The ninth commandment is neglected, being seldom discussed at any length. There are so many different ways to breach “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). We can spread falsehood knowingly and maliciously rather than inadvertently. Perhaps that is the worst form of breaking this commandment. We can also spread falsehood by simply passing it along in the form of idle gossip without malicious intent, which is somewhat mitigating. Either way, the innocent victim usually experiences a double blow: first, damage to his self-image/self-confidence; second, the diminished regard of others. Additionally, the victim probably comes to have diminished regard, even anger, toward those who so traffic in untruth.

– Neal A. Maxwell, That Ye May Believe (Bookcraft, 1992).

It is interesting, and telling, that the victim in this case also has the added burden of struggling against a sin that he or she would not have been liable to: harsh feelings toward the gossip. The victim of gossip must overcome these feelings, but that doesn’t mean the gossip is guiltless of inducing the sin either.

I always sobered by how evil–or even careless–acts tend to ramify and spread. One hopes good acts are as hardy.


Neal A. Maxwell on bearing false witness

But there is another explanation for the reticence to search and to understand. Some individuals are perceptive enough to understand that with great knowledge come great responsibilities. Great knowledge in response to the great questions will alter how we view both great and small things, if we are intellectually honest. Therefore, while aversion to searching great knowledge exists because of conceptual inadequacy and also because people are lazy and busy, it likewise exists and persists because some do not want the great responsibilities that come with great knowledge. For some, at least, rejecting or ignoring transcending truths is an act of deliberate avoidance, even running away.

– Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1987), 37.

Maybe Spiderman had it right.

One can also be afraid of what peers or colleagues will think of us if we live up to such knowledge. So, it is better not to seek it too diligently, for fear they get the wrong idea, or defend it too loudly, lest we lose our seat in the “secular synagogue.”

Elder Maxwell and Peter Parker?

One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is ‘true’ but because it is ‘good’. One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if it is true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

– C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (1946)

We often talk about blessings from God, or what the gospel can bring us. We mention being happier, or having peace, or the answers to vital questions.

These are, to be sure, great advantages, and we should humbly acknowledge them.

The risk, however, is that we can too easily come to trust the gift more than the Giver. Do we value our peace more than the Prince of Peace?

This is one of the many Christian paradoxes. Jesus assures us that his yoke is easy, and his burden light. But, he also warns us that to be his disciple, we must take up our cross daily, and risk having those of our own household hate us. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub,” we warns with characteristic irony, “how much more shall they call them of his household?” (Matthew 10:25)

I’ve often wondered what a 2nd or 3rd century sociologist would find about Christians–I wonder if they would point out that being a Christian made it far more likely to have family strife over religious matters (something virtually unheard of among pagans, who could always welcome one more god at the altar), and far more likely to end up in a lion’s stomach than the general pagan-in-the-street. Not, perhaps, a ringing endorsement.

But we do not–indeed, we cannot–ultimately follow Christ because of what doing so brings us. We follow him simply because what he taught is true, and we ought to value the truth, wherever it takes us.

We have, I fear, too surrounded the Passion with rocco art and Renaissance frescos. Our knowledge of Easter and two thousand years of Christian civilization (however imperfect) disguises the deep shame and offense that was the cross on ‘Good’ Friday (more of that Christian irony).

Dietrich Bonhoffer noted this shameful and outrageous death ought to awaken us to the demands of discipleship immediately upon meeting Christ:

The cross is laid on every Christian….Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god–fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die––death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call….In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life. The call to discipleship, the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life.

The Cost of Discipleship (Whitstable, Kent, Great Britain: Latimer Trend & Co. Ltd., 1959), 79–80.

And, argues Bonhoffer, the Christian is also called to an imitation of Christ due to the scorn and violence–be it physical, rhetorical, or social–that inevitably follows the disciples.

But there is [a] kind of suffering and shame which the Christian is not spared. While it is true that only the sufferings of Christ are a means of atonement, yet since he has suffered for and borne the sins of the whole world and shares with his disciples the fruits of his passion, the Christian also has to undergo temptation, he too has to bear the sins of others; he too must bear their shame and be driven like a scapegoat from the gate of the city. But he would certainly break down under this burden, but for the support of him who bore the sins of all. The passion of Christ strengthens him to overcome the sins of others by forgiving them.

To forgive is as much a gift of grace as to be forgiven–perhaps more so. To humble ourselves when confronted by our own sin is painful, but at times becomes almost inevitable. We will be humbled or worse; we are overjoyed that the experience can end. But, to suffer injustice, to suffer for others’ sins, to watch those who use us ill parade and proclaim both their victory and their uprightness–to bear that with good grace and meet it with forgiving grace is no small matter.

It is hard to be a scapegoat. But, what did the worshipers of a crucified God expect?

He did, after all, warn us up front.

The Gift and the Giver

In the end it will not matter to us whether we wrote well or ill; whether we fought with flails or reeds. It will matter to us greatly on what side we fought.

– G.K. Chesterton, _All Things Considered_, 10.

I have a friend who is a retired university professor. He often says that he remains under the academic’s illusion that one can cure the world with an essay.

While perhaps a delusion, this is a useful one–it keeps him writing. He may not change the world, but he can change one reader at a time. He has certainly had that effect on me.

Chesterton’s citation invokes another delusion, and it is a less useful (and less benign) one.

There is often the conviction that we must make a massive, decisive influence on whatever cause or truth we support. “If I can’t have much of an impact,” we think, “it’s best not to get involved.”

In a pure tactical sense, this may be true. But, from the strategic perspective, it’s dangerously wrong-headed. For the causes that truly matter, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Right will ultimately triumph, truth will out. Whether I add my voice or keep silent matters, in that sense, very little.

But, it matters a great deal whether I add that voice or not–to my own character and development. What ultimately matters is that I stand and be counted.

We must, ultimately, put everything on the altar. We are not interrogated as to whether we bring a fortune or a widow’s mite. The question, rather, is whether we unclench our grip on all that we treasure, all that we might value more than God and his truth. And, while the richly blessed have their own set of challenges, those who have (or feel they have) very little to bring have a unique difficulty–when we have (or feel we have) very little of value, we are sometimes apt to hoard the pittance that we have. It seems so frail against the need, and might leave us with nothing. Or, so we fear.

There may be political/social issues of moral import about which we ought to speak. There may be lies that we could expose, did we not fear the reaction of those spreading them. Such situations might seem like losing battles, and perhaps they are.

But, the point is not to win the battle–the point is to pick a side. A President Packer observed:

The adversary does everything he can to tamper with [God’s purposes] in every way he can, and he wins so that the scoreboard often looks like we’re losing.  Well, we may be behind a little, but when all the tomorrows are experienced and the final curtain is closed, the Lord Jesus Christ and his people will have the ascendency.

– Boyd K. Packer, “Lessons From Gospel Experiences,” (Seminar For New Mission Presidents, 25 June 2008)

So, take up your flail, or your reed. We need not speak or write well (though we should do so as well as we can)–we must, though, speak and write.

To be silent is also to pick a side–or to fail to pick the side that will matter to us, and for us.

To fight with flail or reed…

I think it is possible that what is keeping you from belief in Christ’s Divinity is your apparently strong desire to believe. If you don’t think it true why do you _want_ to believe it? If you _do_ think it true, then you believe it already. So I would recommend less anxiety about the whole question. You believe in God and trust him. Well, you can trust Him about this. If you go on steadily praying and attempting to obey the best light He had given you, can you not rely on Him to guide you into any further truth He wishes you to know? Or even if He leaves you all your life in doubt, can’t you believe that He sees that to be the best state for you?

