Who’s “The Good Guy”?

Glasses Perspective

Have you ever been watching a movie and asked yourself, “So who’s the good guy? Who am I supposed to be rooting for right now?” Many stories portrayed in the past have made it clear who the storyteller wants you to be rooting for. They gave the princess the beautifully colored dress with the intent of “pure love” and gave the witch a dark gown, hard features with the intent for power. They gave John Wayne the white hat and white horse while his nemesis wore black. The war movie shows your side as the noble heroes and the enemy as ruthless heathens. Good side, bad side, so on and so forth. You get the idea.

Recently, there’s been a trend in storytelling which doesn’t make it clear who “the good guys” and “the bad guys” are. Stories such as Breaking Bad, Wicked and Maleficent are giving a new twist to storytelling and its reception is gaining popularity. Perhaps it’s because people find it refreshing to experience a story that is more realistic and therefore more relatable. After all, everyone is fallible and capable of both good and bad. Maybe it’s a good thing if we quit viewing man as a symbol of morality. Doing so might be teaching us to put our trust in the arm of flesh. What happens when our foundation is man, and man fails? Also, perhaps portraying the why behind a character’s evil teaches us to not judge too quickly or too harshly in real life.

Even though this particular lens which storytellers have us gaze through has its benefits, it also has its risks. To people who don’t have a solid foundation of values and principles- they might experience this type of story and come to the conclusion that morals are relative. After so much exposure to these types of points of view some might reject the truth vs error point-of-view for a gray one. To others, it could eventually normalize and even justify evil in their minds.

Truth is not gray but people are. Nobody is perfect. Everyone, including those historical figures your history teacher spoke of with reverence and awe, has sinned. And yes, in order for there to be a sin there must be a law—a universal law which governs all mankind according to truth and justice. Truth and morality are not ambiguous. People are.

We need to be able to separate the person from the act. The phrase “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” is a reminder and indication that people naturally struggle separating the two. Those who are finely tuned into the law at the expense of the person tend to drag the sinner down to the same level that they despise the sin. When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress to Jesus they referenced the law as justification for their condemnation—a condemnation with no compassion for the sinner.

In recent history, perhaps strongly correlated to the advancement of secular humanism, there has been another distortion influencing people’s inability to separate sin from sinner. This has been taking shape in the enticing form of the tolerance movement. Probably most people advocating tolerance are well meaning. They tend to be caring people with a desire for accepting others. Often, though, their desire for compassion comes at the expense of acknowledging right from wrong. Those who are finely tuned into the person at the expense of the law tend to elevate the sin to the level of the person.

Imagine if Jesus had told the adulteress: “I don’t condemn you. I accept you for what you are. Go, and have fun.” He didn’t say that because, unlike most of us, He is able to love the sinner and not the sin. What he really told her was: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” This showed that He was finely tuned into both law and love for person—neither at the expense of the other.Tolerance Sinner and SinAnother pitfall that some people fall into while observing ambiguous characters is the temptation to let understanding the why to excuse the what. It does us well to understand why people have done the things that they’ve done but on more than one occasion, after expressing my disapproval for a violation of justice, someone would respond: “Well you do understand WHY they did it, don’t you?” as if to justify the act. To this I respond: “I understand why someone would steal a Corvette because I want a Corvette. But that doesn’t make it right.” Sometimes people get blinded by the why at the expense of the what. Worthy ends do not justify immoral means.

The need people feel to pick sides—to root for their guy or their team or fill in the blank with whichever arm of flesh you choose—is probably due to a combination of our tribal nature and the fact that our cultural upbringing was full of stories conditioning us to believe that for every conflict there is a good guy who is 100% in the right and a bad guy who is 100% in the wrong.

It’s hard for most people to look at a conflict involving multiple people and objectively acknowledge the faults and justifications that each side requires. Instead, we quickly pick a side. We ignore the positions of the alternatives. If our guy said it, it must be true. If another side did it, it must be wrong. Symptoms of this mentality manifest themselves in the form of party-spirit, unrelenting loyalty to one’s local sports team, nationalistic egotism, and blind zeal for public figures.

If I was brought up believing that a certain historical character was nigh unto God and then I stumble upon some major flaws about that person’s deeds and character, what am I to do? Should I ignore what I’ve just learned? Is it better to rationalize what they’ve done? Should I swing to the other extreme and revile them as if the bad they’ve done erased all the good? Or shouldn’t we see man as man—weak and fallible, yet capable of much good? How would the world judge your history if they had complete knowledge of all of your doings? Would it be fair for them to label you a villain and condemn you to hell because of the wrongs you’ve committed along the way? Or would a liar’s history be justly portrayed if their un-repented misdeeds were swept under a rug?

