Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Culture of Light or a Culture of Darkness?

This is part 3 of my series "Cultivating a Heart Open to Life." 

In one of my favorite books “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn, the author asks his reader to imagine what would happen if a man haphazardly built an aircraft, based on his own preferences and completely ignored the principles of gravity and aerodynamics. He might spend years constructing it, labor studiously over it, and invest billions of dollars into building a beautiful aircraft. Yet if, in all his planning, he neglects to follow the laws of gravity and aerodynamics it will never fly. As Quinn writes:
As the flight begins, all is well. Our would-be airman has been pushed off the edge of the cliff and is pedaling away and the wings of his craft are flapping like crazy. He’s feeling wonderful, ecstatic…What he doesn’t realize, however, is that this craft is aerodynamically incapable of flight. It simply isn’t in compliance with the laws that make flight possible—but he would laugh if you told him this. He’s never heard of such laws, knows nothing about them. He would point at those flapping wings and say, “See, just like a bird!” Nevertheless, whatever he thinks he is not in flight… he’s in free fall.

Fortunately—or rather, unfortunately for our airman—he chose a very high cliff to launch his craft from. His disillusionment is a long way off in time and space…. From his great height he can see for miles around, and one thing puzzles him: The floor of the valley is dotted with craft just like his—not crashed, simply abandoned... “Why”, he wonders, “aren’t these craft in the air instead of sitting on the ground? What sort of fools would abandoned their aircraft when they could be enjoying the freedom of the air?”
… But then he looks down again, and what he sees really disturbs him. The law of gravity is catching up to him at the rate of thirty-two feet per second—at an accelerating rate… He is disturbed but far from desperate. “I just have to keep going.” And so he starts pedaling with all his might. Which of course does him no good at all, because his craft simply isn’t in accord with the laws of aerodynamics. Even if he had the power of a thousand men in his legs- ten thousand, a million—that craft is never going to achieve flight. The craft is doomed—and so is he unless he abandons it. (Ishmael, pg. 106-107).
Quinn gives this analogy of the doomed airman to illustrate the point that there are natural consequences for not following divine and moral laws, just like there are natural consequences for not following the laws of aerodynamics. His point is that all civilizations (including animal civilizations) must obey divinely prescribed laws if they are to survive and thrive. If they ignore or disobey these laws then they are doomed to destruction, unless they abandon their course and change their behaviors.

I love this analogy of the doomed airman and it is one that I think about often, especially when I am listening to the news. I think that like the doomed airman we, as a society, seem to think that simply adding more money or resources to a problem—just pedaling faster—is going to keep our aircraft from crashing. Yet the truth is that if we continue to follow the path we are on, a path that is not in harmony with the laws of God, then no amount of money, time or resources is going to help us.

While initially our aircraft (modern civilization) may have started out with the components it needed to achieve flight we have slowly removed vital components. It has been amazing to watch how—in just my short life span— the world has turned its back on some of the most important of God’s laws such as honesty, morality, marriage, and the sanctity of life. These moral laws are not just nice suggestions for how to live, or how to build your aircraft, they are the laws that govern the earth and determine whether a civilization lives or whether it crashes. As Quinn writes,
“ Every law has its effects or it wouldn’t be discoverable as a law. The effects of the law we are looking for are very simple. Species that live in compliance with this law live forever—environmental conditions permitting. This will, I hope be takes as good news for mankind in general, because if mankind lives in compliance with this law, then it too will live forever—or for as long as conditions permit. But of course this isn’t the laws only effect. Those species that do not live in compliance with the law become extinct. In the scale of biological time, they become extinct very rapidly. And this is going to be bad news for the people of your culture—the worst they’ve ever heard.” Pg. 104-105
 Or God said it this way to Moses in the book of Deuteronomy,
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life that thou and they seed may live.” (Deut. 20:19) 
It is powerful to me that throughout the Old Testament God reiterates, time and time again that the blessings from obedience to His laws is life, not just for one generation but also for the generations to follow. In fact, God often calls the great destruction that will come upon the earth the “abomination of desolation”. Abomination is a word often used in the scriptures to refer to sexual perversion, and desolation means just what it says—barren, empty, destroyed.

