Elder Cook had a very interesting article in the September “Ensign.” You can read that article here.
Here is the highlight:
My challenge is that we join with people of all faiths who feel accountable to God in defending religious freedom so it can be a beacon for morality. We caution you to be civil and responsible as you defend religious liberty and moral values. We ask that you do this on the Internet and in your personal interactions in the neighborhoods and communities where you live. Be an active participant, not a silent observer.
So, the good news is that many people reading this have already taken the first step because they are on the internet looking at a faithful LDS blog that promotes religious liberty and moral values. So, congratulations to all readers.
But of course this talk also raises all kinds of questions, like what does Elder Cook mean by “morality.”
The is especially timely because M* permablogger Bruce Nielson has been writing like crazy about the whole issue of morality. You can read his latest ruminations here. I will probably summarize his posts very poorly, but nevertheless I feel I should try. His basic point seems to be to find out if there are commonalities of human morality that atheists and theists share. He ends actually quite optimistically by saying that yes there are.
This still creates some problems. Some people think they are being moral by promoting, just to use one random example that has nothing to do with recent politics (sarc), forcing all people to pay for other people’s birth control. Others like myself would point out that this is not moral at all. So, definitions of morality do indeed vary from person to person, although I agree with Bruce that there are some reasons for optimism.
So how does Elder Cook define morality? Well, if you read the piece in the “Ensign,” Elder Cook is not nearly as blunt as most people are. But he does provide some important clues.
Our joint effort should be to protect important civic values like honesty, morality, self-restraint, respect for law, and basic human rights.
OK, this is an excellent start. Hopefully we can all agree that these are good goals. What else?
Our challenge is to help people without religious faith understand that the protection of moral principles grounded in religion is a great benefit to society and that religious devotion is critical to public virtue.
Many U.S. founding fathers, including George Washington and James Madison, pointed out that shared moral values espoused by different religions with competing doctrines allow societies to be bound together. Unfortunately, religious influence has often been replaced by so-called secular religions. “For instance, humanism and atheism function as secular religions binding their adherents through common belief and ideology.”
Many philosophers have been at the forefront in promoting secularism and rejecting a moral view of the world based on Judeo-Christian values. In their view there is no “objective moral order” and no reason “to choose one goal over another.” They believe no preference should be given to moral goals. A British high court recently denied a Christian family the right to foster children because the children could be “‘infected’ by Christian moral beliefs.” The ruling demonstrates just how radically things have shifted.
OK, now we are getting somewhere. Elder Cook is clearly saying that moral values rooted in religion are what we should promote. He points out that there is an objective morality, and that is based on Judeo-Christian values. What are Judeo-Christian values? Well, I hope we can all agree that they were summarized best by the Savior himself who listed the two most important commandments: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.
We also probably should add the 10 commandments, which appear to be necessary rules because most people don’t fully obey the two most important commandments very well.
Elder Cook also mentions four foundational historical events to help us understand the importance of our moment in time. They are: the Tyndale and King James Bible; the establishment of English common law, which help lead to the Constitution; the scientific revolution of the last two centuries; and the “return to Judeo-Christian moral principles,” which helped create the conditions for the Restoration of the gospel.
If I may be so bold, it seems pretty clear that Elder Cook is saying that promoting morality means promoting the traditional meaning of the Constitution, promoting traditional Judeo-Christian morality, and promoting the importance of the scriptures. He is also pointing out that religious freedom is essential to maintaining a righteous and functional society.
Elder Cook asks us to be righteous examples in our behavior, emphasizing our willingness to perform personal service. He asks us to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions (including, ahem, on-line interactions). He points out the common sense way of being respectful to others: treat them how you would like to be treated.
All in all, I found Elder Cook’s article to be enlightening and timely.