Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Look at Both Sides of the Question": An 1840 LDS Article

The following is a short article that originally appeared as "Look at Both Sides of the Question", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 1/6 (1 October 1840): 156-158 to be read by European members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
Almost every thing has two sides.  The world has two sides - else how could the Lord turn it upside down?  Man, beast, bird, fish, insect, and vegetable have two sides each, and all things throughout the natural and artificial world; and before we can become perfectly acquainted with any of these things, we have to examine both sides thereof, and every side, for most of these things have a multitude of sides.  Not so with truth -
           Look at it when and where you will,
           Truth was, and is, and will be still
a principle that has but one side to it, and that side is truth.
Falsehood is but another principle which has but one side; and examine it in whatever form you please, all its properties are false: its nature it congenial to itself, it cannot be altered - its name and nature is falsehood.
The word of God is truth, as saith the Savior, "Father, sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth," and yet, when the word is preached, many are ready to cry out, "look at both sides of the question," just as though truth had as many sides to it as any thing which is naturally constituted with sides, or is continually changing or varying its form. 
The Saints are for truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and wherever a principle of truth can be found, there is a principle which helps to constitute the great sum and substance of the faith of the Saints of the Last Days; no matter what that truth particularly refers to, whether it be God, angels, men, or devils, things seen or unseen, above or below, heaven or hell, celestial, terrestrial, or telestial, believed or disbelieved by men generally; show us a truth and we will believe it.
This was the reason why the world hated the Lord Jesus, because he was possessed of that charity, that love of truth, which prompted him to believe all things, and rejoice in the truth; and, to be his Saints, we must be willing to suffer for the truth's sake, as he did, even to be called devils, and accounted as mad by this generation - for the servant is not above his master; and if they hated and called the master of the house Beelzebub, because he told them the truth, how much more they of his household, for believing what he said. 
Charity never faileth; neither do we profess to be infallible; therefore, we are ever ready to examine all things which are brought against us, as well as those which present themselves apparently in our favour; so that by the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to guide those who possess it into all truth, we may be enabled to discern the right ways of the Lord, even the way of truth, the old paths, that we may stand and walk therein, until we shall be enabled, by the grace of God, to arrive at the celestial city, the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, and there refresh ourselves in the presence of the Most High, and of his son Jesus; having been cleansed by the blood of Christ, through the sanctification of the spirit, and the belief of the truth; and having been baptized with water, with the Holy Ghost, and with fire, that we might be made co-heirs with him to all the glories of his father's kingdom. 
With all these glorious prospects before us, we are determined to make sure of the promised inheritance; and although truth has but one side to it, yet there are many in the world who suppose, or pretend to believe, that we have not found that side, and that we are groping in darkness at noon-day, and are following falsehood instead of truth; and would fain convince us of our error by printing or publishing what they call truth, either that they may turn us away from our belief, or prevent those who would join themselves unto the Lord in the New and Everlasting covenant. 
Concerning this matter, we would say to the Elders and all Saints every where, whenever and wherever you have or may see any thing printed in any book, pamphlet, paper, tract, or card, concerning us, or the religion we profess; whether it be for or against, in any part of Europe, read it carefully, and examine it candidly by the Spirit of the Lord, for truth will never loose by investigation; compare it with the word of God, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, which giveth light; and whatever you find to be true, believe and practice - whatever you find to be false, reject; and when you have thus examined, we particularly desire that you would loose no time in forwarding the same to us at our office, or to some one of the twelve; and what you know not now, be faithful, and you shall know hereafter; by thus doing, you will give us, also, the opportunity of Looking at both sides of the Question
Some questions for reflection and discussion:
  1. In what sense does the author of this article seem to mean that all animals, insects, vegetables, etc., "have two sides each"? 
  2. The author suggests that truth, in itself, is simple, containing no plurality and dialectic; and that the same is true of falsehood.  Hence, each has "but one side to it".  While truth is unitary, need it be simple rather than, in some sense, complex?  
  3. Given what the author says about the inherent one-sidedness of truth, does the author seem prepared to admit that engagement with other perspectives could be a means to discovering the truth, or to getting a better grasp on the truth?  Given the author's strong presumption that Latter-day Saints have 'The Truth', how would the author and his believing readers be likely to actually practice what he says about being willing to believe any truth they find from any source ("show us a truth and we will believe it")?  
  4. Some Latter-day Saints today are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because they strongly believe it to be 'true' (they might, in the parlance of LDS epistemology, say that they 'know' it to be true), but if they found it to not be true, they say that they would leave in order to follow the truth.  Some smaller proportion of people today are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in spite of not believing some or any of that church's central claims.  Some people today are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because they believe it strongly to be 'true', but also say that, if the Church were not true, they would not want to know this; they would prefer to believe it even if it were untrue.  In light of what the author here says about being "willing to suffer for the truth's sake", what might the author say to each of these groups within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?  
  5. In spite of the author's claim that Latter-day Saints have 'The Truth', he disclaims infallibility and says that, because they are not infallible, they are "ever ready to examine all things which are brought against us, as well as those which present themselves in our favour".  Later, he encourages Latter-day Saints everywhere to "read carefully" any coverage of the LDS Church - positive or negative - in "any book, pamphlet, paper, tract, or card".  Certainly, much of this negative coverage would be subsumed under the various ways that modern Latter-day Saints construct the category of 'anti-Mormon literature'.  Hence, this author, in an official LDS periodical, is insisting that Latter-day Saints should be ready to read even 'anti-Mormon literature' and to examine it fairly, accepting truth and rejecting error.  The author assumes that they can do this with the Holy Spirit; he does not assume that the presence of the Holy Spirit will flee in the face of criticism of LDS belief and practice.  What attitude(s) does the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take regarding publications that critique its beliefs and practices?  Why?  
  6. The author speaks on several occasions that the Holy Ghost (or, Holy Spirit) will be involved in examining all publications, whether favorable or unfavorable to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In what ways are modern LDS readers likely to assume that this will happen?  Given the tenor of the article, what is it likely that the author himself meant?  How does this relate to the exhortation to "compare it to the word of God", and what does this tell us about early LDS attitudes toward the Bible?  
  7. The author encourages that copies of any literature that Latter-day Saints find, whether favorable or unfavorable it in coverage of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, should be forwarded to the printing office of the Millennial Star or even to "some one of the twelve", in order to give them the opportunity to also examine it.  Early LDS writings often contained rebuttals to writings critical of the LDS Church.  What mindset does this reveal?  How does this compare to prevailing mindsets within the LDS Church today?  

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