This article is posted on ldsliberty.org.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi counseled his son Jacob that “men are that they might have joy” (2 Ne 2:25). In other words, men exist that they may have joy. Some 300 years later and around the globe in Greece, Aristotle would later argue that the most basic motivation for human action is eudaimonia (commonly translated as “happiness” or “human flourishing”). For Aristotle, as also it seems with the prophet Lehi, eudaimonia constituted a human being’s final cause (one of four “causes” that defines what a thing is as opposed to another thing: the purpose for an object’s existence). This means thata human being, to be a human being (as opposed to a dog, rock, cloud, leaf, or anything else), exists for the purpose of happiness and flourishing. This type of objective happiness should not be confused with a hedonist view of self-fulfillment of whatever pleasures are within grasp – but it is a life of virtue, education, growth, and ethics.
Fast forward to the foundation of American independence as Thomas Jefferson penned the immortal phrase “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. (The “pursuit of Happiness” is an adaptation on John Locke’s “life, liberty, and property”, as property was seen as an objective necessity for human beings to hold in order to “flourish”, build, grow, and find joy.) Happiness and thriving are at the bedrock of our humanity – indeed, our humanness, (i.e., for us to “be human”), is based on how we live according to happiness and how we treat others accordingly.
There are many ideas, philosophies, and beliefs behind what it means to be “human”, but I have long believed that our humanity is not static. I believe that there are two fundamental ways that we can lose our humanity in regards to our final cause – i.e., in regards to man’s search for and right for happiness. I believe that the two ways that we can lose our humanity are through (1) coercion of another human being, and (2) neglect and indifference for others. The loss of our humanity through coercion or neglect and indifference can happen through ignorance or conscious effort.
It is no secret that I have a stronger disdain than most against compulsion, coercion, and the use of force – as well as for those that initiate force. I believe that hyper-active nonviolence is not only morally superior, but it is also an extremely realist and eternal doctrine. I will not seek to argue the merits or demerits of strict nonviolence here, but suffice it to say that I believe compulsion, coercion, manipulation, and the use of force constitutes a weak mind, a weak moral code, a general ignorance of humanity, and ultimately serves to destroy our own humanity. As we utilize these methods of dominance over our fellow man – whether through politics, the law, personal relationships, or any other way – we begin to see people as objects and not as human beings. When we lose the ability to see the humanity in others and only see them as objects, we have lost a piece of humanity within ourselves.
The Lord has commanded that we are not to subject, enslave, or put in bondage any man to another: “Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another” (D&C 101:79). We put our fellowman in bondage in many ways – physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. – but most noticeably is the physical compulsion that we use over others. Concerning these forms of dominion
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little power as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion (D&C 121:39).
But when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the spirit of the Lord is grieved, and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God (D&C 121:37-38).
While many are called to positions in Church service, the power in the priesthood will only remain with those who do not wield unrighteous dominion. Such unrighteous dominion through compulsion is most often used ignorantly. As President Benson once said, “many are sinning in ignorance.”
But behold, verily I saw unto you, that there are many who have been ordained among you, whom I have called but few of them are chosen. They who are not chosen have sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noonday (D&C 95:5-6).
And why are they not chosen? Because … they do not learn this one lesson – That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness (D&C 121:45).
What are these “principles of righteousness” wherein we may increase our humanity and take hold of and magnify the power of the priesthood and the powers of heaven? What is the antithesis of compulsion? The scriptures teach us to refrain from unrighteous dominion, but what of a moral or righteous dominion? The answer is explained.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, but long-suffering, but gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile –
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards and increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the chords of death (D&C 121:41-44; emphasis added).
Stated more philosophically, the famed William Godwin once observed that
If [my neighbor] who employs coercion against me could mold me to his purpose by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong, but he really punishes me because his argument is weak.
Through our ignorance and weakness we must learn that truly superior moral truths and ideals are the most powerful of all and that they can stand on their own merit(s) without forcing other individuals to comply. When through our fear we seek to compel, coerce, and force our fellowmen to a standard at law or moral code, we are really revealing our own ignorance and weaknesses in failing to find a better way. A person found in possession of the truth will have the power of persuasion to mold, instruct, present, and bring testimony to the truth without having to use force or coercion. Force and coercion are fool’s errands.
In the Book of Mormon we see this played out with the Sons of Mosiah who seek to preach to the Lamanites. While these missionaries (sons of the Nephite king who had rejected their right to the kingdom) saw the moral, just, and consistent power of persuasion, the Nephites – those who professed membership of Christ’s Church and the ones who should have known better – sought to use coercion and compulsion to eradicate the social, religious, and political Lamanite threat. After some 14 years among the Lamanites, and with much success, Ammon – the chief missionary (Alma 17:18)– reflects on the depravity of the Nephites seeking to use force and the blessings that came through persuasion.
Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?
For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language.
And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.
But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the wilderness not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls.
Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: God amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.
And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world – not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.
And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their synagogues and taught them; and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been stoned, and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison; and through the power and wisdom of God we have been delivered again.
And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.
Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many; yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.
For behold, they had rather sacrifice their lives than to take the life of their enemy; and they have buried their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren.
And now behold I say unto you, has there been so great love in all the land? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, there has not, even among the Nephites.
For behold, they would take up arms against their brethren; they would not suffer themselves to be slain. But behold how many of these have laid down their lives; and we know that they have gone to their God, because of their love and of the hatred to sin (Alma 26:23-34).
Ammon places the greatest moral priority on the virtue of persuasion and decries coercion – even in the face of a religious, social, and political threat. The Nephites wanted to entirely eradicate the Lamanites from off the face of the land by coercion, compulsion, and force; yet Ammon shows us that it was through the consistent patience, love, and righteous desire from only a handful of missionaries that succeeded in what the government had ever failed to do: to befriend the political enemy, and convert an entire people through persuasion. Ammon also points out that the suffering they went through was the suffering inflicted upon them by coercion and force, but that, through their patient suffering of coercion and force (not in retaliation or defense, but in patiently submitting and returning love for force), the Lord would lift them up and sustain them. Once the Lamanites were converted, Ammon places their righteousness greater than even the Nephites – for, once converted, the Lamanites would not use coercion or compulsion at all anymore (even unto death). Ammon takes note that even the Nephites would eventually use defensive coercion to save their own lives.
Sure and practical knowledge of the power of persuasion, kindness, gentleness, and meekness in the face of rage, war, hatred, coercion, compulsion, and force comes only through much patience and tribulation. Speaking of the source of his knowledge, Ammon reveals this truth:
Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing – unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance (Alma 26:22).
The world has ever and will forever reject the morality, power, and practicality of using persuasion instead of and in the face of force. “The world is too wicked” one will cry; “The Book of Mormon justifies defending ourselves” will cry another (to which I offer this amazing article); “That kind of world won’t exist until Christ comes” chimes in a third. All of these statements merely mask the deep-seated fear within the natural man that hopelessly expects the world’s solutions to the world’s problems to yield effective results (a proposition that never was and never will be); yet such modern beliefs, as held by the Nephites of old, will universally fail to produce modern-day Ammons or Almas.
Neglect and Indifference Unto Others
When I was 7 years old I went with my father and mother into downtown Los Angeles for a family outing. My father had a short business meeting and then we would spend the rest of the day sightseeing and being together.
While waiting for my father in the truck with my mother, I slowly began to realize a few people walking around our vehicle. These were not the normal kind of people I saw on a daily basis, and, in fact, some of them even confused me. For instance, the man pushing the grocery cart loaded 3-feet passed full and covered with plastic – what did he buy at the grocery store? Why did he cover it? We were in the business district and I knew there weren’t any grocery stores or even homes in the area – where was he coming from and where was he going to? As I turned to look, I could now see what I hadn’t see before – dozens of similar men and women pushing carts, laying on blankets on the ground, and rummaging through trash-bins up and down the street.
In my confusion I finally asked my mother what was going on (because, to my little sheltered 7 year old mind, I had never even considered the possibility of homelessness).
“Mom, what… Why… Why’s he pushing that cart? There aren’t any grocery stores around here. Where’s his home?”
“He doesn’t have a home. That’s all that he has, it’s all that he owns and he’s pushing the cart wherever he can find to let it rest for a little while before he has to push it again…”
“But… But where’s his family?”
“He probably doesn’t have any family…”
“No mom? No dad? No brothers or sisters? No kids?…” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“No, Shiloh, no family…”
I can still remember how much sadness I felt. I cried for three days. I couldn’t believe that people could actually live without a home or family, and, with the knowledge of a 7 year old, I couldn’t believe that no one had done anything to help them. I was beside myself. I remember, finally, getting on my knees and, in this despair, asking God to help all those people who were without a home and without families. My childhood prayer promised to God to help those people to the best of my ability all throughout my life.
Sadly, by most measures, that promise has largely gone yet unfulfilled – although, because of that and of other situations and circumstances – I am very much protective of the homeless. This story has stuck with me indefinitely, and it is a primary motivation to acknowledge my own misgivings and choose to be better. I give to the panhandler when and where I feel it is appropriate, and I talk to a few of the homeless that I see – but I do very little beyond donating a substantive portion of my paycheck to my Church’s local welfare fund. I offer my money, but my sacrifice and help to the poor basically ends there. I make no justifications, and this needs to improve.
