State of Mankind

A New Way Of Thinking

Month: September, 2012

The Gift And The Giver

For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?  Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. (D&C 88:33)

The story is told of two young men who happened to be walking near the farm of a poor man.  He had removed his shoes to work in a wet area and the young men spotted the shoes.  After discussing possible pranks for a minute, one of them suggested they put a dollar in each shoe, then hide to see his reaction.  The young men did this, and shortly he returned.  Putting on his shoes, he found the money.  Unable to locate anyone, the man fell to his knees and thanked the Lord for the gift given.  Viewing this, the young men were also filled with gratitude and felt they had received the greater gift.

Time to analyze the story a bit in order to decide what are the gifts, and who are the givers.  The poor farmer clearly received a gift, more than one gift may be more accurate.  He received some money which he needed.  Perhaps more important was the gift of knowing that the Lord cared about his situation and loved him.  Being filled with gratitude is a gift.  The young men received a gift in feeling the spirit of the Lord, and realizing that they had been an instrument for him to bless the farmer.  All of them received the gifts offered.  We quickly understand that the Lord was the major giver.  We must also add that the young men made the decision to give the gift that started it all of their own free will, though most likely with a push from above.  Thus we see that earthly blessings are under a joint stewardship.  The Lord and the young men both had to decide to give.  If one of them didn’t want to join in, nothing would have worked.  Because they jointly decided to give a little, the Lord added many other gifts.  All of them rejoiced in the gifts and the giver.

Now we’re past the “feel good” part and about to jump into the deep water, so we’ll need to keep in mind a couple of things.  First, what is being posted is not an attempt to push anything political.  The attempt is to expand understanding of a political idea, which, I believe, looking at most of the religious political comments I see, is not well understood.  Second, we need to keep in mind the ad hominem fallacy.  This is the idea that something is true or false because of who said it.  In writing, we often quote people who are trusted to help the reader trust the idea quoted.  We often don’t quote certain persons because we don’t want the bias associated with the name to get in the way of understanding.  For example, I may quote Einstein as saying, “two plus two equals four.”  This gives a trusted and intelligent atmosphere to help the reader understand the mathematical equation.  I probably wouldn’t quote Adolf Hitler as saying, “two plus two equals four.”  The reader’s mind could well get so caught up in who Hitler was, or what he did, or why he may have said this, that the point of the simple equation could be lost.  Overcoming the ad hominem fallacy requires separating the thing said from who said it and analyzing the truth (or error) of the idea on its own merits.  We will do well to keep this in mind going forward.

With the preliminaries out of the way, we’ll get to the subject of this post–the political ideas of Ezra Taft Benson.  I rarely quote Benson, mainly because of the ad hominem fallacy.  About half the people who read will miss the point because they are generally opposed to what he said and tune out immediately.  The other near-half will miss the point because they pretty much agree with whatever is quoted and are so sure of it that their attention is lost.  What I want to accomplish here (and I won’t quote Benson to do it) is to share some understanding as to why Elder/President Benson was so vocal about his poltical beliefs, and hopefully, open the mind to what he was actually saying.  To do this, the best source I have found came from Gordon B. Hinckley from his talk at Pres. Benson’s funeral.  Pres. Hinckley about Pres. Benson:

Throughout the years of his mature life, when he walked with presidents and kings, he never lost the touch of his boyhood farm days.  He never lost his capacity for work.  He never lost the will to rise at dawn and work into the night.  But there was more than a tremendous habit of work that came out of that boyhood home.  There was a certain strength that comes from the soil.  There was a constant reminder of the dictum given Adam and Eve when they were driven from the garden: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground”  (Gen. 3:19).  A spirit of self-reliance was built into those who worked the soil.  There were no government farm programs then, no subsidies of any kind.  The vagaries of the seasons had to be accepted.  Killing frosts, unseasonal storms, wind, and drought were all accepted as the risks of life against which there was no available insurance.  Storage against a day of want was a necessity, else there would be hunger.  The constant resource against the risks of life was prayer, prayer to our eternal, loving Father, the Almighty God of the universe.

