This post is a continuation of my summary for 'Beyond Politics,' by Hugh Nibley. Part 1 can be viewed here, part 2 here, and the full article here. I have added section headings for clarity. Continued:
When President Harold B. Lee said that the Saints are above politics, he was referring to the brand of politics that prevails in the world today. "The government of heaven, if wickedly administered, would become one of the worst governments upon the face of the earth. No matter how good a government is, unless it is administered by righteous men, an evil government will be made of it."
No Intention of Repenting
Joseph Smith tells us that there are crimes and sins which are wrong no matter who does them or under what condition: they are wrong in and of themselves, at all times and at all places. You cannot deceive one party to be loyal to another. "Any man who will betray the Catholics will betray you; and if he will betray me, he will betray you."
The dialogue between men has always been remarkably superficial, devoid of any substance and depth, since men must always be on the go and only make brief contact, like jet planes passing in the night as each goes about his business, looking out first of all for his own interests, with little time left over for the common interest. Busy modern men and women feel they are too busy for the rigors of serious discussion necessary for genuine politics. Senator Proxmire deplored the fact, as all public-spirited people always have, that very few people take a real and active part in the political process. How could it be otherwise? Politics by its very nature is superficial . . .
Politics is often a forlorn and hopeless affair, because it is not really a dialogue unless it is strictly honest, and the ulterior motives of power and gain always vitiate it in the end. It is then the tricky lawyer who takes over. Eventually someone seeks a stronger tool than mere talk—we start talking and end up condemning and smiting. "Man shall not smite, neither shall he judge" (Mormon 8:20) is the final wisdom of the Book of Mormon. "Man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh" (D&C 1:19) is the initial wisdom of the Doctrine and Covenants. What was to be a meeting of the minds often degenerates into a trial of arms. Politics gravitate in the direction of an ever stronger clout, inevitably leading to the trial of arms. Someone seeks a stronger tool than mere talk. Consider again Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is the natural end of politics—and also that war lies beyond politics. It is the arena that smells of death—and we are trapped in the arena.
Nothing is easier than to identify one's own favorite political, economic, historical, and moral convictions with the gospel. That gives one a neat, convenient, but altogether too easy advantage over one's fellows. ... You can search through the scriptures and find support for any theory you want, and it is your privilege to attempt to convince yourself of any position you choose to take—but not to impose that opinion on others as the gospel. God certainly does not subscribe to our political creeds. The first issue of the Times and Seasons contained a lead editorial to the elders: "Be careful that you teach not for the word of God, the commandments of men, nor the doctrines of men nor the ordinances of men; . . . study the word of God and preach it, and not your opinions, for no man's opinion is worth a straw."52
Accordingly, among the Saints, "party feelings, separate interests, exclusive designs should be lost sight of in the one common cause, in the interest of the whole."54If the world cannot accept such a proposition, we are still committed to it—wholly and irrevocably—whether we like it or not. "The government of the Almighty has always been very dissimilar to the governments of men. . . . [It] has always tended to promote peace, unity, harmony, strength, and happiness," while on the other hand "the greatest acts of the mighty men have been to depopulate nations and to overthrow kingdoms. . . . Before them the earth was a paradise, and behind them a desolate wilderness. . . . The designs of God, on the other hand, [are that] . . . 'the earth shall yield its increase, resume its paradisean glory, and become as the garden of the Lord.'"
How you play the game of politics is important, but the game you are playing is also important. It is important to work, but what you work for is all-important. The Nephites, "by their industry" (Alma 4:6), obtained riches—which then destroyed them; "[for] the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish" (2 Nephi 26:31)—work does not satisfy wealth, as we try to make ourselves believe. The zeal and intelligence that our political commitments demand—to what should they be directed? At present we have a positive obsession with the economy—the economy is all. But the Lord told Samuel the Lamanite that when a people "have set their heart upon riches, . . . cursed be they and also their treasures" (Helaman 13:20).
|Lehi's Dream, by Greg Olsen (detail)|
Wisdom greater than man tells me that we are not playing the right game: "The world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good no not one.56 The game is not going to last much longer. "They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall" (D&C 1:16; cf. 2 Nephi 9:30). According to Joseph Smith,
Ourselves, . . . our wives and children . . . have been made to bow down under . . . the most damning hand of murder, tyranny, and oppressions, supported and urged on and upheld by . . . that spirit which has so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies, upon the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion, and has been growing stronger and stronger, and is now the very main-spring of all corruption, and the whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity.This is our heritage.
