Thinking about Eternity

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the concept of eternity.

Sometimes we need the concept of eternity to motivate us to act and to change. We can become complacent and act as if this life is all that matters. Fear for our eternal soul can be “more express” than anything else in pushing us to repetence. Like Alma the Younger, we must at times be “harrowed up” by the idea of standing before God for eternal judgment. The idea of eternity can remind us that what we do here really does have consequences.

But all too often, especially for active faithful members of the Church, The notion of eternity can be one that weighs us down with unnecessary anxiety and a lack of confidence. 

This manifests itself in a few different ways. First, we see ourselves repeat the same mistakes over and over again. And we worry that will be what eternity is like. We imagine living forever not so much in our sins, but with all of our imperfections laid bare for all to see for forever.

The idea of eternity can also sometimes lead us to be more annoyed at the quirks and eccentricities of those we love. We struggle to imagine putting up forever with the same things that annoy us now. Totally ignorable molehills become mountains when projected on the eternal timeline.

The concept of eternity can also leave us frustrated with God as we imagine that we will forever be required to bear all of the crosses we are asked to bear in this life. We conclude that we would rather ” be banished and become extinct both soul and body” rather than continue onward. We can come to see God’s plan as a burden rather than an opportunity.

And the truth is that eternity without change and progress is a terrifying concept. Eternal stagnation would truly be damnation and tormnet.

God knows that. For that reason, he placed angels and a flaming sword to block Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the tree of life. Living forever in our sins would be horrific torment for all of us.

Fortunately, God sent us a savior to redeem us from that eternal fate. Christ died for us. He freed us from the bondage of eternal stagnation. Because of him, we are free to grow and change and improve ourselves forever.

With Christ, there is the possibility for eternal progress and growth rather than stagnation. As Lehi explained, because of Jesus Christ we can choose “liberty and eternal life” rather than “captivity and death.” That choice is available to us only because of Christ and only through his atonement.

Because of Christ eternity is a joyful concept that should fill us all with great joy and peace. We have a hope for a brighter tomorrow. With eternity we will eventually overcome all of our weaknesses and flaws. We will be able to spend forever improving our relationships with others. We will be able to become our best selves. All that is possible because of Christ and because of the plan of salvation. Every tear will be wiped away. Every sorrow turned to joy. That is the beauty of God’s plan for us. 

Do What is Right Let the Consequence Follow

One of my favorite stories of President Thomas S. Monson came in a talk entitled “Dare to Stand Alone.” In that talk, President Monson told about the end of his first week in Navy boot camp. After his commanding officer directed the Catholics, Protestants, and Jews to go to worship services, President Monson was left standing alone, or so he thought. But as he looked around, he realized that he was actually standing with others of his faith that he had not seen.

President Monson then explained that all of us will sometimes need to stand alone in defense of our faith or in doing what we believe to be right.

“With all my heart and soul, I pray that every man who holds the priesthood will honor that priesthood and be true to the trust which was conveyed when it was conferred. May each of us who holds the priesthood of God know what he believes. May we ever be courageous and prepared to stand for what we believe, and if we must stand alone in the process, may we do so courageously, strengthened by the knowledge that in reality we are never alone when we stand with our Father in Heaven.”

I was reminded of this story today, as I watched the actions of Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT). Senator Romney was the only member of his party who broke ranks and voted to convict President Donald Trump of a count of abuse of power. More than that, Senator Romney is the only person in U.S. History to vote to convict a President of his or her own party.

Whether you agree or disagree with his choice (and it is no shock that I strongly support his decision), Senator Romney’s willingness to follow his conscience even if it meant standing alone is inspiring.

Romney spoke passionately about his decision on the Senate floor. His remarks were filled with the fervor of someone who is following his convictions. Romney explained that he had taken “an oath, before God, to exercise ‘impartial justice.”” He emphasized that as “a profoundly religious person” that oath was “enormously consequential.” Romney rejected the demand that he “stand with the team” and betray his conscience. He noted that his “promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Romney was well aware of the consequences of his decision. He knew that he would be labelled a traitor and that the President and his allies would come after him with all of the force they could muster. But he could not vote but to convict because of “an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?”

Romney knew his vote would not change the outcome. But he voted for the sake of history and his posterity:

But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the President did was wrong, grievously wrong.

We’re all footnotes at best in the annals of history. But in the most powerful nation on earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen.

In an interview with Chris Wallace about his vote, Senator Romney put his decision in starkly religious terms but invoking the Hymn”Do what is right.”

“There’s a hymn that is sung in my church. It’s an old Protestant hymn, which is, do what is right, let the consequence follow. I know in my heart that I’m doing what’s right. I understand there’s going to be enormous consequence and I don’t have a choice in that regard. That’s why I haven’t been anxious to be in the position I’m in. … I had to follow my conscience.”