There was much of prayer in that little home in Whitney, Idaho.  There was family prayer, night and morning, in which thanks was expressed for life with its challenges and opportunities, and in which pleas were made for strength to do the work of the day.  Those in need were remembered, and when the family arose from their knees, the mother, who was the ward Relief Society president, would have the buggy loaded to share food with those in need, her eldest son as her driver.  Those lessons were never lost.  Brother Benson, who later served as president of the Boise Idaho Stake, was a pioneer in the great welfare program of the Church.  An overwhelming sense of responsibility for the needy that he carried throughout his life found its roots in his boyhood home, in the prayers of his family, and in the good and generous deeds his mother gladly performed without fanfare or notice.

Brother Monson has spoken of the tremendous work he did when, as a member of the Council of the Twelve, he was sent to Europe to bring succor to our people who were hungry and destitute at the end of the war.  The hand that reached out to those impoverished people was the same hand which many years earlier had helped his mother in assisting the distressed of the little ward in which he grew up.

I was at the Swiss Temple in 1955 when it was dedicated by President David O. McKay.  Brother Benson was there.  President Harold Gregory of the Berlin Mission was able to bring a company of Saints to the temple on that occasion.  I will never forget what I witnessed.  When they saw Brother Benson, they ran to him and they embraced one another, with tears rolling down their cheeks and tears rolling down his cheeks.  Ten years earlier he had come almost as an angel from heaven with food when they were hungy and with hope when they were desperate.

[My note:  This is a really inspiring story, as Elder Benson risked his life with no thought except that he was on the Lord’s errand to go to Berlin.]

I am confident that it was out of what he saw of the bitter fruit of dictatorship that he developed his strong feelings, almost hatred, for communism and socialism.  That distaste grew through the years as he witnessed the heavy-handed oppression and suffering of the peoples of eastern Europe under what he repeatedly described as godless communism.

These experiences further strengthened his love for the land of his birth.  He had grown up in big sky country, where there was a spirit of freedom and independence.  He had grown up in the tradition of his forebears, who spoke reverently of those who were raised up by the Almighty to establish this nation and who had pledged “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” to the cause of liberty.  He never got over his boyhood love for freedom.  Rather it grew within him, nurtured by what he saw of oppression in other lands and by what he observed firsthand of a growing dominance of government in this land over the lives of the people.

He was constantly within the glare of the spotlight of public scrutiny.  He was absolutely fearless in speaking out against what he regarded as oppressive programs that shackled the farmer and did injury to him while masquerading as his protector and benefactor.  His picture appeared on the covers of the leading national news magazines.  Editorialists and commentators denounced him.  But without fear or favor, without political or personal consideration, he spoke his mind and won the plaudits of millions across this nation.  Even those who disagreed with his policies were forced to respect his logic, his wisdom, and his convictions.  They came to know that he knew whereof he spoke.  He had once been a dirt-digging, hands-on, sweating farmer.  He spoke out of that experience.  But he spoke also with the skill and refinement of an educated mind, with the skill of a trained debator, and out of a conviction deep and intense that came of a love for freedom to live one’s own life and direct one’s own affairs.

 I believe this speech very simply sums up what Ezra Taft Benson really envisioned.  He grew up in a society where people understood that they depend on God for everything.  It was known that prayer was the most important part of the day.  Because there were no government programs or social insurances, the community worked together in true charity.  While life must have often been a struggle, there is something Zion-like about this community.  It “tastes good” when compared with our day where “good fences make good neighbors” is a common theme.  Who doesn’t want this?

In the media today, I read many things suggesting that those who would have less government programs are hateful or against the poor in one way or another.  On the contrary, I believe that the experience of Brother Benson speaks to the heart of those who desire less government.  In their heart is often true charity and the desire for a loving society.  A society where wealth is shared on the basis of love.  A society that recognizes by experience that everything comes from God.  A society that raises young men and women with a mold from which a Prophet came.  A society that recognizes and loves the gift and the giver.

