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Mormon Beliefs: Worldliness

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Worldliness is the attachment to the things and philosophies of men rather than God. In Ecclesiastes, worldly things are called "vanities" for two reasons— first, because they are sources of pride and destroyers of humility; and second, because they enlist men's adoration and energy in vain, since they have no power to save men in the eternities. Worldly pursuits include monetary gain and the love of money, beauty, fame, knowledge, material possessions, costly apparel, sexuality, pleasure, land and property, power, and titles. Those who seek the things of the world generally begin by envying others that have them, then compromise themselves morally to get them. Once they have them, they scorn others who don't, thereby becoming prideful. They shut themselves off from the Lord to a lesser or greater degree. It is by shedding the love of the things of the world that men become humble and teachable by the spirit.

Even those who do not consider themselves worldly may adopt their morality and ethics from worldly culture, ignoring the words of God:

"Worldliness is not, in the last analysis, love of possessions, or the habit of courting great personages. It is simply the weakness of fibre which makes us take our standards from the society round us." [1]

The Great and Spacious Building

In the Book of Mormon there is an account of a dream experienced by the prophet Lehi. His son, Nephi, wanted to understand the dream, so the Lord manifested it to him, as well, along with the interpretation of the dream. In the dream, Lehi found himself in a "dark and dreary wilderness." Lehi saw a man in a white robe who bid him follow. As Lehi did so, he beheld a "large and spacious field" and then a tree with brilliant white fruit. Partaking of the fruit filled him with joy. The fruit represented the love of God. Lehi wanted all his family, and indeed all of mankind to partake. Some of Lehi's family made it to the tree, and many others managed to get to it and partake of the fruit.

And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost (1 Nephi 8:25-28).

The "great and spacious building" of Lehi's dream represents the world and its pleasures. The building has no foundation; it floats in the air. Unaware of their precarious circumstances, the well-dressed people inside it mock the humble followers of God. Those who have tasted of the Love of God become ashamed. They wonder what was so attractive about the fruit, when it's the people in the building who look so good and seem so happy. They seek the approval and gifts of the world, wander away, and are eternally lost.

Pride comes before the Fall

Also in the Book of Mormon are many accounts of societies that started out humble and God-fearing. However, as they became more prosperous, the people became prideful. They disdained the poor and needy. As societies, they began to engage in wickedness. As societies, the Lord destroyed them. In fact, the Book of Mormon begins and ends with such destruction. It is a direct message to the people of our day. Wrote the prophet Moroni in AD 401:

Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
For behold, ye do love amoney, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?
Yea, why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground, for vengeance upon your heads?
Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you; and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer (Mormon 8:35-41).

It is Possible to be Rich and still be Humble

Abraham was a wealthy man, but he did not set his mind and heart upon his riches. He dedicated himself to preaching the gospel, living by example, and obeying every commandment he received from the Lord. Had the Lord commanded him to walk away from his riches, he could have and would have instantly complied.

The Lord delights to bless the righteous with the gifts of the world as well as the gifts of eternity, as long as their hearts are fixed upon Him. And while the righteous can enjoy the bounties of the earth and become prosperous, their moral standards must be the Lord's standards, and not the world's.

"If you expect glory,intelligence and endless lives, let the world go." [2]

Loving the World just a Little, the Invisible Compromise

Especially with the dawning of the "information age," the world has become our playroom. Worldly "values" can emerge from anywhere on earth and settle in our living rooms. A Hollywood comedian once said, "Television is wonderful. It allows you to invite into your living room someone you wouldn't have in your home."

The Last Days began with the calling of Joseph Smith as the prophet of the "Last Dispensation of Time." Therefore, we have been in the final dispensation before the Second Coming of Christ since the early 1800's. Morality has been in a steady decline. Latter-day Saints have been counseled to live "in the world," while not being "of the world." It's a difficult task. Cultural influences are extremely strong. As the world becomes more wicked, Latter-day Saints should stand out as more peculiar and unusual.