I suggest that a reset might be in order. I suggest taking all of our heroes and villains and giving them a clean slate. Acknowledge that not one of them (with the exception of the Savior) is all good or all bad. Observe man through the lens of compassion and choices through the lens of eternal law. Pick the side of truth instead of the side of flesh.

I once met a Marine veteran whom I believe doesn’t need to ask the ignorant question: “Who am I supposed to be rooting for right now?” He has had experiences both horrific and miraculous. He fought in Fallujah where he watched his friends die in his arms. Through a special experience he came to experience God’s love and healing. He eventually lived all over the Middle East gaining an education, learning many languages and falling in love with all peoples. He would often be asked, by people expecting him to take a side, “Are you pro-Israel or pro-Palestine?” His response:

“I’m pro-Child of God.”

Objectivity and The Quest For Truth

One of the most underrated qualities a person can have is objectivity. Being objective leads to truth. Truth to freedom (John 8:32). Freedom to salvation. For how can a person be saved in ignorance? Or how could that person dispel that ignorance without first seeking truth objectively? This presupposes that truth is not relative in which there are different truths depending on different people’s perspectives. Truth, in this context, is reality—things as they really are.

Everyone has preconceived notions about what reality is. These preconceived notions often come from cultural, religious, philosophical, scholarly, family and other societal norms and traditions. Much like the parable of the Blind Men and The Elephant, we all come to fallacious conclusions about what is true.

It was six men of Indostanblind men elephant
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

(John Godfrey Saxe’s Rendition)

In a sense, we are all blind. Our perspective of reality is severely limited by too few experiences and by our tendency to jump to hasty conclusions about what those experiences mean. Is it any wonder why there are so many versions of history when the people who actually experienced the times and events pass on their limited (often distorted and one-sided) versions to those who then pass it on and on from one generation to the next? Much like the game Telephone, what may have been reality in the beginning is almost never reality by the end.

In order for people to learn truth there are several conditions and qualities which must be met. If any of these are missing then truth will not be fully realized.

  1. The truth must be available—one can seek truth all they can but if it is out of their capacity to learn then truth will not be fully realized.
  2. People must be free—if the truth is available but people don’t have the freedom to research, proclaim, publish, and share it then truth will not be fully realized.
  3. People must have a desire for truth—if one has an apathetic approach (or no approach at all) to learning then truth will not be fully realized.
  4. People must investigate—what good is a desire without an action? Without the doing then truth will not be fully realized.
  5. People must be honest (aka objective)—the whole process and quest for knowledge requires that a person be willing to accept truth over bias but if people remain biased to their own opinions (or the opinions of those who they trust) without looking at all facts and evidence then truth will not be fully realized.

Let’s assume all of these conditions and qualities are met. Will that automatically make a person omniscient today? No. Learning is a process. If living according to other correct principles are any indication of what the quest for truth is like, it will require a significant amount of time, diligence, patience, energy, hard work, humility and yes—faith. Doing so will initially be unpopular.

Throughout history, whenever someone challenges the status quo in their quest for truth, they have often met heavy resistance from the prevailing powers. People such as Moses, Christ, Martin Luther, John Wesley, some American founders, Joseph Smith, Gandhi, and many more all had to meet heavy resistance when they dispelled ignorance.

If a certain truth scares you, that might be a signal that either your conviction is false or deep down inside you doubt its validity.

If you hide or distort the truth, that might be a signal that your allegiance to truth is not primary.

Those who hold certain convictions tend to be concerned with those who investigate differing points of view. Regardless of what our convictions might be, we shouldn’t fear but should rather praise the objective efforts of those seeking truth. Their efforts might lead them away from the truth. But, if they diligently seek it objectively and honestly, they are very likely going to find light that most of us have never found.

It is interesting that an atheist and a religionist can both believe they are applying the principle of objectivity but yet arrive at conflicting conclusions. On the one hand, an atheist will argue that they let the evidence of existing tangibles guide them to their conclusion. On the other hand, a religionist can argue that they let the evidence of spiritual manifestations guide them to their conclusion. They both can’t be right—at least not completely.

Ask yourself, “Had I been alive during Christ’s ministry, the reformation, the American revolution, the early restoration, or any other meaningful societal shift, would I have been the type to give up my old ways to accept a better way?” or “Would I have clung to the old order of things?” The best indication of how you would have chosen is determined on how you view the world now. The same spirit that possesses your body now would have possessed it in the past.

