Monday, January 3, 2011

Mormon Messages: Look Not Behind Thee - A New Year's Message Urging People Not To Obsess With The Past

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has produced yet another short but useful video to help ring in the New Year in the right spirit. Entitled "New Year's: Look Not Behind Thee", it features comments from patrons in a diner that focus on the importance of leaving the past behind and looking ahead to a brighter future.

The crux of the message: While it is normal and proper to look back on the past and reflect upon it to learn necessary lessons, it is not helpful to obsess with the past. The past is best used to chart a more precise course for the future.

Obsessing with the past can not only delay progress, but can actually create unnecessary antagonism and polarization. In the political realm, many have learned about and publicized new facts about American history which occasionally present the United States in a less favorable light. While updating our history with newer facts is helpful, those who have a more sinister agenda will use those new facts to promote division and hatred between Americans. It was one thing to pass laws which eliminated forced racial segregation in the United States. It's another thing altogether to replace the old racism of "Jim Crow" with the newer racism of affirmative action, which is based upon the spurious notion that we have to make up for past discrimination. Some extremists even propose "reparations" for the legacy of slavery (the last actual slave died decades ago).

Obsessing with the past in the religious realm can, in some cases, lead to apostasy. Finding out new facts about the founders of the LDS Church is interesting, and, once properly vetted, the information can be incorporated into the Church's historical banks. Unfortunately, some Mormons become obsessed with newly-released history which may place the Church's founders in a less favorable light, to the point to where they lose their faith. I recently discussed the example of Lyndon Lamborn, who was a faithful, productive member of the Church until he read a book entitled "Under The Banner Of Heaven", written by Jon Krakauer. While reading this book, he found out that the Prophet Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. Since he was never told this by an LDS source, he became distressed and began to question his faith. He also began expressing his doubts to others within his ward. Ultimately, he was excommunicated, and has now launched an anti-Mormon crusade. Lamborn became so obsessed with "history" that he allowed the word of one non-Mormon author to supersede the testimony of sixteen Presidents of the Church, all of who were prophets, seers, and revelators.

We do not need to obsess with the past. We do not need to apologize for events not of our own making. The Second Article of Faith offers us the escape clause: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression". While designed specifically to rebut the doctrine of original sin, by implication, it also means we are not accountable for any sins except our own. We certainly are not accountable for Joseph Smith's sins, Brigham Young's sins, or any other historical sins. We do better by judging the actions of historical figures by the morality of their times rather than the morality of our times; they may not have had as much light and knowledge available to them as we do.

Learn from the past, but use it to move forward. Don't get stuck in a rut.

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