"The distance between the Church and a world set on a course which we cannot follow will steadily increase." [3]
"I would rather be a Moses on the mount with all of Israel against me, then Aaron at the altar of the Golden calf with all of Israel dancing around and praising me." [4]
"May we be different in order to make a difference in the world." [5]
  • How come we can quote movie lines, but not as many scriptures?
  • How come we know batting averages and ERAs but we don't know chapter and verse?
  • How come we can name the entire cast of Friends, but not the members of the Quorum of the Twelve?
  • How come we've read all the Harry Potter books, but not all of the Bible?
  • Why are we so quick to wear the latest fashions, and so slow to put on the whole armor of God?

How to Become and Stay Unspotted from the World

"The flow has become a flood and soon will be a torrent. It will become a torrent of sounds and sights and sensations that invite temptation and offend the Spirit of God. Swimming back upstream to purity against the tides of the world was never easy. It is getting harder and may soon be frighteningly difficult." [6]

"It is possible for a man who loves the world to overcome that love, to get knowledge and understanding until he sees things as they really are, then he will not love the world but will see it as it is." [7]

Therefore, this “voice of warning”:

• Beware of worldly lusts. They stimulate the senses but enslave the soul. Those caught in the web of sensuality find that it is not easily broken.

• Beware of worldly wealth. Its promises are enticing, but its happiness is a mirage. Wrote the Apostle Paul, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

• Beware of worldly preoccupation with self. The highs are counterfeit; the lows are despairing. Love, kindness, personal fulfillment, and genuine self-worth are found in service to God and others, not in service to oneself. [8]


"Now, we live in an age when...cleanliness is more and more difficult to preserve. With modern technology even your youngest brothers and sisters can be carried virtually around the world before they are old enough to ride a tricycle safely across the street. What were in my generation carefree moments of moviegoing, TV watching, and magazine reading have now, with the additional availability of VCRs, the Internet, and personal computers, become amusements fraught with genuine moral danger. I put the word amusements in italics. Did you know that the original Latin meaning of the word amusement is “a diversion of the mind intended to deceive”? Unfortunately that is largely what “amusements” in our day have again become in the hands of the arch deceiver.

"Recently I read an author who said: “Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. [That is because] there is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” I believe that to be absolutely true, and no such claiming and counterclaiming anywhere is more crucial and conspicuous than that being waged for the minds and morals, the personal purity of the young.

"Brethren, part of my warning voice tonight is that this will only get worse. It seems the door to permissiveness, the door to lewdness and vulgarity and obscenity swings only one way. It only opens farther and farther; it never seems to swing back. Individuals can choose to close it, but it is certain, historically speaking, that public appetite and public policy will not close it. No, in the moral realm the only real control you have is self-control. [9]

It is so obvious that the great good and the terrible evil in the world today are the sweet and the bitter fruits of the rearing of yesterday’s children. As we train a new generation, so will the world be in a few years. [10]

The call is to sanctify ourselves and turn from the world to the Lord, and then to lovingly raise children who will desire to do the same. Service, charity, humility, patience, faith, and moral cleanliness are the qualities of God's servants.

References

  1. Ronald A. Knox, Stimuli, 1951; inThe Treasury of Religious and Spiritual Quotations Reader's Digest, 1994, 633.
  2. Joseph F. Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 243.
  3. Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, May 1994, 21.
  4. George H. Brimhall, Brigham Young University: A School of Destiny 1976, 211.
  5. Neal A. Maxwell, "Why Not Now?" Ensign, Nov. 1974, 13.
  6. Henry B. Eyring, "We Must Raise Our Sight," CES Conference, 14 Aug. 2001.
  7. Brigham Young, Deseret News Weekly, 28 Nov. 1855, 2.
  8. Keith B. McMullin, “An Invitation with Promise,” Liahona, Jul 2001, 75–77.
  9. Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘Sanctify Yourselves’,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 38–40.
  10. Gordon B. Hinckley, “These, Our Little Ones,” Ensign, Dec 2007, 4–9.

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