The Parallels of Celestial and Civilized Cultures

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Elder Neal A. Maxwell writes in 1978 about the values and virtues of civilization so bereft in 2017:

The prophet Moroni said, “Despair cometh because of iniquity.” (Moroni 10:22) When iniquity increases, so do despair and alienation. Paul also said the ignorance of the everlasting truths would cause unbelievers to be “alienated from the life of God.” (Ephesians 4:18) No wonder we despair when we sin, because we act against our own interests and against who we really are. When we are imprisoned by iniquity, we turn the cell lock ourselves.

It is striking when one catalogs those virtues that come to the fore when people act from an eternal perspective and then also catalogs those virtues that are necessary for wise mortal civilization. What does one see? He sees in both the urgent need for brotherhood and civility. He sees in gospel goals the requirement for self-discipline—and then the same requirement for a free society, since a republic rests, as an unknown writer has said, on “obedience to the unenforceable”; people must checkreign their appetites for their own good and for the good of society.

He sees, both in the celestial culture for which he is preparing and in our civilization which he struggles to maintain, that a high premium is placed on individual accountability. He sees in both settings the importance of deferred gratification so that the emphasis on now does not swallow up everything else; there must be thought and deference to generations yet unborn. He sees in both the requirements for real regard for the basic institution of the family.

Both the man of religion and the civilized man see the need to avoid covetousness, for envy is still envy even when it is politicized. Both also see the importance of not bearing false witness either by gossip or by inaccurate and misleading headlines.

In both a theocracy and a genuine democracy there is an overriding concern with personal freedom, for neither personal nor political liberty will last long when inappropriate appetites go unchecked in displays of disregard for people and their property. Salvation and secular survival require the same virtues in the citizenry. The plea for basic values is also a fervent plea for the preservation of civilization, which values must accord with things as they really are.

No wonder we need timeless truths against which to test the lures of the moment. The great truths about things as they really are are immune to obsolescence.

In departing from mortal civilization’s virtues, we fall too from the celestial.

We are still falling.

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