“The man who has a certain religious belief and fears to discuss it, lest it may be proved wrong, is not loyal to his belief, he has but a coward’s faithfulness to his prejudices. If he were a lover of truth, he would be willing at any moment to surrender his belief for a higher, better, and truer faith.” –William George Jordan, The Power of Truth; Individual Problems and Posibilities, 1902

Being objective is a virtue. It requires being honest, humble, teachable, and courageous. Blind conviction is a vice. It blinds our eyes, covers our ears, hardens our hearts, and damns our souls.

If the truth were to arrive at your door right now would you be willing to let it in? Are you open to it? Or are you stuck in your convictions? You have the truth. Anyone else with a different belief is automatically wrong. Perhaps we convince ourselves of these things but maybe, in reality, our convictions are based less on truth and more on tradition; or because we’ve invested so much into the system already and we feel the need to stay committed; or maybe we’re afraid to be wrong- so wrong for so long; or maybe it’s not comfortable to change; or maybe we’ve benefited from this system for so long that to recognize its flaws is to risk losing its payments. Conviction can be damning when it keeps us from progressing toward the truth.

Ultimately though, one could come to an understanding of what is true and choose to live contrary to what they now know. Knowledge alone will not save you. If you know Truth you do well; but the devils also know and tremble (James 2:19). Wisdom—truth in action—is what makes the difference between death and life, misery and joy.

Obeying Authority and the Rule of Thirds

soldier shooting civiliansHalf a century ago Adolf Eichmann was captured and taken from Argentina to an Israeli civilian court to answer for crimes against humanity and the Jewish people. Several decades earlier, Eichmann was a German Nazi lieutenant colonel tasked with the responsibility of managing much of the logistics of the Holocaust. During Eichmann’s cross-examination the prosecution asked him if he considered himself guilty of the murder of millions of people. Eichmann’s defense—that he was just “following orders” and that he “never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions from Adolf Hitler or any of (his) superiors.” His defense was rejected; he was found guilty and hanged the following year.

Inspired by the Eichmann trial, Stanley Milgram, a Social Psychology professor at Yale, performed an experiment aimed at answering the question: “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?” In Milgram’s own words the experiment went as follows:

“A simple procedure is devised for studying obedience. A person comes to the laboratory and, in the context of a learning experiment, is told to give increasingly severe shocks to another person (who is actually an actor). The purpose of the experiment is to see how far a subject will proceed before refusing to comply with the experimenter’s instructions.”

The experiment was originally performed on 40 test subjects. Each one of them was told by Milgram (the authority in the room) to ask questions and administer shocks by increments of 15 volts to the person in the other room whenever that person answered a question incorrectly. This was to persist until the voltage reached the full 450 volts. The person in the other room, who was not really getting shocked, acted as though each shock was getting increasingly worse by screaming, complaining about his “heart condition”, and then after the 300 volt administration he went silent. Many of the test subjects, assuming that they were really inflicting pain or possible death on the man in the other room, felt bad and asked to quit the experiment. Milgram’s scripted response was that he took personal responsibility for whatever happened and that he required them to continue until the experiment was completed.

Of the 40 test subjects 26 administered the full 450 volt shock. That is a 65 percent compliance rate. After the experiment was published some astonished psychologists presumed that the experiment was done incorrectly so they tried their own variations and found almost identical results. Variations of the experiment have been conducted across time and cultures to see if the results would change. The compliance rate averages around two thirds.

It appears it is generally in our nature to obey an immoral command when that command is administered by an apparent authority figure. But should that relieve us of accountability? If you or I were in the shoes of Eichmann, Milgram’s test subjects, or acting as agents of some other despot we would probably tell ourselves that we would disobey. “I am different. I would act morally. I would not be acted upon.” we tell ourselves. But would we? Let us hope so- for our own sakes and for the sakes of others. Edmund Burk is oft-quoted as saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It appears that evil also needs mindless agents willing to obey orders. Let us be neither the complacent good nor compliant to evil.

Looking at Milgram’s experiment alone might offer us little hope as to how we would likely behave if commanded to execute an undesirable action but an experiment performed by Indiana University psychology professor Steven Sherman suggests that “education can strengthen the power of conscience over authority” when we consciously decide ahead of time to do so. Interestingly, the experiment showed that consciously making that decision ahead of time dropped the compliance rate from 2/3 to 1/3.

