Sunday, January 23, 2011

Principles of Pure Religion

I love this talk...and Elder Ashton. He's such a level-headed guy.

Pure Religion

Marvin J. Ashton
1982 General Conference

A few weeks ago as I approached these temple grounds where I was to meet a friend, a young woman—a stranger to me—stepped up and said, “Would you like to know what kind of people these Mormons really are?”

I responded with, “I think I already know a little bit about what they really are.”

To this the heckler retorted, “They surely don’t live the teachings of Jesus Christ as they should.”

My concluding comment was, “Who does?”

As I continued my walk to the visitors’ center, I began to ponder the actions of those persons who are giving time and money to discredit, embarrass, ridicule, and shame those who have religious views that differ from their own. Sometimes such actions can unify and strengthen those who are attacked. However, in some few instances they plant seeds of discord, and at times righteous people are hurt by their slander.

I doubt that such actions can be called Christlike. At no time did Jesus Christ encourage us to spend time participating in damaging, destructive criticism. His message was to encourage us to seek, learn, and share all that is praiseworthy and of value as we associate with our fellowmen. Only those who are vindictive and cantankerous participate in ferreting out and advertising the negative and unsavory.

I will be forever grateful for the wise counsel my mission president gave me as I arrived in England to serve as a missionary. He said, “Elder Ashton, these people in this land have been at it a long time. If you will keep your eyes, ears, and mind open, you can learn much while you are here. Look for the good and overlook that which is different from your ways.”

The longer I stayed in England, the more I appreciated his advice. Day by day I grew to love and appreciate that great country and its people. For example, instead of freezing in the raw winter weather, I did as the English did—I put on another sweater rather than wasting time murmuring and complaining.

Robert West wrote, “Nothing is easier than fault-finding; no talent, no self-denial, no brains … are required to set up in the grumbling business.” (Richard L. Evans’ Quote Book, Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1971, p. 221.)

Whether accusations, innuendos, aspersions, or falsehoods are whispered or blatantly shouted, the gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us that we are not to retaliate nor contend. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:

“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness to God.” (James 1:19–20.)

No religion, group, or individual can prosper over an extended period of time with fault-finding as their foundation. To the world, and especially to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we declare there is no time for contention. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26.)

The poet Robert Frost once defined education as “the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” Probably we will never be free of those who are openly anti-Mormon. Therefore, we encourage all our members to refuse to become anti-anti-Mormon. In the wise words of old, can we “live and let live”? (Johann Schiller, in The Home Book of Quotations, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1935, p. 1119.)

Certainly one of our God-given privileges is the right to choose what our attitude will be in any given set of circumstances. We can let the events that surround us determine our actions—or we can personally take charge and rule our lives, using as guidelines the principles of pure religion. Pure religion is learning the gospel of Jesus Christ and then putting it into action. Nothing will ever be of real benefit to us until it is incorporated into our own lives.

It seems to me there has never been a period in history when it has been more important for us to be engaged in pure religion as taught by the Savior. This religion is not to retaliate, or to exchange in kind, evil actions or unkind statements. Pure religion encompasses the ability to cherish, to build up, and to turn the other cheek in place of destroying and tearing down. Blessed are they who strive to serve Him without wasting time faulting Him or those who serve Him.

The discerning realize that it is not realistic to expect perfection in others when none of us is perfect.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

“Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, let me pull the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:3–5.)

Meaningful progress can be made only when all of us can cast the motes out of our own eyes, leave judgment to our Father in Heaven, and lose ourselves in righteous living.

As we reflect upon actions that do not fit the definition of pure religion, perhaps we should contemplate the nature of this term: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep … unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27.)

The words are simple, but a basic formula is revealed—namely, help those who are in need, build your life around the gospel of Jesus Christ, and avoid yielding to worldly temptations.

As with most simple formulas, all of us must analyze our own lives and use wisdom and free agency as we apply the basic principles. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do.” (3 Ne. 27:21.) The doing is always more difficult than the knowing.

