I watched a 5-minute video clip of a talk given in 1978 by one of my favorites: Neal A. Maxwell. His words are beautiful—extraordinarily well-phrased—and the ideas he speaks of are even more beautiful.
As happens on YouTube, other videos of him popped up. So I thought it might be worth spending a day sharing quotes from a couple of his archived speeches.
“Meeting the Challenges of Today”
This first was a Devotional Speech (regular campus-wide weekly speeches at BYU] from 1978. I was there the day he delivered this address. I have a stack of 3x5 cards I kept notes on, and I managed to capsulize his 40-minute speech on two sides of a card. I need a magnifying glass to read it, but several of the quotes below are in there. This was 39 years ago, and looking at our world today, it appears both relevant and prophetic. Here is the 5-minute clip. Then come the quotes.
We are now entering a period of incredible ironies. Let us cite but one of these ironies which is yet in its subtle stages: we shall see in our time a maximum if indirect effort made to establish irreligion as the state religion. It is actually a new form of paganism that uses the carefully preserved and cultivated freedoms of Western civilization to shrink freedom even as it rejects the value essence of our rich Judeo-Christian heritage.
Brothers and sisters, irreligion as the state religion would be the worst of all combinations. Its orthodoxy would be insistent and its inquisitors inevitable. Its paid ministry would be numerous beyond belief. Its Caesars would be insufferably condescending. Its majorities—when faced with clear alternatives—would make the Barabbas choice, as did a mob centuries ago when Pilate confronted them with the need to decide.
[Quoting M. J. Sobran]: It is startling to consider that a clause clearly protecting religion can be construed as requiring that it be denied a status routinely granted to educational and charitable enterprises, which have no overt constitutional protection. Far from equalizing unbelief, secularism has succeeded in virtually establishing it.
What the secularists are increasingly demanding, in their disingenuous way, is that religious people, when they act politically, act only on secularist grounds. They are trying to equate acting on religion with establishing religion. And—I repeat—the consequence of such logic is really to establish secularism. It is in fact, to force the religious to internalize the major premise of secularism: that religion has no proper bearing on public affairs. [Human Life Review, Summer 1978, pp. 51–52, 60–61]
A religious conviction is now a second-class conviction, expected to step deferentially to the back of the secular bus, and not to get uppity about it (Human Life Review, Summer 1978, p. 58).
In its more harsh forms, as is always the case with those whose dogmatism is blinding, the secular church will do what it can to reduce the influence of those who still worry over standards such as those in the Ten Commandments. It is always such an easy step from dogmatism to unfair play—especially so when the dogmatists believe themselves to be dealing with primitive people who do not know what is best for them. It is the secular bureaucrat’s burden, you see.
There is occurring a discounting of religiously-based opinions. There may even be a covert and subtle disqualification of some for certain offices in some situations, in an ironic “irreligious test” for office.
Our founding fathers did not wish to have a state church established nor to have a particular religion favored by government. They wanted religion to be free to make its own way. But neither did they intend to have irreligion made into a favored state church. Notice the terrible irony if this trend were to continue. When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go?
Will we be able to rely for counterforce on value education in school systems that are increasingly secularized? And if our governments and schools were to fail us, would we be able to fall back upon the institution of the family, when so many secular movements seek to shred it?
It may well be, as our time comes to “suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41), that some of this special stress will grow out of that portion of discipleship which involves citizenship.
[This next quote references Lehi’s Dream, which I mentioned in my last post.]
To go on clinging to the iron rod in spite of the mockery and scorn that flow at us from the multitudes in that great and spacious building seen by Father Lehi, which is the “pride of the world,” is to disregard the shame of the world (1 Nephi 8:26–27, 33; 11:35–36). Parenthetically, why—really why—do the disbelievers who line that spacious building watch so intently what the believers are doing? Surely there must be other things for the scorners to do—unless, deep within their seeming disinterest, there is interest.
Let us have integrity and not write checks with our tongues which our conduct cannot cash.
Before the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness, some skirmishes will be lost. Even these, however, must leave a record so that the choices before the people are clear and let others do as they will in the face of prophetic counsel. There will also be times, happily, when a minor defeat seems probable, that others will step forward, having been rallied to righteousness by what we do. We will know the joy, on occasion, of having awakened a slumbering majority of the decent people of all races and creeds—a majority which was, till then, unconscious of itself.
Even when we face stern challenges and circumstances, “these are great days”![i] Our hearts need not fail us. We can be equal to our challenges, including the aforementioned challenge of the secular church.
When in situations of stress we wonder if there is any more in us to give, we can be comforted to know that God, who knows our capacity perfectly, placed us here to succeed.
“Behold, the Enemy Is Combined”
I probably also heard this address live, broadcast rather than in person. But no notes; I had three young children then, so my hands were full. It is from the April 1993 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I recommended this speech and included the video in a post I wrote in May.
We must not be intimidated or lose our composure even though the once morally unacceptable is becoming acceptable, as if frequency somehow conferred respectability!
Today, lust openly parades as love, license cleverly poses as liberty, and raucous sounds mockingly masquerade as music. Evil even calls itself good and often gets away with it!
While I would not shrink the circumference of freedom, the size of that circle is not the sole measure of social well-being.
Hence, to exult, as some do, over how much decadence is permissible at the edges ignores the erosive effects of such grossness upon all within that circle.
Attributed to historian Will Durant are these relevant words: “If the hunger for liberty destroys order, the hunger for order will destroy liberty.” In this connection, how can there possibly be a disturbing loss of individual impulse control without a corresponding loss of collective freedom?
No wonder the adversary steadily promotes all the ancient sins, not because he is uninventive but because his harvest is so constant.
In their search for identity and belonging, too many supposedly savvy teens are now confined to the solitude of a lonely gang. What is the lasting advantage of becoming streetwise if one is on a street to nowhere?
We are lathered with soap operas in need of nothing so much as soap—for the scrubbing of themselves! Some seriously maintain that media violence and sleaze leave consumers untouched. But revenue is received from commercials precisely because of their influence. Either we deserve reforms, or sponsors deserve refunds!
Those who mock the traditional moral values should heed this lesson of history from the Durants:
“A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume both the individual and the group.” (Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968, pp. 35–36.)
Lasciviousness wrongly celebrates the capacity to feel, so that people lose their capacity to feel!
Even with its flaws, the family is basic, and since no other institution can compensate fully for failure in the family, why then, instead of enhancing the family, the desperate search for substitutes? Why not require family impact studies before proceeding with this program or that remedy, since of all environmental concerns the family should be first? Hundreds of governmental departments and programs protect various interests, but which one protects the family?
Only reform and self-restraint, institutional and individual, can finally rescue society! Only a sufficient number of sin-resistant souls can change the marketplace.
We can have love at home, even though the love of many waxes cold in the world. (See Matt. 24:12.) We can have inner peace even though peace has been taken from the earth. (See D&C 1:35.)
We can keep the seventh commandment even though others break it and mock it. We can render individualized, humanitarian service even though the mass of human suffering seems so overwhelming.
We can use our tongues to speak the truth in love, while refusing to use them to bear false witness. (See Eph. 4:15; Ex. 20:16.) We can stand fast “in holy places” even though in the world “all things shall be in commotion.” (D&C 45:32; D&C88:91.)
Yes, “the enemy is combined,” but when we are combined with the Lord’s “chariots of fire,” then “they that be with us are more than they that be with them”! (2 Kgs. 6:16–17.) Furthermore, the divine promise is that no weapon formed against the Lord’s work shall finally prosper; this “is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.” (Isa. 54:17; D&C 71:9.)