That said, it was the first murderous heart that defied God – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” While we are personally responsible for our own actions, and prosperity (however you define or measure that) must ultimately come from the individual’s will and action, we have a moral duty to provide for, prop up, and to help our fellow man.
Jesus Christ himself teaches us that before he comes again, we must build up His kingdom and Zion – in administering relief to each other in every meaningful way.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of this glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me… (Matthew 25:31-40).
Christ goes on to explain that those who do not provide for their fellow man will find no place with him in Heaven. Their progression will cease. Their ability to be “human” – in the eternal sense – will end. As we fail to provide for those around us, we lose the ability within us of providing for ourselves. There is a humanness found in service and in charity towards our fellow man that cannot be fraudulently mimicked or carefully avoided.
The idea that we must wait for Christ’s return to give of ourselves completely to each other is a lie. At baptism we all covenant
To be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life (Mosiah 18:8-9).
Our time on this earth is short and fleeting, and nearly innumerable obstacles spring up that seek to rob us of connecting with other human beings. We feel that we give to a Church, so we fail to give of our attention and self; we brush off our home teaching and visiting teaching assignments, because we’re either too busy or because the institutions and programs of the Church make some feel like “projects” rather than “people”; we justify taking from the plunders and coffers of government rather than accepting family or Church help. The lists and justifications can go on and on, but the point is that when we justify our failure to connect with other human beings – we are only losing our own humanity in the process. We all need human contact, compassion, and love – we all depend on the divine, whether we choose to recognize it or not – to carry us through times of conflict, toil, and strife.
In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin famously asks
Are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused you’re your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy (Mosiah 4:19-20).
As human beings, we will all call upon the name of the divine at some point in our life – asking for something, anything, to help us overcome or solve our afflictions and sorrows.
All Things Done With Liberty and Persuasion
While we all have a moral imperative to provide, assist, and uphold our fellowmen, the false philosophies of men have crept into the gospel of Jesus Christ and many seek to force all men to provide for the less fortunate through the burdens of taxation and other government programs. These programs constitute the epitome of evil, as, in the name of assisting humanity, they (1) use coercion by theft and threat of incarceration (violating one’s humanity), and (2) rob the recipient and giver of a true human connection and gratitude for the charity. Charity, when forced, ceases to be charity and is nothing more than theft.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell speaks of the Lord’s pattern for caring for the poor through consecration in the City of Enoch in a way that promotes the humanity of using persuasion instead of force and of promoting true human connections instead of theft. These are the standards that we should seek to live by; these are the principles wherein are the greatest of joys and happiness – the final cause/purpose of our existence.
Moreover, those who have little are often inclined to canker their souls with greed and envy. Thus, our hearts are either where our treasure is, or worse, where someone else’s treasure is. So much of mankind’s talents and thoughts are enthralled with things instead of truths. Tithing has helped us for this higher way (consecration), and so have the morals of our marketplace where men do not seek to enlarge their profit from the necessities of another.
Even this hard commandment [to consecrate all] is given to us so that we might live it voluntarily and not out of force or constraint. Some who could practice cooperation but not consecration here have freely left out midst. This is one of the great joys of life in the City of Enoch. Freedom and agency are valued herein. Things are not imposed upon us. We do things out of devotion, not docility. We accept new teachings as steps to be taken if we are to draw ever closer to our God, and, therefore, we undertake to do our duties gladly, learning ever to obey (The Enoch Letters, pg. 48; emphasis added).
We must reject false ideologies that seek to promote our humanity at the expense of our humanity. There are ways that we may keep, maintain, and grow our humanity – although the world will ever condemn these principles as folly, idealistic, impractical, and unobtainable. Yet, even then, they are true.
Man’s purpose for existence is to have joy, and that joy comes through living the gospel of Christ. Through using force and compulsion on another, in any degree, and through the disregard of our fellow man, we lose our humanity and begin to see other human beings as mere objects. As a Latter-day Saint, as a Christian, as a human being, and, most importantly, as a Child of God, I will continue to promote the best and most moral way of humanity that I know. I will promote the practical and realist virtues of persuasion, kindness, gentleness, meekness, and love, and I will seek more fully to lend my emotion, time, means, and self to serve my fellow man. Using persuasion instead of force and actively seeking to value, care for, and uphold our fellowmen without compulsion are not popular ideas in the world and are not seen as possible to maintain, but they are fundamental and universally necessary in order for us to keep our humanity.