A society that is building itself upon the correct laws of God will thrive with life. It will value life. It will perpetuate life. It will protect, cherish, and nurture life. It will abhor violence and proclaim peace.  It will be outward focused, thinking of the needs of future generations, planning for, and protecting the lives of those who are yet unborn.

On the other hand a society that is not building upon God’s laws will destroy life. It will prevent and control life. It will abuse life. It will perpetuate and glorify violence.  Such a civilization will be self-centered thinking mainly of their own needs, wants and desires, giving little thought to their responsibility to those who will come after them.  The lives of those who are not yet born are the most vulnerable to this type of darkness, because theirs is the most easiest to take because they have no voice, no face, no presence. Such a civilization will be, if not immediately than eventually, desolate.

God’s stance towards the sanctity of life has not changed in the last 20, 50, 100, 2,000 or 10,000 years. In fact, the first two commandments that God gave to Adam and Eve (the first civilization on the earth) was first to be obedient, and the second was to multiply and replenish the earth. Those two laws, obedience to God and the creation of life, are still at the foundation of all successful and viable civilizations. As Elder Boyd K. Packer said,
  “The commandment to multiply and replenish the earth has never been rescinded. It is essential to the plan of redemption and is the source of human happiness.  The power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan; it is the plan of happiness; it is the key to happiness." (The Plan of Happiness, April 2015) 

Scholar Valerie Hudson Cassler also explained this idea well when she wrote:
“ Just as we recognize the work of the light in all cultures, so we may recognize the work of darkness. Just as the core of all ways of living is life and perpetuation of life, so the core of all ways of darkness is death (Alma 5:41-42). Lehi explains that “ men are free according to the flesh and all things given them which are expedient to man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Ne. 2:27). The choice for life or death is for every society to make. “ (Page 115 in Women in Eternity, Women in Zion)
Cassler goes on to say that all civilizations are either moving forwards towards light and life or backwards towards darkness and destruction. According to Cassler the first law that civilizations of darkness are deviating from is God’s law of marriage given to all cultures. These violations of God law are evident in two main ways:

  • The creation of a hierarchy in male-female relationships. In which men view themselves and being superior to women and treat them as inferior, or where women feel superior to men and treat them as inferior.
  • The elimination of marriage as a societal goal.

The second main way that a society can turn towards a culture of darkness and violence is through societal deviations from the God's law concerning children given to all cultures. This law is broken in two ways:

  • The separation of sex from the perpetuation of life for men
  • The separation of sex from the perpetuation of life for women

While I will touch on each of these four topics in the rest of my series I think what is important to remember is that God’s laws are real laws, just like the law of gravity. When an individual, community or nation begins to violate these laws they choose darkness over light, and if they do not change they will eventually become desolate.

Yet the most beautiful thing about living in the time in which we do is that we have been promised that our “airplane” will not crash. We have been promised Zion, and obtaining it is within our reach if we collectively make living by the laws upon which it is founded our collective goal.

I have great hope for the future and for the future of God's people. Even in amidst cultures that are deviating from God's laws in big ways, there are many, many people continuing the open their hearts and to choose life. It is exciting to see the goodness in the world, even in some of the darkest places in the world. I think the challenge is for each of us to examine our own hearts and determine if they are open to life-- all life-- and discover what we can do to open them more. This is because each heart open towards life is a step towards Zion,  a step towards a culture where every person is welcome, a step towards a world of peace, a step towards a world of light-- a step towards Christ.


  1. I have loved this series! Thanks for putting into words everything my heart has been feeling!

  2. I love all your post but I have really really loved reading this series. I don't have any words other then saying ditto to what Robin said.

  3. Your explanation of "Abomination of Desolation" is the clearest I have ever seen, and sheds light on a thing I have wondered about for some 20 years. Thank you.

  4. I wish you had been my seminary teacher! You really make me ponder and I love reading your blog.