Feast upon the Word Blog

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The 14th Article of Faith?

Posted by BrianJ on June 17, 2008

Article of Faith 14: The world sucks.

In both Sunday School and high priest group similar comments were made that got me thinking about how we as a church view “the world.” Here’s the relevant quote from the Joseph Smith manual (Lesson 12, emphasis added):

“… we behold that darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the minds of the inhabitants thereof, that crimes of every description are increasing among men; vices of great enormity are practiced; the rising generation growing up in the fullness of pride and arrogance; the aged losing every sense of conviction, and seemingly banishing every thought of a day of retribution; intemperance, immorality, extravagance, pride, blindness of heart, idolatry, the loss of natural affection, the love of this world, and indifference toward the things of eternity increasing among those who profess a belief in the religion of heaven, and infidelity spreading itself in consequence of the same; men giving themselves up to commit acts of the foulest kind and deeds of the blackest dye, blaspheming, defrauding, blasting the reputation of neighbors, stealing, robbing, murdering, advocating error and opposing the truth, forsaking the covenant of heaven, and denying the faith of Jesus—and in the midst of all this, the day of the Lord fast approaching when none except those who have on the wedding garment will be permitted to eat and drink in the presence of the Bridegroom, the Prince of Peace!”

And the comments from the class took the form of agreeing that the world is a more wicked and altogether worse place today than it was 10, 100, or 1000 years ago. Moreover, there was a general statement that the world is doomed to get progressively worse.

My questions:

  1. Is this doctrine? Do we have to believe that the world is a bad place—and worse than it was in the past? (Okay, we don’t “have to believe” anything, but you get my meaning.)
  2. Is the world really worse today than 100 years ago?
  3. Is the world definitely doomed to consume itself in wickedness, or is there hope for repentance?

Regarding #1, I have nothing to say or add. Throw me some scriptures or quotes because I’m interested.

Regarding #2, my feeling is that the answer is a massive NO—at least in terms of my world and the world for my daughters. I live in the western US, which used to have a reputation for lawlessness. Well, I don’t carry a six-shooter at my side and I feel pretty safe all the time {smile}. More seriously, my daughters and wife are considered full citizens; they can (or, will be able to) vote, own property, not be traded as property, be educated, pursue a career of their choice, etc. Try that on some women 100 or 1000 years ago. My neighbors are an interracial couple, but nobody in the neighborhood even thinks twice about that (and I only thought about it because I am writing this post). (Speaking of marriage, I happen to be in San Francisco right now for a conference….) All of my neighbors are kind, honest, generous people, though only one is religious as far as I can tell; I see no indication that any of them plans to switch to a deceptive, stealing, defrauding, murdering lifestyle. You get the point: I’d choose my society over just about any other society I’ve ever read about.

Regarding #3, should we consider Jonah and Ninevah as an example? Didn’t Jonah say that the Ninevites were doomed? But then they repented, and more importantly “God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

(We’ve been through some of these issues before on this blog.)

8 Responses to “The 14th Article of Faith?”

  1. ama49 said

    Regarding #1 if you read many of President Hinckley’s talks he discusses with optomism the many opportunities there are in the world. I don’t think this is doctrine just because he said it, but I do believe that it is optomism.

    Regarding #2 the world is much better off than 100 years ago. When Joseph Smith wrote that he was in the midst of a somewhat lawless society and had to endure not only life on the frontier, but persecution as well.

    #3 There is always hope for repentance…even if there is just one person willing to believe God will be there as seen in Sodom and Gomorrah as well as with the destruction of the Nephites with Mormon and Moroni.


  2. Gerald Smith said

    #1 – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” seems to answer this question. Remember in Enoch’s day that while he was building Zion, the world was becoming increasingly wicked until it had to be destroyed by the Flood. So, we can see how the world can be both growing more evil, yet still be optimistic, as Pres Hinckley encouraged.

    #2 – Yes and no. While your neighborhood is safe, there are many neighborhoods that are more dangerous than ever before. Harold Bloom suggested that the reason God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah isn’t because they sinned, but because they sought to impose their sins on others (force others to join them). While the wild west (I grew up in Montana, so I know all about it) was wild about guns, it is nothing to what many kids grow up in today. Today, kids are forced to join gangs and do the crimes, or they are heavily punished for it. Drugs, sexual abuse, etc., are at an all time high, due to gangs. You think the Tony Soprano was bad? Try the Mexican mafia.

