Saturday, December 4, 2010

"No Other Gods"

This morning I stumbled over a thought-provoking article by a regular contributor to the Deseret News, Joseph Cramer, M.D.

Dr. Joseph Cramer
The author asks us to choose which of the two gods on earth, government or corporations, might be the god we choose to worship.  He begins this way:

"Monotheism is the singular feature of the occidental religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The adherents to these faiths are admonished to have no other gods before them. There is also the wisdom that with two masters one will love the one and hate the other or vice versa.

"It also seems to be the singular feature of secular living as well. One cannot have two masters. There are those who worship government and there are those who think corporations are divine. I use worship and divine because of the fervor both congregations attach to their points of view. Each side acts as if their chosen organizational messiah will save them, and provide all the answers to a happy and rich life. For those who resent the comparison of government and corporations to their personal god, look at the passions — anger, adoration, segregation of friends and family by their beliefs, self-righteousness, loyalty — and the commitment — time, money and self — used to describe advocates. All imitate the devotion of the most faithful zealot. We are cautioned not to speak about either religion or politics for good reason: they are the same thing."

This page has as its purpose the discussion (and the distinction between) those two seemingly unspeakable topics -- politics and religion -- with the intentional consequence of defining a path for earnest and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  It is true, we cannot have it both ways.

Yesterday, while the debate raged on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. about extending unemployment benefits and tax cuts, one passionate Congressman on the floor of the House was heard to say (I caught the soundbite on the radio in the car but didn't get his name), "This is the season when we celebrate the birth of the poor baby Jesus Christ in the animal manger.  How can we turn our backs on the unemployed especially at this season of the year, Christmas, when it was He who taught charity.  We must do the right thing and provide this help right now.  We can't turn our backs on them at this season of the year when our Christian faith is so prominently on display or we would be hypocrites."  Isn't it interesting when a Congressman wants to evoke the image of Christ in the political debate, while erecting the government in the place of Christ as the solution? 

The "poor baby Jesus" can be such a useful device for a secular humanist, who simultaneously would dismiss Jesus as a myth.

The Congressman framed the argument perfectly.  Shall government continue to spend money it doesn't have, because it long ago exceeded in expenditures what it brings in from tax revenue and is now operating in the red with borrowed money, to provide entitlements (even if in the name of charity for the poor to improve their lives), or shall it cease and desist from further spending until it gets its own house in order?  Is the federal government so big it cannot possibly fail?  Can it continue to bail out corporations that are also by the government definition "too big to fail?"  Who bails out America? 

Is America too big to fail?  The answer is NO.

President Ezra Taft Benson
I was reminded this morning when I read Cramer's article about a pivotal General Conference address by President Ezra Taft Benson in April 1988, entitled "The Great Commandment -- Love the Lord."

Once again, he frames the opposite argument perfectly:

The great test of life is obedience to God. “We will prove them herewith,” said the Lord, “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25). 

The great task of life is to learn the will of the Lord and then do it. 

The great commandment of life is to love the Lord. 

“Come unto Christ,” exhorts Moroni in his closing testimony, “… and love God with all your might, mind and strength” (Moroni 10:32). 

This, then, is the first and great commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30; see also Matthew 22:37; Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27; Moroni 10:32; D&C 59:5). . .

President Benson asserts, as he continues:

We must put God in the forefront of everything else in our lives. He must come first, just as He declares in the first of His Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities. 

We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives.

* * *

I said this talk was "pivotal."  I don't know where you were in your life in 1987, but I was a bishop and faced with a dilemma of choice.  I had made a decision, at the time it seemed a monumental decision, to choose God above all other considerations.  However, it meant certain displacement, uncertainty, inconvenience, and discomfort, but I knew it was the right thing to do because I could not choose both paths and be one traveller.  (See Robert Frost, "The Road not Taken"). 

We fasted and prayed as a family to know what we should do.  The decision was made, and then months later the Prophet of God arose in the keynote address of General Conference and confirmed the decision we had made together.  It proved later to be the pivotal choice in our family's lives.  Looking back, that one choice to put God ahead of all other people, regardless of the love and deep affection I had for those people, has made all the difference in what has evolved afterward. 

Loving God above all other considerations is a rather glib and almost trite profession, but I can assure you it is much, much more than that when action follows the mere profession of belief.  I long ago concluded the power to act is much more meaningful than the words we profess with our lips.  Once acted upon, the belief engenders power and certainty the likes of which mere mortals can only glimpse from afar who lack the resolve to change their circumstances.  We are designed by God to act and not to be acted upon.  (2 Nephi 2:26). 
To attempt to shift the blame to others for the natural consequences of our choices is antithetical to all God has revealed to us in the scriptures about our lives in mortality.

Mickey Mantle
I have mentioned before my admiration for Mickey Mantle as a baseball player.  I was remembering this morning why I admired him even more as a man.  He admitted to years of various forms of substance abuse.  His achievements on the field are even more astounding when factored against the performance "unenhancing" drugs like alcohol that coursed through his veins.  Upon receiving a liver transplant in an effort to save his life, he made an amazing statement I've never forgotten.  He said, “Don’t use me for a role model.”  He also said that he was committing the rest of his life to being a better example.  He finally acted upon his inbred ability as a son of God to act and not to be acted upon.  Mickey Mantle finally accepted the responsibility for his mistakes.  Unfortunately he died shortly thereafter.
I mention this only because the governments and corporations on this earth will never have the power to change human hearts aflame with faith, hope and charity.  Only God can do that.  Governments and corporations tend to enslave.  Only God can liberate and inspire fallen mortal man to greater heights.  Loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength is the only way human progress is achieved with any lasting benefits.  Everything else temporizes and fades in time. 
We do the best we can at whatever task comes to our hands with an eye single to His glory, remembering that which we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands will fade away because it tends toward entropy.  Only the unseen world is the real world and has eternal staying power. 
We build eternal families here on earth among those who are fallen, but once born again, we will live in eternal glory.  There isn't a government or a corporation here on earth to offer anyone that outcome.  So why would we ever give governments or corporations our allegiance, our worship or our obeisance?
President Benson summarized with these lines of poetry:
Who does God’s work will get God’s pay,
However long may seem the day,
However weary be the way.
No mortal hand, God’s hand can stay,
He may not pay as others pay,
In gold, or lands, or raiments gay,
In goods that perish and decay;
But God’s high wisdom knows a way,
And this is sure, let come what may —
Who does God’s work will get God’s pay.


Joseph Smith
I conclude with the words of Joseph Smith:

Our only confidence can be in God; our only wisdom obtained from Him; and He alone must be our protector and safeguard, spiritually and temporally, or we fall.

We have been chastened by the hand of God heretofore for not obeying His commands, although we never violated any human law, or transgressed any human precept; yet we have treated lightly His commands, and departed from His ordinances, and the Lord has chastened us sore, and we have felt His arm and kissed the rod; let us be wise in time to come and ever remember that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (TPJS, 253).

In the days that lie ahead choosing God first is really our only choice, earthly governments and corporations built with men's hands notwithstanding.

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