Friday, October 30, 2015

David O. McKay on Indulgence versus Spirituality

The LDS Citation Index app has conference addresses back to 1942. There are some wonderful things to find there. 

In the October 1963 conference, I found this neat bit in President David O. McKay’s talk “The True Purpose of Life”:

Aside from resisting such oppression from without, each individual carries within himself the responsibility of living nobly or ignobly. Daily every normal person is faced with the choice of submission to what Paul designated the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19), or of reaching upward for the fruits of the Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal 5:22-23).

Conditions in the world today seem to indicate that to many human beings are living not very far above the animal plane. Cunning deception, thieving, lying, cruelty, brutality warring conflicts are still all too common even among Christian nations.

Charles Wagner in The Simple Life gives this impressive warning against indulgence in animal desires:

“He who lives to eat, drink, sleep, take his walk—in short, pamper himself all that he can—be it the courtier basking in the sun, the drunken laborer, the commoner serving his belly, the woman absorbed in her toilettes [makeup preparations], the profligate of low estate or high, or simply the ordinary pleasure-lover, a ‘good fellow,’ but too obedient to material needs—that man or woman is on the downward way of desire, and the descent is fatal. Those who follow it obey the same laws as a body on an inclined plane. Dupes of an illusion forever repeated, they think: ‘Just a few steps more, the last, toward the thing down there that we covet; then we will halt.’ But the velocity they gain sweeps them on, and the further they go the less able they are to resist it.

“Here is the secret of the unrest, the madness, of many of our contemporaries. Having condemned their will to the service of their appetites, they suffer the penalty. They are delivered up to violent passions which devour their flesh, crush their bones, suck their blood, and cannot be sated. This is not a lofty moral denunciation. I have been listening to what life says, and have recorded, as I heard them, some of the truths that resound in every square.

Has drunkenness, inventive as it is of new drinks, found the means of quench thirst? Not at all. It might rather be called the art of making thirst inextinguishable. Frank libertinage, does it deaden the sting of the senses? No; it envenoms it, converts natural desire into a morbid obsession and makes it the dominant passion. Let your needs rule you, pamper them—you will see them multiply like insects in the sun. The more you give them, the more they demand.  He is senseless who seeks for happiness in material properity alone . . . Our needs, in place of the servants that they should be, become a turbulent and seditious crowd, a legion of tyrants in miniature. A man enslaved to his needs may best be compared to a bear with a ring in its nose that is led around and made to dance at will. The likeness is not flattering, but you will grant that it is true.

It is only by direct action on youth that a better society can be successfully moulded. All pseudo-mysticisms—social, philosophical or political—must be replaced by the Christian ideal, the only one based on liberty and the respect of human dignity. When people have received the same education, when they obey the same moral rules an think universally, they do not easily accept the idea of fighting each other and are very near an understanding.”

A very profound thought. Indulgence of desire ultimately doesn’t do away with it, but only inflames it.  

I think we can easily forget this principle today because of the sheer mass of advertising we are subjected to, all of which is designed to convince us that we should give in to our desires, especially the ones that require buying something. This idea that all desires must be satisfied is bleeding into public discourse about sexuality as well. 

The purpose of life is the gradual perfection of humanity through Christ’s atonement. To be alive only to physical desires and not to spiritual desires or simple beauties is to deprive ourselves of many of the joys of living. Christ specifically endorsed those who seek to gratify spiritual desires: "blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost." (3 Nephi 12:6).

President McKay also said:

Spirituality is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the Infinite. Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties and acquire more and more strength. To feel one’s faculties unfolding and truth expanding the soul is one of life’s sublimest experiences. Being true to self and being loyal to high ideals develops spirituality. The real test of any religion is the kind of man it makes. Being “honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men” (Article of Faith 13) are virtues which contribute to the highest acquisition of the soul. It is the “divine in man, the supreme, crowning gift that makes him king of all created things, the one final quality that makes him tower above all other animals.

Today let’s be suspicious of our indulgences and instead welcome every call to grow, learn, serve, and pray.  Try the experiment and see if you are happier at the end of the day than you were the day before.