I would like people interested in this post to watch the first half of the video above. To summarize: a climate activist asks Jordan Peterson what can be done to change society, and Jordan Peterson says people should concentrate on changing themselves first. The climate activist is very unhappy with the answer.
Setting aside the triumphalist nature of the above interchange, I believe there is a very important Gospel-related message for the Church of Jesus Christ audience: what is more important, trying to change society of trying to change yourself? The answer is clearly the latter, ie, trying to change yourself should take precedence. All you have to do is listen to one session of General Conference — or read a few chapters of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament or read the Book of Mormon — to see that the Church of Jesus Christ concentrates on self-improvement over societal improvement.
And the reason is that true followers of Christ believe that self-improvement will naturally lead to societal improvement.
Now this does not mean you should not be involved in societal improvement. Far from it. The Church encourages its members to be involved in politics and in their communities. But the emphasis is clearly and emphatically on self improvement first.
Readers will be familiar with the Book of Mormon pride cycle. To summarize, society is doing well, people get filled with pride, things go down hill, people suffer, people are humbled, they turn to God in sincere prayer, and things get better. And then people get filled with pride again, and so on.
How does society get better? When individual people humble themselves and turn to God to overcome individual sins (such as pride).
What do the scriptures say? Jesus’ teachings concentrated almost entirely on individual improvement, not societal social justice. He called on his followers to improve themselves, and when Jesus was asked to take political stands, such as answering whether people should pay taxes, he said, “”Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus’s message: God cares about individual improvements and individuals turning to God more than he cares about secular government.
Why do prophets and the scriptures concentrate on individual improvement? Because this is something we can control. I am not saying it is easy (far from it), but an individual has much more power to change himself or herself than to change society. On a local level, you may be able to organize hundreds of people to oppose that new development, and therefore change the society around you, but most people seem to care about big, national and international issues that they cannot control instead of the local issues they can effect.
The classic case of worrying about something that is beyond your control is of course the climate change movement. There is nothing we human beings can do to change the climate in the short term, and in the long term the amount of collective action needed to make any significant change is massive. The IPCC reports indicate clearly that collective action could only change the climate by a few tenths of a degree C over decades, and even then we see significant problems with all of the IPCC projections. There are serious reasons to believe that even collective action cannot change the climate. Yet we see people like the woman in the above video and people like Greta Thunberg spending a huge amount of energy on a issue they cannot control or change.
Satan loves it when people concentrate on things they cannot change, rather than the things they can change. Satan does not want us to improve ourselves. He wants us to spend our energies on causes that are the least important things so we will not have time for the most important things. Elder Oaks discusses this in his classic talk, “Good, Better, Best.”
Modern-prophets constantly ask us to improve ourselves through individual action: observe the Sabbath, go to the temple, spend more time with our families, study the scriptures, do ministering visits, teach Come Follow Me with your families. Notice that prophets concentrate on things that members of the Church are able to do — they don’t give us impossible to reach goals.
So, to summarize, there is nothing wrong with being concerned about international trends and national politics. I certainly am concerned about these things. But where are our hearts? Do we spend most of our time and energy on things we cannot control or on things we can control? That is the key question.