While I am not a social psychologist nor do I have sufficient evidence to back up this theory- there does appear to be some proof, in my mind, to submit a theory of obeying authority and the rule of thirds. That is that there is a breaking point at which, for better or for worse, a group is broken up into three factions for a particular cause- the obedient, the neutral, and the defiant.

In a 2009 Rasmussen poll—31% of Texas voters said that their country had the right to secede from the union and form their own independent country. Similarly, a 2012 HuffPost/YouGov poll given to 1000 adult Americans across the country found that “29 percent said states should be allowed to secede if a majority of their residents supported secession, while 38 percent said they should not, and a third weren’t sure.”

Following the War for American Independence, British General James Robertson, in his testimony before a committee on the conduct of the war, estimated that the American population during the war was one-third for the cause of American independence, one-third neutral, and one-third loyalists.

John Adams similarly wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on Nov 12, 1813 concerning the Continental Congress that “To draw the characters of them all would require a volume, and would now be considered as a caricature-print; one-third tories, another whigs, and the rest mongrels.”

In response to the former Delaware Continental Congressman Thomas McKean who believed that “the great mass of the people were zealous in the cause of America” Adams wrote in Aug 31, 1813 that:

“Upon the whole, if we allow two thirds of the people to have been with us in the revolution, is not the allowance ample? Are not the two thirds of the nation now with the administration? Divided we ever have been, and ever must be. Two thirds always had and will have more difficulty to struggle with the one third than with all our foreign enemies.”

Upon reflection Mckean agreed.

Referring to the French Revolution in an 1815 letter to Massachusetts Senator James Lloyd, John Adams estimated that the Americans were generally one third “averse” to the revolution, one third for the revolution out of “a hatred of the English”, and the “middle third” that were, as Adams put it “the soundest part of the nation” and “averse to war”.

Finally, the war of wars which has existed since before the beginning of man on Earth—The War in Heaven, as it is known amongst latter-day saints, repeats a similar social psychology statistic. One-third of God’s spirits rejected the appointment of Christ as their savior, were cast down to Earth, and became devils. As the Bible Dictionary points out:

“Although one-third of the spirits became devils, the remaining two-thirds were not all equally valiant, there being every degree of devotion to Christ and the Father among them.”

Could it be that of the two-thirds who accepted the appointment of Christ that half of them were fence-sitters? I truly don’t know but that’s what I might guess.

So if all of these examples teach us anything it might be these: 1) choose the right regardless of who your authority is and 2) be prepared to have anywhere from a third to two-thirds obey a different authority than you—whether that authority is natural law or man’s law. To conclude his findings Professor Sherman wrote:

“When you look before you leap or predict behavior before you behave, the leaping and the behavior are likely to be altered; and indications are that the behavior will become more socially desirable and morally acceptable.” (Sherman, On the Self-Erasing Nature of Errors of Prediction, p 220, 1980)

It’s time to ask ourselves- “What would I do…?”

Principled Pragmatism

Principle SifterWhen faced with an idea or choice one of the first questions most people ask themselves is- “Is this practical?” but few back up and ask, “Is this even right?” The first question deals with pragmatism (or with what works) while the second question deals with principle (or a fundamental truth, a foundation on which to base all other reasoning and behavior). If we ignore principle and merely look at what will “work”, we often fall victims to silly, expensive, addictive, and/or dangerous ideas and behaviors. We suffer the consequences of our ignorance and moral decadence. We would be better off if we filtered ideas and choices through principle first, practicality second. If an idea doesn’t pass the first test then there is no sense in even contemplating how to execute it. If it does pass the first test then we can contemplate the practicalities of execution. This is principled pragmatism.

The term principled pragmatism is actually a redundancy since true principles are indeed pragmatic. It isn’t always obvious (in fact many times it is paradoxical) but when we base our decisions and convictions on truth- it always works out in the end.

Isaiah Messianically wrote:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

For many sincere individuals, experience and revelation have proven that the Lord’s ways are higher and more practical than ours. Though we may be tempted to believe that our “pragmatism” is more expedient than principle the Lord also taught “lean not unto your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), “yield to the persuasions of men no more” (D&C 5:21), and “keep all my commandments” (D&C 43:35). It’s been wisely said that, “When someone bases his life on principle, 99 percent of his decisions are already made.” Having made these decisions based on gospel principles beforehand helps alleviate the temptations to make bad decisions when those choices arise.