We were visiting some friends this past summer. A very young son with a new tricycle was disturbed because his parents were giving us their attention and all of us were ignoring him. He rode his trike as fast as his little legs could pedal, calling, “Look at me!” The inevitable happened as he looked at us instead of where he was going. He rode directly into a lawn chair. To try to stem the tears and take his mind off the hurt, his mother said, “That naughty chair hurt you. Let’s spank the chair.”

I suppose her response momentarily distracted the boy, but the mother was letting her son blame something else for the accident rather than himself.

How many times do we look for something external on which to place blame for our actions? It hurts to look inward and assume responsibility for our situations.

To keep ourselves unspotted from the world requires taking charge of and ruling our lives from within, accepting responsibility for our own actions, and choosing the role of peacemaker rather than retaliator when those around us are critical or spread false propaganda. It includes being aware that God’s work on earth is done by human beings, all of whom have some weaknesses. It encompasses the ability to look for the good accomplished rather than being disillusioned when human failings surface. It includes resisting the urge to proclaim such weaknesses so adamantly that the basic good is overshadowed and testimonies waver.

Pure religion is maintaining a balance between sophisticated, intellectual information and the basic “bread and butter” principles of the gospel. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to pursue learning in all areas. However, superior knowledge and academic achievements need to be enhanced by wisdom, good judgment, and spiritual guidance in order to use all that is learned for the benefit of the individual and his fellowman.

Some think they can learn of God only by appreciating his handiwork. Mountains, streams, flowers, birds, and animals are to be enjoyed and admired; but this is not enough. In the formal Church setting, gospel truths are shared, new concepts are internalized, and new experiences are offered—all of which can result in enriched feelings about oneself and in learning better methods of helping others.

One who practices pure religion soon discovers it is more rewarding to lift a man up than to hold him down. Happiness is bound up with helpfulness. Those who fail to protect someone’s good name, who take advantage of the innocent or uninformed, who build a fortune by pretending godliness to manipulate others, are missing the joy of practicing pure religion.

Many have found joy by extending mercy and tender care to those around them. What a strength it is to witness friends visiting nursing homes to comfort patients who don’t even have the capacity to express appreciation. There are some who would question God’s motives when he allows many to linger in pain and hopeless physical and mental deterioration. While this process is taking place, others teach us by their compassionate service and patience. One who has served in many leadership positions in the Church, even in missions and temples, now without specific assignment, meets each month with those confined in a nursing home and often says, “What satisfaction I get each month as I visit these precious souls.”

Pure religion is showing concern and affection for those who, because they have lost their companions, are experiencing feelings of loneliness and neglect. Recently I visited with a bishop who has in his ward more than sixty widows. He beamed, “I love them all!” At least once a week he and his counselors visit them, in addition to the calls made by their home teachers. “They are the joys of our lives,” he repeated. He might have said, “Don’t you think that is more than our share?”

Another worthy practice in pure religion is a daily telephone call to each housebound person in a neighborhood. A loving, older, widowed lady said, “If I telephone each day, it gives them a lift, and if they don’t answer the phone, it lets me know they probably need a personal visit from me. One of these friends could not afford a telephone, so this same sister had a phone installed and took care of the monthly bill.

Pure religion encompasses patience and long-suffering. A father recovering from the wounds of alcoholism has often said, “I am making my way back because my family would not give up on me. Everyone had written me off except my wife and children.” How sweet are those words: “I am making my way back because my family would not give up on me.”

Pure religion is practiced when we lift the unfortunate and unusual children. Some of God’s choicest earthly spirits are those without meaningful parental care. Many are given family relationships by foster parents on a part- or full-time basis.

Pure religion is having the courage to do what is right and let the consequence follow. It is doing the right things for right reasons. To be righteous or serving or loving or obedient to God’s laws just to earn praise or recognition is not pure religion. It is being able to withstand ridicule and even temporary unpopularity with some peer groups when you know who you are and for what goals you are reaching. So many of our young people, and older ones also, have developed just such inner strength. They have a great influence for good on others with whom they associate.

