share with you a personal experience to illustrate the above. There is, in the ward I just recently moved from, a group of teenage boys. Only one, a younger member of the group, had committed himself to serving a mission. As an older member of the group reached 19, he stated that maybe a mission wasn’t the best thing for him. Many interested members of the ward did “reprove” this young man for his decision. My opportunity came on a ski lift on a cold December day. In jest I said, “What are you going to be, a ski nut or a missionary?” He laughed and then proceeded to give me his reasons for staying home. On each subsequent trip up the lift we discussed his position, the fallacy of his reasons, his hazy standards and goals for life, the effect of his decision on the other members of his group, the long-range consequences of his decision, and ultimately what his explanation would be to the Lord for the lost opportunity to serve.

After prayerful consideration, more “reproving with sharpness,” and a sincere effort on his part, he decided to complete the application for a mission call. A short time after his departure I received a letter from him stating how great it was to be on a mission.

In this day when it is acceptable to “not get involved” and to let each person “do his own thing,” it becomes imperative that we hold the banner of truth high for all to see.

For society to function properly, correction should come from all three of the following sources: (1) the family (we are now reaping the rewards of permissive parents, with increased crime, drug addiction, wasted lives of the young people, and frustrated, divorced older people); (2) the authoritarian relationship of schools, church, employers, and government; (3) the peer group of an individual. If any of these groups fail in its responsibility to reprove, the wrongdoer then finds a harbor from the truth and does not have the opportunity to change his ways.

Now is the time to stand with Peter: “… when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32.)

In conclusion let us again return to the basic premise of life. To help another we must know the truth to know when he has erred. We must live the truth to give authority to our utterances, and we must be willing to share and have the Holy Ghost to know how to reprove.

We must never forget the second part of the Lord’s instruction, to show increased love and concern, lest we be esteemed an enemy.

Judge, Salt Lake City Court