The pseudo-pragmatism that many subscribe to might be best termed shortsightedness. The pseudo-pragmatist looks at what works here and now but since he failed to consider the principle, there will likely be unintended and/or unforeseen negative consequences eventually—whether in this life or the next.

Look at excessive debt as an example. A father of four on a $40,000/year income who goes into debt for a $70,000 BMW was being a pseudo-pragmatist. He saw something he wanted, asked himself how he could get it, and he went out and executed that plan. If only he had stopped to ask the questions- “Is this even right? Am I being responsible? What risk am I putting my self and family at?” But because of his “pragmatism” he did what “worked” and got what he wanted. Eventually his bills will come due. Hunger, loss of freedom/opportunities, embarrassment, marital issues, and/or bankruptcy will likely afflict him and his family.

Unnecessary spending applies to individuals the same way it applies to families (unaffordable vacations), businesses (lavish executive dinners/bonuses), governments (bailouts, imperialism, welfarism, etc) and other institutions. When spending exceeds revenue (debt, inflation, and taxes) government agents hardly ever consider serious spending cuts (a responsible direction) but instead look for ways to raise revenue (enslave). It seems as though much of the things being considered by agents of government are pseudo-pragmatic. Some could make a strong case that taxes are a form of pseudo-pragmatism since it is using force to take someone else’s property. But what correct principle is thievery or legal plunder being based on? A long list could be compiled of things we do through government that defy principle but are done because it’s “practical”. A few might include:

  • Unwarranted searches/seizures and spying on innocent civilians to prevent crime
  • Pre-emptive war because striking them first gives us the advantage
  • Total War- destroying the moral, lives, and property of innocent people in order to “win” war
  • Economic sanctions because causing a nation’s civilians to suffer usually causes their government to bend our way
  • Torture- using pain, or disfigurement apparently gets our enemies to talk
  • Protectionist regulations and licensure which favors one sector over others because it raises power/gain for government and gets rid of competition for certain industries
  • Bailing out big banks and businesses because it would be economic disaster otherwise
  • Welfarism (robbing Peter to pay Paul) because people will suffer/die if we don’t redistribute the wealth
  • Enforcing social justice because certain groups of people with less opportunities deserve more- even if it’s at the expense of the right and control of property for individuals
  • Inflating the currency because it’s a good way to reduce the national debt and pay for warfare and welfare
  • Maintaining the American Empire because we want to enjoy our standard of living and we don’t want any “bad guys” to become a world superpower

Look at each of these things and notice how immoral and shortsighted they are. Also notice that fear is at the root of all of them. Many excuse or attempt to justify these things because they don’t see any other “practical” alternatives. Though choosing the right may not have immediate/obvious results Joseph F. Smith taught us:

“That through [Christ’s] atonement, and by obedience to the principles of the gospel, mankind might be saved (D&C 138:4).”

Unprincipled pragmatism is a form of focusing on ends at the expense of means. As explained here, worthy ends do not justify immoral means. Paul had to debunk the false idea attributed to him— “Let us do evil that good may come” (Romans 3:8). Elder F. Burton Howard also taught:

“The war in heaven was essentially about the means by which the plan of salvation would be implemented. It forever established the principle that even for the greatest of all ends, eternal life, the means are critical. It should be obvious to all thinking Latter-day Saints that the wrong means can never attain that objective.” (Repentance)

So does something being “practical” automatically make it right? Do the principles “Thou shalt not steal, lie, or murder” take a back seat to Machiavellian statism because fear and aggression seem to work better than love and persuasion? Lest someone assume that this is condoning anarchism then please read the story of King Benjamin (Mosiah 2:14). Did he, an agent of the people, rule by fear and aggression or did he serve by love and persuasion? Government can exist in a proper frame when its role is based on correct principles—not pseudo-pragmatic ones. Our lives can also exist to their fullest extent and maximum happiness when they are based on correct principles.

“Once they are driven off the high ground of principle, so many people then settle for being “practical.” But immorality is so impractical! Provisional morality always emerges once people desert a basic truth. Such individuals are forever falling back trying to develop substitute rationales, drawing new lines beyond which they vow they will not be driven, only to abandon these also under the pressure of growing evils…

Moral uncertainty always leads to behavioral absurdity. Prescriptions which are value-free always prove to be so costly. Unprincipled pragmatism is like advising someone who is hopelessly mired in quicksand not to struggle—so that he will merely sink more slowly!” –Neal A Maxwell (The Stern but Sweet Seventh Commandment)

George Albert Smith: Loving Persuasion Over Force

Disclaimer: the following post contains the author’s opinion and may not necessarily reflect the complete views of George Albert Smith.