Loving those around us includes being sensitive to feelings of others. As is often done, a conducting officer announced that when the deacons were through passing the sacrament, they were invited to go and sit with their families. One father noticed a boy walk out and sit in the foyer. The next week he invited that deacon to sit with his family rather than go through the embarrassment and loneliness caused by not having his own family in attendance. This parent responded to the need of the boy rather than criticizing the leaders for the policy. The actions of this father can be enlarged on and put into practice by every member.

The safety and protection of each person, especially children, should be a concern for all of us. We can be instrumental in assisting in the protection of each other by being aware of potential dangers and being willing to do our part to thwart those who would injure, steal, or abuse any person, young or old.

Another example of pure religion can be practiced in today’s political election processes by those who explain and debate the issues and avoid pettiness and slander. Real political winners are those who would accept defeat rather than participate in character assassination.

Examples of pure religion can be found on every hand. At a funeral about a month ago, I learned of a valiant young lady on a mission in a distant land who, after much prayer and many tears, wrote to her dying mom just before the terminal illness took its toll, and told her that even though she would like to be at her bedside, she would follow her mother’s teachings and stay in the mission field to finish her assignment and search out those who wanted to hear the gospel.

From the simple scripture that defines pure religion come great guidelines. To be unspotted from the world, one must avoid all of Satan’s evil plans for the inhabitants of the world. Retaliation, fault-finding, deceit, pettiness, hypocrisy, judging, and destroying one another do not belong in the definition of pure religion.

Empathy is sincere love for self and our fellowmen. Henry David Thoreau said, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” If this were possible, I’m sure we could visit and help the widowed and fatherless and all who need our help with the pure love of Christ and thus be responsive to the needs of those around us.

May God help us to learn and live the principles of pure religion. The business of lifting each other is a full-time occupation. Pure religion can never be taught or lived by those who are petty, prejudiced, contentious, or unresponsive to the needs of their fellowmen. Pure religion is following the teachings of our Savior. Jesus Christ does live. This is his Church. To this I bear witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I don't claim to be the most organized person on planet earth, but I'm not completely chaotic either. I ususally have about 20 million projects going all at once, and miraculously most of them eventually get done; so I must have at least some organizational skills. The other day I was in an organizational mood and set about making one of my famous "lists" of things to do. These tend to start out with some hint of restraint, but almost invariably grow to ridiculous proportions as things keep popping in my head that need my attention. I guess what started it all was Tithing Settlement. I always wait til the last moment for that, and of course you have to get all your records in order first. So I had to scramble to get all that figured out, then that process started me thinking about tax preparation, and before I knew it I was in the throes of making a list. Here's a sample:

  1. Organize expenses and reciepts for taxes
  2. Get 1099 forms out to people who did work for me last year
  3. Put away Christmas decorations
  4. Throw away Christmas catalogs
  5. Renew domain name with
  6. Clean out closets, organize unwanted items for donation to Good Will
  7. Update pictures of house and contents for insurance purposes
  8. Review insurance coverage with insurance agent
  9. Update WILL
When I got to number 9, I had to pause. It started my mind off in some new directions entirely.

I've had a will for a long time, but it hasn't been updated in ages. Some of the people mentioned in it are no longer in my life, and others have come into the picture that are now important to me. Definitely time to set things in order. The attorney I used to craft the first one is no longer around, so I decided to create my own this time using an online legal service called Legal Zoom.

