Monday, June 1, 2009

The Millennium


I’ve been teaching the Sunday School lessons in the LDS services in the Forensics Unit of the Utah State Hospital lately. Today’s topic was the Millennium. I’ve always been fascinated by the millennium. I wonder if I have a fascination with the kinds of topics that people of my demographic subgroup, the liberal intellectual Mormons, tend to shy away from? I’ve never been much for Unitarianization of Mormonism. I’m becoming a bit more Unitarian as I age, but I still like the quirky, memorable concepts/events/images that radiate other concepts.

I tend to use a Socratic method and I tend to challenge the students more than some might think is advisable. My theory is that everyone is susceptible to thought and changes in their thinking, and that most people are smarter than we think. I also don’t mind if some students don’t get everything, I guess because I tend to “get” about 60% of what I read or pick up from talks, graduate seminars, conference presentations, etc. I find that I think about things I don’t quite get off and on for long periods of time. It often results in a cumulative epiphany which is the source of a lot of what I come to know.

Here is a bit of an outline of what we discussed today. First, I asked them to list the things that are wrong with the world. They included war, disease, economic problems, greed, natural disasters, pollution, etc.

Second, I asked them to list things they would like to change about the world. They included peace, generosity, kindness, no more disease, a hospitable climate with clean air, water and land, etc.

Then I asked why things are the first way and not the second way. We kind of determined that most people want things the second way, but it takes just a few ill-intentioned people to bring about things in the first list. There’s a reggae song by Someone and the Shoes, that I remember from a record I had in high school that said something like “God gives all men an equal share of blessings. Some men want to take it all and keep the rest of the world in bondage and oppression.” There’s a really interesting scripture in Alma 46 about Amalikiah who makes a goal to conquer both the Lamanites and Nephites and comes pretty close, causing untold suffering and upheaval along the way:

9 Yea, and we also see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men.

Of course he doesn’t do it all by himself. But the important thing in discussing macro problems involving countries in the world, is the source or the impetus of mischief, which always tends to be a few really bad apples. Nevertheless:

10 Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly.

Then I asked why the few are allowed to ruin everything. I got two different lines of thought on this. One is that, because of free agency, some people will end up doing dumb, bad, and often very damaging things. The other was that their actions fulfill our need for opposition in all things. One remembers the parable of the wheat and tares, that tares (weeds) grew up next to the wheat. The workers asked the master if they should pluck up the tares who told them not to, because they would likely also pluck up the wheat with the tares. Better to let them both grow up together and separate them at reaping time.

What starts to take shape is the very clear tripartite division of the world into celestial, terrestrial, and telestial people, each of which has a role. I think that terrestrial people make up a majority of the world. These are the basically decent people who don’t join the Church, but are guided by ethical and/or religious principles, that listen to their conscience, that are reverent and basically kind to other sentient beings. Then there are the few to whom I have alluded, who bring most of the mischief, suffering, etc. into the world. The people who seem to want to spread violence, immorality, dishonesty, inequality, etc. and who are largely successful, inasmuch as Satan gives them power over parts of his realm. These are the telestials. Because of them, the world is essentially a telestial place. Mankind has always dreamt of reaching a terrestrial state, but it seems like it is impossible as long as there are telestials here to muck things up. Celestial people should focus on working with the terrestrials more, because we have essentially the same goals. And we will be living together in the millennium.

I was reminded of a study recently of foreign aid by country as a portion of GDP. The top countries were all Scandinavian. The U.S. was at the bottom of the industrialized countries (though, I should say, at the top in actual aid dollars). Scandinavia, and Western Europe in general, seem to be essentially terrestrial societies. They are mostly secular and not very open to the restored gospel, but they seem to be working toward, or to have achieved aspects of terrestrial life. America seems to be more of a mix of the three types.

We then talked about characteristics of the millennial (or terrestrial) world, which matched up pretty well with the things we had discussed earlier. The one that interested me was in D&C 101:
26 And in that day the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts, yea, the enmity of all flesh, shall cease from before my face.
Imagine if the conflict not only among humans, but among all life forms disappeared. What a remarkable, fascinating place the world would be.

Then I asked if we know when the second coming will happen. The answer is, of course, no, and the scriptures state that neither we, nor the angels, nor even Jesus know the day or the hour. I then asked why not. My idea was that maybe there is no set time for the second coming. Maybe it is contingent on human events and human will to some extent. What is interesting is that the events to precede the second coming involve an increase in wickedness on the part of the telestials (wars, pollutions, etc.) and an increase in righteousness on the part of the celestials (preaching the gospel to the whole world, etc.)

As for the “tribulation”, or the dangerous events that precede the second coming, I suggested that we not worry too much about them specifically, any more than one should worry about death in general, or auto accidents, or cancer, etc. World War II alone would certainly be anyone’s definition of fulfillment of the negative signs of the times. I’m not saying things won’t get worse, but I think there is a lot to be hopeful about. For example, the gospel will be preached to every nation. Well, every nation that has had the gospel has moved toward democracy and away from oppression. We can expect the most oppressive regimes to go away as they did behind the former iron curtain. One thought is that while freedom is creeping over the earth, I don’t see a lot of will to solve environmental problems. I also see a lot of economic inequality that no one seems that interested in getting rid of. We’ve all got to die some time and some will die in auto accidents, cancer, and other ways that are more or less unpleasant. The righteous (i.e. the terrestrials who are, as I said, more than half of the world) are promised a great degree of protection.

In other words, I think the day or the hour is unknown because it is yet to be determined, for the most part by the actions of the celestials, i.e. in bringing about the great work of sharing the gospel, perfecting the saints, temple building, etc. We should never assume anything is a done deal. The story of Jonah proves that prophecies are always contingent.

A couple of other questions I asked were:

Do we have to wait for the millennium to live a terrestrial life?
We can certainly make our homes and communities better. Again, I think that while Scandinavia is not celestial, or on the way to being so, it seems (from my limited vantage point) to be pretty close to terrestrial in some ways. Our homes can certainly be terrestrial or even celestial.

I didn’t get to the two really nice quotes:

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “How do you prepare for the Second Coming? Well, you just do not worry about it. You just live the kind of life that if the Second Coming were to be tomorrow you would be ready. Nobody knows when it is going to happen. … Our responsibility is to prepare ourselves, to live worthy of the association of the Savior, to deport ourselves in such a way that we would not be embarrassed if He were to come among us. That is a challenge in this day and age” (Church News, 2 Jan. 1999, 2).
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve gave the following counsel:
“Teenagers also sometimes think, ‘What’s the use? The world will soon be blown all apart and come to an end.’ That feeling comes from fear, not from faith. No one knows the hour or the day (see D&C 49:7), but the end cannot come until all of the purposes of the Lord are fulfilled. Everything that I have learned from the revelations and from life convinces me that there is time and to spare for you to carefully prepare for a long life.
“One day you will cope with teenage children of your own. That will serve you right. Later, you will spoil your grandchildren, and they in turn spoil theirs. If an earlier end should happen to come to one, that is more reason to do things right” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1989, 72; or Ensign, May 1989, 59).

1 comment:

Christian said...

wow! brilliant. i always loved your anti-unitarian stance and hope you stick with it.