In another interview with McKay Coppins in the Atlantic, Romney invoked the example of his father George Romney who courageously stood against his part in defense of civil rights. And he quoted his father’s favorite scripture from D&C 90:24: “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.” Romney also spoke of his constant prayer throughout the process.

For me, the example of Mitt Romney is a powerful one for many reasons. I love the example of a son drawing courage from his father’s brave example at his moment of trial. I love Senator Romney’s willingness to stand alone. I love how one man’s courageous example makes a difference, even if that impact is not easily measured in changed votes. Today, Senator Romney stood in defense of virtue and a willingness to do the right thing even if it is unpopular. He gave hope to many who had lost hope that any one was left in the Republican party who was willing to stand up and speak the truth.

I am proud to be member of the Church that Senator Romney belongs to. I see how his faith his influenced his actions and led him to stand apart. And I know that as President Monson explained, when we stand for right we are never truly standing alone.

The Flight 93 Election: A Gospel Centered Response

I was disappointed to see a recent post on Millennial Star attacking Mitt Romney for his willingness to critique Trump. I strongly disagree with the post’s substantive critique of Romney, but also with the more general moral framework that the post employs. While the specific discussion about Romney, Trump, and Impeachment is important, I think the broader moral debate is even more important.

The post in question’s foundational premise can be summarized as a belief that Romney’s critique of Trump is intemperate or inappropriate because Romney ignores how evil the Democrats and those who oppose Trump are. In light of all of the things that Democrats endorse which the author sees as contrary to Church doctrine such as “new multi-trillion dollar government programs” and the “complete embrace of intersectionality politics,” the author describes Romney’s actions as “willful blindness” and ignorance as to “what the stakes are.” This post appears to share the perspective of a well-known essay which labelled the 2016 election a “Flight 93 Election” and argued that conservatives who failed to endorse Trump were ignoring the great evil that a Hillary Clinton presidency would lead to. That article’s central analogy was that terrorists had taken over the cockpit of America and that any tactics were justified in a last ditch effort to save it.

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God cares about what I drink with lunch!

Last week, the Church put out a new statement about the Word of Wisdom which built off of a recent article in the New Era which described how certain modern beverages or smoking methods (such as vaping) nevertheless violate the Word of Wisdom.

In response, I have seen a surprising amount of hostility by those proclaiming that it is unchristian and just plain wrong for the Church to impose such burdensome restrictions on its members.

I grew up in a Jewish household and went to a Jewish day school. I had a lot of friends who kept kosher and I never really understood why they would avoid eating such delicious things as cheeseburgers and lobster. I saw the commandments they were keeping as restrictive shackles.

For a time in college I dated a semi-active member of the Church who nevertheless was very opposed to me consuming any alcohol. For her, I agreed not to drink. I was very resentful because I saw her wishes as restrictive shackles that stopped me from enjoying myself.

Since that time, I have come to see dietary commandments in a completely different light. My present perspective is perhaps best illustrated by the insightful observation of well-known American Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote about his perspective on keeping kosher:

“Let’s go back to my hypothetical lunch with a friend. Watching me scan the menu, he may suspect me of thinking, “Oh, would I love to order the ham, but that mean old God won’t let me.” But in fact, what is probably going through my mind at the moment is “Isn’t it incredible! Nearly five billion people on this planet, and God cares what I have for lunch!” And God cares how I earn and spend my money, and whom I sleep with, and what sort of language I use. (These are not descriptions of God’s emotional state, about which we can have no information, but a way of conveying the critical ethical significance of the choices I make.) What better way is there to invest every one of my daily choices with divine significance?

There is nothing intrinsically wicked about eating pork or lobster, and there is nothing intrinsically moral about eating cheese or chicken instead. But what the Jewish way of life does by imposing rules on our eating, sleeping, and working habits is to take the most common and mundane activities and invest them with deeper meaning, turning every one of them into an occasion for obeying (or disobeying) God. If a gentile walks into a fast-food establishment and orders a cheeseburger, he is just having lunch. But if a Jew does the same thing, he is making a theological statement. He is declaring that he does not accept the rules of the Jewish dietary system as binding upon him. But heeded or violated, the rules lift the act of having lunch out of the ordinary and make it a religious matter. If you can do that to the process of eating, you have done something important.”

There is a lot to unpack here that applies beautifully to the word of wisdom.

First, we should be filled we gratitude that the God of heaven reached out once again to us in our dispensation to give us a law of health. I am reminded of God’s promise in D&C 59:3-4 that those who are faithful and come to Zion will “be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me.” Commandments are ultimately a sign of love and a blessing from a loving God rather than a curse and a burden.