The Legal Zoom site is pretty easy to use, and basically walks you through the process of creating a legal document through a series of questions. As I went through them, it stirred up some deeply serious thoughts. Its strange to actually contemplate the end of your life. The END! Gulp! In a lot of ways it seems like I'm just beginning! Even though I'm middle aged, it doesn't SEEM like I'm middle aged at all. I think we have two separate perceptions of age - our physical age and our "brain age". Even though our body ages, the brain tends to percieve itself as the same age. Its amazing how much I still think like I did when I was younger; only I'm a little wiser had have far more experience with things. The other thing I realized is how we fret over a lot of really insignificant things in our wills. We like to make these elaborate plans to have our "wishes" carried out, but all that is really an illusion to large degree. Those plans are actually there to make us feel better while we're ALIVE. We won't care about any of it once we're dead! So this time I cut way back on the elaborate "wishes". Simple division of the estate between family. No stipulations. The one thing I am going to insist on is the way the material possessions are divied up. I really like the way it happened with my grandmother's estate. Each person drew lots to establish an order for selecting items from the estate. Each person in turn got an opportunity to select one item they wanted, and we took turns like that over and over until the items were gone. You could trade off with someone else if you missed something near and dear to you, but there was no squabbling, no unfairness - it was great.

The other thing that struck me is just how unimportant all that material "stuff" is. Its just stuff! I have some nice family heirlooms that I inherited from relatives, but most of it just sits there in a box and serves no real purpose. As I get older I find myself wanting to get rid of  "stuff", not getting more of it! Its kind of ironic, since we spend so much time and effort early in life accumulating earthly possesions. In then end we die, our "stuff" gets dispersed to others, and soon there is little left to even mark the fact that we existed on this little planet. I realized that the only thing that really endures is the mark we make on others. The example we set, the love we give, the testimony we bear, and the kindness we show. The "stuff" is soon forgotten, used up, sold off, thrown out. Its what we CAN'T put in a will that ultimately endures.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Natural Man

This has been a topic of late, so I thought I would post two articles on the subject. The first is a general informational article published in the Ensign and Liahona magazines. The second is from one of my all-time favorite General Authorities, Neal A. Maxell.

The Fulness of the Gospel: Putting Off the Natural Man

Liahona, July 2006, 30–31

For centuries philosophers and theologians have debated the question of human nature. Over the years three general philosophies have taken center stage: that people are basically good, that they are fundamentally evil, and that they are neutral (a blank slate to be written upon). We can be thankful that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ reveals the true nature of man and gives purpose, meaning, and direction to life’s challenge of putting off “the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19).

A Dual Nature

Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve “all mankind became a lost and fallen people” (Alma 12:22). King Benjamin taught that fallen man or “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).

President David O. McKay (1873–1970) taught that because of the Fall we have a dual nature: “One, related to the earthly or animal life; the other, akin to the Divine. Whether a man remains satisfied within what we designate the animal world, satisfied with what the animal world will give him, yielding without effort to the whims of his appetites and passions and slipping farther and farther into the realm of indulgence, or whether, through self-mastery, he rises toward intellectual, moral, and spiritual enjoyments depends upon the kind of choice he makes every day, nay, every hour of his life.”

Our spirits come from the presence of God, and “every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning” (D&C 93:38). Our physical bodies are also gifts from God. One reason we wanted to come to this earth was to become more like our Heavenly Father, who has a physical body. Consequently, one of our challenges in mortality is to learn how to manage, care for, and use our bodies properly. If we can govern the natural tendencies of the flesh, we will rise toward the kind of spiritual life President McKay described. But if we let “the natural man” govern, we will find ourselves at enmity with God and His purposes (see Mosiah 3:19).

The Battle

Elder Melvin J. Ballard (1873–1939) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that “all the assaults that the enemy of our souls will make to capture us will be through the flesh, because it is made up of the unredeemed earth, and he has power over the elements of the earth. The approach he makes to us will be through the lusts, the appetites, the ambitions of the flesh. All the help that comes to us from the Lord to aid us in this struggle will come to us through the spirit that dwells within this mortal body. So these two mighty forces are operating upon us through these two channels.

