In 1859, British philosopher John Stuart Mill published “On Liberty,” which was perhaps his most well-known tract.
“On Liberty” has never been out of print since it was first published, has been enormously influential over the years, and has become the basis for much political theory.
In “On Liberty,” Mill argued for individual moral and economic freedom from the state. He claimed that individual liberty only existed if, “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
Mill argued that as long as an individual does no harm to others, society and the state have no right to dictate, coerce, or limit an individual, his or her beliefs and activities.
He also described what he called the “tyranny of the majority,” or control of manners, morality and behavior through social control — be it contempt, mockery, snubbing or rejection — in order to coerce a person to act in certain ways.
Mill understood that not only through the force of law but by exerting social pressure, society has enormous power to intimidate and to sometimes encourage dreadful behavior and deem it acceptable.
In many ways LDS belief is becoming increasingly distinct and dissimilar from mainstream thought about what is and isn’t acceptable in today’s world. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe in the centrality of chastity and fidelity before and after marriage. We reject the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. We encourage forgiveness when offended and reject seeking revenge. We denounce selfishness and encourage selflessness and the list goes on.
Ironically, all of these beliefs were central to Jesus Christ’s teachings when he walked the Earth. And in adhering to them we stand shoulder to shoulder with many good and devout Christians. However, our materialistic, worldly society is more and more at odds with Christ's teachings. In this way the “tyranny of the majority” — though perhaps they are not a majority at all — too often discourages true Christian behavior in our world.
How then, as members of the LDS Church, should we respond to worldly dictums and the pressure to conform to them? Mill offers cogent advice on this as well. He suggests, “If the cultivation of understanding consists in one thing more than in another, it is surely in learning the grounds of one’s own opinions. Whatever people believe they ought to be able to defend (it) against at least the common objections.”
Mill’s point is quite compelling when applied to religious belief. How many of us are able to not only testify of Christ and his church but are capable of explaining our beliefs? For example, if asked, “Why do you believe in being chaste before marriage and in complete fidelity to your wife or husband after marriage,” we, and those with whom we speak, are best served if we can add to testimony an explanation of the principles, doctrines and laws of God, using scripture and the teachings of living prophets and apostles to do so.
It is not an easy task, but a necessary one in a world that, as Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve explained, “is being engulfed in a rising river of degenerate filth, with the abandonment of virtue, righteousness, personal integrity, traditional marriage and family life .We can and must, with clarity, warn of the consequences of getting close to (the world’s) enticing, destructive current” (April 2004 general conference).
Knowing the principles of the gospel by studying the scriptures and learning from modern prophets and apostles is vital to effectively sharing and defending our belief in Jesus Christ and in his gospel. It is critical for personal salvation and for bringing souls to Christ.
Elder Scott described the process in which we must engage, “Despite pockets of evil, the world overall is majestically beautiful, filled with many good and sincere people. God has provided a way to live in this world and not be contaminated by the degrading pressures evil agents spread throughout it. You can live a virtuous, productive, righteous life by following the plan of protection created by your Father in Heaven: His plan of happiness. It is contained in the scriptures and in the inspired declarations of his prophets.”
Both Mill and Elder Scott attested to the imperative of not only believing, but being able to explain our beliefs as well. Our spiritual safety and our ability to share gospel truths with others depend on, “learning the grounds of (our theology). Whatever (we) believe (we) ought to be able to defend.”
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org