I have made two huge paradigm shifts in my life — one gradual and one sudden. The first was a change from college liberal to where I am today, a libertarian-leaning promoter of personal freedom. The other was when I joined the Church, and this was very sudden. I wanted to share my personal stories with you because I believe we should be open to changing our worldviews as new information becomes available. As a convert, I believe this open-mindedness seems central to accepting the Gospel as well.
In the early 1980s, I went to a large university in California where standard liberal viewpoints held sway. When I was in class, I was constantly told that the only intelligent position was that of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. When I worked on the college newspaper, liberals outnumbered conservatives 35 to 2 (at least). I became a product of my environment and went forth with politically correct righteousness.
A year after I graduated I got an opportunity to work as a free-lance journalist living in Nicaragua. As you may know, in 1986 (when I moved there) Nicaragua was in the middle of a civil war. On one side was the leftist Sandinista government, which had taken control of Nicaragua after ousting dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. On the other side were US-backed rebels called the Contras. When I moved to Nicaragua, the politically correct left-wing position was “power to the people,” meaning that the Sandinistas were all sweetness and light protecting the rights of the poor and the Contras were evil tyrants. Like anything else, the truth was much more complicated.
I recently discovered an on-line version of the article I wrote after discovering that the truth was much more complicated. You can read it here. To sum up: I discovered that great human truth that man basically wants to be left alone to pursue his own happiness in his own way. In our fallen world, it is government, both the left-wing Sandinista government and the US government, that usually is the source of man’s oppression. I think this article conveys that very well.
I remember after this trip to the interior of Nicaragua feeling very chastened. Until then I had made assumptions that were completely at odds with reality. Do you remember George Romney, Mitt’s father and former governor of Michigan, saying he was “brainwashed” when he went to Vietnam? That was how I felt. I had been brainwashed by my college experience and my presumptions into believing things that simply were not true.
The truth is that the heroes are the “little” people (like Nicaraguan farmers) who work every day maintaining their farms, taking care of their animals and caring for their families. If left alone, they do quite well in a tropical environment, growing enough for themselves and their families and making money when selling their excess. But somebody always wants to mess with them, and that someone in the 1980s was the left-wing government, which instituted price controls forcing them to sell their crops below their cost. The supposedly well-meaning government also confiscated square miles of territory from its legitimate owners, distributing the land to cooperatives. On those cooperatives, almost nothing got done because the people did not own their land — they were simply cogs in the government wheel. They had no incentive to work or produce because they had no real ownership.
So, another supposedly well-meaning government set up an outside force — the Contras — to “save” these farmers. And of course this outside force also often turned to tyranny, taking food from the farmers and killing supposed collaborators. The lesson for me was clear: the left-wing government should leave the farmers alone, and the US government should leave Nicaragua alone. Nicaraguans should work out their problems in their own ways.
From this point on, everything I have seen and learned about Nicaragua has supported that view. Ironically, the Sandinistas were voted out of power a few years later, but they recently came back. Their government is corrupt and nominally allied with the worst elements of Latin American politics, the left-wing tyrants led by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. But, again, resolving this problem is something the Nicaraguans should do on their own. The good news is that Nicaragua is now a much better, more prosperous place than it was in the 1980s, and the war is over. Most farmers are left alone these days.
During the 1980s and most of the 1990s, I had the standard secular viewpoint toward religion as well. I really didn’t see any value it in at all. I thought most religious people were deluded fanatics.
But I had a lot of personal problems and frankly was not very happy. To use a personal empowerment term, my life was not “working.” What was my purpose? I seemed to have none. I could find nothing that made me feel like I was progressing. At a very, very low point I picked up the Bible. I had never even read it. But I found it fascinating. Who had written it? How old were the writings? Were the people involved eyewitnesses or were they just passing around fables? I remember very clearly the moment I read the Sermon on the Mount. This was a philosophy I could believe! Avoiding hypocrisy, trying to improve yourself, shooting for goals that seem unattainable, being kind to your neighbor, treating other people as you want to be treated. Wow, this Jesus guy was really cool!
I went to a Catholic church several times — not for me. I went to a Congregational church — better but still not for me. I talked to some Baptist neighbors. Not for me. But I knew there was something there, some kernal of truth that had eluded me.
My sister, who was also not a member of any church, called me one day out of the blue and said she was going to get baptized in the LDS church. I thought she was crazy. Was she sure? Didn’t she know they were a weird homophobic cult? She said she was sure, and she wanted me to come to her baptism. Well, it seemed important to her, so I did. I walked into a very ugly chapel (since updated) with fading yellow-green carpets. Quite a change from the beautiful Congregational church I had attended. I thought to myself that this whole baptism thing was a tedious chore but I would get through it.
As my family members (most of them members of the Church) began to speak, something very strange happened to me. I felt like I was enveloped in a cloud of joy. I felt like it was extremely urgent that I listen to the words of the speakers. They were talking about the importance of baptism and God’s love for us. They were talking about Jesus in a way that made him seem more real and important. I found myself wanting to stand up and demand to be baptized, but I controlled the urge. What was wrong with me?
Nothing was wrong, but a lot of things were very, very right. I felt at peace. I felt love for everybody around me. I felt like I was seeing things through somebody else’s eyes, somebody with a deep, abiding adoration for me and all people. I felt this way for several hours.
I had experienced another epiphany. This was not a religion of homophobic cultists. There was something special here, something real. I needed to know more about it. But most importantly I want to emphasize that I saw God differently. He is not the avenging, intolerant being of the secular imagination. He is love. He is perfection. And He wants to have a personal relationship with all of us. I was not given this gift of seeing the world through His eyes for a few hours so I could accept somebody else’s perception of Mormons: I was given this gift so I could understand that my relationship with Him is vertical and direct and that He is all I want Him to be.
To make a long story short, I was baptized a few months later. I received the priesthood. I went to the temple. I became a High Priest. And because of my faithfulness I found a lovely, perfect woman with whom I became sealed in the temple. My life right now is exactly what I want it to be. I am not missing anything important in my life, and I feel like I have a purpose.
One of the most important changes is that when I was miserable I only thought about myself. Now that I am happier I find myself thinking a lot more about others. Isn’t this what we are supposed to do?
My experience has shown that we need to be open to new information. Too many people are not. They reject information that does not fit their paradigm. Of course, I do this now too. I don’t spend a lot of time devouring anti-Mormon literature, just to use one example. I already know that such stuff is not true, and I don’t need to learn that lesson again. So I admit the whole “open-minded” thing is difficult to carry out precisely. You cannot be open-minded to all information because there is simply not enough time to read and absorb everything. You have to pick and choose what information you seek out.
I guess the test I would suggest is this: does the information build up rather than tear down? What is the motivation of the writers? Does the information promote personal and societal liberty, yes or no?
I recognize that other people have had paradigm shifts and come to different conclusions that I have. That’s cool. We all have our own road to walk. But this particular road “works” for me. By their fruits ye shall know them.