“… If you would have a strong spirit which has dominance over the body, you must see to it that your spirit receives spiritual food and spiritual exercise. …

“The man or woman who is taking neither spiritual food nor spiritual exercise will presently become a spiritual weakling, and the flesh will be master. Whoever therefore is obtaining both spiritual food and exercise will be in control over this body and will keep it subject unto the will of God.”

Elder Ballard identified several forms of spiritual food and exercise: praying, partaking of the sacrament, and serving one another. The scriptures and the prophets remind us of others, such as attending Sabbath meetings, serving in the temple, and studying the scriptures.

Changing Our Nature

Spiritual food and exercise can strengthen us in our quest to govern the body, but this endeavor becomes much easier if the body can be sanctified from its corrupt, or “natural,” state (see Moro. 10:32–33). This sanctification comes through the grace of Christ and the ministering of the Holy Spirit. Elder Parley P. Pratt (1807–57) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that “the gift of the Holy Spirit … quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use.” Passions are not inherently evil. Passions in righteous people can be a vehicle to create great goodness.

The message of the gospel, then, is that we don’t have to surrender to our weaknesses and the yearnings of the flesh. The good news of the gospel is that through the Atonement of our Savior and the appropriate use of agency we can experience a fundamental change in our nature. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) taught that the world attempts to “shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.” Indeed, as Peter declared, by the Lord’s power we can “be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (see 1 Pet. 1:3–4). Through the Atonement of Christ we can put off the natural man and become saints, “submissive, meek, humble, patient, [and] full of love” (Mosiah 3:19).


Put Off the Natural Man, and Come Off Conqueror

Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

So many times prophets warn about the dangers of selfishness—the inordinate and excessive concern with self. The distance between constant self-pleasing and self-worship is shorter than we think. Stubborn selfishness is actually rebellion against God, because, warned Samuel, “stubbornness is as … idolatry.” (1 Sam. 15:23.)

Selfishness is much more than an ordinary problem because it activates all the cardinal sins! It is the detonator in the breaking of the Ten Commandments.

By focusing on oneself, it is naturally easier to bear false witness if it serves one’s purpose. It is easier to ignore one’s parents instead of honoring them. It is easier to steal, because what one wants prevails. It is easier to covet, since the selfish conclude that nothing should be denied them.

It is easier to commit sexual sins, because to please oneself is the name of that deadly game in which others are often cruelly used. The Sabbath day is easily neglected, since one day soon becomes just like another. If selfish, it is easier to lie, because the truth is conveniently subordinated.

The selfish individual thus seeks to please not God, but himself. He will even break a covenant in order to fix an appetite.

Selfishness has little time to regard the sufferings of others seriously, hence the love of many waxes cold. (See Moses 6:27; Matt. 24:12; D&C 45:27.)

The last days will be rampant with the cardinal sins, just “as in the days of Noah.” Society in the days of Noah, scriptures advise, was “corrupt before God” and “filled with violence.” (Gen. 6:11–12; Moses 8:28.) Corruption and violence—sound familiar? Both of these awful conditions crest because of surging individual selfishness. When thus engulfed, no wonder men’s hearts in our day will fail them because of fear. (See Luke 21:26; D&C 45:26.) Even the faithful can expect a few fibrillations.

Some selfishness exists even in good people. Jane Austen’s character Elizabeth mused, “I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle.” (Pride and Prejudice, New York: Airmont Books, 1962, p. 58.) The selfish individual has a passion for the vertical pronoun I. Significantly, the vertical pronoun I has no knees to bend, while the first letter in the pronoun we does.

Selfishness, in its preoccupation with self, withholds from others deserved, needed praise, causing a deprivation instead of giving a commendation.

We see in ourselves other familiar forms of selfishness: accepting or claiming undeserved credit; puffing deserved credit; being glad when others go wrong; resenting the genuine successes of others; preferring public vindication to private reconciliation; and taking “advantage of one because of his words.” (2 Ne. 28:8.) All things are thus viewed selfishly—what are their implications for “me,” much like the mattress on the highway which delayed traffic. When frustrated motorists finally got around the mattress, none stopped to remove it because now there was nothing in it for him.