    #3 – While I believe individuals and perhaps large groups can repent, I believe the prophecies. The world will insist on being the world and refuse to repent. Even when God encourages repentance through preaching, lightning, earthquakes, and disasters; many will choose to curse God and die, than repent. Our day will see the development of two cultures: Babylon and Zion. As each develops, we will see people gather to one or the other. It will definitely be “the best of times [and] the worst of times.”

  3. douglas Hunter said

    I taught this lesson on Sunday but I took a different tact on the section you quote above. While I see how some could read it as a statement of broad condemnation. My feeling is that this section contains less language that directly addresses “the world” or society, or culture at large. I read it more as a rather elaborate listing of the ways in which individuals need access to the message of the gospel.

    So for me its not about how terrible the state of affairs was in JS time or is now in our time. I don’t find that a particularly useful reading. I read it as a passage that suggests that there are many ways that we both resist and need the gospel.

  4. BrianJ said

    Gerald Smith, interesting comments. I wonder how Harold Bloom reconciles his theory for the destruction of S/G with Ezekiel 16:49: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness…, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”

    And just to be clear: you view the statements about an increasingly wicked world as prophetic predictions (i.e., bound to happen) rather than prophetic warnings (i.e., will happen if there is no repentance)?

  5. RuthS said

    There is a statement from David O McKay where he quotes from people as ancient as Aristotle to show that complaints about crime, and the corruption of youth have been around for a long time. Then he continues by saying that while these same complaints are still around this time it is different. I think it is different, not because there a greater magnitude of evil as much as it is that we have better ways of reporting and quantifying each and every act. I was surprised to learn that in Dodge City, Kansas so well known for boot hill where it seemed like most of the towns population must have ended up in the 1800s the record number of burials in one year was 9.

    So because the population now is greater, and the communications media we have and how savy the youth are at using this medium things probably are worse because now. With the Internet and cell phones at least technologically there is something new under the sun.

    On the other hand the people who are the most secure are the ones who see the world as being in the worst shape. The others don’t have much time to worry about how bad things are.

  6. AHLDuke said

    There’s a quote from an Apostle or President of the Church in one of the Institute manuals (OT maybe?) which says that we live in the most wicked time since Noah. That was back in the 70s. Granted, I think that it a nice bit of hyperbole but its one perspective that might give an answer to #1.

    As to #2, its all about definitions and boundaries. If you define wickedness as suffering, I would like that in spite of massive amounts of suffering around the world, ours is a comparatively good time. If on the other hand, wickedness is sin, you have more definitional problems with that too.

  7. NathanG said

    #1. I think it depends on the definition of world you want to consider. Many times in the scriptures (not all the time) world is similar to Babylon, is similar to wickedness. It is described as a different place or condition from something godlike. I searched the scriptures on lds.org for world and had some interesting results. See how Christ refers to world in the intercessory prayer and who is in the world and who is not of the world, etc. Another passage is:

    D&C 84
    49 And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin.

    53 And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.

    So the scriptural use of world could support the notion of the world being a bad place. I don’t think we have to restrict our use of world with this definition as there are plenty of other references to world that seem to simply reflect some sphere of existence “forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come.”

    #2 I think it makes me feel like a better person to know that I’m living in an extreme condition:) I don’t know what to judge the world by. You pick several things where we seem to be better, but it’s hard to really know what it was like before without having lived it. It seems that sins that destroy families abound in our society. They invade our home whenever we turn on the TV or access the internet. Sexual promiscuity and infidelity is headline news and sex sells, but I don’t know that we’re worse than Sodom and Gomorrha or worse than gentiles worshipping the fertility goddess. Hard to say. I think sufficient unto the day is the evil therof and can leave it at that.

    #3 Yes the world (see #1) is doomed to consume itself in wickedness, but there is still hope for repentance for individuals (and hopefully Zion if we can forget our individualness). This impending doom should be motivating us to share the gospel with those fantastic neighbors that we have so they can escape.

  8. Matthew said

    #3. It might be helpful to look at some specific prophecies. I think we sometimes assume they are much more clear than they really are. That aside, I agree with your reasoning. I think both promises of good and curses of evil are conditional on the choices people make. I see no reason to assume that this is true for individuals but not nations.

    A counter argument though would be the case of Jesus Christ and the atonement. The Book of Mormon seems to indicate that it was known ahead of time what Jesus would choose to do. The results of the atonement were available prior to it happening. One could argue that if what Jesus would do was known prior to him doing it, then similarly, it could be known ahead of time that the world will consume itself in wickedness. I don’t agree with this counter argument but don’t have a good rebuttal.

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