Idealogical Diversity

I recently read a study which showed how attitudes in the United States have changed over the years.  Overall, our nation is very accepting of diversity in just about every way.  There was one exception, idealogical diversity.  We tend to be tolerant of just about anything except people who think differently than we do.  I believe this holds true, if we look at the political polarization that seems to continually increase.  I would like to propose a couple of ideas regarding this.

First, there is no political agenda that can do so much good that it can counteract the negative effects of anger toward our fellow man.  If I feel anger over anything political, it is time to give it up.  It’s not worth it.

Second, I believe we have rough times coming, regardless of who gets elected.  If we allow political differences or blaming to effect how we treat our neighbor, we could be in real trouble.  Historically, this is the difference between tough times and total meltdown.

I believe there is a place for political dialogue and discussion.  I believe we can talk openly about any idea that exists.  I believe we can disagree without becoming disagreeable or allowing it to destroy our love for our neighbors.  If we can learn to do this, our discussion can be a positive thing toward understanding others and gaining knowledge.  If we can’t learn to do this, we probably need to re-focus on what is really important.  If we truly believe in diversity, I believe this must include idealogical diversity.

The Love Of Money

As we consider the building of a society that can bring us closer to the principles of Zion, money and how it it is properly handled becomes a constant issue.  I believe that the idea of Zion has at its base an equality held in the heart of all the people.  No one feels in his or her heart that they are above or below anyone else in any way.  In thinking this way, I stumbled on an article that gave some interesting points to think on.  I’ll quote a portion of it.

The first pre-requisite of the establishment of a “society” of the rulers and the ruled has always been the same.  The rulers must gain control over the medium of exchange.  For obvious reasons, no nation can ever progress to a state of advanced economic activity until a medium of exchange is established.  Once it is established, there is no going back.  An advanced economy cannot operate by means of barter.  The problem is that once the government or the rulers gain control of money, it progressively ceases to be a medium of exchange and becomes a medium of control.  That impinges on the functioning of markets which in turn impinges on the maintenance of property rights.  Thus, we come full circle from a free society to a command society.  There has never been any shortage of those who want to rule.  The problem has always been with the vast majority who are content to be ruled.  Today’s global outcry for the manufacturing of more and more “money” out of thin air is an eloquent testimony.  It shows that most people have no understanding of freedom, markets or money.  Lacking such understanding–and having no desire to gain it–most people have accepted government as their masters.

As Robert Heinlein stated the problem–it is impossible to free a serf or a slave.  He or she must free themselves and most are much more terrified of that prospect than they are resentful of being ruled. (From The Rulers and the Ruled, by Bill Buckler)

Note a similar story in the Bible, when Joseph saved Egypt from the great famine.  Genesis 47: 15-20, 23.

And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth.

And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail.

And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, and for flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year.

When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and said unto him, We will not hide it from my lord, how that our money is spent; my lord also hath our herds of cattle; there is not ought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands:

Wherefore shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land?  buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh:  and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, that the land be not desolate.

And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them:  so the land became Pharoh’s.

Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh:  lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land.

I have before discussed how money is used to control people in our society, so I won’t dwell on it too long.  Just consider that when those in power offer something for “free”, that is the rulers telling us that item or action is what society desires.  When something is to be taxed or made expensive, that item is bad or to be shunned.  Over time, this “social engineering” becomes our culture and belief.

It seems, if I follow his ideas well, that we are presented with somewhat of a dilemma.  The real reason for the love of money and the reason it would be described as the root of all evil, would be that it is actually seeking control.  It creates this unequal relationship that needs to be avoided.  However, on the flip side, to fully shun money would be to choose to be the “ruled” which is also an inequality and gets us no closer to where we need to be.  The only answer I can come up with is that the righteous use of money is the only thing that really helps.  Seek first the Kingdom of God and then you may obtain riches, if you seek them, but you will seek them to do good.