I don’t mean by this that you should cease to study and make enquiries: but that you should make them not with frantic desire but with cheerful curiosity and a humble readiness to accept whatever conclusions God may lead you to. (But always, all depends on the steady attempt to obey God all the time. ‘He who does the will of the Father shall know of the doctrine.’)…

I’m pretty sure where you’ll land, myself, and you will then wonder how you ever doubted it. But you needn’t keep looking over your shoulder too often. Keep you eye on the Helmsman, keep your conscience bright and your brain clear and believe that you are in good hands. (No one can make himself believe anything and the effort does harm. Nor make himself feel anything, and that effort also does harm. What is under our own control is action and intellectual inquiry. Stick to that.)

C.S. Lewis to Rhona Bodle, 31 Decenver 1947; cited in _Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis_ (HarperOne, 2008), 125-126.

This advice to a seeker wondering about Christ’s divinity is a good example of why Lewis is always so sane.

He wisely points out what few in our age can readily accept–that they cannot control what seems compelling to them, and cannot control or dictate which emotions they have.

Emotions are not (almost by definition) rational or logical things. We also know that they can be ephemeral and unpredictable. Nonsense masquerading as pop wisdom, like “Listen to your heart!” or “Do what feels right!” can quickly mislead us. (We ought, of course, to consult our feelings or heart, but not give them a trump card, or listen to them exclusively.)

There are times when our feelings are quite frankly mistaken. That we are hurt or offended, for example, may in no way reflect the intent of the person who has offended us, or the nature of the thing that has hurt us. Too often, though, some treat their own–or others’–feelings as an infallible guide to the nature of an act or situation.

Lewis also knew that it was unwise to try to “force” or “create” an emotional state or even an intellectual one. Our minds and reason can fail us as easily as our emotions–especially because the one can impact the other.

Instead, Lewis wisely threads the needle–we can control only two things:

  1. our acts;
  2. the attitude in which we undertake them.

We might, then, undertake research or a quest in anger, rage, or pride. We might start with a (only half-admitted, even to ourselves) preconceived notion of what we would find. We might feel betrayed, and thus refuse to lay that lens aside. Or, we might seek humbly, sincerely, and with “real intent.” Only we–and God–know for sure.

Our acts show above all what we value. To what degree do we allow the emotion of the moment to influence them? Our acts will, most likely, determine what the ultimate conclusions and emotions will be–if only because they can so easily constrain the future possibilities available to us. Thus, said Lewis to another correspondent, “even genuinely religious emotion is only a servant. No soul is saved by having it or damned by lacking it. The love we are commanded to have for God and our neighbour is a state of the will, not of the affections (though if they ever also play their part so much the better)” (C.S. Lewis to Mrs. R.E. Halvorson, March 1956, Ibid, 287).

Thought and emotion

The important thing for each of us about any book is not whether it is wicked in itself but whether it can be safely read by _me_ at this particular moment.

– C.S. Lewis to Mary Neylan, 26 April 1941; cited in _Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis_ (HarperOne, 2008), 83.

Here, Lewis focuses quite rightly not on some theoretical or abstract standard for judging a book–or, we could say, a television show, a radio broadcast, a play, an Internet message board, or even a conversation with others. He does not think there much value in worrying over assigning a book to “good” or “bad” categories in the sense of “righteous” or “wicked” in and of itself.

Rather, he quite rightly focuses on its fruits and outcome for each individual. To be sure, there are some works whose effect can hardly help but be irredeemably evil, and some which could rarely work wrong. But there is a broad middle ground where most things dwell.

We are apt to want rules to judge by–What rating does this movie have?–and so forth. But Lewis reminds us that this essentially abandons the necessity of moral judgment. A person troubled by lust might find that some works simply aren’t in his best interest, while another might not notice those elements at all. A person prone to melancholy or self-pity might need to avoid certain tear-jerkers not because they are evil, but because of the broader ripple effect on her mood and actions later.

We can, if inclined, use this as an excuse or self-justification: we can “handle” the rough stuff. The principle, though, ought to make us more discriminating, more discerning, and more attuned to the fruits of what we consume.

As Lewis remarked elsewhere, Christians should not avoid bars and the like because they are too good for such places. They avoid them because they know they are not good enough.