A year after being called to be an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and at the age of 34, George Albert Smith wrote his personal creed—11 values by which he wanted to live by.  The creed emphasized his desires for peaceful living, service, love of mankind, faith in God and using loving persuasion.  His creed is as follows:

“I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor.

I would visit the sick and the afflicted and inspire in them a desire for faith to be healed.

I would teach the truth to the understanding and blessing of all mankind.

I would seek out the erring and try to win him back to a righteous and a happy life.

I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.

I would live with the masses and help solve their problems that their earth life may be happy.

I would avoid the publicity of high positions and discourage the flattery of thoughtless friends.

I would not knowingly hurt the feelings of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do him good and make him my friend.

I would overcome the tendency to selfishness and jealousy and rejoice in the success of all the children of my Heavenly Father.

I would not be an enemy to any living soul.

Knowing that the Redeemer of mankind has offered to the world the only plan that will fully develop us and make us really happy here and hereafter I feel it not only a duty but a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth.”

Many who knew George Albert Smith exclaimed that his creed was not just what he believed but the manner in which he lived. When one carefully reads each point they will realize Elder Smith’s understanding of truth and his attitude towards his relationship with God and fellow man far surpasses most of that age. It’s interesting to note that all of those values are selfless. Paradoxically, those few who live this creed (sometimes unaware) are the happiest, fearless, peaceful people on Earth even though they seek little for themselves.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:24)

The most notable goal Elder Smith brought up, as it pertains to liberty, was his desire to use persuasion rather than force: “I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.”  If parents, teachers, businesses and governments were to follow this simple principle authoritarians would turn to loving parents, disciplinarians to mentors, despots to developers, and tyrants to statesmen. Persuasion rather than force is also more likely to turn offspring to family, student to learner, staff to equals, and serfs to freemen.

While those who act in accordance with persuasion instead of force are guiltless of any wrong doing in that particular thing, there is no guarantee that those who are acted upon through loving persuasion will actually repent of their wrong doing. But, as it pertains practically, persuasion has a much higher success rate than force in the long-term. While force might yield temporary results it is the nature of the human spirit to resist force and thus force ultimately fails. On the other hand, when persuasion and truth are paired the results are everlasting. As it pertains morally, persuasion is the only just method of using power and influence that are positive in nature. Force is only justified when it is negative—as an act of defense of last resort.

Mark Skousen (author, professor and statesman) wrote a pamphlet titled Persuasion vs. Force in which he argued that persuasion is the morally justified use of power. President Hinckley received this pamphlet and replied in letter:

Dear Brother Skousen, I have read with appreciation your pamphlet, “Persuasion vs. Force.” Would that the world and its leaders might follow the philosophies set forth therein. As I read it I thought of the 121 Section of the Doctrine and Covenants verses 39–44. Keep speaking along these lines. It is a message that needs constant repetition.

Sincerely,

Gordon B. Hinckley

The moral use of power through persuasion also passes the Benson Test—that is that we can only delegate to government the powers which we have as individuals. If a person doesn’t have the moral authority to force their neighbor to live by their dietary code then they are not morally justified in delegating that authority to government. That is why legislating vices is wrong. A person would not be justified barging into their neighbor’s home, confiscating their mind altering substances, destroying their contraceptives, and taking their money to pay for someone else’s education and retirement. Yet, there are many who feel justified in imposing their moral codes under the banner of government, in the name of morality but in the reality of mob-rule. Though their intentions are usually pure—to rid the world of evil—they unintentionally perpetuate the very thing they aim to annihilate. How are their methods any more justified than the crusaders who wished to bring people to Christ? Whose plan was it to force all mankind to be righteous? Conversely, whose plan was it to allow man their agency and to use love and persuasion to win them back? (Moses 4:1-2)

Not only is it immoral to make laws forbidding vices, it doesn’t make practical sense either. Prohibition in the 1920’s and the war on drugs since the 1970’s serve as sufficient examples of why punishing vices through force is expensive, impractical, and unsustainable.

There are a myriad of reasons why people support liberty or freedom of choice. Some are good and some are bad. George Albert Smith taught many important lessons in his creed. One of them being that loving persuasion ought to be used instead of force (D&C 121:39-42). Freedom is an empty vessel. With what freedom we have we should fill it with good things. The more freedom- the greater our capacity to do good. The more good we do- the fuller our joy.

Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n.
He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.
(Know This, That Every Soul Is Free)