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “Mankind [is] naturally selfish, ambitious, and striving to excel one above another.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1980, p. 201.)

Saul, swollen with selfishness, was reminded about an earlier time “when thou wast little in thine own sight.” (1 Sam. 15:17.)

Selfishness is often expressed in stubbornness of mind. Having a “mind hardened in pride” often afflicts the brightest who could also be the best. (Dan. 5:20.) “One thing” the brightest often lack: meekness! Instead of having “a willing mind” which seeks to emulate the “mind of Christ,” a “mind hardened in pride” is impervious to counsel and often seeks ascendancy. (1 Chr. 28:9; 1 Cor. 2:16; D&C 64:34.) Jesus, who was and is “more intelligent than they all,” is also more meek than they all. (Abr. 3:19.)

Jesus put everything on the altar without fanfare or bargaining. Both before and after His astonishing atonement, He declared, “Glory be to the Father.” (D&C 19:19; Moses 4:2.) Jesus, stunningly brilliant, nevertheless allowed His will to be “swallowed up in the will of the Father.” (Mosiah 15:7; see also John 6:38.) Those with pride-hardened minds are simply unable to do this.

Stubborn selfishness leads otherwise good people to fight over herds, patches of sand, and strippings of milk. All this results from what the Lord calls coveting “the drop,” while neglecting the “more weighty matters.” (D&C 117:8.) Myopic selfishness magnifies a mess of pottage and makes thirty pieces of silver look like a treasure trove. In our intense acquisitiveness, we forget Him who once said, “What is property unto me?” (D&C 117:4.)

Such is the scope of putting off the burdensome natural man who is naturally selfish. (See Mosiah 3:19.) So much of our fatigue, brothers and sisters, in fact, comes from carrying that needless load. This heaviness of the natural man prevents us from doing our Christian calisthenics; so we end up too swollen with selfishness to pass through the narrow needle’s eye.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote of the need to “shed my Martha-like anxiety about many things, … shedding pride, … shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered,” she said, “is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting.” (Gift from the Sea, New York: Vintage Books, 1978, p. 32.)

Unchecked selfishness thus stubbornly blocks the way for developing all of the divine qualities: love, mercy, patience, long-suffering, kindness, graciousness, goodness, and gentleness. Any tender sprouts from these virtues are sheared off by sharp selfishness. Contrariwise, brothers and sisters, I cannot think of a single gospel covenant the keeping of which does not shear off selfishness from us!

But what a battle for some of us! We are all afflicted in different degrees. The question is, “How goes the battle?” Is our selfishness being put off—even if only gradually? Or is the natural man like “the man who came to dinner”? Divine tutoring is given largely in order to help us shed our selfishness, “for what son [or daughter] is [there] whom the father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:7.)

Restoration scriptures tell us much more about how we can really be forgiven through the atonement of Christ by means of which, finally, “mercy … overpowereth justice.” (Alma 34:15.) We can have real and justified hope for the future—enough hope to develop the faith necessary to both put off the natural man and to strive to become more saintly.

Furthermore, because the centerpiece of the Atonement is already in place, we know that everything else in God’s plan will likewise finally succeed. God is surely able to do His own work! (See 2 Ne. 27:20–21.) In His plans for the human family, long ago God made ample provision for all mortal mistakes. His purposes will all triumph and without abrogating man’s moral agency. Moreover, all His purposes will come to pass in their time. (See D&C 64:32.)

However, without these later and other spiritual perspectives, see how differently we behave. Take away an acknowledgment of divine design and then watch the selfish scurrying to redesign political and economic systems to make life pain-free and pleasure-filled. Misguided governments mean to live, even if they live beyond their means, thereby mortgaging future generations.

Take away regard for the divinity in one’s neighbor, and watch the decline in our regard for his property.