Books and media

Those who wish, rightly or wrongly, to step out of all this [the life of the family], do definitely wish to step into a narrower world. They are dismayed and terrified by the largeness and variety of the family… I do not say, for a moment, that the flight to this narrower life may not be the right thing for the individual, any more than I say the same thing about flight into a monastery. But I do say that anything is bad and artificial which tends to make these people succumb to the strange delusion that they are stepping into a world which is actually larger and more varied than their own. The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born.

– Gilbert K Chesterton, “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family,” Heretics (New York: John Lane company, 1905 [twelfth edition, 1919]).

Chesterton is quite right about marriages and families–it may well because of the dynamic he describes that family is one of the workshops of making true Christians.

I seems too, though, that Chesterton’s description fits well with the religious communities in which Latter-day Saints find ourselves. We do not pick them, and we cannot move between them at will. We are simply placed with a group of people, with whom we must put up, and who must put up with us. We bear their weaknesses and follies as they bear ours.

We can choose–and many do–to find other communities. But we must be wary that these freely-chosen associations do not steal us away from those into which God has placed us: our family and our “ward family.” There is something about associations that we cannot change simply when they cease to please us, or “meet our needs,” or when they seem to be more trouble than they are worth.

Where would be if Jesus had taken that option?

Family and Church community

It did not seem to occur to such controversialists that if Cardinal Newman was really a man of intellect, the fact that he adhered to dogmatic religion proved exactly as much as the fact that Professor Huxley, another man of intellect, found that he could not adhere to dogmatic religion; that is to say (as I cheerfully admit), it proved precious little either way.

– GK Chesterton, All Things Considered, 232-233.

We tend to appeal to the clever or impressive people who agree with us, and disregard the equally impressive who did not. Human nature.

What this should tell us, though, is that for the types of questions that really matter, a purely intellectual or cerebral approach is inadequate. We make such decisions with our minds, but non-rational factors always come into play.

There is no shame in this, but there may be when we insist that we are the rational ones and those who disagree are not. There is no truth that some very bright person has not contested, and there is no idiocy or fallacy that has likewise not had its share of well-credentialed credulity.

This ought to make us humble, and ought to remind us that smarts aren’t everything. In many cases, they are hardly anything.

Newman vs. Huxley

[some] shrink instinctively from that earthquake saying of our Gospels, which declare that the Son of God came not with peace but with a sundering sword. The saying rings entirely true even considered as what it obviously is; the statement that any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate.

— G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 129

“Real love” is both costly, and demanding–to both the recipient and the giver. Those who really love us will not acquiesce to either our self-deception, or being less than we can be. Christianity, noted Chesterton, “divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all” (p. 91).

To make a crime or sin of no consequence–to forgive the evil instead of him who committed it–shows love for neither him or others.

One will, of course, be called “judgmental” and “intolerant” for such a view. But, we must not lose sight of the fact that those who make such declarations are committing the very crime against which they rail. To fail to be “tolerant”–that is, to decline to critique another’s choices–is the only secular sin that is inexcusable. The modern world’s tolerance is intolerant on this point.

But, if we worry about such things, we show that we care more about ourselves than those we are to love and serve. Boyd K. Packer noted: “When a man in a leadership position resists giving counsel or necessary correction, he is thinking of himself” (unpublished document, February 2008; cited in Boyd K. Packer, Mine Errand from the Lord (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2008).

Not peace, but a sword….

The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.

– Gilbert K Chesterton, “III––The Suicide of Thought,” Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908).

Chesterton is a Christian author from England at the turn of the century whose prose and (often) thought I admire. His style is without peer.

He’s also interesting, because he confronted the sort of secularist, atheist movement in England that now grips the west more generally. (He has much in common with C.S. Lewis in this regard.)

At any rate, in this case he is right. It is an almost unpardonable sin (dissonance intended! this blogging gig is a cinch….) in many circles to suggest that someone has made an unwise choice (like, maybe, starting a blog).

Thankfully, in medicine (at least for now) one is not yet penalized for correctly identifying a potential problem

The modern world