State of Mankind

A New Way Of Thinking

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.

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  1. Troy B.

     /  September 30, 2012

    I just want you to know that I read these posts all the time. I also agree with the gist of the story. A community knitted together by love and freedom is the ideal. I also reiterate my belief in no distinction between us and the government, however. It’s frustrating that so many of us want the same thing, but the methods of getting there seem so opposed. I feel I am exercising my moral agency by paying taxes and supporting many ‘government’ programs. Granted ‘government’ is not perfect because we are not perfect. Anyway, I appreciate the posts. Thanks.

    • Brinton

       /  October 1, 2012

      Thanks Troy. I see no reason for frustration, however. I believe the greater good is that we achieve brotherly love and respect regardless of such differences (I guess I fully accept being in a vast minority). My goal here has always been of dialogue and sharing of ideas. The best end that could come would be that we come away with understanding which would cause all of us to realize that even those with whom we disagree generally desire good, thus all people could treat each other a bit better.

      If you feel you would like to go deeper into the subject of government programs, I would be glad to have such dialogue, and there is much more information to sort through on this subject. Otherwise, I may put out a ‘semi-retirement’ post in the near future, as I think I have given anyone who desires enough to think about, and I feel I need to head another direction with my spare time. Thanks again for reading.


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