Second, It is truly incredible that the same being that created the universe cares what I drink at a happy hour or what I consume when on a break. That knowledge fills me with such joy and appreciation for my Heavenly Father. He knows me personally and cares about what I ingest and how I spend my time.

Third, the word of wisdom has the impact of transforming our routine choices into sacred ones. When we choose not to drink a coffee or consume an alcoholic beverage, we are “making a theological statement” about our devotion to God and our willingness to submit to his will. Keeping the word of wisdom provides us with an internal and external opportunity to stand out, be different, teach about the Gospel and set a good example.

I am grateful to know that the God of heaven is mindful of me and that he cares about me and what I do with my life. The Word of Wisdom helps me to connect to God and to appreciate all of his tender mercies and blessings.

Keep government hands off social media

Over the weekend, Rameumpton wrote a post urging for government action to break up social media “monopolies” like Facebook, Google and Twitter. He is not alone in calling for such action. Facebook is portrayed as a behemoth that has to be taken down for the good of society. But this argument is both historically and philosophically misguided. I want to respond to and elaborate on three points:

  • Facebook is not a monopoly

First of all, it is worth discussing what exactly makes a monopoly a monopoly. There are (at least) two competing definitions of what kind of concentration of power justifies government intervention. One view sees big as bad and aims to break up companies that have too large of a market share. This was the dominant anti-trust paradox until the late 1970s. The other approach which has been dominant since Robert Bork published his seminal work, The Antitrust Paradox, in 1978 is that a big is only bad if it harms consumers by producing anti-competitive results.    

This matters immensely when talking about companies like Facebook. Sure, Facebook has a large market share and ubiquitous presence. But unless there is meaningful evidence that it has engaged in anti-competitive behavior that is harmful to consumers, then there is no anti-trust injury and no reason for government intervention.

Previous monopolies have erected barriers that have made it difficult or nearly impossible for free and fair competition. For instance, AT&T had an actual government regulatory monopoly which made it practically impossible for competitors to erect the infrastructure needed to compete. Because it bought into a faulty theory of scarcity, the government handed AT&T exclusive power and regulated AT&T like a public entity. Government intervention was actually what caused the monopoly to exist in the first place, and so government intervention was necessary to break up the juggernaut that it had enabled.

The situation with social media could not be more different. The internet has leveled barriers of entry. Anyone with a computer and coding skill can attempt to create the next big internet phenomenon. Remember that Facebook itself was started by a bunch of college aged kids at Harvard who saw the need for a better networking platform than existed at the time. And anyone arguing that Facebook is immune to free and fair competition will have to recon with the fall of former giants such as MySpace.

  • Private Social Media Companies do not violate the First Amendment

Rameupton claims that social media platforms need to be broken up because they are engaged in censorship and are violating free speech principles. But this argument seriously conflates the actions of private companies such as Facebook with government censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech. The First Amendment prohibits only government censorship or speech restrictions. When a private company chooses to restrict speech on its platform, it is not violating the first amendment. To the contrary, the First Amendment protects the right of Facebook to restrict access to the platform that it has created (which is its own private property) for practically any reason. Simply put, Facebook is not required to allow neo-Nazi propaganda, or white supremacist speech, or any other speech that it does not like.

Are there reasons to be concerned when social media sites target conservative voices more aggressively for censorship? Sure. Social media platforms exercise an outsized impact on our culture. And we should criticize them when claim to be unbiased and open but hypocritically go after certain viewpoints.

If we do not like what Facebook does, we have options. We can protest or boycott. We can loudly make the moral case that we should create platforms where sharp differences can be expressed. And if we are really outraged, we can leave and start our own platforms. Indeed, that is what gun enthusiasts did when YouTube began to demonetize gun videos—they created a separate site called to promote those videos.

What we cannot do is recruit the government to compel private companies like Facebook to give us a space to express ourselves. That is not within the government’s power to do.

Now, there is a separate but closely related issue concerning whether social media platforms should be held liable for things that users post on their platform. For instance, if I go on Facebook and defame someone, should Facebook be responsible? This is a complex issue that exceeds the scope of this post. But the remarkable success of social media has come precisely because platforms have not been held liable for what users say or do on the platform. And in my opinion it would be an enormous mistake to break down the foundation that has produced immense prosperity and changed the world.

  • Regulations are likely to create rather than eliminate monopolies

Rameupton is right about at least one thing, however. We should be suspicious when we see Mark Zuckerberg and others calling on Congress to regulate his company and calling for government led censorship. Could it be that such government action would help to cement Facebook’s position by making it harder for competitors to challenge Facebook? The truth is that when the government steps in, it almost always creates unintentional consequences that harm consumers. We should not rely on the government to fix all of our social media problems.