The news of the world today reminds me of nothing so much as those bulletins which a short while ago were being issued by the doctors attending the late King Gustave of Sweden and by those treating Pablo Casals. The king was in his nineties, Casals, ninety-six; and both were very ill—what really good news could come out of the sickroom? That the patient had rested well? That he had had some lucid moments? That he had taken nourishment? Could any of that be called good news, hopeful news—in view of the inevitable news the world was waiting for? What is your own idea of an encouraging and cheering item in the news today? That the next Middle Eastern war has been postponed? That a new oil field has been discovered? "This physic but prolongs thy sickly days."
We shall achieve lasting peace when we achieve eternal life. Politics has the same goal as the gospel: complete happiness. But to achieve that requires eternal life. The most painful thing in the world, says Joseph Smith, is the thought of annihilation; until that gnawing pain is relieved, all the rest is a forlorn and wistful game of make-believe.
The solution of all our problems is the resurrection: only God knows the solution. Why not follow his advice? And only the gospel can remove that pain. The final relief of all our woes lies beyond all worldly politics. So when Joseph Smith says, "My feelings revolt at the idea of having anything to do with politics," he is not being high and mighty but putting his priorities in order. "I wish to be let alone," he says, "that I may attend strictly to the spiritual welfare of the church." Specifically, "The object with me is to obey and teach others to obey God in just what He tells us to do." . . . "For one truth revealed from heaven is worth all the sectarian notions in existence." And so he pursues his way: "It matters not to me if all hell boils over; I regard it only as I would the crackling of the thorns under a pot. . . . I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world. . . . It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on."
|Remain clean, preach the|
gospel. In the end, only
one government succeeds.
How should the Saints behave? Brigham Young believed that "the elders cannot be too particular to enjoin on all the saints to yield obedience to the laws, and respect every man in his office, letting politics wholly, entirely and absolutely alone, and preach the principles of the gospel of salvation; for to this end were they ordained and sent forth. We are for peace, we want no contention with any person or government." . . . "Amid all the revolutions that are taking place among the nations, the elders will ever pursue an undeviating course in being subject to the government wherever they may be, and sustain the same by all their precepts to the Saints, having nothing to do with political questions which engender strife, remembering that the weapons of their warfare are not carnal but spiritual, and that the Gospel which they preach is not of man but from heaven.". . . "As for politics, we care nothing about them one way or the other, although we are a political people. . . . It is the Kingdom of God or nothing with us." . . . The kingdom is beyond politics—one way or the other—that is, it is beyond partisan party politics.
On the last night of a play the whole cast and stage crew stay in the theater until the small or not-so-small hours of the morning, striking the old set. If there is to be a new opening soon, as the economy of the theater requires, it is important that the new set should be in place and ready for the opening night; all the while the old set was finishing its usefulness and then being taken down, the new set was rising in splendor to be ready for the drama that would immediately follow. So it is with this world. It is not our business to tear down the old set—the agencies that do that are already hard at work and very efficient; the set is coming down all around us with spectacular effect. Our business is to see to it that the new set is well on the way for what is to come—and that means a different kind of politics, beyond the scope of the tragedy that is now playing its closing night. We are preparing for the establishment of Zion.
This talk was given on 26 October 1973 to the Pi Sigma Alpha honor society in the Political Science Department at BYU. It first appeared in BYU Studies 15/1 (1974): 3–28; and was reprinted in Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless.