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PROBLEMS OF THE AGE
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
II. – The Ashes of the World’s Conflagration
The Elements of Destruction.– When the ashes of the great conflagration are removed, they will reveal the elements that burned so fiercely and destructively during the conflict. They will contain the same elements that have been the moving factors in the world’s great upheavals of the past – hatred, ambition, pride, vice, luxury, idleness, and infidelity. These sins have worked themselves into the lives of nations, by the contagious influence of the individuals composing the social structure of civilization. There develops a national spirit, a national instinct that we are compelled to yield to for the so-called national good. When national disintegration sets in, society is compelled anew to build up a new life out of the new spirit which has always followed the overthrow of a passing civilization. Greece and Rome could not conceive that their civilizations were unstable and incomplete, that they must pass away in order that a higher and better life might take their place. We may see the place where others stand, but it is difficult to look at ourselves while moving forward in the course of human events.
Hatred.– a passing examination of the destructive forces of the present age will better help us to appreciate how the old must be substituted by the new, how the mistakes of the past must be avoided, if we are to build with any degree of permanence for the future.
The most deadly force in the powers of destruction is hatred, the cause of nearly all calamities to national and individual life. Wherever this destructive force manifests itself there will be found grave dangers to our peace and progress. It provokes wars and wrecks all the social institutions intended for man’s preservation and happiness. When there is an alliance of hatreds, armed conflict is virtually inevitable. Present world combinations furnish a striking illustration. for decades England, France, Russia, and Japan were, through jealousy and hatred, on the brink of war or actually engaged in war. There gradually arose a still greater hatred, filled by evil ambitions. Germany drove these nations by hatred and autocratic contempt for others into one another’s arms. They not only became allied powers, but they brought with them an alliance of hatred with which Germany must now reckon. These alliances are not merely political or military maneuvers, they are deep-seated, ingrained hatreds as deadly as they are universal. What created these cruel hatreds? they are the outgrowth of social vices and individual sins. Nothing makes man so great a hater as sinful conduct.
Ambition.– A tolerably good definition of modern ambition is to get something that does not rightfully belong to one. The word itself has fallen greatly into disuse in recent years. It is sometimes referred to as the sin by which the angels fell. But the old spirit of ambition is still present, clothed in modern raiment. Nowadays we speak more of ideals, purposes, aims, etc., in life. We are less satisfied with a humble station in which we may be useful. Utility is an old style brand that makes our wares hard to sell. People are not so much concerned about what useful thing they are doing as they are about the place they occupy – a standing. They foolishly imagine that a standing lifts them out of obscurity. To get a standing they must jostle and crowd one another. Then ambition begins its ignoble ascent. There is plenty of vacant space in this world, but nations and individuals would sooner step on some one’s toes than move aside. Such a treading process sooner or later ends in conflict, with its growing hatreds.
Pride.– Pride, the insidious poison of the imagination, has blinded the world to the calamities awaiting it. The nations are boasting of their glories, all the while ignoring the fundamental virtues which make endurance and growth possible. Some Germans talk of the superman as superior to God. Why not? God to them is the combined effect of the forces of nature. Man is bringing these forces, and therefore God, more and more under his command. But the Germans act out the arrogant insolence of their price more than they speak it. Let the traveler stop to think. Did he ever witness in any other country of Europe such a display of vain pride as the Prussian officers manifest on the streets of Berlin? Yet the whole world is filled with pride. It is not a national characteristic. However, in Germany, vain boastings helped to bring on a war.
Vice.– The self-satisfaction of pride leads people to exclaim, “Why not let good enough alone?” The old contention to support royalty, that “the king can do no wrong,” has its counterpart in the masses who vainly imagine they “can do no wrong.” If the false assumption cost monarchy its throne, it will be none the less dangerous to the whole of mankind. Our boastful “crowning age of glory” is not working out to our satisfaction. We are compelled to stop by the great highways of life to witness the possible baseness of human nature. No, not human nature, depraved nature. Men are no fairer to their fellow-men than they are to their God. If God is excluded from the counsels of the nations, his mercy and love will not be felt in the conduct of men. Vice begins in the heart, or with the motives, if you prefer, and answers the call of self-indulgence. The prosperity of the times, a luxurious age, is more than man can endure. It not only satisfies old appetites, but it creates new ones. Our impatience with every form of restrain gives evidence of the decadence of the times.
Luxury.– We speak of our luxuries as if they were the special favors of God. We even measure our success by them. Luxuries are not only evidence of our national decline, they are potent causes of the domestic struggles awaiting us. Awaiting us? War is only one phase of the great break-up. The glare of the heavens reveals the sorrows of revolutions and anarchy to come. There is going on in the world today the growth of a class hatred that stifles every hopeful breath. The cleavage between the rich and the poor is not only wider, but is deeper. To this pronounced danger to the security of our social institutions the newspapers in their social columns are lending the most efficient aid. They picture the display of wealth and its wicked extravagance. They write up “my lady’s $25,000 cat house.” Banquets in honor of favorite dogs are pictured by artists in glowing colors. Wealth not only seeks but demands display. To outdo, to outshine, is the motto of the age. fortunately, all of the poor do not read these human follies depicted in our newspapers. The submerged nine-tenths are not told of them, and poverty, disappointment and reverses make the contrast all the more difficult to bear. Such a condition of life simply amasses a hatred which awaits only a spark of hunger to touch off. Neither this country nor Europe could endure a famine; law and social order would be cast to the winds.
Idleness.– Idleness is the mother of discontent, whether it be the idleness of the poor or the idleness of the rich. Idleness has become fashionable in all kinds of amusements. It is a pleasure-seeking age, but it will be a calamity-finding age. And who is to blame for these dangers which threaten our existence? These evil forces are the companions of our higher civilization. They are sweeping on with an irresistible power of destruction. Is it fate? No. We have simply allowed the momentum to get beyond our control. Like ancient Israel, we can at most simply “wait upon the Lord” who “hath spoken in the righteousness of his anger.” Why speak of the inevitable? why dwell upon the sorrows that await mankind? In them we have a duty to perform. A period of reconstruction will follow. Men in sorrow and contrition will listen. God will deliver them a message, as he has delivered messages in the past.
Infidelity.– Can even a democracy, if Godless, exist? Infidelity is more than a simple disbelief in God and in religious institutions. If history is pronounced upon any one question, it is the companionship of infidelity and vice. It was so in ancient Greece and Rome when pagan gods were overthrown. In the french revolution the unity of the two forces was very marked. Deny it as man may, it is characteristic of men to throw off responsibility with the profession of infidelity. Can justice be reached through purely intellectual processes? Without religion conscience is merely an intellectual quality. When President Wilson declared that “the world must be made safe for democracy,” the governor of Massachusetts added that “democracy must also be made safe for the world.” The safety of democracy has been taken too much for granted. There have been unsafe democracies, democracies which have fallen into decay. They are not invulnerable, not incorruptible. Some years ago when Herbert Spencer visited the United States, he was asked if he did not think education would correct certain flagrant evils in our great commonwealth. He immediately answered, “No. It is a question of morals and not education.” Morals are more pronounced in religion than in any other social function of life. Religion and morals are today interdependent in all civilized nations. The growing indifference to religious life throughout the civilized world portend no good to our present social and political institutions, whose endurance has already been thrown into the balance of our changing civilization. Is not all this merely pessimism? I wish it were; and yet, if the decadent old is to be supplanted by a better and holier new, why should we not be optimistic about divine purposes?
We err if we imagine that war is making the world better and is therefore the end of the old and the beginning of the new. It simply emphasizes the evils which brought it on. Internal revolutions, which have already begun to becloud the horizon of our present civilized condition, warn us that there is going to be a general overthrow, and we need not be surprised to discover about us the debris of the past.
A Call to Repentance.– For more than eighty years the elders of the Church have been calling the world to repentance, and obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and declaring the coming of such calamities as are now visiting the earth. To escape such a visitation the Saints are required to gather to the Zion of God – the pure in heart. A prophecy of Joseph Smith, in 1831, reads:
“For after today cometh the burning; this is spoken after the manner of the Lord; for verily I say, that all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.”