"In an increasingly dark world, we can be a bright light to those around us and a shining example of Christlike love."
~ LDS Church Website
Introductory Note: I have expressed the following thoughts as an open letter to my children in response to something I recently read on the official website of the LDS Church.
When I read the words set out above, I knew I had to write about them. They appear on the official web site of the LDS Church in connection with a program the Church has announced of encouraging their members to do specific activities every day during the month of December in order to be "a light to the world."
Normally, I wouldn't have even heard about this program because, as you know, my interactions with anything Mormon have become increasingly distant and infrequent since I officially resigned my membership five years ago. But one of you mentioned it to me, and I had heard a brief reference to it on one of our local news channels; so out of curiosity I went to the Church's website.
The very first words I read on the page dedicated to the program were those appearing above, and I didn't read anything further ... for quite some time. The reason: this sentence, which sounds so innocuous, immediately struck me as representing so much of what I find troubling about Mormonism and how it has affected me and you in the past and still affects you today, some more than others. For the first time in a long time, I have decided to write on my blog about Mormonism, and because I have discussed some of these issues with several of you in recent years, I am framing my response as an open letter to you.
I know very well that Mormonism teaches that we live in the end times and that the world is becoming increasingly wicked and that the gulf between "good" people and "bad" people is growing ever wider. But was the phrase, "In an increasingly dark world," really necessary as a lead-in to the above-quoted sentence? Wouldn't it have been so much more uplifting if it hadn't been prefaced by this dark thought (i.e., "We can be a bright light ...")? Why was it necessary?
I suggest the answer is, in part, because of the belief that good cannot exist in the absence of evil. As a well-known phrase from the Book of Mormon puts it, "there must needs be an opposition in all things." So much of Mormonism, as well as much of Christianity as a whole, seems to be not so much "for" something as "against" something. There is so much good in Mormonism, so much "for-ism," which generates light and love; but it is all too often overshadowed and negated by the "against-ism," which tends to generate darkness and hate.
The belief in the end times and the increasing wickedness of the world also teaches us to view the world as a dark place, divided into good and bad people, that is all too often a place to be feared rather than embraced. Some of you and I have had numerous discussions the past several years on this point - how this belief engendered in you (and me for a good many years) a fear of the world around you and a tendency to view everyone and everything as "black" or "white," "good" or "bad." Among many other things, this worldview teaches people to view others as suspect, blinding them to the light, life and goodness that exists everywhere in the world if one but has the eyes to see it.
Which leads me to my next point. I find the whole idea of being a light to others a bit offensive. I know very well how it is meant in the Mormon context, but quite frankly - and I know most members of the Church wouldn't see it this way - it's more than a bit arrogant, self-centered and opportunistic. It is, after all, nice to think of oneself as being a light to others and "a shining example of Christlike love." But if Jesus of Nazareth was anything, he was someone who didn't so much seek to be a light to others as to be a kindler of the light within others. (In this regard, think of Mark. He would never have set himself up as a light to others, but he respected the light within others - as equals - and sought to honor that.)
In far too many instances, these attitudes of insisting on being examples to others prevents those who seek to follow Jesus of Nazareth from seeing what he would see - the inner light, beauty and knowledge within those for whom we so earnestly but arrogantly seek to be an example. I have seen so many manifestations of this, from being a missionary to being a father.
So I hope that you will always live your lives FOR something, rather than AGAINST something; that you will not live your lives out of fear but out of love for both yourself and for others, as well as the world at large; that you will resist the temptation to divide the world into "us" against "them"; that you would honor the light within others as well as honor it within yourself; and that, rather than seeking to be an example to others, you would seek out how others can be an example to you.
* The lead photo was taken in August of 2016 of a stained glass window in the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Mary on the island of Mljet in Croatia.