Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: 1: An Interpretation of the War

Problems of the Age: 1: An Interpretation of the War

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 18, 2011

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.


Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

I. – An Interpretation of the War

Definition. – The great conflict now raging in Europe represents two great classes of wars. There are national wars, or what we might term the ordinary war, and there are world-dominion wars. The latter take place only at great intervals; they mark the end of the old and the beginning of a new regime; they represent individual and national ambition for world-wide dominion. Such wars are represented in the overthrow of the civilization in the ancient nations inhabiting the valley of the Mesopotamia and the banks of the Nile. Alexander wept, it is said, because there were no other worlds to conquer. “In that day to be a Roman was greater than a king.” Rome, at the zenith of her career as conqueror of nations, began her downfall. Napoleon dreamed dreams, and today Germany is struggling for world supremacy. The lesson that God is the ruler of this world has never been learned. From ancient times, ambitions to overtop the heavens have been thwarted amidst confusion and decay.

The Decadence of the Old and the Birth of the New – The fact that nations come and go is not so important as the changes in civilization. The process of disintegration goes on rapidly while from beneath a new order of things is spring up. The old regime was as blind to its fading glory as it was to the eternal truth of God’s omnipotence. We come thus to speak of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations, each supplanting the other in the order named. These changes have been a part of the progress of the world from the earliest times. At these periodical changes in civilization, some distant and “contemptible” power has come into the new life of the world as a dominating factor. Such world-dominion wars have not only become characterized by the unexpected which happened in them, but by the unexpected results that grew out of them. The great war now on has been noted for the sudden appearance of the unexpected, and according to past epochs of history, we may reasonably expect that its effects will be the unexpected changes and conditions of the new life which will follow. The ground beneath our feet is giving way, and we must support ourselves by a new and different hold upon the shifting conditions of another civilization.

The Fading Glories – In all these past break-ups in civilization, men have deceived themselves by their prattle about imperishable glories. They professed to believe that their age had fastened itself upon the life of the world forever. The fading processes became obscure to them, not because they were not visible, but because men were blind. Today we see but do not comprehend – a form of blindness. The world is therefore full of surprises for which we are not prepared. Under such conditions men cannot comprehend a change because the end and the beginning are not abrupt, but the one grows gradually out of the other. The key to the mystery of it all is locked up in the word “unexpected.” If we would form some idea of the unexpected things that await us, we must count the unexpected things that have happened. The sure sign of the new age is “surprise.”

After the Breakup. – What will happen after the disintegrating processes have done their work? That is God’s mystery, a part of his revelations. It will be the new glory of another age. As time goes on, it will become a field for speculation. Economists will stand amid the ruins of their theories, and explain by “if’s” why they were not everlastingly right. Politicians will grope in the dark. The business world will begin the work of readjustment. Community life will take on a new aspect. Customs, manners, and methods will be changed to suit the needs of the new life.

Changes may not be rapid. In the past they have appeared gradually as generation after generation passed on. This, however, is an electric age, and who can say that the new life may not come with the speed which is drawing the world to its new destiny. Life at such a crisis is bewildering, but it is interesting, it is even comforting because it reveals some divine purpose which calls for a new hope and a profounder faith.

In disintegration Anarchy? – Leading minds of England are in a world of doubt. Lloyd George has recently appointed a commission to examine industrial unrest. The president of the corpus Christi College of Oxford does not believe that a revolution can be averted even to the end of the present war. In this country Andr3ew D. White sees the coming of anarchy. Whether the change will be a simple disintegration or anarchy depends upon the question of violence. Violence comes from hatred and hatred is inflamed by hunger. Will famine follow war? it has often been its companion. Brooks Adams, in his Theory of social Revolutions, says: “Now, although the optimist contends that since men cannot foresee the future, worry about the future is futile, and that everything, in the best possible of worlds, is inevitably for the best. I think it clear that within recent years an uneasy suspicion has come into being that the principle of authority has been dangerously impaired, and that the social system, if it is to cohere, must be reorganized. If capital insists upon continuing to exercise sovereign powers, without accepting responsibility for a trust, the revolt against the existing order must probably continue, and the revolt can only be dealt with by physical force.”

Government is always representative, whether it be democratic or monarchial; but it represents the dominating force of the age and community. It will hardly be gainsaid that the greater force in our country today is capital, and that our government is primarily capitalistic, just as in Germany the government is militaristic, because the greatest force in that country is military power.

We have ceased to look to the Government at Washington as our sole protector. In the city of New York the lives of millions are dependent not upon Congress or upon the president of the United States, but upon the great transportation companies that hourly transport the daily bread of the people. If it be said that state and federal governments may control these transportation companies, it will be admitted that capital is after all the primary power, and the government’s only secondary. Some captains of industry have set up a divine right to rule as the stewards of the people’s needs. What Mr. Adams here writes was given out before the war. The war emphasizes the weaknesses, vices, and dangers of our national life. As the evils of governments become more pronounced, they invite all opposing forces in opposition to them, and hence we see the menace of capital and labor to the present standards of life.

New Problems.– As a result of the present world catastrophe a new order of life will come into being, old institutions will give way to new organizations brought forward to meet the demands of the new age. Our social, industrial, and religious life must undergo pronounced changes in the reconstruction of a new age.

It is not easy to establish a new order of things without some preparation, some experience. Has God permitted this debacle to come into the world without some revelation of the needs of the new life to which people will be subjected? Is there no one to point the way, no institution given to some delegated authority as a guide to the life of the new world? The crumbling processes are already felt, but an easy-going world has not yet become serious enough to think of substitutions. It will be the aim of the writer to point out in the chapters to follow some of the important and already established methods of dealing with the new age, revealed methods that have already found their way into the daily lives of comparatively small communities, but yet suited for the largest of human aggregations. The world is being thrown into a vast caldron, the melting pot of human institutions. What the moulding processes will be it is not easy to determine, but out of the incoherent mass of activities will come a new earth, if not a new heaven. One may readily believe that this is God’s day, that he is speaking through those calamities which the world is bringing upon itself. The history of the past proves that more than once it has been easier for the voice of God to penetrate the world through the roar of cannon and the shrieks of famine than through the vices, oppressions, and luxuries of life. Out of great calamities have been born many divine institutions that brought alleviation from the sorrows of life. Too bad, one may say, that we must suffer so much that we may learn so little, learn what we might know and practice if only our lives were turned to the will and purposes of God; but we have our free agencies, the freest of all human institutions. It is not agencies that make us free, but the truth which is learned only in obedience to divine purposes. We have not the strength to say “not my will, but thine be done.” what we vainly imagine is the strength of our will is the weakness of our selfishness and vain ambitions.

Revealed Causes.– The peace of the world is God-ordained and God-sustained. If men will not acknowledge God in all things, and prefer the exercise of their free agencies, desires, and lusts, they may have their own way that they may try themselves and test divine truth. Such a test lies before us. In a revelation of God to Joseph Smith, the Lord says, Doc. and Cov. 1:31-35:

And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received, for my spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts. And again, verily I say unto you, O inhabitants of the earth, I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh. For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men should know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.

Again, Doc. and Cov. 101:8:

In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me.

See also Doc. and Cov. 43:33 and all of section 87.


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