Take away basic moral standards, and observe how quickly tolerance changes into permissiveness.

Take away the sacred sense of belonging to a family or community, and observe how quickly citizens cease to care for big cities.

Take away regard for the seventh commandment, and behold the current celebration of sex, the secular religion with its own liturgy of lust and supporting music. Its theology focuses on “self.” Its hereafter is “now.” Its chief ritual is “sensation”—though, ironically, it finally desensitizes its obsessed adherents, who become “past feeling.” (Eph. 4:19; Moro. 9:20.)

Thus, in all its various expressions, selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion!

Each spasm of selfishness narrows the universe that much more by shutting down our awareness of others and by making us more and more alone. Sensations are then desperately sought precisely in order to verify that one really exists. A variation occurs when one is full of self-pity over affectional deprivation. He ends up in transgression.

Surging selfishness presents us with a sobering scene as the natural man acts out his wants. Many assert their needs—but where have we lodged the corresponding obligations? So many have become demanders, but where are all the providers? There are many more people with things to say than there are listeners. There are more neglected and aging parents than there are attentive sons and daughters—though, numerically, clearly it should not be so!

Just as Jesus warned that some evil spirits would come out only with “prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21), the “natural man” does not come off without difficulty either.

Of this personal battle, the Lord has urged us to so live that we would “come off conqueror.” (D&C 10:5.) But we cannot “come off conqueror,” except we first “put off” the selfish, natural man!

The natural man is truly God’s enemy, because the natural man will keep God’s precious children from true and everlasting happiness. Our full happiness requires our becoming the men and women of Christ.

The meek men and women of Christ are quick to praise, but are also able to restrain themselves. They understand that on occasion the biting of the tongue can be as important as the gift of tongues.

The man and woman of Christ are easily entreated, but the selfish person is not. Christ never brushed aside those in need because He had bigger things to do! Furthermore, the men and women of Christ are constant, being the same in private as in public. We cannot keep two sets of books while heaven has but one.

The men and women of Christ magnify their callings without magnifying themselves. Whereas the natural man says “Worship me” and “Give me thine power,” the men and women of Christ seek to exercise power by long-suffering and unfeigned love. (See Moses 1:12; Moses 4:3; D&C 121:41.)

Whereas the natural man vents his anger, the men and women of Christ are “not easily provoked.” (1 Cor. 13:5.) Whereas the natural man is filled with greed, the men and women of Christ “seeketh not [their] own.” (1 Cor. 13:5.) Whereas the natural man seldom denies himself worldly pleasures, the men and women of Christ seek to bridle all their passions. (See Alma 38:12.)

Whereas the natural man covets praise and riches, the men and women of Christ know such things are but the “drop.” (D&C 117:8.) Human history’s happiest irony will be that the covenant-keeping, unselfish individuals will finally receive “all that [the] Father hath”! (D&C 84:38.)

One of the last, subtle strongholds of selfishness is the natural feeling that we “own” ourselves. Of course we are free to choose and are personally accountable. Yes, we have individuality. But those who have chosen to “come unto Christ” soon realize that they do not “own” themselves. Instead, they belong to Him. We are to become consecrated along with our gifts, our appointed days, and our very selves. Hence, there is a stark difference between stubbornly “owning” oneself and submissively belonging to God. Clinging to the old self is not a mark of independence, but of indulgence!

The Prophet Joseph promised that when selfishness is annihilated, we “may comprehend all things, present, past, and future.” (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984, p. 485.) Even now, however, in gospel glimpses we can “see things as they really are.” (Jacob 4:13.)

Indeed, the gospel brings glorious illumination as to our possibilities. Scales fall from our eyes with the shedding of selfishness. Then we see our luminous and true identity:

On a clear day, rise and look around you, And you’ll see who you are. On a clear day, how it will astound you— That the glow of your being outshines every star … And on a clear day … You can see forever and ever more.”

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen!